Preparing for President Trump

Trump - RNCThis week Donald J. Trump was formally declared to be the Republican nominee for President of the United States. In his acceptance speech Trump capitalized on fear, presenting a dystopian view of America, and blaming blacks, Hispanic migrants, Muslims, and foreign actors for America’s woes.

KKK leader David Duke claimed that he could not have said it any better. A fact check of Trump’s statements reveals nearly every one to be a distortion of the facts.  It is well worth reading.

Throughout his campaign for the presidency, Trump has promised to bring a grand solution to America’s problems without supplying any details and without providing any kind of roadmap for getting there. In his acceptance speech he presented himself as the “law and order” candidate, the strongman America needs in its hour of peril who will singlehandedly deliver America from its internal and external enemies.

His message was simple and direct: Trust me. I am the only one who can save America. “I am the only one who can do this.” trump-stagejpg-d661c16fd81ea8d7Against the massive backdrop of the stage – changed overnight from RNC silver to Trump gold – and with his name emblazoned bigger than anyone could imagine, the message was clear that this event marked the coronation of “King Trump.”

To be quite honest, I genuinely fear for America’s future. The fact that 40% or more of Americans polled say they actually support Donald Trump for president scares me. I still believe that he will not win the election. He is far too divisive, polarizing, narcissistic, bombastic, nasty, and erratic to win the confidence of the majority of Americans. (At least I fervently hope this is the case.)

Donald Trump-aBut Donald Trump has accomplished one very important thing. He has (likely permanently) changed ground rules of campaigning.

In making his statement that “we will not be politically correct” a near constant theme in his campaign (and in not being called out on it by a timid media),

Trump has succeeded in normalizing hate speech in American politics.

He has normalized lying and deception.

He has normalized scapegoating and personal attacks.

He has normalized demonizing one’s opponents.

He has normalized misogyny and xenophobia.

He has normalized fear mongering and physical attacks on other.

He has made all of these things “acceptable.”

We can expect to see these tactics employed again in future campaigns. I am not so much worried that Donald Trump will be able to use them to go all the way to the White House. I am worried about what a future, less abrasive and controversial candidate may do with these tools.

America has never been closer to embracing authoritarian fascist-like leadership than at this moment. I am not saying that Donald Trump is a fascist. I am not name-calling. I am merely pointing out, as others have before me [see here and here], that he has been using a standard set of tools from the fascist playbook from the very beginning. We have seen it played out before in the populist rise of Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco two generations ago.

The great battle on the world stage at that time was to defeat this right-wing authoritarian autocratic form of government known as fascism. Now, under the banner of “Make America Strong,” Americans seem willing to embrace it on their own soil. As Alan Gopnik recently warned in the New Yorker,

If Trump came to power, there is a decent chance that the American experiment would be over. This is not a hyperbolic prediction; it is not a hysterical prediction; it is simply a candid reading of what history tells us happens in countries with leaders like Trump. Countries don’t really recover from being taken over by unstable authoritarian nationalists of any political bent, left or right—not by Peróns or Castros or Putins or Francos or Lenins or fill in the blanks. The nation may survive, but the wound to hope and order will never fully heal. Ask Argentinians or Chileans or Venezuelans or Russians or Italians—or Germans. The national psyche never gets over learning that its institutions are that fragile and their ability to resist a dictator that weak. If he can rout the Republican Party in a week by having effectively secured the nomination, ask yourself what Trump could do with the American government if he had a mandate.

With the events of this last week, and the endorsement of Donald Trump for the presidency, I truly fear for America’s future. It has embarked on a very, very dark path from which it may be impossible to emerge.

Photo credits: Gus Chan / The Plain Dealer; Brian Snyder/Reuters/Landov

Fear and Loathing at the Republican National Convention

republican-national-conventionThis past week the Republican Party held its national convention in Cleveland, Ohio to confirm the nomination of Donald Trump as its candidate for the presidency. It did not go well.

During the extensive primary process of selecting delegates to the convention Trump had defeated 16 other Republican contenders and accumulated the required number of bound delegate votes to ensure his nomination. However a broad “Never Trump” movement of disaffected Republican leaders and delegates also emerged who were firmly committed to preventing Trump’s nomination at the convention.

Trump children at RNCDonald Trump personally orchestrated the convention’s theme, stage décor, and speaker list, which prominently featured his own family. Many prominent Republican leaders (including past presidents and presidential nominees) stayed away. In many ways it was more like a Trump family event than a RNC event. The convention was unlike any other in the history of the Republican Party.

The first and last day of the convention served as bookends to highlight the central message Trump wanted to present. Instead of Reagan’s memorable sunny “Morning in America” message, Trump’s message more on the order of “Be afraid; be very afraid.” According to Trump, we are in a time of crisis; everything is falling apart. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are to blame, and I am the only one who can save you.

The tone of the convention was orchestrated to generate a mood of fear, rage and loathing among the delegates.

makeamericasafeThe first day’s theme at the convention was “Make America Safe Again.” It featured the mother of one of the soldiers slain in the attack on Benghazi who blamed Hilary Clinton personally for the death of her son. This was followed by a video on the Benghazi attack (whose real purpose was to attack Hillary), followed by two former U.S. security contractors in Benghazi who falsely accused Hillary of watching the attacks live via drone feed and doing nothing.

Then the focus shifted to a lineup of speakers who talked about the tragic deaths of family members and the grave dangers posed to American lives by undocumented Hispanic immigrants. (The GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, called these presentations “the weaponization of grief.) Milwaukie County Sheriff David Clarke then launched an attack on Black Lives Matter and former New York mayor Rudi Guiliani whipped the crown into a frenzy by emphasizing the dangers posed by Islamic extremist terrorists and saying that Obama and Clinton would not be counted on to keep America safe. This led the way for Donald Trump to finally come on stage.

The convention theme on the second day was “Make America Work Again.” It was supposed to focus on jobs, but little was actually said about that. The real theme (echoing that of the previous day) was on how a Clinton presidency would put America in danger, featuring more attacks on Hillary’s character.

It was also on this day that Donald Trump became the official nominee of the Republican Party. However, rather than unifying the party around himself, dissention remained strongly in the air. Many delegates were still angry at the way the “Stop Trump” movement had been procedurally overruled by the platform committee and gavelled into defeat on the first day through a voice vote that was anything but decisive.

I remember as I heard the voice votes both yea and nay, how they sounded equally strong. If that many delegates at the convention were solidly opposed to Trump, I thought, it would take a lot of effort to mend fences. When speakers came to the mike to question the chair’s ruling, they were abruptly told to shut up and live with it. So much for mending fences.

On day three the theme was “Make America First Again,” but problems over party unity continued to surface. Ted Cruz was the only speaker of the day to present an actual conservative policy agenda; it was strangely lacking from the other speakers at the convention.

Ted Cruz at RNCBut Cruz was booed off stage when he refused to personally endorse Trump, instead encouraging delegates to “vote their conscience” in November. His wife Heidi had to have protection in leaving the arena. The next day Cruz explained that he could not support anyone who attacked his wife and his father the way Trump had done during the campaign. Trump, in turn, quickly doubled down on the story that Ted Cruz’ father was connected to John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. He even cited the cover of the National Inquirer as proof!

But it did not end there. On Saturday Bloomberg reported that

Donald Trump plans to create and fund super-PACs specifically aimed at ending the political careers of Ted Cruz and John Kasich should either run for office again, after both snubbed the Republican nominee during his party’s convention this week.

Talk about a vindictive streak!

Hillary ClintonInstead of uniting around Trump, the only thing the delegates seemed to be united on was their manifest hatred of Hillary Clinton. At various points orchestrated chants of “Lock Her Up” echoed through the arena, and sales of T-shirts with the slogan “Hillary for Prison” were said to be brisk. Some supporters at the convention screamed that Hillary should be shot. West Virginia delegate Michael Folk tweeted that she should be “tried for treason, murder, and crimes against the U.S. Constitution … then hung on the Mall in Washington, D.C.” And Trump’s advisor on veterans issues, Al Baldasaro, also stated that Hillary Clinton should be put in a firing line and shot for treason.

