My career as a historian of white backlash might have begun the day that, as a teenager precociously obsessed with people like Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, and Eldridge Cleaver, I asked my parents if they had any interesting stories to tell me about the 1960s. The only one my mom could come up with was the day in 1967, two years before I was born, when there were riots in the inner city of Milwaukee. My parents invited all of their friends in our suburban neighborhood, who couldn’t go to work at the businesses they owned in the city, over for a pool party.
That was probably when I first became aware that there were two sides to the 1960s: the movements for social justice and the anti-authoritarian rage on one side, and on the other the people for whom such disorder spurred confusion and fear for their white-picket-fenced safety.
I later learned researching my book Nixonland that Milwaukee’s authoritarian mayor, Henry Maier, eventually declared a version of martial law so strict and fierce that mothers could not go out to buy milk for their children. Klansmen, however, weren’t hassled for defying the lockdown; they rolled around town with shotguns poking out car windows. The Milwaukee police burned down a house with a mentally disabled man inside. They claimed it was a nest for a sniper. The next year Mayor Maier was up for reelection. He won with 80 percent of the vote.
People are thinking of stories like that now, during a week that school kids might study some day. President Trump, after all, responded to the uprising in Minneapolis by tweeting something Miami’s racist police chief said during riots in 1968: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Conservative Republicans (and right-wing Democrats) have a long and sordid history of exploiting riots for political gain. Richard Nixon knew what to do when, during a wave of urban uprisings in 1966, Vice President Hubert Humphrey said that “the National Guard is no answer to the problems of the slums.” Humphrey predicted “open violence in every major city and county in America” if conditions didn’t improve—then added, exuberantly but injudiciously, that if he lived in a slum, “I think you’d have more trouble than you have had already because I’ve got enough spark left in me to lead a mighty good revolt.”
Nixon took to the pages of a newsweekly for a guest editorial asking: “Who is responsible for the breaking of law and order in this country?” Hubert Humphrey for one, he answered. And Robert F. Kennedy, who had said—responding to a comment by former president Dwight D. Eisenhower that the 1965 Watts uprising stemmed from a “policy of lawlessness”—that “there is no point in telling Negroes to obey the law. To many Negroes the law is the enemy.”
Nixon was laying the groundwork for his 1968 presidential run. When he originally began doing so, it seemed likely his main appeal to the electorate would resemble that from his last presidential campaign in 1960: He was a statesman with deep foreign policy experience. That he chose a different approach this time was attributable to the tutelary example of a political neophyte: Ronald Reagan, who had just won a shocking upset in the California Republican gubernatorial primary with a law-and-order, white-backlash campaign.
So it was that in 1968, after two more summers of fire and blood, running against none other than Hubert “Mighty Good Revolt” Humphrey, Nixon aimed straight for the amygdala of those frightened white suburbanites. His most famous campaign commercial was a montage of riot scenes over a jittery, shrieking electronic soundtrack, the camera lingering on the naked white torso of a mannequin. Then came Nixon’s voice: “So I pledge to you, we will have order in the United States.”
It worked, and the lesson appeared plain enough: A politics of empathy of the sort that Humphrey and Kennedy had attempted—and Joe Biden is attempting now—is a political nonstarter.
It’s simply incorrect to argue that mass political violence inevitably spurs a backlash that benefits conservatives. By 1970, Nixon sought to nationalize that year’s congressional elections as a referendum on law and order—even intentionally spurring crowd violence against himself for the cameras to capture. A columnist reported, “Nixon’s advance men this fall have carefully organized with local police to allow enough dissenters into the staging areas so the president will have his theme well illustrated.”
That this was a wrong, and overly simplistic, conclusion is suggested by another of that year’s election results—Bobby Kennedy’s. Campaigning in a Black neighborhood in Indianapolis for the Democratic primary in Indiana, a racially diverse bellwether state, he received word of Martin Luther King’s assassination before it had become public—before his audience knew. So he broke the news to them in a tender, improvised rhetorical masterpiece in which, for the first time publicly, he reflected on the assassination of his brother and the pain of losing someone you love to violence. The fact that Indianapolis was one of few big cities not to face rioting that day is often attributed to Kennedy’s speech. And though the reasons are many and complex, and still debated today, he won the primary.
