In December, 1965, the Rolling Stones recorded a song which began with a line that was also the last line of the bridge – “What a drag it is getting old” – the repeated refrain, the theme. That was a big hit the next year on this side of the pond. For many of us, that was also the year high school ended and college began. Others were off to Vietnam. Some of them didn’t get to get old, but the rest of us were going to stay forever young. Getting old was a drag. And then it happened. The Stones got old. We all got old. And yes, it was a drag – but there was continuity to it. Nixon was followed by Ford, Ford was followed by Carter, Carter was followed by Reagan, Reagan was followed by the first Bush, who was followed by Bill Clinton, who was followed by the second Bush, and then we got Obama – and the country didn’t turn into a socialist paradise (or hellhole) or an authoritarian white-nationalist fascist state. Things were alternately good, or bad, depending on your point of view, but things evened out. None of these guys went too far. If people thought they did, they’d vote in the opposite sort of fellow the next time.
This was sort of boring, or comforting. Getting old wasn’t that bad. It was only a moderate drag. For all that sixties talk, no one really wanted a revolution, not in real life. Life was hard enough as it dragged on. Offer a revolution now and the aged and tired sixties folks will sing their new refrain – “I’m too old for this shit.”
That’s why Donald Trump is so tiresome. The move-right, move-left, move-right politics of America served America well – but Trump will be the first president we’ve had that doesn’t get that. He doesn’t know the job. Reagan talked a good game but he raised taxes more than a few times, and he signed an arms treaty with the Soviets, the Evil Empire as he called them, that got rid of a whole class of nuclear weapons. Obama governed as a moderate Republican – his progressive achievements, like the Affordable Care Act, were incremental achievements. We didn’t get socialized medicine. We didn’t even get single-payer. We got what could be gotten – subsidies for the purchase of health insurance from private parties, with light regulation. The left said this wasn’t much at all. The right said this was outrageous. It was somewhere in between. It’s always somewhere in between. That’s what keeps things stable. That’s what’s presidential.
That’s not Donald Trump, as Ruth Marcus notes here:
Less than two weeks into the reality that Donald Trump will be our next president, the situation feels more ominous than on election night.
“At the right time, I will be so presidential you will be so bored,” Trump assured us back in April, when the notion seemed fanciful. “I know when to be presidential.”
It didn’t seem so on the third Friday in November, as Matt Apuzzo and Mark Landler note here:
President-elect Donald J. Trump’s remarkable appointments on Friday served notice that he not only intends to reverse eight years of liberal domestic policies but also overturn decades of bipartisan consensus on the United States’ proper role in world affairs.
Mr. Trump moved unapologetically to realize his campaign’s vision of a nation that relentlessly enforces immigration laws; views Muslims with deep suspicion; aggressively enforces drug laws; second-guesses post-World War II alliances; and sends suspected terrorists to Guantánamo Bay or CIA prisons to be interrogated with methods that have been banned as torture.
At a time when American cities have been inflamed by racial tensions, police shootings and fears over homegrown terrorism, Mr. Trump made no conciliatory gestures toward Muslims, Mexicans and African-American neighborhoods, all of which he disparaged during his campaign.
The appointments so far – Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama as attorney general, Representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas as CIA director and Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn as national security adviser – sent an unmistakable signal that he did not intend to use his personnel choices to build bridges to Democrats or moderate Republicans who opposed his campaign’s nationalist overtones.
This is a revolution. There will be no more back-and-forth in our politics. That was the plan, and it may be foolish:
Mr. Trump swept into office promising to dispense with the political correctness of Washington’s establishment in both parties, and his choices reflect that. President George W. Bush established a Republican cabinet with a variety of shades of conservative ideology, including some officials who challenged him. Mr. Trump’s early decisions suggest he favors a cabinet that will echo his opinions.
“President-elect Trump is choosing a national security team that shares his views, and of course every president is entitled to do that,” said Kori Schake, who was the deputy director of policy planning in the State Department under Mr. Bush. “But the problem is that surrounding yourself with people who share your views tends to reinforce them, leaving you vulnerable to big mistakes.”
Everyone knows what’s coming now. Richard Fausset reports on what is here already:
For a brief moment, after a white supremacist carried out a massacre of black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., it seemed as though the Confederate battle flag, that most divisive of symbols, might soon be on its way out of the American political arena.
But now that explosive and complicated vestige of the Old South is back, in a new – and, to some Americans, newly disturbing – context. During President-elect Donald J. Trump’s campaign, followers drawn to his rallies occasionally displayed the flag and other Confederate iconography. Since the election, his supporters and others have displayed the flag as a kind of rejoinder to anti-Trump protesters in places such as Durango, Colo.; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Hampton, Va.; Fort Worth; and Traverse City, Mich.
