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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

“The Terrorism We Tolerate”: Our Collective Denial Allows Anti-Government Domestic Extremists To Slip Under The Radar

As a nation, we’re loath to tackle uncomfortable conversations. It’s far easier to put our collective head in the sand and go-along to get along. So we didn’t see it coming when a perfect storm of extremism hit a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic the Friday after Thanksgiving.

A loner named Robert Dear Jr. is charged with the murder of three people after he allegedly opened fire on a Planned Parenthood facility. After a five-hour stand-off with police, his reported rampage left nine wounded and an Iraq War veteran, police officer and young mother dead. It’s both an outrage and a tragedy, and when you break it down, the story of this mass shooting reads like a field guide to Realities We’d Rather Not Talk About.

We’d rather paint Islam as the face of terrorism most imminently threatening the U.S. than talk about American-born, non-Muslim radicals.

Indeed, anti-government extremists pose a greater threat to the homeland than does the Islamic State group or al-Qaida, according to the Justice Department’s head of national security. The numbers are striking: Anti-government extremists caused the deaths of 254 people in the 10 years after 9/11; Islamic extremists were responsible for approximately 50 deaths. In other words, you’re seven times more likely to be killed by a homegrown, anti-government extremist than a Muslim terrorist.

Yet following the Islamic State group’s attack in Paris, the U.S. was awash with calls to block the entry of Syrian refugees in the name of national security – even though several of the Paris terrorists were French-born. In the wake of Friday’s mass shooting at Planned Parenthood, there’s been no similar national security outcry over European-born refugees who have already entered the U.S. nor fears of a threat from white, Christian men, despite the fact that Dear was Caucasian and reportedly professed to be a Christian.

Instead it’s considered offensive even to acknowledge the existence of domestic extremism: In 2009, then-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano was forced to defend agency intelligence reports on the dangers posed by anti-government radicals after pundits and lawmakers from both parties blasted the report as an attack on Americans exercising free speech.

We’d rather not talk about how easy it is to acquire a gun in this country, either.

Dear allegedly used an AK-47 style, high-powered assault rifle to carry out the mass shooting and may have brought “duffel bags full of rifles and handguns” with him to the clinic ­­– enough weaponry for the hours-long standoff with police.

All that firepower was in the hands of a man with a history of mental instability and run-ins with law enforcement. Dear was charged with rape in 1992. Years afterward, he was arrested for peeping tom accusations and later on animal cruelty charges. An ex-wife once made a domestic violence call to police after a fight with Dear. Stories from neighbors and online postings suggest he was a doomsday prepper who believed metal roofs would keep the government from spying on him.

Details are still emerging about Dear’s weapons and how he acquired them, and it’s unclear that a background check would have found him unfit to purchase a gun. But any attempt to discuss whether or not citizens should have the right to amass a military-grade weapons cache is shot down as an attack on the Second Amendment. It’s “politicizing” a mass shooting to bring up these questions, and even when 90 percent of Americans desire increased gun safety regulations or kindergarteners are slaughtered in their classroom, the National Rifle Association succeeds in silencing not only any legislation but national dialogue on guns as well. And meanwhile, we’ve had 351 mass shootings in the first 334 days of this year. That’s the latest count, anyway.

What’s more, we’d rather not correct the record on the fact that Planned Parenthood was not in the business of harvesting baby parts.

The investigation into Dear’s motives is still ongoing, but his reported declaration about “no more baby parts” to police is telling. It’s seemingly a reference to anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress’ videos on Planned Parenthood, heavily edited to concoct the impression that the organization is involved in the illegal sale of fetal tissue. The myth was repeated so often, and with so little pushback, that it’s now taken as a given in our national discussions about Planned Parenthood. Without batting an eye, Republicans cite it to rail against women’s health care in presidential debates, and governors use it to justify witch hunts into the organization and cuts to women’s health access. The videos have inspired their very own House select panel.

Imagine holding the sincere belief that a government-sanctioned organization was involved in the butchery and sale of baby parts. It’s an outrageous idea, and one Dear may have come to believe from hearing it so oft-repeated. He wouldn’t have been alone in this belief – threats against Planned Parenthood reportedly spiked after the videos were released.

It’s unfair, of course, to assume that a national dialogue on any of these issues would have stopped the Planned Parenthood shooter from carrying out his hideous plan. But ignoring them doesn’t help either. Our collective denial allows white, anti-government extremists to slip under the radar with their arms full of guns and their heads full of lies.

 

By: Emily Arrowood, Assistant Editor for Opinion, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U.S. News & World Report, December 1, 2015

December 7, 2015 Posted by | Anti-Government Extremists, Assault Weapons, Planned Parenthood, Terrorism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Politics Of The Nones”: The Demographic That Should Keep Rove Awake At Night

Imagine a demographic that has doubled its share of the population over the past two decades, is up by 25 percent over the past four years, and now accounts for as many as one in five Americans. Imagine that this demographic votes disproportionately for one political party—to the tune of 70 percent for Obama versus 26 percent for Romney in the 2012 election. Sounds like a demographic that ought to be of interest to politicians, journalists, and activists, right?

