From the Specific to the General

Donald Trump has never run for public office, much less for president, but he may be getting the hang of it. Primary elections (and caucuses) are specific to the party, and for Republicans, specific to two key constituencies – the angry anti-government Tea Party crowd and the outraged mainly white evangelicals. Both want “their” country back, but of course they want to take their country back from a much larger group of voters who are fine with gay marriage and Obamacare and regulating the financial industry a bit more, and fine with shifting from fossils fuels to keep the ice caps from melting, making Florida disappear – and fine with a multicultural society. Many are Hispanic, and see no reason anyone should have a problem with that. Many are black, and see no reason anyone should have a problem with that. Sure, there will be friction, but that can be managed, and it might even be useful.

These are the people who vote in the general election, and they vastly outnumber the quite specific constituencies that must be won over to win the party’s nomination in the primaries. Donald Trump may be beginning to realize he cannot win the general election with his fired-up thirty-eight percent (at best) that want him to Make America Great Again. Everyone else is a bit wary of what that might mean to them, specifically. Eighteen months of his volunteer army busting down doors and putting eleven million people in boxcars and sending them south seems a bit scary. Much could go wrong. Blowing off each week’s killing of another unarmed young black man by a white cop, as justified to keep order, or an honest mistake that the black community will just have to expect, is a bit scary too. Trump, to get beyond his fired-up thirty-eight percent, will need to address those fears, or he’s going nowhere – but he can’t lose his fired-up thirty-eight percent either. Their fears matter too.

That’s why politicians straddle issues in a general election, and Donald Trump just came up with this:

Donald Trump declared himself the “law and order candidate” at a campaign event Monday in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

“We must maintain law and order at the highest level, or we will cease to have a country, 100 percent,” the presumptive Republican presidential nominee told the invite-only crowd. “Or we will cease to have a country.”

Monday’s event was originally billed as a speech on veterans’ affairs, but it was given a new focus on law enforcement and crime following the shooting deaths last week of five Dallas police officers. The gunman said he was angry about the police killings of black men – such as Alton Sterling, who was shot last week in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile, who died in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota.

“Not only am I the law and order candidate, but I’m also the candidate of compassion, believe it,” Trump said, “The candidate of compassion. But you can’t have true compassion without providing safety for the citizens of our country.”

He seemed to be hinting that the two police killings called for compassion for the despair in the black community – but it was only a hint. He’s still figuring this out, but there’s new polling from Pennsylvania and Ohio where Donald Trump is getting zero percent of the vote among black voters – this isn’t going to be easy.

He’s working on it. Steve Benen flags this:

Given recent violence in Texas, Minnesota, and Louisiana, race is very much on the minds of many Americans, including Donald Trump. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee sat down with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly last night, where Trump was able to explain why he believes he can relate to African Americans.

O’REILLY: There [are] still some black Americans who believe that the system is biased against them. The American system because they’re black, they don’t get the same kind of shot, they don’t get the same kind of fairness that whites do. What do you say to them? 

TRUMP: Well, I have been saying even against me the system is rigged when I ran as a, you know, for president, I mean, I could see what was going on with the system and the system is rigged.

When the host told the candidate this sentiment probably won’t lift anyone’s spirits, Trump responded, “No, what I’m saying is they are not necessarily wrong. I mean, there are certain people where unfortunately that comes into play. I’m not saying that. And I can relate it really very much to myself.”

Asked if he believes he can understand the African-American experience, Trump added, “You can’t truly understand what’s going on unless you are African-American. I would like to say yes, however.”

Benen:

First, let’s quickly note that the GOP’s presidential nominating process was not, in reality, “rigged” against the candidate who prevailed. Trump didn’t understand how states chose delegates to the national convention, but that doesn’t mean the system itself was manipulated unfairly.

Second, for Trump to believe his experiences winning the Republican nomination helps him “relate” to African Americans is so painfully bizarre, it would do real and lasting harm to a normal presidential candidate.

But even if we put this aside, one of the most striking things about Trump’s perceptions of current events is his narcissistic myopia. For Trump, the importance of the mass-shooting in Orlando is something he once said on Twitter. For Trump, the importance of Brexit is how it might affect his golf course. For Trump, the importance of African-American alienation is how similar it is to his treatment during the GOP primaries.

