“When enough people understand reality, tyrants can literally be ignored out of existence. They can’t ever be voted out of existence.” ~ Larken Rose
Okay, this guy is the libertarian tax protester who spent fifteen months in prison for willful failure to file income tax returns for five years, because he didn’t think he should. His argument was a bit arcane but that hardly matters. Larken Rose has always been good for a few quotes, like this one. Don’t fight the jerk running things. That only makes him stronger. Don’t organize a big vote against him. He’ll organize something bigger and stronger and angrier, and win the election. But he can be ignored out of existence. Just ignore him. Stick to the facts. Point out the calm reality of the situation. He hates that. And there’s nothing he can do about that. You win. He loses.
That’s an interesting theory, but Rose did spend fifteen months in prison, so there are some things one cannot ignore. Still, can Donald Trump be ignored out of existence? What if everyone just shrugged and moved on to other things, working on solutions to this problem or that, ignoring his rants? After all, as the Washington Post reported, even his own people knew all along that he’s only making things worse:
President Trump’s own top aides didn’t think he fully understood what he had done last Sunday, when he fired off a trio of racist tweets before a trip to his golf course.
After he returned to the White House, senior adviser Kellyanne Conway felt compelled to tell him why the missives were leading newscasts around the country, upsetting allies and enraging opponents. Calling on four minority congresswomen – all citizens, three born in the United States – to “go back” to the “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” had hit a painful historical nerve.
Apparently, Trump was puzzled by that:
Trump defended himself. He had been watching “Fox & Friends” after waking up. He wanted to elevate the congresswomen, as he had previously discussed with aides. The Democratic lawmakers – Reps. Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) – were good foils, he had told his advisers, including campaign manager Brad Parscale. The president said he thought he was interjecting himself into Democratic Party politics in a good way.
In short, what was the big deal? But that question was the problem:
As is often the case, Trump acted alone – impulsively following his gut to the dark side of American politics, and now the country would have to pick up the pieces. The day before, on the golf course, he hadn’t brought it up. Over the coming days, dozens of friends, advisers and political allies would work behind the scenes to try to fix the mess without any public admission of error – because that was not the Trump way.
But the “Trump way” is a problem:
“He realized that part of it was not playing well,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump confidant, who golfed Saturday with the president and spoke to him about it on Monday. “Well, he always doubles down. Then he adjusts.”
Like others, Graham urged Trump to reframe away from the racist notion at the core of the tweets – that only European immigrants or their descendants are entitled to criticize the country. Advisers wrote new talking points and handed him reams of opposition research on the four congresswomen. Pivot to patriotism. Focus on their ideas and behavior, not identity. Some would still see a racist agenda, the argument went, but at least it would not be so explicit.
“The goal is to push back against them and make it not about you,” Graham said.
Trump listened politely but something had to be done:
The damage control did not save elected Republicans from their chronic struggle to navigate Trump’s excesses. Democrats were demanding a reckoning, a vote on the floor of the House condemning his racist remarks that would showcase their own unity and moral vision. The White House would mobilize an intense whip operation, putting Trump repeatedly on the phone, to keep his members in line.
Then, just as many felt the firestorm was coming under control, Trump’s own supporters would set it ablaze again, with a “Send her back!” chant at a Wednesday night rally in Greenville, N.C., inspired by the president’s own words.
And then there was nowhere to hide, because Trump had been Trump:
Many in both parties, well acquainted with Trump’s history of racially charged rhetoric, were stunned at how far he had gone this time. Republicans were fearful of the potential damage but reluctant to confront or contradict Trump. The White House and the Trump campaign sought to contain the furor without alienating key supporters. Democrats finally unified after a week of squabbling to roundly condemn the president.
And at key moments, there were attempts to pretend it hadn’t happened at all. When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) talked to Trump early in the week about ongoing budget negotiations, the tweets never even came up, according to two people familiar with the communication.
But by then the whole nature of the 2020 election had become clear:
In the end, Trump succeeded in at least one respect. Just a few days earlier, he had publicly pined for the days when he could put out a tweet that took off “like a rocket.” Now he had done it again. Americans had to choose sides, and he had drawn the dividing line.
That was clear on the first Monday:
At a joint news conference by the four lawmakers late Monday, Omar said Trump’s tweets represented “the agenda of white nationalists.”
