My 2016 Post-Election Reflection
(November - December 2016, links added / updated January 2017)
Introduction: Emails. Benghazi. Bigly.
A few weeks have passed since the 2016 presidential election. I've crawled out from beneath the covers and must finally accept the bizarre reality that Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States of America. Having lived my entire life in and around Seattle, probably the bluest city in the bluest county in the bluest state in America, I am imagining President Trump's GREAT™ America (confederate flags at government buildings; fear-based leadership; illegal abortions; nuclear arms proliferation; emboldened alt-right racists; classified information on twitter; profit-driven diplomacy; loss of national security; loss of the presumption of innocence; loss of civil rights; loss of women's rights; loss of marriage equality; loss of religious freedom; loss of health care benefits; loss of Social Security benefits; loss of Medicaid and Medicare benefits; loss of environmental protections; denial of climate change; denial of science; science-denying high school graduates lacking science-based college entrance requirements; international security agreements cancelled; international trade agreements cancelled; tariff-related international trade costs passed along to consumers; increasing food prices due to deportation of immigrant farm workers; deregulated guns and gun ownership; deregulated oil refineries and pipelines; oil drilling rigs everywhere; deregulated emission standards; regulated media; weakening democracy), an America ruled by Wall Street, ultra-conservatives and Donald Trump, the modern-day carnival barker who tapped into people's anger and fear and successfully used bullying, accusations, insults, name-calling, mudslinging, lying, re-tweeting fake news, re-districted red states, deflection, pivoting, false equivalence, character assassination, the Russian government, the FBI, cheap red hats, and playing the media like a fiddle to convince his followers that America wasn't great anymore and that Hillary Clinton was responsible for everything bad in their lives.
The result was that 45 percent of eligible American voters did not vote, and of the 55 percent who did vote, less then half, less than 27% of Americans, voted for Donald Trump. Secretary Clinton won the popular vote by millions of votes, but came up short in electoral votes in a handful of key counties in a few key states. So now Trump and the Republicans can do pretty much whatever they want and the Democratic party is pretty much powerless to stop them, since the GOP will control two branches of government and have influence over the third. Eight years of Republican obstructionism and the mantra of EMAILS!!! and BENGHAZI!!! has finally payed off. Donald Trump, the ex-reality TV personality and tax-dodging businessman famous for bankruptcies, who still hasn't released his tax returns and probably never will, can now implement his plan to
- Make America great again (it's a plan and a campaign slogan)
The only good news is that some of the ideas promoted by President Obama and the Democrats and blocked by the Republicans for eight years (like rebuilding America's infrastructure) might now be implemented. But you can bet the Republicans will take full credit, and Trump's businesses will profit like never before. At middle-class taxpayer expense. While national debt explodes. Bigly.
Part 1: Birtherism, Bigotry & Racism are Deplorable
So the election is over and Donald Trump has proven that you can fool some of the people some of the time. He convinced almost 27% of Americans to vote for a man who built his political career on the birther movement, championing the idea that President Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States. For eight years Trump alleged that President Obama's birth certificate would show that he was a Muslim, not a Christian. That allegation alone proves Trump's bigotry.
Trump's birther movement began soon after Obama was elected America's first black president. In the prolonged, racially motivated attack on the legitimacy of Barack Obama's presidency, Trump convinced his followers that the president's published birth certificate was a forgery. The birther conspiracy theory was proven to be a lie when the president's original birth certificate was made public in April of 2011. But Trump continued to promote the lie for five more years, feeding the bigotry against Muslims and the fear of Muslims, ignoring the fact that Muslim Americans have served, and are serving, courageously in the battle against terrorism and are as patriotic as any other American.
It's troubling, more like terrifying, that Donald Trump is endorsed by Breitbart, the KKK and other white supremacist and white nationalist groups (I guess there's a difference between the two) as well as Alex Jones, conspiracy theorist and leader of the crazy and cruel Sandy Hook "truthers." Hillary Clinton commented that this group of racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and Islamaphobic Trump supporters could be put into a "basket of deplorables." She apologized for the comment right away (although some of us didn't think she had anything to apologize for), but it was too late. People were suddenly wearing "Deplorables for Trump" t-shirts at Trump rallies. I wonder if Hillary ever imagined that people would proudly proclaim themselves to be racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and Islamaphobic. That's when it hit me how deeply divided our country really is, and how Trump voters could ignore his racism and other deplorable traits as long as he spoke to their anger and fear about things like guns, taxes, the Affordable Care Act, Planned Parenthood, same-sex marriage, non-Christians, etc. They must believe the old saying, "ya gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet." Or maybe they don't really believe Trump is a racist, despite his own words and deeds (and the company he keeps).
