If you’re like me, you may have fallen into this same cognitive trap: when you see two or more instances of some phenomenon, you suddenly believe it is way more representative of a situation than it really is. Wow—two people wearing bowler hats? Everyone is wearing them these days! Chances are, though, that the proliferation of bowler hats is not as widespread as one might believe despite the anecdotal evidence. At least I would hope that is the case. It’s bad enough fedoras are as popular as they are—we don’t need bowler hats and possibly even suspenders being thrown into the mix as well. Looking around the media landscape, it would seem this tendency to overrate the frequency and/or importance of salient events is more universal a problem than you or I alone would suffer. For instance, watching various crime procedural shows on television would have you convinced murder and other lawlessness is rampant in this country. For that matter, so would President Trump, but at least these programs are intended as entertainment. You know, as opposed to trying to inspire feelings of dread and loathing for one’s fellow man.
This all gets exacerbated, moreover, when terms created and popularized by popular media are applicable, seemingly for no other reason than to justify repeated use of the term. In the wake of Watergate, the suffix “-gate” has become synonymous with scandal, despite the nonsensical aspect of having -gate as a standalone term. Meanwhile, following the upset wins of Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the option to Leave the EU for the United Kingdom that same year, news outlets are on the lookout for the next “-exit.” If Marine Le Pen had won the French presidential election—Frexit? Greece’s possible withdrawal from the Eurozone—Grexit? If LeBron James were to theoretically leave Cleveland again—LeBrexit? It would appear the mainstream media is wishing for these kinds of things to happen just so they can make use of this portmanteau. All the while, damn the potential fallout to the world economy and to the people within these countries. And Cleveland? F**k ’em! They got their championship! They can go back to watching the Browns and wallowing in their misery!
Along these lines, various outlets have given a considerable amount of attention to the unrest surrounding a possible declaration of independence in Catalonia apart from the whole of Spain, billing it as another iteration of a more global tension between the ruling and the ruled in today’s political climate. As with the 2016 U.S. election and the UK Brexit referendum vote, support for or against Catalan secession is a mixed bag, with a majority of those who came out for a referendum vote expressing their desire to see a “Catal-exit,” but less than half of eligible voters actually participating in the event (and all kinds of irregularities surrounding the vote). There are also historical considerations to be had; in the case of Catalonia, the lineage of a distinct region within Spain is considerably longer than that of the rocky relationship of the democratic masses of the United States with their elected representatives or even that of our forefathers and their colonial overlords. Despite these superficial similarities, though, there are aspects of Trump’s rise/Brexit lacking in a potential Catalan exit that makes the latter a rather imperfect analog. This is to say that not all pushes for “liberty” are created equal.
First of all, let’s talk about how we got here in the first place. The BBC offers a concise primer on the subject of Catalan independence, noting Catalonia has been a Spanish fixture for nearly a millennium and, for much of its history, enjoyed relative autonomy. Then came along the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s and the rise of the dictatorial General Francisco Franco—and that all got shot to shit. Eventually, though, Franco up and died, Catalans regained their independent spirit, and come 1978, Catalonia regained its effective autonomy under the new Spanish constitution. Flash forward to 2006, and Catalans were voting for outright autonomy and status as a separate nation; as with the current referendum, voter turnout wasn’t exactly robust (less than 50%), but the majority of those who cast ballots for the occasion opted for autonomy. Which, um, lasted all of about four years. In 2010, the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled to annul or re-interpret key provisions of the 2006 Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, prompting a large-scale protest in June of that year, and pretty much annual demonstrations on the matter since. Leading up to the most recent referendum vote, an informal vote regarding independence was held in 2014, and in 2016, Carles Puigdemont was elected President of Catalonia, a noted pro-Catalan-independence separatist. As the article underscores, alongside these repeated referenda and the tug-of-war with the central Spanish government, there has additionally been a fair amount of economic strife between Spain and Catalonia, especially following the 2008 economic crisis which hurt so many nations worldwide. For those on the side of forming a new republic, and right or wrong, there is often the concurrent view that Catalonia gives more than it takes to Madrid, and that Madrid takes more than it gives.
So, about that whole referendum vote. Prior to the October 1 vote, the Catalan parliament held a simple yes-or-no vote pertaining to whether or not Catalonia should hold a referendum vote to become an independent state. This did not go over well with the Spanish government, as the Spanish constitution regards Spain as a whole as indivisible, and in response to the passing of the referendum, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the rest of the Spanish government declared their action illegal, using the Spanish Constitutional Court to suspend the referendum law enacted by the Catalan parliament. Rajoy’s government also moved to seize Catalonia’s finances and to take control of the Catalan police force, arrested pro-independence members of the parliament, blocked access to paper ballots, shut down websites designed to inform the public a vote was even occurring, and suspended a Catalan parliament session at the behest of anti-secession Socialists. And when the fateful day arrived? What resulted was nothing short of a shit-show. Close to 900 people were injured as a direct result of the police show of force implemented to try to prevent a vote from occurring, and to say there were voting irregularities would be an understatement. Polling stations were closed. Ballots were confiscated. Various Catalans reported receiving both wedgies and Wet Willies. OK, I made up that last one, but the government’s response to a prospective move for independence struck many as being disproportionately brutal. What’s more, the heavy-handed way in which the Rajoy government approached the situation may have done more to push Catalans on the fence about secession in favor of leaving Spain. Everyday people generally do not enjoy getting beat up on their way to the ballot box. Just saying.
As bad as Spain looks following the clamp-down on the mere notion of Catalonia possibly leaving the country to form a new nation, it should be stressed that this does not mean the desires of Carles Puigdemont and other Catalan separatists are necessarily prudent. As numerous loyalists to the Spanish crown and independent outside observers and experts have expressed, a move out of Spanish jurisdiction for Catalonia stands to be disastrous for both the region and the European Union in sum. Catalonia is largely reliant on Madrid for its communications regulation and energy supplies, and the Spanish government controls a majority of the region’s transportation infrastructure, not to mention Catalonia is only part of the EU because it is part of Spain. As for Spain, Catalan independence would mean a significant efflux of people and capital, which potentially could hurt a country still trying to recover from a recession and threatens to destabilize the Eurozone altogether. Indeed, for as many Catalans supporting independence, that many or more want Catalonia to remain as part of Spain, as evidenced by the numerous pro-unity rallies held in Barcelona—not even in Madrid. Furthermore, the Spanish government has the support of various influential EU member states, with Germany stating its belief that the rule of Spanish law should prevail even with the violence occurring on the day of the vote, and with France openly conceding it would not recognize an independent Catalonia. As such, and in many respects, it would appear that a “Catal-exit” would be as ill-advised as voting for Donald Trump or voting to Leave the EU.
Still, there is a component evidently lacking in Catalonia’s push for independence that makes treating tensions with Spain a rather poor fit as an analog for American Trumpist populism and British separatism. Catalan separatism seems more provincially limited to considerations of economic and political autonomy, alongside pride in Catalonia’s history and culture. Above all, however, this strikes one as an attitude which exists as a function of regional self-confidence and concomitant lack of confidence in the Spanish state. In the United States and the United Kingdom, on the other hand, while economic concerns and class-based inequality have had a role to play, the specter of race hangs over the decision in both cases to make what many so-called “experts” would perceive was the impractical move. On the U.S. side of things, Donald Trump began his presidential campaign with racist statements, and since then, has aligned himself with white nationalists and has shown a questionable (at best) devotion to meeting the needs of Americans of color, right down to Puerto Ricans needing basic assistance and supplies in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. In the UK, meanwhile, Nigel Farage, the UK Independence Party, and others on the far-right made similar appeals to British voters, championing the need for economic independence from the European Union, but also for securing the nation’s borders. Of course, the United States and the United Kingdom are not the only two places to experience this tension fueled by racism and xenophobia; Marine Le Pen made it to the finals, if you will, of the French presidential election, and Geert Wilders, while an also-ran in the Netherlands, maintains an international profile as an extreme right-winger. Trump’s victory and Britain’s stunning vote to Leave the EU are just the most glaring (and successful) challenges to the status quo.
With this in mind, Catalonia’s possible secession from Spain is more comparable to that of Scotland’s theoretical exit from the United Kingdom than that of America’s and Britain’s apparent departure from sanity. Back in 2014, Scotland held a referendum vote which decided against independence, and since then, hasn’t really wavered from the 10-percentage-point disparity which at least temporarily put the kibosh on Scottish secession from the UK. Nonetheless, Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the controlling Scottish National Party still are intent to keep the possibility of a future independence referendum on the table, especially since the English government led by Theresa May doesn’t seem to have much of a clue as to what it’s doing regarding Brexit’s next steps, thus inspiring little confidence from the likes of Scotland or even Northern Ireland, of which a majority of voters opted to Stay in the EU.
Another similar situation has manifested in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, in which Iraqi Kurds voted overwhelmingly in a September referendum vote to declare independence from Iraq. As with Spain vis-à-vis Catalonia, the Iraqi government has announced it has no intentions of honoring the results of the referendum vote, and Kurdish talk of secession has been decried by most of the international community. Even herein, however, the issue is not one of motivation out of fear of foreign bogeymen, but the desire for representation for a group spread throughout the Middle East and yet lacking the authority full statehood could provide. Again, this may not be an altogether prudent course of action; Kurdish independence could lead to economic woes for both parties and, as many fear, destabilization of the region. In the ongoing fight against jihadism in the Middle East, this is no mere trifle, though one’s mind is always left to wander as to what the motivations are of those taking sides on what amounts fundamentally to an internal matter for the Iraqi people.
