2021: Personal Politics: The Winter of America’s Discontent

2021: Personal Politics is a limited series blog that will focus on the aftermath of the 2020 election cycle and the issues that mold the incoming Biden Administration’s priorities–from the most local to the most global. The title comes from melding concepts together. Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local” illustrating that a politician’s success lies in his/her/their understanding of constituent issues and service. It seems that we have moved farther away from that concept and more towards a national politic infecting the local, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for it to be so. The blog name also pulls from Carol Hanisch’s feminist essay “The Personal Is Political” in which she argued that a person’s experiences (particularly that of women) can be traced to where they fall within power relationships.

The lead up to and the aftermath of the 2020 election has been like no other in my lifetime. And now, in the waning days of the Trump presidency, instead of focusing on a peaceful transfer of power that has long been emblematic of our nation’s strength, we are mired neck deep in chaos, anger, frustration, and shock wrought by certifying the results of a lopsided election. This past week, with the victory of the two democrats in the Georgia senate run-off election, the violent rallies in Washington, DC on that same Tuesday evening, and a relatively peaceful rally that was whipped into a violent overrunning of the Capitol to subvert the counting of the Electoral College ballots on Wednesday morning should give many Americans a moment to hit the pause button and consider why they are so discontented.

This is politics of the most personal nature. People feeling personally disenfranchised and disempowered boiling over into protest and action–even illegal, violent, and deadly action. We’ve witnessed this over and over again throughout 2020 and now in 2021. It is difficult to not draw parallels between this past summer’s marches for social justice and police reform and the taking to the streets by conservatives who feel their votes have been stolen. The fact that these were protests is the only similarity though. We must take a deeper dive into what has and is happening–and it must be from outside our own echo chambers. Playing tit for tat and employing the hypocrisy card is not resolving this issue. We can no longer sit by and say, “But they did it!” We MUST dig deeper, look for root causes, discern, and solve these problems if American democracy is to survive. So far, our institutions have shown remarkable resilience, but their fragility has been exposed. Americans must work together to determine that right is right and wrong is wrong no matter what political label they choose to wear.

I do not hold the answers. I only know that I have seen bad behavior from both sides of the aisle this week–one side inciting and promoting untruths in order to enrage and achieve their means, the other side gloating over a senate victory and in the mass excommunication of President Trump and his acolytes from social media platforms. Inciting and gloating only further discontent and resolve nothing. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” (Strength to Love, 1963) We must find ways to work together, even in disagreement, if we Americans are to “rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.” (“I Have a Dream” 1963)

I wanted to explore a few items I’ve seen circulating among people on my social media sites. These are from individuals who feel personally very passionately about the election and its outcome. I grew up and attended school with these individuals many years ago. I do not want to discredit their feelings. I want to understand them. But I must address the untruths and misrepresentations and implied messages in their statements before I can consider their message as a whole. This first piece, I will take in small chunks and respond to each item on the list.

The following piece (in italics) was posted by a former high school classmate. My response (in purple) follows each statement of the post. I find this post, which has been circulating since at least last November, to be riddled with myopic rhetoric that implies only President Trump has had negative press and demonstrators against him during his tenure in the Oval Office. This piece presents as a manifesto, a rationale, for outrage and further division; hence, it has grabbed my attention.

I tolerated 44 (Obama) for 8 years and kept quiet. Here is my issue with the whole, “let us all be a United States again” that we heard from Joe Biden. For the last 4+ years, the Democrats have gone and scorched the earth. You have salted the fields and now you want to grow crops. The problem is 75 + million of us have memories longer than a hamster.

