Category: 2017 Politics


Back in May, I started to write about the (not) winning combination we were seeing in the emerging administration.  I came across that draft this morning, and the saddest part was that it’s become the standard operating mode for the Trump White House.  In May, I could afford to look at the fumbling, chaotic administration as a young team of novices, getting their feet under them.

Not so much now.

I think a lot about this presidency. I think a lot about the incompetence.  Any hard-right administration would enrage and frustrate me, based on policy alone.  And indeed, a competent administration would have moved legislation through our Republican-controlled Congress, pulling the country sharply to the right.  We see some of this in the seating of Gorsuch on the bench, and scale-backs in the work of agencies like the EPA and various arms of the intelligence community. But most of the Trump’s efforts have floundered, due to his and his administration’s self imposed fuck-ups.

There is malice in their efforts to allow the poisoning of our environment, or cut accessible healthcare, or to yet again open up the financial markets to the dangers that led to the Great Recession.  It’s the ultimate “I’ve got mine, so fuck you” approach to federal government.  But the incompetence of Trump himself, and the people he’s put in place around him, have foiled the worst efforts they’ve put forward.  They are doing plenty of harm, no doubt, but the number of times they have stepped on their own feet, slammed rakes into their noggins, and pissed in the wind is alarming.  How can a group of supposed professionals manage things so very, very badly? It boggles the mind.

Every day offers up a new crisis, a new lie, some more background information on the strange and secretive behavior of the Trump campaign.  Every day provides some new ridiculous, clueless tweet.  Every day brings another story of a cabinet official who doesn’t know their job, an embarrassing interaction with a foreign power, another staffer who leaks panicky descriptions of the chaos and disorganization within the White House. Every morning I wake up and ask myself what new bizarre story will surface.

And almost every day delivers.

And every day I am offended. Sure, the policies this administration wants to push are just awful. But the mismanagement of the Office offends my sense of good government, of the honor due to the position of President.  Supposing we can get a sensible President elected in the future, how long will it take to get the stench of incompetence out of the Oval Office, and all of its associated agencies? How much of President Sensible’s time will be spent on reforging broken and beleaguered relationships inside and outside of our nation?

I hate that the country is moving towards the right, but I hate it even more that the effort is being led by a bunch of greedy, incompetent fools.  And I think in the long run, that is the more damaging feature of the Trump administration.

The farther we get into the Trump administration, the more bizarre the press conferences get.  I was going to try to put together a whole set of examples of Just How Bizarre (including, of course Melissa McCarthy spoofs), the pattern of classic Denial-Non-Denials, the outright lies, the demeaning of the press, the habit of our not-s0-dear leader contradicting his spokesfolk, the strange walling off of the press during certain events and trips, the shut down on video or audio feeds from time to time, and so on.  But I’ll cut to the chase here, as most of us tracking the Trump debacle are familiar with what I listed.

As a result of the Trump style of running a communications office, there are some people calling for a boycott on the White House press events.  If the Communications Office is just going to flat-out lie and mislead, what’s the point? If the press can’t get a straight answer out of the WH press office, why even bother?

I think a different tactic is called for.  Send an intern.

I don’t think the media should ignore the White House press office altogether.  It’s interesting to see what it is the administration wants to convey to the press.  It’s useful to look at the talking points they put out, and how (and when) Trump contradicts so much of it.  It’s important to track the disabling of the media at the hands of the Oval Office.  It’s critical that the lies, and unfulfilled promises, are on the record.

But do experienced journalists need to do this? Particularly when the Trump and his team have allowed media such as conspiracy theory website infowars, or Brietbart, in as official WH correspondents, isn’t it a bit of an insult to put qualified journalists in the same staged, fake-news event as those hacks?  I do have some sympathy for the boycott idea, after all.

But nope, I say send in the newbies, let them cut their teeth on this sham of an administration while real journalists do real work elsewhere.  When (and hopefully it’s not an “if”) things ever get back to normal, they can sort out who belongs in those chairs.  While those chairs represent sitting for a crafted, disingenuous, distracting performance, let the interns track it.

There’s a pretty frequent appeal these days for just ignoring Trump’s tweets. The argument goes: Trumps tweets are a distraction; while we’re defending whoever he’s attacking this time, and doing fact checking, and generally rolling our eyes, his administration is off in the darker corners implementing policies that threaten and dismantle the progress we’ve gained over the last decades. That’s where our attention should be, and focusing on the tweets just pulls the focus off the more important stuff.

Yes, and no.