The above concerns lend themselves to what is perhaps an inevitable question: do Catalonia and other prospective independence-seeking regions have a right to declare themselves a new nation? If you believe the central governments that contain these states, the answer is a firm no, and in the specific case of Catalonia, this is considered unconstitutional. If you adhere to the viewpoint of Carles Puigdemont and others sympathetic to the pro-independence cause, then they have a right at least to conduct a vote and have earned the ability of self-determination. At this writing—and I say that because this volatile situation is subject to change—Puigdemont has apparently postponed any formal declaration of independence in favor of talks with Madrid. What this means for other regions contemplating their own -exits is similarly up in the air. Your feelings on the subject are probably colored by your personal finances/politics and your attitudes toward government at each level. If you have a vested interest in the European single market, you likely are pro-government. If you are disenfranchised with your country’s politics—and that would seem to cover a lot of us, come to think of it—you may very well be behind the notion of Catalan independence. I admittedly share concerns about the instability Catalan secession from Spain would bring, but a part of me admires Catalonia’s chutzpah in bringing about this whole scenario. Yes, I said chutzpah!
Whatever side of the fence you find yourself on, do consider that hasty comparisons between Catalonia and Brexit and President Trump do Puigdemont and Co. a disservice. Catalonia is attempting to assert its place in the Spanish landscape. Trump supporters and pro-Brexit enthusiasts, even when believing in the supposed purity of what their chosen leaders have put forth, nonetheless are falling prey to the illusory nature of the “great” and magical time and place they have concocted. Not everyone seeks independence for the same reasons. Catalonia is owed a little more credit for that reason.
At points during the 2016 presidential campaign and in the onset of his tenure as President of the United States, Donald Trump emphasized an “America First” mentality. Never mind that the phrase “America First” is evocative of a movement circa World War II that resisted America’s involvement in the war and counted Nazi sympathizers among its ranks. Even if there were no historical subtext behind this newfound use, the abstract concept behind the phrase is bigoted enough to invite condemnation. This line of thinking, after all, helps explain a dangerously intensified attention to illegal immigration that has resulted in mass deportations and raids, often involving undocumented immigrants whose only crime has been immigrating illegally, as well as a thinly-veiled ban against Muslims entering the country—well, at least from those Muslim-heavy countries in which Trump doesn’t do business. Aside from keeping out or booting out those brown people many of Trump’s supporters don’t seem to like too much, the America First mantra also is designed to guide the U.S. economically. We’re going to encourage consumers to buy American goods and for companies based in the United States to produce their goods here—you know, even if our President has relied on foreign labor and capital to satisfy his own manufacturing needs. We’re going to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. We’re going to dismantle those awful regulations that have been holding back our energy production and killing jobs—you know, even though renewable energy is a much better job creator than fossil fuels. And one more thing: we’re not going to get involved in more costly wars. This coming from a man who didn’t support the Iraq War—you know, even though he totally f**king did.
With this all considered, it was vaguely surprising that President Trump would authorize the launch of close to 60 Tomahawk missiles at a target in Syria. As a retaliation against the apparent use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against the Syrian people, observers across America and even internationally supported the move, assuming this was the intent of the strikes. Shortly after that, Trump OK’d dropping the so-called “mother of all bombs” on an ISIS stronghold in Afghanistan, which certainly was an impressive show of military might on our country’s part, although the justification for this attack is less evident than with the aforementioned use of force against the Syrian government. Certainly, though, one group which was not too thrilled with these operations, which is fairly significant given its steadfast support of Trump heretofore, is the alt-right. As Matt Kwong reports for CBC News, Donald Trump’s behest of military intervention in the Middle East goes against the alt-right belief in isolationism, and as such, numerous prominent far-righters consider these acts a betrayal of sorts. Alex Jones, Kevin MacDonald, Milo Yiannopoulos, Richard Spencer—all have made their disappointment in #45 explicit. The essence of their discontentment lies in their rejection of neo-conservative hawkishness, of which the missile strikes and MOAB deployment are clearly evocative, as well as their disenfranchisement with the newly-reduced role of Stephen Bannon in the Trump administration in favor of the likes of Jared Kushner, whom they regard derisively as a “globalist.” Of course, for those not enmeshed with the alt-right movement, the hurt feelings of a group synonymous with unabashed racism and xenophobia inspires little pity. Still, the idea that Pres. Trump’s support could be eroding from a part of his base that has been among his most entrenched and enthusiastic followers is some measure of encouragement for those who count themselves among “the Resistance.”
To what extent the alt-right’s outrage at Trump’s policy about-face compares to, say, that levied against the all-female remake of Ghostbusters is hard to say, not being a member. If their reaction is one of shock, however, it seemingly is a response that they and a select other few would possess, for while at times Trump has expressed sentiments of non-intervention in foreign entanglements, on other occasions, he has espoused the characteristic views of a strongman. McKay Coppins, staff writer at The Atlantic, asserts that it was only a matter of time before Donald Trump went full hawk based on his worldview. Coppins explains his reasoning, while addressing the feelings of betrayal from Trump’s buddies on the far-right, accordingly:
President Trump’s decision this week to launch airstrikes against the Syrian regime has come as a bitter disappointment to those who cast their votes last November for “America First”-style isolationism. But the betrayal shouldn’t come as a surprise. While this episode may have been the one to finally debunk the pundit-pleasing myth of “Donald the Dove,” the truth is that Trump’s mutation into a missile-lobbing interventionist was, most likely, always inevitable.
That’s because, as with everything else, Trump’s approach to matters of war and peace appears to be more attitudinal than philosophical—motivated by instinct, manifested in tough talk, and rooted in a worldview that holds up the cultivation of fear as the most effective way to win respect and obedience.
Though Trump lacks the level of knowledge and grasp of history necessary to form an all-encompassing foreign policy doctrine, he has consistently articulated a belief that America’s enemies around the world can be terrified into submission—if the commander-in-chief is willing to send a strong message. Even if Trump had opted to stay out of the Syrian conflict, that belief of his—paired with a general aversion to the compromises of diplomacy—likely would have led him to abandon whatever isolationist tendencies he harbored sooner or later.
If Coppins’ assessment of the President is accurate, he (Trump) might respond much as Michael Scott of the U.S. version of The Office did when asked about whether he, as a leader, would rather be feared or loved: both—he wants people to be afraid of how much they love him. Indeed, it appears that most of Donald Trump’s interactions exist somewhere between looking to inspire admiration or seeking to instill a sense of terror in the other. Thus, as regards dealings with North Korea or Syria, the non-specific vow that the United States will act if need be—that Kim Jong-un and his regime has “gotta behave” and that “something should happen” regarding Bashar al-Assad’s control over his country—Trump seems to be relying on his unpredictability and his proven willingness to use military weaponry in a game of chicken with the despots of the world, one bully to another. In other words, he is trying to get these leaders to realize that he is every bit as crazy as they are, and that his finger is on the button. The thought scares me, and in theory, I wouldn’t even be on the receiving end.
Again, though, if one has been paying attention to Donald Trump’s comments on foreign policy within the last year, this is consistent with what he has been saying, as McKay Coppins underscores in his piece. He claimed he would “bomb the shit out of ISIS.” He has waffled disturbingly on whether or not he would go after the families of terrorists to send a message to other would-be jihadists. He vividly described the mass execution of Muslims by General John Pershing and bullets dipped in pig’s blood—which was totally false, mind you, but it got the point across. He has even refused to take nuclear weapons off the table. In light of these things and more, we should not be flabbergasted by the salvo in Syria or the attack in Afghanistan.
What’s more, if we look at our presidential history, the trend toward hawkishness dictates that based on the odds, Trump was likely to make the jump from isolationist to interventionist regardless of his fickle nature. Julia Azari, associate professor of political science at Marquette University, recently penned an essay about the established path from isolationist to hawk among American presidents, detailing the history of policy shifts to reflect more flexing of military muscle. It’s not as if Azari is short on modern examples either. Barack Obama preached the virtues of not getting involved in “dumb” wars, only to expand the use of drone strikes and to preside over lengthy occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq. George W. Bush obviously got us to Iraq in the first place, despite campaigning on the notion that we would be seeing less involvement in the development of other nations if he were President. LBJ promised not to escalate the conflict in Vietnam—and then did. Woodrow Wilson stood for neutrality—that is, until World War I rolled around.
