Monday, August 21, 2017

What should be done about the Confederate monuments?

Mostly in the Old South, but literally all over the country (Brooklyn, Boston, San Diego) there are monuments and plaques to generals and other leaders of the secessionist Confederate States of America.

The movement to take them down gained momentum after the 2015 massacre in a Charleston church by an avowed white supremacist intent on killing African-Americans.   South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, now President Trump's Ambassador to the United Nations, ordered the removal of the Confederate flag that flew on the state capitol grounds;   and that was accomplished with support from the state legislature amid little protest.

But now the radical right groups have taken up the cause. Last weekend a "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia planned by white supremacists, was ostensibly to protest the planned removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park.   It turned violent and resulted in three deaths.

Now the question of what to do about the hundreds of monuments has become urgent, as the protest fervor increases and is fueled by comments from President Trump.   North Carolina passed a law last year forbidding their removal, but a group of defiant protesters pulled down a statue in Durham.   Some of those protesters are now demanding to be arrested -- they did break the law -- to further dramatize their act of civil disobedience.

President Trump says we should not destroy "our history and culture."   Tina Fey had a quick answer:   Donald Trump wouldn't hesitate one minute to tear down a historical statue if he could build condominiums on the plot.  He already proved that when he defied the "historic preservation" designation of a renowned Art Deco building in New York to build some fancy new condominiums.

Aside from comic quips, though, what is the serious answer -- especially now that a Democratic minority leader in the Georgia state legislature and a leading candidate for governor, Rep. Stacie Abrams, is calling for removal of the biggest Confederate monument of all:   the Rushmore-like, monumental carving on the side of Stone Mountain?

Stone Mountain Park is now a 3200 acre park surrounding the largest granite outcropping in the world, with lakes, hiking trails, and camping sites.   It is a major outdoor recreational venue, site of concerts, fireworks displays, as well as family outings.   The mountain base has a circumference of five miles.  On one side, a carving depicts three Confederate leaders on horseback, President Jefferson Davis and generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

This presents a far bigger controversy than a single statue occupying a few square feet of ground in an often forgotten site.   In addition to being the central focus of an outdoor recreation park and a veneration of the Old South, Stone Mountain was the site in 1915 of the revival of the Ku Klux Klan as an organization.   The land owners, at the time, granted the Klan the perpetual right to hold celebrations there, although that right was abrogated when the State of Georgia bought the property in 1960.

The carving itself was begun by the sculptor who later worked on Mount Rushmore.   The Stone Mountain project began in 1916, was abandoned for some 30 years, then restarted after the state bought it; and it was finally completed in 1972.

Please don't misunderstand.   Those are merely historical and logistical challenges that make this particular monument more difficult to remove.  It does not change the basic moral question.

So let's begin to tackle that basic question.   These monuments do have historical significance.   But some have asked:   Who puts up statues to those who start wars and lose them?   Are these men heroes?   Or are they traitors?    After all, they attacked and fought against our nation, albeit a divided nation from which their states had seceded, dividing the young United State.

They were on the wrong side of history.   Not just because they lost but because the core of their argument -- states' rights -- was based on the preserving the institution and economic power of slavery,  which we now consider antithetical to democracy and our national values.

There is no moral argument for slavery. 

It is one of the immutable wrongs in a civilized world.

Unquestionably the issue was slavery, however much later revisionists want to claim that it was a question of states' rights.   But I submit that the question of self-determination for states was not sufficient to fight a war over -- except as the issue that they wanted to self-determine was the right to continue to own slaves.  That was the "states' right" that they fought a war over.

So, here's Point 1:  These monuments commemorate the men who led the South in losing a civil war, based on a universal wrong.  Yes, I know the tired arguments that it was about valor and honor and sacrifice of ancestors that were fighting for what they wanted to preserve -- their way of life.    But, while true for them, it is no longer credible as a rationalization for the horrors of slavery.

Point 2:  The statues were not erected in the aftermath of that Civil War but much later -- during two periods when the racial struggle was being fought once again.  Those two time periods of Confederate monument building were:  (1) The early years of the 20th century, when the Jim Crow laws were being enacted and white people wanted to reassert their dominance after the economic devastation of the war and the Reconstruction that followed.   (2) the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s-70s over the rights of African-Americans to have the same civil and humane rights as white Americans.

These were both periods of black people asserting their equality and white people resisting.   That's when they put up statues to their dead heroes and the Lost Cause.   The statues represent the wish to return to the past, to white privilege and white supremacy.

That is, that's what they represent for white people:  privilege and supremacy.

But think for a moment what they represent for our black citizens.  Oppression, slavery, cruelty, dehumanization, forceful separation of families, night riders terrorizing black communities, lynchings -- and no education, no voting rights, nothing but what the white owner allowed you to have.

