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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

How America got "Trumped"

The “#Dumptrump" camp, and the soul of the GOP, may be in the process of having their worst nightmares come to fruition.  As I write this piece, today, on March 8, 2016, Trump has garnered 384 delegates to Cruz’s 300 and Rubio’s 151.  In a national poll, published by the Washington Times, Trump maintains a 9-point national lead over Ted Cruz.  Republicans are sharking their heads.  They are asking, where did we go wrong?  How did this happen?  They aren’t the only ones.  Numerous analysts have asked whether or not we are watching the demise of the Republican Party itself.  Samantha Bee, in her biting satire, last night, issued a eulogy for the GOP’s last rites.  She argued that the Republican candidates have reduced the party to, “rambunctious man-children hollering about their pee-pees.”  In addition to eulogies, other folks are jumping ship. 

As reported in the March 03 edition of the New York Times, “two top Republicans, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, said this week that they would not vote for Mr. Trump in November.”  William Kristol, Editor of the Weekly Standard, stated that he would not vote for Trump and, instead, work towards an  “independent Republican” nominee.  Similarly, Max Boot, a foreign policy adviser to Senator Marco Rubio declared, “I would sooner vote for Josef Stalin than I would vote for Donald Trump . . . there is no way in hell I would ever vote for him. I would far more readily support Hillary Clinton, or Bloomberg if he ran.”  But it is not just Republican faithfulls who are threatening defection, and perhaps heretic behavior.  According to the March 07 edition of Global News, “An Ontario immigration lawyer reports that he has been flooded with calls from, inquiring Americans, off all party allegiances, as to how one migrate if Trump were to be elected President. 

The Jimmy Kimmel show, this week, aired a satire sketch of the Broadway musical, The Producers called “Trumped.”  In this sketch, Mathew Broderick (Le Bloom) and Nathan Lane’s (Max Bialystock) characters, rather than theatre producers, play corrupt political strategists.  Same premise:  instead of devising a musical play which flops, Broderick and Lane set forth to rig an election for monetary gain.  Their scheme?  Put forth a popular, yet sure-fire losing candidate, hype their candidacy on the front end to elicit campaign donations, and when their candidate loses the nomination, pocket the money.  Their plan can’t fail! 

Like Broadway’s musical, Broderick and Lane take their rhetoric to the absurd.  In the musical’s version, the sleazy producers put on a play—one that is absurd:  a musical about Adolf Hitler.  No, there is no irony lost here.  The Washington Post, when reporting on this spoof, stated, “Jimmy Kimmel’s Producers’ sketch provides a hilarious explanation for the rise of Trump.” While audience members, after watching this skit are splitting their sides with laughter, members of the Republican Party, along with anti-Trump opponents, are shaking their heads in disgust and bewilderment.  Thus, while satirizing the “Producers” offers audience members a humorous understanding of Trump’s (perhaps now) inevitable nomination for the Republican Party, the Washington Post describes Trump’s ascent to power as “inexplicable.”  This claim is where my analysis begins.  Trump’s ascent is completely explicable. 

Let’s use the Kimmel skit, as an analogue, to explain Trump’s rhetorical rise to the nomination.  In the skit, Max states, “ . . . your idea about building the wall across the Mexican border –brilliant!  He won’t last the week!”  Le:  “He’s still in the lead, Max.”  Max:  “But how could this happen?  Where did we go right?  Wait a minute; did he say we should forcibly kick out 11 million immigrants?”  Le:  “Yes.”  Max:  “Did he propose banning all one billion Muslims from entering the U.S.?”  Le:  “Yes.  Nothing is working Max, Nothing.”

Let’s now examine Trump’s rhetoric, in conjunction with Kimmel’s satire, in order to lay the foundation to garner some insight as to why Trump’s rhetoric is, indeed, working.  Trump on Mexicans:  When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems.  And they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists . . .” Trump on Muslims:  “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown on Muslims Entering the United States.”  Trump on Isis:  “We’re fighting a very politically correct war. And the other thing is with the terrorists; you have to take out their families. When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families . . .” Trump on Women:  “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes.  Blood coming out of her wherever.”  Trump on the Pope:  “Disgraceful.”  Trump on immigration:  I will build a great wall.  And nobody builds walls better than me, believe me—and I’ll build them very inexpensively.  I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall.  Mark my words.”  Trump’s uses of social media extend these discourses, of hate, into digestible sound bites.  For instance, Trump tweeted a quote from Benito Mussolini, founder of the fascist movement:  “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.”  Trump also re-tweeted a quote from a well-known Nazi sympathizing white nationalist.

