Dark Days Returning

November 22, 2015 – a good day to remember how dark the sixties were. Fifty-two years ago, on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. That was sophomore year in high school. The news came on the speakers in the classrooms – not the usual school announcements. They piped in a live feed from the radio accounts, but we were just kids. We didn’t know what to make of this. And this was suburban Pittsburgh. Dallas was a strange place, far away. Everyone said this was a big deal, and of course it was, but fifteen-year-old kids aren’t much concerned with the fate of democracy in America and what kind of people we really are. Were presidential assassinations unheard of? That might have been covered in some history class, but who was paying attention? And as for the fate of the world, a year earlier, in October 1962, there had been those thirteen days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The United States had come close to all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and the end of the world. That seemed more likely than not – but then the world didn’t end. The adults worked things out. Any fourteen-year-old kid figured they would. The world was a dark place, but high school kids have their own concerns.

But then there was April 4, 1968 – spring break from junior year in college, back in Pittsburgh to catch up on things at home – and there was no shrugging off the darkness that day. Martin Luther King had just been assassinated. The country really was going to tear itself apart, as if all the protests about the Vietnam War hadn’t been enough. This was the final straw. We really were a nasty and brutal people. At twenty you notice such things, but sometimes there is a bit of light. There was President Kennedy’s younger brother Bobby, and he provided that light:

Earlier that day Kennedy had spoken at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend and at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Before boarding a plane to attend campaign rallies in Indianapolis, Kennedy learned that King had been shot. When he arrived, Kennedy was informed that King had died. Despite fears of riots and concerns for his safety, Kennedy went ahead with plans to attend a rally at 17th and Broadway in the heart of Indianapolis’s African-American ghetto. That evening Kennedy addressed the crowd, many of whom had not heard about King’s assassination. Instead of the rousing campaign speech they expected, Kennedy offered brief, impassioned remarks for peace that is considered to be one of the great public addresses of the modern era.

He also got to the heart of the matter:

“When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest; to be subjugated and mastered. We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community; men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force.”

We can have no more of that, not now. The crowd dispersed quietly, but the riots did follow all across the country, just not in Indianapolis, and Bobby Kennedy himself was assassinated later that summer, and then there were the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and then Richard Nixon was elected president. Then things really got dark – the war extended with massive bombings and “incursions” into Laos and Cambodia, and the students at Kent State shot dead by the Ohio National Guard, and finally, Nixon resigning in disgrace.

That resignation didn’t change much. Gerald Ford was wrong. Our long national nightmare wasn’t over. The darkness never lifted. Politics became acrimony. Reagan sneered at welfare queens. Newt Gingrich reinvented Congress as an institution of confrontation and tantrums, where nothing got done, on principle, and the other guys were evil incarnate. Fox News was created to reinforce that, to sneer at the “pinheads” on the other side of things. The other side fought back with Keith Olbermann and then Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and, at present, Bill Maher. Mockery replaced discourse, and then after 9/11 we went to war. We adopted torture as official policy. Renaming it Enhanced Interrogation was a bit of a joke. But those who had issues with that or with what we did in Iraq, or anywhere else, became traitors, or at best, total fools.

Bobby Kennedy had given a fine speech in Indianapolis, but what difference had it made? The darkness had returned almost immediately, but on the night of Tuesday, July 27, 2004, Barack Obama gave the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, and that brought back the light:

There is not a liberal America and a conservative America – there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America – there’s the United States of America.

The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too: We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States, and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

The politics of cynicism leads nowhere. Hope was the answer, not simply “blind optimism” but hope:

It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs. The hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores. The hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta. [Kerry] The hope of a mill worker’s son who dares to defy the odds. [Edwards] The hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.

Hope! Hope in the face of difficulty! Hope in the face of uncertainty! The audacity of hope! In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation.

This was the Bobby Kennedy speech on steroids and the speech that made Obama president. At least it set the terms of his presidency, and unlike Bobby, no one assassinated Barry. Obama lucked out there, and he’s had eight years to spread the light – everyone matters in America, even gay folks, and unarmed black kids who keep getting shot dead by the police, and those “illegal” immigrants who might make good citizens if we’d only fix our laws. Even those refugees fleeing Syria for their lives deserve some help. And maybe we could stop calling each other names and talk to each other like civilized human beings and work things out on all sorts of issues.

None of that really worked out, but it was a bit of light, and now it’s going to go out. Obama’s time is up, and the darkness is returning:

Yesterday, at a Donald Trump rally in Birmingham, AL, a local activist named Mercutio Southall Jr. started shouting “Black Lives Matter!” as Donald Trump spoke. What followed was a physical altercation between Southall and Trump supporters, captured on camera by a CNN reporter in the crowd. The video makes it a little hard to tell how the fight started, but by the Washington Post’s account “a white man punched and attempted to choke” Southall.

