Getting Nasty Again

History has been kind to Harry Truman. During his presidency no one thought much of him, but years later his bluntness and honesty made up for him being a bit of a hick. He did give ’em hell. On the other hand, he did give the Japanese hell. Eisenhower was fine, but now, his decision, in 1953, to have the CIA engineer a coup to remove the newly-elected democratic government in Iran and bring back the Shah, seems unforgivable. Few in the Middle East will ever forgive that. We’re still paying for that – and as for Kennedy, his assassination made him a hero and a martyr, but the accomplishments of his administration are few. What did he actually do? Lyndon Johnson got done what Kennedy was only edging toward, all the civil rights legislation and all the Great Society stuff – Medicare and Medicaid and Head Start and all the rest. But Johnson sent us all-in, full-speed, into Vietnam. That disaster is his legacy. He knew it. He wouldn’t run again in 1968, and with Bobby Kennedy swiftly assassinated and the Democrats left with Hubert Humphrey, Richard Nixon was next up. What was his legacy – years and years of more war in Vietnam, the bombing of Cambodia and the incursion into Laos, and, finally a peace treaty that meant little, as we eventually just left, ceding the place to the North Vietnamese? That’s not much of a legacy – but there was the opening with China and creating the EPA – but then there was Watergate. Being the only president to resign in disgrace doesn’t burnish your legacy.

Gerald Ford was next – an amiable caretaker who did no harm – followed by Jimmy Carter – introspective and puzzling and gone after one term. Then it was Ronald Reagan, who simultaneously won the Cold War and proved to everyone that government is totally useless, neither of which is quite true. It doesn’t matter. If people believe that’s true that’s Reagan’s legacy, and George H. W. Bush has no legacy. He was so plodding and prudent he angered his own party, and impressed no one else. He too was gone after one term, followed by Bill Clinton – all scandal, all the time, and eight years of peace and prosperity, with a booming economy and jobs for everyone, and a surplus, not a deficit, the day he left office. Still, there was Monica Lewinsky.

The less said about George W. Bush the better. Iraq, Afghanistan, torture, Katrina, the total collapse of the economy – that’s his legacy. There’s a reason he’s been hiding since the day he left office. Obama’s legacy may be Obamacare, inching us closer to the rest of the world in making some sort of healthcare available to all citizens, or reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, or the Iran deal that will keep those folks from developing nuclear weapons, setting up a whole new way of dealing with the Middle East – talk, listen, and work things out – as an alternative to endless wars. Other lists could be devised, covering trade deals, and that climate deal with China, and his executive actions on immigration reform, and all sorts of things. If you’re one of those who hates all these things you still say all this is Obama’s legacy – you simply say he should be ashamed of all of it. There are those who are still angry that FDR created Social Security – but they don’t say that didn’t happen. Obama has a legacy.

There’s also a different sort of legacy. Historians may look back on the eight years of the Obama administration as a brief anomalous period of uneasy racial civility. Obama was our first black president, and we may not ever have another, but because he was our president, few felt comfortable saying he did this or that only because he was black. That sort of thing was confined to talk radio. When Glenn Beck argued, passionately, that President Obama hates white people, even Fox News dumped Beck. Stick to policy. Don’t talk about race – and of course Obama made that easier. He avoided being too black. He would not play the Angry Black Man. That just wasn’t him. He was, by nature, calm and gracious and thoughtful, and also absurdly well-educated, and well-spoken. There was nothing “black” to latch onto.

This was new. There was no way to inject “race” into any discussion of public policy, unless you wanted to look like a jerk. All the talk that Obama was born in Kenya, or that somehow he inherited a Mau-Mau anti-colonial mindset from some grandfather long ago, was greeted with a weary shrug. Stick to policy. There’s no need to be nasty.