Rhetoric creates a reality.  Taken together, the aforementioned examples demonstrate Trump’s efficacious use of rhetorics of fear, hate and xenophobia, which have enabled his rise to the top.  But, the explanation, is not that simple. We must go back a bit further in time.  I suggest that the Republican Party’s acceptance of the ideologies of right-wing religious extremists, coupled with the inclusion of tea party member ideological sensibilities, set the perfect stage, via a political climate, for Trump to rise as the frontrunner and the current face of the GOP.  These discourses have been circulating and permeating the public sphere, by talk radio demigods, and the religious right, long before these 2016 presidential caucuses. 

For instance, Senator Fred Thompson, during the 2008 presidential race:  “Twelve million illegal immigrants later, we are now living in a nation that is beset by people who are suicidal maniacs and want to kill countless innocent men, women, and children around the world.” Reverend John Hagee, in 2006:  “How did [the Holocaust] happen? Because God allowed it to happen . . . because God said, ‘my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.’”  Rush Limbaugh:  “Let the unskilled jobs that take absolutely no knowledge whatsoever to do — let stupid and unskilled Mexicans do that work.”

Similar to arguments put forth from feminist scholars about how rhetorics of the acceptability and encouragement of violence against women create a rape culture—a culture where violence against women is accepted and even celebrated, I contend that the rhetoric of the Republican Party, coupled with its talk radio spokespeople, and tea party members, have functioned to create a political climate where Trump’s discourse, much to the dismay of the characters Le Bloom and Max Bialystock, is not viewed as absurd, immoral or wrong but, instead, as the rational new norm—a norm where these ideologies will “make America great again.”

These bodies of rhetoric, which has been circulating, and now centered with Trump, are not without impact. At the Nevada caucus, the Ku Klux Klan came out, sheets and all.  In addition, the KKK, only a few weeks back, held a public rally in Orange County, CA.  According to 2016 statistics published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, 892 hate groups are currently operating in the United States—a 14% increase since 2014.  Mark Potok, Senior Fellow of the same organization, last month, reported:  “the number of hate and anti-government ‘patriot’ groups grew last year, and terrorist attacks and radical plots proliferated . . . the armed violence was accompanied by rabid and often racist denunciations of Muslims, LGBT activists and others--incendiary rhetoric led by a number of mainstream political figures and amplified by a lowing herd of their enablers in the right-wing media. Reacting to demographic changes in the U.S., immigration, the legalization of same-sex marriage, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and Islamist atrocities, these people fostered a sense of polarization and anger in this country that may be unmatched since the political upheavals of 1968.”

Ignorance and fear bread hate and extremism.  While, typically, the radical right, talk show hosts and fringe groups are at the margins of the GOP, this time, Trump’s rhetoric mainstreams and capitalizes on it: “I love the uneducated.” His rhetoric is a lightening rod.  The centering of of these bodies of rhetorics can be marked by their maturation, perhaps best, by the straightforward question of Jack Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.  When asked by Tapper whether or not he would disavow David Duke and other white supremacist groups that support his campaign, he replied: “I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists . . . so I don't know. I don't know.  Did he endorse me, or what's going on? Because I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists.”

So while, as previously demonstrated, Republicans are currently the harshest and most outspoken critics of Trump it is, paradoxically, the Republican Party’s own rhetoric, over time, which has created the conditions for Trump to emerge as the party’s leader.   As such, Trump’s popularity should come as no surprise.  One week prior to Super Tuesday, Rubio and Cruz saw the writing on the wall.  But it was too late.  Rubio, attempting to reel the party base back in, stated, “When I hear the Ku Klux Klan, I say racist.”  Cruz:  “The KKK is always bad. Bad, bad, bad . . . he didn’t seem to get the memo on that.” 

In an interesting moment, which most pundits missed, during a recent Rubio press conference, Rubio hinted at the hood of hate that Trump has been symbolically wearing:  “It’s time to pull his mask off so that people can see what we’re dealing with . . . we cannot allow the conservative movement to be taken over by a con artist, because the stakes are too high . . . friends do not let friends vote for con artists.”    

