First off, let me state for the record that I’m reassured with how the system is moving to hold President Trump and his administration accountable for the questionable dealings which have taken place during and since his presidential campaign. Between six Congressional committee inquiries, Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, and the FBI’s work; I believe we will eventually know what happened. As Don Trump Jr.’s by now infamous meeting/email chain/ever-evolving stories have proven beyond any reasonable doubt, there is definitely a problem with Trump’s family/campaign and Russia. But with all these various governmental groups looking into it, we should have the facts uncovered so that a just course of action can be taken. Or we will have enough information to pressure our leaders to do more, if there are attempts to minimize or ignore clear wrongs. (At this point, it would be foolish to believe Trump will accept factual findings which show him to be at fault.)
So maybe we who are opposed to this administration and its legislative goals should ease up a bit in our zeal to find, magnify, and exaggerate every mistake and flaw this president exhibits. Just in the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen stories about his facial expressions during French parades, a to-do over his greeting to the French first lady, a montage of alleged hand-shaking faux pas, and complaints that he said, “Hell,” in front of boy scouts. Now, I’m not saying those things are good or normal, but in context of everything else that’s going on, some of which is only peripherally tied to Trump, we would do better to focus on the weightier issues rather than dwelling on the merely stupid or boorish which, it would seem safe to predict, he’s going to keep on doing.
No, his comments to Brigette Marcon that she was “in such great shape,” were inappropriate and classless, but I do believe he was just doing his best (which is downright awful, I readily agree) to be pleasant. Yes, it would have been awesome if she had responded, “Thank you. I’m sorry I can’t say the same about Melania’s spouse.” (And that does sound much more acidic in French: Merci. Je suis désolé, je ne peux pas dire la même chose au sujet du conjoint de Melania.) But compared to his plotting with Russia or his pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Accord, sexist pleasantries don’t amount to much. These social gaffes are wonderful fodder for our satirists and late-night hosts, but our news outlets can get caught up in devoting way too much time to dissecting and analyzing things which are not nearly as important as the hatchet job Pruitt (Head of the Environmental Protection Agency) is being allowed to do on our health—this man is trying to ignore scientific evidence and research on a widely used pesticide which causes brain damage, especially in children. Now that’s something we all need to focus on and fight. Yes, Trump’s ignorant female body shaming (he clearly has little shame about his own) and obsession over any woman’s appearance are appalling and shocking, especially coming from someone charged with representing all of us, but I’d definitely rate having brain-damaging residue on our produce as a more serious threat, at least in the short term.
Even the Russian disaster could be something we obsess over to the point where really bad things get sneaked into law legislatively without nearly enough scrutiny. Mitch McConnell (Senate leader) has been trying to con America for years that the ACA (Obamacare) is the worst thing ever for Americans, while at the same time pushing for an evil, cruel replacement nobody wants. The cynicism of Paul Ryan (House Speaker) and McConnell in speaking of the damage Obamacare is wreaking while trying to price millions of Americans out of healthcare insurance AND giving the wealthy a large tax break is infuriating. It’s especially so when you add that no debate or hearings have been held to allow everyone to be heard. Nor have Republicans faced their constituents with any regularity in town hall meetings to gauge what the people they represent think. This secretive, devastating law still has a chance to be passed, and McConnell and Ryan won’t acknowledge their extreme duplicity, especially given how loudly they howled about the speed with which the ACA was passed. (They’ve now shifted to the position that they’re just doing the same thing the Democrats did with the ACA, which Snopes rates as a “FALSE” claim.) I know that its passage seems unlikely right now, but remember how that was what we thought about the “mean” House version until Ryan slipped it through. McConnell is considered even better at manipulation of arcane procedural rules (Remember how he ignored the Constitutional provisions which clearly mandated Obama be allowed to appoint Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court?), and he will continue to finagle ways to weasel something through—not because it would be better for Americans, but simply to garner a “win” on this issue.
Even one of our biggest goals—getting Trump out of office—needs to be tempered with the context in which that happens. Until at least one of our Legislative bodies, the Senate or the House, is safely in the hands of those opposed to Trump (i.e., Democrats), a Pence Presidency could conceivably be much, much more effectively bad. No, he wouldn’t embarrass our country with his blustering, bullying, vulgar absurdity; he would just get awful legislation passed. Then too, some hope that the taint of Trump’s corruption will stain Pence enough to…what? Get him out of office as well? That unlikely scenario might seem like a positive outcome, but we should all keep in mind one of the most insightful quotes ever from Oscar Wilde: “When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.” Next in line after Pence would be the Hypocrite of the House, Paul Ryan, followed by the Senate’s President pro tempore Orrin Hatch and then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Outside of number six, Defense Secretary James Mattis, there’s not much to look forward to after Trump should he get booted before his term ends; number fifteen, just to show you how bad it could get, is Betsy DeVos…now, c’mon, really?
If Trump goes, then, we’d better have at least one of our Houses in order, or else we could see the country take even bigger steps backward in voting rights, environmental improvements, educational fairness, foreign relations (although nobody could be as bad as Trump in this area), and health care. Our goal can’t simply be ABT (Anybody But Trump); instead we should be careful to make sure that this repeal and replace is more than petty sniping and grand-standing gestures without any solid alternatives mapped out…hmm, for some reason that dumb strategy sounds strangely familiar!
I am sticking with my belief that Trump will eventually resign rather than fully reveal all the shady financial dealings he’s had with Russian billionaires—who have been pillaging that poor country at an incredible rate. His most recent “red line” comments about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and attempts to shame Attorney General Jeff Sessions into quitting show where he seems to be heading: In replacing Sessions he could put in his own lapdog who would willingly fire Mueller, effectively slowing or even ending that group’s work. A couple of pardons lavished on those already implicated (Flynn, Kushner, and Junior, for starters), and the whole “witch hunt” could conceivably be mostly over—without anyone ever being held responsible for collusion, obstruction of justice, and who-knows-what-else. In that scenario, the only thing standing between a successful cover-up of wrong-doing and evasion of accountability would be the willingness of the Republican leadership to stand up to Trump and move toward impeachment. Not many I’ve heard analyzing this situation have suggested the Republicans would ever do that, and their past lack of action supports the spineless theory.
