Moral Failure and Political Stupidity

Donald Trump has kept the nation off balance for almost four years. Sometimes what he claims is a brilliant move is simply a diversion. Something else was going on that no one was supposed to notice, that they then didn’t notice at all. He wins. And sometimes what seemed like a pleasant diversion – no big deal – was a nasty big deal after all, that everyone realized was a nasty big deal only when it was far too late to do anything about it. He wins again. And then there are random acts. Sometimes this president just does stuff. Sometimes he just says stuff. Sometimes he just tweets stuff. He doesn’t mean anything by any of it. Perhaps he was just bored. But one never knows. And that may be the point. Everyone has to guess, everyone has to think about what he might be thinking, about who he wants to hurt and humiliate this time, and he loves that, so there he wins too.

This is, of course, exhausting for anyone who isn’t him, which is everyone else. And he was at it again. In its bland sort of way, the Associated Press reported this:

The vote to re-nominate President Donald Trump is set to be conducted in private later this month, without members of the press present, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Convention said on Saturday, citing the coronavirus.

However, a Republican National Committee official contradicted that assessment Sunday, emphasizing that no final decisions have been made and that logistics and press coverage options were still being evaluated. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Perhaps this was a move by the White House to close the whole Republican National Convention to the general public, to hide something, or perhaps this was a way to say that the media, the networks, the national press, the cable news networks, all of them, are useless and can never be trusted, so Trump would show them all and do without any of them. They’d see nothing. No one would see anything. He’d live-stream his acceptance speech, maybe, if he felt like it. He’d show them all how useless they were – unless when he had to call off the public components of the convention in Florida last month, citing spiking cases of the virus across that state, and move things back to Charlotte, North Carolina, where things are just as bad, he just got pissed off and told the Charlotte folks he was tired of this nonsense and he wanted nothing to do with any of this – screw it all. But no one knows. It could be that none of these people know what they’re doing, but it was odd:

Nominating conventions are traditionally meant to be media bonanzas, as political parties seek to leverage the attention the events draw to spread their message to as many voters as possible. If the GOP decision stands, it will be the first party nominating convention in modern history to be closed to reporters.

And there goes their opportunity to blast their message out to as many voters as possible, but it may just be the virus:

Privately some GOP delegations have raised logistical issues with traveling to either city, citing the increasing number of jurisdictions imposing mandatory quarantine orders on travelers returning from states experiencing surges in the virus.

The subset of delegates in Charlotte will be casting proxy votes on behalf of the more than 2,500 official delegates to the convention. Alternate delegates and guests have already been prohibited.

And there it is. The virus had already won. There was never going to be a real convention anyway, and, by the way, there will be an election after all:

The White House has no plans to try to delay the Nov. 3 election, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Sunday, even as he defended a tweet from President Trump that raised the possibility.

“We’re going to hold an election on November 3rd, and the president is going to win,” Meadows said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.”

Trump’s tweet on Thursday, which set off alarm bells throughout Washington, was merely meant to raise questions about whether a major expansion of mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic could produce fraud or lead to untenable delays in counting votes, Meadows insisted.

That tweet warned without evidence that “2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history” and ended by asking “Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”

“There was a question mark,” Meadows said of the tweet.

The president was just kidding around, to make a point, but just kidding around nevertheless. And no one had believed that at all:

Meadows’s defense comes after Republican lawmakers roundly rejected Trump’s suggestion to delay the election, including several of the president’s most stalwart allies such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). The president does not have the authority to change the date of the general election, which is set by Congress.

“Never in the history of the country, through wars, depressions and the Civil War, have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time,” McConnell said last week. “We’ll find a way to do that again this November 3rd.”

Trump’s suggestion was also rejected by Republican governors, many of whom are trying to increase mail voting in their states.

“It’s not helpful for the president to think out loud in a public fashion,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. Arkansas is among the states that have expanded mail voting access to all voters during the pandemic.

Hey, all this president ever does is think out loud in a public fashion, but others saw something sinister here:

Democrats on Sunday attacked Trump’s tweet, calling it evidence that he wants to undermine confidence in the election and may refuse to leave office if defeated.

