In the third volume of the C. S. Lewis “Perelandra” trilogy, That Hideous Strength (1945), one of the characters says this:
If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family – anything you like – at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren’t quite so sharp; and that there’s going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder.
Of course no one reads theological science fiction any longer, of the Christian humanist non-apocalyptic sort, if anyone ever did. There’s no Rapture in the Lewis trilogy, no torment and the violent death of millions whose faith isn’t sufficiently sturdy. Look elsewhere. Lewis, a close friend of Tolkien – he of the Hobbits – was big on decency and humility and kindness, and kindly generous humor, none of which is much in vogue these days. Evangelical Christianity, much like what the Christians say of Islam, is now defined by its bloodthirstiness. It’s a matter of displaying just what you will not tolerate, ever. One’s faith is now measured by just who, and how many, you want to die, painfully, for their wrong beliefs, or lack of belief – or if you’re a nice guy maybe they should only suffer, really suffer, as there are, as they say, consequences for the choices you make.
Lewis and Tolkien would be appalled but Lewis would understand. That’s what that passage is about. He saw that as the Second World War drew to a close “the possibilities of even apparent neutrality” were diminishing fast. Everything got sharper and harder. Everything always does. And everything gets crazier, as folks move to the extremes.
Bad is always getting worse, getting sharper and harder. And now, as Philip Rucker and Felicia Sonmez report, things did get sharper and harder:
President Trump, joined by many Republican candidates, is dramatically escalating his efforts to take advantage of racial divisions and cultural fears in the final days of the midterm campaign, part of an overt attempt to rally white supporters to the polls and preserve the GOP’s congressional majorities.
On Thursday, Trump ratcheted up the anti-immigrant rhetoric that has been the centerpiece of his midterm push by portraying a slow-moving migrant caravan, consisting mostly of families traveling on foot through Mexico, as a dangerous “invasion” and suggesting that if any migrants throw rocks they could be shot by the troops that he has deployed at the border.
The president also vowed to take action next week to construct “massive tent cities” aimed at holding migrants indefinitely and making it more difficult for them to remain in the country.
“If you don’t want America to be overrun by masses of illegal aliens and giant caravans, you better vote Republican,” Trump said at a rally Thursday evening.
So, this is an invasion, and if even one of them throws a rock, Trump will order the air strikes and then send in the tanks and wipe them all out, but there’s more:
The remarks capped weeks of incendiary rhetoric from Trump, and they come just five days after a gunman reportedly steeped in anti-Jewish conspiracy theories about the migrant caravan slaughtered eleven people at a Pittsburgh synagogue in what is believed to be the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.
But somehow Trump seems to agree with the shooter:
Trump has repeatedly cast the migrants as “bad thugs” and criminals while asserting without evidence that the caravan contains “unknown Middle Easterners” – apparently meant to suggest there are terrorists mixed in with the families fleeing violence in Honduras and other Central American nations and seeking asylum in the United States. The president also said Wednesday that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if liberal donor George Soros had funded the migrant groups – echoing the conspiracy theory that is thought to have influenced the accused Pittsburgh shooter.
Trump questioned again at Thursday night’s rally whether it was really “just by accident” that the caravans were forming.
“Somebody was involved, not on our side of the ledger,” Trump told the crowd.
He said no more. On the other side of the ledger there are Democrats and Soros – that Jewish fellow – but there was more:
He also called birthright citizenship a “crazy, lunatic policy,” warning that it could allow people such as “a dictator who we hate and who’s against us” to have a baby on American soil, and “congratulations, your son or daughter is now an American citizen.”
Trump as a vivid imagination, and things did get sharper and harder:
An online campaign video personally promoted by Trump this week was denounced by Democrats and some Republicans on Thursday as toxic or even racist. The footage focuses on Luis Bracamontes, a twice-deported Mexican immigrant who was given a death sentence in April for killing two California law enforcement officers in 2014. The recording portrays him as the face of the current migrant caravan, when in fact he has been in prison for four years.
But don’t worry about the details:
The 53-second video is filled with audible expletives and shows Bracamontes smiling as he declares, “I killed f___ cops.” With a shaved head, a mustache and long chin hair, Bracamontes shows no remorse for his crimes and vows, “I’m going to kill more cops soon.”
