When asked about her colleague Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s use of the term “concentration camps” in reference to detention centers near our southern border, Rep. Ilhan Omar had this to say about the ensuing controversy: “There are camps, and people are being concentrated. This is very simple. I don’t know why this is a controversial thing to say.”
Right-wing media and organizations skewed toward the interests of American Jews quickly lambasted Omar for the perceived insensitivity of her comments as well as lamented her supposed continued use of anti-Semitic imagery. Here’s the problem, though: both she and Ocasio-Cortez are right.
First things first, and sorry to be that guy who cites the dictionary in making a point but here we are, let’s define the phrase. According to Oxford Dictionaries, a “concentration camp” is:
A place where large numbers of people, especially political prisoners or members of persecuted minorities, are deliberately imprisoned in a relatively small area with inadequate facilities, sometimes to provide forced labor or to await mass execution. The term is most strongly associated with the several hundred camps established by the Nazis in Germany and occupied Europe in 1933–45, among the most infamous being Dachau, Belsen, and Auschwitz.
Hmm. “Large numbers of people,” “persecuted minorities,” “deliberately imprisoned in a relatively small area with inadequate facilities.” These qualifiers all seem applicable to the detention centers and other facilities housing families detained at the border and elsewhere in the United States. According to the Department of Homeland Security, close to 45,000 detainees were being held daily on average in the United States as of 2018. What’s more, this figure has risen considerably from the less-than-7,000 detainees daily observed back in 1994 and comes as part of an upward spike concordant with Donald Trump’s political rise. Simply put, these numbers are no accident.
On the persecuted minorities front, um, have you heard the president speak about the Hispanic/Latinx community? As it stands to reason geographically, most of the people in detention in the U.S. are from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Would conditions in facilities holding immigrants/asylum-seekers be nearly as poor (more on this in a moment) if these people were coming from, say, Norway? Of course not. As evidenced by his defensiveness any time he is challenged by a person of color—especially if that person is a woman—Donald Trump projects his hatred toward members of minority groups and immigrants on the beliefs of all Americans.
Granted, he’s not alone in his racism, xenophobia, and other forms of bigotry; he got elected after all. Still, he’s not speaking for all Americans when he spews his nativist rhetoric buttressed by false or misleading claims and statistics. Like their sheer number as a function of rising trends in immigrant detention, the country of origin of these detainees is highly relevant. Moreover, their demonization obscures the ways in which the U.S. has helped fuel surges in migrants crossing our southern border. In other words, not only do Trump et al.‘s arguments distort the present, but they fail to retrospectively appreciate America’s role in creating the conditions which have led to increases in the number of asylum-seekers from Mexico and Central America. This, too, is no mistake.
And regarding the “relatively small area with inadequate facilities” bit? Yes, this and then some. The story of these detention camps and even for-profit centers and prisons has been one of abject cruelty shown toward detainees. Facilities have been overcrowded well beyond stated capacity. Staffing is frequently insufficient with little guarantee employees are experienced enough or trained well enough to handle their appointed tasks. Adequate health care is often severely lacking if not completely absent, as is supervision of child detainees by adults. Even the availability of blankets, soap, and toothbrushes is of issue. These standards of operation fall below even the auspices afforded to prisoners of war per the Geneva Conventions, and Justice Department immigration attorney Sarah Fabian (among others) should be ashamed of arguing to the contrary.
On these three counts, the detention and separation of families at the border would easily seem to meet the definition spelled out above. Obviously, we’re not to the point of forced labor or awaiting mass execution. This is not Nazi Germany and Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler. If these are the main distinctions we’re making, however, pardon me for believing we might be missing the forest for the proverbial trees. We should never forget the horrors of the Holocaust nor should we diminish the danger anti-Semitism represents in today’s world. The experience of Jews here and abroad is a unique one and this merits respect.
At the same time, we can recognize that the use of the term “concentration camp,” historically loaded as it may be, is not one made in a flippant manner. As discussed, the conditions of these detention centers would appear to meet the basic requirements delineated by the dictionary definition. Additionally, there is the matter of how urgent the situation is at our southern border. We are in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. Quibbling over semantics risks losing sight of the magnitude of the atrocities being inflicted on people whose only “sin” is crossing the border, in so many cases running from a dangerous situation in their country of origin. It also invites people like Liz Cheney to use Jews purely as political capital, leveraging their suffering amid disingenuous partisan attacks on Democrats.
This is why many refer to border security as a “wedge” issue. Allowing division based on bad-faith discourse is falling prey to the designs of Trump apologists and others itching at the chance to divide and conquer Democrats. We should expect attacks against Ocasio-Cortez and Omar from those on the right who frame the first-year members of Congress as a threat and whose fear (but not fearmongering, to be clear) is welcomed because it exposes the ugliness of their prejudiced antipathy. On the other hand, when those of us on the left and the center-left are effectively providing cover for an administration pursuing a white supremacist agenda and employing genocidal tactics to this end, we should really take stock of our priorities.
In elaborating her position on immigrant detention centers as “concentration camps,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed to the opinions of “experts” on the subject. In particular, AOC cited an article for Esquire by Jack Holmes which name-checks journalist Andrea Pitzer, who quite literally wrote the book on concentration camps.
According to Pitzer, the “mass detention of civilians without trial” is good enough for her to satisfy the requirements of a “concentration camp system.” This applies to camps in Nazi Germany, sure, but also Cuba, France, South Africa, the Soviet Union, and in the creation of “internment camps” to hold people of Japanese descent, the United States. Holmes, in speaking to historian Waitman Wade Beorn, whose basis is in Holocaust and genocide studies, also notes how the term is used by historians in a broader sense. According to Beorn, not every concentration camp has to be a death camp. Frequently, the purpose of such a camp is achieved simply by separating one group from another.
At the crux of these camps’ existence are the militarization of the border and the dehumanization of the asylum/immigration enforcement process. For the Trump administration, the large-scale indefinite detention of civilians is the culmination of an intentional effort to depict a spike in border crossings as a “national emergency” and to label asylum-seekers/immigrants as subhuman. It’s an “invasion.” They’re “animals.” Not to beat the dead horse of lore or anything, but this is specific, targeted language. It’s not unintentional, or for that matter, normal.
What’s worse, the longer these facilities operate, the worse the conditions get and the easier it becomes to distance ourselves from the detainees because they are “sick” or because they are “criminals.” This is not purely theoretical, either. Circumstances have worsened. Children and adults alike have died as a result of confinement. And this is exactly what this administration has intended: to make things so bad that families wouldn’t want to come here. As Beorn underscores, it’s not a prison or a holding area or waiting area—it’s a policy. It occurs, no less, at the expense of people who haven’t been, in many cases, charged with a crime. In some instances, even U.S. citizens are being apprehended and detained for days at a time. Those documented occurrences, while perhaps more shocking or unnerving, are rare. For now.
If all this weren’t bad enough, that these facilities are so remote and that they exist in what Beorn describes as a “sort of extralegal, extrajudicial, somewhat-invisible no-man’s land” makes it that much more unlikely these camps will be closed or that visible protests with the ability to meaningfully sway public opinion can be organized on the premises. Holmes points to the prison at Guantanamo Bay as an example in this regard. President Barack Obama repeatedly vowed to close Gitmo, but it “had been ingrained in the various institutions and branches of American constitutional government.”
In the nebulous space where human rights abuses and constitutional protections get overlooked in the name of “national security,” the justifications for these camps staying open can grow more numerous and vague. The names may have changed—George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, meet Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, and Stephen Miller—and so too have the targets of the repression (though with fears of war with Iran ever present, who knows), but the story is very much the same.
Holmes’s piece ends on this sobering note:
In most cases, these camps are not closed by the executive or the judiciary or even the legislature. It usually requires external intervention. (See: D-Day) That obviously will not be an option when it comes to the most powerful country in the history of the world, a country which, while it would never call them that, and would be loathe to admit it, is now running a system at the southern border that is rapidly coming to resemble the concentration camps that have sprung up all over the world in the last century. Every system is different. They don’t always end in death machines. But they never end well.
“Let’s say there’s 20 hurdles that we have to get over before we get to someplace really, really, really bad,” Pitzer says. “I think we’ve knocked 10 of them down.”
We’re already in the midst of a humanitarian crisis and it stands to get worse. Make no mistake: these concentration camps—yes, concentration camps—are a stain on the fabric of America’s moral character, a fabric of which the resiliency is continually being tested under President Trump and which already reveals its share of black marks and tears over its history despite this nation’s overall promise.
We should all own this sad chapter in the saga of our proud nation. And above all others, though his self-absorption and cultivated public image won’t allow acknowledgment on his part, Trump should be tied to the cruel escalation of Clinton-era and Obama-era border policies behind the mass detention of asylum-seekers and immigrants. For a man who loves slapping his name on things, including other people’s successes, his legacy as president should forever be linked with this disgrace.
President Donald Trump finally got to deliver his State of the Union address with the recent partial government shutdown in the rear-view mirror (although we could totally have another one in the near future if we don’t figure out how to decouple the subject of a border wall from funding federal agencies, so yay?). The good news is the president stopped short of calling for a state of emergency to advance construction of a border wall. The bad news is Trump had a national platform by which to spew his rhetoric at the American people.
Before we get to the veracity of what Trump said or lack thereof, let’s first address what the man spoke about. Trump’s agenda, at least in principle, was devoted to the areas where members of both parties can find consensus. These major topics included promoting fair trade and other policies which help American jobs/workers, rebuilding our infrastructure, reducing the price of health care (including prescription drugs), creating a more modern and secure immigration system, and advancing foreign policy goals that align with American interests.
On the economy, it was jobs, jobs, jobs! Wages are rising! Unemployment is declining! Regulations are going away! Companies are coming back! And it’s all because of me! So let’s stop all these needless investigations into my affairs. You don’t want THE AMERICAN PEOPLE to suffer on account of me, do you? Trump also addressed tariffs and the USMCA, but rather than calling out countries like China for abuse of workers’ rights or currency manipulation or anything like that, he expressed respect for Xi Jinping and instead laid blame at the feet of past leaders and lawmakers. As always, thanks, Obama.
On immigration, well, you probably know the story by now. Immigrants enrich our society in many ways—except when they don’t, taking away jobs, lowering wages, bringing drugs and violent crime, encouraging the trafficking of human beings, and taxing our public services. ICE is a bunch of heroes, gosh darn it! And we need that wall!
On infrastructure, Trump indicated we need both parties to work together and that he is “eager” to work with Congress on new, cutting-edge investments that the country requires to keep pace in a rapidly developing world. That’s it. Not a lot of what these infrastructural improvements would look like or how we’d go about funding them. But, huzzah, infrastructure!
On lowering drug prices/health care, Congress, wouldja put something together already? Sheesh? Also, HIV and AIDS—why are they still a thing? Let’s cut that out. Cancer? You’re next. Really, we need to recognize that all life is precious. Looking at you, Democrats, and your whole insistence on women’s right to choose. #NotMyAbortions
Lastly, on foreign policy, Trump extolled the virtues of our Armed Forces and thus explained why we need to shower them with money on an annual basis. Also, NATO was being very mean to us but now its members are going to spend more on defense. Also also, Russia is being a doo-doo head and that’s why we pulled out of the INF Treaty. Also also also, Kim Jong-un and I are BFFs and we’re going to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula. Also also also also, Guaidó > Maduro and socialism never works. Also 5x, Israel is super cool, the Holocaust was bad, ISIS is defeated, and did I mention we love our troops?
