Endless Patriot Games

This is how an era ended:

Former U.S. senator Robert J. Dole, who overcame the hardships of dust bowl Kansas during the Depression and devastating injuries in World War II to run three times for the presidency and serve more than a decade as the Senate Republican leader, died Dec. 5 at 98.

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation announced the death but did not provide an immediate cause. He announced in February that he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.

Boomers remember him. Even the sixties hippies, now in their seventies, cut him some slack. He was a good man on the wrong side of many issues, but a reasonable man, with a good sense of humor, with one good arm. The other had been nearly blown off in the Battle of the Bulge, but he didn’t talk about that. He was always in the present, concerned about the future. And, curiously, he saw no one around him as an enemy. He never understood thinking that way:

Mr. Dole’s life was a trajectory played out against nine decades of America’s political, economic and cultural transformations, from his birth in a one-bedroom house to a career that lasted more than a third of a century under the Capitol dome, where he was presented the Congressional Gold Medal in 2018.

Arriving in Washington a few months shy of his 38th birthday, a House backbencher from Kansas among the minority Republicans, he methodically climbed the Washington ladder, possessed of a talent for counting votes and finding the sort of consensus rarely achieved today.

His rise paralleled a personal evolution from abrasive partisan to a more statesmanlike role in which he worked across party lines to forge compromise, whether bailing out the Social Security system or recommending an overhaul of long-term care for wounded veterans.

He had figured it out. Partisan politics shuts down everything. Nothing gets done. And that’s stupid. He’d have no part of that nonsense. Still, he was a Republican:

Mr. Dole was often critical of the Republican Party after leaving office, telling audiences that it had become too conservative, with far-right positions that recalled those of his former rival Patrick J. Buchanan. But he remained loyal to the party and, in 2016, became the only former GOP presidential candidate to endorse Donald Trump, whose campaign advisers included former Dole lieutenants such as Paul Manafort.

Despite the harsh turn his party took under Trump, he said in an interview in July with USA Today that he regretted the former president’s loss in November but broke with him over claims of election fraud and was “sort of Trumped out.”

He tried. He did his best. But enough is enough. Trump really had ruined everything.

And then Bob Dole died. He didn’t live long enough to see what Zachary Petrizzo, a media reporter for the Daily Beast, saw the weekend Dole died:

A group of white supremacists stormed through downtown Washington, D.C. on Saturday evening, bearing American flags and mildly menacing plastic shields while marching to the beat of a snare drum down the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. But after chanting aggressively about their plans to “reclaim America,” their intended show of force stalled spectacularly when they lost their ride.

Oops. They had marched through the city with threatening chants about their plan to “reclaim America” – very intimidating – but their arrangements to get back home fell apart. Most of them stood around in the cold, rather embarrassed, for hours. The few U-Haul trucks they had rented were actually too few, and too small. Planning isn’t their thing. But that wasn’t the point:

The rally by more than 100 members of the “Patriot Front” group, held just blocks from the White House, sparked fear among many bystanders and immediately attracted the attention of law enforcement, who shadowed the group to forestall any conflict.

They wanted attention. They got it:

Members wore a uniform: white gaiters, sunglasses, blue jackets, khaki pants, and brown boots and hats. Some donned plastic shin guards, seeming to anticipate violence.

As Patriot Front’s leader Thomas Rousseau spoke beside the Capitol reflecting pool, bystanders booed.

They understood. Bob Dole fought the fascists long ago. And the fascists that Bob Dole fought were more coherent than this:

Asked about the reason for the march, Rousseau said, “Our demonstrations are an exhibition of our unified capability to organize, to show our strength – not as brawlers or public nuisances, but as men capable of illustrating a message and seeking an America that more closely resembles the interests of its true people.”

So, who are America’s true people? Those would be America’s White people. But they have no unified capability to organize:

At the end of the night, the march ended in a logistical anti-climax. No arrests were made at the Arlington Memorial Bridge, where the demonstration wound down, and D.C. police Lt. Jason Bagshaw told The Daily Beast that the police, some in riot gear, were on the scene simply “waiting for people to leave.”

That is when it became clear that more than two dozen members of the white supremacist group could not leave, as they were apparently stranded. Members of the group had waited in a one-way roundabout to depart in one of the U-Hauls they had used to transport themselves for the rally. But the one remaining large rented moving van could not fit them all in, so most of them were forced to wait in 45-degree darkness as the bulky orange vehicle made multiple trips over the course of nearly three hours.

