Friday, August 18, 2017

The Abyss Report (Updated)

New Yorker cover dated the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington
Two other new magazine covers are below.

Drip, drip, drip.

Saturday updates: Kennedy Center Honors reception at White House is cancelled, and the HH and spouse will not attend the awards at all. This event isn't until December. There have been protests and boycotts before, but is this the first time that the president hasn't presided?  Is there a president? 

The day's best headline is from Slate:Trump Describes Boston Protesters as “Anti-Police Agitators,” Misspells Heal Four Times

Friday afternoon updates: While media buzzes about the "firing" of Bannon, two observations:  First, his "interview" with the American Prospect editor told me he knew he was leaving and he was using his last days in office as a way to feel out possibilities for his post-WH career (which immediately included taking back control of his old propaganda unit.)  Second, he may be gone from the West Wing but he's very likely to still be advising Homemade Hitler, as other "fired" folk continue to do.  I see the New York Times agrees with me.  Still, the potential remains that the firing will be consequential, with the rabid right attacking each other.  I'm somewhat doubtful that much will change.  Bannon's balloon is set to deflate.

PoliticoWave of resignations hits Commerce Department’s board of ‘digital economy’ advisers.

President’s arts and humanities committee resigns over Trump’s Charlottesville response is another Politico headline.  After one member resigned with his own letter, the remaining 15 members of the committee resigned en masse with a letter that said in part: “We cannot sit idly by, the way that your West Wing advisors have, without speaking out against your words and actions,” members write in a joint letter to Trump obtained by POLITICO that ends by calling on the president to resign if he does not see a problem with what’s happened this week.  The story notes that the first letter of each paragraph spells out the word RESIST.  Later, the White House pretended they'd dissolved the committee on their own because it wasn't a good use of taxpayer's money.  Brave words from an administration that wastes more taxpayer money and funnels it to HH and his family in an hour than this committee ever spent.

The Hill reports: The pastor of a New York megachurch [Rev. A.R. Benard of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn] said Friday that he has resigned from President Trump's Evangelical Advisory Board, citing "a deepening conflict in values" with the administration.

And another R Senator speaks out: "GOP senator: Trump needs to be clear, white supremacists were 'solely responsible.'" Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma is a very conservative senator elected in 2014 in a special election, and re-elected to a full term in 2016.

On Thursday, in an on-camera interview, Republican Senator Bob Corker said: "The President has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful," and "has not demonstrated he understands the character of this nation."

Despite his goofy name, Corker is a silver-haired eminence who was reportedly considered for Secretary of State.  Corker also defended Arizona Jeff Flake (where do they get these names?  And we haven't even gotten to Senator Luther Strange) against attack by the White House, which included HH endorsing one of his primary opponents.  Both Flake and Corker are up for re-election in 2018.

Corker joined Senator Lindsey Graham in name-checking the apprentice dictator.  Corker raising the question of competence, and using the term "stability" were considered significant.  His statement was considered highly unusual for a Senator to make about the WH incumbent of his own party.

The highest ranking Democrat so far announced his intention to introduce a resolution of impeachment in the House.  He is Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee Steve Cohen of Tennessee.

James Murdoch, the CEO of 21st Century Fox and son of conservative media magnate Rupert Murdoch, ripped President Trump's response to violence in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend, also pledging a $1 million donation to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

The Hollywood Reporter reported Thursday that it had obtained the email memo Murdoch sent to friends. In the email, Murdoch says he was concerned with Trump's comments on the violence that broke out after a white supremacist rally last Saturday..."I can’t even believe I have to write this: standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis. Or Klansmen, or terrorists. Democrats, Republicans, and others must all agree on this, and it compromises nothing for them to do so."

James Murdoch's father, Rupert Murdoch controls Fox News.

While HH defended Confederate war statues, the Congressional Black Caucus, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Senator Corey Booker called for such statues in the Capitol to be removed.  Republican Rep.. Tom Rooney of Florida agreed: "Confederate monuments in the U.S. Capitol should either be removed from the building and relocated to a museum or battlefield, or be appropriately contextualized as a symbol of slavery, a Republican lawmaker said Thursday."

