Following Donald Trump’s inauguration, Richard Spencer, a leading voice in America’s white nationalism movement, was physically attacked during an interview with Australian Broadcasting Corporation on the street in Washington, D.C. Reportedly, Spencer was being asked about whether or not he is a neo-Nazi—to which he replied that he is not—and then was prompted for a response about why he was wearing a Pepe the Frog pin, when he was punched in the face by a masked protestor. According to Spencer, he was punched twice and spat on in the aftermath of Trump’s swearing in, something about which he didn’t seem all that fazed. Evidently, when you are a white nationalist with a vaguely douche-y self-assured attitude, you are used to or at least mentally prepared to be physically beaten. Of course, this did not stop Richard Spencer from utilizing Twitter and Periscope to relay his account of the attacks to his followers, and to denounce the “antifas” who perpetrated this violence. For all the wry amusement of his notion that he can “take a punch,” it loses something in the conversion to a heart-to-heart via social media that potentially allows his fellow white supremacist friends to rally behind him.
Speaking of social media, the reaction of non-alt-righters was one of near-universal celebration. Richard Spencer, like any ultra-conservative provocateur, is bound to ruffle some feathers, not to mention—in my humble opinion—the man seems to look as if his face beckons a punching. In light of his nationalist ideologies, the memes and jokes were flowing like no one’s business. Confessedly, I enjoyed some of them, especially the idea that he did Nazi that first blow coming. (In case you missed it, read that last sentence out to yourself. Get it? Good.) However, the notion that we were celebrating a man getting punched in the face without remorse was a bit startling. For those of us more discerning types, the whole white supremacy and making “Heil Hitler” signs bit is indefensible, but just because his beliefs are reprehensible doesn’t mean he should be physically attacked. He’s still a human being, after all. If we can talk about respecting the civil rights of convicted felons in prisons, then certainly, Spencer deserves the same or better. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of not getting sucker punched on the street in broad daylight. I’m pretty sure that’s how it was written by our Founding Fathers, yes.
Danielle Allen, a political theorist at Harvard University, agrees, and expressed her views in the form of a piece which appeared in The Washington Post entitled, “No, don’t punch more Nazis.” Allen’s sentiments are a direct response to an observed instance of a Netroots Nation member wearing a custom-made T-shirt to a recent public event headlined by Elizabeth Warren, encouraging the viewer—however genuinely—to “PUNCH MORE NAZIS.” Even in gest, however, Allen argues this kind of thinking is patently destructive, if not self-defeating. The principle of nonviolence should be a nonpartisan issue, with the goal of a relatively peaceful and stable society ideal for members of all party affiliations and those otherwise unattached to a particular political designation. When the courts and the laws fail, Allen stresses, the answer is not taking the law into one’s hands, but rather reform of these institutions. With violence, the bridge to a better path forward is obstructed, if not burned outright. Consummate with this notion, it cannot be said here that “the ends justify the means.” That is, one cannot fight for justice with injustice. No fists, no kicks, no guns—only the kind of moral clarity that beckons true justice.
The rise of Donald Trump has emboldened white supremacists and others who reject trends toward increased cultural sensitivity and globalism for the United States of America. In pandering to their interests and playing to Americans’ sense of fear and hate, Trump has inspired a lot of anger and anxiety from people on the left and those otherwise outside the vanguard of the conservative right. With this, there seems to be a growing acceptance of violence as a fact of rallies, protests, and counter-protests, and it would appear that many on the left don’t recognize this is as a problem, whether they are convinced these shows of aggression are justified because of possession of moral high ground, they genuinely are unaware of what is going on, or they are unable to confront the situation. Richard Spencer referenced the term “antifa” in his social media tell-all following his attacks, but it’s only very recently that this term has begun to reach the national consciousness, much as alt-right—a term widely credited to Spencer in describing the movement—really came to prominence with its mention by Hillary Clinton. Pres. Trump has used antifa and “alt-left” to try to demonize liberals and to galvanize support from his base in his apparent never-ending campaign for President—even closing in on a year since his electoral victory. I guess after an overstated career as a businessman and entrepreneur, and given a glaring inability to lead the country effectively, he might as well as stick to the one thing he (miraculously) hasn’t been able to totally screw up lately.
What exactly do these terms mean, though? It’s doubtful Donald Trump fully comprehends them—or even knows how to pronounce them, for that matter. First of all, concerning “alt-left,” this is largely nonsensical. Self-respecting left-leaners do not refer to themselves by this moniker, as it is a creation of conservatives looking to demean liberals as morally bankrupt individuals, and if used by actual liberals, it is probably in the pejorative sense and meant to distinguish the more progressive elements of the left from its more moderate members, i.e. we want nothing to do with you progressives under normal circumstances, but please give us your vote on Election Day. As for “antifa,” this is short for “anti-fascist,” and is awfully broadly stated to assign an exact definition beyond that. What appears to distinguish this movement from the larger progressive liberal movement in America is the use of force and violence against people and property alike. Some antifa members are even denoted by their dress: all black and wearing masks; they are commonly known as “black bloc” activists and this style has origins in 1980s-era protests in Germany against neo-Nazism, with vague sentiments toward anti-capitalism and a rejection of police states and a theoretical New World Order. With these anti-government sentiments, though, it quickly becomes apparent we are not dealing with a purely liberal or even characteristically leftist association.
Going back to The Washington Post, its editorial board recently published an excellent primer on the subject of antifa, with due context as to who and what antifa groups represent—or don’t represent—how much of a threat antifa is to the very societal order—or isn’t—and what their actions stand to accomplish—or not accomplish. Some key observations from its synopsis:
1. Comparisons between antifa and white supremacist groups are false equivalencies.
There is a general consensus that white nationalism, apparently on the rise in the United States and elsewhere, is a threat which must be addressed and confronted as a rejection of hate; such is why President Trump’s comment talking about violence on both sides in Charlottesville was so abhorrent. Antifa groups, most notably at a recent protest in Berkeley, California against Marxism in America, have been responsible for their fair share of violence and/or unrest. But this does not mean these two movements are on the same level. As the WP editorial board is keen to state, it “would not for a minute equate it to the menace of violent, ultra-right white supremacist groups, which are enjoying an ugly renaissance bred, in part, by the succor President Trump has given to racial and religious intolerance.”
2. As of yet, there is no “clear and present danger” from antifa groups regarding the “broader political system.”
As the board frames this notion, antifa violence has “shown a disturbing capacity for intimidating and confusing various officials in locales” across the country. Incidents in Middlebury, Vermont and Portland, Oregon—perhaps unexpected settings for confrontations—are cited within the opinion piece. Returning to Berkeley for a moment, the violence encountered there prompted Mayor Jesse Arreguin—endorsed by Bernie Sanders, among others, in his mayoral bid—to even call for authorities to recognize antifa members as part of a “gang,” which could mean potential tougher sentences for any offenses committed, as per California law. Heretofore, however, these are largely isolated incidents.
3. This is not to say, though, that antifa groups should not be considered dangerous.
Per the Washington Post editorial board, this is a two-pronged danger. The first is more obvious: intimidation and violence do harm to people, property, and the very free speech the First Amendment is designed to protect. This is not to be undersold, and is why it appears in the very title of this piece. The second danger, meanwhile, and one which may or may not be appreciated by antifa members, is that such violence threatens the overall progress the country is making against hate and racism, and only risks fueling the forces that antifa seeks to eradicate. To give the board the final say on the subject, “In terms of objective political impact, the group is badly misnamed: ‘Profa’ would be more accurate.” Harsh, but not wholly undeserved.
Antifa groups who use threats of bodily harm or worse do not represent the whole of the Resistance, and realistically, as the Post explains, are “not liberals or democrats, much less liberal Democrats.” Nonetheless, whether as a kneejerk reaction from mainstream political analysts or specifically as a means of trying to demonize the left for political capital, their activism all too easily becomes conflated with that of peaceful groups on the liberal side of the spectrum. For moderate Democrats and progressives alike, this is problematic. For one, it allows right-wingers on FOX News and Breitbart to point and shout across the aisle at what many conservatives see as a flawed, immoral ideology inherent in liberalism. To give conservatives, ahem, more ammunition would appear to be in bad form. Not to mention it gives Donald Trump and his ilk a subject around which to rally and engender support (and, of course, accrue donations). In addition, without the requisite response from groups which stand to be lumped in with these bad actors among law-abiding protestors, more reputable organizations run the risk of appearing less legitimate and/or out of touch with what is going on their own house, so to speak. Assuming people will be able to see the difference is not sufficient, if Donald Trump’s electoral win has taught us anything. Especially when so many red voters are made to think that the liberal left is clueless, employing a laissez-faire approach to dealing with the growing presence of antifa is arguably self-defeating.
Accordingly, it is incumbent upon members of the Democratic Party and sympathetic politicians and activists on the left to strongly denounce the use of violence, the damage of property, and the disruption of free speech and assembly which antifa has represented and can represent in the future. By now, it is impossible to get ahead of the narrative being spun by Sean Hannity et al. that antifa is symptomatic of liberal politics in sum, but a certain amount of damage control is prudent, if not necessary to avoid ceding ground to a Republican Party which has itself ceded control to more conservative elements and which all but sat idly by as Donald Trump decimated its field of similarly unqualified political entrants and ineffectual insiders en route to the party nomination. At the same time, news media should be held accountable for their characterization of antifa, and should clearly delineate the difference between its destructive elements and groups which prioritize peaceful reform of faulty institutions, and should refrain from false comparisons between antifa and white supremacist groups. Antifa, unlike members of white nationalist and white supremacist groups, does not discriminate based on race or any other demographic characteristic, not to mention the movement lacks a real sense of cohesion. This is not to say, however, that antifa is highly moral or that its actions can’t be considered terroristic. Here is a situation that really craves a fair and balanced press to put antifa’s existence in its proper perspective.
Regardless of whether or not antifa is classified as a “gang” or “hate group,” people on both the left and right should decry the use of violence as a political tactic no matter who aims to implement it. As it must be stated and restated, violence as a political tool is not the answer. It is antithetical to its very aims and advancement through reform, and if we cannot agree to this end, we cannot have the kind of discussion we need as Americans to make real progress on this issue.
