Seemingly devoted to making our country into the Divided States of America, the President who smeared and offended Muslims and Latinos is now doing the same for Jews. Speaking in the Oval Office, Donald Trump accused Jews who vote for Democrats of having “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”With those nine evil words, he deployed a vague but potent trope about Jewish patriotism. Accusations of “disloyalty” were flung at Jews in Nazi Germany and have been used to smear Jews around the world. Trump wasn’t specific about the loyalty Jewish Democrats were violating.
- To Israel?
- To Judaism?
- To America?
- To Trump?
He subsequently explained to reporters Wednesday that he had meant that those who support Democrats are disloyal to “Jewish people” and to Israel. He did not explain why he should be considered a proper judge of Jewish Americans’ obligations.The uproar over Trump’s remarks drew press attention away from rising evidence that the US is headed for an economic meltdown. The economy has been his main claim to presidential success. On the very day he shouted-out to anti-Semites, Trump also admitted that more tax cuts are being considered as a way to halt the slide into recession.Confusing and outrageous statements are key to Trump’s style of attention-seeking, which he refined over decades of manipulating the tabloid press in New York City. Back then he would make outrageous statements about
- his own wealth,
- plant stories about the famous women pursuing him for romance, and
- jump into controversies like the attack on a jogger in Central Park, which he exploited with signed advertisements calling for New York state to reinstate the death penalty.In the jogger case, Trump wasn’t so bold as to say the youngsters arrested for the crime should be executed, but the implication was obvious. (It should be noted that they were eventually exonerated of the crime.) The wording meant that Trump could exploit the dangerous anger people felt about the attack, but in an indirect way.By the time he began his 2016 campaign for president, Trump had perfected his method of attaching escape-hatch-caveats to inflammatory words about groups of people. So it was that he said that a few “good people” were among the immigrants from Mexico whom he described as rapists and people bringing drugs.With his “lack of knowledge” and “great disloyalty” smear, Trump again picked up his favorite playthings — dangerous words — and threw them around recklessly. Those who identify with neo-Nazis chanting “Jews will not replace us” during the awful white nationalist demonstrations in Charlottesville would find in Trump’s comment confirmation that he is with them. He expressed a similar sentiment during the Charlottesville crisis when he noted there were “very fine people” among those who carried torches and shouted the Nazi slogan “blood and soil”Trump’s comments are of a piece with the white identity strategy he seems to be employing in his bid for reelection. With his brutal approach to immigration, references to “shithole” countries in Africa, and his consistent attacks on black and brown members of Congress — like his recent, and repeated, public disparagement of Muslim-American Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib — Trump plays on white anxieties about a future when they are no longer part of a racial or ethnic majority.The big problem with Trump’s callous and destructive abuse of his office is that it requires regular renewal, intensification and amplification. Renewal comes when he simply repeats an ugly claim to remind us where he stands. Intensification comes when he raises the stakes to make sure he gets the attention he wants. Amplification comes when he adds a new group — in this case American Jews — to his hit parade of hatred. With three techniques he keeps drawing attention to himself, and away from serious problems.It’s difficult to say where all this will lead. The only certainty is that Trump will continue along this line. Proof came less than 24 hours after his Oval Office disgrace when he retweeted a notorious conspiracy theorist’s claim that Israelis regard Trump as “the second coming of God.”Jews do not believe in a concept like the “second coming,” but conservative evangelicals who largely support Trump do. The statement exploits their religious and emotional attachment to Israel in the crudest possible way. Of course, Trump endorsed it.
In Trump’s mind, it’s still 1989.
Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way. Yes, Donald Trump is a vile racist. He regularly uses dehumanizing language about nonwhites, including members of Congress. And while some argue that this is a cynical strategy designed to turn out Trump’s base, it is at most a strategy that builds on Trump’s pre-existing bigotry. He would be saying these things regardless (and was saying such things long before he ran for president); his team is simply trying to turn bigoted lemons into political lemonade.
