Donald Trump: President or Racist Provocateur?

 

Pardoning the racist, ex-Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio was a win-win for Donald Trump.

First, by overturning a judge’s decision to punish the controversial lawman, Trump had the satisfaction of putting the federal courts in their place after judges had repeatedly shot down Trump’s anti-immigrant Muslim ban as discriminatory and unconstitutional.  And so, when a federal judge found Arpaio in criminal contempt for ignoring the court’s order to stop tormenting Latino residents based on looks alone, Trump was only too happy to weigh in that Arpaio was just “doing his job” when he and his deputies engaged in racial profiling.

Second, by tacitly condoning the former sheriff’s racist behavior, Trump’s pardon amounted to “a presidential endorsement of racism,” said the ACLU, as Trump chose “lawlessness over justice, division over unity, hurt over healing.”

Could it be that what Trump has in mind is a Trump-brand version of the GOP’s infamous “Southern Strategy,” only this one bigger, better and more "beautiful" than the original?  Inquiring minds want to know.

With seven months of Trumpian outrages piling higher every day, I don’t think it ludicrous to wonder if Trump is now upset he won the presidency since the daily demands of that office leave him little spare time for indulging his obvious enthusiasm, which is to incite populist tantrums against elites like bankers, senators, judges, the media -- in short, any group that has the power to hold Trump accountable for his bad behavior.   

In an op-ed earlier this week, New York Times columnist Charles Blow spoke for a growing number of concerned citizens when he insisted that Trump has no interest in leading the country as our president but instead has gone out of his way to tailor his presidency to satisfy the whims of the “white racial-grievance tribe," otherwise known as Trump’s most loyal “base.”

Nothing Trump has done since inauguration day six months ago makes sense from the perspective of a president who has a policy agenda he wants to get through.  Indeed, Trump’s indiscretions are counterproductive to those ends. How, for example, does it move the ball forward to repeatedly insult, both publicly and in private, the leaders of the House and Senate who Trump will surely need for those “wins” he so often craves? 

In contrast, Trump’s erratic behavior makes perfect sense for a president who seems bored with the compromises and glacial pace of serious legislating but is almost giddy when leading a protest movement to restore white Christians to what they see as their rightful place atop America’s social hierarchy.  Nothing else explains why Trump would hold a campaign rally in a red-state like Arizona and then spend nearly all his time feeding the idol-worshiping crowd a steady diet of white resentment.

The most chilling thing Trump said during his 77-minute tirade in the desert, was his assertion that those taking down or relocating Confederate statues are intent on taking away “our” history and “our” culture.  That public service announcement in support of treason and sedition came shortly after he put Neo-Nazis and the KKK on an equal moral footing with those protesting racism when he said that both were equally to blame for the protests in Virginia that turned deadly.

Blow’s colleague at the Times, Thomas Edsell, says it’s impossible to understand the Trump presidency without factoring in the role that race played in his election. 

Issues such as immigration, civil rights for women and minorities, the election of the nations’ first black president, and the approaching end of white majority status in the US – all these factors combined, said Edsell, to create “a political environment ripe for the growth of white identity politics.”

There is no question that Trump exploited racial animosities to get elected.  But Edsell said it is important to distinguish between hardcore white supremacists and “white identifiers” who are driven less by racial antagonism than by anger at their sense of lost status.  Trump was speaking to both factions of his base when he said there were some “very nice people” marching alongside the Klansmen and Neo-Nazis who’d descended on Virginia to stop the removal of Confederate statues.

When more than one-third of the white electorate describe their racial identity as either “very important” or “extremely important” to their political worldview, the ingredients for a reactionary, race-based backlash are there for the taking by any shameless demagogue, like Trump, who wants to exploit them. 

Many of us who have watched with growing alarm over the past 25 years as the Republican Party has marched with parade-ground precision to the anti-democratic right, have little sympathy for those Republicans who unleashed these dark and malevolent forces to get elected and now find themselves prisoners of their own demagoguery.

Today’s Republican Party is the latest victim of a stubborn political truth, namely that every major party throughout American history that tried to add race-based Southern conservatism to its governing coalition has either been seriously damaged or destroyed by the effort. 

The South’s parochial tribalism split the Whig Party in two before the Civil War and rendered the Democratic Party badly weakened in national affairs for more than 50 years after as Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson were the only two Democrats elected president during this long stretch of post-war years. 

Nearer to our own time, Southern conservatism tore apart the Democratic Party in 1948 when every Southern state walked out on Harry Truman’s Democrats to form the separate Dixiecrat Party in protest of Truman’s desegregation of the army and the Democratic Party’s growing embrace of civil rights.