Sure, the tweets are distracting.  In some sense, I think they are meant to be distracting.  I’m not sure Trump views it that way – I suspect he’s unable to stop responding to whatever burr gets under his saddle, regardless of how unwise it may be to do so. But does his staff allow the twitter wars to go on because it keeps the focus off their attempts to change policy? Keep the attention, the press in particular, on the tweets, and they get less pushback on the policy changes sfavoring the rich and upper class, by dismantling social support for the needy.

However.

The tweets themselves are worth paying attention to.  They tell us where Trump’s vulnerabilities lie. They focus attention on what he hates, what he values. They are wonderful fodder for pushing back and further irritating the delicate man baby.  They allow Trump to dig himself deeper and deeper. Trump is someone who will never take Molly Ivan’s advice* and therefore displays his weaknesses for all to see.  And for all to prey upon.

And the twitter wars seemed strangely timed to cover, intentionally or not, efforts of the Trump administration to dismantle the decades-long efforts of moderates and progressives to foster a more stable and compassionate society.  So, where a twitter war begins, it’s worth looking at what else is happening.

And the third advantage of the twittergasms is that a wealth of witty and smart responses unfolds, both in the 140-or-less world of twitter, and the more loquacious locale of media in general, along with more than a few living rooms and coffee houses.  There is a certain strength that comes from sharing a mutual eyeroll, and that strength can fuel the energy needed for  research in to the policy changes that actually have long term consequences.

Don’t love the twittering from ol’ 45, but it can be used to our advantage.

 

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* “The first rule of holes: When you’re in one stop digging.” That’s Molly’s version, but apparently it’s a twist on an old Will Rogers quote, and probably goes back further.

100 days and counting

I was going to write my own assessment of the first 100 days of this awful new presidency. I struggled and sputtered and wound up posting something short and bitter for friends and family on facebook, noting I’d been totally justified in melting down on November 9th. It’s all I could come up with, without meandering all over the place.

In the weeks before my brief flirtation with a “100 Days” assessment, I was going to try to document all the travesties and lies and obfuscation and cruelty as I saw them unfolding each day. But it unfolded so fast, and my jaw was hitting the floor so often, that I couldn’t keep up.  I didn’t really make it even one day.

Before that I was going to try to articulate my rage about the election, and my joy at seeing the uprising, starting with the Women’s Marches, and going on from there. And I found my rage sparked again and again in an ongoing cycle, and couldn’t keep up. And likewise, constant stories have fed my joy and gratitude for the uprising, the Resistance, the pussy hats and great signs and love of science and reason, but coming so fast I couldn’t respond to everything.  It’s all been happening moment to moment, and I haven’t found time for record keeping.

What I have done each day is absorb it as it unfolds.  And maybe that’s enough. Maybe it’s enough just to keep standing, to not crawl in a hole and hope it’s all gone the next time I raise my head. Maybe it’s enough just to live through it.

I work hard to fend off the meltdowns and the ranting; so much material to fuel so much rage.  But I can’t live in a state of rage, so I retreat into humor, or sarcasm, or distractions on Netflix. I’ve been reasonably successful; I have a lot of bitter moments, but life moves on around the bitter obstacles. I’ve channeled some of that energy into answering my granddaughter’s questions about what happening to our country. She’s only seven, and a lot of it is explaining how politics work in the simplest ways I can; like most children she has a strong sense of fairness, and the politics of the time defy that. 

I feel her frustration. I channel the tension of this chaotic time into bitching and theorizing, into listening to my friends and my clients process and vent, into commiserating with them, into consoling them and allaying their fears. I seem to come out with bursts of thought, rather than cohesive assessment.  Thus, my most frequent expressions in writing appear quite regularly in comment sections at my favorite mommy blog, recipe hub, and snarkified political commentary. Wonkette has, indeed, become a sanctuary of sorts for me, a place to release the pent up anger and sorrow in somewhere between 4 words and 3 paragraphs at a shot.

My goals of writing more extensively have been lost in just getting through it all.  Is that terrible? I don’t know.  I don’t want it to be permanent; just musing about my own process here is helpful, and I don’t want to lose that release.  But, I have to stop giving myself the assignments I think I should be pursuing, and roll with the waves in front of me instead.  Plenty of waves, no doubt there.

fight-truth-decay-man-with-signBetween the alt-fact efforts of new White House communications director Sean Spicer, and the shutdown of public communication from many federal agencies — EPA in particular; science-oriented offices in general — an obvious pattern is developing. The new WH is shutting off dialog, and keeping public eyes off of government agency work.  In some ways this doesn’t surprise me; Republican administrations seem to be less open than Democratic ones. Though the Obama administration was not as transparent as many hoped, it certainly did open the cyber doors to lots of input, as well as real life efforts to communicate with the public.  I expected it to swing back to a more closed system with the incoming administration, but it’s been much more severe than I anticipated.

