I think I mentioned at some point that I’m working on a longer project that might be released in ebook form. Surprise, it focuses on the current messy state of American politics! So, I’m thinking that I should release a portion of it to my readers, not only as a free preview, but to receive feedback. It’s loosely based on this post which I wrote a long, long time ago.
Enjoy. But, seriously, don’t be afraid to write your comment below (unless you watch Fox News, then I don’t really care about your opinion).
The Trump Age: An Anxious Corridor
A lot happened in 2017. Many of the topics that preoccupied us a year ago, despite the rapid churn of the news cycle, still arrest our attention today. What’s on the menu, then?
So many topics to cover, and they barely scratch the surface of the changes we’re all waiting for. This book was inspired by a blog post I wrote on my website months ago. Surprisingly, it’s still one of my most popular posts, and seemed like a suitable theme for a book. What I was trying to nail down in that post was how to exactly define this age we find ourselves in. Specifically, how to label it. “An Anxious Corridor” seemed fitting because the underlying theme that sticks out (at least for me) is that many issues under this administration, both when it comes to “formal” policy and informal interactions with the public via tweet/expression of bigoted views during press interviews etc, are still ongoing.
With the midterms rapidly approaching, all of these issues are colliding without apology, and everything seems to be coming to a head. In a way, it’s worrying since much of the information I’m presenting in this book could be obsolete by the time of its release. I’ve tried to counteract this by touching on the perpetual narratives of the Trump administration. Things that have transcended the news cycle and have become part of the daily political discourse that keep our beloved news anchors occupied.
What to expect from this book?
This book is more of a broad overview of the most pressing issues (again, in my opinion). But, a zoomed out view of the problems in the United States and the world’s stage precipitated by President Trump and his ragtag collection of cabinet officials isn’t mutually exclusive with providing details. A sweeping analysis of these issues requires two things: pinpointing ongoing problems that, when taken together, are consistent with a unifying theme. Secondly, the details provided should be the most relevant ones when discussing the subject. While self-righteous finger-pointing when it comes to hypocrisy is a vital and productive part of free speech, sometimes it can garble the intended message.
Okay, so without further padding the length of this book, let’s get to it!
Racism Under Trump
This is an extremely broad topic. It affects everything from police engagement with citizens, to immigration policy to societal shifts inspired by Trump’s devolution of presidential language. Trump exploited a deeply ingrained racism in the Republican party while on the campaign trail, touching on several cultural flashpoints to ignite these culture wars (or re-ignite them, depending on your perspective).
While racism was an enduring problem during the Obama years, the blame was unjustly placed at his feet. By contrast, Trump chose to inflame an already severely embedded racism with anti-immigration rhetoric, mostly focused on Mexicans and Muslims. Once in office, this rhetoric never lost its utility–via tweet, Trump “doubled down,” attacking immigrants and African Americans. He feuded with Jemele Hill, anchor for ESPN, and has consistently insulted the NFL for allowing protests to occur on the neatly-trimmed grass.
But his twitter fingers were active well before then, labeling Muslims as risks to National Security. He re-tweeting far-right, anti-Muslim videos, accused Puerto Ricans of being lazy and “wanting everything done for them.” Berated Lavar Ball, father of LiAngelo, one of the basketball players released from a Chinese prison due to Trump’s haggling with Xi Jinping.
Trump has a habit of kicking minorities when they are down, and when called on it, retreats into the comforting hole of denial.
But the president’s racism extends far beyond the tweeting. Trump decided to end DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, reversed an Obama-era policy that banned police departments from purchasing surplus military gear. In a news conference, he told police to “not be too gentle when putting them in the back of the police car.”
His “both sides” rhetoric after a member of the far-right killed a protester in Charlottesville supported Neo-Nazis and the KKK and. Trump’s “both sides” speech resonated so much with the far-right that David Duke, former High Imperial Wizard, congratulated Trump for his honesty.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg really, and it is clear from them alone that Trump enacts bigoted policy, but also continuously invokes bigoted language, which is obviously a form of policy in itself.
It’s the effects of Trump’s language and policy on society that are left “hanging in the balance.” There have been many negative side-effects of emboldened racism occuring at the societal level.
On the liberal side of the coin, there is significant anxiety that Trump’s vision of America will slowly become reality. At the time of writing, Congress is currently debating the issue of immigration. DACA recipients are being held hostage by the Trump administration until legal immigration is limited via ending “chain migration” and the diversity visa lottery.
