Ending Some American Carnage

Some things had to happen. Donald Trump’s inaugural address was drafted by Stephen Miller, the kid from Santa Monica High School out here – the kid who hated the school’s Spanish-language announcements and the endless damned festivals of minority “cultures” and all the rest – the kid who went on to Duke University, where he hooked up with Richard Spenser, the white nationalist, and then went on to work for the wild-eyed congresswoman Michele Bachmann, and then for Jeff Sessions, then still a senator, who relied on Miller to help him defeat immigration reform in 2013 – the kid who then hooked up with Breitbart News, and with Steve Bannon, and finally with Trump’s campaign, as a key advisor. That’s how Stephen Miller ended up in the White House. Bannon is long gone, but Miller is still there, and he was responsible for that inaugural address, now known as the “American Carnage” speech.

It was nasty. Things are awful – look around – there’s carnage everywhere – the nation is in ruins, a smoldering wasteland. And the whole world is against us. Even our allies are laughing at us. So it will be “America First” now – to hell with them all. Stephen Miller had been very unhappy at Santa Monica High School. He found a national figure that had been just as unhappy as he had been, and still was, and Miller finally let it rip – but no one expected this.

James Fallows – who has read and analyzed every inaugural address ever given, and who drafted Jimmy Carter’s one inaugural address – remembers the old days and the ending of Lincoln’s first inaugural, on the eve of that war that tore the country apart:

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory – stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land – will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Obama had quoted that. Donald Trump never would. No one expected this, and then everyone got used to this sort of thing. The world was a mess. Only Donald Trump, alone, could fix any of this. No one else could. Trust him on that. And the nation shrugged and moved on. Whatever, dude. He was strange. What did it matter?

Now we know:

American pride has continued its downward trajectory reaching the lowest point in the two decades of Gallup measurement. The new low comes at a time when the U.S. faces public health and economic crises brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and civil unrest following the death of George Floyd in police custody.

Although a majority of adults in the U.S. still say they are “extremely proud” (42%) or “very proud” (21%) to be American, both readings are the lowest they have been since Gallup’s initial measurement in 2001.

That’s rock-bottom and the context matters here:

These latest data are from a May 28 – June 4 poll, which also found 20% of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S., and presidential approval fell back to 39%. The poll’s field period encompassed the arrests of the police officers charged in Floyd’s death as well as the nationwide protests that were sparked by the incident and President Donald Trump’s controversial responses to them.

So this was when the nation took to the streets in fury and furious reaction to that fury, but there’s historical context too:

The percentage of Americans expressing extreme pride in the country has been declining over the past 20 years, especially recently. Just over half, 55%, felt extreme pride in the initial January 2001 reading, prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In the three subsequent years, between 65% and 70% were extremely proud as the public rallied around the flag. By 2005, that reading fell to 61% and remained steady until 2015 when it dropped to 54%. The current reading is the sixth consecutive year since then that it has fallen to a new low in Gallup’s trend.

But there was that sudden drop in 2015 when Trump glided down the gold escalator in his gold skyscraper and said Mexicans were rapists and murderers and drug dealers and gang members. A month later he would say John McCain was no war hero. McCain was just another loser, unlike himself, and a month later he attacked that Gold Star family. They had lost a son in Iraq. He had sacrificed much more. He had built a real estate empire!

The man was a buffoon, but some thought he might be useful, but now more and more Republicans are just embarrassed:

Republicans have historically been more likely than Democrats and independents to say they are extremely proud to be American throughout the past 20 years. Although Republicans still report more acute pride than Democrats and independents, the latest poll finds a 9-percentage-point decrease in Republicans’ national pride. This marks the largest year-over-year decline in the percentage of Republicans who say they are extremely proud. There was not meaningful change in the past year in the percentage of independents (41%) or Democrats (24%) who say they are extremely proud to be Americans.

And he’s made no one proud to be a white man:

Notably, extreme pride among whites has fallen below 50% for the first time and nonwhites’ is 24%. Racially charged incidents involving police and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement have increasingly contributed to a national discussion about the challenges blacks face in society and likely also factor into the decrease in American pride among nonwhites.

Everyone seems to hate what’s happened, and Helaine Olen thinks she knows why:

Trump approaches his presidential office from the vantage point of entertainment and ratings, not of politics and beliefs. He is literally a failed businessman who played a successful one on TV.

Trump wants your eyeballs. He’ll say or do anything to get them. And like a show on the bubble, Trump wants to get renewed. He’s obsessed with winning and despises people he deems losers. He insults opponents by pointing to their less-than-stellar polling. Ratings, reelection – what’s the difference? To Trump, not much.

But now the president himself is on the losing end. As it turns out, what Charles Sykes at the Bulwark calls Trump’s “almost reptilian instinct for tapping into the Zeitgeist” might well have been a combination of good economic circumstances, mixed with ghastly entertainment appeal.

And both are gone now:

The country is facing multiple simultaneous catastrophes: health, wealth and political. Trump’s response is not to buckle down and get to work – unless, of course, we call obsessive watching of Fox News and posting on Twitter “work” – but to attempt to win back fans with ever more offensive and attention-grabbing statements.

There was the decision to use tear gas to remove protesters so Trump could stage a photo op in front of a church near the White House. There was the repeated echoing of the language of anti-Semites and segregationists. And then there was the rally planned for Juneteenth, the day we mark the end of slavery in the United States, in Tulsa, the site of one of our nation’s most violent race riots against blacks. (Trump moved it back by one day after backlash. Apparently he realized that viewers weren’t pleased.)

And now no one is impressed:

When the economy was good, all too many people were willing to overlook this sort of awfulness. But the hate speech, outrageous statements and Trumpian tendency to throw fuel on fires, now repel. Trump’s poll numbers are falling, and Republican politicians are beginning, ever so slowly, to tiptoe away.

Colin Powell says he won’t vote for Trump in November. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) says she’s undecided. A number of Senate Republicans are bucking him to support a plan – offered up by Trump nemesis Elizabeth Warren, no less – to rename military bases that currently honor prominent Confederates. Jim Mattis, Trump’s former defense secretary, recently excoriated him, claiming in a letter that Trump lacks the ability to show “mature leadership.” (Mattis only noticed that now?)

Even a month ago, many worried that former vice president Joe Biden, with a minimal campaign presence due to Covid-19, wouldn’t be able to take Trump on. Now, not so much…

It is time to end the carnage:

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a landmark federal civil rights law from the 1960s protects gay and transgender workers, a watershed ruling for LGBTQ rights written by one of the court’s most conservative justices.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined the court’s liberals in the 6-to-3 ruling. They said Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination “because of sex,” includes gay and transgender employees.

The decision was a surprise, and not the only one of the day. Even though the court’s conservative majority has been strengthened, it announced Monday that it was turning down a batch of challenges from gun rights groups eager to expand Second Amendment rights. And it rejected the Trump administration’s request to review California’s attempts to provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.

That’s three losses, and that’s ominous:

The court’s LGBTQ rights ruling is the major decision of the term so far and illustrates the difficulty of predicting how the independent-minded court will rule. Over the next several weeks, the justices will announce the fates of the program extending protection from deportation to undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children, a Louisiana law restricting abortion access, three cases important to religious conservatives, and President Trump’s ongoing battle to keep his private financial records from Congress and a New York prosecutor.

And this time Trump was bested by a textual guy:

Providing additional interest to Monday’s decision was its author. Gorsuch, Trump’s first choice for the high court, is such a favorite of conservatives that “But, Gorsuch” has become a catchphrase among those who are not enamored of the president but love his judicial choices.

But the 52-year-old from Colorado signaled during oral arguments that he thought the text of the law – “because of sex” – favored the plaintiffs’ interpretation, and his straightforward opinion read in places as if inspired by their briefs.

