The Coming Unpleasantness

Pittsburgh used to be Mister Rogers’ neighborhood – that iconic children’s show about common decency was a local production. Then the nation embraced it. Fred Rogers was a good man. He was “the” good man, and somehow this was inevitable:

The casting couldn’t be more perfect: quintessential Hollywood good guy Tom Hanks will play beloved children’s television star Fred Rogers in a new biopic about the television pioneer.

Loosely based on journalist Tom Junod’s 1998 Esquire profile of Rogers, “You Are My Friend” will reportedly center around how “a cynical journalist begrudgingly accepts an assignment to write a profile piece on the beloved icon and finds his perspective on life transformed,” according to Variety, which broke the news.

This was inevitable:

Junod, now a senior writer at ESPN, is a fan of Hanks playing Rogers.

“The really cool thing about Tom Hanks playing Fred is that Fred and Tom Hanks are similar in a really essential way in that they are gentle people, they are soft spoken people, but they are powerful people,” he told Esquire. “I think that Tom Hanks can really bring that aspect of Fred out.”

In the age of Donald Trump that will provide a dramatic contrast, but nothing is all sweetness and light:

Authorities say a crew member working on a movie about Mister Rogers has died after he suffered an apparent medical emergency and fell two stories off a balcony in western Pennsylvania.

Allegheny County say James Emswiller fell around 7:30 p.m. Thursday during a break in filming. The 61-year-old Pittsburgh man died later at a hospital.

Emswiller was involved in the sound production of “You Are My Friend,” which was shooting a scene in Mount Lebanon. The film is based on the life of Fred Rogers, the genial host of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

Mount Lebanon police say Emswiller fell over a brick wall on the balcony at an apartment building.

Film star Tom Hanks, who is playing Rogers in the movie, was at the site and later left.

There is that alternative world of good and decent people – Fred Rodgers and Tom Hanks and others – but good people still die for no good reason. Pittsburgh isn’t all sweetness and light, and as the New York Times’ Liam Stack reports, neither is the rest of Pennsylvania:

Standing by the side of the road three weeks before Election Day, Scott Wagner, the Republican candidate for governor in Pennsylvania, wanted to send a message to the incumbent, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat. It said, in part: “I’m going to stomp all over your face with golf spikes.”

Someone didn’t grow up watching Mister Rogers:

That violent imagery was perhaps the most jarring of several verbal bombs thrown by Mr. Wagner in a video posted to Facebook on Friday, as the country approaches the homestretch of a tense campaign season. By Friday afternoon the video had been viewed over 28,000 times.

“Well, Governor Wolf, let me tell you what, between now and Nov. 6, you better put a catcher’s mask on your face, because I’m going to stomp all over your face with golf spikes,” Mr. Wagner roared, as the sound of cars whizzing past could be heard nearby. “Because I’m going to win this for the state of Pennsylvania. And we’re throwing you out of office. Because I’m sick and tired of your negative ads.”

And what was this? There’s no point in pointing out the obvious irony there, so no one did:

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Wolf’s campaign condemned Mr. Wagner’s remarks.

“Scott Wagner’s latest rant shows he is unhinged and unfit for office,” Beth Melena, a spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Threats of violence have no place in society, especially from someone running for public office.”

But Andrew Romeo, a spokesman for Mr. Wagner, said in a statement that his “comments were not to be taken literally.”

“He wanted them to be a metaphor for how he will approach the final stretch of the campaign,” Mr. Romeo said. The video was meant to argue that Mr. Wolf had been “hiding behind false and negative attack ads like a coward,” he said.

And of course this was all about nothing much at all:

The negative ad that appears to have so enraged Mr. Wagner, and which he showed during his Facebook video, claimed that the waste management company he owns, Penn Waste, had sued 6,979 of its customers.

Mr. Wagner defended the lawsuits, saying they were a necessary part of getting delinquent clients to pay their bills. “If you have a company and you render a service, you want to get paid for it,” he said.

So he sues. Lots of people sue all the time. Donald Trump seems to have sued half of America at one time or another. Tom Wolf doesn’t like people like that. Scott Wagner admires people like that, people like Donald Trump, but that really doesn’t matter:

Polls suggest that Mr. Wagner, a state senator, may have trouble throwing Mr. Wolf out of office. A poll released last month by Franklin & Marshall College showed him trailing the incumbent by 22 points, 30 percent to 52 percent, among likely voters, with 17 percent of voters undecided. Fifty percent of respondents said Mr. Wolf was doing an “excellent” or “good” job as governor.

Scott Wagner made the same choice that Judge Kavanaugh made – show your emotions – be outraged – be angry – be the unfairly outnumbered and overwhelmed victim – scream about unfairness. That propelled Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Do the same. That seems to have been the plan.

But don’t be a jerk:

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise criticized a Republican candidate in Pennsylvania who threatened to “stomp all over” his opponent’s face while wearing golf spikes… Scalise was quick to denounce the threat. What Wagner said was “totally unacceptable,” and there is “no place in our politics for this kind of rhetoric,” the Louisiana Republican tweeted.

After all, someone could get shot. He knows, because he got shot:

Scalise has seen violence in politics first-hand. When a gunman opened fire at a baseball practice for congressional Republicans in June 2017, he sustained a severe hip injury.

On Scalise’s first day back in the House, he spoke about the importance of cooling down heated-up language. “It’s so important that as we’re having those political battles, we don’t make them personal,” he said.

That seems quaint now, because Donald Trump was in Ohio and also all over the place:

President Donald Trump praised Confederate General Robert E. Lee at a rally in Ohio Friday night during a soliloquy in which he also praised a number of Ohioans, including Union General Ulysses S. Grant.

“So Robert E. Lee was a great general and Abraham Lincoln developed a phobia, he couldn’t beat Robert E. Lee,” Trump told supporters at a rally in Lebanon, Ohio, the latest place he’s visited to boost GOP candidates before the midterm elections. “He was going crazy … but Robert E. Lee was winning battle after battle after battle and Abraham Lincoln came home and he said ‘I can’t beat Robert E. Lee.”

Trump added that the frustrated Lincoln was forced to turn to Grant to finally deliver a victory for the Union and to end the Civil War.

Actually, he said this:

I don’t know if you know this story. But Robert E. Lee was winning battle after battle after battle. And Abraham Lincoln came home, he said, ‘I can’t beat Robert E. Lee.’ And he had all of his generals, they looked great, they were the top of their class at West Point. They were the greatest people. There’s only one problem – they didn’t know how the hell to win. They didn’t know how to fight. They didn’t know how.

And one day, it was looking really bad. And Lincoln just said, ‘You,’ hardly knew his name. And they said, ‘Don’t take him; he’s got a drinking problem.’ And Lincoln said, ‘I don’t care what problem he has. You guys aren’t winning.’

And his name was Grant. General Grant. And he went in and he knocked the hell out of everyone. And you know the story. They said to Lincoln, ‘You can’t use him anymore, he’s an alcoholic.’ And Lincoln said, ‘I don’t care if he’s an alcoholic, frankly, give me six or seven more just like him.’ He started to win. Grant really did – he had a serious problem, a serious drinking problem, but man was he a good general. And he’s finally being recognized as a great general.

Who knew? Everyone knew Grant was a fine general. That got him elected president. But who knew that Grant was actually elected president way back when? Everyone knows that too – but then “everyone” isn’t really everyone. Trump’s rally crowds seem like the kind of folks who slept through those junior high American History classes. But this wasn’t really about history. This was about Judge Kavanaugh. He probably did drink a lot. He probably did black out quite often – so he may have done everything those three women said – but he’s a winner. Lincoln saw that in Grant. Trump saw that in Kavanaugh. Trump is Lincoln – QED – “it is demonstrated” – case closed.