On Election Day in Silverton, Ore., the flag appeared at a high school Trump rally, where students reportedly told Hispanic classmates, “Pack your bags; you’re leaving tomorrow.”
You say you want a revolution? This is not what the Beatles had in mind:
The emergence of the flag in a postelection context also comes as liberals and others have harshly criticized Mr. Trump for appointing as his chief White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, a website they accuse of trafficking in anti-Semitic, misogynist and anti-Muslim ideas.
Shortly after the June 17, 2015, Charleston massacre, an article posted on Breitbart argued that the Confederacy was “a patriotic and idealistic cause,” and that its flag “proclaims a glorious heritage.”
“Every tree, every rooftop, every picket fence, every telegraph pole in the South should be festooned with the Confederate battle flag” the author, Gerald Warner, wrote. “Hoist it high and fly it with pride.”
How much the flag’s resurgence reflects anything more than the sentiments of those who fly it remains unclear.
No, it’s clear:
Grace Elizabeth Hale, a professor of American studies and history at the University of Virginia who has written extensively about the South, segregation and white Americans, said the flag had long been a symbol for outsiders and a rebuke to the forces of decorum and political correctness.
She said its use now, both in the South and outside it, could be seen as an expression of concern that white culture “has been displaced as the norm.”
“Maybe for the first time ever, definitely in my lifetime, people outside the South are, in a very public way, claiming a white racial identity,” she said.
That used to be an implied subtext that would not be discussed openly. When it was discussed openly, it was slapped down, maybe not immediately, but at least in the next election cycle. Who needs that crap? Some of us are muttering that we’re too old for this shit.
Actually, it’s that political revolution that no one really wanted in the first place, which Jonathan Chait explains this way:
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign bludgeoned modern norms about the acceptability of racism. The candidate proposed a religious test for immigrants, and called a federal judge unfit on the grounds of his heritage. Trump could have decided to put the racial demagoguery of the campaign behind him, and it could have been remembered as a divisive ploy to win that did not define his administration, like George Bush’s manipulation of white racial panic to defeat Michael Dukakis in 1988. But Trump, perhaps predictably, is making a different choice. His early staffing choices are redefining the boundaries of acceptable racial discourse in Republican politics.
Michael Flynn, Trump’s new national security adviser, would be disqualified from a normal administration on multiple grounds. He is paid by authoritarian regimes in Turkey and Russia, as well as Russia’s propaganda apparatus. Multiple figures who worked with him in the military describe him as “unhinged,” a highly negative quality for a primary foreign-policy adviser.
The singular belief that lies at the core of Flynn’s worldview is indiscriminate hatred of Islam. George W. Bush’s administration took pains to distinguish terrorists who use Islam to justify murder from the peaceful majority. Since then, most Republicans have adopted the irresponsible talking point that it is essential to use the words “radical Islam” rather than phrasing calculated to win over Muslim moderates. Flynn takes this reasoning several steps further. He openly endorses indiscriminate fear of the entire religion – “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL… the truth fears no questions.”
He has also said that Islam is no more than a political ideology disguised as a religion. It’s not a religion at all. If he gets Trump to say that day after day, staring in January, it will become a political ideology disguised as a religion. Those two can make it so, and there’s the other guy:
Jeff Sessions, Trump’s new attorney general, originally had the political profile of a white reactionary Alabama politician in the Old South mode. The Senate rejected his bid for a federal judgeship in 1986 over a series of racist remarks he’d made, some of which he confirmed. Sessions called the NAACP “un-American” and accused it of “forcing civil rights down the throats of people,” and he allegedly called a black lawyer “boy” and warned him to be careful how he addressed white people.
Despite his rejection by the Senate, Sessions won election in the state, and his racial repertoire has since expanded beyond the traditional Deep South mode. He has enthusiastically embraced arch-restrictionist stances on immigration. He objected to the National Endowment for the Humanities distributing books about Islam to public libraries. He is obsessed with a shadowy globalist media-business conspiracy in general and the role of George Soros in particular.
And there’s the man in the shadows:
Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, has attracted perhaps the most controversy. That Bannon’s ex-wife has testified to his hatred of Jews has attracted a great deal of attention, but this fact both over- and understates the racial nature of his beliefs. Bannon’s journalistic work is centrally dedicated to the task of refashioning conservatism along white-identity lines. His publication, Breitbart News, has promoted the “alt-right.” Breitbart itself defines the alt-right as a more intelligent version of skinheads…
When asked by Trump about using immigration to keep talented minds, Bannon replied, “When two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia, I think …” Bannon said. “A country is more than an economy. We’re a civic society.” This was false as a matter of fact, but reflected Bannon’s obsession with maintaining America’s white identity.