Ask Trump about almost any issue, and he’s likely to respond with a sentiment that boils down to, “That reminds me of me.”

Yeah, but these are baby steps. He’s not a racist. Obama is. That’s the party line left over from the primaries, and of Obama’s Dallas speech Charles Hurt maintains that Obama trampled on high ideals of America and fueled Black Lives Matter racism:

Again and again and again, this president, who was so uniquely positioned with the credibility to do more than any president in history to quell the discord and unify America, has done the exact opposite.

Instead of waiting for blind justice to work, he repeatedly jumps to prejudicial – and usually wrong – conclusions.

Police are stupid; somebody looks like him; things were racially motivated; let’s go after guns. Every opportunity he has had to be the honest broker and reach for the great principles and high ideals that unite America, Mr. Obama has instead chosen partisan divisiveness.

If he were a real man, if he were a leader or statesman or one ounce of the constitutional scholar he claims to be, Mr. Obama would have already hotly condemned and denounced the Black Lives Matter movement as the racist and anti-American thing that it is…

Instead, Mr. Obama chickened out. He scrambled for the easy way out. He shirked his duties. He blew his moment to defend the constitution and stand with the likes of Martin Luther King Jr.

There is no racism in America, damn it, and that was said before the Dallas speech:

A Republican congressman from Virginia said Tuesday that President Barack Obama has reaped “what he has sowed” in the slayings of five police officers during a peaceful protest last week in Dallas.

In an interview on “The John Fredericks Show” first flagged by Right Wing Watch, Rep. Robert Hurt (R-VA) said that Obama’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement was just “Chicago-style politics.” Hurt went on to say that Obama was using racial discrimination to divide the country and that he feels that the Dallas shooting was Obama getting what he had coming to him.

“He has drawn this narrative for political purposes and now we’re seeing him reap what he has sowed,” Hurt said.

“He has sown this racial – he has fanned these flames, I think he has in many ways highlighted these things in ways that I don’t think are fair or right, and now we’re seeing the fruit of this,” he added.

The congressman, who is not running for re-election, then referenced Obama’s scheduled appearance at a memorial service for the five officers who were killed. He suggested that in light of Obama’s comments on race and the police, families of the slain officers may not want to see him speak at the memorial.

That’s the fired-up thirty-eight percent talking, and forget Trump’s baby steps. Trump has decided that’s where his heart was all along:

Donald Trump told Bill O’Reilly on Tuesday that he witnessed people call for a moment of silence for the man who killed five police officers and wounded eleven other people at a Black Lives Matter rally last week.

Asked by the Fox News host if there was a divide between blacks and whites in America, Trump used this as an example of how “there would seem to be.”

“It’s getting more and more obvious and it’s very sad, very sad,” Trump went on. “When somebody called for a moment of silence to this maniac that shot the five police, you just see what’s going on. It’s a very, very sad situation.”

Something odd is going on here:

There were no media reports about anyone calling for a moment of silence for gunman Micah Johnson, though groups from Congress to the New York Stock Exchange held moments of silence for the victims of last Thursday’s mass shooting. Searches on social media for people making such calls also came up short.

Despite this lack of evidence, Trump reiterated the claim at a rally in Westfield, Indiana on Tuesday night, where he criticized Black Lives Matter for holding rallies across the country the weekend after the Dallas shootings.

“The other night you had 11 cities potentially in a blow-up stage,” he said. “Marches all over the United States – and tough marches. Anger. Hatred. Hatred! Started by a maniac! And some people ask for a moment of silence for him. For the killer!”

Okay – he hasn’t learned about moving from the specific to the general after all – and Josh Marshall sees even more:

Everybody took note when Donald Trump repeatedly claimed that American Muslims across the river in New Jersey celebrated and cheered as the Twin Towers fell on 9/11 – an entirely fabricated claim. Last night on Bill O’Reilly’s show and then separately at a rally in Westfield, Indiana he did something very similar and in so doing cemented his status an impulsive propagator of race-hatred and violence.

The details of the rapid-fire fulmination are important. So let’s look at them closely.