That’s worked for the last six and a half years, but as Obama’s second term draws to a close, with the certainty that he’ll be gone soon enough, racial nastiness is certain to return – and with the last year of news of one white cop after another killing an unarmed black man, or a black kid, racial tensions are running high. The nastiness is back:

After a white Houston sheriff’s deputy was ambushed and fatally shot by a black man at a gas station, the sheriff linked the killing to heightened tension over the treatment of African-Americans by police, citing the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

Shannon J. Miles, whose criminal record includes convictions for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct with a firearm, was to be arraigned Monday in the shooting of Darren Goforth, a 10-year veteran of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Miles’ arrest Saturday came less than 24 hours after authorities said he ambushed Goforth at a suburban Houston Chevron station. …

“Our assumption is that he (Goforth) was a target because he wore a uniform,” the sheriff said. Hickman and Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson pushed back against the criticism of police.

“We’ve heard Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter. Well, cops’ lives matter, too,” Hickman said Saturday.

You want a race war, you’ll get a race war, although he did say “So why don’t we just drop the qualifier, and say ‘Lives matter.'” – but the damage was done:

The nationwide “Black Lives Matter” movement that formed after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri has sought sweeping reforms of policing. Related protests erupted in Texas recently after a 28-year-old Chicago-area black woman, Sandra Bland, was found dead in a county jail about 50 miles northwest of Houston three days after her arrest on a traffic violation. Texas authorities said she committed suicide but her family is skeptical of that.

Deray McKesson, a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement, told the Houston Chronicle: “It is unfortunate that Sheriff Hickman has chosen to politicize this tragedy and to attribute the officer’s death to a movement that seeks to end violence.”

This already is political:

A prayer walk in Goforth’s honor drew hundreds of people Sunday evening. As the group marched through the streets escorted by law enforcement vehicles, traffic in the opposite lanes came to a halt, video from news helicopters showed. Onlookers stood along the road, some waving American flags and others snapping photos. …

This is not the first time the issues of racial tension and anti-police sentiment have emerged following a fatal shooting of an officer. Authorities said the man who ambushed and killed two NYPD cops in Brooklyn last year made online posts that were “very anti-police” and cited Ferguson. The suspect, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, wrote on an Instagram account: “I’m putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours, let’s take 2 of theirs.”

And there’s this:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) suggested President Obama bore some of the blame for Friday’s fatal shooting of a sheriff’s deputy in Houston, Texas. During a campaign stop in New Hampshire, Cruz told reporters that “cops across this country are feeling the assault” thanks to the “vilification” of law enforcement by administration officials, the Dallas Morning News reported.

“These are brave heroes who risk their lives keeping us safe,” Cruz said. “And I do think we’re seeing the manifestation of the rhetoric and vilification of law enforcement, of police, that is coming from the president of the United States and it’s coming from senior officials.”

Those black kids SHOULD have been shot:

Cruz suggested President Obama’s condemnation of the fatal shootings of unarmed black teenagers in cities including Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland helped to inflame anti-cop sentiment.

“I’m proud to stand with law enforcement,” Cruz said. “We need a president who doesn’t attack and vilify them, and who doesn’t seek to tear us apart along racial lines, to inflame racial divisions.”

Question a cop killing another unarmed black kid and you’re a racist tearing the country apart. You can say that now that Obama is leaving soon, but Donald Trump was already there, weeks earlier on Meet the Press:

CHUCK TODD: I want to ask you about Black Lives Matter. The latest shooting of a white police officer shooting an unarmed black man. Do you see this as a crisis in America?

DONALD TRUMP: It’s a massive crisis. It’s a double crisis. What’s happening and people. You know, I look at things. And I see it on television. And some horrible mistakes are made. At the same time, we have to give power back to the police because crime is rampant. And I’m a big person that believes in very big – you know, we need police. And we need protection. Look, I look at some of the cities. You look at Baltimore. You look at so many different places in this country. Chicago. Certain areas of Chicago. They need strong police protection. And those police can do the job. But their jobs are being taken away from them. At the same time, you’ve got these other problems. And there’s no question about it. They are problems. There is turmoil in our country.

CHUCK TODD: Do you understand why African Americans don’t trust the police right now?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, I can certainly see it when I see what’s going on. But at the same time, we have to give power back to the police because we have to have law and order… We have to give strength and power back to the police.

The police need absolute power again? They don’t have that? And now there’s Fox News’ Elisabeth Hasselbeck – “Why has the Black Lives Matter movement not been classified yet as a hate group?”