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.
As I’m sure you’re aware, on the evening of January 29, in Quebec City, a 27-year-old man named Alexandre Bissonnette walked into the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec mosque and started firing. By the end, six men were killed, with others injured, and the next day, Bissonnette was charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder with a restricted weapon. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was quick to condemn the attack as a terrorist act and one of cowardice on the part of the assailant, and authorities and Canadian citizens alike called for a spirit of inclusivity and togetherness in the wake of the violence. While mass shootings have become regrettably almost run-of-the-mill in America, mass shootings in Canada have been relatively sparse.
Within the United States, however, for a number of vocal Trump supporters during the early confusion of details filtering down from Quebec, the attack on the Centre Culturel Islamique was Exhibit A as to why the recently-enacted “Muslim ban” is not only advisable, but patently necessary. Initial reports identified two suspects in connection with the shooting, one of whom was Mohamed Belkhadir, a 29-year-old engineering student originally from Morocco. The jingoists among us, eager to fly the Stars and Stripes at first notice of an exclusionary narrative onto which to latch, were likely already foaming at the mouth at mention of the name “Mohamed,” and news of Belkhadir’s connection with the crime just sent them over the top. See, this is why we don’t want to let refugees from Muslim nations into the country! There’s too great a danger! You never know when ISIS might be lurking around the corner! Bear in mind Morocco isn’t one of the countries specified in President Trump’s ban on immigration, but let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good argument, shall we?
Except for the eventual revelation Mohamed Belkhadir was not actually a suspect in the mosque attack, but a witness. Oops! According to reports, Belkhadir was trying to administer first aid to a friend and fled to the cultural center’s parking lot when he saw someone with a gun, not knowing that person was a cop. Indeed, the search for a narrative and the desire to run with it led to a hasty presumption based on unconfirmed information and betrayed a series of arguments predicated on racial and xenophobic prejudice. What’s more, regarding the person of Alexandre Bissonnette, a synopsis of various media sources by Manisha Krishnan, writing for VICE, paints a picture of the Laval University student that might easily be recognized stateside as well as in Canada. According to these reports, he is a loner, a subscriber to right-wing views, a xenophobe, someone who displays misogynistic tendencies and trolls a Facebook group for refugees, is a white nationalist, and—to top it all off—is a fan of Donald Trump and his policies. Oops, again! While I personally might balk at the idea that Bissonnette is one of the Trump Train lot, as, ahem, not every Trump supporter is a mass murderer, that Bissonnette would seem to be an admirer of the President’s puts an almost ironic twist on the quick finger pointed at the Muslim world wholesale by those espousing similar right-wing views.
There are any number of striking things about this example of brutality. Certainly, the idea that Donald Trump’s influence translates into French Canada and abroad may startle, though the rise of white nationalism is certainly not limited to Trump; Alexandre Bissonnette is also said to be an admirer of France’s Marine Le Pen, whose National Front party has gained popularity by adopting a similar anti-immigrant stance. What also grabs the attention, however, at least for yours truly, is statistical information regarding all Canadians’ attitudes toward Muslims. Justin Trudeau, either because he’s being diplomatic, he truly believes it, or both, has, in the wake of the mosque attack, consistently preached the country’s support for the Canadian Muslim community and solidarity with the population. Personal views, meanwhile, tend to vary. Alyssa Favreau, a Montreal-based writer, connects the Quebec shooting to a rising sea of anti-Muslim sentiment.
As Favreau notes within the piece, police-reported hate crimes against Muslims more than doubled in Canada from 2012 to 2014, and the raw number (99) stands to be much larger because the majority of these crimes go unreported. What’s more, the attitudes of average Canadians toward Islam on the whole speak to a vague apprehension about the religion and its practitioners. A 2015 survey by the Quebec Human Rights Commission found that, despite about half of respondents having reservations about organized religions in general, a significantly higher percentage of those surveyed said they felt more uncomfortable about someone wearing a hijab as opposed to one wearing a cross. As for the Canadian population as a whole, based on a Forum Poll (Canada’s leading public opinion service) survey, more than a quarter of respondents had unfavorable feelings about Muslims. In other words, if Trudeau’s sentiments conveyed the sense some sort of love-fest exists in his country for followers of Islam, evidence points to the contrary.
In the United States, meanwhile, according to a report by Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and the director of the University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll, just under half of respondents across a composite of four polls during the election year disapproved of Islam on the whole; the approval rate for Muslim people fared yet better, with 70% of respondents viewing this subset of the population in a positive light, as opposed to 28% surveyed viewing Muslims in a negative light as of October 2016. This actually marks an improvement on these ratings since November 2015, and in spite of the salience of events like the Orlando shooting. As Telhami instructs, the upward trend in pro-Muslim leanings is almost exclusively attributable to changing views among Democrats and independents, and may well be a reaction to Donald Trump’s divisive actions and rhetoric. While the direction of this trend may be surprising, the source seems less so. After all, we would expect more liberal-oriented respondents to more readily embrace Islam and those who practice the faith.
If American views of Islam and Muslims are on the upswing, and even though progressives would like to see improvement on the dimensions governed by the polls interpreted by Shibley Telhami and his associates, it is therefore somewhat troubling to have people who would more readily identify with the left espousing views that mischaracterize Islam. By and large, I appreciate the comedy of Bill Maher, and while I may not agree with all of his positions on key issues, I have a certain degree of respect for the man. His stances on Islam and Muslims, on the other hand, I patently disagree with, and his embrace of fringe theories about this religion is not only arguably counterproductive, but potentially dangerous as well.
On a recent airing of his show, Real Time with Bill Maher, the namesake host featured a conversation with Sam Harris, author, cognitive neuroscientist, and co-founder of Project Reason, on the nature of Islam. Harris, no stranger to the program and notable for being a leader within what has been coined the New Atheist movement, had some choice words for the Muslim world and those liberals who support them. According to Sam Harris, “the left has allied itself with Islamists and closet Islamists,” and while on one hand, he and Bill Maher reject the merits of the Muslim ban, he had this to say about criticisms from left-leaners of others possessing Islamophobic tendencies: “You don’t have to be a fascist or a racist or even a Trumpian to not want to import people into your society who think cartoonists should be killed for drawing the Prophet.” Maher was quick to chime in at one point on this broad subject, condemning comparisons made between Islamist terrorist groups and the Ku Klux Klan, saying dismissively, “The KKK is not seeking nuclear weapons.” Um, bully for them then?
Both Sam Harris and Bill Maher, in discussing Muslims and Islam in this way, appear to be making a fundamental error. Harris, making a sweeping generalization, evidently believes all Muslims and refugees from countries where the predominant faith is Islam think cartoonists should be killed for drawing the Prophet Muhammad or otherwise representing them in a less-than-holy light, when realistically, this is a hallmark of radical or ultra-conservative Muslims, and not necessarily your everyday followers. As for Maher, he makes the distinction between the Ku Klux Klan and various Islamist groups, as if to say, “See? What did I tell you about Islam!” If saying the KKK doesn’t want nukes is your primary defense of this group, though, it’s a bit of splitting proverbial hairs, no? It’s like saying Donald Trump isn’t Hitler because he hasn’t tried to exterminate the Jews. That’s really a cold comfort, and besides, dude’s still got ample time in his first 100 days and Stephen Bannon the Skeleton King pouring poison into his ear. In either case, Harris and Maher are conflating the work of jihadists with that of rank-and-file Muslims, and such discourse not only seems to be steeped in faulty logic, but potentially is dangerous given the national voice these figures possess.
Sadly, this is nothing new for either man. Though a bit dated by Internet standards, Salon in 2015 compiled a compendium of Bill Maher’s “greatest hits” on Islam, which includes references to Muslims’ beliefs as “pernicious,” the Koran as a “hate-filled holy book,” and to Islam itself not being a religion of peace. As for Sam Harris, Glenn Greenwald, perhaps the best journalist you’ve never heard of, penned a lengthy op-ed about Harris and other New Atheists on “anti-Muslim animus” back in 2013. I know—positively ancient, right? And yet, not much seems to have changed or evolved within Harris’s world view since. Greenwald acknowledges Sam Harris’s antipathy toward organized religion as a whole (Bill Maher, though not an avowed atheist, is like-minded in his distaste for organized religion and its more deleterious effects), but notes how Harris, for lack of better phrasing, has a hard-on for Islam and those that worship in accordance with its precepts. From the essay:
The key point is that Harris does far, far more than voice criticisms of Islam as part of a general critique of religion. He has repeatedly made clear that he thinks Islam is uniquely threatening: “While the other major world religions have been fertile sources of intolerance, it is clear that the doctrine of Islam poses unique problems for the emergence of a global civilization.” He has insisted that there are unique dangers from Muslims possessing nuclear weapons, as opposed to nice western Christians (the only ones to ever use them) or those kind Israeli Jews: “It should be of particular concern to us that the beliefs of devout Muslims pose a special problem for nuclear deterrence.” In his 2005 “End of Faith”, he claimed that “Islam, more than any other religion human beings have devised, has all the makings of a thoroughgoing cult of death.”
This is not a critique of religion generally; it is a relentless effort to depict Islam as the supreme threat. Based on that view, Harris, while depicting the Iraq war as a humanitarian endeavor, has proclaimed that “we are not at war with terrorism. We are at war with Islam.” He has also decreed that “this is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims, but we are absolutely at war with millions more than have any direct affiliation with Al Qaeda.” “We”—the civilized peoples of the west—are at war with “millions” of Muslims, he says. Indeed, he repeatedly posits a dichotomy between “civilized” people and Muslims: “All civilized nations must unite in condemnation of a theology that now threatens to destabilize much of the earth.”
This isn’t “quote-mining”, the term evidently favored by Harris and his defenders to dismiss the use of his own words to make this case. To the contrary, I’ve long ago read the full context of what he has written and did so again yesterday. […] Yes, he criticizes Christianity, but he reserves the most intense attacks and superlative condemnations for Islam, as well as unique policy prescriptions of aggression, violence and rights abridgments aimed only at Muslims. As the atheist scholar John L Perkins wrote about Harris’ 2005 anti-religion book: “Harris is particularly scathing about Islam.”
