“Fomenting Racism To Convince Racists That He’s Their Guy”: Why The Media Struggles To Deal With Donald Trump’s Race-Baiting
As you’ve probably heard by now, Donald Trump had quite a weekend. First he claimed on Saturday that “I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as [the World Trade Center] was coming down.” Confronted with the fact that this is completely false, Trump insisted on Sunday, “There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey where you have large Arab populations…that tells you something.”
Then on Sunday he (or someone from his campaign) tweeted out a graphic with phony statistics purporting to show how murderous black people are (and illustrated with a picture of a young black man with a bandana over his face, pointing a gun sideways, gangster-style).
Both of these happenings are receiving plenty of attention in the media today. The problem is that the media doesn’t know how to handle this kind of blatant race-baiting from a leading politician.
And just to be clear, it is race-baiting, and nothing else. In neither case is there even the remotest connection to some kind of legitimate policy question. When Trump says falsely that thousands of people in Jersey City (which has a large Muslim population) were celebrating the destruction of the World Trade Center, he isn’t making an argument about Syrian refugees. He’s simply saying that you should hate and fear Muslim Americans. When he tries to convince people that most white murder victims are killed by black thugs (again, false), he isn’t arguing for some policy approach. He’s just trying to foment racism and convince racists that he’s their guy.
So how do the media deal with this? One thing they don’t do is call it by its name. The first approach is to report on it as just another campaign controversy (“Trump takes heat for tweet about black murder rates“). That kind of story sticks to the who-what-where-when approach: Trump tweeted this, he was criticized for it, here’s how it was inaccurate, here’s Trump’s response. Any value judgments that appear will be spoken by Trump’s critics (though not his primary opponents, who for the most part are dancing around any criticism of what Trump said).
The second approach the media takes is to address Trump’s comments through fact-checking, something we have gotten pretty good at. Interestingly enough, fact-checking as a formal genre of journalism can be traced to another campaign that prominently featured Republican race-baiting, the 1988 election. In the wake of that election, many news outlets felt they had been manipulated by George H.W. Bush’s campaign into not only focusing on distracting issues that had little or nothing to do with the presidency, but also into becoming a conduit for ugly attacks with little basis in fact. Over the following few years, many decided to institutionalize fact-checks, at first for television ads in particular, and later for all kinds of claims made in politics. Eventually sites like Politifact and FactCheck.org were created, and major news organizations like this one devoted staff solely to fact-checking.
In the process, journalists acquired both an understanding of how to separate the accurate from the inaccurate from the subjective, and a language to talk about different kinds of claims. While there’s plenty of slippage — you still see claims that have been proven false referred to as “controversial” or “questionable” — the existence of the fact-checking enterprise has allowed reporters to be clearer with their audiences about what is and isn’t true.
So if you want a fact-check of Trump’s claims, you’ll have no trouble finding it (here’s the Post’s). What you’ll have to look harder for is reporting that puts what Trump said in a context that goes much deeper than the campaign controversy of the week.
To be clear, I’m not arguing that there’s a simple template reporters should follow, one that will allow them to easily separate the merely “controversial” from the clearly racist (though wherever the line is, passing on phony statistics about murderous black people from neo-Nazis is definitely on the other side of it). But they wouldn’t violate any reasonable conception of objectivity by making the nature of Trump’s arguments clear.
When David Duke nearly won the governorship of Louisiana in 1991, it was reported in the national media as a story about racism, with a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan garnering a majority of the white vote as he lost a runoff election. Few in the media hesitated to call Duke a racist, in large part because even at the time he was perceived as representing yesterday’s racism, antiquated for its explicitness (even if Duke did try to clean up his views for the campaign).
Trump represents one face of today’s racism (though not by any means the only face). It simultaneously insists that Muslims can be good Americans, and accuses them of hating America and says their places of worship ought to be kept under government surveillance. It says that some Mexican-Americans are good people, and says most of them are rapists and drug dealers. It says “I think I’ll win the African-American vote” and then tries to convince voters that black people are murdering white people everywhere. In every case, Trump proclaims that he’s no racist while tapping into longstanding racist stereotypes and narratives of the alleged threat posed by minorities to white people.
