Saturday, July 20, 2019

Race for the White House 2020 # 29

Fifty years ago, America was riveted by the accomplishment on men walking on the Moon. Half a century later, our image in the world and amongst ourselves is hardly as lofty. This week's entry of disjointed thoughts will focus on a specific topic that has largely dominated the news over the past week. Other aspects of the Presidential race will be covered in the weeks ahead. As I have thought before, my most eloquent words on this matter would be easier to put forth if I were able to do so with more immediacy. I suppose that is part of a reason why so many people use Twitter or Facebook to offer their thoughts, but besides for posting on online political blogs as time allows, I limit myself to these entries on Saturdays.

This matter all started off over a week ago as House Democrats got into a somewhat public spat, via Twitter. As she has done before, Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker and septuagenarian dismissed in an interview the Congressional activities of a group of four freshman lawmakers, now known as the "Squad." They are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Ayanna Presley of Massachusetts. Those Congresswomen have been trying to push their caucus in their direction but have largely received a dismissive wave from the Speaker. Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter then said she found it interesting that Pelosi was somehow going after "four women of color" who were newly elected lawmakers. Wow, the race card had been pulled, as Democrats have been known to do for decades, but this time against Pelosi, the unquestionable liberal from San Francisco. Of course, this is similar to the voices on the left also now targeting former Vice President Joe Biden in his Presidential campaign for not being racially sensitive.

Even as many minority House allies of Pelosi pushed back against AOC, it was clear a chasm existed in the party that could prove to be ugly. Donald Trump, of course wanting to be in the fray as always, weighed in and said that Nancy Pelosi was definitely not a racist and that it was ridiculous to suggest as such. Perhaps he was saying all of this in somewhat of a trolling matter, but if he had just left it at that, it would not have been a huge story.

Instead, Trump woke up sometime on Sunday and decided he had to be the center of attention and would enter the Democrat "Civil War" any way he could. He Tweeted numerous comments in which he seemingly lumped all four Squad members together. AOC is the openly socialist member who recently compared southern border detention centers as "concentration camps", Omar is the Somali refugee turned citizen who made much news over the past year with her criticisms of Israel and Jewish American influence. Tlaib, who also has said many questionable things about Israel called Trump an m-fer on the day she was sworn in. I am not sure what Pressley did besides be a down the line left-winger.

 Anyways, without naming any specific names, Trump lumped them all together and claimed that these Congresswomen should return to the "countries they originally came from" and somehow fix situations in countries that Trump said were overrun with crime or had no functioning government, What he seemed not to realize or care though is that three out of the four (unlike two out of his three wives) were native born American citizens of the lower 48 contiguous states. Go back to where they came from? What a horrible thing to say. That also extends of course to the one foreign born subject of his tirade. Whatever one thinks about Ilhan Omar as a Congresswoman, and I think very little positively about her, she came to America legally, as a child, from a very dangerous situation. She then became a United States citizen, and of course would not be serving in Congress if she was not. She got herself elected, whether she should or not have, and is a duly qualified Member. She is also every bit as much of an American as Trump, myself, or anyone else who was born here.

These statements caused an immediate firestorm, with various Trump allies twisting themselves into contortions to say things like, "well, he said they were free to come back after they fixed those problems." Whether Trump gave this much thought at all or not, he was simply trying to create a bigger rift between these women and Pelosi. That might not have turned out, as Democrats have been strongly united in denouncing these comments as racist (while only four brave but principled Republicans, plus the newly liberated Justin Amash would vote that way on a chaotic House floor to denounce them). Nonetheless, Trump has succeeded in elevating "The Squad" to bigger prominence and having them be more of the public face of their party. That is something he wants but Pelosi and many other Democrats likely do not. If this was not the plan at the start, it clearly is now, and Trump has spent the past week trying to continue an "America love it or leave it" campaign while he and political allies keep talking about how disgraceful various remarks were by these women and how anti-American they are and that Trump is merely standing up for America. They are also pushing very hard the anti-Israel and "anti-Semitic" statements made by Omar specifically to try to damage the party that has been the traditional home of Jewish Americans for generations.

I could probably literally type for hours about all this, but that would serve no point. Much has been made over whether Trump's remarks fit the classical definition of "racism." That might be a complex question, but he clearly seemed to be suggesting these four specific brown women were "from somewhere else." In a way, it reminds me of how he talked to a politically friendly Jewish audience not long ago and said that Benjamin Netanyahu was "their" Prime Minister. I will call it racist of course, but worse than that, it was downright anti-American.