The larger significance of these kinds of attitudes, as Glenn Greenwald sees things, is that this thinking can be used to justify all sorts of aggression, human rights abuses, and violence against Muslims, the kinds of acts to which rights activists independent of political affiliation strongly object. They include anti-Muslim profiling, state violence (i.e. liberals are “soft” on terrorism), support for Israel even in the face of international criticism, and torture. What’s more, whereas defenders of divisive behavior and rhetoric on the right might view this as justified based on vague ideas of Christian righteousness or outright racism and xenophobia, the foundation of New Atheism’s anti-Muslim sentiments is feelings and notions of a moral superiority. Sure, Sam Harris and his confederates might view their objections to Islam as more correct because they are not based on strict adherence to religious doctrine, but viewed in the context of secular morality and a battle of good versus evil, they are equally as insidious, if not more so. “They know not what they do”? Hardly. Harris and Company know exactly what they do—and that’s the point.
As Glenn Greenwald frames his arguments, then, Bill Maher’s and Sam Harris’s wholesale character assassination of Islam fits in all-too-nicely with a generalized American and Western condemnation of the Muslim world, and a tendency to side with our own interests even when they may be seen as wrong. Greenwald describes the problem with Harris’s denigration of Muslims and Islam quite succinctly:
Harris’ self-loving mentality amounts to this: those primitive Muslims are so tribal for reflexively siding with their own kind, while I constantly tout the superiority of my own side and justify what We do against Them. […] He is at least as tribal, jingoistic, and provincial as those he condemns for those human failings, as he constantly hails the nobility of his side while demeaning those Others.
As Sam Harris and other New Atheists would have it, the end game of Islam is to convert everyone to the faith, politically subjugate those who don’t convert, or kill those who stand in the way. Otherwise, the assumptions they make about the way Muslims think are based not on factual observation or rational, intellectual inferences, but rather a spirit grounded in religious or “tribal” attitudes—and if we really want to get down to brass tacks, this liberal Islamophobia is pretty much a religion in of itself. So much for that whole “no religion” bit.
It’s one thing for educated folks like Bill Maher and Sam Harris to sneer at the section of right-wing America that, to paraphrase Barack Obama’s infamous quote, clings to its Bibles, its guns, and its resentment against the foreign and the unfamiliar. It’s quite another, however, for their likes to convey an elitist tone and deride the Muslim ban as an obvious poor choice while they, in the same breath, denigrate Muslims and what they believe. So, while Maher, Harris and other non-believers/agnostics may thumb their noses at those who get caught up in matters of sectarian conflict, looking down at the rigidity of organized religions from atop their high horses, by painting Islam and Muslims with broad, largely negative strokes, they are no better than the Americans who, say, argue Muslims are a danger to the United States because they want nothing more than to make sharia law the supreme law of the land and subvert our existing statutes in the name of Allah.
Speaking of which, on that last note, in another one of those quasi-ironic twists that I seem to love these days, if anything is liable to bring religiously-motivated laws into a position of greater influence and effect, it is not Muslims, but the man behind the ban himself, President Donald Trump. Alongside plotting a gutting of the Dodd-Frank Act, a piece of legislation crafted in direct response to the irresponsible banking, lending and other regulatory practices which led to the global financial crisis almost a decade ago, Trump vowed recently to destroy the Johnson Amendment, which effectively bars churches from making political contributions, and thus, is an important aspect of the separation of church and state in the United States. Evidently, and in short, Trump, his cronies, and Republicans who aid and abet him in terrible policy-making are content to let the financial industry and religious organizations alike run amok. As many of us may reason, they might as well. You know, after confirming the likes of Rex Tillerson, a man who has ties to Vladimir Putin and who until recently helmed a company that dealt with countries considered state sponsors of terrorism, and Betsy DeVos, whose millions of dollars of political contributions somehow are supposed to count for a complete lack of competence and experience, there’s almost nowhere to go but up. Almost.
What we don’t need, therefore, returning our focus to the topic of anti-Muslim sentiment, is more noise from individuals professing to uphold science and intellectualism but instead giving way to beliefs that smack of white ethnocentrism and are reliant on a warped understanding of a religion practiced by over a billion people worldwide. People like Sam Harris argue liberals are in bed with jihadists and others like Bill Maher feel political correctness holds us back from having an honest and open conversation about Islam and the Muslim world, and at worst, makes us “pussies.” Little do they realize, however, it is, to a considerable extent, their closed-mindedness which only fuels mutual misunderstanding between East and West and drives us all further apart.
When someone blows up a physical embodiment of the year “2016” and encourages people to tell that year to go f**k itself, you know it’s been an abnormally bad one. John Oliver took the opportunity to give 2016 this proper send-off (a report on this event was equally properly filed under the category “F**K 2016” by Aimée Lutkin and Jezebel), and that HBO agreed to afford Oliver the chance to explode something of that magnitude likewise speaks to the horror that was this past 366 days. That’s right—in case you had forgotten, 2016 was a leap year, so all-too-appropriately, we were given one extra day to protract the misery. The Julian and Gregorian calendars can eat a collective dick on that front.
I only started this blog in the middle of June of this year, so I missed the chance to comment on some things that happened earlier in 2016. With over 50 posts under my belt on United States of Joe, however, there’s still enough topics to revisit to make reflecting on the year that was worthwhile. Well, at least as far as I’m concerned. And since, despite my overall belief in fair and democratic principles, this blog is not a democracy but a Joe-ocracy, that’s the agenda for this session. You’re welcome. So, kick back. Get plenty of champagne ready—noting how awful the past year has been, it may take quite a bit of alcohol to get into the spirit. And get ready to count down to 2017. It’s time to give our own send-off to 2016, middle fingers in the air and all.
Well, before we take the plunge into the abjectly negative, let’s go back to the app-based sensation that was Pokémon Go. Since its initial breakthrough success which had critics saying the smartphone game had ushered in a new era of augmented reality and had fundamentally changed the way we look at mobile gaming, downloads and use of the title have understandably cooled. In light of the downward trend, members of the media are now looking at Pokémon Go altogether as a disappointment, especially in light of some updates which failed to impress. You need to walk 3 KM just for one stinking Charmander candy? I’m never going to get that Charizard! NEVER, I SAY!
Now that I’m done being dramatic, not only do I find these charges against the game and its maker Niantic overblown (although, seriously, those Buddy System ratios are pretty shitty), but expectations, buttressed by the app’s initial success, were probably always too high. Though Niantic did its part to make the game palatable to people of all ages and ability levels by making gameplay largely based around throwing Poké Balls and by simplifying battles, the players who are most likely to find the experience rewarding are fans of the original game, who are used to grinding for experience, completing the game as completely as possible, and overall, staying in it for the long haul. It’s not Angry Birds. It’s not Candy Crush Saga. It’s not Fruit freaking Ninja. You have to walk and work for your rewards. You know, when you can’t pay money for some of them. Either way, you still have to walk!
When Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign in July and formally endorsed Hillary Clinton, it admittedly felt like a punch to the gut. For all the mental preparation made, when the moment actually arrived, it still hurt. What made Sanders’ decision and the associated feelings yet worse, though, was the reception his standing behind Clinton received and the accusations that got hurled around in the wake of the announcement. Con-man. Sell-out. Traitor. Looking at Bernie’s endorsement in a purely ideological vacuum, it is easy to assess this move as a betrayal of his principles and what he stands for. In this instance, however, context is everything, and with Donald Trump having sewn up the Republican Party nomination, Sanders saw greater merit in trying to unite Democrats and other prospective voters in an effort to defeat Trump. Ultimately, the orange one shocked the world and scored an electoral victory, but Bernie Sanders did his best to avoid this eventuality. That not enough Americans either came out to vote or otherwise didn’t buy what Hillary was selling is largely on her, not Bernie.
Of course, in the immediate aftermath of the suspension of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, the remaining candidates looked to capitalize. Even with the bulk of Sanders supporters presumed to be going over to Hillary Clinton’s camp, Donald Trump himself made an instantaneous pitch to those “feeling the Bern,” trying to tap into their fervent and justifiable anger at the political establishment. Third-party candidates like Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, too, though, made a play for these suddenly available votes, rationalizing that there was no better time than now than to tell the two major parties to shove it. In endorsing Clinton, Bernie repeatedly tried to communicate the danger and inadequacies of Trump as a presidential candidate first and foremost, even though he may have largely been preaching to the choir, as younger voters by and large detested “the Donald.” He also, meanwhile, cautioned against a “protest vote” for someone like Johnson, Stein, or even Harambe (and yes, he would’ve loved to follow this election), realizing, as did all these newfound suitors for Bernie backers’ affections, that the votes of his faithful could swing the election by helping to decide key swing states. To reiterate, it didn’t work all that well, but the effort on Sanders’ part was there.
Ultimately, as Bernie Sanders himself will insist, his run for President, while important, was always more concerned with starting a revolution and getting more Americans, especially younger voters and working-class individuals, involved with the political process, even at the local level. Whether the energy behind his campaign and the urge for progressive grass-roots activism is sustainable in the United States is yet to be seen, but either way, there is yet room for optimism that people will want to keep active and informed as a means of exerting greater control over their own destiny. Thus, you may call Bernie any name you want, but I choose to label him an inspiration, and I feel history will bear out this sentiment as well.
As we Bernie Sanders supporters worked our way through the Five Stages of Grief and Loss, eventually, we had to come to accept that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump was going to be our next President. In fact, even the non-Berners were forced to do the same, in all likelihood ensuring many who were on the fence—that is, on whether or not they would vote at all—would choose the latter option and just stay home. In my piece referenced in the title of this section, I mused about the notion that maybe we, as a collective electorate, did not deserve better than these choices that a significant portion of said electorate neither trusted nor cared for much. Ever since 2000, when Ralph Nader was accused of costing Al Gore the election (even though Gore lost that shit on his own, with an admitted probable helping from electoral shenanigans down in Florida), Americans have been highly critical of parties like the Green Party and the Libertarian Party, with the usual refrain being some combination of “they could play spoiler to a legitimate candidate” or “you’re throwing away your vote” if you opt for one of them.
