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“What Donald Trump Owes George Wallace”: Demagogue’s Ability To Tap Into Fear And Anger In American Politics

Donald J. Trump, reality television star and real estate mogul, is different in many ways from major political figures in our past. But there are striking similarities between Mr. Trump and George C. Wallace, the Deep South politician who ran for president each opportunity he got from 1964 through 1976. The connections between the two — their rhetoric and their ability to fire up crowds — give us a better sense of what Trumpism will mean once he is gone from the campaign stage. After all, political losers as well as winners can shape the future.

Mr. Trump started his business career with what he called a “small loan” of a million dollars from his father. Mr. Wallace, the son of a struggling South Alabama farmer, clawed his way to power with hard work and a political antenna always ahead of the next public opinion poll.

And despite his reputation as a belligerent speechmaker, the insecure Mr. Wallace privately sought to ingratiate himself with friends and foes alike. It’s hard to imagine the egotistic Mr. Trump beginning a call to a hostile newspaper editor by cheerfully explaining, as Mr. Wallace once did, “I just called up to kiss your ass some more.”

What both share is the demagogue’s instinctive ability to tap into the fear and anger that regularly erupts in American politics.

Mr. Wallace’s 1963 inaugural address as governor of Alabama (“Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”) and his “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” that same year seemed to limit his role to that of a strictly regional figure, part of Dixie’s long tradition of racist politicians. His presidential candidacy in 1964 and surprising strength in Democratic primaries in Wisconsin, Indiana and Maryland did little to change that national image. In April 1967, when Mr. Wallace told a Syracuse, N.Y., audience that he had decided to run for president as a third-party candidate, the television networks ignored his announcement, as did most of the major newspapers.

But in 1968, against a backdrop of urban riots, a war in Vietnam that dragged on inconclusively, tumultuous antiwar demonstrations and the assassinations of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, a fiery Mr. Wallace began to draw interest across the nation; by September the crowds at his rallies rivaled those for his two main opponents, Richard M. Nixon and Hubert H. Humphrey. Mindful of his reputation as a defender of segregation, the Alabama governor avoided explicitly racist language. He was a pioneer in the use of code words to attack African-Americans while seldom mentioning race, instead condemning “asinine” school busing, the “bloc vote” and the “thugs” from America’s inner cities who supposedly stalked the nation’s streets.

Uncertain of what to make of the political upstart, the nation’s print media initially played down their coverage of Mr. Wallace rather “like parents who refuse to look when their child is doing something naughty for fear it might encourage him to show off,” in the words of one British journalist.

As his poll numbers rose from single digits in the spring to more than 20 percent by the fall, it was no longer possible to ignore Mr. Wallace, and the major newsmagazines and largest newspapers attacked him with a barrage of thinly veiled invective: He was “simplistic”; he had not “one constructive proposal to offer a troubled nation”; he sought “political profit in fear and hate.” Attacks by the mainstream media only strengthened his support. As one of Mr. Wallace’s followers told a newspaper reporter, “I could care less what Time magazine thinks; I only use it once a day in the outhouse.”

The hypersensitive Mr. Trump obviously cares a lot more about Time’s opinion. When the magazine failed to choose him as its 2015 Person of the Year, he complained that, despite being “the big favorite,” Time had snubbed him in favor of Germany’s Angela Merkel, “who is ruining Germany!”

Hostility to the civil rights movement was only a part of Mr. Wallace’s rhetorical repertoire. He was a “populist” of sorts, defending good, hard-working (white) Christian Americans, but his enemies were not the economic bankers and monopolists of his 19th-century forebears. He had found new dragons to slay.

On paper his speeches were stunningly disconnected, at times incoherent. But videotapes of those 1968 rallies captured a performance. A wild energy seemed to flow back and forth between Mr. Wallace and his audience as he called out their mutual enemies: bearded hippies, pornographers, sophisticated intellectuals who mocked God, traitorous anti-Vietnam War protesters, welfare bums, cowardly politicians and “pointy-head college professors who can’t even park a bicycle straight.”

For the television networks the spectacle became irresistible, particularly since rallies often erupted into violent chair-throwing confrontations between Mr. Wallace’s supporters and angry demonstrators. Hunter S. Thompson understood that George Wallace’s followers were not interested in position papers on banking regulations or the pros and cons of thermal energy. Watching the Alabama governor perform was awe-inspiring to the gonzo journalist, who likened the rallies to a Janis Joplin concert “in which the bastard had somehow levitated himself and was hovering over us.”

