Sunday, August 14, 2016

Trump: The Modern Antaeus


Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Whether he wins or loses this November’s Presidential election, 2016 has been the Year of Donald Trump. He has forever changed the entire tenor of American politics. Any thin veneer of civility, of mutual respect, of treating your political opponents as reasonable people with whom you just happen to disagree, is now as “obsolete and quaint” as the Geneva Conventions are at Guantánamo.
Through a bizarre combination of the insult politics of a talk-radio host and the billionaire-populist schtick invented by Nelson Rockefeller when he ran for governor of New York in 1958 (plenty of rich people had run for U.S. office before but Rockefeller was the first person to tell voters, in essence, “I’ve already got more money than God, so I can’t be corrupted or bribed”), Donald Trump has won the Republican nomination for President and is within five to seven points of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the national polls.
What’s more, I suspect, the polls actually underestimate Trump’s support. After Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American, lost his bid for the governorship of California in 1982 by 2 ½ percentage points, when the final polls had had him leading by that much, political scientists coined the phrase “the Bradley factor.” It meant that a Black candidate would always do five points worse than the polls said because five percent of the poll respondents would be too racist to vote for a Black candidate — but too ashamed of their racism to admit to a pollster that they wouldn’t. I suspect Trump has a reverse Bradley-factor working for him: five percent of respondents are planning to vote for him but don’t want to admit it to a poll-taker.
If I’m right, the American presidential election of 2016, after both nominating conventions and the so-called “bounces” from each, is a statistical tie. Despite his innumerable gaffes — errors and outrages that would have sunk a lesser politician overnight — Trump continues to remain competitive. Every time he’s seemingly stuck his foot in his mouth, reporters and political commentators have said, “This time. This is the one he won’t recover from.” And every time, Trump has recovered and bounced back in the polls as strong as or stronger than ever.
In the title of this article I called Donald Trump “the modern Antaeus.” Antaeus, for those of you who aren’t up on the minor characters of Greek mythology, was a giant whom, as one of his 12 “labors,” the mighty strongman Hercules had to kill. The problem was that Antaeus’s mother was Gaia, the earth goddess, so every time he was knocked to the ground, his mom gave him renewed strength so he could get up again and never be defeated. Hercules finally worked out a way of punching Antaeus out with one arm while using the other to hold him in mid-air, so he couldn’t come into contact with the earth and thereby fight back with the extra strength from his mother.
Again and again, Donald Trump has shown an Antaeus-like ability to recover from self-inflicted blows that would be deadly to any merely mortal candidate. He began his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants to the U.S. “rapists” and “criminals,” and his poll numbers soared; he took an early lead for the Republican nomination and never relinquished it. He dissed U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), whose courage during years of imprisonment in North Viet Nam had won him respect even among people who disagreed with his politics, saying, “He’s not a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
Everyone in the pundit class said Trump would never recover from that, especially running in a party that virtually reveres the military and everything it stands for. Wrong again: Trump’s standing in the polls went even higher. And it went higher still when he responded to Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly’s criticism of his demeaning remarks about women by making a demeaning remark about her as a woman — saying she had “blood coming out of her eyes, or her wherever.” Not only did his poll numbers go up after that remark, they went up even higher among Republican women than among Republican men.
So when I heard the pundits gang up on Trump again and say his outburst against Khizr Khan, whose son Humayan was a U.S. servicemember in Iraq in 2004 when he was killed by a suicide bomber, is going to be the final blow that destroys his credibility, pardon my skepticism. What happened was that Khizr Khan got tired of hearing Trump go on and on and on about Muslims, saying that we need an indefinite ban on all Muslim immigration to the U.S. “until we figure out what’s going on” and just what the connection between Islam and “radical terror” is.
There is none, decent, hard-working Muslim-Americans like Khizr Khan say. The intent of the message he volunteered to deliver at the Democratic convention — which got lost a bit when Khizr pulled out a pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution and asked rhetorically if Trump had ever read it — was that Muslims can be as loyal to the U.S. and its Constitution as any other American. They can even send their sons off to America’s wars and face the real possibility that, like Humayun Khan, they won’t come home again. The maniacs of al-Qaeda, al-Nusra and ISIS don’t represent all Muslims — to which I would add, “just as the freaks who murder abortion doctors in the name of ‘life’ don’t represent all Christians, and the people who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin don’t represent all Jews.”
Khizr stood on stage at the last night of the Democratic convention with his wife Ghazala at his side. He whipped out his pocket copy of the Constitution and told Trump he would gladly lend it to him. (Yet another in Trump’s long list of previous gaffes had been when he said he would have no problem taking the oath to “preserve and protect” the Constitution, especially Articles 1, 2 and 12. The Constitution only has seven articles.) Khizr’s speech jacked up sales of his edition of the Constitution on, but it didn’t move Trump — or his voters.
Trump gave an interview to ABC three days after Khizr’s speech at the convention. He ridiculed Khizr for having his wife up there with him but not letting her speak — to which she responded in an op-ed in the Washington Post. “Donald Trump said that maybe I wasn’t allowed to say anything,” Ghazala Khan wrote. “That is not true. My husband asked me if I wanted to speak, but I told him I could not. “Donald Trump said he has made a lot of sacrifices. He doesn’t know what the word sacrifice means.” Trump, you see, had told ABC he’d had to “sacrifice” to get his buildings built in New York City and elsewhere. To any rational person, that would hardly seem on the same level of “sacrifice” as sending your son off to war and seeing him come home in a box.
But Trump, showing his dedication to the same strategy that has got him this far and turned him into probably the unlikeliest Presidential candidate ever, acknowledged that even in his world, in which John McCain wasn’t a war hero, Humayan Khan was. “We should honor all who have made the ultimate sacrifice to keep our country safe,” Trump said. “The real problem here are [sic] the radical Islamic terrorists who killed him, and the efforts of those radicals to enter our country to do us further harm.” Then, as usual, Trump tried to make the whole thing about himself: “I was viciously attacked by Mr. [Khizr] Khan at the Democratic convention. Am I not allowed to defend myself? Hillary [Clinton] voted for the Iraq war, not me!”
First off, Donald, just because you have the “right” to say or do something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea to use it. Anyone less mindlessly adored by his supporters than Donald Trump would have thought twice before attacking the grieving father of a dead war hero just because the grieving father said a few scornful and rather nasty things about him on TV. Second, Hillary Clinton had the opportunity to vote for or against the Iraq war because as part of her long-term commitment to public service she’d been elected Senator from New York and it was her job to do so.
I think she made the wrong decision — and both Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders agree with me — but the point is that it was her decision to make. She had been credentialed by the voters of New York state to make that decision for them, and she did it on the public record in full knowledge that if the war turned out badly, she’d be subject to legitimate political criticism for it. Barack Obama wasn’t in the U.S. Senate when the Iraq war vote took place, but he made a speech at the time indicating he thought the war was a bad idea and he would have voted against it if he’d had the chance. Donald Trump claims he was against the Iraq war all along, but there is zero documentary evidence of that.
Not that that matters. As Tony Schwartz, who ghost-wrote Trump’s 1987 book The Art of the Deal and therefore did more than anyone else besides Trump himself to create the “Trump mythos,” recently told The New Yorker (, “Lying is second nature to him. More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.” During the George W. Bush administration, his advisor Karl Rove was criticized for claiming Bush’s government had the power to make lies true by the sheer force of will — “We’re an empire, and we create our own reality,” Rove said — but Trump seems to go Bush and Rove one better and believe he personally can make whatever he believes is the truth.
We’ve seen it over and over again in Trump’s years in public life. In 1987, when he was just riding the best-seller success of The Art of the Deal and transforming himself from just another scummy New York developer into a national (and, later, international) symbol of wealth, power and success (he’d call his second book Surviving at the Top), he took out an ad saying that the U.S. wasn’t militaristic enough and the nation had lost its “backbone.” At the time, the President was Ronald Reagan, who rightly or wrongly was proud of having reversed the alleged “decline” of the U.S. military and authorized a huge buildup in U.S. “defense” spending.
Later he asserted that President Obama had been born in Kenya and was therefore ineligible to serve in that office because the U.S. Constitution requires that the President be a “native-born citizen.” No amount of documentary evidence that Obama was born exactly when and where he said he was — August 4, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawai’i, U.S.A. — could dissuade Trump. In the Trump world, Muslim-Americans held a rally in New Jersey right after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in which they cheered — and he claimed to have seen this on video. The video was real, all right — but it had been shot in Saudi Arabia.
Trump pulled this one again recently when he claimed to have seen a video of millions of dollars of cash being off-loaded to the government of Iran by the U.S. as part of the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal. Once again, the video was real, but it didn’t show cash being given to the Iranians; it showed Iranian prisoners being released to the U.S., also as part of the nuclear deal Trump is so insistent was a bad deal for this country. What’s more, while the Iranians did get money out of the arms deal, it was their money that we had been sitting on, using the millions that rightfully belonged to Iran as leverage to get them to agree to mothball their nuclear weapons program.
What’s more, the last few weeks have seen more than their share of Trump saying things that … well, let’s just politely say that their connection between the Trump reality and the one the rest of us live in is minimal at best. From his open call to Russia’s government to see if they can successfully hack into Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server and discover the 33,000 e-mails she and her attorneys, without any outside review, declared “private” and delete, to his bizarre assertion that President Obama and Hillary Clinton “founded ISIS” — which he later said he “maybe” meant as sarcasm — Trump is painting a picture of himself as almost terminally unhinged. Time magazine’s latest cover story on him is illustrated with a picture of his face melting, and the headline “Meltdown.”
It also doesn’t help his cause that he’s sometimes seemed to revisit old controversies he’d be better advised just to leave alone — like when he brought up his “blood coming out of her wherever” comment about Megyn Kelly and insisted he meant her nose, or when he reminded people of the disabled reporter he’d insulted at a rally — or that he wreaked new ones on himself, like when he got upset when a baby was crying at his rally and told its mother to take her kid home. Indeed, Trump sometimes seems, both as a businessman and a politician, to have taken his cue for success from an obscure 1942 film called The Meanest Man in the World, in which Jack Benny plays a small-town lawyer who moves to New York City and bombs financially until he starts getting his picture in the paper as a man who steals candy from kids, forecloses on poor old widows and acts in general like the total S.O.B. of the title — whereupon he’s got all the wealthy, unscrupulous clients he can handle.