However, to invoke the words of Mr. Nader himself, not only is this attitude politically bigoted, as it negates the will of the individual to make an informed choice in accordance with his or her conscience, but it nullifies our bargaining power with the two major parties. After all, if we blindly vote either Democratic or Republican, beyond losing the election, what motivation does either party have to institute reform that better reflects the needs and wants of the voting public? Especially for members of the working class, both Democrats and Republicans have seemed to take them for granted, which at least partially explains why the Dems lost this election and why Trump and Sanders achieved the levels of popularity they did this election cycle.
In the end, though, despite the increased visibility of Gary Johnson and Jill Stein in the lead-up to the election, most Americans who voted (and there was a good portion of the country who could’ve voted which didn’t) cast their ballots for either Hillary or Donald. As historically unfavorable as these two candidates were, and for all their flaws—Trump as an idiot and professional con-man stoking the flames of fear and hatred, Clinton as an out-of-touch elitist with a penchant for pandering and expensive Giorgio Armani jackets—better than nine-tenths of voters decided they had to pick one of the two, if for no other reason than to block the other candidate they liked even less. Which is pretty shitty, if you ask me. Personally, even with the knowledge that she wouldn’t win, I voted for Jill Stein, as I felt neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton had earned my vote. That relative few other Americans opted out of the two-party paradigm, however, signals to me that we, as a nation, are not ready to demand political change as strongly as we should. It’s either red and blue in these United States, and if you don’t like either color, the present message, unfortunately, is to get the f**k out.
Holy f**k, indeed. In retrospect, I’m not sure why the pollsters were so surprised that Donald Trump scored the “upset” victory, or why we were so easily convinced that Hillary Clinton was such a strong favorite to win the presidency, when their models were consistently wrong or failed to predict the magnitudes of certain results throughout the primary season. At any rate, as must be reiterated for anyone who sees Trump’s win as a mandate, the man who considers himself a master of “The Art of the Deal” won the presidency on the strength of electoral votes, not because he had a resounding victory in the popular vote (in fact, he lost by more than 2 million votes, and it apparently tears him up inside)—and certainly not because he ran a stellar campaign.
So, how did Trump win? Looking at the exit poll data, certain trends do tend to stick out. Regionally, Donald Trump fared much better in the Midwest and the South, and of course, he carried key swing states, notably those in the Rust Belt (e.g. Ohio, Wisconsin). In terms of demographic data, Trump had an easy advantage among male voters and voters 45 and above, not to mention he held an appeal among less educated individuals and the wealthiest earners (a seeming paradox, though as evidenced by how they spend their money, rich people aren’t necessarily all that smart—look at Trump himself!), as well as evangelicals and married people, but perhaps most notable of all, whites voted at almost a 60% clip for Donald Trump, while close to three of four non-whites went for Hillary Clinton. CNN commentator Van Jones referred to this aspect of the results as a “white-lash”, as in “white backlash” after eight years of a black president the Republicans have characterized as a cause of America’s problems and someone with a secret Muslim agenda, and it’s hard to argue otherwise, really. When the former head of the Ku Klux Klan is cheering you on and citing you as an inspiration, you know white supremacist beliefs, racism and xenophobia helped you to victory.
On a somewhat related note, the thematic reasons why Trump voters chose the way did are also significant. Speaking of racism and xenophobia, supporters of Donald Trump rated immigration trends and terrorism the most important issues facing the United States. Screw the economy and foreign relations—let’s worry some more about brown people. As for the quality that best drew voters to Trump, it wasn’t whether the candidate cares about them, exhibits good judgment, or has the right experience—those voters tended to go for Clinton—but whether he or she could bring about “change.” Whatever the heck that means.
In a nutshell, that’s why Donald Trump is set to be our next President. As for who we can blame for this, besides the obvious in Trump himself and his supporters, there are three core enablers for the man’s political success. Certainly, the Republican Party let him waltz right in and secure the nomination after a barrage of similarly weak candidates failed to stand in his way, and after the GOP at large sowed the seeds of fear and hate he exploited. The media, too, acted irresponsibly and selfishly, chasing ratings while failing to challenge Trump on his lack of defined policy, his factual inaccuracies, his reckless language, or even his refusal to publish his tax returns. In addition, the Democratic Party, in its own right bears some responsibility. Among its most damning sins are its failure to stand up for the working class, its inability to protect jobs and wages, its support for disastrous trade deals like NAFTA and TPP, its complicity with corporations and wealthy donors, and its allowing antitrust laws to lapse or otherwise become weaker, thereby consolidating power into fewer and fewer hands. The failure to stop Donald Trump is a collective one, and though it probably won’t happen, these enablers should do some serious soul-searching for fear of endangering their long-term prospects.
Should anything happen to Donald Trump, whether in terms of his health (not that I’m wishing for the man to pull a William Henry Harrison or anything) or impeachment, the next man in line may not be all that much of an improvement. Mike Pence, who has been governing the proud state of Indiana, has arguably made a number of shitty choices during his tenure. He vetoed a refund of a tax overcharge on the basis it would have cost too much to administer. Before he got too much (warranted) negative feedback, he proposed JustIN, a state-run news service some likened to Pravda in the Soviet era. He rejected Medicaid expansion in his state under the Affordable Care Act on principle, to the detriment of his constituents. He insisted on a ban against a needle exchange program that was effective in limiting the spread of HIV related to a particular drug injection, and later reversed his position, but refused to use state funding to provide for such exchanges. Perhaps most notably, he signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, which allowed for discrimination against the LGBT community and cost Indiana some $60 million in revenue before its reversal. An opponent of gay marriage and women controlling their own reproductive rights, Mike Pence is one of a seemingly increasingly long line of conservative Republican leaders who puts evangelical beliefs ahead of his state’s and the nation’s best interests. He’s not Trump, but he’s no rose either.
In terms of what damage he may do in terms of signing legislation into law and what damage he likely already is doing in his appointees for key positions (Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy—are you f**king serious?), that Donald Trump has been thrust into a position of immense power is bad enough, but his association with the far-right and his inspiration to the likes of David Duke makes for some shitty ripple effects just the same, let me tell you. I said earlier that Trump’s electoral victory should not be seen as a mandate given how he lost the popular vote and in light of how divided we are as a nation. And yet, the Breitbart crowd and members of the so-called “alt-right” have taken it as such, viewing themselves as fighters in a culture war they are winning, standing against political correctness and other liberal “absurdities.” They also apparently like boycotting companies who don’t stand for their white supremacist agenda. You know, even though they probably don’t use their products anyway. But boycott it is! TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP!
When Hillary Clinton formally acknowledged the alt-right in a speech during the campaign, though I feel it needed to be said, it further legitimized this loosely-constructed movement that coincides with the likes of Gamergate’s sexist perpetuators. That Stephen Bannon has been given a prominent advisory role in Trump’s administration, though, should concern us more conscientious Americans. Donald Trump is not normal, and those who sanction his misdeeds and try to normalize his objectionable behavior are standing in the way of progress. Furthermore, the gang mentality with which many of them operate, encouraging online attacks on and/or death threats against individuals whose values clash with theirs, is troubling, as is the unwillingness of social media services to more aggressively pursue those accounts which violate their terms of service for fear of losing traffic. In short, the alt-right has arrived, as much as many of us might not like to dignify them with a response, and it is incumbent upon those of us who have respect for others—not just respect for white males who refuse to admit to their privilege—to speak out against their behavior and words as dangerous and wrong.
Before Donald Trump swooped in to save the day and stop the threat of taco trucks on every corner in the United States, the United Kingdom gave us a teaser trailer for the U.S. presidential election with a referendum vote on whether or not to remain in the European Union. As with the election in the States, the experts predicted voters would do the sensible thing; if this were an analogy in the vein of the old SATs: UNITED STATES: ELECT HILLARY CLINTON :: UNITED KINGDOM: VOTE REMAIN. And, as with the election in the States, voters did the exact opposite.
The parallels are uncanny. The decision to leave the EU was, as it was in the United States, mediated by a greater incidence of older voters opting to do the wrong thing. Like with Trump’s anti-immigrant appeals and vague notions of “making America great again,” Leave voters were swayed by visions of “securing the nation’s borders” and “taking back control” of the country’s economy, not to mention equally empty promises of the UK Independence Party. Additionally, voters seemed to be making choices that were a direct rejection of existing politics. Barack Obama, David Cameron—either way you slice it, the public clamored for change, no matter who would bring it or what it would entail. The fallout from both votes is still being assessed, but the discontentment of the working-class voter and upward trends in outspokenness among white nationalists worldwide suggest the U.S. and UK votes are not isolated incidents, and in turn, that the risk of other Brexit-like events occurring in the future in other countries is all-too-real. The winds of change are blowing, and one can only hope our houses don’t get knocked over when the gusts have subsided.
Contrary to the apparent beliefs of some, black people don’t enjoy getting mowed down by police at routine traffic stops. While police shootings may not have been any more numerous in 2016 than in years past, through the advent of cellphones and other camera-based technologies, violence involving police certainly has become more visible. Whatever the precise rates of deaths related to encounters between civilians and police, it would seem as though we have a lot of progress to make regarding recognition of the disparity of treatment people of color receive at the hands of police and that which is received by whites, regardless of whether the person accosted by one or more officers has a gun or not.
A perfect illustration of the failure of much of white America to confront its privilege in this regard comes in arguments about the very name and nature of black activism in the United States which exists in large part due to documented police brutality. In response to hearing the moniker Black Lives Matter, or merely even the phrase “black lives matter,” some people are too quick to “correct” the original speaker with the phrase “all lives matter,” or counter with their own version (i.e. “blue lives matter”) that serves to negate the critical recognition of blackness inherent in the initial figure of speech. To me, however, this falls prey to a fairly obvious logical trap: if all lives matter, then black lives, as a subset of all lives, should matter too, and there should be no problem accepting that terminology. “Black lives matter” does not mean black lives should matter more than other lives, but simply that they should matter as much as white lives, blue lives, or any other color lives of which one can think. Clearly, though, they don’t, or else there wouldn’t be a need for organizations such as Black Lives Matter.