Now, think about that for a while.    Is that what we want to honor and celebrate?


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Winning protest signs

Of the tens of thousands of counter-protesters at the right-wing "Free Speech" rally that fizzled in Boston, there were thousands of home-made signs.   Here are my favorites of the ones I saw in pictures of the crowd:

"Justice, Not Just Us"

"You know things are bad when
a straight white guy makes a sign."

"Will trade racists for refugees"


Boston does it right. Sheer number of counter-protesters overwhelms rally

Boston's response to the planned "Free Speech" rally benefited from Charlottesville's experience.   As Shakespeare has Hamlet say:  "The readiness is all."

Boston had a week to prepare, following the debacle in Virginia -- and they did.   Police had fenced off two separate areas of the Boston Common and had deployed as many as 500 police officers to keep the rally-goers and the counter-protesters separated.    Good will, as well as Bostonians' city pride, made for determined get-out-the-crowd efforts.

The group planning the rally insisted that they were not affiliated with the white supremacist, racist, or neoNazi groups that sponsored the Charlottesville rally.  However, the advance list of planned rally speakers left no doubt which side their "Free Speech" movement sympathized with -- the ones who claimed that marching with Nazi regalia and racist signs and carrying bats and shields was simply their free speech expression;  and that, if only the counter-protesters hadn't showed up, there would have been no violence.   Nice try.

In the end, the sheer numbers of good Boston people overwhelmed the paltry crowd on the other side -- 15,000 peaceful protesters were marching through the streets toward the park by noon, with thousands more arriving in the next hour.  The whole event just fizzled.

USA Today reported that "only a handful" of rally-goers, wearing red "Make America Great Again" hats were trying to make their way to their area of the park, which was made difficult just by the huge numbers of people on the streets leading to the park.    Other sources estimated that maybe two dozen rally-goers actually showed up in their designated area.

By 1:30, roughly 90 minutes after the "Free Speech" rally was supposed to begin, the Boston Police Department tweeted out a formal notice that the rally was "officially over," and the demonstrators had left the Commons.

It's not clear how much the paltry number who made it to the rally area was due to people staying away or due to simply being unable to get through the massive crowds surrounding the Commons.   There were a few reports of counter-protesters surrounding a lone rally-goer to prevent him from getting through.

There were a few skirmishes and some bad behavior.    But none of the violent fist-fighting and beatings seen at Charlottesville.

What a difference a week makes!    As discouraged and pained as last weekend left us feeling, there is sheer joy this weekend in feeling that goodness has triumphed over evil.    Oh, how we've been needing that in this fraught Trump world.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

White House resignations and firings

1.  A White House spokesperson said the Gen. Kelly and Steve Bannon had mutually agreed that today would be Mr. Bannon's last day on the president's staff.   Bannon reportedly offered his resignation, and Trump had told senior aides that he was planning on letting Bannon go.  Other sources said he was fired. Either way, his ousting very good news.

   At least that was my thought, until I saw evening news shows, which report that Bannon is returning to Breitbart News to a position of power;  and he has told outside sources that he's "going to war for Trump."   Repeat:   for Trump.  Apparently, his view is that the Trump presidency has been taken over by the generals, bankers, and New York liberals in the White House.  And they are the once he's going to war with -- with all the media tools he knows how to use.

2.   In addition to the resignations earlier in the week of large numbers of CEO's who were members of Trump's corporate advisers, it was announced yesterday that all the remaining members of the president's Council on the Arts and Humanities have resigned.  

These arts and humanities advisers were holdovers from the Obama administration who had agreed to remain until replacements were named -- replacements that had yet to be chosen.    Their letter to the president was tough and candid, including these words:
"The false equivalencies you push cannot stand. . . .  We cannot sit idly by, the way your West Wing advisors have, without speaking out against your words and actions. . . .  Your values are not American values. . . .  If this is not clear to you, then we call on you to resign your office too."
The CEO resignations is a different matter.   Trumps thinks of himself as being of their same world;  these are appointments that he made himself.   But they turned against him for similar moral reasons, in addition to seeing that a failed presidency would also lead to severe economic consequences.    Top financier Carl Ichan, someone that Trump had greatly admired and sought advice from, also announced late yesterday, that he is withdrawing from an informal advisory role.,

3.  At least eight big charity groups have cancelled plans to hold their fund-raising events at Mar-a-Lago because of the Charlottesville fallout.  These include the Cleveland Clinic, the American Cancer Society. the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and the Susan G. Comen Foundation.  Each event cancelled represents a loss in revenue to Mar-a-Lago of between $175,000 and $250,000.

4.  Although none of them has resigned, the top five military chiefs -- the Chiefs of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, and the Coast Guard -- each has released a statement condemning racism, white supremacy, and the neo-Nazi movements, in obvious contradiction to what Trump said.  None of them named Trump in their statements, but the significant thing is how unusual it is for active duty military leaders to ever make any statement that could be misconstrued as taking a political position.   They obviously felt that their speaking out on this subject was worth taking that risk.

