Suzan eraslan is a theater director and designer on a temporary hiatus and a reluctant political activist and documentarian living in new york city.

One Month In - Patterns Emerge, What Must Be Fought

I found myself yesterday entirely unable to sit down and read the news about the rally. For some reason, nothing makes me more enraged and drives me to hopelessness like the fact that there are still, still, still people excited to rally around this man. But I couldn't stop thinking about the situation in which we find ourselves, and I want to take a moment, as we approach the one month mark tomorrow, ironically, on President's Day, to arrange all the information I have been tracking on a daily basis into specific issues that must be fought, and to try to make it clear that these are not hundreds of overwhelming individual issues, but indicative of a handful of surmountable problems. I feel like it is important, particularly in the context of calling our Senators and Representatives, to have bigger bullet points than just which individual cabinet member we are calling to declare incompetent or scary. There are big themes here, and they can be fought all at once. 

AN OVERARCHING LACK OF TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY

So much of the problems with this administration can be linked back to this, and it's not just coming from the White House, but from Senators and Congresspeople who believe that the election of DT and their holding of the House and Senate has given them a mandate to do whatever it is that they want, forgetting that this is a government for the people, by the people. This can be broken down into three sections - what they are (or aren't) doing, why they are doing it, and how they are justifying it. 

What They Are Doing: 

  • DT said in the most recent disastrous press conference that he has a forthcoming executive order on his "plan" for the inner cities, but would not tell the press what that plan was, instead telling them to wait for the executive order to be signed and filed.
  • DT has also said that his plan for defeating ISIS would not be discussed publicly in anyway, but issued an executive order ramping up military spending and expansion, without explaining his longer term plans. 
  • DT still refuses to release his tax returns to be evaluated for conflicts of interest with his businesses, and congress is aiding and abetting him by refusing to pursue this line of inquiry. 
  • Congress has also, as a whole, refused to pursue an independent inquiry into DT's and his aide's ties to the Russian government, instead directing their efforts toward investigating the sources that have leaked the information that is available to the press. 
  • Congress refuses to undertake these investigations despite frequent clamoring from their constituents, and multiple members have canceled their town hall meetings for February rather than face angry constituents, dismissing their voters as paid protestors. 
  • Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah is perhaps the most egregious violator of transparency and accountability, with Senator Mitch McConnell a close second. Chaffetz led seven (yes, SEVEN) investigations into the deaths of diplomats at the embassy in Benghazi in an effort to undermine and possibly jail Secretary Hillary Clinton, but has brushed off any demands for inquiry into DT's conflicts of interest and ties to Russia. 
  • Despite tens of thousands of letters, hundreds of thousands of telephone calls, untold numbers of tweets and petitions signed, Senators continue to confirm cabinet members with shady backgrounds, no qualifications, and even those who have lied under oath, above the clamoring by the American people to not let these latter day robber barons take hostage of our federal government. 
  • Stifling the flow of information from federal agencies such as the USDA, EPA, and National Parks services, all of which protect the environment, animals, and the use of public lands from being abused for profit. 
  • Refusing to acknowledge information brought to light by the press, instead repeatedly referring to any coverage of what is actually happening as "fake news." 
  • In the case of certain officials, most notably Senator John McCain, publicly denouncing cabinet appointees or administrative policies and executive orders while simultaneously aiding and abetting the appointees by voting to confirm them and refusing to take any direct action that will result in bringing the rampant authoritarianism of the executive branch to heel. 
  • DT entertaining foreign leaders and wealthy donors and investors at Mar-a-Lago every weekend suppresses oversight both by the government and the press because it is a private club, and not publicly owned as the White House and Camp David are. 

Why They Are Doing It: 

  • By stifling the flow of information and dismissing constituents' loudly declared anger and dissatisfaction with the administration, the White House and Congress both can declare that there has been no "true" or "substantive" pushback to the policies and cabinet appointees. Think of how DT stated that he had received calls objecting to the Dakota Access Pipeline when he turned off the White House feedback hotline and "replaced" it with a Facebook app that didn't work. 
  • For republicans in Congress, the reason for doing this is simple-- if they let DT remain in power and act unchecked, they have a puppet that they can use to reverse legislation they don't like while enacting new legislation that they do: dismantling government regulations to benefit their wealthy donors, particularly the finance, industry, health insurance, anti-gun control, and anti-abortion special interests groups. 
  • In addition, Congressional republicans can put a conservative judge on the Supreme Court as long as they never acknowledge that the nomination comes from an illegitimate and compromised administration. 
  • What this comes down to is, of course, money. DT, his aides, his cabinet, and congressional republicans all stand to become even richer by bending to the whims of groups with an extraordinary amount of money that can be funneled to them in return. 

