What D.C. Says About Our Country

WASHINGTON%2C+DC+-+JANUARY+06%3A+A+protester+holds+a+Trump+flag+inside+the+US+Capitol+Building+near+the+Senate+Chamber+on+January+06%2C+2021+in+Washington%2C+DC.+Congress+held+a+joint+session+that+day+to+ratify+President-elect+Joe+Biden%27s+306-232+Electoral+College+win+over+President+Donald+Trump.+A+group+of+Republican+senators+said+they+would+reject+the+Electoral+College+votes+of+several+states+unless+Congress+appointed+a+commission+to+audit+the+election+results.+%28Photo+by+Win+McNamee%2FGetty+Images%29

Getty Images

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 06: A protester holds a Trump flag inside the US Capitol Building near the Senate Chamber on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session that day to ratify President-elect Joe Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

By Robert Mullins, Assistant Editor

Last week, the United States Capitol Building was stormed by a pro-Trump mob. They were protesting in Washington on January 6, as Congress convened to certify electors and officially declare the victory of Joe Biden over Donald Trump. As the joint session split into both chambers to hear objections to the slate of electors nominated by certain states, protestors breached the Capitol. Leadership and the Vice President were hurried into hiding as the rank and file, along with the press cowered in the chambers. Legislators and staffers were distributed gas masks in order to reach safety as tear gas was deployed in the Senate rotunda in an effort to disperse the demonstrators. This event has fueled bipartisan outrage, calls for prosecution, and evoked feelings of anxiety and dismay at this blatant display of tribalism in our electoral process.

The protestors have been accused of a wide array of crimes, breaking and entering, inciting violence, all the way up to treason and armed insurrection. For those who don’t know, the Treason Clause of the Constitution calls for the death penalty to be inflicted on those convicted. While these charges hold varying degrees of merit, it does not change the fact that the rhetoric directed at these protestors has been outrageous, overblown, and capricious. At this time, it is apparent that cynical opportunists on both sides of the aisle are riding this wave of fear in the hope that it will propel their own political prospects. This is achieved first by using this incident to exile the President from party leadership, and then accuse all those associated with his ideology of being complicit in violence. It is essentially a purging of all Trumpian influence in the Republican Party. Regardless of how well the President’s rhetoric resonates with you, the sad truth that we all must come to terms with is that this purge cannot conceivably take place, and will have monumental consequences upon success or failure.

The primary issue with this is that fundamentally, the charge that the President incited violence—for which he was just impeached for the second time by the House of Representatives—does not stand. At no time, on Twitter or at any recent rally did President Trump directly call for violence against the government. Pundits who are familiar with dog-whistle politics have suggested the opposite, but these claims are shaky at best without overt statements to prove them. Regardless of the merits of the claims against him, politicians from the establishment wing of both parties have come out strongly against the President, from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Utah Senator Mitt Romney. Bipartisan backlash is so strong that some pundits have suggested a Senate vote on the second set of charges against Trump will be upheld with a conviction. While opinions on these proceedings vary widely, all this does is decisively prove the Washington Establishment has learned absolutely nothing from the Trump presidency; neither what caused it nor the long-term effects.

The victory of candidate Donald Trump in the 2016 Republican primary was one of the most stunning upsets in modern politics, before his actual election to the presidency. He was overlooked and at times mocked by other frontrunners such as Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, and John Kasich. His victory is owing to two fundamental factors of the contest. The first is that collectively, the Rubio-Bush-Paul-Kasich coalition beat the dark horse Trump easily; the problem being that Rubio-Bush-Paul-Kasich was not one candidate, and none of the standalone figures were charismatic enough to gain a significant amount of the other’s voters. The second problem was the issues. At times, it almost appeared as though the four frontrunners were all reading from the same script as their policy positions were so similar. This is because their backgrounds are similar, as they all are members of a similar faction. The four frontrunners I mention collectively epitomize the Republican side of the Washington Establishment of the late 2000s. And how do the voters regard this Establishment? As evidenced by the result of the primary and the later election, with disdain.

The late 2000s were a depressing period for Republicans. After the disgraceful presidency of George W. Bush and the era of financial ruin it ushered in, Barack Obama was swept into office by the combination of his charisma and the lackluster campaign headed by John McCain. After Obama failed to deliver on key campaign promises, the Republicans made their largest gain in House seats since 1938. These impressive gains speak only to the people’s discontent with the economic policy of the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats and not to any particular diligence on the part of Republicans. Case in point, many of them ran and were elected on the promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which remains in place to this very day albeit slightly reformed. This type of impotence is typical of the Republican Establishment, epitomized by Mitt Romney’s forgettable 2012 presidential run. This period marks the beginning of the profound disconnect between the Republican Establishment and its working-class base, which was only exacerbated by the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission which held that limits placed on campaign contributions from corporations violated the First Amendment.