So those opposed have to focus on things which can be verified and proved—and our media has been stellar in pushing legislators in the right direction. But their quest for ratings and on-line hits (translated: profits) could overcome the time needed to review complex issues which require more thoughtful, thorough discussion in order to cover today’s “hot” topic. The Russian methodology of using “cutouts” (individuals connected through more informal channels to the Kremlin) in order to test interest before initiating more serious…Sean Spicer just resigned! Too often we all fall victim to our inner Doug (the talking dog in the movie, Up), and are incapable of focusing long enough to finish with something before the inevitable new squirrel scampers into our line of vision. That tendency can only prolong the length of time Trump continues to wield power.
In order to get this right—not too fast or not to slow—we need thorough investigations which help the truth of how bad much of this is to sink into the public’s awareness more completely. To my way of thinking, that would lead to everyone’s understanding just what this administration stands for and would force Republican leadership to go down with the ship or to cut ties with this mistake we Americans elected (enough of us, anyway). And that gets back to my initial thread about not going overboard on the Trump’s stupidity, which only angers those who supported Trump last November. For Republican leaders to be forced to do the right things, they need to know that their electorate understands the certifiable wrongs which have been committed. Emphasis on the crudity of Trump seems unfair to his voters, which can then bleed over into their acceptance of other issues involving matters of right and wrong. How many golfing days Trump has amassed in the past six months is certainly newsworthy given how he lambasted President Obama over that exact issue before taking office. But it is ultimately insignificant—many would argue that any Trump day off is a safer day for America—and belaboring it just lends support to his spin doctors claiming the media and opponents manufacture bogus issues just to pick on poor Donald, who’s only doing what every President has done.
So let’s not overreact to the stupid, hypocritical, lying small things Trump does—yes, you can extrapolate from his obsession over crowd size at his inauguration that he has deep psychological issues revolving around his narcissism, if you must. (I’d rather leave that to Trevor, Seth, Samantha, or Stephen, personally.) But make sure we resist generalizing or stereotyping just because members of our community made one poor choice in an election. Without further defections from his supporter base, we could be subjected to the chaos of the past six months for four years! I know many cannot forgive their fellow citizens for voting for this man, and Michelle’s “When they go low, we go high” mantra is way tougher to do in the real world rather than fighting fire with fire by lashing out in return. With the long-term goal of keeping this country from getting screwed up too badly until we can get more reasonable people back in charge, however, we all have to try to stick to the more mundane, but much more important actions Trump and his minions did or, more importantly, are trying to sneak in.
Our mission, therefore, is to do what we can to minimize the damage this radical minority can inflict on our society and the world before the 2018 Senate and Congressional elections. (And yes, we need to hold our state legislators to the same standards of responsible governance. Illinois’s Rauner, Wisconsin’s Walker, Michigan’s Snyder, and New Jersey’s Christie all needing new jobs after those states’ next gubernatorial elections would be a great start, in my estimation.) I understand that beyond making sure our voices are heard and supporting legal challenges to the most egregious outrages, there is not much we ordinary voters can do to affect that end. (That assumes that everybody will VOTE when the time comes, of course.) But at least we can do our level best not to make things worse, and our sinking to petty complaints and blaming our neighbors for inflicting Trump upon us only pollutes the already toxic political climate even more. Of course challenge and resistance to the Trump agenda needs to be unflagging, but ridicule and belittling that which is idiotic will do little besides moving us into that same category. (Unless, of course, you’re as funny and talented as Randy Rainbow—then, go for it!)
Okay, the next President will be Donald Trump. No, I haven’t come any closer to liking that fact than when I wrote about why it happened or his approach to the Presidency in my last two essays. It is some solace, although more tragic and ironic than satisfying and useful, to know that more Americans actually voted for Hillary, the fifth time in our history the popular vote winner has lost the Presidency. But no matter what mental machinations we try to fool ourselves with, come January 20, the 45th President of the United States will be Trump. So what’s somebody who opposes almost all of what Trump stands for, has proposed, and will endeavor to enact supposed to do?
First and foremost, I would suggest that we anti-Trumpers stop with the meaningless rhetoric. The two extremes are, “We all need to come together and give him a chance/fresh start,” contrasted with, “He’s not my President!” I can understand the thought processes behind both these pronouncements, but they do nothing but illustrate how little we care about how our representative democracy works in the first case or show the same petulant whining we so often chastised Donald for during the campaign, not to mention those who weren’t happy with President Obama for the past eight years, in the second. Our electoral process has determined that Trump will be President; “giving him a chance” is simply a rationalization for withdrawing from the fray: “Hey, I don’t know what he’s doing, but I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt for now.” Sorry to tell you, but you don’t have the power or influence to determine whether or not the President, duly elected by our system, gets to take over. It’s nice of you to grant Trump your official permission, but whether or not you do makes absolutely no difference—sadly, he gets a chance no matter what. And no, it’s not okay for you to sit by while he dismantles any progress we’ve made in the country over the past fifty years because it was easier to wash your hands of the whole thing rather than get involved to oppose the bad things he will push for.