Once, in San Jose, disappointed that no one heckled Nixon during a speech, his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, gave protesters time to mass outside afterward, then had the president leap up on the hood of his limousine in their midst. He was obliged with the expected hail of rocks while jutting out his chin and making his trademark two-handed V-salute, providing footage that made all the evening newscasts. “That’s what they hate to see!” he exulted.
But Republicans that year underperformed expectations. When disorder is all around them, voters tend to blame the person in charge for the disorder—and, sometimes, punish those who exploit it for political gain.
It’s also not correct to argue that such disorder harms prospects for progressive change. Sometimes, in fact, it has spurred it. Political scientist David Srketny credits the urban disorders of the 1960s with moving corporations to commit to affirmative action. Riots following the Rodney King beating are credited with spurring Congress to pass legislation granting federal oversight over police departments—a power that lasted until Jeff Sessions, as Trump’s attorney general, rolled it back. And the event that we now honor with Pride parades was not only a riot, but a particularly ugly one: the folks who set it off trapped cops raiding their bar, and then tried to burn it down. But no one would deny Stonewall led to progressive change.
The politics of riots are complex, ambiguous—and especially, in our present circumstances, unpredictable. Though it’s become commonplace to place Trump in a long lineage of right-wing racism-exploiters that runs through Nixon and Reagan, it’s also important to grasp the real discontinuities. Unlike any Republican president before him, Trump is risking the consequences of being openly racist. Nixon—and even, in his 1968 and 1972 presidential runs, George Wallace—at least paid lip service to the goal of racial justice. That’s because even white people who regularly said and did things harmful to Black Americans didn’t want to believe that association with a particular candidate marked them as racist.
So they made it a priority to have Reagan campaign before Black audiences—for instance before the Urban League at its annual convention in New York, even though they knew they would only win a tiny fraction of Black voters. “We weren’t expecting to pick up any Black votes in New York,” one adviser noted. “We just want to show moderates and liberals”—if it were 2020 he would say “suburban voters”—“that Reagan wasn’t anti-Black.”
The day before his Urban League appearance, as it happens, Reagan gave his infamous speech in Mississippi at the Neshoba County Fair, in which he championed “states’ rights” with Confederate flags behind him. He stood just a few miles from the site of the most infamous lynching of the 1960s, and in a place where barnstorming politicians had for decades deployed states’ rights rhetoric as a synonym for racial dominance.
That speech is widely credited with setting the tenor for Reagan’s campaign, especially in the South. But my research suggests things were more complicated. The backlash to Reagan’s most explicit foray into race-baiting was so immediate and so intense, it was widely judged by Republican strategists as a mistake. One Mississippi GOP official, in fact, worried that Reagan’s rhetoric was so embarrassing to moderate white Mississippians that it might throw the state to Jimmy Carter.
It didn’t—but where Barry Goldwater got 87 percent of the vote in Mississippi in 1964, in 1980 Reagan only edged Carter by one percent. White Southerners, by 1980, dearly wished to see themselves as “colorblind.” A racist dogwhistle that was too easily audible wasn’t useful.
So in Reagan’s homestretch swing through Texas, the campaign put a Black state legislator up front at their rallies, including one broadcast on statewide TV, for maximal prominence in reaction shots of the crowd. I’ve seen that trick pulled off at every Republican convention since—until, that is, 2016.
It’s often said that Donald Trump takes the dogwhistle and turns it into a train whistle. Looting, shooting: Sure, he, too, apes Reagan in attempting public appeals to African Americans, the better to soothe those suburban whites. But “MAGA loves the black people” does not appear to be doing the trick.
As Greg Sargent has noted in the Washington Post, Trump in 2018 turned up the volume on the train whistle—“relentlessly painting nonwhite immigrants as criminals and murderers.” What happened? The fallout of support among educated white suburbanites handed Republicans defeat after defeat.
Will the awful events in Minneapolis and Louisville and Atlanta and New York (and who knows how long the list will be by weekend’s end?), and the president’s racist grunts in response, beat out compassion, context, and empathy? Predictions are perilous. But history suggests that, even among voters bunkered behind their picket fences, they might not.
