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“Ghosts Of History”: Why America Recoils From Donald Trump

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

July 24, 2016 Posted by | American History, Donald Trump, Republican National Convention | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Trump’s Flirtation With Fascism”: Evoking The Sort Of Scene Associated With Grainy Newsreels From Italy And Germany

So it has come to this: The front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, at a campaign rally in Orlando Saturday, leading supporters in what looked very much like a fascist salute.

“Can I have a pledge? A swearing?” Trump asked, raising his right hand and directing his followers to do the same. He then led them in pledging allegiance — not to the flag, but to Trump, for which they stand and for whom they vowed to vote.

Trump supporters raised their arms en masse — unfortunately evoking the sort of scene associated with grainy newsreels from Italy and Germany.

Among those not engaging in such ominous imagery were the demonstrators, who, by my colleague Jenna Johnson’s account, interrupted Trump’s event more than a dozen times. The candidate watched a supporter grab and attempt to tackle protesters, at least one of them black, near the stage. “You know, we have a divided country, folks,” Trump said. “We have a terrible president, who happens to be African American.”

Loaded imagery, violence against dissenters and a racial attack on the president: It’s all in a day’s work for Trump.

In the preceding days, he had asserted (and later retracted) his confidence that as president the military would obey his orders to do illegal things: torture detainees and target non-combatant kin of terrorists for death. He said House Speaker Paul Ryan, a fellow Republican, would “pay a big price” for defying him, and he said Sen. John McCain, who criticized Trump, needs to “be very careful.” Trump explained his initial hesitance to disavow support from the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists by saying such groups could have included “the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies” — prompting the head of the Anti-Defamation League to call his words “obscene.”

And some still deny Il Duce Donald’s autocratic tendencies?

Abe Foxman, a Holocaust survivor and the retired longtime head of the ADL, said that Trump leading thousands in “what looks like the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute is about as offensive, obnoxious and disgusting as anything I thought I would ever witness in the United States.” He told the Times of Israel that Trump is “smart enough” to know what he was doing.

I’ve perhaps never agreed with Glenn Beck before, but the right-wing radio personality was right to hold up a Nazi ballot on ABC’s This Week on Sunday morning. “We should look at Adolf Hitler in 1929,” said Beck, who usually saves his Nazi analogies for liberals. Beck added: “Donald Trump is a dangerous man with the things that he has been saying.”

The Germans, too, find him dangerous — and they should know. Der Spiegel, the German newsmagazine, last month called Trump “the world’s most dangerous man” and leader of a “hate-filled authoritarian movement” who “inflames tensions against ethnic minorities …while ignoring democratic conventions.”

I wish I could enjoy Trump, who at last week’s debate defended the size of his penis. But this isn’t a conventional debate between Democrats and Republicans or insiders and outsiders. Trump is on the wrong side of a struggle between decency and bigotry, between democracy and something else.

Yet, incredibly, the other candidates in the race — Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich — all said they’d support Trump if he wins the nomination. The morning after Trump’s salute, the morally neutral Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus told CBS’s John Dickerson that his “role is to basically be 100 percent behind” the eventual nominee.

A braver man, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), sent a letter Friday to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff asking if he would heed orders to torture detainees or to target noncombatant relatives of terrorists. Trump, who in reply said Graham “should respect me” and bragged that he “destroyed” Graham’s presidential candidacy, has retreated slightly, saying he’d change laws to allow things such as waterboarding. Without that, he said, “we’re weak.”

Trump lately shows his strength by talking about his wish to punch protesters in the face or by asking them “are you from Mexico?”

As some Republican office holders and donors belatedly try to unify the anti-Trump movement, more are seeing Trump’s words and deeds foreshadowing darker things. On Monday, Jane Eisner, editor of the Jewish Forward, quoted Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt: “Some people didn’t approve of Hitler’s anti-Semitism, but they went along with it because he was going to make Germany great again.”

And comedian Louis C.K., who says he would like to see a conservative president, wrote to his fans about Trump this weekend that “we are being Germany in the ’30s. Do you think they saw the [expletive] coming? Hitler was just some hilarious and refreshing dude with a weird comb over who would say anything at all.”