Both George Wallace and Donald Trump are part of a long national history of scapegoating minorities: from the Irish, Catholics, Asians, Eastern European immigrants and Jews to Muslims and Latino immigrants. During times of insecurity, a sizable minority of Americans has been drawn to forceful figures who confidently promise the destruction of all enemies, real and imagined, allowing Americans to return to a past that never existed.

At the same time, the rejection of the euphemisms of polite political rhetoric is part of the great appeal of such figures. As one of Mr. Trump’s supporters at a Dallas rally told a Slate reporter: “I love that he’s talking in everybody else’s language. He’s not trying to be politically correct.”

That response is simply an update from one of Mr. Wallace’s 1968 followers: “George doesn’t give us some mealy-mouth ‘on the one hand and on the other’ spiel. He tells it like it is and if it offends some government bureaucrats and loudmouth civil rights agitators, so what? He’s standing up and fighting for real Americans.”

George Wallace was never going to be president; neither is Donald Trump. But their influence, even far from the White House, has an impact. The Alabama governor’s success in mobilizing white working-class voters forced other candidates — particularly Nixon — to adapt a housebroken version of his rhetoric and policies. Mr. Wallace may have begun his career as a New Deal Democrat, but the way he appealed to these predominantly Democratic voters by channeling their frustrations against the federal government did much to pave the way for Ronald Reagan’s more genial anti-government ideology.

It is more difficult to assess the long-term implications of a figure like Mr. Trump, whose “policies” seem even more incoherent than those of George Wallace. He, too, has learned how to exploit the deepest fears and hatreds of white Americans frightened about the present and despairing of the future.

Whether he is nominated by the Republican Party or simply disappears into the long line of discredited demagogues, he has already left his mark. Just listen to what some of his fellow Republican candidates are saying.

 

By: Dan T. Carter, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Carolina; Opinion Pages, The New York Times, January 8, 2016

January 11, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Fearmongering, George Wallace, Racism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Is America So Hostile To Gun Control?”: The Damage Isn’t Limited To Gun Deaths

The President of the United States and the mayor of the District of Columbia both used this week to address violence within the sphere of their responsibilities. And they are catching flak for it.

President Obama’s focus was on the weapons that now kill as many people as car accidents and on the need for gun-control measures. He said at the White House on Tuesday: “Every single year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns — 30,000. Suicides. Domestic violence. Gang shootouts. Accidents.” And he added this grabber: “In 2013 alone, more than 500 people lost their lives to gun accidents — and that includes 30 children younger than 5 years old.”

The next day, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) went to the city’s Eastern Market Metro station to announce the formation of a task force to combat gun robberies, which last year increased to 1,249, 10 percent more than the 1,112 recorded in 2014. This year isn’t off to a good start — 25 gun robberies in the first six days of 2016. Robberies without guns numbered 28.

Yet robberies aren’t the only crime on the rise in our nation’s capital. Last year ended with 162 murders. There were 105 in 2014.

Something, however, may get lost in these numbers. How can the toll taken by death be measured with any degree of accuracy? It’s impossible to quantify the sense of loss and grief that follows; the sadness, emptiness and loneliness that death leaves behind.

The families and friends of those 30,000 people whose lives were cut short by guns may have some idea.

The damage isn’t limited to gun deaths.

What is the impact of more than 3,000 total street robberies in a city? Gauge the distress of having possessions taken by force — imagine the fear, anger, insecurity and unwanted memories that robbery leaves behind.

The violence assailed by Obama and Bowser is disturbing. So is the opposition mounted against them for trying to do something about it.

Criticism of Obama’s proposed regulations to ensure that laws on the books are enforced as written and intended is sickening. Unlike the “he’s gonna take away your guns” rhetoric coming out the mouths of some gun enthusiasts and their sycophantic Republican presidential hopefuls, Obama’s plan to reduce gun violence is light stuff. It would:

  • Require all those in the business of selling firearms to be licensed and to conduct background checks.
  • Overhaul the FBI’s background check system to make it more efficient and effective and provide the bureau with more staff.
  • Beef up staffing of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to crack down on firearms trafficking.
  • Increase funding for mental-health treatment and mental-health reporting to the background check system and direct the departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security to pursue research into gun-safety technology.