Why “debate me” is such a cursed demand, in 30 minutes. Go to http://curiositystream.com/sarahz and get a free 31 days of thousands of exciting documentaries and access to the streaming service Nebula ( http://watchnebula.com )!
we then see some tactics which are very
revealing about what Russia will do with
mr. Trump against the United States of
America so let me give you some examples
of some tactics the first is a head of
state who simply denies reality what I
call in the book in plausible
deniability so when mr. Putin sends the
Russian army to invade Ukraine he simply
denies that he’s doing so which is a
little bit unusual but it’s a tactic
because if you stand up and you deny
something that every reporter knows is
you put the profession of journalism and
indeed the whole media into a difficult
position because on the one hand you
could actually cover the facts of the
war which we are as money and effort and
it’s risky on the other hand you can
cover this fantastically charismatic
leader who seems to have mazing power to
to his will who can deny factuality
itself who can turn reality into a
television show that’s very tempting and
that’s what most of the Western media
actually did instead of covering an
actually existing war in the real world
people preferred to watch a reality
where a head of state basically created
an alternative world now that should
because that is of course how mr. Trump
also governs he’s a head of state who
constantly generates unreality thereby
forcing reporters into this impossible
choice do you do you get into the the
television drama or do you actually
cover real issues which in the u.s.
would be things like wealth inequality
opioid abuse and and so on a second
example of a tactic in Ukraine which is
also now very familiar in the u.s. is
what I call in the book cacophony that
is something happens it’s out of your
control because where you don’t control
everything by lying about it something
happens it’s out of your control and the
way you react to it is you throw a whole
bunch of fictions around it so that
nobody’s then really sure what’s
actually happened so in the Russian
invasion of Ukraine this is mh17 this is
the civilian airliner which Russian
forces shot down over Ukraine while they
were invading the country so what the
Russian media does is when this happens
this as it were irreducibly real thing
happens people die you attack it not by
directly denying it but from the flags
you come up with a whole bunch of
different versions like Ukrainians did
it by accident trying to shoot down mr.
Putin’s airplane the Ukrainians did it
because a certain Ukrainian Jewish
oligarch controls the airways Ukrainians
said it by accident from the ground NATO
did it from the air you come up with a
whole bunch of different variants none
of which you can pretend have any
factual basis but they serve as a kind
of discursive shrapnel they just cloud
everything up and at the end of the day
and I mean literally at the end of that
day because this starts on the day the
plane is shot down at the end of the day
no one is exactly sure what’s going on
and no initial who’s responsible even
for this very simple thing so in the
yes this happens during mr. Trump’s
campaign during the Access Hollywood
incident remember for a moment for half
an hour everybody thought that Access
Hollywood the tape where mr. Trump
advocates sexually assaulting women that
this would end his campaign mr. Trump
seemed to think that mr. pence seemed to
think it the Democrats seem to think it
the commentary it seemed to think it why
didn’t that happen it didn’t happen
because half an hour after that tape was
released Russian BOTS and Russian trolls
and others began to spread other
versions fictions like Hillary Clinton
is a pimp who sells sex with children or
John Podesta takes part in wild rituals
where he consumes human bodily fluids
and those things although completely
fictional surround the real event which
is mr. Trump thinks that it’s okay to
sexually assault women and confuse it to
the point where no one knows what
actually happened and in a way the whole
Access Hollywood event never takes place
because it never actually reaches the
people that it’s supposed to reach now
we experience that as a weird American
event Access Hollywood seemed it was
going to matter and then suddenly didn’t
matter at all
what I’m trying to explain here is that
if we keep in mind the whole background
the Russian philosophy about fiction
ality the Russian strategy about
strategic relativism and Russian tactics
which involved this kind of discursive
and propagandistic trick it all makes a
whole lot more sense it all it all falls
into place and and this is in a way a
plea for history right because what
history allows us to do a history even
of the 2010s of recent events allows us
to do is get out of this daily news
cycle where we’re how we think about
this framed in terms of the way our
leaders wanted to be framed collusion
not collusion um you know so what what
the book then does in the end is it runs
through 2016 with all of this in the
background and so we’re not surprised
then to see that mr. Trump only exists
at all as a public figure
thanks to Russian money from the 1990s
and the 2000s
people often ask I mean could did Rush
and influential II make a difference
well think about it this way if Russian
money and I go into this in great length
in the book doesn’t rescue mr. Trump who
is a total failure as a real estate
developer if Russian money doesn’t
rescue him he doesn’t even exist as a
public figure there’s no logical
possibility that he could have become
president without Russia and then the
next step is we think about the
personnel whether it’s Man afford or
Papadopoulos or Flynn or Kushner or Ross
it’s astonishing on the extent to which
the people around mr. Trump were morally
politically and financially connected to
the Russian Federation nothing like that
has ever happened before and then of
course when we get to the campaign
during 2016 Democrats and Republicans
alike marveled at the fact that mr.
