The Worst Week in American Presidential History

Screenshot from a video of Donald Trump with Mike Pence and General James Mattis (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Screenshot from a video of Donald Trump with Mike Pence and General James Mattis (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Here is a brief summary of the first week of the Trump administration. The President of the United States stood before the intelligence community and lied, then sent out his spokesman to lie to and berate the press, then subsequently he lied repeatedly in his first interview since his lie-ridden inauguration speech. Consequently, all of this presidential lying introduced the concept of “alternative facts” to the general public. As he has throughout his professional career, President Trump continues to demonstrate a petulant narcissism that leads him to focus his energy on seeking adulation and redressing perceived slights, rather than on conducting thoughtful research and assembling sophisticated policies based on verifiable data.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the flurry of executive orders and bizarre claims emanating from the White House. Despite no indication that there is an illegal immigration problem in the United States, and in a manner completely oblivious to the diplomatic and economic consequences, Donald Trump has committed to building a wall between the United States and Mexico, and to dramatically increasing the size of our border and immigration agencies. This is particularly odd since illegal border crossings are the lowest they have been in fifty years, roughly ten percent of what they were sixteen years ago. Perhaps he hopes the wall will keep immigrants in, since we had a net loss of 140,000 Mexican immigrants from 2009 to 2014.

In addition, despite no indication that the people affected pose a threat, Trump has ceased accepting refugees and blocked the visas and immigration of people from seven predominantly Muslim nations, initially including green card holders whose lives, jobs, and families are in the U.S. In a twist of Orwellian logic, the Trump administration is trying to keep out vetted visitors from countries whose citizens have not been our primary aggressors, while allowing in those from countries whose citizens have actively attacked us. The Trump executive order seeks to promote “extreme vetting,” while failing to note that people from these countries are already subject to vetting in the extreme (Infographic), and that said vetting is working extraordinarily well. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel explained to Trump, another inconvenient fact that Trump’s order ignores is the Geneva Conventions’ requirement that signatories take in war refugees. The White House has chosen instead to create a constitutional crisis, through what one expert identifies as both “incompetence” and “malevolence,” because Trump claims that, all appearances to the contrary, this will keep us “safe.”

Trump is also willing to violate U.S. and international law to keep us “safe.” Despite the clear consensus of those of us who actually understand how interrogation and intelligence collection work, Donald Trump expressed his support of waterboarding to collect information. In so doing, Trump’s claims run explicitly counter to the views of his incoming Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, and the views of his incoming CIA Director, Mike Pompeo. As with his executive orders, Trump’s rhetoric and policy ignores his own experts and the fact that his proposed solution demonstrably and unequivocally does not work. The pattern is the same. Regardless of what the experts say, Donald Trump offers a “plan” that is rooted in neither the realities of the problem nor in any realistic expectation of gaining positive results. The same could be said for Trump’s expression of regret at the United States’ unwillingness to commit the war crime of stealing Iraq’s oil.

It’s as if Trump is getting his policy guidance from people whose primary understanding of the geopolitical situation is rooted in racism, ignorance, and propaganda rather than a cogent understanding of the reality of these complex issues. It seems that way, because it is true. Trump has placed a man – one whose only policy credential is his time editing a website dedicated to fanning the flames of extremist hyper-nationalism, racism, misogyny, and conspiracy theories and who is already trying to silence the media – in a permanent seat on the National Security Council. Meanwhile, Trump has sidelined actual intelligence experts, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Director of National Intelligence, to an as-needed role there.

Intelligence and counter-terrorism experts, myself included, understand that the solutions to global terrorism are complex ones involving diplomacy, economics, pluralism, covert intelligence collection and analysis and, sometimes, the selective use of military force. Petulant children, fascist egomaniacs, and third-world strongmen, on the other hand, confuse reality with action movies. They think the solution must be flexing as much military might as possible, and punishing those who disagree with them. Consequently, our new Ambassador to the United Nations is making veiled threats to those countries who question our new cowboy diplomacy. Concurrently, Donald Trump has issued a bizarre executive order promising a “great rebuilding” of what is already the most powerful military in the world. Apparently he hopes to further bolster a military budget that already exceeds that of China, Saudi Arabia, the UK, India, France, and Japan…combined. He also makes the insulting and surreal claim on the White House website that our current military is somehow weak and in need of “rebuilding.”

