SOME SHORT TIME FOR SELF PITY…THEN PREPARE TO FIGHT
The last time I had this feeling? 9/11. I remember staring at the screen, slack-jawed, as the second plane struck the South Tower. See, up to that time one could entertain a certain level of denial. But when that second plane struck, it was clear that we were witnessing something truly horrible. This wasn’t some tragic mistake, pilot error or mechanical malfunction. What the world was witnessing on that fateful day was a catastrophe that would change the course of history for the worse.
That’s how I felt as I watched Hillary Clinton’s firewall in Pennsylvania dissolve. Then the state turned from pale blue to light pink. There was no denial anymore. Florida wasn’t just some fluke. What I was witnessing was a political calamity that would almost certainly change the course of history for the worse.
It was a sinking feeling. Lonely. A bit of desperation over elements of which I had no control. All I could do was sit and wait for the bad news.
I would not be able to wake my daughter and tell her that we elected the first woman president.
It was over.
And I couldn’t shake this over-riding feeling of self pity mixed with a visceral loathing for my own nation that it could be either so callous as to elect a borderline sociopath, or so ignorant that it could fall for an obvious flim-flam man.
So, all right. I allowed myself a few hours of sorrow and resentment. Sometimes you just have to do that.
Now, however, the anger is setting in and I have a few things to say.
First, it didn’t take long for nausea to set in while the talking heads on television scolded themselves for not seeing this coming. How could Donald Trump have pulled off such a coup? It’s mind-boggling.
Um…I don’t know. How about the fact that the media was absolutely derelict in its first and primary responsibility–informing the public. Instead, it pandered to its market interests by providing an uncritical center stage for Donald Trump and a forum for tried and true bullshit scandals pertaining to Clinton. In some twisted obligation to journalist standards, however, the media perpetuated a false equivalence between the two candidates. In no universe is Donald Trump a better option than Hillary Clinton, yet the press always treated Trump as a legitimate candidate, which necessitated laying a shadow over Clinton’s qualifications.
Let alone the fact that Trump had a virtual twenty-four hour personal news infrastructure at his disposal with FoxNoise and on-line networks like Brieitbart. The mainstream media, which Trump hates and will almost certainly dis-empower as president, served as his lapdog throughout his campaign because having a Trump bit sold advertising space. This amounted to billions of dollars in free campaign advertisement.
The Trump narrative was all the rage, at least until the candidate started excluding reporters and threatening to attack freedom of the press once elected. Then it wasn’t so funny anymore. Even at that point, a critical analysis of Donald Trump’s policies always took second billing to the scandalous things the self-professed billionaire said. The press, and many on the left, deluded themselves into thinking that, at some point, he would say the one scandalous thing that would permanently discredit him. Yet, the scandalous things he was saying is what drove his approval ratings! Everyone but the press had that figured out pretty early on.
Scarce was any effort in describing the actual consequences of his policy positions. Of course policy doesn’t sell advertising space, so…you know.
Something else that sold advertising space was the pummeling of Hillary Clinton’s reputation. Any hint that something may be a bit questionable on the part of Secretary Clinton was headlined as “Scandal Rocks Clinton Campaign.” “Clinton Campaign Scrambles to Deal with Latest Scandal.” When it turned out that the so called scandals were nothing more than tabloid fodder–and they always turned out that way, as they have for the last quarter century–well, you had to scroll down pretty far to learn those details. After all, non-scandals don’t sell advertising space.
The press was absolutely complicit it Donald Trump’s rise with its selective, sensationalist reporting and its efforts to create marketable nail-biter out of what should have been, by any measure, a lopsided contest between a dedicated and eminently qualified public official and a bilious, blathering blowhard.
So when election analysts sitting behind a glass desk turn to Chuck Todd and ask, ‘how could this have happened?’ I get agita. Please!
Quite frankly, the most offensive discourse on this calamity, repeated ad infinitum by the morbidly apologetic Chuck Todd et. al, was that of everyone underestimating the “angry, white male.” Oh, the angry, white male showed up in
droves for their candidate. Had the Democrats only spoken to the angry, white male voter, maybe things could have been different. Of course, they had absolutely no data to support this conclusion, and preliminary data appears to disprove this claim, but hey, having actual data does not sell advertising space. A popular narrative does.
Look, if there’s one thing that Donald Trump has contributed to the political discourse it’s the value of “calling it as it is.” So let’s do just that, shall we? We didn’t underestimate the angry, white male. What we underestimated was the level of bigotry, selfishness and ignorance that pervades our society. There wasn’t anything that Hillary could have done to appeal to the angry, white male, because that particular white male was angry at women, gays, minorities and Muslims. After all, shouldn’t angry, white males be angry with the candidate who supports getting rid of the federal minimum wage. You honestly think that this was about economics? Come on! This was about “those people” intruding on white, male privilege. After all, no population has been more adversely impacted by the economy than African Americans. Who did they vote for?