In conclusion, America is awesome and greatness awaits us. So ladies and gents, let’s not screw the pooch on this one and work together. Because if we fail, it will because you all couldn’t figure out how to rise above our differences. #NotMyFault
Our economy isn’t growing twice as fast today as when Trump took office, and in fact, American economic growth in 2018 fell short of that of even Greece. Greece!
Trump claimed his administration has cut more regulations than any other administration in U.S. history, but according to experts, these rollbacks aren’t at the level of the Carter and Reagan administrations.
Job creation during Trump’s tenure isn’t some miraculous, near-impossible feat. It’s roughly on par with the state of affairs during the Obama administration and down from job creation in the 1990s. Also, more people are working in the United States than ever before because more people live here. Unless he wants to take credit for helping populate America too.
On immigration, phew, where do we start? El Paso was never one of America’s most dangerous cities. San Diego’s border fencing “did not have a discernible impact” on lower border apprehension rates, according to the Congressional Research Service. In addition, the idea that “large, organized caravans” of migrants are on their way to the U.S. is exaggerated.
Not only has the USMCA not been approved by Congress yet, but it might not bring as many manufacturing jobs back to America—or for that matter, the North American continent—as anticipated.
On Nicolás Maduro and Venezuela, it’s not so much that Maduro is a socialist as much as he’s a dictator whose rule has been marked by corruption, deficiency in the rule of law, and the circumvention of democracy. But keep parroting conservative talking points.
Trump claimed we’d be at war with North Korea if he hadn’t been elected. Bullshit. Especially in the incipient stages of his presidency, Trump notably egged on Kim Jong-un, referring to him as “Little Rocket Man.” Back the trolley up there, Mr. President.
On abortion, more misleading remarks. Trump suggested New York’s Reproductive Health Act allows abortions until shortly before birth, but rather, the law permits abortions after 24 weeks in cases where the fetus is not viable or the mother’s health would be imperiled.
Trump also invoked Virginia governor Ralph Northam’s comments about discussing abortion with physicians up until birth and end-of-life care in instances where a child wouldn’t live, though Trump treated them as tantamount to advocating for babies’ execution after birth. Sadly, Northam’s ongoing controversy involving whether or not he appeared dressed in blackface or a Ku Klux Klan costume in a college yearbook photo was not part of Trump’s deceptive commentary. That’s on you, Ralph, and I wish you would resign already.
The State of the Union address, especially under Pres. Donald Trump, is a bizarre bit of theater. Here is a function outlined in the Constitution and adapted by means of tradition that makes for much pomp and circumstance amid the formal procedures and recognitions which occur within, presided over by a president who consistently flouts convention and other semblances of decorum. The Trump presidency has been one marked by chaos and one which encourages division within the electorate. The very date of the address was postponed by a shutdown characterized by partisan gridlock—which went curiously unmentioned during Trump’s speech—and was a bone of contention between the president and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. To have members of Congress from both parties smiling and clapping for him seems rather jarring.
It’s particularly jarring to witness this spectacle and the parade of “Lenny Skutniks” that presidents trot out in the name of bolstering their credibility (Trump called upon World War II veterans, a minister who had her non-violent drug offense commuted by Trump, another former inmate who sold drugs and has since reformed, the family of victims of a undocumented immigrant’s violence, an immigrant-turned-ICE special agent, a cancer survivor, the father of someone lost in the attack on the USS Cole, a SWAT officer on the scene at last year’s synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, and a Holocaust survivor) when the Democrats offered an official rebuttal, as is custom.
Stacey Abrams, who came within two percentage points of winning the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election and might’ve won if not for then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s shenanigans, delivered the Dems’ response. She assailed the Republican Party for crafting an immigration plan that tears families apart and puts children in cages, for working to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, for failing to take action on climate change, for rigging elections and judiciaries, and for repeatedly attacking the rights of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community, among other things. Abrams closed her speech with these thoughts:
Even as I am very disappointed by the president’s approach to our problems—I still don’t want him to fail. But we need him to tell the truth, and to respect his duties and the extraordinary diversity that defines America.
Our progress has always found refuge in the basic instinct of the American experiment—to do right by our people. And with a renewed commitment to social and economic justice, we will create a stronger America, together. Because America wins by fighting for our shared values against all enemies: foreign and domestic. That is who we are—and when we do so, never wavering—the state of our union will always be strong.
Abrams’s sentiments may seem a bit schmaltzy at points, but alongside Trump’s rhetoric since he began his presidential campaign, she is much better equipped to talk about the state of the union and bipartisan solutions than our Commander-in-Chief. And while this message serves an obvious partisan purpose, criticism of Trump’s divisiveness is deserved, notably in light of his numerous falsehoods and distortions.
That’s what makes this all so disorienting. Donald Trump speaks to solving problems which may or may not exist, leaving existing problems unaddressed and creating phantoms where bogeymen are needed. As senator Richard Blumenthal wrote on Twitter, Trump’s State of the Union speech was a “tale of two countries.”
To entertain the absurdities of his presidency with any degree of normalcy, applauding him and dignifying his comments with formality and a primetime audience, is therefore to acknowledge two different speeches: the one that the president gave and the one that Americans actually deserved. It creates a sort of cognitive dissonance that requires some degree of mental gymnastics to try to sort out. Is Trump the uniter and Democrats the dividers? Was it all a farce, his plea for unity and his presidential tone an exercise in cynicism? Or was it just an unofficial rally for his base and potential voters heading into 2020? Does anything he say truly matter? Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? The questions abound, as do the anxiety, probable headaches, and possible additional Queen references.
I’m not sure what the answer is here, if there is only one. I chose not to watch the live broadcast and to read a transcript, view photos, and watch video clips after the fact. I would’ve liked to see more lawmakers do the same, though I suppose Nancy Pelosi did get in some epic eye-rolls. Maybe we should do away with the whole spectacle altogether.
At least as far as Trump is concerned, he’s already made his true feelings known via social media countless times over. Why bother with the charade when we can just read a written report or his tweets instead? If nothing else, it would save time.
I do not follow President Donald Trump on Twitter, if for no other reason than I don’t want to be counted among his followers. Seeing as he’s President, though, and his words matter—perhaps they should matter more than they do, but matter they do—the media reports on what he says, and so I get enough of what I need to know secondhand. This is not to say that his words don’t affect me—indeed, they do, and because they affect me, I try to distance myself so as not to get overwhelmingly angry or distraught.
In saying this, I realize I am privileged to the extent that, while what Trump says might affect me emotionally, what he says is unlikely to affect my daily existence to the extent it disrupts it or completely changes it. For recipients of legal status under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, the stakes are much higher, and as such, every Tweet has the potential to signify a policy shift which could make for a life-altering event. Akilah Johnson, in a recent piece for The Boston Globe, explores this reality for so-called Dreamers, who have to monitor the volatility of Trump’s Tweets the way others might follow the ups-and-downs of the stock market (and increasingly so in the wake of fears of a brewing trade war). Johnson provides a bit of context thusly:
On Easter morning, Trump began a series of tweets about DACA, border security, and the country’s immigration laws, and there has been at least one nearly every day since, though he has been tweeting about immigration since before taking office.
But young immigrants said they don’t see themselves in many of the tweets, which equate immigration with criminality one day and express sympathy for DACA recipients who have been “abandoned” and received “very unfair” treatment in another.
It’s as if, they say, their academic accomplishments, hard work, and individual stories mean little. Instead, they are reduced to stereotypes in the immigration debate that is playing out on social media. The declarations of support are even more confusing, they say, because it was Trump who seeks to end the program that shields them from deportation.
And so each news alert or iPhone notification about the president’s ever-changing immigration agenda can be panic-inducing.
That Donald Trump’s mindset and position on specific issues tend to vacillate—I’m being kind here—is no big secret or surprise. Assuming he even understands what he’s talking about, and that’s a big enough assumption as it is, Trump lacks the familiarity with the underlying subject matter and its nuances by virtue of not having seriously considered it as a function of his political inexperience. To a certain extent, the malleability of his stances reflect the notion he is a novice, as well as the high probability he seems unprepared to take the lead on areas like immigration because he not only wants to deflect blame or responsibility, but that he also was unprepared to win the 2016 presidential election in the first place.
Beyond learning on the job, however, Trump’s treatment of DACA recipients via Twitter reflects an attitude toward their plight that representatives of both parties at times have seemed too ready to embrace: that of behaving as if DACA is a mere bargaining chip and not something which affects hundreds of thousands of young people currently residing in the United States. Earlier this year, DACA negotiations were a notable sticking point in spending bill negotiations that ultimately resulted in a relatively brief government shutdown, but a shutdown it was. Democratic Party leadership apparently had its fears that Republican legislators would refuse to hold a vote on the immigration issue assuaged by Mitch McConnell’s promise that hearings on the matter would be forthcoming.
That was in January. We’re into April now, and evidently, little progress in Congress has been made on the subject of DACA, leaving Trump to unleash Tweetstorms about illegal immigration with his usual reckless abandon and even address the topic during the White House Easter Egg Roll. Seriously. At the time of the shutdown’s end, activists and other advocates for Dreamers maligned Chuck Schumer et al. for what they saw as “caving” on DACA, a characterization that was not lost on the GOP and other conservative critics who took their own opportunity to take jabs at their opponents at the center-left of the spectrum. Specifically, pro-immigrant groups voiced their disappointment with Democratic leadership agreeing to anything predicated on a Mitch McConnell promise, which would be—and these are my words, but I’m sure the sentiment is shared—like trusting a pack of wolves not to touch a juicy steak. Three months later, it appears their concerns were well justified.
What is singularly disturbing about the political gridlock surrounding DACA, and whether it is “dead” or simply in limbo following the passing of the March 5 deadline set by President Trump to get a deal done, is that, amid the inaction and turmoil, Trump’s voice is amplified. This is a terrible development, because in making illegal immigration a central theme of his campaign and into his presidency, Trump has exploited Americans’ fears about immigration, legal and not—as well as their lack of knowledge about the subject and/or refusal to adequately fact-check. On Easter morning, he raged about “big flows of people” trying to come to America and take advantage of DACA. He also has Twitter-shouted about “caravans” of dangerous criminals trying to cross the border, and has blamed Democrats for standing in the way of reform and wanting to let would-be Mexican border-crossers in unchecked. Presumably, it’s because the Dems are banking on undocumented Latinos to illegitimately vote by the millions for them, you know, despite there being any evidence of this whatsoever.
Like Akilah Johnson, Tessa Stuart, writing for Rolling Stone, spoke directly with Dreamers back in September 2017 to discuss the confusion surrounding DACA and the misconceptions that might exist as a result of hateful rhetoric related to its fate. In particular, the young people consulted for this piece hoped to debunk these myths about them and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals:
Myth #1: DACA recipients can just become citizens.
Even Barack Obama as President was explicit about the idea that DACA is neither amnesty nor immunity nor a path to citizenship. As Astrid Silva, interviewed for the article, outlines, one of the primary benefits of DACA is an Employment Authorization Document, or EAD. But as Silva asserts, the current immigration picture is more complex than a situation like in The Proposal where Sandra Bullock marries for papers, and as Stuart spells out with the help of Rep. Ruben Kihuen, the first Dreamer elected to Congress, it’s much different than it was some 30 years ago, when immigrants who overstayed their visas could adjust their status.
Myth #2: DACA allows immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to stay indefinitely.
Nope. As Stuart spells out, the window for qualifying to receive DACA is a fairly narrow one: one had to arrive in the United States before the age of 16, live in the country since 2007, and be younger than 31 as of June 15, 2012. Of the 1.7 million people eligible, fewer than half actually have registered for the program, and have had to apply for a renewal of their status every two years.
Myth #3: DACA recipients “put our nation at risk of crime, violence, and even terrorism.”