As Trump investigates ways to spend more money on what is already the most expensive military in the world, he is also silencing scientists, ignoring scientific consensus, and making plans to cut programs that benefit the environment, the arts and humanities, women, the sick, and the poor. There is, apparently, plenty of money to fund ineffective solutions to problems that do not exist, but not enough money to fight the real threats of poverty, ignorance, and environmental devastation we currently face.

None of this is sane policy rooted in reality. Building a ridiculously expensive and completely futile wall to keep out people who aren’t posing a problem; denying entry to the U.S. to people who have already been vetted or who already live here because they have brown skin and a different religion from the dominant one here; giving neo-Nazi news editors a voice and sidelining people with actual expertise; advocating for war crimes; over-inflating the most massive and powerful military in the world; silencing scientists; pulling money away from the programs that can actually help our citizens – none of this makes sense.

None of it makes sense, unless you have been fed a steady diet of fear-mongering pablum by a conglomeration of media sources with a vested interest in getting you to vote irrationally based on an inaccurate presentation of both our problems and our solutions. Sadly, this is exactly what organizations like Fox News and Breitbart has accomplished, with the end result that Trump’s actions on immigration, which in no way make us safer, are viewed by the electorate as necessary, because they “fix” problems with the vetting of immigrants and refugees that don’t actually exist. The actual, human cost of families split apart, lives ruined, fellow humans sent back to places of violence and death, and even loyal allies thrust back amongst our enemies is completely ignored because some people believe the lie that the threat is so great that no price is too high to pay to fight it.

This leads me to two questions, the answers to which will define whether or not our republic can survive the threat posed by a Trump presidency. The first is: “Who benefits from lying to the American people about the threats we face and the solutions that address them?” There is no single answer, but the valences of the answers do overlap. Corporations and leaders who profit financially (e.g. defense contractors) and in terms of political power (i.e. Republicans) benefit, because their literal and metaphorical stock goes up when people are afraid. Also, there are other business and corporate interests who benefit from a climate of irrational fear and unrealistic “solutions.” If the electorate is distracted by the specter of non-existent threats, they are less likely to focus their energy on regulating the “lesser” threats of the exploitation of workers and the environment. Shallow, venal racists and bigots also benefit, because fear incites a violent tribalism in primates like us, and fascists have long capitalized on that to serve their agenda. Finally, Donald J. Trump benefits, because pushing meaningless solutions to manufactured problems creates the illusion that he is actually governing, and the illusion of competence is his brand.

Recognizing who is helped by a climate of fear, mis-information, mis-trust of science and expertise, gratuitously ignorant propaganda, and outright lies also points to who is harmed by the same, shameful circumstances in which we now find ourselves. First and foremost, obviously, immigrants and minorities suffer because an irate and terrified populace is eager to deny them their rights. The nation as a whole suffers, not only because we are denied the cultural richness and vitality which immigrants bring to our country, but also because our real needs are ignored in favor of transparently useless security theater. Our economy also suffers, because the isolationism preached by the fearmongers fails to take into account the global interdependence of the twenty-first century.

Finally, ironically, our safety suffers as well. There are real threats to our safety as Americans, the majority of which are domestic, but many of which are foreign in origin. Implementing obviously racist and effectively random policies only perpetuates the xenophobia that alienates us from would-be allies and inflames our enemies. It also misdirects our attention away from the reality that a U.S. citizen is thousands of times more likely to be killed by a fellow American than by a foreign actor. We need to be building economic and diplomatic relationships with our neighbors. We need to be fostering the diversity that makes us an engaged, rather than an imperial, player on the world stage. We need to be focusing our resources on actionable threats identified by experts, not on perceived ones highlighted by ignorant bigots. By ignoring these priorities, the bumbling incompetence of the Trump administration not only fails to make us any safer, it actually endangers us all.