Since I can’t read minds, I don’t know whether Donald Trump is a racist deep in his heart. But he is without question making himself into the racist’s candidate for president. And that’s a subject the media needs to explore in more depth.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, November 23, 2015
I’m still not sure it’s 100 percent clear that Donald Trump really understands that he’s a neo-fascist. He may not know enough history to be fully aware of the now-undeniable odor of his rhetoric and campaign. He may think a member of a racial minority being beat up and called a “n***r” by his racial-majority supporters at a rally, and his own joking about it, is just a little incident; something for which there’s no larger historical context. I know he allegedly had the book of Hitler’s speeches by his bed, but I still think he’s doing most of this on instinct rather than with intellectual intention because I doubt he knows enough about fascism for it to be the latter.
But stop and think about this: I just wrote a paragraph musing on whether the leading candidate for president of the United States from one of our two major parties is knowingly fascist. We’re at the point where we’re debating whether the Republican Party frontrunner is or is not objectively a fascist.
His admirers would surely take issue with the term, but I should note that it’s not just liberals using it. A Jeb Bush adviser posted a tweet using the word. Erstwhile presidential candidate Jim Gilmore referred to Trump’s “fascist talk.”
Gilmore’s willingness to say what’s what is admirable, but let’s face it: He’s running 17th in a field of 17. And an aide is an aide, at the end of the day—and to boot, he’s an aide working for a flailing campaign. Who’s really going to listen to them?
And that brings us to the question: Who in the Republican Party is going to step up here? Because this is A Moment for the GOP, make no mistake. It’s a historical moment, and when your leading candidate is joking about his supporters beating people up at rallies and musing about religious ID cards for around (ahem) 6 million of your citizens, it’s time to say something.
Reince Priebus, after the last election, called on his party to be more inclusive. Is this what you had in mind, Reince? How about the other leading candidates? Is this where you want your party to be taken? Karl Rove and others in the professional political class—will they say anything, if not out of moral principle then at least to try to protect their party’s candidates from down-ticket disaster?
And most of all, what about the party’s graybeards and elder statesmen? Looking at you, John McCain. How about a little “Straight Talk” now, about a man who proposes to come into your state, where there are an estimated 300,000 or so unauthorized immigrants, and break up families because one of them’s illegal and the other is not?
I would suspect that this week we’ll start to see a little of this. Marco Rubio might make a statement that’s very carefully worded, as most of his statements are. Lindsey Graham may have it in him to say something interesting and semi-honest. But for the most part, I’d suspect that what we’re going to hear will be the rhetorical equivalent of wallpaper—they’re going to try to cover up the ugly exposed surface and nothing more.
And why would they do more? If they admit that Trump is a fascist, they’re calling one-third of their voters fascist. Will they do that? And this predicament raises the interesting question of how one-third of their voters came to admire a neo-fascist and open racist in the first place. Gee, it can’t have anything to do with the kind of rhetoric and “harmless jokes” about the current president and about the 47 percent that Republican leaders have winked at for seven years, can it?
There’s precedent for the courageous path, should anyone choose to take it. On Feb. 9, 1950, Joe McCarthy gave his famous speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, charging that communists were working in the State Department. The months that followed were very much like these last five months of the Trump ascendancy, as the official party stood mute in the face of the hysteria created by one of its number.
Then in June, one Republican senator said “enough.” Margaret Chase Smith of Maine was a freshman senator, having taken her husband’s seat. She took to the Senate floor and gave a 15-minute speech (PDF), which has gone down in history as her “Declaration of Conscience,” that all of us, starting with leading Republicans, ought to be reading this week. Two choice excerpts:
“As a Republican, I say to my colleagues on this side of the aisle that the Republican Party faces a challenge today that is not unlike the challenge which it faced back in Lincoln’s day. The Republican Party so successfully met that challenge that it emerged from the Civil War as the champion of a united nation—in addition to being a party which unrelentingly fought loose spending and loose programs.”
“The Democratic administration has greatly lost the confidence of the American people… Yet to displace it with a Republican regime embracing a philosophy that lacks political integrity or intellectual honesty would prove equally disastrous to the nation. The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I do not want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny—Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear.”
Six of her Republican colleagues signed with her a statement of principles that began: “We are Republicans. But we are Americans first.” So that’s what people can do in the face of extremism, if they want to.