While various immigration bills are tossed back and forth in Congress, ICE is reveling in its newfound prosperity. In the past year alone, there have been numerous raids in latino communities, causing what one can only imagine as a torturous waiting period. What will happen to them under the Trump regime? Labeling latinos as criminals was a phony pretext for giving ICE expanded powers to abduct and detain at their discretion.
As if that wasn’t terrifying enough, ICE has expressed a desire to become a part of the intelligence community, with all of the spying powers we associate with that shadowy arm of government.
ICE abductions and detainment of immigrants is only one aspect of consistent abuses of power when it comes to law enforcement. There have been a number of police-related incidents targeting not only latinos, but African Americans as well. One Kentucky cop said “If black, shoot them.”
I guess conservatives will use their go-to argument and say that it was “taken out of context.” Okay.
When you are existing in the moment of these societal transformations (more or less emboldened racism), it is difficult to see how far it will go. After Trump used his “Shithole countries” line, and said that he would like more immigrants from places like Norway, the only official response was that he said “shit-houses.” It seemed that the Trump administration was at least original in crafting a new type of “racism denial” response, in that the denial offered didn’t rise up to the standards of establishment politics because the essential meaning stayed the same.
In a way, this is an expression of a kind of power dynamic. While in modern times we tend to think of language as sterile and not having much influence over reality, the opposite is true when we are talking about presidential language. It’s almost like when a statement clearly has one obvious meaning, power is expressed through the denial of the obvious. “I’m saying the same thing using different words, but what the hell are you going to do about it?”
As the expectations for what is considered proper political language are changing, it’s possible we’ll see an increase in violence toward minorities as Trump is re-defining the phrase “presidential language.” We are already seeing this at the government level, with ICE being given expanded authority and police having access to surplus military gear. Trump’s racist comments and flippant denials of obvious meaning are propaganda used to perpetuate violence predicated on racism.
Citizens will see racism being tolerated in the various branches of government, and assume that the consequences will be minor or temporary. Not only that, but putting perceptions of consequences aside, there’s another social element worth considering: cult-like white supremacy doesn’t necessarily need assurances that consequences won’t befall them. If a violent behavior is accepted enough, legal deterrents fail.
Impeaching a Red Herring
The sound of protesters demanding Trump’s impeachment grew to a cacophony in 2017. But it’s 2018 and POTUS is still here, more entrenched than ever.
When the Justice Department appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel overseeing the Trump campaign’s connection into Russian meddling into 2016’s presidential election, it seemed to many on the left that it was only a matter of time until Donald trump was ousted from his perch. Since then, the picture has become much more complicated.
It was recently revealed that Trump gave the order to fire Mueller back in July, but the threat of resignation by a White House counsel member forced the president to back down. A rare occurrence. That didn’t stop the Trump administration and its allies from hatching a plan that didn’t include firing Mueller, but instead focused on a long, drawn-out campaign to discredit the special counsel. With the release of the Nunes memo, approved by the House Intelligence Committee and rubber stamped by the White House, conservative media outlets could focus on discrediting the FBI’s investigation into former Trump campaign manager Carter Page.
According to Republican establishment saint Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan, the Nunes memo “had nothing to do with the Russia investigation.” However, Trump’s tweet after the memo’s release indicated that he believed it vindicated him. So did the conservative media. By extension, so did many GOP voters.
Putting aside this sequence of names, tweets, and formal titles, what else do we have left? Trump has sought to discredit Mueller by any means possible. In this current political atmosphere, verbal bludgeoning can supersede laws. When Fox News decided to marry the Donald, the Oval Office became a force to be reckoned with. Robert Mueller doesn’t need to be fired to blunt the sword of justice. As it is has often been noted, the process of impeachment is mainly political. If the intelligence community and Justice Department are demoralized and made to look weak, the ongoing investigation will be tarnished, and the final report will look compromised. It looks incredibly likely that if Republicans maintain their majorities in the House and Senate that the results of Mueller’s investigation could be anticlimactic. In other words, they’ll look the other way no matter how many laws have been violated because the political narrative demands compliance.
Another uncertainty is the necessary consequence of a successful impeachment. I say uncertainty to be polite–Mike Pence is a horror show of vaguely Christian values. He’s as far-right as you can be, and would most likely hyper-prioritize issues of religious freedom, a pretext for giving acts of violence perpetuated by white supremacy a free pass.
