Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A House Divided

Of all the harm Donald Trump has caused this nation, I would have to say the greatest is his seemingly insatiable appetite for dividing the American people.

Several years ago when he first considered running for president, Trump was convinced he could succeed where other candidates failed, through his remarkable ability to draw attention to himself. Say what you will about DJT but the man has a gift for self-promotion. Where other candidates would have to raise millions upon millions of dollars just to get their face on TV, Trump  knew that flaunting his extravagant lifestyle and larger than life persona, in other words, just being Donald Trump, would get him free press. Topping that off with his unpredictable behavior and off the wall comments, he became the darling of the national media who couldn't get enough of him.

A long time Democrat, Trump probably figured that his reputation as an attention, and pussy grabbing,  unscrupulous real estate mogul with a penchant for conspicuous consumption raised to an obscene level, wouldn't play well among both the rank and file and the holier-than-thou elites of the Democratic Party party. So he switched parties where he would fit in, well sort of, with the business minded capitalist tools of the GOP.

Once he got their attention, and some credibility as a card-carrying Republican, Trump needed a message angle. He found it in the anger and fear of a great many of this nation's white people, who felt somehow left out in all the changes that have taken pace in this country for well, a very long time. Trump reached out to those people whose unfulfilled picture of America was as an endless rerun of Leave it to Beaver. 

For a demagogue to succeed, he needs an enemy. Long before Trump, ultra conservatives found that enemy in the liberal elites whom they felt controlled not only academia and the government in Washington, but also the media, which in turn promoted their evil ideology of inclusion and tolerance, through the diabolical method of thought control known as "political correctness."

Several years ago I wrote a piece about the subject where I maintained that like many ideals, PC was conceived out of good intentions (such as promoting the idea that all people deserve a fair shake), but over time, people became more concerned with the letter of the law of PC, rather than its spirit. Consequently it became viewed as a restrictive dogma, rather than simply a means to help promote a more tolerant and just society.

A favorite target of the right, the progeny of PC such as college safe zones designed to protect students from speech or ideas they found offensive, were legitimately ridiculed as being responsible for denying free speech as well as producing young adults unable to cope with the slings and arrows of real life. 

But PC opponents went to extremes in opposing virtually everything that political correctness and its adherents stood for. For many years at least in polite society, "racist" was considered the worst thing a person could be labeled. Even ultra-conservative folks bent over backwards to avoid bringing up the subject of race, at least in mixed company.

Not anymore.

Perhaps the shift was the election of Barack Obama as the first African American president of the United States. After Obama's election, many white folks felt free to express their long held belief that black people could no longer use the "excuse" of racism for their problems. After all, if a black man could become president, so the theory went, the sky was the limit for African American people in America. Some went so far as to declare that we were living in a "post racial" America. If black people couldn't make it here, they just weren't trying hard enough.

Deep down I think Donald Trump ran for president just to prove that he could be successful, at least in winning his party's nomination. I'm not sure if he ever entertained the possibility that he could actually be elected president, not to mention what he would do once elected. I'm sure his wild success during the Republican primaries was even a surprise to him, where he could say anything he wanted, decry any racial or ethnic minority, or even make the most offensive remarks about women, with complete impunity. Even reports of salacious scandals from his past couldn't hurt him. Donald Trump if there ever was one, was the model of the teflon candidate, nothing ever stuck to him, at least not with his supporters.

Perhaps Trump was warning the American people about voting for him when he told the press on a campaign stop in Sioux Center, Iowa that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York City, shoot someone, and still not lose supporters. Those supporters failed to grasp the veiled message Trump was sending, he thought they were so stupid they'd even vote for a homicidal sociopath. Despite that disrespectful remark targeted at them, 62 million Americans voted for him anyway.

It turned out as just about everybody said it would, that being president was much different than running for president. Surely most people thoughtful people reckoned, Donald Trump would not run the country in the same manner he ran his campaign. Unfortunately they were wrong.

It turns out that the job of president means you're supposed to be president of all Americans, not just the ones who loved you at your campaign rallies. That includes the Muslim Americans who were offended by Trump's remarks suggesting they might be terrorists, Mexicans who were offended by his remarks about their countrymen who were entering this country illegally, and former POWs who were offended when he claimed John McCain was not a hero because he was captured during the Vietnam War. "I like people weren't captured" Trump said. Oh yes, there were also women in this country who didn't take too kindly to Trump's boasting of being a sexual predator, and also Gold Star families (of fallen soldiers) after he attacked one of their own.

So how did he do as far as extending an olive branch to those groups of Americans who were not exactly enamored of him? One of his first acts on the job was impose a hastily put together travel ban on six specific countries, all of them predominantly Muslim. That one failed in the courts, three times. He still speaks of building his beautiful wall along the U.S. Mexico border but can't get anybody to pay for it, and continues feuding with John McCain, even as the Arizona senator battles terminal cancer.

While there have been no particularly egregious acts concerning women to my knowledge, the Trump administration has been no friend of issues concerning women's rights, health, and security, as this post which lists "100 ways the Trump administration is harming women and families" points out.