The Secret of Trump’s Success

Nonetheless, Trump has an intensely loyal base that seems committed to follow him wherever he leads them. It’s partly that he has consciously built himself up as the candidate of white male reaction. From his opening salvos against immigrants to his weird references to a Black person in one of his crowds as “my African-American” and the speech in which he said “I love Hispanics” and then proceeded to praise the taco salad at Trump Tower, Trump has deliberately preached a tone-deafness to contemporary sensibilities about people of color that his white male fans eat up. He proudly boasts that he’s not “politically correct” — a phrase that, ironically, was actually coined by Leftists in the 1970’s to criticize other Leftists for being too dogmatic, but which was taken up by the Right in the 1980’s and has come to encapsulate the resentment many non-college white males feel about their heartfelt attitudes towards Blacks, Latinos and women denounced as racist, sexist and no longer acceptable.
When the Republican Party regained control of the House of Representatives in 2010, I could sense the palpable sense of relief felt among millions of rank-and-file Republicans not only that their party had prevailed, but that that (ugh) woman Speaker, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, would be replaced by a white man, John Boehner. Likewise there are millions of white male voters who have been counting the days for the past eight years when that n----r President is finally out of the White House and what they consider the natural order of the universe is restored as a white man takes his place. Needless to say, they’ll be even more ballistic if the election turns out the other way and the Black man in the White House is replaced by a woman!
But there’s more to Trump than just making himself the face of white reaction. If Bernie Sanders, when he ran against Hillary Clinton, presented himself as the indulgent dad defending the kids against their censorious, schoolmarmish Mama Hillary and offering them all the goodies, like free college and access to health care, she’d told them the family couldn’t afford, Donald Trump is a very different kind of father figure. He’s the stern, take-no-nonsense dad who will wallop the kids if they get out of line, but will be equally as ferocious when the family is under threat from outside.
Other writers have compared Trump to such Right-wing media figures as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, but American Prospect contributing editor Harold Meyerson ( noted that one thing they have in common is they present themselves as all-knowing father figures whose superior wisdom is questioned only at the family’s peril. “There is in Trump, Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and their kind a need both to assert their own authority and to assume a certain passivity in their audience,” Meyerson wrote.
“This assumption certainly bolsters their own sense of indispensability, and reinforces their image (and self-image) as the leader of a distinct tribe, or the unchallengeable head of a docile family. … [T]heir respective cult leader assumes the role of the head of a traditional ‘father knows best and takes no shit’ family. They may even acknowledge the father in question may not always know best — there’s ample evidence that Trump supporters understand he’s at minimum a serial exaggerator — but his assumption of the role of tough, judgmental father is what really appeals to them.”
In a New York Times essay (, political scientist Thomas Byrne Edsall took this even further. Like Meyerson, Edsall cited survey research by political scientist Matthew MacWilliams, author of a forthcoming book called Why Irrational Politics Appeals, who has called Trump’s winning the Republican nomination “the rise of American authoritarianism — America’s Authoritarian Spring.”
Edsall also cited research by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) CEO Robert P. Jones that indicates that by a 2-to-1 margin, Americans favor authoritarian styles of child-rearing that emphasize obedience and discipline rather than independent thought. According to Jones’ survey, “A majority of Americans prefer children to have respect for elders (74 percent) rather than independence (26 percent); to demonstrate good manners (70 percent) rather than curiosity (30 percent); and to be well-behaved (61 percent) rather than creative (38 percent).” This may explain the popularity of charter schools and other so-called “education reform” measures sponsored by giant corporations which regard schools as training grounds for future corporate drones, not independent thinkers.
Also, according to PRRI, “A majority of Americans favor either highly authoritarian (31 percent) or authoritarian (26 percent) traits. In contrast, roughly one-quarter express preferences for either highly autonomous (10 percent) or autonomous (13 percent) traits. One in five Americans (20 percent) has mixed preferences.” What’s more, the PRRI survey shows, “Americans who have a highly authoritarian orientation are more than twice as likely as those who have a highly autonomous orientation to say the country needs a leader who is willing to break the rules to set things right (58 percent vs. 22 percent).”
This would seem to be a dynamic tailor-made for Trump, who in his big speech at the Republican Convention seemed less interested in being a democratically elected, constitutionally constrained President than a Führer. His now-famous statement that America is in crisis and “I alone can fix it” sounded much more like something one would expect to hear from a Hitler or Mussolini — or, on the other side of the Left/Right divide, from a Lenin, Stalin or Mao — than someone running to be the chief of state of a republic. Indeed, Trump’s much-discussed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin seems quite likely, at least to me, to stem from the way Putin has turned Russia from an incompetently governed republic to a competently governed dictatorship. I suspect in his heart of hearts Trump wants not only to be U.S. President but to duplicate Putin’s triumph over democracy, economic oligarchy and the separation of powers here.
Trump’s open appeal to authoritarian voters looking for a leader who will restore “law and order” and bring peace — his peace — to a highly uncertain and dangerous world is one previous Republican Presidential nominees have ridden to success. In 1968, Richard Nixon and Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC) worked out the so-called “Southern Strategy” that flipped the Republicans’ and Democrats’ historic positions on civil rights. The party of slavery, segregation and the Ku Klux Klan had pushed through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, so Nixon’s and Thurmond’s response was to see that the racist white male constituency was up for grabs and remodel the “Party of Lincoln” as the party of white reaction and backlash.
Faced with a country that seemed to be coming apart at the seams, courtesy of racial uprisings and a long, costly and unwinnable war in Viet Nam, Nixon presented himself as the candidate of “Law and Order” and the “Silent Majority.” Between them, he and George Wallace (the Right-wing independent whose candidacy the “Southern Strategy” was designed largely as a response to) got 57 percent of the vote to Democrat Hubert Humphrey’s 43 percent, a signal of how decisively American politics had turned Right just four years after Lyndon Johnson’s landslide victory over Barry Goldwater in 1964 — and in 1970 student protesters at Kent State and Jackson State University were viciously and cold-bloodedly shot down by National Guardsmen and police in a vivid demonstration of what “Law and Order” actually meant on the ground.
The 1960’s were also the decade in which Ronald Reagan came of political age and won the governorship of California largely on a promise to restore “law and order” to college campuses beset by student protests. When Reagan became President in 1981 he dealt with the striking air traffic controllers much the way he’d handled the student protests at Berkeley and elsewhere in the state as governor: by treating them as unruly children who needed to be disciplined and slapped into line by a strong, unforgiving father figure.
As Edsall noted in another recent New York Times article (, Trump is finishing the process Nixon and Reagan started, tearing the white working class that used to be the bulwark of the Democratic coalition in New Deal days and anchoring it firmly to the Republican Party by issues of race and culture. He argues that the Democrats now have a less stable coalition than the Republicans, an uneasy combination of people of color who want more government involvement with the economy and upper- and upper-middle-class people who want government essentially to leave them alone so they can make more money.
The latest polls show Trump behind Hillary Clinton both overall and in the so-called “battleground states” which, in the bonkers process by which Americans elect their President, have a disproportionate impact on the final result. But, as journalist Jon Wiener recently wrote (, Clinton’s poll leads could be misleading because they fail to factor in the strength of Trump’s appeal and the uniqueness of his campaign.
“Trump is so different from every other candidate in the recent past that pundits fear he could break out of the historic patterns of voting,” Wiener wrote. “That’s pretty much what happened in the primaries, when so many experts said with great conviction that Trump couldn’t win. Their reasoning was strong: He had no ground game, no field operation working to get his supporters to the polls on election day; he had no TV ads, which candidates all consider essential; he wasn’t raising money, or spending it. He had no real campaign organization and no experience in politics. In the past, candidates like that never won. But, of course, the Republican primaries were different this time.”

