The Inevitable End of the Audacious Orange

Donald Trump managed to ride through the Republican primary and the early stages of the general election on a wave of audacity. He has cloaked his ignorance and ineptitude behind brash, anti-PC rhetoric with which he ignites the underlying fears and disaffections of his supporters. As one might expect from a celebrity business mogul, he is a hustler who is accustomed to controlling the conversation with a steady stream of lies, half-truths and obfuscation. Now, politicians do lie and certainly bend the truth in their favor, but it is tactically more strategic and sparse. After all, they do have a long-term career to think about.  Trump randomly saturates his message with ‘bullshit’ in a manner more acceptable in big business, where, in the end, money will assuage indignation.  The rise and success of Trump as a presidential candidate is due to many factors, many of which I’ve discussed in my blog, but his fall is going to result from the increased scrutiny that naturally occurs in the last weeks of an election.

Transparency has been a hot topic this week in the media, though, when it comes to Hillary Clinton, it has been a hot topic for a long time. In response to wave after wave of conspiracies fueled by the echo chamber of conservative fake-news, the press have excavated her health, financials, political history and charitable works. The irony here is that the end result of this tacit distrust is not only a high-level of transparency, but a record cleared of any criminal corruption or wrong-doing.  Meanwhile, the press has allowed Trump to go on about his business, utilizing his outrageous behavior as a source of  entertainment news and high ratings. They have, openly and admittedly, mollycoddled him and his surrogates through interviews, giving  a pass for his lies, ignorance, and lack of transparency.  But, in the past few days, there has been a change. 

As we move into the final stretch of the election, when more of the public will be paying avid attention, the press is starting to take a more serious approach to Trump.  Articles have been published exposing his vast ties to foreign actors and the massive conflict of interest he would bring into office. The Trump Foundation has been exposed as an operation to bribe elected officials with other people’s money. Interviewers are pushing for real answers, evoking much surprise and stammering from Trump’s ill-prepared surrogates. Trump, himself, best demonstrates the fear he has of serious scrutiny when he suggested that the debates should not be moderated, because they will be ‘hard’ on him. His refusal to release tax returns, divorce records, or real medical records point to an inevitable end to his charade.  He can’t shine people on forever. His site-unseen, buyer-beware approach is not going to fly for America’s highest office. The American public has needed the press to show them the truth about Donald Trump, and I believe they are finally ready to do that.

Reclaiming Patriotism

There has been a trend for some time for conservatives to consider themselves the staunch defenders of patriotism. They shake their heads and fly their flags in response to social change in today’s times just as they did through the cvil rights movements. Fear of progressive change is masked behind the idea that any criticism of current ideas and policy is, in and of itself, an unpatriotic act.  Nevermind that America was founded on the idea of free expression and disaffection with the establishment. In this age of instant communication, the connotation of patriotism within conservative politics has become even more warped.  What was a basic fear of change, has morphed into the more insidious ideologies of nationalism, racism, even mysogony. The 2016 election cycle has brought this distorted view of patriotism into stark relief against the backdrop of Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign.

American FlagA quick dive into social media demonstrates that the majority of Trump supporters are primarily relying on non-mainstream “news” resources and blogs to bolster their ideas.  Many of the sites they post articles from are heavily laden with conspiracy theories and thinly veiled white nationalism.  They operate in a fact-free zone and are no more legitimate that a supermarket tabloid.  Yet, so many gravitate toward these sources. Why? Because these sites are designed to appeal to a conservative’s existing sense of entitlement toward patriotism.  Disinformation sites such as InfoWars and Breitbart provide the content which is then disseminated through pseudo-patriotic channels such as The Federalist Papers, The Powdered Wig Society, and True Pundit, to name a few. A literal deluge of misinformation is spread across social media this way, wrapped up nicely in full patriotic regalia.

In this form of conservative patriotism, the American ideologies of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and equal rights are disparaged, while the right to bear arms is of singular importance.  The vision of America as a safe harbor for immigrants where freedom and opportunity is available to all is obscured by the fearful rhetoric of white nationalism.  Those who exercise the right to protest peacefully are villified as ungrateful haters.  None of this is true patriotism.

