What did Trump voters– his potential victims– enable on Nov. 8? In their mad dash to get even with the hated establishment, they unleashed something much worse. First I want to point out an OpEd by over 100 Jewish historians from universities all over America in last week's Jewish Journal. “As scholars of Jewish history,” they wrote, “we are acutely attuned to the fragility of democracies and the consequences for minorities when democracies fail to live up to their highest principles… Hostility to immigrants and refugees strikes particularly close to home for us as historians of the Jews. As an immigrant people, Jews have experienced the pain of discrimination and exclusion, including by this country in the dire years of the 1930s. Our reading of the past impels us to resist any attempts to place a vulnerable group in the crosshairs of nativist racism. It is our duty to come to their aid and to resist the degradation of rights that Mr. Trump’s rhetoric has provoked.”
We condemn unequivocally those agitators who have ridden Trump’s coattails to propagate their toxic ideas about Jews. More broadly, we call on all fair-minded Americans to condemn unequivocally the hateful and discriminatory language and threats that have been directed by him and his supporters against Muslims, women, Latinos, African-Americans, disabled people, LGBT people and others. Hatred of one minority leads to hatred of all. Passivity and demoralization are luxuries we cannot afford. We stand ready to wage a struggle to defend the constitutional rights and liberties of all Americans. It is not too soon to begin mobilizing in solidarity.
As a reader of this blog and others like it, you probably have a sense that Steve Bannon is a bad man. Let's look into that a little more closely though. Over the weekend, Cynthia Tucker Haynes' piece about the old racism inside the new Alt-right packaging for the National Memo puts Bannon (+ Mercer and Trump) into some kind understandable context. “Bannon,” she wrote, “came to Trump’s campaign from his post as executive chairman of Breitbart News, a vitriolic outpost of the ultraconservative fringe. The 'news' site is vehemently misogynist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic and racist.”
The appellation “alt-right” sounds trendy, like alternative rock. It severs a white supremacist ideology from its Ku Klux Klan roots. It applies a hefty coat of Wite-out (pun intended) to a dangerous and frightening appreciation for Adolf Hitler. In other words, it’s a brilliant marketing strategy to normalize beliefs with which most Americans don’t wish to be associated… [The] so-called “alt-right” is nothing but the same old white supremacy that has oppressed minorities for centuries. It was present at the Continental Congress and enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. The KKK took up the same beliefs with great enthusiasm in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hitler’s version was centered on his hatred for Jews, but he and the KKK, which was also anti-Semitic, could easily have made common cause. In other words, there is nothing new or trendy about this bigotry.
Many journalists and political commentators remain in denial about the racism that fueled Trump’s rise. They maintain that economic anxiety lifted him to victory, that working-class whites are increasingly anxious about job loss and wage stagnation.
There is obviously some truth there. There were counties in a few states that voted for Obama twice but which Clinton could not hold. It’s hard to see racism in those votes.
But racial resentment was easy enough to detect in the Trump voters who embraced his calls for “law and order,” who cheered when he described inner cities as dystopian nightmares, who showed up at his rallies to hurl racial epithets every time Obama’s name was mentioned. Let’s remember how Trump introduced himself to national politics: with a five-year stint as birther-in-chief, insisting that Obama was a usurper who didn’t belong in the Oval Office. It’s hard to see economic anxiety in that.
As much as anything else, Trump’s election was a backlash against cultural forces that have changed American civic and social life over the last several decades. A black president was the starkest symbol of those changes, but other cultural dynamics also played a role. Many Trump voters resent the legalization of same-sex marriage. Others could not stomach the idea of a female president.
That's the context. Monday's NY Times piece by Scott Shane could have lifted the racist rock Bannon hides under and shined a strong spotlight on him as he scurried away. (I refused to be interviewed for the profile.) I suspect that for many Times readers, it was one of their first encounters with Bannon who tended to stay in the background– for obvious reasons– during the campaign. What obvious reasons? Although Shane danced around the topic and never flat out asserted that Bannon is a racist– and used that bullshit journalism school tactic of giving him plausible deniability to quoting souces saying thing like nice he always was to this black person or that black person– let's start with this from Shane's piece:
In a radio interview last year with Mr. Trump, Mr. Bannon complained, inaccurately, that “two-thirds or three-quarters of the C.E.O.s in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia.” He has sometimes portrayed a grave threat to civilization not just from violent jihadists but from “Islam.” He once suggested to a colleague that perhaps only property owners should be allowed to vote. In an email to a Breitbart colleague in 2014, he dismissed Republican congressional leaders with an epithet and added, “Let the grass roots turn on the hate.”
…[Julia] Jones, the film colleague, said that in their years working together, Mr. Bannon occasionally talked about the genetic superiority of some people and once mused about the desirability of limiting the vote to property owners.
“I said, ‘That would exclude a lot of African-Americans,’” Ms. Jones recalled. “He said, ‘Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.’”
