‘Yesterday We Were Stunned, Today We Organize’ – CounterSpin special report on what comes next after Trump's election

Janine Jackson interviewed a variety of voices about what comes next after Donald Trump’s victory for the November 11, 2016, episode of CounterSpin.  This is a lightly edited transcript.

Protesters marching from New York City's Union Square on November 9, 2016. (photo: Jim Naureckas)

Protesters marching out of New York City’s Union Square on November 9, 2016. (photo: Jim Naureckas)

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Janine Jackson: Welcome to CounterSpin, your weekly look behind the headlines of the mainstream news. I’m Janine Jackson. This week on CounterSpin: Well, here we are. Much can and will and should be said about the, yes, presidential election of, yes, Donald Trump—including about media’s role. On this first post-election show, we’re going to focus on the question of: What now? Not to say that how we got here is unimportant—it most certainly is—but to help us keep front and center that the purpose of reflection and criticism is to enhance our ability to actually change things.

So, much to come, but for this week, what now for electoral reform and congressional diversity, for the environment, for Muslim-Americans and others made vulnerable by the so-called War on Terror in its domestic and international fronts? We’ll hear from Rob Richie and Cynthia Terrell from FairVote, from author and professor Deepa Kumar, from Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, and from Patty Lovera from Food and Water Watch. They’re all coming up, but first a brief look back at recent press

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Janine Jackson: There are many lessons to be drawn from the 2016 presidential election about how one of the least discussed divisions in the country might be between the shocked and the unshocked, about the irreducibility of racism and misogyny, and the connections between those things and economic disenfranchisement, about the gap between the electoral process and the will of the people, and about how folks may be less interested in “messaging” than in actual transformative policy.

There’s a lot to think about, but as we try to learn, we need to think about who we’re learning from. Because certainly one of the salient lessons of the election is that corporate media are not simply an inadequate vessel for a healthy democratic debate, but are in many ways an active impediment to it.

You can start with the absence of substantive issues from elite media’s election coverage. An analysis by FAIR’s Benjamin Johnson, looking at what made front-page election news in the New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today, found 47 percent of such stories to be mainly empty-calorie stuff about who was “gaining ground” and who was “broadening their outreach.” Only 12 percent of stories were focused on actual policy issues. And though some of those were valuable, the idea that reporters should cover voter reaction to what major-party candidates say, rather than seeing what people are thinking about and putting those questions to candidates, was unchallenged.

Listeners have heard how little focus the corporate media debates provided to major areas of public concern like climate disruption, poverty and police violence. And as for nightly news, analyst Andrew Tyndall reports that since the start of 2016, ABC, CBS and NBC spent only 32 minutes of airtime on coverage of all substantive electoral issues. That’s 32 minutes, and half of that was devoted to terrorism.

Well, there may be mea culpas from media about how they should have listened more openly to angry white people. We suspect there will be few about how they should have front-burnered the suppression of black and brown voters through mass incarceration and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act.

WaPo: The Gangs of Washington Are Drawing Their Knives

Richard Cohen’s final pre-election column in the Washington Post (11/7/16)

But what we certainly won’t hear will be serious questions about corporate media’s insular culture, like why stardom goes to someone like Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, whose pre-election offering tried to show how both Republicans and Democrats ignore real issues in favor of retaliatory investigations, with the Democratic example being how “they smeared Clarence Thomas, managing to turn a mediocre lawyer into a monumental martyr.”

To insult Donald Trump, Cohen says “he has your average Nicaraguan army officer’s grasp of our Constitution. He might order the return of torture.” While Richard Cohen applauded the US covert war on Nicaragua, inflicted because it overthrew a US-backed dictatorship, and he supported pardons for its officers, in part because he used to see former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger at the supermarket and he seemed like a nice guy.

And for elite pundits like Richard Cohen, torture is of course something Nicaraguans do, though the latest Amnesty report doesn’t cite that country, but does cite the United States. But then, Cohen’s on record saying CIA officers who torture shouldn’t be prosecuted because

it is imperative that our intelligence agents not have to fear that a sincere effort will result in their being hauled before some congressional committee or a Grand Jury. We want the finest people in these jobs, not time-stampers who take no chances.