By his no-holds-barred approach to campaigning, and in particular by being his own “attack dog,” spewing insults at the other candidates himself instead of relying on his surrogates to do that, Donald Trump has likely changed the face of U.S. political campaigning forever. His open appeals to the racist and sexist prejudices of his core supporters have finished the process Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan began: they’ve made prejudice seem not only acceptable but something to be proud of. Trump the candidate may lose, but Trump the political phenomenon will be alive and well after this election, ranting about how the results were “rigged,” calling for Hillary Clinton’s immediate impeachment and generally turning U.S. politics into a cesspool of insult and denigration.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Hillary Clinton: The Adult in the Room


Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Hillary Clinton’s July 28 speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia — her attempt to re-introduce herself to an American electorate that, according to pollsters, believes she’s competent but also doesn’t trust her — was dramatically different from the one Donald Trump had given at the Republican Convention in Cleveland the week before. For one thing, it was considerably shorter: 56 minutes as opposed to Trump’s 78. It was also much cooler in emotion and temperament.
The PBS commentators who ganged up on her after the speech and said it “lacked emotion” were missing the point. Clinton has never been good at the touchie-feelie side of politics; during one of the Democratic primary debates she said, “I’m not a natural politician, like my husband or President Obama.” She’s not the sort of person who can address a crowd, tell you she “feels your pain,” and get you to believe it. And she’s aware enough of her own limitations that at the Convention, charged with making the biggest speech of her life, she didn’t try.
Instead Hillary Clinton projected an image of sober competence — and quite frankly, if she’s going to win in November, that’s the biggest selling point she has. Against Trump, who seems to be so proud of his own ignorance that he quotes “Two Corinthians” before an audience of evangelical Christians (the correct reference is “Second Corinthians”) and swears that he’ll uphold the entire Constitution — not only Articles 1 and 2, which exist, but Article 12, which doesn’t — she’s obviously selling herself as the candidate of reason and experience: the adult in the room, not the petulant, spoiled brat we’ve seen from Trump.
The third, and perhaps the most important, big difference between Clinton’s speech and Trump’s is that Clinton’s was not all about her. She didn’t say “I alone can fix” America’s problems, like he did; she said that the true spirit of America was to unite and “fix it together.” She quoted the much-maligned title of her book It Takes a Village — which she got from an old African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” — and used it to say the obvious truth that it will take all of us to solve our country’s problems and make things right for all Americans.
Clinton’s tone was also refreshingly humble. She did not go into the finger-wagging schoolmarm-ish mode that marred her performance in a lot of the debates against Bernie Sanders. She played a person who has benefited from her over three decades’ worth of experience in the rough-and-tumble of electoral politics (counting Bill Clinton’s years as Arkansas governor as well as his presidency and her own terms as U.S. Senator and Secretary of State) precisely because she’s realized how difficult change can be, particularly in a political system with so many built-in hurdles against reform as ours.
One of Clinton’s hurdles is that sober competence tends to come across as dull. Even the Democrats who voted for her in the primaries don’t seem all that excited by her. She may offer the novelty of being the first woman to win a major-party nomination for President, but that’s less a triumph than it seems because she’s just been around so long — a quarter-century on the national scene — she’s hardly a new or fresh face. And — unlike Donald Trump, who’s been building up his nationwide image at least as long as Clinton has (since he published his first book, The Art of the Deal, in 1987) but hasn’t gone after elective office before — she’s spent most of those 24 years in public service and become an old-hat figure, one we’re too used to having around to be impressed by her “first female major-party Presidential nominee” accomplishment.
 What’s more, Hillary Clinton has accumulated a weirdly assorted host of enemies on both Left and Right who ceaselessly repeat the same scurrilous stories about her. Some of the anti-Hillary tales have at least some connection with truth; others — like the still-live reports that Hillary and Bill Clinton’s friend Vincent Foster was murdered on the Clintons’ orders (every official investigation concluded he committed suicide) — have about as much credibility as the nonsense Donald Trump peddled for years about President Obama’s birth certificate.
And now it’s not just the Right that’s peddling this B.S. about Hillary Clinton. Members of the Bernie-or-bust crowd, as well as Leftists who long ago gave up on the Democratic Party and only briefly returned to it to vote for Sanders in the primaries (and have, in some cases, turned against Sanders himself for his full-throated endorsement of Hillary at the Democratic convention), are regurgitating the old lies that the Clintons had a hit list; that the Clinton Foundation exists only to extort protection money from other countries and their leaders; and that Hillary’s long-standing ties to Wall Street campaign donors make her just as bad for the country, and for progressive ideals, as Trump.
It’s yet another example of why Vladimir Lenin called “‘Left-Wing’ Communism” an “infantile disorder.” My Facebook page is currently being cluttered up by grainy videos purporting to show Hillary’s supporters mysteriously making Sanders’ votes disappear. I’m reading hysterical (in both senses of the term: insane and funny) posts to the effect that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are “the same shade of evil,” and their authors are proudly boasting that they’re planning to throw their votes away this November — or to vote for an “alternative” candidate like Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party, which under America’s winner-take-all election system is the same thing as throwing your vote away.

Democrats vs. Republicans: The Real Difference

I’m especially incensed by this because in several previous elections I’ve drunk the “they’re both evil” Kool-Aid myself and voted accordingly. Not this time. The Republican Party is in the grip of an economically libertarian and socially authoritarian ideology that rejects the idea that human beings have any responsibility to each other or their environment. It rejects the idea that people of color, women or Queer people are equal to white straight men. It not only rejects doing anything substantial to reverse, stop or even slow down human-caused climate change, it ridicules the science that shows humans are causing climate change.
A nation governed by the current Republican Party would be one in which it would once again be illegal to have an abortion or have sex with someone of your own sex. It would be one in which it would be illegal for workers to form unions and bargain collectively with their employers. It would be one in which there would be no minimum wage and no enforcement of laws to protect the health and safety of workers on their jobs. It would be one in which, instead of narrowing, the gap in pay equity between men and women would increase. It would be one in which racial discrimination would not only be allowed, but encouraged. It would be one in which Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid would not exist, and health care would be a luxury available only to those who could pay for it. It would be one that continued to run itself on fossil fuels and ignored their impact on the environment.
And it would be one in which the bloated U.S. military budget would be increased still further, in which the U.S. would push its weight around the world even more than it does now, in which any Leftist, progressive or liberal who came to power in any country in the world would have to worry about being overthrown in a Right-wing revolution or military coup supported by American power. It would be one in which once the U.S. government declared someone a “terrorist,” however flimsy or nonexistent the evidence for that declaration was, they would cease to have any due-process rights and would routinely be tortured.
That’s the sort of world your generic cookie-cutter Republican leaders believe in, and that doesn’t even get into the specific positions and attitudes of their standard-bearer in this year’s election, Donald Trump. It’s true that on a few issues Trump has staked out positions at least vaguely more progressive than the Republican mainstream — like protecting Social Security and Medicare, and opposing the network of so-called “free trade” agreements that began with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1992 and continues with the currently proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
But it’s also true that every time Trump stakes out a progressive position, elements of the Republican coalition are right there to snap him back in line. It happened when he declared he wouldn’t care which restroom Caitlyn Jenner used if he visited Trump Tower — and then quickly backtracked when Right-wing “social conservative” Republicans declared it’s a matter of party policy that states can make laws keeping Transgender people from using the restrooms of the gender in which they identify and present themselves. Trump went along and, as is his wont, pretended that nothing he’d said had changed.
The Republican Party of today is a Right-wing ideological party, and its current Presidential nominee is — I’m going to say it — an out-and-out fascist with a visceral contempt for the whole idea of representative democracy. The comparisons between Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump are almost too obvious: the conscious construction of a cult of personality (Hitler declared himself the embodiment of Germany’s “racial will” and Trump said, about America’s crisis, “I alone can fix it”); the scapegoating of racial and religious minorities and blaming them for their countries’ problems (with Hitler it was Jews, with Trump Mexicans and Muslims); the pride not only in militarism but torture and the enthusiastic boasts that if elected, they would commit war crimes; and the thug-like behavior both Hitler and Trump encouraged their supporters to direct at protesters at their rallies.
The Hitler-Trump parallel goes not only to their personal styles — both described their countries as being in the middle of existential crises they alone could fix — but in their sources of support. Hitler came to power as a result of Germany’s defeat in World War I and the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles, particularly the reparations payments that basically sank the German economy. Trump’s base of support is the white male working class, and his appeal to them is that he can single-handedly reverse the systematic de-industrialization of America and bring back all those lost manufacturing jobs to the U.S. (this while virtually every item of Trump paraphernalia on sale at his rallies and the Republican convention was made in some other country).
If you still think there’s no substantial difference between the Republican and Democratic parties, please go to and read the news analysis by Los Angeles Times writer David Lauter. “One night this week, the Democratic convention featured eight Black women whose children had died in shootings or at the hands of police,” Lauter began his story. “A week earlier, Republicans repeatedly paid tribute to law enforcement. In Philadelphia, the billionaire global warming activist Tom Steyer was ubiquitous. In Cleveland, Republicans put a spotlight on the plight of out-of-work miners and pledged to increase use of coal. A speaker needing applause at a Democratic convention can always praise teachers. Republicans can reliably criticize public employee unions.”
The “infantile” (Lenin’s term, not mine) Leftists who still cling to the notion that there’s “no difference” between the Republican and Democratic parties usually respond to arguments like that with plaints about how the Democrats aren’t really that progressive. They’re sometimes right, but that’s beside the point. It’s true that Democrats haven’t been as aggressive on combating climate change as they should be — but at least they acknowledge it as a problem, which the Republicans don’t. It’s true that Democrats have supported imperialist wars in the Third World — but other Democrats have led the electoral opposition to them. It’s true that Democrats take money from the 1 percent in general and Wall Street in particular — but other Democrats have led the opposition to Wall Street’s desires while Republicans have meekly lined up with them. I think Bernie Sanders got it right when he said the Democrats were “influenced” by Wall Street money but Republicans were “controlled” by it.
Yes, both the Democrats and the Republicans are capitalist political parties. They’re both committed to maintaining a system of private enterprise that inevitably produces major disparities in wealth and income. But they are committed to that in profoundly different ways, and therefore it matters which one we vote for even though we shouldn’t believe that desirable social change will come only from electing Democrats. The Republicans have taken an increasingly hard line that “the Market” should determine the allocation of wealth and resources, and any government interference with “the Market” is not only bad public policy but immoral because it takes money from the “deserving” rich and gives it to “undeserving” working-class and lower-income people. This is what 2012 Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney meant when he said that the Democrats would always get votes from the 47 percent of people who “want government to give them stuff.”
Democrats haven’t always been as faithful or strenuous champions of workers’ rights as they could or should have been, but if you’re serious about challenging the inequality of wealth and income in the U.S., they remain the only game in town. As I’ve noted in these pages before, during the primary campaign Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders had long and extensive arguments in their debates over whether the federal minimum wage should be raised to $12 or $15 per hour. Meanwhile, some of the Republican candidates were calling for abolition of the minimum wage altogether, and their eventual nominee, Trump, said U.S. workers were overpaid and needed to scale down their wages so the U.S. could compete with foreign countries in a global economy. (So much for Trump as the protector of the American working class against globalization, a fantasy that has driven a lot of American workers to vote for him.)

