The God-King is a stubborn bully, Steve Bannon is one of the clowns he despises, and Kevin Williamson is a snarky mess. (More)
“Trump would rather have people calling him racist than say he backed down the minute he was wrong”
If you’ve had more than a half-dozen bosses, you’ve had That One. The boss who would rather pull his toenails out than say “I was wrong.” The boss who throws tantrums but expects everyone to pretend he’s reasonable. You know, like this guy:
President Donald Trump’s decision to double down on his argument that “both sides” were to blame for the violent clashes at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was driven in part by his own anger – and his disdain for being told what to do.
“In some ways, Trump would rather have people calling him racist than say he backed down the minute he was wrong,” one adviser to the White House said on Wednesday about Charlottesville. “This may turn into the biggest mess of his presidency because he is stubborn and doesn’t realize how bad this is getting.”
For Trump, anger serves as a way to manage staff, express his displeasure or simply as an outlet that soothes him. Often, aides and advisers say, he’ll get mad at a specific staffer or broader situation, unload from the Oval Office and then three hours later act as if nothing ever occurred even if others still feel rattled by it. Negative television coverage and lawyers earn particular ire from him.
White House officials and informal advisers say the triggers for his temper are if he thinks someone is lying to him, if he’s caught by surprise, if someone criticizes him, or if someone stops him from trying to do something or seeks to control him.
Uggh. Seriously. According to that Politico story, the God-King is having a royal hissy because pretty much everyone – Republicans, Democrats, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Teresa May, pundits, civil rights activists, everyone but white supremacists – said he’s made a foolish hash of his response to Charlottesville.
“They can just say ‘Look, we’re just doing what the president or the leader says is acceptable.’”
It’s also a dangerous hash, political scientist Paul Staniland tells Vox’s Zack Beauchamp:
As I interpreted the press conference, he was carving out a space for at least some of the protestors in Charlottesville on the neo-Nazi, neo-Confederate side. He said they were “very fine people, on both sides,” that “you had a lot of people in the [alt-right] group that were there to innocently protest.”
In other countries – which are very different than the US in a lot of ways, so I want to be really clear that I’m not drawing a straight analogy – that kind of rhetoric can provide political cover to non-state armed groups to act in ways that are really dangerous. They can just say “Look, we’re just doing what the president or the leader says is acceptable.”
Staniland is careful not to echo those who say we’re poised for another civil war, but he’s still concerned:
There’s a lot of research on ethnic riots and pogroms from places like India and Sri Lanka that suggest when mainstream elites are willing to do business with violence fringe actors, that they’re able to mobilize more effectively within the police system. They don’t expect the police to crack down as hard on them, they try to create linkages with ruling parties or parts of ruling parties, and overall encourages greater levels of mobilization.
Now, sometimes that doesn’t turn into violence. Sometimes it doesn’t go anywhere. But sometimes it does.
Trump is at one end, with his kind of “wink, wink, nudge, nudge.” In other cases, it’s very extreme political rhetoric, people like Slobodan Milošević in Yugoslavia [a Serbian leader whose forces conducted ethnic cleansing campaigns in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s]. I don’t want to exaggerate what Trump said, in terms of linking him to other figures like that.
But it’s certainly on that spectrum, in ways that we haven’t really seen from other presidents, at least in recent years. That’s what I mean by doing business: It’s not explicitly condemning, but saying people on both sides have legitimate grievances.
To me, it’s worrisome. It opens space for certain kinds of groups to operate in the political mainstream.
If the God-King pardons Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt of court over racist police tactics, the “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” gets a lot louder. And were he to pardon James Fields, the white supremacist charged with murdering a woman and wounding 19 others in Saturday’s terrorist attack … well, all bets are off.
“There literally is no difference between the two men”
— Yashar Ali (@yashar) August 17, 2017
Actually there’s a huge difference. Washington led a revolution to escape a monarchy and establish a constitutional republic. Lee committed treason in a war to preserve slavery. It really is that simple, as Vox’s Matthew Yglesias explains:
These arguments aren’t exactly offered in good faith. But even then, they reflect a profound misunderstanding of the nature of the Confederacy as a project – and of the difference between commemorating its leaders compared to America’s Founding Fathers.
Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and the other politicians and generals who served the Confederate States of America aren’t noteworthy historical figures who also happened to benefit from the institution of slavery. They are historical figures who are noteworthy almost exclusively because they led an insurrection against the United States of America, an insurrection whose primary purpose was to perpetuate slavery.
Owning human chattel – and offering intellectual and political defenses of the institution of American slavery – is an important and dishonorable part of Thomas Jefferson’s legacy. But it’s the entirety of Davis’s legacy.
And Lee’s as well. As evidence I offer Gideon Pillow and John Quitman. Who are they?
Glad you asked. It turns out the U.S. Army had exactly three major generals between 1845 and 1860. You’ve heard of one, Zachary Taylor, who was elected President of the United States in 1848. Pillow and Quitman were the other two. You’ve never heard of them …
… and you would never have heard of Robert E. Lee, except for the Civil War. Participating in that act of treason is the only reason he’s famous. Like Davis, that is Lee’s legacy.