Which leads to the second question: “What can we do about it?” The simple answer is that every American who feels competent to vote, and to weigh in on these issues anywhere from Facebook to the Well of the Senate, must learn to vet every policy claim as closely as the Trump administration wants to vet Syrian refugees. We must ask, “Does the data indicate that this is actually a problem?” If it does, we must ask, “Is there research to reasonably conclude that this is the best solution to that problem?” Finally, as with all kinds of threat assessment and risk analysis, we must ask, “Is the potential gain worth the cost?” For instance, “Is putting tens of thousands of refugees’ lives at risk by sending them away worth eliminating the risk that one of them might commit the sort of crime that, historically, they have never committed in the U.S.?”

Are we capable of this as a society? I wish I knew. The actions of the Trump administration are demonstrably wrong by any objective, rational criteria. Millions of Americans understand this. For the reasons I have outlined above, however, millions of Americans do not. Despite the evidence of both their own eyes and the research of reliable, peer-reviewed experts, millions of Americans have accepted irrational and inflammatory rhetoric of fear. In equal doses, they also support “solutions” that only make sense if someone understands neither the nature of the problem nor the reality of the solution. The safest people on earth, leading lives of unimaginable prosperity, are behaving as if they are living in squalor, under the constant threat of violent attack from vetted immigrants and hard-working neighbors.

How do we persuade people who ignore science, expertise, and even the reality of their own terrorism-free lives to pay attention to facts and real threats rather than distracting propaganda? What brighter spotlight could we possibly shine on Trump’s blatant lying, transparent narcissism, and whining petulance? How do we make America think again? I do not know, but it is not an exaggeration to say that the fate of our republic, and perhaps of the whole democratic experiment, hinges on our ability to find an answer. Government of the people, by the people, and for the people is doomed to fail if the people are not capable of thinking critically past charismatic bombast, unapologetic bigotry, and blatant misinformation.

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Trump is My President Too

Donald J. Trump

Donald J. Trump (Source: Michael Candelori, Wikimedia Commons)

When I was in Airborne School at Ft. Benning, Georgia, I received one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given. Our platoon sergeant for Charlie Company, Sergeant Airborne Prince, said, “When in doubt, do the right thing.” I’ve repeated and reflected on that advice countless times in the decades since, and I have come to realize that it’s an almost universally-applicable ethical rule of thumb. Invariably, when I think I have a moral dilemma, I already know in my gut what the right thing to do is, I’m just trying to talk myself out of it because I desperately want to do something different.

Case in point: I desperately want to be able to say, “Donald Trump is not my President!” I not only want to say it, I want to put it on a sign in my front yard and a lapel pin I can wear every day until his inevitable impeachment. I want to replace “Hello” with “Trump is not my President,” and close all correspondence with, “Sincerely, not a constituent of Donald Trump’s.” When I read the news, I want to scream it at the top of my lungs.

As much as I want to say it, I cannot bring myself to do so because it’s not the right thing. Donald Trump will be my President, because I am an American citizen. Accepting this means I trust the Constitution to give us the means to thwart the vile agenda of Trump and his kleptocratic Cabinet without having to overthrow the federal government or undermine its legitimacy. Recognizing that Donald Trump is my President is not about recognizing any value in his incoherent platform and implausible policies. It’s about recognizing that the office, the Constitution, and the republic still stand.

Accepting that Donald Trump is my President also means accepting my shared responsibility for the catastrophically bad decision of the electorate to install someone who consistently behaves as someone temperamentally and intellectually unfit to hold the office. I certainly did not vote for the man, but I am part of a community which includes enough people who did vote for him that he won the Electoral College. Whatever combination of failures in our educational system, economic safety net, and mass media made this travesty possible, I share in the blame because – as an American – I did not work hard enough to reverse them. Donald Trump is not the President I wanted, but perhaps he is the President I deserve for my own complacency.

