Maybe there was a time when being well-educated and insightful, and full of ideas, or at least able to discuss the ideas of others intelligently, or at least to know there were ideas floating around out there somewhere and they mattered, made you cool – or maybe that was France. That wasn’t America, except for the eight years of Obama – but America decided they’d had enough of that, and of him. America became America again.
Obama, with all his degrees and having taught constitutional law and all the rest, was out of touch with the real America. Donald Trump was not. He was angry and defensive. Or maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he was happy as a clam. But he must have sensed deep wells of anger and resentment out there. He could use that. So he did. He told America that everyone is out to get us. He told America to sneer at the rest of the world – to get angry and get tough. The world was laughing at America. He also said that the rest of America – the blacks and the gays and the urban hipsters and the fancy-pants experts and the goofy scientists and all “politicians” in general – were laughing at real Americans. Mexicans and Muslims were laughing too.
He could fix that. Donald Trump pretty much promised to unite the country against Muslims and “Mexicans” and those Black Lives Matter thugs, who want to kill policemen, and Colin Kaepernick, and gays too, and urban hipsters and the fancy-pants experts and those goofy scientists and “Hollywood” – whatever that means – and against anyone who doesn’t consider Jesus Christ his or her personal savior – with the exception of a few Jewish folks like Jared and his daughter. He’d unite real Americans against such people – real Americans, not those who live in big cities or on the coasts – rural Americans – those whose education ended in high school and hadn’t been ruined by socialist atheist college professors – the only real Americans. He’d put Hillary Clinton in jail too.
He never did put Hillary Clinton in jail, but that was what he was selling. America was small towns and farms. America was rural. America was a largely uneducated agrarian society, distrustful of experts, even if there ever were such people, which real Americans doubted. And of course those who live in big cities are fools, or worse. Americans hate cities.
All of that was nonsense, but that’s what just enough people in just the right places bought. He won. But he has to win again, and the polls show that won’t happen, unless he does something.
So he’s doing something. Cities are evil again:
President Trump on Wednesday approved a memo that the White House said is intended to begin restricting federal funding from going to certain Democratic-led cities that the administration determines to be “anarchist jurisdictions,” aiming to levy an extraordinary attack on political opponents just months ahead of the 2020 election.
In a five-page memo, the president directs the White House Office of Management and Budget to give guidance to federal agencies on restricting funding to cities that “defund” their police departments. The memo also directs the Justice Department within 14 days to come up with a list of localities that qualify as “anarchist jurisdictions” and post that list publicly.
Trump has said there is a wide-ranging Democratic plot to defund police departments, although most prominent Democrats, including presidential nominee Joe Biden, have adamantly rejected this approach.
That hardly matters:
“My Administration will not allow Federal tax dollars to fund cities that allow themselves to deteriorate into lawless zones,” the president’s memo states. “It is imperative that the Federal Government review the use of Federal funds by jurisdictions that permit anarchy, violence, and destruction in America’s cities.”
They’ll get those uppity Black folks in line or, no matter what their citizens and businesses pay in federal taxes, they won’t get one penny back from the federal government:
The federal government provides funding for cities in a variety of ways. These include transportation projects, housing aid, law enforcement grants and numerous other measures. Even though the money is often approved by Congress, administration officials can attempt to cancel certain projects. The new memo asks about the legal authority for canceling certain projects.
The new memo is a directive. Find a legal way to do this. There must be a way to bankrupt and ruin Portland and Seattle and New York City in particular. His base will love that. Perhaps even those oddly sensitive “suburban housewives” will love that. Kill those three arrogant evil cities and he wins in November.
That may not be as easy as he thinks:
Sam Berger, former senior OMB official during the Obama administration, said that any city that has its funds restricted is likely to sue the Trump administration immediately. “This is a campaign document coming out of the White House,” Berger said. “Any actual restriction on funding in court will immediately be sued and almost certainly struck down.”
In a statement, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (D) said: “This is a new low, even for this president. He continues to believe that disenfranchising people living in this country to advance his petty grudges is an effective political strategy. The rest of us know it is dangerous, destructive, and divisive.”
No, that’s not so:
White House officials say the restrictions on federal funding are aimed to encourage cities to crack down on violent protesters.
Stop any protests that might, at some point, somehow, get out of hand, and then you get your money. Tone it down. Respect Trump.
New York City folks know what to say to that. The term is fuggedaboutit:
Brushing off a threat by President Donald Trump to withdraw federal funds from “anarchist” municipalities like New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York launched his harshest attack yet on his fellow Queens native, saying he is “persona non grata” in the city of his birth.
