Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Resist. Rise up. Rebel.


(Trump Doodle from Aug. 2015) #notmypresident

      In April, students left a "Civil Disobedience Training" flier for a Trump rally on my desk. I was inspired to see organizing against a man I see as a misogynist, racist, bully. How could voters choose a moneyed-thug with zero experience for the most powerful office? How could anyone who offended so many become the representative of this unique and influential country? I am embarrassed by my naive delusions. How could I be so blind to the true obscenity, cynicism, and arrogance of American politics?

        On Election Day, my mood was giddy. I was relieved this bitter campaign would be over. All that wasted cognitive energy could be focused on more enriching subjects. My egalitarian idealism was encouraged by the diversity of voters at my polling site in Queens. I was moved seeing a mother show her young daughter how to vote. But the United States, like politics, is imperfect. This election was supposed to be about the values I thought "We" all valued: reason, equity, justice. That "We" were better than the hate and ignorance dividing us. I was so wrong. 
        Like many people, I was certain Hillary Clinton would be the next President of the United States. As I went about my day, first, at the university and then teaching English to newcomers, I remained blissfully unaware of the political upset to come.
      To be fair, information I received up to that point only indicated to a Clinton victory. I listened to the pundits and political experts. I read op-eds and analysis. I watched Steve Kornacki manipulate graphics and present data on a “smart” screen that only offered scenarios of Trump losing and losing hard. A certain pompousness permeated the studios of 30 Rockefeller Center as the talking heads gleefully assured the audience that Clinton was well on her way to victory. But then, something went wrong - there was a glitch in the system. Kornacki’s screen froze. All the data and reasoned opines couldn’t curb the anger, resentment, and emotion so many Americans have decided to unleash. 
           Perhaps I was the one reading the "fake news"?



      As of this writing, Hillary Clinton has gathered 2.5 million more votes than President-elect Donald Trump. Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, continues to press for recounts in a handful of states. Nevertheless, the out-dated, un-democratic, legal mechanism of the electoral college ensures there is little anyone can do but protest, shout, and watch Trump assemble his nepotistic and inept cabinet. Trump’s administration is also poised to control a Republican House of Representatives, Senate, and there are the looming court appointments. The future looks grim for anyone showing up for social, environmental, and economic justice. 
         Those disrupting Trump rallies were right to speak up and are so now as they continue the protest into the streets and to the fights ahead. People are angry, afraid, and concerned about the real threats of a Trump presidency. To be fair, those who voted for Trump will also have legitimate concerns. Those of us who didn’t disrupt before the election are going to have to start catching up to those who have been. When we do this, we will need to do so in a more effective, intersectional, and holistic way. Effectiveness will mean having conversations with people who voted Trump. The time has come for the hand-wringing, navel-gazing, ineffectual liberal class to admit it - we have been apologist to power for too long and will now suffer retribution for our inaction.
         I voted for the experienced policy-wonk, the establishment candidate, the centrist, neoliberal, Democrat. Hillary Clinton wasn’t ideal and perhaps her public perception was flawed from the start. But often (especially in politics), one must check their idealism and just comprise. Clinton would have been a pragmatic and effective leader. She would have protected women's right to choose, she wanted to expand social security, supported voting rights, believes in climate change, etc. Unfortunately, reason and truth were not animating forces throughout this election.
      The Clinton campaign pushed an optimistic message of America being a great place already. Our differences made us “stronger together.” We were a diverse nation of decent people. The real villain was Trump and his divisive and deplorable bullying. Unfortunately, this warm and fuzzy hand-holding was not what many Americans felt. Neoliberal economic trade deals and the expansion of a growing prison / military industrial complex have adversely affected our very humanity. Human abuse of the ecosystem is now being felt. The grievances and hardships are the same for many, yet somehow the Democrats could not speak to this real hurt. Trump did, through anger and strong bombastic assertions. This election may have revealed deep divisions between our coastal states, urban centers, and rural countryside, but it also revealed a glaring hypocrisy between what we consider civil and decent.
       Trump spoke to a base that grew tired of thinking, pontificating "PC" politicians, and academics long ago. His supporters got much of their information from "fake news" sites. They said, ‘fuck it’ and voted accordingly. Trump was the closest thing to a middle-finger running for President. “Be obscene!” Disrupt the status quo! Why be measured or cautious? Who says you need to be apologetic to your own crimes or even those from history? Trump is unrestrained. He encourages racism and sexism. These aspects of his behavior should not be tolerated by any civil society. Yet we have accepted them, so what does it say about this society? How can conservatives stand beside this tawdry, lewd man? Because he is also their strong man who promises change.
        Part of Trump’s base is labeled the “alt-right.” Trump’s special advisor, Stephen Bannon, has been integral to the success of the "alt-right" message, which rejects egalitarianism, universalism, and multiculturalism. They consider civic and social values a threat to their "white" identity. Essentially, the “alt-right” is a nationalist movement that sees accelerating immigration and globalization as diminishing their “white culture” in the US. But they are not Trump's only supporters.
         Trump also recognized that emotion outweighs truth in politics. He manipulated people’s despair and gave them a story to believe in - even if one rife with lies. Truth is something you feel it to be. Trump utilized “False Evidence that Appears Real” (FEAR). For instance, hyperbolic statements of lawlessness and people being "gunned down in the streets" did not speak to the reality that violent crime has actually gone down. Xenophobic rhetoric was also central to the FEAR campaign. At numerous rallies Trump claimed Muslims in New Jersey were "cheering in the streets on Sept. 11, 2001." Untrue.
        Of course, why should we expect anything less than lies from the carnival barker? Trump’s views and opinions have always been situational. He is no more than a common opportunist. He doesn't hold any true position (other than the obvious - privatization of our social services.) Unfortunately, this shifting, hyperbolic, reactionary stream-of-conscience plays to Trump’s favor. In a sense he is a blank canvas for people to paint whatever dark, twisted, or even noble picture onto. Many of Trump’s supporters admit they took him seriously, but not literally. Which is perhaps why folks who once voted Obama, and then Bernie Sanders, were able to somehow vote Trump in 2016? I don't know. We live in confusing times. 
             Trump managed to turn the presidential primaries and general election into an absurd and disturbing reality show. (I’m embarrassed to admit I watched the first season of “The Apprentice.” I am now embarrassed for watching this election, and for my country…) As with most reality TV - Trump cultivated a persona in which cruelty was entertaining. Clinton expressed her concern about Trump’s “temperament.” Obama called him “unfit” for office. But on reality TV, assholes are rewarded for dishonest and extreme behavior. Arrogance and blind-confidence are just tools of the game. Empathy, nuance, and understanding are seen as weakness. All traits Trump now brings to Washington.
     Ultimately, desperation may have inspired people to vote Trump. But let's face it - the hyperbolic reactions to a Clinton presidency on both the left and right were absurd. I am tired of the blame, the whining, and cynicism. To be fair, the Democrats have a lot of soul-searching and planning to do ahead. They must recognize this as the failure it is. But reflection will need to also take place within the ‘centers of power’ (the media, the academy, celebrities.)
         I can no longer afford to be arrogant. I cannot be blind by emotion - too much is at stake. I recognize the fragility of society. The fabric of civilization is a delicate thing to keep intact. This fabric can be torn by extreme acts, natural disasters, war, and can cause the threads we feel between us to fray.
            Perhaps the USA deserves Trump? 
            Those who voted for him, got him.
       The rest of us must defend our values and not give in to despair.  Now is the time to resist, rise up, and rebel.