My response: I too have a memory longer than a hamster. I remember tolerating GW Bush for eight years. He too was not a popular vote winner is term one. GWB had the unity of the nation in his hands after 9/11 only to fumble it in Iraq and with economic policies ushering in the Great Recession. I remember the protests to against the Iraq War and movies like Fahrenheit 9/11 criticizing the Bush Administration. To think that the Obama years did not feature scorched earth rhetoric and actions from those that opposed him is ludicrous as well. Divisive rhetoric is not new and its toxicity has infected our politics for decades. Strong group identity and group think has escalated throughout my lifetime–and not in a good way. I remember David Walters being driven from the governorship in Oklahoma in the mid 80s. I remember the toxicity of the Clinton years–accusations that they murdered Vince Foster, etc., culminating in impeachment proceedings about his lying about having an illicit affair in the Oval Office. I remember the National Review calling liberalism the L word with the vow to make it a dirty word. I remember Rush Limbaugh comparing a 12 year old Chelsea Clinton to the White House dog, Buddy. I remember birtherism and the delegitimizing of Barack Obama. This piece of calling out democrats but not republicans smacks of playing the victim. And to think that they have the only grievances to never forget…

We remember the women’s march (vagina hats and all) the day after inauguration.

My Response: I was one of those women marching annually in the Women’s March. And yes, I will call it a Pussy Hat. I live in the greater Los Angeles area, but I happened to be in Las Vegas that weekend of the first march. I marched in downtown LA the second year, and in my hometown of Redondo Beach thereafter. The first march is still considered the largest single day march in history with upwards of 4 million marchers. It started as a response to an incoming president with a history of misogyny who vowed to limit reproductive rights and bragged about grabbing women by the pussy. There were no arrests connected to this single day march and its sister marches. This march has become an annual event to highlight a number of issues. “The protesters who took part in the various Women’s March events voiced their support for various causes, including women’s and reproductive rights, criminal justice, defense of the environment and the rights of immigrants, Muslims, gay and transgender people and the disabled—all of whom were seen as particularly vulnerable under the (Trump) administration.” While the Women’s March will not be occurring due to COVID-19 for 2021, the organizers are still focused on grassroots organizing, training leaders, and developing activism. The movement is ongoing. It wasn’t a one day pot-shot to insult a president. And to speak of organized protests, I seem to remember the birth of the Tea Party during the Obama years. I was not offended by them so much as wary of their anger and fervor–the same anger and fervor that boiled over this past week in Washington, DC. Both sides had issues they wished to highlight. Both sides organized. Both sides held rallies and marches. So your proclamation of remembrance seems like it’s an incomplete thought. What’s the implied injury here? That someone holds different values or opinions to your own?

We remember the 4 years of attacks and impeachments.

My Response: As stated earlier, I remember 8 years of attacks and impeachments with President Clinton. I remember 8 years of birtherism, attacks, and blocked SCOTUS candidates with President Obama. Do not pretend that President Trump is the only president to ever be attacked. I know that folks who like President Trump wanted someone who would not act as government does. But they invited someone in who not only blew up the norms, but used the power of his office to enrich himself and his family through violation of the emoluments clause and nepotism. I do hope you remember the attacks. And I hope you remember the attacks against all of his predecessors too–earned or not. But keep in mind that sometimes criticism is warranted. And criticism is not an attack.

We remember “not our president” and the “Resistance…”

My Response: Again, this is not unique to President Trump. Just going back only to President Obama, we can easily find images of “not my president” and a resistance in the shape of the grassroots Tea Party organizing. So it’s okay if you do it, but not okay if those who may hold different belief systems do it? The “not my president meme has been around for a long while, but it is easy to find images in the past 20 years particularly. No one can claim the higher moral ground here. If we really want to explore the feelings behind a “not my president” proclamation, we have to look beyond the surface. If we look at the past three presidencies, two of those presidents faced legitimacy issues from not having popular vote wins, while one faced questions of legitimacy based on belief in the lie that he was not US born. Now President-elect Biden faces questions of legitimacy because of belief in the lies that the election was fraudulent and stolen. The one thing in common: questions of legitimacy have led to divisive rhetoric against every president to serve in the 21st century.

