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Long Live the King: Bowing Down to Trump Tower
“[…] every critic, every detractor will have to bow down to President Trump. It’s everyone who’s ever doubted Donald, whoever disagreed, whoever challenged him. It is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe” (Frontline, June 23, 2016).
Omarosa Manigault made this comment one month before Trump offered her a job on his campaign team. Although she later labelled this statement as simply her “opinion”, the fact that Omarosa had interacted with Donald Trump before multiple times via his reality TV show, The Apprentice, is a troubling insight into the unexplored character of the United States’ president-elect. In a 2008 interview with talk show host Wendy Williams, Williams described Omarosa as “a person who insights interest, good, bad or indifferent. Clearly Trump sees something like that from you, which is why he invites you back over and over.”
Williams continued to describe Omarosa’s persona “as being this bitch, as being difficult to work with; as being an ice queen; as being somebody that people don’t like” (YouTube, July 22, 2008). What is troubling here is the fact that Trump felt so enamored by Omarosa’s abovementioned comment and by his previous experience with the author of The Bitch Switch that he made her his ‘Director of African-American Outreach’. Was Omarosa then, who ABC News has labeled “probably one of the best-known villains of reality television” due to her unfounded accusations against her competitors (and teammates) and incessant shifting of blame (ANEES, April 24, 2008), a perfect fit for what Trump has planned for the future?
The lessons we can learn from Omarosa and The Apprentice are clear: The real concern behind Trump’s rise to the presidency is celebrity power; his fame as being the one who gets to fire people; of being the one to ‘#draintheswamp’. Indeed, it is the image of Donald Trump as the all-knowing businessman sitting at the table’s throne, cutting away the weakness of the team, which has made him trustworthy in the eyes of many of his supporters. Thus, when America hears him say that any particular person should be fired, they are inclined to agree with him as the omniscient ruler that he has been seen to be. But, who is Trump telling America to fire, and why? And which organizations are going to be able to continuously fact-check him and continually undo the reputation damage that he causes in a 140-character tweet at 3am?
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Trump has become the symbol for many of a standalone force fighting against Washington corruption. But, has Trump’s celebrity power transformed into a power of oppression? It seems that we don’t even need to think about the future before being able to evaluate how Trump plans to make use of his “ultimate revenge.” Indeed, if we look at his campaign, he has already brought former, fierce competitors to their knees. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie blasted Trump as childish, ignorant and naïve throughout his own campaign for the presidency. Later, after dropping out of the presidential race, he endorsed Trump as the Republican candidate best “prepared to provide America with the strong leadership that it needs both at home and around the world" (Mic, February 26, 2016). But even after this about-face and longer-term dedication to Trump’s campaign, Christie was recently demoted from his position as the head of Trump’s transition team due to further alleged power plays and revenge schemes involving Ivanka Trump’s husband and his father’s history with Christie.
More telling about the power that Trump and his family continue to shape is what one of his greatest adversaries, Senator Ted Cruz, posted in late September on his Facebook page. Cruz stated that he would “vote for the Republican nominee, Donald Trump” based on key policy differences between him and Hillary Clinton. The former presidential candidate however, himself having called Trump a “pathological liar,” a “narcissist,” a “serial philanderer” and “utterly amoral,” has also stated that “Donald will betray his supporters on every issue” (Washington Post, September 23, 2016). This second about-face from a staunch competitor is evidence of the behind-the-scenes power that the Trump campaign has been gathering. How much could Senator Ted Cruz fear being on Trump’s enemies list compared to completely abandoning his own values? It begs the question: How dangerous is Donald Trump to his opposition, now that he has complete authority?
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It appears that one of Donald Trump’s implicit goals is the enfeebling of politicians; to remove the notion that politicians are the most powerful men in America and to show that an outsider—a businessman—can bring down their house of cards. Indeed, he has even brought journalists to the brink of despair as they have scrambled to determine how to deal with a celebrity figure who continuously accuses the media of unilateral bias—a claim which many of his supporters are likely to believe. Trump has hounded the media for the things they have said against him (which on many occasions were simply the reiteration of fact) and has lashed out at individual reporters because he felt he was being treated unfairly. Megyn Kelly is a prime example of this, and she has revealed in her memoir, , that Trump implicitly threatened her when she fought back on taking it easy on him. She writes that Trump said, “I almost unleashed my beautiful Twitter account against you” (Zarya, November 11, 2016)–which he later did after a very tough first Republican debate with Kelly acting as a moderator. She later had to travel with a security detail due to the threats against her life that she was receiving. Settle for More
Pierre Bourdieu, in his book, On Television, warned us from the late ‘90s about the potential of TV talk shows and audience-driven panels to heavily influence and sway public opinion in a race for ratings. Incredibly, what Bourdieu rose as the optimal way for educated authorities to communicate—an unguided segment with no host dictating the direction—has been fulfilled through modern social media—Trump is the example of this. However, we have failed Bourdieu’s vision because Trump is not the ultimate scientific authority to speak unguided and directly to an audience—as of the time of this writing—of 16.4 million people (through Twitter alone). He has effectively bypassed traditional media methods. So, is this part of what makes him so dangerous to those that he has identified as his enemies? Is it in this way that he will draw inspiration from the likes of Omarosa?
