Sunday, January 29, 2017

Considering Economic Protest (1st post in the series)

Every dollar you spend you spend is a vote for Trump. Every dollar you spend is a vote for the Republican-led congress. This is a striking statement, but I believe it to be true in two ways. First, Trump campaigned on the promise of job creation and economic growth. Every dollar you spend is helping him to accomplish that goal, thereby legitimizing his presidency. Second, when our lives are business as usual – when we shop, spend, consume, and vacation like everything is normal – the political order of the United States becomes normalized.


The presidency of George W. Bush provides a good example of how destructive policies can be masked by economic normalcy and how politicians depend on economic normalcy as a form of consent.

Just a few weeks after September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush addressed a still-reeling nation and urged Americans to “go down to Disney World in Florida, take your families and enjoy life the way we want it to be enjoyed.” What are we to make of this message to the American people? Was it an effort to return a traumatized nation to some semblance of normalcy or was it an admission that the gears of our society depend on people spending money?

In President Bush’s first six months in office he signed major tax cuts into law. As part of these cuts, taxpayers received refund checks for several hundred dollars. Then came 9/11. The war with Afghanistan came a month later and the invasion of Iraq came a year and a half later. It is worth noting that the only Americans asked to sacrifice in these wars were the men and women of the military who gave years of service and often their lives or limbs or psychological health, not to mention the sacrifices of their families back home. It is worth noting that no American was asked to skip a vacation or put off buying a new car or buy fewer presents over the holidays to pay for the war. The whole thing was put on a government credit card. I contend the war in Afghanistan would have been fought differently and the war in Iraq not fought at all if American taxpayers had been expected to foot the bill in real time.

In 2006, with a recession looming, Bush again addressed the nation, urging us to “go shopping more.” Two years later he would leave office with the country in the midst of its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, with the financial lives of millions of Americans in shambles due to the fraud and greed of under-regulated Wall Street financial institutions. The Republicans were swept out of office in 2006 and 2008. Economic crisis played a key role in fueling political change.


This recent history is worth remembering. What keeps our nation running – and what keeps our politicians in office – is the willingness of everyday Americans to “go down to Disney World” and “go shopping more.” Looking back on those Bush years, one wonders if we squandered some opportunity by going about business as usual. Did living our normal lives help to normalize war, torture, corruption, attacks on our constitutional rights, and financial misconduct that severely damaged the global economy?

If anything describes the presidency of Donald Trump, it is the words “not normal.”

If you need help understanding the degree to which his presidency is not normal, just read Amy Siskind’s weekly articles tracking ways that Trump violates what would be normal in a democracy.

It is not normal.

In the face of such an abnormal administration, perhaps it is time to reclaim our power over what we do that keeps things running normally. Perhaps it is time to claim the power of economic protest.

The next entry in this series will consider what such an economic protest might entail.