“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” Flannery O’Connor
At first, the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, seemed like just another in the series of horrific school shootings we’ve come to dread and expect in the U.S. “Hopes and prayers” would be profusely proffered with nothing changing until the next school joins the bloody ranks of this uniquely American epidemic. But then articulate, camera-ready high school students gained access to our national media, and suddenly the possibility of some progress on this shameful legacy became possible.
As a high school/junior high teacher for thirty-three years (1979-2012), I was certainly aware of this issue, teaching for the bulk of my career in a high school similar in many ways to the two frame high schools of this era, Columbine (1999, 13 dead) and Parkland (2018, 17 dead) with Sandy Hook elementary school (2012, 26 dead) notably in between as well as way too many others. I worked with kids very similar to those who attend Stoneman Douglas High School—upper-middle class, mostly white, with the majority going on to college and top 25% socio-economic status for their adult lives. These are our future lawyers, doctors, and business leaders; they are the ones who take charge of our country, but typically not for twenty-plus years into the future, so it is fascinating that the country is paying so much attention to what they have to say right now.
Let me be very clear right up front: I strongly agree with their agenda—tougher gun laws, more comprehensive background checks, raising age limits, and assault-rifle bans (if anything, I don’t believe they go far enough)—but my support comes with a few qualifications as well. Where was all this outrage and activism when other places were being shot up? The fifty-nine dead in Las Vegas happened just months ago; did they take to social media after that too? Who organized the marches to change laws in memoriam of these concert-goers’ and their hundreds of family members and friends? This self-absorption—where we humans seem capable of action only after we have been personally touched by an issue—has always frustrated my sense of right/wrong. That our personal lives have to be impacted before we see an issue’s importance and are willing to support action is hardly a new phenomenon, though. Gay rights progressed rapidly only after so many people had come out that virtually every straight person knew and liked at least one gay person. Until we had Will and Grace, not to mention Ellen, we were quite capable of blithely saying and doing nothing about ludicrously unfair statutes which prohibited many rights to gays. But once we realized that Jack McFarland and Sulu might die because they couldn’t get insurance coverage on their life partners’ policy, we recognized the inherent unfairness and compassionless nature of the bigoted system which had always been in place.
That certainly seems to be the case with these students. As Trevor Noah pointed out during off-camera comments on The Daily Show, they are using the privilege they have been afforded all their lives to question the status quo, at least once they have directly experienced how that quo functions. So we who have long been appalled by the unfettered access our country has allowed to high-tech guns need to be patient with some of the eye-rolling inducing comments these kids make in their insistent demands that things change immediately now that they have an awareness of those things’ flaws. (The most cringe-worthy moment I’ve seen so far was when a student being interviewed on CNN along with Dan Rather complained that on the day after the shooting, he had been rejected by one of his “safety schools,” Cal State Long Beach, even though he plans to go to Harvard or Northwestern (at about the seven minute mark of the interview). I’m very familiar with that kind of student, having taught them for many years. These Parkland students are extremely intelligent, articulate, and exceptional but they are not as unusual as they have been portrayed by the media—any high school teacher from similar districts throughout the country would recognize the earnest, idealistic, privileged, media-ready attitudes exhibited by these teens.
I guess the main thing I want to point out here is that there have been many individuals over the years who have been trying to accomplish the goals these kids are lobbying for and who offer an expertise and knowledge which would significantly supplement the raw emotion and idealism of those who have taken up the issue only after—and primarily because—they have been personally affected by gun violence. Of course it’s imperative that those victimized by a problem participate in the formulation of a societal consensus on what the solutions should look like; it just seems unfortunate our attention and willingness to listen requires the emotional outpourings which follow tragedies. It’s the same psychology which leads to horrific car wreck remains being displayed on the grounds of many high schools right before senior prom to deter drunk driving or the vicarious yet safe fear and dread spike which forces most to slow down to see as much carnage as possible after highway accidents. I understand that impulse and recognize it will always be this way, but I wish we didn’t need such negative energy to be motivated to do what seems logical, humane, and obvious.
