Reasons to Hope One Year After the Election

In my memories, the sky was grey and cloudy on the morning of Nov. 9, 2016. I can picture, clear as day, walking through my campus; listening to people around me talk about the results of the election and looking up at the impending storm. That is, of course, only my recollectionin reality, the morning of Nov. 9 may have been cloudless and sunny (through some research it seems like the day was overcast, though perhaps not the “moment before the storm” darkness that I imagined).

Why do I remember that morning in that way? Pathetic fallacy, I suppose. Nov. 9, 2016, was a dark day, emotions-wise, for a lot of people, so in my mind I’ve equated the emotions and the weather.

I’ve written before about the moment I found out that Donald Trump won the electionI heard loud, bewildered shouting in the middle of the night, and assumed the outcome that was a growing possibility had turned into reality. In hindsight, I wish I had stayed up to watch the full coverage of the election, even though it crept into the darkest hours of the night and then the early hours of morning (and even though I had a journalism assignment due the next day).

At the time, I think very few people had an inkling of what was about to happen. When the world woke up on Nov. 9, on the morning I remember to be grey, a lot of us asked the same thing: What now?

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As I wrote in my post after the election, I had been ready to write an article about the first female president of the United States. Accepting not just that I wouldn’t be writing that article, but that I would not be seeing that realityfor at least four years, and likely longerwas disheartening, to say the least. But it was not only Hillary Clinton’s loss that made Nov. 9 difficult; it was who she had lost to, and the policies and rhetoric that were about to take centre stage in the Oval Office.

Watching Clinton’s concession speech made me cry but I was determined to move forward with an attitude of hope. “I looked at my reflection in the mirror and promised myself that I was going to keep fighting for what I believe in, and supporting others who are doing the same,” I wrote.

That bleary morning turned into another night, and then another day. Time passed. In January, Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. I won’t list everything that has happened since then because, unless you disconnected your cable and Internet after the election, you likely know what has happened next. There were, in short, a lot of reasons to be concerned, fearful and angry.

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But there were also reasons to be hopeful. One of the best examples of this was the Women’s March the day after Trump’s Inauguration (pictured above). The sheer number of women and men marching in solidarity both in the U.S. and around the world was nothing short of incredible. The message of the marches was loud and clear: Trump can try to limit womens’ rights, but women will not be intimidated by this—they will fight for what is right.

The ACLU was also a strong force in standing up for equality, freedom and human rights. “President Trump has been in office for 42 weeks. We’ve sued him and his administration 56 times,” the organization tweeted yesterday.

Another source of hope came two nights ago. It was Election Night in America all over again. I had an eerie sense of déjà vu as I curled up on my couch and watched the news. The music, the graphics, the anticipation building up to the results. I allowed myself a smile when the journalists said certain races were too close to call, thinking of the failure of many to accurately call the election last year.

But the feelings of déjà vu ended when the results starting coming in. It wasn’t just that Democrats secured two major victories in the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jerseyit was there were historic wins for representation and equality.

Danica Roem, an openly transgender woman was elected to the Virginia state legislature. Not only this, but the incumbent Republican she beat, Robert Marshall, actually called himself the state’s “chief homophobe” and previously introduced a controversial “bathroom bill.” Roem had an incredibly classy response to a question about her predecessor. “I don’t talk about my constituents. Bob is my constituent now,” she said. (Mic. Drop.)

Virginia also elected its first two Latina delegates. Another notable victory included Ravi Bhalla, who is Sikh, being elected mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey (interestingly, Bhalla has called himself “Everything Trump hates”). He is the first Sikh mayor in New Jersey. Vi Lyles was elected mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, the first black woman to hold that post. The list goes onyou can read more about the historic wins in this Vox article.

Today marks one year since the morning many of us woke up worried about the future. There are, of course, still reasons to be worried. But there are also a lot of reasons to be hopeful. In the year since Trump won the election, people looking to make their voices heard have mobilized into movements. On Tuesday, voters showed a rejection of Trump’s rhetoric in favour of acceptance of the very people who Trump speaks out against. The newly elected political representatives now have the power to create real, positive change in America.

This is progress. This is a reason to be hopeful. And it is a reason to keep speaking out and speaking up as we continue to live in the world that was made a reality on this day last year.