I have always acknowledged that President Trump was the President of the United States. Unfortunately he chose to represent a minority in this country. Representation and legitimacy in the role are two different things. Those that claimed President Obama wasn’t their president often pushed the erroneous narrative that he was born abroad in Kenya and was a Muslim aligned with the enemies we were fighting abroad. Images of his face morphed onto Osama Bin Laden–and called Obama Bin Laden–were commonplace. Billboards with anti-Obama messages lined American freeways as well.

As for the “resistance,The Tea Party and Indivisible/Resist used basic grassroots organizing to build messages around their issues. And both have had enormous impact on the direction of politics in the past decade. I contend that it is a good thing for citizens to be engaged in civic discourse–even pro-Trump “Patriots.” Where I happen to draw the line is sedition and insurrection.

We remember Maxie Walters telling followers to harass us in restaurants.

We remember the Presidents spokesperson being kicked out of a restaurant.

We remember a Trump top aid verbally assaulted in two DC restaurants.

First off, it’s Congresswoman Maxine Waters, not Maxie Walters. Second, she said, “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.” She did not say to harass all Trump supporters. Third, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and then House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi slapped back at Waters’ calling her rhetoric “not right,” “not American,” and “unacceptable.” Where has President Trump fallen on the issue of harassing elected officials in the past few weeks as his supporters have harassed Senator Mitt Romney and Senator Lindsey Graham–both members of his own party, and one an ardent supporter who has defended him many times? Trump administration officials–namely those who have resigned–have spoken out about the heckling/verbal harassment, but not President Trump himself. Senator Mike Lee, Senator Romney’s fellow Utahan, said that this behavior is “not acceptable. We as a country need to be better than this.”

We remember hundreds of Trump supporters physically attacked.

We remember that we were called every name in the book for supporting President Trump.

My Response: It’s bad form to violently physically attack anyone for disagreeing with your beliefs. Period. Exclamation point! Regardless of political leanings.

Yet both sides do it. My biggest problem is that lists like this play Trump supporters out to be a bunch of misunderstood victims who are righteously indignant in their anger toward anyone who doesn’t stand shoulder to shoulder with them. For years, I’ve been called a libtard, a commie, a socialist, a lib, an Obama apologist, and a host of other names that aren’t as nice as those. Name calling, ad hominem, guilt by association attacks serve little real purpose other than to defame and inflame–defame the person and inflame others against the person. These tactics have been used for millennia. It certainly doesn’t make it right just because it’s been around forever. In rhetoric classes, these tactics are called logical fallacies. Words eventually turn to sticks and stones–as we have seen many times in the past four years. So words do hurt. And violent action hurts even worse.

Trump supporters are not only victims of hateful rhetoric, but also perpetrators of this violence. We must all acknowledge that violent extremists exist in both liberal and conservative circles and that political discuss is not served by this violent behavior. The Guardian recorded over 50 different Trump supporters committing acts of violence in Trump’s name between 2015 and 2019. The Associated Press released footage of Trump supporters being attacked after a San Jose, CA rally in 2016–four people were detained. So it happens on both sides. I haven’t seen reports of “hundreds” being “physically attacked”, but the fact that there are any on either side suggests we have a lot of work to do as communities. We have to make violent attacks (verbal or physical) unacceptable on both sides. We need to quit with the Grudge Wars and start looking at how to move forward. We detain and prosecute people who act out in violence. We hold people who incite them accountable. And we chart viable paths forward for Americans.

We remember Trump supporters getting Doxed, and fired from jobs.