Gabriel Pogrund isn’t so sure, because as Trump praised Robert E. Lee there was this:

Minutes earlier, Trump had hailed African American unemployment numbers and he asked black voters to “honor us” by voting Republican in November. “Get away from the Democrats,” he told them… He also celebrated hip-hop artist Kanye West’s visit to the Oval Office on Thursday, adding: “What he did was pretty amazing.”

Trump’s speech threatened to reignite a highly divisive debate over America’s racial history with just weeks to go until the midterms. Trump has previously defended statues commemorating Confederate leaders, tweeting last year: “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.”

Critics say such statues glorify historic advocates of slavery.

No, no, no – blacks should vote Republican, because Republicans love Lee and the rest of those Confederate heroes – who fought so nobly to maintain black slavery. Kanye West is with him on that – he stood in the Oval Office and called for the full repeal of the Thirteenth Amendment – the one that abolished slavery – because too many young black men go to jail. No one knew what Kanye West was talking about, although probably someone is out there now saying see, the blacks want to be slaves again – someone else’s property. Kanye West says so – which he didn’t say, exactly.

Things are getting unpleasant:

Standing before a super-sized American flag, the president listed his achievements whilst redoubling his attacks on his traditional opponents in a rally that exceeded an hour in length. He described Democrats as “the party of the mob” and said of the media: “We’ve learned how to live with them. We don’t like it, but we’ve learned.”

He didn’t mention Scott Wagner and the golf spikes to the face.

Greg Sargent has a few things to say about all this:

President Trump and Republicans have adopted a closing electoral strategy that depicts the Democratic Party and “angry” leftist protests against Trumpian rule as the only real reigning threat to our country’s civic fabric and the rule of law. A new Republican National Committee video juxtaposes footage of leading mainstream Democratic figures with that of angry protesters, while decrying “the left” as an “unhinged mob.”

As absurd as this conflation is on its face, it has smuggled itself into the mainstream debate, where it is getting a quasi-respectful hearing, in the form of a public argument over whether Democrats are “going low,” or tacitly egging on their voters to violence, or, by adopting the smashmouth media tactics of Michael Avenatti, succumbing to “Avenatti-ism.”

His example of that “respectful hearing” is this:

The New York Times reports this morning on the ways Democrats are straying from Michelle Obama’s credo: “When they go low, we go high.” The offending evidence? Eric Holder says: “When they go low, we kick them.” Avenatti counsels: “When they go low, I say hit back harder.” Hillary Clinton asserts: “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for.”

The Times frames this as an argument among Democrats over whether it’s possible to combat Trump’s “insults” without “slipping into a pale imitation” of him.

That’s what Sargent finds absurd:

In this telling, the question is whether Democrats will play to their base’s “rage” at Trump by sinking to his “tonal” level, as if Democrats are deciding whether to engage in a snap-fight in a high school cafeteria.

Republicans, of course, have disingenuously seized on these remarks to claim Democrats are inciting violence. That’s nonsense. The meaning of these quotes is plain: They are a declaration that desperate times call for harder-edged procedural, political and electoral measures – an insistence that Democrats must forthrightly reckon with the true aims and nature of Republican counter-majoritarian tactics, Trump’s illiberal, authoritarian politics, and the overlap between the two.

But nonetheless, the Times piece says that such exhortations from Democrats “risk playing into the hands” of Trump and Republicans who are painting the prospect of a Democratic takeover as a victory for the “mob.”

And that is unfair:

Characterizing the argument this way rigs it in favor of Trump and Republicans, because it does not acknowledge agency on their part. It treats the anger on the Democratic side as existing in a kind of vacuum, as if previous conduct by Trump and Republicans had no role in the current deterioration.