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We Cannot Stop The Push for Gun Control

If you think there’s a kind of cruel cycle playing out in America right now, you’re not alone. It starts with a horrific, mass shooting. People call for better gun control. Nothing happens. Another mass shooting happens. And the cycle repeats itself, causing the loss of more innocent lives at the hands of someone who was too easily able to access a deadly weapon.

This week’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, which saw 59 people dead and over 500 injured, was the worst in American history. In June 2016, 49 people were killed in the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando. In December 2012, 28 children and adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. 

After mass shootings, satire site The Onion publishes the same article with the same headline: “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Happens Regularly.” Although they change the details and location of the story, it’s the same every time—because after every mass shooting, a conversation ensues about the need for better gun control laws but little, if anything, ends up happening. 

Barack Obama spoke passionately about the need for gun control, especially in the wake of Sandy Hook. But he had to use executive action to make progress because of the Republican congress. Barely a week after Donald Trump’s Inauguration, his new administration was already revoking certain gun control policies set out by Obama.

It’s unthinkable, really, that after young children were shot and killed, legislation making it harder to purchase guns still couldn’t pass. Even in addition to the terrible mass shootings, there are examples of gun violence every day in America. Mass shootings (defined as an incident in which four or more people are killed, which can include the shooter) average out to more than one every day in America. 

In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, Vox published an article containing 17 infographics that paint an eye-opening picture of America’s problem with guns. Two infographics tell an important story: that the states that have more guns have more deaths caused by guns; and that the states that have tighter laws around gun-control have less deaths caused by guns.

Want more proof that gun control works? Check out the example set by Australia—the government banned automatic and semiautomatic firearms after a shooting where 35 people were killed in 1996. Australia hasn’t had a mass shooting since (again, a mass shooting is defined as an incident where four or more die). To summarize: if laws make it harder for people to get guns, then there are less guns out there and less people die from guns. It’s not that complicated, except some people make it out to be.

Some say that the debate around gun control is a debate around the second amendment; the right to bear arms. But at its core, the debate around gun control is a debate about people’s lives—the tragic events in Las Vegas, along with all of the other examples in American history, are proof of this. When people attending a concert, enjoying a night out with friends or going to school are targeted, injured and killed, gun control is a question of life or death.

I’m 19 and there have been far too many mass shootings in my time on this Earth. I’m not American, but I don’t want young people in the U.S. to grow up in a place where they have to be fearful for their safety. I’ve had discussions with friends where we talk about the fact that, because of shootings in public places, we’re always conscious of checking emergency exits in crowded areas. It’s good to be vigilant, of course,  but I don’t think anyone should have to be concerned about something like gun violence when there are legitimate options on the table to reduce its prevalence.

In the days since the Vegas shooting, there have been conversations about gun control. Jimmy Kimmel made a tearful plea for action; social media has been awash with people fed up with the lack of anti-gun legislation. We need to leverage the sadness, anger and frustration we feel after the senseless violence in Las Vegas, and we need to demand action and accountability from America’s elected leaders. Thoughts and prayers are wonderful, but they are not enough when people are dying and it is in the power of the American government to prevent their deaths.


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Today I Woke Up

Like most of the world, today I woke up to the news of an incomprehensible tragedy in Las Vegas. A man with at least 10 rifles fired, repeatedly, from the 32nd floor of a hotel on the Las Vegas strip. Over 59 people were killed and over 500 were injured. It was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

Today I woke up and was quietly stunned and wholeheartedly sad as I read about what had happened. As I went about my morning with a heavy heart, I searched for the words to say. Because what do you say, after so many innocent lives have been lost?

I realized in the midst of thinking about how to grasp all of this that I had already written what I was trying to say. Two years ago on a day where two mass shootings occurred, I wrote the piece I shared below. I thought it was worth sharing again today because seven billion people woke up to the news of a horrific shooting this morning and, as I wrote in my older post: “Tonight, 7 billion people will go to sleep. Some will have had lost the people they cared about most, some will sob at the empty bed of the victim of a senseless act, and some will have woken from a nightmare to find themselves in a hospital bed. What kind of world will they wake up to?”

It is my hope that soon, we will all wake up to a world where American leaders and legislators are working hard to create stronger gun control laws to prevent something like this from ever happening again.

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Today I woke up snuggled in my warm duvet. I jumped out of bed when I realized that I had woken up almost half an hour later than I had intended. I quickly checked my phone, packed my backpack, threw on some clothes, ate breakfast, and hopped in the car to go to school. I had a business test and when the final bell rung I walked home with my sister and started on my homework.

