It was another chaotic weekend for the Trump administration.
It began with Steve Bannon taking on the mainstream media. On Thursday, Bannon told the New York Times, “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.” Then on Saturday Trump signed an executive order that “bars citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for the next 90 days and suspends the admission of all refugees for 120 days.”
Confusion ensued as Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, claimed that the order “doesn’t affect” anyone with a green card, but later said “of course” anyone with a green card from Syria, Iran, Sudan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen would be affected.
Airport officials were confused, Muslims were detained, and Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham created a joint statement that criticized the order, “Our government has the responsibility to defend our borders, but we must do so in a way that makes us safer and upholds all that is decent and exceptional about our nation.”
In other words, Trumps order fails to live up to American ideals.
And Americans have spoken. Americans took to the streets and airports to protest when Trump announced his ban on children and their parents fleeing war torn areas. Trump said, “We don’t want you here.” But the American people said, “We do want you here.”
Why Progressives Should Be Hopeful
And as a progressive, I’m filled with hope. Trump was right about one thing during his inaugural address. The power is not with Trump. It’s not with the media. The power is with the people.
This brings me back to Steve Bannon and the mainstream media, specifically the New York Times. Why does the Trump Administration, along with Bannon, consistently try to demonize the mainstream media? It’s because they know that they are weak and that the media holds the power in the relationship.
In addition, Bannon holds a love/hate relationship with the New York Times. Bannon was the executive chair of Breitbart News. He has described it “as the platform of the Internet-based alt-right.”
As Donald Trump declared in November, the New York Times is, “a great, great, American jewel, a world jewel.” Breitbart? Not a jewel. And Bannon knows that the New York Times is more powerful and more influential that Breitbart will ever be.
How [Not] To Be a Model/Obstacle
Anthropologist René Girard calls this the “model-obstacle” relationship. Whether we are aware of it or not, we all have models. We all have people we want to be like. But our models want to hold onto power, prestige, or success. To do that, they can become an obstacle in our desire to be like them. This leads to increased feelings of jealousy, envy, and rivalry.
Bannon envies the New York Times. The Times is his model for success. That’s why he calls them the “opposition party.” The model of success is always a potential rival, in this case, the “opposition.” We want our model to admire us. Trump and Bannon envy the Times because of the Times’ success, and even more because they desperately want the Times to admire them.
But the New York Times refuses to admire the Trump Administration. Thank God! That’s not their job. But there’s nothing more that Trump and Bannon want than to be admired. Why? In part because they are human, but also because they know they are politically weak.
That’s how these events of the weekend are connected. Trump doesn’t have a mandate. He lost the popular vote. Hundreds of thousands of people joined the women’s march in Washington DC, while many more marched throughout the world. From Seattle to New York, protesters spoke out against the refugee ban to tell people fleeing war torn countries that they are in fact welcome here. And many more of us are flooding Congressional email boxes and calling our representatives to tell them this act of exclusion is un-American.
Power To the People
Indeed, as a progressive I’m filled with hope because we are witnessing that the power is with us – the people. But in our protests and our search for justice, we would do well to realize that the Trump Administration is already weak. Their grasps for power are signs of their actual weakness.
As such, we must be careful to not turn Trump or Bannon into our models or into rivals. They are politicians in desperate need of an enemy. And so they create an enemy out of “the mainstream media” or “the elite” or “the progressives.”
We cannot afford to play their game. For when we do, we make them into our model and we give them more power than they deserve. The Trump Administration is not our enemy. Our current enemy is their divisive policies. And we must fight against those policies. But we would do well to do so in a way that doesn’t demonize them. Otherwise, we make them into our model. And they become our obstacle. And we play right into their hands.