The meltdown of the financial system and subsequent fallout, the continued failure of Republican legislators to deliver reform, and the packed primary field in 2016 created the perfect conditions for a candidate Trump to take over the Republican Party. Rather than speaking mechanically and using rehearsed lines as Marco Rubio was notoriously called out for doing, Trump spoke off the cuff; he was a showman whose unapologetic brashness appealed to many primary voters. More importantly, Trump’s policy stances resonated with the voters who felt left behind by the Washington plutocrats he stood next to on the debate stage. He discussed issues that the Establishment, switching gear to broaden its appeal, was reluctant to broach. In promising to return manufacturing jobs, curb illegal immigration, and renegotiate trade deals, he played right to predominantly white, blue-collar workers who felt left behind in the broad strokes of neoliberal globalization that the foreign policy Establishment has pursued for the last 40 years.

Truly, Donald Trump successfully courted the “Silent Majority” that Richard Nixon supplicated to in the face of Vietnam War protests. In 1969, Nixon was making his case to the vast numbers of Americans who did not join the counterculture or protests against Vietnam, who he felt were underrepresented by the Media Establishment. This is worth noting because of the integral aspect that counterculture plays in our national discourse today, or more accurately, the distant shadow of it. In the wake of widespread Black Lives Matter demonstrations this summer, it is clear there is a thriving counterculture in this country purportedly dedicated to racial equity as its primary goal. BLM is so countercultural in fact, it receives hundreds of thousands in donations from corporations including Airbnb, Cisco, and Ubisoft. Now, I’m no linguist, but my rudimentary command of the English language tells me the very definition of counterculture suggests that if a cause is being supported and bankrolled by corporations and officials at all levels of the government, that cause is not in any major opposition to the prevailing social norm, but I digress.

Rather ironically, modern counterculturalism is now a tool of the establishment. The core rebellious values of counterculturalism have been subverted by corporate interests, and in its place the mere aesthetics of counterculture have been commodified and sold to an unsuspecting populace as a legitimate worldview. It truly is tragic that people think they’re making any meaningful change by attending gatherings organized by interest groups who could accurately be described by the term “The Powers That Be,” in the middle of a pandemic no less. A much more authentic experience of a modern counterculture would be found in the President’s supporters. It is no secret that the Media Establishment makes a killing in the lucrative industry of excoriating the Commander in Chief, the major networks rake in millions of viewers nightly to tune into the latest episode of political theater. Some high and mighty partisans may believe these sustained attacks are the only thing that may pull their family members who have fallen prey to the Trump cult back into reality, but in most cases, the opposite is true. In fact, the constant barrage of invective the President is subject to from network news only strengthens the resolve of his supporters, a seemingly perplexing phenomenon in truth is rather easily explained.

Historically, the most well-admired presidents have made use of an emerging form of media to reach out to followers. Franklin Roosevelt had the radio, John F. Kennedy had television. President Trump had the unique ability to form a parasocial relationship with his followers using Twitter. All things considered, his utilization of this platform constitutes a huge missed opportunity as time that could be better spent on a uniquely intimate voter outreach operation and building a wider coalition was instead used to announce the firing of Cabinet secretaries and insult teenage climate activists. Regardless of how the President used or misused this rare opportunity, the fact is that the very nature of Twitter and its effects on the mind allowed him to form a relationship with his followers that was parasocial in nature. Therefore, while the mainstream media does not necessarily directly attack working class voters, Trump’s has maneuvered his social media presence such that attacks on his character is seen as a stand-in for the working class voter who supported him. When this is taken into account and combined with his vilification of the press, it should come as no shock that a 2016 Quinnipiac University poll found that 55% of likely voters surveyed said the media was biased against Mr. Trump.

