Mainstream My Ass

Cursor_and_Trump’s_foreign_policy_goes_mainstream_-_POLITICOAfter a few TV-friendly bombings this week, many in the mainstream media and pundit-o-sphere are falling all over themselves to declare President Trump mainstream. That’s right, it seems our Muslim-banning, emoluments-pimping, Russia-colluding, climate change-denying, serial-lying President is now pretty much equivalent to Obama, the Bushes, the Clintons, Reagan and Ford.

For instance, Politico’s headline is “Trump’s Foreign Policy Goes Mainstream,” and it reports:

“(T)he substance of Trump’s decisions in his first 79 days in office reveals a surprisingly conventional approach, with personal quirks layered on top, according to a half-dozen foreign policy experts.”

Similarly, the Wall Street Journal headline readsFive Big Players Steer Trump’s Foreign Policy Towards the Mainstream” and National Public Radio (NPR) offers “Trump’s Flip Flops on Economics Move Toward the Status Quo.”

Okay, so the President recently has said a few sane things, such as NATO shouldn’t be defunded after all and Russia really should stop enabling the gassing of innocent children. Super. But before we throw the President a ticker-tape parade, let’s remember it was utterly outrageous that a presidential candidate or President ever took the opposite positions in the first place.

ann_schrantz_horton_-_Facebook_SearchLet’s also remember that in the same week the media declared Trump mainstream, we learned that a federal judge found probable cause that Trump’s campaign may have colluded with the Russians to undermine American democracy, and that the President threatened to withhold lifesaving assistance from poor people if Democrats don’t back his extremely unpopular Trumpcare plan to take health coverage from 24 million Americans. We also read the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Rolling Stone, and Wall Street Journal reporting and opining about the President’s unprecedented level of lying.

Yeah sure, but did you hear that the President failed to publicly praise his most empowered white nationalist? Moderate!

How does this happen? Former top aide for President George W. Bush David Frum explains:

“As President, Donald Trump benefits from two inbuilt biases of mainstream pundits:

“Bias 1 favors fair-mindedness: the wish to offer tips of the hat along with shakes of the finger. This bias exerts itself extra strongly with a bad actor like Trump. The worse he does, the more eagerly the pundit seeks something to praise. We’ve all experienced this. ‘There has to be something good to say about Trump. Even Hitler liked dogs!’

“Bias 2 is the bias in favor of surprise and novelty. Pundits don’t want – bookers won’t book – endless repeats of ‘He’s a liar & a crook.’ How much more interesting to say: “He’s a liar and a crook, but …” How boring to insist that the first part must always overwhelm the latter.

“And so TV punditry flits from one seemingly clever (but actually deeply false) pivot to another, chasing insight & missing truth.”

Say it with me people:  This presidency is lightyears away from normal.   An American President who bans people from entering a country that was founded on the principal of religious liberty because of the deity they worship…who empowers white nationalists that the neo-Nazis and Klansmen cheer…who praises murderous, democracy-hacking dictators as “strong” role models…who appoints his business-operating family members with no relevant experience to the most sensitive positions in the world…who covers up his tax returns so he can profit from policy positions and accept foreign bribes without Americans knowing it…and who lies at a rate that we have never seen in national history is not normal, moderate, or mainstream.

We have to judge presidents based on their overall body of work. And when a very high percentage of a President’s body of work is utterly outrageous and dangerous to the republic and world, we can’t give anything close to equal billing to the low percentage of his actions are not outrageous.  This week’s shamelessly fawning news coverage aside, Donald J. Trump remains the mother-of-all-abnormal Presidents.