None of which blunts in the slightest the importance of our seizing upon this moment as an opportunity to make some progress on attacking the killing machines which so many Americans have determined to be their god-granted right, regardless of the potential harm they can so easily cause when in the hands of the wrong people. For too long, we anti-gun folks have remained an impotent minority as our country has gotten more and more extreme about firearms. Every once in a while (like right now or after Sandy Hook), an emotional wave spurs a few more to action and there are many anti-gun organizations headed up by bereaved parents or recovering victims, but the perpetual fervor and rabid attacks from the other side always manage to interfere with and ultimately defeat any actions that might change the dangerous lack of controls we have over who can get a gun, how many guns it’s acceptable to own, and/or the types of guns/accessories readily available all over the country. Even liberal, reasonable people seem to have given up the fight, weakly pursuing only the most minor reforms in our lax gun laws. But with the media megaphone provided by Parkland, anti-gun advocates might be heard more loudly and forcefully when they speak. And I hope their goals are to limit the purchase of and to get rid of as many guns as possible, especially those in the hands of private citizens.
Yeah, I’ve heard and read all the reasons why this is a horrible violation of personal rights, not to mention the Constitution, but all those reasons are at worst completely invalid and at best hardly absolute when people look at the facts. Let’s run through a few of the pro-gun arguments and see how well they stand up to logical analysis.
The right to bear arms is protected by the Constitution. The second amendment was created during a time when the U.S. armed forces were a rag-tag collection of volunteers, and hostile Native Americans were prevalent on our continent. We now have the best-armed, best-trained military in the world, and its ability to protect its citizens is without peer…anywhere. The U.S. is bordered by friendly countries, and almost all of the threats to our sovereignty are overseas in places where our enemies spend more time fighting each other than trying to invade our shores. No foreign country poses a military threat to the continental United States, and if one did, our armed forces could destroy it in a matter of days. Ordinary citizens do not need guns to protect themselves from invading enemies, so the Constitutional need of 1789 no longer exists. And let’s not even broach the topic of the infallibility of our founding fathers since that 1789 document also allowed for slavery. Times change, and the Constitution needs some updating when it comes to guns even if you accept that the second amendment is intended as some sacred rite, rather than the need of another time when foes were closer and our federal armed forces were weak. And we’ll also skip getting into all the other amendments—to say nothing of the Constitution’s basic tenets of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—which a heavily armed citizenry threatens as well. The Constitutional argument for loose gun restrictions doesn’t hold up well at all.
We need guns to protect ourselves should non-democratic forces take over our government. The NSA spying Edward Snowden revealed should give everyone pause about the increasing power of our federal government. But does anyone seriously think that with drones, tanks, access to all our personal records, 1.3 million soldiers, and a military budget that dwarfs the next seven largest countries in the world combined; buying six shotguns would keep you safe should the government suddenly turn fascist? It’s idiotic to believe that arming your ten-year-old with a .22 rifle would prevent our government from doing what it wants should it ever go rogue. And that’s accepting that the kinds of coups which occur in places like Thailand and Egypt are even possible here. Our system might lead to flawed leaders (Can you say Dick Cheney and Donald Trump?), but our tradition of peaceful dissent and the electoral process make militia paranoia absurd. We don’t need guns to protect ourselves from our government, and even if we did, our government has way too much firepower for any community organization (and certainly any individual) no matter how well armed, to overcome.
If we ban guns, the bad guys would just use other weapons. This one’s probably my favorite of the poor reasons gun advocates trot out. Yes, we have had dozens and dozens of mass murders committed with knives and ball-peen hammers. It’s just idiotic; killing people with a gun is light-years easier than anything else commonly available. Perhaps one day evil criminal geniuses will come up with death rays or killer robots, but the only places you will find ANY examples of death on a large-scale that don’t involve guns are in the pages of science-fiction novels. Oooo, look out—here comes that bad man with his clothes line! He’s on a strangling rampage, and we’re helpless in the face of such deadly force! C’mon; it’s just one of those debating points that has not a shred of evidence to support it, and we should just laugh when some gun-advocate tries to use that line of “reasoning.”