Just to use Omar as a specific example, because I think her rhetoric in office (for which he has offered some qualified apologies) has been really bad about Israel and Jews, I have to be sad about the fact that in our tribalized times, too many Americans cannot view the whole picture. They either feel they have to excuse for all the way or denounce her entirely, and let Trump say whatever he wants. That is not the way it works. I detest what she may believe, but she is an American and it is up to her voters to cast judgment on her. While she may be a Muslim woman of Somali descent, there are a whole lot of white native born Americans who also hate Israel and support what she says. The ever changing Lindsey Graham referred to her and the others as "communists" this past week, which seems cartoonish and there have been various statements from Trump that they "hate America" or that Omar specifically is "pro-terrorist" or "loves Al Qaeda." Those allegations are reprehensible to the extreme.

 Polling data over the past week has been pretty mixed but clearly Trump said nothing to lose his base. I think he might run the risk of losing more independent type voters by continuing to disgrace his office in such a way, but there is no doubt that at least a third of the country was cheering him on. Trump held a big campaign rally in North Carolina this week, and while he was speaking about Omar, the crowd started chanting, "Send her back! Send her back!"

I think she should be "sent back" but only to her hometown of Minneapolis after being rejected by the voters, much the same way I wish Trump could be "sent back." Who exactly is supposed to send an American citizen back and how? Simply for not agreeing with the President? This was an ugly moment for the country as Trump who had been riling up the crowd stood silently. Reportedly, his immigrant First Lady Wife and daughter Ivanka, the daughter of Trump's first immigrant wife, expressed concern about this chant, so the next day, Trump basically said it was not his fault and he did not like that the crowd chanted it. He basically threw his MAGA people under the bus (which generated some criticism) despite taking no steps in the moment to remedy the situation. After the backlash to his reaction to the backlash, he now seems to be standing up for their right to believe that Omar be "sent back."

The politics of all this will continue to play out, but even Trump stalwarts such as Anthony Scaramucci seem spooked by this and the damage it could do to Trump. To me, it feels like we went down this road numerous times, in 2015, 2016, and every year since, and yet Trump persists, largely because only small numbers of Republicans dare to criticize him.

Understandably, these political types are afraid of Trump and the damage that he and his Twitter account could do to them and their careers. Just look at someone like Mark Sanford who was defeated by someone supported by Trump in a 2018 South Carolina primary, (in a district that would inexplicably then go Democrat.) It just so happens that he is now talking about running as a Republican against Trump for the nomination, joining Bill Weld, in what everyone concedes is a futile effort.

I want to briefly salute the four Republican Members of Congress who did the right thing on the vote. They are Susan Brooks of Indiana who is retiring, and three others who now might have put their seats even more in danger, either in a primary or general election. They are Fred Upton of Michigan, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, and a particular favorite of mine, Will Hurd of Texas, the lone remaining African-American Republican in the House. I will also note that unlike his South Carolina colleague, Senator Tim Scott, the one black Republican in the Senate, was far harsher in denouncing Trump's tweets.

Long after Trump leaves the scene, the Republican Party will presumably still be around. What they are doing though in enabling Trump will be a subject of attention both in the short-term and long-term. Yes, they have to work with him for what they see as the betterment of the country, just as Joe Biden said he had to work with segregationists and racists. Simple moral decency though demands that those in a position of influence not remain silent.

Yes, winning elections is important and nobody wants to see the ever leftward shifting Democrats be kept from harming America (through their own good intentions) more than me. This is about bigger things than that though, as it was in 2016.

The strength of America has always been about more than the profits on Wall Street or the strength of our economy or the might of our military or the influence of our pop culture. It has been and always has been about our values and ideals. Above all else, America is supposed to be an "ideal" and an experiment in self-government.

This past week has seen words and ideas presented that challenge that identity. America has survived much before but never before have we seen our institutions and our values as under assault by the person in the top office of government. The steps he takes to be a racial arsonist and deliberately divide America may ultimately help him win reelection next year, or it may cost him from winning what could otherwise be a near certain victory. That all will be known in due time, but we simply should not sit by and seen our great nation torn asunder in such ways just because we have been programmed (by the left and now the right), to think that anything is fair game when trying to defeat a partisan opponent.


At 9:22 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Damn Good piece!


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