However, pulling off a mask connotes pulling the wool over the American public’s eyes—that Americans have been somehow duped.  But let us examine several polls.  According to a recent poll conducted by the Economist, close to 20% of Trump supporters do not feel that ending slavery was the right thing to do.  According to a CNN poll, 54% of Trump supporters believe that Obama is Muslim.  Given these statistical realities of Trump supporters, along with the documented rise in hate and extremist groups across our Country, coinciding with the dominant circulation of xenophobic and hate speech, Trump is not a conman.  He is a reflection of our populous. Trump’s demonizing statements about Latinos and Muslims, for instance, have electrified the radical right, and put a spotlight on the ugly ideologies that already existed.  Trump is merely the signifier.  As the Kimmel skit stated, “ It’s a story that starts off funny, then gets really, really depressing . . . what have we done.”  When Trump is gone (yes, I do not think that he will become our next President, for the record) the ideological discourses of xenophobia and hate will still remain, along with the individuals who support them.  These are the stakes that we should be focused on, so that we do not again get “Trumped.”

Friday, February 5, 2016

Sexism, Alive and Well in 2016 Presidential Campaign

As a Woman, a Feminist, a Mother to a daughter, and as a Girl Scout Leader, I have dreamed about electing our Country's first female President of the United States. Breaking the glass ceiling, in the most powerful way.  That is my hopeful, utopian side.  As a scholar of Communication Studies and gender, however, the other hat that I wear, is more of a skeptic. The rhetoric and media coverage of Hillary’s speaking style, post Thursday’s prime-time Democratic Debate, came as no surprise.  Sexist attitudes and perceptions, regarding men and women’s speaking styles, are supported by an abundance of scholarly research.

While men in the political arena who raise their voices are often reported as more presidential, competent and viewed as leaders, women, on the contrary, are depicted as irrational, angry, and emotional.  But one doesn’t need to enact a literature review in academia to find evidence as to how prevalent a role sexist attitudes play in this presidential election.

Sexism, attached to Hillary, is not a new phenomenon.  One needs only to recall the dominant tropes that were attached to her speeches in the last Presidential election cycle:  “shrill” and “nagging” were a few of the best mainstream zingers.  At let’s not forget the oldie but goodie of how her menstrual cycle would inevitably affect her Presidential decision-making ability.  Another salient example is the media’s treatment of Hillary’s use of pathos, versus President Barak Obama’s.  When Hillary cried during her last Presidential run, she was perceived as weak and vulnerable.  Conversely, when President Obama cried during his gun control speech, he was lauded as “empathetic” and a “true family man,” able to place himself square in the hearts and minds of the families affected by gun violence.

Fast-forward to 2016.  What has changed?  We can start off with Trump’s comment about Hillary’s bathroom break:  “I know where she went—it’s disgusting, I don't want to talk about it . . . no, it’s too disgusting. Don’t say it, it’s disgusting.”  This comment functions to reduce Hillary to her feminine body parts—overt shaming of the female body.  This comment was fresh of the heels of Trump’s statement that Hillary got “schlonged” by Barak Obama, in 2008.  Hillary’s vagina is, again, centered and sexualized—and, in this reference, perhaps even violated (not to mention the problematics of equating Obama with an implied hyper-sexualized Black male phallus). 

These vile and crass referents from Trump tend to be, by the media and the public, easily dismissed.  It is Trump, c’mon!  What do you expect?  But what happens when we examine the media’s treatment of Hillary’s rhetoric absent from him and a particular candidate.  Let’s examine the sexism inherent within her rhetoric proper—as a candidate.  Her speaking style.

After Thursday night’s debate, the media’s sexist treatment of Hillary’s rhetoric is unable to ignore.  Journalist Bob Woodward argued that Hillary is having difficulty competing with Bernie because she “shouts too much.”  MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” segment read like a Saturday Night Live parody of women in politics.  If only.  The commentators described Hillary’s communication style as “unnatural,” in approach, “screaming” in tone, and “feisty” in pathos.  Woodward continued, “She could make a case for herself if she would just kind of lower the temperature and . . . get off this screaming stuff.”  According to the New York Times, Clinton appeared “tense and even angry at times,” while Bernie Sanders “largely kept his cool.  The Times described Clinton’s rhetoric as “vitriol[ic].” 

Message received loud and clear:  In other words, Hillary, follow your marching orders.  Do not speak up or act out.  Act lady-like, be deferential, embrace non-assertiveness and be amenable to your candidate’s positions.  In other words, don’t act like a Presidential candidate.  Imagine if this rhetoric that continues to be attached to Hillary was directed at Bernie, Trump or Cruz?  The louder that Trump gets, “[yelling] I will build a great wall!” his polls see a boost.  Or Ted Cruz, during his Iowa Victory Speech:  “Our rights come from our creator!” these words lauded by his base as reflective of a true conservative.  What about Bernie Sanders?  Rather than being depicted as irrational or incompetent every time he raises his voice, instead, he is the loving Grandfather figure who speaks through “tough love.  Let’s not even discuss Chris Cristie’s speaking tenor, that one is too obvious.

