Trump Held Hostage

Mondays are always problematic, but this one was more so:

A disturbing hostage video surfaced on Monday showing an American man woodenly reciting words that were not his own.

The video, which was broadcast on all the major news networks, raised concerns for the man, whose robotic performance indicated that he was reading a prepared statement under duress.

While the man appeared well fed and, to a certain extent, healthy, his facial expressions and body language convinced experts that the act of reciting the prepared text was an extraordinary ordeal for him.

There were giveaways:

Harland Dorrinson, a forensic psychologist, compared the man’s performance with hours of earlier footage of him and said that the man had “never expressed these sentiments before.”

“He did not seem to understand what he was saying,” the psychologist said. “At times, he appeared to be reading these words phonetically.”

Additionally, Dorrinson said, the man’s speech patterns in the hostage video were strikingly different from those in earlier videos of him. “From the moment he began speaking, the subjects in his sentences agreed with the verbs,” he said. “That set off alarm bells.”

That was Andy Borowitz of course. That was satire. That’s what he does, but Slate’s Katy Waldman prefers irony:

On Saturday, President Donald Trump responded to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, with a prepared statement that condemned “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides.” He then appeared to ad lib that nullifying qualifier into a refrain: “on many sides.”

Like so many others, Republicans and Democrats and former English teachers, she was not impressed:

Along with being awful, the president’s original speech was notable for its absence of Trumpian rhetoric. Whereas he usually spins division into political gold, this time Trump preached a kind of horrifying togetherness. The address, tiptoeing instead of name-calling, politely declined to address the Klansmen and neo-Nazis who’d marched through Virginia. Trump didn’t just come down softly on fascist terrorists. What made Saturday’s address so remarkable was that he bent so many of his own rules to do so.

In short, he said nothing, and then on Monday he said something or other:

On Monday, the president went back to normal. Or at least, he displayed all the now-familiar tics of a man allergic to accountability and desperate for praise, a man delighted to accept our congratulations on the sagacity of his responses to horror. After a few minutes of throat-clearing about his feats on behalf of the American worker, Trump reiterated, almost word for word, his language from the weekend. “As I said on Saturday,” he told reporters, “we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence.” Trump then continued: “And as I have said many times before, no matter the color of our skin,” we all “salute the same great flag. … Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs.”

It was a neat substitution: Instead of “on many sides,” the president offered another seemingly inconsequential phrase – “as I said.” Over the weekend, Trump failed, resplendently, to denounce the gun-waving race vigilantes who instigated a riot in Charlottesville, one that ended in the death of a woman who was run over by a white supremacist. On Monday, he strode up to the podium and pretended that he’s not the kind of guy who’d embolden and encourage the alt-right. If you haven’t heard him declaring racism is evil, he said, that’s because you haven’t been listening.

Waldman doesn’t like flimflam:

Trump’s contempt for reality is such that he is not content to mislead the American people in the moment. He compounds the lie by telling us, in direct contradiction to what we’ve seen and what we’ve heard, that he has always been doing whatever it is he wants to have been doing. No universe exists in which any Trump response could have possibly been inadequate or wrongheaded. Over the weekend, Trump delivered the perfect address to salve Charlottesville’s wounds and fire up its moral conscience. On Monday, he just repeated it for all us dummies who missed it the first time.

This insta-revisionism calls to mind the Lost Cause romanticism that insists slavery was always ancillary to the Civil War. Neither Robert E. Lee nor the statues cast in his image were ever really “about” white supremacy, we’re told, often by the same people who want to absolve Trump from his complicity in a fascist movement. Asked why he did not condemn hate groups by name over the weekend, the president replied, “They have been condemned.” Slavery, too, has been condemned, though not always all that vociferously by those who defend monuments to the Confederacy. Condemnations were made, is the point. Why do the work when you can simply steal the credit?

Waldman is scathing, but the New York Times’ Glenn Thrush is more measured:

President Trump is facing a crossroad in his presidency – a choice between adopting the better-angels tone of a traditional White House or doubling down on the slashing, go-it-alone approach that got him elected in 2016.

On Monday, he tried to walk both paths – and satisfied neither supporters nor critics.

So, Andy Borowitz was right:

Mr. Trump, bowing to overwhelming pressure that he personally condemn white supremacists who incited bloody weekend demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va., on Monday labeled their views as racist and “evil” after two days of issuing equivocal statements.

“Racism is evil,” said Mr. Trump, delivering a statement from the White House at a hastily arranged appearance meant to halt the growing political threat posed by the unrest. “And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”

But before and after his conciliatory statement – which called for “love,” “joy” and “justice” – Mr. Trump issued classically caustic Twitter attacks on Kenneth C. Frazier, the head of Merck Pharmaceuticals and one of the country’s top African-American executives.

It’s always something:

Mr. Frazier announced Monday morning that he was resigning from the American Manufacturing Council – the first of three chief executives who quit the advisory panel on Monday – to protest Mr. Trump’s initial equivocal statements on Charlottesville.

“Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” the president wrote at 8:54 a.m., as he departed his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J., for a day trip back to Washington.

Someone had to say the obvious:

“It took Trump 54 minutes to condemn Merck CEO Ken Frazier, but after several days he still has not condemned murdering white supremacists,” Keith Boykin, a former aide to President Bill Clinton who comments on politics and race for CNN, wrote in a tweet.

Oh, he got around to that, but he wasn’t happy about it:

Shortly before leaving the capital, Mr. Trump attacked the news media for blowing the episode out of proportion.

“Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realize once again that the #Fake News Media will never be satisfied… truly bad people!” he wrote Monday evening.

Others thought he was the bad person here:

Even Mr. Trump’s allies worried that his measured remarks, delivered two days after dozens of public figures issued more forceful denunciations of the violence in Virginia, came too late to reverse the self-inflicted damage on his moral standing as president.

On Saturday, Mr. Trump said the rioting was initiated by “many sides.” His comments prompted nearly universal criticism and spurred several of his top advisers, including his new chief of staff, John F. Kelly, to press the president to issue a more forceful rebuke.

Even after a wave of disapproval that included a majority of Senate Republicans – and stronger statements delivered by allies, including Vice President Mike Pence and the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump – Mr. Trump seemed reluctant to tackle the issue head-on when he appeared Monday before the cameras.

He was been held hostage, by General Kelly and others, and this was getting serious:

Some human rights activists, skeptical that Mr. Trump’s latest remarks on the issue represented a change of heart, called on him to fire so-called nationalists – a group of hard-right populists led by Stephen K. Bannon, the White House chief strategist – working in the West Wing.

“The president should make sure that no one on his staff has ties to white supremacists,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive officer of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a telephone briefing on Monday afternoon. He added, “Nor should they be on the payroll of the American people.”

He said that the Justice Department and the Office of Government Ethics should “do an investigation and make that determination” to see if anyone in the White House has had links to hate groups.

On the other hand, this wasn’t serious.

Far-right leaders, including Richard B. Spencer, who attended the Charlottesville rally, said they did not take the president’s remarks seriously.

“The statement today was more ‘Kumbaya’ nonsense,” Mr. Spencer told reporters on Monday. “He sounded like a Sunday school teacher.”

“I don’t think that Donald Trump is a dumb person, and only a dumb person would take those lines seriously,” Mr. Spencer said.

Spencer had reason to think so:

As Mr. Trump was delivering the kind of statement his critics had demanded over the weekend, Fox News reported that the president was considering pardoning Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., a political ally who has been accused of federal civil rights violations for allegedly mistreating prisoners, many of them black and Hispanic.

The timing of the interview was especially striking, given that it came at the height of the controversy over his tepid remarks about Charlottesville.

“I am seriously considering a pardon for Sheriff Arpaio,” the president said in the interview on Sunday, speaking from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “He has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration. He’s a great American patriot, and I hate to see what has happened to him.”

Joe Arpaio is a strange fellow – he’s still certain that Obama’s birth certificate was a forgery, and says he can prove it, even if Donald Trump begrudgingly gave up on that last year – but the real problem is this:

Arpaio was a defendant in a decade-long racial-profiling case in which a federal court issued an injunction barring him from conducting further “immigration round-ups” that targeted Hispanics. A federal court subsequently found that after the order was issued, Arpaio’s office continued to detain “persons for further investigation without reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is being committed.” In 2016, Arpaio was held in civil contempt of court, and the following year, Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt of court for “willfully” violating the order.

In November 2016, Arpaio lost re-election to a damned Democrat, of all things, so he can no longer make Hispanic detainees – who have committed no crime and may turn out to be US citizens after all – wear pink underwear in the hot sun in his desert prison camps – but he was all-in for Trump from the beginning. That, it seems, makes him a patriot. That, it seems, also makes Richard Spencer happy. Trump’s second try at cleaning up his Charlottesville remarks should not be taken seriously.

And there was this:

Andrew Anglin, founder of neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer, called Trump’s remarks the statement equivalent of saying “meh, whatever.”

“He waited to respond because his first response was accurate,” Anglin wrote in a post, calling Trump’s remarks “half-assed” and prompted by the “whining Jew media.”

“Trump only disavowed us at the point of a Jewish weapon,” he continued. “So I’m not disavowing him.”

Andy Borowitz was right, this was a hostage thing, and only those CEOs took Trump seriously:

Mr. Frazier’s exit from the business council marks a mini-exodus of business leaders from presidential advisory councils as a result of Mr. Trump’s stances on social issues and the environment. His recent decision to leave the Paris climate accord prompted Elon Musk of Tesla to resign, as did the chief executive of Disney, Bob Iger.

Additionally, the chief executives of athletic clothing line Under Armour and Intel announced they too would step down from the American Manufacturing Council – the same panel from which Mr. Frazier resigned.

Kevin Plank, the head of Under Armour, said he was resigning to focus “the power of sport which promotes unity, diversity and inclusion.”

Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich said he would be willing to serve in the government again when “those who have stood up for equality” are honored. “I resigned because I want to make progress, while many in Washington seem more concerned with attacking anyone who disagrees with them,” Mr. Krzanich said in a statement.

Trump will now destroy them all with tweets. That, however, is unlikely:

President Donald Trump’s approval rating hit an all-time low amid violent clashes in Charlottesville over the weekend, according to Gallup’s daily polling average released Monday.

According to Gallup, 34 percent Americans said they approve of Trump’s performance in office, while 61 percent disapprove.

The more he tweets, the lower the numbers. Alexandra Petri, who writes a regular column for the Washington Post “offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day”, has decided she cannot be light about this:

There should be no real difficulty in condemning Nazis, white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan. They are, for God’s sake, Nazis and white supremacists. This should not require moral courage. This is obvious. This is the moral equivalent of the text you type to prove you’re not a robot.

President Trump is always, terminally, at a loss for words, but it would be hard to think of worse words at a more vital time than his speeches in the aftermath of the racist, terrorist violence in Charlottesville on Saturday – first, Saturday’s mealy-mouthed speech about “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides.” And then Monday’s halting, teleprompted follow-up, in which (two days later) he barely managed to acknowledge that, well, racism and bigotry have no place here.

This was awful from the start:

On many sides.

It is important when you consider the situation of a man whose face has been crushed by a boot to wonder if any damage might have been done to the boot.

One man’s life has been threatened, but on the other hand, another man’s property has been threatened. You must consider and weigh these two things against one another. The North showed considerable aggression against the South, you could say.

This is not good enough. At what point can we stop giving people the benefit of the doubt? “Gotta Hear Both Sides” is carved over the entrance to Hell. How long must we continue to hear from idiots who are wrong? I don’t want to hear debate unless there is something legitimately to be debated, and people’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not among those things. They are self-evident, or used to seem so.

And then there was Charlottesville:

What did they think the mob was doing, gathered with torches?

Of course they gathered with torches, because the only liberty they have lost is the liberty to gather with torches and decide whose house to visit with terror. That is the right that is denied them: the right to other people’s possessions, the right to be the only person in the room, the right to be the only person that the world is made for. (These are not rights. They are wrongs.) You are sad because your toys have been taken, but they were never toys to begin with. They were people. It is the ending of the fairy tale; because you were a beast, you did not see that the things around you were people and not objects that existed purely for your pleasure. You should not weep that the curse is broken and you can see that your footstool was a human being.

And then there was Trump’s hostage speech:

Here we are in the year of our lord 2017 and the president of the United States lacks the moral courage to condemn Nazis and white supremacists. And they are not even making it difficult. They are saluting like Nazis and waving Nazi flags and chanting like Nazis and spewing hatred like Nazis. Maya Angelou was not wrong. When someone tells you who they are, believe them. Especially if what that person is telling you is “I am a Nazi.”

Barely, after two days, he has managed to mumble that their ideology has (should have) no place in our society. Silence sells hats, I guess.

She does have some questions for Donald Trump:

What could it be that we are doing wrong as a country? What is it exactly that has allowed these horrible ideologies to come out of the shadows, waving Tiki torches and bringing terror with them? Could it be, Donald, something you’ve said? Could it be the silence that has greeted all your statements, so far past the pale of acceptable discourse that you can’t even see acceptable discourse from where you’re standing? Could it be the refusal to name a campaign that began with rants about “rapists” and promises of a wall and a Muslim ban, and continued with sexist taunts and promiscuous retweets of conspiracists for the horror that it was? It was silence then from people who wanted to win that got us to where this can happen – this attack and this president, who won’t denounce even the most egregious of groups at the time when they have been responsible for a hideous act of terror.

She is not happy:

There is nothing more pathological than the desire to be liked by everyone all the time. If you are continually attracting Nazis and white supremacists, you shouldn’t say, “WOW, everyone LIKES ME! Great!” you should ask yourself, “Where in my life have I gone seriously wrong?”

Who would stand over the body of someone who died protesting a hateful, violence, racist ideology and say that “we have to come together”? That we have to find common ground? I am sure there is common ground to be found with the people who say that some are not fit to be people. The man who thinks I ought not to exist – maybe we can compromise and agree that I will get to exist on alternate Thursdays. Let us only burn some of the villagers at the stake. We can eat just three of the children. All ideas deserve a fair hearing. Maybe we can agree that some people are only three-fifths of people, while we are at it – as long as we are giving a hearing to all views.

Only someone with no principles would think that such a compromise was possible. Only someone with no principles would think that such a compromise was desirable.

Perhaps so, but Greg Sargent says there’s something else going on here:

I’d like to suggest an additional reason for Trump’s reticence… Trump does not recognize that his service as president confers on him any obligations to the public of any kind. This does not supplant Trump’s racism as an explanation. It throws its potential effects going forward into even sharper, more alarming relief…

Trump’s resistance appears rooted in part in an instinctual sense that so doing would constitute some form of capitulation. In his remarks, Trump repeated the phrase “on many sides” in a pointed tone, as if to signal that he will not be bullied by any objection to his false equivalence or any pressure to single out anti-black racism.

That’s trouble:

The message that Trump surely received – one he surely continues to believe – is that there is no reason for him to capitulate to politically correct demands that he explicitly condemn racism toward any minorities. But this raises a profound problem. It is likely that Trump views this whole affair as being all about him – that is, as all about whether he will surrender to his foes. He seems incapable of grasping that amid such crises, his office carries with it certain very grave responsibilities to the American people.

There is a reason we generally want our presidents to speak out against racism against African Americans amid outbreaks of racial strife and violence. They are well positioned to remind the nation of our founding creed, and of our most conspicuous betrayal of it – of the historically unique experience of African Americans as targets of centuries of violent subjugation, as well as sustained domestic terrorism and deeply ingrained racism, which continues today.

Well, forget that:

The rub here is that Trump clearly recognizes no obligation to the broader public of any kind as a function of the office entrusted to him. This isn’t just racism. It’s also his megalomaniacal inability to envision that his role might require duties above and beyond his desire to deepen his bond with certain supporters (which of course is all about him) or the fact that he doesn’t want to be seen surrendering in some vague sense…

In this sense, there is a direct line that leads from this abdication to Trump’s serial degradation of the presidency and our institutions on many other fronts: the continuing refusal to release his tax returns and use of the presidency to enrich his family; the nonstop lies about illegal voting in 2016, which undermine faith in our democratic system solely to aggrandize him; the blithe admission that he fired his FBI director because of the Russia probe; the rage at his attorney general for failing to protect him from that investigation; and the constant claims that the Russia story is a hoax, even though it’s about actual sabotage of our democracy, in addition to his role in it.

Even if Trump does say the right thing it will only come after intense pressure to do so – and will be born of an instinct toward self-preservation – because he has zero sense of any obligation to the public, of any kind.

That leaves two things –  never capitulate to politically correct demands, or any demands, and then be held hostage, because the job is no more than a series of quite legitimate demands from the public, who expect the guy they elected to respond to obviously legitimate demands, for leadership. Reading a prepared statement under duress isn’t leadership. Suddenly, Andy Borowitz isn’t funny.

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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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