5 thoughts on “Mainstream My Ass

  1. It will work better to make your point if you don’t call this Caligula-clone “the President.” If you must speak somehow of the title going with the powers of office which he has usurped, then at least designate him the “Unpresident” or some similar epithet which makes it clear that although that orange maggot is in the White House, he has no legitimate claim to it. Legal, perhaps–but not legitimate, for in our system, that would imply being the people’s choice and having the qualifications requisite to the responsibilities of the position. The way to NOT normalize this miscarriage of democracy is NOT to normalize it. Don’t call Trump the “President.” Make other people feel foolish for doing so. In fact, make them realize that what they are doing is verbally collaborating with the electoral college putsch—subverting democracy.
    And did you know that one of the first bills introduced by Minnesota’s Hubert Humphrey when he entered the Senate in 1949 would have led to abolishing the Electoral College?

  2. Oliver, I respect your passion and the work you’re doing to resist President Trump. But we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.

    My rationale: We have an Electoral College system that should be eliminated. But that system remains the law of the land, and Trump won the most Electoral College electors. Therefore, Donald Trump is President of the United States of America. My President. Our President. The collective legal “we” elected Donald Trump President.

    If we don’t like that, our only recourse is to change things – the hearts and minds of those who don’t vote, the hearts and minds of swing voters who supported Trump, the Electoral College, the Congress, the state governments. Pretending we can wish his presidency away with semantic rules is a) self-delusional and b) makes resisters look like petulant children, and therefore not credible to the Americans we need to persuade in order to change things.