Building On — or Squandering — the Sanders Legacy

What’s more, thanks largely to the Bernie Sanders campaign and particularly the incredible outpouring of young people’s support for him and the dedication and commitment with which they fought against the odds, the Democratic Party is considerably more progressive than it would have been without them to push it to the Left. This year’s Democratic platform includes a $15 per hour minimum wage (and Hillary Clinton helped broker a compromise with the Right-wing Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for a $15/hour minimum in New York City and $12/hour upstate) and important proposals to free both current and future college students from the crushing lifelong burden of student-loan debt. It also commits the party to abolish the death penalty, reform the criminal justice system and guarantee a woman’s right to reproductive choice (while this year the Republicans adopted the most anti-choice platform in American political history).
Not that the platform is all it could have been. It’s fascinating that Hillary Clinton’s people on the platform committee gave in on the $15 per hour minimum wage and abolishing the death penalty but dug their heels in on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). What’s more, there were reports that delegates to the Democratic convention who held up anti-TPP signs on the first two days were threatened with expulsion if they continued — and whether those were true, you didn’t see any anti-TPP signs the last two days. It reinforced my suspicion that Hillary Clinton, who was Secretary of State when the TPP was being negotiated, once called it a “gold standard” for trade agreements and opposed it in the middle of her primary battle with Sanders, will, if she’s elected President, make some cosmetic changes to the agreement, announce that her qualms have been satisfied and be for it again.
But then the whole network of so-called “trade” agreements that began with NAFTA and is climaxing with the TPP and the analogous Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) the U.S. is negotiating with the European Union is too important an issue for the worldwide — not just the American — ruling class for them to allow the mere workings of representative democracy to derail it. Of particular importance to them is the concept of Investor-to-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), a mechanism in all such “trade” treaties that allows corporations to sue nations and force them to set aside laws protecting their workers or their environment. The secret tribunals, packed with corporate lawyers, that hear ISDS cases can’t literally force a country to get rid of its labor or environmental laws — but they can threaten to impose crippling fines and/or lock them out of the world economy if they don’t go along.
So Hillary Clinton is probably hedging her bets on TPP and waiting until she can seize a pretext to support it again. But I suspect Donald Trump is, too. Watch how fast Trump’s supposedly diehard opposition to TPP and other “trade” deals will evaporate once he actually becomes President (God forbid!) and he has to deal with his fellow U.S. and worldwide 1-percenters who expect him to deliver for them. The regime of “trade” agreements and the neo-feudal world they are designed to produce — in which corporations essentially rule and nation-states merely do their bidding — is one that will have to be stopped by a worldwide campaign, most of which will inevitably consist of activism outside the electoral system.
But then that’s true of virtually every issue I’ve discussed in this article. The reality is, as I’ve written again and again, is that working within the political system and electing people to public office is not enough to bring about radical social change. Neither is street activism — demonstrations, rallies, civil disobedience. It takes both. The gains the U.S. Left made in the 1890’s, the 1910’s, the 1930’s and the 1960’s came from the combination of electoral activism and street action. It also helped that, at least in the 1890’s and the 1910’s, there were progressive candidates and caucuses within both the Democratic and Republican parties, and therefore Leftists could play the major parties against each other and weren’t faced with the damnable “Democrats or nothing” bind they’ve been in ever since.
Bernie Sanders’ campaign has left the American Left a powerful legacy it can either build upon or squander. It will build upon it if it realizes that electoral politics don’t begin and end with the Presidency. A political movement aimed at building a truly mass Left in this country will have to run candidates for public office at all levels, from water districts and school boards to the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. And, except for local elections which are legally “non-partisan,” it will have to do so using the ballot access mechanism of the Democratic Party because under America’s winner-take-all political system, people who aren’t Democrats or Republicans simply don’t get elected to office (with a few insignificant and quirky exceptions).
The American Left will have to pay particular attention to who runs state governments — governors, other statewide officials and state legislatures. And it will have to mount an especially intense offensive to contest these elections in 2020. The reason for that is, according to America’s quirky voting laws, elections in years ending in zero are especially important because those choose the representatives who will draw the district lines for the next 10 years. The Republican sweep in the 2010 elections gave Republican state legislators the ability to draw lines that protected not only their state legislative majorities but their U.S. House majority as well — so in 2012 Republicans kept control of the House even though more Americans voted for Democrats than Republicans to represent them.
The other thing the U.S. Left must do to build on the Sanders campaign is coordinate between its electoral and non-electoral activists. As late as the 1960’s we knew how to do this. Since then, however, it’s become a lost art on the Left. All too many Leftists engaged in direct action outside the electoral system believe it’s morally demeaning and wrong to participate in the electoral process. Likewise, all too many progressives who are involved in electoral politics are frightened by direct-action activists and worry they’ll jeopardize their “contacts” in high office.
In cleaning our clocks over the last three and one-half decades (ever since the election of Ronald Reagan), the Right has shown — or reminded — us of how social change can be achieved. First, the electoral and non-electoral activists of the radical Right remain in close contact and work together. Second, they categorically reject the siren song of building their own political party and thereby shutting themselves out of real political power. The people who started the Tea Party told their supporters again and again and again not to bother with forming their own party, but instead to run their candidates through the Republican party and ultimately take it over.
The legacy of the Bernie Sanders campaign will be squandered if the Left runs back into its little holes and maintains its stance of ideological “purity.” It will be squandered if the young people who were the bulwark of Sanders’ campaign decide after one setback that working through electoral politics is hopeless and therefore they’re not going to bother even to vote. It will be squandered if Sanders supporters continue to clog social media by harping on the deficiencies of Hillary Clinton, which are real but insignificant compared to those of Donald Trump. And, above all, the Sanders legacy will be trashed if Trump wins and answers the demands of impoverished and oppressed Americans with his foul brew of racial, religious and gender stereotyping and discrimination.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Trump’s Speech: Triumph of the Will


Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Comparisons between any modern-day political figure and Adolf Hitler have become decidedly unfashionable. Michael Lind pote Politico post from March 8 called “Quit Comparing Trump to Hitler!” ( that essentially said people who did that were making Trump seem decidedly worse than he really is. Like others who have questioned the validity of any comparison between the New York developer and the Nazi Führer, Lind trotted out George Orwell’s quote from 1946 — just after his native Britain and its allies had beaten the real Nazis at a terrible cost in blood and wealth — that “the word ‘fascism’ has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’.” (By the early 1950’s that would be true, at least in the U.S., of “socialism” as well.)
Hitler comparisons are designed not to facilitate rational debate, but to short-circuit it. Anyone who compares a political opponent to Hitler is saying that this person is so evil we can’t even afford to take their ideas seriously, much less let them anywhere near political power. So I don’t make the comparison lightly, but after watching a good deal of the Republican convention in Cleveland July 18-21 I couldn’t help but be reminded of Leni Riefenstahl’s film Triumph of the Will. Made in 1934 at the Sixth Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, Germany, Triumph of the Will is one of the two greatest Right-wing propaganda films ever made (D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation from 1915 is the other) and a movie that still chills today not only because it was made under Nazi auspices but because it shows them as they wanted us to see them.
Riefenstahl was relatively uninterested in what the Nazis actually had to say. What attracted her to them was they had promised to end the destructive partisan feuding and street violence that had sandbagged Germany’s previous attempt at democracy, the Weimar Republic of 1918-1932. Throughout her film she surrounds Hitler with a godlike aura as thousands of young men, marching in strict formation and looking as much alike as possible, pay tribute to him en masse. Like many of Hitler’s supporters, she responded to his portrayal of himself as “a man of destiny,” an embodiment of Germany’s “racial will” and someone uniquely suited to overcome the humiliation of losing World War I and having the “hard peace” of Versailles imposed on it. Though he may not have used these exact words, virtually every piece of rhetoric out of Hitler’s mouth was a promise to end the influence of Jews and others he considered evil, and single-handedly “make Germany great again.”
What I saw during the Republican convention seemed in many particulars — especially when Trump was giving his 78-minute acceptance speech and the hall, half full at best on previous nights, was packed — like a remake of Triumph of the Will. Of course, there were obvious differences. The C-SPAN cameras were being positioned by functional directors instead of a visionary filmmaking genius like Riefenstahl. We were also seeing the event in real time instead of two years later (Triumph of the Will, filmed in 1934, wasn’t released until 1936 because Riefenstahl spent that long on post-production).
But what we were seeing — and, even more, what we were hearing, especially from the seemingly endless procession of speakers named Trump, not only the man himself but virtually all his adult children — sounded themes that were totalitarian in general and Nazi in particular, notably the cult of personality consciously being built around Trump and the sense that he, personally — not anything he stood for or said he would do — was being presented as America’s one and only chance for salvation. As Trump himself said, during a speech that was mostly a description of hell on earth and a presentation of him as the only person who can bring it salvation, “I alone can fix it.”
While Left-wing dictators — Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Chávez — have also built cults of personality around themselves, it is the Right’s totalitarians who have presented themselves as literally the embodiment of the state they intend to govern. This goes back even farther than King Louis XIV of France, who famously said, “L’etat, c’est moi” — “I am the state.” As German scholar Michael Rademacher argues in an essay comparing the Nazis to the fictitious state of Oceania in George Orwell’s novel 1984 (, “Hitler was not only presented by Nazi propaganda as a ‘savior,’ from reading [Hitler’s book] Mein Kampf one can get the impression that Hitler indeed thought of himself as a Christ-like savior figure.”
It’s this overlay of quasi-religious belief and fervor that marks the Right-wing dictator and sets him (and it’s almost always a him, not a her) apart from totalitarians of the Left. In his convention speech, again and again Donald Trump presented himself as a unique authority figure, one whom the universe had brought into being because his country was so beset by existential crises only someone with his unique set of powers and gifts can make things right. As Carl Martz of Redlands mentioned in a letter published in the July 23 Los Angeles Times (, “There was one glaring omission in Trump’s speech: He never mentioned Congress.”
Ironically, given how many of the other speakers at the Republican convention condemned President Obama for governing by executive order instead of asking Congress to approve his actions, Trump presented his presidency as a sort of plebiscitary dictatorship in which, once elected, he can do just about anything he likes. Trump offered himself to the nation not as a democratically elected leader, subject to the limitations of a Constitution of which Trump is so ignorant he doesn’t know how many articles it has, but as a Führer. As Martz put it, “He seemed to view American government as consisting of the president with unlimited powers and Supreme Court justices whom he will control. Congress? Democrats? Compromise? Filibusters? It’s as if they do not exist.”
And the cult of personality Trump has created around himself is echoed in the way his most loyal, committed supporters feel about him. In a June 21 Los Angeles Times article called “The Church of Trump” (, Peter Manseau argued, “The appeal of Trumpism for some Christians, as well as for many who claim no faith at all, might be that it functions as something like a religion in its own right. Indeed, if we consider his movement as fundamentally religious, in the broad sense of the term, rather than strictly political, his otherwise surprising success begins to make a lot of sense.”
Manseau cited French philosopher and sociologist Émile Durkheim (1857-1917), who preceded both Hitler’s and Trump’s movements but predicted a lot about them and their faith-based appeals. Durkheim argued that religion, in the broader sense, was a system of beliefs and practices that united a community by bringing it a sense of “collective effervescence” which “often reaches such a point that it causes unheard-of actions. … The passions released are of such an impetuosity that they can be restrained by nothing.”
“That Trump sees the world starkly in terms of winners and losers has become shorthand for his simplistic thinking, but as he uses these terms they also map neatly onto Durkheim’s categories,” Manseau argued. “He gives his followers access to the sacred — winning — while offering protection from the profane influence of Muslims, Mexicans and low-energy losers.” And though Manseau carefully avoided making the Hitler-Trump comparison, giving his followers “access to the sacred — winning” was what Hitler did, too.
As Hitler himself put it, “The greatness of every mighty organization embodying an idea in this world lies in the religious fanaticism and intolerance with which, fanatically convinced of its own right, it intolerantly imposes its will against all others.” And like Trump’s, Hitler’s drama had not only its hero — himself — but also its villains from whose “profane influence” he would offer his followers protection: Communists, Gypsies, Queers and, above all, Jews.

Hillary Clinton as the Wicked Witch

Besides such broad scapegoat groups as Muslims, Mexicans and “low-energy losers,” Trump’s convention offered the faithful a Satan figure in the person of his principal political opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton. It’s indicative of how much the appeal of this year’s Republican party is fascistic rather than democratic in nature that the speakers seemed to spend more time demonizing Hillary Clinton than praising Donald Trump. More than one commentator on the convention noted that the only people who seemed to be saying positive things about Trump — not just negative things about Clinton — were Trump’s kids.
And what’s more, just as the arguments for Trump at the convention were framed not in terms of anything he would do about specific issues facing the U.S. but on the sheer force of his personality, so were the arguments against Clinton. They were less about what she would do as President than about who she is. Part of this was just smart politics — the polls about Clinton show that a majority of Americans regard her as competent but an even larger majority simply don’t trust her — but it seems also an inextricable part of the heroic mythos with which Trump is surrounding himself that his villain, too, must be larger than life. Just as Beowulf needed Grendel, St. George needed the dragon, Siegfried needed Fafner, Frodo Baggins needed Sauron and Saruman and Luke Skywalker needed Darth Vader, so Trump the avenging hero, the redeemer, needs to imbue his villain with equally far-reaching power so his final triumph over her will have the mythic power it needs to justify setting aside American republican democracy and replacing it with the Rule of Trump.
In Hillary Clinton, Trump has lucked out big-time. Both she and her husband have been hate objects for America’s Right for so long Trump and his surrogates don’t have to do much bell-ringing to get the rank-and-file of the Republican Party to drool over the prospect of her vanquishment. I’ve pointed out several times before in these pages that the American Right once literally depicted Hillary as a witch (a crude caricature of her looking like the stereotypical wicked witch used to adorn the subscription solicitations of the American Spectator magazine). More recently, at the Republican convention Ben Carson, one of Trump’s former opponents, accused Hillary Clinton of being in league with Lucifer (a.k.a. Satan, a.k.a. the Devil) because she’d written her 1969 college thesis on community organizer Saul Alinsky, and in 1971 (two years after Hillary wrote about him) Alinsky published the book Rules for Radicals in which he wrote, “The first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer.”
Hillary is hated by the Trump faithful both for who she is and what she’s done. Who she is: an independent woman who made her own career and was so uninterested in being an appendage to her husband that for a time she tried to establish herself under her original last name, Rodham, instead of using his. A woman who came to the White House with her husband, was given control over his health-care reform program (“Before it was called Obamacare, it was called Hillarycare,” she said over and over during the Democratic primary debates, thereby associating herself with an earlier, failed attempt to accomplish what’s probably the most viscerally hated program of Obama’s administration), and who after Bill Clinton left office ran for Senator from New York, then got appointed Secretary of State and tried to encroach on the all-male preserve of the Presidency … twice.
And what she’s done: instead of questioning her on policy issues or her ties to Wall Street, the case against Hillary Clinton at the Republican convention was based on a foul stew of conspiracy theories the Right has been cooking since her husband’s presidency: the “murder” of Vincent Foster, her alleged “enabling” of her husband’s adulteries, the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya and, above all, the e-mails. One of the lowest points of the convention was when the widow of one of the four diplomats killed at Benghazi said, “Hillary Clinton, how could you do this to my husband?” — as if Hillary had pulled a gun on him and shot him herself.
As for the e-mails, like Clinton’s principal rival for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, I’m sick and tired of hearing about Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. Trump raised a legitimate point against her when he pointed out in his speech that before she turned over 30,000 e-mails she’d sent with her private server while U.S. Secretary of State, she and her staff unilaterally deleted 33,000 of them on the ground that they were “personal,” with no independent third-party verification of whether they were actually personal or whether some of them may have contained government information.
And I think FBI director James Comey got it right on both counts when he announced that he was not going to seek an indictment against her but her handling of classified information had been “extremely careless.” Those are words a more responsible Republican Party could legitimately use to undermine one of Hillary’s principal arguments for herself: that because of her long record of government service as well as her previous status as First Lady she’s well prepared for the Presidency and would be far more competent in the office than her opponent.
But this year’s Republican Party — and this is one respect in which the Trumpified Republicans of this year are not fundamentally different from the Republicans of the last quarter-century — is not inclined to make rational arguments about much of anything, especially about the Clintons. The Republicans have regarded Bill and Hillary Clinton as founts of political evil ever since Bill emerged as a Presidential contender in the early 1990’s. David Brock, former Right-wing hatchet man who now runs a pro-Hillary super-PAC, wrote in his book Blinded by the Right that “when Hillary Clinton said there was a vast Right-wing conspiracy to get her and her husband, I knew she was right — because I was part of it.”
The American Spectator magazine — the one that was drumming up subscriptions by sending out mailings adorned with a picture of Hillary as a witch — was funded by a multi-millionaire named Richard Mellon Scaife who also underwrote something called “The Arkansas Project.” This was an attempt to dig up as much dirt on the Clintons as possible, and in practice it uncovered just about everyone in Arkansas who had a grudge against the Clintons and had some derogatory information about them — or, if they didn’t, were willing to make some up.
The result was to make Bill Clinton only the second U.S. President in history to be impeached by the House of Representatives and put on trial in the Senate. The first, Andrew Johnson, was impeached and tried in 1868 for reasons that at least made logical sense: he had done his damnedest to sabotage Congressional Reconstruction and keep African-Americans as virtual slaves. The best they could come up with against Bill Clinton was that he’d had sex with a White House aide and had ham-handedly and ineptly lied about it.
The venom with which Hillary Clinton was attacked at this year’s Republican convention — not only the chants of “Lock her up!” but the preposterous “indictment” read against her by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (who, as a former prosecutor, should know better) and the call-and-response cries of “Guilty!” he got from his audience — makes it seem virtually certain that if she’s elected she will be the third President who will be impeached. And if she isn’t elected, Donald Trump will move heaven and earth to make sure she’s indicted for the e-mails and whatever else he can dream up, no matter how much violence he has to do to the Constitution and its guarantees of due process and the presumption of innocence to put her behind bars.

