Untenable Arguments

The two plague-year virtual party conventions are over. The Democrats made their case for decency and calm and understanding. Donald Trump and his family made his case for busting a few heads and knocking some sense into stupid people. And that was that. The pundits had their say and the polling was clear – Joe Biden got a bit of a bump up in popularity and approval after the nation heard what he had to say, and heard what his party had to say about him. The nation heard what Donald Trump had to say, and what his family and very angry friends had to say about him, and about those uppity and dangerous Black folks out to kill us all after they take everything we have. Donald Trump’s numbers didn’t budge at all. Those who love him really love him, but they already did. No one else joined them. He’ll have to win in November with these people. There’s no one else.

And now everyone can forget those two party conventions. They didn’t matter. Party conventions haven’t mattered for years. Everything had already been decided in the primaries. These party conventions were internal pep rallies, to reassure the party faithful that all was well – or even better than anyone could even imagine. Biden’s bump was due to a few outsiders looking in on this and deciding he was a pretty good guy. Outsiders looking in on Donald Trump and that crowd changed the channel. There was too much anger and they had better things to do with their time. This could wait.

The waiting is over. The campaigning begins. Biden emerged from his basement. He decided to remind Trump that he is not the president and that Donald Trump is. Trump had four years. He blew it, or blew off the job:

Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Monday issued a forceful rebuttal to President Trump’s claim that the former vice president would preside over a nation overwhelmed by disorder and lawlessness, asserting that it was Mr. Trump who had made the country unsafe through his erratic and incendiary governing style.

Mr. Biden condemned the violence that has occasionally erupted amid largely peaceful protests over racial injustice, and noted that the chaos was occurring on the president’s watch. He said Mr. Trump had made things worse by stoking division amid a national outcry over racism and police brutality.

“Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is re-elected?” he said. “We need justice in America. We need safety in America. We’re facing multiple crises, crises that, under Donald Trump, have kept multiplying.”

Mr. Biden, the Democratic nominee for president, also pressed a broader argument that the president was endangering Americans with his response to the public health and economic challenges the country confronts.

Trump did all that and the rest is bullshit:

The address was Mr. Biden’s most prominent effort yet to deflect the criticism that Mr. Trump and Republicans leveled against him at their convention last week, when they distorted his record on crime and policing. And in a fusillade of tweets over the last 48 hours the president suggested Mr. Biden was tolerant of “Anarchists, Thugs & Agitators.”

Speaking at the site of a converted steel mill in Pittsburgh with no audience, in a rare campaign appearance outside eastern Pennsylvania or his home state of Delaware, Mr. Biden rejected the suggestion that lawlessness would go unchecked under his leadership. “Ask yourself: Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters?”

But forget him and look at this mess:

The former vice president sought to refocus the spotlight on Mr. Trump and make the election a referendum on the president’s character and his stewardship of the pandemic. He cast Mr. Trump as a destabilizing force who had exacerbated the most urgent problems facing the nation, from the public health crisis, international affairs and unemployment to issues around police brutality, white supremacy and racism.

He repeatedly instructed voters to ignore Mr. Trump’s attempts to transfer responsibility to Democrats for the problems unfolding under his administration. “He keeps telling us if he was president you’d feel safe,” Mr. Biden said. “Well, he is president, whether he knows it or not.”

And that’s the problem, whether he knows it or not. Perhaps he shouldn’t be president:

Mr. Biden took pains to differentiate between his support for peaceful protests and his opposition to acts of destruction. “Rioting is not protesting,” he said. “Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. None of this is protesting. It’s lawlessness, plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted.”

He promised he would seek to “lower the temperature in this country,” something he suggested Mr. Trump was unable to do. “He can’t stop the violence because for years he’s fomented it,” Mr. Biden said.

So, Donald, get the facts straight and stop making things worse. Man up and accept at least a little responsibility. That’s the actual job here, but that was asking the impossible:

At a briefing late Monday, Mr. Trump declined to condemn his supporters’ use of paintballs and pepper spray against protesters in Portland, Ore., over the weekend.

Aaron Blake covered that. That was a disaster:

At the start of and throughout his news conference Monday evening, President Trump attacked Joe Biden for condemning violence but not specifically left-wing perpetrators of it.