That demographic consists of people who describe themselves as atheist, agnostic, or religiously unaffiliated—the “nones,” as they’re sometimes called. And it hasn’t attracted anywhere near the attention it deserves in the postgame analysis of the 2012 election.

A quick Google search turns up 64,000 results concerning the GOP’s “Latino problem” that became evident in exit poll data on Election Day. Latinos represented around 10 percent of the electorate in 2011, up from nine percent in 2008, and they voted for Obama at a rate of 71 percent. But it’s the nones that should be keeping Karl Rove up at night. Pew put them at 12 percent of the electorate in its exit poll data, and at 19.6 percent in its earlier general survey. (The difference appears to have more to do with polling methodology than with voting habits.)

The Public Religion Research Institute, in a study published on November 15, pegs the religiously unaffiliated at 16 percent of the electorate—and they figure that 78 percent of the category went for Obama. Crucially, like Latinos, the nones are young. One in three Americans under 30 are religiously unaffiliated—four times the rate for the over-65 cohort that keeps Rove in business. This isn’t a trickle, it’s a tsunami.

Google also shows that there’s no shortage of interest in the Republican Party’s “white problem.” The white electorate, long the bread-and-butter of Republican victories, has declined from 81 percent in 2000 to 72 percent in 2012. But if you look under the hood, the Republicans’ white problem is worse than these numbers suggest. For one thing, Romney’s white majority mostly came from racking up huge margins among Southern and rural whites, while Obama actually captured majorities of whites in many blue states and blue urban areas.

The most interesting way to divide whites in America, however, may not be by region, but by religion—or lack thereof. White evangelicals, according to Pew, were as red in 2012 as they’ve ever been. They went 78 percent for Romney, up from 74 percent for McCain. The bad news for the Republicans is that, according to Pew, the evangelical share of the population continues to erode—from 21 percent in 2007 to 19 percent in 2012—while the number of the religiously unaffiliated is rising—from 16 percent to 20 percent over the same period. In other words, “nones” and evangelicals are equivalent in numbers.

One explanation for this change in America’s religious complexion is that white Christians are aging: 72 percent of voters over 65 are white Christians, compared to only 26 percent of voters under 30. Pew also tells us that most of the unaffiliated are white—and that much of their growth has come from the white population. That said, lack of religious affiliation is also common among Asian Americans: while 42 percent of Asian Americans identify as Christian, 26 percent report themselves as religiously unaffiliated, in a significant increase over the general population, and 73 percent of Asian Americans voted for Obama.

Like any group of this size, the religiously unaffiliated aren’t monolithic. About a third self-identify as atheists, while the rest say they are agnostic, “spiritual but not religious,” or simply uninterested in religion. They are spread fairly evenly across education and income levels. And they’re politically diverse when it comes to economic ideas. But they do seem to largely agree on one thing: that mixing religion with politics is a bad idea.

Which brings me back to the recent election. If the statistical data seem unreliable, just think back on the extraordinary nature of the debate in 2012. Never before have the culture wars been fought so forcefully on both sides. While the spectacle of Republicans declaring holy war has become old hat, this was the first election in which one of the parties explicitly endorsed same-sex marriage; this was the first election in which one party defended a woman’s right to reproductive freedom without apology or hesitation; and this season also saw the passage of a number of same-sex marriage ballot initiatives, as well as the election of the nation’s first openly lesbian senator.

Some on the right could scarcely believe that this is what America really wants. “Millions of Americans looked evil in the eye and adopted it,” wrote Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver in his post-election commentary. He has a point—except that, for the majority of Americans, the “evil” they looked in the eye was the one they rejected on November 6. Others on the right, like the Rev. Dr. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, did get it: “It’s not that our message—we think abortion is wrong, we think same-sex marriage is wrong—didn’t get out. It did get out… It’s that the entire moral landscape has changed. An increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them.”

So why haven’t the “nones” gotten the political respect they deserve? Part of the answer is that discrimination against nonbelievers—a large portion of the unaffiliated—remains an acceptable form of bigotry. More than half of Americans continue to say that they would never vote for an atheist for president—many more than will cop to being unwilling to vote for a black or gay person. Politicians are reluctant to associate themselves with such a seemingly toxic group.

The other part of the problem has more to do with a failure of the imagination on both sides of the religious divide. “Nones” (as that unfortunate label suggests) are typically represented by what they are not. They—or at least many of them—do not believe in God, they are charged with lacking “values,” and are suspected of not really being American. But this is nonsense. The unaffiliated do have beliefs, just not necessarily about theistic entities; they have just as many “values” as any other group; and their presence is firmly rooted in American history in helping create the world’s first secular republic.

Although the unaffiliated should not be conflated with atheists, it’s worth concentrating on them as they’re clearly the most feared subcategory. When atheists support same-sex marriage, for example, it’s not because they don’t believe in marriage, it’s because they believe in love and commitment. When they insist on removing creationism from public school curricula, it’s because they believe in the power of science and reason to improve the human condition. And if one should really need proof that atheists are as moral as any other group, they can call in some studies, or look at the growing body of research suggesting that humans’ sense of morality is hardwired and innate.