Several law professors who looked at the constitutionality of Obama’s executive actions said that they “ensure robust enforcement of the law” and are “entirely compatible with the will of Congress and the President’s constitutional authority.”

But listen to the resisters.

Obama wants your guns,” says Ted Cruz’s campaign website.

Obama is “making an end-run around the Constitution” to “restrict one of the basic, fundamental principles of our country,” Donald Trump’s campaign manager told CNN.

“Just one more way to make it harder for law-abiding people to buy weapons to be able to protect their families,” said Marco Rubio on Fox News.

“Obama’s executive orders trample on the 2nd Amendment,” said a Jeb Bush tweet.

Obama “is advancing his political agenda,” a Ben Carson tweet said.

Forget about saving lives. Better to save political hides from National Rifle Association attacks.

The president’s proposals should triumph over demagoguery and plain stupidity. But don’t cut the gun lobby short. Fear of NRA money and power makes cowards out of congressmen.

The local climate for reform may not be any better.

This is a city where many people are afraid to venture out of their homes after dark, where going to and from school can be hazardous and where guns — and those who would use them — seem as plentiful as the air.

Though overall crime rates are down in the District, murders and gun robberies are up.

In August, Bowser proposed a public safety plan to combat the violence. She contended that if the D.C. Council had adopted her proposals — more money for more cops in high-crime areas, stiffer penalties for crimes on buses and subway trains and in D.C. parks, cracking down on repeat offenders — last year’s jump in homicides might have been avoided.

But Bowser is at loggerheads with key council members over the direction of crime-fighting and criminal justice reforms. And so? Nothing. Handwringing, finger-pointing . . .

Obama, urging action, cited the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words “the fierce urgency of now,” because people are dying. “The constant excuses for inaction,” the president declared, “no longer suffice.”

Even as national and D.C. lawmakers turn a deaf ear to that message.

 

By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 8, 2016

January 11, 2016 Posted by | District of Columbia, Gun Control, Gun Deaths | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“This Should Be A ‘Have You No Decency’ Moment”: The Deafening Silence Of The GOP Contenders On Trump’s Ad

When Donald Trump first watched his new TV ad that began airing this week, he said, “Play it again. I love the feel of it.” I, too, had to play it again, not because I too loved the feel, but out of amazement that this is what the front runner for the Republican nomination had chosen to put in his first TV ad of the campaign.

Forget the usual introductory bio or soaring vision for America. The ad itself pieces together the most extreme, bigoted pieces of Donald Trump’s platform including banning all Muslims from entering the country and building a wall to keep out immigrants. Perhaps worse than the ad itself was the lack of any kind of reaction from the other GOP contenders for the nomination, their deafening silence speaking even louder than the ad.

The ad proclaims that banning Muslims from entering our country is the right way to keep Americans safe, and in video that turns out to be footage from Morocco, not Mexico, we’re warned that closing off the border with a wall is the only immigration reform we need.

This should be a “have you no decency?” moment, but sadly, we shouldn’t be surprised that no candidate has stood up to Trump’s ad in any meaningful way. They’re not speaking out because they are in lock step, following Trump’s lead.

Marco Rubio has proposed shutting down mosques in the United States. Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz believe we should only allow Christian — not Muslim — refugees from Syria. Ben Carson likened refugees to “rabid dogs.”

Of course, demeaning rhetoric and policies aren’t just limited to the anti-Muslim comments we’re hearing from the Republican candidates. Discussing immigration policy, Chris Christie compared immigrants to trackable FedEx packages. Jeb Bush compared President Obama’s executive actions that protect DREAMers from deportation to those of a “Latin American dictator.” Marco Rubio stated that we should “absolutely” have a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border; and he’s jumped on the Trump bandwagon of over-the-top rhetoric, insisting that President Obama has “deliberately weakened America.”

Silly us to expect that any candidate will call anything that Trump says or does “a bridge too far,” when it is a bridge they have already crossed themselves.

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People For the American Way, The Blog, The Huffington Post, January 6, 2016

January 11, 2016 Posted by | Campaign Advertising, Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The House Lunatic Caucus”: You’ll Never Please Them Speaker Ryan

Just when Speaker Ryan was probably thinking he’d mollified them with another symbolic vote to repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood, the Republican lunatic caucus in the House speaks up to remind him that he’s on a short leash.