The need to scrutinize adherence by individual officers to specified protocol when engaging possible suspects, as well as the systems which serve to shield “rogue” cops from criticism and/or prosecution, is undermined by two key strategies of those who react to protests with knee-jerk defenses of our uniformed police. The first is to question the integrity of the victim—yes, victim—who, because he or she is labeled a “thug” or has a history with the law, evidently deserves to be effectively lynched by the police who intercede him or her. The second is to de-legitimize efforts of black activists wholesale, conflating them unfairly with those who loot and otherwise take advantage of violence and associated protests for their own gain, likening them to terrorists, or wrongly insisting they are advocating for the slaughter of police. In both cases, this is counterproductive, regressive thinking.
As some have argued, those cops who are too nervous not to shoot someone at a routine encounter shouldn’t be placed in such a highly leveraged situation, and either way, good police—which comprise the majority of forces around the nation, let’s be clear—should be appreciative of efforts to root out bad actors from their ranks. As for the protests against police brutality, this doesn’t equate to disrespect for the police, nor does kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem constitute an affront to our military, as Colin Kaepernick’s example reminds us. Black Lives Matter et al. don’t want to see law and order dissolved. They just want to see police officers and officials who wear the badge held accountable when they do wrong, and at a very basic level, not to be utterly afraid they might die when getting pulled over by a squad car. It’s 2016. We need to do better as a country in addressing racial inequality, especially within the purview of criminal justice.
There have been too many mass shootings in the United States of late, but the Orlando nightclub shooting, in particular, was particularly devastating for many of us. Not only was it a tremendous loss of life, but that the LGBT community was apparently the specific target of the violence made this brutality that much worse for a population that regularly faces hatred and persecution. Speaking for myself, it is difficult to comprehend how someone could harbor such hate for themselves and others that they would wish to walk into a building and start firing indiscriminately. Perhaps this idea gets the tiniest bit easier to understand when we understand this hate works both ways. As jihadists would seek to inspire terror in the West through bombings and mass shootings, white nationalism encountered in Austria, France, Holland, the United Kingdom and the United States, among other nations, has created an environment that has often proved hostile to Muslims, and has made the prospect of accepting more refugees from war-torn countries like Syria decidedly poor. I mean, Donald Trump ran on a platform of which one of the key tenets was a temporary ban on travel to the U.S. for all Muslims. It’s incredible, and incredibly shameful, at that.
Never mind the idea that all this bluster about “bombing the shit out of ISIS” may actually be good for the Islamic State’s ability to recruit and strengthening its resolve. The jingoists among us would have everyone believe that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with the laws of the United States, that it is a “cancer” to be snuffed out, and that American Muslims who don’t do enough to help discover would-be terrorists in their midst (which, evidently, is quite easy) are guilty in their own right, and regardless, likely merit surveillance of their homes/places of worship and tests administered to gauge their love for and commitment to the U-S-of-A. This conflation of Islam, a religion which preaches peace at its core, and the bastardized religion ISIS and other jihadists/”radical Islamists” practice, is a patently false equivalency.
For the sake of an analogy—one for which I can’t take credit, let me stress—ISIS is to everyday Muslims what the Ku Klux Klan is to white people who aren’t unabashed racists. In both cases, the majority disavows the hate and violence these groups perpetuate. This is by no means saying we shouldn’t be vigilant against individuals who would wish to do us harm. As bad as the Orlando massacre was, though, and as unforgivable as the actions of an organization like ISIS/ISIL have proven, our responses and the negative feelings that accompany some of these reactions reveal an ugly side to our patriotism as well. In the demonization and the pursuit of “the other,” we run the clear risk of losing ourselves.
I didn’t originally write about it, but the Chicago Cubs actually won the World Series. To wit, I have neither observed nor heard any stories about swarms of locusts descending on fields or rivers of blood forming, but I’m not ruling them out just yet. The apocalypse takes time to develop, you know?
Wells Fargo was forced to fire thousands of mid-level managers for directing employees to create fake accounts and sign up customers for services without their knowledge, essentially making them scapegoats for the company’s aggressive sales model. The company eventually apologized—sort of—and John Stumpf was eventually removed from the role of CEO, but the big bank largely closed the book on this sordid chapter of its history without really admitting wrongdoing, and Stumpf had a nice golden parachute on which to drift to security. Meanwhile, Wells Fargo has apparently learned absolutely nothing from this fiasco, as new CEO Tim Sloan has expressed the belief that the company and the banking industry as a whole could actually do with less regulation. Evidently, it’s all fun and games when you get to play with other people’s money.
FBI director James Comey, despite finding that Hillary Clinton and her aides were extremely careless in their handling of E-mail while Clinton was Secretary of State, that Clinton should’ve known certain E-mails were classified and didn’t belong on an unsecured server in the first place, that the State Department was generally lacking in security protocol for classified E-mails, and that Hillary used multiple unsecured devices in locations where American adversaries could have exploited this vulnerability, held a press conference to announce he was not recommending charges be filed against the Democratic Party nominee. Then, a week before the general election, he announced that the Bureau was looking anew into Clinton’s E-mails, which she and her campaign cite as a factor in why she lost. So, nice going, Director Comey! You’ve undermined confidence in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and perhaps swayed the election! Don’t pat yourself on the back too hard!
Chris Christie not only failed to capture the Republican Party nomination, but he was overlooked by Donald Trump for vice president despite being, more or less, his manservant. Oh, and Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority, and Bridget Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, two key figures in “Bridge-gate,” were found guilty on all counts in a trial related to the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, and a separate criminal trial is set to take place for Christie himself. Congratulations, Chris. You played yourself.
Puerto Rico defaulted on its debt, a result fueled by a combination of fiscal and economic factors, including the repeal of tax breaks for businesses, the creation and sale of triple tax-exempt municipal bonds, the inability of the commonwealth to declare for bankruptcy, exempting wealthy investors and businesses from paying capital gains taxes, “vulture” hedge funds buying up bonds and demanding a full payday, and institutions like UBS selling risky bonds they themselves underwrote to unsuspecting customers. Today, Puerto Rico’s financial future is yet in peril with individuals who are alleged to have helped the island along the path to crisis serving on its appointed oversight board, and with Donald Trump being a crazy mofo. Also, the U.S. Virgin Islands may be on the way to its own debt crisis. Um, huzzah?
In some good news, the Trans-Pacific Partnership seems to be all but dead, being disliked on both sides of the political aisle. Also, the Dakota Access Pipeline is on indefinite hold, as the Army Corps of Engineers found more research needed to be done regarding the environmental effects of its intended route through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Of course, supporters of these canceled or postponed initiatives may yet redouble their efforts, so we concerned progressives can’t really relax. At least we can enjoy a short breather before the ball drops, eh?
In the title of this piece (remember back that far?), I reference the notion that 2017 has to be better than 2016. I’m not sure it amounts to much, though, beyond wishful thinking. If the best qualification for improvement which comes to mind is that we won’t be electing Donald Trump, it’s cold comfort in light of the fact he’ll already be President. Going back to his appointees, if they are any evidence, the country is set upon a bumpy path for the next four years, or until the man gets impeached—whichever comes first. His Defense and National Security Cabinet leaders view Islam as a threat to America. His Education Secretary is an opponent of public schools, despite never having attended one. His Energy Secretary infamously once forgot the name of the department he has been tapped to helm. His Health and Human Services director wants to privatize everything and largely gut social programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. His HUD Secretary knows nothing about housing administration.
Wait, I’m not done yet! His head of the Justice Department failed to be confirmed as a federal judge once upon a time because he was an out-and-out racist. His Labor Secretary opposes raising the minimum wage. His Secretary of State has likely financial ties to Vladimir Putin. His Transportation Secretary is married to Mitch McConnell—and that’s evidence enough of poor judgment. His Treasury Secretary oversaw 50,000 or so foreclosures from his position within OneWest Bank, an entity which was accused of unethical practices and discrimination against minorities. His EPA head is a climate change denier. His Small Business Administration director is former CEO of a fake wrestling empire. And his United Nations representative has no foreign policy experience. Irresponsible does not begin to describe these selections, and fingers are crossed that one or more of them fail to get confirmed by the Senate.
So, yeah, I’m not incredibly optimistic about the United States’ prospects right now. The silver lining, as I see it, is that more and more Americans are waking up to the realization that our system is broken and that it doesn’t work for everyone, and with luck, that number will grow as the sheen wears off the shiny promises Trump has made and can’t hope to keep. I wouldn’t have wished for a Donald Trump presidency in a thousand years, but if this hastens the movement of the nation in a more progressive direction, so be it. For those of us who refuse to accept Trump and the America he has envisioned as normal, and who insist that we’ve come too far as a country to simply put the train in reverse, the resistance starts now. 2017, we look to you in strengthening our resolve. And 2016, once more, you can go f**k yourself.
“President-Elect Trump.” Sweet Baby Jesus, I hate the sound of that.
In case you were living under a rock or had recently slipped into a coma and just emerged from your unresponsive state, I potentially have some very bad news for you. Defying the pre-vote polling and forecasting models, Donald J. Trump has won the 2016 presidential election. In one of those lovably quirky outcomes of a system based on the electoral college (read: many people are not loving it right now), Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote, but Trump garnered the necessary 270 electoral votes to carry the day. As of this writing, according to The New York Times‘ election tracker, 279 electoral votes are officially Trump’s, 228 are Clinton’s, and Arizona, Michigan and New Hampshire are still being contested, though CNN is calling Arizona for Donald Trump, and I tend to think no amount of recounting is going to allay that result.
As far as Democrats are concerned, the night was especially bad when factoring in the results of House and Senate races. Prior to the polls closing, Dems had hopes of either the House, the Senate or both turning blue in terms of a majority, but those hopes were quickly dashed when the actual results came in. Republicans will maintain a narrow majority in the Senate, despite losing two seats, and have retained control of the House of Representatives as well. Talk about a whitewash, or “red-wash,” as it were.
