I took a stand with a selfie.
As an everyday American, I don’t typically find myself in the presence of presidential advisors. When I saw Kellyanne Conway at a local restaurant, I knew I had to do something to capture her attention. She and the Trump Administration have done everything they can to isolate themselves from the people and have implemented a strategy designed to erode a healthy political discourse. By now, many people have seen the video of Kellyanne Conway, mid-selfie, being asked to say, “I’m ruining America.” While many have labeled it a “prank” or called it “trolling,” for me, it was more than that. It was a political statement.
In a normal political climate, it wouldn’t cross my mind to approach an “off-the-clock” advisor to the president and express disapproval of their actions in the manner that I did. But as many have said, “this is not normal.”
How did we get to this place?
The Trump Administration has risen to power by showing complete disregard for accountability. They have actively done everything they can to undermine our ability to carry on the democratic tradition of reasoned debate based on facts. We’ve seen them dismantle our discourse both institutionally and culturally.
We have seen an unprecedented assault by the Trump Administration on the tools and institutions that are essential to a thriving political discourse. Kellyanne Conway, with her “alternative facts,” has been one of the choreographers of this assault. It’s impossible to have a meaningful political debate without facts. The Trump team has authored, propagated, and defended falsehoods while labeling truthful reporting that depicts them unfavorably as “fake news.” When members of the media have questioned the basis of their assertions, the Administration shuts out whole organizations and even launches personal attacks on reporters. The Administration is so threatened by a healthy political discourse that they are crippling our ability to ask important questions.
Equally disturbing is the Trump Administration’s endorsement and promotion of behaviors that are inconsistent with civility and tolerance. Without these virtues, we can’t even arrive at the point of commencing a productive debate. The Trump team is aware of this. That is why they took us here. Facts and reasoned debate were never on their side, whether it was the basis for their Muslim travel ban or the size of Trump’s Inauguration crowds. The promotion of anger, hatred, and disrespect can be witnessed in the tone that Trump struck throughout his campaign. I need not say another word before you think of the footage of Trump at a rally saying he’d like to punch a dissenter in the face, grotesquely mocking Serge F. Kovaleski’s disability, or gloating about sexually abusing women. It is these acts that brought us to where we are now, not only with weakened tools to conduct discourse, but weakened hearts to even attempt to do so.
My act was an expression of frustration and condemnation. The Trump team has aimed to isolate themselves from accountability and leave us feeling hopeless. My act was an attempt to cut through this hopelessness and make a direct statement to one of the perpetrators responsible for bringing us to this point. They are the ones leaving us with no choice but to communicate our dissatisfaction in unorthodox ways. I am proud that, without the vulgarity and hatred promoted by the Trump team, I seized a rare opportunity to convey a message of disapproval directly to a key advisor who has played a role in shaping this dark political climate. In doing so, I chose a method that would not only capture her attention but also the attention of others, who feel silenced, to demonstrate that we have many ways of speaking up.
As I walked away, Ms. Conway told me that “I must feel brave” for doing what I did. If I had the chance to respond to her in person, I’d say that I feel more heartbroken than brave. Heartbroken that the Trump team, of which she is a member, has attempted to silence us. We must use any legal, including provocative, means possible to stand up and cut through their attempts to take away our voice.