Rationalizing Normalization: “He tells it like it is.”
Normalizing the election of a KKK endorsed candidate
A few months prior to the 2016 Presidential Election, the New Yorker’s cartoon department began to produce some of the most thoughtful political cartoons. One ingeniously designed cartoon depicts sheep eyeing a billboard of a wolf running for office with the slogan, “I am going to eat you.” The sheep’s response is, “He tells it like it is,” a mantra for electorates from sea to shining sea.
The 2016 election has been one of the most unique U.S. Presidential elections when considering race and class. White populism countered arguments of white hegemony’s death. The exposure of traditional political practices were found to be unsatisfactory. This exposure then turned into unjustifiable rage for the public. One candidate’s inability to explain their bigotry and misogyny was justified by subsequent incidents of bigotry and misogyny. The other candidate was a typical politician who exposed how the American political system has only exceptions to the rules. Americans are now left with a president they did not vote for but must come to a resolution as to how they will deal with one of the two “evil’s” up for election.
A week prior to the election, I recently met up with a friend whom I had not seen in some time. I thought they leaned further left than I remembered but was surprised by their decision to vote for a third party candidate. After taking an online position quiz, they told me, their ideology followed the Republican ticket, but they refused to vote for Donald J. Trump based on his character. This notion seemed flawed and infantile but real nonetheless. I was shocked by the blatant ignorance of what policy changes could be made by each candidate even third party candidates let alone by the focus of character being the driving factor. After the election, I immediately thought back to this interaction, which led me to believe there was much more to this election than policy.
As an educator, I was left with the responsibility with explaining this mess to my students on November 10th, 2016. Prior to the election, as many had assumed, I thought the election of Hillary Clinton would continue the status quo and stave off the conservative and bigoted movements found in Europe. Most all students who attend the school I work at are of Mexican descent. I knew the implications of this election would have major ramifications on my students and the results of the election would mean more to them than me. We were all wrong. I ditched any semblance of a normal class filled with content and gave an overview of how a KKK endorsed candidate won, what it meant to my students, and what their responses should be.
How Donald J. Trump Prevailed in the 2016 Presidential Election
Upon arriving early to work the day after the election and feeling the heavy, ominous fog of defeat from my students, I had not prepared much to share with my World History and Civics (American Government) students. After perusing through various media outlets prior to their attendance, I found an interactive New York Times map (below) explaining that most of the change in votes from 2012 to 2016 were found in America’s “Rust Belt”. A short anecdotal history of the region was required for a room full of 15-year-olds. It helped them understand that the promise of jobs for most Americans in this region have largely been lies as they have gone overseas and how Americans have misunderstood the implications of globalization. Beyond this point, I argued many of those jobs are not coming back to the United States. This prompted another quick anecdotal overview of what globalization is and how the Bretton Woods system has largely been the trigger for U.S. economic hegemony over the last 60 years.
I then turned to race and education as an explanation for the outcome of the election with voter turner statistics pointing to educated and misinformed whites largely voting for the KKK endorsed candidate. The impact of these two key aspects become even more relevant when put into context that (1) the number of votes by people of color have increased greatly, (2) the shear number of whites who voted, and (3) the change in who voted for which party. Charts from USA Today (below) give evidence to the numbers, but the impact of them need further explanation.
The issue of race in this election explains (1) how this may be the last election that traditional white Republicans will be elected, possibly for decades, as long as Democrats include job training as part of their platform for poorer whites. If the conservative promise of “…bring back our jobs” followed a more realistic, globalized, and technologically contemporary plan, the KKK endorsed candidate might have a chance to deliver on his promise. At this point, I told my students, candidly, that those jobs will never come back. Along with that, demographically, America from now until 2050 will be increasingly more diverse to a point where white Americans will be outnumbered.
In understanding the concept of “white voters”, I made sure to inform my students that (2) the large numbers of votes Donald J. Trump received reflected a “white voter” platform. At no point did he make the effort to properly include “others” into his ideology, thus winning the election by encouraging whites, and whites alone, to get out and vote. The previous explanation about changing demographics coincides with this explanation as it pertains to Trump's focus during the campaign.
