It has been nearly two weeks since Donald Trump got elected. Today, as promised, I am going to start my weekly Monday updates on his presidency and some other national or global happenings that struck me as significant. As I plan to with every one of these posts, I’ll end with a bit of optimism.
It’s been an important week, to say the least. Trump’s presidency is already full of so many moving targets it’s tough to know where to look. But much of the press attention has focused on where Trump has pointed them: cabinet picks, Hamilton (?) and his own Trump U settlement.
I’d like to speak, briefly, about the things president-elect Trump isn’t addressing.
Over the weekend there was a rally in Washington D.C. led by Richard Spencer, a prominent leader of the “alt-right” movement you have probably heard about in recent weeks. It was held in a building named after Ronald Reagan. Mr. Spencer delivered a speech to about 200 young white men that ended with him “railing against Jews” (1), claiming America belonged to white people, and encouraging the crowd to call the press by their “German name,” Lügenpresse, a nazi-time name that means “lying press.” At the end of the speech, members of the crowd extended their arms in a nazi salute and someone near the front of the stage — or Spencer himself — screamed “Heil the people! Heil victory!” The crowd shouted it back.
This empowered showing of “white identity” is just the beginning. On December 3rd a revived Klu Klux Klan will hold a rally in North Carolina celebrating Trump’s victory.
Is this Trump’s fault? I’m sure dozens of political scientists could make an argument either way. Regardless, it’s worthy of the president’s attention — or at the least his condemnation — of which there has been none. Instead, he spent the weekend railing against the cast of Hamilton, an eclectic group of people of color and LGBT persons, for quite respectfully asking Vice President Mike Pence to be a leader for all Americans. This came at the end of the show, as Pence sat in the crowd with his family, and was prefaced with a thank you for him coming. Trump claimed he was harassed, then claimed that the wildly successful show was underrated, and even had to delete a tweet where he claimed an actor (an award-winning Broadway actor), couldn’t remember his lines. As someone who didn’t vote for him, It was not a very comforting reminder of this man’s temperament, and that’s coming from a place where I’m trying to will myself to give him a chance.
Which brings me to his cabinet. I’m just going to give you some brief hits about the men around him, and link to any articles I found really important if you’d like to do more reading.
Mike Pence: forgotten in all this is that Mike Pence is now in office, and is probably one of the most extreme far right Christians in the entire country. This is a man that has suggested the government pay for conversion therapy for gays so they can “change their sexual behavior.” He doesn’t believe government should have to get a warrant for surveillance and he signed a law that dictates fetal tissue from abortions must be buried or cremated. You can read more here: https://theintercept.com/…/mike-pence-will-be-the-most-pow…/
Reince Priebus: Priebus is the Washington insider that will serve as Trump’s chief of staff and look to normalize and otherwise shocking group of cabinet picks to any Democrat or progressive. There’s not much to see here yet, other than the fact that he has vowed punishment of Republicans who don’t fall in line and has unabashedly supported Trump through everything.
Steve Bannon: much like Mike Pence, Steve Bannon thinks secularism is a dangerous threat to American society. When asked at a conference in 2014 whether secularism or the Muslim world were a greater threat to the Judeo-Christian Civilization, Bannon said secularism was sapping the U.S. of its strength but the caliphate was a vicious coming war we had to acknowledge. The question itself was scary enough, but the answer was worse. Many of the Jews, people of color and LGBT persons Bannon employs at Breitbart have come to his defense as he’s being labeled a “white nationalist” and anti-Semite, but it seems far more worrisome that he views globalism as a kind of disease that needs to extracted. This is the most interesting thing I’ve read about “how Steve Bannon sees the world,” as it’s basically a transcript of a Q&A he did in 2014. https://www.buzzfeed.com/…/this-is-how-steve-bannon-sees-th…
General Flynn: as Colin Powell put it, the man is a bit of a “right wing nutty.” He’s a guy that has said Islam is “cancer” and called fear of Muslims “rational.” He’s tweeted out conspiracy theories from TruePundit.com during the election that Hillary Clinton was running a children sex ring. He is now the National Security Advisor of the United States.
Jeff Sessions: pegged for attorney general, much has been made about Sessions’ being turned down for a federal judgeship in the 1980s by both Republicans and Democrats for racially charged comments. While that is eye-brow raising, what’s worse is that he is one of a few politicians who has resisted reducing mandatory minimum sentences. By all accounts, he’s a man interested in putting more people in jail. He’s also said on record that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” The good news? He’s got a ton of experience and his resume is basically a template for what to do in order to qualify for this position.
Trump also offered positions to Mike Pompeo and Mike Huckabee, scary enough in their own right. Some have pointed out he now has 4 Mikes in his administration (Pence, Flynn, Pompeo and Huckabee), but zero women or people of color. I thought that was a nice bit of dark humor.
For many of the Americans who wanted to spend their first week “giving Trump a chance,” things have gone about as bad as they could have. It appears his administration is going far right, a disconcerting piece of evidence for a candidate who has voted for Democrats, donating to Hillary Clinton, and many thought may serve as a moderate. But all these moving targets make it hard to peg Trump or his administration for much of what is already happening. Stories about his unprecedented conflicts of interest (2), that he lied about keeping a Ford plant in the U.S., that he settled a multi-million dollar lawsuit for fraud, that he’s already making money off this election, that there has been a spike in hate crimes since the election, that Hillary now has a larger popular vote lead than 4 people who became president, that he’s talking to foreign leaders on a non-secure phone, that he’s been considering guys like Rudy Giuliani for cabinet positions, that he dismissed Chris Christie because he prosecuted his son in law’s father, all this has just fallen to the wayside, the footnotes. They’re all such headline grabbing stories that it’s impossible to give them all time, and somehow he just continues an elusive dance of controversy.
So… what’s encouraging?
Well, Bannon is going to advocate for a huge amount of infrastructure spending. That’s a democrat move, and it’s one Obama has been pausing for 8 years while congress did everything to block him. It could create a lot of jobs and, you know, fix our crumbling infrastructure. To nobody’s surprise, after blocking similar plans proposed by Obama for years, many suspect the republican congress will now play ball.
Bannon is also a Bernie Sanders-esque economic populist and will do what he can to lift the wages of the working class. He’ll go after the “corporate elite” (though according to his website, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and the Bronx are “coastal elite cities). Will it work? I have no idea. But when it comes to him and Sanders they are not “right” and “left,” more 10 and 2 o’clock on the same clock, as my friend Jake Sandler said.
There was a huge amount of backlash to reports that the Trump admin was assembling a plan for a Muslim registry. Ironic, since Muslim registries basically already exist (3). Still, though, Reince Priebus was forced to say they wouldn’t do such a thing and the public backlash is a good indicator of our power.
A group of youth plaintiffs are suing the federal government (4) for climate change and got a big win last week in court. Their case could be a new avenue to preserve the climate and protect federal regulations on energy.
Finally, I’d remind everyone that the “alt-right” is not a growing political revolution of nazis. They are mostly just young white men who are pissed off at political correctness, love the Internet and feel triumph in seeing someone like Donald Trump become president. They are also, generally speaking, hardline on enforcing immigration laws that many Americans feel like we’ve left by the wayside. I’d encourage you to read about them (5).