It’s going to be spectacular, it’s going to be ugly and it’s going to be war.
The liberal elites in the US have joined battle even before Donald Trump takes office, signaling that they are going to use every tool at their disposal to discredit and frustrate the Trump Presidency. There will be no honeymoon, none of this ‘Respect the office even if you don’t respect the man’ business.
Consider just one day in early January: Democrat Senator Cory Booker challenged the appointment of Republican Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney-General in a Senate hearing, a move Booker concedes is unprecedented, but justified, he says, because ‘these are extraordinary times’; the Congressional Black Caucus voted to rehang a painting in the Congress depicting police as pigs, which a Republican congressman had recently taken down for its offensiveness; and the Washington Post ran a feature headlined ‘How to Remove Donald Trump from Office’. All this, on the back of a media storm after Hollywood, and most famously Meryl Streep, bagged Trump at the Golden Globes.
An old friend recently visited and went to Washington to catch up with half a dozen friends. She returned gobsmacked at their abhorrence of Trump, at the way they shouted down the slightest counterargument that perhaps life might go on, that perhaps Trump wasn’t Hitler-in-waiting. Talk even turned to such lunacies as spiriting climate data out of the US to protect it. And these are serious people, Ivy League educated, with serious jobs.
It didn’t have to be this way.
The liberal elites could have decided to play by the rules and accept defeat, lick their wounds and work on finding a better candidate and program in four years’ time. After a week or two of shock and anguish following Trump’s win, it’s now clear they have decided to double down on their previous default position of resolute outrage. Because of Russian hacking, and Trump’s nasty arguments, and the kind of man he is, his election was illegitimate, and so he doesn’t have to be respected and treated with normal civility.
And Trump could have made nice with everyone and defused fears by appointing Mitt Romney-like centrists to his administration; but has instead appointed a slate of activist conservatives. The Breitbart white nationalist, Steve Bannon! A racist Alabama lawmaker, Jeff Sessions! Trump shows every sign of sticking to his promises of far-reaching change, and is stalking the dying Obama administration with a tweetstorm of job creation, argument and abuse. There’s an ominous sense of a gathering storm, of a swelling torrent of change to be unleashed on January 20, Inauguration Day.
For those with long memories, it’s reminiscent of the Maintain the Rage era that followed Gough Whitlam’s ouster from office in 1975 – which in my view browbeat Malcolm Fraser into inaction, as his every move was met with sustained outrage.
Unlike Fraser, however, Trump is not the type to take a backward step. He’s a streetfighter par excellence, and happily so, a trait that infuriates those who are accustomed to wielding abuse (racism, sexism, homophobia, elitist, white privilege) themselves against conservatives too well-mannered to throw it back. Trump’s abuse is an unedifying characteristic, but one cannot help but enjoy the sight of him taking it up to the crybullying left, so unaccustomed is it to being challenged. Good manners don’t cut it when there’s a war to be won.
Moreover, Trump has Twitter. Unlike previous eras when the media could effectively gatekeep the information flow, and end political careers by determining the narrative du jour, Trump can reach the country at any instant and change the argument.
So now the anti-Trump forces are looking for any weapons to hand, precedented and unprecedented, legitimate and illegitimate. Abuse, of course, from everyone from Joe Biden (‘Grow up Donald’) to a seemingly endless list of celebrities. There will be the Women’s March and demonstrations and alternative entertainments and Democrat boycotts of Inauguration Day. But much of the action will take place online. Indivisible: A guide to resisting the Trump Agenda is available online after editorial promotion in the New York Times. A new Twitter account Sleeping Giants is seeking to intimidate advertisers out of placing ads on conservative website Breitbart. Another new Twitter hashtag, Grab Your Wallet, asks people to boycott companies that donate to or support Trump, an early target being iconic outdoor clothing firm LL Bean.
Such moves are likely to backfire, as Trump supporters can change their purchases as easily as his critics can. And the Trump team are fighters, like their boss. Trump adviser and former campaign chief Kellyanne Conway took down Meryl Streep, angry at Trump’s mockery of a disabled reporter, with a killer jab asking if Streep had also supported the disabled white boy recently tortured and abused by four young blacks, who tied him up, and beat him, yelling ‘F— Trump, F— white people’ – and then put the video on Facebook.
Meanwhile, business is buoyed by the unexpected stock rally, and small business confidence is at a twelve year high. The Congressional Republicans are, at the moment at least, onside, as shown by their early flurry of confirmation hearings, the backdown on the ethics committee after a Trump tweet, and a multitude of quieter moves such as reintroducing Kate’s Law, which targets undocumented immigrants who illegally return to the US after deportation. Significantly, and intelligently, the Clintons themselves are staying right out of it all.
In New York itself everyone is locked inside in the depths of winter, watching the show heat up even as the snow falls, the work year slowly starts and spring clothes jarringly appear in shop windows. A personal trainer, a black man, started up a conversation in my gym this morning about the Sessions appointment, saying he had read about him in the New York Times. The piece was headlined ‘The Grim Reaper of Alabama’ and presented a catalogue of his alleged racist sins. Did I mention, the mainstream media is not backing down one bit?
Grab your popcorn.
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