Their Friends Are America’s Enemies

It’s no surprise, truly, that white nationalists who returned to Charlottesville chanted three main slogans: ‘You will not replace us,’ ‘Russia is our friend,’ and ‘the South will rise again.’

Each is false, and little more than a dark hope: the South they want (of slavery, bigotry, and treason) will never rise again, they have already been replaced by a more diverse and competitive population, and Russia (under either the Soviets or Putin) has never been America’s friend.

Putin has returned Russia to dictatorship after the briefest thaw, a return to brutality at home and abroad. Consider only a small video of opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s struggle in Russia, and know that while you consider him, vast numbers more are denied basic rights. The man who makes Russia oppressive for his own people delights in having lifted Trump to power in America, that Trump might in his own way degrade our way of life as Putin in his way has degraded life for his own people.

The Somber Trio

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin Among the most serious harms are those to liberty and physical well-being. One can compensate adequately for many injuries, but damages at law are slight compensation for lost liberties and physical injuries.

We’ve a new national environment, in which actions once impermissible are now encouraged, and redress once required is now no longer recognized. If asked to list the three gravest concerns for this small town, these come to mind, in no fixed order:

Harm inflicted intentionally against immigrants peacefully settled in their communities,

Harm inflicted through overzealousness against other residents (often disadvantaged) but peacefully situated in their communities, and

Unacknowledged harm from sexual assaults against residents on campuses or nearby.

There’s an obvious difference between risk (the chance that something might happen) and harm (what results if it does happen). The harms that might befall some in this community have always been clear; the risks of these harms has grown as Trumpism encourages force where it was once properly discouraged, and discourages peaceful resolution where it was once encouraged.

These greater risks did not begin with Trump. In towns across America, including Whitewater, one can see That Which Paved the Way. Those who have ignored or denied past wrongs have left their communities vulnerable to those who would, with satisfaction & delight, commit new and worse injustices, all the while declaring their actions the very height of order and propriety.

The worst risks, of the worst harms, fall on some of our fellow residents more than others. The moral burden of lessening risks, and of redressing harms, falls on all of us.

Priorities: Fighting Bigotry Over Babbittry

local sceneCommon men and women can learn from the examples of great men and women. In this way, one can learn how to prioritize between concurrent challenges, applying lessons from a prior and intense conflict even to present but lesser conflicts. Some threats are worse than others, and so our it’s reasonable that one places more effort there.

It makes sense to me that the most intense focus should be on the most intense challenges, and that those challenges are national ones first, local ones embodying national ones second, and purely local ones third.

The national challenges of Trumpism (viz., authoritarianism, bigotry, nativism, mendacity, conflicts of interest, ignorance, and subservience and dependency on Putin’s dictatorship) are a greater threat to communities than purely local buffoonery and grandiosity.

In this way, one would, so to speak, prioritize the fight against bigotry over babbittry. (One sees well, to be sure, that years of local babbittry erode the standards of a community, making it more susceptible of national illnesses. Only scorn is owed to those who wasted a generation glad-handing through town.)

Three confident assumptions undergird my thinking —

First, Trumpism should go, consigned to a political outer darkness, and the ruin of that way will be a thorough good. The next generation will ask: What did you do to oppose Trump? Those who supported him will then be silent; those who were silent will then be ashamed. Those who openly defended centuries of liberty and constitutionalism on this continent, however small their own efforts, will enjoy settled consciences and the thanks of a free people.

Second, there will still be time, during this national conflict, to combat local embodiments of the national challenges that face us. There are, for example, lumpen nativists, local show-us-your-papers men,  who deserve more criticism than they’ve yet received. That’s a fight worthy fighting, and one happily joined.

Third, most of those responsible for our local challenges have no future in any event — they were irreversibly in decline in Whitewater even before Trump came to power. If the pharaohs, with all their wealth poured into the pyramids, could not thereby prevent the decline of their way of life, then one can be sure that today’s local grandiosity and boosterism will not do the trick.

Fight and prevail through collective, nationwide efforts in the greater challenge, and the local challenge will be even more easily won.

The Catholic Church Catches a Break…from Steve Bannon

I’m from a Lutheran & Catholic family, and believe that there are sound, religious reasons to support immigration, and especially to support Dreamers’ continued residency in America. (Indeed, the are sound reasons of free markets in labor to support an immigration policy as open as possible.)

For today, though, let’s consider – as a purely political matter – the huge break that Steve Bannon has offered the Catholic Church in America. The American church has faced all manner of self-inflicted moral and political wounds in the last generation, abuse scandals primary among them. (I would not look aside or set aside any of those inflicted injuries – each one should be redressed, so much as one can redress any grievous harm.)

Now, along come the modern-day Know Nothings, looking to keep out as many non-whites as they can, Steve Bannon and Breitbart being in the vanguard of that group. A report this morning contends that, in an upcoming 60 Minutes interview with Charlie Rose, Bannon will hit the Church on immigration:

Bannon: The bishops have been terrible about this. By the way, you know why? You know why? Because unable to really – to – to – to come to grips with the problems in the church, they need illegal aliens, they need illegal aliens to fill the churches. That’s – it’s obvious on the face of it. That’s what – the entire Catholic bishops condemn him. … They have – they have an economic interest. They have an economic interest in unlimited immigration, unlimited illegal immigration. And as much as –

Rose: Boy, that’s a tough thing to say about your church.

Bannon: As much as I respect Cardinal Dolan and the bishops on doctrine, this is not doctrine. This is not doctrine at all. I totally respect the pope and I totally respect the Catholic bishops and cardinals on doctrine. This is not about doctrine. This is about the sovereignty of a nation. And in that regard, they’re just another guy with an opinion.

(Obvious point: the Church does point to doctrine on immigration, clearly, exhaustively,  and repeatedly. Bannon surely knows this – he’s simply lying.)

 

But consider this politically for a moment: if one had to pick an adversary, right out of central casting, what better foe than a broken-down bigot with a horde of lumpen followers?

Jennifer Rubin was right about Trumpism, and that these times are about Trump vs. an America that works:

….We don’t think it is a coincidence that in the election Trump lost the most economically productive areas of the United States. Brookings found,“The less-than-500 counties that Hillary Clinton carried nationwide encompassed a massive 64 percent of America’s economic activity as measured by total output in 2015. By contrast, the more-than-2,600 counties that Donald Trump won generated just 36 percent of the country’s output—just a little more than one-third of the nation’s economic activity.” To be clear, Clinton carried the most diverse, most cosmopolitan and most successful parts of America. (“Her base of 493 counties was heavily metropolitan. By contrast, Trumpland consists of hundreds and hundreds of tiny low-output locations that comprise the non-metropolitan hinterland of America, along with some suburban and exurban metro counties”)….

A reasonable person wouldn’t want a fight over immigration, knowing that free markets in labor are beneficial to society. A fair person wouldn’t displace children.

If one had to face a fight with nativists, however, one could not have found more desirable opponents. A fight with Bannon puts the Church squarely in the camp of the most dynamic parts of the country, against stagnant ones. Bannon and his ilk have forced this issue, but on terms favorable not to themselves, but favorable instead to the pro-immigration forces of which the Church is a key part.

The Existential (Imagined and Real)

It was Michael Anton (writing as Publius Decius Mus) who exactly one year ago famously declared that 2016 was “The Flight 93 Election,” an existential fight for survival for state-loving conservatives:

2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You—or the leader of your party—may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees.

Except one: if you don’t try, death is certain. To compound the metaphor: a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.

To ordinary conservative ears, this sounds histrionic. The stakes can’t be that high because they are never that high—except perhaps in the pages of Gibbon. Conservative intellectuals will insist that there has been no “end of history” and that all human outcomes are still possible. They will even—as Charles Kesler does—admit that America is in “crisis.” But how great is the crisis? Can things really be so bad if eight years of Obama can be followed by eight more of Hillary, and yet Constitutionalist conservatives can still reasonably hope for a restoration of our cherished ideals? Cruz in 2024!….

