Commentary: What just happened?
The events of Nov. 8 are just beginning to sink in for many of us. Experts and voters were rattled by the outcome of the presidential election. If we examine what was going on in the background, it may not come as much of a shock.
The media has had a long fascination with Donald Trump. Known as a reality TV star, he began his campaign for president with a blanket, hateful statement about Mexicans. Before he was a candidate, he led the birther movement, implying that President Barack Obama was not born in this country. Like so many of his statements, Trump needed no proof for what he was saying. While the media and anyone with a taste for the truth dismissed it, Republicans amplified the lie by not denying it. Right wing media and Republican acceptance enabled a tolerance for lies.
The resulting sideshow was a persuasive advertising campaign from a master of reality TV. As Trump was complaining about the press, he was given oxygen by the media coverage to enflame and captivate viewers with his rhetoric. He protested about unfair treatment when the media repeated his statements verbatim.
By the end of the campaign, no one could be sure of what Trump stood for, except for the feeling he was “different” and not a regular politician. Eventually, everyone came to accept outrageous and conflicting opinions, fact checking became irrelevant, and the damage was done. By setting a new low standard, Trump made it acceptable to hold dangerous and racist opinions, with the fiction of saying what voters were thinking. By inflating real world conditions into false beliefs, he was able to sway enough voters to be elected.
It was not just Trump’s strange appeal that won the election. Somehow the media equated Hillary Clinton’s problems with the hate, ignorance and deceit from the Trump machine. There were many factors that eroded voter’s ability to perceive reality. The Republican Senate violated its constitutional duty by refusing to consider Obama’s pick, leaving a Supreme Court justice position unfilled for the better part of a year. For eight years Republicans thwarted Obama’s initiatives at a cost to the country. The FBI dropped a bombshell right before the election, resurrecting a baseless investigation against Clinton, promoted by an anti-Hillary faction within the bureau. This was a step outside the law from a branch of the government that is not supposed to be political.
The rise of false news had an impact on this election. We saw leaks of Democrat emails, hacked by Russians, and spread by the media as facts, without any attempt at determining if they were altered. Trump’s admiration for autocrats like Russian Premier Putin was accepted by his fan base. Russians were streaming propaganda into our media and somehow did not raise suspicions. The fact that Trump was inviting the Russians to attack our democracy was overlooked.
In 2010, Republicans orchestrated an effort to fix Congressional seats by way of gerrymandering districts into safe Republican seats. Enabled by massive amounts of dark money, Republicans won unprecedented successes by focusing on statewide offices, allowing them to shape local politics and arrange the makeup of state legislatures, state offices and the House of Representatives. Many voters had their voices stolen by manipulating elections for the benefit of Republicans.
By gutting the Voting Rights Act in 2013, the Republican-led Supreme Court weakened voters’ rights. The Leadership Conference Education Fund, a civil rights group, found that in the wake of the stripping of the act, states previously being monitored for fairness had shut down 868 polling places affecting minorities. Voter ID laws impacted many more.
All these extralegal and unfair actions amount to a slow motion coup, leaving many Americans without a voice in their future. These strategies were orchestrated by the machinations of civil servants who are supposed to be representing the common good of the American people, but instead work for the few, powered by dark money.
The winner of the majority of votes lost due to an archaic law from the slave era. This is the state of our democracy, that we have seen our government manipulated and had election results swayed by disinformation, deceit, and the powerful. Sadly, most Americans are blind to what just happened, in part by the promotion of opaque processes designed to discourage citizens from participating in politics and by a confusing representation of political reality. It is no wonder that the Oxford Dictionary named “post-truth” the word of the year.
Steve Foreman is a Warren County resident.