“This guy never had an idea about wanting a peaceful transfer of power,” Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), a member of the House leadership team, said on “State of the Union.” “I don’t think he plans to leave the White House. He doesn’t plan to have fair and unfettered elections. I believe that he plans to install himself in some kind of emergency way to continue to hold on to office.”

Georgia politician Stacey Abrams, a contender to be Joe Biden’s vice presidential pick, said Trump “is doing his best to undermine our confidence in the process.”

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and another vice presidential contender, called Trump’s tweet an effort to distract from rising coronavirus infections and a cratering economy.

“I think that he is a master at diversion, and I think that’s the main reason he did that,” Bass said on “Fox News Sunday,” referring to Trump.

But maybe it’s more than a diversion from the twin disasters of rising coronavirus infections and the “cratering” economy. There’s that third problem:

A group of angry Trump supporters went on a tirade against a handful of black lives matter protesters, with the leader of the group declaring, “You’re racist against my white heritage.”

It’s an ugly scene that played out in Keystone Heights, Florida, where four BLM protesters were across the street from the Trumpers. The group waving “Trump 2020” flags, along with some confederate flags, were taunting the protesters.

They claim the BLM protesters are racist, and then there’s this. When the group learns one of the BLM protesters is holding a sign that says, “Start Healing,” the leader of the group says in response, “We ain’t hurt you yet, motherfuckers. We can get you something to heal up motherfucker real quick.”

And out here in Los Angeles:

A married couple were arrested and charged with hate crimes Friday for allegedly using a shovel to smash the vehicle of another couple, with the wife heard on video saying, “White lives matter,” and her husband seen performing a Nazi salute during the incident, authorities said.

Gregory Howell of Carson and his wife, Rachel Howell of Seal Beach, both 29, were allegedly caught on video during the incident about 10:30 p.m. on July 22, according to the Torrance Police Department.

That video went viral. Millions watched it on Facebook. And that had to stop. It was time for diversions. The Republican National Convention will be closed to the public! Postpone the election until that nasty virus is no more, anywhere, to when it is gone for good in a year or two! Pay no attention to these Republicans who are sick and tired of uppity black folks and are willing to beat the crap out of them, for starters.

What? Republicans are racists? That can’t be, but then there’s Stuart Stevens, the famous Republican political consultant and his new book, It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump and this excerpt:

After Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential race, the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, commissioned an internal party study to examine why the party had won the popular vote only once since 1988.

The results of that so-called autopsy were fairly obvious: The party needed to appeal to more people of color, reach out to younger voters, become more welcoming to women. Those conclusions were presented as not only a political necessity but also a moral mandate if the Republican Party were to be a governing party in a rapidly changing America.

Then Donald Trump emerged and the party threw all those conclusions out the window with an almost audible sigh of relief: Thank God we can win without pretending we really care about this stuff.

So, Donald Trump saved them all from Reince Priebus, from having to be nice to “those people” just yet, but Stevens argues that they were eager to be saved:

I spent decades working to elect Republicans, including Mr. Romney and four other presidential candidates, and I am here to bear reluctant witness that Mr. Trump didn’t hijack the Republican Party. He is the logical conclusion of what the party became over the past 50 or so years, a natural product of the seeds of race-baiting, self-deception and anger that now dominate it. Hold Donald Trump up to a mirror and that bulging, scowling orange face is today’s Republican Party.

But it was too late to do anything about that:

I saw the warning signs but ignored them and chose to believe what I wanted to believe: The party wasn’t just a white grievance party; there was still a big tent; the others guys were worse. Many of us in the party saw this dark side and told ourselves it was a recessive gene. We were wrong. It turned out to be the dominant gene.

What is most telling is that the Republican Party actively embraced, supported, defended and now enthusiastically identifies with a man who eagerly exploits the nation’s racial tensions.

What had he been thinking? He hadn’t been thinking:

Racism is the original sin of the modern Republican Party. While many Republicans today like to mourn the absence of an intellectual voice like William Buckley, it is often overlooked that Mr. Buckley began his career as a racist defending segregation.

In the Richard Nixon White House, Pat Buchanan and Kevin Phillips wrote a re-election campaign memo headed “Dividing the Democrats” in which they outlined what would come to be known as the Southern Strategy. It assumes there is little Republicans can do to attract Black Americans and details a two-pronged strategy: Utilize black support of Democrats to alienate white voters while trying to decrease that support by sowing dissension within the Democratic Party.