We need guns to protect ourselves from the bad guys. This is probably the most effective argument (unlike the previous reason) that gun advocates use. There have been cases where armed citizens have fought off or even killed evil ones who tried to rob or hurt them. But there have also been cases where the armed citizen killed or injured innocent bystanders. My preference is that guns only be in the hands of professionals—cops, soldiers, and criminals. Yeah, you read that right: The bulk of law-breakers do not want to hurt anyone, but just want money or drugs (or money to get drugs), and armed law-abiding citizens simply complicate what should be a simple robbery by brandishing a hand-gun, leading to somebody’s getting shot. Certainly, sometimes the recipient of the bullet in these shootouts is a bad guy, but just as often a good guy with a gun is racked up. You can go on-line to try to research how often guns have been successfully used to foil crimes (as I have), but both sides of the issue use various studies and statistics to prove completely opposite conclusions. I don’t doubt that if we abolish guns there will be tragic events where unarmed people are hurt by evil idiots with guns. But the evidence suggests that the numbers of innocents killed by guns will go down significantly once we get rid of the plague of guns currently awash in the U.S.
And we mustn’t forget that the bulk of gun-related deaths (roughly two-thirds) come in the form of self-harm: Suicides are simply too easy with readily available guns and a federal government which is now trying to cut or eliminate funds for helping mentally ill people. The majority of those prone to violence due to mental illnesses direct that violence on themselves. Again, yes, some of these poor people would find other ways to act out their pain with other tools, but guns are significantly faster and more lethal than anything else.
You can’t go by other countries since they aren’t like us. Of course they aren’t like us! But they aren’t like each other, either, and the one common factor in England, Canada, and Australia (three countries more like us than many in that they all share a language and heritage [or a heritage imported to the country from England]) is that they have significantly fewer gun deaths every year than we do. Australia is especially interesting in that they only changed their gun laws after a horrific 1996 mass shooting in Tasmania. A conservative president John Howard (who was an ardent backer of George W. Bush and thus obviously no bleeding heart) pushed through a significant reduction in guns by banning all automatic and semi-automatic weapons, coupled with a government buyback. And Australia hasn’t had any mass gun killings since, not to mention that their gun-related suicide rate has plummeted without any increase in other types of suicides at all. The firearm-related death rates for these four countries look like this per 100,000 population: England: 0.25; Australia: 1.06; Canada: 2.38; and the United States: 9.42. (See this for a list of all countries where you will see that only less developed countries in South/Central America and Africa have rates higher than the U.S. Of the “modern, developed” (rich) countries, the U.S. is definitely the gun-death capitol of the world.)
So it’s great that these young people are joining those of us who have been against guns for a long time. That they now agree with long-time opposers is heartening, and that they are drawing significant attention to this issue is wonderful. Like the veterans, they should understand the important implications of their support, because they can have no illusions that this will be an easy task. But as we’ll see below, there are some positive signs we could see progress this time.
First, understand the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its five million members wield significant sway with many politicians right now, both in terms of financial backing and the ability to deliver votes. On the money front, there are a couple of ways to fight back: In the short term, find candidates and politically active groups to support and donate money to them. It does seem that the U.S. government is for sale, and politicians have to have large sums of money to wage campaigns and conduct public relations which will keep their constituencies happy. So we anti-gun people will have to buy our own representation exactly the same way the NRA has. Given the poll numbers which suggest the majority of Americans are ready for reform, it should be possible to compete with the millions gun groups (especially the NRA) donate to Senate and Congressional races. We could even take some solace in that our bought politicians are at least being paid to save lives.
Hand in hand with that, you can use purchasing power to insist that your dollars don’t go toward the support of the gun industry or its mouth-piece, the NRA. This is an extremely effective way to exert pressure on others who donate large sums to influence politicians. And guess what? Two airlines, six car rental companies, and at least one bank have all eliminated special discount programs open to those with NRA membership. Now Wal-Mart has raised gun purchase age from 18 to 21, and Dick’s Sporting Goods has discontinued sale of assault rifles (expanding a partial ban which came after Sandy Hook). And in perhaps the most interesting development, retailer REI has decided not to reorder from some of its suppliers because their parent company manufactures assault rifles. REI does not sell guns and it bought mostly clothing from these subsidiary manufacturers, but its executives have determined that contributing to the overall revenue of a corporation which sells these kinds of weapons is no longer acceptable business practice. It’s understandable not to trust the words of politicians, especially those of Donald Trump, but once gun manufacturers and the NRA start to feel financial pain, who knows where this could lead?
