In case you were previously unaware, White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller is soulless human garbage in a suit and shouldn’t have a role anywhere near the President of the United States. But Donald Trump is our president, Miller has been one of the longest-tenured members of his administration, and here we are.
You may not know much about Miller other than that he has a receding hairline and pretty much every photo of him makes him look like an insufferable dick. He also can claim the dubious honor of having his own uncle call out his hypocritical douchebaggery in an essay that made the rounds online. His own uncle. Let that sink in for a moment.
Of course, resting bitch face and do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do behavior do not a monster necessarily make. Promoting white nationalist propaganda and conspiracy theories, obsessing over conceptions of “racial identity,” and invoking Hitlerian attitudes on immigration, though, are more conclusive signs.
In a series of E-mails between Miller and Breitbart News editors first leaked to the Southern Law Poverty Center by Katie McHugh, a former editor at Breitbart, the depth of Miller’s affinity for white nationalism is laid bare. SLPC’s Hatewatch blog, in reviewing more than 900 E-mails which span from March 2015 to June 2016, characterizes the subject matter of these messages as “strikingly narrow,” unsympathetic, and biased. Regarding immigration, Miller focused only on limiting if not ending nonwhite immigration to the United States. That’s it.
To this effect, Miller’s correspondence included but was not limited to these delightful exchanges and messages:
Sending McHugh stories from white nationalist websites known for promulgating the “white genocide” theory as well as those emphasizing crimes committed by nonwhites and espousing anti-Muslim views
Recommending Camp of the Saints, a 1973 novel depicting the destruction of Western civilization through mass immigration of nonwhites, as a point of comparison to real-world immigration and refugeeism trends
Pushing stories lamenting the loss of cultural markers like the Confederate flag and Confederate monuments
Embracing restrictive American immigration policies of yesteryear, the likes of which were based on eugenics theory and were referenced favorably in Mein Kampf
Offering original conspiracy theories as to why the “ruinous” history of the Hart-Celler Act wasn’t covered in “elitist” publications
Hatewatch also revisited Miller’s history with prominent white nationalist figures to provide context for these E-mails. Specifically, Miller has connections to Peter Brimelow, founder of VDARE, a white supremacist website, and Richard Spencer, like, the poster child for white nationalism and the alt-right, from his time at Duke. He and Spencer worked together to organize a debate between Brimelow and journalist/professor Peter Laufer on immigration across our southern border. Miller has sought to refute this relationship, but Spencer has acknowledged their familiarity with one another in passing. Miller’s denial is, as far as the SPLC is concerned, implausible.
As noted, these E-mails are several years old and his time at Duke yet further back. Still, not only are these messages not that far behind us, but Miller’s fingerprints are all over Trump’s immigration policy directives. As Hatewatch has also documented, Miller was one of the strongest advocates for the “zero tolerance” policy which saw a spike in family separations at the border with Mexico, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis there. In addition, alongside Steve Bannon, he was a chief architect of the so-called “travel ban,” which is a Muslim ban in everything but the name.
Again, as the leaked E-mails and SPLC’s additional context hint at, there is a path to these policies in Miller’s past associations. As recently as 2014, he attended an event for the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a conservative foundation which traffics in Islamophobia, introducing his then-boss Jeff Sessions as a speaker.
There’s his involvement with the Center for Immigration Studies, too, a anti-immigrant think tank (if you can call it that; the inclusion of the word “think” seems like a stretch) whose very founders subscribed to white nationalist and eugenicist world views and of which misleading/false claims about immigrant crime are a mainstay. Miller was a keynote speaker at a CIS conference in 2015 and has repeatedly cited CIS reports in publicly defending Trump administration policy directives.
As always, one can’t know for sure how many of Miller’s professed beliefs are true to what he believes deep down. After all, he, like any number of modern conservative grifters, may simply be leveraging the prejudices of everyday Americans as a means of bolstering his own profile.
Ultimately, however, as with his current employer, it is immaterial what he truly believes. His words and (mis)deeds shared with the outside world are what matter, and the zeal with which he has pursued bigoted, racist, and xenophobic policies and rhetoric conveys the sense he really means it. Like the saying goes, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. Stephen Miller walks like a racist and quacks like a racist. I don’t know about you, but that’s good enough for me.
At this writing, 107 Democratic members of the House of Representatives and Mike Coffman, a House Republican, have called for Stephen Miller’s resignation or firing. It’s not just members of Congress either. Over 50 civil rights groups, including Jewish organizations (Miller is Jewish), have likewise condemned Miller’s bigotry. Predictably, the White House has used these calls for the senior adviser’s head as fodder for charges of anti-Semitism, much as the man himself has tried to use his faith as a shield from criticism in the past.
The two concepts are not mutually exclusive, though. You can be a Jew and still suffer from prejudice. None of us are immune herein regardless of our religious or political beliefs. Besides, the nature of the White House’s defense obscures the intent of the growing resignation demand. This isn’t a bunch of totalitarian leftists trying to exploit the E-mail leak as political weaponry. Miller has given his critics across the political spectrum plenty of ammunition throughout his tenure in the Trump administration. The leak is just the racist, Islamophobic straw that broke the camel’s back.
Does all of this outrage matter, though? Will President Donald Trump turn a deaf ear to the controversy surrounding Miller, more concerned with his own concerns over his ongoing impeachment inquiry? Would he consider keeping Miller in his present role just to signify his stubborn will and/or to “own the libs?”
It’s hard to say. On one hand, some of the worst crooks and liars have seemed to do the best (that is, last the longest) in the Trump administration. Betsy DeVos is still carrying water for Trump as Secretary of Education despite a history of evidenced incompetence and notions she, like Trump, is using her position to enrich herself. Kellyanne Conway continues to be employed despite being a professional author of “alternative facts.” And don’t even get me started about Jared Kushner. If that guy has any personality or foreign policy know-how worth sharing, it is unknown to the rest of Planet Earth.
So, yeah, Stephen Miller is a natural fit for the Trump White House and this bit of public outrage may just be a blip on the radar of his career as a political influencer. Then again, it may not. While several Trump administration officials have resigned, Trump has let the ax fall on occasion. Among the figures identified by CNN as either “fired” or “pushed out” are high-profile names like Jeff Sessions (Attorney General and Miller’s one-time employer), John Bolton (National Security Adviser), John Kelly (White House Chief of Staff), Michael Flynn (also National Security Adviser), Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State), and Steve Bannon (White House Chief Strategist), not to mention holdovers from the Obama administration like Andrew McCabe (FBI Deputy Director), James Comey (FBI Director), and Sally Yates (Deputy Attorney General). Heck, Anthony Scaramucci only lasted 10 days as White House Communications Director.
When not striking a defiant tone, Trump and Co. have also exhibited a sensitivity to low public support. That zero-tolerance immigration policy championed by Miller which will forever serve as a black mark on an already-checkered American legacy? It has been formally ended, though it has been reported that children continue to be separated by their parents and logistical problems facing the reunification of families remain. Alas, nothing goes smoothly with this administration, especially not when cruelty is on the agenda.
The president has additionally and vocally wavered on Syria, not only with respect to withdrawal of troops but whether to support the Kurds fighting there or to roll out the proverbial red carpet for Erdogan and Turkey after widespread bipartisan condemnation of abandoning our allies there. Trump’s not a smart man, but he can tell when the prevailing sentiment is against him. (Hint: If the chowderheads at Fox & Friends and 2019’s version of Lindsey Graham are disagreeing with you, you know you screwed up.)
All this adds up to the idea Stephen Miller’s job may not be as safe as we might imagine. Whatever the outcome, the pressure for him to be fired or resign should continue as long as he is one of the worst examples of what the Trump White House has to offer and one of the ugliest Americans in recent memory given his personally- and professionally-stated beliefs. As his leaked correspondence with Katie McHugh shows, Miller is even worse than we thought. It’s time to get him out before he does any more damage to the country than he already has.
That is, to quote various Internet commentators—themselves quoting Ice Cube’s character in the seminal comedy Friday—upon hearing the news Sarah Sanders plans to leave the White House by the end of the month, ending her tenure as press secretary.
Of course, now begins the rampant speculation as to who will succeed Sanders in this role. A few people have wryly suggested conservative vloggers, social media personalities, political activists, and Fox Nation hosts Diamond and Silk are the new oddsmakers’ favorites to win the position. This is a joke—although given the disjointed and surreal way the Trump administration has operated heretofore, you can’t rule this possibility out either.
From a survival perspective in the tumult of the Trump White House, Sanders’s run is notable. Certainly, she has well eclipsed the likes of Anthony Scaramucci, whose short service in the capacity of White House Director of Communications is the minimum standard by which future Trump appointees might be judged. For that matter, she also has far surpassed her predecessor, Sean Spicer. If we’re giving Sanders credit—the conditions for which doing so are seemingly miniscule in the Trump era—there’s that, at least.
As Sanders’s watch comes to a close, though, and as per the wont of the American opinion journalism landscape, one is left to ponder what her legacy is alongside her contemporaries and others who have held her title in the past. Brian Stelter, chief media correspondent for CNN, puts it rather succinctly: “Sarah Sanders’ primary legacy as White House press secretary will be the death of the daily press briefing.”
On the infrequency of her appearances before the media, he’s not wrong. At this writing, Sanders’s last press briefing occurred on March 11, more than three months ago. In doing so, she broke her own previous records for the longest span without a briefing held in White House history. As an added bonus, and as Stelter notes, last month, reporters spied a coating of dust on her podium. Yeah, it’s that bad.
To be fair, many might not consider this a significant loss given Sanders’s propensity to stonewall White House reporters if not lie to them outright. From the details of the Mueller report, we know she admitted to fabricating tales of “countless” FBI agents thanking President Trump for firing James Comey as director on multiple occasions. She later characterized her description as a “slip of the tongue.”
But this was more than just misleading. This was a lie. When members of the journalism community found this much out, several called for her immediate ouster or resignation. Whatever credibility Sanders had maintained up to that point, she had destroyed it by acknowledging her prior comments were “not founded on anything.” Without the public’s trust, what good is having her on board?
Sanders’s wanton disregard for truth-telling, paired with the notion that her replacement probably won’t be much of an improvement—if at all—would therefore seem to render her departure inconsequential. As Stelter finds, meanwhile, her abdication of even the pretense of authenticity and transparency is a significant departure from past precedent. Both she and President Trump have contended that these press briefings aren’t essential when the president and other members of the administration are accessible in other ways. Namely Twitter.
And yet, 3 A.M. rants by the Commander-in-Chief aren’t the same as scheduled events marked by the ability of a free press to ask the White House direct questions. As Stelter puts it:
Press briefings matter for both symbolic and practical reasons. Symbolically, televised briefings show that the White House is open for business and willing to answer questions. And on a practical level, briefings are an efficient way for the administration to address numerous topics and engage with a wide variety of news outlets.
Accountability. Directness. Fairness. Visibility. These are hallmarks of good communication notably absent from the White House with Sanders as press secretary. Even within the confines of the Trump era, Sanders is not the only representative of the president to have a contentious and disingenuous relationship with the media; Kellyanne Conway’s thumbing her nose at the Hatch Act as well as the very existence of verifiable facts is an affront to everyone who listens to her speak. From an historical perspective, too, there are umpteen instance of presidents nakedly exhibiting antipathy toward the press. See also “Nixon, Richard.”
This merely provides context, though. It does not exculpate her as a member of an administration that has all but declared war on journalists. It doesn’t clear her of going after Jim Acosta’s press credentials if not his job citing blatantly edited footage, his alleged grandstanding aside. Or for tweeting about the Red Hen restaurant refusing to serve her from her official government Twitter account. Or for accusing the media of spreading “fake news” about President Trump. Or for insisting he has never encouraged the use of violence against protestors.
Wait—there’s more. Or for misrepresenting legal situations involving the president or members of his administration such as Rob Porter. Or for citing the Bible and blaming Democrats for Trump’s family separation policy. Or for seriously overstating the numbers of individuals on the terror watch list getting apprehended at the Mexican border. Or for repeatedly failing to agree with the idea that the press “is not the enemy of the people.” Sanders may not be the only or worst example of bad behavior in the White House—we need look no further than the man setting the tone at the top for the ugliest conduct of all. But she’s an example of it nonetheless.
Indeed, as someone who once tweeted with relish about “Trump derangement syndrome,” a fictitious malady supposedly afflicting Democrats and other liberals, one has to assume Sanders, at least on some level, approves of Donald Trump and his agenda. That she’s jumping ship now like so many other officials have done under Trump’s watch shouldn’t make her look more palatable, nor should she get a round of applause given the difficulty of her placement. She agreed to this arrangement. Like the rest of her fallen comrades, she had to have some idea of what she was getting herself into.
What is perhaps most befuddling about the news of Sarah Sanders’s imminent departure is that it comes attached with multiple reports of her political aspirations, specifically “seriously considering” running for governor of Arkansas, a post once held by her father, former-presidential-candidate-turned-online-conservative-troll Mike Huckabee. Sanders has already established that she’s a professional liar, which some might concede makes her better qualified to be a politician. Our cynicism aside, is this the kind of person Arkansans want to represent them? Because her dad used to be governor, does she therefore make more sense than other candidates? Or is it that she carried water for President “Make America Great Again?” She didn’t even finish a full term as press secretary. What makes voters think she’ll be willing to work with them over the long haul?
Even yet more quizzical is the news that members of the media are evidently planning a going-away party for Sanders involving “farewell drinks” at an upscale D.C. bar. A going-away party? For the woman who refused to say that the press is not the enemy of the American people and who has let her podium literally collect dust? It’s preposterous and yet totally believable coming from a group that sought to console Sanders after her roasting at the hands of Michelle Wolf at the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Wolf did her job. Sanders has flouted her responsibility. The only “going-away party” I would want to see or attend if I were a White House reporter is one saying “good riddance” to someone who didn’t have my back after my colleagues came to her defense for being the lying mouthpiece of a would-be despot.
Again, Sarah Sanders may not be the worst the Trump administration has to offer and her yet-unnamed successor stands to be a downgrade. That’s not saying much for her as a person, however. As far as I am concerned, and as I know other conscientious objectors to the Trump presidency feel, Sarah Sanders, you will not be missed. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
A while back, I attended a Saturday morning meeting for a group of Democratic Party supporters in northern New Jersey. Former FOX News personality and Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky was the special guest. She talked about, among other things, having conversations with people who hold different political views, and at one point, fielded questions from those in attendance.
Anna Wong, a tireless activist and someone I know from her work with Indivisible NJ-5, stepped up to the mic, and with a sense of due frustration, asked how we’re supposed to reach across the aisle when we can’t even agree on a set of facts, let alone whether facts matter.
Anna’s question and how she delivered it prompted laughter from the audience—myself included—but she was very earnest in her query. Thinking back to this scene, as I frequently do, I too wonder how having a dialog with people of opposing ideologies is possible when both can’t agree to the same qualitative or quantitative data—right down to what we see.
The episode which jumps to mind, especially as a tone-setter for the Trump administration, is the whole business about whose inauguration crowd was bigger: Donald Trump’s or Barack Obama’s. It seems like eons ago when Sean Spicer—remember him?—was trying to persuade us to believe that the president’s detractors were manipulating camera angles of aerial views to diminish Trump and his achievements.
Meanwhile, in the real world, objective visual analysis showed Obama’s numbers clearly bested Trump’s. Like, it wasn’t even close. If Washington, D.C. transit numbers are any indication, Obama walloped Trump in attendance, managing 513,000 trips on the Metro by 11 A.M. in 2009 to his successor’s 193,000 by the same time. The numbers, at least in this case, don’t lie.
And yet, Trump et al. held to their erroneous claim. As Groucho Marx would say or is thus attributed, who are you going to believe: me or your lying eyes? Like some errant, erratic philosopher, President Trump seemed to be arguing against the very existence of verifiable truth. To borrow a phrase from Kellyanne Conway, there were no lies—only “alternative facts.” Seeing is believing? No, no—believing is believing. If you’re not on the side of the president, you’re not on the side of America. How are we supposed to make the country great again if you don’t buy in?
We’re in 2019 now, but the same tactics are being used by conservative commentators and, in turn, centrist media outlets to make us question what we see and know. Back in November, there was an uproar from the right after CNN reporter Jim Acosta was alleged to have manhandled a female aide who tried (unsuccessfully) to grab his microphone during a Trump press conference. Abuser, they cried! Assault, they railed! Of course, there was a proportionate uproar from the other direction when the Trump administration moved to revoke Acosta’s credentials (and deservedly so), but with various critics calling for his ouster at CNN, one might’ve been concerned the network would give in to the calls for Acosta’s head.
What was truly disturbing about the whole episode was not Acosta’s conduct—the CNN correspondent may have been a bit defensive about giving up the mic but he did excuse himself as the young woman grasped for it—but rather the attempts to discredit him. Instrumental in the effort to get Acosta canned was a video shared on social media by InfoWars editor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson and later passed along by Sarah Sanders that showed the interaction between Acosta and the aide.
The clip appeared to show Acosta arresting the woman’s arm with a “karate chop” of sorts. Casually omitted from proliferation of this video segment, however, was the knowledge that the action had been slowed or sped up at points to make Acosta’s movement seem harsher than it actually was. The audio of Acosta excusing himself also was removed. The footage from the press conference was, in a word, doctored.
By the time the clarifications could be assigned a day later, the right was already off and running with its narrative. To this day, conservative trolls maintain that Acosta should’ve been fired for his “attack” on the aide. In doing so, they have chosen a very convenient point at which to come to the defense of a young woman when members of the Republican Party are generally so intent on circumscribing women’s power and freedom. But I digress.
These cases are a little bit different in their presentation. With the aerial shots that proved Obama’s crowds were bigger beyond the shadow of a doubt, there was little Donald Trump and his cronies could do outside of arguing for the relativity of truth in the abstract. Re Jim Acosta vs. the female White House aide, there was intentional manipulation at work(Watson denies it, but it’s not like he and InfoWars have built a strong sense of credibility), though there were other versions of the clip from more trustworthy sources available. Either way, you were made to doubt what you saw or thought you saw. The eyes, they play tricks. And as we know, tricks are for kids. You’re not a kid, are you?
It is within this context that we can view the much-talked-about interaction between Covington Catholic High School (KY) students in Washington for a March for Life and Nathan Phillips, a Native American and veteran present for the Indigenous Peoples March. The iconic moment, if you will, happened when Nick Sandmann, one of the students and one of a number of them wearing a MAGA hat, stood face to face with Phillips while the latter beat a drum and sang. As Phillips has said in interviews, he was attempting to intercede between the students and members of the Black Hebrew Israelites, who shouted epithets at the high schoolers and preached about how they were “cursed Edomites.”
In the initial reaction to video from the interaction, most people regarded the Covington Catholic H.S. students fairly negatively. They were akin to a mob, standing in menacing opposition to Phillips, who was but one man. And that smirk. The enduring image of Sandmann staring motionless and speechless with a smirk on his face conveyed notions of racism and white privilege. Here were a bunch of white kids ganging up on an older person of color, a veteran and Native American no less. What better symbol of Trump’s effect and how discriminatory values are inculcated in future generations?
Not soon after, though, the narrative began to change. Additional videos were released that showed additional footage, including the students being egged on by the Black Hebrew Israelites. All of a sudden, these boys were the victim or were regarded with less contempt than before given the circumstances. Actually, now that I look closer, Phillips accosted them, not the other way around! We owe them an apology! We’re so sorry, Covington Catholic High! Our mea culpas and retractions can’t come fast enough!
Thankfully, not everyone is buying the “both sides” arguments and self-flagellation many among the media, their associated outlets, and Hollywood’s elite have begun to make. Laura Wagner, reporter at Deadspin, for one, advises us not to doubt what we saw with our own eyes.