    • I appreciate your point of view, but insist my objection is both more subtle and more substantial than you seem to realize. To take the last thing first–that it looks like the behavior of “petulant children.” Worrying about what other people will think has always been less important to me than worrying about whether what I am thinking and saying and doing is morally, intellectually, and politically valid and justifiable. As Davy Crockett (might have) said, “Be sure you are right, then go ahead.”
      I don’t pretend that Trump didn’t win the electoral college vote. I do insist, however, that there’s a distinction between legality and legitimacy. This does seem at first glance to be merely a semantic quibble. (And it may be nothing more than that so I belabor the point at my own risk.) But you’ll find that the colonial agitators who worked out a rhetorical rationale for rebellion against King and Parliament argued this very point.
      I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the calamity of the 2016 election. Especially as there simply is nothing left to check or balance against any abuse of power that Trump and his gang wish to perpetrate.
      Now, you’re a wordsmith. You know that words matter, that they can have power over men’s minds. You know that TITLES can be tremendously significant. Don’t you recall how, in the South, one feature of institutionalized racism was the refusal of whites to bestow courtesy titles on black people? In courts, or in any social setting, no Negro would be addressed by any Caucasian as “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, “Miss,” and definitely not as “Dr.”
      Thus was their subordinate status reinforced. This is a negative example, but it illustrates my point. This kind of verbal line-drawing can indeed cause political and social consequences—it’s not necessarily a futile gesture or petulant juvenility.
      You can’t dispute that Trump was NOT the choice of the people. For the entire 20th century, Americans were able to ignore the lurking booby-trap of the Electoral College, because the electoral winner and the popular winner were the same. When in 2000 the trap was sprung, the media simply ignored the anomaly.
      And what’s worse, the Democrats who should have stood up for the principles of majority rule, of democracy(!), didn’t do so. Can you imagine what would have happened even in 2000 if Gore had lost the popular vote and won the electoral? There would have been no concession! (In fact, when it looked like Gore might have had a chance to win the electoral vote, the GOP blocked it with their grandstand play to the Supreme Court—an outrage that again the Dems too tamely capitulated to.)
      Well, if the ostensible institutionalized party of the people wouldn’t then and won’t now stand up for the people, then we the people must stand up for ourselves. We need to believe in ourselves.
      There is a law, and curses upon it, that says Trump can hold the office and exercise (and abuse) the powers of that office.
      There’s NO law that says we have to endow him with the dignity of the title which, thanks to the archaic and intentionally undemocratic electoral college, he has usurped. Our loyalty should be even more to the values and principles of the positive side of the American heritage, than it is to the forms and formalities of the structure of government.
      Therefore, it’s our choice whether or not to refer to him as “President.” What merit is there in doing so?
      Remember, this is the guy who pushed the “African birth” lie into acceptance and mainstream debate, for the sole purpose of de-legitimizing President Obama. this is the guy who said he’d accept the results of the election “if he won.” He has never READ that Constitution which elevated him.
      You and I seriously respect that document, and what it has become as it has been amended and evolved through the centuries. Yet we know it was composed by humans, whose idealism always may be tainted with selfishness or misconceptions. Its compromises with slavery were untenable and led in the end to civil war. Likewise, its constraints on democracy were adverse to the basic principle of self-government, and have been objects of reform and amendment over time. The electoral college and presidential election and/or succession have been altered in the 12th, the 20nd, the 22d, 23rd, and 25th amendments–more than any other feature of the Constitution.
      Out of their moral allegiance to principles of equality and human rights, which they felt were both paramount to and at the same time the most integral part of our nation’s legal system and political creed, the abolitionists refused to consider themselves bound by the Constitutional provisions which protected and upheld slavery. Would you have had them do otherwise? Do we not now honor them for being on the right side of history?
      That’s why I say we must NOT collaborate with the ascension to power of these neo-fascists—not in any way, shape, or manner that we can still choose for ourselves. What I ask–that we consciously refrain from sullying our lips and degrading our history by referring to Trump as President–it isn’t hard to do.
      Sure it doesn’t change the reality that he sits in that office and exercises its powers. But it is one specific thing we can begin to do to instill in ourselves a determined stance of resistance, and to convey to fellow citizens our refusal to pretend that this political situation is normal, acceptable, and healthy,
      We have an obligation to every patriot who ever shed his or her blood for the sake of freedom, not to betray our commitment to liberty and justice for all.
      We can and should do no less than the abolitionists did. Recognize no legal title to a human “property” since slavery itself originated in kidnaping and terror; likewise today let’s recognize no valid title to an office that was obtained through systematic lying, fascist demagoguery, foreign meddling, and most importantly, obtained despite the resounding popular rejection of the electoral college claimant.
      We don’t know what catastrophic equivalent of the Civil War may result from this Constitutionally-inflicted political hara-kiri.
      We do know our crisis is actually worse than 1860, since this time the malefactors have seized the fortress of federal power, lock, stock, and barrel—and the weapons both institutional and in the literal military sense that they control are so insanely, incomprehensibly powerful and dangerous.
      That’s my reasoning–rooted in history, in psychology, in political philosophy going back to Revolutionary times, and in my instinctive dislike of bullies.
      Now, it may detract from the flourish of my essay, but I want to footnote this because I anticipate someone saying, “You’re like the F.D.R.-haters who would only speak of him as ‘that man in the White House.'” I can see how one might make that superficial parallel. But F.D.R. for all his devious and manipulative ways was at least qualified to hold the office; he was elected by both popular and electoral college majorities [albeit in a system which denied voting rights to African-Americans in over a dozen states]; and because ultimately this matters the most: He was willing to fight against fascism rather than embrace it.
      Don’t call Trump “the president.” You don’t need to. Even more than Junior Bush (to whom I wouldn’t extend the title either), he’s got to be marked with an asterisk—if we ever get safely through this regime. And, considering how degraded our system has become—between national-security-pretext repression, corporate money, voter suppression, and irreversible gerrymandering—there is no good reason to expect that we can get through it safely.

      • I understand why you want to drop “President” as a protest device, and you certainly have that right. I just don’t think thats a very persuasive approach.

        I’m most worried about what kind of key messages are mostly likely to persuade the target audience to agree with my point-of-view. In terms of winning future elections, the target audience is primarily reluctant Trump voters (non-voters could be considered in this category, but they historically have proven mostly impossible to activate, so I’m pretty pessimistic about ever being able to persuade them.).