As a result, I will have to recognize that Donald Trump is President, not so that we can unite behind him, but so that we can unite against him. The fight to keep him out of the Oval Office is over, and – to the peril of the decency and honor of the office – we lost. The struggle now will be to protect the values we hold dear against a thin-skinned, petty tyrant and his assembled gang of abysmally unqualified sycophants, self-serving capitalist thugs, and religious fundamentalists. Engaging in that ongoing struggle requires as a first step the honest recognition that we are not shielding our citizenry from hypothetical, outside terrors, but instead from the President in whom we have invested tremendous political authority.

Understanding that Donald Trump is President is not about supporting his platform or honoring the ridiculous, divisive, and embarrassing things he says. It is about comprehending the power we have ceded to him, so that we can establish realistic strategies to mitigate his influence. We cannot formulate a cure unless we accurately diagnose the disease.

Make no mistake, the threat we face is virulent indeed. We know from his past history that an ideologically pliant, ethically questionable, and intellectually ill-equipped reality television performer like Donald Trump cannot be trusted to do the right thing. We know from a long history of polluted rivers, unbreathable air, glass ceilings, and perilous working conditions that corporations and businessmen cannot be trusted to do the right thing. We know from the legacy of “miscegenation” laws, segregation, back-alley abortions, creation “science,” and patriarchal leadership that fundamentalist religious institutions cannot be trusted to do the right thing.

As neighbors, however, we can still do the right thing. This election rent the fabric of the social contract which allowed the federal government to be our collective voice in working for the common good. We must now find ways to work together as communities – of every size – to do what we know to be the virtuous and moral thing. For that to be possible we must recognize that, whatever political differences brought us to this place, we are all American citizens under one government. Together we have elected a man who represents Americans at our very worst. We will have to come together as Americans at our very best to protect what is right, good, and just from the predations of our President.

The shame of admitting that Donald Trump is our President is one we are understandably loathe to bear. Even still, it is America’s shame, and so we must bear it as Americans if we are to have any chance of preserving the nation which failed us when it installed Donald Trump in an office he is unfit to hold. Carrying that shame together is the right thing, because it keeps us together as a nation, and it’s only together that we will be able to take on the larger, daily tasks of doing what is right to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

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Rearguard Strategy for Progressives

Trump, Putin, Stalin, and Hitler - each on the cover of Time as "Person of the Year"

Time’s Person of the Year is in familiar company.

Here’s a friendly heads-up to my progressive friends. The political clout of the progressive movement is currently, at best, at a 70-year low. 100-years is probably more like it. The KKK is literally marching in the streets. Enemies of civil rights, clean air and water, worker’s rights, and the social safety net control the Senate, the House, 2/3 of the state legislatures and governor’s mansions, and – soon – the entire Executive Branch of the government and the Supreme Court.

They have the keys to the kingdom, and we have snarky think pieces in Slate and HuffPo.

Regardless of how normative our views are among educated elites, in terms of actual political power, and likely in terms of majority sentiment, we are in the minority.

When you are in the minority, it is tactically absurd to further weaken your position, or to waste energy on soft or useless targets.

So, not to put too fine a point on it, stop attacking fellow progressives and our allies.

Did someone fail to nuance their ideas in a way that fully encompasses your position? Bummer, but unless they are threatening to force LGBT persons into shock and/or conversion therapy, they’re not the biggest threat we face.

Did someone’s efforts for advocacy seem to you to be more a product of their own guilt, or their own privilege, than the purity of your own motives? Wow, that’s annoying, but unless they’re planning to undermine the freedom of the press and use bullying tactics to silence you, they aren’t exactly our biggest problem right now.

Did someone fight too hard for a cause you think is less important, and not enough for the cause dearest to your heart? That must make them seem like they’re not a true ally. However, if they’re not trying to pump chemicals into your drinking water, they’re probably a better friend than the people we’re about to entrust with our lives.