Nor does acting like a child help the situation. “He’s not my President” is another mind game designed to separate people from any issues that arise during Trump’s reign. Yeah, it’s embarrassing as hell to have this guy as President, but denying Trump as “yours” (even if limited to an internal denial) does nothing to change what’s happening. Just because I’m a die-hard White Sox fan and do not care for the Cubs won’t make my “The Cubs are not my World Series champions” statement any less ridiculous. Not only does it achieve nothing except the same satisfaction toddlers get from pitching a fit, but it hardens those who voted for him, making it more difficult to get them to abandon Donald quickly once they see how he will operate. Deal with reality, please, not knee-jerk negativity. Unless you can state, “Donald Trump is President of the United States,” you won’t be able to move to the next phase of dealing with him. By all means, drop the possessive, personal, obsessive “my” from your description of ANY national figure. If you like the person in question, the most reasonable and positive term would be “our” (as in “Our Obama”). And if you don’t, “the” will do just fine. But accept it—he won, and denying that or insisting that you are somehow divorced from that reality only serves as a rallying point for his supporters who will have a point in claiming you sound like a crybaby. If all our accolades to Michelle Obama’s, “When they go low, we go high,” had any sincerity at all, we should avoid any reliance on the “But they did it too!” plaint as justification for mocking everything he does. Donald Trump will be the next Commander in Chief. (Yes, I was testing you by using the most grandiose term for President possible because we all know Donald eats up that kind of stuff, and you have to maintain your cool despite the awfulness of having a President who will probably be mostly in love with the pomp and circumstance which will surround him, while the snakes he brings on board have a field day repealing anything demonstrating fundamental fairness and/or humanity at the same time they’re striving to add to the riches those already ridiculously wealthy, all in the name of the only “true” faith, Christianity. Yeah, this is going to be a long four years.)
But that in no way implies that we should passively accept this future for America. Actually, the chief problem with both of the above utterances is that they play right into the hands of those who are happy to work with Trump and plan to take as much advantage of his term as possible. We can, should, and must oppose any and all parts of his initiatives that allow intolerance, reduce fundamental rights, increase world tension, and perpetuate unfair distribution of wealth. The “give him a chance” folks need to be reminded that this is the man who in announcing his candidacy characterized Mexicans as rapists, and then went on to encourage people to shoot Hillary Clinton, bragged about sexually assaulting women, retweeted Klan propaganda, and proposed banning all Muslims from entering the country. His “make America great again” agenda includes building a ridiculous wall, repealing gay rights, outlawing abortions, restricting minority voter access, and enriching his billionaire class. I was through giving him chances after the attack on Mexicans, personally, but even if you hung around longer than that, he’s had plenty of opportunities to veer away from hatred, sexism, and greed. He’s not going to, and even if by some miracle he some day will, it would be extremely dumb to assume he’s changed until he’s proved it for a long, long time, at the very least.
Many of his supporters will realize soon enough that they voted against their own interests with Trump, but that isn’t any reason for the rest of us to gloat, regardless of the level of gloating they are engaging in right now. It will be tough enough for them to accept what we’ve always known: We’re all screwed with this guy as President. We need to welcome, galvanize, and organize anyone who understands the dangers of this man and the deplorables he is bringing into our government, no matter how late they come to that understanding. Yes, Hillary was wrong to characterize half his supporters with that word, but we can never accept the bigotry, racism, and religious intolerance that many of his appointees and advisors have historically espoused. Bannon and his ilk must be faced down each and every time they try to attack women, Muslims, blacks, gays, Jews, and the press. Liberals’ nice speeches and essays (like this one, I’ll be the first to admit) might make us feel better and allow us our smug superiority, but holding a protest or two and snorting indignantly won’t mean a damn thing unless we follow that up with action, because the stakes are pretty high.
Voter repression, wasteful spending on ill-conceived projects, tax-breaks for the 1%, repeals of reproductive and minority rights, and huge increases in military spending are just a few of the significant areas that Trump has proposed. And that’s where the real work begins—without voter interest and participation, the Republican President, Congress, and (very soon) Supreme Court majorities will work together to enact substantial changes to much of the progress which has been so painstakingly achieved in our lifetimes. It is small comfort right now that history has always arced toward progress when it comes to social issues, at least. During my time on this Earth (I was born in 1957), there have been laws in this country making it illegal for a white to marry a black and denying any rights (legal or sexual, if you can imagine) for gay couples. Yes, it seems absurd that we allowed the government to discriminate to that degree, just as future generations will be amazed that a U.S. President could be in favor of much advertised to be in Trump’s first 100-day plan. History will show how wrong many of the Republican goals are, and eventually, right will triumph and become the norm.
In the meantime, though, we’ll have to do what we can to resist rollbacks in areas crucial to everybody, like climate change. No, I’m not optimistic Donald will be able to prove it’s a Chinese hoax, but we can expect many regulations loosened or repealed which will lead to more damaging fuel usage, especially coal, in the near future. The Keystone Pipeline might come barreling through from Canada. Drilling will be permitted in more national parks than before. Climate clean-up pacts made with most of the developed world might be torn up. Clean air and water regulations could be diluted, as could restraints on fracking. All of these things will affect everybody in both the short and the long term; it is in all our best interests to provide input to our legislators to help them understand that there is no future in pollution, and burning carbon produces pollution. (In addition, we should contribute when we can to non-profit groups dedicated to fighting for the climate.) Unfortunately, Mother Nature couldn’t care less who’s in office, and the significant, negative weather changes many parts of the country have already begun to experience will only spread, not to mention more frequent, more severe storms à la Katrina and Sandy will slap us hard upside the head. Making these disasters even worse, lower income groups will be disproportionately hurt by these events. Trump is totally wrong on his approach to the environment.
And that’s just one issue of dozens that will begin to impact people, especially those lacking high wages as a shield to the outcomes of a Trump Presidency. When that disillusion sets in for those who reluctantly voted for Trump in the belief that he was the lesser of two evils, those poor souls need to be welcomed with ideas and leaders who can explain clearly how their programs will benefit everybody. There is very little in Trump’s stated plans which will help many working people. Sure, he’ll be able to pressure some business moguls not to move the occasional factory, but he’ll also foster laws which weaken collective bargaining and anything else which help unions organize or negotiate on behalf of employees effectively. That union people actually voted for Trump boggles my mind, but somehow many were convinced that he has answers. When that facade is swept away, the Democrats need to be up-beat and concrete with ways to combat Trump’s direction. We need for them to get their acts together quickly to unite in ways that will offer shelter to those battered by the Trumpocalypse. Whether it be Bernie, Elizabeth, or rising stars like Corey Booker and Julián Castro; it’s important for disappointed people to have something besides a smug, “I told ya so,” to turn to post-Trump. (Speaking of Corey and Julián, anybody besides me think we might have had a different election outcome had Hillary picked someone for Vice President with a bit more pizazz than Tim?)