Least of all should we look for media to ask about the impact of their ownership structure, how they make their money. But then, they don’t have to explain that; their priorities were established early on, when CBS CEO Les Moonves spoke to an industry group about the rise of the Donald Trump campaign.

Who would have thought that this circus would come to town but, you know, it may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS. That’s all I got to say.

You are listening to CounterSpin, brought to you by the media watch group FAIR.

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Rob Richie

Rob Richie: “Ranked-choice voting is a vehicle to give voters more power.”

Janine Jackson: As we look forward from November 8, it’s clear there is work to do on many fronts. For many people, that work starts with electoral reform. We’re joined now by Rob Richie. Rob Richie is executive director of the group FairVote. He’s joining us from Takoma Park, Maryland. Rob Richie, what now for electoral reform?

Rob Richie: I think the system is letting us down in how the candidates campaign, the choices voters have, the representation they ultimately get, and we are seeing, I think, real beacons of light in reform opportunities. And the one that I want to highlight is that Maine passed ranked-choice voting, this great reform that we believe is one that should move quickly into other states, and that will be used in 2018, after winning handily in a referendum. And that’s the kind of things that states can do. They can actually change their system to affect how we elect Congress, and that’s what’s happened in Maine.

JJ: What does that mean, ranked voting? How is that different?

RR: Whenever we have more than two people run, there’s this conundrum that has developed about, can you vote for the person you like the most without the hazard of helping to elect the person you dislike the most? Is a third party going to be a spoiler, is it going to split the vote? The problem is sort of a mathematical one, which is that if there’s more than two people running, the votes can divide in such a way that the person with the most votes actually might not have majority support, but they just sort of finish top of the heap.

JJ: Right.

RR: And so ranked-choice voting is a vehicle to give voters more power, that they’re really typically ready to use, which is not only who do you like the most, but who would you really like to not see win, and rank them last. In a partisan sense, you can say if you’re dissatisfied with a major party as someone to really speak for what you care about, you can vote for someone who you think has a long shot to win, but really speaks for your issues more, and that’s your first choice. And you can say, but I do have a preference between the major-party candidates, and here’s my second choice.

And it’s very liberating that way, because you can then vote for whom you want. And this whole internecine, repeating battle we see every cycle of like, oh, third-party candidates shouldn’t run, but, oh, the major-party candidates are disappointing. You know, we don’t have a system that allows us to handle that, and Maine now does.

JJ: An awful lot of folks nationally are looking at the Electoral College. What can you tell us about that or possibilities for change in that regard?

RR: Right. Because this is an election where Hillary Clinton is very likely to win the national popular vote by more than a million votes, so that’s underscoring the fact that that doesn’t govern the election. But what is always broken about the election is that they spend almost all their time in just these handful of states, to the point that four states drew more than half of all campaign events. So really it’s the battle to be the president of the swing states of America, and they happen to be sort of the same swing states every cycle.

So a proposal that has been moving in the states, another state-driven reform, is the National Popular Vote plan, which is to say, we’d like to have whoever wins the most votes in all 50 states and DC always win the presidential election, and so we’re going to commit to give all of our state’s electoral votes to that candidate, in tandem with other states making that same commitment. Ten states and DC have already passed this, but not enough of them have passed it so that it represents a majority of the Electoral College yet. They’re currently at 165 electoral votes, so once it tops 270, then the number of states in the compact can control the election, and all of their electoral votes will go to the national popular vote winner.

And that’s something that states can just keep on working on. There have been bills in all 50 states, and it’s exciting that that change can happen. A lot of people have felt we need to change the Constitution to change the Electoral College, but you can actually use the Electoral College to achieve the objective of a national popular vote.

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Cynthia Terrell

Cynthia Terrell: “The United States ranks behind 95 countries in women’s representation.”