By the end of the news conference, Trump not only pointedly declined to condemn right-wing violence at the same demonstrations, he voluntarily defended it.

He simply stopped making sense:

The president offered his first public comments about Kyle Rittenhouse, a supporter who was charged with murder in Kenosha, Wis., as well as other Trump supporters who converged on Portland, Ore., and apparently fired paintball guns and pepper spray at protesters.

Trump found little fault with any of them. He noted that at least the paintballs weren’t bullets and called it a “peaceful protest.”

He didn’t mention the pellet guns, but of course little pellets aren’t bullets. Buckshot isn’t the same as bullets:

Trump then pointed to a man who identifies as an anti-fascist and who is under investigation in the killing of a right-wing demonstrator after a Trump rally in Portland.

Trump said the man “shot a young gentleman and killed him – not with paint, but with a bullet. And I think it’s disgraceful.”

Quite so, but not quite so:

The president offered no such condemnation, though, when it was noted that one of his supporters, Kyle Rittenhouse, has been charged with killing with actual bullets in Kenosha. Trump indicated he thought Rittenhouse’s actions might have been warranted.

“That was an interesting situation,” he said. “You saw the same tape as I saw. And he was trying to get away from them. I guess it looks like he fell and then they very violently attacked him. And it was something that we’re looking at right now, and it’s under investigation. But I guess he was in very big trouble. He would have been – probably would have been killed, but it’s under investigation.”

Trump seems to have understood his logic was absurd, so he was tap-dancing here, but that made things worse:

Biden has repeatedly condemned the violence that has occurred in cities across the country, often in broad terms. He has drawn criticism from Trump and his allies for not more specifically highlighting left-wing violence or mentioning Antifa, but Biden has referenced “anarchists” and said he condemns violence on both sides of the political spectrum. “I condemn violence of every kind by anyone, whether on the left or the right,” Biden said Sunday.

Trump was given his own chance to acknowledge and condemn violence perpetrated by his supporters, and he notably took a hard pass – failing to even offer the broad type of denunciation that Biden has stated.

And with that, he was trapped:

The contrast between how Trump spoke about that situation vs. the others is telling. In the Portland case, he called the actions of someone who hasn’t been charged “disgraceful”; in the case of Rittenhouse and the supporters who apparently fired paintballs and pepper spray at protesters, he defended them and suggested they were acting understandably under the circumstances.

This sort of thing can be trouble:

It’s evident to whom Trump gives the benefit of the doubt, from Charlottesville through today. And in the course of a couple of minutes Monday night, that benefit of the doubt applied to a supporter who has been charged with a crime – in a way it very much didn’t apply to another person who hasn’t. Trump’s comments about supporters who fire paintballs and pepper spray are also notably different from how he has talked about those who have used other nonlethal blunt instruments. Just because it’s not deadly doesn’t mean it’s not violent.

It’s one thing to decline to denounce someone more forcefully – particularly when there is an ongoing legal case; it’s another to volunteer defenses for them. And for a president who has criticized his opponent for supposedly failing to condemn people on his political side specifically enough, it was instructive that Trump declined to provide a similar statement.

That was indeed curious, as the Brits would say, but Philip Bump points to something even more curious:

The president of the United States is, as of writing, Donald Trump.

In other words, the violence that has occurred has occurred with Trump in the White House – which makes it quite hard for Trump to argue that the United States must reelect him in November so that he can constrain the violence. If it is unconstrained currently, and he is president currently, it’s not clear how his being in the White House necessarily makes things better.

If we take Trump’s frequent argument at face value, he believes that Democrats embrace violence because they think it hurts him politically. That is, that Democratic mayors and governors allow people to set buildings on fire because this reflects negatively on Trump.

By itself, this also is not a very compelling election pitch: Why wouldn’t Democratic mayors and governors continue to allow this violence if Trump won the presidential election in November?

Look at this logically. Reelecting him would make things even worse:

The assertion being made depends upon the idea that Democratic mayors and governors have control over the situation that Trump doesn’t and that they are sufficiently indifferent to their constituents and their own political careers that they figure a few destroyed business districts are worth it to harm Trump. If those are the case now, why would they change next year?