Regardless of what you think of Hillary’s voting record, regardless of what you think about her take on the issues, it is undeniable that in this election, as in 2008, public perceptions of her political persona will undeniably be tainted by the media’s role in the perpetuation of double standards and blatant sexism.  This fact should matter to all voters.  

Nina M. Lozano-Reich, Ph.D. is a former Carnegie Fellow and an Associate Professor in the Communication Studies Department, at Loyola Marymount University.  Dr. Reich teaches classes in rhetoric and social movements.  She has published numerous book chapters and journal articles regarding politics and social change.  Her lasts book project focuses on the rhetoric surrounding the femicides in Juarez, Mexico.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Bernie: Rhetoric Vs. Reality

Bernie:  Rhetoric Vs. Reality

What do the Zapatistas and Bernie Sanders have in common?  Hint:  not a Revolution.  To untangle this, let us back up a bit.  Let me rely on my extensive academic and first-hand knowledge of the United States and Mexico’s relationship to political social change, in order to delve deeper into the “Feel the Bern” phenomenon. You’ve heard of the Zapatistas, haven’t you?  They are the peoples who sparked an anti-establishment political revolution against the Mexican Govt., free trade, big banks, and NAFTA.  Starting to sound familiar? 

The day following the Iowa caucuses, a CNN headline read, “Bernie Sanders’ Improbable Revolution.”  Common Dreams wrote, “Astounding the World in Iowa, Sanders’ Revolution Marches on.”  South Carolina Now’s headline stated, “For Sanders, Iowa is Chance to Turn Revolution into Reality.”  Is Bernie Sanders sparking a political revolution, as the dominant media suggests?  Is the American public witnessing a rejection of the establishment, as Bernie argues?  Sanders calls for a rejection of Wall St., he rejected NAFTA, and calls for an end to corrupt corporate effects of globalization.  Sanders’ rhetoric is not unlike the rhetoric of the Zapatistas, an indigenous group on the other side of the NAFTA border, which also called for an anti-establishment political revolution.  Of concern, is that the mainstream media, and the public, has not challenged Sanders’ use of his persuasive tropes of “anti-establishment” and “revolution.”  If we vote for Sanders, will this, in fact, be America’s future?  Real people are affected by the policies that Sanders claims he will revolt against.  Claims to ameliorate the material realities of exploitation and poverty, through revolution, should not be accepted without critical scrutiny. 

On January 01, 1994, the day of the signing of NAFTA, which Sanders also voted against, the Zapatistas presented themselves to the world.  The Zapatistas were, and continue today, to represent the embodiment of an anti-establishment, political revolution—the same categories, which Sanders’ invokes, in his campaign rhetoric.  In Chiapas, Mexico, they trained in secret, for years, prior to the signage of NAFTA; they saw the writing of the wall.  Today, forty-one years later, this revolutionary, anti-establishment, anti-globalization, anti-neoliberal economic movement has resulted in six autonomous “caracoles,” (independent land sites), wherein the indigenous peoples are a fully functioning autonomous “Gobierno bueno” (good government) body, which practices direct democracy. “Caracoles,” in Spanish, means snails.  Because revolution is slow, like a snail.

Bernie Sanders’ rhetoric calls for voters to spark a revolution.  He claims to be a candidate who is anti-establishment:  “We need a political revolution of millions of people in this country who are prepared to stand up and say, 'enough is enough' ... I want to help lead that effort,” and “With your support and the support of millions of people throughout this country, we begin a political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally.”  Sanders’ discourse effectively taps into the public consciousness pertaining to the Occupy movement, which attacked Wall Street and the one percent.  He wants to be a leader for the people.  The forgotten.  The shrinking middle-class.  The rhetoric is, indeed, persuasive.  But is it revolutionary?

Sanders’ rhetoric is persuasive, as the aforementioned Sanders’ headlines are a reflection of Bernie’s utilization of two dominant ideographs—one-word political slogans, imbued with ideology, deployed again and again, within his political rhetoric:  “anti-establishment” and “revolution.” Sanders’ use of these tropes has been effective.  For example, Sanders has raised roughly thirty-three million dollars within the last three months of 2015, with the average donation equaling $27.13. Sanders, a one-time long shot, just pulled out Iowa with a virtual tie, winning twenty-one delegates against Hillary’s twenty-two.