How They Are Justifying It:

  • DT's constant hammering on of his electoral college victory as an historically large margin of victory is not, as we know, the truth, but if he keeps repeating without being corrected, he can convince his followers who don't know any better that he has ridden to victory on a wave of popular support. His electoral college margin of victory is in the bottom 1/3 of all presidents we've had so far, and was squeaked out with incredibly slim margins in several states where he did not even garner a majority (50.1%) of votes-- Utah (45.5%), Arizona (49.0%), Wisconsin (47.8%), Michigan (47.6%), Pennsylvania (48.6%), and Florida (49.0%) all "went for DT" only by virtue of the fact that he was the candidate who got the most votes, but a higher percentage of people voted for anyone who wasn't him than voted for him. That means that 92 of his 306 electoral college votes, or 30%, were from states where the majority of people did not vote for him. That three of these states, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan all passed voter suppression legislation once the Voting Rights Act was gutted, and that reports of tens of thousands of absentee ballots were reported as having never been counted, this means that the there are probably even more people in those states that attempted to vote for someone else. By contrast, 205 of 230 electoral college votes for Clinton, or 89%, came from states where she received a majority, not a plurality of the votes. 
  • Coupled with the low electoral college margins, particularly in light of the large number of plurality states, the actually historically large discrepancy between the popular vote and the electoral college vote completely destroys the idea of a mandate for this administration. The solution to this inconvenient fact is to undermine the popular vote by stating that there was massive voter fraud to the tune of three million votes, or, just over the number of people who voted for Clinton to give her the popular vote (2,868,691, to be precise). By refusing to actually investigate these claims (because the results of the investigation would most likely show that voter suppression resulted in less votes for her rather than fraud resulting in more), while refusing to disavow this ludicrous claim, DT and his supporters can plant in the minds of the voting populace the virus that his victory was not only legitimate but that his "movement" is larger than actual hard numbers can show... and, of course, only he can tell you what those imaginary numbers are. 

SCAPEGOATING THE MOST VULNERABLE TO EXTEND MORE POWER TO THE POWERFUL

This is one that I have been wrestling with for a long time because I couldn't figure out how attacking the civil rights of Latinx, Muslim, and Black Americans, the bodily and financial safety of immigrants, women, and the non-rich, while refusing to address an uptick in hate crimes and language toward Jews, LGBT people, and, again, Muslims or people assumed to be Muslim was going to specifically benefit DT and his cronies. On its surface, of course, it doesn't-- there's no money to be made from deporting a labor force that can be exploited with illegally low wages, discouraging tourism by making (at the very least) hours of harassment the price over and above travel to enter the US, restricting abortion access, restricting counter-extremism efforts to target Muslims only (and not even investigate white supremacists), or block trans people from using the bathroom. 

So why the barrage of attacks on civil liberties? What do DT and the republicans stand to gain from the systematic targeting of the most vulnerable sections of our population? 

To put it metaphorically, if someone is strangling you, you're going to focus your energy on fighting the guy trying to kill you, not on his friend who is behind you picking your pocket, or their buddies robbing your neighbor's house. By simultaneously raiding neighborhoods to round up undocumented immigrants for deportation, increasing funding for law enforcement and expanding punitive measures against those who resist police brutality (i.e., Black Lives Matter and Black Americans in general), making Muslim Americans and permanent residents afraid to leave the country or attempt to come back, and targeting abortion access (which leads not, as we have known for decades, to less abortions, but to increased illness, injury, and death for women), marginalized groups that could join to support one another's struggles are being challenged to find energy to fight a full frontal assault on their personal humanity and to fight on multiple fronts, as well (not to mention those for whom multiple fronts are personal). So far, we've managed to come together more often than be split by differing identities, and some issues have been successfully conflated (for instance, "No Ban No Wall"), but the likelihood that these multi-pronged attacks will exhaust and deplete our focus is high. 

What they've created is a Southern Strategy on steroids-- not content to lull cishet white "Christian" men into docility by flattering them that they are inherently better than anyone who doesn't tick all the boxes, even while they continue to struggle financially (and will soon only struggle harder, with the repeal of the ACA and the dismantling of federal protections for the working class that will make them sicker, underpaid, and susceptible to predatory financial institutions), DT and the republicans are actively directing their anger and frustration at Others they can frame as "the real problem." 

