Friday, August 25, 2017

All the President’s (Klans)men

I have mentioned many times before in this blog that I find precious little joy in writing during the Age of Trump. I’m not honestly sure, but I feel as if I’ve opened up every blog post in recent memory with some variation of that line. I’ve spent the last two years well outside of my comfort zone—I’ve trashed the Republican Party, condemned the hostile takeover of said party by Trump and his fascist goons, and last month I even found myself discussing the merits of tweeting a WWE gif that shows the President of the United States punching someone with the CNN logo for a face. This is madness; it is the world turned upside down. And now, as I desperately look anywhere for a reprieve, I find myself called upon to tackle the easy, always-enjoyable topic of white supremacy. Yes, folks, that was sarcasm.

I’m quite sure I don’t have to explain to any of you why I’m writing about such a grisly topic this week. The events in Charlottesville earlier this month were a stark distillation of our hyper-polarized nation at its very worst—a heinous display of racial animus, violent unrest, and pure, undisguised hate. This wasn’t just harmless picketing and chanting; it was terrorism. It left a dozen and a half people seriously injured and unthinkably cost an American citizen her life. I am shocked and ashamed that an act of such blatant retrograde bigotry occurred merely an hour away from the city I call home. But, as I’ve said, we’re in the Age of Trump.

And how does Trump respond to a gathering of violent white supremacists in his backyard? By blaming violence “on both sides,” only condemning white supremacists a few days later, and then giving a press conference doubling down on his initial impulse to distract us from homegrown race terrorists by pointing fingers at the “antifa” (anti-fascist) counter-protestors. He even went so far as to say there were “very fine people” on both sides, which presumably implies there are some “very fine” race terrorists out there. This is insane, unpresidential, and mind-boggling in its obtuseness. Here we see a certain President of the United States—a man who has been consistently dogged by accusations of racism, fascism, and xenophobia—given a golden opportunity to speak out against all of the unsavory elements with which he finds himself associated, and what did he do? He took the silver platter that had been handed to him and he took a giant, steaming, metaphorical shit on it. He spat in the eyes of anyone (read: most everyone) who is offended or outright harmed by the behavior of overt white supremacists. He spurned the memory of the American citizen who was murdered by one of them. Make no mistake: if it hadn’t been clear already, this man is not worthy of any American’s respect. He is a fraud, a worm, a charlatan of the lowest order, a speck of filth more debased than the dirt beneath the soles of my shoes. That’s what a good condemnation looks like.

But that’s not even what upsets me the most. What truly baffles me is that I find various denizens of the American Right—bloggers, journalists, Facebook commenters, friends—following Trump’s lead in steering the discussion about Charlottesville away from white supremacists and toward vague Black Lives Matter and antifa bogeymen. Not only is this a false equivalence (a darling term of the American Left that I use with just a little bit of vomit in my mouth), it is completely tone-deaf and not worth anyone’s time. And that should be a no-brainer. When a group of avowed white supremacists stage a protest, turn violent, and plow a car into an innocent American citizen, I find myself caring very little what the “other side” was doing to incite them. If some of my cohabitants on the Right want to have a discussion about the tactics used by BLM and antifa and whether or not they are misguided, that’s all well and good. It’s a discussion I’m very willing to have, but for god’s sake, not now. That particular topic has almost nothing to do with what happened in Charlottesville. And attempting to distract from a very real act of domestic, white supremacist terrorism is not only harmful, but constitutes an act of complicity in that terrorism. The first, second, and third thoughts we should all be having as reasonable human beings in response to these events are: white supremacy and terrorism are bad. This one’s easy, folks.

I increasingly fear, though, that this is what being a part of the American Right has come to be. These days, we find ourselves called upon to defend white supremacist terrorists. They are, after all, a vocal and important part of President Trump’s base. What’s more, it seems they have hijacked the ongoing discussion regarding Southern heritage as well. (Let’s not forget the rally in Charlottesville was organized in response to the proposed removal of a Robert E. Lee statue.) As someone who has defended both the Republican Party’s small-government platform and the right of Southerners to preserve elements of their Confederate heritage, I despair at both of these developments. It is quite impossible for me to stand by a party and a cause that are both in bed with the scum of the Earth.

