Part 5: Post-Truth, The Contentious Election
While the Democrat Party has remained one of compromise and moderation, in 1995, the GOP moved away from this centrist position, focusing on "winning" at any cost. Rather than representing a breadth of conservative thought, they began casting their votes as a united bloc (often forced by such schemes as Newt Gingrich's Contract with America and Grover Norquist's Taxpayer Protection Pledge). They also used parliamentary rules, such as the filibuster, to oppose almost all legislation put forth by the Democrats.
Not having much of a policy agenda to counter the Democrats, the GOP became known as "The Party of No." And, as we saw in 1996 and 2013, they were willing to shut down the government to get their way. In 2010, Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell made the GOP's goals clear when he said, "Our top political priority in the next two years is to deny President Obama a second term."
When debating public policy, emotions began to replace facts leading to what many refer to as the Post-Truth era. Starting years before Donald Trump's rise to power, politicians began making outlandish assertions, devoid of any evidence, about issues such as rape and abortion. Most prominent was the 2012 statement by Congressman Todd Akins (R-MO). When asked whether rape would justify abortion he replied that pregnancy from rape was rare, and "if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down."
Prepare for the Worst: Political Ads are Coming!, 2014
As the 2016 presidential campaign began, voters steeled themselves against the onslaught of political ads, not just from the candidates, but from the GOP and Democrats, as well as political action committees. As expected, viewers were bombarded by a constant barrage of accusations, devoid of any real substance. Sadly, voters gained little insight about the issues from these advertisements.
So, if you haven't been preparing for these political ads, do so now! The 2020 campaign has already begun.
I Just Wanna Win!, 2016
During the 2016 presidential election, then Republican National Committee Chairman, Reince Priebus, said in an ABC interview that the GOP would support Donald Trump if he was the Republican nominee. Then he stated, "Winning is the antidote to a lot of things." Part of this statement was spin. Many Republicans were trying to find any way they could to stop Trump. His statement reveals what was most important to the GOP (and to a lesser extent, the Democrats): winning at any cost. Important issues like immigration reform, healthcare, the distribution of wealth, and fixing the very things Republican voters were angry about (angry because of the party's inability to deliver promises they've made to their electorate for decades) were not as important. The party's agenda trumped the needs of the GOP's base.
Trump Learns to Act Presidential, 2016
After the GOP embraced the Trump campaign, many felt once he became president his campaign rhetoric would soften as he grew into the job as “President for all the people.” We know now, that didn’t happen. But, many Americans couldn’t understand why he was so impervious to serious scrutiny in light of reports about his not paying taxes and his body-shaming and misogynistic attitudes. Why were so many Americans enamored with him? The divide was great. And, there was anger and mistrust on both sides. This article from October 2, 2016 edition of The Washington Post offers some clues. And since the election, there have been others who are trying to understand.
Red State Titanic : You Poor People Must Go Down With the Ship, 2015
Political affiliation has now become more divisive than race. Winning elections has become more important than governance. These schisms are hurting the poor, the sick, and those who have fallen through any safety nets left in our society.
In fact, these groups have become targets by the Right. In 2015, Kansas' governor, Sam Brownback signed "The Hope Act," which reduced subsidies to the poor, in addition to banning welfare recipients from using government funds to take cruises (as if there are any people who have done that). Republican legislators in Missouri wanted to ban those on welfare from buying steak and seafood. And, in the ongoing war on the Affordable Care Act, attempts by many states to gut the act have put people in jeopardy. As Vox's Ezra Klein has written, the fight over "Obamacare" is making red states sicker and poorer. The poor are being stigmatized by the Right.