Fringe-right theocrats and plutocrats have outmaneuvered us time and again, and we are now fighting a rearguard action to preserve what we can until we are able to fight back. Now is the time to build coalitions and shore up alliances. Now is the to strengthen our weaker comrades, not push them from the fold for their lack of ideological purity. We know what we’re going to have to fight for:

  • clean air and water
  • safe workplaces
  • living wages
  • healthcare
  • civil rights
  • freedom from religion
  • reproductive freedom

Let’s put all our energy into these issues, all of which are grievously threatened. The rest can wait until we get to the point where we’re actually in a position to influence government policy again.

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Finding Joy in the Morning

Sunrise in Joshua Tree Park by Jessie Eastland (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Sunrise in Joshua Tree Park by Jessie Eastland (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

I was awakened in the early hours by multiple texts from friends confirming that the victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential race, which had seemed all but certain when I went to sleep only a few hours earlier, had become a reality. I wept. I have already written about what a catastrophically terrible candidate he was, so I will not rehash that here. I will simply note that it is irrefutable that themes of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, bigotry, and ignorance were central to his campaign.

That point is crucial, because watching my social media feeds has revealed that many of Trump’s supporters are attempting to disavow those elements of the campaign, while celebrating their victory. Not only is doing so disingenuous, it is dangerous and insulting to those most likely to bear the brunt of the vile prejudices on which Trump so adroitly capitalized. The voices of those who are now placed on the outside by Trump’s “outsider” campaign are the ones that have dominated my social media feed, and their words are the ones we need to hear right now, especially on the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

We must listen to the voices of people of color. We must listen to the voices of women. We must listen to the voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Americans. We must listen to the voices of our Muslim neighbors. We must listen to the voices of those who have been victims of sexual assault. We must listen to the voices of those who battle with physical or mental illnesses or disabilities. We must listen to the voices of those who work eighty hour weeks, but cannot feed their families or afford safe homes for them.

We must listen to their voices, because the voices they hear are calling them “niggers,” “ragheads,” “spics,” “gooks,” “kikes,” “cunts,” “hajis,” “dykes, “faggots,” “whores,” “retards,” and “parasites.”

“Those are horrible words. No one should ever say them. It makes me uncomfortable to even read them. Those words are nothing but hate,” should be the first thought of every single person who reads them.

I agree, completely. Unfortunately, when those of us in the majority use fancy metaphors like “dogwhistle,” or talk blithely about the “dangers of racism and bigotry,” we lose the tenor of bile, the growled threat of violence, which rumbles underneath the more subtle rhetoric of intolerance. If we listen more than we speak, though, we can hear it.

“We’re not saying that!” is the immediate response from most Trump supporters, although clearly not all.

“You’re talking, not listening,” is my reply.

If we listen to the voices coming from those who, after a few brief gulps of fresh air, feel themselves being shoved back into the shadows, it becomes clear that this is exactly what they are hearing. They are afraid. They are afraid of physical violence. They are afraid that their marriages will be annulled. They are afraid they will lose their jobs. They are afraid that they will face discrimination, supported by the force of law. They are afraid that they are no longer welcome in their neighborhoods, in their communities, and in their country.

They are also angry. They are angry that their patriotism is in question. They are angry that the work they have done to make this country great is ignored. They are angry that their values, their marriages, their families, and their accomplishments are considered second-rate. They are angry that after working twice as hard for half as much, they are still being told they have overstepped and need to learn their place.

“But we don’t believe any of that stuff. We just wanted someone to finally shake up the political system, fix what’s broken, and give us the opportunities we’ve been denied. It’s about the economy for us, and being safe from people we think are threatening us.”

Leaving aside the obvious parallel, to put it simply: No! You don’t get to do that. You don’t get to choose the person who threatens to commit war crimes, rip apart families, revoke civil rights, curtail free speech, validate bigotry, and dredge up every vile prejudice in this nation’s history because you thought you’d make more money and be safe from a hypothetical threat that is more dangerous to the Muslims whom you deride than it is to you. Just because you feel safe from the consequences of the bilious hate that runs through a campaign, that’s no excuse for ignoring it because you think you’ll come out of the other side a winner.