Recounting the predictable shift from immediate condemnation of the boys’ conduct to downplaying if not outright denying any wrongdoing, Wagner addresses the notion that the kerfuffle on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial is nothing more than a Rorschach test for what you personally believe:
One lesson of the past two days is that you will see what you want to see here, if you are determined to do so; that does not mean that there is anything to be seen but what is there. I see a frothing mass of MAGA youth—who, since we’re taking in all angles here, go to a school where students fairly recently wore blackface to a basketball game—frenzied and yelling and out of control. I see four black men who seem to belong to the Black Israelites—a threat to women in their orbit, but not to random white people they’re heckling—yelling insults at the students. Then I see Phillips, as he has stated from the beginning that he did, walk up to the teens, in what seems to be an attempt to diffuse the situation. I see them laughing and dancing, red MAGA hats bobbing up and down in glee. I see them yell in Phillips’ face, and I see that he doesn’t falter. I see the smugness of a group secure in its relative power over someone more vulnerable than they are. Nothing about the video showing the offensive language of Black Israelites changes how upsetting it was to see the Covington students, and Sandmann in particular, stare at Phillips with such contempt. I don’t see how you could watch this and think otherwise unless you’re willing to gaslight yourself, and others, in the service of granting undeserved sympathy to the privileged.
And yet, that’s exactly what happened. Various individuals backtracked, excused themselves, blamed their “reptile brains.” They ignored their initial emotional responses and, without much else informing their decision-making, reversed their position. I apologize. I regret. I shouldn’t have. I’m sorry.
As far as Wagner is concerned, the reason for this is simple: it makes them seem more reasonable and trustworthy. They’re not among the followers of the news who react impassionedly to it, betraying their better judgment for the sake of an outrage fix. Even if that means, as Wagner puts it, “siding with some shithead MAGA teens and saying that 2 + 2 = 5 in the face of every bit of evidence there is to be had.”
Whatever the reason, the final outcome still stands. These people failed to believe what they had seen with their own eyes.
One criticism from people tracking this story is that these kids are being demonized by some, but what would you have them do instead? Unfortunately for promoters of this line of thinking, the answers are pretty easy. Walk away. Find a chaperone. Certainly, don’t make mocking tomahawk chants. For those suggesting “boys will be boys” or pointing to the folly of youth, that shouldn’t be an excuse. If Gillette can make an advertisement about toxic masculinity (which you may hate for being too preachy, but that’s another story), these Catholic school kids can behave in a respectful manner. Blame the parents if you want, but let’s have some responsibility assigned.
Otherwise, some might point to the remarks made by Nick Sandmann and agree with his side of the story. But come the eff on. Why would this kid and his family need to hire a PR firm if, as the saying goes, the truth shall set you free? And that smirk. I know I’m harping on it, but it’s pretty hard to get past. Sandmann says he was trying to diffuse the situation, but he could’ve taken any of the prescribed actions to do that rather than standing within feet of Nathan Phillips and smiling like an entitled little asshole. That Savannah Guthrie would encourage his defense of his “right” to stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and listen to Phillips as part of a softball interview is downright nauseating.
The last objection to deliberation on this altercation may be perhaps the most valid: “Who cares?” That is, why are we spending so much time on whether some high schooler was smirking at an older Native American man when there’s a crisis in Yemen, lead is still being found in drinking water, and other catastrophes abound? Relatively speaking, the events of this past weekend are a blip on the proverbial radar.
Their symbolic value, meanwhile, carries more weight. It’s about media portrayal of members of different ethnicities. It’s about how pressure by conservative commentators and right-wing trolls—including threats of violence and release of personal information—can influence individuals and media outlets to spin the national conversation toward white victimhood. And it’s about how people irrespective of gender or political ideology can be made to doubt what they see. It has nothing to do with “intelligence” either. When group dynamics are at work, the pressure to conform is a powerful force. We’re all susceptible.
Returning to the anecdote from the start of this piece, if it’s hard to agree on what is factual or whether that matters, it’s that much more difficult to have a meaningful conversation when something is right before our eyes and we can’t come to a consensus on what we see. That’s the most disturbing implication of the Covington Catholic/Nathan Phillips standoff and why people like Laura Wagner invoke 1984‘s dystopia. When you’re made to question your own judgment, you’re liable to believe anything.
Should Nick Sandmann or anyone else involved herein be sent death threats? Of course not. But should he and his peers be absolved of all culpability? I submit no, and neither should the antagonists of the Black Hebrew Israelites. If you saw what I saw, you’re not wrong—lying eyes and all.
Michelle Wolf, comedienne, Daily Show alum, and writer, hosted this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner. You, ahem, may have heard about it.
Wolf, delivering her routine with a wry sort of smile that often belied a caustic tone, was an equal opportunity joke teller, hurling insults mostly at President Donald Trump, but not sparing members of his administration either. Nor were other media and political figures off limits, as Wolf also assailed the likes of Ann Coulter, Chris Christie, Harvey Weinstein, Hillary Clinton, Michael Cohen, Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity, and the stars of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, among others. On top of this, she took the news media community to task for their part in propping up Trump for the sake of their profits and at the nation’s expense.
Before we get to the myriad responses to Wolf’s monologue, which tidily ran under 20 minutes in length, let’s first go over some of the highlights of her speech, as identified by yours truly:
Michelle Wolf began by asserting that her role was to tell jokes, and that she had no agenda or wasn’t “trying to get anything accomplished.” You can question the merits of her statement if you will, but if she came with any “agenda,” it wasn’t apparent by virtue of her barbs aimed in all directions.
Wolf did not dwell on the Trump-Russia situation, except at one point suggesting #45 is in some way compromised by this connection. Otherwise, she professed that she didn’t want to titillate the liberal media among the audience by going on about it, and seemed to express frustration at how this story has dominated headlines and has encouraged discussion panels reminiscent of a bad family argument at Thanksgiving dinner.
That said, Wolf went after Trump. Hard. She called him a “pussy” for not attending the Dinner, and rather than harping on his misogyny, racism, and xenophobia—though not letting him off the hook about these qualities either—she made a series of jokes designed to eat away at a key part of his image and truly gall him: that he’s not as rich as he says he is.
Wolf also referenced Trump’s pandering to white nationalists, and surmises the term “white nationalist” itself is a cop out. As she said during her monologue: “Calling a Nazi a ‘white nationalist’ is like calling a pedophile a ‘kid friend,’ or Harvey Weinstein a ‘ladies’ man’.”
Wolf expressed the belief that Trump shouldn’t be impeached, if only because Mike Pence is waiting in the wings.
Wolf also mentioned Trump’s Cabinet, and joked she had specific comments for its members, but that they keep changing. She quipped, “You guys have gone through Cabinet members quicker than Starbucks throws out black people.”
As mentioned earlier, if Wolf wrote her routine with any sort of agenda, it was political—especially in the feminist sense—but not partisan. She took Hillary Clinton’s campaign to task for abandoning Midwest states like Michigan, and more broadly chided Democrats for their strategic miscues in races up and down tickets.
Indeed, for all her (deserved) criticism of Trump, her particular disdain for women in positions of relative prominence was apparent. She identified Kellyanne Conway as an out-and-out liar who has no business appearing on news channels, she characterized Ivanka Trump, self-professed advocate for women, as “as helpful to [them] as an empty box of tampons,” likened Sarah Sanders to the character of Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale, a brutal authoritarian figure and spreader of propaganda. Last but not least, she took a shot at Megyn Kelly and NBC’s handling of her contract: “Megyn Kelly got paid $23 million by NBC, and NBC didn’t let Megan go to the Winter Olympics. Why not? She’s so white, cold, and expensive, she might as well be the Winter Olympics.”
Wolf’s harshest words perhaps were aimed at the media, and specifically for the way they’ve taken advantage of Donald Trump’s rise within the sphere of U.S. politics. Comparing their attitude toward Trump like a woman who professes to hate her ex-boyfriend but secretly loves him, she uttered, point blank, “You helped create this monster, and now you’re profiting off him.” For Wolf, this point was one that she sees that members of the media are loath to acknowledge, but bears discussing and repeating.
Wolf’s closing words, underscoring the seriousness of her commentary and serving as a reminder in case anyone forgot (or chose to ignore it): “Flint still doesn’t have clean water.” As far as responses to emergency situations are concerned, I’m sure there are those in, say, Puerto Rico who would nod their heads and add their own situations to the mix.
Reactions to the speech have been fairly predictable. Pres. Trump, of course, hated it, calling it “a very big, boring bust.” Takes one to know one, Donald. Sean Spicer called it a “disgrace.” Ditto. Other conservative publications and sites panned Michelle Wolf’s performance, highlighting the opinion she “bombed.” One tends to wonder if they actually watched her performance or simply formed their opinion based on snippets from blogs and their own kneejerk reactions in defense of the President, but this apparently is the state of critical political analysis in our country today.
To be fair, Wolf has had her detractors outside the political right, too. The media, perhaps likewise predictably, have balked at the idea they have helped create the “monster” that is Trump. As someone like Chris Cillizza of CNN and formerly of The Washington Post would aver, he and other reporters have covered Trump to the extent that he has done and said things that no other president/candidate has done, but that Trump, as the “angry id of the GOP,” was on the rise whether the mainstream media gave him the attention or not. That is, while sites like CNN have indeed profited off of Trump’s increased exposure, Cillizza believes this is different from “creating” him.
Other criticisms seem directed at Wolf’s perceived mean streak, particularly in her take-down of Trump administration officials like Kellyanne Conway, Mike Pence, and Sarah Sanders. In addressing the media and telling various outlets not to book Conway, she joked, “If a tree falls in the woods, how do we get Kellyanne under that tree?” She immediately qualified that she wouldn’t want Conway hurt or killed by the falling tree, just stuck, but the image was enough for some people.
In assailing Pence and his anti-abortion views, a sore spot for many women and people concerned with personal rights, she riffed, “Don’t knock it ’til you try it, and when you do try it, really knock it. You know, you’ve got to get that baby out of there.” Abortion jokes, even for the pro-choice crowd, are always a questionable choice. As for Sanders, Wolf’s comments about her make-up and her resemblance to Aunt Lydia from The Handmaid’s Tale have been branded as unfair and tantamount to bullying, though Wolf professes she was not making fun of Sarah’s looks, but merely her propensity to lie and spin as a buffer between Trump and the press corps. Despite not having an “agenda,” Wolf was clearly not playing to the room, or for that matter, playing nice.
The bilateral backlash to Wolf’s routine has been such that even White House Correspondents’ Association president Margaret Talev publicly distanced herself from the content of the monologue, putting forth the notion that Wolf’s remarks were not “in the spirit” of what the WHCA tries to accomplish, that the occasion should be one of civility, and of defending a free press and celebrating great reporting, and not intentionally divisive. In making this statement to fellow Association members, Talev seemed to be indicating a bit of buyer’s remorse, and at one point, after making an off-color joke about her own anatomy, Wolf herself followed it with the perhaps-too-on-the-nose line, “You should have done more research before you got me to do this.” Touché, Ms. Wolf. Touché.
At the same time, however, Michelle Wolf has her defenders, especially among her comedian brethren. As they contend, Wolf did the job she was asked to do, and if she ruffled a few proverbial feathers, so be it. Their sentiments echo the feelings of some people that the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is the problem, not Wolf or her “speak truth to power” mindset. For years, critics of this annual tradition have highlighted the oddity of an event designed to champion fearless reporting and freedom of the press and yet encourage reporters and political or otherwise public figures to coalesce with one another.
The mere suggestion that members of the press are in some way complicit in Trump’s political rise or in downplaying his administration’s dangerous propensity to lie is therefore bound to be uncomfortable. To put this another way, and to sympathize with the views of chief New York Times television critic James Poniewozik, maybe the WHCA should just not hire a comedian if they want less controversy, and as he puts it, “send the cameras away [and] have a nice dinner in peace.” After all, there’s nothing obligating the Association to hire a stand-up performer. Why do it if you’re unable to handle criticism in your own right?
Michelle Wolf, for her part, has responded to criticism of her speech by indicating she wouldn’t change a word of it, and that the backlash she’s received from her comments means she was actually in the right. Poniewozik, in his closing remarks, also defended Wolf to the extent that the White House Correspondents’ Association did not:
The irony of the association’s disavowing Ms. Wolf is that her routine, whether you agree with it or not, was ultimately about defending the mission of the White House press: sticking up for the truth. Michelle Wolf had the W.H.C.A.’s back Saturday night, even if it didn’t have hers the day after.
As Margaret Talev has made evident by distancing Wolf and her jokes from the Association and its purported mission, she is a comedian and not a member of the press. From where Wolf stands, this is probably a good thing, in that it frees her from any conventions which might prevent her from calling a spade a spade. Still, that the WHCA would publicly disavow the contents of Wolf’s monologue and risk chumming the waters for conservative trolls seems like a questionable stance to take.
It’s reminiscent of when Donald Trump, shortly after the contents of the Steele dossier started becoming public news, shouted down CNN’s Jim Acosta during a press conference, calling Acosta and his employer “fake news.” Looking at this situation retrospectively, it’s not so surprising that Trump would verbally attack a member of the media given his frequent angry Tweets lobbed at the “liberal media.”
At the time, however, it was unnerving to see Acosta shut down by the President and have none of his colleagues come to his defense. Sure, Neil Cavuto and others at FOX News may have been glad to smirk and sneer at CNN for what they perceived as their comeuppance for biased reporting and an overall snobby elitist attitude. But this confrontation foreshadowed the all-out assault Trump has levied upon the mainstream media, and it has ominous implications for the future of news media given Trump’s authoritarian streak and the proliferation of genuine fake news—if that makes any sense.
In other words, if individual members of the press don’t stand in solidarity when freedom of the press/freedom of speech is challenged, it stands to become that much easier to pick them off in the future. Wolf, in laughingly referring to print news as an “endangered species,” punctuated her joke by saying, “Buy more newspapers.” Much as she might disagree with their model, and to stress James Poniewozik’s insights, Michelle Wolf, a comedian with no agenda and not trying to get anything accomplished, recognizes the importance of investigative journalism. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and such explains why FOX News personalities came to CNN’s defense when their rival was besieged by Trump early in 2017. Over a year later, though, it already feels like members of the media/press are less inclined to cross Trump, or in the case of FOX News, are unabashedly biased in his favor. Gulp.
It’s anyone’s guess what Wolf’s performance will mean for the future of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, if anything. Chances are good that the furor over her routine will die down by the time next year rolls around and we’ll be reacting with the usual outrage again, having all but forgotten that dinner’s predecessor. For the media outlets implicated in her speech, meanwhile, it might behoove them to look at themselves in the mirror before putting this episode in the rear view. Given the public’s flagging confidence in the news media, an institution that won’t confront its own accountability may just end up hastening its own decline.
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2017 looks poised to finish on a high note, at least economically speaking. The stock market in the United States is near a record high, likely buoyed by the GOP’s corporation-friendly tax cut that President Donald Trump signed into law. Reportedly, the holiday season saw an increase of 5% in sales, an increase of 3.7% from the same span in 2016. Winning, winning, winning. Aren’t you tired of winning so much, fellow Americans? Aren’t you glad Pres. Trump is making America great again? Never mind the notion that he may not have as much to do with the economy as he would lead you to believe. Also, maybe we shouldn’t mention that, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research in London, England, China and India’s economies will surpass that of the U.S.’s by 2030. In other long-term news, meanwhile, productivity growth within America’s economy remains low, income inequality remains startlingly high, the federal debt continues to skyrocket, and the nation is gripped by an opioid dependency epidemic.
So, glass half empty or glass half full? How do you see these United States shaping up over the next few years and into the future? It likely depends on which side of the political or socioeconomic fence you live—and whether or not you stand to personally benefit from the policies the Trump administration and a Republican-led Congress aim to advance. Looking just at the GOP tax cuts, opponents of this policy shift have assailed it as a present for the super-wealthy and industry leaders at the expense of average Americans, and as a greasing of the slippery slope toward the erosion of Social Security, Medicare, and other social safety net programs. In other words, the advantages of this agenda would tend to be appreciated by the few rather than the many, and perhaps it is no wonder Trump’s approval ratings are languishing south of 40%, a historical low at this point in the presidency.
Perhaps it’s instructive to see where we’ve been to help gauge where we may be going in 2018, in 2020, and beyond. Let’s take a look back at some of the topics covered in 2017 on United States of Joe. Warning: we may have a bit more to say regarding our orange leader. If you have any small children in the room, you may want to move them to a safe location—especially if they happen to frequent beauty pageants. I hear El Presidente and his buddies like ’em young, and like to invade dressing rooms of contestants while they’re potentially less-than-fully clothed. Without further ado, let’s do the…
US of J 2017 Review: This Time, It’s Personal—Because Our President Takes Everything Personally
The Biggest Inauguration in U.S. History—Kinda, Sorta
Hey—did you realize Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election? No? Let Trump himself tell you about it! In fact, let him tell you about how he won going away every time something goes wrong or the press challenges him on the quality of his performance as President. You know, even though he didn’t win going away—dude didn’t even win the popular vote. Of course, Trump being the stupid baby that he is, he would challenge the legitimacy of Hillary Clinton’s supremacy in the popular vote, a harbinger of a disturbing trend that continues to play out with the Tweeter-in-Chief. Hillary didn’t win the popular vote—it was massive fraud involving undocumented immigrants that illegitimately got her that small victory. There’s absolutely no credible evidence of this, mind you, and the bullshit voter fraud task force the White House commissioned hasn’t turned up anything either. Trump’s Inauguration crowds were bigger than Barack Obama’s. Don’t believe the visual evidence? That’s OK—Trump, Sean Spicer and Co. were simply offering “alternative facts.” Don’t care for CNN’s brand of reporting? No problem—it’s “fake news.” After all, the media isn’t to be trusted in the first place—it’s the enemy of the people. I’m sure you felt that deep down anyhow, though.
Donald Trump’s assault on the truth and on verifiable fact is unmistakable, and his attacks on the press, including his fetishistic obsession with CNN, are overstated. That said, it’s not as if American news media is blameless in this regard either. Even before Trump was elected President, the mainstream media was an unabashed enabler of his antics. With Buzzfeed’s release of the “Pee-Pee Papers,” a salacious and unauthenticated account of Russian prostitutes performing sex acts at Trump’s behest supposedly based on credible intelligence, and CNN retracting a story on a supposed connection between Anthony Scaramucci, whose tenure as White House Communications Director was remarkably short-lived, and Trump’s Russian ties, Trump suddenly appears more credible. In the push for ratings and clicks in an turbulent era for journalism, the rush of media outlets to meet the demand of consumers for up-to-date information is understandable, but this does not excuse sloppy, irresponsible reporting. For the sake of the institution as a whole, the U.S. news media must balance the need to generate revenue with the importance of upholding standards of journalistic integrity, and must stand together when Trump et al. would seek to undermine one among their ranks—or risk a more precipitous downfall.
Gorsuch: Silver Fox and Supreme Court Justice
One of the big concerns following the death of Antonin Scalia and prompting voters to think hard about voting strategically between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was the idea the next President would get to nominate Scalia’s successor. We would be remiss if we did not mention that Barack Obama, well in advance of his departure from the White House, had already tapped Merrick Garland, a fine candidate to fill Scalia’s void. Mitch McConnell a.k.a. Turtle McTurtleface and the other Republicans in the Senate, meanwhile, would not even entertain Obama’s choice, prompting their constituents to protest outside of their offices and chant “Do your job!” In other words, it was really a dick move on the GOP’s part, and a gamble that the party would win the 2016 presidential election so they could install Antonin Scalia 2.0. Trump’s upset electoral victory thus paved the way for Neil Gorsuch to ascend to the highest court in the United States.