Doxing is bad, illegal, unethical, and a form of vigilantism. And again, it is done by many people for many reasons. Trump supporters are not unique in their experience with this. Even democrats have spoken up on behalf of Trump supporters regarding alleged doxing. Trump supporters have acted as doxxers as well. In one instance a teen Trump supporter doxxed rapper Cardi B–dropping her address and encouraging people to set fire to her home. The question of whether listing publicly available information is doxing has become a hot topic in the past few years. Maybe we do need to take a deeper look at how we use and communicate public information. Ultimately, to dox is to drop private or identifying information. That is bad an should be prosecuted. But again, let’s quit playing the victim card here. We can all agree it is bad. We can all find examples of Pro Trump and Anti Trump folks engaging in this bad behavior. If we must “remember,” then let’s remember to protect those who have been doxxed and prosecute those who have committed the doxing–and determine how we view dropping publicly available information. This is a conversation worth having.

As for being fired from jobs–I’m willing to bet that in almost all instances something spurred the employer. As a union advocate who believes in workers’ rights and as a journalism/English teacher who firmly believes in the right to protected speech, I can see problems with a “you’re fired” attitude. This court ruling examined for human resources departments makes for interesting reading–and deeper understanding in the difference between public and private employees and what speech is protected. The first amendment protects us from the government, not from private employers or citizens. Workers’ Rights laws like the National Labor Relations Act and federal/state anti-discrimination laws typically prohibit discrimination based upon political affiliation. Many of the Trump supporters who have been documented losing their jobs have been connected to racially charged words/actions. And again, whether the person worked for a public or a private entity had a lot to do with whether they lost their position. When a bank in Alabama (hardly a bastion of liberal ideals) fires an associate for racially inflammatory language, the fact that she is a Trump supporter becomes secondary to the action that got her fired. As far as the Capitol stormers losing their jobs–wearing your work badge to a riot is probably not the best choice to stay employed. Nor is stealing mail from the Speaker’s office. Nor is taking her lectern. The fallout from last Wednesday’s storming of the Capitol is not about whether or not these folks were Trump supporters. It was about their alleged violation of the law. The same goes for Black Lives Matters supporters in the past four to five years–particularly in this past year. MAGA hats and BLM shirts/masks have been a flash point in these instances. Maybe we need to be having more conversations about workers’ speech rights instead of boo-hooing and laying blame on those who do not support Trump.

And yes, there have been anti-Trumpers who have lost their jobs as well. In 2017, a cyclist who flipped off the Trump motorcade lost her job. Her case for reinstatement was dismissed (note that she worked for a private company and was therefore an at-will employee with few job protections). The company dismissed her for violating its social media policy–not for her political views.

We remember “a comedian” holding up the President’s severed head.

We remember a play in Central park paid with public funding, showing the killing of President Trump.

We remember Robert de Niro yelling “F” Trump” at the Tony’s and getting a standing ovation.

My Response:

Bad is bad. Inciting anger and violence, using racially charged imagery, using misogynistic language–it’s all protected speech, but it does nothing to further the civic discourse in this country and only adds to division, hatred, misunderstanding, frustration. Need I say more?

We remember Nancy Pelosi tearing up the State of the Union Address.

My Response: I agree that Speaker Pelosi’s action was in bad form. I understand why she did it (he snubbed her and refused to shake her hand), but it was still bad form. Between him constantly calling her “Crazy Nancy Pelosi” and her clap and destruction of his speech, it’s sort of like watching playground politics instead of world stage politics–each working to get the one up on the other.

We remember the total in the tank move on the mainstream media.

We remember the non-stop and live fact checking on our President and his supporters.

We remember non-stop in your face lies and open cover-ups from the media.

We remember 95% negative coverage in the news.

