EDITOR’S NOTE: Honor and Dishonor

By on June 14, 2017

The danger of normalizing President Trump.

The honorable Chief Washakie

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Mayor Pete Muldoon’s decision last week to replace the town hall portraits of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence with an image of Shoshone Chief Washakie incited uproar in Jackson Hole and across the nation. While some people exalted the mayor, others decried the move as divisive and a dishonor to the office of president.

Some of the clamor is akin to complaints waged against anti-Trump protesters following the 2016 presidential election. Critics said protesters were in the wrong because, after all, the people elected Trump. These protesters, they argued, were essentially protesting democracy. Except they weren’t.

We know Hillary Clinton received almost 3 million more votes than Trump. But because of an antiquated system called the electoral college, the will of the people was silenced.

Protesters understood there is nothing more American than standing up to a broken system. Indeed, the authority of a government comes from the consent of the people, and when government becomes destructive, it is the right and duty of the people to alter or abolish it. So says an old wrinkled document known as the Bill of Rights.

When the government targets people for the color of their skin or their religious beliefs, when it mines public distrust in the free press, when it rails against peacekeeping institutions, and erodes the American values that have largely kept the world at peace since the end of WWII, it has devolved into an agent of destruction. And when instances of the president’s untenable actions become too numerous to count, proceeding as normal is an exercise in obfuscating the truth. And the truth is, none of this is normal.

It’s not normal to ignore the murders of two American heroes, and the assault of another, who died at the hands of a white supremacist. They were killed for defending two young Muslim women, one donned in a hijab. For almost three days, the president remained silent about this despicable act, tweeting instead about “fake news” and Obamacare, until the cries grew too loud. Finally, one of his staffers apparently used his White House Twitter account to extend a brief conciliatory message. Trump’s personal account—the one with substantially more followers—remained silent. That Twitter is somehow an acceptable channel to acknowledge national tragedy is for another conversation.

It’s not normal to break from a planned speech during a NATO meeting to gruffly condescend key American allies. This has resulted in the apparent unraveling of some of America’s most important foreign relationships. That the president shoved Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic during the same summit to better position himself for a photo while on the world’s stage should make all Americans cringe.

It’s not normal for a president to bully the mayor of a city (via Twitter of course) that has just fallen victim to a terrorist attack. Trump took the words of London Mayor Sadiq Khan out of context, perhaps to fuel fears and garner further support for his racist travel ban. Which, by the way, federal judges have repeatedly ruled unconstitutional. The latest federal appeals court to overrule the ban likened it to the U.S.’s discriminatory practices when it targeted Japanese Americans and placed them in internment camps.

It’s not normal for an American president to be affiliated with a group the Southern Poverty Law Center defines as an “anti-Muslim hate group.” ACT for America organized the nationwide “anti-Sharia law” protests this past weekend in a country where there has never been a threat of Sharia law. It was a clear attempt to propagate hate and confusion about Islam. The Washington Post reported Saturday that ACT for America is a lobbyist organization with “close ties” to the Trump administration.

It’s not normal that the president and his administration are mired in scandal over the Russian involvement in the presidential election. Nor is it normal that while under oath, former FBI Director James Comey—who served three presidents from both parties—claimed the president is a liar who defamed the FBI and acted recklessly. And it’s certainly not normal to use Paul Ryan’s defense “he’s new to this,” every time the president flails, taking down innocent people with him.

Now, whether American democracy—a model countries around the globe have adopted and emulated with glittery hope—survives Trump’s vitriol, his utter disdain for democratic institutions, and his willful ignorance of history and the truth remains to be seen. But the cultural wounds he has inflicted on the U.S. will not heal soon and the longer this goes on the deeper the gashes will be.

After talking with an esteemed cohort who happened to be in Italy this past weekend, I began thinking about the cautionary tales I’ve heard from Italians. Indeed, to see how a modern cultural landscape shifts under an unsavory leader, one needn’t look any further than Italy circa 1994 to 2011. The comparisons between former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Trump are bountiful. As my colleague later noted, however, Berlusconi—a deeply misogynistic, xenophobic, populist leader whose children run his billionaire empire—could never wield the governing weight the leader of the free world can. But he has certainly left a cultural scar on Italy.

Italian author Lorenzo Newman explained that while Italy’s democratic institutions survived, “there’s a sense that profound mistrust, aimed at the judiciary and the media, has outlasted him and may have trickled down to everyday life.

“Since Berlusconi left office, politicians of all stripes are unabashed in accusing prosecutors and journalists of grandstanding whenever they are caught up in one of Italy’s many corruption scandals. By many accounts, parents override teacher decisions more than they used to. Referees seem to have lost respect on the soccer pitch.”

Newman noted some of these behaviors may also be the symptom of a country that was under the rule of other European powers for 1,500 years. In other words, the Italians have developed some aversion to authority. But, Newman writes, Berlusconi “fray[ed] any remaining vital semblance of trust in institutions and [in] one [an]other.”

Take it from the folks nursing fresh wounds—this isn’t a normal moment in history. As citizens of a world super power, where much is at stake both near and afar, we should stop acting like it is. PJH

About Robyn Vincent

Robyn is the editor of Planet Jackson Hole and Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine. When she's not sweating deadlines, she likes to travel the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow her on Twitter @TheNomadicHeart

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