Gorsuch, previously a U.S. Circuit Court Judge with a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, is eminently qualified in his own right. This didn’t seem to be a point of contention between leaders of the two parties. Still, coming off a situation in which a perfectly good candidate in Garland was blocked as a function of mere partisanship, it brought an added measure of scrutiny and tension to confirmation proceedings. The Democrats filibustered to prevent cloture and delay a confirmation vote. The Republicans countered by invoking the so-called “nuclear option,” effectively changing Senate rules whereby they could break the filibuster with a simple majority. By a 54-45 vote, Neil Gorsuch was confirmed as the latest Supreme Court Justice. The whole process ultimately revealed few interesting tidbits about Gorsuch, and more so demonstrated the ugliness of political brinksmanship that has become a hallmark of Congress in this day and age. And we wonder why average Americans are not more politically engaged.
The Trump Administration vs. the World
As a function of “making America great again,” Donald Trump apparently believes strongly in defense spending and letting the world know the United States is #1. After alternatively touting his desire to bring the country along a more isolationist track and vowing to “bomb the shit out of ISIS” on the campaign trail, Trump, well, sort of did both. In terms of shows of force, his administration was responsible for dropping the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan, as well as approving the launch of dozens of missiles into Syria, supposedly as retaliation for the Assad regime’s use of toxic gas on its own people. The latter, in particular, got the dander of his white nationalist supporters up, though as far as most kinder, gentler souls are concerned, the disappointment of a bunch of ethnocentric xenophobes is not all that much of a loss. Less talked-about, but perhaps no less significant, were other less successful operations across international lines. First of all, not long after Trump took office, there was a botched raid in Yemen that saw Navy SEAL Ryan Owens killed, and to date, little information has been offered on the attack that led to his death and by all appearances was ill-advised. And there was the massacre at a mosque in Syria outside Aleppo. According to U.S. officials, numerous al-Qaeda operatives were taken out by the strike in the town of Jinah, but activists and others on the ground there tell a different story, one of civilians attending religious services and being fired upon as they tried to flee the place of worship. Reportedly, at least 46 people were killed in the assault on the mosque, and the U.S. military was criticized by humanitarian groups for not doing its due diligence in assessing the target for the possibility of civilian casualties. Oh, well—they were Muslims and not Americans anyway. Whoops!
In terms of isolating itself from the international community, America has done that under Donald Trump—if for other reason than it has done to things to alienate that international community. There was the whole backing of out of the Paris climate accord thing, which is voluntary in the first place and thus mostly serves as a middle finger to those here and abroad who give a hoot about polluting and climate change. Even before apparent attacks on American diplomats there, Trump and his administration have reversed course on Cuba relative to an Obama-era thawing of frigid diplomatic relations, and the benefit of this 180 to either side merits questioning. They’ve taken a tough tone with Iran and accused the country of not meeting its end of the bargain with respect to the nuclear deal much hated by conservative Republicans, in apparent deference to the whims of Saudi Arabia. Trump and North Korean president Kim Jong-un have basically had a year-long war of words through television news media and social media, with the latter referring to the former as a “dotard.” (Essentially, he told our President he’s a senile moron. Thanks, Merriam-Webster!) The White House has resolved to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and to acknowledge the city, contested as to its very boundaries, as the capital of Israel, prompting a United Nations resolution condemning the move. And this is all before we even get to the investigation into Trump, his transition team, his administration, and suspected ties to Russia. In short, if Donald Trump hasn’t pissed you off this year, you’re either one of his core supporters or have just run out of f**ks to give—and I’m not sure which one is worse.
Race to the Exit: The Trump Administration Story
Viewing some of Trump’s picks for Cabinet posts and various positions within the White House at length, it was a wonder for many to see who might be first to go or fail to even get confirmed. At least Andrew Puzder, then-CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, had the decency to withdraw before the confirmation process was over; as potential Secretary of Labor, it was his employ of undocumented immigrants which was his undoing. Not giving less than half a shit about his employees and being opposed to raising the minimum wage? Nah, that was fine. In fact, it made him more than suitable for nomination in the era of Trump. Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, Linda McMahon, Mick Mulvaney, Steve Mnuchin, Rick Perry, Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, Jeff Sessions—these are the kinds of individuals that Donald Trump, seemingly without irony, tapped for important government posts despite a lack of proficiency in their area of supposed expertise, a stated desire to abolish the very agency they were named to head, or both. Price ultimately resigned when information about his questionable spending of the government’s finances to suit his convenience came to light, and there have been whispers about the job security of Sessions and Rex Tillerson from time to time, but for the most part, the bulk of them still remain. And so much for draining the swamp—between Goldman Sachs and billionaires, this Cabinet is as marshy as they come.
As for other appointees and residual officeholders, there was yet more volatility to be had. Michael Flynn was National Security Adviser for all of about a month before getting canned, and currently, he’s facing repercussions after pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators. Not to be outdone, the aforementioned Anthony Scaramucci lasted a scant ten days before his sacking as White House Communications Director, and in that short time, he divested himself of business ties and ruined his marriage. Welcome to the team, Mooch—and don’t let the door hit you on your way out! His predecessor, Sean “Spicey” Spicer, made it to July before bowing out, but not before some hilarious cameos on Saturday Night Live featuring Melissa McCarthy as Spicer. Steve Bannon, the Skeleton King, made it to August before he was either fired or before he resigned—depending on who you ask. Sebastian Gorka also departed in August, and seeing as he didn’t do much but argue with the press in interviews anyway, I’m relatively sure he isn’t missed. Omarosa Manigault Newman is set to resign in January, and evidently is not afraid to tell all. In sum, people can’t get out of the Trump White House soon enough, and whether some vacancies will go unfilled or simply are taking forever to get filled, the hallmark of this administration is disarray and upheaval. And somehow Kellyanne Conway still has a job. Sorry—that’s the sound of my head hitting the wall. I’ll try to keep it down.
The Democrats Form a Killer Strategy to Win in 2018, 2020, and Be—Oh, Who Are We Kidding?
For a while, it was relatively quiet on the Democratic Party front following the election and even the Inauguration with the Dems licking their wounds. This is not to say, obviously, that nothing was going on behind the scenes. One event which seems fairly minor but reflects deep conflicts within the Democratic ranks was the election of a new Democratic National Committee chair to replace departing interim chair Donna Brazile, herself a replacement for Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Keith Ellison, a Bernie Sanders supporter and popular progressive Democrat, was the front-runner for the position early, but concerns about Ellison’s lack of obeisance to the positions of the DNC’s rich Jewish donors and the establishment wing of the party not wishing to cede too much control to the “Bernie-crats” among them led former Labor Secretary Tom Perez to enter the fray. In the end, the vote was close, but Perez carried the day. That the Obama-Hillary segment of the Democratic Party would expend so much energy on a position that is largely ceremonial and concerned with fundraising is telling, and signals that any progressive reform of the party will be slow in coming—if at all.
If there is any further doubt about this, look at how certain races played out outside of the presidential milieu. Sure, Democrats may point to more recent victories in the gubernatorial elections of New Jersey (Phil Murphy) and Virginia (Ralph Northam), as well as the special election to replace Jeff Sessions in Alabama (Doug Jones), but other losses appear indicative of the Dems’ failure to commit to a comprehensive, 50-state strategy, namely Jon Ossoff in Georgia, James Thompson in Kansas, and Rob Quist in Montana, who lost to Greg Gianforte, even after the latter beat up a reporter. Seriously. Elsewhere, Hillary Clinton, after a moment of repose, released a book in which she accepted full responsibility for losing a election she was largely expected to win. Kidding! She blamed Bernie Sanders, voters for not coming out more strongly for her, James Comey, and even the DNC. That last one seems particularly disingenuous, especially when considering that Donna Brazile herself had a book to release critical of Hillary and one which confirmed what many of us already knew: that Hill-Dawg and the Committee were in cahoots long before the primaries. The Democrats seem content to allow Donald Trump and the machinations of the Republican Party to dig the GOP into an electoral hole. For an electorate increasingly weary of the “We’re Not the Other One” line, though, this does not a strategy make, and without an obvious frontrunner for 2020, the Democratic Party’s presumed advantage could well be overstated. Such that, if Trump actually makes it that far, it’s not inconceivable to think he could be re-elected. Talk about a recurring nightmare.
The White Supremacists, They Come Bearing Tiki Torches
In 2017, I would’ve thought it crazy for a scene to play out like it did in Charlottesville, Virginia this past August. And yet, lo and behold, it did. Some 250 protestors, carrying kerosene-filled torches and rebelling against a perceived erosion of their heritage and history, marched on the University of Virginia campus, shouting epithets, vowing not to be “replaced,” and generally ready to start a ruckus over the planned removal of a statue honoring Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The next day, though, if not as frightening in terms of the imagery, was worse in terms of the outcome. Protestors arrived carrying nationalist banners clubs, guns, and shields. Counter-protestors were also on hand to “greet” the white supremacists, the anti-fascists among them armed as well. It was not long before violence broke out, and by the time the police intervened, there already were injuries to tally. The worst of it all, though, were the fatalities. Heather Heyer, a counter-protestor, was killed as a result of a man deliberately plowing into people, and two state troopers, H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates, died in a separate helicopter crash. In terms of senseless violence and loss, the Charlottesville riots seem to epitomize the very concept.
The apparent surge in white nationalist leanings following the election of Donald Trump is disturbing in its own right, but by the same token, so too is it unsettling that people would condone attacks against their ranks so readily. Some people who reject any set of principles that resembles Nazism believe violence to suppress hateful rhetoric is justified. Such is the belief of various antifa groups, and this where the debate of the movement’s merits comes into play. Though anti-fascists like those who don the mark of the Black Bloc don’t actually have much to do with traditional liberalism, their association with the left threatens the credibility of true liberal and progressive groups, and nullifies the bargaining power that these individuals have over the deficient worldviews they oppose. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and violence as a tool to suppress violence does not serve its intended purpose.
Congress vs. Everyday Americans: F**k Your Health Care, and F**k Your Income Inequality
Per President Trump, the Affordable Care Act, also affectionately known as “ObamaCare,” is a total disaster. Republican leaders likewise have been decrying the ACA for some time now, painting it as an unwanted intrusion of the federal government in the health care industry. Never mind that a significant portion of red-state voters depend on the provisions of the Affordable Care Act to be able to pay for medically necessary services, and that a sizable subset of America would actually like to see the nation move to a single-payer/Medicare-for-all model. Trump and a GOP Congress had a lot riding on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and replacing it, though owing to the notion the devil is in the details, that Republicans tried to rush legislation through the House and the Senate with little idea of what was in it was telling that it probably wasn’t something they would want to share with their constituents. In the end, John McCain’s “no” vote on a “skinny” repeal of ObamaCare turned out to be pivotal in the measure’s failure to pass. Trump would later issue an executive order that would broadly task the government with working on ways to improve competition, prices, and quality of care, though it faced criticisms for how it essentially opened a backdoor for the destabilization of ACA marketplaces by taking younger, healthier consumers of the equation. Yet more significant could be the planned ending of cost-sharing subsidy payments to insurers that would likely mean higher prices for the consumer. Whatever the case, Trump and the GOP haven’t killed the Affordable Care Act, despite their boasts—they’ve only repealed the individual mandate aspect of the law. Of course, this doesn’t mean the Republicans are done coming for affordable health care. Far from it, in all likelihood.
Where Trump et al. found greater success—to our detriment, it should be stressed—is in the passage and signing of their tax reform bill. Once again, the knowledge of its contents prior to voting among lawmakers was questionable, but ultimately, by relatively slim margins in the House and Senate, what many have referred to as the “GOP Tax Scam” cleared Congress. Make no mistake: this is not good news for average Americans. Any benefits to be enjoyed in the short term are outweighed by how the wealthiest among us and corporations will experience that much more of a boon, with long-term consequences to the national debt and minimal rewards to be trickled down to the rank-and-file. In short, it’s class warfare, and potentially a troubling herald of future attempts to screw with Medicare, Social Security, and other entitlement programs—and the worst part is most of us seem to know it. One can only hope that Republicans will face their own consequences in forthcoming elections. It’s not a great consolation, but at this point, it’s the best we’ve got.
Some Protests Get Lost in the Shouting/Tweeting; Others Succeed Beyond Expectations
Even before Colin Kaepernick, there were player protests and refusals to stand at attention for the playing of the National Anthem at professional sporting events. Not long after the start of the NFL season, however, the continued kneeling, sitting, staying in the locker room, or raising of fists raised the ire of one President Donald Trump who, while apparently not busy playing golf or signing disastrous legislation into law, started a fracas about players refusing to stand during the Star-Spangled Banner, suggesting they should be suspended or outright released for their disrespect of the flag and of those who have served and died for our country. Trump also cited the NFL’s declining ratings and ticket sales as a direct impact of the players kneeling. While it’s possible reactions to player protests may be a factor in these downturns, this overlooks other persistent issues facing professional sports in general: declines in traditional television viewership among younger adults, high costs of premium sports channel packages, the prevalence of injuries and concerns about traumatic brain injuries, the steep price tag for attending games in person, and the mediocrity of play of any number of teams. All the while, the original thrust of Kaepernick’s protest—to raise awareness of the unfair treatment of people of color at the hands of police and other institutions—seemed to get lost in the discussion of who was protesting, which teams issued ultimatums about standing and which did not, and why people weren’t watching now. So much for fighting racial injustice. Better luck in 2018, people of color.
In perhaps a surprising turn of events, though, and possibly a watershed moment in the fights for gender equality and for standing up for victims of sexual assault and harassment, movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s exposure as a habitual offender of sexual misconduct, if not outright rape, opened the floodgates for other accusations, admissions, allegations, and denials. Hollywood has apparently borne the brunt of the revelations inspired by the #MeToo movement, with any number of projects shelved or cancelled as a result of men’s misdeeds, but the political realm also has seen its share of high-profile figures caught in the spotlight. Al Franken was forced to resign from his seat in the U.S. Senate after numerous women accused him of impropriety. John Conyers, another congressional Democrat, resigned too in the wake of a veritable mountain of allegations. Roy Moore didn’t abandon his political aspirations even after the likes of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan suggested he should step aside, but he also didn’t win as a Republican in Alabama. And then there’s maybe the biggest fish of them all: none other than Donald Trump. That Trump hasn’t been brought down by his own accusations—or for any other wrongdoing, for that matter—is somewhat deflating. Then again, maybe it’s only a matter of time. As with members of the GOP losing in 2018 and 2020, once more, we can only hope.
Meryl Streep famously put Donald Trump on blast at the Golden Globes. Predictably, this invited jeers from Trump supporters who felt “limousine liberals” like herself should “stay in their lane.” You may not like that Streep has a platform in this manner, but she still is an American, and that means not only is she entitled to say what she wants given the opportunity, but as she and others might see it, she has a civic duty to speak out when someone who ostensibly represents us, the people, does so in a destructive way. Kudos, Ms. Streep. I look forward to your acceptance speech at the forthcoming Golden Globes. Come on—you know it’s coming.
Bill Maher more or less engaged in a conversation with Sam Harris about how Islam is a deficient religion—though both men notably have their issues with organized religion, so take this for what it’s worth. In a separate chat with Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, when jokingly asked by the senator if he would work in the fields of Nebraska, Maher referred to himself as a “house n****r.” For an educated guy, Maher is kind of a dickish moron.
Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz had a health care debate on CNN. Why? Why not! At any rate, it was better than the Republican Party debates from last primary season.
In perhaps a glaring example of where we are as a nation in 2017, our President revealed he did not know who Frederick Douglass is—though Trump being Trump, tried to play it off like he did. Also, Kellyanne Conway continued to speak words that sounded like actual thoughts, declaring herself a “feminist” who apparently doesn’t know the meaning of the word, and elsewhere suggesting microwaves can be turned into cameras and be used to spy on us. Hmm—it appears my nose is bleeding. Or maybe that’s just my brain liquefying from these comments. Carry on, please.
In international news, Canada moved closer to legalizing marijuana, with a target date of Canada Day, 2018. In the States? Jeff Sessions the Racist Dinosaur and others like him talk about how weed is a drug for “bad people.” So, if you’re keeping score at home: cannabis :: bad; alcohol, tobacco, and firearms—things that are way more deadly than cannabis :: good. Well, at least we’ve got our priorities straight.
A handful of inmates were executed in Alabama, essentially because the state had a bunch of drugs used in lethal injection at its disposal set to expire, so—what the hell!—might as well use them! Pardon me for waxing philosophical as this moment, but the death penalty is state-sponsored murder. It is revenge for the sake of revenge, and way too often (and too late), it has ended the lives of those whose guilt would be proven false with new evidence and advances in forensic science. It should be abolished. Thank you. I’ll get down from my soapbox now.
James Comey was fired from his post as FBI director. This was in no way politically or personally motivated and in no way related to the investigation into Donald Trump, his finances, and any collusion with or other connections to Russia involving him or his surrogates. Right.
In Florida, the Grieving Families Act was signed into law, allowing women who have had miscarriages to obtain a “certificate of nonviable birth” for their fetus. So it’s about providing solace to women and their families? No, not really. At heart, it’s an end-around about abortion that seeks to specify when life begins and potentially heralds future attempts to chip away at women’s reproductive rights. Not to mention it connotes the idea that women who lose or terminate their pregnancies should only feel grief, when really, it can be a complex mix of emotions. As long as men are making decisions on the behalf of their female constituents about what they can and can’t do with their bodies, we’ll continue to see policies like this. Keep your eyes peeled.
Dana Loesch released a fiery video about the NRA and how it is “freedom’s last stand.” In other exciting gun news, a guy shot up a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and killed a bunch of people. Let freedom ring, eh?
White nationalists apparently love Tucker Carlson because he question the merits of all immigration—legal or not. Carlson, like Bill Maher, is kind of a douche.
Venezuela held a sham election “won” by Nicolas Maduro. Maduro identifies with socialism. Socialism, therefore, is bad, and Bernie Sanders is the devil. Are you following this logic? If it makes sense to you, um, you’re probably not the intended audience for this blog, but thanks for reading anyway.
Catalonia had a vote to declare independence from Spain. The Spanish government, well, didn’t like that too much. The result was a violent crackdown against pro-independence protests and a lot of international attention drawn to the situation, and in a recent vote, separatists won a slim majority after Spain ousted the previous Catalan government. Great job, Prime Minister Rajoy! You really screwed the Puigdemont on that one.
Joe Arpaio, a virulent racist and all-around ass-hat who held inmates in substandard conditions and profiled residents suspected of being undocumented immigrants as Maricopa County Sheriff in Arizona, was pardoned by President Trump. In other words, f**k off, Hispanics and Latinos.
Millennials can still be blamed for pretty much anything, depending on who you ask. The extinction of the dinosaurs? Oh, yeah—we did that shit.
Bitcoin continues to see wild swings in its valuation after the spike in the second half of the year which brought it to the national consciousness. Does this mean it’s inherently bad? Not necessarily. As with any emerging technology, there are ups and downs to be had with Bitcoin made more pronounced by its recent prominence. Are you behind the curve now, though, with respect to making big bucks off of a relatively small investment? Most definitely.
By installing Mick Mulvaney as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, America moved one step closer to eliminating the one agency expressly devoted to protecting consumer interests as regards their finances and investment vehicles. Consumer advocacy—what a joke!
Speaking of one step closer, the powers-that-be edged the Doomsday Clock one tick nearer to midnight. Er, pop the champagne?
In advance of the coming year, as far as politics and current events are concerned, there are all kinds of things that may factor into predictions for 2018. Certainly, though, we would expect certain things to continue as they are. Our beloved President will undoubtedly keep Tweeting acrimonious barbs at anyone who runs afoul of him and making cheap concessions to his supporters, especially from the context of rallies that he shouldn’t be having while not on the campaign trail. A GOP-majority Congress will still try to pass off policy designed to primarily benefit its wealthy corporate and individual donors as a boon for the “American people.” Bitcoin will probably still see extreme volatility as to its price, if the bubble doesn’t burst outright. And don’t even get me started about America’s attention to environmental conservation. When Trump and his Republican cronies are repealing Obama-era protections on keeping mining waste out of clean water, reversing bans on the Keystone XL Pipeline going through Native American reservations, allowing for the use of lead ammunition in national parks, and greenlighting drilling for oil in wildlife refuges, you know we are not close to doing our part to combat deleterious climate change. These actions belie the seriousness of the problem, and stunt the progress which can’t be stopped regarding the transition to renewable energy sources away from fossil fuels. At a time when we need to do all we can to slow or reverse the damage we’ve done to our planet, standing still is going backward.