The choice between two unlike-able candidates (3) left voters in the precarious position of choosing to vote for a candidate who did not seem to fit their political tastes. At this point, I had some confused looks from my students. The nuances of explaining the ins-and-outs of why people choose to vote for a certain candidate or issue is not normally perplexing, but a 15-year-old’s understanding of American politics is limited by time, money, and (in my case) language acquisition. I did my best to explain what “voter apathy” was for the left and “disenchantment” is for the right. Beyond these two aspects, it was almost required that I address the racist rhetoric coming for the President elect and his white nationalist supporters. I then explained how the “hope and change” of the Obama Campaign, along with the coalition it created, found themselves hopeless and unchanged by the Clinton Campaign, thus contributing to the apathy. I also included the point that poor campaigning by the Clinton Campaign, which included how traditional white Democrats were hung out to dry as issues on the economy slipped through the cracks while civil, social, and environmental rights rose to the top of their party’s platform, left these voters unimpressed. The previously listed factors in explaining the issues of the two candidates boiled down to a capitalist notion for my students with the following quote by Michael Albert, an economist:
Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.
As I kept the conversation at their level, I compared the campaigns to simple capitalist economics: selling ideas is just as relevant as selling products; supply and demand. The party that represents their and their parents’ interests were outsold in the market of American politics.
The Rationalization (Not Normalization) of Discrimination
Again, the New Yorker made my point with the publication of another cartoon. With all the firebrand, the traditional white support, and the overt sexism and racism, Donald J. Trump is going to be our president. As media began to come to this realization, so too did their understanding of it. Even the expression they chose to use to understanding his words, actions, and promises was a signifier of their new understanding: “normalizing”.
The statement from The Nation about the media portraying as a “normal” candidate was a move in the correct direction in redefining a KKK endorsed president. The fault in the traditional American pastime of taking concepts and phrases, adding an abnormal suffix, and subjecting the totality of it to the world for adaptation, leads us to understanding the term “normalizing” as something becoming the “norm”, even if it is the antithesis of traditional behavior and thought. There is no doubt the word exists; Foucault’s use of it is success enough for any skeptic to be accepting of it. The use of the word “normalize” in this manner is to convey how Donald J. Trump’s personality, lifestyle, and motivations cannot be accepted as a traditional politician. “Rationalizing” is a more appropriate term or phrase as it explains how Donald J. Trump was elected the President of the United States. Americans, lay or not, over the last year have used “normalizing” as a euphemism for “rationalizing” in explaining the behavior of an outdated braggart. If normalizing such a terrible example of a human being has brought about a rationalization for him, then it is best understood he and his views were abnormal from the start. In rationalizing his normality, he then becomes nothing less than the norm for society as a whole. The magnitude of this danger is beyond any rationalizing any type of a modern norm.
The Byproduct of the Rationalization
With as much passion as I had when I delivered the above information to my students, they were just as concerned about the status of their undocumented family members, their Affordable Care Act health insurance, their ability to pay for an increasingly expensive college experience, and their rights as people of color. Specifically, they wanted to know how the election of a misogynistic bigot would affect them and their families’ futures. Explaining or even guessing the future is futile, but as most of my students cannot or do not grasp the concept of time travel, they still demanded an answer. The larger question they were asking was how people of color would fair in a Trump America.
In extraordinarily overt terms, Donald J. Trump has denigrated nearly every minority group in America. For my students’ sake, I reverted back to the traditional explanation of how the United States federal government functions when creating policies. The procedure is often assumed to be understood by most of the lay population, but its merits are worth teaching it in a slow and steady manner.
James Madison’s intent with outlined checks and balances in the U.S. Constitution was to ensure, “each may be a check on the other that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights.” Each year I point this out to my students. Their understanding of it is a vital piece in passing my class and attaining Colorado State Standards, as are the fundamental aspects that make up the Constitution. Proceeding through this discussion with my students in mind, I chose to use policy examples from the Trump Administration which would intersect with their lives: abortion, immigration, gay rights, voting rights, gun rights, welfare, etc. They took the low hanging fruit quickly and wanted to know how immigration policy would materialize over the next four to eight years. I explained how the deportation of undocumented immigrants through the legislative process: congressional proposal, executive approval, and judicial confirmation. A girl in one class asked about abortion and women’s rights. Again, I pointed to the legislative process as being about the agenda of Donald J. Trump. The point was not translating as judicial review is not a traditionally palatable process, and students began to ask more questions about how I was coming to the conclusion.