One might interject by saying that circumstances often changed over the course of these presidents’ tenures—in my lifetime, 9/11 certainly stands out above the rest—such that objections to necessarily lumping certain iterations of POTUS into this category are not unfounded. Regardless of arguing the merits of individual presidents’ engagement in armed conflict, there are points to be made regarding both the role of politics in these decisions and where bipartisan enthusiasm for throwing America’s weight around, metaphorically speaking, lies. Some additional and perhaps critical observations made by Julia Azari:
Disagreements over isolationism vs. interventionism have caused rifts even within political parties: Azari cites the examples of William Jennings Bryan’s resignation as Secretary of State of the Wilson administration and the debate over foreign intervention as a critical divide between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Robert Taft in the running for the 1952 Republican Party nomination, but even as recently as the 2016 presidential cycle, the contrast between Hillary Clinton, a Democrat even more hawkish than her Republican nominees, and Bernie Sanders, critical of his primary opponent for being too fond of regime change, was a salient one. Thus, even with Democrats tending to be more “dovish” and Republicans more “hawkish,” there are layers to attitudes toward interventionism within both parties.
That said, politics still matters: Especially when considering the role of a congressional majority to dictate or thwart the direction of the executive’s authority as Commander-in-Chief. Both sides are guilty, so to speak, in this regard. Prof. Azari points to prominent Dems criticizing Dubya for plunging us into war in Iraq and then getting awfully quiet about our involvement there once Obama ascended to the Oval Office. Today, numerous members of the GOP in Congress are gung-ho about intervening in Syria and perhaps even ousting Assad by force, but back in 2013, they voted against retaliation when the Syrian government reportedly used chemical attacks similar to the ones alleged in recent weeks on its own people. Given this, while there are subdivisions within the Democratic and Republican Parties, frequently enough, the identifying party in the White House can arguably matter more than the substance of the policy being contemplated.
And yet, Congress tends not to be much of a roadblock concerning military intervention: Pres. Trump made headlines when he requested a $54 billion increase for the defense budget, but this figure was an inflated one, calculated based on the cap referenced in Pres. Obama’s proposed defense budget for his final year in office, a number his administration moved to exceed anyway. As is often the case with Trump, this is meant to influence perception as much as it is to author distinctive foreign policy. Though Congress alone has the power to declare war, over the years, POTUS has been given an increasingly large amount of leeway over authorization of military operations—both with and without congressional consent. As Julia Azari muses, it is easier for presidents to execute foreign policy and utilize said defense budget than to pass reforms related to domestic policy. Hence why we can drop a $16 million bomb on ISIS, but we can’t guarantee health care for millions of Americans. Le sigh.
Over the short term, President Donald Trump may have received the support of political figures on both sides of the political aisle, especially as it regards Syria, and he, um, has yet to piss off enough world leaders or the kinds of bat-shit crazy totalitarians necessary for World War III—and I stress, yet. Over the long haul, however, there’s everything to suggest his strategy or lack thereof regarding the Middle East and North Korea may damage his political prospects and his already-sinking approval rating. Going back to McKay Coppins’ essay, the author opines that Trump, for all his bluster, lacks the qualities that have made past presidents perhaps better-suited for protracted conflict abroad. Per Coppins:
Beyond fighting terrorism, Trump has often said the U.S. needs to be more “unpredictable” on the world stage. While running for president, he pointedly refused to take the potential use of nuclear weapons off the table, even in places like Europe. That probably wasn’t because he had big plans to bomb Estonia; it was because he wanted to place as few constraints on himself as possible, believing that the more nervous he made the world as commander-in-chief, the less likely it was that adversaries would mess with America. Some have identified this approach as a return to the “Madman Theory,” Richard Nixon’s belief that if his enemies thought he was unbalanced, he would have a stronger negotiating position against China on the Vietnam War.
But, of course, Trump does not have Nixon’s discipline or depth of knowledge, nor does he have George W. Bush’s level of conviction, or Barack Obama’s cerebral patience—all qualities that could have come in handy for a president who hoped to defy the vast Washington establishment in pursuit of a radical departure from foreign policy orthodoxy. Instead, Trump entered the Oval Office with a bone-deep belief in vengeance, a tendency toward impulsiveness, and a history of saber-rattling rhetoric.
To recall, Coppins’ main thrust of his article concerns what he sees as Trump’s “inevitable” hawkish pivot in line with #45’s identified personality traits, but if we are thinking long-term, and to invoke the disillusionment of Milo et al., “the Donald” has already begun along a slippery slope toward eroding his enthusiastic base. Now let’s factor in the impact prolonged operations in foreign lands can have on the perception of a president’s handling of policy—particularly as it may turn negative. Julia Azari ends her discussion of trends in presidential deviations from isolationist promises with the following:
While presidents enjoy a great deal of leeway in the short term, however, the long term is another story. Sustaining a prolonged military engagement requires support in Congress and, ultimately, the electorate. If Trump’s actions turn into longer-term involvement in Syria, the country will need to pay for these interventions, and Congress ultimately holds the purse strings. Lingering military involvement can drag down a president’s esteem with the public, as Johnson found out with Vietnam and Bush found out with Iraq. Democrats, already eyeing the 2018 midterm elections, could try to go back to some of the anti-war appeals of the 2006 and 2008 campaigns.
Trump also leads a generally hawkish party, but his own campaign promises rested on the idea that he wasn’t a typical Republican. The evidence is mixed as to whether his core supporters in the Republican coalition are likely to support foreign interventions. FiveThirtyEight’s Dan Hopkins noted last spring that Trump supporters were less likely to support staying in Iraq than Rubio or Cruz voters but were more hawkish overall. A YouGov poll found that Republicans in general, but especially Trump voters, were more likely than others to cite terrorism as a top concern. Linking military action to the prevention of terrorism might persuade those voters to support longer-term involvement. Recent history suggests, however, that voters sour on military action the longer it continues. If Trump pursues this course in Syria, it will likely open up opportunities for other candidates to enter the 2020 field with promises to end the fighting.
To make a long story about the long term short, war is costly. It requires a considerable investment of money, time, and human beings, the first two of which people feel they never have enough, and the last of which any loss is regrettable. Besides the politicians on the left who would use an ill-conceived military campaign as fodder for their own political campaigns, many everyday Americans are apprehensive to downright resistant to invading another country, even if for primarily humanitarian reasons. What’s more, seeing as Señor Pussygrabber isn’t exactly known for being a humanitarian, and seeing as his refusal to divest of his assets or even show his tax returns puts his every motivation into question, it is not unreasonable to think he—and, by proxy, we—have other reasons for involvement in Asia. I believe you know where I’m going with this, and that’s deep into the ground.
Before Trump even took the reins of the country, he already had oil on the brain. As Michael T. Klare writes for Foreign Policy magazine, on the campaign trail and in the nationally televised Commander-in-Chief forum with Matt Lauer—remember that dumpster fire?—Donald Trump expressed the view that while we occupied Iraq, we should have “taken the oil.” Just like that. He has also spoken about seizing oil in Libya. As Klare outlines, however, while this idea has been bandied about at different points in American history, most recently by the George W. Bush administration, the notion that “taking the oil” in Iraq specifically would be an easy prospect is a fallacy. He writes:
It is abundantly clear, then, that there never was a time when the United States could have “taken the oil.” Even at the peak of American power, in the spring and summer of 2003, such a move would have led to disaster; to think it could have been accomplished at a later date, as Trump asserts, is sheer madness. Consider his greatest folly: the claim that Bush, in his last months in office, or President Barack Obama, in his first, should have left a residual force in Iraq to guard the oil fields (presumably under U.S. control) as America’s main combat units began their withdrawal. This would have ignited rebellion from every faction of Iraqi society, requiring not only a halt in the troop withdrawal but also a second “surge” of American forces on an even grander scale than the first. Whether or not the Islamic State would have arisen under these circumstances is difficult to determine, but there is no doubt we would have seen the emergence of many other insurgent groups, equally deadly.
So, President Trump’s aptitude for war is a poor one, his involving the U.S. in a bloody conflict stands to further drive down his approval rating and threaten the GOP’s position elsewhere in government circles, and his potential reasons for invading foreign countries are perilously ill-advised. Beyond the silver lining for those of us who have stopped supporting Trump or never supported him in the first place that more and more Americans are waking up to the realization he sucks, though, this obvious does little to inspire confidence or enthusiasm. Moreover, all this military might makes you wonder—or at least should make you wonder—just how much of it is intended to put “America First” and how much is purely designed to serve Trump and his ego first. What great boon did we experience from the President’s authorization of a raid in Yemen that got Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens and several civilians killed? What tremendous benefit did we receive from bombing a mosque in Syria last month, an attack which killed at least 38 people, involved a failure of the forces involved to take necessary precautions, and reportedly included the targeting of civilians with Hellfire missiles as they fled the mosque? Unless we’re striving to lead the world in civilian casualties. A dubious honor that would be, to be sure.
Sadly, while Donald Trump is American jingoism and a hard-on for things that go boom in the worst and most absurd extreme, irrespective of party and even outside of the spheres of influence of Congress and the White House, our national fetish for defense spending and for serving as the world’s self-appointed protector makes it such that while Trump should and must not go unchecked for the military interventions he signs off on, the stronghold that the military-industrial complex has on our government and on our economy also needs to be addressed at the same time. When there are lucrative contracts to be awarded to manufacturers and when Brian f**king Williams of all people can live on air describe the firing of Tomahawk missiles with a perverse sense of splendor, it is no wonder that we as a nation are perpetually embroiled in war. “America First?” Not when the war hawks are at the top of the food chain.