Suppose Mike Pence is ensnared by the Russia probe, removed alongside a vehemently protesting POTUS. Paul Ryan at that point would fill the moldy shoes of the presidency. Paul Ryan’s ultimate ambition is entitlement reform. Put another way, he’d gleefully slash much of the government benefits that the poor and middle-class benefit from. He epitomizes the Republican strategy of packaging siphoning funds from the poor and sending them up to upper-class heaven as free-market capitalism.
Impeachment also relies upon a a wave of political disapproval. Trump’s approval ratings have risen recently, primarily due to Republican style tax cuts and its taking credit for the fact that the United States is riding an economic escalator.
On the subject of political approval: It’s important to note that Fox News has already exonerated Trump before the evidence has rolled in. Since Fox is the go-to media outlet for many of Trump’s supporters, reality is a distant second when deciding whether or not to continue to support the fumbler-in-chief. The incredibly right-leaning news channel downplays focus on issues damning to Trump, and will exaggerated perceived benefits from tax cuts, and highlight an improving economy.
So here comes the theory of insulation + self-interest + privilege. Many Republican voters are insulated from issues of racism, see modest increases in their paychecks as signs of an emerging golden age, and are incredibly mired in self-interest. This is a catastrophic combination in itself, but these ingredients are removed from the pool of self-reflection due to the Fox News/Trump feedback loop.
You could say it seems uncertain whether or not conservative voters will come to their senses, but it seems like a foregone conclusion that their minds have already crystallized around the various issues related to Trump, in large part because of Fox News’ muscular response to anti-Trump sentiment.
This leaves Democrats, and supposed “independent voters.” It’s true that Democrats have seen encouraging successes in state elections, but when we combine those successes with the steady uptick of Trump’s approval rating, the midterm picture becomes murky. In the conservative American mind, taxes take precedence over issues of racism, continued independence of various democratic institutions, and proper checks and balances. The conclusion to draw here is that there is no clear way of telling whether or not Democrats will attain majorities in the House or the Senate, the latter seems especially difficult.
Even if Democrats manage to eek out majorities in either or both chambers, their collective caliber is still up for debate. We’ve already seen evidence of neutered Democrats in Congress collapsing under the weight of Republican shaming and pressure. Come 2018, we might see a wave of right-leaning, or identity-less Democrats take over. For sure, Democrats in government are having a bit of an identity crisis because they feel uncertain about their ideological connection to their voters.
The problems stemming from the idea of Donald Trump’s impeachment aren’t just coming from one direction, and it’s unclear if they’ll resolve themselves, or if Republican control of the three branches of government will only increase after the midterms. It’s certainly possible, and the “feel good” fallacy is relevant when it comes to these issues. The concept behind the “feel good” fallacy is simple. It assumes that what is deemed as ethically correct will prevail in the end. But there is no “end,” only eras.
Another argument tossed out into the ideological arena is the notion that by liberals impeaching Trump, they are simply trying to overturn the results of the 2016 election. Republicans would always view Trump’s removal from office as illegitimate, and would turn a vengeful eye to whatever liberal president followed. It’s an interesting debating point–more in the sense that it seems to prey on anxieties about the future political landscape rather than making a fair point. This is another element that fosters the “neutered Democratic senator” narrative.
The fact that Republicans would bear a grudge holds little bearing on reality. But let’s play Devil’s advocate. During the Obama years, Republicans maintained and even heightened the connection with their base by constantly criticizing President Obama, from his apparently poor choice of suits to Obamacare, and finally, the Benghazi affair. Republicans in Congress largely defined themselves as anti-Obama-and his impeachment was a fairly regular topic among conservatives in Congress. Suggested reasons for impeachment included false claims that he was born outside the United States, resistance to enforcing immigration laws, and granting bathroom privileges to people so that they might use bathrooms relevant to their gender identity. Oh, the horror!
Point being that we’re living in a kind of fantasy land if we think that Republicans will be inspired to magnanimity if liberals “go easy” on Trump. For sure, it will be another cultural flashpoint Mitch McConnell and his ilk will use if Trump is removed from office, and a deep-seated anger among Trump’s core supporters will probably persist far into the political future. I would suggest that his base is already deeply frustrated, and Trump’s impeachment would be just another bag of sand on their shoulders. Despite their irrational, childlike resentment, it would also demonstrate that there are consequences to executive overreach and serving the office in “bad faith”.
If you manage to slog all the way through my commentary, I’d love to know what you think! This is still very much a work in progress.