trump

"Buddha" by Francis Chung via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In the beginning weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency, people of all faiths all over the world are asking the question, “How should our faith respond?” Buddhists are no exception to this. With important religious precepts centered on nonviolence and compassion, Buddhists are asking how they can apply their code of ethics to help those in need. Unique from other religions like Christianity and Islam, Buddhist texts and teachings make little reference to organized political or social activism. However, past historical figures like Mahatma Gandhi have used Buddhist precepts to dramatically change society. Gandhi used the profound principle of ahimsa, or nonviolence, to dismantle the British occupation of India. Once again, a turn to Buddhist principles is needed to encourage compassion in the unfolding months ahead.

"US Secret Service" by Andre Gustavo Stumpf is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (via Flickr)

Though it is still early in President Donald Trump’s term, the Secret Service seems to be getting more media attention than usual lately. The Secret Service always works diligently to protect the President’s family, but the Trumps have provided an extra challenge. For starters, President Trump has a large family – five children – and some of his adult children already have their own children who also require Secret Service protection. According to NBC, President Trump’s intention to regularly visit the First Lady and their son, Barron, at their New York City home also requires additional staffers to travel and secure both locations. Even before taking office, taxpayers were paying more than $2 million per day to ensure the safety of the Trump family, and that number is only expected to rise throughout his term in office. This could be a major problem, because, although protective needs are rising, the Secret Service budget is not.

"Putin/Trump make Russia great again" by Charles Stone via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

President-elect Donald Trump’s comments on Russian President Vladimir Putin have been a hot topic of discussion for months now. Trump has praised the Russian president’s leadership skills, noting that a renewed US-Russian cooperative relationship would be beneficial to both countries and to the world, specifically when it came to fighting ISIS. A Russian hack on the Democratic National Committee that resulted in thousands of leaked internal e-mails may have also influenced the election in Trump’s favor, leading to questions about the Putin-Trump relationship and concerns over election ballot hacking. Now that Trump stands to assume the presidency in a little less than two months, many Americans wonder what our future relationship with Russia will be. In order to understand what may come in the future, it is important to understand the beginnings of the Russian Federation – and how the United States may have had something to do with Russia turning from the West in the early 1990s.

"California" by Danny. via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Since last week’s presidential election, over half the nation has been in a state of disappointment, shock, and even mourning. They have coped with this upset in a variety of ways: coping on their own, taking to the streets in protest, and threatening to move to Canada. One small but loud movement in California even calls for its state’s secession from the union. Defeated by the outcome of the election, some members of this blue state have lost faith in the nation. The Yes California Independence Campaign promotes the passing of a referendum that would declare California as an independent nation in a vote. The initiative has come to be known as the “Calexit” vote. The “Yes California” website brags, “As the sixth largest economy in the world, California is more economically powerful than France and has a population larger than Poland. Point by point, California compares and competes with countries, not just the 49 other states.”

"Church" by jmv0586 via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Shortly following Trump’s victory as the new president-elect, a pastor in Seattle came to work to find his church branded in paint with “F*** organized religion”. Bewildered, the pastor was unsure whether this resentment was harbored towards his church or towards Trump’s victory. Many would question whether these two subjects can be divided at all. After all, evangelical Christians played a dominant role in this election as they represent a quarter of the U.S. population. Although the mingling of evangelical Christianity and conservative politics is not new, Donald Trump played a unique role as the champion of white evangelical Christians while also revealing how disparate this voting population can be.

"Séance pleinière de la COP21 pour l’adoption de l’accord de Paris (Salle Seine - Le Bourget)" by COP Paris via Flickr (Public Domain)

This past week, following his presidential victory, president-elect Donald Trump named Myron Ebell, a staunch dissenter on climate change, as his head of transition committee for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Alongside Ebell’s nomination, Sarah Palin and Forrest Lucas have been names mentioned in possible positions within the Department of Interior and Department of Energy. The implications these nominations hold  for the future of American environmental policies and climate carry major weight. To fully digest these implications, one must look into Trump’s environmental stances and those of his possible future nominations.

