In a transcendent moment in American politics, when Vice President-elect Mike Pence entered the theater to see Broadway’s biggest current hit, Hamilton, three things happened. First, he was roundly booed. Second, at the end of the show, the actor who plays Vice President Aaron Burr, Brandon Victor Dixon, read a statement to Pence—VP to VP so to speak–asking the Trump Administration to put to rest the widespread fears of bigotry and a reversal in civil rights. Third, the audience clapped and cheered in support.
Proving yet again that Trump is more tin pot dictator than statesman, he tweeted in response that the cast should “Apologize!” Apparently unknown to Trump, no one has to apologize in the United States for criticizing or making suggestions to government actors. It is quite the opposite, under the First Amendment, which will soon limit his instinct to silence what he does not want to hear.
The Hamilton incident is a welcome reminder that even if Washington will now be run by the likes of Trump and only one party—whose recent history on civil rights is an embarrassment of pandering to a narrow religious agenda—no one is required to respect or honor those who don’t earn it. If they roll back civil rights, mutual respect, and common decency, good people will not go gentle into that good night.
If they won’t protect the vulnerable, well, we will have to.
Many try to evade the Trump universe’s ugliness in full view by explaining their support for President-elect Donald Trump as simply economic, pointing to his stellar success as a businessman. (Ironically, these are the same people who gave Trump a pass on producing his tax returns, which would prove what kind of businessman he really is. Still waiting for those returns. Maybe his $25 million settlement for fraud in the operation of Trump University will pave the way. Or not.)
A problem with this myopic, economics-only vision, however, is that a U.S. President is responsible for so much more, including foreign affairs and civil rights. When experts were asked shortly after the election to sketch their best and worst case scenarios under a Trump Presidency, many said that the key to avoiding the worst case scenarios would be for Trump to pivot from bomb-throwing to choosing non-ideological advisors with expertise. He has not taken that advice. Instead, he is doubling down on far-right ideology.
The following three players threaten the vulnerable. (As an aside, National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn is no pick of the litter either, with his routine refusal to distinguish between law-abiding Muslims and terrorists. It is an indefensible leap, and he and Trump have made a category mistake that threatens harm to millions of good Muslims in the United States. It is also an unnecessary ignition of political discourse as I discuss here.)
V.P. Mike Pence: Anti-Gay, Anti-Reproductive Rights, and Pro-Extreme Religious Liberty to Benefit His Own Faith
Trump’s early construction of a hate-driven Administration starts with his running mate, Mike Pence, who made his priorities clear at the Republican National Convention: “I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” His Dark Ages anti-gay positions are well-documented here and here (The last article also shows that he is just stupid on science, claiming that smoking does not kill.)
Pence also hearkens back to the 1950s on race relations, as it is his view we should just quit talking about the built-in biases based on race in police departments. This argument to squelch uncomfortable discourse in the public square is clearly in line with Trump’s view of the First Amendment’s “free marketplace of ideas,” after Trump told his supporters who were harassing minorities to simply, “Stop it,” which was spoken like an authoritarian in a non-democratic society, and then said that the protests against his election were “horrible.” Neither one of them appreciates the value of idea exchange in the marketplace, preferring to prioritize theirs and shut down the ones they find inconvenient.
Pence is also a longtime leader in the attack on women’s reproductive rights. He has been a leader among state governors in backing the incarceration of women for so-called late term abortions and is responsible for putting an Indiana woman in jail for what she claimed was a stillbirth. He also would have redefined “rape” as “forcible rape,” among other prehistoric positions. No doubt, part of his (and Donald Trump’s) agenda in discarding the Affordable Care Act is to end the mandatory coverage and particularly cost-free coverage of reproductive health care to women.
Pence also wants to torque the culture toward freeing religious believers from the burden of obeying the laws that apply to everyone else. He has been an outspoken supporter of extreme religious liberty statutes, which have been derived in part from the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a wrongheaded and prime example of bad public policy as I discuss here.