And so it’s vital to do battle with the Trumpians. But given the number of different areas for which Trump and his Republican legislators/judges have plans to repeal any recent progress and to revert to that which is more oppressive, unhealthier, and more monetarily unfair; you’ll have to limit your focus. Time and money are extremely valuable resources, and for us middle-class people, there’s only so much of either that we have to give. Any help you can give to combat poor choices which are proposed under Trump (including issues such as race relations, economic inequity, voting rights, tax codes, climate change, pollution, education, religious freedom, LGBT rights, international relations, veterans services, deficit spending, defense department increases, renewable energy, Supreme Court nominees, and the next hundred or so things you could list) would be a hugely positive step—the magnitude of all those things will cause most to abandon the quest before even trying, but we will all be impacted by the decisions, de-funding, laws, and wars these people try to push through. Steve Bannon is his senior advisor; that sentence alone should motivate every one of us. So find a cause that interests/motivates you, and at least give money to its champions. I understand—we’re bombarded with requests for our money and time constantly, so I won’t belabor that which is likely to alienate my audience—just give it some thought, okay? Instead, I’ll cut to the real chase and get to the one thing that absolutely has to change in order to repel that which is Trump as quickly as possible.
Any discussion of working to oppose what Trump wants to impose has to begin and end with voting. And in our instant-information (not particularly accurate or well-researched information, but, hey, at least we can get the biased nonsense fast, right?), there has to be some way for social media to exert more pressure on those who do not vote. Again, it might take some time for many to understand how foolish it was to accept the false equivalency propaganda which portrayed this election as a choice between two poor candidates and allowed the experienced, qualified, knowledgeable person to be defeated by the new, unqualified, ignorant guy. Sadder still, is the extent to which many allowed themselves to buy the-two-equally-bad-candidates garbage to the point of not voting at all. Even a meager amount of effort would have convinced those fence sitters that like her or not, Hillary was the demonstrably, significantly, unquestionably better choice; and that regardless of what the polls predicted, a millionth of a percentage chance that some idiotic FBI investigation of Anthony Weiner’s computer might open the door to the remotest possibility of Trump’s winning was risk enough to make sure to vote for Clinton. But almost half of eligible voters did not cast a ballot. That’s probably the most awful part about this whole thing—just how easily we could be preparing for an historic first woman’s inauguration as President instead of stocking up on doomsday supplies or checking into the process on becoming a Canadian citizen. All it would have taken would have been for some of us to have voted in a few key states—Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and North Carolina all could have been won by Hillary if more had turned out. And had the results in those states have changed; Hillary would have won the Electoral College 312-226. Everybody needs to vote, and we need to put pressure and lay more guilt on those who don’t.
And that could be a great public service project to get involved in. Voter ID, false reports of election fraud, and other attempts to suppress opposition voters need to be stamped out. We should make voting easier, not harder, with a national holiday for elections, on-line voting becoming common-place, and automatic voter registration—based on driver’s licenses and the like. The anti-Republican tide is swelling in this country, and it’s just a matter of time before the outdated, tinged with racism policies this party advocates are yesterday’s horror. Who knows? As a union activist in my teachers association for thirty years, I learned that one of the most galvanizing factors to increase member participation (which, like voter participation, is also hard to generate) was a terrible school board member or three to roil the waters. In the case of Donald, we’ve got perhaps the greatest motivator for progressive programs ever. I know it’s hard to imagine right now, but one day, we might even see Donald Trump’s election as President as the single biggest cause of a renaissance in human development, not because of the idiotic agenda Donald is advancing, but because of how many people were disgusted by his plans and joined together to defeat him. Now is not the time for despair or withdrawal. Trump will soon be the President, so we’d better get busy.
Like just about everybody in the country, I certainly didn’t see Donald Trump’s victory on November 8th coming. Although the never-ending email investigation and the FBI’s questionable behavior just before the election seemed to have tightened the race, I felt confident since all the polls and experts assured us Hillary would win, relatively easily, if not as convincingly as we would have liked. Then came Tuesday night—Virginia was closer than it should have been, North Carolina slipped away, Florida, and then with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, it was all over. It’s a week later, but I’m still having a hard time accepting the idea of President Trump and am trying to figure it out.
No, I’m not an expert or someone with especially brilliant insights, absolutely not. (I am happy to let you delude yourself into believing that if you want to, however.) But as I’ve watched and read many of the autopsies on how this happened, a few things stood out to me. You may have heard many of them already, so feel free to abandon this essay anytime it starts to seem repetitive or inane to you. If you’re up for it though, here we go with my analysis on why Donald won and why it seemed to come out of nowhere.
Polls and Pundits Can’t Know Everything: This seems pretty obvious, although it is easy to fall prey to the seductive confidence of those providing us with information that seems so scientific and logical. But humans defy easy categorizations and predictions, so we need to keep reminding ourselves that our sources can only provide educated guesses. Trump was such a polarizing candidate in so many ways that we should have suspected many of those polled were reluctant to state for the record they were going to vote for him. Hey, I’m totally abashed to have voted for Rod Blagojevich, twice, so I can appreciate that many kept their support of Trump hidden. (To be fair, though, we didn’t realize how awful Rod was until after he was elected—that was not the case with Trump.) Then too, turnout wasn’t great, although we were told we were getting information based on “likely” voters. I do believe that the pollsters and experts did their utmost to provide us with the best data they could, but the public has to understand just how limited any sample or analysis can be. Forecasting how people are going to behave is way too difficult to accept anyone’s guess as gospel or, most importantly, to let those guesses alter our behavior in any significant way.