Trump didn’t seem to have a traditional
campaign but what he did have was all
kinds of support from the rear for all
kinds of support in the world of cyber
the public opinion polls were in favor
of Secretary Clinton but the bots were
on on the side of mr. Trump and that
turns out to matter whether it’s Russian
intelligence agencies hacking and
leaking emails as I mentioned or whether
it’s Russia’s internet research agency
working in social media to figure out
what what frightens and what motivates
America and going on a social media
offensive from September to early
November of 2016
either way mr. Trump had a campaign
which wasn’t his he was in a way just
kind of going along for the ride so the
idea that mr. Trump colluded doesn’t
really make a lot of sense because he
wasn’t an equal partner mr. Trump was
not an equal and this is the thing that
Americans I think we have really a hard
time understanding because we want to be
number one you know we’re in the worst
case we want to be cooperating with
someone else in this case there’s not
we’re not number one um we’re not
cooperate in this case we’re just being
brought along mr. Trump is just being
brought along he’s not capable of
colluding he’s not an important of
person to collude with the Russian
Federation he’s an instrument he’s a
tactic that makes sense with the
he’s an instrument that makes sense with
the philosophy in light of all that it
makes sense at the end of the day mr.
Trump can’t collude mr. Trump is the
of a Russian cyber weapon the payload of
a weapon doesn’t collude it just does
On Attorney General William Barr’s testimony and the coming constitutional crisis.
In the first year of the Trump Presidency, White House advisers often promised reporters that this would be the week when they would unveil Trump’s plans for a massive investment in American infrastructure. On the campaign trail, Donald Trump had vowed to spend a trillion dollars rebuilding roads, bridges, and airports. He said that he would work with Democrats to do it. For a time, it seemed to be the only bipartisan project that might actually go somewhere. But, of course, Infrastructure Week never happened. There was always some distraction, some P.R. disaster that overwhelmed it—a chief of staff to be fired, an errant tweet upending foreign policy. Infrastructure Week lived on as an Internet meme, a Twitter hashtag, a joke; it became shorthand for the Administration’s inability to stay on message or organize itself to promote a legislative agenda it claimed to support.
Trump never fully gave up on the infrastructure idea, though, and this week he resurrected it in a rare meeting with congressional Democratic leaders, who emerged from the White House on Tuesday morning, smiling and apparently excited. The President, they explained, had decided to double the price tag of his proposal, from a trillion to two trillion dollars, because it sounded more impressive. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to whom the President reportedly offered Tic Tacs at the meeting in a friendly gesture, praised his vision for a “big and bold” plan. The meeting, Senator Chuck Schumer added, had been a “very, very good start.”
But it was all just a form of Washington performance art. There are no Republican votes for such an expensive package, as the Democrats well knew, and there is no way that the President’s allies on Capitol Hill, nor his own penny-pinching White House chief of staff, would agree to such a budget-busting deal. Trump’s “extreme and aspirational” idea, as Senator Kevin Cramer, of North Dakota, put it, had Republicans “rolling their eyes,” Politico reported. The ranking member of the House committee that would have to approve any measure had offered a simple answer to the question of whether Trump’s idea could ever be passed. “No,” he said. It would not be Infrastructure Week, or even Infrastructure Day. The new era of bipartisan dealmaking was over before it began.
For his part, Barr, once again, acted more as the President’s defense lawyer than as his Attorney General. Taking a maximalist position on Presidential power, Barr argued that Trump would be well within his rights to shut down any investigation of himself if he believed it to be unfair. Surely, that statement will go down as one of the most extraordinary claims of executive authority since Richard Nixon said that “when the President does it, that means it’s not illegal.” Throughout his appearance, Barr continued to assert that Trump had been cleared of all wrongdoing by the Mueller investigation, while admitting, under questioning by Senator Kamala Harris, that he and his deputy had not actually looked at the underlying evidence of Presidential obstruction assembled by Mueller before determining that it was not sufficient to warrant charges. Barr also said that Trump directing his then White House counsel to fire the special counsel—a key incident in the Mueller report—was not a big deal because Trump was actually ordering that Mueller be replaced, which, Barr contended, is not the same thing as ordering him fired. His client, not surprisingly, was pleased. “A source familiar with Trump’s thinking said the President thought Barr was great and did an excellent job,” Axios reported.