In the end, it doesn’t matter how much history Trump knows. All that matters are his words and the ugly actions his words encourage. I don’t expect him to know history. But we have a right to expect certain others to. It’s time for the GOP to choose.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, November 24, 2015
Late last week, in their final vote before a Thanksgiving break, U.S. House members easily approved a bill to effectively block Syrian refugees from reaching American soil. The outcome wasn’t close – supporters easily outnumbered opponents, 289 to 137, with 47 House Democrats breaking ranks and joining nearly every Republican in the chamber.
The legislation faces an uncertain future in the Senate, but a nagging question remains unresolved: how many of those 289 House representatives realized this is a bad bill, but voted for it anyway?
One lawmaker in particular offers a rather extraordinary example.
Republican Rep. Steve Russell delivered a speech on the House floor this week decrying his colleagues’ “xenophobic” push against Syrian refugees in the wake of last week’s Paris attacks. “While I have focused my comments on actions we should take to eliminate ISIS, one action we should not take is to become like them,” the Oklahoma-based lawmaker said. “America is a lamp that lights the horizon of civilized and free mankind. The Statue of Liberty cannot have a stiff arm. Her arm must continue to keep the torch burning brightly.”
He added: “If we use our passions and our anger, fear, and we use that to snuff out her flame by xenophobic and knee-jerk policy, the enemy wins. We have played into their hands. Period.”
It was a powerful and compelling argument from a far-right lawmaker, reminding his colleagues about the importance of America’s best instincts and our proudest traditions.
And yet, when it came time to consider the controversial bill, Steve Russell followed the herd and voted against Syrian refugees, even after his spirited condemnation of Congress’ “xenophobic” push and “knee-jerk” reaction to Paris.
What in the world happened between the Oklahoma congressman’s speech and his vote?
TPM talked to Russell, who explained on Friday that he actually voted against the bill, before ultimately reversing course. The congressman described the scene on the floor after he cast his initial vote.
His colleagues then “surrounded” him on the floor and asked him to switch his vote since his approval would give the bill a veto-proof majority, according to Russell. He demanded that he have “seat at the table on all future discussions on this issue,” and once an agreement was met, Russell switched his vote. […]
Russell told TPM that “nobody” believes the bill passed on Thursday will be the final legislation, and that the veto-proof majority would give the House leverage when negotiating with the Senate.
For the record, there’s no real merit to such a strategy. The “leverage” of a veto-proof majority is only effective if all the relevant players believe there’s a two-thirds majority prepared to back a bad, reactionary bill. If Russell freely admits that he has no use for the bill the House passed, then the White House realizes that those 289 supporters aren’t fully committed to the legislation – which necessarily has the effect of undermining the chamber’s leverage.
Tactical considerations notwithstanding, it’s nevertheless a shame when a lawmaker wants to do the right thing, but feels like he can’t.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 23, 2015
“Marco Rubio Has No Clue How To Defeat ISIS”: A Collection Of Ideas Ranging From The Irrelevant To The Ridiculous
We ask an awful lot of our presidential candidates. In addition to being forced to shake a million hands, beg for money, and cram any fried foodstuff right into their mouths, they’re supposed to have opinions and ideas about everything. As soon as something important happens in the United States or anywhere else, in short order we expect them to have a “plan” to deal with it, to assure us that once they take office, the problem will be solved forthwith.
A couple of weeks ago, ISIS was a serious challenge the next president will have to deal with, but in the wake of the attacks in Paris, candidates are now expected to have an ISIS plan, a specific set of actions they’ll take that will eliminate the terrorist group once and for all. Not everyone has come up with one yet, but what we’ve seen so far is not going to inspire a whole lot of faith that ISIS’s days are numbered come January 2017.
Consider, for example, Marco Rubio, the establishment’s golden boy and one of the “serious” GOP candidates. When it comes to foreign policy in particular, people will look to Rubio, since by virtue of his seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he’s better informed than most of his primary competitors. Rubio delivered his plan to defeat ISIS last week, and it’s a remarkable document. Let’s walk through its main points.
