This article was originally published in The Final Call
By Barrington Salmon Contributing Writer
WASHINGTON—Three years into his presidency, Donald Trump has taken a hatchet to the country’s institutions and upended more than two centuries of accepted presidential norms.
Historians, presidential experts, academics, scholars and swathes of the public are alarmed and dismayed by what the 45th president’s doing, and everyone is weighing in on the fallout, implications and consequences to the country. Some argue that America is fighting for its soul and there are those who are wrestling with questions and concerns about if and how America will survive.
Dr. Wilmer J. Leon, III, paused before trying to answer the question posed about the extent of damage Mr. Trump has inflicted on America’s body politic.
“Ahh, that’s a very hard question to answer because we’re still in the midst of the damage. It’s a more historic question that historians will have to answer,” the political scientist, author and talk show host told The Final Call. “Steve Bannon told us during the campaign that the goal was deconstruction of the administrative state. That’s what they’ve done.”
“All this is to enable the ruling class to get an even stronger hold on the ‘treasury’ so that they can extract every cent possible from this country. Privatization is the neoliberal agenda to put into private hands the military, the educational system, everything the government is designed to provide. The degree to which they’ll be able to do that, time will tell.”
Dr. Leon said this administration “wants to deregulate everything.”
“They want to drill where they want, to deregulate everything, deforest everything, rape and pillage,” he said. “In talking about the administrative state, Trump is a transactional guy. Systems, structures and processes are encumbrances to you reaching your objective. You don’t need the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education or the Energy Department to get in the way.”
Dr. Leon, a nationally syndicated columnist and the host of SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s, “Inside The Issues with Wilmer Leon,” said the damage won’t be as deep as some think because a good deal of what Mr. Trump has done has been through executive orders which aren’t as binding as a court decision, a constitutional change or legislation passed.
He characterized himself as an eternal optimist who believes the United States will survive and come back stronger.
From the beginning of his presidential campaign, Mr. Trump has pursued a strategy of racial grievance and racial animus and promoting White nationalist extremists, Neo-Nazis and Klan members, while launching targeted attacks against Muslims, immigrants, Latinos other non-Whites, and, of course, Blacks.
On a broader scale, he assembled a cabinet of millionaires and billionaires as well as lobbyists and other industry types who all oppose the mandates of the federal agencies they’re supposed to be running.
South Florida resident and radio personality Steven “Sir Rockwell” Warner is on the opposite end of the spectrum compared to Dr. Leon, and try as he might, feels none of the Dr. Leon’s optimism.
“I think Trump has done irreversible damage,” said Mr. Warner, owner and host of the flagship Internet radio show “Wake Up and Live,” a daily syndicated program of music and commentary that is carried on at least 41 online stations around the world and has just under 200,000 listeners. “His motto is racism and greed. I think he has really opened doors for racist policies and procedures to be put in place. He says to White people it’s your American right to be racist, to put America first. He has given people license to hate Black people, legitimized discrimination, and police think they have the right to kill you.”
The Jamaican native who was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., said he’s watched with dismay as the Trump administration has closed the door on legal immigration using race-based criteria to severely limit the number of immigrants coming to this country. Meanwhile, Mr. Warner added, Mr. Trump is “killing small business owners.”
“ … Because he’s giving big businesses the opportunity to maximize profits and cut overhead,” he explained. “Twenty-five years ago, every corner in South Florida had a Caribbean store but places like Walmart are running Caribbean people out of business. There’s nothing but Haitians and Jamaicans at Walmart. And then they’re automating.”
“As an immigrant, I know we’re going to feel it the most. It’s sad because there’s a generation now in the position to pull up their grandparents, moms and dads (from the countries of their birth) but immigration restrictions will blunt that.”
Michele L. Watley and Jamila Bey were more philosophical, thinking in terms of the positive benefits that will likely accrue from the destruction or dismantling of this country’s system, and as Ms. Watley theorized that as this system is disrupted, what are opportunities waiting to be reaped?
“I do believe that every destruction carries with it seeds of renewal,” said Ms. Bey, a D.C. metropolitan area-based journalist and commentator. “What he has absolutely done is reawakened a type of understanding of the civic responsibility—what should be the role of government service. Then there’s the question of what are the guarantees of political protection which are being dismissed and denied.”
“Remaking society is the absolute upside and offers some great opportunities for the future. I’m very optimistic that great change will come and give power to we who have lacked it. People are looking at this and saying if he unmade this, we can remake it. Non-profits and community activists are absolutely seeing a bump in volunteering and activism. The thought of the Constitution as a living document will be taken to heart.”
