Part 6: Post Election: Post-Truth Reaches New Heights
Putin Helps Trump Bring Up His Numbers, 2017
Two months after Donald Trump's inauguration, he still talked about the number of people who attended his ceremony. The day after the inauguration, his press secretary, Sean Spicer said: "Photographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way...to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall. That was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period. Both in person and around the globe."
Why is Trump still talking about this? And, why are we still talking about it? In March 2017, the National Park Service finally released the aerial photographs they took of the National Mall just before the event, comparing them to Barack Obama's first swearing in eight years before. These are the same photos they sent to Trump when he first made his allegations. Donald Trump likes to boast. Everything's "the greatest, the best, the largest." Perhaps, he needs Vladimir Putin's help with his numbers.
Soviet pre World War II propaganda poster, 1939, The text at the bottom is Russian and says, "Long Live the Mighty Air Force of the Land of Socialism!" The scene is over Moscow's Red Square. Source: Getty Images
Trump's Fake News, 2017
In 2016, Oxford Dictionarys' word of the year was "post-truth." Since the 2016 presidential campaign, Americans have been inundated with these "alternative facts"/lies, so much so, many are beginning to see this as the new "normal." This presents a great risk to the country. It's critical our institutions remain trusted agents for Americans. Right now, that trust is being undermined in two ways.
Donald Trump often calls out the media for publishing "fake news." In January 2018, he and the Republican National Committee issued a list called the "Fake News Awards." But, a majority of these were mistakes that resulted in retractions. Most importantly, many Americans are learning to distrust the media and are gravitating towards news outlets that reflect their beliefs and biases. Curiosity, that is, taking it upon ourselves to shape an informed opinion is being replaced by blind acceptance.
While the president often declares news critical of him or his administration to be fabricated, he has often been the source of "fake news." From claiming Barack Obama was not an American citizen, to saying he saw Muslims cheering after the attacks on 9/11, each has provoked outrage from those who believed him as well as those who thought they were out-and-out lies. Yet, the resilience of these stories has made many question whether the truth is now meaningless.
Soon after Trump's election, he named Steve Bannon, former executive chairman of the ultra-conservative website Beitbart News as his chief strategist. Breitbart often focuses on fringe issues like birtherism, racism, and homophobic topics. Rather than treat news as facts, Bannon's style is to treat each story as an unfolding narrative where facts are less important than the grand crusade of the Right against the Left. Victories are more important than the facts.
Not Here! Not Now. Not Ever., 2016
Donald Trump's rhetoric and slow reaction to racial and religious hate have given extremists license to play out their conspiracy theories in the real world. After Charlottesville, the president hesitated to call out the alt-right and neo-Nazis for the violence, blaming both sides for the melee. In November 2017, he retweeted videos with Islamophobic and misleading captions from Britain First, a UK extremist group (in January 2018, he offered a tepid apology).
Since the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports hate crimes hit a five year high in 2016, with over 1700 reported from October to December of 2016. Is this the kind of country we want? Not here! Not now. Not ever.
We are Pawns, 2017
Donald Trump campaigned as the defender of the working class while he promised to "drain the swamp" of elites and insiders. Yet, he has done just the opposite. At one time or another, his cabinet has included at least two billionaires and many multi-millionaires.
Trump has signed many executive orders which have benefited large corporations and business interests, not the working and middle classes. These include: loosening regulations on The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a consumer protection bill passed after the Great Recession of 2008, reducing the scope of the Clean-Water Bill, and diluting the strength of the Stream Protection Rule, which limits permits to dump excess mining "spoil" into our waterways. Conservatives counter, this is a logical reaction to what is perceived as federal government overreach.
Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and President Trump tried unsuccessfully to repeal the Affordable Care Act and both the House and the Senate have voted to restructure the tax code to give corporations and the rich huge tax cuts, while placing more of a tax burden on the middle class. Their mantra has been that tax cuts for the rich will spur economic development, providing more jobs. However, this theory of "trickledown economics" has been proven not to work.
P.O.U.M. El Socialismo Es La Liberacion (Socialism is Liberation), circa 1936-1939, Artist Unknown, P.O.U.M. stood for Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista, the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification, active during the Spanish Civil War.
The GOP : Serving the Party, Not the People, 2017
When the Republican Party gained control of the House of Representatives after the 2010 midterm elections, the GOP not only impeded bipartisan progress, but actively worked against it (although some might suggest this started in 1994 when Newt Gingrich became the Speaker of the House). A few highlights:
Jason Chaffitz, former Representative from Utah and Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform investigated Hillary Clinton and the Obama Administration but refused to investigate Donald Trump's conflicts of interest. In addition, he refused to investigate former White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's ties to Russia, stating Flynn's real transgression was lying to the president. (In December 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and will cooperate with the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of the Trump campaign's ties to Russia.)
Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, condemned Donald Trump's antics during the Republican primaries and general election, but, endorsed him anyway. Why? Because he was more interested in the GOP controlling both the Legislative and Executive Branches of the government than what was best for the American people. The Republican Party has consistently acted in its own best interests.
The Dems : We'll Let You Know When You're Needed, 2017
During the 2016 election, the Democrat Party’s establishment felt the wrath of more progressive voters. Like the GOP's Tea Party, the extreme left caused a split in the party. Life-long liberals abandoned Hillary Clinton's "establishment" campaign for Bernie Sanders. Hillary's approval ratings were flat. And, she made mistakes. But, rather than deal with this issue, the party did little to engender goodwill with its more progressive wing to unite the Left. Donald Trump’s election galvanized many Americans. The electorate across the political spectrum was clearly saying, enough is enough. No more politics as usual. The Dems response: We'll let you know when you're needed.
Resistance is a Ground Game, 2017
Donald Trump's supporters voted for him because they were angry at being ignored: ignored by both political parties and left out of the social changes they saw around them. They voted for Trump because he said things no other politician would say—connecting his words to their rage (even when voters knew what he was saying was outlandish). In order to bridge the partisan divide, we have to find ways of engaging others and offering tangible alternatives.
There is another group of people who supported Trump for a different reason: power. Leaders of the GOP and many other conservative elites supported him because they wanted to retain their power in the legislature, in business, and on Wall Street. The only way to upend their hold is to ensure the election process is fair. As the Republican Party gained majorities in state offices, they gerrymandered congressional and state legislative districts in their favor (note: the Democrats have done similar things when given the opportunity). In order to restore our representational democracy to truly represent Americans, we must work to end gerrymandering and state laws that limit access to the voting booth.
To make these changes, real work has to be done: organizing at the local level and running for office. Grab your tools and pick your issues.
GOP Lawmakers Discover Their Pants on Fire, 2017
Deception, distortion, fabrication, lies, deceit, untruth. Whatever you call it, this has become the default tactic of the GOP. Worse yet, they accuse others of "fake news" and obfuscation. This is the Republican Party in the Trump era. In 2017, they tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act multiple times. Bills to repeal were hastily brought to the Senate floor with no time for Senators to read the legislation. GOP Senator Bill Cassidy stated "no family should be "denied medical care, emergency or otherwise because they can’t afford it.” Yet, the Congressional Budget Office predicted millions would lose their health insurance under this bill. And, it would not protect those with pre-existing conditions. In a moment of honesty, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) stated, “I could maybe give you 10 reasons why this bill shouldn’t be considered. But Republicans campaigned on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign. That’s pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill.” Republican "honesty" has become a farce.
So, why the great rush to pass another bill few lawmakers had read? According to Vox, the GOP was being pressured by its donors for a “win.” It didn't matter what that win was; but their high rollers wanted to see some benefits for injecting the party with millions of dollars. Money speaks volumes. And, the smell of burning pants wafted heavily throughout the Capitol.
Massacre Repeat Massacre Repeat Massacre Repeat, 2017
Las Vegas, Orlando, San Bernardino, DC's Navy Yard, Sandyhook, Aurora, Tucson.... Since 1982, there have been 100 mass shootings and murder sprees in the United States; sixty have occurred since 2006. And, after each one, gun rights advocates stand behind the 2nd Amendment while others call for stricter gun laws followed by flags at half-staff, moments of silence, and thoughts and prayers. Then we repeat the process after the next massacre. From 2000-2016 over 10,000 Americans were accidentally killed by guns. And, still nothing.
As long as our senators and representatives are more interested in their re-elections than American lives, the NRA, which contributes millions of dollars to their campaign coffers, will continue to exert undue influence and nothing will happen. We will repeat this pattern ad nauseam.
In January 2018, President Trump met with a bipartisan committee of lawmakers who presented him with a comprehensive immigration proposal. When he discovered the plan included immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and Africa, he said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” His racist language drew immediate condemnation from around the world. Illinois Democrat Senator Richard Durbin, who was in attendance at that meeting, corroborated what Trump had said. Yet, very few GOP lawmakers repudiated his remarks.
Some Republicans, like Senators John McCain, Bob Corker, and Jeff Flake, have spoken out about the dangers of Donald Trump. But Corker, Flake, and a growing number of GOP legislators are retiring, freeing them to speak up. After this was reported in The Washington Post, Jeff Gates wrote a letter to the editor, stating legislators have always been free to speak honestly. They just have chosen not to. Party loyalty is more important to them than a candid and rigorous discussion of the president's tactics. Former Florida Republican Congressman, David Jolly, wrote a May 6, 2018 opinion piece expressing similar sentiments.
The silence from the GOP is deafening.
A Xmas Card from the GOP, 2017
In December 2017, the Republican Party finally got its "win" with the passage of their tax overhaul bill. But, at what cost? The tax cuts they've enacted will mostly benefit corporations and the rich.
