And we heard very little from Donald Trump.
Conversation began to return to normal. We started saying “Good morning” again instead of “Did you hear how that hellspawn desecrated the White House today?” Of course we didn’t abandon our interest completely — we were delighted when the new health care bill failed, and we continued to chuckle at our president’s covfefe — but we distanced ourselves from the Washington Apocalypse. We felt less personally and emotionally involved, since it seemed like the administration was finally settling down into its legislative role, and there’s a measure of responsibility that we associate with lawmaking, whether or not that’s merited. And if the administration could adjust, so could we. Slowly, the country began to heal.
The bullet wound in America’s flesh had just closed over with a single layer of fragile, translucent skin when Trump Tweeted about his transgender military ban on July 26th. And now the blood is spewing out in waterfalls again.
July is no longer a pleasant month. There’s so much that Trump does that can be described as, at the very least, disruptive to general happiness. But this situation seems particularly… vicious. He wasn’t prompted. There was no catalyst. Trump crushed innocent lives — just for kicks? Why would he actively destroy the progress we’ve made?
I’ll answer that question in the format of a typical Trump tweet: “Progress is boring. The closer we get to compromise, the less important I am. SAD!”
At his core, Trump is a celebrity. The presidency is most useful to him as a vehicle for fame. And if he’s not gaining fame, be it either universal adoration or notoriety, he’s not achieving what he set out to do. Our country’s peace is a lower priority to him than how many people have Googled his name — and that number, which peaked right after the election and again in the few weeks surrounding his inauguration, is currently at an all-time low.
It’s interesting, actually, looking at the Google Trends page about interest in Donald Trump. During the week of the election, interest shot up and then plummeted in a steep triangle. But that’s not what happened after his inauguration. Interest rose leading up to January 21st, but then it stayed high until February 4th, only taking a significant dip after that. Two weeks in the spotlight — that must have been fabulous! Exactly what Trump wanted, except he’d have liked to have it continue for the full duration of his presidency.
As the interest dropped and then leveled out into a disappointingly meager tail, my guess is that Trump asked himself what allowed him to retain his relevancy in the weeks after his inauguration. And if Trump’s memory is anything like mine, two significant components of that period probably stuck out to him: the travel ban and the subsequent protests. Days into his presidency, he announced the travel ban in its sweeping, cruel original form. Citizens met that ban with demonstrations across the country (my personal recollections primarily feature the protest at the JFK airport). And of course there was also the Women’s March, the grand protest to top all protests, but that was the day of the inauguration, so I doubt that it alone would have allowed Trump to maintain those two weeks of intense importance.
So, if my hunch is right, Trump decided in the past few days that he was going to repeat the behavior that kept him in the spotlight before. A new ban alone would cause a spike in interest, and public pushback would keep that interest high. Which is why Trump issued his transgender military ban.
Everything about the ban’s presentation was intended to trigger an emotional response from a public that Trump is trying to provoke into protest: it was an emotionally resonant concept introduced in emotionally resonant language on an emotionally resonant platform. The idea of a ban is unique in politics in that it skips the middleman of the law and shoots straight from the president’s gun and into the citizens’ hearts. Laws attack rights; bans attack people. Bans are hurtful. Trump exacerbated that hurt by justifying his decision economically — “[our military] cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption” — thereby presenting transgender officers’ very presence as, at best, less important than money and, at worst, an impediment to military success. And he communicated his message through Twitter, a medium intended to once again bypass the middleman of the entire government and allow him to speak directly to the people, using the style of writing that comes most naturally to him: short, clipped, and grammatically inept. This was Trump addressing transgender people and personally spitting in their faces.
As much as I detest myself for writing this, the ban was a clever move on Trump’s part, because it seems like no matter how liberal citizens respond, Trump wins. We protest like he wants us to do? He’ll probably play a celebratory game of golf at Mar-a-Lago when he sees those Google search numbers rise. We stay silent? Trump discriminates now without consequences, which will make him feel like he can get away with discriminating even more in the future. We write to our representatives and encourage them to challenge the ban? Well. That’s more complicated.
Trump is counting on us not to do that. He doesn’t think we will, because if he were in our place, he knows that he wouldn’t. It’s not flashy. It’s not satisfying. We have no guarantee that our words will have an impact, or if they’ll even be read. But it seems to me that it’s the only way to move the conflict off Trump’s turf — off Twitter and into the House or the courtroom. By putting our resistance in legal terms, we’re diffusing the tension in a way that Trump hates. We’re showing interest in the legislation rather than in the man. And describing it as ‘interest’ is even a stretch; letters and phone calls might be effective, but they're hardly declarations of passion. We’re protesting in the driest, quietest way we can. If we can lift the ban using Congress or the courts, we’ll have triumphed, and we’ll have deprived Trump of the attention for which he’s so desperate.
In that spirit, here’s a link to the Directory of Representatives, which you can use to find the phone number and committee assignment of each House of Representatives congressperson: https://www.house.gov/representatives/
Come on, America. Let’s click off the spotlight.