The Flight 93 Election, Claremont Institute, http://www.claremont.org/crb/basicpage/the-flight-93-election/

Anton now serves in the Trump Administration (“Deputy Assistant to the President for Strategic Communications”), so he may content himself with avoiding a figurative plane crash at the price of electing a man who received three million fewer votes than the leading candidate.

Anton saw an existential threat, with conservatism on the brink, yet he should have stopped at the observation that others might see his claims as histrionic: they were and are exactly that. Had Clinton won, conservatism would have gone on well enough, perhaps even a bit better, in a politics of sometime gridlock and sometime compromise between a Democratic executive and a Republican legislature. America would have seen a world of conventional politics, not of existential threat to either conservatives or liberals. For better or worse, Clinton (and Ryan and McConnell) would have held office in times mostly of business as usual, not of extreme dangers.

Contra Anton, whose false claims of existential threats look truly histrionic a year later, it’s Trump’s election that now brings America to an existential crisis: Trump daily manifests authoritarianism, bigotry, xenophobia, ignorance, subservience to a Russian dictator, and serial conflicts of interest and self-dealing.

Those who opposed Trump, had we seen Trump defeated, would have been no dire threat to anyone who supported him. Now in power, Trump and his remaining cultish operatives are, however, manifestly a threat to American liberty, to centuries of constitutional and political development on this continent.

Anton had it exactly backwards: it’s Trump’s rise to power that represents an existential threat to our ordered and civilized way of life. We are now in an existential struggle, one that Trump has forced upon us.

This struggle is fought daily in the vast space between two great oceans, gripping over three hundred million within that territory, and billions beyond for whom the outcome matters immensely.

While the field of conflict is continental, it is not – indeed cannot be – national everywhere and yet local nowhere. Much of the decaying matter from which Trumpism springs (a love of authority, entitlement, grandiosity, mediocrity, conflicts of interest) exist in even the most beautiful small towns. It’s a candid admission that many of us – and here I count myself – have not done enough to challenge these local vices that have engendered a national sin.

No doubt we had excuses for our indolence even as we saw the local fuel that now feeds this national fire, reassuring ourselves that those of that ilk were doddering & bumbling, irritating & ignorant, yet mostly harmless.

We were unwise – foolishly rationalizing our neglect as generosity. We’ve now local and national hazards before us, with neither setting able to compensate for the challenge of the other. One would think, as was rightly said during another national conflict, that ‘one war at a time is enough.’ We’ve not that compensation; we’ve both problems now, both of our own neglect.

Multitudes will see loss and suffering before all this is over. Innocent people ruined at the hands of a bigoted, fanatical nationalism.

There is, however, this advantage: those of us in opposition and resistance are holding our own even now, and we have not yet given our best. Principle and perseverance will favor us.

However late to having come to see it, this threat is unmistakable now.

Sec. of State Tillerson Distances America from Trump

I’m no fan of Rex Tillerson, an American Secretary of State who is a recipient — from dictator Vladimir Putin — of the Russian Order of Friendship,  but even Tillerson had the sense to disclaim the stain that Trump has spread over this country.

In the clip below, on Fox News, Tillerson makes clear that Trump speaks not for our people but only himself when he defends bigotry. That’s true, of course – we are a better people than Trump is a man. It’s not even close – he’s markedly below the ethical and moral standards of America’s just and worthy people.

(How long Tillerson, such as even he is, will last in this administration one can’t say.)

H/t to Kyle Griffin, a producer at MSNBC, who remarks that the clip is “Must-watch. Wallace asks Tillerson if Trump speaks for American values: “The President speaks for himself.” (Note Wallace’s reaction.)”

Ryan Chose This

Paul Ryan’s had quite the career: Congressman, House budget chairman, vice presidential candidate, Speaker. He chose each of these positions; not one was the result of conscription.

Ryan chose again, this morning, freely and deliberately.