        If I approach the reluctant Trump voters in my life, and explain to them why I refuse to use the title President or otherwise accept him as legitimate, I can guarantee you that they will quickly come to the conclusion that I’m a close-minded radical and/or petulant child. Either conclusion will cause them to tune out every argument substantive I subsequently make to them. You may think they are coming to a faulty conclusion, but that is the conclusion they will reach.

        In other words, I avoid “not my President” rhetoric in part because that kind of rhetoric makes me unpersuasive to the people who must be persuaded in order for us to weaken or remove Trump, not because that kind of rhetoric will cause those people to not like me. Winning this critically important argument is what matters the most to me, and “not my president” rhetoric makes it more difficult to win the argument with reluctant Trump voters who, like it or not, hold the future in their hands.

        • You focus on a very important problem–how to detach the Trump zombies or the Trump lesser-evil voters, as the case may be, from their allegiance. We know from the Nazi experience that a well-orchestrated mob creates a very deep sense of tribal-type loyalty; we know from basic human psychology that people do NOT want to admit that they have either been wrong, or worse yet, fooled—that latter reason being why con-men not only succeed, they prosper.
          Consequently, you figure both the hard-core and soft-core Trumpists would react defensively if we directly challenged Trump’s legitimacy. You might add that they’re mostly incapable of comprehending the subtlety of distinguishing legalism and legitimacy (our colonial ancestors were versed in theological disputation so they could follow such arguments. our contemporaries can’t. they struggle with twitter.)
          So, I would tailor my arguments to my audience–I don’t mean we should say contradictory things to different audiences, so much as try to figure out which messages will more likely resonate with them. I think we’d both concur on this.
          It’s interesting that polls showed Bernie Sanders running better than Hillary against Trump. Of course, had Sanders been the actual nominee, that hypothetical advantage might have evaporated under demagogic attack. But I’ve thought all along that the Dems should be listening to and learning from Sanders.
          On the other hand, liberals and progressives generally need to ceaselessly reiterate that fact that American voters DID reject Trump. Trump knows how important it is to erase that truth; he has his propagandists on the job to create the false story about “millions of illegal voters.” This is where the Dems dropped the ball in 2000; and again I say, “What do you think would have happened if it had gone the other way with Dem electoral triumph despite GOP popular plurality?”
          And let’s face facts—even when the Dems won indisputable title to the office, the Republicans simply played scorched earth anyway—and succeeded with it! Which is why Gorsuch now anchors the corporate-supremacist court! Maybe this isn’t textbook fascism but it’s out of the same authoritarian, rule-or-ruin political playbook, and there must come a time–the time is now–to understand that appeasement or attempted conciliation is suicidal. The only hope, and it’s a remote one, of restoring democracy is to fight for it with every weapon of rhetoric and every tactic of organizing and counter-action which we can command.
          Yes, I’d like to figure out how to de-program the Trumpists. But when the votes were counted, the people’s votes—it was they who were the minority. So let’s start with building the strength and the morale of our own ranks, and then we don’t need to convert the heathens. However, we DO need to keep up our own spirit and prevent those who once were appalled at the prospect of Trump, from getting used to it, or accepting this as a normal or conventional situation. THAT MUST NEVER BE.
          As for the Trump supporters whom you know and whom you’d like to impart some enlightenment to–take a minute to reflect on how much effort you’d be investing.
          Those who are truly brainwashed won’t ever change, and those who were reluctant or low-information dupes won’t change from any arguments we make so much as from getting an impression that the new parade is going in a different direction.
          You’d get a better return on investment by rallying the anti-Trump rank-and-file (the majority of 2016 voters!) and fanning the flames of discontent, insurrection, resistance, and counter-attack. For that, my suggestion has a lot of merit, and I wouldn’t have written at this length if I didn’t have 60 years of propagandizing and agitating under my belt.
          I do think it’s also necessary not to give away the potency of tribal totems, but rather to fight to re-establish our own claim to patriotism, God, motherhood, and apple pie. But enough for the time being.

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