By YOUSUF ALI, Opinions Editor
After months of pressure, Republican Congressman David Trott from Michigan’s 11th district finally faced his constituents on March 18, 2017. Before anyone feels the urge to praise the congressman for finally doing the right thing, I’d like to relay the following facts about this event; it was held at 8:30 a.m. on the Saturday after St. Patrick’s day with only three days notice while snow was cascading from the sky, creating dangerous road conditions. Regarding the town hall itself, no signs were allowed and almost all the questions were written, pretty much stifling any chance of genuine dialogue. Furthermore, before doors were open to the general public, two of about a dozen rows were filled up with people who appeared to be his supporters. In other words, the event was planned in such a manner to minimize the amount of criticism the congressman would receive. As someone who was there, I can happily tell you that it didn’t work.
Despite doing so much to slant the crowd in his favor, the overwhelming majority of the people in attendance came in opposition to the congressman’s acquiescence to some of the worst parts of the president’s agenda. Deprived of the chance for genuine dialogue and signs, protestors expressed their displeasure by waving red index cards and booing. This occurred when the congressman expressed support for Trump’s anti-refugee executive orders, opposition to Obamacare, mentioned the name of Betsy DeVos, and several other points during the event. I normally don’t partake in this type of behavior, but considering that the organizers did everything possible to prevent thoughtful dialogue, I gladly participated. Despite my previously expressed ambivalence about Secretary Clinton, I couldn’t agree with her more when she tweeted the following: “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the… Congress.” Indeed, if Mr. Trott chooses to accept policies which harm his constituents, then he should have the courage to face their displeasure.
Going into this event, I knew full-well that the congressman did not genuinely wish to hear his constituents, but it was only after the event that the depth of his cynicism became clear. Within days of the town hall, the congressman predictably retreated to the right-wing safe space of Fox & Friends to portray himself as a little David against a radical left-wing Goliath of a crowd. Nothing could be further from the truth. Predictably, the host started the segment by playing a 10-second clip in which the the crowd booed Trott’s support for the President’s proposed increase in military funding at the expense of other crucial programs and said that several hundreds of his constituents “don’t support our troops.” As if that wasn’t bad enough, one of Trott’s advisors was caught on tape planning to misrepresent these objections as “un-american.” Ignoring the irony of a congressman who supported a Secretary of Education who is now planning education cuts and calling people unamerican for objecting to increased defense spending, this accusation is as dangerous as it is absurd.
To begin, questioning the loyalty of dissenters a classic jingoistic way of shutting-down debate. By portraying his opponents as opposed the military, the congressman was not simply disagreeing with his constituents, he was questioning their loyalty. This was not a simple misunderstanding, it was calculated political move intended to rile up his base. Furthermore, the fact that the people there were deprived of the ability to ask questions directly made it even easier for the congressman to misrepresent them. There can be no question that the purpose of last week’s town hall was to create a sound bite which Trott could utilize to portray himself as a defender of the military against an “un-american” crowd. With that, I end my piece by writing directly to you, Mr. Trott:
Any fair-minded observer will conclude that you manifestly and deliberately misrepresented hundreds of your constituents by questioning their loyalty. In doing so, you have proved yourself to embody the perception that so many americans have of politicians cynically dividing people in order to win. This deception disqualifies you from any position of responsibility, let alone that of a congressman. While you may attain some short-term political benefits, when the truth manifests itself, the voters will see you for exactly what you are. If you wish to salvage whatever remains your integrity, there is only one way forward for you: an unequivocal apology for the lies you have spread about constituents with whom you disagree.