Trump supporters have really been, as the kids would say, “popping off” since their esteemed leader was elected to be President of the United States and has since been sworn in to fill the vacancy left by Barack Obama’s departure. It’s been terrible—I know. Through my anecdotal research of social media, as I have seen, one hashtag which is particularly oft-used by Trump Train riders, alongside the ubiquitous #MAGA, short for Make America Great Again—a slogan which is vaguely insulting in the insinuation America is not great right now, and which any number of us would insist is already great, albeit not without its share of problems, namely President Trump—is that of #Winning. Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump promised that if he were to be the next President, we as a country would start winning so much we would, quite frankly, get tired of winning so much. The analogy which comes to mind for me, a seemingly apt one in its distinctly American flavor, is that of going to a buffet and eating all the delicious food on the menu, only to develop a serious case of indigestion afterwards. Trump reiterated these sentiments in his Inauguration speech: “America will start winning again, winning like never before.” All we’d do is win, win, win—no matter what—and as the likes of DJ Khaled, Ludacris, Rick Ross and T-Pain would have it, everybody’s hands would go up, and what’s more, they would stay there. You know, until our arms get tired, presumably.
#Winning. As is my tendency, I scrutinize trends related to President Trump and his followers. Mostly because they’re patently frightening, and like a rubbernecker on the freeway glancing at a burning wreck, I can’t help but look, but even so. This reference to “winning” without much consideration of context gets me wondering: if these supporters believe the amorphous “we” are winning, or that maybe just they are, who are the implied losers in this scenario, and at what cost might we/they be winning? This boast reminds me at least of the famous (or infamous) claim of Charlie Sheen’s from his 20/20 interview with Andrea Canning in 2011 that he was winning. Sorry, I mean, WINNING! His evidence of his winner status was in his accounts of being rich enough to buy stupid shit and to do stupid shit and get away with it, dating porn stars, and doing drugs, among other things. When it was revealed in 2015 and later confirmed by Sheen himself that he is HIV-positive, it seemed as something of a cruel and ironic twist of fate for the man who just a few years earlier had to make it painfully clear that he was—duh!—winning, and as still others might imagine, this news might just be proof karma is real. (Side note: I’m not sure how Charlie Sheen might have contracted HIV, but I submit maybe his reference to possessing “tiger blood” was more telling than we might otherwise have imagined. Maybe he got it from a literal blood transfusion that would have seen actual tiger blood enter his veins. These are the things about which I think.)
Enough about Charlie Sheen, though. Getting back to the topic of another self-destructive rich white asshole and his fans, if only they are truly #Winning, who isn’t? The key to their logic, twisted as it might appear, is in their use of a pejorative term which seems to have taken on a new and increased significance in the past year or so: that of “snowflake.” You may have even heard it directed at you if you subscribe to a more liberal political orientation and world view—certainly, it gets thrown around a lot. To what does it refer, though? Well, as much as the term is used in a political context, its exact definition is somewhat elusive. Rebecca Nicholson, writing for The Guardian, explores the use of the term and its origins as “the defining insult of 2016.” The term, despite its recent explosion, is not new, and as Nicholson notes, may be, in part, related to a line uttered by the character Tyler Durden in Fight Club: “You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.” A sobering sentiment, no? What may be yet more sobering is the very idea that snowflakes, themselves, are not necessarily unique, as researchers have been able to construct identical patterns within snowflakes within controlled environments. I know—mind blown, right?
We could do our own separate analysis of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club and the accompanying film, or the crystalline structure of precipitation, but let’s not get lost in the proverbial weeds. Rebecca Nicholson, in citing countless notable iterations of the term “snowflake,” outlines how its early use was characterized by perceived generational differences in attitudes, specifically coming from those espousing “traditional” values as a criticism of younger generations. Within this purview, “snowflake” as an insult is a rejection of the apparent inclination within American society and other developed countries toward hypersensitivity. The tone is one of condescension, depicting millennials/young adults as easily offended, entitled, narcissistic, thin-skinned crybabies who lack resiliency, are enemies of free speech, and constantly need attention. Accordingly, when it comes to discussions of things like “safe spaces” on college and university campuses, the self-identifying anti-snowflake segment of the population eschews such notions, much as conservatives and members of the alt-right online and on social media deride those who rail against discrimination and defend political correctness as “social justice warriors,” another pejorative designation You can probably hear or see the comments in your mind along these lines. Get over it. Suck it up. Especially now that Donald Trump is President of the United States, here’s one that might sound familiar: “Don’t worry, snowflakes—the adults are in charge now.” Or: “There’s a new sheriff in town, kids!” As if Barack Obama somehow wasn’t or isn’t an adult or let lawlessness reign supreme.
Easily offended. Entitled. Narcissistic. Thin-skinned. Crybaby. Enemy of free speech. Constantly needs attention. Wait a minute—these traits sound familiar. If the revelation that Charlie Sheen is HIV-positive was ironic given that he trumpeted his exploits with adult entertainers and saw virtue in living with reckless abandon, it is seemingly as ironic, if not more so, that those pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps types among us who decry “snowflakes” as weak-willed thumb-suckers have gravitated toward a figure in Donald Trump who not only seems to embody these qualities, but is evidently an exemplar of these tendencies in their worst forms. Recently, ABC News anchor David Muir interviewed President Trump, the transcript of which is one of the most terrifying interviews I have ever read from a world leader in light of what it stands to mean for America—and this is no hyperbole. Feel free to read it for yourself, but I’ll try to spare you with a summary of the, ahem, finer points:
President Trump appreciates the magnitude of the job—tremendously bigly
The first question Muir asked Pres. Trump was, “Has the magnitude of this job hit you yet?” This was his response:
It has periodically hit me. And it is a tremendous magnitude. And where you really see it when you’re talking to the generals about problems in the world. And we do have problems in the world. Big problems. Business also hits because of the—the size of it. The size. I was with Ford yesterday, and with General Motors yesterday. The top representatives, great people. And they’re gonna do some tremendous work in the United States. They’re gonna build back plants in the United States. But when you see the size, even as a businessman, the size of the investment that these big companies are gonna make, it hits you even in that regard. But we’re gonna bring jobs back to America, like I promised on the campaign trail.
The size, indeed. Big, great, tremendous. Everything is of a superlative magnitude in Trump’s America. Including the problems. Oh, do we have problems, Mr. Trump? Oh, really? Gee, thanks! We had no idea, because we’re all a bunch of f**king morons. This interview is starting off on a great note.
Where there’s a wall, there’s a way
Following the illuminating revelation that problems face the nation, David Muir got down to the more serious questions. His first real topic of discussion was that of the wall at the border with Mexico, construction of which has been authorized by the President by way of executive order. Muir asked Trump, point blank, if American taxpayers were going to be funding construction of the wall, and Trump replied by saying they would, but Mexico’s totally going to pay us back. This is in spite of the notion Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto has vowed Mexico will not pay for construction of the wall, a point Muir pressed him on. And Pres. Trump was all, like, yeah, but he has to make a show of it first. Of course they’re gonna reimburse us. Muir then labored on the notion of reimbursement further, commenting that the sense he (Trump) gave voters was that Mexico would be covering the construction costs from the onset. And President Trump was all, like, I never said they’d be paying from the start. But they will pay us back, and besides, I want to start building the wall. Muir then asked for specifics on when construction would begin, and Trump indicated it would start in months, as soon as physically possible, in fact. We’re drawing up the plans right now. Right freaking now.
In speaking about the wall and the payment plan, if you will, Pres. Trump also referenced needing to re-work NAFTA, because we’re “getting clobbered” on trade, and that we have a $60 billion trade deficit with Mexico. In the past, Trump has highlighted this deficit as a means of our neighbor to the south covering the costs of the wall’s construction, and it is evident from his insistence on this point that he doesn’t really understand how it works, which is why I’m making an aside here. President Trump treats the trade deficit as proof that Mexico is getting over on us, but it’s not as if the existence of the deficit means that Mexico has all this cash lying around, just waiting to be allocated for a project like the wall. In a piece which appeared on CNN back in October, Patrick Gillespie addressed the myths about trade that Trump himself helped feed. For one, Gillespie advances the idea that a trade deficit may be a good thing, for when a country exports to the U.S., for example, they also tend to invest more here, which helps create jobs, including in the field of manufacturing. In addition, Mexico is a major trade partner for the United States, with millions of jobs and many American businesses depending on business with Mexico. This bluster about the wall, therefore, risks damaging a critical trade relationship for our country, not to mention it likely puts average Americans on the hook for building and maintaining a structure that is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars and has been consistently criticized as something that would ultimately prove ineffective, if not counterproductive to its larger aims. Other than that, though, it’s a great idea. Tremendous, in fact.
Yes, the “dreamers” should be worried
Keeping with the subject of illegal immigration, David Muir next moved the conversation to so-called “dreamers,” or children who were brought to this country by their parents, also undocumented immigrants. Could President Trump assure them they would be allowed to stay? To which Trump replied, they shouldn’t be worried, because we’re going to have a strong border and because he has a “big heart.” Seriously, though—he said that shit. Muir pressed him on this issue, asking again more succinctly if they would be allowed to stay. Pres. Trump dodged, though, saying he’d let us know within the next four weeks, but that he and his administration are looking at the whole immigration situation, once more emphasizing how big his heart is, and then seguing into a diatribe about getting out those “criminals”—those “really bad people” who come here illegally and commit crimes—who are here. So, um, sons and daughters of undocumented immigrants: be afraid. Be very afraid.
