Opinion, Politics

FLIP-FLOPS AREN’T JUST FOR YOUR FEET—Trump’s Ever-Changing Positions on DACA and What That Means

Header Source: Wikimedia Commons


In a move that probably caused the simultaneous bursting of a thousand-thousand Republican aneurysms, President Donald Trump took to Twitter more than a week after his administration announced the end of DACA, the Obama-era program that gave temporary two-year work visas to immigrants who came to the country illegally as minors.

“Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!…..” said Trump in two Tweets. “…They have been in our country for many years through no fault of their own – brought in by parents at young age. Plus BIG border security.”

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Politics, Thinkpiece

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

Header Image Source: CNN


Public figures like Caitlyn Jenner and Ivanka Trump are shying away from disclosing their political activities.

While promoting her new book, Secrets of My Life, Caitlyn Jenner sat down with Andy Cohen at Sirius XM Radio for a town hall-style meeting Wednesday, April 26. Jenner made headlines when she came out as transgender in 2015. In their discussion, Cohen steered the conversation towards politics—Jenner is famously a conservative Republican. Jenner said that she had been making trips to Washington, D.C. but that her influence in politics would be private and unseen.

It was a reiteration of the point she made the night before on CNN with Don Lemon. She said that she would not take up President Trump’s offer to go golfing after he revoked the former administration’s protection for transgender students. However, Jenner said she would go golfing with President Trump in private, because if she did it in public, her community would “go nuts” and ostracize her.

Besides the puzzling contradiction of going on public television to say that you will golf with President Trump in private, Jenner’s statement that much of her involvement in politics would be behind closed doors is troubling at best and dangerous at worst.

Jenner is markedly tone-deaf when it comes to issues of LGBTQ equality. On The Ellen Show, she did not express complete support for same-sex marriage, and that it was an issue that she used to be completely against as a self-identified “traditionalist.” Instead, she said that if “the word marriage is so important to you, then I can support that.” She claimed that the hardest part of being a woman was picking out “what to wear.”

These can be dismissed as tragically unfortunate choices of words, but the root of the issue is that Caitlyn Jenner is a person of immense privilege who wants to speak for, represent and negotiate on behalf of arguably the most disenfranchised and least privileged subsection of the U.S. population.

According to a 2016 Reuters article, “almost 60 percent of transgender Americans have avoided using public restrooms for fear of confrontation, saying they have been harassed and assaulted.” According to the Office for Victims of Crime, one in two transgender individuals are sexually abused or assaulted in their lifetime. 13 percent of African-American transgender people surveyed were sexually assaulted in the workplace, and 22 percent of transgender homeless individuals reported assault whilst staying in shelters.

And while Jenner is transgender, it cannot be denied that for 65 years she presented as a white, privileged man. And after she transitioned, she had unfettered access to the best surgeons and doctors, a private Malibu estate for recovery and no monetary restrictions. Some transgender people choose to not go through surgery, but for those that would like to the costs are usually prohibitive.

Jenner has also been largely isolated from the daily discomfort that many queer people experience every day—catcalling, harassment and discrimination. All of these things, combined with her inexperience with politics and her position as a conservative Republican who voted for Trump, make me uncomfortable that she might be the touchstone for Republicans and the representative of the LGBTQ community. That she would do it with no cameras, at private dinners and meetings behind closed doors is even more concerning.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Ivanka Trump in her interview with Gayle King for CBS News. “I don’t think that it will make me a more effective advocate to constantly articulate every issue publicly where I disagree,” she said. “And that’s okay. That means that I’ll take hits from some critics who say that I should take to the street. And then other people will in the long-term respect where I get to. But I think most of the impact I have, over time most people will not actually know about.”

This idea of silent impact does a few things. Firstly, it absolves people like Trump and Jenner from any responsibility. If you don’t know what they’ve done, you can’t blame them. Secondly, it’s impossible to hold them accountable for anything. If they never pledge any sort of action, it’s impossible to keep them in line. Lastly, it’s difficult expect them to operate within a rational, ethical framework because you have no idea what they’re doing.