This is astonishing! Donald Trump has gone from encouraging his supporters to “rough up” dissidents at his rallies to standing by while his supports call for his chief opponent’s execution! Michael Enright, reporting for the CBC, called the attacks on Hillary Clinton at the convention “venomous.” In a report for CBC News, he noted how this shatters the conventional political rules of behaviour, saying

In 1983, 241 U.S. Marines were killed in a terrorist attack in Beirut. The president at the time was Ronald Reagan, a Republican.

[The next year] Democrats held their national nominating convention in San Francisco. They chose Walter Mondale and his running mate Geraldine Ferraro. Had they chosen the low road, they could have blamed Ronald Reagan for the deaths of those 241 Marines.

They didn’t dare.

Trump acceptance speechTrump gave his “victory speech” on the final day of the convention. That, and reaction to it, will be the subject of my next blog.

 Photo credits: Getty Images; Washington Free Beacon; Jim Young/Reuters; Scott Applewhite/AP

Do Black Lives Matter?

blacklivesmatter1As I have come to understand it, racism as it is experienced in America, is not primarily about hatred toward a particular group or about deliberately wanting to harm certain people. It is about those in control seeking to protect their own privileged status by denying those privileges to others.

This would also be what lies at the root of sexism and the denial of equal opportunities to women. And, I believe, it underlies much of the negative attitude toward Hispanic migrants and refugee claimants. The charge is that these people are undermining the rights enjoyed by the majority, and those rights must be kept exclusively within the existing group or they will cease to exist – or at the minimum they will become diluted if spread too broadly – and we will all be the worse off for it.

nametag-white-privilegeWhat we are really talking about here, however, are not “rights” but the “privileges” enjoyed by the dominant group. As I stated in a recent blog, with others now clamouring for fair treatment and access to the same privileges enjoyed by the majority, these

privileged individuals now see themselves and their traditional values as being under attack. They complain of a supposed “war against Christian values.” They claim that immigrants are taking away their jobs, that whites are being discriminated against in the workplace, that women should keep in line, and that homosexuals and transsexuals somehow threaten heterosexuals’ own identity.

There is a fear on the part of the dominant group that the privileges they are accustomed to may disappear. But, they argue, they have a right to their accustomed way of life, and no one is going to take that away from them. And so to secure those rights – those privileges – for themselves, they attempt to deny them to others.

Mapping The Problem

lincoln-emancipation-proclamationThis, in a nutshell, is the story of what happened to Black Americans after emancipation. The Reconstruction project was systematically dismantled throughout the South to deny Blacks economic opportunities. No longer slaves, they were soon reduced to indentured sharecroppers. After federally being given the right to vote, new eligibility laws made it virtually impossible for them to do so. Segregation (“separate but equal”) removed fair access to education, employment, wages, and living conditions. The Ku Klux Klan, with the backing of local police and government officials, systematically terrorized the black population to keep them in their place. This continued without opposition from those in power for a hundred years. Finally the demands for justice and fair and equal treatment led to the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.

Johnson-Civil-Rights-ActAlthough new civil rights legislation was passed under President Lyndon Johnson, it polarized the country. Johnson admitted that he had probably lost the Democrats the southern vote for a full generation. (It has actually been much longer than that.)

Once again the gains were contained, and then rolled back. I was amazed to learn the story of how George Romney (Mitt Romney’s father), while serving as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Nixon administration in the early 70s tried to use federal regulations to dismantle segregationist housing policies at the state and local level. He was rebuffed by Nixon and his advisors, blackballed, and ultimately removed from Nixon’s Cabinet.

In reflecting on the racially-charged events in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, Joshua Holland, writing for BillMoyers.com, stated that

White America has come up with a number of rationales for these enduring pockets of despair. An elaborate mythology has developed that blames it on a “culture of poverty” — holding the poor culpable for their poverty and letting our political and economic systems off the hook.

However, his interview with Richard Rothstein of The Economic Policy Institute details how

throughout the last century a series of intentionally discriminatory policies at the local, state and federal levels created the ghettos we see today.

It is well worth the long read.