Part 2: Trump's Insults and Attacks - The End Justifies The Means (and the Mean)
Trump's bigotry (and thin skin) was on full public display throughout his campaign. In addition to insulting President Obama and Secretary Clinton he also insulted Hispanics, Muslims, the Mexican government, women, Senator John McCain (okay, all POWs), a Gold Star mother and father, Americans with disabilities, Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen (who he accused of manipulating interest rates for political purposes), Senator Ted Cruz (whose father, according to Trump, helped assassinate JFK), every other Republican primary candidate, the entire Republican party, both Bush presidents, former president Bill Clinton, Megyn Kelly, Katy Tur, the former Miss Universe from Venezuela, the media at every one of his rallies and many others. Too many to list. A short list would be who Trump didn't insult or attack, like Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un and Bashar al-Assad (leaders he professed to respect and admire). Trump owes all of the others an apology, but they'll never get one. Asked after the election if he regretted his campaign rhetoric he answered, "No, I won." Donald Trump believes that the end justifies the means, and he's as mean as they come. His followers respect him for that, or at least are okay with it.
Part 3: The Russians Came. The Russians Came.
The most shocking and outrageous element of this presidential election was the interference by Russia. In the months leading up to the November election, U.S. intelligence agencies determined that the Russian government hacked into American computing systems and used WikiLeaks as a delivery vehicle to release batches of emails and other stolen information belonging to the Democrats. Trump and the Republicans were not targeted by the Russians (hmmm...I wonder why). American intelligence officials described it as a broad covert operation by the Russians to create public distrust in the presidential election and in U.S. political institutions. Trump dismissed these intelligence reports and said that nobody really knew who was responsible for the cyber attacks against the U.S. He kept the focus on the content of the stolen material rather than on the fact that the Russian government was attacking our democracy, hacking into American computing systems, stealing and releasing confidential documents, even revising some documents before releasing them. Trump followers seem to be okay with the Russian attack on our democracy; the end justifies the means / gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet.
Part 4: Trump welcomes the FBI to his team
The FBI was not among the U.S. intelligence agencies reporting the Russian cyber attacks. Although FBI Director James Comey came to the same conclusion as the other agencies, that the Russian government was attempting to undermine the election, he felt it was too close to Election Day to release information that could hurt Donald Trump, who had repeatedly expressed admiration for Russian president Vladimir Putin.
A month later, on October 28th - eleven days before the election - Comey decided it was the perfect time to send an ambiguous letter to congress informing them that the FBI was looking into emails that may or may not be relevant to Hillary Clinton. Interestingly, two days earlier, FBI insider Rudy Giuliani had said on FOX News that information damaging to the Clinton campaign was about to come out. In fact, he said it would come out in two days. I don't think Rudy was supposed to say that out loud, but his law firm represented the FBI Agents Association at the time and he just couldn't resist sharing information that his friends inside the agency were feeding him. This lack of professionalism by the FBI is shocking, but Trump followers seem to be okay with it; the end justifies the means / gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet.
So eleven days before the election the House Judiciary Committee received Comey's letter and Republicans on the committee immediately leaked it to the press, who forgot about Trump's sexual assault scandal and the growing list of Republicans opposing Trump (some even calling for him to step aside) and focused all of their attention on a letter that didn't say anything. It's like Comey shouted SQUIRREL!!! and every reporter turned his or her head at the same time. In the blink of an eye, Comey had spun the momentum of the election 180 degrees. One day Republican leaders were virtually conceding the election, and the next they were lining up for cabinet positions. Trump's campaign manager Kellyanne Conway called it "a great day in our campaign." Although Comey's letter lacked any detail, Trump and his surrogates (including FOX News) spent more than a week telling people that damaging evidence against Hillary Clinton had been found and an indictment was imminent. A lot of people, including undecided voters and anti-Trump Republicans, believed those lies about Secretary Clinton. In the final week of her campaign, with early voting already underway, she was forced to change strategies and veer away from positive messaging to deal with the suprise ambush by the FBI, which allowed Trump to act presidential in the final week of his campaign (i.e., trying to stick to the teleprompter) while his surrogates and FBI leakers did the dirty work for him.
Then, two days before the election, Comey reported that nothing relevant was found in the emails and the decision he made in July would stand; no charges against Hillary Clinton. But it was far too late to undo the damage inflicted by the first letter. In fact, Trump also used the second letter to his advantage by saying that Comey was now lying to protect Clinton - even though Comey's actions clearly hurt Clinton's campaign and helped Trump's campaign. This type of behavior (gaslighting) is a basic part of Donald Trump's personality. He manipulates others by accusing them of the things he's guilty of, forcing them to defend themselves, making them feel like they have to prove their innocence, trying to cause confusion to shift the focus away from his own faults. Here are three examples of Trump's gaslighting:
Part 5: Jangling the Keys
Early voting surged during the 9-day period after Comey's first letter. Many voters believed Trump and his surrogates; that Secretary Clinton, a devoted wife, mother and grandmother with nearly 40 years of public service, was guilty of...something. A lot of undecided voters decided to cast their vote for a third-party candidate, or just didn't vote. Voter suppression favors the Republican party, and the GOP continues to wage war on voter's rights.