In 1964, the “Solid Democratic South” voted solidly Republican after Barry Goldwater announced his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of that year.  In 1968, Southern Democrats helped Richard Nixon win the presidency when they cheered George Wallace’s race-based, third-party campaign instead of Hubert Humphry and the Democrats.  That same year saw coordinated efforts by Republicans to win over the hearts and minds of Wallace supporters.  It was this notorious “Southern Strategy” that eventually forged today’s “Solid Republican South.”

It’s true that reactionary conservatism exists throughout the nation.  But for historical reasons, right wing viewpoints about group solidarity and ethnic purity have sunk deeper roots in the South than anyplace else.  The present dispute over the fate of Confederate statues is just one manifestation of a party whose highest priority is to preserve the interests, identity and supremacy of the one cultural subgroup the South has in abundance -- white Christians. 

Nearly a half century of pandering to Southern conservative prejudices has left Republicans with a protest party, not a governing one, as we’re learning every day from the GOP's racial inciter-in-chief, Donald Trump. 

What we may be witnessing as the Republican Party wages war with itself, is the arrival of that day of reckoning when Republicans are forced to pay a steep price for their self-defeating strategy of finding political success with far-right reactionaries, whether they reside in the South or some place else.

Political coalitions are fragile organic compounds. They consist of similar, but different, elements that combine for shared purposes.  Only too late would Republicans discover that their coalition-building strategy was in shambles since, among Southern reactionaries, assimilation and cooperation are code words for surrender.   

Only too late would Republicans learn that the representative voice of their new Dixified political party belonged to disgraced House Majority Leader Tom Delay of Texas, who once told fellow Republicans in his grudging farewell address that: “It is not the principled partisan, however obnoxious he may seem to his opponents, who degrades our public debate, but the preening, self-styled statesmen who elevate compromise to a first principle. For true statesmen are not defined by what they compromise -- but by what they don't.”

With attitudes like that, it is little wonder that in a national survey conducted not that long ago, Republicans said, by an overwhelming 66 to 33 percent margin, they preferred leaders who stuck to their principles no matter what rather than compromise on anything with the other side.  The ratio was reversed for Democrats who said they preferred compromise to obstruction.

The changing nature of the Republican Party resembles a snake shedding its outer skin as it grows.  Instead of sanding down the rough edges of this reactionary movement’s most provocative positions so that Republicans could add this movement to the party’s pre-existing national coalition, the GOP has been largely reshaped and re-engineered to reflect the ugliest pathologies of Old South conservatism itself.

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Comment by koshersalaami on August 27, 2017 at 8:42am

But is that self-destructive? Given Gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts, even if they're a minority, can we get them out? 

Let's look at Steve Bannon's comment on his way out of the White House, that if the Democrats keep concentrating on racism, they'll lose the next election because economics is what's going to mobilize voters. If he's right, which is even a question the NY Times recently asked, the best way to keep the Democrats concentrating on racism and identity politics instead of on economics  is for Trump to treat the racists as reasonable. 

There's another political advantage to this approach: almost guaranteed Democratic overreach on the statues issue. There's a distinction that people aren't thinking out yet, between public figures who did bad things as well as important good things and public figures who are known mainly for doing bad things. The Confederates mainly fall into the latter category because their fame comes from a combination of slavery preservation and treason. What else did Robert E. Lee do of note? But next on the list is slave owners, and now we have a problem. 

So many of our famous people did terrible things. Most of the guys who gave us our country and created our Constitution were slave owners, not to mention screaming sexists. But let's look at a more recent example: Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt did little to nothing to slow down the Holocaust even while he was being begged to, refusing to even meet with a delegation of rabbis who came down from New York to see him. Worse, he threw Japanese Americans into internment camps. So, do we take this President who fought WWII and gave us the New Deal and rip his statues down? Do we rename Washington, DC (twice: we also have to remove the "Columbia") and Washington State, not to mention every township and everything else with his name on it? Do we go through our coins and bills and remove Washington, Jefferson, the unegalitarian Lincoln, Jackson, and Roosevelt from them? Who will we have left to credit for founding, building, and preserving our country? 

When parts of the Left take us in this direction, the Republicans will paint the Democrats as all being like this in much the same way as they use flag burning. We will be painted as shrill unreasonable extremists - successfully - by actual extremists, and that will resonate with the center who will view us as self-righteous condescending crusaders who demonize White people. 