The right-wing columnist Ben Shapiro, a former Breitbart staffer, has lambasted the publication for abandoning traditional movement conservatism for the alt-right version. Bannon’s project at Breitbart and his work with Trump is the culmination of his ideological ambitions. He has dreamed of rebuilding the Republican Party around a principle of white-identity politics. Bannon avoids explicit appeals to formal racism, though he also cultivates alliances with explicit racists.
These sorts of things add up:
The theme connecting Bannon’s ideology with Flynn and Sessions is an intensified and narrow nationalism. The Bannonites see a “real” America as under threat by demographic transformation, and the waves of immigrants eating away at its culture from below are in alliance with a global and disproportionately Jewish media and business elite from above. Their project is to preserve white Christian American identity, and wage a civilizational war against Islam in alliance with other white Christian powers, especially Russia.
And then there’s the other guy that Jennifer Williams covers here:
President-elect Donald Trump has tapped Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas to head the Central Intelligence Agency, putting a hawkish lawmaker who favors brutally interrogating detainees and expanding the American prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in charge of America’s premier spy agency…
The 52-year-old third-term Congress member serves on the House Intelligence Committee and played a prominent role the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which investigated Hillary Clinton for her role in the deaths of four Americans at the hands of Islamist terrorists in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.
Pompeo was particularly harsh on Clinton during the hearings, and in a report afterward accused her of having “put politics ahead of people” and “focusing more on spin and media narrative before an election than securing American lives under attack by terrorists.”
As a member of Congress with experience working closely with – and at times strongly defending – the intelligence community, Pompeo’s nomination as CIA chief could bode well for the future relationship between the CIA and Congress, which has deteriorated in recent years over the CIA’s detainee program and feuds with its nominal overseers on Capitol Hill.
But Pompeo’s extremely hawkish views on critical national security issues, such as his support for keeping open the US prison at Guantanamo Bay; his defense of brutal CIA interrogation practices like waterboarding and “rectal feeding”; and his overwhelming focus on the dire threat of “radical Islamic terrorism” – all positions closely aligned with those of President-elect Trump and his new national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn – suggest he is not likely to be a particularly sobering or restraining force on the president-elect, particularly when it comes to controversial policies like torture and drone strikes.
We’re in for a rough ride:
Trump said during the campaign that he would not only “bring back waterboarding,” which he considers a “minor form” of torture, but that he’d also bring back “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
That’s something Trump could theoretically do if he wanted to. One of the few things that could potentially prevent that from happening would be if the CIA director refused to carry out an order to reinstate practices like waterboarding and other forms of torture, which the CIA had previously used on detainees under President George W. Bush.
As current CIA Director John Brennan explained at an event at the Brookings Institution think tank back in April, “If a president were to order the agency to carry out waterboarding or something else, it’ll be up to the director of CIA and others within CIA to decide whether or not that direction and order is something that they can carry out in good conscience,” he said.
“As long as I’m director of CIA, irrespective of what the president says, I’m not going to be the director of CIA who gives that order. They’ll have to find another director,” Brennan added.
But Brennan isn’t going to be CIA director anymore; Pompeo is. And Pompeo strongly defended the CIA against its critics in Congress following the 2014 release of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture, declaring, “These men and women are not torturers, they are patriots,” and, “The programs being used were within the law, within the constitution.”
Now add this:
Trump also said on the campaign trail that he would keep open the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and “load it up with bad guys.” President Obama’s efforts to close down have been stymied by fierce Congressional opposition, and the prison still contained 60 detainees as of October 21, 2016, according to Human Rights First. The advocacy group says 56 of the detainees have been imprisoned there for more than 10 years without trial.
Here again, Trump will find a supporter in Pompeo. In a 2013 congressional hearing on whether to close the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Pompeo described the prison as “critical to national security” and said that closing it would create the “potential for endless litigation and rights expanded well beyond those afforded to enemy combatants.”
And so on and so forth, and that other guy is a risk too:
The announcement that Donald Trump will nominate Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to be his attorney general has produced a panic among civil rights groups.
The NAACP called his selection “deeply troubling” and said Sessions “supports an old, ugly history where Civil Rights were not regarded as core American values.” The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said Sessions had “no place leading our nation’s enforcement of civil rights and voting rights laws.” The NAACP-Legal Defense Fund said it was “unimaginable that he could be entrusted to serve as the chief law enforcement officer for this nation’s civil rights laws.”
Of particular concern is Sessions’ history on voting rights, which the Leadership Conference described as a “record of hostility.” Over the course of 30 years, Sessions has shown skepticism toward the Voting Rights Act, while being quick to inflame concerns over alleged election fraud. With Sessions at the helm of the Department of Justice, its recent efforts to curb discriminatory voting restrictions look to be very much in jeopardy.
“He has said many things to raise concerns and this is a time that these concerns are going to need to be quelled,” Wendy Weiser, the director of Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, told TPM.