Listen to the people who have lost, so that you could get your win. Their fear, their grief, and the very real dangers of loss and violence they face, that is the price of your pyrrhic victory.

And now I am done speaking to those who are celebrating the election results, but I hope you will keep listening.

Many of my friends, and people who have read my other essays, reached out to me this morning to offer a word of hope. I couldn’t do that without first honoring the chorus of voices of terror and rage I have heard all morning. As a cis, straight, white, healthy, professional, veteran, Christian, male, I had the least to lose last night. Blithely offering encouragement without first listening struck me as a arrogant in the extreme. So I have listened, and within the limited range of my privilege, tried to amplify the voices I have heard.

Now I will speak my word of hope to you.

I have your back.

If you are a Muslim, a Jew, a Sikh, or of any other faith, you are also my brother or my sister. I have your back.

If you are a woman, you are my equal and my partner. I have your back.

If your skin is a different hue from mine, I want to hear your voice. I have your back.

If you view yourself as queer in gender or sexual orientation, I think you’re awesome. I have your back.

If you are an immigrant, I am grateful for your courage. I have your back.

If you wrestle with disability, I honor your strength. I have your back.

If you struggle to make ends meet, I know you fight battles I can’t even see. I have your back.

If you feel betrayed by America this morning, I do too. I have your back.

That is my word of hope this morning. Not just that I have your back and that you have mine, but that we, collectively, have each other’s. It has never been the government that has made this country great. It has never been the Constitution, as dearly as I love it, which has made this country great. It is the people of the United States of America who make this country great.

I struggled this morning with what to text a friend who is both a Muslim and a woman, living in a red state. I finally settled on, “I know you are a fighter, and not easily frightened, but if you feel unsafe, threatened, or in any way marginalized today, please know that I love you and I have your back.”

I’ve sent similar messages to other friends today, as I have heard their shock, their anger, their horror and their fear. They have replied in kind. When I told them of my tears, they told me of theirs. When I felt alone, they told me they were there. It wasn’t in political strategizing or contemplating policy options that I found hope, it was in their love.

So, in offering you what hope I can, I ask that you also become that hope for others. It’s a simple message:

I know you are a fighter, and not easily frightened,
but if you feel unsafe, threatened, or in any way marginalized today,
please know that I love you and I have your back.

Send it to anyone whom you think needs to hear it. Post it on Facebook. Say it loudly, clearly, and unambiguously. Because there is hope to be had, and that hope is found in the countless women and men who will be our sisters and brothers in the tough days ahead. There will be much to do as we move forward, tangible ways to act and hold back the dark, but right now it is imperative that we let our fellow citizens know that no one stands alone.

Standing together is the hope we need when the rhetoric of hate seems to tear us apart. As a person of faith, I believe that the full power of the gospel is only realized when we who are many unite as one. Whatever is “good news” for you, whether you are from another faith tradition or none at all, I hope you will indulge me in closing with the words of the Psalmist, famously proclaimed by Dr. King. “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

Let us weep together tonight, and tomorrow let us look to the horizon. It seems darker now, the city upon the hill farther away, but the dawn will come, and we will find the joy of the morning. We will get there, together.

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Overwhelmingly Rejecting Trump is the Top Priority

Donald Trump at the Marriott Marquis, NYC on Sep 07, 2016

Donald Trump at the Marriott Marquis, NYC on Sep 07, 2016 (Source: Michael Vadon via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s crucial that Donald Trump be summarily and soundly defeated on November 8. The electorate of the United States must send a clear, unequivocal message to the world, and to our fellow citizens: The ideas, attitudes, and behaviors of Donald J. Trump are no longer acceptable in the twenty-first century. The first step in offering a healthy vision for the future of America is unambiguously and permanently abandoning the failed prejudices of past centuries. In repudiating the candidacy of Donald Trump, we are drawing a clear line in the sand against bigotry, arrogance, and the entitlement of wealth and social privilege.

Here are a few examples of exactly what voters must repudiate on November 8.