True patriotism is preserving the integrity of American ideals. True patriotism is respecting our differences and working together to find find solutions for our ever-changing circumstances.  True patriotism is standing up and fighting for social justice for all Americans.  True patriotism is progressive by nature-it is always looking forward to a better future for everyone.

The Battle Is On-For Integrity

People have been warning about the “dumbing down” of America for a long time.  In the confluence of the 2016 election and social media, it is glaringly apparent that this warning was not in vain.  Internet trolls pepper the comments sections of the web with hateful, fact-free vitriol, betting that they will cultivate support among the many who operate with short-attention spans and an apathy toward research or critical thought. Oversimplified and uninformed memes are posted and reposted, hitting their mark of the vulnerable mind as they spread in perpetuity.  Consider that in the digital era, we are absolutely inundated with information, yet many Americans lack the skills to apply critical analysis to that information–particularly those who are not colledge educated.  While there is no way to truly control for the veridicality of information, there is an onus on the ones who are tasked with public trust to act with integrity.  Unfortunately, over the course of this election cycle, many have not, for various reasons.  There is a line in the sand.  It is up to our politicians, commentators, journalists, interviewers and anchors–all those who hold our public trust–to cross over that line and choose to speak honestly and truthfully to the American people.

The Republican Party is in a particular quandary.  Donald Trump is their nominee, and they are responsible for creating the environment that resulted in his popularity.  Even so, there have been many Republicans who have openly not-endorsed Trump and called him out as unqualified and dangerous for our country.  They hope that separating themselves from him will still allow them to win down-ballot.  It is for that same reason that the other Republican politicians are continuing to endorse Trump.  Instead of pointing out to their constituency that Trump does not represent Republican principles, they weakly agree with him and hope his popularity will translate to votes for them. The reputation of the Republican Party will no doubt remain damaged from Trump’s perversion of their standards, but as individuals, each one of them needs to choose whether they will maintain dignity and act with integrity, or go down in the history books as supporting a demagogue with ideas that they know won’t work.

Another battle for integrity is waging among members of the press.  This is of particular importance, as they wield great power in shaping public opinion.  Some news outlets are, of course, openly biased toward the Left or the Right.  That is not what I’m talking about.  My concern is with the members of the”mainstream media.”  In an effort to appear fair and balanced, many have succumbed to false-equivalency. Some have admitted to “lowering the bar” for Donald Trump due to his lack of experience.  In other words, they pretend that he is on the same level as Hillary Clinton, when they know that he is not.  They know he is incompetent, but they go easy on him in the interest of ratings and readership.  They know that the public finds Trump’s daily scandals entertaining, so they stay focused on him.  One has to ask themselves who this benefits.  Certainly not the American people, who are depending on them for guidance.  Whether it is their express intent, or not, their reporting is so focused on Trump’s gaffes and the contortions of his surrogates that they fail to investigate and report on him with the same rigors they apply to Hillary Clinton. Perhaps, they assumed that the public would be intelligent enough to see through it. Sadly, this is not the case for many people.  By mollycoddling Trump, they have created an environment where it is okay to openly speak of white-supremacy and bigotry, to lie constantly, to revel in conspiracy theories, to change positions daily, and to present half-baked policies.  By mollycoddling Trump, they have created a grossly unfair playing field where a candidate is dissected and raked over the coals because she has such vast political experience, ignoring Trump’s corrupted past because it was outside politics.  Once again, who does that benefit? Not the American people.  

As we move into the final two months of the election, decisions are going to have to be made about how to handle Donald Trump.  It’s not a joke and it’s not entertainment.  Individuals who hold the public trust need to proceed with integrity and recognize their social responsibility to that public.  Because whether you are press, politician or pundit, history will remember how you influenced this election.