I’ve written before about the relationship between Confederate memorabilia and race terrorists. In “We Are Not Dylan Roof,” I defended Southern heritage as a product of regional pride, not racist hate. I did, however, ask this question: “Is there perhaps some unseen font of particularly vile racism that lurks somewhere in American society—somewhere where Dylann Roof was able to tap into it and feed his own demented hatred?” While I thought then that the answer to that question might very well be yes, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it would be confirmed in such stark and blatant terms a mere two years later. In a weird way, maybe I owe President Trump a thank you for bringing this scum to light. They have helped me realize that even though a well-intentioned Southerner like myself can admire a statue of Robert E. Lee without harboring any resentment toward by brothers and sisters of color, this doesn’t mean we might not be better off without public memorials of past sins. And maybe I was a fool in the first place for believing that if I defended the display of monuments to men who fought to own slaves, I wasn’t throwing my lot in with a bunch of full-throated racists and bigots. Obviously I was always aware that a small, unsavory minority of the American Right consisted of this ilk, but I never thought I’d live to see a time where they were brought enough into the mainstream to be vocal and accepted as legitimate. Well, if that’s truly the case—if defending my old party and my heritage puts me in bed with open white supremacists—then I’m out.

Postscript: I know it probably seems downright vapid for me to act surprised that I’m being joined by racists in defending statues of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis, but I promise you I’m going for something more nuanced than that. In my view, even if Confederate statues were constructed by white supremacists one hundred or so years ago, a contemporary defense of Confederate statues would ideally come from a sense of regional pride and historical inclusion, not white supremacy. Perhaps I was na├»ve in thinking that most of my allies felt the same way. Maybe most of them do feel this way, but that’s irrelevant if they’re going to waste their time obfuscating about what happened in Charlottesville. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

CNN is Fake News

First of all, please let me explain. To anyone who has spoken to me about politics more than once (or, really, at all), my general loathing of the news media should be quite obvious. I imagine the majority of my posts on this blog would make that fact rather self-evident as well. Nevertheless, I should probably endeavor to offer some sort of justification if I’m going to do something as inflammatory as slapping CNN with the Trumpian epithet of “fake news.” And don’t fret, friends—I think I can do it without actually defending the President.

I’ll start off by making one thing perfectly clear: I unequivocally believe that it is unbecoming of the office of President of the United States to tweet personal attacks, unsubstantiated claims, or late-night rants in the manner preferred by our current commander-in-chief. From the nonsense of covfefe to the boorishness of his middle-school-level attacks on Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, our President has put on a master class in how to debase himself and his office before the eyes of the internet (read: the world). But just because President Trump’s tweets are unprecedented and wholly unprofessional does not mean that they should automatically dominate our 24-hour news cycle. This is where the mainstream media and I apparently disagree.

Cable news in particular has made a veritable sport of breathlessly covering President Trump’s Twitter misadventures, with each major network vying to outdo the others in bumping more important storylines in favor of a roundtable discussion regarding POTUS’s most recent 140-character outburst. Never mind Senate Republicans’ ongoing efforts to complete a Congressional repeal of the Affordable Care Act or North Korea’s recent test of an ICBM theoretically capable of reaching Alaska. What really matters is keeping a daily list of everything he tweeted, retweeted, and didn’t tweet at all.  

The circus reached a fever pitch last week when President Trump tweeted a gif of an old Wrestlemania clip that showed him punching an individual whose face had been replaced with the CNN logo. Now, I must admit there are some newsworthy elements here—a President who not only has been on Wrestlemania but also decides to use that footage as ammunition in his ongoing feud with a major news network is certainly worth mentioning (and mind-bogglingly bizarre). The adult thing to do, though, is to point out the obvious fact that such behavior is beneath the POTUS and then move on to the real stories. But CNN, of course, would rather take the bait, stoop to Trump’s level, and keep the feud going strong. What does that entail? It entails things like ambushing a freshman Congressman from Virginia into discussing the merits of the tweet, the newsworthiness of tweets in general, and the adequacy of the condemnations of said tweet by Republican leaders in Congress before he is permitted to discuss anything of substance. Scott Taylor (R-VA), the Congressman in question, sits on the powerful Appropriations Subcommittees on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security, but really what he needs to be talking about is an animated gif. As Congressman Taylor himself points out, “You guys are getting played, man.”