5.  Numerous Republicans in Congress have made statements in direct contradiction to the position taken by President Trump.  The two former Presidents Bush issued a joint statement.  Former Vice President Al Gore, when asked what Trump should do at this point, had a simple, one-word answer:  Resign.

It is quite apparent that the president is becoming increasingly isolated.   Losing his chief strategist;  losing his advisory boards;  losing support of the military chiefs, as well as Republicans in Congress -- this is a major defeat, clearly of his own making and against the advice of those close to him -- except perhaps Bannon.  Which makes it all the more confounding that some of his staff have told reporters that Trump says he feels free and energized after having spoken his mind.

Or dare we hope that his "free and energized" means he's already anticipating how he will feel . . . after he does resign?


Friday, August 18, 2017

Trump's embrace of white supremacy groups has far-reaching effects

The split sparked by President Trump's embrace of the white nationalist groups, which so delighted David Duke and Richard Spencer of those groups, is not only a replay of the civil war over racial divisions.   It has wide-ranging implications, including the economy.

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of the Yale School of Management, told a CNBC anchor on Thursday that, if Trump's economic adviser Gary Cohn were to resign over this, "it could crash the markets."  

That White House Economic Adviser, Gary Cohn, who is Jewish, was reported by the New York Times to be "upset and disgusted" by Trump's response to the violence at the Charlottesville rally.   The groups Trump has been defending includes the Neo-Nazi, swastika-wielding, Heil, Hitler-saluting marchers.  Thus far, Cohn has made no public comments about his boss's remarks.

As a former Goldman Sachs financier, Cohn is not alone in the finance community.  Trump had appointed two advisory councils, made up of CEO's of leading corporations.   Elon Musk had resigned some time ago in protest of Trump's climate policies;  two others had resigned some time back over immigration policies and one over the transgender tweet.

But then an avalanche began this week with Kenneth Frazier's resignation over Trump's comments on the racial conflicts in Charlottesville.   Five more followed suit;  and, after one group had already written a letter to tell Trump they were disbanding their group, he quickly tweeted out a statement that he had dissolved both advisory groups.

When a Republican president loses the support of such a select groups of corporate CEO's -- not over economic policies, but over a moral issue that they know will sharply affect the economy, as well -- then he might as well resign right now.

Donald Trump cannot repair the problem he has created.   This latest issue is about race, nationalism and, yes, immigration;   but it is only the last straw.   This is not a blunder on Trump's part.   This is a revelation -- finally and undeniably -- of the lack of moral substance and moral compass in the very heart of this administration, the president himself.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Paraphrasing Walt Whitman -- "Charlottesville contains multitudes."

About the time I began a two-week vacation from writing a daily blog here on ShrinkRap, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman published a piece about Trump-overload, Trump-weariness that struck a chord in me.   I saved it;  and, with each passing day, it has become more apt for the continuing saga of this maddening Trump presidency.

Krugman describes having a friend send him an email suggesting he read an article about how Trump's brain works.  He says a voice inside his head said, "No thanks, I would prefer not to. . . . I'm full."

Thanks exactly the way I have come to feel about the daily, sometimes hourly, avalanche of news that Donald Trump generates.   And that is never more true than what I came back to from my break -- the weekend events in Charlottesville, the president's inadequate reaction, and everyone's feelings about that.

Condensed in this one weekend is a microcosm of the failure of the Trump presidency. As Walt Whitman might have said:   It "contains multitudes," including:  (1) the racist/fascist mentality leading up to the clashes and the murder;  (2) including the several insufficient statements President Trump made supposedly to put it to rest, but which inflamed it;  (3) the appalling, disaster of a press briefing on Tuesday , when the charge "temperamentally unfit for the presidency" finally focused, laser-like, for all to see;  and then (4) what does it all mean for where we are as a nation, with this president, and what do we do about it?

That is a multitude too many for me to deal with in one post.   It's something we'll come back to, as we will as a society, again and again.    What I want to focus on in this one is the president's role as a moral leader, a role that Donald Trump is so woefully inadequate, as a human being, to fill.

HuffPost's Igor Bobic put it this way in his August 16th essay:

Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said the presidency ispreeminently a place of moral leadership.” By drawing an equivalence between white nationalist groups and people protesting on behalf of equality . . . Donald Trump has ceded that responsibility.
Trump ignited a firestorm of bipartisan criticism this week when he blamed "many sides" and "both sides" for the deadly violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and defended racist demonstrators there. Protesters . . .  waved Nazi flags and burning torches, and shouted racist and anti-Semitic slogans as they marched, but Trump ― after describing racism as "evil" on Monday -- insisted Tuesday that many people at the rally “were there to innocently protest” the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
What Trump did today is a moral disgrace,” Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer said Tuesday. Prominent conservative radio host Charlie Sykes called Trump’s equivocal condemnation of white supremacists a "moral dumpster fire."

