Tag Archives: Election 2016

Why I Won’t Say “Not My President”

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By Lorie Shaull from Washington, United States via Wikimedia Commons

Now that the election is over, many of us are still grasping at how to respond. I’ve been reading a lot and listening a lot. I admire much about those who have taken to the streets to peacefully demonstrate. I also understand the anger of those who have behaved less peacefully, while I don’t excuse it or think it’s a productive channeling of their anger. Given that Trump supporters were talking about “grabbing muskets” if they lost, I think some smashed windows in Portland rank fairly low on the richter scale of domestic disturbances. That doesn’t excuse it, but let’s hold it in perspective for a moment.

I also understand those who have been too paralyzed by shock and the quotidian responsibilities of day-to-day life to do much of anything other than like posts on Facebook or watch Kate McKinnon’s SNL cold-open repeatedly. For now, I’m more in that last camp. I’m still finding my way of how to be a father, a husband, a citizen and a writer in this new world.

When I saw the hashtag and heard the chant #NotMyPresident my first reaction was, “Fuck yeah!” This guy is not MY President or my idea of what a President should be at all. The rejection provided a release and a venting of anger. But the aftertaste of the words in my mouth left a bitter and intellectually dishonest sensation. The truth is Donald Trump IS our President-elect. And he will take office after winning a democratic-ish election. Yes, he lost the popular vote, but we’ve all agreed to abide by the electoral college for centuries and choosing not to own it when we don’t like the results is a strategic and morally dubious choice.

But even on its surface, the rhetorical distancing of ourselves from OUR President Trump is counter-productive. In some ways it serves the same corrosive effect on our democracy as birtherism: the rejection of the ideology and platform of an office-holder under the guise of the rejection of the office-holder’s legitimacy. We can and must defeat the virus of Trumpism that will soon occupy the White House without further damage to the body of our democracy. We won’t achieve much by declaiming that which is legitimate to be illegitimate. He is very much OUR President, and his success or failure is our responsibility.

That doesn’t mean I’m calling for some kind of honeymoon period to give Trump a chance. I do not believe as President Obama stated, that if President Trump succeeds, the country succeeds. From what I’ve heard from the man himself, Trump’s definition of what will constitute success would be a total disaster for the country and hurl many other countries into crisis. I believe he must be actively resisted from the get-go and we should not lose a second believing that his extreme goals are unachievable. We made that mistake by laughing when he announced he was running for the Republican nomination. We made that mistake again when we laughed after he declared he would accept the results of the election, “when he won.”

In my heart of hearts (yours too?), I didn’t take Trump seriously until the A.P. called Ohio, Florida and North Carolina on November 8. Way too late. And now he is MY President. With a Republican Congress and a Republican Supreme Court, he is well on his way to becoming the autocrat he styled himself to be on the campaign trail. I will not trust Reince Priebus or Paul Ryan or John Roberts to be a brake on his authoritarian instincts, vengeful behavior and disregard for facts.

So now I will take Masha Gessen’s advice and take him at his word:

Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization. This will happen often: humans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable.

If he says he plans to deport over 3 million people immediately, you need to believe him. You’ll hear that President Obama deported 2.5 million people, so what’s the big deal? The big deal is that Obama did that over a six year period through the instrument of an imperfect bureaucracy  — and it may actually be one of the least well-known stains on his Presidency. With President Trump what safeguards will be brushed aside? How will he define what level of criminality qualifies for immediate deportation? What becomes of those peoples’ dependent children and spouses, both those here with and without documents?

If he says he’s going to roll back protections for trans youth in public schools, believe him. If he says he’s going to allow discrimination against LGBTQ citizens under the guise of religious liberty, believe him. If he says he’s going to investigate his political opponents, believe him. If he says he’s going to effectively declare war on “sanctuary cities” by withholding federal funds, believe him. If he says he’s going to ban Muslims from entering the country under the newspeak process of “extreme vetting,” believe him. If he says he wants to bring back stop-and-frisk, impose curfews on our inner-cities and be a “law and order” President, believe him.