To review: Trump has spent the past 18 months actively stoking civil tensions with concerted and deliberate provocations on as many cultural and racial fronts as possible. Importantly, we know he did this to please his supporters – in some cases abusing presidential power to do so – because reporting has established it to be the case.

And it wasn’t pretty:

After Trump blamed white-supremacist violence on “many sides” rather than unambiguously condemning it, Trump felt “vindicated,” because he thought his base would cheer him. Stephen K. Bannon then candidly suggested the resultant racial strife was a winner for Trump, after which Trump repeated his “many sides” formulation.

Trump corruptly pardoned Joe Arpaio, who victimized and abused untold numbers of Latinos, after concluding it was “a way of pleasing his political base.”

Trump launched attacks on prominent African American athletes for the act of protesting systemic racism in the belief that doing so “revs up his political base.”

Trump went out of his way to attack Christine Blasey Ford at a rally, not in spite of, but because of, the fact that it would further polarize a country already getting ripped apart over the Brett Kavanaugh battle. After winning, Trump characterized her claims as nothing but a “hoax,” contemptuously dismissing the millions of people who deeply believed Ford deserved serious treatment as a symbol of mass victimization by sexual assault.

Many Republicans have adopted this line as well…

That would be Scott Wagner and the golf spikes to the face thing, and Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog sees more:

Even though Eric Holder said, “When I say we kick them, I don’t mean we do anything inappropriate, we don’t do anything illegal, but we have to be tough and we have to fight,” and even though Hillary Clinton’s remarks called for nothing more violent than a return to “regular order” in Congress, Democrats are being accused of incitement to riot.

Why? Because in American politics, it’s always 1968.

Republicans are always seen as the law-and-order party. Democrats are always seen as the party affiliated with the demonstrators in the streets of Chicago that year, even though those demonstrators were radical rather than liberal and were furious at what was then a Democratic war.

That’s why angry Tea Party crowds at Democratic town halls in 2010 didn’t inspire widespread hand-wringing about “civility” – nor did the Bundy standoff or the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Violence at Donald Trump campaign rallies in 2016 got some negative attention, but that violence, and the Bundy and Malheur incidents, were seen through the prism of the mainstream media’s romanticization of Carhartt-wearing working men – anyone who looks tough and grizzled is simply seen as too elemental, too authentically American, to be a threat to society.

The Charlottesville neo-Nazis might have made a mistake when they decided to wear polo shirts and chinos – if they’d grown beards and worn flannel and work boots, maybe they could have gotten away with killing someone without getting bad press.

That’s a bit cynical. David Brooks says the same without the snark:

We’re in an age of negative polarization. And that means you don’t have to like your own party. You just have to hate the other one. And that means it’s all about contempt. And has the other side made you appalled? Have they made you feel contemptuous?

And one thing the Kavanaugh hearing has done is, it made both sides feel the other is appalling. And so that has fired up both bases. And it’s always worth reminding ourselves that we no longer having one election anymore. We have a red state election and a blue state election.

And they’re increasingly disconnected.

But he does see this:

I think, in this age, having the moral high ground is a bit of an advantage, a major advantage. And because of Donald Trump’s behavior, he has put the Republicans at a moral disadvantage.

And staying high, staying reasonably civil, not totally going into the gutter with Donald Trump, strikes me as the right Democratic strategy and the right strategy for any movement, because once you go down there, you self-corrupt.

Then it’s golf-spikes-to-the-face and then no one is in Mister Rogers’ neighborhood anymore. That show, Fred Rogers’ show, aired in WQED in Pittsburgh. QED – Quod Erat Demonstrandum – “thus it has been demonstrated” – but somehow common decency has to be demonstrated over and over again. Now it’s Tom Hanks’ turn – but Trump has the far bigger show. This will be unpleasant.

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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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1 Response to The Coming Unpleasantness

  1. Randy says:

    Hopefully Kanye was referring to the part of the 13th that allows slavery as punishment for a crime.(Private prisons)

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