Wrong again. That’s Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, espousing his views based on tolerance as head of the Trump administration’s totally impartial Department of Justice. Felony convictions and multiple or significant misdemeanors disqualify DACA recipients, as do those who are considered “a threat to public safety or national security.” The vast majority of Dreamers are law-abiding, America-loving people. Which makes Jeff Sessions full of you-know-what.
Myth #4: DACA gives undocumented immigrants access to federal benefits.
DACA recipients can obtain driver’s licenses and go to college. But they can’t receive federal financial aid, nor can they even enroll in a healthcare plan under the Affordable Care Act. For the young people trying to afford school, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals at least affords them the opportunity to work while they go to school so they can apply for private loans. People who harp on the supposed glorious “benefits” received by Dreamers overstate their case, and understate the contributions made by these immigrants, including but not limited to paying income taxes.
It should be stressed that Donald Trump is not the only influential voice to espouse anti-immigrant views steeped in racism and xenophobia. Worldwide, migration and refugeeism/asylum-seeking has helped put a strain on relations between ethnic groups; in Europe, for instance, one need look no further than the notion Marine Le Pen was one of the finalists, so to speak, in the race for France’s presidency that ultimately saw Emmanuel Macron elected, or how the Brexit referendum was pushed by far-right elements within the United Kingdom.
Besides, for Trump to succeed with a presidential campaign that, on Day One, bashed Mexicans as criminals, drug dealers, and rapists (with some good people; gee, thanks), he had to tap into prejudices shared by his supporters and others who voted for him. Though not an altogether significant group, a certain percentage of voters in the 2016 election went from casting their ballots for Barack Obama in 2012 to buying a ticket for the “Trump Train.” While economic factors and Trump’s faux populism had a part to play in this, the trepidation of white Americans over the nation “losing its identity” and of having “their culture” diminished by the influx of other ethnic groups likewise figured heavily into Trump’s upset electoral victory.
All this aside, Trump regularly ginning up the “deplorables” within his base deserves every bit of condemnation one can muster, and for the conservatives who cling to trickle-down theories of economics and change, this should inspire a proportionate sense of shame. While still misplaced, it would be one thing for Trump and his administration to more provincially focus their intensity on those undocumented immigrants who commit violent crimes or are otherwise found guilty of significant misdemeanors, as he indicated he would do while stumping for votes.
Instead, Trump being Trump, DACA recipients are liable in their own right to be detained or deported, with boasts of “DACA being dead” and no opportunity wasted to throw members of Congress (especially Democrats) under the bus, and Trump keeping with the nonsense about a wall furnished and paid for by Mexico. Meanwhile, Trump, Jeff Sessions, and their conservative ilk continue to push the myth that DACA recipients and immigrants in general are more likely to commit crimes. This is made especially galling when considering that immigrant children often outperform their peers in school, as Bruce Fuller, sociologist at UC-Berkeley, and others have observed. By this token, we should be outraged that Trump et al. are attacking our best and brightest.
Apple CEO Tim Cook, during an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes for Recode’s Revolution TV special, spoke about how DACA is not an immigration issue, but a moral issue. Indeed, by going after Dreamers, the Trump administration is demonstrating its penchant for cruelty in threatening to deport those who came here as young children and who have little to no recollection of living in the country of their birth. People, who, moreover, contribute to America’s rich cultural tapestry, not to mention its economy. Even those who trumpet the need to uphold our nation’s laws seem to have their priorities in disarray. Are we content to punish DACA recipients for the “sins of their parents,” as outgoing GOP senator Jeff Flake would say? Is that “making America great again?”
The DACA debate is one that should serve as an impetus for all of us as Americans—native, immigrant, and otherwise—to consider who and what we support, and where we are going as a country. For members of the Republican Party, it is high time for them to contemplate how long they can continue to push false narratives about immigrants given a rapidly changing and increasingly diverse pool of individuals here. For Democrats and conscientious members of the electorate, it’s time to reassess whether or not we are doing enough to advocate for DACA recipients, open borders, and other liberal/progressive policies related to immigration. The shadow of the so-called “ugly American” looms large over the battle to protect a vulnerable subset of the U.S. population. Whether or not we care enough to put aside our hate and privilege, and act on these matters, is the question ultimately worth asking.
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In the interim before Donald Trump was sworn into office, no one was quite sure what to expect when the orange-faced one with a predilection for comically long ties would take the reins. He was, by most accounts, long on rhetoric and short on defined policy goals, such that when he finally was made official as the 45th President of the United States of America, observers were keen to look for any signs of possible shifts in our country’s approach to various economic, political, and social issues. In the early going, the White House’s official website proved to be quite the good indicator of where the Trump administration stands on key topics. Before we had even gotten to February, Trump and Co. had purged the site of pages referring to climate change, civil rights/LGBT rights, and regulations.
Obviously, these were symbolic gestures, but given how swift and specific the changes were, as well as the weight they took on considering they were coming from the leader of the nation, they spoke volumes. More than half a year since these alterations went into effect, Pres. Trump has since pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement—a symbolic device in it of itself—has vowed to roll back Dodd-Frank, backed by Paul Ryan and his pro-business lackeys in Congress; and has issued a directive to ban transgender people from the United States military, with apparent intentions to remove protections for the LGBT community within the Affordable Care Act and having communicated a position that favors the ability of businesses to discriminate against homosexuals all in the name of “religious freedom.” In short, it was evident early on in Donald Trump’s presidency that this was a new day and age for the U.S.A.—except that it was a return to previous positions marked by a deliberate reversal against progress we’ve made over the years and decades. We were “making America great again”—two steps forward and five steps back.
Perhaps the most notable change made to the White House’s official website, however, particularly in light of how Donald Trump started his campaign, was the removal of Spanish-language content from whitehouse.gov. As you’ll recall, Trump began his political ascendancy by essentially boiling down the entire country of Mexico—one with a rich culture and history—down to a haven for crime, drugs, and rape. You know, with some decent folks sprinkled in. As Trump stayed more than relevant in the polls, his message grew no more nuanced regarding his characterization of our neighbor to the south and his potential policies to be enacted, with calls for a costly, ineffective, imprudent, and literally divisive wall to be built growing ever louder and threatening to start a row between the countries with the insistence that Mexico pays for the wall after the election. Or, if you’re former Mexican president Vicente Fox, that f**king wall. Guy likes his expletives—what can I say?
Heretofore, that bleeping monstrosity has yet to be constructed, but an appreciably different tone has been taken toward the issue of immigration—both legal and illegal. While the Obama administration was responsible for its fair share of deportations, the increased vigor with which ICE agents have gone after undocumented immigrants regardless of whether or not they have committed violent crimes has evoked greater feelings of fear and a heightened sense that these deportations are being carried out as a measure of deliberate cruelty. As for the legal immigration aspect, so too does a shift seem to be underway regarding white supremacists’ notions of empowerment and entitlement following Trump’s electoral victory that would see America reject an international mindset and multiculturalism as detrimental forces to the country. To those who are willing participants in what is termed as a “culture war,” this is a conflict for the very soul of the nation. As protracted conflicts go, so too does collateral damage, and one need look no further than the violence in Charlottesville to see just how much people believe this ideological clash to be one worth physically and emotionally fighting.
The latest turn in the ongoing saga that is Donald Trump’s America vs. Mexicans, Muslims, and other people of color, is related to his pardoning of a figure central to the issue of immigration. A figure that, to call him controversial, would be akin to calling water wet. With Hurricane Harvey barreling down on the state of Texas and much of the United States duly distracted, President Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio, former sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona, known to many as “Sheriff Joe.” Arpaio was facing a contempt of court charge stemming from his willful disregard of a federal court order from 2011. The original complaint was filed in 2007 when his department detained a Mexican man with a valid tourist’s visa for nine hours. Arpaio and the rest of the MCSO were found to be in violation in this instance and others, stopping motorists based on racial profiling and effectually trying to enforce immigration law out of their jurisdiction (immigration law is a federal issue, not a state matter). Joe Arpaio, though, not one to go gently into that good night, openly defied the order, even going as far as to tell local news media he wasn’t going to abide by the court’s mandate and lying under oath to misrepresent the fact his department was still profiling and making immigration-based arrests. So, in 2015, Arpaio, still Maricopa County sheriff, was charged with civil contempt of court, and last year, when a U.S. District Judge assessed that Sheriff Joe still wasn’t doing a very good job of not doing the feds’ job, she found him guilty of criminal contempt and set sentencing for October 5. That’s when President Trump swooped in and pardoned Joe Arpaio, no longer head of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office after losing in his re-election bid this past November.
OK, so maybe the Artist Formerly Known as Sheriff Joe was a bit zealous in wanting to uphold immigration law as well as that endemic to Maricopa County. One would imagine he is not the only lawman to feel this way, and Arizona does possess its own unique challenges within the immigration sphere. Moreover, as Arpaio’s supporters would allege, this trial was, above all else, a “show trial.” The man was working with the federal government to help them in their pursuit of those who had failed to abide by the law. That’s not such a bad thing, is it? You’d really put an octogenarian in jail for up to six months? If it were just about giving the federal courts the proverbial middle finger, perhaps one might be tempted to agree with Joe Arpaio’s fervent champions. Might, I stress, might.
Thus far, however, we have only scratched the surface of how Joe Arpaio became one of the most hated sheriffs, if not the most hated sheriff, in all of America. Michelle Mark, writing for Business Insider, profiles the litany of policies enacted under Arpaio’s watch that human rights activists would find more than disagreeable. He removed salt and pepper as well as coffee from the meals at county jails, of which there were only two a day. He held inmates outside in “Tent City” in extreme conditions in summer and winter with limited amounts of cold water during the former and meant no heaters or jackets during the latter. His office was regularly cited for use of excessive force, including use of pepper spray and restraint chairs. He approved of “random” searches of cars for people suspected of being illegal immigrants (which, often enough, were Native Americans instead of Hispanics/Latinos), and supported Arizona SB 1070, also known as the “Papers, Please” law and ratified in 2010, which essentially allowed uniformed police to harass and intimidate people within Arizona’s Spanish-speaking community. For all his bluster about being America’s “toughest sheriff,” Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office were sued an inordinate amount of times from the families of those convicted of crimes, alleging police brutality. What makes this all especially egregious is that the Justice Department knew full well of the scope of Arpaio’s use of racial profiling and other misdeeds, but let him off with little more than a slap on the wrist. Democrat Janet Napolitano, prior to becoming governor of Arizona, led that investigation. So, naturally, whose endorsement did Napolitano seek and get in advance of her first gubernatorial election victory? Joe Arpaio’s. Politics is great like that, huh?
But, wait—it gets better. And, of course, by “better,” I mean, worse. Reporters like Michelle Mark and pontificating bloggers such as myself speak about Joe Arpaio’s transgressions from afar, but the powers-that-be behind the Phoenix New Times, a free local newspaper, have had a front row seat to the kind of bullshit Arpaio and his former department regularly pulled in the name of “law and order.” In an epic series of Tweets, the periodical’s official Twitter account provided additional context for how Sheriff Joe ran the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. Here are some of the, ahem, “highlights”:
Going back to that Tent City business, Arpaio unapologetically referred to his creation as a “concentration camp.”
Inmates in his jails died at a disproportionate rate to other such facilities, whether because they took their own lives or as a direct result of harsh treatment by their jailers. Often, the MCSO had no explanation for these fatalities.
One time, as a publicity stunt, Arpaio had Latino inmates marched into a segregated area with electric fencing.
He also ran, before its ultimate cancellation, a “Mugshot of the Day” feature on the MCSO website where the public could vote on pictures of prisoners for their enjoyment.