The crisis is now. Not on January 21.

Democracy demands that we respect the result of the election. It does not demand that we acquiesce to policies that threaten the human rights of our neighbors.

President Trump is my President. And he is going to hear from me.

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The 2016 Election and the Threat to American Exceptionalism – It’s Not What You Think

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Photo via Flickr by IoSonoUnaFotoCamera

The term, “American Exceptionalism” is one that has been notably fluid throughout its history. It has at times referred to the unique character of the settlement and founding of the United States as the “first new nation.” At other times it has served as a justification for a “benevolent” American hegemony in the post-World War II era to the present with Hillary Clinton embracing the meaning recently:

“When we say America is exceptional, it means that we recognize America’s unique and unparalleled ability to be a force for peace and progress, a champion for freedom and opportunity.”

I’m not going to dwell on those meanings here because the danger I believe is not a threat to our founding values (since those values though perhaps exceptional also included slavery, limited franchise and ethnic cleansing) or a turning inward, away from a role in international conflicts (which is wishful thinking in a global economy). Though both those outcomes are to varying degrees possible, the concept of American Exceptionalism that I think is truly under siege in the current election is the original meaning.

This original definition, which in some places has been credited to Joseph Stalin, argues that the United States somehow stands outside the laws of Marxism that requires Capitalism inevitably result in violent class warfare. In The Language Log Mark Liberman has a great history of the development of the term and what captured me particularly was an explanation it cited from Ronald Reagan, The Movie and and Other Episodes in Political Demonology by Michael Rogin:

The doctrine of American exceptionalism developed within a wing of American Communism in the 1930s to explain the failure of Marxian socialism to take root in the United States. American exceptionalists contrasted the limited and superficial conflicts in America to the more tenacious social and political divisions that had generated revolution and dictatorship.

Whether or not Donald Trump wins the election (he won’t), we can be certain that the “tenacious social and political divisions” that this campaign has both revealed and encouraged will remain on November 9. For perhaps the first time since the American Civil War, the possibility exists that a significant portion of the country will not accept the legitimacy of the result. We’ve been moving toward this moment for a long time, with offenders from both ends of the political system chipping away at the foundations both from within and without. But it took a demagogue the size of Donald Trump to weaponize the social, economic, racial and political rifts in American society to place us at real risk of revolution or — and as absurd as I feel typing it — dictatorship.

The emergence of Trumpism (because there is no other single ideology that contains the man and his channeling of grievances, antipathies and retrograde masculinity) and its adherents has produced an environment not of competing ideas in the intellectual marketplace, but irreconcilable realities which can only be validated by the utter destruction of its opposite. It is a political movement which rejects compromise or moderation and regards with scorn the disapproval of institutional elites from politics and the media. It parades its anti-intellectual, xenophobic, misogynist bona fides with pride as badges of authenticity. It transforms white fragility into an anticipated and eagerly expected electoral martyrdom which itself will serve as validation of its psychotic critique of an admittedly flawed society. It has unleashed forces that may not be quietly contained or mainstreamed in a concession speech — indeed, concession itself will be seen by many as betrayal. Perhaps even more dire, the mechanisms of a budding surveillance state which many of us already fear, stands at the ready either to serve or put down an insurrection. Either scenario would undermine the constitutional rule of law in ways 9/11 didn’t even approach.

This could very well blow over. The fever could break and the American Exception might very well remain in-place (even if the exception in the end isn’t uniquely American). But it has not been so severely tested since the time of secession and for the first time in many of our lives, the concept can feel fragile. My fear is that while the arc of history does bend towards justice, the arc of empire tends towards entropy. Like the certain but abstract knowledge that some distant day the sun will swell and swallow the Earth whole, I can’t help but feel that the originators of American Exceptionalism were working on too small a historical scale for such a concept to prove endurable. Perhaps I am overly-afflicted by the triumph of dystopian fiction in popular culture and susceptible to such catastrophic imaginings. But equally possible is that American Exceptionalism is a mirage of remarkable but not permanent duration.

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