Today someone woke up in Savannah, Georgia in the early morning because their telephone was ringing. Still half asleep, they answered it. The voice on the other end was crisp and male. It was a doctor from the hospital — where one of their loved ones had been admitted after being shot in the street.

Today someone else woke up and got ready for work at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California…

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On the Virginia Protests, White Supremacy and Donald Trump

Reading the headlines about white supremacists rallying at the University of Virginia makes me wonder: Shouldn’t it be easy to condemn these people and their racist viewpoints? Shouldn’t we be able to, unequivocally and without hesitation, say that their actions are wrong? I am curious especially because the President of the United States seemed to be unable to do these things at his press conference today.

Watching Donald Trump speak, I was, like many others, waiting for him to utter the words “White supremacists.” But he did not call the protesters what they are. He didn’t even acknowledge that they were any more in the wrong than the counter-protesters (some of whom, by the way, were hit with a car in what many are calling an act of domestic terrorism).

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” Trump said. His words have prompted many to ask: “What sides?” The torch-carrying, Nazi-saluting white supremacists started this protest last night; the “other side” would be, I guess, the people counter-protesting. There are not “many sides” contributing to the hatred and bigotry—there is only one.

That Trump didn’t outright condemn the protesters speaks volumes. His campaign rhetoric emboldened people because it made it seem like it was OK to act upon stereotypes and to discriminate against people. And his policy and legislation as president—from his Muslim ban to his recent immigration policy which would reduce the number of legal immigrants to the U.S. and give preference to those who speak English—only further invigorate white nationalist sentiments.

After the election, David Duke, former leader of the KKK, said that Trump winning was “one of the most exciting nights of (his) life.” Today, Duke said that, “We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump.” Trump has rebuked Duke in the past, but today he failed to openly decry the values of the white supremacists.

More and more, our societies are becoming more diverse. Many of us believe wholeheartedly in the undeniable truth that people of all races and ethnic backgrounds are, and deserved to be treated as, equal. So people like the white supremacists in Virginia feel threatened. In a Twitter thread, user @JuliusGoat made an excellent point about the protesters. “They are chanting ‘we will not be replaced.’ Replaced as … what? I’ll tell you. Replaced as the only voice in public discussions. Replaced as the only bodies in the public arena. Replaced as the only life that matters,” he said.

The actions of the protesters, as well as Trump’s response so far, are disturbing for a myriad of reasons. Had the protesters not been white, it’s likely that Trump would have issued a much stronger condemnation of their actions and words. Furthermore, that white supremacists are marching at all—in a progressive America, in 2017, no less—is a chilling indication that we, as a society, have not come as far as we may like to think.


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America, You Great Unfinished Symphony

Donald Trump’s campaign slogan was, in many ways, a recipe for success. It was simple, catchy, and it articulated his clear ideas for the country he wanted to lead. Many, including the authors of Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, have cited Hillary Clinton’s slogan as an epitome of the problems that ravaged her campaign: it failed to capture her version for America. She had policy ideas—scores of them. But Trump had those four words. Make America Great Again. And now, for better or for worse, he has the presidency.

Of course, whether America was ever truly great is up for debate. If America is great now, at this present moment, is also debatable. And is America any greater than it was before January 20, 2017, the date of Trump’s Inauguration? It is a sign of these politicized times that even calling America “great” (a word which is arguably one of the most elementary adjectives in the dictionary) is a charged discussion. It is a discussion which matters nonetheless, though. If you believe that America is currently great, you’re not going to want to change it; but if you believe that some aspects of America are great, but need some work, then you are more likely to attempt to improve it.

If you want my opinion—and I’m guessing if you’re reading this, you do, if only to express disagreement in the comments: I agree with the latter declaration. I think that there are aspects of America that are great—ideals which, if recognized, have the potential to create positive change. But you only have to read a few of the posts tagged “politics” on this blog to know that I am not pleased with the Trump administration (and “not pleased” is putting it lightly).

In theory, I think that the founding principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence have the power to pave the way to greatness. Fundamental equality? Unalienable rights? The pursuit of liberty and happiness? I’ve written before about the hollowness of the word “liberty,” but I digress. These ideals, if recognized, would make a great society.