In its latest futile gesture, the House Freedom Caucus sets its sights on ousting the man overseeing Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation...their public relations assault is not actually about his refusing to turn over this or that document related to the Russia investigation. It’s not really even about the lawmakers’ loathing of the broader investigation, though certainly President Trump’s congressional lackeys — Mr. Meadows and Mr. Jordan most definitely included — are increasingly desperate to derail it... For Freedom Caucus leaders, this impeachment resolution is about something at once much broader and far pettier: the need to make a huge, disruptive, polarizing political stink just as members head home for the long hot August recess. Especially with a critical midterm election coming, it never hurts to have some extra well-marbled meat to throw the voters. And it is unlikely a coincidence that, less than 24 hours after filing, Mr. Jordan — who, lest anyone forget, is multiply accused of overlooking rampant sexual abuse while an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University — formally announced his candidacy for House speaker.Not to make Mr. Rosenstein feel any less special, but this is the fourth year in a row that Freedom Caucusers have pulled a summer-break stunt so nakedly self-serving that it would be comic if it weren’t so odious in its quest to erode public faith in government and in democratic institutions more broadly. Indeed, for all those wondering how the Republican Party reached the point where Donald Trump could swallow it whole with his furious everything-is-awful-and-everyone-is-out-to-get-you brand of demagogy, look no further than the nihilists in the Freedom Caucus... In 2015, Mr. Meadows became an overnight political celebrity when, on the day before break, he filed a motion aimed at overthrowing the House speaker, John Boehner. That effort eventually bore fruit... In 2016, Freedom Caucus members filed a pre-break motion to force a vote on the impeachment of the Internal Revenue Service commissioner, John Koskinen. (Impeachment is all the rage with these guys.)And last summer, they filed a discharge petition demanding a vote on a repeal of Obamacare... it has only nine co-sponsors, and Republican leaders, including Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the oversight committee, have expressed a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the effort... Mr. Meadows didn’t even attempt to file a “privileged motion,” as he and his colleagues did against Mr. Koskinen two years ago, which would have forced a vote before members decamped on Thursday... the issue won’t get taken up until lawmakers return from break in September, if then. (That’s the beauty of pre-recess antics: They cannot fail before members get to spend several weeks touting them back home.)
There is vanishingly little chance that House leadership will let this toxic nonsense advance — Speaker Paul Ryan already has publicly smacked down the effort — and
zero chance that the motion could amass anywhere close to the two-thirds support required for the Senate to actually remove Mr. Rosenstein.
.. This stunt is in fact so ridiculous, so unfounded, so poisonous to the Republic that Attorney General Jeff Sessions felt compelled not only to publicly defend his deputy, but also to suggest that the lawmakers involved find a better use of their time.
.. Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general who was fired in January 2017 for refusing to defend President Trump’s travel ban, tweeted a warning about the long-term damage of “using the Department of Justice as a prop for political theater.”
.. It’s not that the Freedom Caucus members don’t recognize the damage they’re doing — or even that they don’t care. It is that delegitimizing government is at the heart of their movement.
.. Conflict and obstructionism have always been their purpose, fueled by their relentless message that
- government is always the problem, that
- all experts are idiots, that
- cultural and coastal elites hate Real Americans and that
- all of Washington is corrupt and broken beyond repair.
.. As has often been noted, Mr. Trump did not invent the apocalyptic message that he has used to dazzle the Republican base. He merely distilled it to its essence. But the base had been groomed for his arrival for years, in no small part by lawmakers like Mr. Meadows and Mr. Jordan, who have repeatedly proved eager to tear down democratic institutions in the service of their own political aims.
.. So while the Freedom Caucus’s pitiful effort to oust Mr. Rosenstein should not be taken seriously on practical grounds, it is a tragic reminder of the bleak path down which the Republican Party has been slouching in recent years. The rot was there long before Mr. Trump showed up to exploit it, and it is likely to remain long after he is gone.