But the long-term, more important battle is to get Citizens United overturned. (Citizens United is a Supreme Court ruling which more or less allowed unlimited money through super-PACs and the like to corrupt the political process to the point where single-issue groups or wealthy individuals have disproportionate influence in our government.) If you saw NRA leader, Wayne LaPierre, at this year’s conservative summit, CPAC, you heard his unbridled disdain for our law enforcement officials, schools, and mass media, all areas which have little to do with a group supposedly interested in gun safety and hunting. But NRA campaign donations totaling millions to politicians like Senators Mark Rubio and John McCain, as well as Speaker Paul Ryan, have allowed LaPierre and his followers to dictate policy on any issues they feel impact gun sales; thus the NRA’s main solution for making our schools safer revolves around an insane plan to arm teachers, but only the ones who are as good at shooting as Jose Abreu is at hitting home runs. Trump has been all over the place on his proposals following the Parkland shootings, but the Republican leadership has been rock solid in its opposition to doing anything, except proposals like the latter, which the NRA likes because it would lead to more gun sales. Of course we need better gun laws in the U.S., but cutting lobbyists off at the wallet would help us to get better laws for just about everything.
I’ve already seen Facebook memes suggesting that it’s hypocritical for voters to single out politicians who accept NRA donations as bad when the drug, insurance, and other industries also use cash to influence governmental policies to the detriment of us regular folks. So, if we more tightly restrict and limit ALL cash contributions, that won’t be a problem. Nobody’s pet cause should be adjudicated legislatively based on how much money its patrons can pony up. There’s simply too much money in our political system. Maybe those Parkland teenagers should be advocating another of my causes: Political elections which are severely restricted in both time and money spent. In England, for example, a typical general election lasts four weeks, and candidates are prohibited from buying broadcasting time. Contrast that with the billions of dollars wasted on TV ads in the U.S. or the Presidential campaigns which begin at least two years before the actual election—one year into our current administration and potential candidates are already gearing up for their shot in 2020. And no, that’s not just Democrats as John Kasich and Jeff Fluke are clearly making plans to challenge for the Republican nomination.
But, ultimately, voting is crucial to making any of the Parkland teens’ wishes come true. Already, the Florida legislature has backed away from any reforms, and you can be sure Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will be loathe to allow any debate, much less bring any legislation to the floor of either the House or the Senate. Trump has been erratic, but just as during recent immigration discussions on DACA, he doesn’t follow through on any of his controversial proposals unless his Republican cronies and special interest groups agree with him. The only way we will change the gun culture of our society is to make our voices heard on Election Day. So after all the protests and marches and town halls, those of us who want fewer guns in our society need to be sure to show that desire with our votes. For me, it’s pretty simple—if a candidate is willing to accept donations from the NRA or has a high rating from the NRA, he/she will not get my vote. And I don’t really see how any pro-gun people can criticize this approach—it’s the way they have come to control this issue despite overwhelming public sentiment in opposition.
If you’d like to make it even simpler, voting for Democrats or Independents is the easiest way to get gun laws changed. Looking at the 2017 NRA ratings of Senators or the campaign contributions the NRA has made over the years (the top Democrat received $50,000 total for his career, compared with over eight Republicans who have been given over $1,000,000), it becomes crystal clear for whom we should vote if we want representatives who are not beholden to the NRA. The key this year will be the suburbs of urban areas in places like Illinois, California, Texas, and New York which have traditionally supported Republican, “pro-business/anti-tax” candidates, who have fallen in line with the NRA over the years. Congressional districts in rural Alabama or Montana are unlikely to support any changes to current gun laws, but these suburban areas—exactly the communities which have suffered the most school shootings—can make the difference in who controls the legislative branch of our government. Coupled with a different President in 2020, reasonable changes in gun federal gun laws could be in place within three years. No, that won’t be the weeks or months which the Parkland teenagers have demanded, but it would be a huge improvement. It will take even more radical changes in our laws and gun culture to rid ourselves of this mass shooting epidemic completely than seem possible right now even with this optimistic schedule, but modest adjustments could go a long way to reducing their numbers.