…Bannon systematically courted a series of politicians, especially those who share his dark, populist worldview: at home, a corrupt ruling class preying on working Americans; globally, “the Judeo-Christian West” in a “war against Islamic fascism.” They were views that placed him closer to the European right than to the Republican mainstream.
He made flattering films about Michele Bachmann, the former congresswoman from Minnesota, and Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate; repeatedly pressed the television host Lou Dobbs to run for office; and flirted with a range of Republican presidential hopefuls, including Rick Santorum, Ben Carson and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Finally, in Mr. Trump, Mr. Bannon found his man.
Mr. Bannon told a colleague in multiple conversations during the presidential campaign that he knew Mr. Trump was an “imperfect vessel” for the revolution he had in mind. But the upstart candidate and the media entrepreneur bonded anyway.
In August 2015, Mr. Bannon told Ms. Jones in an email that he had turned Breitbart, where employees called certain political stories “Bannon Specials,” into “Trump Central” and joked that he was the candidate’s hidden “campaign manager.” He hosted Mr. Trump for friendly radio interviews and offered tactful coaching. This August, with the Trump campaign foundering, Mr. Bannon took over as chief executive.
I want to go back to Trump, back to the National Memo and over to @LOLGOP and George Lakoff. “Trump,” wrote @LOLGOP in explanation of a Lakoffian look at Trump, “can’t quote William F. Buckley and likely prefers Barry Manilow to Barry Goldwater, but he may be the most brazen 'Strict Father' candidate ever. His fixation on 'winning' and dominating his opponents reinforces the hierarchical nature of conservative thought. His vile preening may have repulsed your 'Nurturant Parent' brain but it offered his voters 'self-respect, authority, and the possibility of power.'… Lakoff laid out how Trump’s bullying bombast appealed to Evangelicals, Pragmatic Conservatives and Laissez-faire Free Marketeers. He saw Trump exploiting elements of the conservative worldview– including the 'country as person metaphor' and simplistic 'direct causation'– that the right has spent hundreds of millions of dollars nurturing.
In addition to his mastery of the broad strokes of the right-wing politics of dominance, Trump’s decades of experience selling crap taught him how to use your brain against you, including repetition, framing like “Crooked” Hillary, and “truthful hyperbole.”
Lakoff also explained how Trump could win over people who had voted for Barrack Obama, despite being a birther who represented the exact opposite of Obama’s nuanced, systemic thinking.
“Many union members are strict fathers at home or in their private life,” he wrote. “They believe in ‘traditional family values’– a conservative code word– and they may identify with winners.”
This brain scientist’s insights into American politics first came into vogue during the George W. Bush era, when he pointed out that approaching voters as logical issue-weighing machines gave Republicans– who employ the same marketing techniques that sell cars and timeshares– a huge advantage.
And he thinks Democrats made that mistake again in 2016, though Lakoff– like pollsters and much of America– didn’t see Trump’s narrow Electoral College win coming.
“They failed to understand unconscious thought and moral worldviews” he wrote. “While hailing science in the case of climate change, they ignored science when it came to their own minds.”
Instead of building upon the progressive frame, Democrats unconsciously aided Trump.
“They kept running ads showing Trump forcefully expressing views that liberals found outrageous,” he wrote. “Trump supporters liked him for forcefully saying things that liberals found outrageous. They were ads paid for by the Clinton campaign that raised Trump’s profile with his potential supporters!”
So how to defeat a master of self-promotion like Trump?
Start by pointing out that Trump is the biggest popular vote loser ever to win the Electoral College.
“Don’t let anyone forget it,” Lakoff suggests. “Keep referring to Trump as the minority president, Mr. Minority and the overall Loser. Constant repetition, with discussion in the media and over social media, questions the legitimacy of the minority president to ignore the values of the majority.”
Trump’s unique status as the most unpopular man ever to enter the White House can chip away at his core “Strict Father” appeal, which explains why pointing it out irritates him so much.
“There are certain things that strict fathers cannot be: A Loser, Corrupt, and especially not a Betrayer of Trust,” Lakoff writes.
Trump’s conflicts of interests and their potential for corruption are also unprecedented in American history and any retreat from his promise to preserve Medicare must be framed as a catastrophic betrayal.
But Lakoff warns Democrats against “showcasing Trump, keeping him in the limelight” and urges them to instead to focus on reinforcing the values of the “American Majority” movement.
“The idea that must be brought across is empathy for those in your in-group, your town.”
Empathy is conservative Kryptonite.
But in order to use it effectively, progressives need to understand that the things that repulsed them most about Trump are what he used to bring out the conservatism in swing voters’ brains.
Yesterday, Trump's Art of the Deal ghost writer, Tony Schwartz, tweeted “Trump tweeting recklessly and inaccurately is not a political choice he is making, but rather a psychological compulsion.” If that doesn't scare you, you're not think about it carefully enough.
This isn't funny; none of this is funny.
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis