The Job at Hand

Everyone should read Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine for a sense of what summer used to be like in 1928 in small-town America – “Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”

Bradbury captures it all, and the adventures, and the discoveries, of a twelve-year-old boy long ago, but Bradbury’s Green Town, Illinois, was fictional. So was Grover’s Corners – another look back at the “real” America, before things got all messed up.

Maybe such places never existed, but things did get messed up. This summer is not Bradbury’s summer. President Trump seems to be threatening nuclear war on the Korean peninsula, or he’s bluffing to shame that Kim Jong Un fellow, to make him back off and whimper in submission, in the fetal position. No one knows which it is, but everyone agrees that this won’t end well. We seem to be on the brink of nuclear war, and there are Nazis matching the streets, American Nazis, many in full battle gear. Somewhere, someone may be bottling dandelion wine for the long winter ahead – a bit of summer in the first sip – but Bradbury never imagined a mid-August like this.

At least the circus is in town – a long line of elephants, all in a row, with that poor guy with a shovel and a pail cleaning up after them:

White House officials, under siege over President Trump’s reluctance to condemn white supremacists for the weekend’s bloody rallies in Charlottesville, Va., tried to clarify his comments on Sunday, as critics in both parties intensified demands that he adopt a stronger, more unifying message.

A statement on Sunday – issued more than 36 hours after the protests began – condemned “white supremacists” for the violence that led to one death. It came in an email sent to reporters in the president’s traveling press pool, and was attributed to an unnamed representative.

It was not attributed directly to Mr. Trump, who often uses Twitter to communicate directly on controversial topics. It also did not single out “white supremacists” alone but instead included criticism of “all extremist groups.”

As with Vladimir Putin, he’s not, personally, going to say one bad word about these white-supremacist-neo-Nazi-KKK folks either:

The email was sent “in response” to questions about Mr. Trump’s remarks, in which he blamed the unrest “on many sides” while speaking on Saturday before an event for military veterans at his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J., where the president is on vacation.

A generalized email would do, but it wouldn’t do:

The president’s reluctance to speak out with force and moral indignation against the white nationalists who incited the most serious racial episode of his presidency elicited deep feelings of disappointment spanning the ideological spectrum, and a spreading sense that he had squandered a critical opportunity to empathize, unite and move beyond the acrimony that has engulfed the White House and country.

“I think what you saw here was a real moment in our nation for our leaders to deal with this moral issue as one country, as people all over the world watched,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia said, speaking on a cellphone outside the home of one of the two state troopers killed in a helicopter crash monitoring the melee on Saturday.

Mr. Trump’s “words were not – not – what this nation needs,” Mr. McAuliffe, a Democrat, said, his voice breaking with emotion. “He needs to call out the white supremacists; he needs to call out the neo-Nazis to say these people should not be in our country. I do think it’s the president’s responsibility to take leadership on this. It’s what any American would do. Now is the time to step up.”

Others were willing to cut him some slack:

Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, a Republican and a frequent critic of Mr. Trump, cautioned against reading too much into the president’s initial response but called for the White House to use the episode as an opportunity to convene “a national discussion” on race, prejudice and community policing.

“There are a lot of people who are just not comfortable with the issue; perhaps they are afraid it would aggravate their base,” Mr. Kasich said, adding, “I think a president can always provide some leadership on a subject like this.”

In short, give him some time to get comfortable with all this, or not:

The criticism of Mr. Trump intensified on Sunday, with lawmakers from both parties calling on him to explicitly condemn the role of white racists and agitators affiliated with the fringe movement known as the alt-right, some of whom brandished pro-Trump banners and campaign placards during violent protests over the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue from a Charlottesville park.

And there was this:

As the White House shifted its message, the Justice Department opened a hate crimes inquiry into the violence, which included the death of a 32-year-old woman.

James Alex Fields Jr. of Ohio was charged with second-degree murder, accused of running down her and others in a car. Nineteen other people were injured in the episode, which Mr. McAuliffe called “murder, plain and simple.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pressed during his confirmation hearings early this year about how he might handle such a case, and many on Sunday said they saw the Charlottesville investigation as a test for him.

