Tuesday, August 02, 2016

The Great White Hope


There are days, especially given the buffet of political rhetoric over the past few weeks, where I want to just quit my job and follow the presidential campaign in the United States full time. Normally, campaigns at this level, operate based on familiar assumptions. Very little happens, because both candidates, even if they attempt to demonize each other, accept certain basic principles about how their political positions are to be formed and defended. Bernie Sanders to some extent upset things this time around, by pushing a number of ideas and programs to the center, making the Democratic party as a whole contend with them. Trump however has changed everything, simply because of his refusal or inability to play the political games that politicians normally play. I don't mean that as a compliment, as many of his supporters like to point out. There is something attractive about that in certain candidates, as it seems like they would be able to offer a chance to break deadlocks or magically toss out the current system and replace it with one that will benefit the faithful who worship at the altar of the leader's personality cult. But for Trump, part of the problem is that he isn't good at it, as in he can't see his own limitations or inabilities, and covers over them by verbally assaulting or rhetorically threatening others, even over minute things, that would best be dealt with simply by moving on. Those who support him see that as being strength or been aggression, and so the way he snaps like a pouting child at people on Twitter, is how he will decisively deal with Mexicans, Muslims and the Chinese. The basic inability of Trump to learn, to grow, to strategize would be hilarious to watch, if it wasn't indirectly effective. Trump is benefiting from the fact that we are at a certain point in the journey of the United States as a nation, where it will soon have to give up the idea of it being a fundamentally white nation. This white mythology has been pervasive in the United States for centuries, but it is as much fiction as fact. The whiteness of the US has been a project, that was built upon both the formal and informal exclusion of others. The United States has always been a multicultural and multilingual nation, but this has been diminished through the creation of hierarchies, where those at the top, those associated with power were written of and remember as mattering, while the others were reduced to footnotes, racialized, gendered and othered in ways to make it seem like their only contributions were to be dependent and need the great white male core of the United States. But over time the United States has first, formally and now informally been equalized and the racial and gender field of meaning flattened, so that a variety of intersections of identity can be considered to have value or to be essential to the United States. The Black Lives Matter movement is very much tied to this. Although formally, legally the life of a black person is supposed to be equal to that of any other type of person, informally, in terms of the vagaries of life in the United States, this is hardly the case. In terms of their role in the criminal justice system or as object of police violence, it is clear that even if formally they are supposed to matter, Black Lives seem to matter far less than white lives or other lives do. The movement is a reminder that there is much more work to be done in terms of truly making the United States a nation of equality and deal with the racial ghosts of its past and present.

Trump is truly fortunate however to be running at the moment before the tipping point in racial terms in the United States. What we see in the support for him, has almost nothing to do with him, but everything to do with a formerly supremely privileged class of people and currently still very much privileged class of people pinning their hopes of racial superiority on him as a candidate. As a candidate Trump has little to offer except for his bluster, except for his incredible ability to reject reality and assert in a very domineering manner his own conception of it, in which he sits at the center, absorbing all the precious privilege and power. For those who see their own privilege being lost as the world is overcome by diversity and political correctness, Trump seems to be the perfect messiah. Someone who is unaffected by reality or facts, but stays the course on ridiculous paths, no matter what hell he might conjure up around him.

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Trump's tough weekend
The self-inflicted wounds seemed to come fast and furious.

With an imaginary letter, a disputed invitation and controversial comments about a fallen soldier’s parents, Donald Trump’s weekend was not going well even before he seemed to endorse the Russian annexation of Crimea, in opposition to U.S. policy and international law.

This was a weekend Trump may hope to forget, and one Democrats will work hard to make sure voters remember. It seemed to demonstrate all of the flaws — trouble with the truth, an inability to let criticism go unanswered and a lack of knowledge of world affairs — that Republicans fear Trump will be unable to put behind him and that Democrats hope will be the billionaire’s undoing come November.

There was an attempt by some of Trump's top donors, reported by POLITICO on Friday, to arrange a meeting with Charles and David Koch, the deep-pocketed conservative donors who have so far shunned Trump. That attempt was rebuffed by the Kochs, sources told POLITICO. But Trump took to Twitter on Saturday night to say no, it was actually the Kochs who tried to arrange a meeting, but he rejected them.

There was Trump’s claim that the NFL sent him a letter complaining about the debate schedule. The NFL says no such letter exists.

And there were attacks on the family of the late Capt. Humayun Khan, insinuations that his mother was forbidden from speaking while onstage at the Democratic National Convention and a claim that his father had “no right” to disparage Trump.

All of that came before the airing of an interview Sunday in which Trump appeared to endorse the Russian annexation of Crimea, saying on ABC’s "This Week" that “the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.” He also stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “not going into Ukraine” before admitting “well, he’s there in a certain way.”