Sounds bad, huh? While there are yet more reasons to be concerned from an activism/human rights standpoint—the all-too-slow recovery from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico; the pervasive influence of money in politics and gerrymandering purely for political gain; the plight of immigrants, migrants, and refugees worldwide; and the repeated iterations of the travel ban (read: Muslim ban) jump to mind—there is yet for hope for those on the left, and perhaps even those on the right. You know, even if they don’t know any better. In the political sphere, in particular, the deficient policies advanced by Republicans could end up in an electoral backlash in 2018 and 2020. Granted, this does not mean that Democrats don’t need to be held to higher standards, and as bad as GOP leadership has been, that Bernie Sanders, an aging independent from Vermont, remains a more popular choice than most prominent Dems suggests not is entirely well with the Democratic Party either. Speaking of bad leadership, and depending on the contents of Robert Mueller’s investigation, President Donald Trump might also be in real trouble from an ethical/legal standpoint. While visions of impeachment and President Mike Pence aren’t all that inspiring, at this point, anyone seems better than President Pussy-Grabber. I mean, eventually, all the terrible shit Trump has said and done has to come back to him, right? Right?
In truth, I am not terribly optimistic about 2018. But I’m also not done resisting against those who compromise ethical and moral standards to enrich themselves at the expense of others. By this, I mean the people at the top who are willing to see everyday Americans struggle through hunger, poverty, sickness and even death to further their bottom line. For all the preoccupation about border security, crime, and terrorism for many prospective 2020 voters, the “rigged” system about which Trump offhandedly talks is a yet bigger worry, and the aforementioned climate crisis our Earth faces is potentially worst of all. This all sounds very old-hat and trite, but until we start making real progress on the various forms of inequality which plague our society, these aphorisms must be repeated and stressed. Accordingly, through all the trepidation we might feel, there is too much work to be done not to do it. It’s worth the effort. After all, it’s our very lives and livelihoods we’re fighting for.
Whatever path you choose, best wishes to you and yours for 2018 and beyond, and keep fighting the good fight.
Last August, before we had to truly entertain the notion of calling him “President Trump,” I wrote about a story that surfaced during the presidential campaign that I felt told me all I needed to know about Donald Trump. I’ll try to summarize it as briefly as I can. It came to the attention of various local historians that Trump had erected (why does that feel so awful to say?) a plaque at his golf course in Virginia commemorating the “River of Blood,” a site of numerous river crossings and skirmishes during the Civil War. Except none of it was true. The historians sought out by reporters had never heard of such a thing, and if it existed at all, it certainly wasn’t where Mr. Trump said it was. When confronted with the fabrication, however, Trump, as one might expect, gave no credence to it. Rather than owning up to an obvious lie, he cited his own historians who corroborated the description on the commemorative plaque (whose names he mysteriously could no longer remember), and he challenged the very integrity of the historians who disputed his account with this doozy: “How would they know that? Were they there?” In addition, he tried to reason his way out of being caught in a fabrication with some of what would now appear to be his trademark gibberish: “That was a prime site for river crossings. So, if people are crossing the river, and you happen to be in a civil war, I would say that people were shot — a lot of them.”
This excerpt from the presidential race, as minor as it may be, struck me as emblematic of the kind of campaign Donald Trump ran and what kind of man he is. That is, if he were willing to lie about something so inconsequential—with a straight face, no less—he obviously would have no problem lying about other more grave matters. Fast forward to the present day and we’ve already had 100+ days of President Donald J. Trump. In that time, he’s done a lot of shit that has either made people scratch their heads or has reinforced their lack of optimism about him or quantifiable embarrassment of his antics. Again, though, I am struck by two events that were of relatively small significance, but nonetheless speak volumes about what kind of man Trump is. Both happen to be sports-related. The first was his refusal to fill out a bracket for ESPN’s Bracket Challenge competition in advance of the NCAA Tournament. The second was his declining the offer to throw out the first pitch of the Washington Nationals game on Opening Day. In both cases, agreeing to play along would put #45 at risk for public criticism and ridicule, and seeing as if his skin were any thinner his vital organs would be showing, he might never be able to live down the shame of spiking the baseball twenty feet from the mound or the boos that would ensue—whether or not he actually threw the ball capably.
Finally, at the 100-day mark, there was the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, an event which has been known of late for its more casual, jocular spirit. And guess who wasn’t in attendance? Yup, Mr. Thin Skin himself. Trump announced back in February he wouldn’t be attending, and noting the contentious relationship between the President/his administration and the press, it was surmised that the cold shoulder might be reciprocated come time for the Dinner and that numerous media outlets would pass as well. Indeed, a rather different tone was anticipated for this event. So, where was our fearless leader instead? Rather than potentially needing to endure the playful barbs of comedians and an unbiased news media, Pres. Trump held a rally. Just for his supporters. More than three years away from the next presidential election. If you’re a strongman, you can’t look weak, can you? Especially when, up to now, your presidential tenure—like your business ventures over much of your adult life—has been marked by a questionable level of success.
So, what has the first 100 days entailed for President Cheeto Voldemort? Michael Grunwald, writing for Politico, breaks down this storied measuring stick used for each incoming President. My synopsis owes much to, well, his synopsis. OK—without further ado, let’s consider what exactly Donald Trump has accomplished up to this point.
100 DAYS OF TRUMP—SO WHAT, EXACTLY, HAS HE ACCOMPLISHED?
What I like in particular about Grunwald’s analysis is that he arranged it by topic, not merely chronologically; the headings and organizational structure I will use directly references his format. Also of note is his assignment of values on a scale of 1 to 10 for the Immediate Impact and Potential Significance of the events within each category. These ratings, of course, are subjective, but they likely give a good indication about how people who have followed and reported on the Trump presidency would assess its success as a whole.
With that said, let’s get to it. As Michael Grunwald et al. would have it, where are we after 100 days of Donald Trump in the White House?
1. The Short List
OK, let’s talk turkey from the get-go. Broadly speaking, what has President Trump meaningfully accomplished after 100 days in the Oval Office. Would it surprise you if I told you, “Not much?” Trump has been under the impression that he would be able to enact sweeping changes to U.S. domestic and foreign policy, aided and abetted by a Republican majority in both the House and Senate. Speaking of aided and abetted, Trump did get his Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch confirmed—you know, after the GOP stubbornly refused to entertain a legitimate pick in Merrick Garland and after changing the very Senate rules to allow a 51-vote majority to end a filibuster and bring about the final confirmation vote. Save for Andrew Puzder, whose employ of an undocumented immigrant made him political poison and necessitated the withdrawal of his name from consideration for Secretary of Labor, Trump has also managed to get his awful lot of picks for top Cabinet positions filled—once again, owing to a majority in the Senate and not without serious debate and close votes. In addition, Pres. Trump formally pulled us out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deeply flawed trade agreement, as part of his “tough-on-trade” rhetoric—even though all indications were that its prospects were all but dead in the water anyhow.
Other than that, though—get ready to be surprised—Donald Trump has not lived up to a number of his campaign promises or has been unable to achieve much of what he has set out to accomplish. His “travel ban” that really is a Muslim ban? Both iterations heretofore have been ruled unconstitutional. His executive order targeting sanctuary cities? Also blocked by the courts. His notion that ObamaCare would be quick to repeal and replace? Um, yeah, not so much. We can really just go down the line on things Trump, who has assailed other politicians as being “all talk, no action,” has not lived up to—at least not yet. He still doesn’t have a plan to pay for “the wall.” His proposed budget has been criticized by people on both sides of the political aisle. He hasn’t outlined an infrastructure rebuilding plan. He hasn’t reversed course on deals with Cuba and Iran. He has yet to pull us out of the Paris climate agreement. He hasn’t moved the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Sure, Trump has rolled back a few Obama-era pieces of legislation and filled a few Cabinet-level positions, but the vast majority of existing regulations and open positions have been left untouched. On the latter count, this is significant. Trump hasn’t even nominated candidates for hundreds of positions which require Senate confirmation, and without them being filled, their departments will run even less effectively and efficiently. To quote Grunwald, “So far he’s been a showhorse, not a workhorse, and in Washington, showhorses often struggle to produce lasting change.” Indeed, sir. Indeed.
Immediate Impact: 4 Potential Significance: 8
2. A Change in the Climate
No, literally—we’re talking about what Trump is doing for the Earth’s atmosphere. Sorry, that’s to the Earth’s atmosphere. In fairness, President Trump has vowed to do a lot of things that would at least stunt progress toward a greener approach to climate change—dismantle the Clean Power Plan, ease fuel efficiency mandates for car manufacturers, revive the coal industry, take us out of the Paris climate accord—but he hasn’t actually done any of that. But he very well could. After all, Rex Tillerson, former ExxonMobil CEO, is his Secretary of State, and Scott Pruitt, someone who repeatedly sued the Environmental Protection Agency, is his head of the freaking EPA. In his proposed budget, he also approved massive cuts to NOAA and the EPA itself, and has generally taken on an adversarial attitude toward any agencies which would promote a consciousness and conscience about climate change.
Donald Trump, in short, has made science and verifiable facts his enemy, and has even tried to unite the American people—or at least his staunch supporters—against the mainstream media, a trend that hasn’t required much of a push given declining support in traditional news media and various other American institutions (like, say, Congress). In taking these stances, especially those specific to matters of the environment, Trump is fighting a losing battle when it comes to the rise of clean energy and the phasing out of resources like coal. However, he can move us backward when we should be making advances in new energy technologies—and that is dangerous given models of the progression of climate change that would lead to rising seas, diminished habitable land, and other fun stuff. Quoting Michael Grunwald once more: “Trump can’t stop climate change progress. But he can slow it down, when the fate of the planet may depend on full-speed-ahead.”
Immediate Impact: 2 Potential Significance: 9
3. You’re Not Welcome
Mexicans, Muslims, federal officers who won’t do Donald Trump’s bidding—take your pick, because this administration has an ax to grind with all of them. The laws that Trump is enforcing are the same ones that President Barack Obama enforced with his scores of deportations. Certainly, though, the mindset is different, especially that of targeting undocumented immigrants who have committed no crimes other than illegally crossing the border. According to statistics cited by Grunwald, arrests at the southern border were down 67% in the month of March, presumably as a result of tougher enforcement at the border to begin with, and arrests of noncriminal immigrants have more than doubled since Trump has been in office.
So, while construction of the wall is still pending and while funding for this monstrosity is likewise up in the air, the winds of change have shifted regarding our nation’s identity as a welcoming melting pot—and foreign nationals have taken notice. As Grunwald also tells, tourism officials have reported a 6.8% decline in bookings to trips to the United States since Trump has been sworn into office. This is alongside reported harassment that immigrants have experienced in the wake of rise of Trump, both young and old, as well as a surge in warranted fear that they might be deported at any time. Thus, while President Trump’s executive order targeting funding of sanctuary cities has been at least temporarily halted, he has certainly (and unfortunately) put his stamp on domestic policy in this regard.
Immediate Impact: 5 Potential Significance: 8
4. From Russia with Love
The obvious parallel with the Trump administration’s alleged ties to Russia is to the Watergate scandal. As Michael Grunwald distinguishes, though, whereas Watergate required investigative work to connect the requisite dots, “Russiagate,” if you will, requires far less. Michael Flynn, disgraced former national security adviser who failed to last a month on the job, and Paul Manafort, whose ties to Russia and the Ukraine were so extensive he had to be removed as Trump’s campaign manager, were prominent figures in Trump’s world. Jeff Sessions, attorney general, had to recuse himself from any investigations into Russia because of his own undisclosed ties to a Russian ambassador. Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, had to recuse himself from his own committee’s investigation into the whole Russian affair.
Perhaps most telling of all, Donald Trump himself has continually heaped praise on Vladimir Putin (recall from the campaign season how Trump made reference to the Russian hacking scandal by suggesting the Russians hack Hillary Clinton, his political rival at the time), and tried (unsuccessfully) to deflect from all the suspicions about his possible ties with claims that Barack Obama, as President, had Trump Tower wiretapped for his sake—claims that have yet to be substantiated. Grunwald refers to the “drip, drip, drip” of revelations coming from investigations into the tangled web of connections between our government and Vladimir Putin’s country, and in due time, those dots stand to be connected. Whether it will prove truly damaging to President Trump and his political future, however, remains to be seen.
Immediate Impact: 4 Potential Significance: 9
5. Team Players
This section is less about Donald Trump and more about the refusal of establishment Republican leaders to, well, do anything about him. Without meaningful challenges from the likes of Devin Nunes, Jason Chaffetz, and others within the GOP power structure, Trump has been allowed to take trip after trip to Trump Organization-owned properties, chief among them Mar-a-Lago, at great expense to taxpayers and at personal benefit to the Trump family, owing to the patriarch’s refusal to divest or put his holdings in a blind trust. He similarly has not had to reveal the contents of his taxes, which may reveal his suspected financial dealings with Russia, or they may simply prove that he’s not worth as much as he says he is. Maybe both. The point is this: elected Republican officials are not taking a more hardline stance on President Trump, and this is because they do not wish to alienate his supporters in their own bids for re-election. It’s pretty simple, really, though no less disappointing.
Besides this, Republicans have gotten pretty much what they’d hoped for with Trump in the White House: a conservative agenda that favors corporations and military intervention abroad as opposed to populism and isolationism. So, right now, despite all his conflicts of interest and reprehensible behavior, GOP lawmakers are giving “the Donald” a free pass. Should Trump’s popularity becoming toxic, meanwhile, then the equation might change. In the meantime, those who oppose #45 are left to be frustrated by these politicians’ inaction and disgusted by their cowardice.
Immediate Impact: 4 Potential Significance: 9
6. Who Is Trump? Why Is He Here?
Promises, promises. For all of his promises made on the campaign trail, chief among them the stated desire to “drain the swamp,” and despite his history as someone who doesn’t fit the mold of the traditional conservative, Donald J. Trump, to the likely relief of the GOP, has governed like a rank-and-file Republican so far. His administration is full of former Goldman Sachs officers and K Street lobbyists, and he regularly consults with CEOs of major corporations. Speaking about those promises, Trump has just in the first 100 days broken a number of them. Fight cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security? Not when you were actively trying to promote the AHCA, you weren’t. Let Syria be someone else’s problem? Not when you’re shooting Tomahawk missiles off there and dropping the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan. China is a currency manipulator? Not when we’re picking fights with North Korea and when Trump personally stands to benefit personally from Chinese approval of Trump trademarks. For all of the boasts about not being a traditional politician, and for all the unprecedented ethical issues facing the Trump family and others within the administration, President Trump has had a familiar Republican ring to him.
To be clear, however, let’s not treat Donald Trump and his cronies like they’re normal. There’s the Skeleton King a.k.a. Stephen Bannon, who only recently was deposed from the National Security Council and who, before this gig, was instrumental in spewing hate from his lofty position within Breitbart Media. Jared Kushner has a ton of important individual responsibilities without the apparent expertise or know-how to be able to deal with them. Kellyanne Conway suggested microwaves could be used for surveillance. Sean Spicer tried to claim Adolf Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons on the Jews. Senior adviser Stephen Miller is a bigot who regularly clashed with members of minority groups at Duke University. Deputy adviser Sebastian Gorka has ties to far-right groups and Nazi-aligned organizations. Anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, and a disturbing lack of transparency and a desire to diminish facts and science—these are the hallmarks of this administration. Accordingly, whether we’re talking about a standard GOP agenda or an abnormally pro-white, anti-globalist leadership team, if you’re a Democrat, independent, or liberal progressive, there’s a lot about which to worry with who’s at the top.
Immediate Impact: 6 Potential Significance: 8
7. The Community Organizer
Seemingly every weekend, there’s another march or rally in protest of President Trump and his and the GOP’s agenda. The Women’s March on Washington was just the kickoff event. Protests in solidarity with our immigrant populations and with our Muslim brethren. Demonstrations of resistance against policies that eschew concerns for the environment and scientific principles. Rallies in favor of protecting our health care, and women’s reproductive rights. All this alongside continuing struggles of the Black Lives Matter movement and the push for a $15 minimum wage from America’s working class. Certainly, there is unrest in this country among self-identifying members of the Resistance, and even a few of those individuals who supported Trump are now feeling a sense of buyer’s remorse. Plus, more and more Americans are staying engaged with political happenings and are even looking to get involved with local, county, state, and national politics as candidates. In short, the enthusiasm for change seems to be there within “the people.”
These feelings of resentment toward a Trump presidency and the ongoing efforts by Republican leaders to dismantle the Affordable Care Act have potentially given the Democratic Party valuable political capital. The question is, though: will they be able to capitalize on this surging excitement within grassroots circles in 2018, in 2020, and beyond? Recent performance in elections big and small would suggest no, as would the refusal of party leadership to embrace its more progressive elements and the kind of fighting spirit that someone like Bernie Sanders engenders. A seemingly growing segment of the populace is even calling for the formation of a new party such as the People’s Party which would more authentically represent working-class Americans and would strive to halt and eventually reverse the widening income and wealth inequality in the United States, among other things. This too, however, seems only remotely possible in the short term. It’s quite a conundrum for independents and liberals, and one that only serves to illustrate the tension produced by the entrenchment of money in politics and both major parties’ reliance on big-ticket donations.
Immediate Impact: 4 Potential Significance: 9
8. Tough Town
Donald Trump, presumably because he paid someone to write a book about him called The Art of the Deal, is synonymous with deal-making. For better or for worse, though, he hasn’t really done much deal-making. Essentially, he’s tried to bully the other party into agreeing to what he wants to accomplish—without much success. He couldn’t force the Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives to help jam an awful health care plan through Congress. He hasn’t been able to badger the Democrats into submission on matters of budget and infrastructure. And to top it all off, Mexico still hasn’t agreed to pay for the wall. Thus, if Trump is master of the art of the deal, um, we’re waiting, Mr. Master, sir.
To perhaps his credit, Pres. Trump has indicated on multiple occasions that he didn’t realize being President of the United States and different facets associated with being POTUS would be so hard. Then again, even for an impulsive idiot without any experience in a public office and generally lacking in knowledge about economic and foreign policy, he really should have thought about that first. Especially with the kind of dirt he has slung around during the campaign and into his presidency, he deserves and should get no sympathy for the constraints of being the putative leader of the free world. Trump supporters and those otherwise in denial may still be optimistic about what he can accomplish for the sake of the United States of America. The rest of us, on the other hand, must painfully endure a President who, realistically speaking, doesn’t know shit about shit.
Immediate Impact: 5 Potential Significance: 8
9. Freak Show
This final section of Michael Grunwald’s analysis of Donald Trump’s first 100 days feels like a reiteration of its core themes more than anything, but perhaps there is value in the deliberation on the observations made within the article. A lot of the President Trump Experience has been strange. For Christ’s sake, he had Kid Rock, Sarah Palin, and Ted Nugent over at the White House for dinner and a photo-op. Grunwald stresses, though, that very little of it has been normal, and I would argue that it is a mistake to behave as if it is. He also underscores the idea that Trump got elected on a platform that paints a “dystopian” vision of the United States which doesn’t exist, but nonetheless, he is bound to this narrative. Now that he actually has to govern, however, the reality of being President and the reality of the difficult situations he faces both here and abroad have complicated matters. This is why President Donald Trump has gotten very little done aside from getting a few nominees confirmed—and this bodes poorly for future accomplishments for the rest of his tenure. Which could end in 2021. Or later. Or even sooner.