In a statement late Saturday, Mr. Sessions went further than the president had in his remarks, condemning not just the violence and deaths in Charlottesville but adding that “when such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated.”

It was unclear on Sunday what the specific scope of the investigation was.

Jeff Sessions needs some time to get comfortable with all this too, but there’s not much time:

As the gravity of the events on Saturday became clearer, the pressure on Mr. Trump to make a stronger statement came from his innermost circle of advisers and family.

“With the moral authority of the presidency, you have to call that stuff out,” Anthony Scaramucci, an ally of Mr. Trump who served briefly as White House communications director last month, told George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

“I wouldn’t have recommended that statement,” added Mr. Scaramucci, whose abbreviated tenure was characterized by a pledge to let Mr. Trump express himself without interference from staff members. “I think he would have needed to have been much harsher.”

Still, the tone and tenor of the president’s comments on Saturday – noticeably less fiery than what he has had to say on Twitter and in public settings about the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell – reflected Mr. Trump’s own thinking.

This item, from Glenn Thrush of the New York Times, goes on to discuss how Trump sees this as a law-and-order issue, not a racial issue at all, but there was this:

The episode again proved the limitations of Mr. Trump’s family, which was once expected to exert a moderating influence on his presidency. Ivanka Trump, a senior adviser to her father, used Twitter early Sunday to denounce the violence in Charlottesville, becoming the highest-ranking administration official to condemn the protesters on the record.

“There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazis,” she wrote Sunday.

Her father may have to talk to her about that, but David French concentrates on what actually happened:

The car rammed the crowd at speed, backed up, and sped away. This horrific incident capped a day of street brawls after hundreds of alt-right activists, neo-Confederates, and outright Nazis marched together to express and defend their “blood and soil” white nationalism. It was a disgusting and reprehensible display.

It would be much easier to write off this small band of racists if they weren’t also part of a larger alt-right movement that was responsible for an unprecedented wave of online threats, intimidation, and harassment throughout the 2016 campaign season.

That has a source:

Key elements of the Trump coalition, including Trump himself, gave the alt-right movement aid and comfort. Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, proclaimed that his publication, Breitbart.com, was the “the platform for the alt-right,” Breitbart long protected, promoted, and published Milo Yiannopolous – the alt-right’s foremost “respectable” defender – and Trump himself retweeted alt-right accounts and launched into an explicitly racial attack against an American judge of Mexican descent, an attack that delighted his most racist supporters.

In other words, if there ever was a time in recent American political history for an American president to make a clear, unequivocal statement against the alt-right, it was today. Instead, we got a vague condemnation of “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” This is unacceptable, especially given that Trump can be quite specific when he’s truly angry. Just ask the Khan family, Judge Curiel, James Comey, or any other person he considers a personal enemy.

In short, the job at hand for this president is making a clear, unequivocal statement against these folks, but James Fallows notes the complications:

A disproportionate amount of what we remember about presidents has to do with how they respond to the unforeseen – either instinctively, as with Reagan’s jaunty joking as doctors tried to save him from John Hinckley’s attempted assassination, or with thought-out deliberation, as with Johnson’s (positive) decision to use the tumult of the mid-1960s as propulsion for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, or his (negative) step-by-step immersion into the disaster of the Vietnam war. The best testament to Kennedy’s intelligence and character was the period of greatest danger to the world: the nearly two weeks of the Cuban Missile Crisis, during which Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev jointly prevented their nations from destroying each other, and the world.

The unexpected will happen, but the job at hand his to step up to the unexpected:

Presidents have a particular burden, and responsibility, when the nation as a whole has suffered a shock, wound, or shame. Franklin Roosevelt responded to one such emergency in 1941, with his “date which will live in infamy” address after the Pearl Harbor attacks. Reagan did so with an address from the Oval Office soon after the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986. One of the finest moments of George W. Bush’s presidency (and I say that as someone who doesn’t think there were a lot of fine moments) was his address to Congress nine days after the 9/11 attacks, which was strong on national resolve and free of build-up for an impending invasion of Iraq. (“This is the world’s fight. This is civilization’s fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.”) Barack Obama rose to this challenge with his “Amazing Grace” address in Charleston, after the racist murder of church-goers there.