The series of events only complicates life further for those Republicans who have tied themselves to Trump. His running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who has a son in the Marines, will inevitably be asked about the Khan controversy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan both released statements on the controversy praising Khan and distancing themselves from Trump — without actually naming Trump.

It was a weekend that could have been defined by better news for the Republican nominee. A Friday economic report showed disappointingly slow growth, prompting the front page of The Wall Street Journal on Saturday to declare the U.S. in the “weakest recovery since ’49.” The weekend was a moment for Trump to hammer home his message that President Barack Obama has failed as a steward of the economy.

But it was not to be.

The trouble began Saturday, when ABC aired segments of the “This Week” interview. In it, Trump claimed that Ghazala Khan, who stood by her husband’s side during his impassioned address at the DNC, was perhaps not allowed to speak.

"If you look at his wife, she was standing there,” Trump said. "She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.”

Ghazala Khan has said she did not speak because she still becomes overwhelmed when discussing her late son.

“Walking onto the convention stage, with a huge picture of my son behind me, I could hardly control myself. What mother could? Donald Trump has children whom he loves. Does he really need to wonder why I did not speak?” she wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post on Sunday. “Donald Trump said that maybe I wasn’t allowed to say anything. That is not true. My husband asked me if I wanted to speak, but I told him I could not. My religion teaches me that all human beings are equal in God’s eyes. Husband and wife are part of each other; you should love and respect each other so you can take care of the family.”

Trump went on to contend that he, too, has made sacrifices, mentioning his work in business.
The condemnation of Trump’s remarks was swift and nearly universal.

“There's only one way to talk about Gold Star parents: with honor and respect. Capt. Khan is a hero. Together, we should pray for his family,” tweeted Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has declined to endorse Trump.

Hillary Clinton hit Trump Sunday for what she called “insults and disparaging remarks about Muslims” directed at the Khans.

But the Trump campaign went further, releasing a statement Saturday night in which Trump called Capt. Khan “a hero to our country” but went on to say that Khan’s father had “no right to stand in front of millions of people and claim I have never read the Constitution.”

As the criticism continued Sunday, Trump took to twitter again, writing: “I was viciously attacked by Mr. Khan at the Democratic Convention. Am I not allowed to respond? Hillary voted for the Iraq war, not me!”

In the clip released Saturday, Trump also said that the NFL had sent him a letter complaining that two of the three presidential debates were scheduled at the same time as NFL games. Earlier in the week, Trump had accused Clinton of attempting to rig the debates, which are scheduled by a nonpartisan commission; the dates had been set last September. Almost immediately Saturday, the NFL confirmed that no such letter had been sent.

Meanwhile, Trump tweeted Saturday evening to deny the report about requesting the meeting with the Kochs.

“I turned down a meeting with Charles and David Koch. Much better for them to meet with the puppets of politics, they will do much better!” he wrote.

The Kochs, and their deep-pocketed network, have kept a distance from Trump, and officials in the network have said they will devote resources to down-ballot races. The report that Trump sought a meeting undercut his previous criticism of the elite conservative donor class. His pronounced disdain for that group has won him plaudits from disenchanted voters, but that disdain seems to be fading as the Trump campaign reckons with the Clinton campaign’s financial edge. 
A top Koch aide reiterated to POLITICO on Saturday night that no overtures had been made to meet with Trump, as far as the aide knew.

As Trump’s statements on the Khans landed on the front pages Sunday, the “This Week” interview contained another bombshell: Trump’s apparent support for the Russian annexation of Crimea and the claims — quickly withdrawn — that Putin had not made incursions into Ukraine.

This directly contradicts U.S. policy, codified in a 2014 law, that “condemn[s] the unjustified military intervention of the Russian Federation in the Crimea region of Ukraine.” That measure was approved by the Senate on a voice vote, passed the Republican-controlled House by 378-34 and was signed into law by Obama.

Jake Sullivan, one of Clinton’s top policy advisers, slammed Trump’s Crimea remarks.

“Today, he gamely repeated Putin’s argument that Russia was justified in seizing the sovereign territory of another country by force,” Sullivan said in a statement Sunday. “This is scary stuff. But it shouldn’t surprise us. This comes on the heels of his tacit invitation to the Russians to invade our NATO allies in Eastern Europe. And it’s yet more proof why Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit and totally unqualified to be Commander in Chief.”

With just over three months until the election, the weekend after the Democratic convention was a chance for Trump to steal back the spotlight. He did, though not in the way Republicans would have hoped.

Kenneth P. Vogel and John Bresnahan contributed to this report.

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