This is not about substance, it's about optics. I'm not talking policy here, I'm talking sales pitch. Democrats have a serious tendency to forget about optics in general and to overlook their very significant importance in winning elections. Or worse, losing them.

Comment by Ron Powell on August 27, 2017 at 9:45am

Trump is a racist. That should be a given.

However, he really doesn't give a shit about racism or racist policies. He has enough money to shield himself from the effects and impact of integration, diversit,y, EO, and AA.

What he does care about is diverting attention from the congressional and special investigations into his political  ties and financial entanglements with Russia.

He has discovered that tha media can be distracted by:

1) Racial strife, friction, and controversy;

AND

2)  International  uneasiness, uncertanty re US foreign policy, and that time worn, old standby,  wa,r or the threat of war with anyone anywhere.

Trump never wanted the 'job'...All he ever really wanted was the title and the perks...

Since the Inauguration, he has discovered that the presidency involves real work done by someone with real qualifications and qualities...

He knows he has neither....

if he could , he'd hand the whole thing back to Obama so he could go back to doing what he does best....

DON'T BE DUPED  OR DISTRACTED. FOLLOW THE MONEY!

Comment by moki ikom on August 27, 2017 at 5:14pm

“In 1968, Southern Democrats helped Richard Nixon win the presidency when they cheered George Wallace’s race-based, third-party campaign instead of Hubert Humphrey and the Democrats.” --Ted Frier

Since up to the end of 1968, “the qualities and pathologies of the ugliest of Old South conservatism right” were a major factor in the Democrat Party aligning more with George Wallace than with any Democrat candidate the Democrat presidential primary would elect or Democrat convention choose, Old South racist Democrats prevailed at the Chicago 1968 Democrat Convention to help choose Senator Hubert Humphrey as the Democrat Party’s presidential nominee over Senator Eugene McCarthy who was the actual winner of Democrat Party’s presidential primary in 1968.

It’s possible that had the Democrat party’s Old South conservatism right -who mostly supported Wallace in the general election anyway- not prevailed in helping to obstruct the approval of Eugene McCarthy’s candidacy at the 1968 Democrat convention, that Democrats could have prevailed with McCarthy over Nixon in the presidential general election; that Henry Kissinger would never have been near the Oval Office; that U.S. genocide in Southeast Asia would have ceased with less than half the U.S. casualties incurred before the U.S. withdrew its war forces; that duly elected President Allende of Chile would not have been overthrown by agents of U.S. malevolent-to-Marxism interests; that diplomatic relations with China would have been restored anyway; that a following quarter century of terrorUSt$-proxied Cold War horrors could have been mitigated when not otherwise avoided altogether; that our world today could be more the wonder of love it should be rather than the plunder of greedy self-interests it has become.

Comment by Maui Surfer on August 27, 2017 at 5:27pm

Lee Atwater's, HR Hadleman and President Johnson's on the record comments to Bill Moyers explained all this is plain English decades ago. For obvious reasons, even the author of this piece, who I can't recommend or commend enough, ever lays it out- the West Point joined at the hip already stole Mexico together of the North and South Civil War leaders and Generals BOTH helped concoct the Dunning School train of 'thought" which has not only destroyed the USA as a unified nation, ironically along with the end of conscription with while horrendous had the by product of introducing people from different parts of the country to each other. Today's so called conservatives have NOTHING to do with the old bank presidents who took cautious looks at investments in order to maintain institutions. Instead, they started immediately after Truman the Hero integrated the military which is the point where the majority of what are today's Rethugs, a large amount of them former Dixiecrats, began to run a political party whose only uses were white privilege protections and the lowest taxes for the 1 percent conceivable. It is alll there, easy as pie to read up on should you desire .... like H. Rap Brown said, "The chickens has come home to roost."

Comment by moki ikom on August 30, 2017 at 2:52pm

Since " (Trump is not a racist)...  he really doesn't give a shit about racism or racist policies. He has enough money to shield himself from the effects and impact of integration, diversit,y, EO, and AA."

So, since Trump's not a racist, what is he?  

Just another of our, so far, very successful charminglie lying self-ingratiating opporitunists; another of our genocidalUSt profiteering scions?

another of our very successful capitalist antiMarxist USraeli who got himself elected President with no insignificant best wishes from not just zionausea interests but, as well or more, from other oligarchs;  non American oligarchs with more peaceful tactfulness, more smarts than our typical Euro-American oligarchs; non-euro folks, like Russians today: less genocidalist, less ecocidalist, less weighted down by illogics, by hypocrisy born and perpetuated corruption, deceit, denial and immoral historical and contemporary baggage protected by the the amorality and immorality of too many of our leaders in this militarist enthused culture of ours?