What I haven’t seen pointed out much, however, is that Trump’s racism rests on a vision of America that is decades out of date. In his mind it’s always 1989. And that’s not an accident: The ways America has changed over the past three decades, both good and bad, are utterly inconsistent with Trump-style racism.
Why 1989? That was the year he demanded bringing back the death penalty in response to the case of the Central Park Five, black and Latino teenagers convicted of raping a white jogger in Central Park. They were, in fact, innocent; their convictions were vacated in 2002. Trump, nevertheless, has refused to apologize or admit that he was wrong.
His behavior then and later was vicious, and it is no excuse to acknowledge that at the time America was suffering from a crime wave. Still, there was indeed such a wave, and it was fairly common to talk about social collapse in inner-city urban communities.
But Trump doesn’t seem to be aware that times have changed. His vision of “American carnage” is one of a nation whose principal social problem is inner-city violence, perpetrated by nonwhites. That’s a comfortable vision if you’re a racist who considers nonwhites inferior. But it’s completely wrong as a picture of America today.
For one thing, violent crime has fallen drastically since the early 1990s, especially in big cities. Our cities certainly aren’t perfectly safe, and some cities — like Baltimore — haven’t shared in the progress. But the social state of urban America is vastly better than it was.
On the other hand, the social state of rural America — white rural America — is deteriorating. To the extent that there really is such a thing as American carnage — and we are in fact seeing rising age-adjusted mortality and declining life expectancy — it’s concentrated among less-educated whites, especially in rural areas, who are suffering from a surge in “deaths of despair” from opioids, suicide and alcohol that has pushed their mortality rates above those of African-Americans.
And indicators of social collapse, like the percentage of prime-age men not working, have also surged in the small town and rural areas of the “eastern heartland,” with its mostly white population.
What this says to me is that the racists, and even those who claimed that there was some peculiar problem with black culture, were wrong, and the sociologist William Julius Wilson was right.
When social collapse seemed to be basically a problem for inner-city blacks, it was possible to argue that its roots lay in some unique cultural dysfunction, and quite a few commentators hinted — or in some cases declared openly — that there was something about being nonwhite that predisposed people toward antisocial behavior.
What Wilson argued, however, was that social dysfunction was an effect, not a cause. His work, culminating in the justly celebrated book “When Work Disappears,” made the case that declining job opportunities for urban workers, rather than some underlying cultural or racial disposition, explained the decline in prime-age employment, the decline of the traditional family, and more.
How might one test Wilson’s hypothesis? Well, you could destroy job opportunities for a number of white people, and see if they experienced a decline in propensity to work, stopped forming stable families, and so on. And sure enough, that’s exactly what has happened to parts of nonmetropolitan America effectively stranded by a changing economy.
I’m not saying that there’s something wrong or inferior about the inhabitants of, say, eastern Kentucky (and no American politician would dare suggest such a thing). On the contrary: What the changing face of American social problems shows is that people are pretty much the same, whatever the color of their skin. Give them reasonable opportunities for economic and personal advancement, and they will thrive; deprive them of those opportunities, and they won’t.
Which brings us back to Trump and his attack on Representative Elijah Cummings, whom he accused of representing a district that is a “mess” where “no human being would want to live.” Actually, part of the district is quite affluent and well educated, and in any case, Trump is debasing his office by, in effect, asserting that some Americans don’t deserve political representation.
But the real irony is that if you ask which congressional districts really are “messes” in the sense of suffering from severe social problems, many — probably most — strongly supported Trump in 2016. And Trump is, of course, doing nothing to help those districts. All he has to offer is hate.
In 1989 the men — then teenagers — were arrested in connection with the rape and assault of a white female jogger, and eventually convicted in a case that came to symbolize the stark injustices black and brown people experience within the legal system and in media coverage. They were convicted based partly on police-coerced confessions, and each spent between six and 13-plus years in prison for charges including attempted murder, rape and assault.
