The Bully’s Pulpit

posted in: Policy Analysis | 1

“The views represented in this opinion piece do not necessarily represent those of the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy.”


I did not vote in the 2016 presidential election. Why would I? I lived in arguably the bluest voting district in the country, directly in the center of Los Angeles. Donald Trump didn’t stand a chance. It was definitively Hillary territory. Like many, I literally “lol-ed” when he announced his candidacy. I quietly shook my head and shrugged off his shenanigans throughout the campaign, because, well… he’s Donald Trump, known for his crass nature and idiotic hype. He delivered what could be expected from a guy whose entire persona revolved around laughably transparent media stunts, a degree of camp that was so unbelievably cheap it could only be taken as wholly intentional or utterly oblivious.

For a period of time, I held onto hope that Bernie Sanders would mop the floor with this hack. Then the Democrats did what they do worst. They quietly agreed that they knew better than the rest of us what was good for the country and torpedoed the popular candidate in favor of the establishment’s choice. Why did the Democratic National Cabal conspire in this—because there was important work yet to be done; to achieve another electoral milestone; because it was her turn? More likely, it was in service of perpetuating the status quo—that of deceit, machination, and plunder, which has forcibly conjoined divergent wingtips of American society in consolidated disdain for “the system”.

Suffice it to say, I categorically refused to vote for Hillary Clinton, and double that for—goddammit, why is this insane clown actually a contender to be the leader of the free world?!?!—Donald Trump. Yet, for a swathe of the population, Hillary represented something much more damning: the end of the white man’s world. These people ferociously embraced the cognitive dissonance required to both accept his buffoonery and reject the realities of our location in time. After eight years of gritting their teeth in the face of the image-savvy Black Kennedys usurping the White House, the caboose of American society was incensed by the prospect of a woman in the Oval Office. Adding insult to injury, that woman. This visceral indignation drove people to the polls, where they spewed in public view what has been smoldering under a veneer of PC culture: that a spiteful minority imbued with the full gamut of isms still believes in White America, replete with tropes of “traditional Christian values” that harken to some imaginary glory of a homogenous ethnostate. All of this vitriol vociferously validated part-and-parcel by their unfiltered emcee.

And so, here we are in the midst of a Trump presidency with salacious exposés of the rampant incompetence and “relative ignorance” at the helm of our national policies, clouded by a revolving cadre of advisors purportedly trying to hold up the tent amid the hailstorm of often incoherent and sometimes desperate tweets. So, who do we blame for this abominable circus? Do we wag our fingers at the media for plastering over substance and national interest with sensation? Do we rage against the self-anointed Taxocrats? Do we scowl and curse Respendicans for selling out their constituents and the environment for profit? Is it all Putin’s fault?

Perhaps it is time we accept that, for all the flaws and facades and nonsense, it was We the People who enabled this man to become President. Perhaps it is time we acknowledge that, more often than not, afforded the same cocoon of impunity and entitlement, many of us might behave the same way. We’d all love to say and do, not exactly the same things, but with equally brazen disregard and fickle self-interest, whatever we want. Maybe even the more sober among us are more like those people than we care to admit. Despite all the chatter of “adults in the room”, we have to ask ourselves how much the willful child in the driver’s seat embodies our individual spirit or ambition.

He could be exactly the president we deserve. He’s obsessed with fast food and shiny tokens. He pursues an agenda that I’m not sure is coherent to anyone, including himself. Though his ramblings scarcely reveal anything resembling a plan, he sometimes has a point. He scratches an itch, then follows through with “We’ll see what happens… What can ya do?… Who knows?”. It might appear quaint if not for the associated tragedy. He glamorizes warfare and imperial superiority from a padded bubble of ignorance. His administration snatches children, assails press freedoms, exalts autocrats, and plays Who’s on First? with reality. How can this be!?

I ask this not about the behavior of a man who is in the same breath a professional huckster and widely acknowledged idiot, but our fascination with the spectacle—that we are so addicted to the drama we relish with morbid curiosity the ensuing calamity on the other side of the commercial break. The Blue Wave revealed two things: 1) Nothing will change, despite the hype of salvation. Committee heads will shuffle, hearings will commence, and Nancy Pelosi will be Speaker once again, none of which will topple The Donald. 2) When his armor is scratched, the President of the United States will thuggishly sidestep his podium and yank away press credentials as his doe-eyed aides fail to yank away microphones. He is devoid of the gravitas of leadership. He absolves himself of civility and bemoans its passing. He is the bully who loses the game and smashes the board. Fortunately, judges are willing to enforce boundaries on the Executive. Investigative institutions seem to maintain their competence and may yet bring effective convictions. But even a tidal wave of freshmen representatives will slap fruitlessly against the bulwark of a Republican Senate committed to its own preservation. We are our only hope to be more than we seem, through our actions and commitment to the institutions we’ve forged. There is no room for “again” in any of this insanity.

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Chris is a veteran of the US Navy, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from California State University - Long Beach, and is a Willy Brandt student in the Conflict Studies and Management Program.

  1. Grisha G

    Thanks for the very interesting dissection and opinions. I find them refreshing and worthwhile of reflection…