Immediate Impact: 3 Potential Significance: 9
Michael Grunwald closes his piece with these thoughts. To me, they seem ominous as much as they are true:
For now…only 2 percent of Trump’s voters say they regret their vote. They still trust Trump’s alternative facts more than reported facts. And they still prefer Trump’s norm-breaking to Washington norms. It’s a good bet that he’ll keep breaking them. It’s anyone’s bet how that will turn out.
As a number of us must realize, there are those ardent Trump backers who are, for lack of a better turn of phrase, “beyond help.” Even among those who voted for Donald Trump as the perceived best option between him and Hillary, though, or even when considering candidates from additional parties and independents, the move to reject and resist President Trump is going to be a slow build, if it ever gets pronounced enough to sway an entire election. For some people, his destructive actions and rhetoric simply don’t hit home. If you are an immigrant, or a Muslim, or an environmentalist, or just someone who values adherence to precepts of ethics and constitutional law, you are likely appalled, disgusted, and downright scared of what the rise of Trump and the emboldening of his supporters and members of the alt-right means for this country. Then again, maybe you view matters through the lens of economics and/or your personal finances. In this event, things may actually be looking up for you, or perhaps have yet to sour. Even if they do go south, meanwhile—and this is not something most of us are actively rooting for, either—as noted, there’s no guarantee Democrats will be able to make hay with what they’ve been given in terms of political ammunition. Both major parties are fundamentally flawed right now, and the Democratic Party arguably is that much more unappealing because it continues to capitulate toward the center in a bid to minimize losses rather than to engender genuine grassroots enthusiasm.
Indeed, Donald Trump has failed to accomplish much. Going back to Grunwald’s Immediate Impact and Potential Significance scores, while the Potential Significance of the various topics he covers related to Trump’s first 100 days average to a fairly high mark of 8.6, their Immediate Impact averages to a mark of but 4.1, with no one dimension getting above even a 6. This gap, it must be stressed, is a double-edged sword. On one hand, Pres. Trump hasn’t done that much to ruin the country and the planet. On the other hand, he hasn’t done much to help it either, and particularly on the dimension of slowing deleterious climate change, our standing still is as good as propelling us backward.
Even though we are now past the 100-day threshold, for those of committed to political resistance and/or genuinely worried about the fate of the free world, this is no time to rest on one’s laurels or to stop turning a critical eye on Donald Trump’s presidency. After all, it is still not normal, and even if Republicans won’t do a damn thing to curb his ethically-challenged agenda, the fight to rein Trump’s excess at our expense is a worthy one.
By virtue of living in Bergen County, New Jersey, my family and I read The Record, known colloquially as The Bergen Record. I don’t follow the local news as much as I should, instead amusing myself with diversions like the crosswords and negative op-eds about Chris Christie. It was to my mild astonishment when I saw that The Record and columnist Mike Kelly, who has been with the newspaper since 1981 and who has appeared on various radio shows in the area, as well as NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Hardball with Chris Matthews, and CBS Evening News, had recently made national news on the count of their interviewee. That would be an unfortunately public figure and member of the Trump administration in the person of Kellyanne Conway. Kelly’s interview touched on a number of different topics, but on the heels of Donald Trump’s baseless allegations that Barack Obama and his administration had him wiretapped (remember, pieces on Breitbart do not count as actual news), and WikiLeaks’ subsequent revelations through the release of Agency documents that the CIA has outlined the use of instructions and tools to spy on individuals through vulnerabilities in Apple and Android smartphones, various messaging apps, and even Samsung smart TVs, one line of discussion that dominated headlines was the notion other devices could be used in surveillance of everyday Americans. Particularly microwaves. No, really—microwaves. According to Conway, monitoring could be done through “microwaves that turn into cameras,” and that “we know this is a fact of modern life.”
The Twitterverse and blogosphere alike were abuzz following these assertions by the Counselor to the President, heaping ridicule and microwave-oriented Photoshopped pictures upon her comments. To be fair, maybe Kellyanne Conway really does know something about the hidden capacity for state espionage buried deep within our General Electric appliances, and we’ll all have egg on our faces when it turns out she was right all along. Given her past loose association with the truth, however, and President Trump and his administration’s apparent war on facts, it is—how should I put this—not bloody likely. Recall that Conway herself is already synonymous with “alternative facts,” an abstract concept that is as ludicrous as it is dangerous with respect to how readily she and others within the President’s circle of trust are apt to deflect away from serious lines of inquiry by the press. These new claims are all the more troubling given how apparently flippant she is in this instance about matters of verifiability. “We know this is a fact of modern life.” Who is “we”? What evidence do you have that microwaves are being used in this way? As far as Kellyanne Conway seems to be concerned, the truth of what she said seems to be self-evident in the notion that this is the modern age and that it could happen, or that she’s banking on you having insufficient knowledge of the subject to disprove her. Either way, by the time you’re ready to challenge the veracity of what she says, Conway is already prepared to pivot to the next point.
Will Saletan, in a piece for Slate, explains the nature of her elusiveness when being interviewed, and why it’s effectively useless for members of the media to try to engage her on matters of fact or to get her to admit to an outright lie. From his article:
An interview with Conway is like a game of Crazy Eights with one rule change: Every card is crazy. No matter what you say, she’ll pick a word from your question and use it to change suits. Use the word “fact,” and she’ll ask, “Chuck, do you think it’s a fact or not that millions of people have lost their plans or health insurance?”
Ask her about Russian interference in the election and she’ll reply, as in [an] interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC: “A lot of people in the mainstream media interfered with our election by trying to help Hillary Clinton win.” Ask her about the intelligence on the Russian hack—“You don’t believe the intercepts?” asked CNN’s Chris Cuomo—and she’ll say, “Here’s what I don’t believe … that [this issue is] so darn important to you now.”
Tell her there’s “no evidence that there were millions of illegal votes,” (Stephanopoulos again) and she’ll fire back, “There’s also no evidence that a recount is going to change the results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.” You’ll never win this game because you’ll have to use words. She’ll pick the one she likes and throw out the rest.
Saletan’s advice, therefore, for members of the press is not to ask Kellyanne Conway about right and wrong, but to stick to “simple factual queries,” and to move on immediately when she begins to veer away from a yes-or-no answer. As he reasons, “There’s no point in getting apoplectic at Conway. She’s never going to break. If you think the only way to beat these people is to make them admit their lies, you’re the one who will lose.”
Let’s take this a step further, though. Will Saletan’s advice assumes a desire to or even a need to talk Ms. Conway. From The Record‘s perspective, Kellyanne Conway is more relevant than she would otherwise be because she lives in Alpine, NJ, probably the most affluent town in an already-well-to-do county in Bergen County, generally speaking. Here’s the thing, though: what did we learn as a result of this interview? Sure, the bit about microwaves generates clicks, and certainly, as much of a train-wreck in the making Donald Trump as POTUS seems to be, his tenure has been entertaining. All the same, the failure of the media to hold Trump and his lot accountable—because the latter have done their part to avoid the press, restrict its access, and undermine its credibility so as to make the job of the former near impossible—means more extreme measures must be taken so as not to further lose ground in the public eye in terms of respectability, at least not with respect to the viewers who still value the mainstream media as a viable source of information. With Conway in particular, if she is not going to provide useful material to viewers, it begs the follow-up question: why bother talking to her at all?
This isn’t a new line of thinking either, with more qualified people than likely you and definitely I expressing similar viewpoints. As part of a recent CNN panel moderated by Don Lemon discussing these comments made by Kellyanne Conway on wiretapping and other possible methods of domestic surveillance, Carl Bernstein, well-known for his work as an investigative journalist during the Watergate scandal, noticeably grimaced before delivering these remarks:
You know, I suggest that it’s time we all stop taking Kellyanne Conway seriously—she’s not a serious person. It’s time for us to drop her from our news agenda, unless she very specifically has something to say that we know has been put out there by the President of the United States.
Lemon agreed, referring to these continued claims of wiretapping by the White House despite a complete lack of evidence and/or the refusal to definitively refute them as “nonsense” and “silly.” (Side note: if Don Lemon is referring to you as “silly,” you know you’ve got to be doing a pretty bad job.) But Bernstein wasn’t content to write off this matter completely, adopting a more serious tone. His response was as follows:
It’s not silly—it’s dangerous—the extent to which we take it seriously. We need to keep doing our reporting on the real stories, including what’s going on with the Russians, with Trump and the people around him. We continue to be destabilized by the Russians and what is going on. Putin has got our number here, and we need to be looking at all aspects of this including whether or not we have a President of the United States who is capable and responsible enough to deal with what is going on.
As noted, Conway’s comments make for good theatre, but Carl Bernstein is correct: they are a distraction. Russian interference in our affairs, including our elections, has been a hot topic of conversation ever since the DNC leaks, and WikiLeaks has long been suspected of having a benefactor in the Russian government of the kind of information that Julian Assange and Company have been able to disseminate across Internet channels. Even the timing of WikiLeaks’ latest release is fairly suspect, as valid or valuable as the information within may be. Max Boot, in an article appearing in Foreign Policy, speaks in rather damning terms to this effect, indicating from the very title that “WikiLeaks Has Joined the Trump Administration.”
Boot notes within the article that WikiLeaks has timed past releases for maximum effect, as with the DNC leaks, when revelations about Debbie Wasserman Schultz and others within the Committee acting to effectively sandbag Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid despite their professed neutrality were intended to cast doubt about Hillary Clinton after having sewn up the Democratic Party nomination—and likely to deter fervent Sanders supporters from switching their support to the first female presidential nominee of a major party in U.S. history. The contents of WikiLeaks’ latest data dump puts the American intelligence community on the defensive, at a time when Donald Trump’s claims of wiretapping and his contentious relationship with the CIA and other federal agencies critical to our nation’s security are worthy of our scrutiny, if only for how unreasonable they are. The shell game that is Trump’s relationship to Russia and that of others around him just grows faster and faster as we go. Where it stops—no one knows.
Kellyanne Conway is a glaring example of someone given a platform when it can be argued that all of her exposure primarily benefits the administration she serves and does little for the populace she is supposed to serve. She is not the only one, however, and not the only glaring example, at that. Much as Conway will lie and obscure her way to defending the man who appointed her, others within the media sphere will continually apologize for President Trump—and it is members of the media who enable such behavior, if only to appear fair and balanced. Let’s go back to CNN for a moment, and discuss why in the hell, if a professed leader in cable news such as they is to deem itself a respectable news network, they would have someone like Jeffrey Lord among their ranks. Jeff Lord got a degree in Government from Franklin & Marshall College in 1973. Where? Exactly—I didn’t know this place exists either, much less know it is based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Also, their mascot is the Diplomat, and Roy Scheider is a notable fellow alumnus. How do you like them apples? He also was apparently in the Ronald Reagan presidential administration from 1987 to 1988 as an associate political director—whatever that means.
Today, however, Jeffrey Lord is chiefly a political commentator and general annoyance on CNN and in various print and online publications. He also, more recently, has become a shameless defender of Donald Trump, and even wrote a book about the man entitled What America Needs: The Case for Trump. If that alone does not cast aspersions as to the soundness of his judgment, other controversial stances over the past few years have helped cement his reputation as being among the Piers Morgan ilk of ill-informed political douchebags (apparently, CNN has a penchant for hiring such wannabe click-bait). Jeff Lord once attacked the credibility of Shirley Sherrod, a former Department of Agriculture official, effectively over an issue of semantics about whether a relative of hers was “lynched” as opposed to beaten to death at the hands of a police officer. Lord also has compared Barack Obama when he was president to Mao Zedong and the Hitler Youth, has called on the Democratic Party and prominent figures within it to apologize for the party’s one-time support for slavery, and has defended his criticism of the Democratic Party on the basis that the KKK once supported them—hence, left-wingers today are apparently a bunch of bigots who “divide citizens by race.” The Democratic Party is not above criticism, and certainly, establishment bigwigs like Hillary Clinton are known for some egregious examples of pandering, but trying to vilify the Democrats of today for ties to the KKK and slavery is disingenuous, to say the least.
Not only is Lord feeding these “absurd” viewpoints, as fellow CNN commentator Van Jones referred to the last one in particular, and thereby giving credence to them due to his position of relative influence among cable news viewers, but other network personalities and guests must waste time pointing out the ridiculousness of his comments — time that could be better spent along the lines of what Carl Bernstein argues we should be discussing instead. This year alone, other political commentators have had to do all they could not to pull out their own hair trying to argue with Jeffrey Lord on points that really should be beyond debate by now. Robert Reich had, as Sarah K. Burris termed it, a “WTF moment” in reaction to Lord’s assertion that the intelligence community, specifically the CIA and NSA, were conspiring to try to bring down Donald Trump. A few weeks back, Bill Maher had Jeff Lord on his show, and had to shout “Don’t bullshit me!” to stop Lord from insisting that the Russians didn’t interfere in our election. Just the other day, meanwhile, Anderson Cooper was forced to “debate” with Lord on the subject of the Congressional Budget Office finding that some 24 million people stand to lose coverage with the passage of the American Health Care Act, the Republicans’ intended replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Jeff Lord pointed out that the CBO was off significantly in its initial estimate back in 2010 of how many people would be enrolled in a health insurance plan through the ACA by 2017, to which Cooper added context by highlighting the idea that the Office didn’t account for states opting out of the Medicare expansion. You know, because it was dumb of them to do so since it deprived their constituents of valuable federal funding, but these are politicians we’re talking about here, especially on the GOP side. To this Lord replied—and I wish I were making this up:
Right, but that’s my point, Anderson. We don’t know what the weather is going to be. It’s going to snow, but how much? I mean, we don’t know. We don’t trust weathermen, so why should we trust the CBO? Not that they’re not good people, but this is the problem perpetually in Washington.
Either Jeffrey Lord thinks weather is supremely easy to predict, forecasts of all makes and models are bullshit, or both, or possibly none of it all, but once again, Lord, like his idol Donald Trump, is seeking to undermine public confidence in government departments that contradict the President’s and the GOP’s regressive agenda, and in doing so, is using the inexact nature of statistical models as a means of diminishing math, science, and other subjects requiring sound professional judgment and a substantial degree of education. In other words, Jeff Lord is chumming the waters for the sharks watching at home and following on social media smelling blood in the water with the perception of Donald Trump’s win as a turning of the tide against the liberal elites who so long have been thumbing their noses at working-class America—or at least as they would have it. Not only is this dangerous for the mainstream media’s long-term survival, but as a subset of the cable news circuit, CNN itself is playing with fire by encouraging the “CNN is fake news” crowd and narrative. Down with the MSM! Down with Washington fat cats! Drain the swamp! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! Doesn’t anyone else here see a problem for CNN with trotting out Jeffrey Lord—at the very least, a credibility problem?
Kellyanne Conway plays a game of Keep-Away that presents a danger in distracting us from what the rest of the Trump administration and the Republican Party are doing to destroy our country, not to mention making the media look very foolish in trying to make sense of her brand of crazy. Jeffrey Lord is an unflinching sycophant whose knee-jerk defenses of Donald Trump undoubtedly bolster the confidence of other Trump fanatics at home. Perhaps the most dangerous of these kinds of people we haven’t even discussed yet, however, and that they are as brazen as they are is likely a sign of the times and the political-social environment Trump has helped create here in the United States and abroad. I’m talking about unabashed white nationalists and racists, a group of which Representative Steve King, a political figure at the freaking federal level, is a part.
King, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from the 4th Congressional District in Iowa, recently made headlines when he re-Tweeted Geert Wilders, far-right Dutch politician and founder-leader of the Party for Freedom, which has essentially made exclusionary politics its raison d’être. The Iowa lawmaker added his own commentary—as if Wilders’ original content wasn’t bad enough—declaring that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” The media and Democrats alike were quick to pounce on this apparent flagrant violation of American ideals of fraternity and diversity among people of different creeds, races, and walks of life, and even prominent Republicans such as Paul Ryan and Donald Trump via Sean Spicer made apparent attempts to distance themselves from King’s inflammatory remark.
This is just one of Steve King’s boldly prejudicial claims of the last year or so, if not the last week. According to King’s prediction, as expressed to Iowa radio host Jan Mickelson and responding to Jorge Ramos’s suggestion that by 2044, whites, despite likely still being a majority in terms of political power and influence but, in terms of overall population numbers, would be a minority given current trends, “Hispanics and the blacks will be fighting each other before that happens.” Let this sink in for a moment—as mind-numbing as that may prove. There is so much wrong with this idea it’s hard to know where to begin. First, Rep. King seems literally unable to comprehend that this might happen—that whites are poised to become a “minority-majority” in the United States in a few decades’ time—and so he dismisses the very notion despite the proverbial writing on the wall. Second, he refers to them as “the blacks.” That’s like an older adult referring to the world’s preeminent search engine as “the Google.” It smacks of Jim Crow-era antiquated language. Lastly, the idea that African-Americans and Hispanics would fight because, you know, they’re predisposed to fighting and inciting violence, is wildly racist, not to mention wholly cynical. It has no basis in fact, and even if it did, you would think a politician would be loath to admit as much. And let’s not forget King’s questioning what other “subgroups” have done for Western civilization next to whites, which caused an immediate uproar from the MSNBC panel convened during the Republican National Convention and made it appear as if April Ryan was ready to slap some sense into him—something of which she would have been consummately justified in doing, by the by.
That these kinds of thoughts are coming from an elected official are somewhat astonishing, though not if we chart King’s past remarks and even relevant votes (King evidently was among those opposed to putting Harriet Tubman on the 20-dollar bill). Given his penchant for white nationalist xenophobia and concern for the preservation of white ethnic and cultural elements at the apparent expense of all others, it also is vaguely surprising Steve King—or, as I like to call him, Evil Ed Harris Look-Alike—manages to keep getting elected. Then again, he is from the state of Iowa, a state that is—shall we say—not as diverse as others. As Corky Siemaszko details for NBC News, Rep. King remains immensely popular among voters in his district, and has consistently fended off challenges to his post since first being elected to it way back in 2002. Much of this appeal is owed to his district being over 90% white, but if we’re going to give him credit for something, it’s that he’s also an effective public speaker and can connect with people on a personal level. Of course, he can also pander to the pro-gun, anti-abortion crowd, and play on the fears of a conservative, Republican-heavy electorate concerned about a shrinking working class, changes in the American landscape, and attacks from abroad, but many Iowans see him as a personable, relatable kind of guy. We see another Donald Trump, but his neighbors see, well, a neighbor.
His popularity at home notwithstanding, why EEHLA is allowed to spew his white supremacist garbage on national television is beyond me, as I fail to understand why The Record would opt to interview Kellyanne Conway and her nonsense, or CNN would dare keep Jeffrey “Andrew Jackson’s Secret Descendant” Lord on their payroll. OK—I get that media outlets feel the need to report on Steve King’s outrageous statements. He can and should be called out for his divisive rhetoric, despite his insistence that he is interested in bringing people together. Beyond that initial reporting, though, the story can end there, or if nothing else, can do without further inquiry of King. And yet, who was interviewing him in the aftermath of his babies comment but—you guessed it—CNN. On-air personality Chris Cuomo asked Rep. King to clarify his remarks, as if to intimate that he might want to apologize for seeming like a racist asshole, but King was unfazed.
Here’s the thing: I feel as if CNN should’ve known Steve King wasn’t going to walk back his comments, that they couldn’t in this instance try to claim moral superiority and make him squirm. On some level, I feel King believes he’s right, and by now, he’s obviously not worried about alienating his constituents back in Iowa, many of whom likely agree with him. The only way to “win,” so to speak, is not to play. Don’t have him on at all. Bringing this discussion back to its central point, this is a lesson I feel the network should have learned with Kellyanne Conway, and why Jeffrey Lord stands to be such a losing proposition for them. You want to be purveyors of truth and go after obvious bigots and liars like Steve King and Trump’s cronies. For those who see Conway and King and Lord and don’t dismiss what they say, though, you’re merely feeding the narratives these people want to believe.
