Institutions and Trump

I’ve seen pages of digital ink spilled about whether or not our institutions are strong enough to stop the worst of Trump, and just the other day had a conversation where I was told that he was President now, and that we had to trust the system.  Obviously, putting any trust in the “institutions” or “systems” that have already allowed Trump to take power is wrongheaded in the extreme.  But here’s the other thing that anyone who suggests that we calm down, stop over reacting, and trust in our institutions gets wrong.

Institutions are made of people.  They are not living, breathing, sentient beings in and of themselves.  Institutions are created by and sustained by people, and the decisions we make everyday.  Courts can’t stop Donald Trump without people freaking out and filing lawsuits, the free press doesn’t work without people aggressively seeking and reporting the truth, elected officials will too often take the easiest path and so Congress won’t hold anyone accountable without people protesting, marching, and attending townhalls.  Democracy does not just happen on its own through “institutions” chugging along.  Civil rights, extension of voting rights, exposure of corruption, the continuation of democracy, the all happen because people make the institutions work, force them to if necessary.

The protests you see are the institutions working.  Every massive social change and progress in the United States or elsewhere in the world that has been accomplished peacefully is because people trust the systems that are in place, but know that they must be prodded, shored up, protected, or forced to act.  Civil disobedience, protests, and lawsuits show trust in institutions, and that society will do the right thing.  Without that trust you get violent revolution or terrorism, depending on what side you support.  But trust doesn’t mean abdicating responsibility.  It means working through the institutions.  That’s what civil rights heroes, suffragettes, muckrakers, and early unions did.

As the saying goes, democracy is not a spectator sport.  And it should not just happen every four years.  If you don’t like what’s happening, but think things will work out because we’re America, you are wrong.  America works because Americans make it work-and because we are lucky enough to have the tools to make change.  Don’t just trust the institutions, use them.


One of Many Election Post-Mortems

I am in horror today, and like more than half of America I am grieving.  I had so much difficulty seeing my children this morning and wondering what kind of world I’m leaving them, so much trouble talking to the Muslim woman who watches my daughter, and her daughter, who had voted in her first election and been out organizing all week.  So much trouble just driving to work and seeing the news and listening to the radio and pretending that anything is okay.

And I am shocked.  Shocked because of how wrong all of the polls were, in ways no one saw, true.  But also shocked that anyone could have voted for Donald Trump.  Shocked that he could have made it this far.  And I am left wondering how this could happen.  Obviously we have a lot of outreach to do and a good long ways to grow.  But there’s a lot of blame to go around.

Last night I was watching CNN as the election returns came in.  And as it became clear what was happening, the anchors seemed in shock and as horrified as  those of us at home.  And of course they did, because they know what this means, and they know how dangerous Trump is.  But as I was watching, I was wondering, CNN, are you happy with the choices you’ve made?  Happy with the decision to hire people who are still on Trump’s payroll?  Happy with the decision to cover the story of State Department e-mail protocols as if it was the same as every single thing that Trump did?  Happy that you analyzed e-mail dumps from a hack by a foreign power–e-mail dumps that only showed us that Clinton was a politician involved in politics, but nevertheless “raised questions”?  Happy that you spent all of the primary and most of the general election airing Trump’s every utterance, giving him hundreds of hours of free airtime and providing him an unchallenged platform on your station?  Happy with continuing the long-standing practice of evaluating everything based on what it meant for the election rather than what it actually meant for policies and for people?  Because all of these decisions shaped this election and went into making last night’s result happen.

I don’t want to unduly pick on CNN here.  Yes, they made some of the most indefensible decisions, such as hiring Corey Lewandowski.  But I think Jake Tapper has done very good work in pushing Trump’s people, and we’ve all enjoyed Ana Navarro.  Their decisions, though, are similar to what other respected media giants such as NYT, Washington Post, MSNBC and others have made.  Unlimited coverage for Trump, only horse race coverage during the primary, pretending the e-mails are the same as anything else because of “balance” or hating Clinton or who even knows.  On Super Tuesday the major networks barely mentioned Clinton’s wins, and showed Trump’s entire acceptance speech for goodness sake.

During this election season we had at least 1000 articles on Trump’s supporters, and an equal number on Hillary Clinton’s enthusiasm problem.  Where were the articles on her supporters, on why so many people were supporting her, a chance for people to tell the story of why they were voting for Clinton?