On Sunday morning, Fox News host Ed Henry asked Trump about the incident: “of an African-American protester from Black Lives Matter who appears to have gotten roughed up.” At first, Trump appeared to be ambivalent about the term “roughed up,” but then he warmed up to it: “Maybe he should have been roughed up.”

His actual words were these:

I will tell you that the man that was – was I don’t know you say roughed up; he was so obnoxious and so loud, he was screaming. I had 10,000 people in the room yesterday, 10,000 people, and this guy started screaming by himself and they – I don’t know, rough up, he should have been – maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing. This was not handled the way Bernie Sanders handled his problem, I will tell you, but I have a lot of fans and they were not happy about it. And this was a very obnoxious guy, who was a troublemaker, was looking to make trouble, but I didn’t get to see the event.

He didn’t get to see the event, but what are you going to do? He also seems to be implying that these are the people who want “their” country back and they’re pissed off by this Black Lives Matter thing. This event is not only understandable – the guy should have shut the fuck up – but it’s probably justified. If so, other things may be justified:

Trump supporters have gotten physical with protesters at several other events this fall. A protester was dragged out of a Trump rally in Miami. A Trump supporter ripped up a protester’s sign. A Trump bodyguard was filmed sucker-punching a protester outside Trump Tower in early September. And at a rally in DC, photographers captured a Trump supporter pulling a protester’s hair.

And there was this:

In August, two Boston men were arrested for beating a homeless Latino man with a metal pole. One of them told police, “Donald Trump was right – all these illegals need to be deported.” When Trump was asked about it at a New Hampshire press conference, he initially said he didn’t know about the incident and then added: “I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate. I will say that, and everybody here has reported it.”

He loves that passion. It took him two full days to tweet out that he would never condone violence, and his followers seem to have understood that was a sop he was throwing out to all the politically correct bleeding-heart liberal fools out there, to get them to shut up, and also a bit of covering his ass legally. It was a bit of wink-wink nudge-nudge. They have his implicit permission to beat the crap out of those who disagree with them, and who disagree with him, but he also might want to remind them not to wear brown shirts.

Obama’s leaving. The darkness is returning, and Kevin Drum lists the things that Donald Trump has been saying these days:

The Obama administration is deliberately sending Syrian refugees only to red states as an act of political retribution.

Obama wants to take in 200,000 Syrian refugees, despite being told repeatedly that he’s off by a factor of ten or twenty.

If you’re a Christian refugee from Syria, the Obama administration won’t let you in. Obama only wants Muslim refugees.

We should have tight surveillance on mosques and might need to close some down.

We may have to think about creating a government registry of all Muslims.

On 9/11, there were thousands of people in Arab sections of Jersey City cheering when the World Trade Center went down.

That last claim is interesting:

It’s a scene that, as Donald J. Trump describes it, would seem to be seared into the American consciousness.

“I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down,” he told a crowd in Birmingham, Ala., on Saturday. “And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.”

No news reports exist of people cheering in the streets, and both police officials and the mayor of Jersey City have said that it did not happen. An Internet rumor about people cheering in the streets, which said it was in Paterson, not Jersey City, has been denied numerous times by city and police officials.

But when pressed on Sunday by George Stephanopoulos in an interview, Mr. Trump emphatically stuck to his story.

“It did happen, I saw it,” Mr. Trump said. “It was on television. I saw it.”

When reminded that police said it didn’t happen, Mr. Trump again insisted that he saw it.

“I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down — as those buildings came down. And that tells you something,” he said. “It was well covered at the time, George.”

But he lost a buddy on that:

In New Hampshire on Sunday, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said he had no recollection of state residents celebrating the terror attacks in 2001.

“I think if it had happened, I would remember it,” Mr. Christie said.

Drum is curious about all this:

Trump has said that we’re going to have to do things that were “unthinkable” a year ago. Considering the list of things he apparently believes are perfectly thinkable right now, that sends chills down your spine. And yet, this man continues to lead the GOP race and appears to be gaining momentum… How does this happen?

Here’s how:

A big part of it is because other high-profile Republicans are too cowardly to fight back. Nearly every Republican governor has jumped on the vile, big-talking bandwagon of refusing to allow any Syrian refugees to settle in their states. Every Republican presidential candidate favors a ban on accepting further Muslim Syrian refugees. Jeb Bush thinks we should only accept Christian refugees from Syria. Ted Cruz isn’t a fan of “government registries” but otherwise thinks Trump is great. Straight-talking Chris Christie dodges when he’s asked if existing Syrian refugees should be kicked out of New Jersey. Marco Rubio dodges when he’s asked if we might have to close down mosques.

