Our August Fires

It wasn’t global warming, even if this is the hottest summer on record, worldwide, again. And it wasn’t the national heatwave – massive fires here in California and severe drought in upstate New York of all places. Yes, we’ve screwed up the climate, probably irretrievably, but the nation was on fire from within:

Like many of his neighbors, Dominic A. Lebourgeois was in disbelief on Sunday at the level of violence that descended on his Sherman Park neighborhood the previous evening.

“I’ve lived here for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” said Mr. Lebourgeois, 53, a self-employed handyman.

Hours after a police officer shot and killed a fleeing armed man angry crowds confronted the police and then went on a rampage, destroying property, setting fires and throwing rocks and other missiles at officers. At least half a dozen businesses, including a gas station and an auto parts shop, were destroyed.

“I think it’s crazy, it’s ludicrous,” Mr. Lebourgeois said. “These are the stores we shop in. I got a feeling they’re going to move instead of rebuild.”

The violence ended early Sunday, and hours later, a cluster of neighborhood volunteers started cleaning up the debris left in the aftermath of the unrest. But the neighborhood and city remained on edge.

That was Milwaukee. Scott Walker, the governor who wanted to be president but was the first to fall to Donald Trump, declared a state of emergency and activated the Wisconsin National Guard. The Milwaukee Police Department and Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office put everyone on-duty too. The fleeing armed man was a young black man, with a rap sheet and a reputation, and the police say that a video taken by a police body camera showed that the guy was armed with a handgun at the time he was shot – but it’s almost as if that doesn’t matter anymore. The police refuse to release the video. The local folks want to know if the guy even pulled the gun – but that might not matter either. The police there do have a history of shooting young black men who were doing nothing much at all – and those young black men are all dead. Maybe the use of deadly force was fully justified this time, but the benefit of the doubt is long gone. That kid in Baltimore died of a broken neck after the police there took him for a long bumpy ride in the back of a police van, to teach the kid a lesson, and they all walked. That enraged fellow in Dallas gunned down all those police officers and now everyone talks about how the police are under attack and they’d better shoot first, to kill. Better safe than sorry, because blue lives matter – but black lives matter too. If you say, like Obama, both matter, you hate the police and want them to die. It’s time to choose sides, right? This will not end well. The rest of the year will be as hot as August.

And it was hot in Queens too:

New York police are working to track down the gunman who fatally shot the leader of a mosque in Queens and his associate on Saturday as they were walking home from afternoon prayers.

Meanwhile, members of the Bangladeshi Muslim community are mourning the death of Imam Maulama Akonjee, 55, and his friend Thara Uddin, 64. They’re calling on the police to investigate the killings as a hate crime.

Police said in a statement that the two men were shot in the Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens. The killings have sent shock waves through the neighborhood, which is “an enclave that area leaders described as a growing hub of Muslim families from Bangladesh that straddles the border between Brooklyn and Queens,” The New York Times reported.

But one must not jump to conclusions:

Police have not identified a motive for the killings, and said “they did not know whether it was related to a botched robbery, a dispute or anything tied to their religion or race,” the Times reported. Deputy Inspector Henry Sautner told the newspaper that “there’s nothing in the preliminary investigation that would indicate they were targeted by their faith.”

Both men were wearing “traditional religious attire,” as The Associated Press reported, and Akonjee “was carrying about $1,000 in cash but the money was not taken.”

But it’s easy enough to jump to conclusions:

The area’s Muslim community held a rally on Saturday night, calling for justice. “This is a hate crime no matter which way you look at it,” said Kobir Chowdhury, who leads another local mosque, as WCBS reported. “It’s hate against humanity; it’s hate against Muslims.”

Speaking to the crowd, Zead Ramadan, the Chairman of New York’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, linked the killings to comments from Donald Trump.

“We live in an era where people running for the highest office in the land … and potentially being the most powerful people in the world, espousing hate towards Muslims even in their own country, even citizens of their own country,” said Ramadan, according to the BBC. “This sort of Islamophobia and this hatred toward Muslims is now mushrooming.”

Of course it is:

According to the Times, “In the United States, there has been an average of 12.6 suspected anti-Muslim hate crimes a month in recent years, according to an analysis of FBI statistics, but that number appeared to spike late last year.”

