The Military Becomes a Prop and Activist Overload
Author’s Note: The news moves extremely fast in today's environment; as soon as an idea jumps into your head the relevance of the issue is gone, and so it becomes much tougher to comment on a single story weekly. With this new column, I hope to avoid this problem by simply, well commenting on more. In this project, I plan to take a few stories from every week which interest me, provide some commentary on them, and hopefully keep it interesting and engaging. However, you found your way to this piece, thanks for reading! If you like what you’ve read I hope you check back regularly for more.
The Military Becomes a Prop, again.
The President has announced and is apparently in the process of implementing, plans to mobilize the national guard down to the border with Mexico. This fairly rare action—which is normally reserved for towns destroyed by tornadoes or cities flooded by hurricanes—is ostensibly meant to stop a “caravan” of migrants who are traveling north from Central America in an attempt to gain either refugee or asylum status in areas less violent than their homes. This group’s trek has set off Donald Trump in a way that hasn’t been seen in quite some time. He has tweeted about it constantly, ranted and raved in press conferences, and, finally, mobilized the nation's military to stop these people from crossing the border.
The administration's stock response to justify this action is, of course, to protect our national security. A group of migrants huddled in Southern Mexico is an imminent threat to our nation and must be stopped with literal military force— Trump seems to posit this whenever he talks about the group.
There are several problems with this plan. Mobilizing military force against what is by all accounts a peaceful group looking to escape violence in their home country is never a good look, and it paints a pretty nasty picture of how a nation approaches anyone asking for compassion. It harkens back a dark event in American history where our nation turned away a ship full of Jewish refugees looking to escape Nazi Germany. There is also the issue addressed by Helene Cooper in the New York Times. A concentration of this much-armed force in one area encourages conflict where none is needed. All it would talk is one slip up, one migrant being shot, or one national guardsman to get spooked to turn this whole affair into a massive tragedy that never needed to happen. Practically, this is really not even needed. Despite Trump’s constant assailing rhetoric on Twitter, the Mexican and American governments are working fairly closely on this issue—with Mexico reporting that most of the migrants have stopped moving north and are now being processed by Mexican immigration services. The money and resources required to deploy a large contingent of National Guard to Texas are now being wasted.
But in reality, all of these issues can be ignored because Trump’s rash decision isn’t about national security or logistics or processing refugees. This decision is based on what he has always done best—marketing. Last week, Ann Coulter, noted Trump enthusiast, made a huge splash when she announced in a New York Times interview that she is contemplating becoming a “former Trumper.” She would totally abandon the president who she has worked her hardest to show as a perfect direction for the Republican party—going so far as to write a book titled “In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome!”—over a single issue: immigration. Trump won’t build the wall, and Coulter is angry about it. “If he builds the wall, he’ll be the Emperor God again. I’ll throw a huge party. I’ll start a committee to put him on, Mount Rushmore. But right now, if I were a betting woman, I don’t think we’re getting a wall,” she told the Times. Coulter isn’t alone in feeling this way. There is an entire base of voters out there who supported a crass and insulting man with zero political experience becoming president because he promised he would build a wall along the US-Mexico border. Trump promised he would stop illegal immigration. He said he was the only one who could do it. It was the most popular chant at every rally he held and is still the rallying cry behind the Right’s most hardened anti-immigration voices. And yet, nothing has happened, and because nothing has happened Trump is now watching his most vocal supporter go to the “failing” New York Times to tear him apart. He sees his base abandoning him because he hasn’t done what they wanted.
So what is he to do about this? How does he assure his base that he is still with them on their central issue? Enter the conveniently timed “caravan” of potential illegal immigrants marauding their way across Mexico heading straight for the US border. Suddenly, having the ability to mobilize the military down to the border is a pretty good way for a president to signal that he is still against illegal immigration. That’s what this action is. The most powerful military on the planet is being used by a president to virtue signal to his base. Those national guardsmen are to become the human equivalent of Trump’s great wall. Something that he can point to and say to his base that he has accomplished something beyond building a few fences in the desert.
This kind of grandstanding with the American armed forces is not that different than when the Trump administration decided to use a MOAB in Afghanistan, or when they fired 50 tomahawk missiles at a Syrian controlled air base. Were either of these actions particularly effective? Did the administration have any follow up strategy to effect more lasting change in the operations afterwards? No, not really on both fronts, but Trump was able to stand up and talk about how tough he was. Closer to home, the Department of Defense and the DC city council are in the middle of trying to figure out how to stage a massive military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Why? Well because like the one he saw in France and decided he wanted one too. So the government is now in the process of planning a multi-million dollar ego trip for the President.
We have seen this time after time. Trump using the powers of the presidency to boost his own ego or telegraph a useless message to his hardcore base, and what is so infuriating is that there seems to be no recognition of how this affects the image and reputation of the US government and office of the president. There are no plans or solutions to deal with the tough issues. Instead, the government just hops from event to event trying to formulate the best pro-Trump marketing strategy and protect the President’s poll numbers.