And no, we didn’t erect Confederate monuments to warn ourselves of a “haunting” mistake. That revisionist bullshit is disproved in a single chart, courtesy of Vox’s Beauchamp:
That’s based on data from this Southern Poverty Law Center report:
Two distinct periods saw a significant rise in the dedication of monuments and other symbols. The first began around 1900, amid the period in which states were enacting Jim Crow laws to disenfranchise the newly freed African Americans and re-segregate society. This spike lasted well into the 1920s, a period that saw a dramatic resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, which had been born in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. The second spike began in the early 1950s and lasted through the 1960s, as the civil rights movement led to a backlash among segregationists.
In other words, the monuments went up as official, public celebrations of white supremacy. That’s why Samuel Sinyangwe, who grew up in Florida, had to go to Barbados to see a statue celebrating black liberation:
The monuments in my hometown celebrated the men who fought to keep those who look like me enslaved, not those who fought for freedom. A monument in downtown Orlando where I grew up depicted a Confederate soldier, rifle over his shoulder and towering above his surroundings. At its base was a plaque celebrating the “heroic courage” and “unselfish patriotism” of their cause. A few miles down the road, children spent their days learning in the classrooms of Robert E. Lee Middle School.
But please, conservative pundits, whitesplain why people of color don’t understand what they’re seeing and living. Please, tell us why armed white guys carrying torches is just a “peaceful demonstration,” but unarmed black people marching for justice were “riots.”
Or don’t. I’m sick of hearing it.
“These guys are a collection of clowns”
He dismissed the far right as irrelevant and sidestepped his own role in cultivating it: “Ethno-nationalism – it’s losers. It’s a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more.”
“These guys are a collection of clowns,” he added.
Bannon, who is in New York today, has a view of Trump’s Charlottesville response that horrifies many of his West Wing colleagues:
Unlike some of Trump’s other top aides – who have varied on a spectrum between frustration and disgust since the president’s Charlottesville remarks – Bannon has unapologetically supported Trump’s instinct to apportion blame to “both sides.”
Sources who’ve spoken with Bannon since Charlottesville say he views this moment as analogous to the campaign moment when Hillary Clinton condemned half of Trump’s supporters to a “basket of deplorables.”
Bannon believes that if Trump condemned all the people who protested the pulling down of the Robert E. Lee statue then he’d fall into a trap set by leftists, the establishments of both parties, and the mainstream media. (Some of Bannon’s colleagues say this is an absurd argument. They point out it was a crowd of white supremacists holding tiki torches and chanting racist slogans, and that this is no time for the president to be searching for the “fine people” in the group. They say Trump should be condemning the tiki torch crowd unequivocally and leaving the debate over statues and free speech to another, less racially-heated, day.)
Bottom line: Both Trump and Bannon are of one mind, and, within the White House at least, theirs is a minority view. They saw the backlash to Charlottesville as an example of political correctness run amok and instinctively searched for “their” people in that group of protesters. Bannon has told associates that Trump, on Tuesday afternoon, took it to the next level for the country by asking where does it end? He especially loved Trump’s line: “I wonder, is it George Washington next week?”
As clear as mud….
“What do these angry white boys in Virginia want?”
Speaking of clear as mud, here’s Kevin Williamson at the National Review:
It makes a little more sense if you know what the protesters want. A necessary precondition of that is their knowing what they want. I could have told you, to the dollar, what the Philadelphia Teamsters wanted from me. The Indian Communists publish their party manifestos to tell us what they want, PETA wants us to pretend that 40 pounds of beef is morally equal to 40 pounds of toddler, Yale kids want to scalp any white girl not named Elizabeth Warren who dresses up as Pocahontas for Halloween, Black Lives Matter wants less aggressive police procedures, the Libertarian party wants weed and porn and low taxes, the Puerto Rican independence movement wants Puerto Rico to move to independence.
What do these angry white boys in Virginia want?
There is some value in taking them at their word, or the 14 of them that make up the basic creed of the white-nationalist movement: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” Well, all right. I suppose there are a few campus radicals who oppose the existence of white people, though so far as I can tell this is mainly rhetoric rather than a plan of action. The angry white boys talk about “white genocide,” a concept that is as conveniently vague and amorphous as “white privilege,” of which “white genocide” of course is only the rhetorical obverse. If they are outlandish in generality, they are muddy in specificity. They complain that white men are blamed for all of society’s troubles, that racial and ethnic pride is permitted to everyone except whites (no one has informed the Irish Americans of this), and that they are being “displaced” by immigrants.
Actually, you can measure white privilege:
On average, whites are far more likely to get hired and are paid more than nonwhites. Just having a “white-sounding name,” such as Emily or Greg, makes a job applicant 50 percent more like to get called for a job interview than a person with a name given more frequently to African Americans, such as Lakisha or Jamal, according to a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. That helps explain why the black unemployment rate has been about double the white unemployment rate for decades, according to Labor Department statistics.
