Trump’s War

North Carolina in the early seventies was still the South. Graduate school at Duke was deceptive. Jesse Helms, long before he became a senator, was doing editorials on the television station out of Raleigh, talking about the disappearance of all that was noble and good from the old days – when wise white men ran the place – and Hillsborough was a sleepy town where nothing had happened in a hundred years, with an inn that had been open continuously since 1838. The food wasn’t very good, but it was authentic. And then everything changed. Research Triangle Park made at least part of the place high tech. Hipsters arrived. Immigrants from all over arrived – many from India and such places in the new tech world there – but also Hispanics and Vietnamese and whatnot, doing the low-end work.

The state got progressive. Charlotte became the banking center of America. The state went for Obama in 2008, but then it went for Romney four years later. The Jesse Helms crowd wasn’t going to go down without a fight. With a lot of help from the Koch brothers, hardline conservatives won control of the legislature and the governorship. North Carolina now has the most restrictive voter-ID laws in the nation and the dates and times and location of voting have been made as narrow as possible. The courts have told the state to stop that nonsense, but the state is still appealing all that. And that “bathroom bill” is still in effect. People of questionable sex will need to find another place to take a dump. Professional sports and the NCAA have moved their games elsewhere. Pop singers cancelled concerts. PayPal and others moved out of the state – but none of it mattered. It was back to when wise white men ran the place, whatever the cost.

This was war. It’s still being fought, so this had to happen:

A GOP office in Hillsborough, North Carolina, was firebombed overnight, with a swastika and the words “Nazi Republicans get out of town or else” spray-painted on an adjacent building, according to local officials.

“The flammable substance appears to have ignited inside the building, burned some furniture and damaged the building’s interior before going out. The substance was housed in a bottle thrown through one of the building’s front windows,” according to a statement by the town of Hillsborough….

“This highly disturbing act goes far beyond vandalizing property; it willfully threatens our community’s safety via fire, and its hateful message undermines decency, respect and integrity in civic participation,” Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens said in a statement.

Of course it does, but this war extended beyond North Carolina:

The weekend firebombing episode become fodder for claims by Trump that the election is “rigged” in Clinton’s favor, reflecting the intensity surrounding of the campaign in the final weeks of the race. In the evening, Trump – without evidence – blamed the firebombing on Clinton supporters.

“Animals representing Hillary Clinton and Dems in North Carolina just firebombed our office in Orange County because we are winning @NCGOP,” Trump tweeted Sunday night.

Trump said the attack occurred “because we are winning” even though most polls show Clinton leading in the state, but he says things like that all the time. This is war, after all, but Jeff Stein is worried:

In isolation, Trump’s wild claims would be worrisome enough: presidential candidates don’t normally make unfounded accusations that their opponents are using covert agents to carry out fire-bombings. (Knee-jerk accusations of violence also seem like a dangerous thing for a commander-in-chief to have a habit of doing.)

But there’s another critical context for understanding Trump’s Tweet: The Republican presidential nominee has begun making increasingly conspiratorial claims that a cabal of “global elites” is rigging the election for Clinton.

As part of that, he’s begun encouraging his fans to monitor polling stations in places like Philadelphia – a sign his supporters are interpreting to mean that they should racially profile polling stations. Just today, top Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani was on cable TV claiming that the vote totals of the “inner-cities” were prone to massive voter fraud (they’re not).

Stein sees Trump making the North Carolina white man’s war national:

Baselessly accusing Clinton of being behind the firebombing is crass. But it’s also being used to fit a broader narrative his political opponent is so dangerous, so crooked, that she’s willing to commit acts of terrorism to influence the voting results. And if that’s true, then of course she’s willing to steal an election by other means, and of course his supporters should doubt the results.

We still have 22 days left in maybe the most acrimonious political campaign in modern American history. And that is a lot of time for Trump to prime his most extreme followers to believe they’re up against not just someone willing to skirt email management rules, but a criminal willing to risk actual, real-world violence against American citizens.

Is this war? Perhaps so, but James Fallows worries about something else:

The very hardest thing about being president is that almost all of the choices you get to make are no-win, impossible decisions. Let civilians keep getting slaughtered in Syria? Or commit U.S. forces without being sure who they are fighting for and how they might “win”? Propose a “compromise” measure – on health insurance, gun control, taxes, a Supreme Court nominee, whatever – in hopes that you’ll win over some of the opposition? Or assume from the start that the opposition will oppose, and begin by asking for more than you can get? Choices that are easier or more obvious get made by someone else before they are anywhere close to the president’s desk.

These decisions are hardest when life-and-death stakes are high and time is short. In 2003, invade Iraq, or wait? In 2011, authorize the raid on bin Laden, or not? In 1962, when to confront the Soviets over their missiles in Cuba, and when to look for the possibility of compromise.

