Complicity or Avoiding a Pavlovian Response?

I’d like to build on a discussion that was started yesterday when I wrote about the Trump strategy of division and Martin followed up with a piece about how he is controlling the conversation.

First of all, I’d like to say that I agree 100 percent with what Martin said about Trump’s recent suggestion of an IQ battle with Sec. of State Tillerson. It is nothing more than the rantings of a mentally unstable person. Since the case about Trump’s unfitness for office has been made over and over and over again, I see no reason to dwell on this latest example—other than to question whether or not it speeds up Tillerson’s exit from this administration.

Martin is also right that this is how Trump dominates the narrative. He says or tweets outrageous things and we all feel compelled to respond in outrage that goes on for days—or until he says or tweets the next outrageous thing. That not only means that we are always engaged on the issues Trump dictates, it is really bad for our mental health because it is positively toxic.

But here is where I disagree with Martin, or perhaps wasn’t clear enough in my original post. This isn’t simply about what Trump says/tweets. It is about what this administration is doing to women, people of color, immigrants, and LGBT Americans.

The case of the NFL players is complex because this administration has taken a protest about the killing of innocent black men and turned it into a discussion about patriotism and our support for people in the military. While free speech is central to our democracy, the fact that this administration wants to protect those rights for neo-Nazis while condemning those who take a knee for justice is the issue. I chose not to be silent on that one. The other attacks I mentioned had to do with recent actions on limiting the ability of women to access birth control, giving people the right to discriminate based on their religious beliefs and walking back a promise to protect Dreamers.

In his post, Martin wrote about the fact that “people are looking for answers to problems that are plaguing their communities.” He went on to specifically mention “regional inequality, rural job loss, and the opioid epidemic.” While regional inequality affects people across the board, the other two are mostly issues for white people. That makes them identity politics as well. I would propose that for a lot of people, the killing of innocent black men, restricting access to birth control, employment discrimination for LGBT, and ICE raids are problems that are plaguing their communities (or are about to given the recent actions of this administration).

Is there any justification for being silent on some of those while speaking up on others? The only difference I can see is that the Trump administration has prioritized attacks on women, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, and LGBT Americans. The other issues are suffering from neglect (i.e., the president highlights the opioid crisis, but does nothing about it other than attempt to take away people’s health insurance).

The challenge Democrats face is analogous to a situation where they have to decide whether to treat the head injury of someone who has recently taken a blow, or treat someone who is suffering from a chronic illness—and we haven’t even gotten to the whole thing about the possibility of Trump starting World War III.

That, my friends, is how Trump is controlling the conversation. Part of addressing this situation is recognizing the position we’re in. That is the real outrage. Rather than suggesting that one issue is more important that another, we have to realize that it is simply a matter of some being more real in one person’s life than others. That is what we mean by empathy.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .