The revulsion evoked by Donald Trump as he accepted the Republican presidential nomination in Cleveland goes far beyond his speech, which was memorable only for its angry mood, not its vapid content. What repelled so many Americans in that moment was the realization — or simply the intuition — that the candidate of the Grand Old Party in 2016 is a living repudiation of every hope, every principle, and nearly every word that made this country great.
Imagine for a moment what George Washington might have felt in observing the personage of Trump, whose vanity, prevarication, and rage are so opposed to the modesty and restraint that the first president personified. It is impossible to conceive of Washington proclaiming that only he could solve the country’s problems, or insisting that he had never been wrong, or making any of the audacious boasts emitted by the Republican nominee whenever he opens his braying mouth.
Washington refused to accept a crown, leaving office voluntarily so that the new nation could find its way toward a democratic succession. His country’s future was far more important to him than his own aggrandizement. Of Trump, nobody can honestly say that.
To Washington, Trump’s vengeful and bloodthirsty attitude toward the nation’s enemies, real or perceived, would be as loathsome as his monumental narcissism. The seasoned general who led the American revolution — against the overwhelming force of the British empire — refused to imitate the brutal practices of the imperial army, rejecting the mass executions, torture, and mutilation that were then so common in warfare. He ordered that any Continental soldier who abused a British or Hessian soldier be punished severely, and commanded that every prisoner be treated humanely. He would have detested Trump’s vow to imitate the most barbaric conduct of the criminal Islamic State as well as his vile promise to murder the families of alleged terrorists.
Listening to Trump assume the leadership of the Republican Party, a degrading event compared to death by many Republicans, inevitably brought thoughts of that party’s founding president. While Abraham Lincoln remains among this country’s most revered leaders and always will, he is naturally despised by many of Trump’s most ardent supporters, especially those who still lurk in the remnants of the Ku Klux Klan.
Beyond the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, what Americans remember most about Lincoln was a brief address whose most indelible lines — “With malice toward none, with charity for all” — could never be comprehended, let alone uttered, by someone like Trump. For if there is anyone who literally embodies malice, both personal and political, it is this bullying braggart. He would not “bind up the nation’s wounds,” as Lincoln died trying to do, but delights in inflicting pain on the defenseless, the crippled, and the weak.
The third American titan whose shadow loomed over Trump’s triumph is Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose creative government rescued the country from Depression and the world from Nazism. The crude promotion of fear in nearly every line of Trump’s convention speech is precisely the opposite of Roosevelt’s injunction in his famous first inaugural address, when he said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That same message lifted the nation through the searing challenge of the Second World War, when harbingers of evil and their dupes, both at home and abroad, predicted that American democracy lacked the strength to endure. Now only our chronic historical amnesia allows Trump to scream “America First,” the name of a movement that sought to undermine this country’s resistance to fascism, and was secretly subsidized by the Nazis for that purpose.
Like Washington and Lincoln, FDR would have regarded Trump and all that surrounds him as abhorrent.
It is not that any of these presidents was perfect, or that America has adhered in every hour to the ideals they tried to uphold. We know that they, and this country, veered too often from those aspirations, to say the least. But we now confront the rise of an authoritarian pretender who admires despotism and abandons fundamental principles, a political figure whose character is so deficient that his candidacy mocks our history. The only way to honor what is best in our heritage, to deliver what we owe to our ancestors and our heirs, is to defeat him in November with resounding force.
By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, The National Memo, July 22, 2016
On Tuesday night, after Hillary Clinton had delivered her first speech as the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, it didn’t take long for some of us expressing our joy over this historic moment to feel the burn of reprimand.
We should show more understanding toward those who are disappointed, the critics said.
We should not “rub it in.”
We were “gloating.” We were “insensitive.” We should be “more gracious.”
I leaned back from my computer in the wee hours of Wednesday morning and thought, “Why does this feel so familiar?”
It didn’t take long for me to remember. I called up the column I wrote last June after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. The reprimands were virtually identical.
Here we are again, expected to suppress our happiness so that we don’t injure the feelings of those who see nothing to celebrate in this milestone moment of equality. I was impatient last June with this argument, and I find that an additional year of living has done nothing to temper my resolve.
We are not trying to hurt anyone with our enthusiasm, yet it is so very female to lower our voices and dim the signs of our happiness to avoid upsetting those who have no business trying to tamp us down. Let us be done with that.
It’s not that I don’t understand the pain of Bernie Sanders supporters’ wounds. Isn’t it true, after all, that what we dislike most in others are the weaknesses we recognize in ourselves? In 2008, it took me a while to bounce back from the heartbreak of Hillary Clinton’s primary defeat to Barack Obama. Let’s just say you wouldn’t have wanted to hang out with me. If that is always true of you, I can’t help you here.
In hindsight, I can see that my injury was self-inflicted, a human response to disappointment. Nobody was looking to hurt my feelings, and no one from the Obama camp felt the least bit obligated to court or cajole me out of my sour mood. The duration and course of my recovery were up to me, and by golly, I got there.