Why would that be? Perhaps it was Donald Trump, at the time, calling for a complete and total ban on all Muslims, from anywhere, for any reason, entering our country, until “we can figure out what the hell is going on” – or perhaps it was a coincidence. But again, the benefit of doubt is long gone. He’s been on fire about Muslims from the start, when he isn’t on fire about Mexicans, and judges of Mexican heritage – and Blue Lives Matter and the Black Lives Matter movement is a hate group, and so on and so forth. If there are August fires in America, he may be the arsonist. If not, he is fanning the flames.

Donald Trump has a new idea too – to assemble an army of armed volunteers to show up at “certain polling places” and challenge each voter to prove they’re eligible to vote, on the sidewalk or in the parking lot before they enter. But this may be illegal. There seems to be a consent decree in place. The Republican Party agreed to stop doing this sort of thing. The courts called it voter intimidation. The Republicans called it citizens assuring the voting process wasn’t rigged – citizen patriots with guns keeping things honest. Anyway, you can sign up at Trump’s website and volunteer.

This time it was Altoona, Pennsylvania:

We’re gonna watch Pennsylvania. Go down to certain areas and watch and study and make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times. … The only way we can lose, in my opinion – and I really mean this, Pennsylvania – is if cheating goes on. I really believe it…

Let me just tell you, I looked over Pennsylvania. And I’m studying it. And we have some great people here. Some great leaders here of the Republican Party, and they’re very concerned about that. And that’s the way we can lose the state. And we have to call up law enforcement. And we have to have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everybody watching. Because if we get cheated out of this election, if we get cheated out of a win in Pennsylvania, which is such a vital state, especially when I know what’s happening here, folks. I know. She can’t beat what’s happening here.

The only way they can beat it in my opinion – and I mean this 100 percent – if in certain sections of the state they cheat, OK? So I hope you people can sort of not just vote on the 8th, go around and look and watch other polling places and make sure that it’s 100 percent fine, because without voter identification – which is shocking, shocking that you don’t have it.

All the polling shows him ten points behind in Pennsylvania, but there’s a history here:

There is almost no actual in-person voter fraud. In a survey of 1 billion ballots cast between 2000 and 2014, 241 possible fraudulent ballots were found. Several of those ballots were cast in elections in Pennsylvania where a man named “Joseph Cheeseboro” and another named “Joseph J. Cheeseborough” each cast a ballot. That’s all that was uncovered in Pennsylvania.

The “certain sections of the state” to which Trump is referring is almost certainly are a reference to a long-standing conspiracy theory involving the results in Philadelphia in 2012, where, in some places Mitt Romney got zero votes.

Sean Hannity talks about that a lot. How could that be? Well, there are reasons. All sorts of people thought Romney was a jerk. Trump, however, says it’s time to challenge suspect voters – but there’s that damned consent decree. On the other hand, you can still fan the flames. Large groups of burly and bearded Duck Dynasty kind of guys, with the American flag bandannas, carrying assault rifles, as is their right, hanging around “certain polling places” but not intervening – just standing there, staring at anyone who shows up to vote – might do the trick. You’d be a fool to want to walk that gauntlet. There will be volunteers.

This seems needlessly incendiary, but when losing badly, burning the house down might be the only option, simply fan the flames:

In a series of tweets Sunday, Donald Trump launched a new tirade against the media, calling it “disgusting” and blaming it for his drop in polls.

His latest tweet storm first targeted The New York Times, which published an article Saturday about the GOP nominee’s allegedly failing campaign, but quickly expanded as an indictment of the media in general.

“The failing @nytimes talks about anonymous sources and meetings that never happened. Their reporting is fiction. The media protects Hillary!”

In the article, colleagues who spoke on the condition of anonymity described Trump as “exhausted, frustrated and still bewildered by fine points of the political process.”

“The failing @nytimes, which never spoke to me, keeps saying that I am saying to advisers that I will change. False, I am who I am-never said,” Trump tweeted.

The GOP nominee later tweeted Sunday afternoon saying Hillary Clinton is “being protected by the media.”

“She is not a talented person or politician. The dishonest media refuses to expose!” The tweet said.

He then added: “I am not only fighting Crooked Hillary, I am fighting the dishonest and corrupt media and her government protection process. People get it!”

