It’s Not About You, Jeff Sessions

by Cinzia Croce

As soon as Attorney General Jeff Sessions concluded his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, supporters of President Donald Trump took to social media celebrating what they deemed an “evisceration” of the Democrats on the panel. They did the same after the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey, which they, and Trump himself, viewed as total vindication of the president. If the hearings were about seeking the truth about any potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, then indeed both days would be victories for the president. But after months of hearings and many hours of testimony, it should be clear to all that the hearings are not about pursuing the truth. The hearings — and special counsel Robert  Mueller — are about miring the Trump administration in endless investigations in the hope that some grounds for impeachment materialize or, at the very least, prevent Trump from implementing his agenda. Let me make this very clear to Trump supporters: as long as the hearings and the special counsel keep going, every day will be a bad day for President Trump and a great day for his political opponents in both parties.

For many Trump supporters, watching Jeff Sessions forcefully defend his honor increased their admiration for the man. For me, it had the opposite effect. By the time he finished his testimony, my admiration had turned into an intense dislike. I did not see a selfless public servant defending his good name. Instead, what I saw was a self-centered individual with a grandiose opinion of himself more interested in protecting his reputation  than serving the administration he joined. Sessions requested an open session before the committee. He wanted to make sure that the entire world would be able to see him deny that he ever colluded with Russia to defeat Hillary Clinton. Did anyone expect him to say otherwise? What exactly did Sessions’ appearance before the Senate achieve other than giving him a high-profile platform to declare that he was offended? So exemplary is Sessions that he decided to recuse himself from the Russia investigation rather than risk his prestige. So exemplary that he testified that he had full confidence in Mueller at a time when the special counsel’s team is being filled with Democratic donors and Clinton loyalists. No: it was all about protecting Sessions’ standing among his colleagues — and if that meant overshadowing the president’s trip to Wisconsin to promote his workforce reforms, well… Continue reading

Everyone Needs to Calm Down a Little

by Alex Knepper

A month after the election, I wrote this:

There is no way around it: Trump is really bad. But I refuse to spend the next four years in perpetual disappointment, embarrassment, and outrage over what is likely to be a long series of unfortunate events.

I stand by that assessment. I have several friends telling me they are frightened by Trump, even personally frightened. They are frightened for women and minority groups, and they are frightened about the possible advent of a fascist regime.

The rhetoric driving these fears is out of hand. I firmly believe that some lamentable crisis is likely to take place in the next four years — probably in the foreign policy arena, where the president has his broadest powers — but once we cut through the clutter, the chaotic administration of the flurry of executive orders, and the rhetoric — we are most surely not there yet. The specter of fascism — a somewhat amorphous term that often just is invoked as a synonym for “extreme right-wing” — remains mostly inside progressives’ heads.

Some of my social media commenters have suggested I am failing to appropriately speak out during a critical historical moment. But I have spoken out against Trump as much as anyone — repeatedly, and harshly. I have said that his election represents a turning point for our republic and an indictment of its current claims to greatness, that he has the soul of a tyrant, and that he is uniquely unqualified to be president. And unlike many people now complaining the loudest, I did all that was within my power to support the only person who could actually keep him from becoming president.

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‘Alternative Facts’ and the Media Crisis of Legitimacy

by Alex Knepper

President Donald Trump and his legion of lackeys rolled the dice on the theory that left and right now live in totally different realities: that we no longer agree on what constitutes a legitimate source of information, that motives and intentions now count for more than diligence in ‘getting the facts right,’ and that a forceful Republican candidate can bypass the mainstream media altogether as long as he steadfastly refuses to cater to their standards. To a large extent, this is true, and is one of the major truths Trump accurately perceived that caught Washington by surprise. Rather than seeing polarization as a problem to be overcome, Trump sees it it as an opportunity to be embraced. There have been occasions in which Trump has been shown a tape of him saying something, after which he denies having said it. But rather than abandoning him over such a blatant act of charlatanism, his supporters love it: he is their liar, engaged in combat against the other liars — and his lies drive those other liars up the wall. He lies for them, and against Obama, the Clintons, and progressives — and that perceived loyalty means more than any factual account: motive trumps all.