“If recognized” are important words. Many of Trump’s policies challenge concepts like equality and unalienable, universal rights, making these things not tangible parts of society but instead unequally distributed privileges. In reality, America is not great because it has not fully realized these ideals. Maybe it is great in spite of the absence of them, though, because as we are seeing more and more, where there is trumping of rights (see what I did there?) there is triumphing of the Constitution. The ACLU, for example, is making America better. Good, even.

In case you didn’t understand the reference in my title of this post, it comes from the “death monologue” from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s stunningly genius musical Hamilton (spoiler alerts ahead, but if you don’t already know how the musical ends that means you haven’t listened to the soundtrack which means you need to skip this paragraph and listen to it ASAP). In the musical, Alexander Hamilton, America’s first treasury secretary, is killed in a duel with Jefferson’s VP Aaron Burr. In a beautiful and heart wrenching moment, the duel freezes right before Hamilton is shot. He launches into a monologue, one spoken earlier in the musical.

“Legacy, what is a legacy?/ It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see/ I wrote some notes at the beginning of a song someone will sing for me/America, you great unfinished symphony, you sent for me/You let me make a difference, a place where even orphan immigrants can leave their fingerprints and rise up”

That’s only part of the monologue; I could dissect the entire thing word by word, second by second. But I will focus on what I titled this post: “America, you great unfinished symphony.” I’ve already skirted around the word “Great” and whether or not it truly applies to America, present day or at any other time. Let’s talk about the idea of America being “unfinished”; an idea which makes me think of Barack Obama and his legacy which Trump has been steadily working to dismantle. Obama has lived to see the seeds of the garden he planted, and they’re being ripped up, some of them before they had the chance to grow. He wrote some notes in the song of America, but the choir has retired.

Unfinished. Healthcare, moving backwards. Women’s rights, moving backwards. Acceptance, tolerance, moving backwards. No one would claim that Obama “fixed” America; some argue that Obama actually paved the way for Trump’s success. Trump constantly claims that he was not aware how difficult certain things would be—“Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated,” he claimed. Certainly some of his supporters believe that Trump would be able to be successful, if it wasn’t for the crooked Democrats and biased liberal fake news outlets who are holding him back. Trump’s work is unfinished, some would say. I would agree, I just don’t think he is the person to fix things.

Perhaps my favourite part of this line from Hamilton’s monologue is the word “symphony.” America is an overture; harps and flutes singing while trombones blurt out the foundation. Independence. Equality. Liberty. Happiness, or at least the unrelenting pursuit of it. These are the underlying notes of the symphony of America, finely tuned notes sung since America broke away from Great Britain so many years ago.

With the election of Donald Trump, the great, unfinished symphony of America is both dying out and playing in a more chaotic manner. Things are happening left, right, and centre. Where to look? Look right at Trump’s actions. And then look at the people resisting. The people helping. The people caring. The people refusing to give in. These are the people who make America great, and who are going to make it an even greater symphony. The symphony of America may never be finished, but members of its orchestra can be relentless in their pursuit of greatness, of fundamental freedoms and equality. It may never be fully great, or a finished symphony, as Hamilton’s character sings. But that is up to Americans to decide.


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Trump’s Remarks About Journalists Are Unacceptable, But Unsurprising

So much of what is happening in America lately is, to put it simply, unfathomable. Many actions may seem appropriate for an earlier time period, but are strikingly out of place in the “modern democracy” of the United States (quotation marks seem necessary). I could reference about any number of topics, from the growing evidence that Trump tried to stop FBI investigations into ties to Russia to his expansion of a policy he revoked early in his presidency to give U.S. aid to abortion providers across the world. I want to focus, though, on something close to my heart: the treatment of journalists under Trump’s administration.

In the aftermath of the explosive New York Times report that Trump asked former FBI Director James Comey to stop investigating his also-former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, another appalling tidbit was lost in the chaos. Trump suggested that Comey “Consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information,” writes Michael Schmidt.

This remark is startling at best and deeply troubling at worst. It is reminiscent of authoritarian governments and starkly un-American values. It is also, sadly, not a surprise coming from Trump, who has displayed malice towards journalists at every step of his path to the presidency.

Now, in the Oval Office, he still can’t see that journalists are an essential part of a democracy. I mean, it’s probably hard for him to see this, considering the impact of journalism on his reputation. Just this week, outstanding reporting from journalists at the Washington Post and The New York Times brought quick and serious implications; from calculated throwing around of the word “impeachment” — from both political sides — to the worst day in the stock market since Sept. 2016.