For those with all the sociopolitical capital (cis, straight, white, "Christian," men) or at least reasonable proximity to it as a token granted status to shield the republicans from accusations of bigotry, e.g., Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, Jared Kushner, Milo Yappadabadoo, the shouting, marching, and even punching of neo-Nazis, all entirely rational and normal defensive reactions to having one's life threatened , can easily be misrepresented as the irrational and inexplicable reaction to political differences. By shifting the rationale for our resistance from fighting for our lives to losing an election, they are able to say we are inherently obstructive, destructive, violent, perhaps even not entirely human because we are so ruled by emotion rather than reason. Voila, their enemy is no longer merely inferior, but now a clear and present danger. 

Some people have taken this reframing as a call to embrace respectability politics-- to dress nicely, not shout, not show up to protest, for instance, DT's rally yesterday in Florida, because we are "playing into Bannon's hands" by allowing him to frame us as dangerous and unhinged. We are to show up in suits to town hall meetings and politely request that our humanity be respected, which sounds all fine and good, except that a) historically, that has never worked-- as much as we want to rewrite MLK to a guy who just has meetings with LBJ until he relented on the Civil Rights Act, there were no phone calls until the inconvenience protestors caused was too much to ignore, and b) my next point. 

 THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT NO LONGER WORKS THE WAY IT IS MEANT TO ON PAPER  

Some of this was covered in the first point, when I mentioned that members of Congress are refusing to meet with, listen to, or act in accordance with the demands of their constituents, but I want to go one step further, here. All three branches of the federal government have broken down. 

First of all, the executive branch, while its own functioning body, has rarely passed so many executive orders in such a short amount of time in order to fill campaign promises. Even while having a rubber stamp congress, DT is simply side stepping submitting legislation in order to strong arm policies like the Muslim ban, the wall, expanding the definition of what constitutes a crime for the purposes of deportation, etc. DT does not understand how the three branches of government work in association with one another, and it's clear that he never has, as he blamed President Barack Obama for anything that he perceived as wrong with the country between 2009-2017. He thinks that his job is to negotiate deals with corporations (or at least appear to do so) and to unilaterally shape the law. He thinks he is the CEO of a corporation called the United States of America, and this is what happens when you get someone who thinks you can run a government like a business who also doesn't know how a government runs. It's unclear if he even knows that a president can submit legislation to congress, or if he thinks the whole of their interaction is the cabinet confirmation process. While one month may not seem like enough time for the White House and congress to have worked together on legislation, it is actually unprecedented in recent history for literally NOTHING to have happened or even been negotiated this long after the inauguration. 

Second, Congress has, as I said earlier, completely broken down, as individual state senators and representatives have completely lost interest in even the appearance of actually representing their constituents. 

Third, and finally, the Supreme Court has an even number of justices, making the possibility of a tie vote on any given case much more likely, precisely because congress has been broken for much longer than a month or even year. In addition to the SCOTUS issue, the executive branch instructed the Department of Homeland Security to ignore judicial rulings placing a temporary hold on the Muslim ban, thus entirely overriding, illegally, the boundaries of the executive branch's jurisdiction. 

The system of representative democracy and of checks and balances is a great idea and it's a system that usually works to benefit the people, but it is not itself a materially tangible machine-- if the people who make up the workings of the system refuse (or don't know how) to follow it, the system does not exist.

It is time to realize that, no matter what is on paper (or parchment), we are living under a new and undefined form of government. 

THE PRESS WILL NOT WIN IF THEY KEEP FIGHTING THE "FAKE NEWS" STIGMA INSTEAD OF REPORTING

This is one of the most discouraging things to me, even if it's the smallest-- the press needs to keep digging, investigating, reporting, and reporting when they are denied answers, but not when they are accused of being "fake news". The victory of forcing out Mike Flynn by reporting information from credible sources opened up another fissure in the wall republicans have put up around investigating DT's ties to Russia and business conflicts of interest. Instead of running with it, the press allowed themselves to get sucked in to the bear baiting spectacle of Thursday's press conference where they were repeatedly accused of being liars specifically intent on making DT look bad at the expense of facts, and spent the better part of their time sucking up to him and promising they would ask "good" questions, even as he personally admonished and threatened them. 

The press has spent the better part of the days since defending themselves against these accusations rather than investigating, digging, and reporting. Nixon didn't resign because the Washington Post published meta op-eds on its integrity, but because they broke Watergate. 

Traditional, mainstream press outlets have increased their subscriber base since the election and the vast majority of people don't think that they are "fake news." It's time to defend themselves by doing the work to prove they've been printing the truth all along, which means digging up and reporting more and more information while they still can, instead of trying to evoke our sympathy. We're with you, we're paying to support you, people inside the administration are risking their livelihoods to help you-- grab this moment and milk it for all you've got. 

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 18TH - SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 19TH, 2017 (The Melbourne airport rally)

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 17TH, 2017