The more I’ve learned about politics and the presidency, the more I’ve been sobered by the combination of temperamental stability and intellectual rigor these decisions demand. Stability, not to be panicked or rushed or provoked. Rigor, to understand what more you need to know, but also to recognize when you must make a choice even with less information than you would like…

This crucial measure is one on which Donald Trump keeps demonstrating that he is flagrantly unfit. What’s hardest for any president would be simply impossible for him, as he reminds us yet again today.

Josh Marshall, however, sees the strategy here:

This attack on a GOP campaign office in North Carolina is a very serious situation. Any kind of election related violence is always serious. But it is especially so in a campaign which has already seen more incitement and incendiary than in almost half a century and arguably much longer. Predictably, Donald Trump has publicly blamed Hillary Clinton and cited the attack as a reason that “now we have to win.” In other words, Trump is now arguing that victory is either necessary as payback for the fire or that victory is necessary to defend supporters against future attacks.

That does make this a war, and as for that other matter, Marshall adds this:

Where do state laws on voter suppression and open-carry intersect with federal laws on voter intimidation and voting rights?

You saw this incident last week where two Trumpers stood outside a Democratic campaign office in Virginia for twelve hours holding firearms. This was obviously menacing behavior. And this takes on a new dimension, both substantively and in terms of federal law, when it’s tied to elections. But it was also completely legal under state firearms laws.

That creates a tension, and extends the same white man’s war:

We know Donald Trump now repeatedly asks his supporters to go to minority precincts on Election Day to search for signs of voter fraud and attempts to steal the election. Today his chief surrogate Rudy Giuliani told Jake Tapper that Democrats are able to steal elections because they “control the inner cities.” So there’s no longer much attempt to be subtle about warning that black people are going to steal the election for Hillary Clinton.

That is the message, and there’s no easy answer here:

Voting officials in a number of open-carry states say it wouldn’t necessarily be against the law if Trumpers did some version of what happened in Virginia outside polling places. It wouldn’t necessarily be protected either. It would be up to the local election official to decide if it amounted to intimidation or interference.

Under state law this may well be the case. But federal law Trumps state law and the federal government has an extensive legal mandate to prevent election interference and voter intimidation, especially, though not exclusively, where African-Americans are the targets.

The kind of ‘poll-watching’ Trump is encouraging is in the great majority of cases illegal – wildly more so if it involves doing so with firearms. So is the federal government taking steps now to protect the polls? How does it plan to approach cases where firearms clearly amount to menacing behavior but state law gives people the right to carry firearms pretty much wherever they want as long as they are not openly brandishing them or pointing them in a threatening manner?

Marshall doesn’t have an answer to that. There’s no good answer, but this is war:

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. tweeted Saturday that it was time for people to rise up and do something more than complain about a “corrupt” system…

“It’s incredible that our institutions of Gov, WH, Congress, DOJ, and big media are corrupt & all we do is bitch. Pitchforks and torches time!”

What is he proposing? He is safely vague about that – pitchforks and torches didn’t work that well in Young Frankenstein – but he is who he is:

An outspoken critic of the Black Lives Matter movement, Clarke spoke out at the Republican National Convention in support of Trump in July.

In a controversial CNN interview in July, Clarke argued that Black Lives Matter were responsible for violence against police.

Clarke is black, by the way. This is about no one questioning the police, ever. No one should ever question Donald Trump either, ever. There’s a pattern here. And there is a war:

Three members of a Kansas militia group were charged on Friday with plotting to bomb an apartment building filled with Somali immigrants in the western Kansas meatpacking town of Garden City.

Acting US attorney Tom Beall said Curtis Wayne Allen, Patrick Eugene Stein and Gavin Wayne Wright are members of a group calling itself the Kansas Security Force.

The arrests were the culmination of an eight-month FBI investigation that took agents “deep into a hidden culture of hatred and violence”, Beall said. The suspects conspired to detonate a bomb at a Garden City apartment complex where Somalis were among roughly 120 residents, he said.

That’s one way to take care of these Muslim folks. These guys were arrested in the Kansas town of Liberal – irony is not dead. They had performed surveillance of the apartment building and prepared a manifesto, for all the good that did them. They now face up to life in federal prison without parole, unless President Trump pardons them. What will he do about these sovereign citizen folks, who believe in total freedom from government laws? Trump is not fond of those either, but Kansas is much like North Carolina now:

Garden City is home to a Tyson Foods beef slaughterhouse that has drawn a diverse immigrant population to the area.

The case is the latest involving militia groups in the state. Earlier this year, a planned armed protest outside a Wichita mosque prompted the Islamic Society of Wichita to cancel an appearance by a speaker whom protesters believed supported terrorism.