The key to how this goes from here will hinge on how the press and the social-media-using public decides to get information out.

Social media is strong, and a major part of how the average citizen shares information about what is happening in the public sphere, but it’s still sort of figuring itself out. Thankfully I’m seeing my friends catch fake news more often, challenge poorly researched assertions in articles, and using the strengths of the medium to share what we are all observing.  But it’s not perfect, and we’ll need to up our vigilance in weeding out the bad info from the good if it’s to be effective in a time when gaslighting seems to be the norm coming out of the Trump administration.

And the press has to be vigilant as well, and in this area, huge swaths of the American press have been pretty damn lazy over the last few years.  Fortunately for those of us reading their work, Trump and his minions have both pissed the press off and committed themselves to such such stupid, obvious falsehoods, that many journalists are ready to start digging in, and the ones who already were taking all of this seriously are getting support for doing so.

Trump is engaged in a misinformation campaign. This is partly a strategy to allow the GOP to make sweeping partisan changes, and partly in service to Trump’s massive ego (juxtaposed next to a constantly crumbling sense of self worth). And it wears us out, public and press alike.  Whether its intent is to numb us through a ever-renewing cascade of laughably stupid and/or outrageously offensive statements, or that’s just the convenient natural consequence of all of the tweets and press statements and odd moments at the podium, the effect is the same: silencing us by making us weary of absorbing the blistering stupidity of it all.

But we can’t allow that.  As consumers of journalism, or as the creators of it, we can’t let ourselves be worn down.  And we can’t forget that while the press and us, its audience, is the target of this effort, the war is on objective truth.

It will be tempting for a lot of journalists to buy into the idea that they are the ones who are under assault. But they will do their jobs if/when they recognize that it is the truth that is under attack and the goal is to create the kind of chaos where anything is possible.

LeTourneau asks her fellow journalists to help us all avoid a world where, given that the truth is impossible to ascertain, there no longer remains any avenue, or point to trying to find it.

So, the press has to find footing in a very unsteady stream.  I suspect this will only work if the press divorces itself from, for instance, relying on WH press office statements to determine fact, which have become talking points without basis in subtance. The press will need to look elsewhere. This will be hard, this will be expensive, and it relies on public support, in paying the bills the media incurs just to get the job done, and in demanding careful journalism.

The key is to keep our vigilance going. We cannot allow ourselves to be silenced, nor can we afford to let the press be silenced.

 

jesse-duquette-sean-spicer-sketch-orwell-quote

This painful moment, and powerful concession speech…

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and this awful, awful sham of a man taking an oath of office…

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sparking this amazing outpouring of resistance and empowerment…

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even in my town, Eugene …

and in tiny towns like Newport, Oregon (I intended to go to this one, but had to take care of my respiratory health instead, dammit)

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…. maybe I’m ready to start writing again.

I have been writing, in a way.  I comment on facebook and at Wonkette; I spit out thoughts in a sentence or two, an exchange of written sentiments pinging back and forth among people online.  But I haven’t been “writing,” and I should have been.  After the election, I was sucked dry and overwhelmed by rage and grief. Just getting through the day without stewing over the great losses to social justice, to health, to the security of our future, coming down the raging rapids that Trump’s election unleashed… it’s been too much, over and over again.

Taking refuge in the hubbub around the holidays has been a relief; the PNW ice storms likewise, strangely enough. Something concrete to focus on; something to deal with right now, with tangible and visible effect. Play in the snow with the granddaughter. Clean up the branches in the yard. Seal the crack under the door. Make hot soup.

And all the while, reading reading reading, trying to wrap my brain around the social changes that this administration advocates.

What sparked this post was someone else taking the time to write something she felt important enough to focus on in more than a sentence or two tossed out on social media.  She said, among other things: “A bit of perspective: as things change about how our system works in the upcoming days, months and years: write it down. Keep a journal of this period. This will help us keep perspective and prevent the normalization of possible upcoming events”

That is what my journals and blogs have generally been about: what am I noticing, how am I reacting, what thoughts are being sparked by what I’m seeing/ hearing/ reading.

And sadly it occurs to me that I better make hard copy of pretty much everything that I put down.  But more importantly, I need to make my own record of what is happening.

Yesterday many things happened.  But I’ll note one:  The Gag Rule is back in place, and stronger than ever, affecting not only family-planning facilities across the world, but HIV- and ZIKA-prevention programs as well.  And as has been memed constantly since it was made public:

trump-signs-gag-rule-fb-post-by-alkan-bowser

 

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