“He can’t have enough bodyguards to walk through New York City,” Cuomo said on Wednesday night. “Forget bodyguards, he better have an army if he thinks he’s going to walk down the streets in New York… He is persona non grata in New York City, and I think he knows that, and he’ll never come back to New York, because New Yorkers will never forget how gratuitously mean he has been.”
A gubernatorial spokesperson later clarified that Cuomo did not mean that the president would literally need such additional protection, but was simply illustrating how unwelcome he would be in the city.
But it came down to this:
Trump “is not a king,” the governor said in an evening conference call. “He thinks he’s a king but he’s not, he’s a president. And there is a Constitution and there are laws – nothing that he knows anything about – but the federal budget is appropriated by law. … The statutes contain the funding conditions and he can’t override the law. I suspect it’s more of a political statement than anything else.”
But of course this was personal too:
“Those that know him best like him least. That’s true about New York City, that’s true about his own family,” Cuomo said. “His sister, a former federal judge, is disgraced by him. What does that say about a person?”
Earlier on Wednesday, Trump called on CNN to fire Cuomo’s brother Chris over revelations that he had once been questioned about a sexual harassment accusation. In doing so, the president referred to Chris Cuomo as “Fredo,” a reference to “The Godfather” that the Cuomo family has long characterized as an anti-Italian slur.
Trump doesn’t like Wops. He mocks them, but some of them can fire back:
“From the point of view of New York City, [Trump] has been the worst president,” Cuomo said. “President Ford said drop dead. President Trump has been actively trying to kill New York City ever since he was elected.”
“You want to do something about public safety, try doing your job,” Cuomo said. “One thousand people under your federal leadership are dying currently per day from Covid. You have the worst record on the globe in terms of leadership.”
And this is stupid stuff:
“The president obviously has no power to pick and choose which cities to cut off from congressionally appropriated funding,” said Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law scholar at Harvard, and recently the co-author of To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment.
Trump “has no defunding spigot. The power of the purse belongs to Congress, not the Executive. Donald Trump must have slept through high school civics,” Tribe said in an email.
Yeah, well, Trump just says stuff. His fixer just admitted that:
In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday, Attorney General Bill Barr dismissed comments by President Donald Trump accusing former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden of treason, with Barr claiming that the president had just been speaking “colloquially” and neither Obama nor Biden were currently under criminal investigation.
“Is it appropriate for the President of the United States to be putting pressure on you in the way he clearly did?” Blitzer asked.
“I don’t feel any pressure from that,” Barr replied, adding that when he talks in private “when we talk in private, he doesn’t talk like that.”
So, in private, Donald Trump is thoughtful and sensible. In public, as head of state, he’s just a guy blowing steam, not thinking about what he’s saying at all, just like that belligerent guy at the end of the bar late in the afternoon. But that wouldn’t do:
Blitzer played another clip of Trump, in which he says Obama and Biden “spied on my campaign, which is treason” and asked Barr to respond.
Barr said, “If I was really concerned about being politically correct, I wouldn’t have joined the administration,” and he added that he had held a press conference to say that “neither president Obama nor vice president Biden were under investigation.”
But he’s not Trump:
Blitzer pressed him further, about whether Trump’s comments were appropriate.
“Let me just follow up on this. Is it appropriate, though, for the sitting president to be accusing his predecessor, President Obama, and former Vice President Biden of committing treason?”
“Well, treason is a legal term,” said Barr. “I think he’s using it colloquially. To commit treason, you have to have a state of war with a foreign enemy to commit treason. But I think he feels they were involved in an injustice. And if he feels that, he can say it.”
But no one should take him seriously? Is that it? Something is odd here. Ray Suarez and William Saletan discuss that:
Suarez: In 1968, Richard Nixon and George Wallace ran against disorder. But the thing they had in common was they weren’t incumbents. Is it strange to see an incumbent president running against disorder?
Saletan: If you look at Trump, it’s not strange at all because he has never wanted actual responsibility. He wants to run against an existing government and claim it is messing everything up and that if he were in power he would make everything better. And of course, the problem is he is in power. So what he desperately needed was to find somebody else whom he could claim was in power and pitch himself as the savior running from the outside against those people. The people he has chosen are Democratic mayors and, to some extent, Democratic governors – people who, as Trump puts it, run these cities where the violence is happening.
Suarez: Are people buying it? Can he plausibly run as an outsider from the Oval Office?