Trump shared the video Wednesday afternoon with his 55.5 million followers on Twitter, and it remained pinned atop his Twitter page the next day. As of late Thursday afternoon, the video had been viewed 3.5 million times.
And now the Democrats are in a bind:
Democratic strategist Donna Brazile said leaders of her party have two schools of thought about Trump’s video and his caravan rhetoric in general. She said they fear that reacting to it only allows the president to dictate the terms of the debate and “spread the toxins into the bloodstream of the electorate,” but that the tone is so appalling – especially coming from the president himself – they feel compelled to speak out.
Which will it be? They’ll decide one day, or not, but it’s already too late for them:
Some conservatives, meanwhile, cheered the president for ramping up his focus on an issue that helped push him to victory in 2016. “The clip of convicted cop murderer Luis Bracamontes laughing in a Calif. court is something every American should see,” Fox News host Laura Ingraham wrote in a tweet.
And of course this has nothing to do with race at all:
Ahead of his rally here Thursday in Columbia, Missouri, the speakers blared “We Are the World,” Michael Jackson’s ode to peace and inclusiveness. Several white supporters interviewed at the event rejected the notion that the president is racially divisive – and they said they resented the very suggestion.
Their “resentment” is curious, because the writing is on the wall:
In Tennessee, a recent ad for Republican Senate nominee Marsha Blackburn features footage of the caravan and warns that it includes “gang members, known criminals, people from the Middle East, possibly even terrorists.” The ad also slams Blackburn’s Democratic opponent, Phil Bredesen, for stating that the caravan is “not a threat to our security.”
An ad released Thursday by Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial nominee Scott Wagner features ominous music along with footage of the caravan. “A dangerous caravan of illegals careens to the border, two more behind it, and liberal Tom Wolf is laying out the welcome mat,” the ad declares, referring to the state’s Democratic governor.
A Facebook ad being run by the campaign of Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) features a photo of three heavily tattooed Latino men with the message, “I will protect Georgia from violent criminal gangs.”
And in California, the campaign of Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.), who has been indicted on charges of alleged misuse of campaign funds, has called his opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, a “national security threat” with “close family connections” to Islamist militant groups. The 29-year-old Democrat’s grandfather, who died 16 years before he was born, was a key planner of the 1972 attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Campa-Najjar has condemned the attack.
And they’ll all do fine, but not all of them:
Some candidates who have long made inflammatory remarks on immigration and race have found themselves facing a backlash in recent days. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who met in August with representatives of a far-right Austrian party and declared that “Western civilization is on the decline,” was publicly rebuked Tuesday by Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee. King, who previously retweeted a self-described “Nazi sympathizer” and endorsed a Toronto mayoral candidate who appeared on a neo-Nazi podcast, has also seen companies such as Land O’Lakes withdraw their support for his campaign.
Trump’s rhetoric also has prompted outrage from a handful of lawmakers from his party, particularly those who are departing Congress or are in Democratic-leaning districts. Republican leadership has largely remained silent.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a frequent critic of Trump who is retiring at the end of his current term, said in a tweet Thursday that the ad featuring Bracamontes was “sickening” and that “Republicans everywhere should denounce it.”
One can go too far, and the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns report on that:
Two years ago, the presidential election hinged in large part on a rightward shift among working-class whites who deserted Democrats.
Tuesday’s House election may turn on an equally significant and opposite force: a generational break with the Republican Party among educated, wealthier whites – especially women – who like the party’s pro-business policies but recoil from President Trump’s divisive language on race and gender.
Rather than seeking to coax voters like these back into the Republican coalition, Mr. Trump appears to have all but written them off, spending the final days of the campaign delivering a scorching message about preoccupations like birthright citizenship and a migrant “invasion” from Mexico that these voters see through as alarmist.