They do. This was pathetic. The kid who is losing was throwing a tantrum:

At a rally on Saturday, hours after The New York Times article was released, Trump said “the newspaper is going to hell.” He even suggested he would take away its reporters’ credentials.

“When they write dishonest stories we should be a little bit tough,” Trump said at his rally in Fairfield, Connecticut.

There’s nothing new there. Months ago he said that once he was president he would get Congress to change the libel laws and then sue the Washington Post, and bury them in massive defensive legal costs that would force them out of business. He’d make sure that the cost of mounting a defense would far exceed all their available assets – string out the process for years and they’d eventually be broke, and gone. He doesn’t even have to win the libel suit, as he learned in the business world. Then he’d do the same to the New York Times and CNN and MSNBC and anyone else who he thought had treated him unfairly.

No one took him seriously. Congress would never change the libel laws. People may hate the Washington Post – some do – but people also like the idea of a free press. And what was he going to say to a reluctant Congress? You’re fired? The whole thing was nonsense, and now it’s just sad, although Philip Bump examines the situation in detail:

So let’s assess this: “If the disgusting and corrupt media covered me honestly and didn’t put false meaning into the words I say, I would be beating Hillary by 20%.”

The “false meaning” complaint is pretty clearly about how his “Second Amendment people” comments were reported. On CNN on Sunday morning, Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, complained to Jake Tapper about that coverage, repeating the campaign’s insistence that Trump meant that gun owners could go vote to ensure a Trump victory. That clearly wasn’t what Trump was saying in the moment, since he was talking about judicial appointments after a Clinton win in the election.

Regardless, it’s worth asking what has changed from the primary to the general election in terms of Trump’s coverage. I’d suggest that not much has; in the primaries, he got a lot of extensive coverage of his rallies and a lot of scrutiny of the things that he said at them. But the polling showed him doing well, holding a lead.

And then things changed:

Trump got a core group of strong Republican supporters early in the primaries and held them. They responded well to his style and his message. He only cobbled together a majority of the party’s electorate at the end of the race; he ended up with less than a majority of the Republican vote.

That’s not the measuring stick anymore. That core of support is enough to keep him at about 40 percent in general election polls, but the media coverage that earned him his primary wins hasn’t done much to expand his base of support past that.

So Trump is doing the same thing but not winning. And since media is all he’s doing, the media gets the blame.

The man simply made odd choices:

Trump has the same ability as any other candidate to say precisely what he wants to any voter in any state: by advertising. He can buy ads in swing states and run 30- or 60-second spots making whatever case he wants in any language he chooses. He can send mail, he can knock on doors. He can, in other words, run a campaign. But he’s not.

He isn’t running any ads, spending zero dollars on television (and getting outspent by the Green Party and Libertarian candidates). He isn’t contacting voters on doors or on phones, and has hardly any field offices. He isn’t sending mail. He’s tweeting, he’s holding rallies, but not much else.

And he’s holding rallies in places like Connecticut, where he was Saturday. He told the crowd there that he was going to make a “big play” for the state, which one has to assume isn’t true. Trump won’t win Connecticut, a heavily Democratic state. There’s no point in his wasting campaign resources on the state (in the event that he starts expending resources anywhere) since it holds only a couple of electoral votes anyway. It’s simply baffling that he would hold an event there at all, even if he’s not serious about carrying the state.

That is not the media’s fault:

Trump’s problem is not that the “disgusting and corrupt media” is putting false meaning into things he says. The problem is that Trump’s only messenger is himself, and that he says things that seem to objective observers inside and outside the media as questionable. Trump is mad at how his speeches are covered by the media because he can’t figure out why the strategy isn’t working the way it did during the primary season. He can put out any message he wants on TV or in mail or wherever he wants. It’s not free, but he can do it.

But for some incomprehensible reason, he won’t.

As Trump himself would say, that’s sad, folks. But he’s new at this, and things are going all wrong, so of course he lashes out. Burn it all down – burn America down. Perhaps he’ll rise from the ashes.

Perhaps he won’t. The Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt suggests this:

If he doesn’t ultimately win the election and shred our Constitution, the most annoying thing about Donald Trump may end up being this: He forced us to devote so much of our lives to a man who is, fundamentally, a bore.