Throughout the presidential campaign, there was no shortage of critics pointing out Donald Trump’s follies and factual inaccuracies. And look where it got him: the White House. The lack of appeal to reason or even morality, in the minds of many, should be enough to disqualify Trump and the other aforementioned individuals. But it obviously doesn’t for enough Americans, and organizations from CNN to the Democratic Party need to start understanding this evident sea change in American politics and tap into what Trump voters/Republican voters care about. Sure, they may not see eye-to-eye on a whole lot with this new audience, but these bastions of “fake news” and “liberal elitism” can at least facilitate a conversation with everyday people rather than putting a bunch of clowns on camera who play up the crazy just to satisfy vague ideas of “fairness” or to garner a greater share of ratings, or attacking these public figures without clearly communicating an identity for themselves and thereby undermining their own credibility.
For the media in particular, though, and to put it succinctly: stop enabling apologists, liars, and racists. You’re still losing by the mere fact of giving them a platform, and may only succeed in hastening your own demise as a result.
In social politics today, there seems to be an additional “F-word” that people dare not speak without looking around nervously or others getting downright angry. I’m talking about “feminism,” a term which conjures up some powerful imagery both for its supporters and for those who resist its use and its underlying motivations. Part of the strong reactions a dialog about feminism, gender, and “women’s issues” provokes, I believe, is related to the confusion about what this decades-old—if not centuries-old—movement entails. That is, different groups and individuals tend to define feminism differently. Kellyanne Conway, who, like so many members of the Trump administration, evidently can’t help but put her foot in her mouth—you know, when she’s not putting her feet on the couch in the Oval Office—and gave her own definition of feminism that invited due criticism. Conway, when interviewed recently at CPAC 2017, this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, said she rejected calling herself a “feminist” because the term has been tainted by the left and because the nature of the movement has become exclusionary and anti-conservative. The counselor to the President had this to say when prompted about feminism:
It’s difficult for me to call myself a “feminist” in the classic sense because it seems to be very anti-male and it certainly is very pro-abortion in this context and I’m neither anti-male or pro-abortion. So there’s an “individual feminism,” if you will, where you make your own choices. I look at myself as a product of my choices, not a victim of my circumstances, and that’s really what “conservative feminism,” if you will, is all about.
Wow. As self-professed intellectuals like myself would put forth, there’s a lot to unpack here. Kellyanne Conway’s makes a number of suppositions that require one’s assent or tacit agreement. Let us first enumerate them, and subsequently address their potential veracity.
1. Feminism is anti-male.
This is a persistent criticism of the feminist movement: that those who subscribe are a bunch of man-haters who wish for the advancement of women at the expense of men who work very hard and are just minding their own business. This is not merely an oversimplification of feminist positions, however, but skewed to the point of absurdity. Might some feminists see patterns of patriarchal oppression and sexism where perhaps they don’t exist? It’s possible. Not all revolutionaries wave their banners for the same reasons, after all, and some might do so for the wrong ones. To a large extent, though, feminist arguments would appear to hit the mark given the pervasiveness of gender inequality across continents. At any rate, calling feminists “anti-male” makes about as much sense as calling Black Lives Matter activists “anti-police.” Feminists are not calling for violence against or abuse of men. It’s about equality, and addressing institutionalized forms of prejudice against women. Criticism does not necessarily equate to hate, and if those targets of criticism are indeed wrong, to defend them puts the defender at fault also.
Often, rejection of feminist views betrays a defensive attitude on the part of he or she expressing the rejection. For example, how many times have you heard “feminism” and “shrill” in the same sentence? Breitbart’s readership, for one, seems to dine on this stereotype like Garfield the cat dines on lasagna. Here’s a gem from the unholy pseudo-informative spawn Stephen Bannon helped nurture: “License to Shrill: Feminists Can’t Stop Whining about Their Fake Problems.” In this piece, the author suggests that feminists fret and whine about their “frivolous” problems like “the Democrats talking about climate change as a security threat when the country is under attack by illegal immigrants and radical Islamic terrorists.” And this from a female writer, no less!
2. Feminism is very pro-abortion.
It is, in fact, possible to have a nuanced set of views on abortion. I personally wish there were fewer unplanned pregnancies in the world, and I certainly don’t encourage men and women to be reckless in their sexual activity. However, I wouldn’t tell a pregnant woman not to have an abortion in deference to my beliefs, because I believe the matter of choice is sacrosanct. I’m sure many card-carrying feminists share these sentiments, at least to an extent. An abortion is not a procedure to go about willy-nilly, but to make a value judgment about someone else’s situation and to thrust those values upon the other person unsolicited is a sin in its own right, and can make what may very well be an emotional and stressful decision that much more difficult. People who vilify the “godless left” for being pro-abortion might just as well look at themselves and their aversion to a woman’s right to choose.
3. There is an individual feminism where you make your own choices.
Yes, there is. It’s called feminism. I just talked about it. You make your own choices. Like, say, those involving your body.
4. Liberal feminists view themselves as victims of their circumstances.
Bear in mind that Conway is making a distinction between feminism and “conservative feminism” in the first place. And they call us liberals the ones who are divisive! The “liberals play the victim card” charge is one that has been made numerous times before irrespective of gender and circumstances. Those college students who want an affordable education? Playing the victim. They’re just asking someone else to foot the bill. Those protestors going after police officers for doing their job? Playing the victim. It’s the fault of those resisting. Blacks upset about slavery? Hey, that was a long time ago—quit your bitching! Are you overweight? Get on a treadmill already, fatty! And I’m sure we can think of any number of barbs to throw at women and the issues they care about. Need an abortion? You should’ve learned to keep your legs closed in the first place, slut! Want to be taken seriously as a professional? Don’t dress in such provocatively tight clothing, provoking lustful eyes, OK? Upset about y0ur pay? Get a better job! Stop crying. Get over it. Welcome to the real world.
Let me say a few things about these things—chiefly with respect to how wrong-headed they are. On the subject of sexuality, specifically women’s sexuality, I would argue it is incredibly unrealistic to insist on all or even a majority of sexually mature women to adhere to an abstinence-only lifestyle. This is not a commentary on females’ lack of control of their bodily impulses, mind you—I would say the same thing for men, too. Especially men. It’s not that they can’t choose not to have to sex, but they shouldn’t be expected to, and that there is a profound double standard in our society concerning moral judgments of others’ sexual activity—men tend to be lauded for their sexual prowess, while women are shamed for their lasciviousness—speaks to a normalized attitude, once again, of dictating to women what they can and can’t do with their bodies.
On the subject of women in the workplace, um, the glass ceiling is pretty well documented by now. In the United States, women, on the whole, make less than men, and once more, there is a gender-based disparity in perception at work under the subheading of leadership. A male taskmaster is a strong, determined leader. A female in this same role is labeled a bitch, a cunt, is on her period, or needs to get laid. It’s boorish, quite frankly, and incredibly unfair. Moreover, on the literal subject of “victimhood,” women are disproportionate targets of physical and sexual assault, with college campuses across the U.S., in particular, seeing exceedingly high levels of violence against women and men. What is perhaps worst of all herein is the idea that with too many college and universities, there is neither an established environment of acceptance for victims of sexual violence nor a tone at the top which signifies a demand for justice in all cases. In some cases, these institutions charged with safeguarding the well-being of their student body appear more interested in protecting the school’s image. After all, donors are less liable to open up their purse strings or wallets if their would-be donee is regarded as a proverbial viper’s nest of danger and iniquity. Better to make young women jump through hoops to report cases of rape/sexual assault and slut-shame them to the back pages of the newspaper.
So, yeah, feel free to opine on the liberal victim mentality. But conservatives play the victim, too, especially when taken to task for blatant sexism and other forms of prejudice. If anything, it’s a pot-kettle sort of situation.
At the very least, Kellyanne Conway’s understanding of feminism as an abstract concept seems incomplete. So much so that Merriam-Webster’s official Twitter feed took to defining “feminism” for her and others’ benefit: “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” Nothing about hating men. Nothing about separating one feminist from another based on ability to choose for oneself. Nothing about viewing oneself as a victim or blaming others for one’s position in life and set of circumstances. And certainly nothing about the Women’s March, undoubtedly awash with feminists, being proof that those involved and many women in general have an issue with women in power, as Conway herself suggested. Unless Donald Trump is, in fact, a woman, and let me say that he doesn’t make a particularly fetching one if that’s the case.
Suffice it to say, though, that both men and women may misconstrue what feminism entails and what does or does not constitute a violation of feminist principles. Recently, Emma Watson caught flak for wearing an outfit for a Vanity Fair photo shoot that featured her wearing no bra and very little else covering her breasts. The argument from her online detractors was that Watson, a self-identifying feminist, is a hypocrite for decrying the objectification by men on one hand and dressing in a way that, as they would describe it, encourages objectification. As these critics see things, her revealing garb is a betrayal of her principles and sends mixed messages. Emma Watson, for her part, was taken aback by the negativity, mostly because she expressed a sense of frustration about these critics misunderstanding feminism to begin with. Or, in her words, from an interview with the BBC:
Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women. I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it. It’s very confusing.
Very confusing indeed. Some might philosophize that by dressing sexy, Watson is no better than the the male behavior she discourages, but a key difference here is the matter of choice. Whether or not you agree with it from a moral standpoint, Emma Watson is choosing to dress this way, a notion she herself reinforces. As if she were making a choice about whether or not to have an abortion, it’s her body, and furthermore, one might argue that by exercising her free will, she is disempowering those who would seek to objectify her without her consent. In this context, control is everything. Otherwise, Beyoncé fans have taken to pointing out Watson’s reversal on this position. About three years ago, Emma Watson noted she felt conflicted about Beyoncé referring to herself as a “feminist” and having her (Beyoncé’s) 2013 visual album appear as if shot through a voyeuristic lens and from the perspective of the heterosexual male libido. First of all, um, that was three years ago. People’s opinions can change a lot in that span, especially for someone of Watson’s age. Second of all, Watson acknowledges her opinions about the subject matter were not really “formulated” at the time. Call her a hypocrite or “flip-flopper” if you want, but regardless of what she said then, she has the right attitude about it now. The woman has breasts—what do you want her to do about it?
The “if she didn’t want to be objectified, she wouldn’t be leaving her flesh so exposed” argument, by the by, is a logically weak one, akin to the idea that women are “asking” to be raped or otherwise assaulted based on how they dress. What’s more, this is not the first time Emma Watson’s feminist credentials or even her use of the term has been questioned. Watson was invited to deliver a speech on the fight for gender equality worldwide for the launch of the HeForShe initiative at the United Nations, and reportedly, was asked not to use the “F-word.” As in “feminism.” She did anyway. Even for an occasion designed to mark a movement for men to advocate for and support women in the fight for gender equality, that Watson received this “friendly advice” signifies the overall discomfort both women and men have in using the term based on its negative connotations. Emma Watson noted in an interview with the London Evening Standard that she debated whether or not to comply with this request, but that she ultimately chose in favor of using the term, explaining herself thusly:
I was encouraged not to use the word feminism because people felt that it was alienating and separating and the whole idea of the speech was to include as many people as possible. But I thought long and hard and ultimately felt that it was just the right thing to do. If women are terrified to use the word, how on Earth are men supposed to start using it?
Watson makes an excellent point. If feminists themselves are afraid to use the term and extol the virtues of their worldview, this risks dissuading men who are more amenable to the feminist cause from lending their support, and moreover, gives those who reject feminist ideals, chief among them conservatives and males who reflexively view any pro-female movement as a threat to their way of life and therefore in need of neutralization (see also alt-right, Gamergate) ammunition in further weakening their (the feminists’) resolve. Though not to equate the two movements and the struggle for mainstream acceptance they face, democratic socialism is another term which is assailed by its opponents to the extent people who might otherwise be sympathetic to its cause are alienated from the theory. Democratic socialists believe in a democratic form of government alongside a socialist economic system, rather simply.
As author and journalist Dan Arel explains, democratic socialism is, in many ways, not what you think it is. It is not Marxism, in that democratic socialism does not advocate for workers controlling the means of production. It is not communism as we would commonly understand it, that is, as manifested in China and the USSR. It is not a replacement for capitalism, but rather a more responsible, one might argue, version of capitalism that would restrict the excesses of corporations and their owners and would act to safeguard employee rights. It is not pure socialism, as democratic socialism believes that consumer goods/services and certain societal elements should be approached democratically rather than from a central government. Perhaps most importantly, it is not incompatible with modern American economic and political structures. As Arel suggests, democratic socialism already exists within the Democratic Party—it just isn’t embraced by all its members. Universal health care, free college tuition, a stronger social safety net—these are not pipe dreams for many developed countries around the world, especially in Europe. Yet people hear “socialism,” and either because they conflate it with communism or simply believe that industry in the United States is overregulated as it is, condemn democratic socialism in a reactionary way. Bernie Sanders and his crazy ideas! Why doesn’t he just move to Sweden if he loves it so much? Never mind that benefits such as community development block grants, the Earned Income Credit, educational grants, family planning services, food stamps/SNAP, the Head Start program, Job Corps, Medicare, public housing, Social Security, and weatherization services for low-income households are all social programs used by Americans of all different economic backgrounds and political affiliations. Um, you’re welcome.
Back to the role of feminism in America and in the world today, though. Feminism, at its most basic and essential, speaks to equality of opportunities and rights irrespective of gender. As suggested earlier, some men, notably those dyed-in-the-wool, old-fashioned sexists—whether they are conscious of it or not—view the advancement of women as a threat to them and their way of life. Feminists also face obstacles from institutions primed to favor men, chief among them the world of business, rigid standards of morality and religious conservatism, and even censure from other women who view their lot as whiny man-haters. In the discussion of not wanting to give the haters more fodder, though, certainly, card-carrying feminists must stick by their principles and do so without concern for excluding those uncomfortable with calling feminism by its rightful name. They should not have to fight this fight alone, however, and with a new generation of young men more sensitively attuned to ideas related to female sexuality, gender equality, and women’s issues, it would appear necessary that they recognize women’s struggle for equality as one which affects them as it does the women advocating for greater autonomy of self, and without concern for their (the men’s) immediate personal benefit. Their mission is our mission. Their losses and gains ours as well.
Now more than ever, with a man in the White House who identifies as pro-life to court religious conservatives despite expressing support for a woman’s right to choose in the past—not to mention boasting about being able to grab women “by the pussy” and defending his words as “locker-room talk”—and a Republican-led Congress which has targeted Planned Parenthood’s federal funding despite it not being used for abortions, already a small portion of the organization’s total services, men must support women’s rights as part of a unified front against others who would seek to abrogate these liberties. Accordingly, the following points should be considered non-negotiable, and let it be stressed that the feminist/women’s rights agenda is not limited to just these items:
Constitutional equality. I’ll speak briefly about equality in pay in a bit, but for women across demographic lines, constitutional guarantees to educational opportunities, full Social Security benefits, and job opportunities and political opportunities/power, are lacking. The Equal Rights Amendment, passed by Congress in 1972, has yet to be ratified in a three-fourths majority of states (only 35 of the 50 have ratified it), but efforts continue at the grassroots level to get its language specifically into the U.S. Constitution.
Control over reproductive rights. This includes access to safe abortions and available, affordable birth control and reproductive health services. I know I specified earlier that men should advocate for these points irrespective of any immediate benefits, but as they stand to, ahem, benefit from women’s healthy expression of their sexuality, right off the bat, this should be an easy sell.
Ending violence against women. Domestic violence and violence against women in college settings jumps to mind, but across international and cultural borders, there unfortunately are too many instances of the subjugation of women by physical and other means. Female genital mutilation sticks out in this regard, being inflicted on upwards of 200 million women and girls worldwide, chiefly in the regions of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. It is deemed by the World Health Organization as unnecessary and dangerous, and by the United Nations and other international bodies as a human rights violation. Violence against women in its various forms is a serious problem in our world today, a reality that is made all the more disturbing by all the underage females who are targeted because they can’t protect themselves and/or to satisfy some illicit trade, as in the sex trafficking of young girls. This should not be considered a remote problem for distant continents either. This is a human problem and one that affects all of us.
Equal pay for equal work. Seems fair, right? Arguing against equal pay for women on the basis of their supposed inferiority is outmoded and foolish thinking, plain and simple.
Freedom from stigmatization of normal bodily functions. Earth to Donald Trump and some other men—women menstruate. This is uncontrollable, and symptoms of PMS shouldn’t be assumed against them when they dare to show emotion or, you know, do their job as female reporters/news personalities (what up, Megyn Kelly?) Also, women breastfeed. They shouldn’t have to hide this fact, especially given the idea babies need sustenance to survive and thrive. Stop, ahem, being such babies about this.
Justice for women of color and for the LGBTQ community. In the pursuit of gender equality, those who champion women’s rights are usually not provincial in their focus. Though they might frame their discussion of job discrimination, pay equity, Social Security and pension reform, and what constitutes a “living wage” in terms of women’s issues, these topics are applicable to the larger conversation about income and wealth inequality that pervades societal problems in the United States and elsewhere. Part of the women’s rights movement is addressing opportunities for women of color in all areas, especially education, employment, and health care, and for the LGBTQ community, notably with respect to child custody, employment, health services, and housing.
Again, these are not strictly “women’s issues,” but ones that affect all of us, considering how they impact and have impacted the lives of the women around us—our mothers, our grandmothers, our wives, our daughters, other female family members, our female teachers, our female nurses, and so on and so forth. Furthermore, despite the progress we have made in this regard, there is much work to do, and realistically, we should be further along than we are. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, when asked two years ago about why gender parity in his Cabinet is so important to him, responded simply with the line, “Because it’s 2015.” It’s 2017 now, and the vast majority of us—women and men, men and women—should be proud to say we are feminists. I certainly am, and you should be too.
Think President Donald Trump is doing a good job in his present role? Yeah, well, sorry to inform you, but you’re in the minority on this one, and in fact, this may well be the first time you’ve been considered or have considered yourself to be a part of a minority group. Hey—cheer up—there’s a first time for everything.
You may not care about this bit of happenstance, or may decry the polls as inaccurate or even “fake,” but here’s the information we at least are given. As of February 24, according to Gallup, Trump’s approval rating nationally stands at just 43%. Philip Bump, meanwhile, writing for The Washington Post, has a more nuanced look at polling data, both current and from the 2016 presidential election. In a shocking—shocking!—twist, Bump finds that the only group or groups with a majority approval rating for the President is/are Republicans and whites without college degrees. Independents also garner a majority when FOX’s polling data is considered, but they are at or below 40% for the other five major polls (CBS News, Gallup, McClatchy-Marist, NBC-SurveyMonkey, Quinnipiac University), raising questions about FOX’s methods, FOX News’s viewership, or both. As you might expect, Pres. Trump fares worst among Democrats, and particularly poorly among black and Hispanic women. The Republican Party already has had a persistent problem with these demographics, and if Trump’s numbers are any indication, that inability to draw support from them has only been amplified.
What Philip Bump’s analysis does not show, however, and where my level of interest is primarily, is where Donald Trump’s supporters and defenders rate on their views of some of his more notable policies. That is, they may approve of Trump on the whole, but they also may be concerned about particular aspects of his and the Republicans’ agenda. Jennifer Rubin, who authors the Right Turn blog, a conservative opinion conduit under the Washington Post banner, recently penned an article going into depth about some of the issues that matter most to Trump supporters, and thus, might give us a starting point in conducting such an analysis. In particular, Rubin cites three matters of domestic policy that Trump promised to address if he were elected, and as such, three matters that might matter to his base of support should he not follow through: ObamaCare/the Affordable Care Act, tax reform, and border security.