Ceci n'est pas un Juif, ni un Muselman. (This is neither a Jew nor a Muslim.), 2015
If you think anti-Semitism and Islamophobia happens only in other parts of the world, here are three examples right here in the United States. In 2015, a 14 year-old Texas teenager, Ahmed Mohamed, was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school. Despite the fact he told his teachers it wasn't a bomb, the police arrested him anyway. Conservative doyenne, Ann Coulter, has no problem disparaging Jews. She has referred to "f---ing Jews" in a tweet. And, in November 2017, Donald Trump tweeted links to incendiary anti-Muslim videos allegedly showing violent Muslims. He has consistently portrayed Islam as dangerous, both with his words ("Islam hates us") and his deeds (the Muslim ban).
The characterization of people for the sole purpose of demeaning them is on the rise. Tribalism is the antithesis of America’s “melting pot.”
De Eeuwige Jood (The Eternal Jew), 1940, Dutch film poster of a German anti-Semitic propaganda film called "The Eternal Jew". The rest of the text says:
YOU SHOULD SEE THIS FILM : A DOCUMENTARY FILM ABOUT WORLD JEWRY : AN IDEA FROM DR. E. TAUBERT. : DIRECTED BY FRITZ HIPPLER
MUSIC BY FRANZ R. FRIEDL
The film was really spearheaded by Joseph Göbbels, Minister of Propgaganda in Nazi Germany. Click on video above to view the film dubbed in English.
Dmitry Bulanov, 1927, Leningrad, Soviet Department store advertisement. The text is Russian and says: "Starting February 21 all goods at Leningradodezhda (Leningrad Clothing Dept. Store) are on sale." Source: Soviet Art, USSR Culture
Looking for Something Else, 2016
The GOP promised smaller government but didn't deliver. The Democrats have a convoluted primary system with "Super Delegates" who wield an inordinate amount of power. Donald Trump is an egomaniac. Both Hillary Clinton and Trump have pasts, and many question how effective Bernie Sanders would be in the toxic atmosphere of Washington. Both parties are to blame for the standoff which produces lackluster candidates. But not equally. It's an "asymmetrical polarization." The GOP has moved much further to the extremes than the Democrats. And this makes it very hard for any compromise.
The Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements, to say nothing of progressives and blue-collar workers, are demanding changes—big changes: more job creation, racial and income equality, and a country where our tax dollars go to enriching our society instead of funding misguided wars and oligarchs. The voters are sick of politics as usual. They are looking for something else: something the establishment is reticent to give us.
Flawed Presidential Candidates: Clinton, 2016
After decades, Americans were tired of voting for the "lesser of two evils." They were tired of flawed candidates. With our political system in such desperate need of an overhaul, they wanted real change no matter what it was. Surprising pundits, voters rejected "the known" for something revolutionary.
Hillary should have been concerned. Had she been elected, she would have found herself in a precarious political position. Progressives would have demanded she support Bernie Sanders's ideas of universal healthcare and free college education. Some believed she would continue along the path our military industrial complex has forged since the end of World War II. New York Times writer Maureen Dowd said, "Hillary will keep the establishment safe." Clinton represented a past many wanted to leave far behind. Some questioned her morals. Others believed the hype about her role in Benghazi and her use of a private email server. The American people were tired of political subterfuge. Yet, to many, neither candidate possessed much integrity.
Flawed Political Candidates: Trump, 2016
After Donald Trump announced his campaign for president in 2015, the post-truth era reached new pinnacles that have yet to abate. At first, the media didn't take Trump's claims seriously. But they resonated with his initial base: poor whites who felt left out of our country's economic gains and ignored by our politicians and the rest of society. Trump's popularity was a reflection of citizens' desperation for change—so desperate, they were willing accept his mistruths because his populist rhetoric focused on their concerns and insecurities. At first, the Republican establishment rejected Trump. But, as the groundswell grew, they eventually embraced his candidacy in order to retain power.
MY WAY is the American Way, 2016
Over the last 60 years, the political divide has only widened as seen in the infographic video above. People who populate the ends of our political spectrum, such as those from the Tea Party and alt-right groups on one end, and progressives and the Antifa on the other, made themselves heard this election.