The specific duty of a president in these moments is to: reflect awareness of the grief, shock, fear, uncertainty that people of the country may be feeling on a wide scale; to emphasize the values that the country as a whole is supposed to represent; to define, express, and channel the country’s desire to understand why a tragedy or challenge has occurred…

And, finally, it is the responsibility of a leader in time of crisis to give an indication of what people should do: Hold their heads up; be brave rather than afraid; support their neighbors; live the example they would like others to follow.

Many state and local and national figures, from both parties, bore their parts of this duty yesterday. Those with the most serious burden, the president and vice president, utterly failed.

Mike Pence was vague, but Trump was worse:

He mildly condemned extremism and violence “from many sides.”

I lament the “violence from many sides” that resulted in Emmett Till’s lynching, or the burial under an earthen dam of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney. Or the “violence from many sides” witnessed at My Lai in 1968, at the Birmingham church bombings in 1963, or the Tulsa race riots of 1921, or other “who  can explain?” outbreaks of unfortunate violence.

The Daily Stormer, modern voice of the Nazis, understood exactly what Trump’s “on many sides” meant.

The Daily Stormer posted this:

Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us.

He said that we need to study why people are so angry, and implied that there was hate… on both sides!

So he implied the antifa [the people protesting the White Supremacists] are haters.

There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all.

He said he loves us all.

He also refused to answer a question about White Nationalists supporting him.

No condemnation at all.

When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room.

Really, really good.

God bless him.

James Fallows sees what’s going on here:

Fair or unfair, one of the burdens on modern leaders is the expectation that they will give a shape to the arc of distressing events, or at least will try to. Come to think of it, it’s not an unreasonable expectation to place on them, for the enormous power they can wield at their whim.

Donald Trump had an opportunity yesterday to show that he was more than the ignorant, impulsive, reckless opportunist he appeared to be during the election. To show, that is, that the  burdens and responsibilities of unmatched international power had in fact sobered him, and made him aware of his obligations to the nation as a whole.

Of course, he failed.

And those who stand with him, now, cannot claim the slightest illusion about what they are embracing.

David Frum extends that argument:

President Trump made two big political decisions over past half-week, and both are already proving disasters.

The first decision was to cut himself loose from the Republican leadership in Congress. Trump blasted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with a sequence of tweets fixing blame on McConnell – and thereby absolving himself – for the failure of Obamacare repeal.

The second decision was to issue a statement condemning “many sides” for the confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend—and adhering to that policy of pandering to white nationalism even after the ramming death of a counter-protester and the injury of many more.

Frum sees those as interrelated bad moves:

The Trump team may be trying to replay Bill Clinton’s triangulation of 1995-96, when Clinton won re-election by positioning himself as a moderate centrist between the extremes of the congressional Republicans and congressional Democrats. And maybe Trump could have executed a blue-collar version of that strategy by joining cultural conservatism to a free-spending populism of infrastructure spending and the defense of Medicare and Medicaid. Instead he’s positioned himself in such a way that other political actors can triangulate against him: congressional Republicans, by rejecting Trump’s indulgence of murderous racism; congressional Democrats, by fastening Trump to the widely disliked Ryan-McConnell policy agenda.

It’s probably impossible for a man of Trump’s psychology to process how much legal jeopardy he and his family may be in – and how utterly he depends on Republicans in Congress to shield him. President Bill Clinton faced down scandal politics in his second term because his party united to support him, a decision politically vindicated by the strong Democratic showing in 1998, the best sixth-year election performance in modern history. Trump, by contrast, is doing his utmost to persuade congressional Republicans that it could well be less disastrous to face the voters in 2020 under Mike Pence than Donald Trump. Mike Pence apparently thinks so, too. Pre-Charlottesville, that remained a tough sale. Post-Charlottesville, things look different.

Trump now stands not between the parties, or above the parties, but beyond the parties – in some strange political twilight zone where neo-Nazis are seen as a constituency not to be insulted.

That’s a bad place to be:

Trump and his white-nationalist advisers seem determined to corroborate their critics’ accusation that enforcement is concerned not with protecting the wages and working conditions of legal residents of the United States – part of a pro-worker agenda that also could include a big investment in construction, trust-busting of college tuition, and a defense of existing social-insurance programs – but instead as a component of a white-nationalist agenda that also includes attacks on minority voting rights, a rollback of affirmative action, and compliments to authoritarian leaders worldwide.

The conventional wisdom is that dissension is a party killer; safer to stay united around even a low-polling president than to act against him. But what if it is the president who is fomenting the dissension, because his ego requires that every failure be blamed on somebody else? What if the president is polling so low that he splashes his party with his own odium? What if he is branding his entirely flag-waving party with the flags not of the United States but of Russia, the Southern Confederacy, and now amazingly even Nazi Germany?

Frum says it’s time for all Republicans to abandon this sinking ship.

E. J. Dionne extends that argument:

It should not have taken the death and injury of innocents to move our nation toward moral clarity. It should not have taken President Trump’s disgraceful refusal to condemn white supremacy, bigotry and Nazism to make clear to all who he is and which dark impulses he is willing to exploit to maintain his hold on power…

Advisers to the president tried to clean up after this moral failure, putting out a statement Sunday morning – attributed to no one – declaring that “of course” his condemnation of violence “includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups.” But if that “of course” is sincere, why didn’t Trump say these things in the first place? And why hang on to the president’s inexcusable moral equivalence by adding that phrase “and all extremist groups”? This was simply a weak philosophical cover-up for a politician who has shown us his real instincts throughout his public life, from his birtherism to his reluctance to turn away 2016 endorsements from Klansmen and other racists.

It may be time to take sides:

More Republicans than usual broke with Trump after his anemic response, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) was especially poignant in offering historical perspective on this episode: “My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.”

But that so many others in the party preferred to keep their discomfort on background was itself a scandal.

Still, if Trump won’t do the job at hand, others might:

The proper response is for Democrats and Republicans willing to take a stand to force a vote in Congress condemning the president for his opportunistic obtuseness and making clear where the vast majority of Americans stand on white supremacy. This is important for many reasons, but especially to send a message to America’s minorities that whites are willing to do more than offer rote condemnations of racism.

For make no mistake: No matter how accurate it is to say that neo-Nazis and Klansmen represent a repugnant fringe, the fact that our president has consistently and successfully exploited white racial resentment cannot help but be taken by citizens of color as a sign of racism’s stubborn durability.

That might be necessary:

As is always true with Trump, self-interest is the most efficient explanation for his actions: Under pressure from the Russia investigation, he is reluctant to alienate backlash voters, who are among his most loyal supporters.

The rest of us, however, have a larger obligation to our country and to racial justice.

Someone has to do the job at hand, but Josh Marshal notices something else:

In addition to going out of his way not to denounce the white supremacist and neo-Nazi marchers yesterday, for those primed to hear it (which is the point) the President made a point of calling out and valorizing the marchers. In his at length on-camera comments, in addition to bromides and calling for people to love each other, Trump noted that we must “cherish our history.”

That’s telling:

This is an explicit call-out to the white supremacist and neo-Confederate forces at the march whose calling card is celebrating Southern ‘heritage’ and America’s history as a white country. Zero ambiguity or question about that. And they heard the message. White supremacist leaders cheered Trump’s refusal to denounce them and his valorization of their movement.

That was also entirely predictable:

Where does this come from? Who knows who wrote this text for Trump? But many of Trump’s most important speeches were written by white nationalist aide Stephen Miller, who came from Jeff Sessions’ senate office. Miller literally worked with Alt-Right leader (he coined the phrase) Richard Spencer on racist political activism when he was in college at Duke (Spencer was a grad student at the time). This isn’t some vague guilt by association. He’s one of them.

When Gabriel Sherman asked what he identifies as a ‘senior White House official’ why the White House didn’t denounce the Nazis in Charlottesville, he got this: “What about the leftist mob? Just as violent if not more so.”