There is likely no way back from this choice. There are, of course, people who grew up in the Klan, for example, and later turned away. Of people who grew up in reasonable conditions, however, and only thereafter turned away into grave error, there are (for reasons inscrutable) far fewer redemptive outcomes.

Many will have ruined themselves, freely and with fervor, before Trumpism is finished.

Ryan is one from among those many.

So Much for the ‘Master Race’

I’m white. (I’ll joke and say that, in fact, I’ve been white for as long as I can remember). It’s simply a natural characteristic for me. (It’s easier, unquestionably, to describe matters this way – as though without a social context – if one has not experienced discrimination).

One can’t say the same about Richard Spencer, white nationalist and Trump supporter. He is

a leader in the so-called “alt-right” movement, which has been energized by President Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 election. He has said that the United States “at the end of the day, belongs to white men,” and at a November conference in Washington, D.C., he received Nazi salutes from supporters.

He’s also too indifferent or too ignorant to comply with the existing tax laws of the country that he believes belongs to his – and only his – race and gender:

The Internal Revenue Service has stripped prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer’s nonprofit of its tax-exempt status because the group failed to file tax returns, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times….He runs the National Policy Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based think tank which bills itself as “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States.”

The group stopped filing tax returns with the IRS after 2012. Failing to file for three consecutive years results in an automatic loss of tax-exempt status. There are also questions about whether Spencer, a vocal supporter of Mr. Trump, violated rules that prohibit nonprofits from supporting any particular candidates or campaigns….

“I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to make a comment because I don’t understand this stuff,” Spencer said. “It’s a bit embarrassing, but it’s not good. We’ll figure it out.”

Via IRS strips Richard Spencer’s nonprofit of its tax-exempt status @ CBS News.

If a similar failure had happened to a racial minority, one could be sure that Spencer would attribute the failure to some sort of intellectual or moral inferiority. When Spencer commits the same act, however, he contends that he doesn’t “understand this stuff” and shrugs it off with how “it’s a bit embarrassing.”

This repulsive, racist failure, who washed out of Duke with the lame excuse that he left to pursue a life of “thought-crime” (although speech alone has never been criminal), begs off that it’s all a muddle, isn’t it?

We are taught – and I do not dispute the teaching – that we are to love even our enemies. I will, however, candidly confess of how deeply one can despise men like Spencer, how their words are a spur to action and opposition, how much one might wish to see the utter ruin of their racist band.

Spencer’s followers – pustulous every one of them – want the command of this continent, forever. They claim this through blut und boden, that their race (as they see it) should command this territory.

They disingenuously tell others to stand down so that they might march on. They tell others to speak softly so that they might shout. They dismiss others’ legitimate concerns so that they might advance their own unchecked lies. They now bring challenges to us, but we will return far worse to them.

So many of us are of Spencer’s race (united truly with vast millions of all races, ethnicities, faiths), are also on this continent, and are equally committed to oppose his false teaching. His claims are not simply ‘offensive’ to us, not simply ‘hurtful,’ they are instead the animating and motivating force for a relentless, increasing opposition until Spencer comes to see the loss of all he professes.

We in opposition seek the preservation and growth of a free, diverse society of individual liberty and equal rights. These are principles worth defending, and we find ourselves now, against our hopes for amity with others, in a fight for the defense of that free society. It’s a long path ahead, with many hardships to come, but for it all we will see it through.

Resourceful New Yorkers Take Action

After New York subway passengers saw anti-semitic symbols & phrases on their train car, they came up with a plan:

“Everyone stared at each other, uncomfortable and unsure what to do,” Gregory Locke, a New York attorney on the train, wrote in a Facebook post describing the scene.

Then another passenger in the car — identified in news reports as Manhattan chef Jared Nied — stood and announced an idea.

“Hand sanitizer gets rid of Sharpie,” Nied said, according to Locke’s account. “We need alcohol”….

“A light bulb went on,” the chef said, and he thought back on the times he had used alcohol to erase his own missteps with permanent markers.

Those on the train began digging around in purses and bags for “tissues and Purel,” Locke wrote, then scrubbing at the hateful messages.

