Whenever the academic year reaches its final months, students across the country pick up their school’s yearbook. These books attempt to showcase the best of student life on their glossy pages, sometimes with embarrassing little errors that managed to slip past editing. No matter how much you would roll your eyes at the cheesy production, you and your friends would still crowd around a desk to see who got featured and how many times. You might ask yourself the following: Did they use my prom pictures? Who got voted best such-and-such? What does everyone look like in their senior photos?
Whenever the academic year reaches its final week, another book might get passed around. Like the yearbook, this too was a showcase of student life, but significantly shorter in length. It is paperback instead of hardcover, the pages are not as glossy, there are significantly more embarrassing little errors. You might ask, what is this? To which the yearbook club students would respond with either excited pride or complete indifference: Stuff that happened after the yearbook published.
Oh cool, you might think. So it is part of the yearbook…but not really. It is an extra segment, a bonus part. If later on in the summer you found out that you had lost the normal yearbook but retained the yearbook addendum you would be disappointed. If the book only includes what happened after the original yearbook was published, there is no way you can get a sense of what the entire year was like.
This summer, Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality began popping up across the nation. It did not take long for an attempt by the US government to revert everyone back to an blood-stained status quo. Democratic mayors quickly decided to sic the police on the protestors. Soon afterwards, a Republican Presidential administration resorted to even more authoritarian measures by using the Department of Homeland Security to abduct protestors into unmarked vans.
There is deserved outrage against Trump and his administration for this. However, most of the outrage refuses to discuss any history before Trump’s inauguration date. On August 10th, The Nation published an article titled “How Stephen Miller Turned the Department of Homeland Security Into a Political Weapon” in which DHS is described as having morphed into “..a tool for pushing Trump’s political agenda.” On August 17th, The Washington Post published an op-ed titled “At Homeland Security, I saw firsthand how dangerous Trump is for America” in which former DHS official Miles Taylor writes that “The president has tried to turn DHS, the nation’s largest law enforcement agency, into a tool used for his political benefit.” The implication is clear: The DHS was a completely upstanding and non-partisan department before Trump got his hands on it.
There’s a larger history behind the young department. The DHS came into existence in 2003 as a result of the Homeland Security Act which was passed in response to the fear created from 9/11. President Bush wrote that “…the threats facing America require a new government structure to protect against invisible enemies that can strike with a wide variety of weapons.” This was part of a larger project by the Bush administration to convince Americans that scary outsiders were coming to hurt them and their families, and that they could be stopped if we all continued to give away our civil liberties. The DHS was created to be the President’s private police force. It has not been turned into a political weapon, it was designed as one.
From August 17th – 20th, the Democratic party held its national convention and allowed several disgruntled Republicans to take the stage. The Democrats wanted to push a message of “country over party,” in order to depict Trump as an anomaly. On the first night, the Democrats had former Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich appear to tell us that Trump is “…unlike all of our best leaders before him.” Kasich clearly considers his endorsement to be historic, telling the camera that “In normal times, something like this would probably never happen.” On the second night, Democrats had former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell speak about how we must vote against Trump because we’re still the same America “…that inspires freedom all over the world.” The implication is clear: The Republican party was honorable before Trump got his hands on it, and these men are still principled enough to speak out against Trump.
There’s a larger history behind these two men and the horrible things they’ve done with their former positions. In 2011, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed a union-busting bill that limited collective bargaining rights and banned strikes for 360,000 public workers. By 2016, Kasich had closed down nearly half of the abortion clinics in Ohio by using some of the most restrictive legislation in the country. In 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell helped lead America into the war in Iraq by lying to the United Nations Security Council about Iraq facilitating a nuclear weapons program. Claiming to be a country that (as Colin Powell put it) “inspires freedom over the world,” America named the invasion Operation Iraqi Freedom. Operation Iraqi Freedom went on to kill 600,000 Iraqis.
These are some of the men who helped enable Trump’s rise to power. They did it by exacerbating wealth inequality, fear-mongering abortion access, and by normalizing the act of misleading the public with deadly lies while never facing consequences for any of their actions. Some might argue that the Democratic Party only platformed these men to get Trump out of office. If the Democratic Party’s sole intention was voting out Trump, they could be doing it more successfully by adopting incredibly popular proposals such as legalizing marijuana (67% of Americans support) and Medicare for All (69% of Americans support). Instead, the Democratic Party expects you to believe that they will win the election by chasing down disgruntled Republican voters even though 90% of the Republican party approves of Trump.
It’s not about doing whatever it takes to get Trump out of office. It’s about creating opportunity through the portrayal of Trump as an ahistorical aberration instead of the horrific end result of past political decisions. Opportunity for the Democratic Party to promise to remove Trump but never have to promise to solving the problems that created him. Opportunity for men like Kasich, Powell, and even Bush to clean their hands of the responsibility they share for getting us here in the first place. Opportunity to continue some of America’s most dangerous institutions and practices by placing the blame for their inevitable consequences on Trump alone.
Let me be clear, Trump represents a unique threat to democracy, but so did Bush. If the American public can be convinced to let the Bush administration and Republicans like Kasich off scot-free for the lasting damage they’ve done to this country, then there’s no doubt they’ll be convinced to do the same with members of the Trump administration once an even worse person comes to power off the political decisions Trump has made.
We’re trapped in a cheap yearbook addendum that covers no history at all before January 20th, 2017. We need to properly analyze our entire history to find the decisions that brought us to this awful point, so we can stop them at the source. If we keep treating Trump like an ahistorical incident, we can expect our future to be filled with a never-ending cycle of even worse yearbook addendums.