From this lens, it is clear how Trump is something akin to political Teflon. He is utterly immune to the smears that would ruin a traditional politician’s career. The media has at times demonstrated that it is privy to this fact, which is why it boggles my mind that they act puzzled when rolling out prominent members of the Washington elite from both sides of the aisle to speak out against Trump doesn’t work. It begs the question, how can anyone think that mobilizing titans of the Establishment will work to the detriment of a man who was thrust into office by and continues to thrive on sentiments of deep skepticism of that very same group of people? It doesn’t make rational sense to believe that it would, in my opinion. But the Media and Washington establishment continue to do the same thing and expect different results, to the detriment of their credibility and to our country. What makes the situation even more complex is that occasionally the charges made against the President are true. New York Senator Chuck Schumer has repeatedly accused the President of being a demagogue, an allegation that is well-earned and holds merit. Over the years, Trump has changed his party affiliation numerous times and his views have changed rather radically, a revelation that might shock his more fervent supporters.

Trump’s first and lesser-known presidential run was in the year 2000 with the Reform Party. Trump released a book on public policy co-written with author Dave Shiflett that outlined his platform if elected. A few views in the book are consistent with his stances today, including staunch and justified opposition to large-scale illegal immigration. Many others were abandoned, including his advocacy for a strong progressive income tax. It may seem baffling that he touted the book on the campaign trail in 2016, using it to make such claims that he predicted 9/11, but I believe that there is a certain genius to this tactic in that it deflects discussion away from its more liberal talking points while he courted a conservative base. In the book, Trump argues for universal healthcare with a single-payer system, a plan the President referred to in his 2020 State of the Union Address as “legislation to impose a socialist takeover of our healthcare system, wiping out the private health insurance plans of 180 million Americans.” This ideological 180 combined with Trump’s populist rhetoric is revealing of a certain accuracy in Senator Schumer’s remarks. So what can be done to stop it? Everything but what the Establishment is doing right now

President Trump lost the 2020 election. His successor, Joe Biden, has been in politics for nearly 50 years. It makes sense that the American electorate, after the tumult that the unpredictable Trump has caused, would retreat back to a candidate with strong ties to the Establishment and the status quo. The familiar face may be comforting to them, but there is a massive miscalculation in this, as the D.C. protest has proven. While center-left voters may feel relief that the nightmare that was the Trump presidency appears to draw to a close, the energy, resentment, and sense of indignation that Trump originally capitalized on in his base will not disappear. Anyone who thinks that such an outcome could be siphoned from a halfhearted Tweet authored by a Biden staffer about “healing the nation” is naïve at best and delusional at worst. Republican voters who watch Trump’s former allies in Congress turn on him will become more skeptical of them, and not him and as a byproduct of that, more disillusioned with our present form of government. This, I do understand, is the main reason why impeachment is so desirable: by not allowing him to run again, his cult of personality need not be feared. In a sense, I agree. By removing the possibility of Donald Trump to run again, our legislators remove the dangers posed by Donald Trump. But this ought not to be conflated with excising our political system of any threat of malignant authoritarianism.

By forcing Trump out of the political scene, the Establishment will only egg the former President’s supporters on more. Then comes 2024, and rather than Trump, we witness the rise of someone far more dangerous. This hypothetical candidate would appeal to the masses in the same way President Trump did, with enormous rallies in which he hearkens back to a bygone era in which the Establishment gave the common man a fair shake in life, where the American Dream worked for everyone. The only difference? I envision this candidate to be Trump, but infinitely more dangerous because not only will they be competent and politically savvy, but they will actually follow through on these ideals (however undemocratic) that appeal to the masses, rather than pay lip service to them, and then spend four years largely upholding the status quo, as Mr. Trump did. This candidate would lack the indecision that Trump’s tumultuous presidency has been marred by. Rather than dipping their toe into the waters of authoritarianism, this candidate would dive in head-first and not look back. This argument is not mine alone, many people on both sides of the political spectrum share it and fear the cost of this hypothetical when taken to its logical conclusion.

While watching later news coverage of the D.C. protest, “riots” or “treason” depending upon who you ask, I was struck by the fundamental truth that the winners write the history books. If the Establishment continues to remain blind and deaf to the societal ills that the Trump presidency brought to light, there will be serious societal upheaval that will in time pose an existential threat to their hegemony. It may even come to pass one day, in the near or far future that these protestors are heralded as at least the precursor to noble and necessary rebellion against a tyrannical, kleptocratic state. If this prediction proves correct, the fate of this nation will fall into utter chaos, and I genuinely believe no one would be safe from the Class War. But in all of this, it is important to remember that all of the above comprises the musings of a high school student, reflections on the state of our nation that I truly hope earn me significant ridicule in the future, as I wouldn’t even want to live in a future in which I’m right.