“It’s too early to judge the speakership of Paul Ryan and I think it is fundamentally unfair to try and judge the speakership of Paul Ryan over the last month or so. But, as I have also said, the honeymoon is over,” said Labrador, an Idaho Republican. “I think he needs to start putting up real conservative reform in the House and doing the things that are necessary to show the voters that he is a different speaker than John Boehner because frankly, everything he has done so far is no different than what John Boehner would have done.”…

He added, “The question is will Ryan be a good speech-maker or a good policy-maker…The question is not just can you deliver on the speech but can you deliver on the substance. The question is whether the Republican party is a conservative party or not. I’m afraid that so far we’ve shown that [the Republican Party] is not a conservative party.”

The implied threat contained in the statement, “everything he has done so far is no different than what John Boehner would have done,” is crystal clear. Labrador wants Ryan to know that unless they get what they want, they’ll do the same thing to him that they did to Boehner.

But if Ryan was actually paying attention for the last few years, what he’ll also know is that the lunatic caucus is famous for making unreasonable demands that no one in their right minds would ever go along with – and they don’t have a majority of votes in the House to get what they want. The only thing they DO have is the ability to threaten to blow shit up. Eventually Speaker Ryan will face the same thing Boehner did – you’ll never please them. And then what?

It’s too bad that a Republican Speaker can’t/won’t tell these lunatics to bugger off. But then, that’s exactly the same problem the Republican establishment is facing with the candidacy of Donald Trump, isn’t it? They created this monster as an alternative to actually governing after the 2008 election and it just keeps turning on them.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 8, 2016

January 11, 2016 Posted by | Establishment Republicans, House Republican Caucus, Paul Ryan | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Why McCain’s Shot Across Cruz’s Bow Matters”: In The Senate, ‘Assisting Mr. Cruz Would Amount To A Foreign Concept’

There was a fleeting moment around this point eight years ago in which some questioned John McCain’s eligibility for the presidency. The Republican senator, well on his way to becoming his party’s nominee, was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936, prompting some pointless questions about whether he was literally a “natural-born citizen.”

Few took those questions seriously; even McCain’s harshest critics dismissed the concerns out of hand; and the Senate quickly approved a resolution – written and sponsored by Democrat Claire McCaskill – declaring, “John Sidney McCain, III, is a ‘natural born citizen’ under Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution of the United States.” It passed without opposition.

The recent history adds a degree of irony to McCain’s comments about Ted Cruz yesterday.

Arizona Sen. John McCain said he doesn’t know if the Canadian-born Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is eligible to be president, saying the Supreme Court might have to decide if Cruz is eligible to be president.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” said McCain on the Chris Merrill Show on KFYI550 on Wednesday of Cruz’s eligibility.

As the BuzzFeed report added, McCain went on to say, in reference to Cruz, “I think it’s worth looking into.” McCain added he thinks Cruz should try to get ahead of these eligibility issues, though without access to a time machine, how he’d go about doing this is a bit of a mystery.

It’s a genuine shame that Donald Trump has pushed this issue into the spotlight, because as best as I can tell, this entire line of attack is misguided. For all intents and purposes, natural-born citizens are those who were citizens at the time of their birth. This applies to Cruz. End of story.

I can think of about a thousand reasons to be concerned about a Cruz presidency, but his eligibility isn’t one of them.

What I find more interesting, however, is Cruz’s sudden need for friends in high places.

With the developments surrounding McCain in 2008 still in mind, the New York Times asked this morning, “Now the question is, will the Senate again weigh in to clarify the constitutional status of another one of its members and declare Mr. Cruz eligible to be president?”

The answer is, almost certainly not. Among senators from both parties, Ted Cruz is extremely unpopular. He’s gone out of his way to alienate his colleagues, pick fights with his own party leadership, and generally make as few friends in the chamber as possible during his tenure.

On the campaign trail, this serves as a point of pride. Cruz can, in complete honesty, boast to the Republican base that the GOP establishment inside the Beltway has nothing but disdain for him – and the feeling is mutual. John McCain himself once referred to Cruz as a “wacko bird,” which is why it’s not too surprising that the Arizona Republican was needlessly adding fuel to a foolish fire yesterday. He just doesn’t seem to like his colleague very much.

Right about now, Cruz would probably love to see the same level of Senate support McCain received eight years ago, but he shouldn’t hold his breath. As the Times added, for most senators in both parties, “assisting Mr. Cruz would amount to a foreign concept.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 7, 2016

January 11, 2016 Posted by | Birthright Citizenship, John McCain, Senate, Ted Cruz | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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