It is depressing to contemplate that we are so divided we can’t come together on sensible procedures to prevent unstable people from easily obtaining guns, to agree that assault rifles don’t belong in homes, to ban over-sized magazines (which allow guns to fire significantly more bullets before reloading is necessary), to get rid of bump stocks (which alter guns to fire more rapidly), or to increase the age requirements for rifle purchase from 18 to 21 without significant Congressional and Senate turnover. Let’s hope that the Parkland teenagers—and the rest of us who support their cause’s goals—recognize that no matter how logical anti-gun reasoning is or how brutally tragic future massacres are, given current political realities, nothing will change on the federal level until we have voted many of today’s leaders out of office. And the potential for regression on a wide variety of issues will constantly be at risk as long as the Citizens United ruling is the law of the land. We can make a difference and lower the risk our children take every time they get on the bus to head to school, but it will take a lot more than well-spoken distraught teenagers or a couple of marches. We need to work together to make progress on this deadly scourge in our schools; the first step is to understand the importance of getting the money out of our political process and insisting that our elected representatives do what’s in our best interests, rather than what’s profitable for their biggest donors.
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!)
Now that we’re past the embarrassing Presidential world tour where the headlines seemed most focused on Melania’s brushing off Donald’s attempts to hold her hand, the Pope’s dour facial expressions, handshake duels, bogus arms deals, and GolfCartGate, but before we all become engulfed in memos detailing Trump’s attempts to force high-ranking national security officials to ignore potentially treasonous acts; everyone needs to devote at least a little attention to the budget the White House proposed to Congress right before Trump left the country. As the details of this recommendation become clearer, so does the Republican party’s fundamental priority, philosophy, belief, or however you’d like to label their mantra: If you have resources, you can buy whatever you want; if you don’t, too bad. We all need to recognize just what kind of country the Republican party envisions—at least the Republican party with Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell at its head. While everyone is understandably distracted from this reality with Trump leading a seemingly endless parade of foolish acts and inane tweets, in one area Donald, Paul, and Mitch have been pretty consistent: Rather than proposing anything new or trying to improve current programs, they are dedicated to the “good old days” when wealthy people had an even greater share of this country’s resources and power than they do now. And from health care to withdrawing from the Paris climate accord to huge investments in weapons (all of which, conveniently, can be manipulated by Washington to profit friends and family), every position they stake out screws over those who don’t have very much to begin with.
Naturally, it’s no different with education. The foundation of public schools for many years has been what is basically a socialist construct: We all contribute so that every kid in America can learn the basics every citizen should know. No, that’s hardly an absolute standard since every state legislature or local school board can interpret what those “basics” are in a variety of ways, but at least the cost of however that ideal comes out is shared by all. And yes, the system of paying for education has also been significantly corrupted since it is generally financed through local funding (property taxes here in Illinois) which has created huge differences in how much any one school district spends per pupil. But the Trump administration as led by Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos (a billionaire in her own right), is now proposing an even more dramatic shift in resources which will allow parents more “choice” over the schools that receive their tax dollars. Many rich people already send their children to private schools at their own expense, but DeVos believes they should be able to direct any money they pay in taxes for education to whichever school they wish. In effect, these vouchers would take money originally going to public schools and redirect it to the schools parents select (which would include private and parochial institutions), robbing public schools of crucial revenue when they can ill-afford any decreases whatsoever.
Schools would thus compete with each other to attract parents and their money, with institutions already struggling being left even further behind. And the children whose parents don’t have the resources to get their children out of those impoverished schools? Well, they’re just stuck with an under-funded, second-rate education forever. This is social Darwinism at its worst with those already well-off being subsidized at the expense of the poor who stay trapped and powerless with little hope of their future being any different. That theme plays over and over again in the proposals in Trump’s budget, which is entitled “A New Foundation for American Greatness” (another ready-made lesson in irony). Budgets for health, welfare, education, art, and social service programs are slashed with funding for some sixty-six programs ended entirely.
There are dozens of other sources which can give you more specific details on the ramifications of Trump’s budget, including many which document how directly some of Trump’s staunchest supporters—working class whites—will be hurt by his draconian spending cuts, the better to benefit the wealthy. But it’s crucial for everyone to acknowledge exactly what’s going on here: The gap between the haves and the have-nots in the U.S. has increased significantly in recent years, and Republicans are doing everything they can to encourage, magnify, and accelerate both the gap’s size and the pace at which it widens.