So many “illegals,” so much fraud—so little evidence
Almost as liberally as the term “snowflake” is thrown around in mockery of liberals, allegations of fraud have been hurled about rather indiscriminately these days, and Donald Trump is a prime suspect in this regard. David Muir asked Trump directly about perhaps his most reckless claim to date: that some 3 to 5 million illegal votes were cast in Hillary Clinton’s favor, explaining why he lost the popular vote. As Muir noted, it would be the biggest fraud in American electoral history, so where, pray tell, was the evidence? Pres. Trump first deflected by saying that was supposed to be a confidential meeting, but Muir interjected by saying he had already Tweeted with these allegations. It was at this point, though, that the interview began to go off the rails a bit. Mostly because Trump kept interrupting David Muir. I would’ve gone to California and New York to campaign if I were trying to win the popular vote. By the way, if it weren’t for all that fraud, I would’ve won the popular vote. Handily. But there were dead people who voted. Dead people! Oh, yeah! And people registered in multiple states. So we’re going to do an investigation. You bet your ass we will.
When he could actually get a word in edgewise, Muir fired back by saying these claims have been debunked. Donald Trump was all, like, says who? I got a guy at the Pew Center who wrote a report. And Muir was all, like, no, he didn’t—I just talked to him last night. And Trump was all, like, then why did he write the report? This report, by the way, was published way back in 2012, and David Becker, the man referenced by Muir and Trump in their back-and-forth and director of the research, said Pew found instances of inaccurate voter registrations, including people registered in multiple states and dead voters still on voter rolls, but that these were not evidence of fraud. Though Becker did note these inaccuracies could be seen as an attempt at fraud—especially by someone who lost the popular vote by more than 2.5 million votes and has a serious axe to grind. What’s more, Trump said Becker was “groveling” when confronted with the idea that his organization’s research proved evidence of fraud. This is the same word, for the sake of another by the way, that Pres. Trump used to characterize Serge Kovaleski, the disabled reporter he mocked—even though he said he didn’t—and under similar circumstances, too. Recall when Trump made the blatantly false claim that thousands of Muslims were cheering in the streets of Jersey City on 9/11 after the Towers fell. Once again, Donald Trump is misremembering, misleading, and out-and-out lying.
David Muir wasn’t having it, though, advancing the notion that Paul Ryan and Lindsey Graham have also commented on the lack of evidence of widespread fraud, and trying to move the conversation to “something bigger.” To which President Trump said—and I am not making this up—”There’s nothing bigger.” Really? Really? People are about to lose their health insurance and pay for a wall they don’t want and refugees from seven countries are barred from entering the United States—and we’re here talking about whether or not a few dead people or “illegals” (nice way to make Hispanics feel particularly welcome, while we’re at it) voted in the election. It was at this point when Muir posed the question: “Do you think that your words matter more now?” Pres. Trump said yes, of course. To which Muir followed up by asking: “Do you think that talking about millions of illegal votes is dangerous to this country without presenting the evidence? You don’t think it undermines your credibility if there’s no evidence?”
And Trump? He said no, and then went off on a crazy tangent. All of these illegal votes were for Hillary Clinton. None were for me. I had one of the greatest victories in American history. Barack Obama didn’t do anything about this fraud—and he laughed about it! He laughed about it! We can’t downplay this! We have to investigate this! And perhaps the most salient point of all Muir barely managed to eke out over all Trump’s overtalking: “It does strike me that we’re re-litigating the presidential campaign and the election.” In other words: “You won, bruh! Give it a rest!” President Trump would not be assuaged on this point, though. Because he can’t be, and will concoct any evidence to try to prove his case, evidence his apologists will believe and defend. This man is our President, he muttered to himself, sighing deeply.
“My crowd was bigger than yours!”
David Muir, likely with great unspoken relish, pivoted to the kerfuffle about the size of Mr. Trump’s Inauguration Ceremony crowd size relative to that of Barack Obama’s attendance. As a reminder, the claims of Donald Trump, his press secretary, Sean Spicer, and that of the Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, are objectively false. Obama’s crowds easily surpassed those of the current President. Easily. With this in mind, Muir asked Pres. Trump when things like the crowd size at the inauguration, the size of his rallies during the campaign season, and being on the cover of TIME Magazine start to matter less, keeping with the theme of, “You won, bruh! Give it a rest!” And Donald Trump was all, like, David, bruh, don’t even. That speech was a home run. They gave me a standing ovation. I mean, it was Peyton Manning winning the Super Bowl good. And your little network tried to throw shade at me for it. I didn’t even want to talk about this whole crowd size business, but you made me, so there. I had to drop some truth bombs. Muir responded, though, by questioning the merits, whether or not Trump and his administration are right about the crowd sizes—which they’re not, let’s stress—of having Sean Spicer come out in his first press conference, talk about this junk, and not take any questions. Aren’t there more important issues facing the nation? And President Trump was all, like, how dare you and your network demean me and my crowd! No wonder you only have a 17% approval rating! (Side note: Trump’s approval rating, as of this writing, is at a scant 42%, and the 45% approval rating he experienced as of the Sunday following Inauguration is the lowest rate in Gallup’s polling history for an incoming President. Ever.)
So, in summary, guess there isn’t anything more important than Donald Trump and his manhood. Oh, well. Sorry, America.
How do you solve a problem like Chi-raq?
Easy answer: you call in the feds. David Muir tried to pin President Trump down on this comment he made regarding the murder rate in Chicago and how to fix it, the so-called “carnage” in America’s third-largest city. This is, however, and as we know, like trying to pin down a jellyfish in a kiddie pool full of baby oil. Trump suggested that maybe we have stop being so politically correct. When Muir pressed Pres. Trump on this issue, he demurred, saying that he wanted Chicago to fix the problem, and when Muir pressed him further, Trump resorted to his platitude of needing to get smarter and tougher—or else. And when Muir asked him what “or else” means, effectively pressing him on whether or not he would send in the feds for the fourth time, he simply replied, “I want them to straighten out the problem. It’s a big problem.” So, um, yeah, Chicago, better fix that shit before martial law is declared. I’m not saying—just saying.
It’s all fun and games until someone gets waterboarded
Is this interview still not scary enough for you? Wait—it gets better. And by “better,” I mean much worse. David Muir shifted to the contents of a report that stated Donald Trump was poised to lift the ban on “black sites,” locations which are not formally acknowledged by the U.S. government, but where torture and indefinite periods of detention of terrorism suspects were known to occur during President George W. Bush’s tenure. Trump, ever the coy one, said, “You’re gonna see in about two hours.” (Spoiler alert: he totally f**king did.) Muir then responded by asking, more or less, um, are you OK with torture? And Trump was all, like, sure I am! I mean, it gets results! Why shouldn’t I like it? I mean, for Christ’s sake, David, they’re chopping off our heads! Muir was all, like, even waterboarding? Trump was all, like, especially waterboarding. Just in case you thinking I’m making this up, here is an actual quote from the man:
Do I feel it works? Absolutely, I feel it works. Have I spoken to people at the top levels and people that have seen it work? I haven’t seen it work. But I think it works. Have I spoken to people that feel strongly about it? Absolutely.
Let this sink in for a moment. I feel it works. I think it works. Um, shouldn’t you know if it works, Mr. President? I could say I feel like veggie pizza is healthy, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. And on the subject of waterboarding, this is way more serious than pizza, although obviously nowhere as delicious. A 2014 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report found that waterboarding was not a credible means of saving American lives nor was it believed to be superior to other “enhanced interrogation techniques.” And where did the Committee gets its information? Oh, you know, only from the CI-f**king-A—that’s who. Waterboarding, in case you were unaware, involves putting a cloth or plastic wrap over a person’s face and pouring water over his or her mouth, as if to simulate the feeling of drowning. That’s right—you’re made to feel as if you are dying. This is torture. We cannot and should not bring waterboarding back as an interrogation technique. No, no, no, no, no.
The Muslims—they hatin’ on us
To the subject of refugees we go—and mind you, this was before the so-called “Muslim ban” took effect—David Muir asked Pres. Trump about his intended executive action to suspend immigration to the United States, as we now know from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. You know, the ones where he doesn’t have business interests, and from which nationals hadn’t killed an American on U.S. soil during the period from 1975 to 2015. Those ones. Muir was all, like, come on, dude, this is a Muslim ban, isn’t it? And Trump, he was all, like, no, it isn’t! It’s countries with tremendous levels of terror! Listen, I want America to be safe, OK? Barack and Hillary were letting all kinds of people into this country. Germany is a shit-show. We have enough problems here in the United States. We don’t need a bunch of people here trying to kill us. Muir then asked President Trump why certain countries were not on the list, namely Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, just for kicks. It’s because he has business interests there. I know it. You know it. And Trump—surprise!—didn’t answer. He talked about something called “extreme vetting,” despite the notion the vetting that’s currently in place is pretty damn extreme. Muir rightly asked in follow-up whether or not he was concerned this would just foment anger within the worldwide Muslim community. And the President was all, like, more anger? I don’t think that’s possible, because they’re pretty damn angry already. The world is a mess, David. What’s a little more anger?