Where does Trump’s flirtation with fascism end? Nobody knows.

But don’t say you didn’t see it coming.

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 7, 2016

March 8, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Fascism, GOP Presidential Candidates, Republican National Committee | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Right To Feel Safe”: MSNBC Anchor Lives Every Female Journalist’s Nightmare

He threatened to kill my children.

He posted photographs of my house and my Atlanta-based advertising agency. He promised to send a “double-tap” my way, a marksman’s jargon for pumping two shots in close succession to my head.

He even posted “November 5, 1973”—the date of my father’s murder.

I reported the ominous messages to Twitter and sent screenshots to MSNBC executives, where I worked as a political contributor at the time. Using his Twitter handle, several followers were able to track him across various white supremacist message boards. They found his real name and the IP address he was using from a church in suburban Dallas.

“That bitch will get what’s coming to her,” he continued tweeting.

The messages were as brazen as they were brutal in nature. I remember pleading for help, demanding that someone in law enforcement take the threats seriously.

Ultimately, it would take three days and the intervention of NBC corporate security before Twitter suspended the anonymous account. The real danger, I was told by an in-house detective, might come from someone inspired by those hideous messages to carry out the threat. I was walking a friend’s daughter to summer camp at a nearby park that morning and suddenly felt vulnerable.

The damage had been done. If someone wanted me to be afraid, they had accomplished that mission many times over.

Like many of us in the public square, MSNBC anchor Melissa Harris-Perry has endured her share of malicious threats online. Monday night in an Iowa hotel, the Wake Forest professor came face-to-face with the sum of our collective fears. As caucus-goers crammed into various polling locations around the Hawkeye State, Harris-Perry was watching the cable news coverage on a television in the lobby when she noticed a man standing oddly close to her.

There was an initial query about the subjects she taught, and then a more pointed question about how she got her job at MSNBC.

“What I want to know is how you got credentialed to be on MSNBC…”

“Well. It is not exactly a credential…” she said.

“But why you? Why would they pick you?”

His voice was angry then, she said, and he’s standing closer to her, so close that she can feel his breath.

“I just want you to know why I am doing this,” he told her. He then said something about “Nazi Germany” and “rise to power.”

Harris Perry was paralyzed in fear, as he continued telling her what he was going to do to her and why. Then she sprang from her seat, put a table between them and a friend came to her defense. The stranger was scared away by their yelling and sped away in his car.

“I don’t know if he was there to kill me,” she wrote on a university blog. “I know they [her students] were there to save me.” Her immediate fear was not just of dying, but being killed in front of her students.

Hotel security seemed hardly bothered by the incident, according to Harris-Perry, even after she explained the torrent of death threats she receives regularly.

I know what that feels like. I know what it feels like to be told that I am “making a big deal” out things. So much so, that I now only report the most egregious offenses and I no longer host public meet-ups among my social media followers. I assess and triage each and every message. In every instance, I have to bet on being right.

I can certainly deal with the mocking attitudes of those who do not agree with my politics or policy positions. That comes with the territory. However, every few days or so, someone creates a fake Twitter account in my name in an attempt to assail my public reputation with malicious and sometimes lurid posts. At last count, one anonymous user has created more than 50 accounts specifically dedicated to trolling me. The most virulent threats came during the George Zimmerman trial. The night of the verdict, I spent hours blocking thousands of intemperate and sometimes threatening strangers.

The social tools afforded by Twitter and other social networks aren’t enough. But even the most effective security features would not have prevented what happened to Harris-Perry.

The goal is to terrorize, to make it too uncomfortable for us to continue taking public stands on any number of issues. All too often, they target women. For me, it doesn’t matter if it happens to Harris-Perry, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, or a housewife in Minnesota. We have the right to feel safe—online, in a public space, or in our homes.

 

By: Goldie Taylor, The Daily Beast, February 3, 2016

February 4, 2016 Posted by | Journalists, Melissa Harris-Perry, MSNBC, White Supremacists | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Trump’s Big, New, Stalinesque Idea”: A Concept With A Dark And Profoundly Un-American History

In a season full of comments we never thought we’d hear during a modern American presidential campaign, this one, spoken at the debate Tuesday night by of course Donald Trump, is arguably the most shocking: “I would be very, very firm with families. Frankly, that will make people think because they may not care much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about their families’ lives.”