“We must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear,” Gorsuch wrote. “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

Gorsuch and Roberts – the chief justice was on the losing side when the court voted 5 to 4 five years ago that the Constitution provided a right for gay people to marry – were joined by liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

The words in the law said what they said. He had no idea what anyone was thinking when they wrote the law. What does it matter? The words are right there, and the nightmare for the Republicans began:

“This is a huge victory for LGBTQ equality,” said James Esseks of the American Civil Liberties Union. He added: “The Supreme Court’s clarification that it’s unlawful to fire people because they’re LGBTQ is the result of decades of advocates fighting for our rights. The court has caught up to the majority of our country, which already knows that discriminating against ­LGBTQ people is both unfair and against the law.”

Many conservatives were appalled by the decision, including some who had worked the hardest for Gorsuch’s confirmation.

“Justice [Antonin] Scalia would be disappointed that his successor has bungled textualism so badly today, for the sake of appealing to college campuses and editorial boards,” said Carrie Severino of the group Judicial Crisis Network.

“You can’t redefine the meaning of words themselves and still be doing textualism. This is an ominous sign for anyone concerned about the future of representative democracy.”

The future of representative democracy apparently depends on knowing what those who wrote the particular law secretly meant, not what they put down on paper, and this only seemed to confuse the president:

Trump, whose administration has moved to ban transgender service members and recently backtracked on medical protections for transgender Americans, was silent about the decision for much of the day, and then ambivalent.

“Well, they’ve ruled,” he told reporters. “I’ve read the decision. And some people were surprised. But they’ve ruled, and we live with their decision; that’s what it’s all about. We live with the decision of the Supreme Court. Very powerful. A very powerful decision, actually. But they have so ruled.”

His presumptive Democratic opponent in November’s election, former vice president Joe Biden, was effusive.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision is a momentous step forward for our country,” Biden said in a statement. “Before today, in more than half of states, LGBTQ+ people could get married one day and be fired from their job the next day under state law, simply because of who they are or who they love.”

He signed off: “Happy Pride!”

That would be American Pride. Perhaps it was beginning to return, but this was a bad day for Trump, as Michael Scherer explains here:

Donald Trump ran for president four years ago with a conflicted message on gay rights meant to simultaneously broaden his appeal and fire up his base. He vaguely embraced the rhetoric of social progress while also saying he would “seriously consider” a Supreme Court justice who would once again outlaw same-sex marriage.

But the court’s decision Monday to extend workplace protections to gay and transgender employees underscored the significant challenge Trump will face as he continues to try to play both sides of the rapidly evolving issue during his reelection campaign.

While still celebrating the idea of social change – recently boasting of appointing the first openly gay man to the level of Cabinet secretary – his administration has repeatedly opted to resist or roll back protections for gay, lesbian and transgender people in a nod to his more conservative supporters. And his first pick to the high court, Neil M. Gorsuch, is now responsible for writing the most impactful ruling for gay rights since same-sex marriage was codified as a constitutional right in 2015.

The court’s decision, finding that workplace protections against “sex” discrimination also protect against bias toward sexual orientation and gender identity, rejected arguments made by Trump’s own Justice Department. The ruling came three days after the Trump administration decided to reverse Obama-era protections against discrimination against transgender people in federally administered health care.

And much as he tried, he can’t have it both ways. Justice Gorsuch made things easy for him, but others had already known better:

As the American public has shifted its views, most Republican elected officials have pulled back from broadcasting their opposition to same-sex marriage and have downplayed the issue during campaigns.

A Gallup poll in May 2019 found that 53 percent of Americans supported new anti-discrimination laws to reduce discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people. Last month, Gallup found 67 percent of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal.

And most Republican elected officials aren’t going to fight that. They’ll just pretend Donald Trump doesn’t really exist. They’ll just pretend none of this happened:

Trump cast himself as a “real friend” of the gay and lesbian community, saying the June 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting at a gay bar in Orlando was an “assault” on people’s ability to “love who they want and express their identity.”

During his nominating convention speech, Trump scheduled an openly gay speaker and said he would “do everything in my power to protect our LGBT citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.”

When the convention audience cheered the line, Trump went off script to say it “was so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said.”

But at other times in the campaign, he sent different signals, once telling a Fox News host that he would “strongly consider” appointing judges to overturn same-sex marriage and promising to appoint Supreme Court judges from a list that had been vetted by socially conservative scholars.