Janine Jackson: Cynthia Terrell directs the Representation 20/20 project at the group FairVote. She joins us now by phone. Cynthia Terrell, what now for diversity in Congress?

Cynthia Terrell: There’s never been a successful tale to tell yet about diversity in Congress, which is one of those, I think, undertold stories about this election, and so many other elections. There, of course, were a few great spots this last Tuesday, particularly for women of color. In the Senate, in the House, there will be nine new women of color, who happen to all be Democrats in Congress, three in the US Senate and six in the House, so that’s terrific. But I think the overall picture and the overall climate for change is not very positive for women or for people of color, and that’s something that we’re going to have to address.

I think one of the stark realities, in terms of global representation: The United States ranks behind 95 countries in women’s representation, and we just aren’t increasing at nearly the same rate as other nations. And that, I think, should be a huge indicator to people who care about reflective representation to pay attention to what those other countries are doing and to think, wow, are there some systems approaches that we could be employing in the United States to correct that imbalance?

JJ: The reason we’re talking about this, of course, is that Donald Trump has been elected president, and we think misogyny has a great deal to do with that. And we think that power has a lot to do with that, and it matters very much, not just who is in the room, but who is in the room and able to say, we will do this or not do that. And so the push, then, I assume, of Representation 20/20 is to encourage and to grow more women representation and gender parity in Congress.

CT: Absolutely, absolutely. I think, while there really is only one country, Rwanda, frankly, which is above the parity line, many countries, of course, have gotten much closer—countries in Latin America, countries in Europe—and a big part of that process has been being deliberate about the number of women candidates they were going to support and run and have on the ballot and have expected to win. And so I think we need to be more deliberate about that in the United States, and I think we need to do everything we can to address systems that disadvantage women candidates.

There’s quite a bit of academic study about the 30 percent threshold—that, in order for women to really be able to exert power and have influence in either a legislative body or a corporate body, for that matter, 30 percent is the minimum threshold for that. And so I think we need to do all that we can to ensure that both our state legislative bodies and our city councils and Congress itself at least get to that 30 percent threshold in the next few election cycles, so that women can begin to exert more power and display that bipartisanship that women are well-known for, and the ability to listen carefully, to prepare for hearings, all those things that we hear, seem to be true, of women’s leadership. That’s only going to happen, though, if we’re really deliberate about how we go about getting those women there.

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Patty Lovera

Patty Lovera: “We’re going to have to figure out what we can do elsewhere while preventing further damage in DC.”

Janine Jackson: Patty Lovera is assistant director at Food and Water Watch. She joins us by phone from DC. Patty Lovera, what now for the environment and for environmental activism?

Patty Lovera: It’s not good news, obviously. For folks that are interested in these issues, I think that’s pretty clear. So in the very short term, we have work to do to figure out what exactly we’re looking at, who are we looking at for running various agencies, and the early reports are pretty disturbing.  The Trump administration seems very focused on going to the private sector, going t0 Wall Street, and he ran on a very openly anti-regulatory agenda. And it’s very clear that that’s what we’re going to be up against.

So we have things to do in this lame duck Congress. It’s been a very strange conversation about trade on both sides of the election, but we have to make sure nothing tricky happens, and we have to make sure that the TPP doesn’t happen during the lame duck session, so that’s a very immediate priority for us.

And then we’re going to have to figure out what exactly we’re looking at. But early in the new administration, we know they’re going to be talking about wiping away regulations that are new, or that were in progress.

But I would say that one opportunity that we have to keep an eye on is this talk of infrastructure. We know Trump is also talking about infrastructure. We have to make sure it’s the right kind, that it’s not just giving money to private entities to privatize water systems or things like that. We have to make sure if there’s going to be an investment in infrastructure, it’s the right kind of investment.

JJ: And by “make sure,” do you mean with just oversight? Because what does it mean when you have anti-regulatory people in charge of regulatory agencies? What does that look like?