About a week ago, news began to trickle out of the administration offices at Howard University in Washington DC that student tuition funds had been caught up in an embezzlement scheme. Hearing this news, many of the students of the university were, rightfully, outraged that their tuition had been mismanaged and began to plan a way to fight back. Over the next couple of days the university has since fired six people for their involvement in the embezzlement scandal, but by the time this news was announced, the wheels of protest had already spun up. Students mobilized remarkably fast—a testament to quickly spreading protest literature through social media on a relatively small college campus. By Thursday of last week, they had occupied the administration building on campus and we demanding the college president and the board of trustees hear their demands.
Having you tuition funds taken in an embezzlement scandal seems like one of the more justifiable reasons for college students to stage a mass protest—certainly when compared to the completely insignificant events that have lead to mass demonstrations at places like Yale and Evergreen College, and the students should be praised for their initial goals of opposing tuition mismanagement and investing in better housing situations for new students. But as happens so often with these kinds of protests, the movement has now bloated and attempted to cover ever left-leaning activist talking point these students can think of—a move which will only dilute their message and push would-be supporters further away.
Over the weekend, a student group calling themselves HU Resist and sporting a fancy new Twitter account—complete with a PayPal link that goes to who knows where, ironic considering they are demanding funding transparency—published a list of nine demands which range from the fairly mundane to the completely fantastic. The group starts by demanding that the university provide “adequate” housing to students under 21 and extend the housing deadline. They also demand that the university freeze tuition and begin a recalculation process to avoid hikes, and allow public access to administrative salaries. These demands are fair enough and should probably have been the limit of what the students sought to accomplish. Proper and affordable housing should be a goal for all colleges and of course, it is a college student’s duty to demand a stop to unsubstantiated tuition hikes—especially after you discover that over 1 million dollars of that tuition were just stolen.
However, after these reasonable demands are listed off, the students begin presenting more and more fantastical objectives—which at some point border more on virtue signaling towards further left-wing campus activist movement than they do actual goals. After requesting a reformation of the tuition system the students suddenly take a left turn and demand that the university put in to place a mandatory course that covers “gender, consent, sexuality, and sexual health” in an attempt to combat campus “rape culture.” The next demand asks that a “grievance system” be set up to police any instances of misconduct, specifically referencing harmful uses of speech. According to the students, this body would gather reports and investigate any instances of this misbehavior. Although there’s no explanation of how these investigations would take place or to whom this group would report. Following the recent trend of aversions to open speech and discourse, which has played itself out on campus after campus, I can’t imagine this group would be much different.
The students also demand that the Howard University police department be disarmed—citing possible violent behavior—which is ironic considering the national conversation the nation has been having over the past month about school safety and mass shooting prevention. One million people just marched in Washington D.C. demanding some kind of change to prevent more shootings on school campuses and suddenly disarming an entire campus police force seems like a good idea? And finally, the big one, the students demand that the president of the university and the entire board of trustees resign from their positions and that the student body is granted control over all administrative decisions via a veto power.
What has happened here is a classic case of activist overload—an often prescribed ailment which affects at least 4 out of 5 typical campus protest movements. You start off small, with manageable goals and a modest movement, and before you know it you have 400 people sitting in the president’s office demanding cookie-cutter liberal campus reforms which are neither effective at accomplishing your original goals, or even achievable in the first place. The demands for the campus to address rape culture and crack down on offensive speech have been repeated ad nauseam on as many campuses as there have been protests—to the point where these demands have lost all of their meaning. Especially when you have a campus as diverse and liberal as Howard where the problems of offensive speech are basically non-existent when compared to the real structural problems of a University which is on the verge of financial, figurative, and literal collapse.
Protest movements like these, which lack clear goals and focus, have always collapsed. You see it in everything from Occupy Wall Street to the famously leaderless Black Lives Matter. You see it on the right too in the strange amalgamation of groups that formed last year in Charlottesville pursuing who knows what agenda. And you see the exact opposite effect in many of the successfully protest movements of the 1960s. The leaders of the Civil Rights movement knew that you had to remain focused on a central, achievable goal, i.e. desegregation of lunch counters, integration of schools, equal housing policies—work on changing laws and minds in sensible, achievable ways, instead of the throw everything at the wall and see what sticks approach that has always failed.
One final memo to all current and future campus protest movements: Demand lower tuitions, financial transparency, and better housing. Don’t give up until you get it. It is a student’s right. But do so with a respect for who you are debating. Allow the administrators to go back to work, continue your protest outside, gather signatures for a petition, present reasonable demands, cite real regulations to change instead of locking down a campus building, denying adults access to the bathrooms without an “escort,” and accusing administrators of one of the nation’s most famous historically black universities of not “give[ing] a damn about Black people!”
Editor's Note: On Friday, April 5 the occupation protests at Howard officially ended. As apart of the final agreement administration at the university have agreed to discuss holding next year's tuition, revamping housing, creating a series of task forces to tackle sexual crimes, and discuss disarming the police, and to support a student-run food bank. The students have agreed to leave the administrative building, and resume their normal schedules.