What an amazing first couple of days for the Trump presidency! I’m not sure if “amazing” is the right word, but it’s a better word than surprising. No one should be surprised by how the Trump presidency is beginning.
Just to recap the latest Trump scandal, Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary, fought with the media of the size of the crowd. Why? Because Trump is all about size. He likes things big. He wants to be big. I mean BIG. Remember how big his hands are? We learned during the presidential campaign that hand size matters. And when someone challenges the size of his hands, oh man, you’ll be demolished before you can say Little Marco. So, of course crowd size is a big deal for him.
On Saturday when the media challenged the size of the crowd at the inauguration, Sean Spicer vehemently attacked the media. Raising his voice, he forcefully claimed, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, PERIOD! … These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.”
Alternative Facts and Post Truth
By Sunday morning, crowd size experts seemed to show that Spicer was at best wrong, or at worst he lied. But crowd size is important for the Trump administration for two reasons. First, it strokes Trump’s ego. Second, despite the fact that he lost the popular vote by nearly three million, large crowds make him feel like he has a mandate. So Kellyanne Conway appeared on the Sunday morning talk shows to defend Spicer. She defended Spicer by claiming the Trump administration had “alternative facts.”
Many of us are scandalized by her statement, but no one should be surprised. Trump helped usher in the “post-truth” world where “alternative facts” thrive. Clearly, there is much to criticize in Conway’s use of the term, but we should also be careful about our scandalous response to the Trump administration. Here’s why:
The Problem with Scandal
René Girard reminds us that “scandal” originally meant a “stumbling block.” Whether done intentionally or not, scandals are stumbling blocks placed before us so that we trip. Scandals are usually bright, shiny objects that capture our attention. The more we go after the scandal, the more we stumble over it.
This is a problem because the scandal, the bright shiny object that we’re all talking about, distracts us from bigger issues. While we talk about crowd size, the Trump White House has been making changes to the White House website. Granted, Trump should have a grace period for transitioning whitehouse.gov, but the changes reflect some of his most disturbing aspects of his campaign.
Look the Other Way! On Deleting JusticeThe Trump administration quickly deleted pages devoted to climate change, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and healthcare. They replaced concerns about climate change with an “American First Energy Plan” that says nothing about climate change. In fact, the page says “President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.” The Climate Action Plan seeks to reduce the amount of carbon pollution throughout the United States. While we’re talking about crowd size, Trump is fighting a war on our climate. In this case, I hope Ivanka Trump will influence her father to change this direction. But we can’t wait for her. We need to fight for the climate, otherwise we won’t be around to fight for anything.
I hoped that Trump would be a friend to the LGBTQ community. He has a long history of supporting LGBTQ folks. His choice of Mike Pence for Vice President was alarming in this regard. Pence has a long history of being against LGBTQ rights. That this section of the website was taken down is a bad sign for those of us who support the American ideal of equal rights under the law.
Other civil rights may be under attack, too. In fact, the civil rights page was replaced by a new page, “Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community.” Personally, I don’t think there is a necessary rivalry here. I want to stand up for law enforcement, too. But I’m afraid that Trump wants to stand up for law enforcement at the expense of civil rights. Here’s how: Trump thinks that any racism within law enforcement is simply the product of a few rotten apples. But that’s a misunderstanding of racism in America. American racism is a disease that infects every aspect of our culture, including our schools, housing policies, economics, Trump’s cabinet picks, and yes, even our police departments. The answer isn’t to get rid of civil rights or demonize police departments. The answer is to look at the racism that plagues America square in the face and look for ways to transform it so that we can live into the great American ideal that all people are created equal.
So, while we are scandalized by Trump’s tweets and insistence on “alternative facts,” we stumble over the scandal instead of focusing on the issues that we say matter the most to us. We would do well in the age of Trump to avoid these stumbling blocks and to stay focused on fighting for justice and civil rights.