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Editor at ReformerMag, Writing on Governance, Institution, and Liberalism.

Political engagement and sensationalism are not the same

Moral arguments will never take down Trump

It feels like the world is on fire. At least that’s what it may feel like if you’re tuned into US politics and Donald Trump these days; and let’s be honest that’s hard to avoid, what other country seems to be at the brink of bringing about the end of humanity in a nuclear-powered tantrum.

On top of having to worry about the threat of extinction, we also need to deal with the onslaught of “un-presidential” tweets from the commander-in-chief. Trumps favorite tool of communication and misinformation, a milestone being tracked by The Washington Post which has created this nifty interactive site to help us keep track of all the lies Trump has told (2,001 as of writing).

By now, and a year after his election, it’s impossible that any of us have managed to escape exposure to one of the many Trump “scandals”, each being touted as his newest low. The latest “shithole” event falling well in line of this coverage with CNN reporting it as his “new rock bottom”.

Yet, no matter how many of these “scandals” happen, and no matter how much coverage is given to them by the media, Trump seems to escape unscathed. How come? This can be attributed to several elements, some political and some social, but both pointing to an infantile approach to politics.

The naughty president

The perception of the politics of Donald Trump would make us believe that his policies and his stances are outliers, this is multiplied by the audaciousness of his behaviour and his lack of decorum. But this interpretation is a heavily biased one, one that hinges on an obsession with manners and decorum. If anything, this bias is an acknowledgment of the classist nature of politics – an idea core to Trumps campaign and strategy as an outsider.

The moral line of argument against what is or isn’t presidential will not hold one bit against the very claim that the political circuits have been run as exclusive clubs for pampered/entitled legacies. This is where the much loved “saying it as it is” comes in, for Trump supporters anything he says becomes a reflection of the reality he has already set up and a reality that they believe.

This “reality” propped by lies, also has a foundation in truth, a reality that has seen the US have a slow recovery from the crash of 2008 and a continues failed foreign policy. These are the realities felt by Trump supporters who see themselves, like him, as embattled citizens. As such, hope is the only thing needed to sustain these supporters, and to believe they have hope, nothing more is needed than them hearing what they want in the patriarchal form they are familiar with.

As for the obvious lies and deceits, well, what do they matter? Politics is dirty business and the ends justify the means, if he needs to lie to get a few people in line and get them doing what’s best for them then power to him. As for Trump benefiting from the decisions he’s making, what’s the problem? He’s worked hard hasn’t he? We elected him president and we trust him.

Its for these very reasons that the bid to impeach Trump is going horribly. As the writers over at the National Review have noted impeachment has a lot more to do with public opinion than actual legal precedence.

The good guys

Trump supporters are not the only ones who participating in this form of confirmation bias. Those who consider themselves on the progressive side of the argument are as quick to jump the gun and fire nothing but blanks. The arguments against him are moral in nature, and irrespective of how accurate they are (which they are) they can easily be dismissed as denial and liberal claptrap. Its exactly what got Trump elected in the first place, a gross miscalculation of the appetite of the general public.

It's this that makes the entire scenario dystopian, the inability for progressives to see just how their equally relentless and blind adherence to the same rhetoric that lost the election continues to fuel and power Trump’s embattled position. Rhetoric, that if left unchanged will see Trump coast into a second term. If you think this is a just an over-reaction you should take some time to read this excellent article.

It would be wrong to blame the entire moral rhetoric on activists, there is good work being done on the ground to elect progressive and Democratic candidates through mainstream political process. The blame is shared here with media outlets that have commodified outrage, irrespective of what side of this fence you may fall on.

Coverage absent of concrete analysis dependent on opinion or the sparring of some or another “expert” has reduced the entirety of media coverage to a boxing match. The ubiquitous “fake media” may not be fake, but it certainly is vacant of any substance. Its this simplistic and reactionary reporting that has won Trump supporters worldwide as someone standing up to a global system that has failed, something I have written about in 2016. Its only through this lens that the bizarreness of UK citizens attempting to arrest Sadiq Khan for “co-operating with terrorists and placing himself above the law, and said the mayor had no right to criticize Trump” makes sense.

The politics of it

This process of sensationalist reporting becomes extremely clear when the politics, away from the media fluff, is inspected more closely.

Here, one will quickly notice how the exceptional treatment of Trump has dwarfed the many injustices that have come before him.

When it comes to immigration policy, which is seen as the most divisive, a la deportation, or racist, a la travel ban, the argument usually utilized by progressives is a humanitarian and moral one – it is wrong to block people coming in from specific countries because of their religious affiliation, and, it is wrong to break up families. But does a sovereign nation not have the right to enforce its immigration laws?

This was the argument I heard when I interviewed a Trump supporter last year. It’s an argument that is difficult to argue against, if a country can’t enforce its own laws then something is terribly amiss. The question then becomes are these the right laws? Well, these laws have not changed much over the decades, what has changed is a more rigorous enforcement of them on a moral backdrop. People who acted illegally will be treated as such.

On issues of racism, we are quick to forget that Black Lives Matter was a movement that found its breath in the Obama years, police brutality against minorities is not a new thing, neither was anything done about it under his 8 years. The same can be said to the system of incarceration where private jails and the thriving of their inhumane lobbying efforts. When it comes to foreign policy, Trump has also kept inline with the previous administrations policies to bring around the much promised “winning”.

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His threats of cutting aid, even to the Palestinian peace process and the UN is nothing but another move on the chessboard of national balance of power and is the very way these aid deals got there to begin with, as a way to manipulate global sympathy with the US, why is removing them seen as any different?

The ego comes first

This is not to say that opposition to Trump is unjustified, it is. Simply pointing out that these policies have been around for long before Trump doesn’t make them any more desirable. But the fact that a reaction to them has sprung up now reveals a worrying convenience.

Opposing Trump and not his policies, allows a bypass of critically assessing where past allegiances lay. Sticking to moral and superficial opposition excuses the task of asking difficult questions that extend beyond perceptions of right and wrong. A path that may lead to asking how else can the US maintain its global dominance besides the balance of power games it plays internationally?

Moral outrage also excuses us from taking a solid stance and actively acting against something, it leaves us in a comfortable enough mode of opposition as opposed to a proactive constructive stance that requires significantly greater energy to suggest progressive policy alternatives and personal risk.

To excuse ourselves from these responsibilities, we lean on moral tropes and intellectualisation by inventing convenient concepts like post-truth, as if politics and truth ever had anything to do with each other.

The ghost of Plato

In The Republic, Plato wrote that its only natural for democracies to regress into tyrannies. He claimed that this will happen on account of the great personal liberties that are found in democracies, liberties that soon make citizens forget the true grit needed to maintain and protect freedom. Soon enough, he argued, a threat to this liberty will come about, and a tyrant will swoop in to defend it only to use his newfound power to transform society to his liking.

Both extremes of our political reality today, outrage and hope, are symptoms of the same disease, a lack of understanding of RealPolitik. This leaves us in an empty and meaningless entrenchment in the social currency of political sensationalism. It’s time then that we abandon whatever notions of morality and hope we have when it comes to our political affairs and start building a future on more concrete foundations with more political engagement around the topics that matter themselves.

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