Xenophobia

Donald Trump claims that immigrants from Mexico to the U.S. are rapists and drug dealers, despite the fact that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the people who already live here. Trump also claims that immigrants are stealing jobs, and should not be helped or supported by Republicans because they “will not get any of those votes.” This claim also has no basis in the evidence. In fact, nothing Donald Trump says about immigrants holds up to scrutiny. There is no place in our diverse nation for this kind of xenophobic rhetoric. We are stronger because we welcome all who want to work to build this great nation, and Donald Trump’s claims are a direct attack on the foundation of the American melting pot.

We must make it clear that in the United States, a nation of immigrants, there is no room for xenophobia.

Religious Bigotry

Donald Trump does not limit his proclamations of bigotry to chicanx North Americans. He also feeds into the feverish anti-Muslim lunacy of the far-right. Without a hint of embarrassment, the Trump campaign published on their website a call for a “complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Most of Trump’s off-the-cuff comments are unintelligible or contradictory, but even his later attempts to “moderate” that stand only reinforce his anti-Muslim views. Trump is even comfortable summarizing what he believes are the consensus beliefs of a billion adherents to a diverse religion, saying, “Islam hates us.” In making these claims, Trump ignores the very research he claims to cite, research that consistently shows high unfavorability ratings for fundamentalist, extremist groups like Daesh in majority-Muslim nations. Here too, Trump’s biased rhetoric of inflammatory ignorance ignores a fundamental premise of our secular nation, one found in the First Amendment, that we shall neither establish priority for one religion nor shall we prevent its free exercise.

We must make it clear that the United States is a secular nation, where people of all faiths are welcome, and where people of all faiths stand shoulder to shoulder as citizens.

Ethnic Bigotry

Unfortunately, Donald Trump is not content to foment the popular racism of the modern era. He is also more than willing to turn back the clock and dredge up the specters of prejudices past. Donald Trump’s long corporate and personal history of racist actions is well-documented. Unsurprisingly, those attitudes have persisted in his campaign, leading to him calling a supporter a “thug” and having him ejected from a rally. Trump has also ventured into criminology, ignoring the actual research on the subject (which correlates poverty to crime), and tweeted smugly that the “overwhelming amount of violent crime in our major cities is committed by blacks and [H]ispanics.” Behavior like Trump’s, which would be uncomfortable if it were to come from your drunk neighbor at Thanksgiving, is particularly excruciating in contrast to the thoughtful, measured analysis of racism in the U.S. consistently offered by President Obama.

We must make it clear that the hopes of the American Civil Rights movement represents the future of democracy in the United States. The train has left the station, and any American who wants to be part of the future of this country had better get on board.

Gender Inequality

Shockingly, we also have to make it clear that the suffrage movement of a century ago is also a settled issue in modern America. Upon learning that female voters will likely be instrumental in defeating Trump, a number of his supporters to Twitter with a hashtag demanding a repeal of the Nineteenth Amendment. That could be seen as an aberration, if it weren’t for the fact that Donald Trump’s campaign is either silent or hostile to every major, modern issue dealing with the status of women in society. Even when the GOP leadership tries to distance itself from Trump’s boasts of sexual assault, their track record on women’s rights makes it clear that Trump’s failure to support these issues is not an anomaly. The question of women’s equality should have been settled decades ago. The fact that it has not is a national embarrassment.

We must make it clear that, in the United States of America, the rights and privileges of citizenship are not guaranteed to all men, they are guaranteed to all people.

Environmental Devastation

Then there’s the topic of the environment. Donald Trump has a long history of ignoring the destructive environmental consequences of his actions. Consequently, it is no surprise that he wants to cut or eliminate the EPA. Nor is it a surprise that he thinks climate change is hoax, which would make him unique among the heads of state for the 195 nations recognized by the U.S. State Department. Contrary to Trump’s cavalier and dismissive statements, the threats of mass extinction and climate change are perhaps the single greatest threats facing humanity for this and future generations. Even the conservative leaders in other Western nations recognize this. Producing political leaders who deny the scientific consensus in this way makes us look as if our government is shamelessly in the thrall of wealthy business interests. Disingenuously parroting baseless propaganda for selfish gains has no place in twenty-first century America.

