Inauguration Day Strategizing
Today is a really weird day. We are inaugurating a president who won by being crass, by encouraging violence toward dissenters, by being racist, xenophobic, pro-sexual harassment, anti-people-with-disabilities, and interestingly, anti-elite. He seeks revenge on critics and opponents. He lies as if repeating a claim over and over will make it true (latest: it’s very rare to have a concert at the Lincoln Memorial). He does not appear able to control himself on Twitter in the wee hours of the night. He is not interested in protocol.
As president-elect he has been in the mind of many an embarrassment. And perhaps he is. But you know what? I don’t think I care that he is an embarrassment. I mean, I CARE. But I don’t think I care politically that he is an embarrassment. I don’t care that his Inaugural Address was weak. In fact, I wonder if people are embarrassed because this election has punctured the claim of American exceptionalism. I don’t think these arguments are that far off from the shots taken against George W. Bush for being a C student who never met an old adage he couldn’t mess up. Now I know many people meant by that that he came from so much privilege he could be a C student and still become president, but I think there was also a certain shame in his “aw shucks” way of speaking that people found embarrassing. I don’t think the problem with Trump now is that he has bad taste in interior decorating. I don’t like that he mouths off at people, and I think it is unpresidential, but I don’t think that is ground on which we should oppose him. I don’t need him to be civil, as much as I need him to be just.
The Clinton campaign ran against Trump by arguing that he was singularly repugnant as a person. But that wasn’t convincing to the American people. The real problems with this administration are the proposed regressive tax structures, the rolling back of health care, the granting of new rights to police forces and the stripping of rights of people against those forces, the denial of climate science, the proposed rolling back of environmental protections, the restrictions on women’s health care — all the things that Republicans have wanted to do for years.
The Clinton campaign tried to separate Trump from the GOP, but that separation ended up helping him. Trump fully represents and supports the interests of the GOP and we should be making it impossible for anyone to forget how those interests are not for the average citizen. He promised to drain the swamp and is filling his Administration with lobbyists and CEOs. He mocked Hillary for the time she spent hobnobbing with Goldman Sachs and brought the entire alumni class of Goldman Sachs to Washington with him. Instead of being against the system, he has nominated the most conservative, Tea Party kind of Cabinet that we have well maybe ever seen. These are people who don’t just want to change the way things are done in their respective departments, they want to dissolve those departments. Betsy DeVos at Education does not seem interested in a flourishing public school system but in redistributing tax dollars to religious organizations. Scott Pruitt has sued the EPA 13 times.
I propose that we ignore Trump as a personality. Give Trump as a person very little attention. Instead, criticize the Administration on the basis of policy and personnel decisions. Make the case to friends and neighbors that these policies are not helping the vast majority of Americans. I’ve been thinking about how this election in some ways was about voting for two different persons, and voters were asked to vote for the person they liked more than the other, or at least the person they hated less. Trump ran a campaign against Hillary as much as she ran a campaign against him. But no more. I propose that we make this about the policy, the practices, the personnel decisions as they point to the policies that will follow, and we seek out news sources that focus on these things.
Of course, this opens the question of what is personal and what is political. Involving his family in governance is a breach of protocol with serious ethical implications. But the case that Trump is unethical does not seem to matter for those who think his policies are good for us. The question of whether Trump is a good or bad man is not the political question that matters to us, except perhaps in showing up the ways that those who pretend to care about family values and morality are willing to compromise for power, and while I think it discredits the politics of family values, I don’t know if it creates political solidarity and coalitions of resistance. Trump’s failure to divest himself of his holdings and put them in a blind trust is a political matter because it opens Trump to being influenced by his own interests rather than what is good for the whole. I propose that we focus on that question: does this decision, policy, personnel decision contribute to the good of the whole?
This is good advice.