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    The Politics of Distraction

    By Peter Gallotta–

    If the level of political discourse could not get any lower in this country, Donald Trump tweeted some of the most offensive remarks of his presidency this month. In a three-part string of tweets, he took direct aim at four women of color: Democratic Congressmembers known as “the Squad,” telling them to “go back” to where they came from despite, of course, that they are all American citizens. It was vile and inarguably racist, and perpetuates a bigoted trope that anyone non-white must not be “from here.”

    It is no surprise that Trump continues to seize every opportunity either to shun his opponents or to stoke racist and xenophobic sentiment amongst his base. But we forget that Trump is doing more than just tweeting political vendettas and ignorant views. He’s continuing to master the art of distraction. 

    Right now, Trump doesn’t want us to pay attention to the fact that his approval ratings have hit 41%—lower than many previous sitting presidents (Republican or Democrat) at this time during their first term. He doesn’t want us to focus on the case of Jeffrey Epstein, a millionaire financier, registered sex offender and friend of Trump’s, who appeared in federal court in July on charges related to federal sex trafficking.

    Epstein sexually abused and raped many young girls, yet in a case brought against him over a decade ago, he received nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Trump’s own Secretary of Labor resigned because of the Epstein case and Trump himself could very well be implicated in Epstein’s crimes given their public friendship and the documented history of them attending parties together with other young women. 

    Of course, Trump doesn’t want us to dwell on the fact that people’s human rights are being violated at the border every day. In 2019 alone, Border Patrol agents have taken roughly 600,000 people into custody at the border. Seven children have died in U.S. custody since last year. Transgender refugees at ICE’s only transgender serving facility are decrying the horrible conditions. 

    Amid Trump’s efforts to divide and distract, Washington, D.C., is in complete gridlock. With no interest in governance or policy making, the White House is focused solely on re-election in 2020. The “Blue Wave” Democrats that many of us helped to elect and who control the House of Representatives can’t get any of their legislation passed because of Mitch McConnell and the tightly controlled Republican Senate.

    Impeachment proceedings have yet to be called, despite the findings of the Mueller Report that, by the way, evidenced both Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential obstruction of justice by the President. To account for the delay, some political pundits and pollsters are saying that impeachment gives team Trump even more ammunition to divide, deflect and distract, and perhaps even an advantage heading into 2020. 

    In this hyper political time, it’s not substance, but pure politics that everyone is feeding on. For example, if we can’t substantively talk about the problems and policy solutions to address the humanitarian crisis at the border, we’re left debating the politics of language instead, whether “concentration camp” is too radical or inappropriate to call the overcrowded detention centers and inhumane cages that refugees find themselves in (answer: it’s accurate). The recent “concentration camp” debate, by the way, was yet another attempt to divide Democrats and distract from the fact that children have been, and are still being, separated from their families.

    Before Trump’s racist tweets earlier this month, the Democrats were in the midst of their own distracting saga that the media quickly jumped on and blew up. This time it was Speaker Pelosi versus “the Squad.” In a recent New York Times article, the Speaker downplayed the Squad’s influence on the Party and their position, saying “they are 4 votes.” The Speaker’s point, I like to believe, is that the Democratic Party of 2019 is a pretty darn big tent. However, while the moderates may make up a majority of House Democrats, there is no doubt that the left flank is growing more vocal and more visible—something many Democratic Party operatives and pollsters may or may not be entirely comfortable with, concerned it will impact the presidential election in 2020.

    Pelosi’s remarks drew blow-back from the four freshman Congresswomen, with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (AOC) of New York saying that the Speaker was “singling out” women of color—a headline grabbing statement. U.S. Senator and presidential hopeful Kamala Harris came to Speaker Pelosi’s defense. And in a fracturing week of back and forths, Democratic in-fighting was on full national display. The toothpaste was out of the tube and there was no putting it back in. 

    While Progressive Democrats are being blamed for moving the Party’s national messaging “too far to the left,” if you listen closely, these Congresswomen are actually talking substance. At a press conference following Trump’s racist tweets, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts said that “this is simply a disruption and a distraction … we want to get back to the business of the American people and why we were sent here: reducing the cost of prescription drugs, addressing the public health crisis and epidemic that is gun violence, addressing the racial wealth gap, and yes, making sure that families stay together.” 

    As Democrats, we can’t afford to sacrifice substance to simply play politics with Trump. The road to November 2020 is long, and of course, there will be more Democratic in-fighting that the media and Donald Trump will use to distract and divide us. But we can’t give in to it. We can’t succumb to every political poll that says doing nothing is better than doing something. We need to be laser focused on our agenda and what we stand for. That’s the Democrats’ number one job. Make the case. Flex your back bone. Do something to stop this madness.  

    The good news is that Speaker Pelosi and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are planning to sit down for a one-on-one conversation, as was recently confirmed by the Speaker’s spokesperson. It’s also been reported that more than 80 House Democrats now support impeachment. As the Speaker herself put it, “We have a responsibility to get something done … . We have to have a solution, not just a Twitter fight.”

    I couldn’t agree more. 

    Peter Gallotta is a 30-something LGBT political activist holding on to the city that he loves thanks to rent control and two-for-one happy hour specials. He is a former President of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club and currently serves as an appointed member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee and an elected delegate to the California Democratic Party.