My Response: You’ve bought into the notion that media members intentionally brainwash and lie. You’ve bought into the notion that none of the news sources you use do the same. You’ve bought into the notion that people are incapable of discerning and thinking for themselves. I’ve been called a sheep an awful lot this year. And I am no sheep. I’ve been told I watch too much CNN. Honestly, I rarely watch CNN, but I do visit their website regularly–along with many other sources. It is important to me to “lit review” topics through a variety of sources and to make up my own mind. I do not rely on one new outlet. Or even two. And these claims of bias from the media? Guess what? We are all humans and have implied biases. But good journalists work hard to bring information. When I leave a story with more questions than answers, that is usually an indicator of a piece that is incomplete or not doing its job. Fact checking serves an important function–not just in government, but in the world of journalism as well. Watchdog and advocacy groups monitor journalism outlets just as journalism outlets monitor our elected officials. And FYI, I’ve been following these watchdog groups and news fact checkers for nearly 20 years–looking up George W Bush, Barack Obama, John McCain, Mitt Romney and many others. News outlets did not create fact checking for Donald Trump (who has told/repeated false or misleading claims nearly 30,000 times during his tenure in the Oval Office up to Election Day according to the Washington Post).

Also, a few notes: small, local, independent journalism has all but evaporated in our capitalist corporate “greed is good” culture. News outlets have become increasingly condensed in the past 30-40 years. I recommend looking at CJR’s “Who Owns What” page for more information. President Reagan repealing the fairness doctrine hurt our civic discourse too, as many of its surviving provisions (such as ensuring that people who have been subject to editorial or personal attack have the ability to respond) have eroded or expired. It might be a worthy endeavor to revisit its provisions.

As for your 95% claim–I will have to find evidence of that high of criticism. And I would have to then buy your implication that a negative mention equates bias. This NPR article explaining a Pew Study of President Trump’s first 60 days in comparison to other presidents does show 5% favorable, but not 95% unfavorable and explains the method used to collect the reported data. Pew clearly states that left-leaning bias is not the conclusion to be drawn, but who the audience/readership is determines the numbers. The study also points out that most of those stories focused on personality over policy. The stories discussed his “character and leadership” as opposed to his initiatives. This is an interesting read if you really want to understand how this works. But if you don’t, you can keep your 95% anyway. Pay attention to the groups putting out the information and who pays for that information. Groups like the Media Research Center (who claimed the 95% this past summer) are funded by right wing groups and are conservative media watchdogs (groups like FAIR are liberal media watchdogs). I’ve seen a lot about the numbers on conservative news sites, but nothing about the methods used to determine positive versus negative, viewership representation, or whether criticism is caused by bias or response to issues. There’s no doubt that Trump has generated criticism of his actions in the press, but his lack of using his platform to promote the positive things his administration has done has hurt him as well. If anything, Trump knows exactly how to keep his name on chyrons and in headlines. He’s a master at marketing, so his public perception is of his own making.

We remember the President and his staff being spied on.

Um, not so quick…there’s still questions about that, but this is a pretty good run down of the players and what was supposedly surveilled.

We remember five Senators shot on a ballfield.

Um, not five senators: Congressman Steve Scalise (shot in hip), Capitol Police Special Agent Crystal Griner(shot in ankle), Officer David Bailey (hit by shrapnel–but fire the shot that disabled and killed the gunman), Tyson Foods lobbyist Matt Mika (shot in the chest and arm), and aide Zack Barth (shot in the calf). Congressman Roger Williams suffered a sprained ankle as well. This is a simple untruth that bleeds credibility from your grievances.

I also remember that 10 years ago this week (January 8, 2011), Jared Loughner shot Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in the head, injured 12 more, and killed six of her constituents including a 9-year-old girl. It’s not just republicans who are targeted by radicalized or unhinged gunmen.

We remember every so-called comedy show turn into nothing but a Trump hate fest.

My response: Hate fest? Really? All comedians play on the feds for good jokes. I will give you that Trump provided a lot more material than many of our past presidents, but I just don’t buy that everything was all about hating Trump. There are still Bill Clinton sex jokes–and now QAnon folks have turned those jokes into pedophile rings in pizza parlor conspiracy theories. Who’s more toxic? Think about that. Birtherism is no longer a late night punchline; it’s a toxic soup of seething hatred against a president who was never going to do anything correctly according to conservatives (I distinctly remember the brouhaha over Obama’s brown suit–really? Get a life, people!).