Democratic candidates for president reacted quickly with outrage and offered support for the embattled House lawmakers.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), the child of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, told her campaign staff that she had been targeted by the same “go home” attack. In an emotional response at an Iowa event Tuesday, Harris said Trump had “defiled” his office and “it has to stop.”
“I am going to tell you what my mother told me: ‘Don’t you ever let anyone tell you who you are. You tell them who you are. Period,'” Harris said, growing visibly angry as she spoke. “We are Americans, and we will speak with the authority of that voice.”
And if the Post’s sources are right, no one was prepared for anything like that:
Trump’s own campaign, by contrast, was caught off guard by the tweets and didn’t know initially how to respond. Top aides had been bragging about their ability to fundraise and capitalize on social media advertising when the president blew up the news cycle. But they placed no Facebook ads to ride this wave. The Republican National Committee was silent for more than a day. No one wanted to touch it, advisers said.
And add this:
A person involved in the president’s fundraising effort said many donors were dismayed by the comments – but that there was scant desire to back away from the president publicly.
“You put your head up, and you get it cut off,” this person said. “And then everyone remembers you weren’t loyal when this blows over.”
Trump, however, had to do something to fix this, so he did the opposite:
Trump agreed to say the chants were wrong – but few thought that would be the end of it.
Indeed, by Friday, he was attacking the four lawmakers again, suggesting that no criticism of the country should be tolerated and praising the rally chanters he had distanced himself from just a day earlier. “Those are incredible people. Those are incredible patriots,” he said.
There was little sign, in other words, that Trump had been cowed by the week’s experience.
And then there was his Sunday morning tweet at 4:58 AM:
The Washington Post Story, about my speech in North Carolina and tweet, with its phony sources who do not exist, is Fake News. The only thing people were talking about is the record setting crowd and the tremendous enthusiasm, far greater than the Democrats. You’ll see in 2020!
And at 5:07 AM:
I don’t believe the four Congresswomen are capable of loving our Country. They should apologize to America (and Israel) for the horrible (hateful) things they have said. They are destroying the Democrat Party, but are weak and insecure people who can never destroy our great Nation!
These were the cold empty hours before dawn. The rest of the world was asleep. Donald Trump was alone with his phone. One week had passed. He tweeted again. Things had come full circle. That’s where this started, so now what?
The New York Times’ Astead Herndon and Jennifer Medina report on the Democrats’ struggle, on whether they know what to do now:
President Trump waited for 13 seconds, as the chants from the crowd of thousands grew louder.
“Send her home!” the North Carolina audience yelled, mimicking Mr. Trump’s recent tweet attacking a Somali-born Democratic congresswoman.
“Treason!” one man screamed.
“Traitor!” shouted another.
John McCain stopped that sort of thing – Obama is a good and decent family man so knock it off – but Trump sneers at the memory of John McCain, the coward who never was a war hero at all, and the man who betrayed America and cast the vote that stopped Trump and his Republicans from wiping out all of Obamacare all at once. So of course Donald Trump has to prove that he’s no John McCain, and that this is not 2008, so deal with the new America:
The moment Wednesday night, a microcosm of the angry tribalism that often emanates from Mr. Trump’s campaign rallies, immediately caused ripple effects for the president and his party. Some Republican members of Congress denounced the chant as racist and xenophobic. Mr. Trump tepidly disavowed his supporters’ words, only to praise them the following day. For Democrats, especially the candidates seeking to defeat Mr. Trump, the impact of the rally was clear: This will be a general election focused on race, identity and Mr. Trump’s brand of white grievance politics.
If so, it might be time to make some adjustments:
Until this past week, the 2020 field has generally tried to ignore the president’s incendiary language – talking about it, the thinking goes, only gives him more power. Instead, candidates have preferred to discuss policies, making the case for themselves by advocating changes in the criminal justice system or maternal health, or ways to eliminate the racial wealth gap.
Now some feel an urgency to take a different approach.
They have decided that Donald Trump really cannot be ignored out of existence:
“This election will be a referendum, not on Donald Trump, but a referendum on who we are and who we must be to each other,” Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey said. “But this is going to get worse before it gets better.”
Senator Kamala Harris of California, the most viable woman of color to run for president, said that the scenes from Mr. Trump’s rally, while personally upsetting, were not surprising.