The department failed to investigate scores of sex abuse cases, but had enough time to send a deputy to Hawaii to try to procure Barack Obama’s birth certificate. (Yup. He was/is a birther.)
Following the official finding by U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow that Arpaio had been profiling Latinos, he hired a private investigator to investigate the judge and his wife. He also attempted to destroy evidence specifically requested by the judge.
Arpaio had a “Sheriff’s Posse,” one of whom was brought up on child porn charges, and according to the New Times, the Sheriff’s Office was “responsible for countless fiascos” like a “botched SWAT raid, where deputies set a puppy on fire.” That doesn’t exactly sound like serving and protecting, if you ask me.
It is with a hint of irony, then, that Joe Arpaio’s supporters talk about court proceedings against him being a “show trial” and that Arpaio himself derides it all as being a “witch hunt” when he has exhibited all the signs of being a showman—even when countless lives stand to hang in the balance. That Donald Trump, a consummate showman and strongman in his own right, would pardon him sends a clear message about where we are in the state of American politics, and it likewise clearly communicates to his core supporters that the fears and prejudices of white America will be held sacrosanct above the rights of all others. Justice for all? Not by a long shot.
The debate over whether or not Joe Arpaio deserved his pardon unfortunately can invoke the kind of conflicts which denote the existence of the phrase “Blue Lives Matter.” Arpaio was a lawman, and I imagine he and the MCSO were responsible for their fair share of apprehending legitimate violent criminals. This does not, however, and should not exculpate him of what would appear to be a long list of offenses against the civil rights of inmates in Maricopa County jails, not to mention those who suffered physical harm, psychological distress, and/or death as a function of being housed in these “correctional facilities.” Simply put, two wrongs do not make a right, and that Arpaio might’ve gotten six months in jail for criminal contempt of court would have realistically been getting off light in light of the destruction he has encouraged in Hispanic/Latino communities. I’m not a religious person, but if Hell exists, I firmly believe Joe Arpaio may have earned himself a spot there—if only temporarily. Moreover, by characterizing Sheriff Joe in this way, I am recognizing that those sworn to uphold the law may abuse their privileges, but I am not condemning police forces and uniformed police wholesale. I believe most individuals who wear the badge do the right thing and want to do so because it is the right thing. Some, on the other hand, are bad actors, as with any profession. At least from where I’m standing, rather than reacting defensively to any outside criticism, those police should want to know when one of their own has been irresponsible or derelict in his or her duties. That is, the universal fraternity of policemen and policewomen has its limits.
Returning to an earlier notion and somewhat of a devil’s advocate distinction, Arpaio is not the only sheriff who has been accused of approaching law enforcement at all levels with—shall we say—extreme robustness. Still, he and others like him shouldn’t be celebrated or pardoned by the President of the United States, much less have their latest book plugged on Twitter. Such was the case when Donald Trump took to his favorite medium to hock Sheriff David Clarke’s book and to cheer him as a great man. There’s any number of problems with these sentiments coming from POTUS, not the least of which is that, based on what we know of Mr. Trump, dude doesn’t read all that much, so how he can recommend something he almost certainly has never cracked open? Besides this, though, Clarke, sheriff of Milwaukee County in Wisconsin, is a notorious figure in his own right. As with Joe Arpaio, David Clarke and his office have been the subject of numerous lawsuits alleging abuse and neglect of inmates, even to the point of death. Plus, while we, ahem, shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I’m not immediately sure why cowboy hats should be a thing in Wisconsin. Is this standard issue or does Clarke just wear it because he’s the “Sheriff?” This is the Midwest, not the Wild West.
We like to subscribe to the black-and-white narrative in the United States of America that all police are of exemplary character and, conversely, that all people behind bars are deserving of their fate because of some character defect. The reality, of course, is much more complicated, and as literal issues of black and white go, matters of race factor heavily into why. The seemingly never-ending tally of black suspects being murdered at the hands of police despite relatively minor offenses (see also “driving while black”) demands accountability of the individual officers responsible for the escalations that lead to these deaths as well as that of the departments which assign and train these arms of the force. Racial profiling and disproportionate apprehension/sentencing of people of color are critical to understanding the systemic racism inherent in our modern-day prison-industrial complex. Joe Arpaio’s pardoning at the hands of Donald Trump was a symbolic gesture, but this is not to say it doesn’t resonate deeply with Americans of differing demographics and ideologies. It is basically the President of the United States thumbing his nose at Latinos, liberals, and those who would reject a “tough love” approach to law enforcement in this country, and pouring more kerosene on the Republican Party’s burning bridge between white America and people of color. It sets a terrible precedent, and should not be sanctioned by neither the left nor the right in the name of common decency.
I don’t watch the FOX News Channel. Not terribly surprising, and say what you will about me sticking to my “bubble,” but I don’t. Simply put, I don’t think I’m part of its intended audience. Granted, just because I do not fit neatly into FOX’s target demographic doesn’t mean I can’t tune in, if for no other reason than to understand how people on the other side of the political aisle think. Plus, I suppose there’s also an odd sense of entertainment in what I presume is the network’s various personalities’ contortions to avoid talking about or to downplay the endless scandal that is the Trump administration’s ties to Russia, financial or not. All this aside, I don’t watch FOX News, and I doubt I will be tuning in anytime soon. And I, with great specificity, will be avoiding Tucker Carlson’s program.
Before I get to Carlson, let’s take a step back first and consider FOX News as a brand and a “news service.” I say “news service” in quotes because—let’s be honest—FOX News is a propaganda factory masquerading as a legitimate journalistic organization. I suppose the same could be said for other outlets—The New York Times and Washington Post are not without their centrist, corporatist biases, and CNN, Daily Kos, and Huffington Post have been derided at times for being Hillary Clinton apologists, which is essentially the same thing. That said, FOX News has taken the art of political spin on cable news to a new level. If you’ll recall, once upon a time, FOX News’s slogan was “Fair and Balanced.” They’ve since replaced that motto with “Most Watched, Most Trusted,” but on the side of being trustworthy, as with being fair and balanced, this much is dubious.
In recent memory, FOX News has helped fuel the paranoia over WMDs that led, in large part, to our involvement in Iraq; has advanced conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory about Barack Obama in an effort to delegitimize his presidency; and in the era of Trump, has maintained its ways of race-baiting and giving credence to stories that are based on faulty intelligence or are otherwise quickly debunked. That the dishonorable Judge Andrew Napolitano yet has a prominent voice on the network is perhaps no better symbol of its questionable commitment to journalistic ethics. For that matter, when the likes of Shepard Smith are coming to the defense of CNN’s standards and this is seen as a surprise, it is telling where FOX News fits in with the rest of its cable news brethren. (It also, not for nothing, speaks volumes about Donald Trump and his ongoing assault on the American free press.)
FOX News, as I’m sure you’ve heard, has been the subject of some interest lately, and mostly for the wrong reasons. The late Roger Ailes, founder and one-time CEO of FOX News, resigned prior to his death after numerous accusations of sexual harassment by former female FOX News personalities. Bill O’Reilly, one of the network’s more recognizable figures and one of the leading conservatives because of his platform, was ousted from his primetime slot as host of The O’Reilly Factor because of his own alleged acts of sexual harassment. And Sean Hannity lost advertisers because of his pursuit of conspiracy theories regarding the death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, who some have suspected as being murdered for leaking DNC E-mails to WikiLeaks (the official explanation is that Rich was killed in a botched robbery). In short, it’s been a tumultuous time at FOX News recently, and with the kind of turnover in staff and executive leadership that only MSNBC could seem to rival, it’s no wonder that divisions within its ranks have become apparent, especially with a figure as divisive as Donald Trump in the White House.
Perhaps it is a sign of where we are as a country that much like how Trump became President Trump despite the apparent constant upheaval within his campaign, FOX News, despite the improprieties of its personnel and the second-rate journalism it peddles as unvarnished truth, has enjoyed a sizable run at the apex of the cable news hierarchy. FOX News has spent 28 weeks at the top of the charts, and in fact, a majority of Americans get their news from the #1 cable news outlet in all the land. MSNBC, on the strength of its predominantly anti-Trump coverage, has been the recent runner-up. CNN, the bastion of “fake news” that it is made out to be, is a comparative also-ran. Ainsley Earhardt, Bret Baier, Brian Kilmeade, Chris Wallace, Dana Perino, Greg Gutfeld, Jeanine Pirro, Juan Williams, Jesse Watters, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Martha McCallum, Neil Cavuto, Sean Hannity, Shepard Smith, Steve Doocy—FOX News has no shortage of white people, Juan Williams, and occasionally Geraldo Rivera to deliver unsubstantiated reports to the eyes and minds of its viewers. Which includes Mr. Trump, who apparently trusts this network more than his actual intelligence community.
And then there’s Tucker Carlson. He wasn’t included in that run of vaguely douche-y talking heads, but though he’s no less douche-y, he’s a special case (and last alphabetically by first name). Tucker McNear Carlson began a career in journalism serving on the editorial staff of the conservative publication Policy Review, as well as sharpening his skills as a reporter and journalist for various prominent magazines and newspapers. It was in 2001, though, that Carlson began his rise to cable news prominence when he became co-host of CNN’s Crossfire; you may recall his rather testy back-and-forth with Jon Stewart. After a few years at CNN, his contract wasn’t renewed—or he resigned, if you believe Tucker—and Carlson spent a spell at MSNBC with his namesake show Tucker. It got cancelled due to low ratings—or because MSNBC is run by a bunch of liberals, per Tucker. Eventually, though, Tucker Carlson found a home at the FOX News Channel, first appearing as a contributor to various programs, and later moving on to co-host the weekend edition of Fox and Friends. Just last year, he was given another marquee primetime hosting gig, taking the reins in November at Tucker Carlson Tonight. With Bill O’Reilly getting the boot, Carlson also assumed his time slot. He now owns an enviable time slot on basic cable’s most-watched news source. To this end, I commend him.
On his politics, however, I cannot commend him, a notion buoyed by the current political climate in the United States and abroad in which unabashed racists and white supremacists suddenly feel emboldened enough to spray swastikas on the sides of buildings and run for political office. Along these lines, Carlos Maza, a correspondent for the site Vox who produces video content related to journalism and the media in the Trump era, recently authored a piece on why white supremacists love Tucker Carlson. Yes, love. Presumably with hearts adorned with nooses and burning crosses. Before even getting to the whole white supremacist base angle thing, Maza acknowledges that Carlson enjoys the highest ratings of any primetime cable news program, so clearly he is resonating with American viewers, and ever tongue-in-cheek, Maza indicates Fox News executives probably adore him because he isn’t embroiled in any sexual harassment scandals. You know, that we know of.
But, yeah, about the whole white supremacist thing. Richard Spencer, one of the leading voices in the American white supremacist movement, regards Tucker more highly than his time slot predecessor because not only does he view Carlson as more intelligent than Bill O’Reilly, but he also conceives of him as more open-minded to white supremacist ideals. David Duke—and if you don’t know who David Duke is, please stop reading, Google it, do a spit-take, and then come back—is also a Tucker-phile. Even the American neo-Nazi and white supremacist publication The Daily Stormer identifies Carlson as “its greatest ally.” White supremacist views—on basic cable? Yea, verily, my friends. And as king of cable news, Tucker Carlson is thus a dangerous voice in this regard.