We must make it clear that the citizens of the United States will work to fight environmental threats with the same drive, commitment, and sacrifice that we used to save the world from the threat of the Axis powers in the 1940’s.

Chicanery

In repudiating Donald Trump, we are not just repudiating his ideas and platform, we are also repudiating his character, or his apparent complete lack thereof. While Trump claims to be a successful businessman, the record of his “business” career shows a string of broken contracts and unpaid bills. In fact, old habits die hard, as indicated by the Trump campaign’s apparent unpaid debt to a polling firm. None of this should be terribly surprising, since it is increasingly clear that Donald Trump, whose actual net worth is unclear, was completely comfortable making money from blatant fraud. We do not need to return to the days of the Teapot Dome scandal, a national disgrace that would almost certainly pale in comparison to a Trump presidency, especially since the candidate apparently does not even understand what a blind trust is.

We must make it clear that the United States does not venerate “businessmen” for their “success” at betraying the workers who built their fortunes, or at conning the desperate out of their hard-earned money.

Ignorance and Incompetence

Perhaps most embarrassingly, despite these practices, Donald Trump has actually significantly underperformed for someone who started with such a large nest egg. That is, however, less unexpected considering the multiple, long lists of astonishingly stupid things he has said. Sadly, Donald Trump’s entire platform consists of ill-informed, poorly-conceived, and often plainly absurd ideas – all of which demonstrate his complete inability to engage in serious, informed policy discussions. The idea behind a democratically-elected leader in a republic is that we choose someone who represents us at our best, not at our most base, ignorant, and ill-informed.

We must make it clear that the United States deserves its place at the head of the world’s table, and to do so we must clearly reject simplistic, childish solutions based on empty rhetoric and unsophisticated ignorance.

Misogyny and Abuse

Finally, in looking at the character of Donald Trump, it is inevitable that we examine the way he represents the worst caricature of white, male privilege and sexual entitlement, to a degree that would make the characters on Mad Men cringe. The most egregious example is undoubtedly Donald Trump’s claim that his celebrity allows him the freedom to sexually assault women without consequences. While Trump tried to dismiss this as “locker room talk,” women immediately recognized it as embodying the violent, predatory nature of sexual entitlement that has deep roots in male privilege, especially among the politically and professionally powerful men of Trump’s social tier. In addition to Trump’s own claims, the women around him are stepping forward to share their allegations that Trump sexually assaulted them, and barged in to ogle their naked, teenage bodies. Beyond that, we have Trump’s massive catalog of offensive, demeaning, and insulting statements about women. It is as if the GOP has decided to run as their standard bearer the platonic ideal of all of the worst stereotypes of the leering, groping, patronizing boss. Men like that have held power for far too long, and it is time to bring their reign to a close.

We must make it clear that the United States embodies a twenty-first century paradigm of leadership that is rooted in respect and inclusiveness, and that we reject the patriarchal traditions used to abuse women and diminish their power.

Conclusion

There is no need to use exaggeration, parody, or hyperbole to describe the ethos of the Trump campaign. In fact, none of those tools could approach the reality of Trump’s own words and actions. Sadly, the xenophobia, bigotry, recklessness, ignorance, chicanery, and explicit misogyny that define both Trump’s platform and his brand are deeply rooted in the shameful recesses of America’s past, the very past to which Trump has offered to return the nation by making America great “again.” This election will decide whether or not those “values” continue to define the politics of power in the United States. The alternative is for voters to step forward and send a clear, final message that those days are gone, that the America of the future is a place of inclusiveness, diversity, equality, thoughtfulness, accountability, and vision.

As terrible as Donald Trump is, this election is about more than just his candidacy. It is about defining the identity of the American people for the next generation. Trump’s shocking candor has left no ambiguity in the choice. Do we collapse back into the worst elements of our past, or do we unite and move forward? That is the choice that matters most on November 8.

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