....The previous comment from which this /\ comment derived will be removed from the thread because of spelling errors, missing words and just generally poor editing for better comprehension potentional.  No one cited the comment to be deleted or has otherwise added to comments since then so it shouldn't be missed.

Comment by Ted Frier on August 31, 2017 at 5:25am

Thanks everybody for reading and commenting.  That is a very good point about Democratic and liberal overreach on race.  There is not a level playing field when it comes to issues related to race.  The right can say the vilest things about those outside their tribe while but the slightest slut sent in their direction causes them to collapse with a case of the vapors. Witness the huge Clinton "blunder" when she lumped a large, though ill-defined group of Trump supporters into her basket of "deplorables."  And how did Trump respond? By suggesting Clinton's insult was directed, not at him, but at God-fearing Americans who love their country.  To emphasize the point he called up on stage a group of average-looking Americans representing most walks of life and said these were the folks Clinton dared to call deplorable.  

Today we might call that cynical appeal to group solidarity and patriotism "wrapping yourself in the flag."  If we were living in the years after the Civil War, this sort of tactic by Trump would be called "waving the bloody shirt," as again and again Republicans won national elections by reminding voters which side the Democrats were on in that war.  The tactic works, as my piece tries to point out, because the primary focus of the GOP since the Southern reactionary takeover of Congress in 1994 has much less to do with policy (witness the debacle on Obamacare repeal and replace) and much more on the fears of white Christians that they are being replaced atop the American hierarchy by a rainbow coalition of minorities and illegal immigrants who shouldn't be allowed to vote, but do.  

So any criticism of this new Republican base, however glancing, feeds right into this insecurity and anxiety, which is the only chance Trump has for holding onto the presidency.  In my piece I am suggesting that time may be running out on cynically exploiting the status anxieties of those segments of the white population that are already fearful of demographic, economic and technological innovations that are leaving them behind.

First, the potential electorate is becoming more diverse and so able to sway politics in their direction -- if they turn out and are not kept from the polls by the obstacles Republicans are obviously putting in their way.

Second, while Republicans once could reach out to these reactionary constituencies with "dog whistle" appeals that at least gave Republicans plausible deniability they were trafficking in racism, Trump is using a "bull horn" that makes it undeniable what his strategy is and what his agenda will be now that he is president.  Normal presidents try to augment their base of support so as to build a sturdier foundation upon which policies on taxes, spending, judicial appointments, foreign affairs and much else can be secured.  Trump is moving in exactly the opposite direction, burning bridges with important members of his own party while retreating to an ever-shrinking base that still gives him the accolades and applause he craves, which is why he ran for president in the first place and now means to be the centerpiece of his administration.

One last point on a related topic: It's true that Democrats were the first party to perfect "identity politics" as they campaigned using the Rainbow Flag as their party's banner.  But there is a big difference between the identity politics Democrats pursued in the past and the tribal politics Trump and some Republicans are exploiting now:  Democrats hoped to empower groups that had been ignored and marginalized in the past by campaigning on an inclusive message of giving everyone a seat at the table.  Adding seats at the table is not at all what Trump and Republicans have in mind.  They are playing a kind of musical chairs in which, eventually, there will be just one seat at that table, the one reserved for white Christians.    

      

Comment by moki ikom on September 1, 2017 at 12:04am

 “Normal presidents try to augment their base of support so as to build a sturdier foundation upon which policies on taxes, spending, judicial appointments, foreign affairs and much else can be secured.  Trump is moving in exactly the opposite direction…”

Trump has no choice, he has to move in the opposite direction.  The fascistic, NRA cultist, superiority-complexed mentality elements that are fundamental to his base, that got him to graduate from the electoral college, they are limited in that Trump has already got virtually 100% of their juice, he can’t get anymore out of them by hook or crook, , they are maxed out and there is none like them left in u.s. America.  It is scientifically impossible that there is a way for Trump to augment his exhausting base.

...

”Democrats hoped to empower groups that had been ignored and marginalized in the past by campaigning on an inclusive message of giving everyone a seat at the table."

That's a very noble goal but —this early in our nation's own stage of respecting human rights domestically— when Democrats, ala HRC, take such a (newfound to u.s.) goal beyond our borders like was hypocritically done leading into u.s. participation in the Sochi winter olympics, it’s not a noble goal more than it is an unnecessarily provocative one.

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