Ms. Watley, founder and owner of The Griot Group LLC, a strategic communications and political advocacy consulting practice, said sometimes disruption can be a good thing. Mr. Trump, she said, has changed the communications paradigm.
“He has changed the communications space. He speaks directly to the people, has no press secretary and tweets with typos and all,” said Ms. Watley, founder of Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to amplifying the voices and power of Black women through education and advocacy. “He’s cut out the middle man which I think is a good thing. It’s good because it’s coming straight out of the horse’s mouth. It’s transparency of the highest form.”
There are other things, however, that Mr. Trump has done which is of immense concern to her as a Black woman, which is why Ms. Watley’s so involved with organizations like Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet.
The Kansas City, Mo., native served as the national African-American outreach political director for Bernie Sanders’ campaign in 2016 and worked in other local political campaigns. The brazen racist comments and tactics of the president, the fuel he’s added to racial debates in this country and the struggle women and Black women have in attaining parity in salaries, job opportunities and dealing with gender and race is why she said she’s so committed to organizing and mobilizing Blacks, particularly women, she said.
Whether Mr. Trump wins in 2020 or not, Blacks have their work cut out for them.
“Trump has continued to campaign for the 3½ years he’s been in office. He has very strong support and enthusiastic followers,” she said. “We’re going to have to go above and beyond to match their enthusiasm. I think he’s going to win but I hope I’m wrong. There is hope for continued change. If he loses, him not winning sets the stage for complacency when people are poised for change. What are we going to do if he loses? The problems and challenges this country poses for Black people won’t go away if he’s gone.”
Ms. Watley said the 2018 midterms is a template of what’s possible. Organizing and mobilizing in the Black community made the difference, particularly in House races. In the aftermath, it’s clear that those seeking to become engaged politically don’t have to have an over-abundance of experience and/or knowledge in order to be informed enough to serve.
“This will not be the last time we see this. If we can fight off what we’re facing, it will make us stronger,” predicted Ms. Watley. “And his base of support won’t tuck their tails and go away quietly. They have the resources and power to make things really rough for us. Trump supporters will burn down the country if necessary ….”
Mr. Trump, Jamila Bey said, represents the worst qualities of this country, citing his administration’s decision to cage immigrant children trying to enter the U.S. and stirring up racial animus as just two instances of a litany of other abuses, but she also said she likes to remind people that nothing lasts forever.
“Some would say he’s Karma, chickens coming home to roost. The reckoning surely is coming. The country will survive and Trump the same. America will survive, but Whiteness as a standard of perfection might not,” she added.
“He feels like he can do what he wants,” Ms. Bey said of Mr. Trump. “The executive branch is a bunch of lying, thieving criminals. (Attorney General) Barr is going to jail; Rudy Giuliani might, too. They all lawyering up because they’ve transgressed.”
Yet despite the abuse of power, the appearance of using his position for personal gain and the other offenses, Ms. Bey said she doesn’t expect Americans to rise up the way we see in Hong Kong, Chile, Puerto Rico, Paris and other parts of Europe.
Dwight Kirk, a veteran labor activist, agreed with Mr. Warner that Mr. Trump has done significant damage to America’s institutions and norms. But he said he doesn’t buy into the idea that getting back to normal will be good for Blacks.
“That is not a status quo we want to go back to,” he said. “The status quo was unfair and unjust to begin with. Some things will go back to default but Trumpism has put on the table that things going forward will be different. Forces unearthed by Trump will not go back to normal.”
“I believe he has legitimized it for some in the country to embrace the notion that institutional norms aren’t necessary,” Mr. Kirk continued. “There are norms that people have to individually respect but we see him continually pushing the boundaries of executive power.”
People involved in what he called “the political game,” saw Mr. Trump as a maverick but expected him to adjust, he said. They also expected him to surround himself with experienced, knowledgeable people. He’s done neither. And he’s acting as if he’s running a company. Norms for him are malleable and he’s enjoyed trampling on norms and institutions, constantly testing the boundaries. He hasn’t played by the rules. No one in his administration has, said Mr. Kirk, a strategist, publicist and photojournalist.
Mr. Trump championed himself as a supporter of ordinary people but that has turned out to be a lie, he said. The president is an enemy of organized labor and has stocked the National Labor Relations Board and the U.S. Department of Labor with people opposed to unions and collective bargaining.
“But what he’s done is catalyze a resistance that existed anyway. We’ve seen a surge of strikes and solidarity with working people and unions,” Mr. Kirk said. “They are occurring and they’re succeeding. Sixty-six percent of people say they support unions. Collective action is supported by the public, not because they support Trump, there’s a sense that there’s a fundamental imbalance of power. Trump and his attacks have been devastating because he’s unleashed his executive power but people’s resistance movements have gained force.”