Ridicule Can Push People to Dig in their Heels: Now don’t for a minute think that I’m criticizing all those who made this election cycle much more enjoyable for me by satirizing Donald Trump. Seth Meyers, Samantha Bee, Bill Maher, Trevor Noah, John Oliver, Saturday Night Live, Steven Colbert, and Larry Wilmore are my heroes; I probably spent way too much time laughing with them the last year. But now that Trump has won, I do understand why some who saw merit in Trump’s candidacy might have been put off by how much ridicule was heaped on the Donald. I thought he deserved each and every shot (and would have added more if I could have); but this satiric tsunami probably did drive some of Trump’s supporters underground (see the above paragraph) or made them angry enough to shut out any possible doubts which might have led them to changing their minds. I think this is especially true when many anti-Trumpers were also ridiculing those who were going to vote for him. There’s no question that Trump bullied others as much or more than the media made fun of him, but non-Trump folks shouldn’t have been so quick to pile on in attacking his supporters (some of whom are our family members and friends) as being blithering idiots if they were going to vote for him.
We All Need to Be Better Informed: Having just chastised some of us for over-doing how mean we were, I still believe that all citizens have a responsibility to find as much factual information as we can and to do better at evaluating the credibility of what we see on the Internet. It was discouraging to this former teacher how wide-spread the horrific techniques of false equivalencies were used in the Donald/Hillary comparisons. Too many people rationalized their poor Trump choice as being the lesser of two evils, based on many inaccurate characterizations and bad side-by-side evaluations. While we can rail at the crushingly relentless barrage of misinformation and try to blame the media for its existence, ultimately individuals have to understand we need to work harder to find good sources, especially since we can tailor that to which we are exposed and censor out anything with which we might disagree, facts be damned. This laziness on our parts coupled with the myriad of choices available made it possible for people to rationalize that somehow Hillary’s behaviors were just as bad as Donald’s—a conclusion not borne out by reality. But as we’ll see next, reality had little to do with much that came from Trump.
Lying Doesn’t Matter Anymore: There has never been a candidate, at least during my fifty-nine years on Earth, who has lied as often, as blatantly, or as bigly as Donald Trump. There are so many which are documented many, many times that’s it’s truly unprecedented. In helping to solve the problem listed in the previous paragraph, I will let you find them for yourselves; you could also compare them to Hillary’s lies pretty easily too—except there’s no comparison when it comes to numbers: Trump lied much, much more than Hillary, by any measure. But no matter how many times he lied, he had his minions on all the media channels “explaining” what he really meant; his supporters obviously accepted these convoluted, stammering, nonsense answers or chose to overlook all the lies. Again, the false equivalency cancer helped here since Donald would often (as did his minions) ignore questions about his own lies by diverting attention to some alleged issue (often another lie) he leveled at the Democrats—be it Hillary, Obama, or Bill. If you want to believe in a candidate rather than evaluating his actions based on their merits, I guess you can vote for someone capable of making fun of a disabled person in front of a large live audience and on national TV, and claim that’s not what he was doing. Steven Colbert coined the term, “Truthiness” to stand for how people believe what they feel to be true rather than considering the facts. Judging a choice with your gut rather than your head does not lead to choosing the best candidate, but instead the most visceral, the one who makes your pulse race, not the nerd who understands policy and can hold forth on the intricacies of trade pacts. Lying leads to more conflict, which leads to better teases for news networks, which leads to more eyeballs, which leads to more revenue. Donald Trump was excellent content for the media, just as he was when he hosted his reality series—he was just firing politicians this time rather than fledgling business moguls. And we, whether we voted for him or not, ate it up. Again, this is not the media’s fault; they just gave us what their ratings told them we wanted.
Endorsements Don’t Make Much Difference: Without a doubt, Hillary got many more significant endorsements than Donald. Newspapers which hadn’t backed a Democrat in centuries—or ever—came out for her or explained why they wouldn’t support Trump. About the only print media that put its seal of approval on Donald was the Ku Klux Klan’s Crusader, not exactly a prestigious get for him. Celebrities also preferred Clinton, and the contrast was hysterical: Gary Bussey, Scott Baio, and Ted Nugent versus Oprah, George Clooney, Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian, Magic Johnson, Katy Perry, and on and on. And that’s not even taking into account all the prominent Republicans who wouldn’t endorse Trump either—Mitt Romney, George H.W. Bush, Condi Rice, and George W. Bush to name a couple. Then there were the back-and-forth Republicans who vacillated frequently and never were completely clear on their stands—Paul Ryan and John McCain, for example. Hillary had the Democrats lined up and out working for her—Barak Obama, Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders all made impassioned pleas for voters to get “with” her. In the end, it clearly wasn’t enough as turnout was so-so, and Trump was able to win, despite not getting more votes than the last two losing Republican nominees, Romney and McCain. Apparently, voters couldn’t care less what the experts and the famous have to say about who should be President. And with all the negativity and trash of this election cycle, large numbers chose the Mercutio credo of “A plague o’ both your houses!” and chose not to vote at all.