Saletan: Well, he’s asking people to maintain two thoughts in their mind at the same time. One is that Donald Trump is the president: He’s leading us, all the great things that happened in the economy for the past three years were his doing, and somehow that magically stopped in January when the coronavirus came in. At that point everything was the fault of the opposition party or China. In the case of crime, he’s also got to construct this weird spatial relationship where there’s Trump’s America—where crime has gone down – and then there’s Joe Biden’s America. Never mind that during this entire time, Trump is saying that Biden is locked in his basement not doing anything and yet somehow is also manipulating crime in this Democratic America.
Back in 1984 there was that movie Stop Making Sense – the Talking Heads live on stage, shot at the Pantages Theater in December 1983, just down the street here in Hollywood. Leonard Maltin said it was “one of the greatest rock movies ever made.” Perhaps it was, but American politics weren’t supposed to end up like that.
But that’s where we are. That’s what Martin Longman sees now:
Politicians who are behind in the polls frequently try to change the subject. Sometimes they say the polls shouldn’t be believed, and other times they say they have unpublished internal polling that looks much better for them. But a well-financed campaign should know where they actually stand with the voters. A presidential campaign should not only know if they’re winning or losing, but which issues are helping or hurting them.
For example, the Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday shows Trump trailing Joe Biden 40 percent to 47 percent. Trump is losing in part because 78 percent of voters are concerned about COVID-19, and 60 percent assign blame to Trump for both the high death count and the school and business closures.
Meanwhile, fewer than one in ten survey respondents listed crime as their top priority, and “62 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of Republicans, said crime was not increasing in their communities.” A small majority (53 percent) is sympathetic to protests for racial justice, including calls for fairer treatment of minorities by the police.
And there are the suburbs:
While support for the protesters has declined overall since the immediate aftermath of the police killing in May of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked a national conversation on race, the poll showed more than half of suburban Americans and more than half of undecided registered voters are still sympathetic to them.
That’s reality, and then, as Longman notes, there’s Trump:
The Trump strategy flies in the face of these numbers. He constantly dismisses people’s concerns about the novel coronavirus and instead focuses on the traditional suburban aversion to urban crime and disorder. He demonizes protests that the people narrowly support, argues that the economy is actually good when millions of people are out of work and small businesses are going bankrupt every day; and he has almost nothing to say about health care, which is listed in the Reuters/Ipsos poll as people’s number one issue.
To be fair, the Trump campaign seeks to move these numbers. They want to make people focus on crime instead of police shootings. They want to drive a wedge between the Democrats’ suburban and urban supporters. They want to convince people that the economy was great before the COVID-19 outbreak and that the president is best positioned to help it recover.
However, as things stand, they’re just reinforcing issues where they have a disadvantage.
So, Trump can rage about those three arrogant evil cities, and those utterly evil city folks, while his base cheers, but that’s a losing strategy:
When he talks about crime, he’s not talking about an issue at the top of people’s minds. When he talks about protestors, he’s attacking people who have the public’s sympathy. When he downplays the impact of the global pandemic, he reminds people why they blame him for school closures and persistent unemployment.
The campaign has to know that this isn’t a winning strategy and that voters are not responding, but they can’t convince Trump to adopt a strategy that meets his actual weaknesses or that effectively exploits Biden’s soft spots.
Trump appears to be running the campaign he wants to run, without much concern for whether it has a good prospect for success. Maybe this is because Trump is crazy, or maybe he’s not capable of anything else.
But of course there’s a simpler explanation than that:
Trump is running a white nationalist campaign because he’s a white nationalist. He wants to inflame racial feeling, on the theory that whites are still a majority in this country and will eventually rally to their own defense if they feel sufficiently threatened. He thinks this will win him reelection, but more importantly, this is his true purpose for being president in the first place. If he doesn’t try, it’s not worth having the position anyway. His ambition is to roll back nonwhite immigration, whether legal or not, with the purpose of enhancing and preserving white power.
So, the president doesn’t have internal polling that shows his strategy is working. He’s not poll-driven but goal-oriented.
Fortunately, so far there is no majority supportive of his goals.
And by the way, America isn’t an agrarian nation of small towns and farms, and a few cowboys way out west watching the tumbleweed blow by. America has cool cities, and America has experts too, and lots of angry people too, with every reason to be angry. Urban unrest is a real issue, right up there, fourth after one thousand Americans a day dying from that virus with no end in sight, right after thirty million unemployed, and ten million families so broke they will be evicted and homeless in the coming weeks, right after the impossibility of schools and universities reopening any time soon. Trump, however, will hammer those three cities, and perhaps a few more. He will stick it to those city folks. But now no one knows why.