Interestingly, as Politico reporter Josh Dawsey noted on Twitter, Schmidt, the journalist who wrote about Trump asking Comey to stop investigating Flynn, was the same journalist who first broke the story about Hillary Clinton’s private email server. So was Schmidt “out to get” Trump? Or did he simply use the same journalistic rigour he applied to a story about Clinton to write a story about Trump?

As a journalism student, I am inspired by the persistence of journalists who cover Trump. They are up against serious odds — barred from press briefings, not invited to meetings with foreign officials, for example — and often have to decipher fact from fiction when White House officials blatantly lie (this is not to say that there haven’t been problems with media coverage of Trump, because there have). Journalists keep going, though, because what they do is important. The public has a right to know what is happening in their government, and journalists fulfill this critical role of gathering and communicating information.

Trump’s treatment of journalists both on the campaign trail and as President is unacceptable. But it is also unlikely to change. As the newly-appointed special prosecutor begins his investigations, I can only see journalists rightly continuing to cover Trump. But, sadly, I can only see Trump continuing to berate and belittle journalists in return.


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The Circle In Real Life: Mandatory Voting?

Technology’s place in society, questions of privacy versus security and issues of government transparency were all explored in The Circle, a new movie directed by James Ponsoldt and based on a novel by Dave Eggers. I wouldn’t go as far as to agree with Vox’s appraisal that the movie is “bafflingly bad,” but it certainly contains confusing elements and has a startlingly abrupt ending. However, the movie does feature several topical ideas that have relevance to our society and everyday lives.

Among those ideas was one that, as someone who has studied politics, I found intriguing: mandatory voting. In the movie, staff at the Circle, a Google-esque tech company, have the idea to link voting with citizens’ social media accounts. Essentially, in order to vote, you need this account; or, to put it another way, if you have this social media account, you must vote. In the meeting where the idea is pitched, someone draws a comparison to a totalitarian regime.

But, as another character says, we have hundreds of laws that govern people’s actions, and that’s not considered totalitarian. Laws surrounding driving, for example, are more or less accepted as being beneficial for the safety of members of society. Following speed limits, or general rules of the road, are not seen as optional, or as personal decisions. So then is voting a personal decision?

On one hand, of course it is. Article 12 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states that “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.” Who people vote for is a personal decision; I’d argue that the decision to vote (or not vote) is also a personal decision. If people do not want to exercise their right to vote, then it’s their will to do this, so long as they live in a country that does not enforce mandatory voting.

In theory, mandatory voting is good because it encourages (or, rather, forces) citizens to get involved in the democratic process. Low voter turnout is a problem even in countries that pride themselves on their democracies (America had a turnout of approximately 56.9 per cent in the 2016 federal election). Mandatory voting would change this; but it wouldn’t automatically mean that citizens were well-educated about the choices on the ballot.

To professor and author Jason Brennan, this is a critical issue. He writes that “Bad choices at the polls can destroy economic opportunities, produce crises that lower everyone’s standard of living, lead to unjust and unnecessary wars (and thus to millions of deaths), lead to sexist, racist, and homophobic legislation, help reinforce poverty, produce overly punitive criminal legislation, and worse.” In other words, voting matters. It has huge societal implications, ones which reach beyond the voter and impact the millions of people in the country where the election is taking place. 

Brennan argues “That citizens have no standing moral obligation to vote” since it is only one way to contribute to a civic society. If citizens are not going to vote ethically, and with the greater good in mind, then “They should stay home on election day rather than pollute the polls with their bad votes.” This, to me, is a compelling argument against mandatory voting. If people are not educated about the candidates, they will make uneducated decisions. This can negatively impact a country and, really, the entire world.

So then I return to my earlier question. Should we be able to decide whether or not we vote, or should this be a decision that the government makes for us through something like mandatory voting? I think it’s incredibly important to hear all voices in a democratic society; and yet, I’m not sure if forcing people to vote is the right way to do this. There are other ways to encourage people to vote, such as having a wide range of candidates who can speak to the issues affecting people, having more civic education so that voters are not ill-informed and making the voting process easier.



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When Did Donald Trump Become the President of the United States?

Lately, people seem obsessed with pinpointing the exact moment Donald Trump became President of the United States. In a literal sense, he became the president-elect on Nov. 8, 2016, and was sworn in as president on Jan. 20, 2017. But, according to CNN’s Van Jones and Fox News’s Chris Wallace, Trump “became president” after his Feb. 28 speech to Congress. And, according to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Trump “became president” after launching airstrikes on Syria on Thursday night.