PL: Well, we’ve seen this. You know, we’ve lived through this, with the Bush administration and other administrations. It means that the hand-to-hand combat of making regulations and what happens in Washington is going to get tougher. But we have to do it, so we’re going to have to put pressure on folks who are actually on both sides of the aisle, who actually care about the outcomes, to be honest about what’s going on. We’re going to need Democrats to be willing to stand up and try to block things where they can, especially in the Senate.

We’re going to have to do good analysis and point out the flaws in the way things are being packaged and sold, in cost/benefit analysis and stuff like that, and to call a spade a spade when we see them trying to talk something up as an improvement and it’s a cut. We’re going to have to say so, and we’re going to have to be loud about it.

And then the other thing I can’t forget to mention is that Washington, DC, is important; we can’t abandon it, because things will get worse if we just walk away. But it’s not the end all, be all. So I think we’re going to see a lot of folks talking about, well, what can we do at the state level, and what can we do at the local level? And I think it’s time to make sure we have good coordination about that.

You know, we can do stuff at the state level, and we absolutely should, but we can’t abandon Washington if they can come in later and undo what you did at the state level. So we have to be coordinating that and paying attention to both. But I think, especially in environmental issues, we’re going to see a lot of creativity, and we’re going to have to figure out what we can do elsewhere while preventing further damage in DC.

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Deepa Kumar

Deepa Kumar: “He has emboldened and enabled all of the far -right-wing racist, white supremacist groups.”

Janine Jackson: We are joined now by Deepa Kumar; she’s associate professor of media studies at Rutgers University, where she’s vice president of the faculty union, and author of, most recently, Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire. Deepa Kumar, what now for Muslims, and for anyone concerned with Islamophobia?

Deepa Kumar: Yeah, this is a truly frightening time, Janine, for all people of color, certainly Muslim-Americans as well, if it was not bad enough last year. Last year, 2015, will go down as having been the worst year for Muslim-Americans in this country. Now with a Trump presidency, that’s just going to get worse, because he has emboldened and enabled all of the far -right-wing racist, white supremacist groups—like the KKK, which endorsed Donald Trump—he has emboldened them, and we’re going to only, unfortunately, see more physical and verbal attacks.

And it’s not just the far right. I think that it has really awoken sort of latent racism. You know, this country has a long history of racism. And those are going to come to the fore as well. I think, though, that once we get over our fear and shock of what’s happened, we’ve really got to organize, and we’ve got to organize quickly.

We just called a meeting tomorrow, an emergency meeting of my union. As you mentioned, I am the vice president of the union. We are bringing together students and faculty to form a coalition on how to respond right now to what is happening. At our newer campus, I heard a report that two Muslim-American students were attacked. They filed a report with the campus police. But we need to build a wall of solidarity right now which involves Muslim-Americans, which involves African-Americans, which involves white people, which involves anybody who does not believe that people should be targeted because of their ethnicity, religion, race or gender, for that matter. So that’s how we’re pushing forward, Janine, as yesterday we were stunned, today we organize.

JJ: And you have noted, Deepa, just finally, that we often tally up attacks, physical attacks on individuals, but Islamophobia takes other forms. And so there are other things that are more systematic that I suppose we can expect a worsening of as well.

DK: Absolutely. I think that Donald Trump’s promises that he is going to prevent Muslims from coming to this country by issuing a ban, that he’s going to create a database where all Muslim-Americans have to register, this is just horrendous. And I think that these structural factors are going to come into being in the months to come.

But I do want to note, though, that as much as we should be scared of what Trump is going to do, this is not coming out of the blue. If you look at the dialogue and if you look at the discourse around the presidential election, Clinton basically in her debates and in her discussions said, well, Muslim-Americans are the eyes and ears of the national security state. What is she doing? She’s just amplifying this idea that somehow the only value of Muslim-Americans is to be agents of surveillance, and that if you’re not, you’re a bad Muslim. Right?