Rubio begins with the requisite statement of steely resolve: “When I am president, what I will do to defeat ISIL is very simple: whatever it takes.” Inspiring! Then he dives into the details. “First, I would protect the homeland by immediately stopping the flow of Syrian refugees into the United States,” he says. I won’t bother going over again how wrong it is to think that stopping Syrian refugees will protect us from an attack, but we can at least all agree that doing so certainly won’t help “defeat” ISIS.
“Next, I would reverse defense sequestration so we have the capabilities to go on the offense against ISIL,” Rubio says. This is equally silly. You can argue that the budget cuts forced by sequestration are a bad thing, but the reason we haven’t yet banished ISIS from the earth isn’t that our defense budget is too skimpy. It’s not like the chairman of the Joint Chiefs is saying, “Mr. President, we could take ISIS out and bring a peaceful, democratic government to that area, but we can’t do it without more tanks and helicopters — and I just don’t have the money.” Our resources are more than ample for whatever military action we might want to take.
Next, Rubio says “I would build a multinational coalition of countries willing to send troops into Iraq and Syria to aid local forces on the ground.” Also, “I would demand that Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government grant greater autonomy to Sunnis, and would provide direct military support to Sunnis and the Kurds if Baghdad fails to support them. I would back those demands with intense diplomatic pressure and the leverage of greater American military assistance to Iraq.” So that’s a mix of things the Obama administration is trying to do (though somehow Rubio would manage to convince other countries to put in troops where Obama hasn’t been able to; maybe Obama’s diplomatic pressure hasn’t been “intense” enough), plus something that sounds like he wants to set up an independent Sunni quasi-state within Iraq, like what the Kurds have. That’s…interesting. Shouldn’t be any complications there.
And finally, “Cutting off oxygen to ISIL also requires defeating Assad in Syria. I would declare no-fly zones to ground Assad’s air force and coalition-controlled ‘safe zones’ in the country to stop his military.” If you read that without knowing anything, you might think Rubio believes that Assad is supporting ISIS and not fighting it. But anyhow, he’ll just “defeat Assad,” whom we’re not actually fighting at the moment. Does that mean an invasion? If not, what? And “safe zones” sound nice, but how many tens of thousands of American troops would be required to create and maintain them?
Now keep in mind: This collection of ideas ranging from the irrelevant to the ridiculous is the best plan the GOP’s best foreign policy candidate can devise.
The problem isn’t that Marco Rubio is some kind of idiot, even if you’d be tempted to conclude that upon reading his “plan.” The problem is that ISIS presents an unusually difficult challenge, where every possible course of action is either foreclosed before it begins or brings huge complications along with it. That’s why when Hillary Clinton — who has more foreign policy experience than all the Republican candidates put together — gave a speech last week outlining the course she’d like to follow on ISIS, it was terribly frustrating, in many ways more hope than plan. Clinton at least acknowledges the complexity of the situation — for instance, our ally Saudi Arabia isn’t helping us fight ISIS, while our adversary Iran is, all while the two countries wage proxy battles against each other. If the next president can untie that knot, it would be a wonder.
Presidential candidates never acknowledge that some challenges are so difficult that success is uncertain at most. They don’t say, “Boy, this one’s a doozy, but I’ll do my best.” They say that if they’re elected, all our problems foreign and domestic will be swept away. It’s when they try to explain exactly how they’re going to get there that the future doesn’t look so bright.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, November 23, 2015
“Why The GOP Has Grown So Hostile”: Republicans Have Crossed The Rubicon And No Longer Have The Option Of Going Back
Pew Research surveyed 35,071 Americans between June and September of 2014 and compiled information about their religious and political beliefs. One of their findings was that white Christians no longer constitute a majority in this country. Another finding was that a political gap among white Christians has widened during Obama’s presidency.
Nearly seven in 10 white Christians — 69 percent — identify with or lean toward the GOP, while just 31 percent do the same with Democrats…
…In less than a decade, the gap in Christian identification between Democrats and Republicans has increased by 50 percent. According to the data presented, in 2007, 88 percent of white Republicans and 70 percent of white Democrats identified as Christian, an 18-point disparity. By 2014, 84 percent of white Republicans identified as Christian, but the share of white Democrats identifying as Christian fell by 13 points, to 57 percent, a 27-point gap.