The mixed messages continued after the election. Days after he won, Trump declared same-sex marriage the law of the land.

“These cases have gone to the Supreme Court. They’ve been settled,” he told the CBS News program “60 Minutes.” “I’m fine with that.”

But shortly after his inauguration, Trump began aggressively targeting protections for transgender Americans in a systematic way, beginning with an announcement that he would seek to ban transgender individuals from serving “in any capacity in the U.S. military.”

And the list goes on:

His Education Department ended Obama-era protections for transgender students and threatened a denial of funding to states that allowed transgender women to compete alongside other women in school athletics.

His Department of Housing and Urban Development removed requirements that applicants for homelessness funding maintain anti-discrimination policies and demonstrate efforts to serve gay and transgender people. His decision Friday to strip health-care protections for transgender Americans came on the fourth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub mass killing.

At the same time, Trump has continued to maintain that he supports the gay community, tweeting in May 2019 a note of “solidarity with the many LGBT people who live in dozens of countries worldwide that punish, imprison, or even execute individuals on the basis of sexual orientation.”

He launched an effort, under the guidance of former ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, to decriminalize homosexuality around the world. Grenell recently resigned from the State Department after a brief stint as interim director of national intelligence.

Grenell announced that upon his departure from government, Trump gifted him a chair for Cabinet secretaries.

“You are the first openly gay Cabinet secretary, and it’s a big deal,” Trump said, according to Grenell.

Grenell must have felt used. He had been used, but Mark Joseph Stern notes this:

The Trump administration was already defending its anti-trans rules in court. Now it will probably lose every case. Consider the ACA, which included a little-noticed yet hugely important provision outlawing sex discrimination in health care. Obama’s HHS interpreted this rule to protect transgender patients. Trump’s HHS, by contrast, issued a new “denial of care” rule letting medical providers refuse to treat transgender patients…

Monday’s decision does not end all federal discrimination against LGBTQ people. There are still plenty of questions about transgender people’s rights under the Constitution rather than federal statutes. For instance, can the president, as commander in chief, ban transgender troops from the military? (The Supreme Court’s five conservatives let Trump’s ban take effect in 2019.) Can states forbid transgender people from updating their birth certificates? These disputes revolve around the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection, not any federal law. It is possible that justices like Gorsuch will maintain a cramped view of constitutional equality for LGBTQ people.

Under federal civil rights law, though, this debate is as good as settled. Where Congress outlawed sex discrimination, it also outlawed anti-LGBTQ discrimination. The Supreme Court has validated a definition of bias broad enough to sweep in gender and sexual minorities. In doing so, the justices eradicated the Trump administration’s lone legal justification for its anti-LGBTQ offensive.

Perhaps the carnage is ending, and at Talking Points Memo, Tierney Sneed and Kate Riga note this:

When conservative groups spent millions of dollars to keep Justice Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court vacant until a GOP president could fill it, Monday’s sweeping pro-LGBT ruling was just the kind of opinion they were trying to prevent…

The blockbuster opinion was written no less by Justice Neil Gorsuch, whose presence on the court was made possible by the Faustian bargain social conservatives made in electing Donald Trump.

In short, Trump was awful but they’d get their judge:

As a candidate, Trump promised that he’d nominate the type of judges that they’d be happy with. To make this point explicit, his campaign released a list of potential Scalia replacements that quickly got the approval of the Heritage Foundation and other influential conservative voices.

The Trump campaign’s approach was effective and it may be what ultimately put his longshot campaign over the edge. The one-in-five voters who in exit polls said that the Supreme Court was the issue most important to them broke decidedly in Trump’s favor.

Gorsuch’s name was on the second iteration of the SCOTUS shortlist released in Sept. 2016. Once he was confirmed to the bench, “But Gorsuch” became the refrain among conservatives to wipe away all sorts of Trump misdeeds; a stress ball with Gorsuch’s face and that slogan was even handed out at a 2017 Federalist Society event.