Sexism Is Still a Huge Problem in America: By now, you will probably have come across many analyses which blame Hillary in some way, shape, or form for the loss. Fair enough, the buck has to stop somewhere, and Hillary was not the perfect candidate. She has never been noted for her ability to work a room or rally a crowd, and she can be secretive about mistakes that, in retrospect, seem foolish to conceal—the concealment then becoming another issue on top of the somewhat embarrassing thing she tried to conceal in the first place. (Samantha Bee’s “Let Hillary Be Hillary” gives a superior analysis of how this came to be—be warned, though, that Samantha doesn’t mince words and does know how to swear.) So these minor flaws along with her vast experience in all aspects of government somehow make her a worse choice than an unqualified mass of (pick at least three of the following) racism, religious intolerance, homophobia, sexism, tax-evasion, flip-flopping, and ignorance that is Trump? I don’t understand how anybody can come to that conclusion, unless there’s an underlying bias Hillary could do nothing about. Just as Barak Obama was often attacked simply for the sin of “being President while black,” I believe a healthy dose of the fear and anger of those “fearful-angry” white men we heard so much about during this campaign was anxiety and resentment at the idea of women in positions of authority. Remember how many dismissed racism as a thing of the past after Obama’s election? The same smug complacency which generally leads to significant regression in the opposite direction followed Hillary’s Democratic nomination, which was seen as a sign that equality of the sexes had now been achieved. And if ever there was a candidate who made it clear that he knew how to keep women in their place, it was Donald Trump. It seems like Hillary’s “bold” assertion of feminine achievement threatened many people, especially white men in areas where technological advances and greater access to cheap labor in other countries had reduced their standard of living. Change is exactly what has cost these people so dearly, so you can imagine their reaction to change over which they could have a say; “Make America Great Again” was sweet music to their sexist ears. Add in how Trumpers labored mightily to link this woman to every other change factor in the country that can be perceived as scary to conservative, white, older people—immigrants, Muslims, blacks, and gays. Purée at maximum demagogue speed, and can you say “President-elect Trump”? Which leads finally to,
It’s a Horrible, Frightening World Out There: Some of the very tactics Trump’s campaign exploited will now loom large in shifting from running for office to running the country. If you saw any of his Republican nomination acceptance speech, you know how dark a picture he painted of our country’s direction. That the United States isn’t nearly that bad made little difference to those who voted for him; the veiled (and not so veiled) racism, sexism, religious intolerance, and homophobia (more so by his awful, awful running mate) allowed many of his supporters to choose their own boogie people on whom to blame whatever they imagined was wrong with their lives, safe in the knowledge that Donald agreed with them. And that makes the future even more frightening: Now not only do recently empowered Trump supporters believe their fears have been justified, but all black, Hispanic, Muslim, Jewish, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and female people have real reasons to fear Trump and his supporters. It didn’t take long for stories of harassment and violence from the “winners” of the election toward minorities to appear; naturally, one of them was a fabrication since both sides have learned the truth is no longer necessary when making accusations or hurling charges.
I’m sure there are many other plausible explanations for Trump’s win, but these are the ones that make the most sense to me. I did briefly think about blaming it on the Cub victory—the two events did happen a week apart—but goats have suffered long enough. (I will snidely point out how when we had a die-hard White Sox fan run for President in 2008 and 2012, the superior candidate won; but when a Cub fan tried to follow, well…) So, that’s how Trump won, as I see it. Now what happens? Next time we’ll take a guess at how this will play out in the near future. I’m hearing it’ll be huge; everybody says so.
Now that the World Series is over and the Cubs are World Champions for the first time in over a century (as if you didn’t already know that), I can be more open about my lack of enthusiasm about their achievement. You see, I’m a White Sox fan and have been my entire life. I won’t get into all the slights we Sox fans have suffered over the years, nor will I attempt to sway anyone who prefers the Cubs to join us on the Southside—the futility of that, especially now, is obvious to everyone; even the White Sox general manager has characterized my team as “mired in mediocrity.”
But, neither the Cubs’ recent success nor the Sox’s poor play makes the slightest difference to me: I’m with the Sox forever, and there’s nothing anyone can say to change my prejudice in their favor. And I know with just as much certainty that even if the Cubs had lost (which they almost did), it wouldn’t have made any difference to die-hard Cubs fans. The kind of bias we’re dealing with here is one that is learned early in our lives and has absolutely nothing to do with objective data or reasons or anything remotely factual or logical. In my case, my grandfather infected me with the Sox virus; some of my most precious memories involve going to Comiskey Park with him. And yes, he also taught me to root against the Cubs. Again, it’s not like some Cub player stole his woman or cheated him out of his fortune (he didn’t have one). Basically, that another baseball team was garnering any of Chicago’s attention, much less often getting the bulk of it, irked him, just as the hoopla currently surrounding the Cubs irks me. I understand that the “lovable losers” are more popular than my Sox (although it will be interesting to see how this emotional sympathy holds up now that it’s no longer applicable), but that only makes my irrational emotions toward the two teams even more extreme.
And there’s nothing inherently wrong with this kind of fandom. We humans are prone to emotional, baseless decisions. You prefer the color red, while I favor blue. You absolutely love Beyoncé’s music, while I’m much more interested in lesser-known bands like Marsheaux (a Greek synthpop band that is really good-check out “Inside” for a sample). You’re a cat person, but I won’t consider any pet that isn’t a dog. And on and on. We can get irritated with one another every once in a while over our prejudices—stupid though that is—but when we’re not being overly emotional, we recognize all humans are entitled to their irrational likes and dislikes. We might not understand why someone feels so strongly about snow globes, but hey, if you get chills shaking a glass dome filled with plastic particles, go for it! (If you could try to keep your rhapsodic monologues on their wonder to less than fifteen minutes, though, we would all appreciate it.)
But there should be limits to how far we let this “fan” mentality infect other, more significant choices we have to make. Specifically, when it comes to our political elections, we should drop the red/blue nonsense and evaluate the candidates based on who will do a better job. Of course that’s still a subjective judgement, but at the very least we should consider as much objective information as we can before voting. This election cycle has been especially ugly, mainly because one of the antagonists has adopted an approach more appropriate for professional wrestling than Presidential elections. While which team millions of us will line up to watch drive by after a world championship is a harmless personal choice, the impact of who our next President is matters to every human being, not only in the United States, but also to billions of other Earth dwellers. When we’re picking the Commander in Chief of the most powerful military that has ever existed, believe me, Europeans, South Americans, Africans, North Americans, and Asians have a real interest in what kind of person we select.