Likewise, a lot of Sanders supporters will sulk until they get bored with their grudges, and then most of them will join the fight to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office. It’s not up to me or anyone else who voted for Clinton to do the hard work of healing for them. Soul-searching is, by definition, a solo act.
Now that we’ve had a day or so to get used to the idea that the Democratic Party is about to nominate the first viable female candidate for president, it’s time to figure out what comes next.
I am delighted by the prospect of a national discussion fueled by the assumption that every issue is a women’s issue. That’s just one of the life-altering changes sweeping in on the wings of a Hillary Clinton candidacy. Another is the full stop it brings to patronizing speculation about what women — and what girls — cannot do in this world. The reality of a female president blows that door off its hinges.
On Monday, Clinton is scheduled to be in Cleveland, where I live, to emphasize the need for unity. One of her greatest challenges in this campaign is to convince white men who feel abandoned and invisible that she sees them and that she cares. So many women in America will readily believe that she does because this is a central truth of our lives, too. We care about our men, and too many of us love men who are hurting.
We also understand the enduring legacy of negative stereotypes about strong women. Too often, we are cast as everything that is now wrong with America.
Donald Trump will attempt to exploit such suspicions of us because fear is his only strategy. He is living proof that small people come in all sizes. The last thing he thinks he should have to do is compete with a woman. He is the bully we know, the giant boor we’ve been trying to topple for much of our lives.
At the risk of sounding joyful, I think Hillary Clinton is the warrior we’ve been waiting for.
By: Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist and Professional in Residence at Kent State University’s School of Journalism; The National Memo, June 8, 2019
“The Ugly Truths America Hides From Itself”: ‘Roots’ Kindles In Us The Courage To Confront The History That Made Us
Everything was different, the day after.
If you are a child of the millennium, if you’ve never known a world without 500 networks, it may be difficult for you to get this. You might find it hard to appreciate how it was when there were only three networks and no DVR nor even VCR, so that one major TV program sometimes became a communal event, a thing experienced by everybody everywhere at the same time.
So it was on a Sunday night, the 23rd of January, in 1977. I was a senior at the University of Southern California, working part time at the campus bookstore. When I went to work the next day, you could feel that something had shifted. Your black friends simmered like a pot left too long on the stove. Your white friends tiptoed past you like an unexploded bomb.
We had all watched the first episode of “Roots,” had all seen the Mandinka boy Kunta Kinte grow to the cusp of manhood, had all borne witness as he was chained like an animal and stolen away from everything he had ever known. Now we no longer knew how to talk to one another.
I had a friend, a white guy named Dave Weitzel. Ordinarily, we spent much of our shift goofing on each other the way you do when you’re 19 or so and nothing is all that serious. But on that day after, the space between us was filled with an awkward silence.
Finally, Dave approached me. “I’m sorry,” he said, simply. “I didn’t know.”
It is highly unlikely the new version of “Roots,” airing this week on the A&E television networks, will be the phenomenon the original was. There are, putting it mildly, more than three networks now and, with the exception of the Super Bowl, we no longer have communal television events.
But the new show will be a success if it simply kindles in us the courage to confront and confess the history that has made us. I didn’t know much about that in 1977. Sixteen years of education, including four at one of the nation’s finest universities, had taught me all about the Smoot-Hawley tariff, but next to nothing about how a boy could be kidnapped, chained in the fetid hold of a ship, and delivered to a far shore as property.
As a result, I had only a vague sense of bad things having happened to black people in the terrible long ago. It stirred a sense of having been cheated somehow, left holding a bad check somehow, but I didn’t really know how or why.
I was as ignorant as Dave.
Small wonder. The history “Roots” represents embarrasses our national mythology. As a result, it has never been taught with any consistency. Even when we ostensibly spotlight black history in February, we concentrate on the achievements of black strivers — never the American hell they strove against. So you hear all about the dozens of uses George Washington Carver found for a peanut, but nothing about Mary Turner’s newborn, stomped to death by a white man in a lynch mob.
We don’t know what to do with those stories, so we ignore them, hoping that time, like a tide, will bear them away. But invariably, they wash up instead in mass incarceration, mass discrimination and the souls of kids who know their lives are shaped by bad things from long ago, even if they can’t always say how.
Almost 40 years later, I’m embarrassed by the righteous vindication I got from Dave’s apology. Dave Weitzel, the individual man, had not done anything to me. But like me, he had never been given the tools to face the ugly truths America hides from itself, had never been taught how to have the conversation.
So we had only his shame and my anger. Had we managed to push through those things, we might have found common humanity on the other side. But we couldn’t do that because we didn’t know how.
Indeed, as best I can recall, we never talked about it again.
By:Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, May 29, 2016
“Those Who Can’t Afford To Forget”: We Cannot Sleepwalk Through Life; We Cannot Be Ignorant Of History
Recently I linked to an important article by Charles Pierce titled: When We Forget.