Trump claimed that people – “some people” – called for a moment of silence for mass killer Micah Johnson, the now deceased mass shooter who killed five police officers in Dallas on Thursday night. There is no evidence this ever happened. Searches of the web and social media showed no evidence. Even Trump’s campaign co-chair said today that he can’t come up with any evidence that it happened. As in the case of the celebrations over the fall of the twin towers, even to say there’s ‘no evidence’ understates the matter. This didn’t happen. Trump made it up.

And that says a lot:

A would-be strong man, an authoritarian personality, isn’t just against disorder and violence. They need disorder and violence. That is their raison d’être – it is the problem that they are purportedly there to solve. The point bears repeating: authoritarian figures require violence and disorder. Look at the language. …

At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, if you translate the German, the febrile and agitated language of ‘hatred’, ‘anger’, ‘maniac’ … this is the kind of florid and incendiary language Adolf Hitler used in many of his speeches. Note too the actual progression of what Trump said: “Marches all over the United States – and tough marches. Anger. Hatred. Hatred! Started by a maniac!”

The clear import of this fusillade of words is that the country is awash in militant protests that were inspired by Micah Johnson. “Started by …”

We’re used to so much nonsense and so many combustible tirades from Trump that we become partly inured to them. We also don’t slow down and look at precisely what he’s saying. What he’s saying here is that millions of African-Americans are on the streets inspired by and protesting on behalf of a mass murderer of white cops.

This is not simply false. It is the kind of wild racist incitement that puts whole societies in danger. And this man wants to be president.

And then there’s reality:

There have continued to be protests. There’s no reason why there should not be. But every Black Lives Matter leader of any note has spoken clearly denouncing Johnson’s atrocity. Indeed, if anything the continuing protests have been tempered calls for an end to violence on all sides. For all the horror, the outrage has spawned moments of bridge-building, unity. So these are combustible times. But they’re not the racial end times Trump is describing.

Indeed, what Trump said in the passage above is something verging on the notorious “big lie”. Micah Johnson didn’t inspire any marches. No one is marching on his behalf. Even the truly radical and potentially violent Black Nationalist fringe groups had apparently shunned him even before the shooting. No one called for a moment of silence on Johnson’s behalf or honored him in any way. This is just an up-is-down straight-up lie served up for the purpose of stoking fear, menace and race hate.

There will be no Trump pivot for the general election:

These are the words – the big lies rumbling the ground for some sort of apocalyptic race war – of a dangerous authoritarian personality who is either personally deeply imbued with racist rage or cynically uses that animus and race hatred to achieve political ends. In either case, they are the words of a deeply dangerous individual the likes of whom has seldom been so close to achieving executive power in America.

That’s a bit strong, but Kevin Drum explains why few people see that:

Trump’s explicit race baiting has been so normalized by now that we hardly notice this stuff. This kind of talk from a major-party candidate for president should be front-page news everywhere. Instead, it warrants a few words in various campaign roundups.

Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, foreigners of all stripes: they’re all grist for Trump’s crusade to convince white voters that they’re surrounded by rapists, murderers, terrorists, and assorted other predators who want to take their jobs away and impoverish them. It’s his whole campaign.

For years it’s been clear that the Republican Party could only win by turning out an ever greater share of the white vote. But by 2012 they seemed to have done everything they possibly could: Fox News stoked the xenophobia, Republican legislatures passed voter ID laws, and outreach to white evangelicals had reached saturation levels. What more did they have on their plate? Now we know the answer: nominate a guy who doesn’t play around with dog whistles anymore. Instead he comes out and flatly runs as the candidate of white America, overtly attacking every minority group he can think of. That shouldn’t work. In the year 2016, it should alienate at least as many white voters as it captures. But so far it seems to be doing at least moderately well.

There’s a reason for that:

President Obama was right yesterday: America is not nearly as divided as the media makes it seem. But the only way for Donald Trump to win is to make it seem otherwise. That’s what he’s been doing for the past year, and the media has been playing along the whole time, exaggerating existing grievances where they can and inventing them where they can’t.

I’m not scared that America is such a hotbed of racial resentment that it’s about to implode. But I’m increasingly scared that Donald Trump can make it seem that way, and that the press – always in search of a dramatic narrative – will go off in search of ways to leverage this into more eyeballs, more clicks, and more paid subscriptions.