Now, many are pointing out that this budget, like the horrific health care act which came out of the House on May 4, will never be enacted as currently written, that both are “DOA” in the Senate. And let’s all hope that is true. But regardless, this document shows exactly how Trump and his cronies view their constituents. Of course they hide behind the claim that they are cutting ineffective, wasteful programs, but the clear good which comes from things like Planned Parenthood, the National Endowment for the Arts, or Meals on Wheels has been evident for many years. Eliminating or reducing the government’s support for these programs in order to buy more weapons can’t be explained any other way than a preference for getting rid of things which help people so our military can obtain more things which kill them.
I understand that some Republicans would respond to my views with the argument that there are better ways to achieve the goals of the cut programs, but merely repeating that endlessly offers little solace to those who need help. What ideas, programs, or approaches do Trump, Ryan, McConnell and the rest of the Republican Party offer as better alternatives? It seems that they have nothing but “glittering generalities” rather than any concrete, workable solutions. For those of you who have forgotten the propaganda techniques you learned about in high school, a glittering generality is something that sounds good, but has no substance or validity behind it. The most glaring example of this comes from Trump as he was campaigning for the Presidency and regularly characterizing Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) as a “disaster” (it isn’t). His alternative was that he would replace it with “something terrific.” Now that we’ve actually seen his replacement, we know what a ridiculous scam his campaign rhetoric was, unless by “terrific” he meant “awful for anyone who isn’t already a millionaire.” Then there are the flat-out lies he told: His terrific plan would cost less, cover everybody in the country, and make no cuts to Medicare. The reality, though, is that the Trump plan would increase rates for low-income seniors by as much as $12,000 per year, lead to over 20,000,000 Americans losing their coverage, and include some $800 billion in Medicare cuts. Ryan has been the cheerleader for this monstrosity, and we’ll see how McConnell handles the Senate revisions of the highly unpopular proposal in the weeks to come.
That’s not to say that the Democrats are perfect or have all the answers to the many problems which our country faces. But no matter how you try to spin it, Democratic proposals have generally tried to improve things for those less well off—Obamacare, environmental legislation, and a host of other programs now under attack all provided benefits for the poor. You can argue about the effectiveness, sincerity, or cost efficiency of these initiatives, of course, but there can be no denying the fundamental humanity on which the intent of the programs is based. That is in sharp contrast to the callous indifference Republican initiatives show toward anyone who is struggling. From immigrants to decaying urban neighborhoods to senior citizens barely scraping by on social security, the Trump/Ryan/McConnell vision for America works to shift resources away from the neediest to those already well off.
Let’s hope the brazenness and crudity of Trump’s approach will finally help everyone to recognize this key difference and vote accordingly. Many of us are praying that the Trump administration will be short-lived, ending in impeachment (my prediction is he will resign long before the Russian investigation proves how corrupt he is so that President Pence—which sounds almost as bad to me as “President Trump”—can immediately pardon him), but wishing for an end to Trump is hardly much of a strategy to minimize the damage Republican leadership could still do.
Instead, we have to recognize that Donald is not the source of this heartless approach to governing, but merely the loudest symptom of that which has taken over the Republican Party. As someone who spent his younger days criticizing the eight years of Ronald Reagan’s Presidency, I can’t believe how wonderfully progressive his policies seem today. Some have argued that this saint of conservatism would never be even seriously considered in today’s Republican party given that he cooperated with liberal Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, approved tax increases (his two bills passed in 1982 and 1984 together constituted the biggest tax increases ever enacted during peacetime), instituted an amnesty program for undocumented workers, and even lobbied on behalf of stricter gun regulation (all these and more can be found here). That the Republican Party leadership has moved so far from what most Americans (and, I think, Republicans) believe is really quite shocking, and I still don’t understand how we Americans allowed them to take over. Regardless, that needs to be changed as quickly as possible.
Although the circus surrounding Trump’s ignorance and self-absorption will continue unabated for as long as he inhabits the White House, we have to recognize that it’s not just him, that Republican leaders are supporting and enabling him every step of the way. Regardless of what happens with His Orangeness, we have to recognize that the Republican Party is being taken to extremes by others as well.