The men maintained their innocence throughout the case, trial and prison terms, and all were exonerated after Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist, confessed to the crime in 2002. In 2014, they were awarded a $41 million settlement, though the City of New York denied any wrongdoing.
.. In 2015, he tweeted the idea of a Central Park Five drama to DuVernay, who messaged him back with interest.
SANTANA Ava was always my choice to do this series. I never met the woman, I didn’t even know who she was, but I’d watched “Selma” — there’s a part where [Martin Luther King, Jr.] is confronted by [his wife] Coretta with recordings [of him with another woman], and I felt like that was bold to put in the film. By showing that, it showed the human side of this man who was put on a pedestal. And it told me that she had no fear of telling the truth.
One of my biggest fears as a person of color in this city, in this country is what happened to these men. There’s nothing more terrifying than telling your truth and telling it over and over and over again, but having people refuse to honor it as the truth.
Kavanaugh’s accuser is credible. Will it matter?
.. Speaking to The Washington Post, she produced notes from a therapist she saw in 2012, whom she’d told about being attacked by students “from an elitist boys’ school” who grew up to become “high-ranking members of society in Washington.” According to her husband, that year she identified Kavanaugh to him by name. When Kavanaugh appeared on a shortlist of potential Supreme Court picks — but before his nomination had been announced — Blasey contacted both The Post and her member of Congress, Anna G. Eshoo of California. By all indications, she wanted to head his nomination off without being forced into the spotlight.
.. Blasey passed a polygraph administered by a former F.B.I. agent. The utility of polygraphs is dubious, but her willingness to take one is evidence of her sincerity. According to Axios, some Republicans wanted to call on Blasey to testify publicly, assuming she’d decline.
.. Judge, who wrote a memoir of his teenage alcoholism, has veered between denying the incident and saying he doesn’t recall it.
.. it’s a sign of how credible Blasey seems that, since this story broke, much of the public debate has been less about whether her accusations are true than whether they are relevant.
.. Ari Fleischer pondered the weight of high school misbehavior. “Should that deny us chances later in life?” he asked. “Even for Supreme Court job, a presidency of the United States, or you name it?”
.. Such arguments would be more convincing if people on the right weren’t so selective in their indulgence. Donald Trump called for the death penalty for the Central Park 5, who were 14 to 16 years old when they were arrested. (They’ve since been proven innocent.) Children are regularly put on sex offender registries, sometimes for their entire lives, for conduct less serious than what Kavanaugh is accused of.
In a sour irony, some legal experts think Kavanaugh’s confirmation could imperil Miller v. Alabama, a 2012 decision banning life sentences without parole for most teenage convicts.
We need to determine, as best we can, if he’s lying now.
.. Senators should also demand that Kavanaugh’s old friend Judge, who grew up to become a right-wing writer, testify, though Kavanaugh would surely prefer other character witnesses.
(“Oh for the days when President George W. Bush gave his wife, Laura, a loving but firm pat on the backside in public,” Judge once wrote. “The man knew who was boss.”)
.. There is a small, dark part of me that thinks it would be fitting if Republicans shove Kavanaugh through despite the allegations against him. Anyone Trump nominates is going to threaten Roe v. Wade. Kavanaugh would at least make plain the power dynamics behind forced pregnancy. We would lose Roe because
- a president who boasted of sexual assault,
- elected against the wishes of the majority of female voters,
- was able to give a lifetime Supreme Court appointment to an ex-frat boy credibly accused of attempted rape.
.. Kavanaugh, helped by an all-male Republican caucus on the Judiciary Committee, would join Clarence Thomas, whose confirmation hearing helped make the phrase “sexual harassment” a household term.
They and three other men would likely vote against the court’s three women.
The brute imposition of patriarchy would be undeniable... “If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried.” If the Kavanaugh nomination goes forward, it’s because Trump and his allies believe that a certain class of men accused of sexual assault deserve impunity.