The politics of the nones in America remains to be written. This diverse group seems united primarily in its members’ opposition to the toxic blurring of religion and government. But if trends continue, perhaps we can look forward to the day when the word “values” is no longer used in political campaigns as a code word for bigotry.

 

By: Katherine Stewart, Religion Dispatches, November 26, 2012

November 28, 2012 Posted by | Politics, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Negro Matter”: Why Race Is Still A Problem For Mormons

“I believe that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people,” sings Elder Kevin Price in the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon.” The line is meant to be funny, and it is — in part because it’s true.

In a June 1978 letter, the first presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaimed that “all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color.” Men of African descent could now hold the priesthood, the power and authority exercised by all male members of the church in good standing. Such a statement was necessary, because until then, blacks were relegated to a very second-class status within the church.

The revelation may have lifted the ban, but it neither repudiated it nor apologized for it. “It doesn’t make a particle of difference,” proclaimed the Mormon apostle Bruce R. McConkie a few months later, “what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year, 1978.”

Mr. McConkie meant such words to encourage Mormons to embrace the new revelation, and he may have solemnly believed that it made the history of the priesthood ban irrelevant. But to many others around the country, statements of former church leaders about “the Negro matter” do, in fact, matter a great deal.

They cause pain to church members of African descent, provide cover for repugnant views and make the church an easy target for criticism and satire. The church would benefit itself and its members — and one member in particular, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee — by formally repudiating the priesthood ban and the racist theories that accompanied it.

Mormonism wasn’t always troubled by anti-black racism. In a country deeply stained by slavery and anti-black racism, the church, founded by Joseph Smith in 1830, was noteworthy for its relative racial egalitarianism. Smith episodically opposed slavery and tolerated the priesthood ordination of black men, at least one of whom, Elijah Abel, occupied a position of minor authority.

It was Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, who adopted the policies that now haunt the church. He described black people as cursed with dark skin as punishment for Cain’s murder of his brother. “Any man having one drop of the seed of Cane in him cannot hold the priesthood,” he declared in 1852. Young deemed black-white intermarriage so sinful that he suggested that a man could atone for it only by having “his head cut off” and spilling “his blood upon the ground.” Other Mormon leaders convinced themselves that the pre-existent spirits of black people had sinned in heaven by supporting Lucifer in his rebellion against God.

The priesthood ban had sweeping ecclesiastical consequences for black Mormons. They could not participate in the sacred ordinances, like the endowment ceremony (which prepares one for the afterlife) and sealings (which formally bind a family together), rites that Smith and Young taught were necessary to obtain celestial glory.

Of course, while perhaps unusual in its fervor and particular in its theories, the rhetoric of Mormon leaders was lamentably within the mainstream of white American opinion. White Christians of many denominational stripes used repugnant language to justify slavery and the inferiority of black people. Most accepted theories that the sins of Cain and Ham had cursed an entire race. Indeed, those white Americans who today express outrage over Mormon racism should remind themselves of their own forebears’ sins before casting stones at the Latter-day Saints.

Most Protestant denominations, however, gradually apologized for their past racism. In contrast, while Mormon leaders generically criticize past and present racism, they carefully avoid any specific criticism of past presidents and apostles, careful not to disrupt traditional reverence for the church’s prophets.

To an extent, this strategy has worked. The church is now much more diverse, with hundreds of thousands of members in Africa and many members of African descent in Latin America. In the United States, not all Mormons look like members of the Romney family: Mia Love, a daughter of Haitian immigrants and the Republican nominee for a Utah Congressional seat, proudly states that she has “never felt unwelcome in the church.”

Nevertheless, regardless of how outsiders would respond (audiences will still enjoy that line in “The Book of Mormon”), a fuller confrontation with the past would serve the church’s interests. Journalists frequently ask prominent Mormons like Mr. Romney and Ms. Love about the priesthood ban. African-Americans, both members and prospective converts, find the history distinctly unsettling. Statements by prior church presidents and apostles provide fodder for those Latter-day Saints — if small in number — who adhere to racist notions.

The church could begin leaving those problems behind if its leaders explained that their predecessors had confused their own racist views with God’s will and that the priesthood ban resulted from human error and limitations rather than a divine curse. Given the church’s ecclesiology, this step would be difficult.

Mormons have no reason to feel unusually ashamed of their church’s past racial restrictions, except maybe for their duration. Their church, like most other white American churches, was entangled in a deeply entrenched national sin.

Still, acknowledging serious errors on the part of past prophets inevitably raises questions about the revelatory authority of contemporary leaders. Such concerns, however, are not insurmountable for religious movements. One can look to the Bible for countless examples of patriarchs and prophets who acknowledged grave errors and moral lapses but still retained the respect of their people.

Likewise, the abiding love and veneration most Latter-day Saints have for their leaders would readily survive a fuller reckoning with their human frailties and flaws. The Mormon people need not believe they have perfect prophets, either past or present.

 

By: John G. Turner, The New York Times, August 18, 2012

 

August 20, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Mormons | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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