Tag Archives: Trump

Edging Toward Civil War?

A few days ago, I shared one of the essay questions from my Law and Policy final exam. The question required students to consider the very different–actually opposed–beliefs about what constitutes American “greatness.”

A number of students chose to respond to that question, and although virtually all of their essays were thoughtful, several of them were depressing. As I noted yesterday, at least a couple suggested that we might be heading toward civil war–that Americans’ approaches to the legitimacy and purpose of government are so incommensurate that common ground is simply unattainable.

Nearly all of them blamed social media for many of our inconsistent realities.

As I said yesterday, I would love to dismiss their observations and concerns as overblown, but stories like the one yesterday and this one–which I referenced a few days ago– are becoming more common and more worrisome.

A small group of white nationalists stormed a bookstore in Washington, D.C., to protest an event for a book on racial politics and how it’s impacting lower- and middle-class white Americans.

The group stormed the Politics and Prose bookstore on Saturday afternoon, interrupting a scheduled talk by Jonathan Metzl, a professor of sociology and psychiatry at Vanderbilt University who released his book “Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland” this spring.

Videos filmed by those in attendance showed the group standing in a line before the audience chanting, “This land is our land.” At least one man was yelling white nationalist propaganda into a megaphone while people in the bookstore booed him.

The man identified the group as “identitarians,” a far-right white nationalist group which is linked to Identity Evropa, which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as an extremist group.

This exhibition of racial and religious animus took place on the very same day that a 19-year-old white supremacist fired on worshippers in a synagogue in Poway, California.
Before he mounted the attack, the shooter had  gone online and posted an eight-page manifesto, in which he boasted about his “European ancestry” and expressed hatred of Jewish people.

Metzl told NBC Washington that before the protest broke out he was speaking to a man who had helped Metzl’s father and grandfather flee Nazi Austria.

“Not five minutes before, I had acknowledged him and said this is how great America can be when it is bold and generous,” Metzl recalled to NBC.

He told the Post that the incident was “very symbolic for me.”

Actually, the incident should be symbolic for all of us.

The man who had helped Metzl’s father and grandfather escape the Nazis represents what many of us–certainly, the people who occupy my own “bubble”–think of as American greatness: generosity of spirit, a willingness to use our own good fortune to assist others, an instinctive impulse to protect people who are weaker or who are being marginalized.

We see America as an idea and citizenship as a diverse polity’s common devotion to that idea.

The “very fine” people who rioted in Charlottesville, who shot up the synagogue in California, who demonstrated in that bookstore and who cheer anti-immigrant slogans at Trump rallies cluster around a very different version of American greatness.

In their morally impoverished reality, only white Christians can be Americans, and only when straight white Christian males are dominant can America be great.

My students are right about one thing: those worldviews are impossible to bridge. They do not lend themselves to compromise. And thanks to Donald Trump and his constant appeals to the basest among us, we are confronted daily with evidence that many more Americans than I ever would have guessed share a significant amounts of  “identitarian” beliefs.

And a hell of a lot of them are armed.

 

That Dangerous Alternate Reality

A week or so ago, I noted that, in their final essays, several students had suggested America might be heading for another civil war.

Despite our polarization, despite our increasingly toxic politics, that seemed farfetched. I still find it overblown–after all, this country has gotten through plenty of rough patches since our one (and so far, only) civil war without repeating that horrific experience. Granted, some episodes of civil unrest have been bloody, but they haven’t constituted civil war.

We’ve grown up, right?

Maybe not. This recent story from the Guardian made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Washington state Republican representative Matt Shea and several associates regaled an audience with conspiracy theories, separatist visions and exhortations for listeners to arm themselves ahead of a looming civil war, at a gathering at a remote religious compound in the north-east of the state last year.

In recordings obtained by the Guardian, Shea and Jack Robertson, also known as radio personality John Jacob Schmidt, invoked their visions and fears of a violent leftist revolt in speeches at the 2018 God and Country event in Marble.

The Guardian last week published leaked chat records in which Shea and Robertson were revealed to have discussed the use of surveillance, “psyops” and violence against liberal and leftist activists.

Robertson – who aired fantasies of extreme violence against liberal activists in the leaked chats – told the audience at the 2018 event that they should be prepared for civil war.

In his speech at God and Country last June, which immediately followed Shea’s speech, Robertson said: “Of course, you all know that you should have an AR-15 and a thousand rounds of ammo, right? Because Antifa is kicking up and getting ready to defend, right?”

Barely a week after the Guardian reporter contacted Shea and asked for comment, Shea linked to an Australian white nationalist website post which had criticized the reporter making the call.

Robertson and Shea are evidently regular guests on each other’s broadcasts, which air  on a local “Christian” network. According to the Guardian article, the two of them often share a stage at “patriot movement” events. They’ve been associated with the Christian Identity movement, which interprets the Bible as establishing a racial hierarchy in which Jews and blacks are enemies of the white race, who are the true Israelites.