David Muir then got up very slowly, went to the wall of the room where a samurai sword was strategically placed, and plunged it into his stomach. OK—Muir didn’t do that, but I’d like to imagine he was thinking about it, if for no other reason than to more quickly put an end to the interview. Instead, it continued. The next topic was Iraq, and the specific remark by Pres. Trump that, “We should’ve kept the oil, but OK, maybe we’ll have another chance.” Like, what the f**k was that supposed to mean? Trump, apparently, was totally serious on this point. Yeah, David, we should’ve kept the oil. It would’ve meant less money for ISIS. And Muir replied by suggesting that critics would say this would be sorta kinda a violation of international law. And Trump was all, like, who the f**k said that? Idiots. If we take the oil, that means more money for us. For schools. For infrastructure. How is that a bad thing? And Muir, likely trying to prevent his eye from twitching uncontrollably, moved to address the particular idea that “maybe we’ll have another chance.” That is, you might just start shit and risk American troops for that purpose? And Trump, likely with a smirk on his face, said this—for real—”We’ll see what happens.”
What an asshole.
I could tell you what David Muir and President Donald Trump said about the Affordable Care Act, but it would be a waste of time
This is the end of the interview, and sorry to wrap things up so unceremoniously, but here’s the gist: Trump and the GOP hate “ObamaCare,” and say they will replace it with something better, but they have no g-d clue about a superior successor to President Obama’s hallmark legislation. What we need is single-payer or universal health care. Just listen to Bernie Sanders—he’ll tell you. Don’t listen to Pres. Trump. For, ahem, the sake of your health.
The start of Donald Trump’s tenure as President of the United States has been nothing short of hellacious. Renewed talk of building a wall at the Mexican border and mass deportations. Effecting a Muslim ban—on Holocaust Remembrance Day, no less. Allowing Steve Bannon to have as much power as he does, a trend which only seems to be on the incline. Bringing us back full circle, though, to Trump’s supporters, this amounts to little more than “sore loser” talk. We won. You lost. Democracy in action. Get over it. What is particularly striking about this attitude, aside from the notion it is really not in the spirit of sportsmanship or togetherness, is that it comes with the supposition on the part of those supporters taunting young adults and liberals/progressives as “snowflakes” that they are superior because “they” never protested when Obama was sworn in. How quickly or easily they forget, though—or just plain deny. As this video from the online publication Mic explains, protests at President Obama’s Inauguration featured some particularly hateful rhetoric, including references to Obama not being born in this country—the “birther” controversy Trump himself helped perpetuate—images evocative of lynching, and allusions to Obama being a secret Muslim. This same video notes Trump also asked his Twitter followers back in 2012 to “march on Washington” after Barack Obama’s re-election in protest of this “travesty.” It’s only fair, then, that we march in protest of President Trump, right?
Either way, the equivalency between the protests then and now, despite some acts of vandalism and violence this time around from a few bad actors, is a false one. Protests of Donald Trump as President are not a rejection of the political process, but of a man who has made exclusion, hate, prejudice and xenophobia his calling cards. By this token, marches like the Women’s March on Washington earlier this month and planned marches in the coming weeks and months are about solidarity, not about trying to divide a cultural wedge into the country’s center. Even at their worst, however, these demonstrations and endless social media chatter in resistance of Trump’s policies have nothing on the reactionary, thin-skinned ways of the Bully-in-Chief himself. As Rebecca Nicholson details in her above-referenced column, the left has taken to trying to reclaim the term “snowflake” by, in part, turning it around on Trump and his endless griping, and if this muddles the meaning of this phrase or neutralizes its effect, so be it. Otherwise, they might do well to claim it as a badge of honor. Jim Dale, senior meteorologist at British Weather Services, is quoted in Nicholson’s piece as understanding why the term “snowflake” is used, but that there is a hidden power within this designation:
On their own, snowflakes are lightweight. Whichever way the wind blows, they will just be taken with it. Collectively, though, it’s a different story. A lot of snowflakes together can make for a blizzard, or they can make for a very big dump of snow. In which case, people will start to look up.
I, for one, hope this is the case. So, for all of you out there #Winning because President Trump is “making America great again,” know that for all your jeering of people like me who would be called “snowflakes,” we stand to become more organized and prepared to fight for our preferred version of America than you might think or might otherwise have realized had your boy not won the election. And enjoy this feeling of exuberance while it lasts, but don’t look up now—we snowflakes might be ready to make a very big dump on you.
As part of his presidential duties, Barack Obama pardoned, in time for Thanksgiving, the final turkeys of his tenure from the highest political office in the nation. As a lame duck president, if Obama wants more than the sparing of two birds to add to his legacy in his final days as POTUS, he should stand with the people of Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota and their supporters—before it’s too late.
Let’s walk things back a bit, though. What exactly is President Obama’s legacy, and what do we make of all this business in Standing Rock? On the first count, well, it’s complicated. Ask five different people what they think about Barack Obama’s eight years in office, and you’ll likely get five different responses. According to the most recent Gallup polling, at any rate, on approval of the job President Obama is doing, from the period spanning November 14 to November 20, 2016, 56% give the man a thumbs-up. This figure is under the high watermark of 69%, the average set across the three-day period from January 22 to January 24, 2009, when Obama was just settling into his new role as leader of the free world, but significantly better than the 38% nadir he registered numerous times after that 69% zenith, most recently in September of 2014. To put this in historical perspective, Barack Obama’s 32nd-quarter rating is about four percentage points higher than that of U.S. presidents across history. It is roughly equivalent with the approval rating enjoyed by President Ronald Reagan at the same point in his presidency (57%), a few points behind that of Bill Clinton (63%), and, ahem, leaps and bounds ahead of George W. Bush (29%). So, per the vox populi, Pres. Barack Obama is in line with what we’d expect from a person of his stature, and even slightly better.
While public opinion can inform history’s larger judgment of a president’s impact on the country, perhaps it would prove more instructive to view Obama’s two terms through the lens of major events within them. Accordingly, let’s review his seven-plus years and change and see what stands out:
Stimulus package/Economic policy
Even the most hard-hearted Republican critics of Barack Obama as President of the United States would probably tend to acknowledge the guy was handed a pretty rough deal in light of economic happenings at the time. The country was reeling from the global financial crisis known here in the U.S. as the Great Recession, and in a move designed to prevent the American economy from complete collapse, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, which authorized $787 billion in spending to combat the negative effects of the recession. The Obama administration contended that the various measures enacted under ARRA were necessary to avoid an even worse fate for the nation. Of course, this argument seemed all but lost on GOP lawmakers; in an example of the kind of partisan conflict Barack Obama’s initiatives would experience throughout his time in office, ARRA would only make it to his desk to be signed on the strength of Democrats’ votes, with just three Republican senators voting yea as the bill worked its way through Congress. Emergency spending bills, threats of government shutdowns—Jesus, the GOP really likes to play chicken with the U.S. economy, don’t they?
The Obama administration lobbied for a second such “stimulus package” later in the year, but this would fail to pass. By this point, Republican assassination of the legacy of the ARRA was well under way, with the idea of a “stimulus” bill proving wildly unpopular with the public. Still, it is not as if President Obama’s policies didn’t make an impact even beyond the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Speaking of large cash infusions to institutions, Obama presided over a second auto bailout to the tune of $9.3 billion more. Pres. Obama also signed into law a federal minimum wage increase up to $7.25, which is great for the workers it affects but falls well short of the $12 minimum wage Barack Obama himself had sought and which Hillary Clinton had stressed as a part of her economic plan during her campaign.
As for post-recession trends during Obama’s two terms, median income has yet to rebound from its 2007 pre-recession rate, prompting fears those incomes will never return. GDP growth has been positive, but not overwhelming. Short-term interest rates only recently increased after staying near zero for most of the Obama presidency. Finally, unemployment has seen a decline from its 10% peak in 2009, and lately has been hovering around a rate of 5%, but this figure is somewhat misleading owing to things like comparisons between part-time and full-time workers as well as inability to account for those who have given up looking for work. Broadly speaking, one might judge Barack Obama’s presidency, in economic terms, as one which averted disaster, but otherwise has been uneven to minimal in the benefits it has promoted in these key areas.
Other economic policy stances
The political hot potato that it always seems to be, the national debt has also been a topic of considerable discussion during Obama’s tenure as POTUS. While other countries faced austerity measures related to the global financial crisis, U.S. government debt has grown under Barack Obama’s watch, paving the way for conflicts along politically ideological lines concerning whether or not spending should be slashed in key areas. The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, or the Simpson-Bowles Commission, was commissioned in 2010 to address ways in which the United States might significantly lower its debt. Numerous individual measures were suggested as part of this report, though the analysis that resulted from the Commission was broadly encapsulated by calls for spending cuts (e.g. cutting into our bloated military spending) and tax increases. Of course, suggesting we spend less on the military and take more from wealthy Americans generally doesn’t sit well with the GOP, so perhaps unsurprisingly, these proposals never received a vote of approval in Congress. Oh, well. The academic exercise was fun, wasn’t it?