It matters when Trump “became president” because to a lot of people, he was never a legitimate political leader. A recent GenForward poll suggests that the majority of young adults in America view Trump as an illegitimate president. “Though Trump has legal legitimacy, he totally lacks political legitimacy,” Nancy Altman and Ira Lapu wrote in a Dec. 2016 Huffington Post article.

This explains Zakaria’s appraisal that Trump became more legitimate after the Syria airstrikes. As Zakaria said, “President Trump recognized that the President of the United States does have to act to enforce international norms, does have to have this broader moral and political purpose.” Trump’s recognition of international norms has, in some people’s eyes, made him more like past presidents, and therefore more legitimate.

However, not everyone saw the airstrikes as “presidential”. In a Facebook post on Friday, Dan Rather, a former CBS anchor, wrote that “The number of members of the press who have lauded the actions last night as ‘presidential’ is concerning. War must never be considered a public relations operation.” Rather continued that war is “not a way for an Administration to gain a narrative.”

It seems, though, that gaining a narrative of legitimacy is something that matters a great deal to Trump and his team. Trump “has this deep fear that he is himself not a legitimate president,” author Michael D’Antonio told Politico. D’Antonio also said that Trump’s fear of being illegitimate is one of the reasons why he tries to delegitimize America’s intelligence community; it could also easily be a reason why he has continually tried to delegitimize Barack Obama, from accusing him of wiretapping Trump Tower to blaming him for the situation in Syria.

Trump’s legitimacy could be called into question primarily by the fact that while he won the electoral college, he did not win the popular vote. More people voted for Hillary Clinton than for Trump. As well, the countless controversies that have plagued Trump and his administration—accusations of sexual assault, refusal to release his tax returns, collusion with Russia…shall I go on?—could also contribute to the view that Trump is illegitimate.

The legitimacy Trump may have gained from his February speech to Congress is very different than that gained from last week’s airstrikes. Early polls suggested that viewers approved of Trump’s speech to congress, although many people also remarked that the bar for Trump to succeed was set very low. “Donald Trump read from a teleprompter and wore a nice suit, and suddenly he’s ‘presidential’?” wrote Emily Atkin for the New Republic.

There are certainly many people who saw Trump as presidential the moment he assumed the title (or even the moment he announced he would run in the election). But there are many others who still do not see him as presidential. The critiques of journalists that certain events represent the moment Trump became president are a fascinating insight into the way Trump is viewed by the people he is supposed to represent. Because, if even a small amount of Americans do not view Trump as a legitimate president, what does that say about the state of democracy in America?


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Is Liberty Dead?

“Is Truth Dead?” Time magazine asked on a recent cover, a clever nod to their 1966 “Is God Dead?” cover. I can’t imagine the words “Is Truth Dead?” boldly gracing a cover in any other year but this one. The events of Nov. 8, 2016, changed the course of the world dramatically, as did the months of campaigning that led up to that fateful night. Donald Trump’s victory made “Truth” into a buzzword—because suddenly, we were forced to consider the reality that there are often several shades of the truth.

Truth wasn’t the only concept distorted by Trump’s win and subsequent actions as president. Freedom, often symbolized by an-American bald eagle, has taken on a new meaning. Are American citizens truly free if the colour of their skin or the religion they practice makes them the target of a discriminatory travel ban? Equality is another word that has changed drastically; because while America’s founding fathers held the self-evident truth that all men are created equal, many of the words, actions, and policies of Trump’s administration are at direct odds with the very notion of equality.

There’s another word that I think has been missing in many discussions of Trump’s government: liberty, as in the inalienable right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and also as in the statute of Liberty  (which, I may add, has seen a significant increase in visitors since Trump took office).

Maybe it’s just me, but “Liberty” hasn’t been as widely-discussed as some of the aforementioned words. Liberty is very similar to freedom, but the definition of the word liberty on its own struck me as having particular relevance to Trump’s administration. Liberty is, according to the trusty dictionary.com, “Freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control.” Another definition: “Freedom from external or foreign rule; independence.” And another: “Freedom from control [or] interference.”