Within minutes, they were gone.

Via ‘We will not let hate win’: New Yorkers erase subway swastikas with hand sanitizer.

Trump’s Surrogates Know Exactly What the Alt-Right Is

A few days ago, during a panel discussion, New York Times columnist Charles Blow and Trump surrogate former Congressman Jack Kingston clashed over the racism of Trump’s alt-right supporters.  Kingston claimed not to know what the term alt-right meant, and Blow scolded Kingston for Kingston’s professed ignorance.  (Their exchange begins after 6:30 on the video.)

As a rhetorical matter, Blow’s response (‘your deficiencies of understanding are not my problem’) works well; but one should be plain that Kingston, a longtime politician with close ties to the Trump team, surely knows what alt-right means.

Kingston’s either a liar or an ignoramus to profess ignorance of the alt-right.  Breitbart Media, of which incoming Trump strategist Steve Bannon is CEO, published a guide to the alt-right in March (see, An Establishment Conservative’s Guide To The Alt-Right).

The so-called guide begins as an exoneration of the alt-right from charges of racism, but quickly elides into praise for white nationalists, racial supremacists, and their publications.   The whole purpose of the guide is to acquaint traditional Americans with an ideological future under the alt-right: “[a] specter is haunting the dinner parties, fundraisers and think-tanks of the Establishment: the specter of the “alternative right.” Young, creative and eager to commit secular heresies, they have become public enemy number one to beltway conservatives — more hated, even, than Democrats or loopy progressives.”

The authors (Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulis) aim to shock conventional sensibilities; they aim to awe a traditional audience.

One will excuse me if, upon considering all this, I don’t find myself shocked or awed, let alone haunted: the last century was filled with false theories of racial supremacy, and this new clique pulls from those ideas, while pulling any number of obscure theorists to power.  (In any event, the play on Marx’s famous lines from the Communist Manifesto doesn’t shock, either: a theorist whose entire work went to the dustbin presents no insurmountable threat.)

This is how Trump surrogates will begin: denying connections while simultaneously appointing a few alt-rightists (like Bannon) to high posts. In six months there’ll be no denying – there’ll be celebrating by the same ilk while they simultaneously welcome more into the government.

‘Critics Say So’

Is Stephen Bannon, newly-appointed chief strategist to Donald Trump, a racist.  A headline to a story on that subject comes with a limitation: critics say so. (See, Is Trump’s new chief strategist a racist? Critics say so.)

There’s the weakness of a legacy press: big money, high self-regard, but a small appetite for declaring definitely the character of a person’s views on a well-considered topic.

Is it so hard for a powerful paper to give readers an up-front answer?  Yes, it is, as a combination of past journalistic traditions, present need for readership, and an eternal desire to ingratiate with the next administration.

Reporter Weigel mostly exonerates Bannon of the charge of racism, relying in part on Morning Joe Scarborough’s exhaustive study of ‘like five different people’ that Scarborough happened to choose:

More importantly, Bannon helped shape a Trump message that won the condemnation of the Anti-Defamation League — and helped him in swing states. Trump’s closing ad, a two-minute edit of a speech he had given attacking the “global financial powers,” struck the ADL as hitting “anti-Semitic themes.” In the wider media, it was seen as stirring and populist.

“I played the clip for like five different people and I said, ‘Is that anti-Semitic?’” said MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough last week. “No. There are dog whistles, but .?.?. play that ad to 100 Americans in middle America, 99 of them will go, ‘That’s cool.’?”

(Weigel’s ‘in the wider media’ claim is both vague and false.  The Trump ad to which he refers drew considerable media criticism.  For a detailed assessment of the ad’s anti-Semitism, see Josh Marshall, Trump Rolls Out Anti-Semitic Closing Ad, with a scene-by-scene analysis.)

For an answer to the question of Bannon’s racism, see David Corn’s excellent Here’s Why It’s Fair—and Necessary—to Call Trump’s Chief Strategist a White Nationalist Champion: Stephen Bannon said he was.