He has written off everyone but his base, which might not be wise:
In Republican-leaning districts that include diverse populations or abut cities that do – from bulwarks of Sunbelt conservatism like Houston and Orange County, Calif., to the well-manicured bedroom communities outside Philadelphia and Minneapolis – the party is in danger of losing its House majority next week because Mr. Trump’s racially-tinged nationalism has alienated these voters who once made up a dependable constituency…
Traditional Republicans warn that Mr. Trump’s conduct is further narrowing his party’s appeal on the eve of the election, catering to a rural base in conservative states like Missouri, North Dakota and Montana that will decide control of the Senate at the possible expense of the Republicans’ House majority and crucial governorships.
“The divisiveness may play well in some parts of the country but it doesn’t play everywhere,” said the speaker of the Texas House, Joe Straus, who has sought to keep his party from drifting too far right. “It’s hard to grow a party when your whole approach is to incite the base.”
And that might lead to this:
More ominous for the GOP is that the desertion of educated whites following Mr. Trump’s 2016 win could establish a new Democratic coalition in future elections, one that would certainly return to the polls in 2020. That would represent the mirror opposite of 1964, when Barry Goldwater lost the presidential race but made inroads into traditionally Democratic precincts among culturally conservative and economically prosperous voters – presaging Republican success further down the ballot in the years to come.
Just as Goldwater began unmooring conservative whites away from their Democratic roots, it is easy to see which demographic could shift most fundamentally on Election Day: college-educated white women, who were once fairly reliable Republican supporters.
In short, Trump could ruin everything for the Republicans for a generation or more, and that seems to be what is happening:
College-educated white women now say they prefer Democrats to control Congress by 18 points, according to a survey by Marist College and NPR.
In moderate areas, the Republican coalition has long depended on upscale whites casting aside their more liberal views on issues like gun control and abortion to support GOP economic policies. Mr. Trump’s national message does virtually nothing to accommodate those voters.
“I’m not hearing anything helpful at all,” said Gene DiGirolamo, a moderate Republican state legislator from Bucks County, outside Philadelphia, where Republicans are struggling to hold on to a House seat and hold back Democratic gains in state races.
There’s something in the air:
At a gathering in a tavern outside Philadelphia on Monday evening, supporters of Scott Wallace, a Democrat running in the state’s most hotly contested House race, denounced Mr. Trump for his “cruelty” and alluded repeatedly to the president’s rhetoric on race and national identity. Addressing a tightly packed crowd, former Representative Patrick Murphy, a Democrat who used to represent the area, warned that “people who hate feel so emboldened to act on it.”
The suburbs around Philadelphia used to be a reliable Republican bastion. But Shelley Howland, a Republican who attended the pro-Wallace event, said Mr. Trump represented a breaking point.
A supporter of abortion rights and gun control, Ms. Howland voted two years ago for Hillary Clinton over Mr. Trump, but stayed loyally Republican in the congressional election, supporting Mr. Wallace’s opponent, Representative Brian Fitzpatrick, who is now seeking his second term. She said she would not support Mr. Fitzpatrick again.
Lewis was right. The possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder, and Kevin Drum sees this:
Trump and the Republican Party keep pulling the race lever harder and harder, but it’s not working. Trump went from 800 troops at the border to 5,000 troops to 15,000 troops. He called the migrant caravan a thousand miles away an “invasion.” He claims he’s going to end birthright citizenship even though he knows perfectly well it’s part of the Constitution and he can’t do it…
These aren’t dog whistles anymore. They’re just straight-up racist messages that are aimed directly at Trump’s working-class white base. And that’s Trump’s problem. He’s now had to turn the volume up so far that even the center-right suburban voters who held their noses and voted for him in 2016 can’t do it anymore. They can’t pretend they don’t see it. And because no one in the Republican Party dares to criticize Trump, he’s dragging the whole party down with him. Republicans are now the party of white racism, full stop.
They’re still going to get a lot of votes. But common decency, which took a vacation in 2016, is finally going to win on Tuesday. Trump is making sure of it.
Fareed Zakaria sees why:
The Republican Party today has become a vast repository of conspiracy theories, fake news, false accusations and paranoid fantasies.
Trump has scared much of the country about a small group of Central Americans, fleeing poverty and violence, who are hoping to come to the U.S. border and apply for asylum. It’s perfectly reasonable to oppose letting them in, though it is cruel to demonize them constantly. But Republicans have not been content to oppose granting asylum. They have concocted facts out of thin air and invented conspiracies about who is behind this group of impoverished migrants.