The guy has a history:
As a U.S. attorney in Alabama in the mid-1980s, Sessions sought to prosecute African American activists in the state – including Albert Turner, a former aide to Martin Luther King Jr. who was also among those clubbed by police officers in the march for voting rights in Selma – for allegedly committing voter fraud with absentee ballots. The federal investigators hid behind the bushes outside of a post office to monitor the activists as they sent out about 500 absentee ballots they collected from elderly black voters, according to the Nation. The investigators took down the information from the ballots and tracked down 20 voters. The elderly African Americans were bused 200 miles to be interrogated and to deliver testimony in front of a grand jury, according to a Washington Post report from the time. Of the 1.7 million ballots cast in the election in question, the investigation was only able to turn up 14 allegedly tampered ballots, The New Republic reported.
Sessions brought 29 charges against each of the activists related to fraud and conspiracy, according to the Nation. A jury, in deliberations that lasted only a few hours, acquitted the three activists. Even after, Sessions insisted “there was sufficient evidence for a conviction,” the Washington Post reported at the time. The investigation was also knocked by a panel of judges who objected to how investigators numbered absentee ballots after they were mailed so they could collect the voters’ information, the AP reported in 1986, though Sessions continued to stand by the practice.
Civil rights groups warned that the probe, despite the acquittals, would have a chilling effect on campaigns to help African Americans vote, according to USA Today.
Understatement is nice, but there’s more:
In 2006, he voted in support for the extension of the Voting Rights Act, but not without making a stink about its Section 5, which required Alabama and other localities with a history of racial voting discrimination to get federal approval for election policy changes. After the extension, he signed on to a Republican report on the newly extended VRA that appeared to be skeptical of the constitutionality of some of its provisions.
Not surprisingly, he cheered the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, stemming from a lawsuit filed by a county in his home state that gutted the pre-clearance provision. He called it “good news, I think, for the South.”
The South may finally win that Civil War, right? But there’s even more:
He is a vocal proponent of voter ID laws. It’s worth noting that the Justice Department, which Sessions could soon head, has been involved in a number of lawsuits challenging voter ID laws and other restrictions for being discriminatory, including the lawsuit against Texas’ ID law, which has been appealed to the Supreme Court…
Additionally, Sessions has long claimed that voter fraud was an urgent problem, despite such cases being incredibly rare. The claim of fraud has been used by Sessions and others to advocate for restrictive laws that critics say are veiled efforts to make it harder for minorities to votes. Sessions was among the Trump supporters backing the then-GOP nominee’s claims that the 2016 election was rigged against him.
He’ll probably shut down the Justice Department’s Civil rights Division. As Paul Waldman notes, all of this is not good:
When you elect a white nationalist president, you get a white nationalist presidency.
It’s telling that Pompeo, a hard-right tea partyer who has said that all Muslim American religious leaders are “potentially complicit” in terrorism, is the moderate in the group. You can be outraged at Trump’s appointments – not just these, but also that of Steve Bannon of the white nationalist website Breitbart News as his chief strategist – and you should be. But you can’t be surprised. This is who Trump was during the campaign, and this is who he’s going to be.
Well, things change:
Obama appointed the first African American attorney general, and then the first African American female attorney general. She will be succeeded by Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, named for the president of the Confederacy and a Confederate general.
But there you have it:
Trump’s victory demonstrated the staggering power of a white nationalist appeal, and not because it drew in so many voters… The power of that appeal can be seen in what Trump voters were willing to overlook in order to vote for the white nationalist candidate. It’s why, every time Trump said something awful or some new scandal was revealed, everyone who said “Surely his candidacy is finished now” was wrong. It’s what kept him going strong when he questioned John McCain’s service (the first thing people said would destroy him), when we learned about the scam that was Trump University, when we found out that he didn’t pay federal taxes, and when we heard him on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women and then a dozen women came forward to say that he done what he said he did.
In every case, his supporters laughed it off. Trump’s unapologetic embrace of white identity politics, coming after decades of Republicans who would only promote it through dog-whistles and implication, was so thrilling and empowering to them that there was almost nothing they couldn’t accommodate themselves to, twisting the latest controversy around in their minds until it became evidence of Trump’s virtue.
Trump’s white nationalism is what gave him the support of 81 percent of white evangelical Christians, despite his libertine lifestyle and disinterest in religion. It’s what drove up turnout in all-white areas around the country. It’s what made him the Republican nominee and what made him the president. It’s who he is, and who he’s always going to be. And the administration will be a reflection of the man.
That’s not fair. America was never going to be a socialist paradise (or hellhole) and it was never going to be an authoritarian white-nationalist fascist state either. Things would be alternately good, or bad, depending on your point of view, but things would even out. And then we got this. The aged and tired sixties folks never thought they would live long enough to see this. It really is a drag getting old.