With the election of a candidate representing the conservative fringe, the Supreme Court’s ideological shape is destined to tilt toward said fringe. Donald J. Trump has the ability to appoint one, if not four Supreme Court justices over the course of his tenure. Antonin Scalia’s death was appropriately addressed by President Barack Obama nominating Merrick Garland, only to be stymied by Republican opposition as they hoped a traditional Republican would nominate a more conservative justice like Scalia. With three other justices being over the age of 78, the likelihood of Trump naming more than one new justice is the materializing into the suggestion to my students: people of color are highly likely to lose civil and voting rights, health care coverage, and protection from an far reaching, racialized justice system. The approval and dictation of legislation by a conservative fringe executive, whose core coalition’s approval rationalized, not normalized, the move of his ideology to the center, will leave my students on the outside of the political system when the affirmation of a skewed judicial branch realigns civil rights, ethics procedures, and American life to follow the traditionally, white male-led America.
The Appropriate Response
Once the full understanding of how a Trump Administration might affect my students’ lives, they asked about next steps. My only response was to look forward to the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential election. Specifically, I asked them to be politically active and take part of a campaign they deem vital to their existence. As I teach most of them in a small school, over the course of three years one of the key pieces of information I dispense is advocacy in every area of their lives. Suggesting all of them take part in the future of their civic lives was not much of a difficult sell.
My pedagogy would not be authentic if my own candid remarks to my students did not follow up with corresponding actions. I have given little to others’ political efforts. I have donated money to candidates whose ideas align with mine, but the amount time dedicated is what has waned for me. I was a representative in my local/state teacher’s union and have been the political and campaign lead for them, but only for a short period of time. Walking, knocking, and calling is the most I have participated. I have struggled to get my students to attend public meetings and I cannot say that I have done my part in pushing them for more than I have done myself.
From this presidential election, I have made a vow to be more politically active. Trevor Noah, cleverly, explained how our twenty-first century lives have allowed users and constituents to apathetically take part when he states, “People are now allowed to protest in their underwear. That almost defies what protesting should be about.” Beyond the apathy, the even scarier and dismal prospects from a civil rights destroying Trump Administration propel me into more political action.
John Broich, Associate History Professor from Case Western Reserve University, recently wrote a piece about about how media around the world “normalized” a vibrant Nazi Party, a magnanimous Adolf Hitler, and an anti-democratic fascist Mussolini. In it he states:
When Hitler’s party won influence in Parliament, and even after he was made chancellor of Germany in 1933 — about a year and a half before seizing dictatorial power — many American press outlets judged that he would either be outplayed by more traditional politicians or that he would have to become more moderate. Sure, he had a following, but his followers were “impressionable voters” duped by “radical doctrines and quack remedies,” claimed the Washington Post. Now that Hitler actually had to operate within a government the “sober” politicians would “submerge” this movement, according to The New York Times and Christian Science Monitor. A “keen sense of dramatic instinct” was not enough. When it came to time to govern, his lack of “gravity” and “profundity of thought” would be exposed.
In fact, The New York Times wrote after Hitler’s appointment to the chancellorship that success would only “let him expose to the German public his own futility.” Journalists wondered whether Hitler now regretted leaving the rally for the cabinet meeting, where he would have to assume some responsibility.
The fear may be far fetched and hyperbolic, but history’s interpretation is there for the taking. Hayden White states historical narratives are a , “…mixture of adequately and inadequately explained events, a congeries
of established and inferred facts, at once a representation that is
an interpretation and an interpretation that passes for an explanation
of the whole process mirrored in the narrative.” The narrative of Donald J. Trump’s election is a smokey facade of fascism. Traditionally, where there is smoke there is fire. I do not doubt Hayden White’s assumption, but I hope Americans know more than just an understanding of history, not “an interpretation of an interpretation.” Rather, I hope our understanding of history leads us to understand what the 2016 presidential election was really about: telling us like it is.