“When we’re on that stage together in the general, I know he’ll try to pull the same thing with me,” Ms. Harris said. “But I’m fully prepared for that. I’m up for it. Because he is small. He is wrong. He is a bully.”
And at a fund-raiser in Los Angeles on Friday, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. told supporters that Mr. Trump is “tearing at the social fabric of this country.”
“This is not hyperbole,” Mr. Biden said. “The fact of the matter is this president is more George Wallace than George Washington.”
Okay, now what? There are choices to be made:
Do you, on the campaign trail, talk directly about the president’s inflammatory language, racism and discrimination in this country? Or do you talk about jobs and the economy?
Democratic Party leaders, particularly establishment figures with ties to Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns, have largely followed a strategy of careful avoidance: responding to the president’s most inflammatory moments, while attempting to redirect the political debate to what is often described as “kitchen table” issues, such as health care and wages.
However, an increasingly vocal group of Democratic grass-roots organizers and pollsters believe that Mr. Trump’s words and legislative actions amount to a cohesive playbook of white identity politics, meant to court white voters of all economic tiers around the idea that their fates are linked, and are under threat by an increasingly diversifying America.
They argue that racism and the public performance of it is a “kitchen table” issue for many voters – black and white – that must be dealt with head-on.
Think of it this way:
“Just as much time and resources as the nominee spends on targeting and messaging around health care and wages and climate change, they should spend an equal amount of resources around an alternative racial vision for the country,” said Cornell Belcher, a prominent pollster who worked with Mr. Obama. “This isn’t a goddamn distraction.”
In fact, this is the main event:
Ana Maria Archila, the co-executive director of the progressive group Center for Popular Democracy, said Democrats must embrace this moment as an opportunity.
“You have to be able to speak powerfully about our willingness to belong together,” Ms. Archila said. “Don’t just condemn the racism and the language but use it as an opportunity to argue for a vision of the country in which we can all be included.”
To some progressives, the stakes are not just winning in 2020. The fate of American identity could be at risk.
Ms. Archila pointed to several policy actions taken by the administration, including the push for a citizenship question on the census, as proof that the “Send her back!” chants were indicative of a permanent ideology among Republicans that was bigger than Mr. Trump.
And there is the matter of calm and decency:
Valerie Jarrett, the former senior adviser to President Obama, said any Democratic nominee would do well to mimic the former president’s messaging. She said her advice to the Democratic field would be to focus on crafting a clear policy message in the primary but to spend the general election attempting to motivate the party’s base, who experienced a dip in energy in 2016. Ms. Jarrett warned candidates not to let Mr. Trump’s combative tone move them away from the sort of strategy that Mr. Obama used to win.
“The country has not changed since his re-election,” Ms. Jarrett said. “Voters are looking for someone who can unify and show us that whoever, the president should be a role model for our children.”
But that may be both quaint and ineffective:
Ryan Enos, a political scientist at Harvard University who has studied voters’ attitudes toward race, said that to the extent the president’s racial divisiveness is a political strategy, it could be an effective one.
“There are a lot of people who are uncomfortable with someone who covers her hair in Congress,” Mr. Enos said, referring to Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. “It is really an ethical and electoral issue, and if it works, that earns Trump another four years in the White House.”
That seems petty, but such things aren’t a goddamn distraction:
Mr. Belcher, the pollster, was also skeptical of his party’s ability to meet Mr. Trump on his playing field.
“White progressives don’t understand race in this country and conservatives and Republicans do,” he said. “But they better learn, because Donald Trump is coming.”
Asked why he was pessimistic, Mr. Belcher laughed.
“Because I’m black,” he said.
This might be a life and death situation after all. A Russian chess Grand Master sees it that way, and that would be Garry Kasparov:
I came to America, to New York, to the greatest city in the greatest nation in the world. I came to seek a better life for my family in a country where I would not be persecuted for my ethnic or religious heritage, or for my political views – to a country that was founded on the protection of those things.
With the rise of Donald Trump and his supporters, those protections are under attack. The latest salvo began with Trump tweeting that Democratic congresswomen should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” This is Trump updating the oldest nativist taunt, “go back to where you came from” with his special brand of ignorance, since most of his targets were born in the United States.
