US: And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

US: And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

Millions of American elementary and high school students – and a certain celluloid porn star – may well have put Donald Trump and most especially his party in between a political rock and a very hard place. J. BROOKS SPECTOR takes a look, even if he still can’t quite stop shaking his head over it all.

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little child shall lead them.

Isaiah 11:6

For some, events now might almost be seen as the moment of an extraordinary kind of fulfilment of the above biblical prophesy – what with primary and secondary school students triggering the biggest, most sustained mass movement in American politics in two generations, following the latest massacre of students and teachers by a deranged, sullen teenaged gunman with a deep grudge. But, of course, to complete our little play, it has also required the astounding media savvy of a porn star with an infectious smile to complete our ongoing drama.

In the aftermath of the tragic slaughter of 17 teachers and students at a high school in Parkland, Florida, a vast national movement, largely led by students, has suddenly coalesced in support of – at the very minimum – the banning of sales of various forms of firearms such as assault rifles, increasing the regulation and vetting of potential purchasers of such lethal tools, and the managing of sales of firearms.

Vast marches last week in dozens of cities across the US – with students, parents all focused on the theme, “March for Our Lives” – focused intense national and global media attention on their demands. Speakers made it clear that this was going to build into a practical political movement – it was not going to become some kind of pie-in-the-sky, Utopian dream of do-gooder hopes and prayers.

The movement – so far, at least – has adopted a startlingly pragmatic approach. Effectively, the core target is to have a real impact on the country’s upcoming election, the one that is coming up this November for Congress (including all of the members of the House of Representatives, plus a third of the Senate), along with thousands of state and local officials. And that practical accomplishment would be enough to push forward some actual changes in the gun laws of the US.

Speaker after speaker at those rallies condemned the unrelenting slaughter of innocents in schools by armed madmen – but they also made it clear that all incumbent congressmen and senators in the pocket of the gun lobby generally, and most especially those in thrall to the NRA, were now in this movement’s own “gun sights”.

In those marches and the publicity they attracted, office bearers and the nation as a whole were reminded that many of these student marchers plus their supporters were already registered voters – or would become eligible to vote by the time of the November election. Moreover, they had parents who were already voters, and they were not going to let such NRA-pandering politicians off the hook this time.

No, no, no – not this time. Not ever again. No more shilly-shallying, fiddling around the edges with tiny tweaks to the background checks system or a submicroscopic change to gun show sales and registration requirements. And especially, no, not the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t, irresolute, back-and-forthing that has been the hallmark of the Trump administration on gun control, aside from a new regulation on bump stocks – those attachments that help create the effect of automatic firing with a semi-automatic weapon.

But some of the most amazing things about this movement, even beyond the quickness with which it sprang up, has been the astonishingly cogent organisational nous exhibited by the young leaders, as well as their astonishing media savvy in generating coverage of their movement – and in their comments during their live television appearances. Perhaps most amazing of all has been the oratorical and rhetorical skill of the young student leaders when they appeared live, in front of audiences of many thousands.

Yes, of course these are the children of an all-encompassing media lifestyle, what with cable news, social media, and the internet as a whole pouring in on them 24/7. But where did they learn to wield that amazing rhetorical skill? What kind of teachers have they had at their schools to make them into such effective advocates for a cause? Listen to any of these kids and you are mesmerised.

By contrast, when the incumbent president comes on air to speak about this question or pretty much anything else, or almost any of the other veteran communicator-politicians around, all you can do is shake your head in comparison. Compare those students, say, to former Senator and television commentator Rick Santorum with his mindbogglingly bizarre comments that students should be learning CPR rather than march against gun violence, or to Marco Rubio and his spluttering defence of his position that he still gladly accepts NRA campaign contributions. Given those comparisons, the urge to turn away in disgust – or worse – is becoming overwhelming.

Just where – or how – did that young woman speaker, Emma Gonzales, come to realise that six minutes of silence would be the most eloquent way to reach the hearts of a global audience? Or consider the elementary school student, Naomi Wadler – the “little child” Isaiah might well have been thinking of in that biblical verse. She is the girl with the big hair who, in her short address, made more sense than most of the people you ever hear speaking in Congress. Where in the world did she learn how to hold captive an audience of thousands? Or perhaps millions?

Of course, the biggest challenges of all for this movement will be to transform the energy that brought out the millions to march into solid campaigning in favour of some candidates and against others, based on their positions on gun control, and, crucially, at least for the time being, to avoid being deflected by concerns about many other issues. So far, the students’ movement has managed to keep the momentum focused on this one issue, and, so far at least, they have refused to be derailed from this path by any other questions or concerns. But it is early days and stuff can happen with a large amoeba-like movement such as this one.

Going forward, perhaps the movement’s leaders should look to historical examples such as the mass campaigns for the abolition of slavery, for women’s suffrage, and the ending of the war in Vietnam, along with the early chapters of the civil rights struggle, in a search for inspirations on how to make a difference, while not being dragged away from their core issue.