Thus, every election from now on provides us with the opportunity to alter this tilt toward heartlessness. We need reasonable people to run for office who, regardless of party affiliation, will represent the interests of all of us and who will oppose those who would appeal only to our fears and prejudices. That applies to all parties: While many current Republicans will have to answer for backing Trump/Ryan/Mitchell, I would hope that voters will be astute enough to listen to any candidate—Democrat, Republican, or Independent—to assess her/his level of opposition to our current directions. From the air we breathe to the helpless we protect, nothing about the current heads of our executive or legislative branches represents the best humanity has to offer. We are capable of so much more, and through our actions—especially in voting—we must take steps to make sure our leaders are too.
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.
Last time, we went over a few theories on how Donald Trump was able to overcome all the negative energy which swirled around his campaign to become the 45th President of the United States. It still seems surreal to write that, two weeks later. Regardless of my shock and horror, however (not to mention a spike in suicide hotline calls), Trump will take office in a couple of months, displacing the style and grace of the White House’s previous occupants with arrogance and vulgarity. Sorry about that—the goal here isn’t to heap insults on his personality or take cheap shots at his personal life, but to understand what’s going on now as he prepares to take over the most powerful country in the world.
He really hasn’t been all that specific; “great” covers a pretty wide range of possibilities, especially when your definition includes things like deporting eleven-million people, waterboarding prisoners, erecting thirty-to-forty-foot walls around our borders, and targeting the families of our enemies for death. In other words, all the analysis about his psychology and ego don’t matter in comparison to even the fiftieth most important issue for America which should be on his agenda, or just as importantly, not on it. The wild tweets and paranoid ramblings about everything being “rigged” were great fun for many, apparently, but now our boy has quite a bit of work to do. Is he up for it?
Obviously the answer is no, and that’s where the first and most ominous characteristic of the Trump Presidency will come into play. Trump has little interest in the minutiae of governing, and his personality is even more at odds with taking on its challenges. Turns out, he had no idea how big a task the transition from one administration to another would be, so now poor Obama will have to spend extra time with him to bring him up to speed. When others tried to brief him on the monumental challenge of appointing/hiring some 4,000 staff members in the months prior to his election, he refused to discuss it for fear that doing so would jinx his chances of winning. Nobody, apparently, tells Donald what to do; but besides getting attention and living a life of luxury, Donald doesn’t really care too much about the details which get him those things. His stiffing employees, his inability to admit mistakes, his constant lying, his sensitivity to perceived slights all point to somebody not all that concerned with anything that doesn’t directly impact himself. So this is the man to stay up all night in a heated discussion on the best ways to use U.S. foreign aid in Afghanistan to stop the Taliban from barring girls from schools? Not bloody likely, I’d say.
So all the crucial, day-to-day operations will fall to others. That’s not especially unusual since our government has become way too complex and large for any one individual to be involved in everything. The question, of course, will be the degree to which Donald stays detached from what’s really going on. The first clue as to Trump’s disinterest in the nuts-and-bolts of running America’s Executive branch came right after he secured the Republican nomination and was screening Vice Presidential candidates.
His pitch to potential running mates, according to his first choice, Ohio governor John Kasich, was that the Vice President would largely be in charge of domestic and foreign policy. Since that sums up the job description of the President neatly, Kasich naturally asked then what would Trump be doing. “Making America great again,” is what Donald Trump, Jr., is reported to have told a Kasich’s aide. Unfortunately Kasich, who I see as a pretty reasonable, decent man, chose not to take that offer. Instead, we got Mike Pence, an extremist even by conservative standards. (You can check out a plethora of his positions at Vote Smart, On the Issues.org, and The Patch, for starters—there are hundreds of other websites on which you could find similar lists.) From abortion to guns, but especially on the LBGT community, Pence advocates positions at odds with the majority of Americans. His most infamous proposal was when he was trying to legislate counseling designed to “help” homosexuals learn to be straight, belying all current psychological proof that sexual orientation is an innate trait humans have at birth. (The exact quote, which to be fair has been exaggerated by many, is as follows, according to Snopes: “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”) More recently, Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, an Indiana law which allowed discrimination against gays, but the backlash was so swift and severe that subsequent legislation muted some of the worst parts of the law.
Next you have Steve Bannon, of the Alt-Right website, Breitbart, who will be Trump’s chief policy advisor. Controversial would be an understatement in describing both the stories that appear on this site as well as many Bannon quotes. The less said about this person, the better as far as I’m concerned, but the reality is that Donald will delegate all the vital day-to-day duties of his office—since he will be much too busy basking in the glory of being King of America to be bothered with work—to the people he brings in. And Pence and Bannon will be his two most influential advisors, outside of those other highly qualified experts, his kids and his son-in-law.