Overall, with the semi-honorable exception of Jeb Bush, no Republican candidate has been willing to seriously push back on either Trump’s old Mexican demagoguery or his shiny new Muslim demagoguery. All this despite the fact that Mexican immigration is down and the United States hasn’t suffered a significant attack from overseas terrorists in over a decade.

All it took to wake this latent hysteria was some terrorist activity in other countries. God help us.

Drum would rather not embrace the darkness, and might not like this:

Donald Trump says if he’s elected president, he’ll bring back enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding for enemy combatants.

“I would bring it back, yes. I would bring it back,” Trump said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

Trump said waterboarding is tame compared to what Americans face when they’re captured by Islamic extremists.

“You know, they don’t use waterboarding over there; they use chopping off people’s heads,” he said. “They use drowning people. I don’t know if you’ve seen with the cages where they put people in cages and they drown them in the ocean and they lift out the cage.”

“I think waterboarding is peanuts compared to what they’d do to us, what they’re doing to us, what they did to James Foley when they chopped off his head,” Trump added, referring to the slain U.S. journalist.

He said he would “absolutely bring back interrogation and strong interrogation.”

Why? Even the Dick Cheney crowd could never document even one instance when waterboarding, or any other torture mechanism they ever used, came up with any useful information at all – because it doesn’t work. People will say anything to make it stop, anything at all, anything they hope you want to hear. Torture produces wild guesses at what will please the torturer, which is why confessions and evidence from torture has never been admissible in almost any legal system. But then Trump doesn’t address what he’d hope to learn. It simply feels righteous, and it says something about us. We torture people for no reason at all. Back off, or you’ll feel the pain. What American doesn’t want to say that to the rest of the world?

And then there was this:

Earlier on Sunday afternoon, Trump did his weird version of a manual retweet of an image depicting a man (in this context, assumed to be black), with a bandana over his face pointing a gun sideways towards a list of wholly fabricated statistics.

The image alleges that 97 percent of African-Americans were killed by African Americans, while only 1 percent of murdered African-Americans were killed by police. These two statistics are demarcated from the rest in blue and red ink respectively. It also claims 81 percent of whites who are killed are killed by blacks, which is pure race-baiting at its most ignorant. The numbers in this erroneous image are attributed to the “Crime Statistics Bureau – San Francisco,” and reflect 2015 data.

For one thing, a “Crime Statistics Bureau” does not exist. The FBI is responsible for this data and they have yet to release a report on 2015, because, well 2015 is not over yet.

Secondly, whoever made that image did so with the intent of lying about the percentage of white Americans killed by black Americans. In 2014, that number was 14 percent, not 81 percent.

Additionally, in the graphic, only 16 percent of whites are killed by other whites. In the same FBI report, it clearly states that 82.3 percent of whites are in fact killed by other whites, which is very similar to the number of blacks killed by blacks (89.9 percent).

No one knows where Trump comes up with any of this stuff, but Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog suggests this:

If you’re the kind of person who receives and retransmits this sort of undigested, unverified alarmist nonsense on a daily basis, then of course you’re going to feel especially alienated by your country. Look at all those murderous, white-hating black people! Look at all those defiant Muslims dancing for joy right under our noses in our own country while real Americans suffer!

Donald Trump is exactly like everyone’s email-forwarding racist uncle. No wonder everyone’s email-forwarding racist uncle plans to vote for him.

By the way, everything can be traced back to its origin on the net. Trump found that graphic on a neo-Nazi website – for what that’s worth – and there’s this:

According to a 1990 Vanity Fair interview, Ivana Trump once told her lawyer Michael Kennedy that her husband, real-estate mogul Donald Trump, now a leading Republican presidential candidate, kept a book of Hitler’s speeches near his bed.

“Last April, perhaps in a surge of Czech nationalism, Ivana Trump told her lawyer Michael Kennedy that from time to time her husband reads a book of Hitler’s collected speeches, My New Order, which he keeps in a cabinet by his bed … Hitler’s speeches, from his earliest days up through the Phony War of 1939, reveal his extraordinary ability as a master propagandist,” Marie Brenner wrote. …

When Brenner asked Trump about how he came to possess Hitler’s speeches, “Trump hesitated” and then said, “Who told you that?”

Oops. And now Donald Trump is far ahead in all the polls. The sixties were a dark time. These times somehow seem darker.

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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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One Response to Dark Days Returning

  1. Rick says:

    In spite of what a lot of people think, the 1960s were indeed dark times, with all the assassinations and political turmoil, mostly over that stupid war, and yet I don’t think they were anywhere near as dark as the 1930s, especially in Europe.

    On the day JFK was shot, I was taking a one-year “sabbatical” from college, so old enough to realize this was a big thing, comparable in scope to Lincoln’s assassination. But by the time MLK’s death came around — and then especially RFK (who I had already decided I would vote for over Gene McCarthy) — I had gotten blase about it all. Killing famous people started looking like the new normal, but still, I felt no sensation that the country was headed into the dark ages, simply because you never heard anybody, except maybe a few flakes, say these assassinations were a good thing. Ironically, despite a few stray violent radicals, most Americans were basically singing from the same page of the hymnal throughout the 1960s.