Both of those ideas also conflict with claims Trump and his team have asserted: Trump’s past insistence that the president (when it was Barack Obama) was too weak to shut down acts of violence and White House adviser Kellyanne Conway’s apparent acknowledgment last week that acts of violence aid the incumbent.

This really is a mess:

Asked whether Trump was “rooting” for more violence Monday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that he wasn’t, and that “no one wants to see the violence that we’ve seen in our cities.” It is nonetheless the case that Trump and his campaign have repeatedly tried to use violent incidents as an indictment of Biden. It was a central theme of the Republican convention last week, with multiple people facing criminal investigations or charges alleging that Biden would be soft on crime.

Which is it? Who knows? There’s only this:

In several recent tweets, Trump has said that Biden is accepting crime broadly because it’s necessary for his holding support from voters on the far left, including those who backed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Democratic primary. If Biden goes soft on crime, Trump said Sunday, those voters would vote for Trump because of his position on trade.

So in other words, Sanders supporters vote mostly on trade, but, more important, on the ability to get away with crime.

Who actually believes that? Trump is helping Biden now:

The most generous way of interpreting Trump’s position is that Democrats, including his presidential election opponent Biden, are wary of criticizing protesters because those protesters support Biden and Democrats more broadly. Black Lives Matter protests are supported widely by Democrats and by Black voters in particular, so it’s true that a Democratic mayor might be less willing to deploy police or the National Guard to crack down on a protest that didn’t include looting and arson. They may be more willing to find a compromise that acknowledges the protesters’ anger, instead of simply dismissing them all as “thugs,” as Trump did last week in New Hampshire.

This sets up an obvious middle line: Support the protests and condemn the violence. So that’s what Biden’s done repeatedly, with Trump and his allies often later claiming that Biden never condemned the violence or that he didn’t condemn it in the right way.

That’s when only casually political people change the channel. There might be a documentary on warthogs worth watching. That would be better than this:

Violence is occurring while Trump is president. As with everything else, Trump insists it’s not his fault, just as the faltering economy is the coronavirus pandemic’s fault and just as the pandemic is China’s fault. Since it’s not his fault, it has to be someone else’s, and it’s useful to say that the fault lies with Biden and the Democrats.

Again, no one argues that violent acts have occurred. Where disputes arise is in scale: Trump and boosters such as Fox News’s Tucker Carlson often conflate violence and protests broadly, while Democrats draw distinctions. Disputes also arise regarding culpability. Trump claims that there’s nothing he can do about the violence and a lot that Biden can, so the president argues that he should be reelected so that he can do something about it while Biden wouldn’t.

That position seems somewhat untenable.

Trump may be untenable. William Saletan saw this:

One of Donald Trump’s biggest frauds is that he’s a strong leader. He says he’s tough on China, tough on borders, and tough on looters and anarchists. But when toughness really counts, he’s craven. He sucks up to Vladimir Putin, writes love letters to Kim Jong-un, begs Xi Jinping for help in getting reelected, and causes thousands of deaths by refusing to face a catastrophic virus.

On Monday, Joe Biden launched a frontal assault on Trump’s cowardice.

Saletan highlights how Biden did that:

Biden argued that in street clashes between left- and right-wing extremists, real political courage consists of standing up to the miscreants on your own side. Trump hasn’t just failed that test, Biden said; he’s ducked it. “He’s got no problem with right-wing militia, white supremacists, and vigilantes with assault weapons, often better armed than the police,” said Biden. Trump’s “failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting as an armed militia in this country shows how weak he is.”

Biden coupled this attack with a scathing assessment of Trump’s appeasement of Russia. “The Kremlin has put bounties on the heads of American soldiers,” said Biden. But “instead of telling Vladimir Putin that there’d be a heavy price to pay if they dare touch an American soldier, this president doesn’t even bring up the subject in his multiple phone calls with Putin.” Biden also pointed to reports that “Russian forces just attacked American troops in Syria, injuring our service members. Did you hear the president say a single word? Did he lift one finger? Never before has an American president played such a subservient role to a Russian leader. It’s not only dangerous. It’s humiliating.”

