What a horrendous week for New Yorkers. Condolences to those affected by this ghastly Halloween attack. Don’t wait for words of encouragement and sympathy from the big cheese – he’s too busy attacking your senator on Twitter. Literally insult upon injury, but not surprising. It’s also been a pretty rough week in Puerto Rico, still reeling from Hurricane Maria, and of course in Somalia, in the aftermath of that horrific bombing. I could go on, but what’s the point – you know it. Sad thing is, none of these people will get any reasonable amount of moral or material support from the current administration. The reason couldn’t be clearer: too many dark people, and no potential Trump voters.
Not that Somalia has been treated like anything other than a doormat in previous administrations. Trump, though, has singled out Somali refugees in America for criticism, sowing hatred and distrust among his legions. The refugees are black, like the family of La David Johnson, and like the Congresswoman that is a family friend of theirs, and like the football players taking a knee, and … need I go on? Puerto Rico, well … that place is full of dark people too, and so they’re not going to get the kind of help that goes to Florida and east Texas. It just seems like whatever belligerent stand Trump takes, there are dark-skinned people on the other side of it.
I suppose I should consider it fortunate that crypto-racists have a tendency to reveal themselves gradually, however unintentional that process might be. Case in point is Trump’s Chief of Staff, General Kelly, who launched into a gratuitous character assassination attempt on Florida Congresswoman Wilson (hint: she’s African American) using a story that was easily dis-proven, as the event he was describing was captured on video. In remarks to the New York Times, Kelly praised Confederate General Robert E. Lee and opined that the Civil War was the result of a “lack of ability to compromise”. I think Lawrence O”Donnell had it right when he suggested that Kelly – who grew up in the same area of Boston as O’Donnell did – is channeling a racist upbringing in what was a caldron of prejudice against black people, brown people, anyone other than the Scotty B’s of the world.
Let us face it. In this culture, white, heterosexual people are normative; that is the default position. Anyone else needs qualification and justification. So when a crazy cracker shoots up 500 people in Las Vegas, we won’t ask ourselves what the problem is with these rich, white Christians. But when a crazy ass Uzbek mows down a bunch of innocent people for no reason, all Muslims are expected to apologize. That’s a power relationship at work.
The thing about Trump is that he never knows when to shut the hell up. The events of the past ten days put this into stark relief. His post-Charlottesville comments are driven as much by his insistence on being right as by anything else. That said, the man knows how to court his core constituencies – namely, by abandoning any semblance of the traditional presidential role of being the nation’s consoler-in-chief and weighing in on the side of white sheets and brown shirts. Classy. I guess that roughly comports with Bannon’s avowed strategy of calling out Democrats on race issues, though he claims now to want to crush the “clowns” in the white nationalist movement. (I suspect he’s attempting to blow smoke here.)
There is little doubt in my mind that Trump is a deep-dish racist fuck. His personal history alone is enough to convince any reasonable person, from his early days as a landlord to his vocal advancement of birtherism to his targeting of immigrants, Muslims, you name it. After the attacks in Barcelona, his first impulse was to tweet a reprise of his celebratory comments about General Pershing’s participation in America’s early 20th Century colonial pogrom in the Philippines – the story about killing 49 Muslim resistors with bullets dipped in pig’s blood. What is more bigoted than that? His blood libel against Muslims in New Jersey re the days following 9/11? Perhaps.
Trump’s next stop is Phoenix, AZ, where on Tuesday he will hold one of his regional Klan rallies, full of the kinds of crackpots that marched through the streets of Charlottesville with citronella torches and various tattoos. Too soon, you say? Not a bit of it. This tactic reminds me of what the NRA used to do (and may still do) in the wake of a mass shooting; namely, hold a massive pro-gun rally in or near the affected community. You can bet that Trump will have an incendiary tale to tell of how the Antifa counter-protesters were, in essence, outside agitators, at least as culpable as the neo-Nazis he tepidly disavows. I would still say the apple didn’t fall very far from the Klansman Fred Trump tree.