So, now that I’ve whetted your appetite with my whole preamble, why do white supremacists love Tucker Carlson so much, other than that he has exhibited a proclivity over the years for being a fancy dresser? As Carlos Maza explains in detail, while typical FOX News viewers may merely approve of Carlson because he, like other on-air personalities from his network, rails against the “liberal media” and political correctness, white supremacists dig TC because he portrays all immigration as detrimental to the fabric of American society—illegal or not. According to Maza, Carlson made it a priority in the first few months of Tucker Carlson Tonight to question how complete or valid the statistics are on legal immigrants committing crimes, and made out Mexicans, Muslims, and refugees/migrants—many of whom tend to be Hispanic/Latino or Muslim—to be a potential threat. Carlson relies on the myth that minorities within these groups commit violent crimes at a disproportionate rate to white citizens, when really, it is the other way around. To this end, he cherry-picks his way through data to form the conclusion that “foreigners” are coming to this country just to murder, rape, and steal from honest, hard-working “Americans,” or simply invites anti-immigrant extremists like Ann Coulter to, as Maza puts it, “do his dirty work for him.”
Wait—it gets worse. As Carlos Maza would have it, the worst part of Tucker Carlson’s enabling of white supremacist views, other than his over-the-top raising of his eyebrows whenever he agrees with a guest of the show, is how he openly rejects the merits of multiculturalism in the United States today, suggesting “Western culture” is superior to that of any culture belonging to whence these immigrants/refugees came, and that embracing multiculturalism is tantamount to teaching Americans to hate their own cultural identity. In other words, we are not all equal under the same sun, snowflake. As Carlson—and yes, David Duke and Richard Spencer—would submit, all forms of immigration to this country will lead to an erosion of this nation’s values and its ultimate fragmentation. As with Donald Trump, the depiction is of a critical moment in U.S. history when the future of its very existence is at stake, a fear-inducing, apocalyptic viewpoint. This all comes to a head in the creation of a space in Tucker Carlson Tonight in which everything that is “different” is associated with being bad or wrong. Teaching Spanish in schools is seen as a destructive force rather than a practical means of readying children for a bilingual state and a cultural bridge. Refugees and other people fleeing the degradation of their land due to climate change, poverty, and/or war are labeled “invaders” instead of those merely seeking a better life, or simply not trying to lose their life.
This kind of racist, xenophobic rhetoric enabled by Tucker Carlson and elaborated by the Ann Coulters and Katie Hopkinses of the world is dog-whistle politics—make no mistake about it. Concern for the changing face of our country and of its values is coded language for “the purity and sanctity of white blood is being defiled.” “Western culture” or “European culture” is that of the white, imperialistic majority, and therefore not of indigenous peoples or non-Christians. Pointing to the crimes of immigrants is another way of saying “they” should get out and/or stay out. What makes Carlson’s prominence all the more unsettling are the implications behind his success. For one, Tucker is able to plant the seeds of prejudice even when he is demonstrably wrong. Maza points to Carlson’s belaboring of the Rockville, MD rape case against two immigrant teenagers, a story which came to national attention when then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer referenced it. The charges eventually were dropped, but not after repeated mentions of the case by Carlson and his on-air guests, and with no apparent desire by TC to recant on his amateur pre-judgment of its merits, i.e. no accountability for his character assassination of these children based on xenophobic leanings. In addition, because he is neat and well-dressed, he makes white supremacist views seem that much more mainstream and palatable. Or, as Carlos Maza puts forth in closing, he makes white supremacists’ jobs that much easier.
For years, Tucker Carlson seemed like a political commentator who was kind of a dick and wore a bowtie—the latter of which only made him seem like more of a dick. He has since dispensed with the bowtie, but he’s still pretty much a dick, and what’s more, he’s got much more influence than he possessed during his formative years on CNN and MSNBC. I’ve already invoked the name of Donald Trump herein, comparing his tumultuous-but-ultimately-successful presidential campaign to the scandal-plagued-but-dominant-ratings-wise FOX News Channel. In a way, though, Trump is kind of like Carlson and vice-versa. Donald Trump, like Tucker Carlson, was largely seen as a dick, but you didn’t really think much about him beyond that in terms of political influence. Now he’s President, and his Tweets are regular news, just by virtue of him being the leader of the country. In both cases, despite not exhibiting a great deal of talent in their chosen professions, they have taken advantage of the opportunities presented to them. Again, this is an acknowledgment of their success, and not an endorsement of any intelligence or savvy. Carlson owes a certain debt of gratitude to Bill O’Reilly and his allegedly grope-y ways. Trump benefited from a muddled, weak Republican field and a Democratic Party nominee in Hillary Clinton who is just about as unlikable as he is.
Regardless of how neatly the Trump-Carlson comparison fits, both men are key cogs in a larger movement that seeks to define who is and who isn’t a “true” American, a distinction fed by fear, hate, and irrationality. Often, concordant with the emotions the racism and xenophobia of the alt-right and its ilk engender, the leaders of this movement paint a picture of the situation as a culture “war” and one for the fate of the United States of America. From the vantage point of the left, this is largely hyperbole, but though we shouldn’t consider the other side of the political spectrum the enemy, we shouldn’t undersell the threat represented by normalizing their behavior and rhetoric. As it must be said umpteen times in resistance, Donald Trump is not normal. His antics aren’t becoming of a President of the United States, and by this token, he probably would’ve been fired by now if the would-be CEO-as-President were actually running a business. (Mind you, he is still benefiting from the Trump Corporation’s operations, and that isn’t normal either.)
In his apparent beliefs, however, Trump is not alone, and these feelings of entitlement felt by his supporters and people like Tucker Carlson to regularly spout their outmoded and bigoted remarks should likewise not be accepted. If the white supremacists of America and of the world conceive of their campaign against immigration and multiculturalism as a war for the soul of their respective nation, they, by all indications, are fighting a losing battle. This doesn’t mean that we should take these trends for granted, though. Financial pressure has been levied against Donald Trump and Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity in terms of boycotting the Trump Family’s products and appealing to companies to withdraw their advertisements. The same should be effected with respect to Tucker Carlson, white supremacist darling, and anything less is a tacit approval of the hate he helps give a voice to and a blatant allegiance with revenue over morals.
Think President Donald Trump is doing a good job in his present role? Yeah, well, sorry to inform you, but you’re in the minority on this one, and in fact, this may well be the first time you’ve been considered or have considered yourself to be a part of a minority group. Hey—cheer up—there’s a first time for everything.
You may not care about this bit of happenstance, or may decry the polls as inaccurate or even “fake,” but here’s the information we at least are given. As of February 24, according to Gallup, Trump’s approval rating nationally stands at just 43%. Philip Bump, meanwhile, writing for The Washington Post, has a more nuanced look at polling data, both current and from the 2016 presidential election. In a shocking—shocking!—twist, Bump finds that the only group or groups with a majority approval rating for the President is/are Republicans and whites without college degrees. Independents also garner a majority when FOX’s polling data is considered, but they are at or below 40% for the other five major polls (CBS News, Gallup, McClatchy-Marist, NBC-SurveyMonkey, Quinnipiac University), raising questions about FOX’s methods, FOX News’s viewership, or both. As you might expect, Pres. Trump fares worst among Democrats, and particularly poorly among black and Hispanic women. The Republican Party already has had a persistent problem with these demographics, and if Trump’s numbers are any indication, that inability to draw support from them has only been amplified.
What Philip Bump’s analysis does not show, however, and where my level of interest is primarily, is where Donald Trump’s supporters and defenders rate on their views of some of his more notable policies. That is, they may approve of Trump on the whole, but they also may be concerned about particular aspects of his and the Republicans’ agenda. Jennifer Rubin, who authors the Right Turn blog, a conservative opinion conduit under the Washington Post banner, recently penned an article going into depth about some of the issues that matter most to Trump supporters, and thus, might give us a starting point in conducting such an analysis. In particular, Rubin cites three matters of domestic policy that Trump promised to address if he were elected, and as such, three matters that might matter to his base of support should he not follow through: ObamaCare/the Affordable Care Act, tax reform, and border security.
On the first count, Jennifer Rubin noted that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, for one, sure has been sending a lot of E-mails out to Republican supporters, but with each successive message and little substantive material revealed with each iteration, the situation smacks of the GOP being long on talk of repeal and short on a credible replacement. How bad is this lack of a cohesive strategy to deal with the ACA? Well, let’s just put it this way: if Republican lawmakers like Senator Bob Corker know of a superior plan with which to supplant ObamaCare, they either possess quite the proverbial poker face, or they have no g-d clue. Put Corker, perhaps surprisingly candid about this subject, in the latter category. When asked about the Affordable Care Act by Huffington Post, Sen. Corker admitted he was unaware of any set plans, though he opined that this could be a good thing in that the GOP should take its time on any set proposal. What’s more, Senator Corker questioned the very theory of what the Republicans were trying to do, in particular, regarding the role of revenue:
If you repeal the taxes on the front end and you end up with, say, a Medicaid expansion, or even if it winds up being refundable tax credits, you’re still expending dollars. And if you repeal all the sources of income on the front end, then it’s difficult to me to see how you ever get to a place where you actually fund what you’re expending. And then you’ve self-created the doc-fix scenario, where each year it just keeps getting extended, you’re piling up the deficits, because I don’t see Republicans voting for a tax increase. That’s why to me it’s important that this happen simultaneously. I don’t see a scenario where people are pushing to insure less people. You’ve got to have money to pay for that.
On the second count, Rubin explains that tax reform was liable to be a problem in Republican circles to being with, and with the prospect of a theoretical border tax on companies who import goods produced in facilities located outside the United States, or even raw materials not readily available domestically that must be procured abroad, the movement for reform is further muddied and therefore far from unified. There is concern among industry leaders that such a border tax would force businesses to pass the related cost onto the consumer, a notion that could place companies large and small in jeopardy if this comes to fruition. So, in short, tax reform looks sketchy as well. Potentially 0-for-2—not especially encouraging for Donald Trump and the GOP.
Last but not least, we have border security. First, there’s the issue of the wall at the Mexican border, which is expensive and ineffective. Second, there’s the issue of targeting sanctuary cities, which has encouraged threats of pushback from the cities and regions that stand to be affected by the associated executive order, including that of local lawmakers and law enforcement. Thirdly, there’s the whole travel ban, which has tied up the White House in litigation and is as unpopular if not more so than these other provisions. The seeming absurdity of the wall has made its prospects somewhat dim, though nothing is over until it’s over, and reportedly, we are mere months away from assignment of the contracts to build a monstrosity at our southern border. That considerable resistance has been felt on the other aspects of Trump’s anti-immigration agenda, however, makes it all the more likely that the wall and hallmarks of the other issues—ObamaCare and tax reform—will be met by similar legislative gridlock.
If this is so, the Democratic Party could capitalize on any related loss of support. Jennifer Rubin closes her article by talking about what President Trump and the GOP would need to do to maintain their appeal to their collective fan base:
If those issues [the ACA, border security, taxes] aren’t going to produce concrete legislative results, how else could Trump and Republicans earn voters’ continued indulgence? In essence, Trump promised a better life for the down-and-out in the Rust Belt and the resentful anti-elitists everywhere. What will be the evidence of that? Unemployment presumably would need to go even lower, coal jobs would need to return, and productivity would have to spike, resulting in wage growth. Take-home pay would have to rise, at the very least. And accomplishing those end goals may be even more challenging than passing an Obamacare replacement.
Whatever Trump thought he’d deliver may prove elusive because the problems of working-class Rust Belt voters are the result not of “foreigners stealing their jobs” or “dumb trade deals,” but long-term, knotty problems that have no easy solutions. Trump certainly has no idea how to make the transition to a 21st-century economy while making sure millions don’t get left behind. He never even talks about juicing productivity, let alone puts forth a plan to do so.