According to Christian Identity doctrine, the United States should be a theocracy governed by Christians in accordance with divine law (as they interpret divine law).

Years ago, a friend of mine told me, in all seriousness, that 20% of the people we pass on the streets–20% of our countrymen– are mentally ill, and that some number of them are delusional and dangerous. At the time, I thought his estimate was high; I no longer think so.

What neither of us foresaw was the election of someone who is seriously disordered (and none too bright), and the encouragement his Presidency would offer to others who live in a  dystopian alternate reality.

We’re in uncharted territory.

This Is Scary

Speaking of collusion…

CommonDreams recently reported on evidence of “explosive” and “extraordinary” coordination between a controversial Madrid campaign group and far-right parties across Europe.

A controversial Madrid-based campaign group, supported by American and Russian ultra-conservatives, is working across Europe to drive voters towards far-right parties in next month’s European Parliament elections and in Spain’s national elections this Sunday, openDemocracy can reveal today.

Our findings have caused alarm among lawmakers who fear that Trump-linked conservatives are working with European allies to import a controversial US-style ‘Super PAC’ model of political campaigning to Europe – opening the door to large amounts of ‘dark money’ flowing unchecked into elections and referenda.

The Madrid-based campaign group CitizenGo is best known for its online petitions against same-sex marriage, sex educationand abortion– and for driving buses across cities with slogans against LGBT rights and “feminazis”.

But now openDemocracy can reveal new evidence of “extraordinary coordination” between this group and far-right parties across Europe – from Spain to Italy, Germany and Hungary.

Former United States Senator Russ Feingold, who worked with John McCain to reform political finance in the U.S., described the report’s findings as “frightening” and called on European leaders to protect the democratic process.

“Europe has an opportunity to get ahead of this and not make the same mistakes that were made here in the United States.”

During the past few years, there has been explosive growth of far-right–essentially fascist–parties here in the U.S. and in Europe.  Spain is just one example:

The Spanish far-right party Vox has pledged to build walls around Spanish enclaves in North Africa, jail Catalan independence leaders, loosen gun control laws and “make Spain great again”. The party also opposes “political correctness”, marriage equality for gay people and laws against gender-based violence.

Sound familiar?

The cited article goes into considerable detail about the global links among far right groups and the sources of their financing, but what is truly chilling is the extent of this movement and the fears that motivate its supporters.

We’ve been here before. Change can be terrifying to those who believe that their positions are being threatened. And societies today–especially western, democratic societies–are facing enormous changes.

Technology is rapidly transforming economies, and automation is threatening millions of jobs. Previously marginalized populations–women, LGBTQ citizens, African-Americans, immigrants–are demanding an equal place at the civic table. Longstanding traditions are under assault from a variety of directions–from the arts, from globalization, from liberal religions, and from growing secularization.

People–okay, mostly straight white Christian males– fear the loss of their traditional dominance ; they experience these changes as existentially threatening. That isn’t new. What is new is the ability–courtesy of the Internet– to connect with others around the world who share their fears.

Meanwhile, the rhetoric coming from Trump and his white nationalist ilk gives them permission to be far more candid about their bigotries. (You might even say that the bigots are leaving their closets and “coming out.”)

White nationalism appeals to people who are fundamentally insecure–who believe, deep down, that they can’t compete in the world that is dawning, that shorn of their traditional privilege they will be insignificant.

The problem is, that fear is powerfully motivating.

People of good will who are willing–even eager– to live in our evolving world cannot afford complacency. There’s a quote by someone whose name I’ve long forgotten, to the effect that a rattlesnake, if cornered will become so angry it will bite itself. That, of course, is exactly what happens to these people who are consumed with hate and resentment against the Other — they are biting themselves.

But the rest of us are collateral damage.

Here’s A Pastor I Respect

Talking Point Memo is one of the sources I visit regularly for political news; I trust its accuracy and find posts by the editor, Josh Marshall, insightful.

I have also been impressed with several comments provided by regular readers, and that leads me to the observations shared by a reader who is also a Christian pastor.

He began by distinguishing himself from the MAGA crowd:

At the ripe old age of 68 and as one living in the southern U.S., I am the prototype Trump supporter. Problem is, I can’t stand the man; I can’t stand to see him and I can’t stand to hear him. Put simply, he makes my skin crawl!

After noting the characteristics that appall him, the commenter says he is ” worn out by the constant lies, obfuscation, misdirection, and destructive policies” — a sentiment a lot of us share.

Then he gets to the issue of so-called “Christian” support for our very unChristian President, and in my opinion, hits the proverbial nail on the head.