On the first count, Jennifer Rubin noted that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, for one, sure has been sending a lot of E-mails out to Republican supporters, but with each successive message and little substantive material revealed with each iteration, the situation smacks of the GOP being long on talk of repeal and short on a credible replacement. How bad is this lack of a cohesive strategy to deal with the ACA? Well, let’s just put it this way: if Republican lawmakers like Senator Bob Corker know of a superior plan with which to supplant ObamaCare, they either possess quite the proverbial poker face, or they have no g-d clue. Put Corker, perhaps surprisingly candid about this subject, in the latter category. When asked about the Affordable Care Act by Huffington Post, Sen. Corker admitted he was unaware of any set plans, though he opined that this could be a good thing in that the GOP should take its time on any set proposal. What’s more, Senator Corker questioned the very theory of what the Republicans were trying to do, in particular, regarding the role of revenue:
If you repeal the taxes on the front end and you end up with, say, a Medicaid expansion, or even if it winds up being refundable tax credits, you’re still expending dollars. And if you repeal all the sources of income on the front end, then it’s difficult to me to see how you ever get to a place where you actually fund what you’re expending. And then you’ve self-created the doc-fix scenario, where each year it just keeps getting extended, you’re piling up the deficits, because I don’t see Republicans voting for a tax increase. That’s why to me it’s important that this happen simultaneously. I don’t see a scenario where people are pushing to insure less people. You’ve got to have money to pay for that.
On the second count, Rubin explains that tax reform was liable to be a problem in Republican circles to being with, and with the prospect of a theoretical border tax on companies who import goods produced in facilities located outside the United States, or even raw materials not readily available domestically that must be procured abroad, the movement for reform is further muddied and therefore far from unified. There is concern among industry leaders that such a border tax would force businesses to pass the related cost onto the consumer, a notion that could place companies large and small in jeopardy if this comes to fruition. So, in short, tax reform looks sketchy as well. Potentially 0-for-2—not especially encouraging for Donald Trump and the GOP.
Last but not least, we have border security. First, there’s the issue of the wall at the Mexican border, which is expensive and ineffective. Second, there’s the issue of targeting sanctuary cities, which has encouraged threats of pushback from the cities and regions that stand to be affected by the associated executive order, including that of local lawmakers and law enforcement. Thirdly, there’s the whole travel ban, which has tied up the White House in litigation and is as unpopular if not more so than these other provisions. The seeming absurdity of the wall has made its prospects somewhat dim, though nothing is over until it’s over, and reportedly, we are mere months away from assignment of the contracts to build a monstrosity at our southern border. That considerable resistance has been felt on the other aspects of Trump’s anti-immigration agenda, however, makes it all the more likely that the wall and hallmarks of the other issues—ObamaCare and tax reform—will be met by similar legislative gridlock.
If this is so, the Democratic Party could capitalize on any related loss of support. Jennifer Rubin closes her article by talking about what President Trump and the GOP would need to do to maintain their appeal to their collective fan base:
If those issues [the ACA, border security, taxes] aren’t going to produce concrete legislative results, how else could Trump and Republicans earn voters’ continued indulgence? In essence, Trump promised a better life for the down-and-out in the Rust Belt and the resentful anti-elitists everywhere. What will be the evidence of that? Unemployment presumably would need to go even lower, coal jobs would need to return, and productivity would have to spike, resulting in wage growth. Take-home pay would have to rise, at the very least. And accomplishing those end goals may be even more challenging than passing an Obamacare replacement.
Whatever Trump thought he’d deliver may prove elusive because the problems of working-class Rust Belt voters are the result not of “foreigners stealing their jobs” or “dumb trade deals,” but long-term, knotty problems that have no easy solutions. Trump certainly has no idea how to make the transition to a 21st-century economy while making sure millions don’t get left behind. He never even talks about juicing productivity, let alone puts forth a plan to do so.
In sum, if Trump does not deliver on his major policy initiatives and does not bring about an economic renaissance for the “forgotten man and woman,” will they stick with him and with GOP majorities or stay home in 2018? Like it or not, 2018 will be a referendum on Trump and Trumpism. That’s why Democrats shouldn’t be too pessimistic about their near-term political prospects.
Rubin, if you ask me, gives the Democrats too much credit. Still, her point about the political dangers Donald Trump’s extreme positions and boastful rhetoric present is well taken. If matters of economic performance, health care reform, and immigration policy are key concerns for Trump supporters/Republican voters, unfulfilled promises may cast a pall over the party as a whole. For those of us Trump detractors on the outside looking in, the hardest part of it all would likely be the waiting until Trump’s and the Republican Party’s house of cards falls down.
Let it be stressed that the topics addressed by Jennifer Rubin represent only a subset of what those who voted for Donald Trump may actually care about. Then again, it likely is a rather large subset; according to CNN exit polls taken during the presidential vote this past November, a significant amount of those individuals who chose Trump did so because of their concern about terrorism and illegal immigration. What Rubin’s analysis does not consider, though, and what is vitally important to confront because Trump’s list of executive orders since he was sworn in includes a number of mandates on this dimension, are social issues. President Trump’s anti-immigration agenda, as discussed above, because it so strongly impacts the Hispanic and Muslim communities, can be considered under this purview. For other groups whose rights have been under attack by the Republican Party for some time now, their freedoms have similarly been targeted, although perhaps not as dramatically as, say, deportation raids or a ban on entry into the United States. The reinstatement of the so-called “global gag rule” which pulls American aid to organizations that discuss abortion as a family planning option. The decision to remove protections for transgender students in schools over their use of bathrooms. The revival of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline projects. The reversal of a late-tenure policy enacted by President Barack Obama that prevented coal-mining operations from dumping their waste in streams. I’m sure I’m missing some, but this gives you an idea of the adversarial tone Pres. Trump has taken toward environmentalists, the LGBTQ community, and women. It begs the question from those of us onlookers who never supported Donald Trump in the first place: who’s next? African-Americans? Other religious minorities, including atheists? Democratic socialists? People with disabilities?
This disconnect with the consequences of the Trump administration’s actions, and those aided and abetted by Republican majorities in Congress and the GOP’s own regressive agenda (e.g. the dismantling of the ACA), I believe, informs to a great deal the oft-referenced cultural divide between those on the left who champion equality for all as a raison d’être, and those on the right who feel political correctness limits us as a nation, as well as those on the far-right who legitimately subscribe to the view that whites are superior to people of all other races. Even if the majority of Trump supporters aren’t racists, and indeed defend his policymaking or their vote for him as based on economic or political principles, it becomes that much more mystifying to us non-supporters why Donald Trump’s more jeered-at actions and words aren’t a bigger deal. This includes Trump’s “greatest hits” from the campaign trail, seeing as we are only a few months removed from the presidential race, not to mention the idea there is no statute of limitations on being a douchebag. How are we supposed to accept Trump’s insinuation that Mexico is a country full of drug lords and rapists? How are we supposed to ignore the belittling of Serge Kovaleski, a disabled reporter? How are we supposed to forgive and forget his callous remark that when you’re rich and famous like him you can grab women “by the pussy”? How are we supposed to tolerate the denigration of Khizr and Ghazala Khan, parents of fallen United States Army Captain Humayun Khan? How are we supposed to react positively when Trump and members of his Cabinet reject the science that illustrates the role man plays in climate change?
Speaking of adversarial tones, and to invoke that last environmentally-conscious thought, what is concerning to many Americans and what should be concerning to yet more is the apparent attack of the White House and of supportive right-wing media on facts, on freedom of the press, on science, on transparency, and on truth. President Donald Trump is flanked by flunkies like Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, Sebastian Gorka, Stephen Bannon, and Stephen Miller who defend his ranting and raving on Twitter; deny past statements made by the President despite recorded, verifiable proof; excuse his putting forth of opinions based on false or misleading statistics; flout ethics rules and standards of journalistic integrity; hand-pick members of the press and news organizations who are favorable to Trump to ask questions during press conferences and even to attend certain events; intimidate dissenters and intimate reprisals for those who criticize and challenge their credentials; make up events such as the Bowling Green Massacre, misdirect or refuse to answer direct questions from reporters; and suggest “alternative facts.” They lie constantly, and even go as far to depict the mainstream media as the “enemy of the people,” a sentiment so reprehensible it caused Chris Wallace of FOX freaking News to come to Barack Obama’s defense, saying even he never called them an enemy. This is the kind of behavior we’d expect out of Nazi Germany or even Vladimir Putin’s Russia, not the United States of America.
As for Putin and Russia, that members of the Trump administration, the Trump campaign, the Trump Organization, and even President Trump may—may!—be compromised by their ties to Russian interests should concern all Americans. Along these lines, why shouldn’t we be allowed to see for ourselves to make sure? What exactly happened that provoked the resignation of Michael Flynn, and if it were known about his transgression in speaking to Russian officials even earlier, why did he have to resign at all? That is, why wasn’t he removed from his post then and there? Why are we more concerned with the size of electoral victories and Inauguration Ceremonies than the breadth of Russian interference in our elections and hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s communications and the affairs of other citizens? Why are we so intent on lifting sanctions on Russia and, in the process, disregarding the reports from our own intelligence community? And for f**k’s sake, what is in your tax returns that you don’t want to show the world, as other Presidents before you have done? If there’s nothing to hide, why not, in the name of transparency, turn over all the cards? For someone who demanded accountability for Hillary Clinton concerning her E-mails and for Benghazi, and who helped spearhead an absurd campaign to prove Barack Obama was secretly born in another country, and likely would have done for Ted Cruz if he had somehow captured the Republican Party nomination, the hypocrisy speaks volumes—and by now, none of us should be surprised to hear it.
The totality of this trampling of individual liberties and American interests for the sake of one man’s vanity, alongside the collective failure of Republican lawmakers to condemn Donald Trump and to stand against his excesses, as well as the abandonment of the working class by the Democratic Party for the sake of corporate and wealthy donors, and the unwillingness of pillars of the media to stand with one another and to stand up to Trump rather than to simply seek out a boost to ratings and website clicks—all this in no uncertain terms and to be quite frank makes me embarrassed to be an American right now. I know I’m not alone in these feelings of shame, either. Going back to the analysis of our friend Philip Bump, according to recent polling by McClatchy-Marist and Quinnipiac University, a majority of Americans are embarrassed by Donald Trump as President.
Granted, there is a large partisan divide on this question—while 58% report feelings of embarrassment overall, Democrats really push the average up; a similar majority of Republicans, though not quite to the extent Democratic respondents report being embarrassed, say they feel “proud” of the job Trump is doing (independents, in case you wondering, by slightly more than the poll average are embarrassed by Trump). It’s still early in Trump’s tenure, mind you, and there’s a chance that voters for the two major parties are more likely to hew closer to center as we go along. By the same token, however, they could just as well become more and more entrenched in their views. If nothing else, this underscores the profundity of the aforementioned cultural divide—and the magnitude of the effort needed by Democrats and members of the Resistance to defeat Donald Trump, congressional Republicans, and other down-ticket members of the GOP. For progressives, simply replacing establishment Republicans with mainstream Democrats may not even be enough.
I already concede my readership is limited, and thus, the likelihood of any Trump supporters reading this blog is slim to none. Nonetheless, in closing out this piece, my final considerations have this audience in mind. First, let me say something on the subject of criticism. I am critical of Donald Trump in this post, as I have been leading up to the election and ever since. By and large, these are not personal attacks, and at any rate, disagreeing with the President based on the issues and calling him out when we believe something he says or Tweets to be false is OK. In fact, it’s one of the hallmarks of a healthy democracy. Our elected leaders are people, not gods, or even the supposedly infallible Pope. They are prone to error, if not deliberately misleading statements. Disagreeing with them doesn’t make you any less patriotic or mean you don’t love America, as was the case if and when you decried Barack Obama for any and all he didn’t do during his two terms. Nor does it make the press the enemy of our people. It is in the American tradition to stand up to authority when we deem it worthy. Sure, you may deride me as a crybaby liberal snowflake and tell me to move to Canada, but by criticizing my ability to criticize, you’re flying your American flag right in the face of what it means to be a free person in the United States. Besides, you may scoff about people leaving the country, but even if they don’t leave, foreign nationals from countries not affected by the travel ban likely will start to refuse to come here. Great—you’re thinking—keep them over there! Right, except for the idea foreign nationals who come to live, study, and work here are vital to the U.S. economy. According to the Economic Policy Institute, from the period between 2009 and 2011, immigrants’ share of the country’s economic output was 14.7%, larger than their share of the population. That’s no small potatoes, and just one reason why a climate in this nation that immigrants and concerned citizens alike feel is inhospitable is dangerous for the United States of America.
The other message I have for Trump supporters, if you’re listening, is that though some of us may resist against the President, his advisers, his Cabinet, and Republican leadership, we don’t hate you. We want you as part of a unified United States, as redundant as that sounds, and we certainly will need you if we are to elect people who we feel will be better representatives for their constituents two and four years from now. That’s why I encourage you, in earnest, to think about what President Donald Trump has done, is doing, and will do for you. Forget about other people if you need to—even though that isn’t exactly encouraged. As noted earlier in this piece, Trump has made a lot of promises. Politicians usually do, even if he doesn’t consider himself one. But he’s the President now, and he should be held accountable for what he says and does. If all his talk ends up being just that, and you find your life and that of others’ lives around you hasn’t dramatically improved, remember what I and others have said. And get angry—angry enough to do something about it. Like, contacting your senators and representatives angry. Not so much shooting up the place angry.
With each story of undocumented immigrant parents ripped away from their children, headstones being toppled over at Jewish cemeteries, and violence and insults directed at our Muslim brethren, scores of conscientious Americans and I are angered, saddened, and—yes—embarrassed about what is happening in our country. We may love America deep down, but that doesn’t mean we necessarily love everything about it, nor should we be expected to. And while we all bear some level of culpability, chief among us members of the Democratic and Republican Parties and the media, let us not exonerate our Commander-in-Chief. In fact, we should hold him to a higher standard, as we have done with the previous 44 holders of his office. This is not Donald Trump’s America, or that of any one person. It is all of ours, and anyone who would elevate himself above that equality written about by our Founding Fathers should be embarrassed in his or her own right.
In Tom Perrotta’s novel The Leftovers and the HBO program on which it is based, millions of people suddenly vanish from the Earth in a Rapture-like event. Spoiler alert? No, this is the very premise of the book and the show. Besides, you probably weren’t going to read the novel or watch the program anyway, right? OK, now that that’s behind us. In the universe of The Leftovers, a cult-like group called the Guilty Remnant forms in the wake of people’s search for answers and established religion’s immediate failure to explain this mysterious phenomenon. Its members dress all in white, smoke constantly and say nothing. They are agitators, and get into silent confrontations with non-members, but with a purpose: to remind people that they are the leftovers, that this “Sudden Departure” did indeed happen, and that they couldn’t just pretend as if it did not, like it was just another day. If the Guilty Remnant were to be the world’s conscience, as frustrating and inconvenient as they were, so be it.
On Friday, January 20, 2017, Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, with Mike Pence assuming the office of Vice President. No, some 2% of the world’s population did not spontaneously disappear, and yes, as has been the custom, there was an Inauguration Ceremony as with other presidents who have come before Trump. But Donald Trump and his campaign were quite unlike anything we have seen in modern history—and this is not a celebration of that idea. The way Trump conducted his campaign, and the way he conducts his affairs in general, are not normal. The sense of empowerment and entitlement he has given to those who ascribe to an exclusionary, prejudicial and xenophobic worldview, and the acceptance of this element in our society, is not normal. And while the proceedings of Inauguration Day occurred in accordance with tradition, as with the reaction of people to the Sudden Departure, to behave like this ceremony as a culmination of what occurred in this nation over the election cycle is just another day is to engage in serious self-defeating, self-deception. This all is not normal, and we can’t pretend like it is.
Let’s start with what was said during President Trump’s Inauguration speech. A lot of the ideas within it are by now familiar to us, but the tone and a key phrase within it are important to note. Trump, as is his custom, painted a picture that speaks to the United States in a bleak state, and to average American men and women as forgotten. Here is a notable passage from his address:
From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.
Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body—and I will never, ever let you down.
America will start winning again, winning like never before.
We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams. We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work—rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.
We will follow two simple rules: buy American and hire American.
We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world—but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow. We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones—and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.
At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.
It would be a good speech, if only it weren’t so terrifying and disturbing. In this critical juncture of President Trump’s address, he establishes the theme of his comments and likely of his domestic and foreign policy at large: “America First.” More on that slogan, if you will, in a moment. Trump vows his utmost efforts on behalf of the American people and promises the U.S. will start “winning” like never before, apparently ascribing to Red Sanders’ oft-quoted (and misattributed) view that “Winning isn’t everything—it’s the only thing.”
The question a lot of us conscientious objectors would have, though, is at what cost, and that’s where the sentiments within Pres. Trump’s speech get so frightening. As usual, stressing the “Islamic” aspect of terrorism risks conflation of jihadism with Islam at large, thereby increasing the danger to Muslims around the world sympathetic to America’s cause and morally opposed to ISIS. As I’ve heard the analogy before and have used it in my writing, peace-loving law-abiding Muslims are to organizations like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State as the Ku Klux Klan is to white Americans who disavow its agenda. Jihadists pervert Islamic principles to suit their own destructive purposes, and though this criticism is nothing new as regards use of the term “radical Islamic terrorism,” that solidarity with Muslims who live in and love America isn’t made clearer by Trump is nonetheless disappointing.
What’s more, Donald Trump speaks to a “total allegiance” to the United States as a bedrock of our politics, as if plain old regular allegiance is insufficient. As with the insertion of Islam into the abstract concept of radical terrorism, the vagueness of this phrase allows for more sinister interpretations of the language. If everyday Americans seem less committed to patriotism and the U.S. as rabid Trump supporters and jingoists do, do the more fervent believers among them have the President’s blessing to admonish and harass the dissenters? I, in expressing my contempt for Donald Trump shortly after being sworn in, was told by someone on Facebook to “show some f**king respect” and to “move to Canada” if I couldn’t show my American pride—and I feel like I got off light. Moreover, if we talk about allegiance as a bedrock of our nation’s politics, do those who would subvert Trump’s will or stand in opposition to conservative values and Republican ideals become somehow less American? It’s a worrisome inference, to say the least.
Perhaps worst of all, though, is the unfortunate legacy of that phrase “America First.” Christopher Brennan, writing for the New York Daily News, outlines how the America First Committee was an organization formed in 1940 by Gen. Robert E. Wood and Charles Lindbergh (yes, that Charles Lindbergh) which resisted the United States’ intervention to aid Great Britain when it was under attack by Hitler’s forces. As Brennan details, a significant portion of the Committee were Nazi sympathizers, and if we know our history, Lindbergh traveled to Nazi Germany numerous times and even received a medal from the Third Reich. Wait, you’re thinking, Trump is stupid—he has no idea of the historical implications of what he’s saying. Except for the idea the Anti-Defamation League has already asked Trump not to use the phrase owing to its associations with fascism and anti-Semitism. Regardless, President Trump’s ignorance on this count would be dubious at best. In all likelihood, Trump is speaking in coded language, appealing to those who bleed red, white and blue at the superficial level, and giving a nod to alt-righters, neo-Nazis and white supremacists in any form. Our President or Mein Führer? With a hint of sadness, I’ll note the allusion is not as crazy as it might seem.
If Donald Trump’s swearing in as the 45th President of the United States was the culmination of a brutal election season, the confirmation hearings for various Trump Cabinet appointees leading up to the Inauguration could presage a likewise unbearable agenda for his administration. It is one thing that a number of them seem to espouse positions that run contrary to what a majority of Americans believe, and certainly speak to views which fly in the face of what more liberal Democrats and progressives hope to achieve. It is another, however, that they appear to be woefully unqualified for their intended office if not wholly incompetent, or otherwise seem to possess a rather cavalier attitude given they are representing the American public and are supposed to be acting in its interest. Here are the nominees for whom hearings have been held so far (not listed are Gens. James Mattis and John F. Kelly, who represent the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, respectively, and who already were confirmed prior to this writing):
Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson
January 11’s scheduled hearings for Cabinet picks saw two heavy-hitters tested on their qualifications fairly early in the confirmation process. Jeff Sessions, Pres. Trump’s pick for Attorney General, to his credit, said he would oppose the use of torture by military personnel, as well as a ban on Muslims entering the country and a registry for Muslim Americans, three things that Trump insisted on throughout his campaign. On the other hand, though, Sessions harped on the criticism that police forces have received for doing their jobs in the wake of high-profile shooting incidents—without much apparent credence to civilian deaths—did little to nothing to allay concerns that he respects civil rights, specifically voting rights, and seems to have intentions for his would-be department, the Department of Justice, to more vigorously enforce immigration law. As someone who has been met with allegations of racism in the past concerning his record during his tenure as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, despite his insistence he will uphold and enforce existing laws, seems only somewhat committed to issues affecting blacks, Hispanics/Latinos, and women, among other groups. Not entirely surprising coming from a moneyed white male (Sessions’ estimated worth is about $6 million), but surely not altogether encouraging at the start of a presidency of a man with historically-low approval ratings.