However, for the moment, the greed of corporate leaders looking for a tax relief windfall will probably keep them in touch with the WH aides, and will keep National Economic Council head Gary Cohn from resigning.  The mere possibility he might quit sent the stock market sharply downward.  Thursday's word was that no other WH staff will resign either.  But hey, even worms can turn.

Think about the functions of the President.  Think about not being able to attend a funeral of an American killed in an act of domestic terrorism. (David Axlerod says that President Obama absolutely would have given the eulogy.)  Or to empanel a business advisory group on the critical needs of infrastructure.  Or even the ceremonial participation in American life, from recognizing a championship basketball team to honoring achievers in the arts:

Golden State Warriors superstar Kevin Durant says he won’t visit the White House to celebrate his team’s championship with President Trump if they are invited. "Nah, I won't do that," Durant said Thursday during an interview with ESPN. "I don't respect who's in office right now."Durant’s teammates, Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala, have each expressed reservations about going to the White House to celebrate their title with Trump."

Carmen de Lavallade, an acclaimed dancer and choreographer who will be recognized in the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony in December, will boycott the awards ceremony reception taking place at the White House.  De Lavallade, 86, was one of the first African Americans to dance for the Metropolitan Opera.

TV writer and producer Norman Lear, who previously called President Trump America's "middle finger," also said he will skip the reception.

America has no president.  How long can that go on?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Abyss: Updates

So many corporate CEOs on two presidential advisory boards resigned or supported disbanding that the White House itself disbanded both.  But many CEOs acted under immediate pressure from the public, in some cases reversing the stands they made just hours before:

“The collapse of the CEO councils is not due to an outbreak of conscience,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Instead, it is public pressure — pressure for the CEOs to evidence a measure of decency — that is driving them off the councils. That’s not exactly the most inspiring example of moral leadership. No profiles in courage here.”

Score one for the Resistance.

But even though stories continued to emerge of dismay in the White House and the administration, there were no resignations on Wednesday.  Jonathan Chiat notes that White House staff were shocked only that Homegrown Hitler made his racism public--they've been working hard to hide it, since they've heard him in private.  It's unlikely then that these cowardly enablers will step out of the moral abyss.

There were a few more measured statements from Congress but no profiles in courage there either so far.  A challenge has been made however, as several House Dems introduced a resolution to censure the apprentice dictator in the White House.  Supporting that is the only way out of the abyss for Republicans, but breath is not being widely held.  NBC and Fox new shows couldn't get a single Republican officeholder to talk on camera about this situation.

However, pretty interesting that dissidents to HH's rhetoric came from leaders of the US military.  The NYTimes:

Five armed services chiefs — of the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, the Marines and the National Guard Bureau — posted statements on social media condemning neo-Nazis and racism in uncompromising terms. They did not mention Mr. Trump by name, but their messages were a highly unusual counter to the commander in chief.

Meanwhile, Politico reports that Homegrown Hitler was pleased with his Tuesday performance, and so apparently was his alt.right aide:

The president was not alone in his pleasure at the news conference. Chief strategist Steve Bannon, whose nationalistic views helped shape Trump’s presidential campaign, was thrilled with the remarks, according to a friend of Bannon. Even though Trump on Tuesday failed to offer full-throated confidence in Bannon, saying, “We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon,” the controversy has brought some additional job security for the strategist, who has been on the outs with Trump and other White House aides."

This suggests to me that while some White House staff may have been blindsided by HH's statements on Tuesday, Bannon wasn't--he probably was the one who prepared the notes that HH was seen slipping into his coat pocket just before the press questioning began.  Enough of these notes was visible to determine they were about Charlottesville.

Add another to the White House roster of Nazis--the NY Times reports that the lead lawyer for HH on the Russian investigation forwarded an e-mail "echoing sucessionist rhetoric."