In fact, he’s uninteresting:

Trump has upended our politics. But he turns out to be the guy you would pray not to sit next to at dinner. He’s the one who never asks you a question, talks endlessly about himself – and has nothing to say. He doesn’t read, has no original ideas and thinks he knows more than you do because he once heard something on the news. If you were at a bar and saw him walking in, you’d look the other way, hoping not to catch his eye.

Does he really believe that President Obama founded the Islamic State? Who cares?

Being dull doesn’t mean that Trump isn’t dangerous. Some villains in history have been complex characters – thoughtful, deeply read, strategic. Others have managed to do plenty of damage without ever having had an original thought.

Being dull doesn’t mean his supporters are dull, or that their concerns are illegitimate. A lot of them voted for Trump in the primaries because they felt, often with reason, that traditional politicians had done nothing to improve their lives.

That, however, was a mistake:

“Make America Great Again” is still nothing more than words on a hat. Trump hasn’t bothered to learn anything more about the Constitution, or the government, or government policy than he knew a year ago. His campaign still consists of test-marketing insults one rally at a time. Occasionally he tries to impersonate a devoted churchgoer, or an antiabortion activist, or an NRA believer, but he usually botches the role because he hasn’t prepared. And he hasn’t prepared because he’s not really interested in what anyone else believes – not Christians, not anti-abortion activists, not gun enthusiasts. He has only one interest…

His extreme self-regard is one of the qualities that make him unfit to be president, as has been frequently pointed out. But it also explains why, even as we follow his campaign minute by minute, we feel almost demeaned. All this time, all this attention, and what will we have learned?

We learned that the man is bore:

The true trademark of the insufferable bore is the conviction that he is doing you a great favor by spending time with you. Trump brings this to his campaign every day – his conviction that he is doing the entire country a great favor, that serving as president would represent an enormous sacrifice. “I could be having a very nice life right now,” he says.

And if he loses, that’s okay, too: “I’m going to have a very, very nice long vacation,” he said last week.

Which is fine. Just don’t tell us about it when you get back.

James Kirchick, a fellow with the Foreign Policy Initiative, sees things a bit differently with this thought-experiment:

Last summer, a black real estate developer and reality television show host – let’s call him Donell Trump – announced his candidacy for president of the United States. A notorious adulterer, Donell Trump has fathered five children with three different wives. Over decades in the media spotlight, he has insulted a slew of women by calling them, among many other slurs, “fat,” “ugly” and “pigs”; he told one female journalist she had “the face of a dog.”

Once the proprietor of a global beauty pageant – whose contestants he routinely demeaned – Donell Trump is obsessed with boasting about his sexual prowess. He joked about the size of his anatomy during a live televised debate and riffed about dating his adult daughter. If Donell Trump’s attitude toward the fairer sex could be distilled into a single sentence, it’s what he told Esquire in 1991: “It really doesn’t matter what [the media] write about you as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”

Then there’s money. Donell Trump can’t get enough of it. He’s obsessed with ostentatious displays of wealth. Donell Trump constantly exaggerates his personal net worth, and his larger-than-life existence – shiny watches, fast cars, big yachts, massive cribs – resembles that of a rap star. A substantial part of his fortune was made through shady business ventures that took advantage of working-class people, but Donell Trump has no apologies.

Donell Trump also displays rank ignorance about every single political issue he’s asked about, speaks at a fifth-grade reading level, and has trouble forming grammatically correct sentences. He routinely nudges attendees at his rallies to beat up protestors, has boasted that he could shoot someone on Manhattan’s 5th Avenue to prove his voters’ loyalty to him, and has dropped hints that his supporters should kill his opponent.

Now consider this:

Presented with such a presidential candidate – one who seemingly went out of his way to personify every negative stereotype our society holds about black male sexuality, avarice and propensity to violence – how would the Republican Party base and conservative entertainment industry respond? Would Bill O’Reilly and Jerry Falwell Jr. praise Donell Trump as a model American businessman and moral leader? Or would they lament how this habitual homewrecker and “baby daddy” to three separate women symbolized the epidemic of African American absentee fatherhood? Would Rush Limbaugh insist that Donell Trump’s half-literate tirades were the heartfelt pleas of a down-to-earth, blue-collar billionaire?