That Sessions seemed to soften on certain hard-line stances meant his hearing was still uneven in light of his judicial and legislative record, but nonetheless, he made his bid for confirmation more plausible, if not highly likely. Rex Tillerson, um, did not fare as well in his confirmation hearing, as Tessa Stuart of Rolling Stone indicated in a feature article. Among the points during Tillerson’s confirmation hearing which merited criticism of Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State—which is, by the way, a natural stepping stone for a CEO of ExxonMobil, a role that does not require specific foreign policy experience:
He wouldn’t say if he supported sanctions against Russia if it turned out allegations that the Russians tried to interfere in the U.S. presidential election were true, and claimed he has yet to have an in-depth conversation about Russia with Donald Trump.
He claimed to have no knowledge of ExxonMobil’s attempt to lobby against sanctions against Russia, when in fact, the company had and Tillerson was involved in conversations about these matters.
He deferred to the notion he would need to see more intelligence before labeling Vladimir Putin a war criminal despite allegations the Russians targeted and killed civilians alongside the Syrian government army, not to mention well-documented accounts of having political rivals and critics of Putin murdered.
He similarly dismissed the human rights violations of Rodrigo Duterte’s administration in the Philippines and the treatment of women in countries like Saudi Arabia.
He expressed support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
He would not commit to the Paris climate accord.
He acknowledged that climate change exists, but wouldn’t comment on whether or not humans play a role in it, and when asked by Sen. Tim Kaine on whether or not he lacks the expertise to answer the question or the will, he quipped, “A little of both.”
He said that despite being with the company for some 40 years, he had no knowledge of whether not ExxonMobil has done business with Iran, Sudan or Syria.
When asked specifically by Tim Kaine regarding the evidence that Exxon knew about the role humans play in affecting climate change and funded efforts and research contrary to this science, Tillerson claimed he could not comment because he was no longer part of the company. Because apparently, when you resign from an executive post, your memory is wiped along with it.
Rex Tillerson’s experience with the oil industry and his ties to Russian interests and Putin in them of themselves made him a questionable pick for Secretary of State. Now with his testimony on record, the doubts are stronger and more numerous. Tillerson shouldn’t be confirmed for Secretary of State, even though he probably will be owing to the Republican majority in the Senate.
Ben Carson, Elaine Chao, Michael Pompeo
Ben Carson, like Rex Tillerson, was nominated for a position in Secretary of Housing and Urban Development that his personal experience in no way prepares him to hold. As aloof as he often seemed during his presidential campaign despite, you know, possessing the acumen to be a freaking neurosurgeon, Carson largely managed to hold his own, although it should be noted that observers described efforts by Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike to challenge him on his qualifications as fairly tepid. The tensest moments came from lines of inquiry from Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown. Warren asked Carson point blank about whether or not he could assure the Senate and the American people that any HUD money would not be lining the pockets of Pres. Trump, a question he seemed ill prepared to answer. Brown, meanwhile, confronted Ben Carson on how his department could avoid conflicts of interest with Donald Trump given his family’s involvement in at least one subsidized housing project, and though he expressed his willingness to work with the committee, again, he didn’t seem to have much of an idea of his own. Ben Carson realistically won’t always be able to phone a friend, if you will. So, while he wasn’t Rex Tillerson bad, he wasn’t top-notch either.
Elaine Chao, in the running for Department of Transportation, like Carson, while not offering anything that raised any giant red flags, similarly didn’t offer a lot of specifics for the possible direction of her agency, especially as a subset of the Trump administration. All in all, though, most in attendance were in agreement that Chao seems highly qualified for her position, with the various reports covering Chao’s hearing describing it as a “love-fest” full of laughs and smiles, or otherwise referring to her “skating” through her confirmation process. So, yeah, Elaine Chao looks like she’s good as gold regarding her nomination, and I maintain her most questionable bit of judgment preceded her hearing: that of marrying Mitch McConnell. Sorry, I just can’t with that guy.
And then there’s Mike Pompeo. Despite positions expressed during his tenure as Senator from Kansas, Pompeo seemed to allay concerns that he was not a dogmatic follower of hardline conservative principles. He pledged to defy President Trump if asked to resume torture as a primary interrogation technique, expressed his belief that the conclusion reached by U.S. intelligence leaders that Russia tried to intervene in our election, in part, to help Trump was a sound one, and vowed that he would “speak truth to power” if confirmed as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. So, basically, Mike Pompeo promised not to be Donald Trump. Atta boy, Mike! In the time I took to write this post, Pompeo has been confirmed, so that hurdle has been cleared, but as CIA Director, his greatest test may just be beginning, namely that of getting his agency and the President himself to work together. Because right now, quite frankly, they ain’t. Thus, while I wouldn’t have nominated Pompeo in the first place, I wish him the best of luck. Because I wouldn’t wish Trump on my worst enemy, let alone the head of the CIA. Best of luck, Mike—you’re gonna need it.
Betsy DeVos, Ryan Zinke
We’ll get to Ms. DeVos in a moment. First, let’s skip ahead to Ryan Zinke, Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of the Department of the Interior. Zinke, like other Cabinet picks of Pres. Trump’s, may acknowledge climate change exists in the abstract and therefore diverges from the belief that it is an outright hoax, but it is still dangerously reluctant to recognize the role we humans play in contributing to effects like global warming. This stance is significant, because Zinke, as head of the Department of the Interior, would oversee all federal lands as well as the resources on and below them. This means he could and likely would be instrumental in opening expanses up to coal mining and oil and gas drilling that were previously unavailable for these purposes under Barack Obama. Seeing as Trump has already signed executive orders to revive the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone Pipeline XL extension, Ryan Zinke is poised to be a partner in crime—that is, “crime” against the environment—and should be admonished as a nominee for his intended position.
Speaking of admonishment, the hearing for Betsy DeVos, tapped for Secretary of Education, rivaled if not surpassed Rex Tillerson’s review in terms of being, as the kids call it, a “hot mess.” DeVos, apparently, is to knowledge of the United States education system as Sarah Palin is to mastery of U.S. geography. Among the revelations from Betsy DeVos’s hearing:
She evidently believes guns should be in schools, or at least won’t commit to the idea schools should be gun-free zones.
She expressed the belief the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) should be left to the states to apply, despite this being a federal law.
She would not agree to the idea all schools which receive federal funding should be held equally accountable.
She would not commit to enforcing gainful employment regulations which prevent for-profit universities and other career training programs which bury students in debt with little ability to repay from receiving federal subsidies.
She did not appear to understand the accountability debate regarding whether testing should measure students and schools based on proficiency or growth.
She did not answer a direct question about the failure of charter schools and other “school choice” iterations to perform markedly better than public schools. Probably because she and her children have never spent a day enrolled in public school and, what’s more, she has a vested financial interest in K12, an online charter-school and home school curriculum resource. As usual, it helps to follow the money.
In short, Betsy DeVos doesn’t have a clue about the state of education in America at large, especially public education. She should be nowhere near a department as critical as the Department of Education, or any federal public office, for that matter.
Nikki Haley, Scott Pruitt, Tom Price, Wilbur Ross
Wilbur Ross, like Betsy DeVos, is a billionaire. Unlike DeVos, however, he, from nearly all accounts, acquitted himself quite nicely of his ability to serve in the capacity for which he was nominated: that of Secretary of Commerce. Certainly, his tone on important economic issues was appreciably more moderate (and sensible) than that of the President, and though this is not a particularly high bar to clear, he seemed better prepared and more readily forthcoming than either Betsy DeVos or Rex Tillerson. Wilbur Ross is not necessarily above criticism, as he, like so many within the Trump administration not to mention the man himself, comes with concern about potential conflicts of interest due to his shipping investments. This notwithstanding, his expertise and support from labor leaders makes Ross a likely confirmation, and quite possibly the best of the bunch (again, perhaps not a particularly high bar to clear).
Now then—let’s get to the other riff-raff, shall we? Nikki Haley, who, like Mike Pompeo, has been confirmed by the Senate since I began this post, will serve as the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations. This despite having any foreign policy experience. Welcome to Donald Trump’s Cabinet—actual qualifications need not apply. At the very least, Haley said she favored a tougher stance and the preservation of sanctions against Russia, condemned the extrajudicial killings of Rodrigo Duterte’s regime in the Philippines, cautioned a measured approach in deciding whether or not to scrap the Iran nuclear deal, and said she opposes the creation of a Muslim registry. On the other hand, she seems to echo Trump’s strongly pro-Israel stance on the Middle East, and even supports the controversial relocation of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. As with Secy. Pompeo, Nikki Haley has my best wishes, and I similarly hope her appointment won’t be one we look back on with regret.
Where there’s good, though, there is frequently the bad and the ugly, and Scott Pruitt is where the January 18 hearings start to slide downward. Scott Pruitt has been nominated for the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency he has sued (unsuccessfully, at that) some 14 times as Oklahoma Attorney General, and one which he has explicitly referenced as deserving of having its regulatory power diminished and has accused of an “activist agenda,” as if activism is an inherent force to be resisted. So it should be no surprise, though no less disheartening, that Pruitt professed that his feelings on climate change were immaterial and would not commit to the idea humans play a significant role in promoting it, nor would he give credence to the idea man-made air pollution could be behind the comparatively high rates of asthma in his state. And talk about ethical concerns—Scott Pruitt has received buku bucks from the energy industry, notably from fossil fuel companies. He is not only arguably highly incompetent, but a shameless shill for Big Oil as well, and in no way should be confirmed for the post of Secretary of the EPA, let alone being considered for it.
Tom Price, meanwhile, is no stud in his own right, as he possesses his own bevy of ethical concerns to weigh, including failure to disclose late tax payments which were discovered upon further investigation, improper valuation of shares he owns in an Australian pharmaceutical company, allegations of insider trading with respect to those shares, and proposing legislation which would benefit other investments of his. All this on top of concerns that Republicans’ desire to repeal ObamaCare comes without a credible and fair replacement and that the GOP appears to want to turn the current Medicaid system into a “block grant” format that conceivably would make access to health care more difficult for more disadvantaged Americans. Price, simply put, is a poor choice to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. Or as Happy Gilmore once so eloquently put it, “The [P]rice is wrong, bitch.”
Rick Perry, Steve Mnuchin
Last but not least—OK, well, possibly least—we have the likes of Rick Perry and Steve Mnuchin. Perry, as been oft referenced, once was responsible for a gaffe in which he forgot the name of a third agency he would get rid of as President during a Republican Party debate. That third department, as it turned out, was the Department of Energy—the very department he is now being asked to preside over. I see you starting to pour into that shot glass over there, and I’m with you, my friend. Perry, to his credit, seems to see value in renewable energy sources, but like Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke and Rex Tillerson and God knows how many other Republicans, doesn’t place a great deal of weight on the human factor in climate change. Rick Perry’s intended “all-of-the-above” approach is indeed a bit problematic when considering that a major point of the DOE is trying to make energy more affordable for Americans. Also, concerning nuclear power, which falls under the Department of Energy’s banner, a critical issue is how to store nuclear weaponry and nuclear waste, and while Perry seems open to suggestions, he doesn’t seem to have many concrete ideas on his end. To put it bluntly, Rick Perry was a dumb choice in the first place for this post, and from what I’ve seen and heard of him, he seems like kind of a dick (see also his potshot at Sen. Al Franken during the review for being a former cast member of Saturday Night Live). Even if he didn’t flunk his hearing outright, I can’t seriously consider him for Secretary of the DOE.
Speaking of kind of a dick, it’s Steve Mnuchin, who, apropos of nothing, I have a persistent urge to want to call Steve Munchkin. Mnuchin, Pres. Trump’s Secretary of Treasury nominee, has a checkered past that raises serious doubts about his worthiness for his intended role. Most notable is his legacy as the “foreclosure king” during his time as OneWest Bank, and the committee had plenty of testimony at its disposal from OneWest customers with their horror stories from during Mnuchin’s tenure. Yet again, there were failures to disclose critical financial information regarding real estate and other assets totaling upwards of $95 million, as well as troubling ethical positions revealed in Steve Mnuchin’s past assistance of helping clients avoid taxes through tax havens. As with Rick Perry, even if he didn’t crash and burn, on principle, I can’t get behind Munchkin. Dammit, I mean, Mnuchin.
Donald Trump’s blustering rhetoric is worrisome, especially, um, the whole allusion to anti-Semitism bit, but ironically, much as he chides lawmakers for being “all talk, no action,” we know some if not a lot of what he said in his Inauguration speech stands to be empty promises. Trump’s picks for key government positions, on the whole, are troubling, for when they are not flagrantly unqualified or engaging in activities that are borderline unethical/illegal, tend to be sparing on specifics regarding how they would achieve what they profess they and President Trump wish to accomplish. Still, there is the chance that some of these nominees won’t be confirmed, even if remote, and either way, we’ve survived idiots holding public office over the years. My, have we survived it. From my perspective, though, maybe the most frightening sign of what’s to come from a Donald Trump presidency, especially if left unchecked, is his administration’s relationship to the press and to objective facts. In what may be the example par excellence of the slippery slope Trump and his lackeys are greasing, both press secretary Sean Spicer and whatever-the-heck-she’s-technically-considered Kellyanne Conway tried to argue that Donald Trump’s crowds in attendance for the Inauguration were the biggest in U.S. history. This is objectively false, and there’s no getting around it either, for Trump didn’t even manage to surpass his predecessor in this regard, let alone all previous American presidents, or even the Women’s March throngs in protest of his presidency the day after.
Spicer, though, for his part, held a press conference with the apparent intention of dispelling the myth that President Trump’s ceremony wasn’t the biggest and best in our nation’s recorded history, in fact, his first press conference of the term. The Washington Post offers an excellent transcript of this moment annotated by political reporter Chris Cillizza. Within his annotations, Cillizza notes the following:
Sean Spicer cited numbers regarding how many people can physically fit in proscribed sections of the National Mall, saying “we know” this much, but these have the ring of guesses more than anything.
Spicer claimed Metro public transit numbers from Inauguration Day for Pres. Trump exceeded those of Obama’s two ceremonies, but this is simply inaccurate. Donald Trump managed just over 570,000 people, based on numbers from the Metro. Barack Obama, meanwhile, accrued 1.1 million in 2009, and 782,000 in 2013. The math doesn’t lie.
Spicer alleged Trump, in his recent visit with the CIA, was greeted by a raucous crowd of some 400-plus employees, but Cillizza characterizes this visit as mostly—surprise, surprise!—another attack on the media, and the 300 to 400 attendance were likely mostly Trump supporters.
Spicer attacked the media specifically for “sowing division about tweets and false narratives,” as if the press is supposed to cater to the whims of the White House.
Spicer uttered this: “This kind of dishonesty in the media, the challenging—that bringing about our nation together is making it more difficult.”
On that last count, Chris Cillizza was notably, for lack of a better word, defiant. And I quote:
The idea that the media “challenging” (Sean’s words) claims made by Trump and his team somehow undermines an effort to bring the country together is simply a false choice. The media’s job is to probe and prod to make sure that what is being sold as fact from the White House – ANY White House – checks out. A healthy democracy includes a free and independent press keeping those in power accountable to those who they govern. Period.
Sean Spicer, too, advanced the notion that the press should be held accountable, which Cillizza agrees with and you and I can get on board with as well. However, as Chris Cillizza points out and as is critical to stress, the press shouldn’t be threatened or intimidated for doing its job, which is the tone Spicer strikes here. And he also probably shouldn’t walk off without taking any questions. Which is what he did. So much for a “press conference” where you don’t actually talk to the namesake of the term. Not an encouraging start to this relationship, no, Sir or Madam.
If Sean Spicer’s first press conference was a serving of state-controlled ice cream, Kellyanne Conway’s interview with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press was the whipped cream and cherry on top. As with Spicer, the theme was the tally of Trump supporters and others in attendance at the inauguration proceedings, and the veracity of his administration’s claims. Chuck Todd, in fact, asked Conway about Spicer’s press conference in particular:
You make a very reasonable and rational case for why crowd sizes don’t matter. Then explain…why did the president send out his press secretary, who’s not just the spokesperson for Donald Trump? He could be—he also serves as the spokesperson for all of America at times. He speaks for all of the country at times. Why put him out there for the very first time in front of that podium to utter a provable falsehood? It’s a small thing. But the first time he confronts the public it’s a falsehood?
Chuck, I mean, if we’re going to keep referring to our press secretary in those types of terms I think that we’re going to have to rethink our relationship here. I want to have a great open relationship with our press. But look what happened the day before talking about falsehoods. We allowed the press…to come into the Oval Office and witness President Trump signing executive orders. And of course, you know, the Senate had just confirmed General Mattis and General Kelly to their two posts. And we allowed the press in. And what happens almost immediately? A falsehood is told about removing the bust of Martin Luther King Junior from the Oval Office.
This is what my father and I refer to as a “yeah-but.” Yeah, Ms. Conway, TIME Magazine Zeke Miller initially reported he thought a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. had been removed from the Oval Office, but he was mistaken, and moved to correct himself in the minutes and hours after the fact, issuing multiple mea culpas in the process. This was just one detail, and Conway was rather obviously dodging the question, which is why Chuck Todd pressed her on the issue of the crowd size:
You did not answer the question of why the president asked the White House press secretary to come out in front of the podium for the first time and utter a falsehood. Why did he do that? It undermines the credibility of the entire White House press office on Day One.
And this is how Kellyanne Conway replied, and I am not making this up:
Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. What—you’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that.
Todd did not let Conway off the hook, telling her, “Alternative facts are not facts—they’re falsehoods,” but I must stress this attitude, above all else, goes to the point I made in the opening to this piece. Conway’s thinly-veiled threat about having to “rethink” her and the White House’s relationship with Chuck Todd, as well as the sheer notion something like “alternative facts” could exist, speaks to the dangerous state of affairs we are in regarding the perceived role of news media, the perceived power of the President and his surrogates, and the perceived value of observable facts over strongly-held opinions. The press is not beholden to the Trump administration. President Trump should not be allowed to think he can do whatever he wants in violation of ethics and international law just because he won the electoral vote this past November. Furthermore, the veracity of factual information should not be determined by who yells loudest, interrupts the most or acts the most threatening. For anyone believing Donald Trump’s presidency is some sort of “new normal,” it is not and should not be treated as such.
So, after 5,000+ words, what am I trying to say? We of the Resistance should develop a smoking habit, dress all in white, and become mute? No, the Guilty Remnant as a creation of fiction is enough in it of itself. Rather, any way we can question the legitimacy of Donald Trump and his Cabinet where this scrutiny is due, or to reject the authoritarian and prejudicial aspects of his presidency, is encouraged. I try to inject humor into these entries when I can, and I applaud acts like the Dallas Stars jokingly displaying the night’s attendance as 1.5 million on the Jumbotron in an homage to Trump and Company’s wayward estimations of the Inauguration ceremony’s attendance, or Merriam-Webster’s Twitter account defining the word “fact” for Kellyanne Conway’s sake. By and large, however, these are not laughing matters and, indeed, these are troubling times. For those of us who haven’t fallen for Trump hook, line and sinker, we are the Leftovers who have to try to make sense of the apparent Sudden Departure of many here in the United States from the realm of sanity.