As the group finally departed, one police officer yelled, “Whose shield is that?” after one white supremacist apparently left his plastic shield behind.

It seems that even our own homegrown America fascists have their problems:

Patriot Front was once known as Vanguard America but changed its name after a man affiliated with the group murdered a woman at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

The man in question drove his big white Dodge Charger into a crowd of counterprotesters at very high speed and managed to kill a young woman, but he claimed he had acted in self-defense. That didn’t work. This was murder. Donald Trump said there were “good people on both sides” in Charlottesville – but this was murder. Or it was patriotism:

Members with military experience often train each other in basic tactics ranging from a protest gear list (Marine Corps-issued combat boots and decontaminate wipes) to hand-to-hand combat. White nationalists like Richard Spencer have hired the group for their own security.

That’s because they are a good fit:

According to The Anti-Defamation League, Patriot Front members believe that their ancestors conquered America and bequeathed it.

The group espouses “racism, anti-Semitism, and intolerance under the guise of preserving the ethnic and cultural origins of their European ancestors,” the organization said…

Cassie Miller with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, told ABC News that Patriot Front is arguably “the leading white supremacist group in the country,” with 42 chapters across the United States.

The group is known for staging “flash” protests and torch demonstrations.

Bob Dole wouldn’t know what to make of this, and he certainly wouldn’t know what to make of what Kevin Drum notes here:

I don’t know how long the fight over critical race theory will last. Conservatives are already showing signs of getting bored by it. But one thing is certain: it’s a skirmish, not a war, and its origins go back, like so many culture war artifacts, to the decades shortly after the end of World War II.

Boomers know this:

It’s no secret that ever since McCarthyism and Vietnam, modern liberals have had a fraught relationship with traditional ideas of patriotism. We are uneasy with open displays of flag waving and nationalism. We find unapologetic expressions of patriotism to be dangerously tantamount to jingoism. We are reluctant to say that the United States is the greatest country in the world.

All of this is understandable. If your country goes on communist witch hunts; if your country turns water cannons and attack dogs on civil rights protesters; if your country kills millions in a war in Vietnam – if your country does all this and more, how can you say in good faith that it’s the greatest country in the world?

But this doesn’t go down well with the half of the country that’s unashamedly patriotic and distrusts anyone who isn’t. Liberals have never had a good answer to this, typically mumbling something about true love of country being expressed by those who understand our shortcomings and are working to fix them. This has never been persuasive to anyone who doesn’t believe it already.

So that leads to this:

That’s what the fight over Critical Race Theory is really about. Nobody actually cares about the technical definition of CRT, and it’s pointless to mock people who use the phrase without knowing anything about its origins and whether it’s really taught in our public schools. Nor is it really about racism for most people. It’s about patriotism.

And that’s the problem:

The underlying question, as always, is this: How can you teach children the truth about slavery, native genocide, red scares, and other ugly episodes from our past, and yet also teach them that the United States is the greatest country on earth? Because this is what the CRT warriors really care about. They care about our children learning to love their country.

And that messes up everything:

This, for example, is at the heart of the fight over Nikole Hannah-Jones’ 1619 Project. It’s not about minor errors of fact or even the factual content writ large. It’s about what the authors think about America.

Do they think America is a great idea enacted by great people who made some mistakes along the way? Or do they think that America is at root a racist country created and built by racist white men who also did a few good things along the way?

So, choose sides:

The former highlights both the ideals of our origin and the events in our history that make America admirable – democracy, personal liberty, economic dynamism and entrepreneurial spirit, religious tolerance, victory over fascism and communism – and thus allows you to acknowledge even the most sordid chapters in our history while still believing that America is the greatest country on earth. The latter simply doesn’t. It makes America no better or worse than any other country that prospered due to the blood on its hands.

Which is it? Who knows? Drum says that’s the problem here:

This is what the fight has been about for decades. How do we present American history to our children in a way that acknowledges the worst of our past while still teaching them that America is the greatest country in the world and well worth our unconditional love? And do we even want to?

If you focus on that, real compromises might start to appear. Or not. Maybe it’s an impossible circle to square. But if you focus on anything else, you’re certain to never do anything except evade what the real dispute is about.

But don’t turn to Bob Dole. He’s dead. And our own fascists are in the streets, claiming to be patriots. How do we fix this? Things changed.

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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