Greg Sargent thinks that we should be pointing out that one of the two candidates is actively trying to divide the country, while the other just isn’t and points to the New York Times’s Nicholas Confessore reporting the obvious:

In countless collisions of color and creed, Donald J. Trump’s name evokes an easily understood message of racial hostility. Defying modern conventions of political civility and language, Mr. Trump has breached the boundaries that have long constrained Americans’ public discussion of race.

Mr. Trump has attacked Mexicans as criminals. He has called for a ban on Muslim immigrants. He has wondered aloud why the United States is not “letting people in from Europe.”

His rallies vibrate with grievances that might otherwise be expressed in private: about “political correctness,” about the ranch house down the street overcrowded with day laborers, and about who is really to blame for the death of a black teenager in Ferguson, Mo. In a country where the wealthiest and most influential citizens are still mostly white, Mr. Trump is voicing the bewilderment and anger of whites who do not feel at all powerful or privileged.

But in doing so, Mr. Trump has also opened the door to assertions of white identity and resentment in a way not seen so broadly in American culture in over half a century, according to those who track patterns of racial tension and antagonism in American life.

Sargent:

Note this quote from Jonathan Greenblatt, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks hate groups: “I think what we really find troubling is the mainstreaming of these really offensive ideas. It’s allowed some of the worst ideas into the public conversation in ways we haven’t seen anything like in recent memory.” The piece’s ultimate conclusion is that Trump has made “the explicit assertion of white identity and grievance more widespread.”

And we shrug:

What is really striking about all of this is that most observers, including neutral, non-ideological, and non-partisan ones, would not even quarrel with the idea that Trump is running a campaign that is explicitly about unleashing white backlash. For months, this has been widely, openly agreed upon by pretty much everyone who is paying even cursory attention. Yet oddly enough, this widely accepted acknowledgment of Trump’s explicit efforts to foment racial division is not being meaningfully brought to bear on the current debate over the two candidates’ responses to police-community tensions. Clinton has repeatedly tried to acknowledge that the police and those protesting their use of force both have legitimate grievances; Trump has not done this to anywhere near the same degree.

By the way, Americans appear to agree that Trump is the far more divisive figure. A new Heartland Monitor poll finds that Americans say by 48-30 that Clinton would do more to “bring the country together.”

All of this is not to say that Clinton is not a polarizing figure in her own right. Rather, it is to say that, given the political conditions in this country, it is hard for one of the major party nominees not to be widely disliked by the other side; meanwhile, Trump is actively trying to foment and politically profit off of racial division in a way Clinton simply is not.

That is a difference, a big one, which Clinton decided was worth pointing out:

Hillary Clinton argued in a speech Wednesday that her opponent, Donald Trump, was a threat to democracy and well on his way to turning the Republican Party into the “party of Trump.”

She criticized the real estate mogul in a speech in Springfield, Illinois, where she called for racial unity following the slaying of five police officers in Dallas and the fatal police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. She then turned her focus to Trump whose campaign she said was sending an “ugly, dangerous message” to America.

She pointed to Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims, his plan to deport thousands of undocumented immigrants and his habit of demeaning women when she said that he campaign was as “divisive as any we’ve seen in our lifetimes.”

“This man is the nominee of the party of Lincoln. We are watching it become a party of Trump,” she said. “And that’s not just a huge loss for our democracy; it is a threat to it.”

Clinton spoke from the Old State House, where Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous “House Divided” speech, and made several historical references to the former President.

She went on to say that Trump’s campaign rhetoric amounted to fear-mongering and asked the audience to imagine if Trump didn’t have just “Twitter and cable news” to go after his critics, but also the IRS and the military.

That’s a thought, but really, Trump was never going to pivot to the general election. He can’t. That’s not him. He’s stuck in the specific, the explicit assertion of white identity and grievance. That’s it. That’s all there is.

So be it. In many states Donald Trump will receive zero black votes, and zero Hispanic votes, and for the first time in modern elections a majority of college-educated whites are backing the Democratic candidate for president – all of it unprecedented. There never was a way to make the narrowly specific general. There never will be, but Trump has never run for public office before, so he didn’t believe it. He obviously still doesn’t believe it. His fired-up thirty-eight percent doesn’t believe it. The rest of us believe what we see.

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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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