What this does, and what we’ve seen through the course of the Obama administration as well, is this idea that all Muslims somehow are culpable or responsible for the actions of a few. And unfortunately, when the Democrats cultivate this sort of attitude, the Republicans and the far right can take it one step, two steps, 100 steps forward. So this has been, I have argued, a bipartisan attack, and what we need is to organize at the grassroots level to fight back against this.

And I think what this moment also allows for is solidarity with other racialized groups. After all, Trump has also gone after Mexicans, he’s called them rapists. He’s calling for a policy to have a national stop-and-frisk policy. This will affect African-Americans, this will affect Mexican-Americans and Latinos. And I think this a moment where we have to come together around all of these issues, structurally as well as individually, to fight back for the kind of society we want to live in.

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Phyllis Bennis

Phyllis Bennis: “Social movements are going to be far more important than who’s in the Congress.”

Janine Jackson: We’re joined now by Phyllis Bennis. She’s director of the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies and author of, among other titles, Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror: A Primer. She joins us from Washington, DC. Phyllis Bennis, what now in terms of this country’s foreign policy, defined as it is so much by the “War on Terror”?

Phyllis Bennis: You know, Janine, the big problem we face right now, on the question of foreign policy, is that we don’t really have a clue what a Trump foreign policy will look like. We don’t know who will be in charge. We do know that Trump does not have, either for himself or as connected to his party, what they call a deep bench in foreign policy, meaning obvious people who would be assigned to various jobs. The question has emerged, would he rely on corporate officials who negotiate international trade deals or international corporate deals? We simply don’t know.

We also don’t know what Donald Trump stands for in foreign policy. He has said a number of things that people who have fought against wars and occupations for many years would look at and say, wow, that’s not so bad. He’s said, for example, that we should have better relations with Russia. He said once that the US should be “neutral” between Israel and the Palestinians. He said we should say no to nation-building, and he opposed the idea of a no-fly zone in Syria.

But there’s absolutely no reason to think that he’s going to stick to those statements. He’s made other statements completely opposed to them. Most notably, he said he would tear up the Iran nuclear deal. At various points, he called for nuclear weapons to be expanded, to be available for Saudi Arabia and South Korea, and then disavowed those statements.

What we’re dealing with here is a situation where he talks about his great slogan, making America great again, and the foreign policy and military part of making America great seems to be going back to an era of what he would consider unchallenged US global hegemony. So it’s less about creating a foreign policy that works, that protects people in the US and makes us a good partner internationally. It’s less about that than about a foreign policy that will ensure that the US does not have a serious challenger.

So I think what we’re dealing with is a great deal of uncertainty. The only thing that we know for sure is that social movements are going to be far more important than anyone else. Social movements are going to be far more important than who’s in the Congress, who’s in the White House, who’s in the Supreme Court. Because that’s the only way we’re going to have to change history.

I think one of the things that we’ve seen, very dangerous in the election process and in the coming Trump presidency, is that the movement that rose up around his campaign has within it a really almost fascist core of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, Islamophobia. And this is very dangerous if that movement begins to feel that, with Trump in the White House, they somehow have power and impunity from accountability, that they have legitimacy that they should never have had and never deserved. It will be even more dangerous.

And so our social movements, I think many of us were already preparing for resisting what we anticipated would be a Clinton administration, saying no honeymoon, no waiting, mobilize immediately a movement against wars and escalation. We’re still going to have to do that, but now we’re going to have to do that, I think, in the context of a broader resistance movement, where motions to work to build movements against wars are going to have to also be movements to defend refugees that are trying to come here as a result of those wars.

And it’s also going to have to link with movements who are providing the first defense for endangered communities, whether those be immigrant communities, refugees, people of color, Muslim communities, Arabs, women, LGBTQ communities. All of these communities could face serious dangers in the coming period, because of that movement that has risen through the campaign process. And our movements to stop wars and create a foreign policy based on diplomacy over war is going to have to be part of those broader movements aimed at protecting those most vulnerable communities.

JJ: Thank you very much, Phyllis Bennis.

PB: Thank you.

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This piece was reprinted by RINF Alternative News with permission from FAIR.