The Ostrich, The Sand, and You: A Plea to My Republican Friends

Sometimes you have hope because you have a certain faith in other people. Like Han Solo had in Lando Calrissian, or James Bond had in Alec Trevelyan in Goldeneye, or Sonny Corleone had in toll road attendants. When Donald J. Trump was elected  President of the United States of America, I had a certain faith in some Republicans I know. The ones I’m closest friends with are, perhaps not coincidentally, all true-blue NeverTrumpers, and so this little post is not directed to them whatsoever. You guys rock.

No, this post is directed to the Republicans who, in the aftermath of the election, appear to be trying as hard as emotion and logic will allow to papier-mâché a facade over Donald Trump’s words, actions, and hiring decisions. Having found themselves in complete control of the legislative and executive branches of government, these loyal partisans, almost all of whom were for Anyone But Trump in the primary, yearn for normalcy. Refusing to look a gift horse in the mouth, they strive to forge a new Republican unity, centered around small-government, socially conservative, own-bootstraps-pulling policies.

Unfortunately, the man who won the election is a yuuge-government, socially maladjusted, silver-spoon-sucking rent-seeker. Oh, and he stoked the base, tribal fears of poor and desperate people to do it. This, understandably, presents a Problem for these dutiful GOPers. It is an irreconcible tension, and so, exultant in the crispy orange glow of victory, these Republicans have engaged diligently in the sort of short-term historical revisionism that would make Stalin blush. Trump is Just Fine, these people say. Really, he’s just a normal garden-variety Republican: white picket fence, large calloused hands, etc. Everyone calm down please! Please?

The most easily pilloried version of this rationalization that I’ve found was published a few days ago in the newspaper of my most recent alma mater, the Virginia Law Weekly. That article, titled “Control Restored to Republicans: A Raging Red November”, can be found here. While I have never met the author personally (maybe once in passing?), I know that she was (is?) dating a friend of mine who I like a lot, so I won’t be as mean as I would like to be.

What a woefully vacuous piece of writing. The argument, such as it is, tortures itself through the following reasoning:

  • America is dissatisfied with President Obama, who has a 55% approval rating.
  • And man, liberals suck you guys. They have no interest in honest dialogue.
  • I know this because they described my candidate based on things he said and did.
  • Trump won because he represented the will of the silent majority, aka normal people.
  • Trump is also a normal person interested in honest dialogue. Like us.
  • I know this because he directly contradicted things he said for months in an interview this one time.
  • The things he wants are just Republican boilerplate, anyway.
  • Yes, even the ones that expand government and constrict the free market.
  • Anyway, your fear and outrage offends me – this is just a normal election cycle.
  • Oh, except for the abnormal scary fascist things. Well Republicans will stop that.
  • Why? Well because only SOME of us are hateful bigots.
  • [general platitudes on civic duty]

It’s like the GOP was given a really ugly sweater by their grandma for Christmas that they hate so much they want to die, but then the girl they liked complimented the sweater one day, so now they have to try and convince themselves that they really do like poorly stitched images of Jesus with a party hat and balloon, a t-shirt that says “Birthday Boy”, and an expression suggestive of both disappointment and rage.

I think the saddest thing about this article isn’t the rhetorical knots it ties itself into to try to normalize Trump – rather, it’s the painful obviousness of the bubble in which the author resides. For the author, this election must be rationalized to be “just like any other” because by and large their life, and their friends’ lives, and their families, will continue to live on almost exactly the same way for the next four years and they have for the last eight. Perhaps they might pay less taxes.

But when Medicare is privatized, it won’t be their grandparents’ health on the line. When DACA is rescinded, it won’t be their boyfriend who’s arrested, detained, and shipped out of the country he loves to one where he doesn’t even speak the language. When Muslim immigrants are required to register on a special database, it won’t be their father who’s treated like a second-class citizen.

When funding for the investigation of discrimination against LGBT persons is cut off, it won’t be their sister, a trans woman, whose EEOC claim languishes for years. When HUD funding is cut off, it won’t be their housing voucher (Republican idea!) or permanent supportive housing or substance abuse counseling or legal clinic or emergency shelter that has to shutter its doors. It will not be their children who are profiled, arrested, and sent to juvenile prisons. It will not be their sacred lands and drinking water that are poisoned by a leaking pipeline.

When the standard-bearer for the proto-Nazi Alt-Right is made Senior Counsel to the President, they won’t feel fear because they have no reason to – they belong to the Original Protected Class. Since Trump won the election I’ve thought about Vincent Chin every damn day. Why? Because the next big bad for Mr. Trump after 1) Muslims and 2) Mexicans is 3) China (Ghy-na). Specifically, the way China allegedly steals American jobs. For the unfamiliar, Vincent Chin was a 27-year-old Chinese American raised in Metro Detroit who was beaten to death with a baseball bat a week before his wedding, June 19, 1982, by two autoworkers, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, who blamed the Japanese for the U.S. auto industry’s troubles.

So Republican friends, I beg of you – please don’t try and normalize Donald Trump. He campaigned on a platform of fear and hatred and misinformation. You know this is true. Not only did he say these things – his first steps as President-elect have been to appoint to his inner circle a white nationalist (Bannon), a virulent Islamophobe (Gen. Michael Flynn), and a guy who was denied a seat on a federal bench by a Republican Senate due to his racism (Sen. Jeff Sessions). This is real and it is happening now.