My mind jumped to Russia as I read those definitions. The investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia took a dramatic turn this week when former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn offered to testify about Russia in exchange for immunity. America is, of course, relatively autonomous; but the overwhelming evidence of links between Putin and Trump’s government makes me question just how free from foreign rule America really is, especially considering the Russian interference into the election. There is also evidence that some of Trump’s actions have been influenced by his businesses. For example, the first version of his travel ban excluded countries where he has business interests.

George Orwell said, “If liberty means anything, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” So here is something that you may not want to hear: many of America’s traditional values are shifting, perhaps not for the better. If you value things like truth, freedom, equality, and liberty, then you need to speak up and fight for them to remain an essential and unwavering aspect of democracy. Because at the rate things are going, Time is going to have a field day with all of the “Is [insert important concept here] dead?” covers.


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To Write About Trump, or Not?

“You write about Donald Trump a lot,” my friend told me. I paused, thought about the the homepage of my blog, which I knew featured several posts about Trump. Then I thought about the drafted articles saved on my laptop—many of which are about Trump—and I nodded.

“You’re right,” I said. “But is a lot too much?”

Speaking of drafts, I have one called “To talk about Trump, or to not talk about Trump?” So let’s talk about talking about Trump (confused yet?).

A few weeks ago, Toronto Star’s Washington correspondent, Daniel Dale, came to speak at my journalism school. Dale fact-checked Trump throughout the election, and continued to fact-check him after he took office in January. He is, in other words, no stranger to writing about Trump. During his speech, he said, “Pretty much anything with Trump in the headline gets a ton of readers.” I nodded my head and laughed, because it’s true. As a news-consumer, I am quick to click on articles about Trump. And, lately, the articles I have written about Trump have outperformed non-Trump articles.

This, I think, is exactly the way Trump wants things to be. The adage “All press is good press” seems to embody Trump. Even in the days before he entered politics (the good old days, if I do say so myself) Trump faced negative news cycles. Still, they always seemed to work in his favour—more people watching The Apprentice, for example. I imagine the inside of Trump’s head is a chaotic place. The word “ratings” probably still bounces around a fair bit in his mind. After all, Trump did brag about the viewing statistics for his Inauguration. The presidency is like a reality TV show to him. Negative news about Trump is still good press to him.

So maybe we shouldn’t feed this. In January, I thought it would be cool to go a week without reading Trump-related news and then write an article about the experience. I imagine it would have been a bliss-filled week. I have to complete a weekly news quiz for my journalism class, though, so ignoring Trump-related news unfortunately isn’t an option for me (and, besides, another like-minded journalist ended up doing this experiment and writing about it). I have also considered what would happen if, for one day, news organizations just stopped talking about Trump and American politics. The problem is that, speaking of ratings, theirs would likely plummet. But a Trump-free news cycle would be so refreshing; and I think that’s what my friend was hinting at when she said I write about him a lot.

To say that a Trump-free news cycle would be refreshing, though, is an indication of my privilege. Unfortunately, many people can’t ignore Trump. To them, he isn’t just an incessant topic on CNN. He’s the reason they’re fearful to go outside, the reason their community is facing increasing hate crimes. Trump’s executive orders, policies, and actions affect real people—not just in America, but around the world. If you are privileged enough that they do not have a directly negative impact on you, then I believe you have a responsibility to speak up for those who are affected.

Beyond the fact that, as Dale said, posts about Trump are popular, this is one of the reasons why I refuse to stay silent about Trump. I want to think critically and write carefully about him, and I want to spark conversations and critical thinking for my readers. Maybe I am preaching to the choir—I have no evidence that any of my posts have, for example, made a Trump supporter change their mind about him. But if I’ve made one person think about him differently, or think about his policies and the people affected, then I think I’ve done my job as a blogger and as a journalist.

As I read and write about Trump, I am cognizant of the fact that so many other people are also writing about him. I am just one of the many voices, shouting Trump’s name into the void. Except it’s not really like that, because it’s not a void. I consider myself fortunate to be in a position where people read my blog, consider my words, and sometimes add their own perspective. I am not, by any means, a “definitive voice” on Trump or American politics. But writing about Trump challenges me, and it matters to me.

I know I write about Trump a lot. Maybe it is too much. Maybe we all write about Trump too much—because it is, after all, giving him the attention that he seems to crave. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that our words matter, because the impact Trump has matters. I am going to keep writing about Trump, the people he is impacting, and the ways we can help them. And if you are also a blogger, writer, or journalist, I would encourage you to do the same.


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