Trump has surrendered to the novel coronavirus as well, Biden noted. The former vice president likened the disease to a wartime adversary, noting that it had killed more Americans than “every war since Korea combined.” He observed that Covid’s death toll dwarfs the current threat from street violence. “More cops have died from COVID this year than have been killed on patrol,” said Biden. While hyping manageable threats, Trump ignores the big one.

This flight from responsibility – running away from bad news in Syria and Afghanistan, blaming violence on mayors, abandoning governors to deal with COVID on their own -defines Trump’s failure as a leader. He is, in Biden’s words, “a bystander in his own presidency.”

Saletan agrees with that:

Trump is a coward. He hides from COVID. He refuses to confront Putin about the alleged bounties. He refuses to criticize assailants and killers who support him. He won’t even talk to a Black family about a loved one shot by police. He’s afraid of the family’s lawyer.

Lots of people are cowards, but you can’t give them this kind of responsibility. When the president is a coward, people die.

Wait. He won’t even talk to a Black family about a loved one shot by police? He’s afraid of the family’s lawyer? That needs some explaining:

President Trump will bring his campaign message of law and order to Kenosha on Tuesday, meeting with members of law enforcement and touring businesses damaged during riots. But when Trump arrives in this pivotal battleground state, he will probably find a chilly reception from state and local leaders, who reiterated on Monday that they wish he would have just stayed away.

“You have a community that’s in the process of trying to heal,” Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian said at a news briefing Monday. “There are so many things that have gone on in this community. It just seemed to me, and I think others, that it would be better for us to be able to pull together, let the community get together, and actually heal.”

At a news conference Monday, Trump said he did not consider the requests not to come here. When asked if his visit could exacerbate tensions, Trump said, “Well, it could also increase enthusiasm and it could increase love and respect for our country. And that’s why I’m going.”

This could increase enthusiasm? His armed Blackshirts in their pickup trucks could roll in. This could start a race war, but maybe not:

It was not immediately clear whether Trump’s visits will spark fresh protests here. Several local activists said no large protests were planned because they did not want to draw more attention to Trump’s visit.

In a private meeting Monday afternoon with 30 members of BLAK, a local activist group, the Rev. Jesse Jackson also urged them to avoid becoming a “prop” in Trump’s visit.

“Trump is coming to town to use us in a prop in his commercial to scare White people to get votes,” Jackson said. “He wants to see us and the red caps on two opposite sides. Let Trump swing in the wind. Tomorrow is a big day. We’ll have a new president in 60 days, and we intend to put Wisconsin in the victory column.”

In short, let the paintball and pellet gun caravan roll through, and ignore them:

Isaac Wallner, the founder of the Human First Project, which formed after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody to press for police accountability in Kenosha, said his group has nothing planned.

“I was going to organize a protest, but then I thought it was best that we just ignore him,” Wallner said. “He wants to see both sides fight and get into it. He wants to get to Wisconsin and say, ‘See, these Democrats fought us.'”

So they’ll embarrass him. They won’t show up to fight his Confederate vigilantes:

Trump’s visit comes as Kenosha is still grappling with the aftermath of the damaging unrest that erupted after Rusten Sheskey, a city police officer, shot Blake, a Black man, in the back on Aug. 23…

In his speech, Biden mentioned he spoke to Blake’s family last week. The White House said Trump is not scheduled to meet with Blake’s family. At a news conference Monday, Trump said he spoke with a family pastor, but did not speak to Blake’s family because they wanted a lawyer to be present on the call.

Blake’s family is wary. They know Trump will lie about what they said to him. They want their lawyer to be present on the call. They want a record of who said what.

Trump is in a bind here. All he has now is this:

President Donald Trump said Monday that the nation must restore “patriotic education” in schools as a way to calm unrest in cities and counter “lies” about racism in the United States.

Trump blamed violent protests in Portland, Ore., and other cities in recent months on “left-wing indoctrination” in schools and universities, while accusing his Democratic presidential challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, of giving “moral aid and comfort” to vandals.

“Many young Americans have been fed lies about America being a wicked nation plagued by racism,” Trump said during a news conference. “Indeed, Joe Biden and his party spent their entire convention spreading this hateful and destructive message while refusing to say one word about the violence.”

There is no racism here! There never has been any racism here!

Don’t try to follow the logic. There is none.

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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