Not surprisingly, a campaign based on this attitude became a magnet for grifters, media-whores, trolls, has-beens, and malcontents — an army of the alienated: everyone from Sarah Palin to Martin Shkreli to Milo Yiannopoulos — excuse me: MILO — to Richard Spencer to 4chan to Alex Jones eagerly hopped on the Trump Train, perceiving that this opportunity to help usher in a world where everyone has their own — liar-for-hire Kellyanne Conway’s words, not mine — ‘alternative facts‘ — would be a boon to them. An environment like this is something of a free-for-all, and every niche figure can be included and validated in it. There is no umpire, no referee — every man and woman can be their own final arbiter of what counts as true.

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The Perks of Being a Carnival Barker

by Cinzia Croce

There was only one time I seriously considered dropping my support for Donald Trump: when he selected Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate. My reaction was very visceral, and was mostly due to Pence’s reputation as a hardcore social conservative. Trump had managed to marginalize social issues during the Republican primary –- something that I thought I would never live to see. For the first time in a long time, the GOP primary debates were not dominated by questions about the age of the earth, the definition of marriage, or abortion. I was on cloud nine, and Pence threatened to bring me back to earth. As soon as Trump confirmed him as his vice presidential pick, I could see the Democrats salivating at a fresh opportunity to revive the War on Women, raise the prospect of the LGBT community being stripped of their newly acquired civil rights, and distract from Trump’s powerful economic message. My heart sank. I was also not impressed with Pence’s performance during the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act controversy, where he somehow managed to anger all sides of the debate, and often came across as unsure, looking like a deer in the headlights as he dealt with a hostile press. I feared that Trump had made a fatal mistake on the scale of John McCain’s mistake in choosing Sarah Palin as his vice president — I even went as far as labeling Pence as the male Sarah Palin.

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I am thrilled to have been proven wrong. As I predicted, the Democrats did try to turn Pence into politically radioactive material. Within a day of Trump’s announcement, the Democrat-designated mudslingers and their media helpmates began their familiar attacks, which were very effective in the past. But this time they gained no traction. Unlike in the case of John McCain, who threw Palin to the wolves and stepped away, Trump helped to blunt the attacks against Pence by drawing attention to himself, allowing his running mate to fly under the radar. After the GOP convention, Pence barely received any coverage, and was free to focus on his key task of bringing home recalcitrant Republicans. Whether inviting Russia to produce Hillary’s infamous emails or getting into an extended spat with Khizr Khan, Trump never ran out of new shiny objects to keep all eyes on him, leaving the Democrats talking to themselves about Pence. Continue reading

In Praise of Colorblindness

by Daniel Clements

In the summer of 2009, I was banned from stocking sodas at my job at a Shell station. I had unintentionally integrated the Code Red Mountain Dew and the regular Mountain Dew, the Orange Fanta, and the Pineapple Fanta. Over the weekend, I was delighted to (belatedly) discover EnChroma had developed glasses to correct colorblindness — yet I was disheartened Monday when so many of my friends expressed to desire for a pair of societal EnChroma glasses.

These friends repeated an argument that is gaining strength on the left: that “colorblindness” is a subtle form of racism. It should go without saying that we can agree on colorblindness as an ideal and still debate policies like affirmative action — yet these friends were flat out decrying colorblindness even as a goal. This is because white Americans apparently can never genuinely understand what it’s like to be a black American. I was dismayed that this was how Martin Luther King was being remembered.

Our country was founded on the proposition that all men are created equal and endowed with the same rights. The modern idea of equality is based on the notion that people should be treated as persons first, not primarily as lord or serf, Catholic or Protestant, Roman or barbarian; that no one is “more human” and deserves special treatment. Aristotle claimed that what makes us humans is the ability to speak — but specifically, to give reasons for what is just and unjust. We each have our own unique experiences, but reason can bridge this gap and allow us to form societies based on justice. This was at the heart of Martin Luther King’s project. I’ll let him speak for himself:

“How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”

The Civil Rights movement only came to be because of the solid reasoning that segregation was unjust — reasoning that any person, no matter their color, can understand. It only succeeded because it managed to persuade people who hadn’t experienced the horrors of Jim Crow. Martin Luther King fought so that black Americans would be treated like everybody else. Abandoning colorblindness is unavoidably to ask us to judge people by the color of their skin, not the content of their character.