Kasparov was born in Baku, Azerbaijan. His family was driven out by ethnic pogroms against Armenians. All of this is too familiar to him, and not what he expected here:
Trump’s latest attacks on “The Squad” of four Democratic legislators, all women of color, are as outrageous and racist as they clearly and intentionally are, are best seen as a continuation of his assault on everything that makes America great. He’s ticking them off a checklist: the free press, welcoming immigrants, defending human rights, the rule of law, free trade and standing up to dictators. This perverse, un-American agenda has received no resistance from the Republicans, to their everlasting shame. If Trump came out against apple pie and baseball I’m not sure the Republicans in Congress wouldn’t join right in.
And it’s all so counterproductive, or to use an easier word, so stupid:
Every metric and measure proves that immigration has been a huge boon to the U.S. in every way since its founding. The striving parents, working tirelessly to make the American dream possible for their children. The vibrant cultural tapestry, creating a society tolerant of the differences that have torn many older nations apart. The best and brightest from all over the world, attracted by the freedom to study and research and the opportunity to found company after company, from corner grocery stores and dry-cleaners to tech giants like Google.
What little Trump knows about all this he cares nothing for – he doesn’t like the looks of the “foreigners” from the Bronx and Detroit criticizing him and he knows his supporters don’t either.
And he is turning into a thug:
When I first warned about Trump during the 2016 election, his collusion with Russia was just a glimmer of shared propaganda and a shared agenda. But there was much else to worry about, especially for those of us with too much experience with demagogues and autocrats.
There was the familiar tone of his rhetoric, the insults, threats and boasts. The way he offered simple solutions to complex problems, always promising that only he could fix things. Trump’s constant lying was another classic symptom, unapologetically moving on to the next lie before the smell of the previous dozen had dissipated.
Most troubling was his knack for finding the most divisive, hateful themes to rally his base and to draw all the attention to him. “Us and them” is useful, but “me, me, me” is even better – especially when the media goes along.
Trump feeds the mob and the mob feeds Trump.
And then one thing leads to another:
Demagogues don’t find radicals to lead; they radicalize their followers, one outrage at a time. Trump drags his supporters down by association every time they fail to disown him, to condemn him. Eventually they have no one else – and no one else will have them.
This should serve as a warning to those Democrats like Joe Biden talking about winning over Trump supporters in 2020. While a few might be disappointed enough with him to stay home on election day, they are just as likely to double down, especially if Trump succeeds in making the Democrats’ most extreme members and most extreme positions into the face of the Democratic party.
That means that Donald Trump really cannot be ignored out of existence, as much as the woman from San Francisco wishes that were so:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi candidly admits that Trump has committed crimes worthy of prosecution, but steadfastly declines to use the powers of her office to pursue them. Instead of introducing articles of impeachment – the only real check on a corrupt president’s power – the Democratic leadership is squabbling with its leftist wing about it. By so doing, Pelosi is helping Trump sweep his wrongdoings under the rug when they should be the primary focus of his presidency and the 2020 election.
As a matter of constitutional duty, the only acceptable answer to the litany of betrayal and obstruction detailed in the Mueller report is impeachment, not “let’s focus on health care.” And if the feckless GOP-controlled Senate won’t convict Trump, expose them for it instead of providing them with cover by not even trying.
When enough people understand reality things could change, and a version of that reality is out there already:
We know what Trump is, and what he’d like to be. I’ve seen his like before, as Putin twisted the fragile Russian democracy into a police state in his own KGB image. Now there’s no more Russian free press to criticize for how they do or do not write about Putin. There’s no legislative opposition to stand up to an all-powerful executive, and no independent judiciary to defend the rule of law.
These things are gone in Russia. First they protested but didn’t act boldly enough, then they went along to maintain position and influence, and then they were swept away.
And that seems to be happening here:
An America in Trump’s image will be one of extremes, with no moderates in the middle, no compromises or shared principles. Political deals will take place behind closed doors, among oligarch cronies and family members. Policy will be announced at rallies, chanted by a frenzied mob.
This is the nightmare that the Democratic leadership has decided isn’t worth fighting against tooth and nail, preferring to wait out the 550 days until the end of Trump’s term.
The bet is that tyrants can literally be ignored out of existence. That’s a bad bet. Larken Rose did spend fifteen months in prison after all, so there are some things one cannot ignore. This will be a referendum on who we are and who we must be to each other – the whole idea of the country. That’s hard to ignore. That’s impossible to ignore.