You are good and you are smart – you are better than this. Trump is not a useful conduit for your clumsily circumscribed political soapbox. He is a dangerous man surrounding himself with other dangerous men, a true strongman in the political, not literal, sense. There are many Republicans who, recognizing this danger, reject and resist Trump. If you value freedom, you will also reject and resist him. If not, you will have shown yourself to be nothing but a feckless partisan who lacked the principle and backbone to stand up when your country needed you to stand up.

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Where do we go from here?

Preliminary thoughts:
 
1. Left-leaning folks, we’ve got a lot of work to do. OH, IA, MI, WI? All blue in 2012 by solid margins. Obama’s approval on the eve of his lame duck period? 52.1% – higher than Reagan’s was. Trumpism can be overcome.
 
But there are a lot of folks in forgotten parts of this country who have been sneered at and condescended to by our elites for a very long time. If we want to claim to be a party that stands against hate and discrimination, then we should also erase the word “redneck” from our vocabulary. Highly recommend you all pick up a copy of J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” and read it carefully. I may not agree with his policy prescriptions, but Vance’s testimony of why people feel left behind is powerful and moving and deserves your attention.
 
The result of their marginalization is President Trump. If Democrats want to be the party of working people, then they should represent working people. It will take hard work and humility and education and actually listening to what people have to say, but I believe it must be done.
 
2. At the same time, blame must also fall on a GOP that sanctioned the growth of racist and xenophobic rhetoric in conservative media and conservative candidates for the sake of political expediency. If Democrats left working-class white folks in a ditch, the GOP has turned a blind eye while agitators of hate poisoned it.
 
Shame on the GOP leaders who put political gain above the integrity of our institutions, their own conservative principles, and basic human decency. Shame on a party which has arrogantly incubated this alt-right movement, believing its rhetoric useful but its effects harmless. But now the cat is out of the bag – the GOP is now undeniably the vehicle for a resurgent white power movement.
 
3. Seguing off (2), a Trump presidency lends unavoidable legitimacy to the worst of America. Just a few days ago, a black church was set aflame and Trump slogans were graffiti-ed on the side. A Muslim student in Wisconsin was beaten to death in a college town. LGBT and especially trans persons continue to be murdered at a disproportionate rate. The election of Donald Trump, who has been endorsed by David Duke and has retweeted and stumped on white supremacist messaging, will embolden these domestic terrorists. Be vigilant. Exercise your right to protect yourselves. And those of us on the outside who see it coming need to help however we can.
 
4. Seguing off (3), we must be careful to identify the right enemy. The enemy is authoritarianism, the politics of fear, and the white nationalism that fuels it. Whatever policy differences we have pale in comparison to the threat of a President (empowered by an office which has expanded itself drastically under the color of law for decades essentially unchecked) who has no knowledge or respect for our civic values or the integrity of our institutions. Americans of goodwill, liberal and conservative, can and should work together to create a coalition of principle that in two years, and four years, and in every election after that must put this ideology in the dirt where it belongs.
 
This is the beginning of a new chapter in a fight that’s been raging since the founding of this country, folks. If you love America like I do, it’s time to get off the sidelines. We live in a world which encourages us to exist in a hermetically sealed bubble of material consumption and politico-cultural echo chambers. Make your life about something bigger than yourself – not in a casual way, but as a central pillar of your decision-making. That’s the kind of action we’re going to need, and I intend to do everything I can to see it through.

(One Reason) Why I’m Voting for Hillary Clinton

Headed to Nevada later today to Get Out the Vote for Hillary Clinton (obligatory #imwithher).

Someone pointed out that I’d yet to make a strong affirmative case for her candidacy. Giving you all the reasons I’m voting for Hillary (and against Trump) would be long and likely unreadable in a blog format, so instead I want to focus on one reason that very important to me as a Christian and attorney for the public interest.

One of the most important qualities of leadership is to have a servant’s heart: to be oriented in a fundamental, selfless way around the needs of the people you represent. When it comes to politicians, this is, sadly, a rare thing – and even if a candidate has one, it is often obscured by petty partisanship, political cronyism, and the ruthlessness of their own ambition.

While it has been often so obscured, I believe at her core that Secretary Clinton has the heart of a truly dedicated public servant. Not because of her rhetoric, which has been pockmarked by the hypocrisies of political expediency, but by her long record of service.There are a lot of lawyers in politics, but few have the track record of legal service to the poor that Hillary does, including but not limited to:

1. Her commitment to public interest advocacy in law school, and later work at the Children’s Defense Fund
2. Her pro bono work and scholarly research in private practice
3. Her co-founding of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and policy advocacy as Arkansas’ First Lady
4. Her expertise and influence in the White House as our nation’s First Lady pushing for (ill-fated) health reform and (successfully and with bipartisan support) the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

This is obviously an area close to my heart, but I believe firmly that people just don’t get into that kind of work unless they have a deep-seated belief in the value of service to the poor. There is no incentive or niche for the purely self-interested. The work can be heartbreaking, it doesn’t pay very well, and oftentimes the lawyer and their client is at the mercy of forces outside their control. The lawyer is sometimes simply doing everything in their power to make the best of a situation with no good outcomes.

To do this work, and to do it with zeal and success, requires grit and passion. It requires you to care deeply about achieving justice on behalf of society’s least. Hillary Clinton has shown me that she does care about these things.

I wish I’d gotten involved with the campaign earlier, but I’m going to do my tiny part this weekend, and I hope that some of you who may be on the fence or leaning toward the other candidate will consider what I’ve said. In the end, after drilling past conflicts on policy and scandals, looking for glimpses of a servant’s heart is critically important to me. And in this election, there is only one candidate who has committed to public service and laboring toward justice and the greater good: Hillary Clinton.