With unfiltered and unscientific content being released to so many and with a huge reliance on fact-checking from arbitrary followers (who themselves will not reach those same 16.4 million people and do not have the unlimited resources with which to consistently fact-check), is this not in itself dangerous? Is it not dangerous when the unfiltered and unscientific voice is that of a United States President? And when there is such fear of individualized targeting, is this not a form of oppression? A form of propaganda for the maintenance and continuation of power? Trump’s veiled threats do not even intend to be that veiled, as demonstrated by a November 29th, mid-morning tweet: “I thought that @CNN would get better after they failed so badly in their support of Hillary Clinton however, since election, they are worse!”
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Trump is effectively managing to legitimize the unshackled authority of ‘patriotism’ and of “Making America Great Again”. However, much of this authority is over those ‘believed’ to be responsible for America’s supposed ungreatness. Indeed, Trump himself has made efforts to point the finger at Mexicans, Muslims, China, the media, etc. And it is through Trump’s unfettered blaming of non-Whites that he has legitimized the suggestion that those causing America’s problems are non-Whites—and not just non-White foreigners, but non-White American citizens. And it is in this manner that many of his supporters have found vindication in their behavior towards these non-White groups.
Whether Trump himself approves of their behavior or not, there is a portion of his 16.4 million followers who are actively engaging in hate crimes and harassment against the communities which he has pointed the finger to. These actions range from graffiti taggings of “Make America White Again” accompanied by swastikas in NY, to reports of women having their hijabs ripped off, to burnings of rainbow flags, to vocal threats of violence (Medium, November 10, 2016). Even the Confederate flag has made increased appearances as “supporters and others have displayed the flag as a kind of rejoinder to anti-Trump protesters in places such as Durango, Colo.; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Hampton, Va.; Fort Worth; and Traverse City, Mich.” (Fausset, November 18, 2016).
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It is these examples, and many that go unreported, that show the form of ‘immoral licensing’ Trump’s blaming and denigrating of other communities has potentially given many people. But unlike many of Trump’s very personal and individualized attacks through Twitter, some of his supporters are targeting entire groups of people based not on their behavior, words, or character, but solely on the predisposition of deeply embedded racism, xenophobia, ignorance, and homophobia. The danger here is when these expressions of hate turn into expressions of violence. The number of armed households in the US is 1 in 3, and according to Trump, almost half of all Americans qualify as those restricting America’s greatness.
Do you own a weapon?
Although Trump seems to have personally set out to prove his dominance over the current political establishment, the people themselves have seen him as a revolution against a progressive culture; a revolution against political correctness; against religious tolerance; against the free movement of people; against globalization. He is a revolution against becoming a minority, a statement backed up by the fact that 58% of Whites voted Trump over Hillary (Jon Huang, November 8, 2016) and by the fact ‘Time’ reported last year that “more than half of all Americans aged five years or younger are non-White” and that “demographers predict that the U.S. will be majority-minority for the first time by the mid-2040s” (Sanburn, June 25, 2015). Ron Robin points out in his book, The Making of the Cold War Enemy: Culture and Politics in the Military-Intellectual Complex, that “In Voting (1954), a study of the American election campaign of 1948, Lazarsfeld and his associates described the act of voting as a tribal affair, an occasion to express solidarity with one’s primary group. They concluded that Americans “vote not for a principle in the usual sense but ‘for’ a group to which they are attached”” (Robin, 2003).
One interpretation of this historic election is that Trump was a clandestine outlet for many American Whites to secretly voice their opinion that they want to be the only people that matter; that they’ve had enough of hearing about Muslim and African American communities, Black Lives Matter movements, immigration policies and amnesties, and the importance of globalization… Indeed, this speaks to what Albert Hirschman has referred to as one of the rhetorics of reaction: that all of the efforts made by politicians to be more inclusive and progressive, all of Obama’s 8 years in office, have made things worse—that they’ve had a ‘perverse’ effect. Hirschman’s Perversity thesis outlines how, as an American citizen, you could justify voting for a candidate who will overturn much of the progress achieved in the last 8 years regarding climate change, EPA regulations, healthcare, etc. The typical thought among the electorate likely was, “We voted for Obama, he did nothing for us—like all those before him—so let’s do the opposite. Let’s not vote for a politician.
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This rhetoric is, unfortunately, dangerously ignorant because:
- Unemployment fell from a recession-high of over 10% to a 2016 level of below 5% (which is below what Mitt Romney promised to achieve in 2012) (Data.bls.gov, December 7, 2016);
- The Dow Jones Industrial Average went from a recession-low of around 6,600 points to over 19,000 points as of this writing (Macrotrends.net, December 6, 2016);
- “Between 2009 and 2015 [Obama’s] administration [had] removed more than 2.5 million people through immigration orders” (Marshall, August 29, 2016), which is more than any US president before him;
- People who were unable to receive healthcare coverage before because of preexisting conditions cannot “be denied coverage, charged more, or denied treatment based on health status” (Obamacare Facts, n.d.);
- China agreed in September to ratify the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and has since been followed by tens of countries (Change, n.d.).