That strategy has worked so well that it was copied by the Russians in their 2016 efforts to help elect Mr. Trump.

So he became the odd man out here:

In the 2000 George W. Bush campaign, on which I worked, we acknowledged the failures of Republicans to attract significant nonwhite support. When Mr. Bush called himself a “compassionate conservative,” some on the right attacked him, calling it an admission that conservatism had not been compassionate. That was true; it had not been. Many of us believed we could steer the party to that “kinder, gentler” place his father described. We were wrong.

Reading Mr. Bush’s 2000 acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention now is like stumbling across a document from a lost civilization, with its calls for humility, service and compassion. That message couldn’t attract 20 percent in a Republican presidential primary today. If there really was a battle for the soul of the Republican Party, we lost.

And that left them with Trump:

How did this happen? How do you abandon deeply held beliefs about character, personal responsibility, foreign policy and the national debt in a matter of months?

You don’t. The obvious answer is those beliefs weren’t deeply held. What others and I thought were bedrock values turned out to be mere marketing slogans easily replaced…

A party rooted in decency and values does not embrace the anger that Mr. Trump peddles as patriotism.

And that leaves only this:

I’ve given up hope that there are any lines of decency or normalcy that once crossed would move Republican leaders to act as if they took their oath of office more seriously than their allegiance to party. Only fear will motivate the party to change – the cold fear only defeat can bring.

That defeat is looming. Will it bring desperately needed change to the Republican Party? I’d like to say I’m hopeful. But that would be a lie and there have been too many lies for too long.

Stevens adds more to this with these comments elsewhere:

I’ve worked with a lot of candidates, and for all the hocus-pocus-mystique about consultants pulling strings controlling campaigns, I’ve found that ultimately candidates do what they most want to do. This is never truer than when a candidate and campaign are under stress. It’s a natural instinct, the same phenomena of when someone who is multi-lingual reverts to their native tongue when most angry.

Still, I never expected Trump to base his re-election campaign around proving my thesis.

But he did just that:

One recent poll shows only 18% of the country believes we are headed in the right direction, and others aren’t much higher. This 2020 campaign does not lack for big issues that impact every American: the worst public health crisis in 100 years, the highest unemployment since the Depression. This is a moment that uniquely calls out for strong presidential leadership. Most presidents would grasp that their fate lay with the public’s view of their response and act accordingly.

Not Donald Trump. It’s clear his instinct is to make the 2020 election a cultural war, which in his interpretation is just a socially acceptable term for a race war. Why? How does this make any political sense?

It doesn’t, but Trump is who he is:

There is a need in Trump world to describe his erratic behavior and lack of discipline as some kind of brilliant hidden strategy because otherwise you are left with the conclusion that he is a blithering idiot. Which, of course, Trump is, but he’s an idiot with deep racial animosity that dates back decades. Now with his reelection campaign crumbling around him, Trump is lashing out trying to divide the country along racial lines.

This isn’t surprising. We shouldn’t forget that Trump still says the falsely convicted Central Park Five, African Americans he had said deserved the death penalty, are guilty despite exoneration. But what is shocking, if not surprising, is that the Republican Party is going along with Trump’s strategy to model his campaign after Wallace’s 1968 run for president. That reveals a combination of moral failure and political stupidity rarely evidenced by a major party.

Wait. Trump is a blithering idiot? Republicans display a moral failure and political stupidity rarely evidenced by a major party? Well, yes:

Whenever I tell my Republican friends that I think racial animosity is the root of Trump’s appeal, the inevitable and often angry rejoinder is, “Are you saying that 63 million Americans are racists?” What I try to point out to them is that you don’t have to consider yourself a racist (and, of course, most racists don’t consider themselves racists) but you do have to be willing to accept that having a racist president is less important than something else you are getting from that president.

That might be conservative judges, that might be tax cuts, or that might be increased tariffs on Chinese goods (since anti-free trade is apparently the new Republican standard.) But from defending Confederate monuments to attacking Black NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace, Trump seems determined to make it impossible to deny he’s a racist.