In January of 2006, as an analogue, the Zapatistas embarked on, in response to the Mexican Presidential election,  “La Otra Compaña” (the Other Campaign).  The campaign operated outside of the two primary political parties—the PAN and the PRI.  The campaign was an attempt to unify the people of Mexico, along with pre-existing groups of resistance, to continue to struggle against the establishment.  It was a call for the rejection of the two-party system, a rejection of corporate interests and corrupt politicians.  Subcomondante Marcos, the spokesperson for the Zapatistas, functioned as anti-establishment, when he stated:  the goal of the campaign is not to speak or run for office, but to listen to the simple and humble people who struggle.”  In not running Marcos for office, the Zapatistas remained inherently anti-establishment.  Their rhetoric, which existed outside of the mainstream political system, enabled movements of resistance against neo-liberal capitalist forces to grow—forging strong alliances with other activists groups to form strong hegemonic blocks against the Mexican Government.

Is Sanders anti-establishment? Unlike Subcomondante Marcos, not running for office as a PRI or PAN candidate, Sanders sits squarely as a part of the mainstream United States political process.  Sanders, a current Senator of Virginia, is a life-long politician, concurrently eschewing the role of an independent, in order to embrace and center himself as part of the mainstream Democratic party.  While the Zapatistas called for the masses to reject voting, and create a revolutionary alternative, Sanders wants your vote.  He wants you to continue to participate within the established political system.  In other words, the status quo.

When analyzing Sanders’ rhetoric, in conjunction with the mainstream media’s usage of his campaign as “a political revolution,” one must look at the systemic elements at play.  A political revolution—both rhetorically and materially, involves the overthrow or rejection of a system or government, most often by force, and replacing that system with a new system.  Sanders is not calling for a rejection of the current system.  He wants to be a part of it. If he were to be elected President, Congress is still there.  Thus, his “revolution” would need to garner enough Democratic seats to overrule a Republican filibuster, or the masses would have to exert so much pressure, from the ground, that the house and senate would be persuaded to capitulate on issues such as a single-payer healthcare system, taxes, free tuition, single-payer healthcare, etc. Given the ideology of the Republics and the far right, this does not equate to a mass shift in consciousness, which would be a necessary prerequisite to any revolution.

Forty-one years later, in 2016, the Zapatistas now have indigenous and autonomous control over land and resources—land free from maquiladoras (sweat shops), slave labor, GMOs, corporate land take-overs, corrupt politicians, bankers and multi-national corporations.  Instead, their revolution has produced thriving communities with their own schools, healthcare clinics, thriving crops, indigenous language preservation and even an academic and trade focused University—all free.  Run by the people, for the people. 

Whist reflecting on the Zapatistas revolution, in April of 2015, the Zapatistas clarified the distinction, in a world-wide communiqué, between revolutionary change and voting in mainstream elections:  “Because it’s the same thing among all those who want a political position, regardless of whether they dress up red, or sometimes in blue, or sometimes they put on a new color.  And then they say they are the people and that therefore, the people have to support them.  But they aren’t of the people.  They’re the same bad governments who one day are local representatives, and the next are union leaders, then they are party functionaries . . . bouncing from one position to another, and also from one color to another.” 

To be clear, I am not equating Bernie with the Zapatistas, that would, indeed, be apples and oranges—a fallacy of equivalence.  But that is precisely the point.  There are, indeed, revolution economic justice movements happening on the ground, around the world. We are not witnessing a political ant-establishment revolution, with Sanders’ campaign, as the mainstream media describes.  When the dominant media articulates Sanders’ campaign as a revolutionary, it de-centers actual revolutionary work stemming, from grassroots groups, operating outside of the mainstream political parties, nation-wide, in numerous communities from the ground up.

Yes, Sanders has raised a lot of money.  Yes, Sanders’ rhetoric is persuasive. Yes, people are “feeling the Bern.”  But they are feeling the “burn” of a traditional established politician, operating within a mainstream political system, with all of the mainstream political constraints for change—not a “burn” of a radical political revolution, which inherently changes the system.   NAFTA will still exist.  Wall St. will still exist.  The Republican House will still exist.  Revolutions transform, they rupture, re-work and replace governmental systems.  Political revolutions do not stem from $27.13 donations to a mainstream political party candidate.  To witness true revolution, you’d have to visit the Zapatista snails in Chiapas.


Nina M. Lozano-Reich, Ph.D. is a former Carnegie Fellow and an Associate Professor in the Communication Studies Department, at Loyola Marymount University.  Dr. Reich teaches classes in rhetoric and social movements.  She has published numerous book chapters and journal articles regarding politics and social change.  Her lasts book project focuses on the rhetoric surrounding the femicides in Juarez, Mexico.