And now that’s over. They’d been had:

“When we’ve gone so all-in on Trump and expected rulings that would leave religious conservatives pacified or pleased, this is egg on their face,” Andrew T. Walker, professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told TPM. “You spend all this time telling yourself you can justify voting for someone who is tremendously flawed to get these great judges and get this utter failure of a ruling.”

And this had happened before:

Roberts received major blowback after he broke with the conservatives in 2012 to uphold the Affordable Care Act. Roberts’ second ruling in its favor – coupled with then-Justice Anthony Kennedy swing vote in favor of same-sex marriage – inspired another round of conservative outrage that culminated in a Senate hearing on ideas to “rein in judicial tyranny.”

“Roberts, among conservatives, is not regarded as someone reliably conservative – it would be tragic if Gorsuch was put in that category, but sadly, today’s ruling kind of gives that impression,” Walker said.

So there was this:

Conservative legal activist Ed Whelan said at the time of Gorsuch’s confirmation that he was “brilliant jurist and dedicated originalist and textualist,” and an “eminently worthy successor” to Scalia.

On Monday, Whelan described himself as someone who had “much higher expectations for Gorsuch (and for the Chief Justice),” while warning of the “extreme consequences” of Gorsuch’s ruling.

He didn’t specify what those extreme consequences might be. But he was shooting blanks. Supreme Court appointments are lifetime appointments. Ed Whelan’s got nothing.

They’ve all got nothing. They were going to narrow this country down to the right sort of people – no perverts and queers, no Mexicans or Muslims, no uppity black folks who think they’re so special, taking a knee and making trouble. And they’ve failed. In his inaugural address, Trump shouted out – “THE CARNAGE STOPS RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW!”

And so it does.

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 Ending Some American Carnage

  1. Rick says:

    About those recent Gallup numbers:

    The percentage of Americans expressing extreme pride in the country has been declining over the past 20 years, especially recently. Just over half, 55%, felt extreme pride in the initial January 2001 reading, prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In the three subsequent years, between 65% and 70% were extremely proud as the public rallied around the flag.

    By 2005, that reading fell to 61% and remained steady until 2015 when it dropped to 54%. The current reading is the sixth consecutive year since then that it has fallen to a new low in Gallup’s trend…

    And how low did it go?

    Although a majority of adults in the U.S. still say they are “extremely proud” (42%) or “very proud” (21%) to be American, both readings are the lowest they have been since Gallup’s initial measurement in 2001.

    Forty-two percent!! You think this might be what we get when we decide to put just any old doofus in the White House? Okay, good poll for our side, but I still have to ask myself…

    Am I even “proud” to be an American?

    Not really, since I don’t really find it meaningful to talk about being “proud” of one’s nationality.

    After all, are you proud of the size of your feet? Proud of your gender? Or how about your race? Not I, but neither am I ashamed. I was born a white male human being, and with relatively small feet, in the United States of America, none of which are “accomplishments” that I can take credit (or blame) for.

    Yes, I like living here, but while I have the choice to live elsewhere — and I’ve been elsewhere and seen other countries that I enjoyed visiting — I choose not to move there, because in spite of its problems, I’d really rather stay put right here.

    Besides, I do like the idea of America being a place that implicitly recognizes its ability to improve itself, although that’s something only American liberals seem to care about, not so much conservatives. We liberals tend to see Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling as recognition that America needs to fix its race problems, particular in the area of police interactions with African Americans, while conservatives only seem to see it as an insult to the country or the flag or to the troops that fought for them somewhere.

    Personally, I think that sort of oversimplified disingenuousness hurts, rather than helps the country.

    And I’m proud to have made the choice to see this country as a good idea, rather than some club that I’m supposed to be loyal to, because not doing so, in public, would make some not-very-bright people I don’t particularly like very much mad at me.

    And I’m glad that, somewhere along the way, I picked up on the notion that Stephen Decatur famously toasting “his country, right or wrong” was wrong — that if your country is wrong, you don’t offer an after-dinner toast to it, you make your country right!

    So maybe I’m proud to be a liberal Democratic American, because first of all, that’s a good thing to be, but it’s also an accomplishment I can actually take credit for.

    Rick

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