In sum, if Trump does not deliver on his major policy initiatives and does not bring about an economic renaissance for the “forgotten man and woman,” will they stick with him and with GOP majorities or stay home in 2018? Like it or not, 2018 will be a referendum on Trump and Trumpism. That’s why Democrats shouldn’t be too pessimistic about their near-term political prospects.
Rubin, if you ask me, gives the Democrats too much credit. Still, her point about the political dangers Donald Trump’s extreme positions and boastful rhetoric present is well taken. If matters of economic performance, health care reform, and immigration policy are key concerns for Trump supporters/Republican voters, unfulfilled promises may cast a pall over the party as a whole. For those of us Trump detractors on the outside looking in, the hardest part of it all would likely be the waiting until Trump’s and the Republican Party’s house of cards falls down.
Let it be stressed that the topics addressed by Jennifer Rubin represent only a subset of what those who voted for Donald Trump may actually care about. Then again, it likely is a rather large subset; according to CNN exit polls taken during the presidential vote this past November, a significant amount of those individuals who chose Trump did so because of their concern about terrorism and illegal immigration. What Rubin’s analysis does not consider, though, and what is vitally important to confront because Trump’s list of executive orders since he was sworn in includes a number of mandates on this dimension, are social issues. President Trump’s anti-immigration agenda, as discussed above, because it so strongly impacts the Hispanic and Muslim communities, can be considered under this purview. For other groups whose rights have been under attack by the Republican Party for some time now, their freedoms have similarly been targeted, although perhaps not as dramatically as, say, deportation raids or a ban on entry into the United States. The reinstatement of the so-called “global gag rule” which pulls American aid to organizations that discuss abortion as a family planning option. The decision to remove protections for transgender students in schools over their use of bathrooms. The revival of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline projects. The reversal of a late-tenure policy enacted by President Barack Obama that prevented coal-mining operations from dumping their waste in streams. I’m sure I’m missing some, but this gives you an idea of the adversarial tone Pres. Trump has taken toward environmentalists, the LGBTQ community, and women. It begs the question from those of us onlookers who never supported Donald Trump in the first place: who’s next? African-Americans? Other religious minorities, including atheists? Democratic socialists? People with disabilities?
This disconnect with the consequences of the Trump administration’s actions, and those aided and abetted by Republican majorities in Congress and the GOP’s own regressive agenda (e.g. the dismantling of the ACA), I believe, informs to a great deal the oft-referenced cultural divide between those on the left who champion equality for all as a raison d’être, and those on the right who feel political correctness limits us as a nation, as well as those on the far-right who legitimately subscribe to the view that whites are superior to people of all other races. Even if the majority of Trump supporters aren’t racists, and indeed defend his policymaking or their vote for him as based on economic or political principles, it becomes that much more mystifying to us non-supporters why Donald Trump’s more jeered-at actions and words aren’t a bigger deal. This includes Trump’s “greatest hits” from the campaign trail, seeing as we are only a few months removed from the presidential race, not to mention the idea there is no statute of limitations on being a douchebag. How are we supposed to accept Trump’s insinuation that Mexico is a country full of drug lords and rapists? How are we supposed to ignore the belittling of Serge Kovaleski, a disabled reporter? How are we supposed to forgive and forget his callous remark that when you’re rich and famous like him you can grab women “by the pussy”? How are we supposed to tolerate the denigration of Khizr and Ghazala Khan, parents of fallen United States Army Captain Humayun Khan? How are we supposed to react positively when Trump and members of his Cabinet reject the science that illustrates the role man plays in climate change?
Speaking of adversarial tones, and to invoke that last environmentally-conscious thought, what is concerning to many Americans and what should be concerning to yet more is the apparent attack of the White House and of supportive right-wing media on facts, on freedom of the press, on science, on transparency, and on truth. President Donald Trump is flanked by flunkies like Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, Sebastian Gorka, Stephen Bannon, and Stephen Miller who defend his ranting and raving on Twitter; deny past statements made by the President despite recorded, verifiable proof; excuse his putting forth of opinions based on false or misleading statistics; flout ethics rules and standards of journalistic integrity; hand-pick members of the press and news organizations who are favorable to Trump to ask questions during press conferences and even to attend certain events; intimidate dissenters and intimate reprisals for those who criticize and challenge their credentials; make up events such as the Bowling Green Massacre, misdirect or refuse to answer direct questions from reporters; and suggest “alternative facts.” They lie constantly, and even go as far to depict the mainstream media as the “enemy of the people,” a sentiment so reprehensible it caused Chris Wallace of FOX freaking News to come to Barack Obama’s defense, saying even he never called them an enemy. This is the kind of behavior we’d expect out of Nazi Germany or even Vladimir Putin’s Russia, not the United States of America.
As for Putin and Russia, that members of the Trump administration, the Trump campaign, the Trump Organization, and even President Trump may—may!—be compromised by their ties to Russian interests should concern all Americans. Along these lines, why shouldn’t we be allowed to see for ourselves to make sure? What exactly happened that provoked the resignation of Michael Flynn, and if it were known about his transgression in speaking to Russian officials even earlier, why did he have to resign at all? That is, why wasn’t he removed from his post then and there? Why are we more concerned with the size of electoral victories and Inauguration Ceremonies than the breadth of Russian interference in our elections and hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s communications and the affairs of other citizens? Why are we so intent on lifting sanctions on Russia and, in the process, disregarding the reports from our own intelligence community? And for f**k’s sake, what is in your tax returns that you don’t want to show the world, as other Presidents before you have done? If there’s nothing to hide, why not, in the name of transparency, turn over all the cards? For someone who demanded accountability for Hillary Clinton concerning her E-mails and for Benghazi, and who helped spearhead an absurd campaign to prove Barack Obama was secretly born in another country, and likely would have done for Ted Cruz if he had somehow captured the Republican Party nomination, the hypocrisy speaks volumes—and by now, none of us should be surprised to hear it.
The totality of this trampling of individual liberties and American interests for the sake of one man’s vanity, alongside the collective failure of Republican lawmakers to condemn Donald Trump and to stand against his excesses, as well as the abandonment of the working class by the Democratic Party for the sake of corporate and wealthy donors, and the unwillingness of pillars of the media to stand with one another and to stand up to Trump rather than to simply seek out a boost to ratings and website clicks—all this in no uncertain terms and to be quite frank makes me embarrassed to be an American right now. I know I’m not alone in these feelings of shame, either. Going back to the analysis of our friend Philip Bump, according to recent polling by McClatchy-Marist and Quinnipiac University, a majority of Americans are embarrassed by Donald Trump as President.
Granted, there is a large partisan divide on this question—while 58% report feelings of embarrassment overall, Democrats really push the average up; a similar majority of Republicans, though not quite to the extent Democratic respondents report being embarrassed, say they feel “proud” of the job Trump is doing (independents, in case you wondering, by slightly more than the poll average are embarrassed by Trump). It’s still early in Trump’s tenure, mind you, and there’s a chance that voters for the two major parties are more likely to hew closer to center as we go along. By the same token, however, they could just as well become more and more entrenched in their views. If nothing else, this underscores the profundity of the aforementioned cultural divide—and the magnitude of the effort needed by Democrats and members of the Resistance to defeat Donald Trump, congressional Republicans, and other down-ticket members of the GOP. For progressives, simply replacing establishment Republicans with mainstream Democrats may not even be enough.
I already concede my readership is limited, and thus, the likelihood of any Trump supporters reading this blog is slim to none. Nonetheless, in closing out this piece, my final considerations have this audience in mind. First, let me say something on the subject of criticism. I am critical of Donald Trump in this post, as I have been leading up to the election and ever since. By and large, these are not personal attacks, and at any rate, disagreeing with the President based on the issues and calling him out when we believe something he says or Tweets to be false is OK. In fact, it’s one of the hallmarks of a healthy democracy. Our elected leaders are people, not gods, or even the supposedly infallible Pope. They are prone to error, if not deliberately misleading statements. Disagreeing with them doesn’t make you any less patriotic or mean you don’t love America, as was the case if and when you decried Barack Obama for any and all he didn’t do during his two terms. Nor does it make the press the enemy of our people. It is in the American tradition to stand up to authority when we deem it worthy. Sure, you may deride me as a crybaby liberal snowflake and tell me to move to Canada, but by criticizing my ability to criticize, you’re flying your American flag right in the face of what it means to be a free person in the United States. Besides, you may scoff about people leaving the country, but even if they don’t leave, foreign nationals from countries not affected by the travel ban likely will start to refuse to come here. Great—you’re thinking—keep them over there! Right, except for the idea foreign nationals who come to live, study, and work here are vital to the U.S. economy. According to the Economic Policy Institute, from the period between 2009 and 2011, immigrants’ share of the country’s economic output was 14.7%, larger than their share of the population. That’s no small potatoes, and just one reason why a climate in this nation that immigrants and concerned citizens alike feel is inhospitable is dangerous for the United States of America.
The other message I have for Trump supporters, if you’re listening, is that though some of us may resist against the President, his advisers, his Cabinet, and Republican leadership, we don’t hate you. We want you as part of a unified United States, as redundant as that sounds, and we certainly will need you if we are to elect people who we feel will be better representatives for their constituents two and four years from now. That’s why I encourage you, in earnest, to think about what President Donald Trump has done, is doing, and will do for you. Forget about other people if you need to—even though that isn’t exactly encouraged. As noted earlier in this piece, Trump has made a lot of promises. Politicians usually do, even if he doesn’t consider himself one. But he’s the President now, and he should be held accountable for what he says and does. If all his talk ends up being just that, and you find your life and that of others’ lives around you hasn’t dramatically improved, remember what I and others have said. And get angry—angry enough to do something about it. Like, contacting your senators and representatives angry. Not so much shooting up the place angry.
With each story of undocumented immigrant parents ripped away from their children, headstones being toppled over at Jewish cemeteries, and violence and insults directed at our Muslim brethren, scores of conscientious Americans and I are angered, saddened, and—yes—embarrassed about what is happening in our country. We may love America deep down, but that doesn’t mean we necessarily love everything about it, nor should we be expected to. And while we all bear some level of culpability, chief among us members of the Democratic and Republican Parties and the media, let us not exonerate our Commander-in-Chief. In fact, we should hold him to a higher standard, as we have done with the previous 44 holders of his office. This is not Donald Trump’s America, or that of any one person. It is all of ours, and anyone who would elevate himself above that equality written about by our Founding Fathers should be embarrassed in his or her own right.
When someone blows up a physical embodiment of the year “2016” and encourages people to tell that year to go f**k itself, you know it’s been an abnormally bad one. John Oliver took the opportunity to give 2016 this proper send-off (a report on this event was equally properly filed under the category “F**K 2016” by Aimée Lutkin and Jezebel), and that HBO agreed to afford Oliver the chance to explode something of that magnitude likewise speaks to the horror that was this past 366 days. That’s right—in case you had forgotten, 2016 was a leap year, so all-too-appropriately, we were given one extra day to protract the misery. The Julian and Gregorian calendars can eat a collective dick on that front.
I only started this blog in the middle of June of this year, so I missed the chance to comment on some things that happened earlier in 2016. With over 50 posts under my belt on United States of Joe, however, there’s still enough topics to revisit to make reflecting on the year that was worthwhile. Well, at least as far as I’m concerned. And since, despite my overall belief in fair and democratic principles, this blog is not a democracy but a Joe-ocracy, that’s the agenda for this session. You’re welcome. So, kick back. Get plenty of champagne ready—noting how awful the past year has been, it may take quite a bit of alcohol to get into the spirit. And get ready to count down to 2017. It’s time to give our own send-off to 2016, middle fingers in the air and all.