In recent decades new tactics were developed to keep American Blacks marginalized. As Michelle Alexander notes in her recent book, The New Jim Crow,

New Jim Crow book_cvrIn the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African-Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination— employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits and exclusion from jury service — are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.

Donna March similarly reported in the New Republic in February this year,

In the 1980s and 1990s, incarceration became de facto urban policy for impoverished communities of color in America’s cities. Legislation was passed to impose mandatory minimum [sentences], deny public housing to entire families if any member was even suspected of a drug crime, expand federal death penalty-eligible crimes, and impose draconian restrictions of parole. Ultimately, multiple generations of America’s most vulnerable populations, including drug users, African Americans, Latinos, and the very poor found themselves confined to long-term prison sentences and lifelong social and economic marginality.

As shown on the following chart, America’s prison population jumped 800% between 1970 and 2010.

US Prison Population

Writing for The New Yorker in 2012, Alan Gopnik revealed the astonishing fact that

Prison-Blacks-mass-incarceration-150x150More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height.

The “broken windows” policy followed by many police departments in the U.S. beginning in the 1990s (vigorously prosecuting misdemeanors to discourage more serious crimes) didn’t just result in lengthy incarceration of many young black men for minor offenses and their and their families’ loss of the social benefits described above. It also resulted in the systematic harassment of black and other minority groups by police. In a survey conducted in 2009,

more than half of African-American millennials indicated they, or someone they knew, had been victimized by violence or harassment from law enforcement.

In fact, many local police forces use the courts to open prey on these minorities.

According to Radley Balko of The Washington Post, some towns in St. Louis County [Missouri] collect 40 percent or more of their revenue from fines levied by their municipal courts for petty violations. The town of Bel-Ridge (population 2,700, and more than 80 percent black), for example, was projected to collect an average of $450 per household in municipal court fines in 2014, making those fees its largest source of revenue.

And so is it any wonder that we hear African-Americans today calling for justice while at the same time viewing the police as primary agents of injustice? And it is not just that Blacks fear the police. The police and many ordinary citizens have been taught to fear Black Americans. One has to be careful. Look at where and how these people live. They are all potentially criminals.

Mapping a Solution

So, how does one break the cycle? How does one create hope and generate self-esteem within this group without also providing access, training and actual opportunities? Crispus_Attucks_Public_School,_ChicagoEducation is just the first step, and from what I can see, Americans have abandoned the public education system, leaving it to those with money and means to send their children to private schools while the rest are left with a crumbling educational system, inadequate resources, and under-salaried teachers. America had a long way to go in accomplishing even Step One.

slum neighborhoodStep Two addresses the Black communities themselves. How can one begin to change their circumstances without repairing the conditions that they live in, without having a strong local economy, secure jobs, reasonable wages, decent housing and reliable community services? This would require an enormous public investment, something akin to what was spent on the Space Race back in the 1960s, or the trillion dollars that is scheduled to be spent in modernizing America’s nuclear arsenal over the next decade. It’s not that America can’t afford such a massive social renewal project. It repeatedly commits this kind of money to other projects that are deemed in the national interest. It’s a matter of priorities. And the consensus seems to be that these people aren’t worth spending money on. After all, since the Reagan and Clinton eras, funding for the social support structures they rely on have been reduced in every administration.

113th_congressIn the end, however, nothing will be accomplished without a fundamental change of a very different kind. I am referring here to the understanding of privilege by those who currently maintain privilege, who hold the reins of power, set the policies, make and enforce the rules, and distribute the resources. As long as they pursue policies that make privilege an exclusive “right” available only to some and not others, nothing will fundamentally change.

Because with privilege comes power, especially the power to withhold privilege from others. Those with privilege see this as their fair and reasonable “right,” while those without it see it as injustice.

And now, just as in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, we are once again hearing their impassioned pleas for Justice. We are hearing their vehement assertion (often, it seems, falling on deaf ears) that their lives do matter. They know that their lives matter. But do we?

We whites (and particularly we white males) are the ones holding the power, the ones who through our majority elect the officials, set the policies, make the laws and distribute the resources. The ball is in our court. Nothing will change unless we act.

Photo credits: PA; AP; Shannon Stapleton/Reuters; Kevin Lamarque/Reuters