Pence started his drive to empower the religious at the risk of the vulnerable, with an Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act that would have fostered discrimination against the LGBT community in the marketplace, and everywhere else. Market forces erupted and Indiana was forced to “fix” it by excluding the marketplace from its reach. At that time, I saw the beginning of the end of the state RFRAs, but the market forces blinked and fell short of eliminating the RFRA altogether. The “fixed” RFRA left in place a license for employers to discriminate against LGBT workers in Indiana. Thus, the resulting RFRA is still a license to discriminate against LGBT in employment and to empower religious actors to harm others in a myriad of situations.
As if that is not enough extreme protection, a lawsuit has been filed against the “fix” so that Christian businesses in the marketplace can secure that treasured right to discriminate against gay purchasers. The far right in this lawsuit are railing against having to comply with a “human rights commission.”
In January 2016, Pence backed an even more extreme religious liberty bill, as I discuss here. That bill did not pass, but it proves that he will do anything apparently for conservative Christian voters to harm others. And harm they will, as the hanger-wielding mother proved when she invoked the Indiana RFRA to defend horrendous abuse inflicted on her young son. Sadly, instead of being put in jail where she belonged, she received probation in a plea deal, which is consistent with RFRA’s slippery slope mandate that the government use the “least restrictive means” of punishing religious wrongdoers. Let’s face it, a plea deal is “less restrictive” for this religiously motivated child abuser than jail time.
White House “Chief Strategist” Stephen Bannon: Self-Proclaimed “Nationalist” and Proud Father of Platform for Racists, Misogynists, and Xenophobes
Stephen Bannon is now Trump’s “chief strategist” and the Executive Chairman of Breitbart News Network, which is known for its misogynist, racist, and xenophobic screeds. He proudly credits himself with creating a platform for the “alt-right,” who have been mobilized in the wake of the Trump victory, and who are celebrating and pledging to pursue identity-based politics for the white people.
If there is such a person in Trump’s coterie, Bannon appears to be the historian. He has bragged that Trump follows in the footsteps of President Andrew Jackson: “Mr. Trump’s political rise to that of Andrew Jackson, the military general and populist hero who took on the political and social elite of his day as the seventh president of the United States.” Bannon’s choice of Jackson is not surprising given Jackson’s strong support for the racist Indian Removal Act, which the Library of Congress summarizes as follows:
The Indian Removal Act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830, authorizing the president to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders. A few tribes went peacefully, but many resisted the relocation policy. During the fall and winter of 1838 and 1839, the Cherokees were forcibly moved west by the United States government. Approximately 4,000 Cherokees died on this forced march, which became known as the “Trail of Tears.”
Trump’s (obviously spurred by Bannon) intent to drive millions of undocumented workers out of the United States, if implemented, will go down in history as a “trail of tears” on steroids.
The misogyny and homophobia of the Breitbart site under Bannon’s guidance is stomach-turning. It is no surprise that the honey badger, which is an ugly animal in the weasel family, is its mascot. This choice is poetic in a sense, given that half of its name denotes sweetness but it is in fact ugly, nasty, aggressive, and dangerous and tends to live alone in burrows underground.
Where Bannon’s relationship with Breitbart begins or ends now that he is in the White House is unclear. But that is hardly surprising in an Administration where the president-elect has pledged to create a so-called “blind trust” of his business holdings for his kids to run but who continues to consult and bring those same kids with him in his role as president-elect.
Attorney General Nominee Sen. Jeffrey Sessions: Anti-Gay, 100% Pro-Life, and Fan of Extreme Religious Liberty
With the appointment of Sen. Jeff Sessions for Attorney General of the United States, Trump has further indicated that his Administration will empower the indefensible at the expense of the vulnerable. As the attorney general, Sessions would be the federal gatekeeper on civil rights, directing the Department of Justice’s civil rights division and litigation. He seems like a poor pick unless your goal is to achieve the policy agendas represented by Pence and Bannon.