Well, before we take the plunge into the abjectly negative, let’s go back to the app-based sensation that was Pokémon Go. Since its initial breakthrough success which had critics saying the smartphone game had ushered in a new era of augmented reality and had fundamentally changed the way we look at mobile gaming, downloads and use of the title have understandably cooled. In light of the downward trend, members of the media are now looking at Pokémon Go altogether as a disappointment, especially in light of some updates which failed to impress. You need to walk 3 KM just for one stinking Charmander candy? I’m never going to get that Charizard! NEVER, I SAY!
Now that I’m done being dramatic, not only do I find these charges against the game and its maker Niantic overblown (although, seriously, those Buddy System ratios are pretty shitty), but expectations, buttressed by the app’s initial success, were probably always too high. Though Niantic did its part to make the game palatable to people of all ages and ability levels by making gameplay largely based around throwing Poké Balls and by simplifying battles, the players who are most likely to find the experience rewarding are fans of the original game, who are used to grinding for experience, completing the game as completely as possible, and overall, staying in it for the long haul. It’s not Angry Birds. It’s not Candy Crush Saga. It’s not Fruit freaking Ninja. You have to walk and work for your rewards. You know, when you can’t pay money for some of them. Either way, you still have to walk!
When Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign in July and formally endorsed Hillary Clinton, it admittedly felt like a punch to the gut. For all the mental preparation made, when the moment actually arrived, it still hurt. What made Sanders’ decision and the associated feelings yet worse, though, was the reception his standing behind Clinton received and the accusations that got hurled around in the wake of the announcement. Con-man. Sell-out. Traitor. Looking at Bernie’s endorsement in a purely ideological vacuum, it is easy to assess this move as a betrayal of his principles and what he stands for. In this instance, however, context is everything, and with Donald Trump having sewn up the Republican Party nomination, Sanders saw greater merit in trying to unite Democrats and other prospective voters in an effort to defeat Trump. Ultimately, the orange one shocked the world and scored an electoral victory, but Bernie Sanders did his best to avoid this eventuality. That not enough Americans either came out to vote or otherwise didn’t buy what Hillary was selling is largely on her, not Bernie.
Of course, in the immediate aftermath of the suspension of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, the remaining candidates looked to capitalize. Even with the bulk of Sanders supporters presumed to be going over to Hillary Clinton’s camp, Donald Trump himself made an instantaneous pitch to those “feeling the Bern,” trying to tap into their fervent and justifiable anger at the political establishment. Third-party candidates like Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, too, though, made a play for these suddenly available votes, rationalizing that there was no better time than now than to tell the two major parties to shove it. In endorsing Clinton, Bernie repeatedly tried to communicate the danger and inadequacies of Trump as a presidential candidate first and foremost, even though he may have largely been preaching to the choir, as younger voters by and large detested “the Donald.” He also, meanwhile, cautioned against a “protest vote” for someone like Johnson, Stein, or even Harambe (and yes, he would’ve loved to follow this election), realizing, as did all these newfound suitors for Bernie backers’ affections, that the votes of his faithful could swing the election by helping to decide key swing states. To reiterate, it didn’t work all that well, but the effort on Sanders’ part was there.
Ultimately, as Bernie Sanders himself will insist, his run for President, while important, was always more concerned with starting a revolution and getting more Americans, especially younger voters and working-class individuals, involved with the political process, even at the local level. Whether the energy behind his campaign and the urge for progressive grass-roots activism is sustainable in the United States is yet to be seen, but either way, there is yet room for optimism that people will want to keep active and informed as a means of exerting greater control over their own destiny. Thus, you may call Bernie any name you want, but I choose to label him an inspiration, and I feel history will bear out this sentiment as well.
As we Bernie Sanders supporters worked our way through the Five Stages of Grief and Loss, eventually, we had to come to accept that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump was going to be our next President. In fact, even the non-Berners were forced to do the same, in all likelihood ensuring many who were on the fence—that is, on whether or not they would vote at all—would choose the latter option and just stay home. In my piece referenced in the title of this section, I mused about the notion that maybe we, as a collective electorate, did not deserve better than these choices that a significant portion of said electorate neither trusted nor cared for much. Ever since 2000, when Ralph Nader was accused of costing Al Gore the election (even though Gore lost that shit on his own, with an admitted probable helping from electoral shenanigans down in Florida), Americans have been highly critical of parties like the Green Party and the Libertarian Party, with the usual refrain being some combination of “they could play spoiler to a legitimate candidate” or “you’re throwing away your vote” if you opt for one of them.
However, to invoke the words of Mr. Nader himself, not only is this attitude politically bigoted, as it negates the will of the individual to make an informed choice in accordance with his or her conscience, but it nullifies our bargaining power with the two major parties. After all, if we blindly vote either Democratic or Republican, beyond losing the election, what motivation does either party have to institute reform that better reflects the needs and wants of the voting public? Especially for members of the working class, both Democrats and Republicans have seemed to take them for granted, which at least partially explains why the Dems lost this election and why Trump and Sanders achieved the levels of popularity they did this election cycle.
In the end, though, despite the increased visibility of Gary Johnson and Jill Stein in the lead-up to the election, most Americans who voted (and there was a good portion of the country who could’ve voted which didn’t) cast their ballots for either Hillary or Donald. As historically unfavorable as these two candidates were, and for all their flaws—Trump as an idiot and professional con-man stoking the flames of fear and hatred, Clinton as an out-of-touch elitist with a penchant for pandering and expensive Giorgio Armani jackets—better than nine-tenths of voters decided they had to pick one of the two, if for no other reason than to block the other candidate they liked even less. Which is pretty shitty, if you ask me. Personally, even with the knowledge that she wouldn’t win, I voted for Jill Stein, as I felt neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton had earned my vote. That relative few other Americans opted out of the two-party paradigm, however, signals to me that we, as a nation, are not ready to demand political change as strongly as we should. It’s either red and blue in these United States, and if you don’t like either color, the present message, unfortunately, is to get the f**k out.
Holy f**k, indeed. In retrospect, I’m not sure why the pollsters were so surprised that Donald Trump scored the “upset” victory, or why we were so easily convinced that Hillary Clinton was such a strong favorite to win the presidency, when their models were consistently wrong or failed to predict the magnitudes of certain results throughout the primary season. At any rate, as must be reiterated for anyone who sees Trump’s win as a mandate, the man who considers himself a master of “The Art of the Deal” won the presidency on the strength of electoral votes, not because he had a resounding victory in the popular vote (in fact, he lost by more than 2 million votes, and it apparently tears him up inside)—and certainly not because he ran a stellar campaign.
So, how did Trump win? Looking at the exit poll data, certain trends do tend to stick out. Regionally, Donald Trump fared much better in the Midwest and the South, and of course, he carried key swing states, notably those in the Rust Belt (e.g. Ohio, Wisconsin). In terms of demographic data, Trump had an easy advantage among male voters and voters 45 and above, not to mention he held an appeal among less educated individuals and the wealthiest earners (a seeming paradox, though as evidenced by how they spend their money, rich people aren’t necessarily all that smart—look at Trump himself!), as well as evangelicals and married people, but perhaps most notable of all, whites voted at almost a 60% clip for Donald Trump, while close to three of four non-whites went for Hillary Clinton. CNN commentator Van Jones referred to this aspect of the results as a “white-lash”, as in “white backlash” after eight years of a black president the Republicans have characterized as a cause of America’s problems and someone with a secret Muslim agenda, and it’s hard to argue otherwise, really. When the former head of the Ku Klux Klan is cheering you on and citing you as an inspiration, you know white supremacist beliefs, racism and xenophobia helped you to victory.
On a somewhat related note, the thematic reasons why Trump voters chose the way did are also significant. Speaking of racism and xenophobia, supporters of Donald Trump rated immigration trends and terrorism the most important issues facing the United States. Screw the economy and foreign relations—let’s worry some more about brown people. As for the quality that best drew voters to Trump, it wasn’t whether the candidate cares about them, exhibits good judgment, or has the right experience—those voters tended to go for Clinton—but whether he or she could bring about “change.” Whatever the heck that means.
In a nutshell, that’s why Donald Trump is set to be our next President. As for who we can blame for this, besides the obvious in Trump himself and his supporters, there are three core enablers for the man’s political success. Certainly, the Republican Party let him waltz right in and secure the nomination after a barrage of similarly weak candidates failed to stand in his way, and after the GOP at large sowed the seeds of fear and hate he exploited. The media, too, acted irresponsibly and selfishly, chasing ratings while failing to challenge Trump on his lack of defined policy, his factual inaccuracies, his reckless language, or even his refusal to publish his tax returns. In addition, the Democratic Party, in its own right bears some responsibility. Among its most damning sins are its failure to stand up for the working class, its inability to protect jobs and wages, its support for disastrous trade deals like NAFTA and TPP, its complicity with corporations and wealthy donors, and its allowing antitrust laws to lapse or otherwise become weaker, thereby consolidating power into fewer and fewer hands. The failure to stop Donald Trump is a collective one, and though it probably won’t happen, these enablers should do some serious soul-searching for fear of endangering their long-term prospects.
Should anything happen to Donald Trump, whether in terms of his health (not that I’m wishing for the man to pull a William Henry Harrison or anything) or impeachment, the next man in line may not be all that much of an improvement. Mike Pence, who has been governing the proud state of Indiana, has arguably made a number of shitty choices during his tenure. He vetoed a refund of a tax overcharge on the basis it would have cost too much to administer. Before he got too much (warranted) negative feedback, he proposed JustIN, a state-run news service some likened to Pravda in the Soviet era. He rejected Medicaid expansion in his state under the Affordable Care Act on principle, to the detriment of his constituents. He insisted on a ban against a needle exchange program that was effective in limiting the spread of HIV related to a particular drug injection, and later reversed his position, but refused to use state funding to provide for such exchanges. Perhaps most notably, he signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, which allowed for discrimination against the LGBT community and cost Indiana some $60 million in revenue before its reversal. An opponent of gay marriage and women controlling their own reproductive rights, Mike Pence is one of a seemingly increasingly long line of conservative Republican leaders who puts evangelical beliefs ahead of his state’s and the nation’s best interests. He’s not Trump, but he’s no rose either.
In terms of what damage he may do in terms of signing legislation into law and what damage he likely already is doing in his appointees for key positions (Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy—are you f**king serious?), that Donald Trump has been thrust into a position of immense power is bad enough, but his association with the far-right and his inspiration to the likes of David Duke makes for some shitty ripple effects just the same, let me tell you. I said earlier that Trump’s electoral victory should not be seen as a mandate given how he lost the popular vote and in light of how divided we are as a nation. And yet, the Breitbart crowd and members of the so-called “alt-right” have taken it as such, viewing themselves as fighters in a culture war they are winning, standing against political correctness and other liberal “absurdities.” They also apparently like boycotting companies who don’t stand for their white supremacist agenda. You know, even though they probably don’t use their products anyway. But boycott it is! TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP!
When Hillary Clinton formally acknowledged the alt-right in a speech during the campaign, though I feel it needed to be said, it further legitimized this loosely-constructed movement that coincides with the likes of Gamergate’s sexist perpetuators. That Stephen Bannon has been given a prominent advisory role in Trump’s administration, though, should concern us more conscientious Americans. Donald Trump is not normal, and those who sanction his misdeeds and try to normalize his objectionable behavior are standing in the way of progress. Furthermore, the gang mentality with which many of them operate, encouraging online attacks on and/or death threats against individuals whose values clash with theirs, is troubling, as is the unwillingness of social media services to more aggressively pursue those accounts which violate their terms of service for fear of losing traffic. In short, the alt-right has arrived, as much as many of us might not like to dignify them with a response, and it is incumbent upon those of us who have respect for others—not just respect for white males who refuse to admit to their privilege—to speak out against their behavior and words as dangerous and wrong.