One group that Trump didn't go after during the campaign but has completely alienated since he became president are African Americans. Time and again, Trump has had golden opportunities to make peace with this community in an effort to use his bully pulpit to unify the nation, and time and again, he has dropped the ball. The most notable event took place in Charlottesville, VA, after several groups of white supremacists took over the town one weekend in August, ostensibly to protest the planned removal of a public statue of Civil War general, Robert E. Lee. Those protestors were met with opposition and violence ensued, resulting in the death of one anti-Nazi protestor, and the injuries of several others. Trump was quick to denounce the violence, but unlike the governor of Virginia who told the white supremacists who gathered in his state from all over the country to get out of Dodge pronto, as they were not welcome in his state, Trump punted and said there was fault on all sides. Trump's reticence to condemn Nazi, KKK members, and other hate groups was celebrated as a major victory by white supremacists nationwide.

Reasonable members of his staff must have convinced him to rectify that mistake, which he reluctantly did two days later, only to take it back the next day in unscripted remarks at a press conference which caused his Chief of Staff John Kelly who was standing by his side, to bury his head in his hands. At the same time, Trump addressed the issue of the planned removal of Civil War monuments in the South. Rather than giving a helpful, measured response encouraging dialog and understanding, the president bore down and declared his unequivocal opinion that the statues should remain, the opinions and feelings of millions of black southerners who have to live with monuments to people who enslaved their ancestors be damned.

Then there was the infamous phone call to the young widow of a U.S. soldier (who happened to be black), killed in the line of duty. Trump tried to be compassionate but his words failed him. He could have easily rectified the situation by taking the high road and apologizing to the widow for having been misunderstood. It would have been a remarkable act of compassion which could have gone a long way to make him look like a decent human being who actually cared about people, even black people. But Donald Trump never takes the high road. When the word got out to the public, something that admittedly should never have happened, Trump became defensive and claimed the widow and the congresswoman who listened in on the conversation were lying about what he said, despite the fact that John Kelly explained the words Trump used and why he used them. By his actions, Trump essentially said to the widow of a fallen soldier: "how dare you not appreciate my remarkable generosity taking up my busy day to call you, you ingrate."

One could argue that as Trump was thrust into these situations, in no way do they represent a conscious effort on his part to exacerbate the already cavernous divide between whites and blacks in this country. Perhaps not, but he did make one entirely calculated and deliberate effort to ignite his base at the expense of black people, and whatever was left the of unity in this country.

"Fire those sonsofbitches" he indirectly told NFL owners at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama in front of a hooting and hollering, nearly all white audience. Those SOBs were a handful of black professional football players, protesting police shootings of unarmed people in African American communities throughout the United States, by refusing to stand for the national anthem, taking a knee instead.

Trump found the perfect topic that would not only distract the nation from his malfeasance, but an easy issue to fire up his adoring crowds, giving the narcissistic president some much needed adulation after a particularly tough week. Trump went on to encourage Americans to boycott the NFL in protest of the ten or so players "disrespecting the flag, the anthem, and the armed services." Never mind that the expressed purpose of the protest was to stand up against injustice, and in no way meant to disrespect the flag or our servicemen and women. Never mind that the flag is disrespected all the time, from people wearing it as clothing to companies using it to advertise everything from cars to beer. The president doesn't seem to have any problem with any of that.

The sad thing is that sports was one of the few remaining unifying factors in this nation. I've written before of witnessing the power of sports in bringing total strangers of different races, ethnicities, and creeds together to discuss the big game next weekend. Rooting for a particular team is the one thing that can bring together rich and poor, old and young, white, black and brown, Catholic, Protestant, Jew and Atheist. Even sports rivalries are for the most part in this country friendly disputes, engaging people in lively, spirited, but harmless conversation.

That was until  Donald Trump came along and opened his big fat trap. Again, if he intended to be the president of all Americans, he would have acknowledged the reason why players were taking a knee. He has every right to express his opinion that he does not like the idea of players not standing for the anthem. but he does not have the right to dictate how owners run their business, nor dictate what is or what is not the proper way to show proper respect for the flag. As has been pointed out elsewhere, American soldiers do not fight and die to preserve the right of a president to dictate exactly what it means to be patriotic.

Of course the most sensible thing Trump could have done was not to mention the kneelers at all, and no one would have been the worse off for it.

For whatever reason, it seems to serve Donald Trump's purposes to divide this nation. Some suggest pitting Americans against one another is a strategy designed to create chaos among the citizens of this country who would gladly afford a president draconian powers to restore law and order. With Steve Bannon out of the picture in the White House, that convoluted plan today would seem unlikely. My guess is that Trump is not so sophisticated and has a simpler agenda, he just likes to hear people sing his praises.

If those people happen to be white supremacists, well so be it.

The late author Nelson Algren once wrote that "Chicago lives its life like a drunken L rider who may not know where he's going, but the sound of the wheels beneath his feet lets him know he's going somewhere."

I have a sneaking suspicion that is precisely Donald Trump's modus operandi for running this country. As a result we become more divided as a nation every day. 

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