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"VDOT contractors fill potholes on Interstate 85 (north) in Dinwiddie County" by Virginia Department of Transporation via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

It’s no debate that American infrastructure has been deteriorating. Across the country, bridges are collapsing, roads are riddled with potholes, schools have chipping paint; even the United States House of Representatives had lead in their water this summer. During their campaigns, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have declared their intentions to drastically increase spending on infrastructure if they are elected to the presidency. Clinton announced that her administration would spend $250 billion on infrastructure over the next five years, paid for by a business tax on companies with assets abroad. In response, Trump stated he would double Clinton’s proposed investment by borrowing funds via the sale of government bonds. Numerous economists and bipartisan politicians have agreed with both candidates – America has an infrastructure problem that needs to be addressed, and soon.

"Some of us read. But most of us don't." by Ed Yourdon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (via Flickr)

The economy continues to struggle, the educational system underperforms and tensions exist at just about every point on the international landscape. And there is a national presidential selection process underway. It seems, in such an environment, that citizens would feel compelled to get themselves fully up to date on news that matters. It also would stand to reason that the nation’s news media would feel an obligation to focus on news of substance.

Instead, too many citizens are woefully uninformed of the day’s significant events. A pandering media, primarily television, is content to post a lowest-common-denominator news agenda, featuring Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” release and extensive tributes to Prince.

Constitutional framer James Madison once famously wrote, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. And a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” Citizens who are unable or unwilling to arm themselves with civic knowledge diminish the nation’s ability to self-govern.

Technological advances have made it easier than ever for citizens to stay informed. The days of waiting for the evening television news to come on or the newspaper to get tossed on your doorstep are long gone. News is available constantly and from multiple sources.

A growing number of citizens, particularly millennials, now rely on social media for “news.” While that might seem like a convenient and timely way to stay informed, those people aren’t necessarily aware of anything more than what their friends had for lunch. Data from the Pew Research Center indicates that about two-thirds of Twitter and Facebook users say they get news from those social media sites. The two “news” categories of most interest among social media consumers, however, are sports and entertainment updates.

Sadly, only about a third of social media users follow an actual news organization or recognized journalist. Thus, the information these people get is likely to be only what friends have posted. Pew further reports that during this election season, only 18 percent of social media users have posted election information on a site. So, less than a fifth of the social media population is helping to determine the political agenda for the other 80 percent.

The lack of news literacy is consistent with an overall lack of civic literacy in our culture. A Newseum Institute survey last year found that a third of Americans failed to name a single right guaranteed in the First Amendment. Forty-three percent could not name freedom of speech as one of those rights.

A study released earlier this year by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni had more frightening results. In a national survey of college graduates, with a multiple-choice format, just 28 percent of respondents could name James Madison as father of the Constitution. That’s barely better than random chance out of four choices on the survey. Almost half didn’t know the term lengths for U.S. senators and representatives. And almost 10 percent identified Judith Sheindlin (Judge Judy) as being on the Supreme Court.

The blame for an under-informed citizenry can be shared widely. The curriculum creep into trendy subjects has infected too many high schools and colleges, diminishing the study of public affairs, civics, history and news literacy.

The television news industry has softened its news agenda to the point where serious news consumers find little substance. Television’s coverage of this presidential election cycle could prompt even the most determined news hounds to tune out. The Media Research Center tracked how the big three broadcast networks covered the Trump campaign in the early evening newscasts of March. The coverage overwhelmingly focused on protests at Trump campaign events, assault charges against a Trump campaign staffer and Trump’s attacks on Heidi Cruz. Missing from the coverage were Trump’s economic plans, national security vision or anything else with a policy dimension.

When the Constitutional Convention wrapped up in 1787, Benjamin Franklin emerged from the closed-door proceedings and was asked what kind of government had been formed. He replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Those citizens who, for whatever reasons, are determined to remain uninformed, make it harder to keep that republic intact. Our nation, suffering now from political confusion and ugly protests, sorely needs a renewed commitment to civic knowledge.

"Anti-Fascism Protest in Chicago" by John W. Iwanski is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 (via Flickr)

“And these children that you spit on,
as they try to change their world”

The observation goes back at least to Bertrand Russell of an inverse correlation between how adamant a person is in their opinion and how much they know about the topic, but nowhere is this more starkly illustrated than when we come to questions of grassroots movement strategy. It seems every pundit this week – from the Daily Show to the New York Times to Fox News – has felt the need to weigh in on the protests that shut down Trump rallies in Chicago and elsewhere. And the consensus is that the protestors are SOOOOOO naïve. As Trevor Noah so respectfully put it: “It’s like trying to put out a fire by putting wood on it.” … “Ah yes, trust Bernie Sanders’s fans to have an unrealistic view of what is actually happening.”

