My First Principle Event

The heat wouldn’t go away. My memories of September tend more towards the “briskness” of early fall. Perhaps that’s just a rose-colored view of the past. Or maybe it’s global warming. Anyway, it was still hot. To be fair, early September is still basically August. What’s the point of all this weather talk? I was about to spend a lot of time outside.

For anyone that doesn’t understand what I mean by “principle event”, it’s the term campaigns use when a major figure gives a speech or makes a public appearance. For us that meant anyone named Clinton or Obama with Kaine or Biden thrown in for good measure. Trump had himself and Pence. We were a bit busier probably than our Republican counterparts.

Being in the largest city in one of the most fought after swing states meant we were going to be busy constantly. Many of my co-workers still spoke in hushed tones about the joint Clinton-Obama event that had taken place a month or so earlier. At the height of the Southern summer heat. Again, with the weather. Why does it matter? Because organizers don’t set up the event in the cool comfort of air conditioning. That’s Advance.

We work the line.

During my two months on the campaign I worked seven principle events. The majority of those I did sign in and line management. The best way to learn just how angry people can get when asked to give up their email. It’s just an email, ya’ll. Give me the spam Hotmail account you never check. I don’t care. But please don’t act like I’m trying to steal your identity.

Anyway.

My first principle event arrived less than a week after I started. A big one too. Hillary Clinton herself. That’s right, I had to learn event work after only a few days on the job and during a speech by the main candidate.

It went as well as could be expected.

Luckily, I was posted to parking duty. I’m not sure if it’s because someone took pity on me or if fate smiled that day. Parking was easy work and it got easier as the lot fills up. The best thing is no one can yell at you really. It’s easy to see there are no open spots and if you’re not there in time it’s hardly the parking guy’s fault.

None of this stopped some people from getting angry but Americans are an entitled bunch.

Eventually, they stop letting in cars. That’s when I got my first taste of the line. Sounds like I’m talking about starting a cocaine habit but it’s far more exhausting. Remember when I talked about the heat? The parking lot was in shade for the most part. The line, not at all. I handed out bottles of lukewarm water and made sure people were signed in.

Thankfully, everyone in line was on the same team. The mood was joyous and excited for the most part. Spirits were high. I bought my first campaign T-shirt ever from one of the traveling merchants that always spring up outside events. Not a lot of Obama swag made it over to Japan and my political activism in college began and ended at the voting booth.

I put it on over my other shirt, which was dumb. Because of the heat.

A chance to move inside for the speech opened up for me thanks to the sacrifice of one of the organizers I trained with. He volunteered to stay outside and catch stragglers instead of escaping the heat. I did not have his moral strength. I’m perfectly fine with siphoning off some of his for my own use, though.

Which is why he’s currently one of my job references.

I kid of course. We all shouldered the burden together at different times. That’s what it means to be a team. That’s what I was thinking as I stood in the midst of the crowd and its roiling energy. That’s when I knew that I was doing something important. It’s when I knew I’d be able to make it through whatever the campaign could throw at me.

It was when I knew I had made the right choice.

Trump is padding his legislative resume.

The Trump administration wants you to believe that they are getting things done. You might hear something along the lines of “nobody has passed more laws in this amount of time.” Or something equally pedantic.

For the record here is the list of all legislation passed in the current Congress. I have tallied them under some broad categories. Keep in mind that Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House.

Removal of rules from previous administrations: 15

These are what makes the most headlines and aren’t actual laws being changed so much as rules for how branches of the government will act within their mandate. These “laws” do nothing new. They just role back the efforts of those that came before.

Appointments: 5

Self explanatory. These are “laws” to appoint people to various positions including getting a waver about having a retired military person running the Dept. of Defense.

Memorials/Naming Buildings: 5

Naming a federal building or setting up a memorial takes an act of Congress. Nice way to pad a stat.

Government Management: 8

This is the category that deals with mainly how the government spends its money or handles paperwork. It includes passing a continuing resolution on the budget which was needed to prevent another government shutdown. But this group also includes a bill that makes it OK for government workers to comp their travel costs when using Uber.

Encouragement: 4

These are bills that sound good but have little muscle behind them. Things like saying the US would like to have a World Expo or asking NASA to come up with a plan to inspire women to go into STEM careers. Sounds nice yes, but does very little in real terms.

Actual Laws: 2

After all of that there are only two laws passed that have any real substance to them. Expanding weather prediction capabilities and giving more money to NASA. More science money was definitely one of Trump’s major campaign promises, right?

So when you hear Trump try and convince you he’s moving the country forward, nearly half of what he’s accomplished is the exact opposite.

The rest is fluff.

But I guess yay for science?

Trumpism: The Cult of Donald Trump

Editor’s note: This was originally posted in February 2017. Almost none of the revelations that consume the news today regarding Russia had come out yet.

So I’ve been reading this book in my spare time called “The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene. It was first brought to my attention by an Uber driver in L.A. so you know it’s high quality…

So I’ve been reading this book in my spare time called “The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene. It was first brought to my attention by an Uber driver in L.A. so you know it’s high quality…

Anyway, basically it’s a collection of stories from history and teachings from books like The Art of War and The Prince broken down into lessons about gaining the ephemeral quality known as “power”.

