Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What I Learned During Eleven Days in January 2017

To say the least, it's been an exciting (some would say bizarre) eleven days since Donald Trump took office.  We've seen him engage in Twitter fights over the size of his inauguration crowd (he said the "dishonest media" downplayed it, and his press secretary claimed it was the biggest crowd in recorded history, or something like that).  The new president also repeated his assertion that millions of illegal immigrants voted, and stole the popular vote from him (no evidence of it, and governors from both red and blue states have denied that such a thing occurred).

We've seen a number of billionaire nominees for cabinet positions, many of whom are not qualified for the post they've been offered... but all of whom will probably get confirmed anyway (extreme wealth has its privileges).  We've also seen a sudden and highly disruptive ban-- and yes, it is a ban-- on immigrants from certain predominantly Muslim countries (while others, including several countries involved in 9/11, didn't get on the list... some of the new president's critics believe that's because he does business in those countries, a fact his press secretary denied); as a result of the new Executive Order, legal immigrants with green cards found themselves detained for hours, or told to go back to their countries, and an Iraqi interpreter who had helped the US and was given a visa in appreciation was not only detained but handcuffed like a criminal... yet Mr. Trump told the media that everything was fine and the order was implemented very smoothly; he also claimed that former President Obama had issued a similar order (when in fact what Mr. Obama had done was quite different). 

And speaking of the media, we've had one of his inner circle, Steve Bannon, basically tell the assembled members of the press that they had humiliated themselves as a result of how inaccurately they reported the election, and it was time for them to shut up and spend their time listening; and another of his inner circle, Kellyanne Conway, suggested that journalists who were critical of Mr. Trump deserved to be fired.  Mr. Trump too continued to insist wherever he spoke that he had been treated badly by the "dishonest media."  And yet, repeatedly, the new president sought out media attention and seemed upset when he didn't receive enough of it (or when it wasn't the approving and adulatory kind he wanted).  

There was a massive (and peaceful) Women's March to express opposition to Mr. Trump and his policies-- large crowds gathered in city after city.  But Mr. Trump said the crowds were small (they were not).   His surrogates then claimed the March for Life, annually held by abortion opponents, would have far larger crowds (it did not); and that the mainstream media would ignore the march (not true-- it received considerable coverage from all the networks & print publications).  Mr. Trump's sudden Executive Order to ban Muslim immigrants (and favor Christian immigrants) was met by large and vocal crowds who opposed the new policy and who questioned its legality; it was also met by a number of volunteer lawyers who tried to help the detainees, especially the green card holders.  Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union received $24.1 million in online donations-- five times the amount the organization receives in a typical year.  And while liberal and center-left publications wrote about families unnecessarily and arbitrarily denied entry even after being vetted for several years, the conservative media continued to promote stories about problems caused by immigrants, such as emphasizing how many crimes they commit.  Various conservative publications insisted the Muslim ban is necessary to keep us safe, and denied that there was any problem with the Executive Order.

So, here's what I've learned:  Mr. Trump sincerely believes he can run the White House like he (fictionally) ran The Apprentice; he has an autocratic style, admires other autocratic leaders, and has no interest in building any bridges or doing any outreach to those who didn't vote for him.  He also seems to believe there are no norms any more-- he can disregard longstanding customs and precedents, and be as vengeful or petty or unkind as he wishes, whenever he wishes, to whomever he wishes.  Just about no Republican right now wants to stand up to him-- perhaps because the party has a series of policies it hopes to implement and he is the vehicle by which these things will get done, or perhaps because they fear getting on the wrong side of him and being subjected to his wrath, or perhaps they will do anything to remain in power, even if it means ignoring their constitutional duties. And based on what I am reading in the conservative press and on social media, his supporters are delighted by what he has done, and they see no problem with how he has acted thus far. 

But many of the rest of us disagree.  And while I was pleased to see so much energy and so many protests, I had to wonder:  how many of the folks who are now so actively dissenting stayed at home on election day because either Bernie wasn't on the ballot or they believed Hillary Clinton would be no better than Donald Trump.  I wonder if they still feel the same way now, eleven days after Mr. Trump took office.  I also wonder what the next eleven days will bring, and whether any of it will be good for our democracy.  Somehow, I fear the answer is "no."  Somehow, I fear that the partisan divide will only widen, and the anger will only increase.  Mr. Trump seems determined to crush anyone who doesn't agree with him or didn't vote for him; in his administration, compassion seems to be in short supply.  I am normally a positive person, and yes, I've lived through worse than this (I survived the Nixon administration, for example). But while I want to remain positive, I'm finding few reasons to feel optimistic at this point.  Tell me:  am I wrong?  

