Tag Archives: antifa

Trump Can’t Walk Back His Racism

No one paying attention will likely ever forget Trump’s response to the neo-Nazis marching with torches in Charlottesville: “very fine people [pause] on both sides.” There are many older examples but the one getting the most attention today is Trump’s refusal to reject white supremacy during the first presidential debate on September 29. Pressed by the moderator and by Joe Biden, Trump first tried to deflect by asking who specifically he was being asked to condemn. Biden promptly replied, “the Proud Boys.”

Like the attack on Pearl Harbor, Trump’s response will live in infamy: “stand back and stand by.” Like many other astounding statements from Trump, it’s on video and can’t be denied. But that never stops the Republicans from finding some path to altered reality other than the obvious need to admit that their candidate is a racist and is ready to call for violence in order to stay in power. Trump’s debasement of the presidency and destruction of American democracy are now fully out in the open.

The GOP autocracy/theocracy is bending itself into pretzels trying to cope with the exposed reality that their candidate is a racist monster who represents everything antithetical to the American values Republicans are constantly harping about. Politico.com reports the story. https://politi.co/34eExdZ

Senate Republicans spent much of Wednesday pressing President Donald Trump to denounce white supremacy, with few in the GOP willing to explicitly defend his refusal to do so during Tuesday’s presidential debate.

Trump’s unsubtle dog whistle was understood by the Proud Boys and other right-wing neo-Nazi groups exactly as it was intended. Many of them tweeted, in essence, “we await your orders to attack.”

Several pathetic deflections ensued. One suggestion was that Trump didn’t understand the question, or that he “misspoke,” which is preposterous to anyone who saw the event or the video of it. Then, Trump tried to say he didn’t know who the Proud Boys are, which is a lie. He was quite clear at the time. If he wanted to escape unscathed, he could have said, “I don’t know them, but I am opposed to white supremacy in all forms at all times.” But, he didn’t.

Politico again,

In a series of interviews and public statements Wednesday, Senate Republicans pushed Trump to clarify his comments, with party leaders and the rank-and-file eager to put distance between themselves and the president’s stance.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that he shared the same views as Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the only black GOP senator, who urged the president to correct his comments.

The suggestion that Trump’s remark can simply be “corrected” betrays the Republican perfidy in this entire subject. To them it’s just a question of what they can get away with and if exposed, “correcting” the comments fixes everything. But it doesn’t.

There are certainly gaffes and mistakes that everyone makes. This was not one of those. Given Trump’s history, it was virtually certain to arise in the debates one way or another and it is unimaginable that Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, Trump’s two primary debate preparers, did not address this with him. He knew it was coming, obviously didn’t like it but, visibly squirming, he said what he meant. Rick Santorum, the ever-reliable Trump toady who remains, for no apparent reason, a CNN commentator, objected that the question was unfair because the moderator knew how much Trump hates having to criticize his political base. If Santorum understands that Trump’s base has huge racist elements, you know all you need to know.

The Trump toady-in-chief, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, certainly understood it:

…McConnell said Trump’s performance in the debate wouldn’t hurt his efforts to keep the Senate: “I don’t know of any of my colleagues who will have problems as a result of that.”

Other GOP lawmakers, such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Sen Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), lately of insider trading fame, tried to deflect the criticism, arguing that Trump had said he would designate the KKK as a terrorist group. He hasn’t, of course, and we know why.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, lately of Bridgegate fame, downplayed the alarm many had to the president’s remarks, saying on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he “heard it differently.” Uh huh. Pressed, Christie performed the pretzel twist with the claim that he  “didn’t read it that way, but if you want to read it that way that’s your prerogative,” insisting there was “confusion on the matter.”

Apparently, the White House believe-anything-he-tells-you-even-when-it’s-obviously-false” team didn’t get the Christie memo. Per Politico,

Alyssa Farah, the White House communications director, meanwhile told Fox News that “I don’t think that there is anything to clarify” from Trump’s comments the night before.” He’s told them to stand back,” she said, pointing to the president’s efforts to tamp down violence in cities across the country.