Even before Barack Obama took office in 2009, Republican lawmakers were primed to give him hell on matters of the nation’s debt ceiling. When the GOP, buoyed by surging popularity of Tea Party Republican politics, cleaned up in the 2010 mid-term elections, and their voice got that much louder in the House of Representatives, debates over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling and/or effect significant cuts in areas like entitlement programs and military spending grew that much more contentious. Obama, to his credit, tried to negotiate with John Boehner and the other House Republicans on these matters. Predictably, that didn’t work in terms of a “grand bargain.” Instead, we got the Budget Control Act of 2011, which raised the debt ceiling, kicking the proverbial can down the road as per the usual, as well as established the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which also didn’t work, and provided for budget sequestration, which would automatically take effect in case Democrats and Republicans couldn’t reach an agreement through the Committee. Which, of course, it did.
Later on in Obama’s presidency, in October 2013, there was a fun little government shutdown, again resulting from an impasse on concerns of a budgetary nature—this time, over whether or not to defund ObamaCare. The end result of that political kerfuffle was a resolution to end the shutdown, fund an omnibus spending bill, and raise the debt ceiling—again. The above conflicts, viewed out of context, can be viewed as a hallmark of a presidency helmed by a divisive leader. In reality, though, it takes two to tango, and since achieving a majority in the House and the Senate, Republicans have been every bit the stubborn obstructionists we might expect from lawmakers deferring to party politics. In other words, for all the griping about Batack Obama’s failure to reach across the political aisle, GOP lawmakers were awfully quick to slap at his hand on the occasions he did eke it out.
There’s so much material here it’s difficult to know where to begin. We might have to look at some of the highlights within the highlights, so to speak. Here are just some of the areas that helped define Barack Obama’s time as the so-called leader of the free world:
1) Afghanistan and Iraq
Much as President Obama inherited an economic shit-storm with the advent of the Great Recession, the man inherited a veritable quagmire in the Middle East after George W. Bush plunged us headlong into armed conflict in not one, but two, countries. Noting the challenges presented by America’s continued involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama should be afforded some understanding with respect to the tough decisions he was forced to reckon with as Dubya’s successor. Of course, this is not to absolutely meant to exonerate him either. On one hand, Barack Obama, a vocal critic of the Iraq War during his initial campaign, was instrumental in the substantial drawing-down of troops stationed in Iraq, at least prior to the rise of ISIS.
On the other hand, as advised by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen, Obama authorized the expansion of American servicemen and servicewomen to a high mark of 100,000 in Afghanistan before signing an agreement to leave major combat operations to Afghan forces. If there’s one major criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of the ongoing situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, from my perspective, it is that it has been too eager to spin a narrative of success and close the book on our efforts in these countries when the ever-present threat of al-Qaeda, ISIS, and, within the former, the Taliban, exists and causes unrest. By the same token, this is not to meant to overstate their danger, but only to consider that the way in which we fight wars is changing, and to put a timetable on completion when deep ideological divisions lie behind conflicts on international and national levels almost invites that schedule’s destruction.
2) China/East Asia
China has been a toughie for Barack Obama as President, no lie. While more recently, the emerging power has seen a slowing of its economy, its overall improvement in stature on the world’s stage has meant that President Xi Jinping and Co. have been eager to whip their dongs out and swing them around. In particular, the U.S. and China have shared a rather tentative relationship of late, with periodic spats over issues like arms sales to Taiwan, climate change, cyber-security, handling of North Korea, human rights, and territorial disputes. If nothing else, though, the apparent declining support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—an agreement meant, if nothing else, to assert American economic presence in Asia alongside the People’s Republic—seems to have saved Obama from a potential stain on his legacy.
Speaking of North Korea, by the way, um, it’s still there, and still working on nuclear weaponry. Sweet dreams.
So, that whole thing about Cuba being on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list is done with. Also, recently, diplomatic relationships have been restored between Cuba and the United States, and economic restrictions have been loosened. Shit, Obama even went to see a baseball game down there! Cuban-American relations, in short, seem to be on the upswing. Then again, if Fidel Castro’s parting words before his recent passing are any indication, the U.S. would be wise to proceed with caution, and perhaps vice-versa. Castro wrote caustically that Cuba does not need any gifts from “the Empire,” and furthermore, that Barack Obama has not tried to understand Cuban politics. While it may seem as if everything is hunky-dory now, seeds of resentment toward America may yet exist in Cuba and elsewhere in lands touched by communism.
4) Drone strikes
Perhaps one of my biggest gripes with Barack Obama’s foreign policy stances over his tenure was that his administration saw an expansion of the drone warfare program set upon by George W. Bush. The predominant criticism with this bit of policy shift is that for all the terrorist figureheads “neutralized” by strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Middle East, numerous civilian casualties have resulted, including those of American citizens. A drone strike was even used to intentionally take out Anwar al-Aulaqi, an American citizen and Muslim cleric with ties to al-Qaeda, controversial in its own right for essentially being an extrajudicial killing OK’d by the Commander-in-Chief.
It seems more than vaguely hypocritical for the United States to police the world and portray itself as a white knight of sorts when it goes around bombing other countries, killing innocent people, and apologizing with a note saying “Oops!” We may not be terrorists per se, but indiscriminately flexing our military muscles with little regard for collateral damage is a sin in its own right. And Obama is guilty in his own right, to be sure.
The obstruction of Republicans notwithstanding, that President Obama has been unable to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay as intended—a goal he has reaffirmed year after year, at that—has got to feel like a disappointment for both he and human rights advocates. Sure, strides have been made in reducing the number of captives at the naval base there, as well as ending the practices of “enhanced” interrogation techniques and referring to those being held in detention as “enemy combatants,” but that detainees can still be held indefinitely without being charged is gross overreach on the part of the United States government. From where I’m sitting, Gitmo’s legacy is a stain on our national character, and potentially giving Donald Trump and his appointees broad access is deeply troubling.
Republicans tend to get all worked up about where we are in our relationship with Iran, with two main triggers in this regard. The first is America’s resolution with Iran concerning the latter’s agreement to limits on its nuclear program and access to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors in return for reducing sanctions. To be fair, it doesn’t exactly warm the cockles of one’s heart to have to negotiate with a country that has more or less made “Death to America” a national slogan. Nonetheless, outside the realm of Congress and with no disrespect to Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu, it would seem as if there is high approval for such an accord, and I, for one, feel better about having some sort of understanding in place and approaching the situation with a greater sense of diplomacy than George W. Bush and his hawkish administration did.
The other issue that gets GOP politicians and conservative theorists alike all hot and bothered is a supposed $1.7 billion “ransom payment” (includes interest) to the Iranian government in return for the release of three American prisoners. The timing was suspicious, as I’m sure many on both the left and right can agree, but not merely to minimize this controversy, but I also don’t know what evidence there is that these monies were wired for the express purpose of hostage release. It’s bad optics, yes, but there is the possibility it is just that.
By now, most of America’s fixation on Libya seems to involve the events surrounding the attack on Benghazi. I remain critical of the Department of State’s handling of this situation, as I believe requests for more security and resources at the diplomatic mission were ignored by Hillary Clinton’s department, and suggesting she isn’t culpable because she wasn’t made aware of the deteriorating situation in Libya rings hollow when it can be argued that she should have been more aware, especially when she and others within the Obama administration were instrumental in pushing for Gaddafi’s deposition. While perhaps not the most egregious chapter in the book of Barack Obama’s presidency, America’s involvement in Libya during his two terms also doesn’t do much to allay concerns about our nation’s “shoot first, ask questions later” attitude when it comes to addressing international and national disputes.
8) Osama bin Laden
Oh, yeah. We killed that f**ker. Moving along.
Relations between the United States of America and the Russian Federation seemed to be moving in a positive direction, at least during Obama’s first term. Our president and their president signed a major nuclear arms control agreement. Russia joined the World Trade Organization, and the two countries were doing business again. The U.S. and Russia—Russia and the U.S.—we were like BFFs! And then Vladimir Putin took the reins again in Russia, and that got shot to shit. With actions such as the annexation of Crimea, repeated incursions into the Ukraine, and propping up the deadly regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Putin’s militarism has put his country on a course directly at odds with the “reset” Barack Obama had envisioned for U.S.-Russia relations. Most recently, probable interference of the Russians in American electoral affairs—needless to say, so not cool. Obama has caught a lot of flak for not meeting Putin’s shows of force with the same contentious spirit, but I applaud his administration’s levelheadedness, as too much fuel on the fire could lead to an escalation of any conflict, armed or otherwise. Sometimes, restraint is the best policy. Looking at you, President-Elect Trump.
Speaking of Syria, it’s a mess. Assad, insurgent forces, ISIS, Russia, and the U.S. launching airstrikes—and the proud people of a country with a rich history caught in between. It’s a devastating situation, and no doubt you’ve seen some of the photos of the carnage. In November of last year, Barack Obama announced a plan to resettle some 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States. If you ask me, the number should probably closer to 100,000—conservative Republican rhetoric be damned. Though the civil unrest is a conflict of a military nature, the suffering within Syria is a fundamentally human issue. Pres. Obama did not cause this war. He and Hillary Clinton did not give rise to ISIS. As such, he alone cannot solve the complex problems within the Syrian state. Alongside cooperation with neighboring countries, what we sorely need is compassion for the people affected by the fighting in Syria.