Not that I really wish to belabor the the mechanics of how exactly Donald Trump won and Hillary Clinton and supporters of human compassion and understanding lost, but it may be instructive to go into detail for future reference, i.e. preventing any unqualified buffoon like Trump from winning again. Some considerations on how the 2016 presidential race shook out the way it did in terms of the electoral map and what we’ve learned from exit polls:
Looking at the electoral map at large, there’s an awful lot of red to behold. Clinton carried the bulk of the Northeast and has a nice strip of blue to show for her efforts along the Pacific Coast and Hawaii. The Democratic Party nominee also recorded victories in Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota and New Mexico. But that’s it. When the smoke clears, Trump will likely have won 30 states to Clinton’s 20, owing to his greater share of the popular vote among Midwest and Southern states, as well as those less populous states in the Northwest like Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming.
Perhaps most significantly, Donald Trump emerged victorious in a number of key battleground states, including Florida (29 electoral votes), Iowa (6 electoral votes), Ohio (18), Pennsylvania (20) and Wisconsin (10). That’s 83 electoral votes right there, and if you count Arizona and Michigan as GOP wins, then you’re over the century mark. This is to say that those close contests really did make a difference in this election. Also, Florida and Ohio were instrumental in screwing over Democrats yet again. They can shove oranges and buckeyes up their respective asses right now, for all I care.
OK, so this one is perhaps no big shock. According to exit polls conducted by CNN (to which I will refer for the rest of the demographic information referenced herein), men, by more than 10%, chose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. A similar margin informed women’s votes in favor of Hillary. Is this election, then, a referendum on a woman’s ability to be President/a leader in the United States? Perhaps partially, but that alone does not explain how Trump won so decisively. So, while gender is a factor, let’s not make it out to be some end-all-and-be-all.
Here, too, the splits were pretty stark. Voters 18 – 29 overwhelmingly chose Clinton over Trump, and within the group from the ages of 30 – 44, 50% to 42% were “with her.” Once you get above the age of 45, however, the script flips, as the baby boomers and old codgers among us opted to ride the “Trump Train.” This is not unlike the divide experienced with Brexit, in which millennials and other youths voted overwhelmingly to Remain. In both cases, though, it was the younger voters, arguably, who behaved more like adults.
Gender and age were significant factors in the 2016 presidential race, but the issue of race looms largest. Just look at these tallies. Whites, 58% – 37%, sided with Donald Trump. Non-whites (Asians, blacks, Latinos, et al.), by a whopping 74% to 21%, were in Hillary Clinton’s camp. These disparities are too big to ignore, and prompted CNN contributor Van Jones to refer to the results as a “white-lash,” a portmanteau of “white” and “backlash” which explains the public’s reaction against a changing electorate and a black president.
Looking at the race through the lens of race, it’s kind of hard to argue otherwise. Trump supporters may aver that it’s the Obama administration’s policies which have them so incensed. But when their candidate of choice has been so deficient in the area of policy—be it domestic or foreign—how can they claim to be so principled in their vote? The majority of people who voted for Trump voted based on emotion, not on conscience or principle, and in all likelihood based one or more of the uglier emotions in the human expression at that.
Broadly speaking, voters who have not gone as far in their education (high school or less; some college) tended to go for Donald Trump, while college graduates trended toward Hillary Clinton, and even more so for those with a postgraduate degree. It should be noted, though, that at the intersection of education and race, non-white voters without a college degree voted 75% – 20% for Hillary. In other words, they didn’t need fancy book learnin’ to be able to see through Trump’s bullshit.
Though slight preferences, voters who make $50,000 a year or more tended to cast their ballots for Donald Trump, while voters under that threshold chose Hillary Clinton more often. Hmm, I guess they really don’t want to pay their fair share.
For what it’s worth, married voters sided more heavily with Trump, while unmarried voters aligned more frequently with Clinton. It should be noted that even with the subset of married voters, though, it was married men who really brought the overall rates of Trump’s supporters up above the 50% mark; married women showed a minuscule 2% preference for Hillary Clinton. A similar effect was observed for unmarried women pushing up support for Clinton, as unmarried men exhibited a slim bias toward Hillary.
Christians, by and large, supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Per the CNN exit polls, a majority of Protestants, Catholics, Mormons and other Christians allied with the GOP on Election Day, with white born-again Christians/evangelicals in particular throwing their support for the Republican Party nominee (81% of respondents!). By contrast, Jews, atheists, and those under the broad designation of “other religions” favored Hillary Clinton. To a certain extent, this appears to be another manifestation of the liberal-conservative divide, though noting “Two Corinthians” Trump is not exactly known for his adherence to “the good book,” it’s yet a little surprising.
On the most important issue facing America
As with the earlier discussion of race, results along this dimension are pretty telling. For those voters most concerned with matters of foreign policy or the economy, double-digit majorities voted for Hillary Clinton. For those voters most troubled by immigration trends and terrorism, meanwhile, Donald Trump was their strongman, er, man. The exit poll did not indicate what either side, meanwhile, thought of climate change, keeping with the election’s theme of not giving a shit about the Earth, escalating global temperatures, and declining species. But that’s OK—let’s keep worrying about Mexicans crossing the border.
On which candidate quality matters most
Also speaks volumes about the state of American politics. On whether they thought a particular candidate cares about them, has the right experience, or exhibits good judgment, a majority of respondents indicated this was true of Clinton, but not of Trump. However, on the notion of which candidate is more likely to bring about change, voters who sided with Donald Trump overwhelmingly agreed with this statement. Apparently, experience, good judgment and giving a shit about people are not requirements for the top political office in the United States. The vague concept of change is enough to get you a seat in the Oval Office—even if it turns out that change is distinctly negative.
For someone like myself, a progressive-minded white guy residing in a state, New Jersey, in which a majority of voters did not choose Donald Trump, the results of the election were pretty damn disappointing. I feel powerless. I feel scared. I feel as if I should be apologizing on behalf of white people everywhere for ushering in a candidate who has made appeals to our baser tendencies his way of interacting with the world and who has inspired a culture of bullying that parents have passed on to their children, leading to harassment and taunts on school playgrounds. And as bad as I feel, I feel worse for those segments of the population who stand to be most adversely affected by a Donald Trump presidency, especially immigrants and Muslims. We all stand to suffer under President Trump, but realistically, I have had and will have it easier than most.
Regardless of any tiered system of potential personal misfortune, so many people are reacting to the news of a Trump presidency with a mix of raw emotions, and in their anger, disappointment and shock, they likely are looking for someone to blame. Based on the narrative one seeks, there are any number of options for scapegoats. Certainly, in a few of those aforementioned battleground states, having names like Gary Johnson, Jill Stein and even Harambe stealing votes was not inconsequential. I’ve talked about this subject at length, and to this charge of “spoiling” the election for Hillary Clinton, I say phooey. Ralph Nader, accused of the same “crime” in 2000, talks about this phenomenon as political bigotry perpetrated and perpetuated as a result of the two-party oligarchy represented by the Democratic and Republican Parties. Not only does this attitude demean the individual’s right to choose, but by meekly giving in to choosing the so-called lesser of two evils, we lose our bargaining power as voters to entice the major parties to put forth policies that authentically reflect the needs of the electorate. The onus is—or at least should be—on the major party and the major-party candidate to convince the voters he or she is the best choice to lead the country. Gary Johnson was never going to win the presidency, but to intimate that he or any other candidate cost Hillary the election is a falsehood.
OK, so if blaming the Libertarian Party or Green Party candidate is disingenuous, who instead might be deserving of our scorn? Some disenchanted Democrats point to James Comey’s 11th-hour revelation that the FBI had reopened its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s E-mails, as well as apparent attempts by Vladimir Putin and Russia to meddle in the U.S. election by hacking the private E-mails of prominent Democratic Party officials. On the latter count, while few would relish the idea of foreign governments influencing our domestic political affairs, the counterargument can be made that the hacks are merely exposing the kinds of attitudes and secrets the American people deserve to know. On the former count, meanwhile? While, again, the truth should be known regarding possible wrongdoing, what good does the announcement of the reopening of the E-mail investigation so close to the day of the election do? James Comey’s reputation had already taken a hit in the decision not to press charges in the first place. This just further undermines his and the Bureau’s credibility. With confidence in public institutions eroding year after year, these shenanigans just grease the wheels of a flaming car careening down a winding mountain path.
Ultimately, though, it’s Hillary Clinton’s use of one or more private E-mail servers and unencrypted mobile devices which prompted the FBI and Comey to intervene. Besides, the Bureau director himself can’t be held responsible for the rise of Donald Trump in the first place. Might we, therefore, look to groups of people/organizations and trends in politics rather than individual people and dead zoo-bound gorillas? You know, beyond the obvious in those who voted for Trump, because they evidently don’t know any better? Robert Reich, in a recent piece on his blog, weighed in on the three biggest enablers to Donald Trump’s path to the presidency. You probably can guess them offhand, but here they are in writing, just to make sure we are on the same page:
1. The Republican Party
When you allow an asshat like Donald Trump to become your party’s nominee, um, yeah, you’re culpable in this regard. As Reich explains, Trump’s racism and xenophobia, while extreme, are not out of character for more recent iterations of the GOP, nor is his “disdain of facts” and the due processes of law and lawmaking. In other words, Donald Trump may be among the Republican Party’s worst examples, but he’s not the only one.
2. The media
Conservatives and right-wing extremists already had a bone to pick with the mainstream media due to perceived liberal bias. Now, liberals have a legitimate gripe against this same institution with respect to all the free advertising they gave Donald Trump, and if public confidence in networks like CNN suffers catastrophically in the coming years, we might look back on this moment and know why. In no uncertain terms, major news outlets gave Trump a megaphone in exchange for a ratings grab, all the while failing to truly vet him as the unqualified candidate, shady businessman, and reprehensible person he is—at least not until it was too late, and even then, they underestimated the depth of Trump’s appeal. And Fox News can eat a dick. Just for general principles.
3. The Democratic Party
Wait, but the Democrats ran extensively against Donald Trump. How can they be blamed for his ascendancy? This is perhaps Robert Reich’s most damning round of criticism and seemingly so in light of what would appear to be higher expectations for the Democrats, evidently unfounded after this electoral debacle. Within the larger fault-finding of the Dems as enablers, Reich points to specific failures of the party in representing the needs of working-class Americans, including:
Forsaking the working class in favor of Wall Street money and other big-ticket donations, as well as seeking votes primarily from upper-middle-class suburban households in areas designated as important voting blocs (i.e. “swing” states).