The Governor of Virgina followed the governor of North Carolina calling for all Confederate monuments in their states to come down. Meanwhile the city of Baltimore quietly took down four Confederate monuments, literally overnight.

On the history and its significance, Adam Goodheart writes persuasively in Politico that the erection of statues commemorating the Confederacy were deliberate political acts in times of renewed racial oppression, giving them a significance now that might be lost outside their local and historical context.

For example, the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville was not installed immediately after the Civil War but in 1924, the height of the Klan revival.

It is important for non-Southerners to try to understand the local context, from both sides of the racial divide.  At the same time, resurgent racism is not just a Southern phenomenon.  The Nazi who killed Heather Heyer and injured others came from Ohio.  Self-proclaimed Nazi groups hide out in isolated areas of the West.

As for history, a striking aspect of all this for me is the coincidence of my recent research into the old Post Office building in my hometown of Greensburg, PA, which turns out to be modeled very closely on the old Court House in Charlottesville.  In fact, I thought I spotted that Charlottesville building--now a library--in a photo of the strife there.

While Greensburg (being in a Union state) doesn't have a Confederate statue, it does share a history of hosting the Klan resurgence in the 1920s.  According to a local history, the Greensburg chapter was formed in 1921 and "was said to include many prominent county and Greensburg men."

Update: Here's an interactive map of the 917 hate groups in the US, as compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The Abyss

In the eyes of many, the apprentice dictator in the White House earned his full title of Homegrown Hitler on Tuesday when he angrily denied that the demonstration and violence in Charlottesville were chiefly expressions by those who call themselves alt.right, neo-Nazis and white nationalists or white separatists, but who must be called by their real name as well, just plain Nazis.

Historical context continues to broaden to take in this new reality.  Rachel Maddow produced a powerful narrative of the KKK's influence in American electoral politics in the 1920s, climaxing in several huge open marches in Washington, one involving 50,000 people, and a large and violent demonstration outside New York, that saw several arrests including HH's father.

She made two points: this has been part of American life and politics for a very long time, and it is not content to be a fringe group--"some peanut gallery for parolees."  It craves mainstream political power, and at this press conference, Homegrown Hitler went a long way towards giving them the space, especially since they can count on his tacit support.

Despite reports of White House staff consternation, Maddow insisted that these remarks were not entirely spontaneous, and in any case they were not an unintended screwup.  These groups have been "building back up for political power and terror for generations and he is now doing what he can to help them come back."  This fascistic element in American politics "is a real thing."

Meanwhile a piece in the Atlantic emphasizes the connection to 1940s Nazi ideology.  Many saw these Charlottesville events in the context of racism especially against African Americans, and it was surely that.  But as Emma Green points out in the Atlantic, much of the iconography was explicitly Nazi and many of the slogans chanted targeted Jews:

"Marchers displayed swastikas on banners and shouted slogans like “blood and soil,” a phrase drawn from Nazi ideology. “This city is run by Jewish communists and criminal niggers,” one demonstrator told Vice News’ Elspeth Reeve during their march. As Jews prayed at a local synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel, men dressed in fatigues carrying semi-automatic rifles stood across the street, according to the temple’s president. Nazi websites posted a call to burn their building."

Among the most outspoken in response on Tuesday was former aide to Republicans G.H.W. Bush and John McCain, Steve Schmitt.  In tweets and on various talk shows, he spoke of the "psychological fragility" of HH', and tweeted: "This performance will send shivers down the spine of every Allied leader.  It will inspire every adversary.  Everyone sees the unfitness."

But the qualitative difference he saw was a public moral failure of unprecedented meaning and importance.  He called it the "most disgraceful performance" since film and television began recording such events.  "The moral failure is complete," he said.  "It's almost irredeemable."

Schmitt called it a "seminal moment for the Republican party. Republican leaders have to "censor" him "by name," "or slide into a moral abyss with him."

Will there be resignations from the administration?  In any past presidency that would be expected.  

It may be a seminal moment for the Republic as well as Republicans.  Already some are speculating on the likelihood of a new American civil war to the extent that there's a piece about it in the New Yorker.