That is, diversions don’t cut it now, or as Stevens puts it:

I’m a seventh generation Mississippian who has worked on winning Republican races for governor and Senate across the South, and I’ve never seen Trump’s level of direct racist appeal work. While there is still an angry racist constituency, not just in the South but in every state, it is small and growing smaller. Your average white teenager in the South looks to black rap stars as cultural icons more than Robert E. Lee.

And consider this:

What does it say about the future of the Republican Party when my home state of Mississippi finally lowered the Confederate battle flag just as a Republican president tries to raise it? It leaves me deeply pessimistic about the future of the Republican Party, while deeply hopeful about America.

Trump is trying to refight the Civil War. He’ll discover in November that it’s over. And America won.

Stevens is too kind. Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressman from Florida, who so angers Trump with his MSNBC show “Morning Joe” that Trump watches every weekday morning and reacts with instantaneous rage-tweets, one right after the other, decided to speak directly to today’s Republicans:

What a tremendous burden it must be for you to still be defending President Trump. You have called yourself a constitutional conservative for decades, but now you sit silently as the president pushes to move this year’s election because he might lose. Even some Republican senators are speaking up. Why aren’t you?

Trump remembers how you ran interference for him when he claimed unlimited powers under Article II of the Constitution, so he thinks you will stay quiet. Remember your silence after Charlottesville? You eventually mustered the nerve to claim Trump never preached moral equivalence between torch-carrying Nazis and protesters. How unthoughtful it was of David Duke to expose you by praising the president’s putrid performance and thanking Trump for his “honesty and courage to tell the truth.” The former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard even bragged to reporters that Charlottesville represented a “turning point” for white nationalism. “We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump,” Duke proclaimed. “That’s why we voted for him.”

But wait, there’s more:

That one had to sting, but you kept on defending Donald. If you had a political soul after that shameful stunt, the Cold Warrior in you would have been as sickened by Trump’s retreat from Germany as U.S. strategists were over his ceding of Syria to Vladimir Putin, handing Moscow a foothold in the Middle East for the first time since 1973. No country was a closer ally during the Cold War than West Germany, and no nation is more critical to Europe’s future now than a unified Germany. Undermining the U.S.-German alliance because of an ignorant misunderstanding of NATO’s dues structure undermines the historic work that Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush completed throughout the Cold War’s final years.

But there you are, silently supporting a demagogue who sits by while intelligence suggests Russia’s leader put bounties on the heads of young American troops.

But wait, there’s even more:

Maybe Trump has you figured out and knows what a frightened political soul you are, and remembers that you remained mute when he defended Putin’s killing of journalists and political rivals almost five years ago. “Our country does plenty of killing also,” candidate Trump told me when I repeatedly pressed him on “Morning Joe” to criticize Putin’s murderous ways. He wouldn’t then when the victims were Russian reporters, and he won’t now when the targets are young American heroes in uniform.

I know Trump’s devotion to Putin deeply disturbs you, but somehow you swallow that bile and keep running cover for them both. How hard it must have been to keep all of that down when Trump’s foreign policy adviser, national security adviser, campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman, personal lawyer, political consultant and attorney general were all busted for lying to federal investigators or Congress about their contacts with Russians. But you still kept your head down and marched in a single formation behind Trump.

And there’s this:

When it was revealed that Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign was “sweeping and systematic,” you shrugged your shoulders. You later learned that Russian nationals with connections to the Kremlin promised Trump’s family dirt on Hillary Clinton, and that they were excited to learn it was part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” You remained motionless, numb to it all, when federal investigators later revealed that Russia’s GRU began hacking Clinton-related email accounts hours after Trump announced this: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

And there’s this too:

You repeated the lies of Attorney General William P. Barr and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey O. Graham when they falsely claimed the FBI’s investigation began with Steele’s dossier. And you kept repeating this idiotic defense even after it became painfully evident that Trump’s team welcomed Russia’s interference in American democracy and then tried to cover it up. You still refuse to criticize the Trump team’s use of material stolen by Russia during the last month of the campaign, just like you and your president continue turning a blind eye to any Russian bounties.

So it comes down to this:

None dare call it treason, but perhaps one day they will.

And then what happens? No diversion will save anyone, then.

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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