On March 15, U.S. Representative Debra Haaland (D-New Mexico) was confirmed as Secretary of the Interior. The appointment makes Haaland the first ever Native American person to hold this position, and the first ever Native American cabinet member. The confirmation vote was largely along party lines, with only four Republican senators voting in favor: Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina).
The events of the last month or so have gotten me thinking a lot about the issue of closure. Many of us were happy to see 2020 come to an end and anticipate something better for the new year. But the political closure many were looking for in November in the change of presidents from Donald Trump to Joe Biden was deferred by Trump and his supporters’ refusal to acknowledge the election results. Trump’s persistent claims that the election was “rigged” boiled over on January 6 in the riotous storming of the Capitol Building. Trump’s supporters came with their own closure issues, determined to stop the lawful counting of the ballots of the Electoral College, and thereby prevent Trump’s removal from power.
Young protesters on the steps of the Broward County Federal courthouse on Feb. 17, 2018 in Fort Lauderdale. (Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Last Wednesday, the day that seventeen young people were murdered in their school in Parkland, Florida, one of my own children’s teachers interrupted the regular curriculum to talk to them about what to do if an “active shooter” showed up at their school. Here’s what he told them: If the shooter is in the school building but not nearby, dive out the windows of the classroom and run like hell. But if he is nearby, one person gets to hide in a closet. Maybe two children can fit under the teacher’s desk. Everyone else should cower near the windows, where the shooter might not be able to see them and thus go to the next classroom. If the shooter enters the classroom anyway, the teacher will stand by the door with something heavy like a stool and try to disarm them before they open fire.
As it happens, the teacher delivered this little lecture before anyone knew of the terrible tragedy unfolding at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. At schools across the US, it has become fairly routine for teachers and kids to talk about this kind of horror. Preparing for the possibility of being gunned down in a classroom will be part of my children’s memory of their school years. This is what it means for gun violence to be normalized in American society.
In 2015, a young white supremacist named Dylann Roof walked into a prayer meeting in the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina and murdered nine people, all African American, in cold blood. Amid the mourning and soul-searching after that terrible event, there was one perhaps surprising outcome: an intensified conversation about the meaning of the public symbolism and commemoration of the American Civil War (1860-65).
Though only two weeks old, the Trump presidency has been one crazy ride. For opponents of Trump’s candidacy, the bad news just keeps coming, in the form of problematic cabinet appointees and executive actions, crazy tweets, and disturbing public statements and performances. But at least Trump seems to have brought Americans together in one way: even those who are more sympathetic to Trump seem to have been a bit rattled by all the presidential news of these past two weeks.
Even more unsettling is the sheer pace of the news about the new administration. Making sense of it is like trying to drink from a firehose. Yet make sense of it we must, if only to begin to distinguish what is “normal,” as opposed to what is truly new and different about this president and the changes he intends to implement. What follows are two observations about what Trump has done since taking office. The first is about the nature of his executive actions, and the second is about his administration’s strategy of delivering them so quickly and to such destabilizing effect.
While the rest of the country has been distracted by the spectacle of the first presidential debate, another and arguably far more important part of the 2016 election is now well underway. This is the “ground game,” where the campaigns and the groups that support them do the hard work of ensuring that their candidate’s supporters actually turn out to vote. Meanwhile, the darker arts of voter suppression are also in play. In the US, voting itself is a politicized process, and all the more so in 2016, because this election could very well be decided on voter turnout.
The US political news was dominated this week by stories about Donald Trump’s floundering campaign. On Monday, he fired his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, a longtime confidante whose strategy to “let Trump be Trump” apparently ran afoul not only of the Republican political establishment but of Trump’s own children. But early Tuesday there was worse news yet, in the form of new information about the Trump campaign’s ailing finances.
Last Wednesday, at a Town Hall Meeting in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Trump was asked about the legal implications of his position that, with just a few exceptions, abortion should be made illegal. Trump first conceded that if abortions were banned, then many women would seek out illegal options. When pressed on what the consequences should be for those women, Trump stated that “there has to be some form of punishment.”
Ever since the debacle of the 2000 presidential election, there are special associations between presidential politics and the state of Florida. That year, Florida’s contingent of delegates was pivotal to the outcome of the very close race between Al Gore and George W. Bush. A virtual tie vote in the state, combined with massive mismanagement of the election in some counties, led to a notorious recount of ballots that was only stopped by the intervention of the US Supreme Court. 16 years later, some still debate whether President Bush rightfully or wrongly became president because of what happened in Florida.
It’s a common question on many exit polls: “Which was more important in your vote today: your candidate’s position on the issues, or your candidate’s leadership or personal qualities?” (Here’s the New York Times’s version, after the New Hampshire primaries).
“Personal qualities” here can mean a number of things. On the one hand, it is a code-word for personal attributes such as gender, race, or age. It can also be a euphemism for how convincingly candidates show the right kind of religious devotion, or how well candidates have distanced themselves from scandal. But the question also speaks to seemingly superficial questions of “likeability,” charisma and charm—all of which can make a presidential election sometimes seem a bit more like a beauty pageant or a reality TV show than a serious exercise of democracy.
Yet “personal qualities” in all these senses do matter, and have always mattered in presidential politics, in part because the president, as head of state, symbolically represents the US as a whole. Fortsätt läsa