CNN, and the media in general, have gone a lot farther than merely attacking the President for hurting their feelings, though. They feverishly worked to spin the tweet as encouraging violence against the press or, as Robert Reich contended in The Guardian, an attack on democracy itself. This is overblown and patently absurd. Trump’s CNN tweet certainly further diminishes his credibility and demonstrates an astonishing lack of judgment, but that’s about as far as any reasonable person can interpret that gif. While I’m sure there is someone somewhere in this country who could watch Donald Trump punch someone with a CNN logo for a head and become inspired to physically harm a journalist, that person does not represent the average (or even below-average) American. This hypothetical person is a dangerous idiot and would have been a dangerous idiot in the absence of this particular tweet.

But this saga doesn’t stop there. CNN took it upon themselves to track down the Redditor who supposedly created the gif, made him repent for his sins (he apparently posted vile anti-Semitic and racist material in the past), and then showed mercy by deciding not to release his identity to the public. This is what CNN, the Holy Arbiter of Truth, had to say about HanA**holeSolo, the offending troll:

CNN is not publishing ‘HanA**holeSolo’s’ name because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology, showed his remorse by saying he has taken down all his offending posts, and because he said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again. CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.

Holy cow. This is what is looks like when a media giant abuses its power and thought-polices an individual American citizen. Now, don’t get me wrong—I agree with The Federalist’s David Harsanyi in thinking that this troll deserves no sympathy and that CNN would have been wiser to just release the guy’s name instead of going full Spanish Inquisition on him. After all, what CNN has done here is reveal that if you promise not to offend them anymore, they can protect you. That statement is, as Harsanyi says, “a threat” implying that if HanA**holeSolo were to go back on his repentance, “the network reserves the right to put him in ‘danger.’” That kind of behavior is, I daresay, Trump-like. And building your entire news cycle around a juvenile presidential tweet and an anonymous, bigoted Redditor is—wait for it—fake news.

UPDATE 7/11/17: Maybe this scandal involving Donald Trump Jr.’s emails will give CNN something of real substance to talk about. One can only hope.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Winning was easy, young man…

A good friend of mine asked me a few days ago if I thought it might have been better for the Republican Party’s long-term prospects if Hillary Clinton had been elected president last year. I was very much surprised to find that my immediate impulse was to pay the expected partisan lip service to the utter irredeemable nature of a Clinton presidency; to deny that anything good could possibly have come of it. My shock was made all the more real by my realization that just about two years ago, I wrote in this blog that it would require not one, but two terms of Clinton in the White House to turn the Republican Party around. What’s craziest of all, though, is that when I examined my feelings on that question further, I became absolutely convinced that I really was wrong those two (long) years ago. Why? Because the Republican majorities in Congress have, in a very short time, demonstrated that no election is going to teach them how to actually govern. And even if they somehow got their act together, the Democrats wouldn’t just decline to help them; they would actively try to stop the GOP in its tracks. (And I don’t necessarily mean that last statement as a condemnation.)

It all started with what I consider to be the GOP’s biggest blunder so far in the Trump Era: the decision by leaders in Congress to make fast-tracking an Obamacare repeal their first order of business in the new session. Never mind that the replacement bill was under-baked, unworkable, unsatisfactory, and wholly despised by everyone everywhere—the real mistake was in lining healthcare up as the first legislative priority and then sprinting toward a vote without so much as a water break. It truly astounds me that a party that had a front-row seat to watch their opponents make the same mistake back in 2009 would turn around and repeat it almost exactly upon returning to power. Let’s face it—the Democrats paid a huge price for their decision to make healthcare reform their first priority after President Obama came into office. They got what they wanted, but successive drubbings in 2010, 2014, and 2016 have reduced their party’s strength at all levels of government to historic lows. On paper, this is both a triumph for Republicans as well as a roadmap for what not to do with their newfound power. But, true to form, they just went ahead and did it anyway. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that not only did they waste a massive amount of political capital, but they didn’t even get what they wanted in the first place. And what’s even more insane is that their response was to float a worse bill that is also in the process of falling apart.