Why this systemic condescension? In the NYT case, we are treated to a poll suggesting that many of those on the other side are really angry about the disruptions. In other cases, it is little more than a priori intuition, or some vague reference to the fact that Trump says he has enemies and now protestors are proving it.

But the question of how to effectively respond to a growing neo-fascist movement – one that has been building in this country for the last 30 years, involves a deeply disaffected and heavily armed population in control of many local governments and with a disproportionate representation among police and the military – is an empirical one. And in the case of most complicated empirical questions, it isn’t a bad idea to actually look at some research before launching into a lecture.

There are a number of routes to gaining knowledge of movement strategy, to a more informed judgment about the likely long-term effects of tactical decisions in a movement. You could read historical accounts of movements around the world and try to discern patterns. (One might start with books like Guns and Gandhi in Africa – ed. Bill Sutherland and Matt Meyer; or Protest, Power, and Change ed. Roger Powers, et al.)

You could read the extensive social science literature on how movements develop and when and how they succeed. (See, for example Why Civil Resistance Works and other work by Erica Chenoweth, or Stellan Vinthagen’s A theory of nonviolent action: how civil resistance works, or a text like Social Movements, by Suzanne Staggenborg, just for starters.)

Or you could gain some skills “on the job” by actually participating in the work over a long period of time. (Or at least read some of the experiences of folks who have, for example the
marvelous collection We Have Not Been Moved, ed. Elizabeth “Bettita” Martinez et al.)

People who are most knowledgeable in all these ways tend to be epistemically humble – to realize that it is very hard to predict the long-term effects of various actions. But they do, at least, realize that there are many complex and often competing dynamics and come to recognize some of the issues that go far beyond the local and immediate reaction. For example, one point of many movements is to make structural violence explicit and obvious. In the Civil Rights Movement, the daily indignities, oppression, and thwarting of life by segregation inflicted all manner of violence on blacks. But this daily violence of the system was easy to ignore. When people sat down in segregated restaurants, or walked together over a bridge, however, preserving the Jim Crow order required the use of literal guns, fire-hoses, chains, beatings, and jail. And the violence of beating children was something that others could see and react to far more easily than daily indignities and “dreams deferred.” Critics then, as now, said that these confrontations precipitated violence. And in one sense, of course they did. That was the whole point. They brought out direct, person-to-person violence. But the violence was always there, just operating in the shadows, where oppression always grows best.

And by pulling violence out of the shadows – turning in-group organizing to deport Latinos, ban Muslims, reintroduce torture, bomb more civilians, demean and oppress women, etc. into an open direct confrontation – one forces the masses of apathetic or undecided Americans to confront the situation. Yes, many of the readers of this blog hear of nothing else, but the majority of Americans do not vote, and are woefully ignorant of what is going on either in towns like Ferguson or in Trump rallies and Klan meetings. The long-term effects on this population is far more important to the evaluation of a movement tactic than the short-term effect on someone already convinced of neo-fascist ideology.

Or consider the way that movements put issues and concepts into the public debate. Would everyone talk about “the 1%” without Occupy? Would anyone be debating “Black Lives Matter” without Black Lives Matter, Ferguson Frontline, and other militant protests?

But the main point is that if you haven’t made an attempt to educate yourself in any of these ways, you really should consider the possibility that you have no opinion worth listening to. Rather than jump on a soap-box and lecture people who have been studying and practicing movement politics their entire life, might I consider listening and learning instead? It may, in the end, be a bad idea to directly confront Trump’s neo-fascist rallies, but the pundits insisting on this haven’t a clue. They aren’t even so much as attending to the complex long-term dynamics of how right-wing movements grow in in various political contexts, of how left-movements are nurtured, developed, and given confidence, or the way that apathetic or ignorant people are pulled into the conflict.

Take a moment to hear from the organizers about their goals and strategic vision. Take a social movements course. Take a movement history course. Take a peace studies course. Take my course Nonviolence: Theory and Practice, or one of the hundreds of similar courses around the country. Go to a meeting of the Peace and Justice Studies Association.

Otherwise, seriously, just stop. The “children” “are immune to your consultations.” And that is a very good thing.