There are a lot of guns in the streets, and a lot of angry people. Late last month, the Arizona Republic broke 126 years of tradition by declining to endorse the Republican candidate for president this time around, instead choosing Hillary Clinton, and was bombarded with death threats to the editor and all their reporters. This weekend they posted a defiant response – they’ll keep calling things like they see them – but this does seem like a war. And Donald Trump thinks Saturday Night Live is rigging the election and should be canceled as someone else is now calling things as they see them. Is that allowed?

Of course it is, and this weekend things came to a head:

Republican leaders and election officials from both parties on Sunday sought to combat claims by Donald J. Trump that the election is rigged against him, amid signs that Mr. Trump’s contention is eroding confidence in the vote and setting off talk of rebellion among his supporters.

In a vivid illustration of how Mr. Trump is shattering American political norms, the Republican nominee is alleging that a conspiracy is underway between the news media and the Democratic Party to commit vast election fraud. He has offered no evidence to support his claim.

“The election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary – but also at many polling places – SAD,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

Mr. Trump made the incendiary assertion hours after his running mate, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, tried to play down Mr. Trump’s questioning of the fairness of the election. Mr. Pence said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he and Mr. Trump “will absolutely accept the result of the election.”

Mike Pence hasn’t been listening to what Trump continues to say, or he’s a hopeful kind of guy, but he shouldn’t be:

According to an Associated Press poll last month, only one-third of Republicans said they had a great deal of confidence their votes would be counted fairly. And election officials are worried that Mr. Trump’s continued pressing of the issue could dampen turnout or cause his supporters to deny the legitimacy of the results if he loses.

Last week, Mr. Trump called the presidential election “one big fix” and “one big, ugly lie.”

Jon A. Husted, the secretary of state of Ohio, said it was “wrong and engaging in irresponsible rhetoric” for any candidate to question the integrity of elections without evidence. Mr. Husted, a Republican, said he would have no reason to hesitate to certify the results of the election.

“We have made it easy to vote and hard to cheat,” Mr. Husted said Sunday in an interview. “We are going to run a good, clean election in Ohio, like we always do.”

And there are the facts of the matter:

American elections are, unlike those in many democracies, largely decentralized, rendering the possibility of large-scale fraud extraordinarily unlikely. Further, the balloting in many of the hardest-fought states will be overseen by Republican officials, individuals who would be highly unlikely to consent to helping Mrs. Clinton rig the vote.

So this is nonsense, but dangerous nonsense:

Chris Ashby, a Republican election lawyer, said Mr. Trump’s attacks on the electoral process were unprecedented and risked creating a fiasco on Election Day. Mr. Ashby also said that Mr. Trump was “destabilizing” the election by encouraging his supporters to deputize themselves as amateur poll monitors, outside the bounds of the law.

“That’s going to create a disturbance and, played out in polling places across the country, it has the potential to destabilize the election,” Mr. Ashby said, “which is very, very dangerous.”

And it is nonsense:

Democrats were just as bothered but also amused about the unlikely prospect of a vast fraud plot unfolding at thousands of disparate polling places. “He’s fine with the system when he wins the primary, but now he’s pre-emptively claiming precinct-level fraud?” said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, calling Mr. Trump’s language “unambiguously racist, but also absurd, ludicrous and pathetic.”

Even Paul D. Ryan, the speaker of the House, who just last week all but removed himself from the presidential campaign, was forced to issue a statement. “Our democracy relies on confidence in election results, and the speaker is fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity,” said Mr. Ryan’s spokeswoman, AshLee Strong.

Sure, but Trump still wants his war, and like ISIS he seems to be recruiting his own lone-wolf jihadists to do some serious damage.

Something odd is going on here, and Philip Rucker and Robert Costa offer this explanation:

He is preaching to the converted. He is lashing out at anyone who is not completely loyal. He is detaching himself from and delegitimizing the institutions of American political life. And he is proclaiming conspiracies everywhere – in polls (rigged), in debate moderators (biased) and in the election itself (soon to be stolen).

In the presidential campaign’s home stretch, Donald Trump is fully inhabiting his own echo chamber. The Republican nominee has turned inward, increasingly isolated from the country’s mainstream and leaders of his own party, and determined to rouse his most fervent supporters with dire warnings that their populist movement could fall prey to dark and collusive forces.

This is a campaign right out of Breitbart, the incendiary conservative website run until recently by Stephen K. Bannon, now the Trump campaign’s chief executive – and it is an act of retaliation.

That may be the best way to see this:

A turbulent few weeks punctuated by allegations of sexual harassment have left Trump trailing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in nearly every swing state. Trump’s gamble is that igniting his army of working-class whites could do more to put him in contention than any sort of broad, tempered appeal to undecided voters.