The 2016 presidential campaign—and the success of Donald Trump on the Republican side—has been a triumph of how easily memory can lose the struggle against forgetting and, therefore, how easily society can lose the struggle against power. There is so much that we have forgotten in this country. We’ve forgotten, over and over again, how easily we can be stampeded into action that is contrary to the national interest and to our own individual self-interest…
A country that remembers, a country with an empowered memory that acts as a check on the dangerous excesses of power itself, does not produce a Donald Trump.
While that spoke powerfully to what we are witnessing in the current Republican presidential primary, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something missing. This morning while I was writing about President Obama’s commencement address at Howard University, I finally figure out what that was about. Here is a part of what he said when talking about the unique role of African American leadership:
…even as we each embrace our own beautiful, unique, and valid versions of our blackness, remember the tie that does bind us as African Americans — and that is our particular awareness of injustice and unfairness and struggle. That means we cannot sleepwalk through life. We cannot be ignorant of history.
Think about that for a moment…why can’t African Americans be ignorant of history? It is because any attempt to understand their place in this country today has to be informed by our collective past. For example, African Americans can’t tackle BlackLivesMatter without some understanding of the fact that – throughout our history – they haven’t. White people have the privilege of being able to forget that story…Black people don’t.
Remembering isn’t simply about knowing the history of how things used to be. It is also about remembering the people who fought the battles of the past and the strategies they used in the struggle. That’s what President Obama’s speech at Howard was all about – the Black theory of change.
But it isn’t just African Americans who can’t afford to forget. Finding authenticity as a woman means understanding the history of patriarchy. Native Americans must remember the genocide that nearly obliterated their culture. Asian Americans can never forget the straightjacket foisted upon them by being the “model minority.” LGBT Americans remember everything from Stonewall to Matthew Shepard. And Mexican Americans remember that many of their people were here prior to this country’s settlement by European Americans – who now assume they are the “immigrants.”
I know I’m glossing over centuries of history, but I’m doing so to make the point that there are those who can’t afford to forget because, as Faulkner wrote, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”
By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 9, 2016
This one’s for John. He’s a reader who took issue with my recent column arguing that conservatism has become an angry and incoherent mess.
John was particularly upset that I described conservatives as resistant to social change. Wrote John:
“[sic] Tell that to the right side of the aisle who signed in the civil rights voting act in 1965. Which party resisted that? … Who resisted the proclamation that freed the slaves? Southern democrat party of course and who was it’s military arm during reconstruction? The KKK. Today that organization is tied into the liberalism more than conservatism. … Your party, the liberals who now call themselves progressives, are the party of Strom thurmond, Robert Byrd, Lester Maddox, George wallace — and … Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.”
Please note what John did there. He responded to a critique of social conservatism by mounting a defense of the Republican Party, as if the two were synonymous. Granted, they are now, but in the eras John mentions? Not so much.
Indeed, when Abraham Lincoln issued that proclamation John is so proud of, it was considered an act not of conservatism, but of radical extremism. And those Republicans who voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were moderates, i.e., the kind of people who have been driven out of a harshly conservative party that now considers moderation apostasy.
The truth, as any first-year history student could tell you, is that Republicans were the more socially liberal party and Democrats the more socially conservative for at least seven decades after Lincoln. But in the years since then, they have essentially swapped ideologies.
The reason John engages in this linguistic shell game, the reason he defends the party that wasn’t attacked instead of the ideology that was, is simple: The ideology is indefensible, at least where civil rights is concerned. You must be a liar, a fool or an ignoramus of Brobdingnagian proportions to suggest social conservatives have ever supported African-American interests.
They didn’t do it a century ago when “conservative” meant Democrats. They don’t do it now.
Sadly for John, pretending otherwise requires him to twist logic like a birthday party clown making balloon animals. How addlepated must you be to see common ground between the segregationist Lester Maddox and civil-rights activist Al Sharpton? How cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs are you when you consider the Ku Klux Klan and Strom Thurmond “liberal”?
And yes, you may think this a lot of energy to lavish on one man. But it isn’t one man. I hear John’s “reasoning” literally a hundred times a year from conservative readers. Indeed, a few weeks ago on CNN, a Donald Trump apologist pimp-slapped reality by branding the Klan a “leftist” group. So John is hardly the only one.
These people must lie about history in order to exonerate conscience. Yet the truth is what the truth is. John need not take my word for what conservative means. Merriam-Webster backs me up. He need not even take my word for the history. A hundred history books back me up.
But honest, grown-up Republicans, assuming there are any left, may want to take my word for this: They cannot achieve their stated goal of a more-welcoming and inclusive party while clinging to an ideology whose entire raison d’etre is exclusion. You see, social conservatism only works for those who have something to lose, those who have an investment in status quo.
I’m reminded of an anecdote about a Howard University professor who visited the Soviet Union in the 1930s. He explained to his hosts that some “Negroes” were politically conservative. They were astonished.
“Why?” asked one. “What do they have to conserve?”
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald;The National Memo, April 17, 2016