I wanted to read it because even if I couldn’t be as ruthless as required by some of these tactics it is good to be aware of them in case they are used against you. However, when I reached Law 27 things became a little scary.

“Law 27: Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cult-like Following”

There are 5 steps to this law. Rather than just list them and let readers come to their own conclusions I feel like I need to be more explicit as to how the man currently in the office of the President has seemingly followed this path to power in particular.

Step 1: Keep it Vague; Keep it Simple

“To create a cult you must first attract attention. This you should do not through actions, which are too clear and readable, but through words, which are hazy and descriptive.”

Trumpisim: “Make America Great Again”, “Repeal and Replace, Build the Wall”

These phrases sound great and project a real sense of power. When it comes to achieving them things become far murkier. Trump’s much vaunted deal with Carrier was fraught with unfortunate realities in terms of making America great again. Republicans have been calling for repeal of the ACA for years but are only now rolling out ideas for replacement. Ideas which do little to fix what problems there are with the program and threaten to take away the parts that are actually working.

The wall will be a boondoggle. Mark my words.

Step 2: Emphasize the Visual and the Sensual over the Intellectual

“Once people have begun to gather around you, two dangers will present themselves: boredom and skepticism.”

Trumpisim: Constant rallies

Trump never seems comfortable unless he’s in front of a large crowd of sympathetic supporters. That might be part of the reason he brings staffers to speeches to applaud and cheer for him. Less than a month into his Presidency while being assaulted from all directions over allegations of misconduct and incompetence, Trump holds a literal campaign rally. In 2017, not 2020. Clearly he’s falling back on the spectacle that served him so well in 2016. The sight of large cheering crowds emphasize his popularity which is why he is so adamant in his attacks on stories to the contrary.

Step 3: Borrow the Forms of Organized Religion to Structure the Group

“Your cult-like following is growing; it’s time to organize it. Find a way both elevating and comforting.”

Trumpism: Mike Pence

I don’t think anyone can argue that Trump has ever been an ardent representative of the Christian faith. This step is actually the one that applies the least to Trumpism as it is intended to be more about structural organization specifically. However, the 45th President is not afraid to claim divine intervention in the weather. The choice of Mike Pence as VP gives him all the cover he needs in terms of Christian conservatism without demanding any real sacrifice on his part.

Step 4: Disguise Your Source of Income

“…you must never be seen as hungry for money and the power it brings. It is at this moment that you must disguise the source of your income.”

Trumpism: Tax returns

Do I really need to go over this part?

Step 5: Set Up an Us-Versus-Them Dynamic

“To keep your followers united, you must now do what all religions and belief systems have done: create an us-versus-them dynamic.”

Obviously this is not a unique aspect of Trump or many other political candidates. It is a central idea behind why spectator sports are so popular. People like being part of a “team”. What is dangerous and scary about Trumpism is the official target known as “them”.

The media. The term “fourth estate” refers to a medieval concept of society where the people were broken up into three broad groups. (The clergy, the nobility, and the commoners, in case you were wondering.)

The idea is the press is a separate entity who’s role is to check the power of the others. An independent press is so important that the founders of America made sure journalistic protections were enshrined in the Constitution itself.

Trump’s attacks on the press started almost immediately. His administration has constantly given false or misleading information to the public and when news reporters point that out he calls them “fake news”. Anyone the least bit critical is denied legitimacy. The message is clear “we [us] are right and anyone who disagrees [them] does so just because they want us to fail.”

We need to have the ability to question power. If they do something wrong they should be held responsible. The chilling effect Trumpism could have on legitimate criticism is frightening. I’m personally somewhat worried about posting a long description comparing the President of the United States to a cult leader as the family is notoriously litigious.

Despite the click bait nature of the title of this post I am not saying with any certainty that President Trump is a cult leader. I have no way of knowing if he’s read this book or even if he consciously follows the steps listed above.

But the similarities frighten me.

Republicans would be better off if they had lost

I’m standing on the porch at a friend’s house. It’s late November, maybe early December. I had spent Thanksgiving making a concerted effort to not bring up politics. It wasn’t easy since my mother is the only person I know for sure didn’t vote for Trump. Some of my cousins might have been on Team Democrat but I wouldn’t know it. We all kept our mouths shut.

Except to eat of course.

It’s taken me some time to recover from the shock of losing. Understandable given how much time I had put into the election. I don’t know how my co-workers who were at it for years managed. I suspect booze played a large role. Despite all of that, here I am on a cool Raleigh night, arguing about politics.

My opponent is a smart guy. I have to give him credit. He thinks NPR is a left wing ivory tower but he listens to it and comes with logical counter arguments. This might have something to do with being the only conservative in our mutual friend group. He’s used to being on the defensive so he keeps the walls manned and the pikes sharp.

As most discussions of this nature do, we get close to a shouting match. Tempers are easily enflamed when it comes to matters of Trump. At this point however, all we could really do was rehash the election. 45 hadn’t yet begun to pick from his Cabinet list entitled “The Absolute Worst Options Possible.”