Last week, one of the prominent hosts at Fox News, which is now the Pravda of the Republican Party, suggested that more than 100 Islamic State fighters had been caught “trying to use this caravan.” Trump, a devoted Fox News viewer, pounced on that claim, declaring that “unknown Middle Easterners” had joined the caravan. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) asked whether Democratic donor George Soros was funding this movement.
None of these claims has an iota of truth to it. But they are repeated and reinforced across the country. The notion that George Soros is the dark mastermind behind all kinds of movements is now deeply lodged in the Republican Party – so much so that senior party leaders such as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa repeat it almost reflexively. Rep. Steve King (Iowa) has accused Soros of backing a grand scheme to systematically introduce foreigners in order to replace “Americans” – in other words, whites – with “somebody else’s babies.”
Soros is one of the most successful businessmen in history, who made his money in as pure a form of capitalism as there is, reading and betting on the market. He has become one of the world’s leading philanthropists. His foundation has spent more than $14 billion to date, much of it to support anti-communists and human rights groups, first in Eastern Europe and then around the world. He has funded various liberal ideas as well, from prison reform to the legalization of marijuana, many of which are now in the mainstream.
So why the focus on him? He is not the only big funder of liberal causes and candidates. Soros is not a mysterious figure. He has given countless speeches and interviews and written many books and articles. His Open Society Foundations put all their grants in plain view, on their website. But Soros is a perfect bogeyman for conspiracy theorists. He is rich, powerful, grew up abroad, has a foreign accent and is Jewish.
Many Republicans now speak often and openly of the dangers of “globalists” – but for some reason, these “globalists” tend to be Jewish financiers (Lloyd Blankfein, Gary Cohn, Janet Yellen and Soros). Given the ugly historical smears in this regard, one can only conclude that elements of the Republican Party are either clueless about anti-Semitism or actively encouraging it.
That’s not much of a choice, and Eugene Robinson adds this:
The Republican Party’s closing argument for the midterm election is a bit confusing:
“It’s all about President Trump – unless he angers, appalls or disgusts you, in which case we’ve never heard of anyone named Trump. We have also never heard of policies we’ve voted for repeatedly, such as eliminating the guarantee of health insurance for those with preexisting conditions, or slashing vital programs such as Medicare and Social Security. Please forget that we cut taxes for millionaires and corporations but not for you. And please, please, be terrified of a few traumatized refugees, mostly women and children, somewhere in southern Mexico.” The party then pulls down its pants and babbles unintelligibly before being gently led offstage.
The Democratic Party’s closing argument, by contrast, is simple and compelling: “Stop the madness.”
Gail Collins puts that a bit differently:
We really need a rest. The country’s been through a terrible streak of terrorism – the pipe bombs followed by the mass shooting in Pittsburgh. And generally, the president has been worse than useless. His rhetorical high point probably came when he went to the synagogue where 11 people were murdered and didn’t say anything.
The bottom was the moment when he blamed the synagogue for failing to post armed guards at its religious services. In between he’s been busy pumping for Republican candidates and failing to rise to the occasion.
Hours after the synagogue shooting, Trump was already back, at a rally, before his howling supporters in Illinois.
But he could give it a rest:
It’s insane to expect him to lift up the nation. But is it too much to ask that he just avoid the violence-inducing themes in his repertoire?
Maybe he could devote half an hour of every rally to his theory that it’s harder to win electoral votes than the popular vote. Plus crowd estimates – he could spend some time claiming that 47 percent of the entire population of Fort Wayne, Ind., was standing outside the door, in terrible weather, just to watch him on closed-circuit television.
We’re better off if he talks about the mysterious promise of a 10 percent tax cut known to no one in Washington but Donald Trump. And the Space Force!
Those are alternatives, and there’s this:
And if all else fails, instead of just announcing, as he always does, that “this is the greatest political movement in the history of our country,” he could claim it’s the greatest in the history of the planet. And compare himself to Thucydides or Winston Churchill or Pope John Paul II.
Honestly, it’d be such a relief.
And it won’t happen. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse and the whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder – and that time is now. The possibilities of even apparent neutrality have disappeared. It must be time for an election.