White Restoration: Trump’s Deeper Racism and Sexism

Donald Trump has often been called racist and sexist, but most people who’ve used those terms for him have focused only on the most superficial manifestations of those attitudes. His now-infamous statement that undocumented Mexican immigrants were “bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists” got him slammed by progressive activists and the mainstream media — which, paradoxically, only fed his supporters’ image of him as a man who can be counted out to tell the “truth,” however much it may be “politically incorrect.” So did his attack on Megyn Kelly of Fox News, who in one debate asked Trump about insulting statements he’s made about women and ended up on the receiving end of a Trump insult directed against her as a woman: that she had “blood coming out of her eyes, or her wherever.” (One would think a man who’s had three wives and five children wouldn’t be so appallingly ignorant about how women’s bodies work.)
But Trump’s superficial attacks on women, people of color, people with disabilities and others he considers “weak” are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s revealing that before he ran for President in 2016 his principal political effort was promoting the so-called “Birther” myth that President Obama was born not in Hawai’i but in Kenya, and was therefore ineligible for the presidency under the constitutional requirement that the President be “a natural born Citizen.” More recently, he’s referred to the judge in the case against Trump University, Gonzalo Curiel, as “a Mexican” and said that by that fact alone he is incapable of presiding over the case impartially (though he hasn’t asked his attorneys to file a motion to disqualify the judge for cause), and he referred to the alleged shooter in Orlando, Florida, Omar Mateen, as “an Afghan” — even though both Curiel and Mateen were born in the U.S. and it was their parents who came here from Mexico and Afghanistan, respectively.
What that suggests is that Donald J. Trump, in his heart of hearts, simply does not believe that people of color can ever be real Americans. He’s added a mental footnote to the Constitution that says only white people can be true, first-class citizens. His attitude would move the U.S. away from its historic position that you gain American citizenship through coming here, working hard and joining the American community. Instead Trump’s ideas would impose a “blood citizenship” requirement similar to that which bedevils Trump’s own ancestral homeland, Germany, where immigrants from Turkey and elsewhere whose families have been in Germany for generations can’t become German citizens — while people of German ancestry whose families haven’t seen German soil in decades can become instant “Germans” just by moving there and establishing residency.
Trump’s racism is deeper than most people realize, and it’s fitted him to become what he is in the upcoming election: the candidate of white male restoration. So is his sexism: his defense against the charge that he hates women is to point to the women who are in positions of power in his business organization. This suggests that Trump has use for women only if they fit one of two categories: either they can make him richer, in which case he hires them to do just that; or he would want to have sex with them, and they with him, in which case he … well, he used to boast of his prowess as a cocksman and an impressive list of “conquests,” until it dawned even through his thick skull that a man who publicly boasted of his adulteries just might have a hard time being taken seriously by the self-proclaimed party of “family values.”
I vividly remember when the Republican Party regained control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2010 election, and the sense of relief many Republican officials showed when interviewed by the media. They had been forced for the previous four years to see the “People’s House” governed by a woman, Nancy Pelosi, Democrat from San Francisco, and there was a sense among Republicans not only that they had regained the House majority but that the proper order of the universe would be restored when a white male, John Boehner, got the usurping Pelosi out of there and took his place at the head of the House. Likewise, if Trump wins, a lot of his supporters and Republicans in general will feel that the proper order of the universe has been restored by having a white man in the White House instead of that, ugh, whatever Obama was.
And if Trump loses, their sense of grievance will only be intensified by seeing the Black man step out of the Oval Office … and a woman replace him. It’s not just that Hillary is a Clinton, wife of one of the most thoroughly demonized Presidents in U.S. history and herself such a long-term target of abuse that after this year’s Republican convention a 20-year-old article called “Hating Hillary” got so many hits it soared to the top of the New Yorker’s Web site. It’s the mere fact of her femaleness.
The root of Donald Trump’s support lies among white men, and in particular working-class white men who didn’t go to college because, when they came of age, they didn’t need to. Many of them had decent-paying blue-collar jobs available to them, often in company towns where once you were out of high school, you could stop at the employment office on Friday and be told, “You start Monday.” Ironically, given their former holders’ current politics, those decent-paying blue-collar jobs existed because of decades of progressive organizing that had won those workers union representation, minimum wages, laws to protect their health and safety, relatively high wages and good benefits, including health coverage.
For about 25 years of American history, between the end of World War II and the recession of the early 1970’s, a relative degree of labor peace existed in the U.S. Many large corporations were run by people who grudgingly realized that capitalism could be a win-win-win situation: companies made quality products and paid their workers enough to be able to afford them; consumers had access to reliable, durable goods; and investors profited through keeping their stock in healthy companies and reaping their rewards as dividend payments.
Then attitudes hardened, especially among the 1 percent. In the early 1970’s corporate leaders got the idea that they had been short-changed in the economic transformations wrought by the 1930’s Depression and World War II. Also a new school of economists, headed by Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago, proclaimed that “maximizing shareholder value” was the sole purpose of corporate governance, and any suggestion that executives had responsibilities to anyone else — their workers, their consumers, their communities — was “socialism.”
At the same time capitalism was evolving the way Karl Marx said it would; as it became harder to maintain the same level of profits, companies responded by merging. Fewer companies meant less competition — less of the “invisible hand” that was supposed to keep capitalism honest — and it also led to a bewildering maze of holding companies and hedge funds that bought large corporations and used them essentially as gambling chips.
If they could make money by keeping the businesses going and the workers employed, they would. If they could make even more money by closing down U.S. factories and relocating them overseas where wages were a fraction of what American workers expected — and there was no government-required nonsense about protecting workers’ health and safety, or maintaining the environment — they’d do that, too. If the all-important maximization of shareholder value meant closing down huge businesses and selling the remains piece by piece, they’d do that, too.
American workers found themselves in a bind not that different from the one German workers had been put in by the economy-destroying reparations payments imposed on Germany by the victorious Allies in World War I and the destructive policies the German government pursued to keep their economy going — including the horrendous hyperinflation of 1922-23. They were told over and over that they couldn’t expect to live as well as they once had, and their children couldn’t expect to live as well as their parents had. And, by the German Right in general and the Nazis in particular, they were told who they could blame for that.
The Jews. Jewish capitalists had, Nazi propagandists said, wantonly destroyed the German economy. Jewish Communists had fomented phony revolutions to make the plight of the workers even worse. If anybody asked a Nazi how the Jews could be both the capitalists and the Communists who were ostensibly their sworn enemies, the Nazi would say, “They’re Jews. They destroy things. That’s what they do.” The Nazis not only sold this bill of goods to the German people, they believed in it themselves enough that they set out to rid the world of Jews, continuing the Holocaust even when the resources expended on killing Jews hurt the German war effort and contributed to their ultimate defeat in World War II.
It doesn’t take much analytical skill to perceive the similarities between the way Adolf Hitler talked about the Jews and the way Donald Trump talks about Mexicans and Muslims. And Trump has one advantage over Hitler. Whereas Hitler’s people had to fake the “Jewish atrocities” that supposedly justified the Holocaust, Trump can point to real people all over the world — in New York and Washington, D.C. on 9/11; in Boston, San Bernardino, Orlando, Paris, Nice, Munich — who have been murdered in cold blood by terrorists proclaiming themselves as agents of Islam.
Hence the apocalyptic fervor with which Trump spoke to the Republican convention on July 21. Hence the grimness on his face as he delivered his speech and the fierce scowl which he interrupted just to the minimum degree necessary to be able to talk at all. In the August 2016 Harper’s (, Martin Amis published a comparative review of Trump’s first book, The Art of the Deal (co-written with Tony Schwartz, who gave an interview to The New Yorker about the experience: see, and his latest, Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again, which revealed that the grim, non-smiling countenance of Trump’s face was no accident. As Amis put it:

