Garrison Keillor is an old guy now – because seventy-five really is old – and he’s out of work too. In November 2017, Minnesota Public Radio cut all business ties with him after an allegation of inappropriate behavior with a staff member – his Me Too Moment – and now no one will touch him. Minnesota Public Radio will make archives of A Prairie Home Companion publicly available, but that’s history, and he’s history.
That’s probably for the best. His deeply ironic and surprisingly gentle world is gone. That world did exist once – there’s no other way to explain the wide popularity his radio show that ran for forty-two years – but that’s history. He saw that coming. It was Donald Trump. Five months into Trump’s presidency, Keillor saw this:
The man is only trying to please the folks who voted for him. They want him to walk into church and moon the clergy. They’ve always wanted to do it themselves but didn’t dare offend their devout neighbors. So they went along, saying the appropriate things about Community and Cooperation and Tolerance and the Value of Education, which made them miserable because they didn’t believe in any of that stuff. They believed in Family Loyalty and outsiders can go to hell. Be a winner. Race to the buffet table and pick all the beef out of the stew and let the others have the celery and onions.
It’s a selfish worldview but so what? They never had a champion until this guy came along and spoke for them loud and clear, and they eked out a narrow win in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and now they’re making the most of it. That’s how it works.
There’s no irony in Trump’s world, and of course there’s no surprising gentleness. There’s just crassness. That’s how it works. Keillor seemed to know this was a new age, and a different country now. There was no place for him anymore.
He was right. Four hundred and seventy-five days into the Trump presidency there was this:
President Trump berated Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in a dispiriting Cabinet meeting on immigration Wednesday, according to three administration officials, but her colleagues denied reports that she has threatened to quit.
Trump lashed out at his Cabinet and Nielsen in particular, when told that the number of people arrested for illegally crossing the Mexico border topped 50,000 for the second consecutive month. The blowup lasted more than 30 minutes, according to a person with knowledge of what transpired, as Trump’s face reddened and he raised his voice, saying Nielsen needed to “close down” the border.
“Why don’t you have solutions? How is this still happening?” he said, adding later, “We need to shut it down. We’re closed.”
Trump’s tirade went on so long that many present began fidgeting in their seats and flashing grimaces, White House aides said. Eventually, the topic moved on to health care, bringing relief to many in the room.
He seems to have been shouting. We’re closed! America is closed, damn it! No one gets in! What’s wrong with you people!
No one said anything deeply and devastatingly ironic in response to that:
Nielsen battled back, one person said, telling Trump that laws limit some of what she could do to block the flow of undocumented immigrants. Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended her, saying the administration was looking for new ways to deter illegal crossings. Mostly, though, Nielsen struggled to get a word in, said one senior official.
That is how it works, which was discussed on CNN:
Author Chris Whipple, who wrote a well-reviewed book about the importance of the chief of staff, said that Trump “has learned nothing” during his first 18 months in office.
“But this is not at all surprising,” he said. “This is who he is. He loves ritual humiliation. He did it to Reince Priebus. He did it to Rudy Giuliani during the campaign… this is the price of admission if you’re going to work for Donald Trump at this level. If goes with the territory and, quite frankly, they know what they signed up for.”
Kirstjen Nielsen isn’t resigning. She understands this new world now. Her boss, everyone’s boss now, is crass and just plain mean.
He also sets the tone, which explains what Philip Rucker reports here:
A White House official derisively dismissed John McCain’s opposition to President Trump’s CIA nominee in a closed-door staff meeting Thursday by saying that the senator from Arizona battling brain cancer is “dying anyway,” according to another White House official with knowledge of the comment.
Kelly Sadler, a special assistant in the communications office who helps manage talking points for Trump allies, made the comment about McCain during a discussion among the White House communications staffers about Gina Haspel’s nomination for CIA director, which the Arizona Republican announced Wednesday that he opposed.
“It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway,” Sadler said, according to the official with knowledge of the comment, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because remarks made during internal meetings are intended to remain confidential.
