One of the unpleasant surprises of your 50s (among many) is seeing the heroes and mentors of your 20s pass away. I worked for Chuck Colson, of Watergate fame, who became, through his work with prisoners, one of the most important social reformers of the 20th century. I worked for Jack Kemp, who inspired generations of conservatives with his passion for inclusion. I worked against John McCain in the 2000 Republican primaries but came to admire his truculent commitment to principle.
Perhaps it is natural to attribute heroism to past generations and to find a sad smallness in your own. But we are seeing the largest test of political character in my lifetime. And where are the Republican leaders large enough to show the way?
President Trump’s recent remarks to evangelical Christians at the White House capture where Republican politics is heading. “This November 6 election,” Trump said, “is very much a referendum on not only me, it’s a referendum on your religion.” A direct, unadorned appeal to tribal hostilities. Fighting for Trump, the president argued, is the only way to defend the Christian faith. None of these men and women of God, apparently, gagged on their hors d’oeuvres.
.. “It’s not a question of like or dislike, it’s a question that [Democrats] will overturn everything that we’ve done, and they will do it quickly and violently. And violently. There is violence.” Here Trump is preparing his audience for the possibility of bloodshed by predicting it from the other side. Christians, evidently, need to start taking “Onward, Christian Soldiers” more literally.
.. This is now what passes for GOP discourse — the cultivation of anger, fear, grievances, prejudices and hatreds.
.. “the true populist loses patience with the rules of the democratic game.” He comes to view himself as the embodied voice of the people, and opponents as (in Trump’s words) “un-American” and “treasonous.”
.. As Robert S. Mueller III continues his inexorable investigation of Trump’s sleazy business and political world — and if Democrats gain the House and begin aggressive oversight — a cornered president may test the limits of executive power in the attempt to avoid justice. If the GOP narrowly retains control of the House, Trump and others will take it as the vindication of his whole approach to politics. The president will doubtlessly go further in targeting his enemies for investigation and other harm. He will doubtlessly attack the independence of the FBI and attempt to make it an instrument of his will. He will doubtlessly continue his vendetta against responsible journalism and increase his pressure on media companies that don’t please him. On a broad front, Trump’s lunacy will become operational.
.. But at length he was asked to retreat from that final area where he located his self. And there this supple, humorous, unassuming and sophisticated person set like metal, was overtaken by an absolutely primitive rigor, and could no more be budged than a cliff.”
Republican leaders may dread it, but they will eventually be forced to identify that final area where they keep themselves — or find there is no one there.
Two years ago, the ESPN host Bomani Jones appeared on the network’s “Mike & Mike” morning show wearing a T-shirt that seemed, at first glance, to bear the logo of Cleveland’s baseball team, but, in place of the trademark cursive “Indians,” the shirt read “Caucasians”; the crude caricature of a Native American had also been altered to look like a grinning white man. The reaction was swift: ESPN demanded that he cover up the shirt while on air; many white people criticized Jones’s “racism” on social media. The point was easy to discern: Native Americans continue to be depicted in derogatory ways and relegated to a kind of racist stereotype in a manner that many white people would find intolerable were it directed at them. Stripped of context, the shirt appeared to be a needless racial provocation. Situated amid the dynamics that inspired it, though, the shirt becomes an attempt to undermine racism by forcing observers to think about the nature of the Indians’ iconography.
.. Jeong said in a statement that the tweets were intended to be an inversion of the racist and sexist trolling that had been a feature of her digital life—an attempt to fight racism by deploying its own language against it. She said, “While it was intended as satire, I deeply regret that I mimicked the language of my harassers.
.. Jeong’s satire defense is, indeed, not entirely sound. Her words may well have been satirical, but they are a form of satire with a high risk of collateral damage. The most devoutly bigoted figures of our era, such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Donald Trump, have used the satire loophole as a way to gerrymander the boundaries of acceptable conversation to contain their most inflammatory comments.
.. Donald Trump has reaped incalculable political benefit by exploiting the apprehension that white people have become societal punching bags. In his rhetoric, Trump is not missing the context but deliberately erasing it, contriving a misunderstanding that is profitable on multiple levels for its architects. They understand the current debate around free speech and social media not as an attempt to create parameters of decency around public dialogue but rather as part of a board game in which each side attempts to remove valuable pieces from the other’s team.
.. The dishonestly named Project Veritas has attempted a number of outlandish schemes meant to entrap journalists or distort their words into some fireable offense.
.. But there is also an even greater effort at work, aimed to strip away the moral authority of people belonging to a vulnerable group, in order to make the spurious argument that they’re too compromised to hold anyone outside that group accountable. This is the off-brand cousin of Trump’s method of responding to the Mueller probe: strip away the credibility of those who are making the accusation, and you diminish the weight of the accusations themselves.
.. the conversation in the past week has focussed entirely upon Jeong’s reactions to racist and sexist assaults rather than the fact that she was subjected to them in the first place.
.. the idea of reverse racism serves as a blunt instrument to facilitate the actual kind.