The failure of Paul Ryan’s conference to utilize its robust majority and actually get an Obamacare “repeal and replace” package through the House is a stark illustration of how much more difficult it is to be a governing party than it is to be an opposition one. And the Republicans have never been much of a governing party to begin with. I’ve railed before about their inability to learn from their electoral defeats—hell, it took a phenomenon like Donald Trump to simply begin the process of walking away from the mistakes of the Bush years—and 2016 will go down in history as being no different. After spending eight years clamoring for Obamacare’s demise (the easy part), Republicans fell flat on their faces when they actually tried to come up with a real plan to replace it (the hard part). This isn’t wholly surprising—drafting an actual replacement plan is actively against an opposition party’s interests. But what I can’t forgive is the GOP’s utter unwillingness to get serious about the healthcare debate.

I’d be willing to entertain a fleshed-out “market-based” healthcare reform package, but I have no confidence that Congressional Republicans are up to that task. Their refusal to take their time drafting a bill is indicative of their inability to actually craft a workable one. They were more concerned about escaping the corner they had boxed themselves into for nearly a decade than actually trying to improve people’s lives. And I think this boils down to the fact that the Party, so steeped in the philosophy of austerity, simply can’t accept the fact that comprehensive healthcare reform requires spending a boatload of money. Take Tom Price’s plan: it’s a solid outline for a reform package, but (in my humble opinion) you’d have to shell out as least five times as much money as it allots for tax credits in order for it to be even remotely realizable. That’s just not a conversation the Republicans are willing to have. And it’s a tragedy for me to watch a unified, nominally conservative government stumble into these traps of their own creation.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Mitch McConnell has killed the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees. I’ll just go ahead and say that I think there is plenty of blame to go around on this one—Republicans first cooked up the so-called “nuclear option” because of Democratic obstruction of George W. Bush’s lower court nominees, but it was Republican intransigence that led Harry Reid to ultimately go nuclear on that count. Similarly, although the Democrats’ current partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee is a nearly unprecedented event, they’d be the first to remind you that Republicans refused to even give Merrick Garland a hearing, let alone a vote. These are all valid points, which leads me to conclude that everyone is wrong and both parties are at fault, as usual.

I have very mixed feelings on what now appears to be a party-line confirmation vote for Neil Gorsuch. I view Judge Gorsuch (as do most conservatives) as an extremely capable and flawlessly pedigreed candidate for our nation’s highest court. I actually agree with liberals who characterize his views as outside the mainstream, but so were the views of the man he would replace—a man who was himself a brilliant jurist and (in my view, invaluable) conservative bulwark on the Supreme Court. Choosing a man like Judge Gorsuch to succeed the late Justice Scalia maintains what I view as a nearly-ideal status quo on the Court: four conservatives, four liberals, and a right-libertarian swing vote. And so obviously part of me is quite pleased to see that Judge Gorsuch’s path to the Supreme Court is assured.

But an equally significant part of me is terrified for what this could mean in the future. What will happen when the Democrats find themselves in power again? How many Supreme Court seats will be up for grabs when that time comes? What exactly will Supreme Court nominees look like in a world where only 51 (or even 50) Senators need to support him or her? And the Democrats should be afraid, too—their unwillingness to make a deal this time around has robbed them of their ability to even consider one next time. They had better pray “next time” isn’t in the next four years.

And so, in what I’ve already said should be a triumphant moment of unified Republican control of government, I find myself discouraged and unengaged. I’m watching a party that can’t get its House conference in order and has to make Faustian bargains in the Senate even when their members are united. Add in a partisan environment that has done nothing but grow more rancorous for the past decade, and the only thing I know for sure is that the Republican Party has learned nothing from winning and would have learned even less from losing. Ditto the Democrats, for whom the reality of their own vulnerability clearly hasn’t sunk in yet. And all of this, of course, is to say nothing of the creature in the White House. The Trump years are, I think, predestined to be a train wreck. Sure, we got the “conservative” majorities that we always wanted and the Supreme Court nominee of our dreams. But, I can’t help but ask, at what cost? 

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Why do we do this to ourselves?