    But the 1930s and 1940s were another story. We could look back on those decades and wonder what the hell was going through the minds of the Nazis and the Fascists, plus all the citizens of Germany and Italy who allowed them to do what they did. It would never have occurred to us in the 1960s to set up concentration camps and death camps, and most of us were shocked that we had once created internment camps for the Japanese in our own country. How could all the good people of those countries allow this stuff to happen?

    And yet, maybe many of us in the ’60s started realizing that future generations might ask the same of us in our own times: How could those people back in the ’50s and ’60s have allowed so much racial discrimination in the land of the free? In fact, it may have been that realization that pushed so many whites back then to join up with blacks in the Civil Rights movement.

    We may be getting close to asking that question again: How can so many Americans be backing Donald Trump, a despicable and ignorant tough guy who is constantly, and almost proudly, lying through his teeth, with impunity? It almost seems like 1930s Europe, all over again:

    Sunday afternoon, Trump did his weird version of a manual retweet of an image depicting a man (in this context, assumed to be black), with a bandana over his face pointing a gun sideways towards a list of wholly fabricated statistics. …

    The image alleges that 97 percent of African-Americans were killed by African Americans, while only 1 percent of murdered African-Americans were killed by police. … It also claims 81 percent of whites who are killed are killed by blacks, which is pure race-baiting at its most ignorant. The numbers in this erroneous image are attributed to the “Crime Statistics Bureau – San Francisco,” and reflect 2015 data.

    For one thing, a “Crime Statistics Bureau” does not exist. The FBI is responsible for this data and they have yet to release a report on 2015, because, well 2015 is not over yet.

    Secondly, whoever made that image did so with the intent of lying about the percentage of white Americans killed by black Americans. In 2014, that number was 14 percent, not 81 percent. Additionally, in the graphic, only 16 percent of whites are killed by other whites. In the same FBI report, it clearly states that 82.3 percent of whites are in fact killed by other whites …

    And then there was this happening in Birmingham, something right out of early 1930s Germany that reportedly happens a lot at Trump rallies:

    Mercutio Southall Jr. — a well-known local activist who has been repeatedly arrested while fighting what he says is unfair treatment of blacks — interrupted Trump’s rally and could be heard shouting, “Black lives matter!” A fight broke out, prompting Trump to briefly halt his remarks and demand the removal of Southall.

    “Get him the hell out of here, will you, please?” Trump said on Saturday morning. “Get him out of here. Throw him out!”

    At one point, Southall fell to the ground and was surrounded by several white men who appeared to be kicking and punching him, according to video captured by CNN. … As security officers got Southall on his feet and led him out of the building, he was repeatedly pushed and shoved by people in the crowd. The crowd alternated between booing and cheering. …

    “Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing,” Trump said on the Fox News Channel on Sunday morning. “I have a lot of fans, and they were not happy about it. And this was a very obnoxious guy who was a trouble-maker who was looking to make trouble.”

    Don’t you, as I do, long for those simpler times when a candidate could single-handedly implode his own campaign by promising in a debate to close three government departments, but then be able to name only two of them?

    And yet, just as I had become hardened to assassinations in the ’60s, Americans today have become so totally accustomed to the nastiness of Trump and his campaign, and even that he still hasn’t as yet been drummed out of the race, most of them probably didn’t even notice these two incidents.

    Back in earlier times, being caught sending out a tweet filled with false statistics to make some racist point, or defending the beating of a protestor at one of your rallies, would, for sure, get you immediately bounced out of the race. No, it’s not your party or even the FEC (Federal Elections Commission) that would have done it, it would have been the voters themselves who would have known that you crossed a line.

    But these days, it seems there are no lines. What changed?

    Probably the voters. Back in the old days, voters might tolerate a little funny business here and there from their candidate, as long as the infraction wasn’t very serious and there was “plausible deniability” to hide behind. Nowadays, telling an obvious untruth just doesn’t have the currency it once did, especially among conservatives, probably because the people backing Trump — and, to some extent, all of the other Republican candidates — don’t really care about what’s true or not as much as they care about their candidate. After all, it’s all those folks they don’t like who seem to be constantly obsessed with the so-called “truth”!

    So we’re not only losing common grounds for discussion these days, we’re losing that sense of decency that everyone once, back when the professionals were in charge, took for granted. Our only hope for 2020, is that when elections once more roll around, everyone will demand that their choice for president not be an outsider, but someone who can prove that they know how to do this politics stuff, and is someone with some record of having worked inside the system.

    If, that is, this country is able to survive the elections of 2016.

    Rick

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