“Some readers,” writes Trump sternly in his opening sentence, “may be wondering why the picture we used on the cover of this book is so angry and so mean looking.” Only the other day, he “had some beautiful pictures taken” — pictures like the one that bedizens The Art of the Deal — in which he “looked like a very nice person”; and Trump’s family implored him to pick one of those. But no. He wanted to look like a very sour person to reflect the “anger and unhappiness that I feel.”

So Donald Trump offered himself to America on July 21 as the righteous spokesperson for an America — especially non-rich white male working-class America — that has seen its economic position systematically destroyed by the country’s de-industrialization and its social position ridiculed by decades of Left-leaning propaganda in academe and the mainstream media that its attitudes towards women and people of color are “politically incorrect.” He came across as the scourge of all the forces that are tormenting the decent working-class white men who built this country, and — without specifics — said that he alone, by the sheer force of his personality and will, could make it all better for them.
At times he came off like an Old Testament prophet issuing scathing attacks on the “Establishment” of their day. At other times, especially when he started talking about Mexicans and Muslims, he sounded like Adolf Hitler. At still other times — most noticeably when he started making weird little gestures to ask the crowd to stop cheering or chanting so he could continue his speech — he looked less like the real Hitler than like Charlie Chaplin’s parody, “Adenoid Hynkel, the Fuhi of Tomania,” in his 1940 film The Great Dictator. In the middle of Trump’s most blatantly racist tirade of his entire speech, my husband Charles remembered the scene in The Great Dictator in which the microphones themselves recoil at the ferocity of Hynkel’s blast — and the urbane-voiced official translator who’s rendering Chaplin’s vaudeville-German double-speak in English politely says, “The Fuhi has just made reference to the Jewish people.”
Perhaps the most interesting part of Trump’s 78-minute speech was the way it ended. Somebody on his staff must have told him it couldn’t be all gloom-and-doom. Someone remembered how Ronald Reagan in 1980 had ended his big convention speech with soaring rhetoric about America being a “shining city on the hill” whose best days were ahead of it, not behind it. The end of Trump’s speech contained a few phrases that apparently were intended to create a similar sense of uplift — but his heart wasn’t in it. Every time his script gave him something more or less optimistic, he immediately undercut it with yet another jab at Hillary Clinton or the Democrats in general or just about anybody from the long, long list of people he doesn’t like.
And Trump’s far greater comfort with the role of attack dog than inspirer-in-chief came roaring back the next day, when he responded to Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the last man standing in the primary battle against him, who had said in his own convention speech July 20 that Republicans should “vote your conscience” and concentrate on winning the down-ballot elections for Senate, House and state government. Trump not only said he wouldn’t accept Cruz’s endorsement if Cruz offered it, he renewed one of his most scurrilous attacks on Cruz from the primary campaign, suggesting that Cruz’s father had known Lee Harvey Oswald, President Kennedy’s alleged assassin. His source was a photo published in the National Enquirer — and Trump got in yet another insult against legitimate journalists, one of his favorite targets, saying that the Enquirer should be winning Pulitzer Prizes for its exposés.
It’s easy to write Donald Trump off as a pathetic buffoon — but then a lot of German liberals and progressives in the 1920’s and early 1930’s who should have known better wrote off Adolf Hitler as a buffoon, too. Trump is not Hitler; despite some similarities — the egomania, the racism, the warmongering and the bizarre fanaticism they’ve been able to induce in their followers — a Trump-governed America would look a lot different from Hitler-governed Germany. But Trump has shown an astonishing instinct for “reading” the mood of white working-class male America and getting millions of people who’ve been reinforced in their bigotry and prejudice by talk radio and Fox News to put him at the edge of winning a Presidential election.
After his convention speech the sound system at the Republican convention played three really peculiar song choices: Free’s “All Right Now,” the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing.” After a convention whose theme had been “Make America Great Again,” it seemed odd — to say the least — that all the songs were by British bands, and that “All Right Now” was a song about a sexual pickup and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (one of my all-time favorite Stones songs because of its world-weariness) a song whose moral is, “You can’t always get what you want/But if you try sometime, you just might find/You get what you need.” Was Donald Trump trying to tell us that Hillary Clinton was who we wanted but he was what we needed?
When Barack Obama was nominated for President by the Democrats in 2008, the slogan his crowds chanted was, “¡Si se puede!” — “Yes, we can!” When Donald Trump was nominated by the Republicans eight years later, their slogan was not “Yes, we can!” but “Yes, he will!” Likewise when Ronald Reagan used the phrase “make America great again” in his 1980 campaign, he prefaced it with “Let’s” — implying, as Obama did, that the task of bringing America the change it was seeking was everybody’s, not just his. But Trump’s slogans say he will do it all. What we’re being called on to do is simply to stand on the sidelines and not get in his way as he personally, through the sheer force and triumph of his will, makes America whatever he means by “great again.”

Friday, July 15, 2016

Impassioned Black Minister Harris Kicks Off Pride in Style

Army Secretary Fanning Also Featured, but Rev. Shane Harris Steals the Show


Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Rev. Shane Harris

Eric Fanning

Jennifer Restle and her service dog

Mike Dee

Lily Rubenstein

Joan La Barbera

Community servants or drug pushers? The PrEP T-shirt
(Pride staffer Fernando Lopez in background)

San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus

San Diego Pride Youth Marching Band

San Diego’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride weekend kicked off big-time with a well-attended rally Friday, July 15 at 6 p.m at the Marston Point main stage at the Pride festival site near Sixth and Laurel in Balboa Park. The keynote speaker was supposed to be U.S. Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning, the first openly Queer person appointed to head a major branch of the U.S. military, but the show was stolen by the impassioned church oratory of Rev. Shane Harris of the San Diego branch of the National Action Network.
Citing not only the murder of 49 mostly Latino and Queer people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida but police killings of African-American men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, the shooting of five Dallas police officers by an African-American gunman during an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in that city, and the latest alleged terror attack on a civilian population in Nice, France, Rev. Harris called on the Black and Queer communities to “stand together to fight for gun reform and police reform.”
Rev. Harris, whose group was founded by the controversial New York Black minister Rev. Al Sharpton, said, “It’s time to break down the walls between the church and the LGBT community once and for all.” He cited the examples of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the little-known Viola Liuzzo, a white woman who came down to Selma, Alabama to register Black voters in 1965 and was murdered, as people who “fought for the voiceless.”
He made it clear that, while other African-American ministers often say the Queer rights movement “stole” their tactics from the African-American civil rights movement, in his view “the LGBT community fought the fight and learned from the civil rights movement. It’s time to bring the movements back together.” Rev. Harris said he’s called out other Black ministers who called the Orlando shootings an “act of God” and said the victims got what they deserved for being Queer. “That is not the love of God,” he said. “I slammed those pastors and said we will not represent that kind of hate.”
Rev. Harris said the demands the Black and Queer community should unite around include gun reform and police reform. “What happened in that club (in Orlando) should not have happened,” he said. He also criticized police officers who are — or claim to be — so scared by African-American men they feel a need to shoot them six times even after they’ve already been subdued and are on the ground.
The impassioned oratory of Rev. Harris somewhat overshadowed the rally’s final speaker, U.S. Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning. He joked about being an Army man bringing a message of Queer pride to a Navy town, and said that including not only active-duty servicemembers but also reservists and employees of private contractors, the U.S. Army includes about 1.4 million people.
Fanning recalled that he first joined the Army’s staff at the Pentagon in 1993 — the same year the U.S. Congress imposed the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and then-President Bill Clinton signed it into law. “I didn’t see many people like me, and there didn’t seem to be many opportunities in national security,” Fanning said. “Now there are many opportunities to live and serve with dignity.”
Though he admitted the Pride celebration seems “bittersweet” after the events in Orlando — which happened during Pride weekend in Fanning’s home town, Washington, D.C. — along with Dallas, Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Nice, Fanning said, “We respond to acts of cowardice with acts of confidence and pride.” Fanning mentioned two of the Orlando victims, Tony Brown and Angel Cordelaro, who were active-duty servicemembers in the U.S. Army — and another Army man who courageously intervened and saved seven other people’s lives during the attack at Pulse.
When he was invited to speak at San Diego Pride, Fanning said, “I thought about why it was important for me to be here to promote the acceptance the Orlando shooter tried to destroy. Orlando was an attack on America. Citizens here come together to comfort those left behind. It’s important to remember that we’re all in this together. To keep this country secure we have to draw on all our communities.”
Fanning also said the U.S. military has a civil rights record of which it can be proud. He noted that the military ended racial segregation in 1948 — “16 years before the Civil Rights Act was passed” — and in 2011 San Diego’s Pride contained the first-ever contingent of active-duty servicemembers, who marched even though “don’t ask, don’t tell” was still in effect and they risked discharge. The next year, the services not only allowed the contingent to go forward but let the participants march in their uniforms.