But it hasn’t gone well:

The execution has been volatile. Since announcing last week that “the shackles have been taken off me,” Trump, bolstered by allies on talk radio and social media, has been creating an alternate reality – one full of innuendo about Clinton, tirades about the unfair news media and prophecies of Trump’s imminent triumph.

The candidate once omnipresent across the “mainstream media” these days largely limits his interviews to the safe harbor of the opinion shows on Fox News, and most of them are with Sean Hannity, a Trump supporter and informal counselor.

Many Republicans see the Trump campaign’s latest incarnation as a mirror into the psyche of their party’s restive base: pulsating with grievance and vitriol, unmoored from conservative orthodoxy, and deeply suspicious of the fast-changing culture and the consequences of globalization.

“I think Trump is right: The shackles have been released, but they were the shackles of reality,” said Mike Murphy, a veteran GOP strategist. “Trump has now shifted to a mode of complete egomaniacal self-indulgence. If he’s going to go off with these merry alt-right pranksters and only talk to people who vote Republican no matter what, he’s going to lose the election substantially.”

Sure, but that might not matter:

For Bannon and legions of Trump fans, Trump’s approach is not only a relished escalation of his combativeness, but also a chance to reshape the GOP in Trump’s hardline nationalist image.

“This is a hostile takeover,” said former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R), a Trump ally. “They believe the media is their mortal enemy and the country is in mortal danger, that Hillary Clinton would end America as we know it.”

If so, enter the noble martyr:

Trump’s strategy was crystallized by his defiant speech Thursday in West Palm Beach, Fla., in which he brazenly argued that the women who have accused him of unwanted kissing and groping were complicit in a global conspiracy of political, business and media elites to slander him and extinguish his outsider campaign.

“It’s a global power structure,” he said. Trump went on to describe himself as a populist martyr – “I take all of these slings and arrows gladly for you.”

Good for him, but Kevin Drum suggests this:

It’s 23 days until this sordid campaign finally ends. Polls currently suggest that (a) Hillary Clinton will become president, (b) Democrats will regain control of the Senate, and (c) Republicans will maintain control of the House. Let’s assume that’s how things turn out. What happens next? A few things:

The Republican Party will completely disown and repudiate Donald Trump.

Mitch McConnell will be a nonentity. He doesn’t pretend to be a national leader, especially if he’s in the minority, and he’s shown pretty often that he’s willing to do deals in a fairly conventional way. He’s a caucus manager, not a visionary.

With few other choices around, Paul Ryan becomes the undisputed leader of the Republican Party.

After the election Republicans will do their usual “autopsy,” and it will say the usual thing: Demographic trends are working against them, and they have to reach out to non-white, non-male voters if they don’t want to fade slowly into irrelevance. In the last 25 years, they’ve won two presidential elections by the barest hair’s breadth and lost the other five – and this is only going to get worse in the future.

Hillary Clinton will remain the pragmatic dealmaker she is. And despite the current bucketloads of anti-Hillary red meat that Republicans are tossing around right now, most of them trust her to deal honestly when it comes to political bargains.

The madness ends:

Paul Ryan is not a racial fearmonger. He’s always been open to immigration reform. He’s consistently shown genuine disgust for Donald Trump. He’s been open to making low-key deals in the past. He’s smart enough to know precisely the depth of the demographic hole Republicans are in. And despite being conservative himself, he may well realize that the GOP simply can’t stay in thrall to the tea party caucus forever if it wants to survive. On a personal level, he saw what they did to John Boehner, and he may well be sick and tired of them himself.

It’s also possible that he wants to run for president in 2020, and if that’s the case he’ll do better if he has some real accomplishments to show over the next four years. Running on a platform of scorched-earth obstruction might get the tea partiers excited, but that’s not enough to win the presidency.

So maybe Ryan decides that now is the time to try to reform the Republican Party. Once he wins the speakership again, he makes clear to the tea partiers that they’re finished as power brokers: he’s going to pass bills even if it means depending on Democratic support to do it. He reaches out to women and minorities. He passes immigration reform. He makes sure that budgets get passed and we don’t default on the national debt. He works behind the scenes with Hillary Clinton in standard horsetrading mode: she gets some things she wants, but only in return for some things conservatives want.

And that’s actually likely:

This could go a long way toward making him the next president of the United States. If he plays his cards right, Clinton might suffer with her base for selling them out on some of the deals she makes. Ryan will get the tea partiers under control and have some accomplishments to run on. He’ll soften the nonwhite disgust with the party enough to pick up some minority votes. Maybe the economy helps him out by going soft in 2019. And he’s already got good looks, youth, and an agreeable speaking style going for him.

The war ends. Things return to normal. Or they don’t. Trump will be gone but those lone-wolf Trump jihadists with guns will still be out there. Starting a war is easy. Ending one isn’t.

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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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