It’s not the first time Trump has said it, but it hasn’t gotten the focus it deserves. This idea of punishing or somehow threatening the family members of criminals has a name. It’s called collective punishment. And it has a history, which as you’d imagine is not pretty—think, oh, Stalin, for starters. And finally it has a status in international law. Under the Geneva Conventions, collective punishment is a war crime.

Collective punishment can take and has taken different forms. It doesn’t have to mean family members. In many cases it has meant the relocation/eradication of entire villages in response to rebellious or perceived treasonous acts by a few. It might also mean a kind of generalized and indiscriminate violence visited upon a population. Scholars debate, but surely Southerners would all agree, that William Tecumseh Sherman engaged in collective punishment during his infamous March to the Sea. You know, the one through that state, Georgia, where in the latest poll Trump holds a 27-point lead.

But in many cases, it does refer to families. Trump’s antecedents here are chilling. The Nazis used collective punishment against Poles and others who harbored Jews. The website of Yad Vashem tells the horrifying story of the Ulma family, who hid a Jewish family on their farm in 1942. They got ratted out, and the entire family, including six living children and one more in utero, was shot.

But Stalin was the master of collective punishment. It was for a time against the law in the USSR to be a family member of a counter-revolutionary or obscurantist or what have you. Stalin said in November 1937: “And we will eliminate every such enemy… we will eliminate his entire lineage, his family! Here’s to the final extermination of all enemies, both themselves and their clan.”

In our own time, Israel is practicing a form of collective punishment every time it blows up the home, often in occupied East Jerusalem, of the family of a suspected terrorist or even in some cases a teenager who got caught throwing some stones at the military. North Korea has been known to imprison the family members of dissidents.

This behavior is covered in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which reads in its entirety: “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited. Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.”

The definition of “protected persons” is a little complicated, and you can read it here, but it includes both citizens of a given country (“nationals”) and non-nationals who find themselves in the hands of a hostile power, which President Trump’s America would surely be to Muslim non-citizens, morally if not always legally.

So now comes the question: What does Trump mean by “very tough”? He probably won’t say. Let’s grant that he doesn’t mean execution. He’s not that crazy. In his mind, he might “just” mean detaining family members, putting the screws to them, seeing what they know. Obviously, under any number of circumstances, interrogation of family members of those who commit crimes is reasonable. It happens every day, hundreds of times across the country.

But Trump sounds like he’s talking about more than that. The way he appears to think about these things, it doesn’t seem at all far-fetched to imagine that he might envision, say, detaining the family of someone who commits a future terrorist act. You know, just to teach the others a lesson.

A Trump administration could probably find some antique (or not) federal law under which to do such a thing, and then fight the inevitable court challenges and see what happens. And if such a case landed before the right kind of Federal Society judge, well, it seems unlikely that any American federal judge could possibly justify such a thing, but in a country that actually elected Donald Trump president, who knows? And would the GOP really object? After all, we already have the precedent of Republican officials from John Yoo to Dick Cheney telling us that we don’t have to bother with all that Geneva twaddle.

It’s yet another new Trump low, and it raises the specter of a lawless government ditching norms that we’ve (mostly) stood by for decades. And if we ditch them, look out, because others will too. One doubts we will, but the mere fact that the front-runner for the Republican nomination is putting this stuff into the national discourse is horrible enough. And good God, what’s coming next week?

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, December 17, 2015

December 19, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Geneva Conventions, Joseph Stalin, War Crimes | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Disturbing Truth About Marco Rubio”: The Establishment’s Favorite Is Running An Extremist, Islamophobic Campaign

I’ve probably written at least one or two of them during my career, but I’m generally not a big fan of the “Moderate Politician X is actually not very moderate!” genre of Op-Eds. My reasons are both stylistic and substantive. It’s hard to do anything interesting on such well-trod ground, and these labels, by their very nature, are relative and in constant flux.