Bisexuals Finally Included

This was also the year San Diego Pride finally acknowledged the Bisexual community — the largest but also the most ignored and marginalized group within the “LGBT” community, both by straights and Queers — by inviting an “out” Bi speaker to address the rally. She was Jennifer Restle, who also represented the community of people living with disabilities; she’s blind, and before she could start her speech she had to work with her guide dog to get the animal to sit and hold still so she could talk.
“Imagine a glass that can hold 16 ounces and has eight ounces of water in it,” Restle said. “This is my disability. The glass-half-full people see me doing ordinary tasks and raise them to major accomplishments, and the glass-half-empty people see my life as tragic because I’m blind. Why can’t it just be a glass with liquid in it?”
Restle used a similar metaphor to describe her sexuality. “Let’s pretend I’m attracted to both genders equally,” she said. “Some people would say I’m half-straight, some that I’m half-Gay. My question is why can’t it just be a glass of liquid, not cut up into pieces of homo- and heterosexuality?”
Despite the pretense of inclusion implied by the inclusion of “B” in “LGBT,” Restle said mainstream Queer organizations are often hostile to Bisexuals and refuse to help them. She also said the sense that Bi people aren’t welcome in either the straight or Queer communities contributes to them having “the highest rates of suicide, depression, poverty and abuse by relationship partners” of anyone in the Queer community.
(For further information on how Bisexuals are in many ways the most discriminated-against members of the Queer community, see For information supporting Restle’s claims about the adverse health effects of anti-Bi discrimination, see
Other speakers included Mike Dee, president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Padres baseball club, who said he had arranged the first “Pride Night” outreach to the Queer community by a major-league baseball team during a previous stint in the Padres’ organization in 2001. Dee had to work hard to mend fences with the Queer community when at the 2015 Pride Night, the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus was brought on to sing the national anthem at the start of the game — but a sound person cut them off and instead played a record of another non-Queer performance of the anthem.
Dee’s speech ignored the Pride Night anthem controversy (though Pride director Stephen Whitburn, introducing him, mentioned it) and focused on the team’s outreach efforts. “In 2015 we pledged with the San Diego Unified School District to promote the best of athletics by making peole feel respected on and off the field,” he said. “Major League Baseball is the first professional sports league to name an openly Gay person as a director of social outreach: former San Diego Padre Billy Bean. He came out in 1999 after his professional career ended. I know Billy personally and he’s a major ambassador for professional sports and the LGBT community.”
“Pride unites us,” said Lily Rubenstein, 16-year-old Transgender activist and member of the Mayor’s LGBT advisory board. “It’s always been our community’s secret weapon. We have Pride to let LGBT’s know that there are people to support them. Pride celebrations are landmarks. Think back to the time when Pride was something you had to fight for. Pride is the culmination of dedicated fighting.” She praised the California board of education for just having authorized teaching of Queer history in the state’s public schools.
The rally was kicked off by Queer historian Joan La Barbera of the San Diego LGBT Archives, who presented an orthodox “it all started at Stonewall” version of Queer history that typically ignored earlier Queer activism. Though the first known Queer-rights organization in the U.S. was founded in Chicago in 1926 and America’s history of continuous Queer activism started with Harry Hay and four others founding the Mattachine Society in Los Angeles in 1950, La Barbera’s presentation and the name of the event itself — “Spirit of Stonewall” — enshrined the pernicious myth that the entire U.S. Queer liberation movement started when patrons at the Stonewall Inn dive bar in New York City in June 1969 fought back against a police raid. (Full disclosure: two of my closest friends, Leo Laurence and Pat Brown, were among the leaders of militant Queer-rights demonstrations in San Francisco in early 1969, months before the so-called “beginning” of the movement at Stonewall.)
“Stonewall was not a peaceful protest,” La Barbera conceded. “It was a riot against police harassment, and it was led mostly by Trans women of color who are in fact our foremothers.” (The “it all started at Stonewall” myth is often used to hail Transgender people as the real founders of the Queer movement, and thereby to marginalize the participation of Queer Leftists like Harry Hay and others in launching U.S. Queer activism. It doesn’t marginalize the courage Sylvia Rivera, Marcia P. Johnson and the other Trans people who fought at Stonewall to set the record straight and acknowledge that just as the women’s movement was birthed from women’s responses to sexism within the American Left, so was the Queer movement partly a response to Leftist homophobia and a challenge to the Left to live up to its promise of liberation for all people.)

Awards to Drug Dealers

As in previous years, part of the business of the Pride rally was to hand out “Spirit of Stonewall Awards” (the myth strikes again!) to various individuals and organizations in the Queer community. The event MC asked for a particularly supportive response when members of a group calling itself “#Be the Generation” was given the Service Awards. Though they weren’t as big a presence in this year’s rally as they were the previous year — when far more attendees were wearing the “#Be the Generation” T-shirt — they showed off their four-part response to AIDS, which while no longer epidemic in the Queer community is still endemic and hits us harder than any other population.
“#Be the Generation” allegedly highlights four responses to the continuing presence of AIDS and the so-called Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) which supposedly causes it in the Queer community: “FIGHT: Stigma, Fear and Shaming. TEST: Know Your HIV Status. TREAT: Get Undetectable. PROTECT: PrEP and Condoms.” According to the group’s propaganda, the campaign is aimed at young people to get them to “be the generation” that stops the alleged “transmission” of HIV and AIDS once and for all.
But the nub of the campaign lies in the reference to “PrEP” in the fourth point. “PrEP” stands for “pre-exposure prophylaxis,” a highly controversial campaign originally approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2012 — though the groundwork for it had been laid as early as the Berlin AIDS conference in 1993 — to get people who test HIV negative to take anti-HIV drugs anyway, despite their high cost and potentially ferocious toxicities.
The principal PrEP drugs are Truvada and Genvoya, made by Gilead Pharmaceuticals — whose extortionate prices for hepatitis C treatments Horvani and Sarvoldi made them poster children for pharmaceutical company greed. A 2015 study claimed nearly 100 percent effectiveness for Truvada in preventing HIV transmission from positive people to their negative sex partners — but like many other studies in the history of U.S. AIDS research, it was stopped early before the drug’s side effects had a chance to kick in.
Later research ( confirmed a severe risk of bone loss in patients taking Truvada. But neither the risks involved in “pre-exposure prophylaxis,” the ultra-high cost of the drugs nor the whole preposterousness of giving these powerful medications to people who, even by the standards of the AIDS establishment, aren’t sick stopped the Pride organizers from hailing the drug pushers of “#Be the Generation” by giving them a community service award.
Other community service award winners included Tita Viveros, cross-border activist with the Queer community in Tijuana; Denise Williams and Dana Toppel as “Inspirational Couple,” Dale Kelly Bankhead as “Friend of Pride” (an award given for the straight person who has done the most for San Diego’s Queer community, and one Bankhead has won so many times they probably ought to retire it for her); Sue Reynolds as “Champion of Pride” for her work trying to develop affordable housing for San Diego Queers; an organization called MARYAH for “Philanthropy” because they raised money for the Sunburst group home for Queer and other at-risk youth in Golden Hill; and Michael Moore, current board chair of the Stepping Stone program for people with alcohol or drug issues, as Community Grand Marshal.
The rally kicked off with the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and ended with the San Diego Pride Youth Marching Band playing cheerily amateur renditions of “Over the Rainbow” (signature song of Judy Garland, whose death in June 1969 just days before the Stonewall riots is partly credited with having sparked them — Queers were a large part of her fan base and a lot of them felt pushed over the edge when their bars were raided while they were still in mourning for her) and Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.”