How could that happen?  How does it happen elsewhere?

"Based on his experience in civil wars on three continents, Mines cited five conditions that support his prediction: entrenched national polarization, with no obvious meeting place for resolution; increasingly divisive press coverage and information flows; weakened institutions, notably Congress and the judiciary; a sellout or abandonment of responsibility by political leadership; and the legitimization of violence as the “in” way to either conduct discourse or solve disputes."

Meanwhile, President Obama's tweet quoting Nelson Mandela became the most liked tweet in Twitter history.  But one quote for the day was recalled by Brian Williams at MSNBC.  It's from Michelle Obama: "The presidency doesn't change who you are.  It reveals who you are." 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ode to the Modern Man

“He goes, in a condescending amateurish way, into the City, attends meetings of Directors, and has to do with traffic in Shares. As is well known to the wise in their generation, traffic in Shares is the one thing to have to do with in this world. Have no antecedents, no established character, no cultivation, no ideas, no manners, have Shares. Have Shares enough to be on Boards of Direction in capital letters, oscillate on mysterious business between London and Paris, and be great. Where does he come from? Shares. Where is he going to? Shares. What are his tastes? Shares. Has he any principles? Shares. What squeezes him into Parliament? Shares. Perhaps he never of himself achieved success in anything, never originated anything, never produced anything? Sufficient answer to all: Shares. O mighty Shares! To set those blazing images so high, and to cause us smaller vermin, as under the influence of henbane or opium, to cry out, night and day, ‘Relieve us of our money, scatter it for us, buy us and sell us, ruin us, only we beseech ye take rank among the powers of the earth, and fatten on us!’”

Chareles Dickens
Our Mutual Friend 1865 chapt x

Monday, August 14, 2017

Occupy Washington

It was an extraordinary week just over, especially in what it said about the dangers presented by the apprentice dictator in the White House--the now always imminent dangers to the world with the nuclear codes and armed forces in his hands, the  deep dangers to the moral and institutional basis for a civilized nation as it faces an already perilous future.

Jeff Greenfield writes cogently about the moral danger represented by his response to Charlottesville:

"The more convincing explanation for Trump’s moral failure is that he is, and always has been, completely disconnected from any understanding of the American political tradition. It is why, uniquely among chief executives, he almost never quotes a past president or political figure or thinker, nor references any part of the country’s past. For Trump, there is no past; only himself, rising as a self-creation out of the mist. He feels no need to speak against the poison of bigotry because he has no clue about how that poison has infected our past, and still infects our present.

Among the many ways that Donald Trump is the most manifestly unfit president in American history, put this one near the top of the list."

John Cassidy writes about his alarming warmongering:

"As many commentators, myself included, have pointed out before, Trump’s Presidency represents an unprecedented challenge to the American system of government. Up until this point, some parts of the system—the courts, the federal civil service, the media, and other institutions of civil society—have withstood the challenge pretty well. But it was always likely that the biggest test would come in the area of national security, where the institutional constraints on the President are less effective. Now, it looks like the moment of truth is upon us, and so far the response has been alarmingly weak. Unless that changes, Trump might well drag the country into a catastrophic war."

Cassidy asks the question, who can stop him?  And the answer so far is, no one.  Congress has a couple of ways to get him out of office, but neither party has shown any interest in the attempt.  The opposition within Republicans has been growing-- especially this weekend--while the Democrats seem focused on 2018.  The presumption has been that they all could move incrementally and wait for the cover given by Robert Mueller handing out indictments and making his report, while 2018 might provide a more favorable Congress.

But last week that long game seemed suddenly way too long.  I've concluded that the only way things might happen sooner is enormous public pressure: either a real General Strike for a meaningful period, or an Occupy Washington by millions of protestors, who don't leave.  Or both.

There were demonstrations on Sunday all over the US about Charlottesville (the photos on this post are from Chicago, via Chicago Tribune.)  But it will take a lot more than that.