So of course, we’re talking about emails.

My other friend who, until this point, has kept out of the argument suddenly pipes up.

“Well the one thing we can all agree on is that we hope Trump succeeds and is one of the best Presidents ever.” A bit overly optimistic perhaps. One of the best ever? At even this early point I was willing to settle for doesn’t destroy the economy.

Now before you throw my buddy under the bus, think about it. That’s not a bad sentiment to have. Yes, Trump is a horrible human being in most ways. But prior to the inauguration we didn’t know how he would govern. I mean, we all knew but we didn’t know. At that point, it was all hypothetical. It couldn’t possibly be as bad as we imagined, right?

Unquestionably, we should hope for success rather than root for failure.

Well things are different now. They’re real. Far, far, far too real. On the day I write this, they’ve just appointed a special prosecutor to look into Trump’s ties with Russia. By the time that I post it anything could have happened. The consequences of the President’s actions will be sweeping and devastating for the Republican party.

What have they gained in the bargain?

A Supreme Court pick that forced them to throw away decades of tradition, a universally hated health care bill, and one of the worst political scandals in modern memory. Plus, the embarrassment of having to vouch for an unhinged amateur autocrat. This is Comcast internet levels of bad deal.

What would they have if Trump lost?

Chances are they’d still have the margin they have in the House and Senate. They lost seats with Trump at the helm but still managed to hold on. They would be able to rail and complain about the ACA for another few years without having to actually do anything about it. Complaining without doing anything is their favorite pastime.

They would have gotten Merrick Garland and wouldn’t have had to cheat on the rules. The Republicans certainly would have wanted that 60-vote threshold around for Clinton’s presidency. They would have a newly ascendant Fox News style media powerhouse in after Trump played Voltron with his MAGA brand and Breitbart.

Does anyone still think he wanted to be President at this point?

Trump is never going to be popular. He could cure cancer tomorrow and people would still be like fuck that guy. I’ll be one of them. Even if the investigation turns up nothing the Democrats are riled up. Apathy is the liberal’s greatest enemy and I think it’s safe to say that the coming midterms are going to be a barnstormer.

There’s also the bigger issue that the Republicans have quite likely lost an entire generation of voters. The Snapchat armada is not buying what they’re selling. The ones that do are more likely in it for the shits and giggles. Memes and centipedes or whatever. It’s not something you can build a governing coalition on.

I could be wrong of course. If this year has taught me anything it’s to never make assumptions.

But I feel good about this one.

Apathy Lost the 2016 Election

“Hello?” Her voice is suspicious already. Might be because I have a weird area code.

“Hi! Is this Sharon?” I’m trained to sound super upbeat. My co-workers tell me I’m pretty good.

“Who’s calling?” She’s gone from suspicious to angry. My guess is she just got off work and doesn’t want to be bothered. I get it. Yet, I press on.

“My name’s John and I’m calling from the North Carolina Democratic Party. How are you tonight?” The introduction flows smooth as silk. I’ve long since lost count how many times I’ve said it. It’s a lot though.

Beep boop.

Cell phones don’t click, did you notice that? There’s no dial tone anymore either. I’m well aware about what just happened. She hung up on me. I mark her “Not Home” because she didn’t tell me her name. I can’t say for certain that she was Sharon. Her number will come up again in a day or two. Chances are she won’t pick up next time.

Ninety percent of the time people don’t answer the phone. Or the number is disconnected. Lots of times it’ll just ring and then drop. You get to know some of the names that pop up. Those are the ones that ring once and go straight to voicemail. I think this is what it’s like to get blocked.

Still mark them “Not Home” though.

“I’m doing well, how about you?” Finally, someone wants to talk.

“I’m doing great. I’m calling tonight because we need your help to make sure Trump stays out of the White House.” I say this because it usually gets a laugh. Those were innocent times.

“I already donated to the campaign.” That’s how I got your number, by the way. I don’t tell them this. Unless they go “HOW’D YOU GET THIS NUMBER?”

That’s always a fun conversation.

“I’m not after your money, just your time. We need volunteers to help us register voters.”

“I don’t have time for that.”

Beep boop.

Mark that one “Maybe later.”

Fifteen or twenty more no answers go by. I step outside for some fresh air. It’s hot for October.

“I work two jobs so I don’t got time. But you got my vote!” Put her down as “Maybe later.”

“If you don’t stop calling me I swear to God I’ll vote for Trump!” He counts as a “Declined.” I’ll try him a few more times though just in case he’s kidding.

“Sure thing, what do you need?” It’s been so long since I’ve gotten this far I’m caught a little off guard. I snap out of it and give her the dates and times of the events I have set up. Once we find a time that works I put her into the system and thank her for her time. I’m super charming.

There’s at least a 50% chance she won’t show up but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For right now I’m smiling because I don’t feel like a total failure. I got a shift.

“Good evening, my name’s John and I’m calling from the North Carolina Democratic Party…”

Beep boop.

“Not Home.”