Friday, January 20, 2017

Nobody Told Me There'd Be Days Like These

I was reading the morning newspaper today, and noticed an article about eager Trump supporters heading for the inauguration.  Okay fine, there were eager Obama supporters heading for his inauguration in 2009 and 2013; so the fact that Mr. Trump has eager fans is no great surprise-- all politicians have their loyal followers.  But what caught my attention is that one of the Trump supporters was someone I had encountered online, who liked to send me at times-gloating, at times profane, at times-angry messages.  I was the enemy, of course, because I was from "the other side"-- I was among the millions of Americans who did not vote for Donald Trump.  This offended the aforementioned person greatly.  One of this person's last messages to me was that I'd better "get on board the Trump train or it will run you over."  No offense, but that sounded rather threatening.  But then, so did much of Mr. Trump's campaign rhetoric and many of his tweets.

In Trump world, either you're with him 100% (meaning you believe everything he says, even when it's demonstrably false) or you deserve to be verbally attacked and then shunned.  And like Mr. Trump, that is how all too many of his fans react. If you try to fact-check some outrageous and false claim he made, you are told that "fact-checkers are liberal" or that you're just a tool of the "lying media," or worst of all, you must be a "libtard."  If you know me, you know I try my very best to be courteous on social media, even when I am disagreeing with someone; but I really dislike being called names, and much of the time, I find there's no interest in having a dialogue-- their side is right, everyone else is wrong, end of story.

Something tells me it's going to be a very long four years, assuming Mr. Trump lasts his full term without being impeached.  He claims to support only the American worker, yet he packs his cabinet with billionaires and right-wing ideologues who have never shown one ounce of interest in workers' rights.  He perpetually said Hillary Clinton belonged in jail for her alleged corruption and her ties to Wall Street, yet he refuses to release his taxes, refuses to address his many conflicts of interest, seems to be more concerned about enriching himself and his "brand" than anything else, and, of course, he has hired a multitude of current and former Wall Street insiders to help him run his government.  To those of us on the left, the hypocrisy is stunning.  Yet he claims he is "draining the swamp."  Sorry, but it does not look that way.

Today, I got an anonymous letter in the mail.  It seemed to be from a Trump supporter, someone who saw a recently published letter to the editor of my local newspaper, that I wrote in defense of Hillary Clinton.  (Note to Trump fans:  I was a Bernie supporter, but I still felt Hillary was subjected to some very unfair treatment by Republicans, and especially by Trump fans.)  The person, who didn't have the courage to sign his or her name, sent me my letter, cut out from the newspaper, with a note saying basically that Hillary doesn't deserve my defense of her, and that she belongs in jail.   I guess when you're a Trump fan, your enemies remain your enemies forever.  Sad.

It all just reminded me how I am going to miss Barack Obama.  I didn't always agree with him, but he was a gentleman, he was eloquent, and in a crisis, he was the adult in the room.  I cannot picture him sending out angry and vengeful tweets at 2 AM.  I cannot picture him petulantly attacking someone he perceived had wronged him.  Did the campaign rhetoric sometimes get heated?  Of course, on both sides.  But in his role as president, Mr. Obama was someone you could count on to be rational and logical.  He was also someone who never lost his optimism no matter how many times he was subjected to rudeness or obstruction from Republicans. 

I am also going to miss Michelle Obama.  It makes me furious when I read the tweets from Trump fans about how now, finally, we have an elegant and classy first lady in Melania Trump.  Excuse me, but Michelle Obama was absolutely elegant and classy.  She was also a role model for young women, especially young women of color-- yes, the custom for First Ladies is that they must give up any professional life they had before (a retro expectation that it's time we changed), but she handled the duties of First Lady with dignity and good humor.  She embraced pet causes like fighting against childhood obesity, and she also embraced popular culture, whether it was going on talk shows, or doing karaoke, or even dancing.  She was beautifully dressed, as we expect First Ladies to be, but she was also a passionate and eloquent speaker, and someone worthy of admiration.

The racist remarks made about both Barack and Michelle are shameful. Disagreement with a president's policies is to be expected, but some of the criticism was nothing more than crude racism.  I hope the current administration will not empower such attitudes, but I fear it will.  I fear Mr. Trump will continue to say outrageous things (as he even did in his jaw-dropping inaugural address), and more than his rhetoric, I fear that he will continue to do only what benefits himself, while he takes credit for the positive achievements of others before him (including Mr. Obama).  And above all, I fear that we will remain a nation divided, where those who truly do need help don't get it, and those who already have more than they should (including the billionaires in his cabinet) will just get even more.

If you are a Trump fan, I know you are happy right now, and that's understandable-- when our favorite candidate wins, we tend to rejoice.  But I beg my friends who supported this man to think about the rest of us. We are not losers.  We are not the enemy. We are not libtards.  We are Americans too, and we are worried about what lies ahead.  We don't want to get on board the Trump train (many of us still see him as the ultimate con man), but we don't want to be run over either.  I can't predict what lies ahead, but if the rhetoric up to this point is any indication, it's gonna be a bumpy ride.