But at the same time, there is quite another drama playing out as well. And this is the one that speaks to the president’s moral compass, or the evident lack of one. Besides the dozen or so women who have, at one time or another over the past several years, charged that the man-who-(then)-would-become-president had persisted in carrying out unwanted, unwarranted sexual advances on them (and quite aside from his own admissions on this same topic as recorded on videotape), there has come along a porn film queen, Stormy Daniels, with quite a story to tell as well.

Her story was a bit different than most of those other women. She alleges that she had an intimate but entirely transactional relationship with Donald Trump some years ago. However, just before the election in 2016, she had been paid $130,000 not to say anything about it and to sign a confidentiality agreement to that effect (even though the other party to this fun ultimately failed to sign). According to at least some legal reasoning, the payment of this money by the president’s personal lawyer on Trump’s behalf constituted an unreported campaign contribution and thus a rather significant campaign law violation. Oops.

Stormy Daniels’ story – and the way it was drawn out – was absolutely made for television, and she and her attorney have, so far, played it perfectly. She got to tell her tale and her interview on the CBS network’s 60 Minutes news magazine show was the highest viewed segment for that programme for a decade, as well over 20 million viewers turned in to watch it and gape. And many more saw excerpts on the news the next day, or via the internet.

While the Daniels story actually contained rather little in the way of deep political revelations about Trump, it offered some astonishing insights into the personal moral vacuum of the man. Most disturbing, perhaps, was the description that in common with a rather tawdry pulp fiction dominatrix, Daniels had spanked the man-who-would-be-president upon his bare buttocks with a rolled-up copy of a magazine that had his picture on its cover. A “yuck factor” gone wild now ensues.

Try as he might to wriggle out of the spotlight on these two beams, Donald Trump is now caught between the glare of the headlights from the March for Our Lives movement and the drip drip drip of Stormy Daniels’ tales. And this takes place even as he tries, finally, to achieve a stable, coherent administration, to figure out how to approach North Korea’s President Kim Jong-un in the expected leaders’ summit, to enact his protectionist trade raids on friends and foes, and to keep enough of a legal team together such that he can fend off that ever-circling Russia collusion/hacking investigation headed by special prosecutor Robert Mueller.

It is easy to say that both the gun control movement and Ms Daniels will –ultimately – pass the president by without leaving mortal wounds. The intensity of the gun control issue will dissipate, and pretty much everybody who voted for Trump in the first place knew he certainly was no Saint Francis of Assisi.

But the problem is that pesky midterm election that looms just ahead. Should Republicans lose control of either house in Congress – or both of them – the gate is well and truly open for much more intensive investigations of the president’s doings, and for much tougher vetting of any of his proposed policies.

With the party designation of only 23 seats in the House needing to switch and only a couple in the Senate, Republicans are increasingly worried that the cumulative effect of the president’s chaotic administration, the gun control movement, and his personal behaviour will finally turn away sufficient numbers of voters that they will, in turn, punish the GOP as a whole for the sins or failures of the president.

Generic polling now says Democrats have a significant lead at this early date, and that could translate into a real wave of repudiation of the GOP. Of course the generic poll is not a perfect reflection of individual races, and in American politics all races are substantially local, save that of the president. Moreover, the gerrymandering of so many congressional districts in so many states still makes it a tough hill to climb for Democrats to gain the full benefit of votes cast in total.

Nevertheless, they are taking heart from several developments. The first of these is their string of victories so far in several special elections – a Senate seat here, a representatives race there, a governorship over there. Then there is the fact that an unusually large number of Republican incumbents have decided not to run for re-election, opening up seats for possible party upsets. Finally, in several states, “re-districting” to push back on the impact of Republican gerrymandering is already in the works, as in Pennsylvania, and in others, such as Maryland, it may still come into play in time for the election ahead.

More important still, polling points to the fact that white, female, middle-class, suburban dwelling women are increasingly turned off by Trump (and thus, perhaps, from Republicans more generally) as a result of all of the above issues. Moreover, other polling points to the possibility that voters who feel strongly about those issues – and against Republicans – are more likely to vote than before (although some polls also indicate that die-hard Trump supporters feel the same way for the GOP).

Taking it all into consideration, if Democrats – and especially those not beholden to the NRA – win one of the houses of Congress, or both, they will owe much to the anger, energies and hopes of young people such as Emma Gonzales, Edna Chavez, David Hogg, Naomi Wadler, Cameron Kasky, and Yolanda King – as well as the desire of Stormy Daniels to shop her tale to the nation. DM

Photo: Emma Gonzalez (C), a survivor of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, cheers at the conclusion of the March For Our Lives in Washington, DC, USA, 24 March 2018. March For Our Lives student activists demand that their lives and safety become a priority, and an end to gun violence and mass shootings in our schools EPA-EFE/Jim lo Scalzo


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