Failing to protect jobs and wages while in control of one or more congressional houses.
Pushing job-killing free trade agreements under the Clinton and Obama administrations.
Allowing corporations to chip away at the bargaining power of unions or to violate labor laws without meaningful consequences.
Permitting antitrust laws to stagnate or otherwise become less effective, paving the way for larger corporations and consolidation of power within industries into the hands of the few.
You can feel free to argue the relative merit of Robert Reich’s assertions, but for the Democratic Party, as well as the other two enablers, it would seem that each needs to some soul-searching, because it’s a sure bet each of these parties dislikes one or more aspects of a Donald Trump presidency, including the press, who may find themselves at a disadvantage if Trump’s intention to weaken First Amendment protections of publications against claims of libel/slander actually comes to pass. The pertinent question, though, as Reich frames it, is whether or not these enablers have learned anything from the results of this election, and I would tend to doubt they have—at least not yet. They don’t call them the stages of grief for nothing, and if the hashtag #NotMyPresident trending the day after the election is any indication, those not thrilled with Trump’s victory are still a way’s away from acceptance. This includes, of course, those responsible in part for Donald Trump’s rise accepting their responsibility.
Not only do I personally agree with Robert Reich’s assignment of culpability in these three instances, but I embrace his call for a reformation of the Democratic Party, if not the need for a new political party or more enthusiastic recognition of third parties. In a follow-up to his piece on the role of the GOP, the media, and the Democrats as Trump enablers, Reich builds on many of the same themes, but in a more provincial context that directly confronts the necessity for change within the Democratic Party. From the opening of his essay:
As a first step, I believe it necessary for the members and leadership of the Democratic National Committee to step down and be replaced by people who are determined to create a party that represents America – including all those who feel powerless and disenfranchised, and who have been left out of our politics and left behind in our economy.
The Democratic Party as it is now constituted has become a giant fundraising machine, too often reflecting the goals and values of the moneyed interests. This must change. The election of 2016 has repudiated it. We need a people’s party – a party capable of organizing and mobilizing Americans in opposition to Donald Trump’s Republican party, which is about to take over all three branches of the U.S. government. We need a New Democratic Party that will fight against intolerance and widening inequality.
What happened in America Tuesday should not be seen as a victory for hatefulness over decency. It is more accurately understood as a repudiation of the American power structure.
“Widening equality”—that sounds familiar. Strange. It’s not like anyone talked about this on the campaign trail. Oh, wait—that was Bernie Sanders, and he talked about it LITERALLY AT EVERY F**KING RALLY AT WHICH HE SPOKE. Noting Sanders’ consistent domination of Donald Trump in theoretical presidential election polls pitting the two men from New York against one another, a number of people have played “Wednesday morning quarterback,” if you will, wondering whether or not Bernie could have saved us from “the Trumpocalypse.” Reich, for his part, was a fervent Sanders supporter until the Vermont senator suspended his campaign, at which point both men honorably got behind Hillary Clinton and tried to sell her as an alternative to Trump.
Prior to that, however, Robert Reich consistently made his distinction between Hillary and Bernie. Clinton, Reich insisted, is an accomplished, experienced politician, and indeed was the better candidate to work within the system we have in place now. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, was the better candidate to get us to the kind of political system we desperately need, one not dominated by lavish donations from business executives and Hollywood stars, or too cozy with special interests to insist on practical, substantive reform. A democracy of the people, for the people, and by the people. At the time, Reich’s focus on this progressive agenda seemed a bit remote, even for those like myself who believe in Bernie’s vision, in light of Hillary Clinton’s near-certainty of capturing the Democratic Party nomination.
With Donald Trump pulling off the upset to win the 2016 election, however, and with Hillary Clinton’s march to the White House and into the history books halted perhaps permanently, unexpectedly, Democrats must take a cue from Bernie Sanders and Robert Reich sooner than later and more aggressively pursue policy that would benefit the American people and the planet as a whole. Whereas leading up to the election, the media elites suggested the Republican Party was in shambles, thus enhancing the likelihood that Clinton would win, now, in the overreaction to Trump’s victory, people are saying the Last Rites for the Democratic Party. Perhaps this is mere wishful thinking, but I believe, relative to the GOP, the Democrats, by preaching the virtues of inclusion and equality, are still in a better place than the Republicans in the long term, in spite of their poor showing on Election Day. Sure, right now, Trump supporters are popping off, getting in the faces of those who don’t fit their mold and convinced they personally have won something as a result of their candidate’s electoral college win. And while outward shows of discrimination in its various forms shouldn’t be tolerated, to the extent conservatives and the alt-right might now underestimate liberals and progressives, this could be the silver lining of this debacle. Up until the votes came in, much of the world didn’t see President-Elect Donald Trump coming. Come 2018 into 2020, though, the shoe may just be on the other foot. For the sake of our country and perhaps even the world, I can only hope that’s the case.
To me, Alt-Right sounds like some sort of keyboard shortcut that allows you to move to the next page in a Microsoft Word document or scroll across on a webpage or something. Unfortunately, speaking in political/social terms, the so-called “alt-right” movement is not a helpful keystroke, nor does it seem to be particular useful to society. In fact, from the recently-built consensus on this loose assortment of activists and theorists, the forces behind the alt-right might actually portend the coming of a battle against deleterious influences within the American electorate.
So, why the hubbub all of a sudden about this element, one for which I will readily admit I was not aware a name actually existed until recently? Well, a big reason likely lies in the fact Hillary Clinton just referenced the alt-right in a fiery speech denouncing its core motivations and tenets. Here’s a snippet from her latest anti-Donald Trump tirade in Reno, Nevada this past Thursday:
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, Breitbart embraces “ideas on the extremist fringe of the conservative right. Racist ideas. Race-baiting ideas. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas—all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the “Alt-Right.”
Alt-Right is short for “Alternative Right.” The Wall Street Journal describes it as a loosely organized movement, mostly online, that “rejects mainstream conservatism, promotes nationalism and views immigration and multiculturalism as threats to white identity.” The de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump Campaign represents a landmark achievement for the Alt-Right. A fringe element has effectively taken over the Republican Party.
This is part of a broader story—the rising tide of hardline, right-wing nationalism around the world.
As I’ve made abundantly clear through my posts here, I am not a fan of Hillary Clinton, but give the devil wearing Prada her due, she’s spot-on here, which partially explains why outlets like CNN were practically having an orgasm over how strong Clinton seemed in delivering this diatribe. The Republican Party, led by Trump and touched by crazies, has more or less been hijacked by this ilk, alienating high-ranking members, including past presidents, in the process. As for the rise of “hardline, right-wing nationalism around the world,” HRC is correct on this assertion as well. As we’ve seen throughout Europe, be it with Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, the Freedom Party in Austria (jeez, these nationalists sure like their freedom, don’t they?) and, perhaps most notably, in the machinations of Nigel Farage and the UK Independence Party resulting in the Brexit referendum and the eventual vote which decided the United Kingdom would leave the EU, rabid anti-immigrant nationalism and xenophobia are alive and well in places other than the United States of America. And while he claims no allegiance to or even knowledge of the alt-right, Donald Trump has seemingly embraced its kind and the same principles set forth by the know-nothings across the pond. In fact, Trump has even envisioned himself as some sort of “Mr. Brexit.” If by this, he means that, like the decision to exit the European Union, he is hated by young people and feared to destroy the country’s economy, then sure, Mr. Brexit it is.
Let’s go a little deeper into the nature of the alt-right in an attempt to further facilitate understanding, though. Sarah Posner, writing for Mother Jones, profiles Stephen Bannon, chairman of Breitbart Media and newly-enlisted head of the Donald Trump, as someone more unabashedly supportive of the alternative right and someone with yet more pronounced fingerprints on the movement’s origins. In doing so, she, as so many journalists have had to do in apparently scrambling to cover the abstract concept of the alt-right, pursues an operational definition of the term:
Exactly who and what defines the alt-right is hotly debated in conservative circles, but its most visible proponents—who tend to be young, white, and male—are united in a belief that traditional movement conservatism has failed. They often criticize immigration policies and a “globalist” agenda as examples of how the deck is stacked in favor of outsiders instead of “real Americans.” They bash social conservatives as ineffective sellouts to the GOP establishment, and rail against neo-conservative hawks for their embrace of Israel. They see themselves as a threat to the establishment, far bolder and edgier than Fox News. While often tapping into legitimate economic grievances, their social-media hashtags (such as #altright on Twitter) dredge up torrents of racist, sexist, and xenophobic memes.
Posner, like many, acknowledges that painting the alt-right with a broad brush, or at least panning it outright, as with most movements, has it perils. Establishment politics on both sides of the political aisle in the U.S. is being decried by more extreme factions within the Democratic and Republican Parties; on the blue side, Bernie Sanders and other more progressive candidates have taken Hillary Clinton and other mainstream Dems to task for abandoning working-class Americans and preserving a status quo characterized by massive income and wealth inequality. Trickle-down conservative economics are also well worthy of criticism, as is the country’s pandering to Israel’s agenda in Gaza and the West Bank at the expense of legitimate Palestinian claims and interests.
This notwithstanding, it is the methods of many self-identifying members of the alternative right that threaten to undermine any more cogent arguments to be made within. Sarah Posner speaks to recurrent themes of racism, sexism and xenophobia in alt-righters’ online communications, and along these lines, bullying, hate speech and targeted attacks have become a modus operandi of sorts for individuals like Milo Yiannopoulos and his followers, as the persistent harassment of Ghostbusters (2016) and Saturday Night Live star Leslie Jones serves to indicate. Not to mention there are additional policy stances held by the alt-right and mentioned by Posner in the above blurb that are not nearly as well-regarded by the national and international communities, chief among them the vehement antipathy toward immigrants and others perceived to be “outsiders” or otherwise not “real Americans.” Not only would some argue this is sentiment is decidedly un-American, especially since the backbone of this nation and the source of much of its character is immigration, but the sheer notion of what constitutes a “real American” and how elusively subjective that definition is further detracts from the alt-right’s credibility.