Farah conveniently ignored the “and stand by” half of Trump’s response.

Meanwhile, over at “Fox & Friends,” co-host Brian Kilmeade, always there for Trump, was quoted saying, “Why the president didn’t just knock that out of the park, I’m not sure.”  But, of course, he is sure. Trump is a racist and ignoramus. Trump believes that ‘antifa’ is some kind of organization bent on destroying America, a view even Trump’s own Justice Department, led by Trump’s personal consigliere the Attorney General William Barr, does not accept.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hit the nail on the head: “I think one thing he did present was the authenticity of who he is.”

We all know, I think, that public speaking is stressful, all the more so if much is at stake. If you have looked out over a large audience with expectant, perhaps even hostile, faces, you can understand how extemporaneous responses to questions can lead to regretful misstatements.

On the other hand, when you’re a public figure who has been  prepped and practiced and are aware of past issues and challenges with statements you’ve made, it is not too high a standard to expect certain things. First and foremost is ‘truth.’ We can accept and forgive dumb remarks, factual mistakes, failed memories over details and statistics. Those things happen in extemporaneous public speaking all the time.

The “stand back and stand by” comment by the president of the United States, almost four years into his presidency, is not in that class. Trump has history on this question. As Yogi Berra famously said, “it’s déjà vu all over again.”  Trump sent a message to the worst elements of his political base that he may call upon them to violently attack either the government or elements of the electorate he considers his enemies. They got the message loud and clear.

There is no walking this back, as the politicians like to say. Some things simply can’t be unsaid. Even if, under pressure from his Republican enablers in Congress, Trump were to categorically assert that he didn’t mean what he said, it’s too little too late. Everyone now has the clearest statement of Trump’s loyalties and they are not to the Constitution he swore to uphold. His loyalties are to himself ahead of everything and everyone else. The most remarkable aspect of this is that those same enablers do not accept Trump’s own version of himself. Or, maybe they really do and just don’t care.

Either way, the election draws closer by the day. Trump’s debasement of the highest office in the land will continue unless and until he is removed, one way or the other. You know what to do.

Portland – What Do You See?

As I watch the videos and still photos of the chaos in Portland and read comments on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere, I am driven to ponder: how does what I see differ so much from what others see? And why?

To a large degree, we see what we expect to see. Powerful psychological forces, largely if not entirely unconscious, control what parts of a visual field actually register as “seen” in the conscious mind. You likely have experienced this a few times. You didn’t “notice” something that someone else did notice and thought was obvious. Maybe you went looking for something in a room and didn’t “see” something else; you were puzzled when this was pointed out.

So, some of us see the videos and photos of camouflaged, unidentified “soldiers” of an unidentified federal force beating, tear gassing, pepper spraying and generally assaulting protesters who have been on the streets of Portland in the vicinity of the federal courthouse for approaching two months. Two months! Two months and no apparent plan by Portland political leadership to address the concerns that led the protesters to the streets in the first place. Based on videos I have seen, it appears that Trump’s Storm Troopers have committed multiple crimes against Portland residents: unlawful search, assault with a deadly weapon, battery, false arrest (no probable cause) and kidnapping.

Others don’t see that at all. They see only rioters trying to destroy federal and private property, anarchists and enemies of America. Communists and/or fascists and/or socialists. OMG, antifa! So, they post video of fires being set and photos of people wearing what seem to be anti-American insignia or slogans.

As an interesting aside, I think, the president of the United States does not see “fine people … on both sides,” as he did when the neo-Nazis and white supremacists/KKK marched in Charlottesville with torches and chanting “Jews will not replace us.” Trump sees only enemies. He also sees opportunity – a chance to deflect attention away from his catastrophic failure of leadership regarding the coronavirus pandemic. Trump is likely quite happy that Portland is such a visible powder-keg – it’s tailor-made to draw media attention away from the pandemic and the as-yet-unaddressed issue of Russian bounties to the Taliban for killing American soldiers.