But there’s Aurin Squire:

On Wednesday a disgruntled former employee named Vester Lee Flanagan, a black man, shot and killed two white TV news reporters on air in Roanoke, Virginia. On Saturday Shannon J. Miles, also African American, was arrested for shooting a Texas deputy. These incidents are the latest in a long, numbing progression of recent tragedies at the nexus of gun control, mental health, and a violent culture reacting in rage at a sense of helplessness.

These mass shootings are also usually perpetrated by mentally disturbed white men. But when I found out that an African American man was the killer in one incident and the accused in another, I knew conservative sites like Breitbart would seek to frame the incidents, like any black-on-white crime, as indicative of reverse racism, and a political dog whistle that they are under attack. “RACE MURDER IN VIRGINIA: BLACK REPORTER SUSPECTED OF EXECUTING WHITE COLLEAGUES – ON LIVE TELEVISION!” blared the initial Breitbart headline. On Fox, “Justice with Jeanine” used the Texas story as an opportunity to blame Obama and call Black Lives Matter “black slime that needs to be eradicated.”

American Thinker, a conservative blog, claimed that the “evil” things put in the [Virginia] murderer’s head were the result of Obama liberalism.

That was curious as was Justice with Jeanine and that talk of black slime that needs to be eradicated. Obama is leaving office. Anything goes now:

The local weather is cold so global climate warming isn’t real; if women have greater access to birth control they will become hard-drinking promiscuous abortioneers; the Second Amendment means the government should never take actions in prohibiting gun access to any adult; and taking care of poor people incentivizes poverty. But racial false equivalency is one of the right wing’s most consistent rhetorical tricks. …

In response to the immigration debate, Donald Trump trots out the tragedy of an illegal Mexican immigrant shooting a woman as a sign that all immigrants are a violent threat. When the growing video evidence of police brutality began popping up on screens last summer, the shooting of two NYPD cops by a deeply paranoid African-American man was the perfect opportunity for the New York City’s police union and Fox News to attack Obama and Mayor Bill de Blasio for their alleged hatred toward police.

In light of the Virginia murders, Fox News and conservative bloggers are trotting out one of their old false equivalence standards: Black people commit crimes in hatred against white people, so therefore they should be treated the same as hate crimes against blacks.

Aurin Squire isn’t happy about that – there’s a power imbalance – but the race war is coming:

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump released a chilling video Monday attacking opponent Jeb Bush for once suggesting that undocumented immigrants entered the United States as “an act of love.”

The 15-second video, which Trump posted to Instagram and Twitter, begins with the text: “Jeb Bush’s Thoughts on Illegal Immigration.”

It plays sound of Bush, a former Florida governor, saying of undocumented immigrants, “Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love.”

Over the sound of Bush talking, with harrowing music playing, the Trump video flashes mug shots of Francisco Sanchez, who was charged in the San Francisco killing of Kate Steinle; Santana Gaona, a Texas man found guilty of a murder; and Brian Omar Hyde, who was charged with three killings in Florida.

Then the screen turns black and, in white lettering, asks: “Love? Forget love. It’s time to get tough!”

And the obvious:

Trump’s video – his latest play in an escalating feud with Bush – awakens memories of the 1988 “Willie Horton” ad, one of the most notorious political attacks in recent decades. The ad was used to devastating effect to undermine then-Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis on criminal justice issues.

Here we go again, but some are unhappy:

After losing the 2012 presidential election, Republican Party leaders vowed to craft a message they thought would be more in tune with the middle class, promising to deliver faster economic growth and to help all workers, not just the very rich. The message was built on the bedrock GOP notion that the primary enemy of the American economy is an oversized and overreaching federal government.

But those careful plans have hit a large and brash-talking obstacle in the form of current Republican front-runner Donald J. Trump.

Trump’s surging campaign has pushed the party in a different direction, one that often clashes with free-market principles that have long underpinned GOP economic policy. Some establishment Republicans worry that the turn could damage the economy, and their party, for years to come.

