Friday, August 9, 2019

Two takes on how Trump is helping America self-destruct

Take 1

Roving Reporter Sherry alerts us to this NY Times post in which Frank Bruni exposes Trump’s Biggest and Most Dangerous Lie saying that He’s no foe of bigotry. He’s an agent of it. Following are snippets.

When a president orders up a special script, summons the national media and sends a message to all Americans that the “sinister ideologies” of “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” have no place here, the normal response is to cheer.

But these aren’t normal times. Donald Trump isn’t a normal president. And those words, which he spoke on Monday, made me feel sick, because they were just cheap and hollow sops to convention.

He doesn’t believe them. Or rather, he doesn’t care. That’s indisputable from his actions to this point, and it will be demonstrated anew by his behavior going forward. I lost my fondness for forecasts after November 2016, but you can take this prediction to the bank: Trump will be back to his old tweets and tricks in no time. They have gotten him this far, and he’s not going to mess with a good thing just because the country is in crisis.

That speech of his was a pantomime of dignity to give cover to his Republican enablers, and it took a hell of a lot of nerve. Trump as a healer? A unifier? I have grown dangerously inured to his lies — how can you not, when there are so many of them? — but this one was so big it stopped me in my tracks. And it scared me, because when he pretends that what he has been doing isn’t bigoted and racist and that he’s not pushing a narrative of white people who belong here threatened by dark people who don’t, he encourages that same delusion in his followers. He’s not confronting them. He’s letting them off the hook.

… “Trump recognized an opportunity to connect with the electorate over an issue many considered taboo: the discomfort, in some quarters of American society, with the election of the nation’s first black president,” Ashley Parker and Steve Eder wrote in The Times. “He harnessed it for political gain, beginning his connection with the largely white Republican base that, in his 2016 campaign, helped clinch his party’s nomination.”

The lowlights of that campaign and then his presidency include the Muslim ban; the repeated references to illegal immigration as an “invasion;” the characterization of migrants as vermin who “pour into and infest” America; the tweet urging four congresswomen of color to “go back” to their countries, though only one of them wasn’t born here; and, of course, the insistence that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the violence at a gathering of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va.

My Times colleague Peter Baker, who covers the White House for The Times, was precisely right when he wrote a few weeks ago that in regard to race, Trump “plays with fire like no other president in a century.” I’ll say. He’s a moral arsonist, and if he determined that the only way to hold on to power was to burn everything to the ground, he’d gladly be king of ashes. To paraphrase Milton: Better to reign over a ruined country than to be just another crass plutocrat in a noble one.

On Monday he had the audacity to talk about “the perils of the internet and social media,” saying that we must “shine light” on their “dark recesses.” His Twitter account is one of those recesses. He rued how “hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.” It was the ultimate distraction, decrying what he embodies.

The biggest lies aren’t discrete. They’re overarching. They’re not incidental. They’re spiritual. And when Trump, having lit one match after another, professes distress over the inferno, that’s a charade as grotesque as they come. As dangerous, too.

Take 2

John Cassidy, columnist at the New Yorker, explains how Donald Trump and Lax Gun Laws Are Tearing America Apart. Here are excerpts.

Let us not kid ourselves: in many ways, the United States was failing before Donald Trump took his famous ride down the escalator at Trump Tower. Rampant inequality in income and wealth; politicians beholden to rich donors; an educational system that performs poorly relative to that of other countries; an antiquated electoral system that empowers a rural minority; mass incarceration, especially of young males of color; an opioid epidemic; super-lax guns laws that lead to ludicrous levels of violence: all these things predate Trump, and they will almost certainly outlast him.

… In making public statements, Republican Presidents [before Trump] fell back on the usual pablum about the United States being a country of immigrants that found strength in its diversity and applied its ideals to all, regardless of racial or religious background.

At least I regarded this as pablum when I arrived here, more than thirty-five years ago … Over the years, though, I came to realize that it reflected something deeper and served a purpose. In a country as large, heterogeneous, and heavily armed as the United States, an inclusive and patriotic civic culture was a glue that held things together. Take away this adhesive, and some dangerous centrifugal forces would be unleashed.

Centrifuge should be Trump’s middle name. He has, it seems, never seen a fight he didn’t want to enter, a fissure he didn’t want to enlarge, a connecting rod he didn’t want to splinter. During the 2016 campaign, he called for a blanket ban on Muslims entering the United States; labelled Mexican immigrants as criminals, rapists, and drug dealers; and attacked Khizr and Ghazala Khan, two Pakistani-born American citizens whose son had been killed in Iraq while serving in the U.S. Army. After he took office, Trump’s incitement continued, of course. Appearing at a maga rally in Florida this May, he brought up migrants crossing the southern border and asked the crowd, “How do you stop these people?” Someone in the audience shouted out, “Shoot them.” Rather than rebuking this person, Trump paused, smirked, and quipped, “That’s only in the Panhandle you can get away with that stuff.”

[An] appropriate response would be for the two parties to finally come together and tighten up the gun laws, whose permissiveness is impossible to explain to anyone outside the United States—except, perhaps, to residents of war-torn Yemen, which has the world’s second-highest rate of gun ownership. In a post on Monday, my colleague Adam Gopnik cited numerous proposals that even many gun owners would support: “Background checks, an effective assault-weapons ban, a complete ban on large magazines, and licensing and training, and insurance, minimally comparable to those that we all accept for car ownership, for gun ownership.”

… After Trump raised the idea of expanding background checks on Monday morning via his Twitter feed, during a televised statement made later in the day at the White House, he fell back on the standard G.O.P. and National Rifle Association script of blaming mental illness, violent video games, and undefined human “evil.” The President, of course, studiously avoided any hint of his own personal culpability.

So where does this leave us? For the thirty-one fatalities in El Paso and Dayton, it is over—lives have been taken, brutally. …

The rest of us still have our breath and the people we love. Unfortunately, we also have the same incendiary President, the same ineffectual gun laws, the same failing political system, and the boundless phenomenon of online propaganda, hatred, and incitement. If you combine the dangers of Internet radicalization with ready access to weapons of war and a political climate in which the President regularly targets certain individuals and groups with hateful language—and members of his own party do little or nothing to stop him—you have a recipe for carnage. Tragically, we can expect to see more.

… it would take a lot to bring down a country as rich and powerful as … the United States today. Right now, though, it looks as if the country, abetted by its President, is self-destructing.

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