When it came to free media of rallies and the like, there was no semblance of balance.  And yet for scandals, the media felt compelled to pretend that the candidates were alike.  For every horrible thing Trump did, the media covered the e-mails.  The articles always summarized the “scandal” by pointing nothing was actually wrong–but there were clouds.  And questions.  And shadows.  Leaving every voter with the impression that there was something wrong when there wasn’t.  Yes, there were articles on Trump’s Foundation, well researched articles on his taxes, but all the scandals together probably got as much focus as e-mails where, well, nothing was wrong, per se, but surely there were questions.

And in the meantime we had to treat everything Trump said as worthy of respect, and pretend that this was a normal race.  Remember when Clinton gave an incredibly well researched speech with loads of obvious examples about how Trump was getting support from the new racist and white supremacist movements?  And then Trump tweeted that Clinton was the real racist?  And then the media the next day played it off as Trump and Clinton were trading barbs?

Many journalists undoubtedly think that they did what they were supposed to do, researching Clinton and researching Trump.  But the truth is that they built up stories about nothing for Clinton into stories of potential scandal, and to voters created the impression that these candidates were equally corrupt and untrustworthy, when there was never a competition.  The pretended that calling Trump racist was just candidates trading barbs.  Pretended that calling the KKK deplorable was a gaffe, rather than digging in to the racism.

And at the tail end of the election, the media published and poured over private e-mails from a hacked server that had almost definitely been procured by a hostile foreign power, and decided to publish a Republican press release rather than waiting a half hour for clarification.

There are ten thousand things that went wrong here, and so many problems in our country that this election has shown.  But I certainly hope that the mainstream media, who, for all the discussion of new media still have a large part to play, are considering the criticism they received throughout a lot more seriously.  Because it is largely due to them that we will now see President Trump.

9 Times the Republican Platform Forgot Donald Trump Is Their Nominee

  1. This platform is optimistic because the American people are optimistic.” (Preamble)
  2. People living paycheck to paycheck are struggling, sacrificing and suffering.” (Preamble)
  3. “Our most urgent task as a Party is to restore the American people’s faith in their government by electing a president who will enforce duly enacted laws, honor constitutional limits on executive authority, and return credibility to the Oval Office.” (Pg. 10)
  4. We pledge to protect the voting rights of every citizen.” (Pg. 16)
  5. [T]he next president must not sow the seeds of division and distrust…” (Pg. 39)
  6. The oppressed have no greater ally than a confident and determined United States, backed by the strongest military on the planet.” (Pg. 41)
  7. As a nation, we honor the sacrifice of our fallen service members….As a party, we seek to honor their sacrifice and comfort their families.” (Pg. 45)
  8. We affirm our party’s tradition of world leadership established by President Eisenhower….It embraces American exceptionalism and rejects the false prophets of decline and diminution.” (Pg. 46)
  9. A Republican administration will restore our nation’s credibility.” (Pg. 46)

Don’t be Fooled. Donald Trump is Actually the Worst.

There is not much that people of all sides of the aisle can agree on, but here is one: This Republican nomination process has been a bizarre, surreal train wreck. 17 candidates, many of whom I’ve already forgotten, a former front runner who thinks that the pyramids were built to store grain, and the current front runner and likely nominee a blowhard and reality television personality who has been a national joke for years.   No one took him seriously, and no one thought he could win, and yet, here we are. Trump has won three of the first four primaries/caucuses, and came in second in Iowa. It looks like he’s going to sweep most of today’s Super Tuesday states. It seems hard to believe, but what one also has to remember is that, looking at the original slate of 17 nominees, we were always faced with a conundrum: all of them had fatal flaws, and examined individually it was easy to say for each of them that they could never be the nominee. And yet one of them was going to be.

It looks increasingly like Trump will be the Republican nominee. And while I think/hope that he would get trounced in the general, the fact is that in our two party system, whoever wins the Republican nomination has a non-zero chance of becoming president. And the thought of President Trump is absolutely horrifying.

What has been most surprising to me, though, is that there are still many people who don’t seem to understand quite how dangerous and terrifying Donald Trump, and the fact that he is garnering such strong support, actually is. The Republican Establishment seems to have had a very difficult time deciding if they needed to stop Trump because while they don’t like him, they really hate Cruz.* The more intellectual wings, like National Review , have decided to go all-in after Trump, but through this they’ve inadvertently exposed how awful they really are. NR’s anti-Trump issue mostly ignored Trumps calls for Muslim registries and yearning for Operation Wetback to accuse Trump of not really being Republican and not really being all in for tax-breaks for the rich. At the last debate, where Cruz and Rubio finally seemed to realize they were running against Trump, they both apparently criticized Trump for not wanting people to die in the streets from lack of insurance.