Concerning Stephen Bannon’s role in the promulgation of alt-right rhetoric, Sarah Posner gives salient examples of how his views and those of Breitbart readers coincide:
Bannon’s views often echo those of his devoted followers. He describes Islam as “a political ideology” and Sharia law as “like Nazism, fascism, and communism.” On his Sirius XM radio show, he heaped praise on Pamela Geller, whose American Freedom Defense Initiative has been labeled an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Bannon called her “one of the leading experts in the country, if not the world,” on Islam. And he basically endorsed House Speaker Paul Ryan’s primary challenger, businessman Paul Nehlen, who floated the idea of deporting all Muslims from the United States.
Posner also underscores how Bannon has utilized Breitbart Media as a mouthpiece against black activists, especially those identifying with Black Lives Matter, suggesting those killed by police brutality likely deserved it, and that certain people—he doesn’t say African-Americans, but you know he totally means it—are predisposed toward aggression and violence. And when Stephen Bannon, Milo Yiannopoulos and others aren’t being overtly bigoted, misogynistic or xenophobic, which seemingly doesn’t happen often, much of their behavior still qualifies as bullying. It’s as if followers of the alt-right know deep down that they can’t win on the strength of their viewpoints alone, so they gang up on people, aiming to badger or frighten them into submission, thereby winning on a technical knockout, if you will, rather than a convincing string of logical arguments delivered on respectful terms. Toward the end of her piece, Sarah Posner provides yet another illustration of the sort of corrosive, abusive language that appears to be a hallmark of the alt-right:
On Thursday, in the Washington Post, [former Breitbart editor-at-large Ben] Shapiro upped the ante, describing the alt-right as a “movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism,” and Breitbart News as “a party organ, a pathetic cog in the Trump-Media Complex and a gathering place for white nationalists.” The reception he and another conservative Jewish Breitbart critic, Bethany Mandel, have experienced in the Bannonosphere is revealing: In May, when Shapiro, who became editor-in-chief of the Daily Wire after leaving Breitbart, tweeted about the birth of his second child, he received a torrent of anti-Semitic tweets. “Into the gas chamber with all 4 of you,” one read. Another tweet depicted his family as lampshades. Mandel says she has been harassed on Twitter for months, “called a ‘slimy Jewess’ and told that I ‘deserve the oven.'”
After Shapiro called out the anti-Semitism, BreitbartNews published (under the byline of Pizza Party Ben) a post ridiculing Shapiro for “playing the victim on Twitter and throwing around allegations of anti-Semitism and racism, just like the people he used to mock.”
Back at the RNC, Bannon dismissed Shapiro as a “whiner…I don’t think that the alt-right is anti-Semitic at all,” he told me. “Are there anti-Semitic people involved in the alt-right? Absolutely. Are there racist people involved in the alt-right? Absolutely. But I don’t believe that the movement overall is anti-Semitic.”
Holocaust imagery. Demeaning foul language, and stubborn denial of the hate it encourages. Accusing others of falsely playing “the victim.” What passes as political discourse by much of the alt-right is a mix of puerile remarks and threatening epithets that in most cases amounts to nothing, but in a country like the United States replete with lethal weapons and even in nations with stricter gun laws, that one or more of these peddlers of death threats and threats of other bodily harm might actually seek to act on their anger and prejudices is enough that the rest of us can’t simply disregard the potential for tragedy. What’s more, while authorities may be able to intervene in time in the case of a telling social media post, in so many instances, the warning comes too quickly or not at all, such that someone may walk into a building or up to a person on the street and just start firing, with the target more or less completely unaware of the threat that looms. It’s scary, but this is the reality of life in 2016. Call it the “new normal,” if you must, but the possibility, however slim, statistically speaking, is ever-present.
If, perhaps, the alt-right’s most outspoken voices lack genuine conviction in their system of beliefs, it is their unshakable confidence in the inviolate permissiveness of free speech and their thinking that political correctness is a deleterious force in today’s domestic and foreign policy which are most striking. Before knowing full well of the extent of what the alternative right comprises, I wrote about Milo Yiannopoulos’ directed, targeted abuse at Leslie Jones that ended up getting him banned on Twitter. This is not merely to toot my own horn, I assure you, but to recall how Milo didn’t exactly take this perceived affront by Twitter et al lightly, and furthermore, framed his reaction with respect to what he and others like him envision as a larger conflict of ideals. From his response on—where else?—Breitbart:
Like all acts of the totalitarian regressive left, this will blow up in their faces, netting me more adoring fans. We’re winning the culture war, and Twitter just shot themselves in the foot.
This is the end for Twitter. Anyone who cares about free speech has been sent a clear message: you’re not welcome on Twitter.
Because we had so much fun the first time, let’s dissect this bold talk from everyone’s favorite British-Greek “journalist” once more, shall we?
Like all acts of the totalitarian regressive left, this will blow up in their faces, netting me more adoring fans.
Milo Yiannopoulos certainly doesn’t lack for high opinion for himself, does he? But he may be right on aspects of his rhetoric, in particular, the notion that permanent Twitter bans and bombastic Clintonian speeches lend legitimacy to the alt-right movement and give them free press. In fact, as Rebecca Harrington of Business Insiderreports, alt-right thinkers were “practically giddy” that Hillary had done their work for them, so there may be something to the “bashing us only drives up our ratings” claim.
The other points are more debatable. Certainly, the concept of the “totalitarian” left is not a new one, with articles like this one from The American Thinker slamming modern liberals as enthusiastic about diversity along demographic lines but not about diversity of opinions, and essentially being one step away from fascists. In Milo’s case, however, not only was he violating Twitter’s terms of service by encouraging Leslie Jones’s harassment at the hands (fingertips?) of his fans, but he afterwards made a false connection between an alleged instance of overreach by Twitter’s censorship and the supposed unmitigated sanctity of the First Amendment. As I suggested in my aforementioned earlier post, free speech is all well and good, but it doesn’t entitle you to be a complete and total asshole. There are limits, and you just cried about totalitarianism because Twitter refused to give in to you like a mother does to her spoiled-brat child.
As for the “regressive left” mantra, this also is not a new idea. Critics of liberal policymakers and thinkers have long considered, for instance, the refusal to use the term “radical Islam” as pandering to Muslims and diversity at the expense of America’s security. Like with the “totalitarian” charge, however, this characterization falls into a logical trap. Apparently, since America hasn’t closed the door on the War on Terror, and political correctness has marked much of the White House’s relationship with this initiative as a subset of relationships with the Muslim community in the United States, it must be that a more delicate, nuanced handling of the situation is ineffective. By this logic, once again, being an asshole is evidently the correct way to approach these matters, and measures such as banning Muslims are supposed to reverse our fortunes. Even though terrorism experts insist that this is having the exact opposite effect. But what would they know?
We’re winning the culture war, and Twitter just shot themselves in the foot.
The phrase “culture war” implies that there are two sides intent on the other’s destruction, and while this sentiment definitely applies for Breitbart and its readers, the reverse, I would argue, does not hold as true. Liberalism in the United States, broadly speaking, tends to focus on civil liberty and equality, and thus fighting for Americans as a whole, rather than fighting against someone or something, as in the amorphous notion of “the Left.” Moreover, while liberalism certainly can err on the side of failing to assign responsibility to groups or individuals for their role in economic, moral and social shortcomings, perhaps explaining in part the rise in popularity of the alt-right, to say that it is “winning” the culture war is a stretch, to say the least. After all, when media types find themselves writing articles about what the alt-right entails because they themselves don’t know what that is, let alone their readers, it’s hard to argue you’re winning anything, let alone making much of a dent in the national consciousness.
This is the end for Twitter. Anyone who cares about free speech has been sent a clear message: you’re not welcome on Twitter.
Like I said in my previous piece, Twitter seems to be doing just fine without you, Mr. Yiannopoulos. And speaking of the alt-right, if Donald Trump is seen as a key figure in this movement—whether he recognizes it or not—he, for one, has been given free reign to use social media as a soapbox, or to hit back at his detractors like the petulant child he is deep down. The fact of the matter is Twitter is a business, and unfortunately, it likely has to deal with the more unsavory aspects of some people’s behavior, or else ban them and risk seeming like the “totalitarian” institution alt-right sympathizers envision them to be. Again, though, I submit, it’s not a question of free speech—it’s that the alternative right’s bullying ways impinge upon the First Amendment rights of other users, namely those of wanting to have certain material remain private and of wishing to feel safe in the online environment. These wants are not unreasonable, and should not be negotiable, what’s more. So, Milo, when it comes down to it, it appears it’s just you and a select few other poor sports who are not welcome on Twitter. Congratulations on this dubious distinction.
Linda Stasi, writing for the New York Daily News and obviously taking Leslie Jones’ online harassment quite personally, recently clapped back at her would-be aggressors and others that seem to fit the alternative right mold:
Instead of doing anything to improve yourselves, you waste your lives online spewing hatred, misogyny and racism. How ’bout getting off your asses and doing something to improve the world?
You have declared open warfare on women like Jones because she’s black, a woman, accomplished. But you really hate her because you aren’t any of those things.
Because you aren’t, you instead insult women by calling them by body parts, and by using ugly sexual references.
You are such dimwits that you think it’s clever to post nonsense like telling women who’ve accomplished much in life to get a life. News flash: If their lives were any bigger, they’d explode. Meantime, you’re the ones writing hate mail to celebrities you’ve never met. Seriously, losers: Time you all got a life.
It may be a bit of an oversimplification to depict the anti-SJW crowd in this way—as jealous, lazy, sexually frustrated, whiny white guys who hide behind their keyboards. As is the nature of many stereotypes, though, they exist because more often than not, they are true. And while some delicacy might be warranted with members of the alt-right because of the remote possibility they might represent a physical or other danger to the people around them, this should not be taken as a sign of defeat. If anything, it might actually be advantageous to Hillary Clinton and those outside the alt-right to let them think they’ve won something, only to emerge more confident and determined in promoting progressive ideas in the future. So, no, in short, the alt-right isn’t alright, nor are they, in most cases, right. And until they, by and large, learn to express themselves in ways that command respect, they should not receive it.