And lastly, as a person with unparalleled influence and platform, you don’t get to be private. If Ivanka wanted to operate as a private citizen, she shouldn’t have moved to Washington, D.C. and taken a position in her father’s administration. When she made that deal with the devil, she gave up the right to be private. When you’re operating from the most powerful building in the world, the American public deserve to know what you’re up to. If Caitlyn Jenner wanted to remain private, she shouldn’t have dropped the tantalizing tidbits that she was taking meetings in Washington.

You can’t have it both ways. If you want public power, then you don’t get to wield it privately.

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Politics

SPICER, CHECHNYA AND THE DANGERS OF THE 24-HOUR NEWS CYCLE

On Tuesday, April 11, Press Secretary Sean Spicer mistakenly claimed that, in response to the chemical attack in Syria, not even Adolf Hitler used chemical weapons against people during the Holocaust.

The point was to drive home the notion that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who was suggested as to have ordered the attack, was monstrous for using chemical weapons. Spicer was given the chance to recant and clarify his statements, which he did sloppily and called concentration camps “Holocaust centers.” His statement is false: gas chambers were used to kill Jews (the exact number of dead is estimated in the six millions). In the following minutes, hours and days, Spicer’s malapropism was dissected endlessly. He has since apologized.

In 1980 CNN, the first 24-hour news station, superseded previous models of “nightly news.” With the advent of a continuous news cycle came the need to not only fill the empty hours between breaking stories and crises, but also compete with other cable news outlets. The negative space between reporting led to expert analysis, panelist commentary and soft-news pieces. That model, the culture of commentary, has become so prevalent in the Internet age that continuous news access leads to focus and dissection of the same incident, over and over again. That excessiveness is to the detriment of coverage in other areas.

And while this has been going on, major media outlets do not cover news out of Russia, that more than 100 allegedly gay men have disappeared in Chechnya and according to a Russian newspaper, local authorities are behind it. At least three men have been killed, according to the paper, which released the story on the fourth of April.

And since then, at the time of research, the New York Times has written one article about the kidnappings. The Washington Post has written two. The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and Fox News have not covered it at all. But in the days since Spicer’s mistake, there has been a flurry of activity and articles. Four from the New York Times, 14 from the Washington Post (just on the first search page), four from the Wall Street Journal, one from Fox News and four from the Los Angeles Times. This does not include the hours of screentime dedicated to covering Spicer. All articles took a similar approach to describing the event, and later articles reframed the incident with various angles.

And while major news stations have focused on the salacious scandal of Spicer, smaller outlets like BuzzFeed, TheSkimm, and Teen Vogue, as well as international media like the BBC and The Independent have covered the disappearances.

The independent Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta covered the incidents in Chechnya (in Russia, most media is either associated with or owned by the Kremlin, the central power authority). According to the paper, at least 100 men have disappeared over the last few weeks. When some return, they are badly beaten. Three have died from their injuries. According to Novaya Gazeta, the men are arrested by local authorities who then look through their phones for condemning evidence. These “honor killings” have apparently been under the authority of Chechen provincial leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.

Through spokesman Alvi Karimov, Kadyrov denied the allegations, saying, “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic. If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them since their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.” The Chechen Republic is a conservative Muslim society, where homosexuality is taboo.

Humanitarian groups, like the Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Campaign have called for Russian authorities to recognize these attacks and for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to discuss the kidnappings while in Russia.

It’s highly possible that the reason no new articles have been written about these kidnappings is because there is no new information. However, the fact that, in an age of unprecedented access and information, there can be fourteen articles about a linguistic misstep but one article about the potential systematic killing of queer people is startling. And not just startling, but dangerous.

The 24-hour news cycle breeds an environment of rapid competition. News stations want to keep the attention of their audiences, and to do that, they narrow in on the daily foibles of the Trump administration. They host panels to discuss what Trump meant by his wiretapping claims, Spicer’s comments about the Holocaust, or Kellyanne Conway’s infamous “alternative facts.”

 

In a video discussing political satire, Vox’s Carlos Maza said of the wiretapping claims, “[Major news networks] correctly reported that Trump’s claims were false but then went on to spend segment after segment after segment hosting debates about it…They spent hours fixating on whether there might be evidence at some point down the road maybe that shows Trump wasn’t just making it up.”