To some degree we all have an agenda, perhaps not the same as Trump’s, but an agenda nonetheless. That agenda moderates what we tend to focus on from the multitude of images, accusations and claims emerging from the tumult in Portland.

At this late stage, this alignment is not likely to change. The mayor of Portland probably realized that last night when he joined the crowd to talk with the protesters, many days late and dollars short. He got tear gassed for his effort and, of course, that garnered the biggest headlines.

Step back,  on either side, a moment from the emotional engagement that is triggered by Portland and ask the question: why would all those people, mainly young but now joined by large numbers of women (calling themselves Momtifa), some of whom are pregnant, why would they behave as they are? Does any rational person think those people in Portland are all just hooligans who have been waiting all this time for an excuse to engage in violent activity, risking arrest and serious personal injury? Why is there so much anger in this group that some of them try to physically engage police and try to burn down a courthouse?

It’s easy, and entirely simplistic and simple-minded, to call them a “mob” and other names that have become popular on right-wing talk shows. Don’t those of us who are also angry, on either side, have a responsibility to address the underlying issues rather than just reacting emotionally to the video of the moment? Does anyone really approve of the violence as a long-term viable strategy for effectuating change? If you don’t, then you know that something must be done to address the reasons for the anger that led to the violence.

So, what now? Trump is sending his federal strike force to other cities to beat, tear gas, pepper spray and assault other American citizens, again on the pretext that the (usually Democratic) leadership of those cities cannot sufficiently dominate the streets on their own. We are thus likely to see Portland-like images from these other cities, as the protesters, already frustrated by the customary excuses and inaction, boil over in rage against what seems like, and almost certainly is, a gross and unconstitutional abuse of federal power. I can’t predict the future any better, and perhaps worse, than anyone else, but it’s hard to see how this is going to accomplish anything good.

The main consequence of Trump’s approach is going to be feeding more red meat to the most ravenous segment of his political base that is at once racist and hungry for new “enemies” to hate. Trump actually may benefit politically with his base by keeping the pot boiling over in the “Democrat-run cities” but at what cost to those cities and the country? He continues gaslighting the nation about imminent cures for COVID-19 with his renewed “daily briefings” while promising to suppress violence in cities that “can’t take care of their own business.” In reality, this will just produce more violence.

What, then, is the answer? I believe it must lie in a program somewhat similar to the one announced a while back by Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the outpouring of protests across the country and the world, Cuomo told the cities/towns of New York State: get your act together, enlist the interested parties, sit down with a blank slate and redesign your public safety/public health services in a way that makes sense to you in the local affected community and submit your plan with a budget by April. OR, lose state funding. Cuomo’s approach respects local autonomy, creates strong incentives for joint action and has a definitive timeline for outcomes. Whether local political and other leaders have the skills needed to negotiate new arrangements remains to be seen, but this is a model that at least makes sense as a path forward.

I don’t have enough information about why exactly Portland has become the hotspot for protests, but it seems that the reform process has stalled there. It was good of the mayor to finally come out to engage the protesters, but photo ops among the tear gas are not a solution to what ails the police force in Portland or elsewhere. Recognizing the additional challenges that comes with the pandemic, we cannot have this be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Local governments must rise to the occasion or risk mass carnage inflicted by both angry citizens and federal storm troopers led by unhinged politicians looking to exploit the situation for personal political gain.

The longer the protests go on, the greater the frustration at the lack of progress and the greater the risk of more violence. Unlike prior cases, these protests seem unlikely to punch themselves out. It’s time – well past time – for political leadership to step in, displace the over-reaching of the president and start the process of real and powerful reform. The people are not going to accept the routine continuation of police brutality as the norm in American society.