And this election has fostered the baseless team loyalty view to the point where it’s entirely about personality, presentation, and image; discussion of the issues has faded to the point where one candidate’s health insurance proposal is to repeal Obamacare and replace it with “something terrific.”
There’s no question that the Internet has fostered this way of choosing a candidate. Most of us were raised to favor one political party over the other; since my parents were Democrats, I am too. My daughters also would label themselves as such: The bias is built into our upbringing, just as my White Sox fervor was an accident of birth. Enter the web where anybody can post anything about the candidates regardless of bothersome things like facts, which leads to our being bombarded with half-truths and conspiracy theories designed to help us continue our tendencies to favor one side over the other, regardless of reality. In fact, it seems truer every day that “reality” is an ever-changing, malleable thing. Lying no longer seems to matter to anyone since we see supposed experts on every news channel taking diametrically opposed positions—always based on their version of the facts—each trying to dominate the other—not with discourse or reasonable dialoguing—but by increasing their volume. The standard has become for political debate to degenerate into several people yelling at each other indecipherably, while an ineffectual moderator cuts them off only for commercial breaks.
So it’s understandable that many of us refuse to deal with this maelstrom of contradictory gibberish and simply vote the way we always have. Maybe we’re uncomfortable with some of the things being said about those on our “team,” but then again, there are plenty of nasty things out there about our party’s opponents, being screamed just as shrilly.
But we’re dealing with important things like laws, wars, and the environment; we have an obligation to our fellow humans to rise above trivial factors to find that which will benefit us all. I’ve been struck this campaign, however, by the number of seemingly rational people who are willing to ignore the overwhelming amount of evidence that Donald Trump is completely unfit to govern this country. Millions of voters will vote (or already have voted) for him just because they identify themselves as Republicans. The mental gymnastics necessary to justify this boggle my mind. Remember that some of these very same people, Republican leaders all, characterized Trump as “cancer” and “poison.”
I know; I know: You have all kinds of stuff that shows Hillary is just as bad, but the self-delusion necessary for this false equivalency shouldn’t be tolerated by rational people. From racism to misogyny to religious intolerance to advocating torture to denigration of war heroes to bragging about sexual assault to…well, you’ve heard it all before. And unlike the attacks on Clinton, you don’t have to rely on emails released from someone holed up in the London Ecuadorian embassy using material obtained from Russian hackers—you can hear Donald say all that stuff himself. (For a humorous explanation of the difference between the two, check out Seth Meyer’s “The Polls Tighten with Six Days Left: A Closer Look” at about the 6m 20s mark.)
Then there is the historic amount of lying Trump has done. No matter how clear the evidence has been on some issues—whether it be comments he has made while being recorded or his own tweets—he denies it as if it can’t be checked out. Daniel Dale, a reporter for the Toronto Sun (I told you our Presidential elections matter to everybody) has cataloged all the “false claims” Trump has made throughout the campaign (here is an interview with Dale on CNN). Just one statistic from that interview: During the three debates, he found that Clinton said four, five, and four false things, but Trump’s count was thirty-three, thirty-four, and thirty-seven, an 8-1 ratio. You cannot believe anything he says; in the last couple of days he has repeatedly quoted a Fox News story that Hillary was about to be indicted by the FBI, long after Fox had retracted the story as false. (For another humorous take on Trump’s lying, take a look at The Daily Show’s “What the Actual Fact” based on the second debate.)
Yes, Hillary is not popular and there are definitely negatives in her résumé which could easily cause voters to select a qualified Republican candidate over her—I’d have no problem with your picking Mitt Romney, John McCain, or even George W. Bush (not one of my faves, for sure) over her. All those men had government experience, a clear plan for what they would do once in office, and the temperament to represent those who did not agree with them. Trump, in comparison, has threatened to imprison his political rivals, encouraged everyone to “check out a sex tape,” refused to state he will accept the election’s outcome, and cannot stop himself from engaging in petty attacks on anyone who challenges any of his nonsense, typically at 3:30 A.M., via Twitter. And that’s not even taking into account his foolish, expensive plan to build a wall on America’s southern border, his proposed ban on Muslims entering the country, or his huge tax breaks for fellow billionaires. We don’t know his financial situation since he won’t release his tax returns nor explain what business dealings he’s had with Russians affiliated with Putin, who he seems to admire “bigly.” In every way, Trump’s candidacy has been nothing but red flags both on his character and his ability to lead our country. The only way reasonable people can vote for him is to retreat to blind allegiance, exactly the same kind of irrational support we heap on our favorite TV show or rock star. They retreat to that lame rational of supporting Trump because he’s a Republican and so are they. That’s not a good enough explanation to elect someone as unqualified as Donald.
So you Cub fans enjoy your moment while we Sox stalwarts fester in our own dour depths. It’s not rational, but we humans are entitled to that kind of lunacy with regards to our sports teams, desserts, and vocal patterns in others that drive us crazy. But when it comes to choosing the President of the most powerful country in the world? In the words of a pretty well-known White Sox fan, C’mon, man!
Each time we elect a President, the campaign seems to go on longer than it did before. I have no doubt that some of those vanquished in this cycle have already begun planning and fundraising for 2020. And while the endless ads and questionable rhetoric have always been difficult to endure, this time the outrageousness and awfulness of one candidate has created media coverage the likes of which I believe is unprecedented. By some calculations, this person had gotten the equivalent of over $2,000,000,000 in free advertising as of March, 2016 (and that coverage has certainly not decreased in the last five months), more than the combined cost all the commercials for the last five Super Bowls. And the Nacho Doritos ads in those Bowls alone provided more substance than this particular person, in my opinion, despite similarities in coloration.