Election 2016-When Racism and Sexism Collide

If you had described the circumstances of the current election to me four years ago, I would have never believed it.  Emboldened by the re-election of Barack Obama and the progressive strides of the Marriage Equality movement, I would have told you that we were too socially evolved for an openly bigoted candidate to prevail.  I would, of course, have been wrong.  I did not factor in the backlash against diversity and multiculturalism.  I did not factor in the incendiary power that a fear-mongerer would have over the masses. I did not factor in how much the Republican Party had nurtured anti-intellectualism or the role that social media would play in the dissemination of propaganda.  I did not factor it that America’s obsession with Reality TV would set the stage for someone like Donald Trump to dominate the media.  These are all contributing factors to the seemingly preposterous election climate in which we find ourselves.  Yet, there is more going on with the rise of Trump than is represented by his often openly bigoted supporters.  A recent poll showed Hillary Clinton with an unfavorability rating of 56% compared to Donald Trump’s at 63%.  It is common to hear people lament that both candidates are poor choices.  When you consider the circus act that has been the Trump campaign, this is hard to understand.  It reeks of false-equivalency, and, ultimately, it reeks of sexism.

While the alt-Right and white-supremacists have used Trump’s popularity to move their white-identity politics and nationalist approach from the fringe to center stage, there are supporters who cling to the idea that they are not racist.  These are the people who respond to #BlackLivesMatter with #AllLivesMatter.  They deny the existence of systematic racism because they don’t want to acknowledge racism in themselves.  Self-awareness takes strength and courage.  It is easier to deny the problem exists and criticize those who are bringing it to light.  It is by this same tradition that a former First Lady, Secretary of State, and Senator with over 25 years of active political experience can be considered on par with a Reality TV Celebrity with a history of racism, mysogony, an illustrated lack of political knowledge, and a penchant for putting his foot in his mouth.  Let’s face it, he’s a walking tabloid.

A journey into the comments of any political blog, social media thread or news story yields unsettling results.  Vulgarity and violence pepper the screen in a way I’ve never seen with reference to a Presidential candidate…but, we’ve never had a woman come this close to the Presidency.  Even worse, is the constant reference to Hillary Clinton’s “scandals”.  No matter how many fact-checking articles you present people with, or how many committees find her innocent, the anti-Clinton echo-chamber reverbates with chants of “Lock Her Up!”, “Killary” and “Crooked Hillary.”  The Pro-Trump camp says that she is a liar, when fact-checkers have given Trump a truth-telling rate of 4%.  They cling to the email-controversy, even though the use of private email servers and security issues have happened under Republican Administrations, as well (500,000 during George W. Bush’s administration).  Now, the Clinton Foundation is under attack for “pay for play”.  One could, of course, make the claim that there is some overlap between the type of person who would donate to the Clinton Foundation and the type of person who would request meetings with the State Department.  Nevertheless, newspaper headlines like to pull in readers with talks of the latest Clinton scandal, but so far they have turned out to be non-scandals. One must ask themselves why they are so intent on fanning the smoke surrounding Hillary Clinton, instead of accepting that there is no fire.  Particularly, when there is a blazing inferno in Donald Trump.

This double-standard is not new to women.  There is a cultural desire for women to be beyond reproach, while men are forgiven for their foibles.  This means that in order to be considered equal to a man, a woman must be significantly better than that man.  The rules of the game are different for women.  In her blog today, Rachel Maddow lists some of the Clinton Rules discussed in an article originally from Vox:

  1. Everything, no matter how ludicrous-sounding, is worthy of a full investigation by federal agencies, Congress, the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” and mainstream media outlets.
  2.  Every allegation, no matter how ludicrous, is believable until it can be proven completely and utterly false. And even then, it keeps a life of its own in the conservative media world.
  3.  The media assumes that Clinton is acting in bad faith until there’s hard evidence otherwise.

With all the “controversy” surrounding Hillary Clinton, it is important to note that she has not been charged with any actual wrong-doing.  She may not be the perfect candidate, but she is historically one of the most qualified-and she is enormously better suited for the Presidency than Donald Trump. If you find yourself resistant to accepting that, then you may need to take a look at why your expectations are so much higher for her than her male counterpart.