A couple of follow-ups to recent posts here.  On my Imagine This post:   The Atlantic reports that a 17 minute film made in the 1940s about how fascism can take over a country has gone viral on the internet. (Or at least a 2 minute clip from it.)  The Atlantic post includes the video, and it's here at the Internet Archive in a larger format.  This is the imagination at work.

On a different subject, Politico has a feature about a successful program used to treat Native Americans in Alaska with an integrated physical and mental health program, that works so well that it seems ripe for replication everywhere.

 This is more than a change to established practice.  It would have been considered unscientific heresy in past decades.  It took the heretics of  Esalen and New Age advocates in the 60s to begin changing that.  Now, after 50 years of ideas on integrated healing and experience with holistic medicine, it just seems like common sense.  Blame that on the 60s, too.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Imagine This

Around here we sometimes employ metaphor to make a point or suggest a texture, or recently, a direction.  Sometimes it's akin to those dystopian tales that are cautionary tales about future possibilities: a warning.

Then something like Saturday happens and we seem suddenly closer to seeing the somewhat metaphorical become actual.

The largest public gathering of white nationalists and neo-Nazis in a generation, or so some say, happened Friday night and Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia.  On Friday they incited violence.  On Saturday a likely white nationalist from Ohio drove deliberately into a crowd of peaceful counter-demonstrators marching in support of diversity, killing one immediately and injuring a score of others.

Then Homegrown Hitler spoke against the violence, without condemning or even mentioning the white nationalist haters.  New York's story quotes his response: But rather than clear the extremely low bar of denouncing neo-Nazis for causing mayhem and death, Trump took a different approach.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides — on many sides,” he said.

He distanced himself from the events by making it clear that such unrest is nothing new, offered a few words of tone-deaf pablum about coming together as a country, and blew a possible dog whistle at racists by calling on Americans to “cherish our history.”

When a reporter shouted out a question about whether he wants the supports of white nationalists, the president ignored it.

After an immediate outcry on social media over Trump’s “many sides” wording, a White House spokesperson confirmed that Trump meant what he said, since “there was violence between protestors and counter-protestors today.”

As for a reason for this response, it was all too clear why:

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, a Trump supporter who was in Charlottesville on Saturday, quickly replied. “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists,” he wrote.

Asked by a reporter in New Jersey whether he wanted the support of white nationalists, dozens of whom wore red Make America Great Again hats during the Charlottesville riots, Trump did not respond."

There was almost universal condemnation of his statement, even among Republicans.  One piece by Chris Cilizza of CNN is representative.  He notes that part of the statement appeared to be a pre-emptive defense against those who point to his previous statements and behavior (and lack of them, as in his silence when a bomb was thrown into a Minnesota mosque) as encouraging racist/ alt.right/ neo-Nazi violence.

That's likely the subtext to President Obama's tweet on Saturday quoting Nelson Mandela:"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion..."

But this is a good deal more chilling than the usually nauseating statements by the apprentice dictator in the White House.  This is getting into Hitler territory in an astonishingly literal way.  Tacit support for actual neo-Nazis? White nationalists (like the one who is Homegrown Hitler's chief policy advisor) chanting the racist Nazi slogan Blood and Soil?  And it gets worse.

Look at this photo (all photos on this page are from Politico.)   The caption reads: Carrying body armor and combat weapons, white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the "alt-right" evacuate comrades who were pepper-sprayed after the "Unite the Right" rally was declared an unlawful gathering by Virginia State Police.

Now we can see the fruits, not only of the 2016 election, but the insane interpretation of the fourth amendment and the result of openly armed neo-Nazis on public streets during a fractious political demonstration.

An unofficial army of armed civilians helped begin the Nazi rise to absolute power in Germany.  Suddenly "Homegrown Hitler" doesn't sound so metaphorical.

I picked some day to turn the page of my current New York Review of Books to read a review of a documentary on the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi crimes and more recent instances of war crimes.  The review quotes Hannah Arendt's phrase "a criminal lack of imagination."  Better to imagine the implications now than to suffer the consequences when the "unimaginable" happens.