The good news is that we get a chance to see directly what is on the President’s mind.
The bad news is what is on the President’s mind.
To say that Mr. Trump had a bad day yesterday is an understatement. But, in reality, it should come as no surprise.
He is who he is. No amount of intervention from the Chief of Staff or from Ivanka or from Gary Cohn is going to change that basic fact.
I knew August was going to be rocked by some hurricane. I just didn’t think this would be the hurricane we were talking about.
That the President is right on some of the points is, I guess, meaningless. But nonetheless, I will note them.
The violence on Saturday would not have happened without willing participants on the far left.
We have seen these characters before. In fact, we saw them at the President’s inauguration. We saw them in Hamburg over the summer. We see them every time the World Bank or IMF want to gather together.
The Antifa are not sympathetic. They are radicals. Yes, they are smart enough to wear masks before they go on their rampages but that is their only redeeming quality. They throw Molotov cocktails (not the drinkable kind). They like to fill up bags of urine and toss them too. Some were plotting to cause a mass casualty event in Washington before they were exposed and thrown in jail.
Coincidently, the US Attorney for Washington DC wants to subpoena records of a website used by elements of the Antifa to investigate further who they were and they were plotting.
Mr. Trump blames these elements for screwing up his inaugural speech and keeping lots and lots of people away from the Mall. There is some truth in that, but not enough to mention.
It is pretty clear, though, that the neo-Nazis who gathered in Charlottesville wanted this conflict and were the primary cause of it. And they deserve the blame.
There Were Not Good People on Both Sides
One of dumber things that the President said during his presser yesterday was that there were good people on both sides of the conflict.
I don’t think so. There were bad people (or stupid people, or seriously deranged people) on the Nazi side, and there were some anarchists spoiling for a fight on the Antifa side, and there were some ministers and other good people on the anti-Nazi side.
There were not any good people in the crowd who chanted “Blood and Soil” and who chanted against the Jews. They are morally depraved, historically inept, and inherently stupid.
And by stupid, I mean stupid. None of them wore masks, which means that they now can be identified by the thousands of pictures taken by journalists and activists alike.
One of these dummies worked at a coffee shop in Berkeley. Worked, in the past tense. Another went to college in Nevada and now faces possible expulsion.
I am not a fan of cracking down on free speech, but hey, if you march with the Nazis, you reveal yourself to be vulnerable to getting punished in the free market.
The Disaffected on the Right and Left
That being said, I think we need to take a deep breath and figure out how we communicate with the disaffected on the right and the left.
I read a piece by Scott Atran, co-founder of Artis International and author of “Talking to the Enemy,” an anthropologist who also holds positions at the University of Michigan, University of Oxford and France’s National Center for Scientific Research in the Washington Post today and he made some good points. He points out that Charlottesville:
“…is not a “clash of civilizations”; it’s a collapse of communities. Ethno-nationalist violent extremism — as well as jihadi terrorism — represent not the resurgence of traditional cultures but their unraveling. Young people unmoored from millennial traditions flail about in search of a social identity that gives personal significance and glory.
This is the dark side of globalization. Individuals radicalize while seeking identity in an increasingly flattened world. We have replaced vertical lines of communication between generations with horizontal peer-to-peer attachments that can span the globe, but paradoxically within ever-narrower channels for information. Without broad awareness and serious effort at guidance, we risk fanning violent passions to our likely detriment and that of others across the world.”
We need to rebuild communities and rebuild trust.
But it will be hard to have that kind of engagement with this kind of media environment. I read another piece, this one in the New York Times, that made the case that Trump was influenced by his comments by watching Fox News and by reading reports from other conservative news outlets.
The gap between our national media outlets is wider and deeper than ever and that makes it difficult to get a common set of facts.
One example. The Main Stream Media (or Fake News as POTUS likes to call it) keeps saying that three died in the violence. That’s true, but not really. Two of those who died (tragically, I might add) were in a helicopter accident that was only tangentially involved in the ruckus below. The media likes to say three because it makes it seem a lot worse than it was.
This is the kind of fake news that drives the President and many of us crazy.
And we all know how this works. The media loves to quote never-Trumpers who have hated Trump from the beginning and then make the point that they are principled conservatives and that Trump’s days are numbered. But those principled conservatives have a vested interest in making certain that Trump fails. Otherwise, they look like fools.
So, every time Trump says something they don’t like, they like to blow it up as if the world was going to end tomorrow.
Well, the world is not going to end tomorrow (unless there is an asteroid coming that I don’t know about).
One final thing.
The Nazi Party has been alive and present in America for a very long time. So has violent, right-wing extremism.
For Richard Nixon, it was George Wallace (a real electoral threat). For Jimmy Carter, it was the Nazis marching in Skokie. Ronald Reagan had his time to denounce the KKK when they endorsed him for President. George H.W. Bush actively campaigned against David Duke in his bid for elected office in a Republican primary (he almost won). Bill Clinton had to deal with the after-effects of Timothy McVeigh.
Even John Belushi and Dan Akroyd had to deal with them in the Blues Brothers. “I hate Illinois Nazis,” Belushi said in the iconic film. (You should rewatch that clip on YouTube, by the way, if you want to bring a smile to your face).
So the idea that these knuckleheads are somehow a new invention of Donald Trump is, well, ridiculous.
Is the movement growing? I seriously doubt it. The Unite the Right confab had well less than a thousand participants. You get more at a Game of Thrones convention held on Christmas eve at 11 pm.
Do those who participate in this movement make a lot of noise and seem bigger than they are? Well, of course. Thanks to the wonders of technology, it is easy for anybody to troll anybody.
Speaking of trolls, it sure would be nice if the President were to get his act together. Maybe he could channel his inner Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge, when told by a dining companion of a bet she made that she could get him to say more than two words, replied famously, “you lose.”
Or he could remember the famous admonition of President Lincoln, who once said, “Better to remain silent and be thought of as a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”
All too often, when the President speaks out, off the cuff, he makes a fool of himself. In doing so, he not only hurts himself and his reputation, he hurts his mission, he hurts his staff, he hurts his political allies and he hurts his family.
He needs to stop digging these deep holes for himself. It’s not good.