However, it is true that those Americans more heavily prone to invest in the stock market were the ones who gained the most. It was the elites with the know-how to benefit off of movements in the Dow Jones, in the S&P 500 and other stock markets around the world who were the ones to make the most capital gains from the recovery. At the same time, everyday citizens who were struggling to make ends meet were unable to make capital gains from these markets. If anything, they would have been invested in 1-year US Treasury Bills, whose rates of return went from around 5% in 2007 to around 1% in 2016 (Treasury.gov, December 1, 2016). For the typical middle-class saver, returns fell even though the economy was getting better and the rich were getting richer. It was this inequality divide between the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy that may have driven up the tensions for families throughout Obama’s years and may have led to misconceptions about how much economic growth the country was materially experiencing.
While this may stand true, it doesn’t undermine the fact that Trump was able to take advantage of an underlying nostalgia for better times to move himself forward in the political spectrum. And his election night victory speech was telling in the way that Trump very explicitly thanked his supporters in a bid to put fear into those that didn’t support him. How did people like Lindsay Graham—who publically denounced Trump and about whom Director of African-American Outreach, Omarosa Manigault, has said: “[…] let me just tell you, Mr. Trump has a long memory and we’re keeping a list” (USA TODAY, November 9, 2016)—feel on the night of Trump’s victory? Indeed, that emotion is likely one that will continue to reverberate throughout the political world as Trump continues his avoidance of traditional media and uses his Twitter account as the main format of reaching his followers. So how afraid should they really be?
It is likely that Trump’s protectionist policy positions of isolationism will revert a lot of short-term economic growth to the United States at the cost of much international trade, migration, financial asset regulations and climate change progress. It is the Left that recognizes the greater good when it comes to these fields and it is up to them to put up a fight to maintain the long-term sustainability of the US—and that is an uphill battle given that they’ve lost both Houses. The significance of the way Trump communicates and lambasts his enemies is what poses huge dangers to the Left’s efforts. For instance, Elizabeth Warren is a consistent proponent of these progressive ideals and has been candid about her dislike and distrust of Donald Trump, tweeting herself in May: “You feel so much for people with college debt, @realDonaldTrump, that you raked in millions scamming students with Trump University?” And in the face of many of her legitimate concerns, Trump has tweeted: “Goofy Elizabeth Warren, who may be the least productive Senator in the U.S. Senate, must prove she is not a fraud. Without the con it's over.”
How much of this targeted abuse can hard-working, progressive senators and congresspeople fight against before their images become so tainted in their home states that they eventually lose (re)election campaigns? When the President of the US is talking about your representatives in this way, whom do you trust as a voter—especially when your president is achieving short-sighted, short-term growth? And herein lays the bulldozer of American values. People, like Ted Cruz and Chris Christie and Paul Ryan, will kneel to protect their careers. But how long before people on the Left begin to kneel? How long before progressives decide to take a backseat, to remain silent and to serve their self-interests as decades of hard-fought progress is wiped out under short-sighted policy implementations and under the fear of being indirectly ‘fired’ by Trump? How long before Trump has absolute authority and puts in place a system that perpetuates his style of authoritarian influence over both individual political voices and the liberal media? What if he successfully “[opens] up [US] libel laws so when [the media writes],” what he refers to as, “purposely negative and horrible and false articles, [he] can sue them and win lots of money” (Gold and Gass, February 26, 2016)?
Even if Trump manages to sustain economic growth for the foreseeable future, is that growth really worth nationwide political subservience and acquiescence? Should politicians have to fear losing their reputations and going into a head-to-head battle with a sitting president in what is a selfless attempt to serve the best interests of their fellow citizens? It is by being silenced that politicians will stop serving the peoples’ interests and will instead start serving Trump’s. And while they may keep their reputations and their careers, the question that remains is: what do the people get to keep?
When all politicians kneel down to Trump Tower, all that the people get to keep is belief. They get to believe that Donald Trump will always act in their favor, even whilst Ivanka sits in on Prime Minister meetings, speaks directly to foreign Presidents, and waits in line to “take control of the Trump Organization” (father, November 28, 2016). They get to believe in the decency of their fellow people, even while many are victims of harassment and hatred. Carrier workers get to believe they will keep their jobs, even while big corporations are the ones getting tax incentives (Gillespie, November 30, 2016). Indeed, the American people get to believe that the future Trump has planned is one where he fights for them, even while he acts according to his enemies list, appoints multiple far-right people to his cabinet, and continues to silence the voices that serve as proponents of American values. It seems that Trump’s objective is not so much to drain the swamp but to refill it. And in that regard, we have to ask: How long before we are all either bowing down to President Trump, or simply becoming another name on a long list of people he’s out to destroy? Here’s to hoping that Donald Trump never ends up tweeting at one of us.
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