Sessions was alleged to be too racist to receive a federal judgeship thirty years ago. That did not undermine his political career in Alabama, however, where he was elected attorney general in 1994 and became a U.S. Senator in 1998. Shortly after he left, and surely with his blessing, Alabama amended its Constitution to add one of the most extreme RFRAs in the country.
Like Pence’s, Sessions’s view is circumscribed by a conservative Christian spyglass. Sessions agreed with the Hobby Lobby decision that permitted a for-profit company to invoke the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to avoid paying for female employees’ reproductive health care. And he had this to say about the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the constitutionality of same-sex marriage in the Obergefell case:
Where the family is not the center of American life, government is . . .Today’s ruling is part of a continuing effort to secularize, by force and intimidation, a society that would not exist but for the faith which inspired people to sail across unknown waters and trek across unknown frontiers.
The right to life folks can barely contain their glee over Session’s nomination. He has a “100%” record on pro-life issues since he became a Senator. Others have identified him as a disaster for civil rights across numerous categories from race to immigration to LGBT rights. Both sides are correct.
Where Are the Children?
The positions above threaten women, LGBT, and minorities. Yet, the most vulnerable in our society are the children, but they are nowhere to be found on the agendas of Trump or his extreme nominees. Only the unborn matter in the Trump political universe so far. True that his daughter Ivanka said during the campaign that she would like to see better child care at work, and his wife Melania said, in one of the most ironic moments in American political history, that she would like to end bullying. It is not hard to guess that children are simply “women’s issues” in a Trump world: second-order and easily forgettable in the long list of adult’s rights that he and his nominees intend to roll back.
There is an epidemic of child sex abuse in the family and the very churches that his nominees intend to protect, not to mention schools, universities, and sports. It’s not just “trafficking” but homegrown debilitating and destructive abuse that our society pays for everyday in the burden on our healthcare system to treat the victims and on prosecutors to pursue the child predators our culture conceals. Stranger Danger is a tiny percentage of the problem. Surely, Trump, his advisors, and his nominees read the daily media reports of children sexually assaulted by trusted adults. Yet, they are mute and these children are nowhere to be found on their giddy agenda to make America “great” again. Here is a fact: America was never “great” when it came to protecting children from sex abuse, and there is a great deal left to be done.
To Sum Up
The election of Donald Trump has unleashed forces that have not been so boldly empowered since before the Civil Rights Acts. Incidents of racism, sexism, and hate have increased dramatically. It is unlikely that Trump will own this dark contribution to our social fabric, because he is first and foremost a narcissist who satisfies all nine criteria for the clinical diagnosis, but he is personally responsible for his ugly remarks during the campaign and for the white men with disturbing histories that he has brought aboard his will-to-power train.
Trump spouts words about caring for America and the American people but only when they serve his drive to power; his actions circle back to stroking his own ego, from grabbing “pussy” in his late 50s, to racist and extremist discourse for the sole purpose of getting votes, to seeking the presidency as part of a billionaire’s bucket list without the knowledge or foundation to care for the United States as it needs and deserves. That his actions are motivated solely by his enormous ego rather than experience, study, or wisdom is a tragedy waiting to be written. He lacks the deep humility that makes those in power great in history.
The white men he is putting into power in his Administration provide further evidence that a Trump Administration will encourage and embolden some of the worst corners of our society—regardless of what they accomplish for the economy. Let’s hope a Trump Administration improves the economy against the expectations of many economists, but that is just one part of a President’s obligation to all Americans. History will judge Trump on many other metrics.
Based on Trump’s rhetoric and early nominees, gays, women, minorities, and children will have their status and rights reduced over the next four years. The vulnerable are at risk unless the private sector speaks, mobilizes, and acts at every opportunity. Long live the Hamilton cast and its audience.