I am also a Christian (a preacher, actually) who sees those with whom I should be in agreement as enemies of truth, morality and integrity. Christian principles? Pshaw! The teachings of Jesus? Fugetaboutit! The words of Bill O’Reilly from 2007 echo in my memory: “But do you understand what the New York Times wants, and the far-left want? They want to break down the white, Christian, male power structure, which you’re a part, and so am I, and they want to bring in millions of foreign nationals to basically break down the structure that we have.” Is that what this is all about? Is this why Bill Barr is willing to sell his soul to the devil? Is this why subservient Republicans bow down to “Dear Leader” and allow the president to embarrass them (and himself) in service to white supremacy? I wonder. Could it be that protecting the “white, Christian, male power structure” takes precedence over all other considerations? Is that what this is all about?

Yes, it is increasingly obvious that protecting the white, Christian, male power structure is EXACTLY what this is all about. But having a female Jewish college professor say so is highly unlikely to change any MAGA-lover’s perceptions or behaviors.

On the other hand, having a southern, male, Christian pastor point to the increasingly obvious motivation of those who are turning a blind eye to the destruction being done by an immoral and unChristian President and his enablers just might make a few people pause and think.

Those who are fighting to retain their white male Christian privilege, and the others who’ve drunk the kool-aid, are probably too far gone to really hear him, but the pastor’s final words are worth quoting:

Yes, I am frustrated and depressed, but I am not ready to give up on the “American Dream.” I am ready and willing to fight for the promise of America! Beating Trump in 2020 is not enough. We must work to totally obliterate everything he and his criminal enablers stand for; from the destruction of the environment to the undermining of our most cherished political traditions to the very concept of truth itself. I pray I am not alone! And I pray, in the words of the Great Emancipator, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” To which I can only say, “AMEN!”

Amen indeed.

 

Approaching A Major Crisis

Donald Trump is refusing to produce documents demanded–subpoenaed–by Congress, and has instructed members of his administration not to comply with orders to testify to Congressional committees.

If this isn’t a constitutional crisis, the term has no meaning.

As several sources have reminded us, Article 3 of the Articles of Impeachment against Nixon asserted that the President

… has failed without lawful cause or excuse to produce papers and things as directed by duly authorized subpoenas issued by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives on April 11, 1974, May 15, 1974, May 30, 1974, and June 24, 1974, and willfully disobeyed such subpoenas. The subpoenaed papers and things were deemed necessary by the Committee in order to resolve by direct evidence fundamental, factual questions relating to Presidential direction, knowledge or approval of actions demonstrated by other evidence to be substantial grounds for impeachment of the President. In refusing to produce these papers and things Richard M. Nixon, substituting his judgment as to what materials were necessary for the inquiry, interposed the powers of the Presidency against the the lawful subpoenas of the House of Representatives, thereby assuming to himself functions and judgments necessary to the exercise of the sole power of impeachment vested by the Constitution in the House of Representatives.

As Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo reports,

The White House isn’t doing the standard tussling with Congress about oversight: some stonewalling, some negotiation, taking some questions of privilege to court. It’s more accurately characterized as massive resistance. The Congress has a constitutionally mandated responsibility to oversee the executive branch. They are flatly refusing to comply with ordinary document production and testimonial requests across the board. It’s not a difference of degree but of kind. In itself it is an impeachment worthy refusal to follow the constitutionally mandated framework of American government. It’s up to Democrats to make this clear.

Here’s the very simple bottom line: If a President can refuse to comply with the demands of a Congressional oversight committee–part of a co-equal branch of government– America no longer has checks and balances or the rule of law.

Checks and balances and the rule of law are the very foundation of the American constitution. Governmental legitimacy is defined as adherence to that government’s legal framework–in our case, the constitution. Trump’s defiance is thus evidence of his administration’s lack of legitimacy.

If the Senate, under the control of Mitch McConnell (aka the most evil man in America), fails to stand up for the prerogatives of the Congress, history–assuming we survive to have a history–will brand them traitors. Their first duty is to protect the Constitution and the Separation of Powers; the crisis Trump is precipitating requires them to stop cowering in fear of Trump’s ignorant, rabid base and discharge their obligation to protect America.

(Speaking of ignorance, Trump has said he’ll fight any effort to impeach him by taking the matter to his buddies on the Supreme Court–once again demonstrating his utter cluelessness about constitutional processes and American governance.)

It’s hard to argue with Josh Marshall’s analysis of the current impasse.

But as much as anything else this is a political conflict: how to bring to heel a lawless President. The big error I see so far is that these joustings are being treated as legitimate legal processes which must be allowed to work their way through conventional processes and the courts. That’s not right and it gives the President free rein to try to run out the clock on any sort of oversight. Democrats need to find a language for the political debate that makes clear these are not tedious legal processes which will run their course. They are active cover-ups and law breaking, ones that confirm the President’s bad acting status and add to his and his top advisors legal vulnerability.

There is no hope for Trump; the man is aggressively stupid, proudly ignorant and quite obviously mentally ill (and those are his better qualities!) He is a perfect example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

The only question that still remains open is: how many Republican Senators are genuine patriots and how many are self-serving cowards? We’re about to find out.