Despite these changes, some things have been remarkably stable. For example, separate research by Pew shows that party preference among whites has been nearly identical in the last three elections: (2010: 37D 60R, 2012: 39D 59R, 2014: 38D 60R).
That 59% Republican number from 2012 serves as the baseline for the popular vote calculator used at Latino Decisions. You can play around with the racial and turnout variables to see how small changes can alter the outcome of our presidential elections. This doesn’t account for the Electoral College, of course, but the popular vote predicts the winner most of the time, doesn’t it?
One thing you’ll discover is that if the white percentage of the vote comes in as predicted at 70.5% and the Republicans continue to get 59% of the white vote and other ethnic groups’ preferences and turnout hold constant then the GOP candidate will need about 47% of the Latino vote in order to win the popular vote. It’s actually worse than this because the calculator assumes that without Obama at the top of the ticket, the Republican will get 12% of the black vote rather than the 6% Romney received.
More statistically significant, however, is the fact that Romney only received an estimated 27% of the Latino vote in 2012. So, here’s what this looks like for the Republicans. If they can double the percentage of black votes they got in 2012 and do 20% better among Latinos, they can win the popular vote without doing any better (or worse) with white voters.
Numbers like these are daunting, and they explain why the Republican National Committee’s post-2012 Growth and Opportunity Report (better known as “The Autopsy Report”) determined that passing comprehensive immigration reform was an absolute prerequisite for them having any chance of winning the presidency in 2016. This is why the Senate Republicans made it a top priority in 2013 and ultimately passed a bill in a bipartisan 68-32 vote that included 14 members of their caucus.
I don’t think I need to belabor this point, but what happened next is not going to help the eventual Republican nominee improve twenty points on Romney’s performance with Latinos. If Donald Trump is their nominee, I think he’ll be fortunate to get half the Latino votes that Romney gathered.
Now, here’s the important point.
Since the Republicans didn’t pursue the easier path of improving their popularity with Latinos, they have no choice to jack up that 59% number they got with whites. Let’s look at how much they’ll need.
Using the other Latino Decisions assumptions, if the GOP gets 27% of the Latino vote, they’ll need 62% of the white vote to win the popular vote. If they get only 13% of the Latino vote, they need 64% of the white vote to win the popular vote. And, again, both of these predictions assume that the GOP will double their support in the black community and also not lose any Asian or “Other” voters.
It’s probably a lot easier to get new voters from a group that is generally opposed to you than it is to keep adding voters to a group you’re dominating. In other words, it might be an easier task for the Republicans to get back to the 40-plus percent Latino support that George W. Bush once enjoyed than to grow their white support from 59% to 64%.
But it’s the latter strategy (if we can call it a strategy) that the Republicans are pursuing. They need to racially polarize the electorate in a way that gets them 3-5% more of the white vote.
They can do some of this through turnout instead, of course, so if they can keep lots of blacks and Latinos from voting in the first place, they don’t need to improve quite so much with whites.
I think what’s key to understanding this situation is that the Republicans actually have crossed the Rubicon and they no longer have the option of going back and pursuing more of the Latino vote. They must pursue more of the white vote and there are not too many ways to do that other than aggravating racial consciousness and jacking up the sense of white racial grievance.
This has been a mainstay of conservative/Republican electoral strategy since at least the time that Nixon pursued the Southern Strategy, but I doubt that it’s ever been this much of an urgent and indispensable part of their path to success.
So, we’re seeing two things: a revival of open racism that had been dormant on the presidential campaign trail, and continued efforts to suppress the minority vote. These aren’t really choices anymore. They can’t win any other way.
The only alternative (which is no longer available in this cycle) is for some adults to take back control of the Republican Party from the Conservative Movement. As long as the conservatives are in control and refuse to change, these incredibly unpleasant electoral strategies will only get more pronounced and dangerous.
What the poll numbers at the top tell us, though, is that the religious angle is an important and (it looks to be) successful way for the GOP to ramp up the racial polarization in the electorate. It’s just as important to them to cultivate a mass sense of victimhood among white Christians (e.g., gay wedding cakes, Starbucks coffee cups, War on Christmas, Sharia Law) as it is to talk about blacks and Latinos just wanting a handout.
So, expect a lot more of this.
By: Martin Longman, Web Editor for the Washington Monthly; Political Animal Blog, November 23, 2015