Our media outlets are partially to blame for the deluge of clown coverage this election cycle. First, all the experts told us he could never, ever win; that hell would freeze over before he would be the Republican nominee. Well, now that Satan needs a pair of skates to navigate the netherworld, we all might be better off giving less credence to pundits, and understand the limits of their ability to gauge public opinion. Keep in mind that this candidate has also been a gold mine for news channels—ad rates sky-rocketed as ratings increased any time they featured him. That two billion in “free” exposure actually was a great investment for news sites as the more free time they provided, the more the money poured raked in. The longer he was perceived as viable, despite what most were saying, the larger the ad revenues. And if there is one thing that has changed about the fourth estate in the last thirty years, it’s the pressure on news divisions to make money. That’s very different from back when network owners for the big three (ABC, NBC, and CBS) paid little attention to the bottom line when it came to news. If all you do is news, though, (CNN, Fox, and MSNBC, to name just three) and you have to make a profit or go out of business; then something which can be classified as news AND makes money for you will be pushed as much as possible, hence Bill O’Reilly. That some of the actions of this particular candidate were newsworthy only in the sense that videos of his outlandishness appeared on supposed news outlets illustrates how the definition of what constitutes “news” has mutated from its original connotations.
Since fame has become a commodity like athletic skill or business acumen, existence for some people is in itself news for everybody else. Millions spend hours watching other people living their lives, doing routine stuff that everybody does. When Kim buys clothes, that is deemed important and merits coverage. My oldest daughter goes off to college this fall to major in journalism, and it will be interesting to talk to her about exactly what “journalism” means in our social media era. Clearly there is interest in Kanye’s opinion on things, but what he thinks about anything other than popular music shouldn’t constitute news, regardless of how controversial, insipid, or stupid those thoughts might be. Growing up in the heyday of Walter Cronkite has obviously warped me significantly, but I think you should be famous for doing important things—making life-improving discoveries, curing diseases, or fighting for human rights—whether your small hands have implications for your sexual prowess or you’ve managed to plaster your name on a bunch of stuff doesn’t even remotely qualify.
But that two billion of free publicity is valuable only so far as the audience is paying attention. No matter how wonderful or awful a media event is, if few people pay attention, react, or comment; it has little impact. Capturing your eyeballs is the only way that any candidate’s manipulation will work. The slickest campaign of all time will wither and die if we don’t watch, click, share, and/or contribute. If a tweet lands on Twitter and nobody reads it, does it make any noise? Unlike the proverbial falling tree in the forest, there can be no debate about someone who is trying to capture our attention and fails—no, the unread tweet makes no noise whatsoever.
Which leads us back to the original point of this essay and our own culpability in creating this monster. If we hadn’t kept coming back for more, this would probably have been over a long time ago. The same impulse that causes gapers’ blocks on highways after traffic accidents is at work here: Because the spectacle has been so inappropriate, mean-spirited, and/or idiotic; we can’t tear our eyes away. Like many Brexit voters who voted to leave the European Union even though they didn’t really want to go and now regret their foolish anger, we must come to grips with our appetite for destruction and stop feeding this sinkhole with our attention.
So for all those who have speculated on what will stop this racist, misogynistic, fear-mongering, incompetent bully from reaching the White House, I believe the answer is pretty simple: Ignore him. Change the channel when CNN switches from something significant (a hurricane’s threat) to something idiotic (his plane landing at a state fair). Don’t click on the dozens of “news” stories touting how he has “gone too far this time,” causing his campaign to “self-destruct.” Yes, your Facebook feed will have all kinds of tantalizing headlines, but they will be linked to non-stories that repeat old comments and are based on a few out-of-context phrases—scan right past them. It will be difficult and you will probably be unable to resist a time or two, but his influence on what’s available to see must wither away.
I know that some of you who read my blog entry about how we need to escape our on-line bubbles to understand what those who disagree with us are thinking will see this boycott as the opposite of what I was advocating when I encouraged you to seek out opinions at variance with your own. This really has nothing to do with that; I wasn’t suggesting you wallow in the mud over trivial nonsense. Of course I’m not advocating ignorance—that’s been his approach. If you haven’t read his stands on issues or researched his philosophy on governing, by all means, try to find some facts about how he would lead our country. But, if like me, you’ve seen and read countless stories from both detractors and supporters in a wide variety of reputable sources for the past year and your mind is made up, it’s time to starve the beast. And yes, I’ve been following his opponent for an even longer time. Her exploits—both real and imagined—have been analyzed more intensely than almost any other public figure in history. And while there is clearly a history of bending the rules coupled with a dash of arrogance, it’s just ridiculous to me to compare her alleged sins with the barrage of horror we experience daily from the Republican side. And when you talk readiness for the job, well, whatever your views of her as a person, she certainly has significant governance experience which looms even larger when you compare it to none.
And I’m not trying to convince you to vote for her or to dissuade you from voting for him. My concern is that so many more important things are being shunted to the side in order to obsess over his insensitive comments to Gold Star parents, his petty refusal to endorse somebody, his creepy fixation on his oldest daughter, his racism about a judge of Mexican heritage being unable to adjudicate his lawsuit fairly, how quickly he did or did not disavow David Duke, his “joke” about assassinating political rivals, or any of the dozens of inane issues that have and will emerge over the course of the next two months. What we really need to focus on is what to do about income inequality, climate change, radical Islamic terrorism, gun proliferation, public education, immigration, police/black men interactions, the rest of the world, and a host of significant issues that do impact our lives and pose serious challenges for our country and planet. If and when he starts making some concrete proposals on those things, I’ll be happy to consider his ideas. (To illustrate further the contrast between nominees, he has seven of his positions detailed on his web site; she has thirty-seven.) But if all he and the media can do is obsess over his idiocy, I am going to build my own wall (And it will be a fantastic wall—trust me, I build the best walls—nobody builds walls better than me! And Mexico won’t even have to pay for it!) that will bar one individual from wasting my time any further. Maybe you should too.