Most importantly, these cuts will add over $1 trillion to our deficit. So, it will be our children and our children's children who will pay for all of this. Historically, deficit reduction was always central to the GOP's platform. In part, their insistence on reducing the debt during the Obama Administration was responsible for taking back the House and Senate in the 2010 midterm elections. But, no more. In power, both in the legislative and executive branches, they've gone on a spending spree. And now that the tax cuts have passed, Republicans are saying they will have to cut programs, like Medicare, in order to pay for these cuts. The poor and middle class will suffer.
Merry Christmas, Republicans. Thanks a trillion.
A World Crisis Demands More Than Self-Serving Rhetoric, 2013/2018
In his 2018 New Year's address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stated, "The entire United States is within range of our nuclear weapons, a nuclear button is always on my desk. This is reality, not a threat." President Trump tweeted back, "Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!"
The New York Times responded, "The president's tone...generated a mix of scorn and alarm among lawmakers, diplomats, and national security experts who called it juvenile and frightening for a president handling a foreign policy challenge with world-wrecking consequences."
Trump's Military Parade, 2018
In February 2018, Donald Trump informed the Pentagon that he'd like to have a military parade in Washington, DC, "just like they did in France." But, this was not about honoring our military and the brave soldiers who have put their lives on the line for our country, as Trump stated. In fact, many in the armed services are against it. In reality, this parade was to massage Trump's ego. It was the pinnacle of his narcissism (to date). The millions of dollars that will be spent to put on this spectacle could be used to help the many Americans who need our help. It could help the many homeless veterans who need shelter. Make no mistake, this was Trump's folly.
Truth Is, We're in Trouble, 2017
Much has been said about President Trump's false or misleading statements. The Washington Post has been cataloguing them since the campaign began. So far, the count is above 3000. Yet, despite this, many disenfranchised voters ignore his lying because they see him as authentically representing their interests when the establishment has ignored them. In 1959, sociologist Seymour Lipset called this a "crisis of legitimacy." In a recent Bloomberg article, Why Trump Gets Away With Lying, writer Mark Buchanan states: "Lipset suggested that a crisis of legitimacy would have psychological consequences — and set the stage for a lying demagogue to be perceived by many people as bravely speaking suppressed truths. In normal conditions, voters shun any candidate who obviously lies and abuses widely shared social norms. But in a crisis, Lipset argued, disenfranchised voters may see such violations as a symbolic protest, and a deliberate poke in the eye to the elites they have come to despise."
Kellar in his latest mystery, 1897, Strobridge & Co. Lith., Poster depicting Harry Kellar performing his magic trip "Self-Decapitation." Kellar was a magician in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He preceded Houdini and was known as the "Dean of American Magicians." Source: Library of Congress
A Curious American is a Patriotic American, 2018
"To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power because there is no basis upon which to do so."
--Timothy Snyder in On Tyranny
These posters started with an interest in propaganda and how it's used to sell ideas. According to Timothy Snyder, an historian who has studied 20th century fascism in central and eastern Europe, today we are experiencing a "crisis of responsibility." Those in power say they are blocked from taking action by the opposition. Yet, in reality, the internet allows us to effectively target our messages to very specific groups. Russia successfully used the net to influence the 2016 presidential election. The reaction by the students to the massacre at of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida was so effective, the gun lobby was forced to mobilize to counter and discredit them. And, just as quickly, when conservative pundit Laura Ingraham mocked shooting survivor David Hogg's college rejections, within a day, this 17-year-old successfully called for a boycott of Ingraham's sponsors on Twitter. This is a new and more efficient propaganda from that practiced by the Nazis and Soviets of the 20th century.
Snyder suggests that Factuality is one of our most threatened institutions. If we don't believe in facts, he says, we can't cooperate, leading to a breakdown of our society. This is happening in America now. His book, On Tyranny offers twenty ways we can mitigate the technological changes that have made this so easy and potentially so dangerous.
Seek different opinions, question our own biases, and find ways to engage the opposition in dialogue. A curious American is a patriotic American.
For more information, watch a dialogue with Timothy Snyder that took place at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs on February 21, 2018.
The Next to Go : Fight Tuberculosis!, 1919, Artist Unknown, American Red Cross. This poster was part of the tuberculosis education campaign started by the American Red Cross. Every year, the Red Cross would commission stamps to benefit the study and prevention of tuberculosis. The stamp, pictured in the lower left corner of the poster, depicts a Santa Claus holding a sack marked with a red cross. Source: Digital Commonwealth, Massachusetts Collections Online
Chronicles of American Politics: The Posters of the Chamomile Tea Party
You have reached the end of this six part exhibition. Feel free to revisit any section.
Part 1: Partisanship on Overdrive
Part 2: The Electorate
Part 4: The Issues
Download a brief bibliography of topics covered in this exhibit.
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.