This election was impacted by Russian cyber attacks and FBI meddling (not to mention the media's fascination whenever Trump jangled his keys). How deep did the Russian hacking go? Was it still taking place on Election Day? Were online voting machines used in some parts of the country safe from Russian hacking? We may never know. With the GOP now in control of the Executive, Legislative and (eventually) Judicial branches of government, I don't think there's much of a chance that the 2016 attacks on our democracy will ever be properly investigated. At least, not with the thoroughness and vigor that EMAILS!!! and BENGHAZI!!! were investigated.
Conclusion: In Devastation There Is Opportunity
I was somewhere between depressed and devastated after the election and found that writing made me feel a little better, so I just kept writing. I wanted to document what I had witnessed before the details started to fade from memory, driven out by Trump's daily circus. As I look back over what I've written my feeling is - you can't make this stuff up. These things really happened, and are still happening. Part of me wants to climb back under the covers and hide for four years. But we can't give up. We have to keep fighting for our country. We have to be more patriotic than ever before. Trump must be held accountable for the things he said and did during his campaign, the things he says and does as president-elect and the things he says and does as president, even if he tries to backpedal (don't fall for it, he will say anything to achieve his goals). The GOP's ongoing efforts to manipulate the electoral college process by re-districting states they control must be exposed (North Carolina for example). Russian and FBI activities that influenced the 2016 election must be fully investigated. We should demand real journalism from journalists, and denounce fake news sources and sites. Don't assume that everyone knows they're a fake or a joke. Many (most?) Trump voters believed them without doing any fact checking. The new normal is that anything anybody says is true until proven false. But even then you can still believe it, because proof is just an opinion and everything is corrupt anyway. It remindes me of the witch scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Maybe the election of Donald Trump will serve as a safety valve for alt-right Americans, whose Rush Limbaugh/Breitbart-inspired anger, hate and fear has been smoldering for decades. Maybe that section of America would have exploded if Trump had lost and followed through on his campaign promise to denounce the legitimacy of the election, infuriating right-wing militia groups full of Timothy McVeigh's who had threatened to take up arms if Trump lost. Maybe we avoided a bloody terror-based civil war that would have done more harm to our country than even President Trump will do. Maybe. We'll never know.
I don't think I will ever understand why nearly 27% of Americans felt that Donald Trump was qualified to be President of the United States; why nearly 27% of Americans voted for a man with a public record of unscrupulous and criminal business practices including racial housing discrimination, intimidating business partners through lawsuits, refusing to pay workers and contractors, profiting through bankruptcy, committing anti-trust violations, defrauding more than 6000 people through Trump University, donating $25,000 to the Florida State Attorney General just days before she quashed an investigation into Trump University, settling three separate Trump University fraud cases for $25 million, using $258,000 of charitable funds to settle other legal disputes, spending $55,000 of campaign donor money to buy copies of his own book to hand out at the Republican convention and sending the cash back to himself, bragging about not paying income taxes, bragging about sexually assaulting women, complimenting America's adversaries and ridiculing American intelligence agencies while leaders of his own political party expressed concerns about his emotional stability, mental capacity and character. I'm trying to understand how nearly 27% of Americans reviewed this résumé and said "YOU'RE HIRED!"
Finally, social media played a huge role in the 2016 election, including automated 'bots' producing millions of tweets, likes, follows and retweets. In the final presidential debate, one in four tweets was from a bot. But whether it's automated bots or human beings, social media is effectively being used to divide us. The most innocent comment is immediately met with snarky and vicious replies. I'm sure that if I was posting this on a social media site I would be called a stupid libtard (probably something much worse). There are too many trolls and not enough heroes. Don't be a troll, be a hero. Have compassion for our red-hatted brothers and sisters. Instead of immediately attacking their opinions, listen. Ask questions about their views and ideas and feelings (which will also help ferret out humans from troll-bots). Try to understand where their fear and anger (or hate and rage) is coming from. Take the high road and de-escalate the rhetoric. As Trump supporters realize they were duped by a carnival barker, they will become powerful allies in the battle to save our American democracy. Maybe a more united America will rise like a phoenix from the ashes of the Trump presidency.
Unless...they're real ashes.
If you would like to buy a t-shirt inspired by our Russian-hacked election, please click here.