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Depreciating reason in the name of experience or history has been used to justify horrific things. Slavery itself was frequently defended by the claim that the Declaration of Independence didn’t express timeless truths and doesn’t have any relevance to the present. Lincoln cleverly rephrased this interpretation as: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all British subjects who were on this continent eighty-one years ago, were created equal to all British subjects born and then residing in Great Britain.” He argued against this:

“The assertion that ‘all men are created equal’ was of no practical use in affecting our separation from Great Britain; and it was placed in the Declaration, not for that, but for future use. Its authors meant it to be, thank God, it is now proving itself, a stumbling block to those who in after times might seek to turn a free people back into the hateful paths of despotism.”

To claim that experience creates an unbridgeable gap is to argue that some of us really aren’t fundamentally equal after all. The logical conclusion would be some form of segregation, or a caste system with different classes of citizens. We should not back away from the ideal of colorblindness any more than religion-blindness or wealth-blindness. Of course, we should open our hearts and minds to those who have experienced injustice and who are suffering — but we should not let it deter us from our goal of equality.

Ed. Note: A big welcome to Daniel Clements, who will be joining us as a regular contributor, along with Penn Bullock. Read about them both on the Our Writers page.

Let the Age of Pragmatism Begin

by Cinzia Croce

The first round of Senate confirmation hearings for Donald Trump’s nominees is now in the history books, and it is clear that the incoming president intends to make good on his promise to change Washington. Rex Tillerson and Generals James Mattis and Robert Kelly walked away having established themselves as strong, accomplished, serious men with records of success in their individual endeavors.  Even Dr. Ben Carson — who seemed an admittedly odd choice to head HUD — reassured, pledging to bringing a fresh look to programs whose structure has not been examined in decades, despite, in many cases, having failed to meet the expectations of activists.

There was one consistent theme throughout the testimonies: pragmatism over ideology. After decades of ideological warfare paralyzing Washington, the Trump Administration promises to reassess where we are as a country and chart a new, sustainable course both at home and abroad instead of pursuing ideological purity or utopia.

During the campaign, Trump’s opponents warned that his ego was very fragile, making him susceptible to flattery. If elected, we were warned, he would surround himself with lackeys — “yes men” who would indulge his impulsive, reckless, childish behavior, putting the country — no — the entire world at risk. The hearings effectively debunked the caricature. No one can call General Mattis a lackey or fear that he would not stand up to Trump. The same is true of General Kelly, and Tillerson.

Yet instead of being reassured that Trump is not filling the Cabinet with flunkies, his opponents have switched tactics: they point to areas where the nominees diverge from the president-elect and wring their hands about the divisions and tension or whether it will lead to chaos. There will be no honeymoon, it seems: every decision Trump makes will be cast in a negative light. If his nominees had gone before the Senate and agreed with Trump’s views to the letter — especially with respect to Russia — his opponents would have issued dire warnings that the Kremlin is about to take over our government. Continue reading

Farewell to Eight Years of Adriftness

by Alex Knepper

Except in comparison to Donald Trump, I can’t say I’ll miss President Barack Obama. From the very beginning of his first presidential campaign, I was deeply suspicious of what I viewed as a cult of personality: the slick, too-cool cultural phantasmagoria eliciting orgiastic joy from my peers: I was a freshman at American University in 2008, after all. I supported the moderate-but-hawkish Rudy Giuliani in the Republican primary contest (and Hillary Clinton against Obama) and eventually voted in the general election for John McCain, despite serious reservations over his temperament and the Palin pick, simply because I did not trust that someone such as Obama, with so little experience, could really have a successful presidency. Unlike my frightened conservative colleagues, I did not fear he would be a radically anti-war president, a wild-eyed socialist, or what-have-you, once he actually stepped into office and surveyed the tasks at hand. I merely believed that, despite being an intelligent, charismatic, capable man, the scope of the office and its responsibilities are overwhelming, and he had never been in charge of anything other than his campaign. You can have all the potential in the world, but experience counts — it takes more than a vision to force an idea to life. Moreover, hailing from safely blue Illinois and waltzing to his Senate victory, Obama never had to endure the full force of conservative opposition, and had no clue what he was in for.

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