Before Donald Trump swooped in to save the day and stop the threat of taco trucks on every corner in the United States, the United Kingdom gave us a teaser trailer for the U.S. presidential election with a referendum vote on whether or not to remain in the European Union. As with the election in the States, the experts predicted voters would do the sensible thing; if this were an analogy in the vein of the old SATs: UNITED STATES: ELECT HILLARY CLINTON :: UNITED KINGDOM: VOTE REMAIN. And, as with the election in the States, voters did the exact opposite.
The parallels are uncanny. The decision to leave the EU was, as it was in the United States, mediated by a greater incidence of older voters opting to do the wrong thing. Like with Trump’s anti-immigrant appeals and vague notions of “making America great again,” Leave voters were swayed by visions of “securing the nation’s borders” and “taking back control” of the country’s economy, not to mention equally empty promises of the UK Independence Party. Additionally, voters seemed to be making choices that were a direct rejection of existing politics. Barack Obama, David Cameron—either way you slice it, the public clamored for change, no matter who would bring it or what it would entail. The fallout from both votes is still being assessed, but the discontentment of the working-class voter and upward trends in outspokenness among white nationalists worldwide suggest the U.S. and UK votes are not isolated incidents, and in turn, that the risk of other Brexit-like events occurring in the future in other countries is all-too-real. The winds of change are blowing, and one can only hope our houses don’t get knocked over when the gusts have subsided.
Contrary to the apparent beliefs of some, black people don’t enjoy getting mowed down by police at routine traffic stops. While police shootings may not have been any more numerous in 2016 than in years past, through the advent of cellphones and other camera-based technologies, violence involving police certainly has become more visible. Whatever the precise rates of deaths related to encounters between civilians and police, it would seem as though we have a lot of progress to make regarding recognition of the disparity of treatment people of color receive at the hands of police and that which is received by whites, regardless of whether the person accosted by one or more officers has a gun or not.
A perfect illustration of the failure of much of white America to confront its privilege in this regard comes in arguments about the very name and nature of black activism in the United States which exists in large part due to documented police brutality. In response to hearing the moniker Black Lives Matter, or merely even the phrase “black lives matter,” some people are too quick to “correct” the original speaker with the phrase “all lives matter,” or counter with their own version (i.e. “blue lives matter”) that serves to negate the critical recognition of blackness inherent in the initial figure of speech. To me, however, this falls prey to a fairly obvious logical trap: if all lives matter, then black lives, as a subset of all lives, should matter too, and there should be no problem accepting that terminology. “Black lives matter” does not mean black lives should matter more than other lives, but simply that they should matter as much as white lives, blue lives, or any other color lives of which one can think. Clearly, though, they don’t, or else there wouldn’t be a need for organizations such as Black Lives Matter.
The need to scrutinize adherence by individual officers to specified protocol when engaging possible suspects, as well as the systems which serve to shield “rogue” cops from criticism and/or prosecution, is undermined by two key strategies of those who react to protests with knee-jerk defenses of our uniformed police. The first is to question the integrity of the victim—yes, victim—who, because he or she is labeled a “thug” or has a history with the law, evidently deserves to be effectively lynched by the police who intercede him or her. The second is to de-legitimize efforts of black activists wholesale, conflating them unfairly with those who loot and otherwise take advantage of violence and associated protests for their own gain, likening them to terrorists, or wrongly insisting they are advocating for the slaughter of police. In both cases, this is counterproductive, regressive thinking.
As some have argued, those cops who are too nervous not to shoot someone at a routine encounter shouldn’t be placed in such a highly leveraged situation, and either way, good police—which comprise the majority of forces around the nation, let’s be clear—should be appreciative of efforts to root out bad actors from their ranks. As for the protests against police brutality, this doesn’t equate to disrespect for the police, nor does kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem constitute an affront to our military, as Colin Kaepernick’s example reminds us. Black Lives Matter et al. don’t want to see law and order dissolved. They just want to see police officers and officials who wear the badge held accountable when they do wrong, and at a very basic level, not to be utterly afraid they might die when getting pulled over by a squad car. It’s 2016. We need to do better as a country in addressing racial inequality, especially within the purview of criminal justice.
There have been too many mass shootings in the United States of late, but the Orlando nightclub shooting, in particular, was particularly devastating for many of us. Not only was it a tremendous loss of life, but that the LGBT community was apparently the specific target of the violence made this brutality that much worse for a population that regularly faces hatred and persecution. Speaking for myself, it is difficult to comprehend how someone could harbor such hate for themselves and others that they would wish to walk into a building and start firing indiscriminately. Perhaps this idea gets the tiniest bit easier to understand when we understand this hate works both ways. As jihadists would seek to inspire terror in the West through bombings and mass shootings, white nationalism encountered in Austria, France, Holland, the United Kingdom and the United States, among other nations, has created an environment that has often proved hostile to Muslims, and has made the prospect of accepting more refugees from war-torn countries like Syria decidedly poor. I mean, Donald Trump ran on a platform of which one of the key tenets was a temporary ban on travel to the U.S. for all Muslims. It’s incredible, and incredibly shameful, at that.
Never mind the idea that all this bluster about “bombing the shit out of ISIS” may actually be good for the Islamic State’s ability to recruit and strengthening its resolve. The jingoists among us would have everyone believe that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with the laws of the United States, that it is a “cancer” to be snuffed out, and that American Muslims who don’t do enough to help discover would-be terrorists in their midst (which, evidently, is quite easy) are guilty in their own right, and regardless, likely merit surveillance of their homes/places of worship and tests administered to gauge their love for and commitment to the U-S-of-A. This conflation of Islam, a religion which preaches peace at its core, and the bastardized religion ISIS and other jihadists/”radical Islamists” practice, is a patently false equivalency.
For the sake of an analogy—one for which I can’t take credit, let me stress—ISIS is to everyday Muslims what the Ku Klux Klan is to white people who aren’t unabashed racists. In both cases, the majority disavows the hate and violence these groups perpetuate. This is by no means saying we shouldn’t be vigilant against individuals who would wish to do us harm. As bad as the Orlando massacre was, though, and as unforgivable as the actions of an organization like ISIS/ISIL have proven, our responses and the negative feelings that accompany some of these reactions reveal an ugly side to our patriotism as well. In the demonization and the pursuit of “the other,” we run the clear risk of losing ourselves.
I didn’t originally write about it, but the Chicago Cubs actually won the World Series. To wit, I have neither observed nor heard any stories about swarms of locusts descending on fields or rivers of blood forming, but I’m not ruling them out just yet. The apocalypse takes time to develop, you know?
Wells Fargo was forced to fire thousands of mid-level managers for directing employees to create fake accounts and sign up customers for services without their knowledge, essentially making them scapegoats for the company’s aggressive sales model. The company eventually apologized—sort of—and John Stumpf was eventually removed from the role of CEO, but the big bank largely closed the book on this sordid chapter of its history without really admitting wrongdoing, and Stumpf had a nice golden parachute on which to drift to security. Meanwhile, Wells Fargo has apparently learned absolutely nothing from this fiasco, as new CEO Tim Sloan has expressed the belief that the company and the banking industry as a whole could actually do with less regulation. Evidently, it’s all fun and games when you get to play with other people’s money.
FBI director James Comey, despite finding that Hillary Clinton and her aides were extremely careless in their handling of E-mail while Clinton was Secretary of State, that Clinton should’ve known certain E-mails were classified and didn’t belong on an unsecured server in the first place, that the State Department was generally lacking in security protocol for classified E-mails, and that Hillary used multiple unsecured devices in locations where American adversaries could have exploited this vulnerability, held a press conference to announce he was not recommending charges be filed against the Democratic Party nominee. Then, a week before the general election, he announced that the Bureau was looking anew into Clinton’s E-mails, which she and her campaign cite as a factor in why she lost. So, nice going, Director Comey! You’ve undermined confidence in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and perhaps swayed the election! Don’t pat yourself on the back too hard!
Chris Christie not only failed to capture the Republican Party nomination, but he was overlooked by Donald Trump for vice president despite being, more or less, his manservant. Oh, and Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority, and Bridget Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, two key figures in “Bridge-gate,” were found guilty on all counts in a trial related to the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, and a separate criminal trial is set to take place for Christie himself. Congratulations, Chris. You played yourself.
Puerto Rico defaulted on its debt, a result fueled by a combination of fiscal and economic factors, including the repeal of tax breaks for businesses, the creation and sale of triple tax-exempt municipal bonds, the inability of the commonwealth to declare for bankruptcy, exempting wealthy investors and businesses from paying capital gains taxes, “vulture” hedge funds buying up bonds and demanding a full payday, and institutions like UBS selling risky bonds they themselves underwrote to unsuspecting customers. Today, Puerto Rico’s financial future is yet in peril with individuals who are alleged to have helped the island along the path to crisis serving on its appointed oversight board, and with Donald Trump being a crazy mofo. Also, the U.S. Virgin Islands may be on the way to its own debt crisis. Um, huzzah?
In some good news, the Trans-Pacific Partnership seems to be all but dead, being disliked on both sides of the political aisle. Also, the Dakota Access Pipeline is on indefinite hold, as the Army Corps of Engineers found more research needed to be done regarding the environmental effects of its intended route through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Of course, supporters of these canceled or postponed initiatives may yet redouble their efforts, so we concerned progressives can’t really relax. At least we can enjoy a short breather before the ball drops, eh?
In the title of this piece (remember back that far?), I reference the notion that 2017 has to be better than 2016. I’m not sure it amounts to much, though, beyond wishful thinking. If the best qualification for improvement which comes to mind is that we won’t be electing Donald Trump, it’s cold comfort in light of the fact he’ll already be President. Going back to his appointees, if they are any evidence, the country is set upon a bumpy path for the next four years, or until the man gets impeached—whichever comes first. His Defense and National Security Cabinet leaders view Islam as a threat to America. His Education Secretary is an opponent of public schools, despite never having attended one. His Energy Secretary infamously once forgot the name of the department he has been tapped to helm. His Health and Human Services director wants to privatize everything and largely gut social programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. His HUD Secretary knows nothing about housing administration.
Wait, I’m not done yet! His head of the Justice Department failed to be confirmed as a federal judge once upon a time because he was an out-and-out racist. His Labor Secretary opposes raising the minimum wage. His Secretary of State has likely financial ties to Vladimir Putin. His Transportation Secretary is married to Mitch McConnell—and that’s evidence enough of poor judgment. His Treasury Secretary oversaw 50,000 or so foreclosures from his position within OneWest Bank, an entity which was accused of unethical practices and discrimination against minorities. His EPA head is a climate change denier. His Small Business Administration director is former CEO of a fake wrestling empire. And his United Nations representative has no foreign policy experience. Irresponsible does not begin to describe these selections, and fingers are crossed that one or more of them fail to get confirmed by the Senate.
So, yeah, I’m not incredibly optimistic about the United States’ prospects right now. The silver lining, as I see it, is that more and more Americans are waking up to the realization that our system is broken and that it doesn’t work for everyone, and with luck, that number will grow as the sheen wears off the shiny promises Trump has made and can’t hope to keep. I wouldn’t have wished for a Donald Trump presidency in a thousand years, but if this hastens the movement of the nation in a more progressive direction, so be it. For those of us who refuse to accept Trump and the America he has envisioned as normal, and who insist that we’ve come too far as a country to simply put the train in reverse, the resistance starts now. 2017, we look to you in strengthening our resolve. And 2016, once more, you can go f**k yourself.