Is anyone surprised by all this? Well … if so, they haven’t been paying attention. Expect more, folks, and worse … much worse.
By all accounts, what we’re seeing now is Trump being nice. If that’s the case, it’s going to be a very long four years. The last week has been very similar to the closing weeks of the campaign – very staid public appearances, not a tremendous amount of exposure to the press, but quite a lot of drunk tweeting. The somewhat restrained dressing down of VP-elect Mike Pence (who my wife and I keep calling Bike Pants) at the musical Hamilton drew a flurry of outrage from @RealDonaldTrump mostly centered on how “unfair” the cast members were being. This man is so fucking thin-skinned, it’s kind of terrifying. What the hell is he going to do when foreign leaders start trash-talking him?
Let me see if I can guess: whatever his last advisor told him to do. Unfortunately, the two corner offices of the White House will be occupied by two of the most unstable people in his entourage – former Breitbart editor (and man who looks like he spent the last two months sleeping under a bridge) Steve Bannon, who helped buoy the now famous alt-right movement, and General Michael Flynn, who feigns a pretty good imitation of General Jack Ripper from Dr. Strangelove. This makes the Trump White House what may be described as an attractive nuisance, in a way. It seems likely that terror groups will be even more emboldened to mount a spectacular attack on the United States, since they know these people are far more likely than Obama to overreact. Violent overreaction is just what they want from us. Just ask them.
The other thing they want is a war between the United States and all Muslims. Here again, Flynn and Bannon will prove invaluable. Some of Flynn’s comments have placed Muslims of all stripes under suspicion, presenting them as something Americans should be afraid of – presumably, Americans who are not Muslims. This, coupled with the blood libel Trump engaged in during the campaign (namely the bogus story about thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 attacks back in 2001), have driven xenophobic sentiment to the point where some mild discouragement from the president-elect feels like window-dressing. People who voted for Trump on the strength of his bigoted appeal will insist that he act to remove, say, Somalis from their whitebread towns. Again, this kind of stupidity I’m sure warms the cold hearts of ISIS.
One can only hope that Trump’s new advisor – Joe Scarborough – can talk him out of this … at least when Joe’s not pretending to be an independent-minded talk show host. (I almost wrote “journalist”, but then you would have just laughed at me.)
I’m guessing you don’t need my opinion on Donald Trump’s proposed ban of all Muslims from entering the United States – you’ve probably heard the full gamut, from Steve King to Bernie Sanders. My first thought was for all of the Muslim students I have known and met, both natural born U.S. citizens and visa holders from countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, and others. I hear this insane rhetoric, growing louder by the day, and I think of a young fellow from Afghanistan – about the nicest person you could hope to meet – and what his thoughts might be about the people who “liberated” his country, then overstayed their welcome for 14 years.
This is what happens in America when anything like a foreign-inspired terror attack takes place: we want to corral all Muslims and start bombing some country most of us couldn’t find on a globe with both hands. I’ve lived through many cycles of this, from the Iran hostage crisis through the first gulf war, to the embassy bombings in the late 1990s and on into the 9/11 era. I can remember a Muslim friend from Bosnia being a bit taken aback by the rhetoric and the kind of full-on nationalism pushed through the corporate media that came about after Clinton bombed Iraq in 1998. It’s times like these when Muslims – and yes, people with beards and headscarves more generally – feel compelled to start looking over their shoulders.
There’s a push, primarily by Republicans but with Democratic assent as well, to view international terrorism and specifically ISIS as a grave, even existential threat to citizens of the United States. Opinion polls have been showing that this is paying off – people are good and scared, which is music to ISIS’s ears. But what the hell – thousands of people in America are killed by the domestic terror of gun violence every year, some of it motivated in part by extremist religion. I would say that that was more unambiguously the case in the Colorado Planned Parenthood shooting than in the San Bernardino attack, just on the basis of the rantings of the shooter, Robert Dear. We are far more likely to be shot by someone like Dear than by someone like Farook.
So … why are we encouraged to fear the lesser danger? It’s the political magic of otherness. Always a winner in America.