This is the woman who manages the talking points for Trump allies – telling them what everyone is supposed to say now – providing the exact words – but someone remembered Garrison Keillor:
A White House spokesman did not dispute the report and issued a statement on behalf of the White House: “We respect Senator McCain’s service to our nation and he and his family are in our prayers during this difficult time.”
Haspel, the CIA’s acting director, issued a statement: “I have the utmost respect for Senator McCain and I appreciate the thoughtfulness with which he has approached this nomination process.”
The senator’s wife, Cindy McCain, said in a Twitter message targeted at Sadler Thursday evening: “May I remind you my husband has a family, 7 children and 5 grandchildren.”
Still, McCain had been a problem:
Sadler’s comment comes amid tension between the White House and McCain, 81, who has been at home in Arizona fighting brain cancer. McCain – a Navy officer who was captured in Vietnam after his aircraft crashed and was tortured as a prisoner of war – urged his Senate colleagues to oppose Haspel’s nomination.
After watching Haspel’s Senate testimony Wednesday, McCain issued a statement saying that although Haspel is “a patriot” and a longtime public servant, her past work at the CIA overseeing interrogation programs was “disturbing.”
“Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying,” McCain wrote in a statement. “I believe the Senate should exercise its duty of advice and consent and reject this nomination.”
That’s what made Donald Trump so angry. Kelly Sadler was only following his lead, and Rucker notes that she must have known this too:
The fraught relationship between McCain and Trump dates back several years. In the summer of 2015, shortly after launching his presidential campaign, Trump mocked McCain’s war service, saying of the 2008 Republican presidential nominee: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”
The New York Times reported, last weekend, that McCain’s associates had informed the White House that they do not plan to give Trump a speaking role at his funeral, to be held at Washington National Cathedral, but that Vice President Pence would be welcome to attend.
That has infuriated Trump too, and the talking points now write themselves, as an angry Andrew Kirell reports here:
According to a frequent Fox Business Network military commentator, torture is good because it worked on Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
McCain – who was tortured while a prisoner of war in Vietnam – has been outspoken in opposing Gina Haspel, President Trump’s pro-torture nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency.
Appearing Thursday morning on the Fox Business Network, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney took an ugly swipe at McCain for his opposition to torture, telling Varney & Co. host Charles Payne: “The fact is, is John McCain – it worked on John. That’s why they call him ‘Songbird John.'”
Gina Haspel is not pro-torture, she’s ambivalent, or careful, but Andrew Kirell is right about this:
Contrary to McInerney’s claim, there is no evidence McCain ever gave up accurate information while being tortured in North Vietnam. In fact, the senator wrote in one of his books, “Pressed for more useful information, I gave the names of the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line, and said they were members of my squadron.”
Experienced interrogators frequently cite that story as a demonstration of how ineffective torture is in producing reliable information.
And then there was this echo from Garrison Keillor’s lost world:
Hours after the segment aired, Payne released a statement apologizing to the McCain family. “This morning on a show I was hosting, a guest made a very false and derogatory remark about Senator John McCain. At the time, I had the control room in my ear telling me to wrap the segment, and did not hear the comment. I regret I did not catch this remark, as it should have been challenged. As a proud military veteran and son of a Vietnam Vet these words neither reflect my or the network’s feelings about Senator McCain, or his remarkable service and sacrifice to this country.”
Fine, but Fox News plays with fire:
The former number-three commander of the Air Force was a frequent source of birther conspiracies about President Obama, often suggesting he was secretly a radical Muslim.
“I feel I have an obligation to the American people to be a part of the discourse and discuss these important national security issues because they are complex, especially on radical Islam,” McInerney told The Daily Beast shortly before appearing at a 2016 Trump rally. “As a nation we have not had it. We have a president that has suppressed it.”
McInerney also infamously claimed on Fox News that missing passenger jet MH370 was actually hijacked by terrorists and flown to Pakistan to be used for jihadist activities.
More recently, in late 2017, while appearing on Fox News star Sean Hannity’s radio show, McInerney dismissed host concerns about how “millions could potentially die” in a U.S. war with North Korea: “Yeah, but they’ll be mostly North Koreans,” the retired lieutenant general said.
These guys book McInerney regularly, in this new age of crassness. McInerney is a man of this new age, and this sort of thing slips into public life too:
A black graduate student at Yale who fell asleep in her dorm’s common room said she had a disturbing awakening this week when a white student flipped on the lights, told her she had no right to sleep there and called the campus police… The graduate student, Lolade Siyonbola, posted a 17-minute recording of her encounter with police officers who responded to the call, and it touched a nerve, with more than 600,000 views as of Wednesday.
Of course it touched a nerve:
Ms. Siyonbola, 34, who is earning her master’s degree in African studies, said that she had camped out in the common room to work on a “marathon of papers.” On Monday night, she decided to take a nap.
Around 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday, she said, someone came in and turned on the lights, asking: “Is there someone in here? Is there someone sleeping in here? You’re not supposed to be here.”
Ms. Siyonbola said the woman told her she was going to call the police. In a shorter video that Ms. Siyonbola posted, the woman, who is not identified, says: “I have every right to call the police. You cannot sleep in that room.”
And then things escalated:
Several officers responded to the call.
“We need to make sure that you belong here,” a female officer says in the longer video.
Ms. Siyonbola produced the key to her apartment and opened the door, and the officers told her they needed to see her ID.
After she asked why, one says, “I don’t know anybody from anybody, so I’m here just to make sure you’re supposed to be here, make sure she’s supposed to be here, and we’ll get out of your hair.”
Ms. Siyonbola relented and handed over her ID.
But the officers struggled to verify it, and Ms. Siyonbola appeared to grow more frustrated.
At one point, she says, “I am not going to justify my existence here.”
At another, an officer who identifies himself as a supervisor says, “We determine who is allowed to be here or who’s not allowed to be here, regardless of whether you feel you’re allowed to be here or not.”
“I hope that makes you feel powerful,” she responds.
We’re not in Lake Woebegone now, and meanwhile at the other end of the country:
A white woman called police on a black family for barbecuing at an Oakland, California, park – and broke down sobbing after they confronted her.
Michelle Snider recorded video of the incident late last month at Lake Merritt, where another visitor called police because she believed the family was breaking park rules by cooking, reported KRON-TV.
“This is exactly what the problem is with Oakland today,” Snider said. “This lady wants to sit here and call the police on them for having a barbecue at the lake as if this is not normal.”
And then things escalated:
The woman tells Snider that charcoal grills are “illegal” in that part of the park, and she calls police and threatens the black family with jail.
“She said that we were trespassing, we were not welcome, and then she turned back around and said, ‘Y’all going to jail,'” said Snider’s husband, Kenzie Smith.
The family argues about park rules with the woman for about 10 minutes as she stays on the phone with dispatchers, and the woman complains about the police response time.
“They’ve got other things to do other than sit here and listen to another white lady complain about black people in Lake Merritt Park,” Snider says. “This is a park for everybody.”
And then things get really interesting:
Snider, who is white, mocks the woman as “the fucking coal-Nazi police,” and repeatedly asks her to return a card the woman took from her hand, and then the woman tells dispatchers the family is threatening her after she becomes impatient with police.
She follows the white woman across the street to a convenience store, continuously asking her to return the card, and the white woman begins to cry but does not return the item.
“I’m being harassed,” the white woman says, sobbing, about 23 minutes into the video… “I reported over two hours ago some people were illegally grilling in the park with a charcoal grill where they’re not supposed to, I was waiting there for a response because I was told they’re coming,” the woman says through sobs. “After two hours, I just called back the non-emergency line, and in the interim these people came up and started harassing me, physically pushing me.”
This is all too stupid for words, but this is Trump’s America, as is this:
Juan Pablo Andrade, a longtime Trump supporter and a policy adviser to the pro-Trump organization America First Policies, was caught on camera praising the Nazis while he was attending a conference held by right-wing organization Turning Point USA.
The video, which was obtained by Mediaite, shows Andrade sitting at a table and saying his one complaint about the Nazis was that they “didn’t keep fucking going.”
Mediaite says that it’s unlikely that Andrade was simply making a tasteless joke either, as he was in the room surrounded by figures from the “alt-right” white supremacist movement.
This is Trump’s America too, the new America. Kevin Drum doesn’t like it much:
How bad are things today? And by “things,” I mean Donald Trump.
Pretty bad. Trump is like a kid who finally gets to make his own dinner and decides to have chocolate pizza covered with marshmallows along with a chocolate shake and then some chocolate pudding for dessert. When it’s all over, we’re going to wake up with a bad stomach ache.
However, because I am who I am, I believe that Trump is an aberration, not a harbinger of the future. Liberalism tends to come in short spurts in America, followed by longer periods of conservatism as everyone takes a breather. The Obama presidency was a pretty modest contribution to liberalism, and I suspect that our breather will be fairly modest too.
Wait. He’s saying this new age of crassness isn’t a new age at all. It’s a temporary thing. Drum also says that Ezra Klein agrees with him:
In White Rage, Carol Anderson reflects on the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and the way the nation has always been transfixed by black rage, by images of “rampaging, burning, and looting.” But not all rage is so visually arresting… When President Franklin D. Roosevelt justified his abandonment of anti-lynching laws because, otherwise, the Southern Democrats who chaired powerful committees would “block every bill I ask Congress to pass,” he was genteelly operating within the customary boundaries of a transactional political system, but he was coolly rationalizing a morally gruesome choice…
Thinking back on those eras is a reminder that, in America, periods of racial progress have always triggered periods of political instability. The Civil War is the most profound and bloody example but far from the only one. Richard Nixon, the last president to evince so little respect for constitutional norms, was also a “law and order” candidate who promised to represent a silent majority frustrated by rapid racial advancement and unnerved by black anger.
Viewed from this perspective, it is not surprising that the first African-American president was followed by a candidate like Trump, who promised to put the restoration of America’s dominant political majority above the niceties of normal politics, who is visibly enraged by Black Lives Matter protests and kneeling NFL players.
Drum finds that comforting and adds this:
Even granting everything Klein says, Trump won only barely, and only thanks to a bizarre confluence of outside circumstances. It’s a huge mistake to ascribe too much historical importance to something that squeaked into existence by less than one percent of the vote in three states. Trump may be president, but not because America suddenly underwent a vast change of heart:
And he notes that Klein also says this:
I wonder often about how this period in American life will look to future historians. One possibility that has been much discussed is that it will be seen as the dawn of America’s descent into illiberalism. But another possibility – one that’s less often considered – is that it will eventually look like the turbulence that has always accompanied racial progress in this country, and it will eventually be seen as modest compared to the upheavals of our past.
This depends, of course, on what happens next – on the judgment Americans render on Trump in 2020, on whether our political institutions or fundamental freedoms are weakened in the meantime, on the way we navigate the demographic turbulence already disrupting our politics. But America has absorbed worse than this into its story of progress. We are an aspirational country, and the power of being an aspirational country comes in having something to live up to. Now it is our generation’s work to write the next chapter.
Drum is fine with that:
Trump tells us far more about the Republican Party than he does about America. One man of Trump’s limited abilities is just not enough to change America’s destiny right now. Climate change is real. Demographic change is real. Artificial intelligence is real. Trump may be able to delay our reckoning with the future, but these are the things that are going to mold our next few decades no matter how much they frighten Trump’s base of white voters. Donald Trump, far from being the birth of something new, almost certainly represents the last gasp of the great cultural battle that began in the 1960s and is now, finally, almost exhausted.
If so, Garrison Keillor was wrong. The world didn’t change with Donald Trump and Donald Trump will be gone soon enough – but Garrison Keillor, an old man now, won’t live to see that. And if this last gasp of this great cultural battle, or whatever it is, goes on much longer, none of us will live to see that. None of us is here very long. None of us wants to wait. It’s time to do something now, but what?