If you’re a Trump supporter reading this, you are most likely thinking, ‘yeah, but those people just want a hand out. I want a job.’
Finally, I really don’t want to hear any more about how Republicans really don’t like Donald Trump, but they voted for him because Hillary was so much worse. I’m already seeing my pro-Trump friends, now that they’ve pulled the trigger, trying to backpedal and make the ‘I voted for Trump because Hillary was so bad’ claim. If you have such friends, ask them which Democratic candidate would have made them change their minds. Ask them if they are willing to join you in fighting Trump on the positions that they are so against. Make them sign on to how much they dislike Donald Trump and only voted for him out of duress. See how far you get.
This claim is garbage from the start. When The Donald announced his candidacy last year I knew that he was going to be competitive because he was hitting all of the conservative Republican tropes. That he would actually win the GOP nomination was clear by November and December of last year. Back in May, I wrote a piece in which I explained that the Republican Party was the party of Trump. He overwhelming beat out all seventeen of his opponents–even Jim Gilmore! Once nominated he was overwhelmingly supported and endorsed by his party, even the people he abused and insulted. According to Gallup , Trump has a 71% approval rating among Republicans, not far behind Hillary Clinton’s approval among Democrats. Republicans love Donald Trump albeit with some caveats about the “language that he uses” and the “values that he represents.”
And language was always the central issue. Trump’s actual politics isn’t far removed from the standard conservative fare embraced by the Party. Where Trump stands out from his party is in his rejection of the couched and coded language perfected by the GOP since the late sixties. Reagan political strategist Lee Atwater described the standard racist Republican framing thus:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
And this was the problem. Donald Trump and the depth of his support among the Republican Party made clear and stark the underlying racism that fueled the conservative movement. Republicans feared that this “honesty” on his part would destroy the party (and it might do just that). Instead, the conservative base ate it up. Devoured it! The Right now has control of both houses of Congress, the Presidency, and will soon control the Supreme Court. There’s no reason to fear Trump’s “language” any more.
That Republicans supported Donald Trump so unabashedly, however, does call the lie to most of the claims the party makes about its central virtues. Republicans can no longer claim to represent small government–Trump’s policies expand the government, namely the military, Homeland security and the surveillance state. Fiscal responsibility is a fallacy. Trump’s proposed tax plan is a deficit fueled monster! Patriotism and freedom? From a guy who admires dictators like Vladimir Putin? Traditional Christian and family values? Trump? Come on! The party cannot vote for an authoritarian and a demagogue and profess a belief in freedom any more than it can embrace a known and admitted liar and claim to admire his honesty or a known adulterer and sexual bully and claim to represent family values.
No. The truth is that the Republican Party believes in preserving the corporate elite and advocating white male privilege. That they are willing to embrace any candidate, regardless of his personal immorality and lack of credentials, only demonstrates the depth of that commitment.
They voted for Trump, so now make them own it.
I can go on. There’s probably a million reasons justifying my resentment over this week’s electoral outcome. I’m not immune to self pity, and I’m not delusional enough to think, ‘well maybe it won’t be so bad.’ No. It’s going to be bad. Let that sink in. It’s real. And it feels like a kick to the solar plexus.
Fortunately, I don’t have the luxury of allowing myself to rest in self pity too long. I have children who are politically engaged and I have students who rely on me for guidance. After the election my phone and social media feeds lit up with commentary from former students concerned for their futures, disheartened, unsure of what to do next. I’m fortunate to have them. Because of them I was forced to extricate myself from this existential shock and analyze the current situation.
We’re facing a stark wasteland. There’s nothing we can do about it. Once the enormity of our situation sinks in, all we can do is take a deep breath and ask ourselves what we are willing to do about it. An organized populace representing a real threat to elite interests can accomplish a great deal in the face of adversity.
We cannot get around this wasteland; we cannot avoid it. All we can do is plow through it. Once we get over the sadness and anger, it’s time to pull on some soft shoes and rugged jeans, roll our sleeves up, and enter into the fray. We have a hell of a fight on our hands. Are you ready.
Now, frankly, my politics being what they are, I was already planning on fighting Hillary Clinton. So I’m at least partly girded. Granted, I would have much rather fought Clinton, who had demonstrated that she’s at least movable on the issues. That is no longer my reality. But the blood is building up in my throat and my hands are curling into fists. I’m almost anticipating the coming conflict.