Even more disturbing, though, is that some progressive folks seem to think that Trump winning the nomination would be better than alternatives. Their reasoning varies. Some think that Trump doesn’t have a chance in the general. And while I mostly agree, again, whoever is the Republican nominee could conceivably be elected. Some seem to think that Cruz is worse, or, just looking at policies, see some random points of agreement with Trump when he’s talking his populist talk and think at least there are more points of agreement. And others seem to take so much joy in watching the Republican party burn that they are ignoring that the rise of someone like Trump, even if it causes agita across the aisle, is terrible for our country.

Trump is a racist and a fascist, a word I am more than comfortable using with him. He doesn’t want to be a president, he wants to be a dictator. It sounds so meaningless to say things like that, since those words have been robbed of so much power in the past 20 years, but in this case it is absolutely true and needs to be confronted head on. His prominence is already stirring up the darkest elements of our country, and it needs to be stopped.

Consider on the one hand his support from and coziness with white nationalists. This weekend he refused to condemn a recent endorsement from David Duke and the KKK, saying that he didn’t know enough about them. He’s since said that it was due to a faulty earpiece, but no one believes that. His previous disavowel of white nationalists who were endorsing him was done in such a way to confirm everything that they were for, and was such a friendly “disavowel” that the organization said he did so “in the nicest possible way.” His statement that Mexico is only sending over rapists and murderers, wanting to have a Muslim registry, condemnation of Black Lives Matters and their protestors, all of these are giving an even greater voice to long-simmering racist and white nationalist part of our nation than they’ve had previously. It is not particularly surprising that Jean-Marie Le Pen recently endorsed him.

And while some people point to long-standing Republican anti-immigrant policies, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and the southern strategy that’s tacitly encouraged the racist side of the party, saying that this is more of a change in style than of substance, at some point the style is different enough that it is a change of substance. And that is what we see in Donald Trump’s complete disregard of constitutional rights, and his outright support of racist violence.

Trump has proposed banning Muslims entirely from entering the United States via a travel ban. He has proposed a registry for Muslims. He has encouraged attendees at his rallies to beat up protesters on numerous occasions. Going further, he has said that he will pay the legal bills of anyone who beats up a protester at one of his rallies. When discussing foreign policy he wants to kill the families of terrorists. In a stance that, unfortunately, doesn’t set up that far apart from much of the Republican party, he’s unapologetically pro-torture and wants to bring back waterboarding and worse. When three men beat up a homeless Latino man in Boston, Trump said that they were just passionate about making America great again. As thin-skinned as any other dictator, Trump has said that one of the first things he’ll do as President is change the First Amendment so that he can more easily sue any newspaper that writes something bad about him. Yesterday, he had 30 black students removed from a speech he was giving at their college.^ There’s absolutely no reason to believe that his praise for Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin is anything other than sincere.

No matter how much I might dislike Cruz, no matter how destructive I think he is—after all, his actions during the debt limit increase and the government shutdown show that he’s pretty willing to burn it all to the ground, too—he at least isn’t out and out encouraging violence against anyone who disagrees with him, nor does he seem to be directly inspiring it. And while some progressives might take delight in seeing the consternation Trump is causing the Republican party and think that it’s okay for him to have the spotlight for now since he’ll get trounced in the general, that is a position that can only be taken by someone who knows that they won’t be affected no matter what. The hate crime in Boston, the number of crimes against Muslim immigrants in the past few months, and the rise in interest in white nationalist groups since Trump began his campaign, shows that giving a platform to this sort of hatefulness in the country is always dangerous.

I have no idea what a Trump presidency would actually look like. After all, I doubt Congress would eliminate the First Amendment just so that Trump could sue, and who knows, maybe imprison, the editors of the New York Daily News. Perhaps he’d quit in frustration after about 6 months. But I do know that no matter what, he has given voice to an ugly and dangerous strain in American politics, and that no one should be cheering for Trump to win anything. Fascism is not a joking matter.

*Please note, I don’t blame them for hating Cruz, who in any normal nominating contest would be The Worse. I just don’t think they should let their personal feelings blind them to how awful Trump is.

^And there has not been early enough criticism of Valdosta College or the Secret Service for going along with this, as far as I’m concerned.