Those questions answer themselves:

In a sense, we already know how this segment of the right would respond to such a hypothetical black politician, given the way they’ve treated President Obama. An intellectual, Ivy League-educated, cool-tempered family man, Obama has nevertheless been portrayed by much of the right-wing media as nothing short of the anti-Christ, a crypto-Muslim Manchurian candidate secretly plotting to destroy America. Meanwhile, many of the same people who claim with a straight face that the plagiarizing former nude model Melania Trump would make an ideal first lady slam Michelle Obama’s innocuous healthy-eating initiative as nothing less than a Maoist reeducation scheme.

Donell Trump also wants to burn down America, by the way. Or is that the other one? Maybe it doesn’t matter. From Queens to Milwaukee, from Baltimore to Dallas, America is on fire, and one of these two Trumps now wants to burn down the concept of a free press, and our system of open elections, with no one with guns watching you vote. This may be the hottest August ever, but the problem isn’t the weather.

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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1 Response to Our August Fires

  1. Rick says:

    True story:

    Shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a friend of my wife’s was on a tour of Moscow and its environs with a group that got lost in one of its small cities, so they approached a traffic cop to ask directions. As they began, he interrupted and said, “One second! Come with me,” and led the group across the street. When everyone had reached the opposite side, he arrested them all for jaywalking and put them in jail for a week. It took lots of American dollars to get them out.

    And what does this have to do with Donald Trump, you ask? (And you’d be right to ask that, since, these days, everything has something to do with Donald Trump.) It’s just that the way Trump treats the press reminds me of that story.

    Because he’s such a cheap bastard, he doesn’t spend his precious dollars on advertising, figuring he can get all the publicity he needs by manipulating the media to cover him for free, simply by saying something outlandishly stupid on a daily basis. So the news media, as if they have a choice, faithfully report verbatim — and often, live — on everything he says, and he then accuses them of being “crooked” and “liars”!

    And technically, he’s right! If the news media passes on to the public any lie, even one that originates from Donald Trump’s mouth, then Donald Trump would be right to call them liars.

    Is it a coincidence that Trump likes the way they do things in Russia, not to mention that they also seem to like him? The two could give each other lessons on how to get away with pushing people around.

    But it’s actually worse than that. Here’s Fareed Zakaria, talking on CNN over the weekend with Pavel Felgenhauer, columnist for the Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper, about Trump’s popularity in Russia:

    Zakaria: Explain to us Russia’s love affair with Trump.

    Felgenhauer: Well, I would say, primarily, Trump is popular here in Russia because Barrack Obama is deeply unpopular.

    So, I mean, anyone who is attacking Obama would be seen nicely by the Russian population. Obama is seen as a person who organized the sanctions after Russia took over Crimea, and these sanctions, together with the [something] price of war, cost a very badly for the Russian population. We have a shrinking economy, falling household incomes, and everyone believes, I mean not just the Kremlin but also the masses of the people, that this is all Obama’s fault.

    And Hillary Clinton is seen as a kind of surrogate, a continuation of Obama. And Trump is saying the right words, about that he is ready to maybe recognize Russian annexation of Crimea, maybe will give Russia the rest of Ukraine as a kind of dependency, as part of Russian recognized sphere of influence. So he is believed to be maybe the good guy!

    Wait! What?

    You heard that right! The people of Russia apparently miss the good old days of the Cold War, in which Russia and America were like two New York crime families, divvying up territory among themselves:

    Zakaria: Pavel, you talked about how Obama is unpopular because he’s been tough on Russia. But in general, is America also unpopular? My sense is that Russians have really lost any fascination that they had after the Cold War with the United States, and regard it with pretty jaundiced eyes.

    Felgenhauer: Yeah, there is no love there. America is seen as the major geopolitical enemy, the big Satan that’s trying to kind of hold Russia under, not allow Russia to rise again to its normal status of super power, and so on.

    Though, at the same time, America is also, to some extent, envied. And basically the Russian [something], the Russian elite, they would want to be with the United States on par, kind of working a world concert, over the heads of other nations, finding quid-pro-quos, agreeing, as they did during the Cold War, the two superpowers, working together, keeping a new world order.

    So America is seen as an enemy, but at the same time, as a very important partner.

    Yikes? Welcome to the post-Obama world!

    And yet one more good thing about Trump becoming president, at which time we become more like Russia, is that the American media would, once and for all, suddenly stop being such notorious liars.


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