We remember riots, and looting.

My Response: We remember “good people” in Charlottesville (who killed one). We remember Proud Boys fighting in the streets. We will never forget the insurrection. So please spare us the implication that only liberals riot and loot. The only moral high ground is to follow the teachings of Dr. King and Gandhi–nonviolent resistance. So you can leave your AR-15 at home. It will not be necessary to petition your electeds to redress your grievances.

We remember the state governors asking and getting everything they ask for and then blaming Trump for their problems.

My Response: Maybe your states’ governors got everything they asked for. California’s governor asked for federal help to with the disaster of the record breaking fires and it took a lot of public shaming for the President to finally agree. His dislike of New York and California has left these two densely populated states, in particular, in the lurch.

We remember people banging on the Supreme Court doors.

My Response: I remember Trump supporter touting the thin blue line while beating cops. I remember Trump supporters bashing BLM while instigating unrest in the streets with social justice protestors. And why? I can only arrive at one reason–and it’s been around since the days of the Reconstruction–some folks feel threatened by equality for all, as if being equal means they somehow have less. So this really is about POWER and NOT about EQUALITY. Let’s quit kidding ourselves on this point.

And as to the SCOTUS, I remember Merrick Garland not even getting a hearing because 8 months was too close to an election, yet Amy Coney Barrett gets a hearing and confirmation only days before an election. This kind of craven abuse of power is why all of us have less faith in government to act on behalf of all of us instead of a tiny fraction of us.

We remember that Hollywood said they would leave after Trump was elected but they (unfortunately) stayed.

My Response: Um, who specifically are you referencing? Scott Baio? James Woods? Jon Voigt?

Or are you talking about George Clooney (who spends more time in Lake Como, Italy than Studio City, CA)? Or are you talking about Sasha Baron Cohen (who with his wife Isla Fisher moved to Australia to avoid raising their children in Trump’s America)? Are you talking about the Hemsworth brothers (who remain in their homeland of Australia)? Not every star lives in Hollywood. And not every star has remained in the country as they have the means for mobility. Ultimately, I remember supporters for both candidates saying they would consider leaving the US or their state if the opponent won prior to the November election.

But average Americans leaving the country did increase during the Trump Administration–many of them leaving because of threat of repealing the Affordable Care Act and overt discriminatory acts by Trump supporters (people proudly proclaiming to be deplorables).

This list is endless, but you get the idea. My friends will be my friends, but a party that has been on the attack for 4 long years does not get a free pass with me.

Copy and pasted from a friend because it is the truth, especially when this election is exposing the integrity of not only this election, but also future elections to come.

My Response: Well, welcome to the pity party. Do you really expect that this in-your-face, nanny-nanny-boo-boo list of myopic and bellicose grievances filled with sectarian rhetoric would garner any sympathy or converts? Or was your point just to say, “Suck it! We will never work with anyone who doesn’t love Trump as much as I do”? The things that I notice are missing: anger about lack of affordable health care during a pandemic, anger about jobs lost due to a pandemic, anger about the costs of housing/basic necessities, anger about the lack of living wages, and a host of other kitchen table issues. Instead I see anger about wearing masks, name calling, feelings of being dissed, and over the top rhetoric about “stolen” elections that weren’t stolen. If anything, liberals, who have lost two elections while winning the majority of votes have more to say about stolen elections and election security than you do.

Maybe we need to reassess what we are angry over in this country. And instead of thumbing noses and fostering divisions among winners and losers, let’s figure out what our country needs to thrive as the oldest democratic republic in history. Because this list doesn’t even touch on the real problems Americans face–it focuses on only one problem, feeling disaffected. And guess what? I’ve gotten that message loud and clear for four years and lived it for 12 of the past 20 years. If we are a nation of 330 million victims, than how will we ever heal enough to do what we need to do for our country? That is something you should ask yourself.

PS One thing I do agree upon–it was a LONG four years.

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