Social policy/domestic initiatives
Again, there’s a lot of ways we could go with topics under this heading, but seeing as we’ve already been through a lot of material, I’ll try to be briefer on this end. The domestic initiative most synonymous with Barack Obama’s presidency is, of course, the Affordable Care Act, known colloquially as ObamaCare. There are a lot of ObamaCare haters out there, and in light of this antipathy, even staunch Democrats have found themselves hard-pressed to defend the ACA. For my part, though the initial execution may have been flawed (recall all those early problems with Healthcare.gov), this initiative does put us closer to where we need to be in terms of universal healthcare—which is a right, mind you, or should be. The notion of any sort of mandate, be it required of employers or individuals, it would seem, really sticks in the craw of its detractors, but despite the hooting and hollering about government overreach from the right and railing about the burden on small businesses, having large numbers of uninsured Americans creates its own costs, and potentially larger ones at that down the road. ObamaCare is not perfect, but to label it an outright failure is more than a little misleading.
On other dimensions of domestic policy, Pres. Obama’s initiatives, if not particularly far-reaching, can be once more understood within the context of an obstructionist Congress. Barack Obama signed into law a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but only on the strength of support from Democratic lawmakers. Though the Obama administration saw a record number of deportations, Obama himself has been a vocal supporter of the DREAM Act, and signed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy into law—even though he has been fought tooth-and-nail on both issues. Attempts to pass sensible gun law reform have been, in a word, cock-blocked by Republicans’ subservience to the NRA. And anyone thinking Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency would magically fix what ails the nation in terms of racial prejudice has full permission to go screw. As recent political events have brought to the forefront, there is a lot of deep-seated racism present in the United States, the likes of which Jesus Himself couldn’t hope to overcome. To those who would brand Barack Obama as a divider and not a uniter, I must express my doubts about how seriously you were willing to be united in the first place—that is, on terms other than your own.
Full disclosure: I used and thank Wikipedia’s page on Barack Obama’s presidency for serving as a template for my personal opinions on his administration’s policies in light of the challenges he has faced. If you do check that link, you’ll notice I omitted two sections. One is science, technology, and the environment, a lot of which I found to be dry and uninteresting, quite frankly, and since this post is long enough already, I opted to scrap it, though environmental concerns are related to the discussion soon to follow. The other section, meanwhile, is ethics, and it is at this point which I’ll strive to make the connection to Standing Rock. Overall, I feel Barack Obama, who easily outpaces George W. Bush in leadership skills and sound foreign policy navigation (not exactly the most difficult achievement), if I may say so myself, has done a fairly good job at steering the nation along a path of incremental progress, a job made that much more difficult by the obstinacy of the GOP.
This notion of the virtue of incremental progress, however, in itself a limiting factor, and thus, in general terms, is at the same time a major criticism of the Obama occupancy of the White House—that his policies haven’t gone far enough, even noting Republican resistance. Don’t get me wrong—I like Barack Obama. As a person, I think he’s got a great personality, not to mention a beautiful family and a wife and First Lady in Michelle who may be as capable a leader as he, if not more so. Nevertheless, there are points where I disagree with the President, a notion some Democratic Party loyalists treat as tantamount to disrespect or even heresy. On an economic front, as alluded to earlier, I disapprove of Obama’s stubborn adherence to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As a true Bernie Sanders devotee, I also find fault with his administration’s seeming unwillingness to go beyond the provisions of Dodd-Frank, as many would agree is necessary to keep Wall Street in check, including but not limited to reinstatement of Glass-Steagall, not to mention his extension of the Bush-era tax cuts. Within the sphere of social policy, too, for all the reforms made in the intersection of the criminal justice system and drug laws, the war on drugs still rages on, and the DEA is still wont to equate marijuana with a drug like heroin, while substances like alcohol, opioids and tobacco are easily accessible.
Additionally, invoking again matters of ethics, for a president who vowed that lobbyists wouldn’t find a place in his White House and that his administration would be the most transparent in history, Barack Obama has waffled if not deliberately violated these precepts. If we add the revelation of the existence in 2013 by Edward Snowden of the PRISM mass electronic surveillance program as a function of the NSA, the willingness of the Obama administration to cross ethical lines, if not legal and constitutional lines, is all the more unsettling. If we bring contemplations of social and moral responsibility into the mix, meanwhile, while, again, Obama has fared significantly better than his predecessor, as regards the environment, it’s yet a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, Pres. Obama has identified climate change as the biggest threat the nation and world faces, and has set forth legislation on numerous occasions designed to cap carbon emissions and overall reduce the United States’ emissions footprint. On the other hand, Obama has only nixed domestic offshore drilling and other projects like the Keystone XL extension because they weren’t economically viable, not for strict adherence to environmental principles. Do as I say, not as I’d do if the money were better.
Enter the Dakota Access Pipeline and Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Some background information, first. Energy Transfer Partners, a Fortune 500 natural gas and propane firm, seeks to construct a pipeline that would run from the Bakken Oil Fields in North Dakota to a point in southern Illinois, going underneath the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and part of Lake Oahe near Standing Rock in the process. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, the proposed pipeline would have little to no impact on the surrounding area. This assessment, however, has been judged by outside observers as being rather limited in scope, failing to analyze the situation in terms of a potential area-wide environmental impact, and since being asked to conduct a full-scale review by various related agencies, even the Corps has acknowledged it needs more time to make an adequate assessment on the impact the Dakota Access Pipeline could have.
That’s the good news, the delay. The bad news comes with how little attention the progress of the Dakota Access Pipeline project and the protests of its completion have received until recently, and just how severe the backlash has been against protestors from security guards contracted by those involved with the pipeline project as well as law enforcement siding with the corporate entity. There have been reports of guard dogs and pepper spray used on protestors, as well as concussion grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons in freezing conditions, not to mention the use of the criminal justice system to intimidate and silence journalists. Even if some protestors were being unruly, though, as North Dakota state police have alleged, this use of force appears disproportionate and harsh. What’s more, this treatment would seem to run at odds with how other superficially similar situations have unfolded. Making an allusion to the extended occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by armed militants, the coiner of the term Black Lives Matter, Alicia Garza had this to say:
So let me get this correct. If you’re white, you can occupy federal property … and get found not guilty. No teargas, no tanks, no rubber bullets … If you’re indigenous and fighting to protect our earth, and the water we depend on to survive, you get tear gassed, media blackouts, tanks and all that.
The disparity seems pretty telling. In America, the sanctity of Indian lands and water sources evidently pales in comparison to the whims of the fossil fuel industry and white privilege. If you’re pumping vast sums of oil or you’re Caucasian and packing heat in vague protest of government overreach, you stand to fare better than a Dakota Access Pipeline protestor or, say, a black person stopped by the cops for a minor traffic violation.
Thankfully, in light of the apparent brutality shown toward these protestors, along with the sheer number of people who have stood with Standing Rock, not to mention several entertainers and other celebrities who have drawn attention to the plight of the reservation’s Sioux citizens and others who have suffered for the cause (for Christ’s sake, they arrested Shailene Woodley, of all people! Shailene Woodley!), average Joes like you and me are taking notice. One voice above all, though, would carry considerably more weight, and since I spent some 3,000 words talking about him just now, I think you know to whom I’m alluding. Barack Obama has been notably silent on matters of Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline, as were Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton once it became, for all intents and purposes, a heads-up contest for the presidency.
It’s not like his involvement hasn’t been sought, either. Chief Arvol Looking Horse, a spiritual leader and voice for the Great Sioux Nation, has pleaded with Pres. Obama to keep his word with recognition of treaties with native peoples and to act when they are violated. Bernie Sanders has spoken at a protest in front of the White House and personally appealed to the President to act against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and other senators have urged him and his administration to do a more thorough environmental assessment of the project’s impact, as well as consider consulting more directly and openly with tribal representatives. Obama himself has even acknowledged Standing Rock Reservation and the associated protests by name on more than occasion.
Acknowledgment of the problem helps, and I encourage those of you who support resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline to use the hashtag #NoDAPL in your social media posts and dialogs. But we need action—not just from people like you and I—but from our leaders, those with the most direct path and power to affect change. And Barack Obama is at the top of the list. As noted, Obama and Co. has killed offshore drilling projects and the Keystone XL extension—though not necessarily for the purported altruistic reasons. Going back to his legacy, though, if ever there were a time to stand for something on principle, it would be now, and standing with the people of Standing Rock and the future of the planet over the Dakota Access Pipeline and the fossil fuel industry. President Obama, if I may address you directly, sir—you are a lame duck president. Your political party just had its ass handed to it in the election, despite the results of the popular vote for the president, in part because people are fed up with politics as usual and the incremental progress paradigm of yesteryear. And while party loyalists and more moderate liberals may support you no matter what, those of us disenfranchised with the status quo are asking for more, and to boot, those on the extreme right are intent on destroying the best points of your legacy.
Which is why, Mr. President, now is the time to act. Stand with Standing Rock, because Donald Trump almost certainly won’t. Re-write the narrative. Leave one final meritorious page in the storybook of your presidency. I, concerned citizens around the world, and the planet itself will thank and remember you for it.