This scenario sounds familiar: A leader inexperienced with how our government works takes the Presidency in a very close election where his opponent actually wins the popular vote. To help him with all the Washington workings which he doesn’t understand, he brings in a seasoned pol and an advisor skilled at manipulating public opinion, at least among his “believers.” Yeah, 2016 reminds me a lot of how Dick Cheney and Karl Rove essentially steered George W. Bush’s ship of state back in 2000. But this time, two of the three players are significantly more extreme—Trump (who has no government experience unlike W who had been governor of Texas and came from a pretty well-connected political family) and Bannon (Rove was part of the Republican hierarchy before he became W’s architect and did play well with other Republicans). Cheney as compared to Pence is a closer match, but that’s only because of how extreme Cheney was, not that Pence is more reasonable. Cheney and Rove did have the advantage of playing for the same team, while Pence and Bannon do not. Pence is definitely an “establishment” Republican, which means he’ll be leaning on familiar faces. Reince Priebus, who has been appointed Trump’s chief of staff, shows the Pence influence since Priebus has been chairman of the Republican National Committee. Bannon favors elimination of what we would consider the mainstream of the party (although I’m not really sure with whom he would replace them): He has no love for key party members like House Speaker Paul Ryan, and has openly rooted for the destruction of the party in favor of his Alt-Right, whatever that may be. He really scares most politicians, which given the favorability ratings of most politicians, doesn’t bother a lot of people, especially those who support Trump. So Trump’s key decision will be which side he listens to most or with whom he has been in agreement this whole time.
My belief is that Donald has been pretty much making it up as he goes along; just as Mr. Garrison of South Park has. (Yes, I love South Park , and this season has had a major strand in its plot where a disgruntled ex-school teacher has morphed into a foul-mouthed populist running for President—with Caitlyn Jenner as his running mate—who is swept into office despite his being, by his own admission, unqualified for the job. And I realize I’m destroying what little credibility I might have in stating this, but SP has been phenomenal its last two seasons!) We’ll see based on key appointments which side is holding the most sway.
However, neither side is progressive in the slightest—Bannon and Brietbart are famously popular with white nationalists and the Klan. If you’ve read any of their articles (or even just headlines), you will see an anti-woman, Jew, black, and Muslim slant in many articles. And Pence and his allies see Planned Parenthood as evil; the human impact on climate change as unproven; Roe v. Wade as something to be overturned; stricter voter identification laws as positives; minimum wage as something that must not be raised, gay marriage as an abomination, and deportation as the best path for immigration reform.
The wild card in all this, of course, is Donald himself. His petulance when he attacks people at his rallies or via Twitter show no signs of abating—he just slammed the cast of Hamilton—but he has seemed more conciliatory and gracious when he has appeared in public since being elected. He said the Clintons and President Obama are “good” people, in two different situations. When he traveled to Mexico during the campaign, his meeting with Mexico’s President was hardly confrontational. I have read stories where his foes testify to his likeability in one-on-one situations (just men, of course). His female employees have on occasion praised him for how well they all worked together. So which Donald will we get as President? Has his “evil” side just been a scam to attract angry voters into believing he could be an agent for change? Has our political system devolved so totally that our leaders now have to voice propaganda nonsense (e.g., “Create a Muslim registry!” or “Lock her up!” as Middle Eastern politicians have been required to adhere to a “Death to America” stance in public even while they are seeking U.S. aid through back channels) to fire up and/or placate the masses while pursuing much more reasonable policies in practice? Will we ever be able to trust Donald with the nuclear codes?
Even if Trump turns out to be more moderate and reasonable than we could have hoped, he has surrounded himself with people who have a history of intolerance, far-right policies, and disproved economic theories (How can anyone still believe that “trickle down” is anything other than a description of water seeping into a house?). And we have scant evidence to support the “moderate” Trump theory at this point. Which leaves us with the final question in this new order analysis: What should we who are horrified at the prospect of all the damage Donald might do to the environment, human rights, economic equality, and freedom of expression do? Stay tuned for some ideas on that next time.
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.