White families on average have 14 times more wealth than black families and nearly 11 times more than Hispanic families, according to the Census Bureau. Nonwhites are far more likely to live in poverty and go to jail than whites. The American Dream of owning a home has been achieved by more than 72 percent of whites. In contrast, more than half of black and Hispanic households rent.
There’s been a lot of attention directed to the plight of the white working class, the “Trump base” that propelled him to victory. It’s true that whites without college degrees have a harder time finding good-paying jobs in 2017 than they did in the past as manufacturing jobs have gone to robots.[…]
But keep this in mind: The white working class still fares better economically than the nonwhite working class. Among Americans who have graduated high school but don’t have a college degree, whites have the lowest unemployment rate and are paid on average $150 more than blacks and $125 more than Hispanics every week, according to Labor Department wage data. That helps explain why only 9 percent of white families live in poverty, while nearly a quarter of black families do.
Perhaps the most telling statistic of all is to look at what Americans say when they are specifically asked if they have ever been discriminated against because of the color of their skin. More than a third of blacks and a quarter of Hispanics say they have personally faced discrimination; just 11 percent of whites do.
Those data – the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham and Heather Long document sources and offer charts for each point – are the measure of the “white privilege” that Williamson calls “conveniently vague and amorphous.” Of course, were he pressed on that, Williamson would argue that whites deserve all those advantages because “culture” and “choices” and … he’d end up echoing exactly the racism and white supremacy that he pretends to disparage.
So he concludes:
What does an angry white boy really want?
“A girlfriend,” comes the mocking answer, and there’s probably more to that than mockery. The proprietor of one of the nation’s premier websites for neo-Nazi knuckleheads advised his colleagues in Charlottesville that, after the protest – which included a murder – “random girls will want to have sex with you.” I ran this proposition past a few random girls, and I suspect that the apfelstrudelführers are going to go home disappointed. There are many shades of white, and Mom’s-basement white is the least popular crayon in the box.
He may find that mockery self-comforting, but it doesn’t fit the best data available:
Recently, psychologists Patrick Forscher and Nour Kteily recruited members of the alt-right (a.k.a. the “alternative right,” the catchall political identity of white nationalists) to participate in a study to build the first psychological profile of their movement. The results, which were released on August 9, are just in working paper form, and have yet to be peer-reviewed or published in an academic journal.
That said, the study uses well-established psychological measures and is clear about its limitations.[…]
A lot of the findings align with what we intuit about the alt-right: This group is supportive of social hierarchies that favor whites at the top. It’s distrustful of mainstream media and strongly opposed to Black Lives Matter. Respondents were highly supportive of statements like, “There are good reasons to have organizations that look out for the interests of white people.” And when they look at other groups – like black Americans, Muslims, feminists, and journalists – they’re willing to admit they see these people as “less evolved.”
But it’s the degree to which the alt-righters differed from the comparison sample that’s most striking – especially when it came to measures of dehumanization, support for collective white action, and admitting to harassing others online. That surprised even Forscher, the lead author and a professor at the University of Arkansas, who typically doesn’t find such large group difference in his work.
How much “less evolved” are those Other People? Well, “White People” (men) are 91.8% “fully human,” alt-righters said on average. “Women” only 83%, and “Feminists” even worse at 57%. Jews only 73%. Mexicans are only 68% human, they say on average, and black people only 65%. Democrats, just 60%. Hillary Clinton … is down below Muslims at 55%.
As Vox‘s Brian Resnick notes:
The comparison group, on the other hand, scored all these groups in the 80s or 90s on average. (In science terms, the alt-righters were nearly a full standard deviation more extreme in their responses than the comparison group.)
“If you look at the mean dehumanization scores, they’re about at the level to the degree people in the U.S. dehumanize ISIS,” Forscher says. “The reason why I find that so astonishing is that we’re engaged in violent conflict with ISIS.”
Dehumanization is scary. It’s the psychological trick we engage in that allows us to harm other people (because it’s easier to inflict pain on people who are not people). Historically it’s been the fuel of mass atrocities and genocide.
But contrary to Williamson’s blissfully ignorant assessment, Forscher and Kteily found the alt-righters were not friend-starved basement dwellers:
Among the measures where the alt-right and comparison groups don’t look much different in the survey results is closeness and relationships with other people. The alt-righters reported having about equal levels of close friends, which means these aren’t necessarily isolated, lonely people. They’re members of a community.
Indeed one of the alt-righters in Charlottesville was president of his college Republicans. And as for that “economic angst” pundits are so fond of citing … nope, the survey found:
Also important: Alt-righters in the sample aren’t all that concerned about the economy. The survey used a common set of Pew question that asks about the current state of the economy, and about whether participants feel like things are going to improve for them. Here, both groups reported about the same levels of confidence in the economy.
Maybe the reason Williamson can’t see what the alt-righters want is because … it’s pretty much the same thing he wants: stricter enforcement of hierarchical norms, more stuff for white guys, especially white Christian men, ending “handouts” (read: any opportunity) for women and people of color … all in the name of “freedom.”
In short, the standard conservative-Republican agenda. The only difference is that the alt-righters say the quiet parts loud.
Image Credit: Crissie Brown (BPICampus.com)
Good day and good nuts