It comes down to this:

Trump criticizes government, but he shot to the top of the GOP field by rallying voters against another enemy: immigrants from Mexico and low-wage workers in China, whom he blames for lost jobs and stagnant wages in America. He has proposed levying tariffs on imported goods, deporting millions of immigrants who entered America illegally and reducing the number of legal immigrants allowed in each year. In a further blow against conservative orthodoxy, he has said in recent interviews that he favors higher taxes on the rich and on investment income.

Critics, including many leading conservative economists in Washington, call Trump’s plans “nativist,” “protectionist” and incompatible with the party’s core pro-market beliefs. They also worry Trump’s ideas could spread to other GOP contenders.

“This is a very dangerous moment, I think, for the Republican Party,” said Stephen Moore, a conservative economist and co-founder of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, which has been meeting with candidates to urge them to adopt low-tax, low-regulation policies to grow the economy.

“What Trump is saying about trade and immigration is a political and economic disaster,” Moore said. “He’s almost now making it cool and acceptable to be nativist on immigration and protectionist on trade. That’s destroying a lot of the progress we’ve made as a party in the last 30 years.”

Moore and the others want Trump to talk policy, but with the moderating influence of Obama soon to be gone, being nasty is back, and acceptable.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn column for the Washington Post and sees this:

Republican operatives, insiders affiliated with no campaign and donors with whom Right Turn spoke last week are not pleased about the state of the GOP race. … They are angst-ridden over Donald Trump’s staying power, but more than that, the inability of the other candidates to respond effectively and present themselves as an effective alternative.

These Republicans, on one hand, despair that an egocentric bully with no discernible political principles should be leading in polls. They observe that his incoherent mix of authoritarianism, protectionism and cronyism is antithetical to the modern conservative movement, and in tone is 180 degrees from Ronald Reagan. But they also note that he is building an organization and displaying “P.T. Barnum showmanship,” as one veteran of GOP presidential campaigns put it. They shake their heads, unable to fully comprehend Trump’s appeal, but more than that they are disturbed by the rest of the field. They do not believe Trump will be the nominee, but high hopes for a deep, quality field have not been met. In particular, they are worried that Trump’s embrace of “nativism” will doom the party if mimicked by others.

It may be too late for that:

Donald Trump is “emasculating” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush with his attacks and his performance in state and national polling, prominent Republican strategist Steve Schmidt said Monday.

“Look, Jeb Bush was a very successful governor, he’s a thoughtful man – he was a good, conservative governor. But every day, Donald Trump is emasculating Jeb Bush, and Republican primary voters are not going to default to the establishment candidate who is being weakened by these attacks that go unresponded to.”

Nancy LeTourneau sees what’s happening here:

We’re hearing a lot these days about how boys/men are being emasculated. It has become a regular theme on Fox News (who also call it the “wussification of America”) and talk radio. Why is that?

The message aimed at boys is to suggest that the only way to be a “real man” is to be a bully. Whether it’s with your fists, your bombs, or your words, it’s all about putting others down as a childish way of lifting yourself up.

But it’s also a way of denigrating men who demonstrate the capacity for compassion, empathy, thoughtfulness and cooperation. In other words, men who display characteristics we normally associate with women. That’s because in a patriarchal culture, those qualities represent weakness.

That made this inevitable:

At a time when the right wing in this country is consumed with a backlash against the inevitable demise of white male heterosexual dominance, Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign might have failed because of this – even if he weren’t showing himself to be incredibly gaffe-prone.

But this call to “manliness” from our leaders hasn’t just come from the right. While not as harsh or widespread as the conservative version, there have been many suggestions that President Obama needs to “man up” or take off his tutu and put on his boxing gloves. Calling Obama “feminized” is the heart of Maureen Dowd’s critique of this President.

All of this is a kind of sexist dog-whistle.

Of course it is, but that only matches the racist dog-whistles now heard throughout the land. Saying that black lives matter is hate speech from a hate group that gets cops killed, so those people had better shut up? It only gets worse from here on out – and when historians look back on the Obama presidency they will probably note the most curious thing about it – the relatively low level of overt and blatant nastiness. But that’s not a legacy. That’s an anomaly. We won’t see that again. Our future presidents will be white. We’ll get nasty again.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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