The problem, Maza asserts, isn’t that the news stations are inaccurate, but they take “bullshit way too seriously.” These debates serve no purpose but to fill air time, and actually, according to studies, hurt the audience’s ability to identify falsehoods. In other words, saying the same “bullshit” enough times confuses consumers into believing it’s viable.

Maza’s solution is to cover the news the way political satirists like Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah and Seth Meyers do—recognize the bullshit for what it is, and move on to cover actual news. Because while major news outlets spend hours going over the same small blunders, real news slips through the cracks.

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Politics

PROTECT THE PRESS: SHOW YOUR TEETH

I can’t really write about Russia right now because diving into that is like diving into a swamp (pun intended) wearing a lifejacket made of bricks.

But I watched Kellyanne Conway’s interview with Seth Meyers on Late Night and I saw Donald Trump refuse to answer from CNN’s White House Correspondent, calling CNN “fake news.” First of all, we need to retire that term. “Fake news” refers to legitimately false clickbait news, typically churned out by Facebook, that says things like Hillary Clinton running a sex ring out of a pizza shop. Fake news is a nasty phenomenon, but it is not whenever you don’t agree with the news.

Media is taking a huge hit right now. We’re being called biased, fake, unreliable, vindictive. We are supposed to be the bringers of truth, the backbone of the country, and we’re becoming a target.

Conway was saying in the interview that the media is not giving Trump a fair shake, that we’re taking him at his word when we should be reading his intentions. The problem with that, Kellyanne, is that there is no way of reading his intentions. He has no intentions. He flip-flopped on every issue, lied about things in plain sight, shut out the media, ranted on Twitter, built his campaign on the backs of issues targeting immigrants, Muslims and other minorities.

So if we’re reading his intentions and his words, both have negative implications towards the media, minorities, and America.

In her speech at the Golden Globes, Meryl Streep could’ve thanked her fans and her team, something soft and fluffy. But she didn’t. She said that Hollywood, foreigners and the press belong to the most vilified groups in society right now. She said that disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. She spoke on the handicapped reporter whom Trump made fun of—something he denies ever happened, despite video proof.

The reporter was someone Trump outranked in every capacity. He has a habit of doing that; humiliating someone who cannot fight back properly. He has that—excuse my language—trump card over all of us. He holds the highest position in the country. No one is able to fight back. And so that is why we need the press. We need the press to shine light into dark places, to unveil corruption, to show abuses of power.

“We need the principled press to hold power to account…Join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists, because we’re gonna need them going forward, and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.”

Streep ended with something that Carrie Fisher told her.

“Take your broken heart, make it into art.”

And that’s beautiful and poignant. But there was something that Meryl said that caught my ear. It was when she was discussing the reporter and Trump.

“But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good; there was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh, and show their teeth.”

The last three words: “Show their teeth.”

The phrase is an idiom that refers to animals, typically wolves. They bare their teeth when they are angered, when they are showing their true nature.

When they are about to attack.

And even though she said it in connection to the hateful, hating people who laughed with Trump, I can’t help but think of it as something that we—the media, minorities, Americans—need to take onto ourselves.

But animals bare their teeth in other moments, not just attacking. They show their teeth in the defense of something.

Show your teeth.

The media has been under attack for months, but it’s heated up. Trump shut down the CNN reporter, the one person who is allowed access to him. He wouldn’t take his question because he didn’t like CNN. We are being shut out; we are being prevented from doing our jobs.

If the urge in the face of the Trump regime is to normalize him, get on his good side—resist that urge. Don’t normalize. Show your teeth.

We have to be vicious. We have to be fearless. We must continue doggedly in the pursuit of truth. Don’t let yourself be distracted by the petty squabbles he lobs into the media, letting it distract them while he does something even more nefarious. Get angry. Stay angry. Be smart and passionate and educated. Information is not a luxury; it is a necessity.

Show your teeth. Bare them, and don’t back down. Because if we do, everyone suffers. We are the protectors of the truth. Propaganda is a staple in dictatorships; a lack of freedom of the press means that nothing is free. If we don’t have freedom of information, we have nothing.

Do like Meryl; don’t let yourself sit in the softness and sweetness. Push forward; use your voice. Don’t get complacent.

Show your teeth.

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