Maybe I’ve missed some other background comments out of the White House. But I haven’t heard anything that approaches that level of venom about the Nazis or white supremacists. When the top ideologues at Trump’s White House look at yesterday’s spectacle, they instinctively see the counter-protestors as enemies.

Was that official Miller? Who knows? It could have been Bannon or Gorka or frankly a number of others. There are plenty to choose from.

That’s the point. This wasn’t resistance to making a conspicuous denunciation or being cute. Those were Trump’s supporters. He recognizes them as supporters, indeed as part of his movement. And he supports them. This is probably largely instinctive on Trump’s part. It’s more ideological and articulate on his aides’ part.

He’s one of them. Let’s stop pretending.

Okay. Let’s stop pretending. And let’s consider the end of Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine:

And they left the mellow light of the dandelion wine and went upstairs to carry out the last few rituals of summer, for they felt that now the final day, the final night had come. As the day grew late they realized that for two or three nights now, porches had emptied early of their inhabitants. The air had a different, drier smell and Grandma was talking of hot coffee instead of iced tea; the open, white-flutter-curtained windows were closing in the great bays; cold cuts were giving way to steamed beef. The mosquitos were gone from the porch, and surely when they abandoned the conflict the war with Time was really done, there was nothing for it but that humans also forsake the battleground.

The final night of summer has come. It’s going to be a long cold winter.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to The Job at Hand

  1. Rick says:

    In a classic case of “Man Bites Dog”, we now see the elephants sweeping up after the man with the shovel, who can’t seem to figure out what to do with all the poopy he keeps leaving behind himself.

    Here’s how E.J. Dionne puts it:

    Advisers to the president tried to clean up after this moral failure, putting out a statement Sunday morning – attributed to no one – declaring that “of course” his condemnation of violence “includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups.”

    But if that “of course” is sincere, why didn’t Trump say these things in the first place? And why hang on to the president’s inexcusable moral equivalence by adding that phrase “and all extremist groups”?

    Not to mention the fact that Trump apparently couldn’t bring himself to tell us this himself, in his own words, maybe because he’s reluctant to ever admit he did something that needs clarification — for fear of messaging “weakness” — but probably also because he wants deniability to all his alt-supporters.

    I also can’t help but wonder if the flaming rebukes Trump has received from his fellow Republicans, Lyin’ Ted Cruz and Little Marco Rubio, concerning his response, might be the result of both ex-candidates feeling that there might be no real price to pay for payback — which, in itself, is a sign that his scorched-earth, tough-guy, bullying approach during the primaries might not have been such a good idea after all, especially when it comes to trying to build the coalition he would later need to lean on, needed to get things done during his presidency.

    Oh, well, at least America can chalk that up to just another “rooky mistake”. Next time, we’ll know not to elect an amateur.

    By the way, this incident should also serve as a reminder of what Hillary Clinton was talking about when she alluded to much of Trump’s support coming from a “basket of deplorables”:

    ”You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? (Laughter/applause)

    The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it. And unfortunately, there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people — now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America. But the other basket … that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change.

    It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.

    Back then, many Trump supporters chose to misinterpret that “deplorables” comment as referring to all Trump voters, but it didn’t; she was talking about all the haters, the racists, the white-supremacists, the extremist vermin who now felt liberated enough by Trump’s candidacy to come out of hiding from the American fringes, to declare for Trump. He has pretended to not see them standing there behind him, but we know he knows they’re there because of the obvious care he takes not to say anything to offend them.

    Something else new in all of this is that, never do I remember in the past our ever having to demand the same level of specificity from our president in statements of lamentation they’ve had to make following a tragedy. I think the closest we’ve come is the complaints from many on the right of Barrack Obama when he observed that he imagined Trevon Martin as being the son he never had, during his comments after that Zimmerman guy murdered him.

    But other than that — or at least as I remember it — we’ve never expected our president to take sides in a violent clash between political demonstrators.

    Why is that?

    Maybe because, back then, we could also assume that we all knew which side was the good guys and which the bad. It doesn’t speak well for the Donald Trump era, much less for the man himself, that even those on the right are demanding he clarify where he himself stands on the deplorables spectrum.

    Rick

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