Dear members of Congress,
Many of your constituents have been reaching out to you because we’ve watched in horror as people like Steve Bannon—who has well-known white supremacist and sexist ideologies—have been appointed to important positions on Trump’s transition team. We are afraid of what these appointments represent, and we are asking you to speak out against them.
When I sent my congressman an email asking him to join his colleagues in denouncing the appointment of Mr. Bannon, he replied, “As a Member of the House of Representatives, I will not play a role in selecting or confirming Executive Branch officials, but I do appreciate your concerns.”
He missed the point.
Many of us feel alarmed. We feel panicked, and we need reassurance that our elected officials will speak up for us. There may be a lack of “authority” to undermine one of Trump’s appointments, but this is not an excuse to remain silent in the face of the violence that this appointment represents.
If you’ve remained silent, it tells those of us on the margins that we aren’t valuable enough to speak up for. We aren’t worth your time to pause for a moment and say, “hold up—this isn’t okay. This isn’t normal.”
Trump has been not-so-subtly making it clear how unbendable his ear is. The silence on this issue from many members of Congress feels eerily in line with an administration that appears to be undermining the traditional back-and-forth that defines our democracy.
Attacks on the Press
Earlier this month, VP-elect Pence attended a performance of Hamilton. The cast, in true democratic fashion, took a moment to publicly plead with the elected official after the show’s conclusion. “We sir,” a cast member read, “we, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us—our planet, our children, our parents—or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.”
It didn’t take long for Trump to take to Twitter, call that public plea to an elected official “harassment,” and demand an apology. Do you see what’s happening here? When a democratic outcry to an elected official gets labeled as “harassment” by the president-elect, it establishes a new, unfamiliar baseline of normalcy.
And this is not normal.
When Trump took to Twitter later that week to announce he would not go forward with a previously scheduled meeting with the New York Times because, he claimed, they tried to change the terms of their meeting, he demonstrated that he could cherry pick which outlets have access to him and punish those who don’t cover him in a pristine light.
Even though a spokesperson for the New York Times explained that they did not, in fact, attempt to change the ground rules and the meeting did eventually take place, are we to just ignore this bullying of journalists and major publications who try to cover Trump and disseminate information to the American public? You know what it is when a president in a democracy is scrutinized by the press? Normal.
You know what’s not normal? Presidential tantrum throwing over said scruinty or attempts to establish a selective “free press.”
Conflicts of Interest
When Trump met with the New York Times, he responded to their questions about his investments and business interests conflicting with his role as president by saying “The law’s totally on my side” and “The president can’t have a conflict of interest.”
But legal isn’t synonymous with ethical.
One Asian diplomat has already said of Trump’s DC hotel, “Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House so I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’ Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say, ‘I am staying at your competitor?’”
The fact that diplomats are already acknowledging their intention to seek favor with the president by paying into his business ventures is not normal.
Instead of selling off business ventures or having them held in a blind trust as past presidents have done, Trump has said that his kids will take over handling business matters during his presidency.
Then, in what ThinkProgress dubbed, “A middle finger to democracy,” Trump simultaneously appointed those children to his transition team and even had his daughter, Ivanka, sit in on a meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister.
Trump’s overlapping business and presidential interests are an unprecedented, unethical mess that makes our country vulnerable.
The Trump family seems to want to dip their toes in and out of the Washington, DC living experience. Melania plans to live out the rest of the school year in New York with their son, Barron, which will cost an exorbitant amount in security fees and wreak havoc on the city of New York.
Trump himself has stated that he will live in the White House—because apparently the president actually living in the president’s home is now up for debate.
But even more concerning than the family’s lukewarm commitment to the presidency is the transition team itself. And Bannon isn’t the only member of Trump’s transition team with connections to hate groups and alarming ideologies.
Frank Gaffney, Jr. has been added to Trump’s security team. Gaffney has been labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as “one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes.” He also founded the Center for Security Policy, which the SPLC calls “a conspiracy-oriented mouthpiece for the growing anti-Muslim movement in the United States.”
Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions has been nominated to serve as attorney general. The SPLC calls Sessions “a champion of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant extremists.” According to SPLC, Sessions regularly attends events hosted by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which the SPLC has named as a hate group. According to SPLC, “In 2015, Sessions received the ‘Keeper of the Flame’ award from the anti-Muslim hate group, Center for Security Policy (CSP), run by Frank Gaffney.”
Nikki Haley has been nominated as UN Ambassador. In 2011, Haley, in her official capacity as the Governor of the State of South Carolina, was named in a lawsuit filed by multiple civil rights organizations, including the ACLU, the National Immigration Law Center, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The lawsuit alleged that a South Carolina law that required police to demand papers proving citizenship or immigration status during traffic stops and criminalized everyday interactions with undocumented immigrants was unconstitutional.
Then there’s Trump’s nomination of Grand Rapids billionaire Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education. Not only has Devos never worked in public education in any capacity, she is also a staunch proponent of school voucher programs. In 2000, her family injected millions into a Michigan ballot campaign to push for vouchers. It failed. Not only are her lack of education credentials combined with her blatant disregard for public school education alarming, but she is also the sibling of Erik Prince, the founder of the private military contractor Blackwater.
Multiple transition team and cabinet appointments of people who have been deeply criticized by the SPLC should be sounding alarm bells.
The Rising Influence of Neo-Nazism
Appointing people with neo-Nazi ties and establishing foundational language to challenge free speech isn’t funny, it isn’t normal, and it isn’t something that can be shrugged off. If unchecked and unchallenged, these become the beginning stages of dismantling our democracy.
Using Trump as a vehicle, white nationalists are driving straight into the oval office.
This should alarm every single American. It should alarm members of Congress. These are not partisan issues but issues of American freedom.
Silence at every step is complicity, and we can’t afford to be complicit. We don’t have time to sit on our hands and take a wait and see approach.
A couple of weeks ago, Twitter user Pookleblinky unleashed an epic tweet-storm that laid out the inherent danger of normalizing these events or remaining silent. Drawing on historical examples, the author outlined the chilling pattern with which fascism accumulates power.
The Twitter user calls each appointment and morally questionable maneuver “a test of his enemies and supporters.” In other words, silence or looking away are complicit nods, the passing of an “obedience test,” if you will.
Each new obedience test, the author says, will occur, “after the results of the last have been sufficiently normalized.” These tests, they say, will “determine how far supporters will go and how little enemies will do.”
Speaking out against these things is the bare minimum (and easiest) step toward refusing to normalize problematic appointments and totalitarian presidential behavior.
The Atlantic recently released a video of a man named Richard B. Spencer who greeted an audience of white nationalist conference attendees in Washington DC, with “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” He was met with a standing ovation and Nazi salutes.
Are you scared yet? Because a lot of your constituents are.
Dan Rather has become quite vocal about his concern following the general election, taking to lengthy Facebook posts to sound alarm bells, particularly around the risk of normalizing this completely abnormal incoming president and the events and people surrounding his transition.
On the risk of normalization through silence, he writes, “Holding hands and marching forward, raising your voice above the din of complacency, can move mountains. And in this case, I believe there is a vast majority who wants to see this nation continue in tolerance and freedom. But it will require speaking (emphasis mine).”
Will you speak? Will you give voice for your constituents, for preserving democracy, and for preserving freedom?
You need to. Because this is not normal.