People are angry and are voicing it. And, each has their own version of "the American Way." But, no one is winning. We don't talk with each other. We yell at each other. Instead, we should enlarge our notion of the American way—of what we want this country to be. It's not just MY WAY. It's OUR WAY.
Beware of Politicians Who Cough, 2016
In September 2016, at a political rally in Cleveland, Hillary Clinton had a coughing attack as she spoke. She joked, “Every time I think about Trump I get allergic.” Trump seized on her coughing and accused the media of ignoring her health and stamina to be president. He tweeted, “Mainstream media never covered Hillary’s massive ‘hacking’ or coughing attack, yet it is #1 trending.”
What!! You're Voting for Who?, 2016
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were not universally loved. During the election, each had a disapproval rating of over 50%. Some Bernie supporters were so incensed by the Democratic Party's nominating procedures and their perception of Hillary's record, many refused to vote for her, even if it meant a Trump victory. Instead, we heard, "I must vote my conscience." This enraged many Democrats.
The GOP is not the only party with a serious ideological split.
A Total Breakdown of the American Ethos, 2016
Americans are confused, angry, and fractured. And the 2016 presidential election was a reflection of this. We can no longer rely on the traditional left/right political spectrum to define our world. It no longer reflects our political and social processes. If you're interested in a better charting of our political belief systems (and one that acknowledges its complicated and overlapping structure, take a look at the Asplund Chart).
If we can just wait it out, clarity will rise with our new world order (whether we like that new order or not). But, for now, I'm calling to report a total breakdown in the American ethos. Don't put me on hold!
This is the original 1952 Western Electric print ad which featured the image used in this poster. Reflective of the Cold War when it was published, the first paragraph of the ad states:
"One of the most valuable defense weapons this country has is known to all the world. It's the biggest and most dependable telephone network on earth!—ready day and night to carry the calls that speed production and coordinate defense."
I've Had Enough of This Damn Election!, 2016
The 2016 presidential election seemed to go on forever. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump announced their candidacies in the first half of 2015. For well over a year, the American people suffered the antics, subterfuge, and sexual and email revelations from this campaign. The media has played a large role in this mess. While there are reputable journalists who have written insightful analysis of the issues, there are other media outlets who have profited by sensationalizing this election. Most importantly, this often brought out the worst in the American people. It can't end too soon—sad, considering what's at stake for this country.
Chronicles of American Politics: The Posters of the Chamomile Tea Party
Part 1: Partisanship on Overdrive
Part 2: The Electorate
Part 4: The Issues
Part 6: Post Election: Post-Truth Reaches New Heights
Download a brief bibliography of topics covered in this exhibit.
Next, Part 6: Post Election: Post-Truth Reaches New Heights
All Chamomile Tea Party posters are published under a Creative Commons license. You are free to distribute these posters with attribution, providing the purpose is non-commercial and they are not altered. High resolution posters are free and can be downloaded via chamomileteaparty.com.
The Chamomile Tea Party was formed to comment on the bluster of the Tea Party, which began in 2009 as a protest against Barack Obama's social and fiscal agendas. In the intervening eight years, the political landscape has morphed. Tranquility and compromise, which, at the time, seemed merely difficult to obtain, now seems impossible. These posters reflect the conflicts the American political system has been experiencing during this turbulent period. They are meant to encourage an exploration and a dialogue about the cultural minefield we now find ourselves in. The Chamomile Tea Party is affiliated with Artists for a Better Image, Inc.
Jeff Gates is an artist and writer. He has a B.A. in political science from Michigan State University and an M.F.A. in graphic design and photography from UCLA. He is the recipient of two Artist Fellowships for his photographs from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is the founder of Artists for a Better Image, where he studies stereotypes of artists in contemporary culture. His art is in the collections of museums such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, Huntington Library, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the International Center for Photography. He has written for publications such as The Washington Post, The Atlantic, National Public Radio, and Smithsonian Magazine.