A conservative “populist” candidate who ran a campaign based largely on hollow promises of economic recovery, racism, sexism, xenophobia, isolationism, tax cuts for the rich and the stoking of fear has won the presidency, potentially rewriting the future of the country. It was, at minimum, a repudiation of Hillary Clinton and her uninspiring, defensive campaign. Yet one can go further to argue that reactionary politics has reached its peak in the country, with the possibility it will only get worse from here.
Given the fact that conservatives now run the White House, the entire Congress, will soon control the Supreme Court, most governorships, most statehouses and even a majority of local officials, it appears to be a rather profound rejection of the Democratic establishment and a victory for cult-of-personality populism, not far removed from fascist uprisings of the past. In fact, it is the most profoundly successful Republican election since at least the 1920s, even as many of those Republicans actively and vocally opposed him.
My analysis of the election is available here (a three-part series), but I wanted to make a few points as the future presidency of Donald J. Trump starts to take shape:
1. The Media, outside MSNBC, involved itself in a fascinating attempt to normalize a Trump presidency, even before we had what seemed a necessary conversation on why he won to begin with. This was particularly true of the usually critical 60 Minutes, which served up softball after softball last Sunday before showing Trump with first his wife and then his elder children in a tableau of normalcy far removed from the reality of his life, on and behind the camera: Vox, Media Matters, Salon. The critique has increased since, but the complicity of the media in this election is hard to ignore and one sees a war emerging between the Trump administration and mainstream media in the future.
2. Trump is already acting like an authoritarian and one imagines it will only get worse (New Republic. He and his surrogates claimed the protests going on across the country for over a week have been orchestrated by the media and has excoriated the same media, including the New York Times, for actually covering American democracy at work. His VP and campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, have warned those critiquing the election and his running mate with thinly veiled threats about undermining the First Amendment. In an appearance on "Fox News Sunday” last week, Conway characterized Reid's critical comments about Trump as "beyond the pale," and suggested that the Nevada senator be careful "in a legal sense.” (Business Insider).
Trump has also claimed he “easily” won one of the tighter races in American history, that the electoral college isn’t that bad after all (after saying it should be repealed), that he would have won the popular vote if it mattered by spending more time in California, New York and Florida and that he now has a mandate to push through his radical agenda.
3. The selection of his team, and the circus that has defined that process so far (NYT), both provide a stark reminder of our greatest fears. Even before considering the selections so far, we should remember that one of the most virulently anti-choice (see H. B. 1337), anti-gay (see Indiana Senate Bill 101), anti-media (he planned to start a state-run, taxpayer-funded news service that would run pro-administration news and mete it out to local papers) and anti-science (intelligent design proponent and global warming doubter) politicians in the country, was chosen as his running mate and is now the man running the transition team.
His early picks for the cabinet move quickly from disappointing to downright terrifying (TNR). Myron Ebell, in charge of his EPA transition team, is an industry-supported climate denier who works for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Stephen Bannon, his chief advisor, is a right-wing provocateur who runs Breitbart, has a history of anti-Semitism, domestic assault and conspiracy theory mongering (WP). And he appears to be lining up positions for family members, even as this would break nepotism laws, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner (NYT), who has no experience in government (like Trump himself)
Trump also announced that he plans to nominate Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as attorney general (a man deemed too racist by Republicans in the 80s to become a federal judge, who calls the NAACP and ACLU “un-American” and said he thought the KKK was “okay) and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) as CIA director (a man who ran the Benghazi Committee, authored a report excoriating Clinton, and has close connections to the Koch brothers). And he chose the fiery retired lieutenant general Michael T. Flynn as his White House national security adviser, who has close ties to Russia, led “lock her up” cheers about Clinton during the campaign and has consistently made derogatory comments about Muslims. The three are all hardline conservatives (WP), who look poised to enact some of the most troubling of campaign promises around immigration, voting rights, policing, domestic surveillance of Muslims and other elements of the war on terror.
4. The selection of his agenda for the first 100 days as President, should be a further concern for many. He plans a massive tax cut for the wealthiest Americans and corporations (NPR), while providing little so far in how he is going to turn around the lives of the vast majority of his voters, or the country at large (Romper). Net neutrality looks like it is in big trouble (Recode), as is the environment (Fortune). Anyone who has not an American citizen, and some who are, will live in fear until they hear about their fate. And even Medicare might be on the chopping block (TPM).
5. Last week, Trump took credit via twitter for saving an auto plant by Ford that they never planned to be closed (TNR), continuing his troubled relationship with the truth. This follows recent stories by most major news sources worried about fake news and its potential influence on this election (NYT, Buzzfeed). With one of the leaders of the alt-right in the White House, one can assume reality will become much more akin to the variety described so vividly by The Matrix (using the ideas of Debord and Baudrillard on the Spectacle Society). One assumes the fact checkers will be earning plenty of overtime over the next four years, assuming Trump doesn’t simply buy the entire mainstream media industry with the help of his good buddy Putin.
Now Trump is taking on the cast of Hamilton, after the cast read an open letter to the Vice President-elect, after he showed up for a performance (WP).The cast said, ““We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir,” said Brandon Victor Dixon, the actor who played Aaron Burr, reading a statement the cast members had drafted together, “But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us.” Trump’s response was to call the cast “rude” and then call for a boycott of the incredibly popular play. And so that idea that Trump will not seek revenge now that he is becoming President … yeah …
These trends would be perfect fodder for a great science fiction novel, heralding the death of American democracy and the coming of a brave new world of elite prosperity. Unfortunately, they are instead a clarion call to anyone who cares about the future of the country to stand up and act to block as much of this radical shift as possible. It is not just the immigrants, Muslims, minorities and, really, women who should worry, but anyone who cares about the environment, healthcare, the elderly, our national security and economy or the possibility of our collective destruction. To the 47 percent of American voters who chose Trump … maybe be careful what you ask for in the future.