Put differently, the center in 2015 isn’t where it was in 1980. And while politicians have a role in shifting the Overton window in one direction or another, they are mostly reactive creatures. To paraphrase Marx: Politicians can choose which ideological space to occupy within the politics of their era. But the era itself, that’s no more up to them than it is to you or me. (I doubt that, say, Ronald Reagan would support gun control if he were running for office today.)

That said, though, the 2016 presidential campaign has already proven to be special, shall we say, in a few regards. And the one that’s been on my mind lately has to do with this whole idea of what it means to be a moderate. Because while it’s a little cheap — or at least unenlightening — to use the politics of a generation ago to slam a candidate as inconsistent or radical, I think it’s a different thing if the timeframe isn’t measured in decades but rather months and weeks.

Which brings me to Marco Rubio, the junior senator from Florida currently seeking the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. Despite at one point being seen as too right-wing to make it to the Senate (this was before the Tea Party really got going; a simpler, more innocent time) Rubio has been described throughout his presidential campaign as coming from the party’s supposedly reasonable, establishment-friendly wing. He is, we’re told, one of the “adults.”

Back when the campaign was largely concerned with the issue of immigration, and when Donald Trump’s rank demagoguery was the standard against which all the other Republicans were measured, this was a defensible characterization. But now that the campaign has, in the wake of the Paris attacks, become almost exclusively about ISIS and counter-terrorism, Rubio’s moderate label is wholly undeserved. Moderate? He is anything but.

Rubio has always aligned himself with the über-hawkish, neoconservative wing of the GOP when it comes to foreign policy. But while he’s long been almost John McCain-like in his willingness to drop bombs on other people — even once going so far as to chide his fellow Republicans for not wanting to bomb Libya more — it’s only lately that Rubio’s generic militarism, which he happily unsheathed against countries as dissimilar as China and Cuba, has drifted toward outright Islamophobia.

Take his response to Donald Trump’s inflammatory comments about closing down mosques, for example. Whereas Rubio has halfheartedly attempted to steer Republicans away from demonizing Hispanic people, when it comes to Muslims, it appears, his goal is to one-up “the Donald.” Rather than shoot down Trump’s flagrant disregard for the basic small-l liberal principle of religious freedom, Rubio criticized Trump for not going far enough.

“It’s not about closing down mosques,” Rubio told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly on Thursday. “It’s about closing down anyplace — whether it’s a cafe, a diner, an Internet site — anyplace where radicals are being inspired.” The goal shouldn’t be to only shutter houses of worship, Rubio insisted, but “whatever facility is being used … to radicalize and inspire attacks against the United States.”

His complete lack of interest in the First Amendment notwithstanding, some journalists have argued that Rubio wasn’t making such a sweeping threat. Rubio was saying he’d go after radicals, they say, not Muslims! There’s a big difference! And, indeed, there is. But that reassurance would be a whole lot more reassuring if the distinction were one that Rubio, too, believed in. Judging by another recent utterance of his, though, it seems likely that it is not.

Here’s what Rubio said last weekend in response to a question about the phrase “radical Islam,” which most Democrats, for reasons both strategic and moral, try to avoid. The emphasis is mine and [sic] throughout:

I don’t understand it. That would be like saying we weren’t at war with Nazis because we were afraid to offend some Germans who may have been members of the Nazi party, but weren’t violent themselves. We are at war with radical Islam, with an interpretation of Islam by a significant number of people around the world who they believe now justifies them in killing those who don’t agree with their ideology. This is a clash of civilizations.

As Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall has noted, this comment has not received nearly the amount of attention that it should. Because while it’s nothing new to hear the violent extremism of ISIS or al Qaeda compared to Nazism, it’s much less common to hear someone of stature imply that all Muslims are morally equivalent to Nazis. Not Germans, mind you, but Nazis — which means, of course, that Islam is equivalent to the Nazi Party.

So in the span of about a month, Rubio has not only vowed to shut down any forum where Muslims congregate that he deems threatening, but also made clear that he sees all Muslims as inherently suspect; as equivalent to perhaps the most destructive, violent and evil organization in human history, in fact. They say Marco Rubio is a moderate. Does that sound to you like moderation?

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, November 21, 2015

November 22, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Islamophobia, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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