On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) framed the issue in a similar way, tweeting:  “There is no question who he [Trump] is. The critical moral question is: who are we? We can not surrender America to Trump.”
Other Democrats, like former Barack Obama aide David Axelrod, wondered whether Trump would make some sort of effort to heal wounds and bring the nation together . . . .  It’s become increasingly clear, however, that Trump has no interest in taking such steps.

During an angry news conference in New York on Tuesday, Trump parried questions about the so-called alt-right movement by asking, “What about the alt-left?” While in the past he’d been happy to issue moral judgments about other politicians, fellow heads of state, journalists and clothing retailers, here, facing questions about racism, he appeared to reject the role of moral arbiter.
“I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane,” he said, after a reporter asked whether he was placing white supremacists and those who protested against them on the same footing.
It wasn’t just pundits and politicians who urged Trump to live up to the moment. Historians, too, said that with his reluctance to single out racism and bigotry for condemnation, Trump has ceded the presidency’s moral authority and threatened America’s leadership at home and abroad.
Trump lost “the moral standing to speak for or about America,” Harvard Professor Theda Skocpol told HuffPost. “Every second he is in office he damages and endangers us. In this instance, he is directly encouraging organized, violent white supremacists who will bring public agony to many places for months to come.”
Jon Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential biographer, called Trump’s remarks on Tuesday “morally ambiguous” at best. He predicted that Trump’s behavior will further erode the public’s trust in political institutions.
We have to be in a position, both as a country and as a global community, where we believe what the president says, where you have some innate confidence that things are in fairly good hands,” Meacham said.  “And I think for a lot of people, that level of confidence started low [with Trump], and it’s gotten to be almost nonexistent. So I think it’s an exacerbating moment.”. . .
Barack Obama biographer and Washington Post editor David Maraniss was more explicit, calling on all living former presidents to make a joint statement urging Trump to resign.

Veteran NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, meanwhile, said he doubts whether Trump can reverse the damage he’s done in the wake of Charlottesville.  "He's going to have to find a way to stitch the country together again, and frankly, I don't know if he's capable of doing that in his own mind," Brokow said.  He's the moral authority by the office that he has, and it's about time for him to exercise that."
People on both political sides are calling this a "pivotal moment" for Trump's presidency.   Privately, a large number of Republican leaders are said to be aghast, horrified.   One Republican strategist said that "Every member that I've talked to has been apoplectic" about Trump's news conference.  This is not a good day for the Trump presidency.  It is not a good day for race relations, nor for America.

And yet, the smoldering racism has been there for some time, putting the lie to the false narrative that Obama's election to the White House meant we were in a "post-race" society.    It is a national conversation we need to have.

Services were held yesterday for Heather Heyer, the 32 year old activist who was killed by a neo-Nazi's ramming his car into the peaceful counter-protesters crowd.   Her mother spoke eloquently about Heather's positive activism, saying that her Facebook motto was:  "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."  The mother said that she'd rather have her daughter here, but if that can't be, "let's make her death count."


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A president's words really do matter

Democrats and Republicans both sharply criticized President Trump for waiting almost 48 hours to denounce,  by name, the hate-filled, violence-prone white supremacist groups that gathered in Charlottesville for a rally -- one that resulted in the death of a peaceful counter-protester.

When he finally did manage to name the "KKK, Neo-Nazis, white supremacy, and other hate groups," he was reading from a script prepared for him.   They were not his own heart-felt words.

That was Monday afternoon.   Then he got to work sending out tweets -- and they were not reinforcements of his speech, nor expressions of regret for his tardy reluctance.   In fact, they seem more like dog whistles to reassure his base that he's still got their back.

In contrast to the 45 hours it took him to denounce hate groups, he needed only 45 minutes to send out a snarky, insulting response to the protest resignation of Kenneth Frazier, an African-American member of his Council on Manufacturing and the CEO of Merck Pharmaceutical Co.   As of this writing, now a total of five CEO's from that group have resigned in response to the president's delay in denouncing the alt-right groups.   And Trump's response to those resignations from his Council?  A tweet:

"For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place. Grandstanders should not have gone on. JOBS!"
- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 15, 2017

But put aside the back and forth attack and counterattack.   What are the facts on effects of a president's bully pulpit words?

Brian Lervin, of the Center for Study of Hate and Extremism, was interviewed by Ari Melber on MSNBC's "The Beat" Monday night.   Levin supplied the following data:
   1.  Following President George W. Bush's emotionally moving speech in the wake of 9/11, in which he said "Islam is peace" -- in the six days following that, there was a 66% DECREASE in hate crimes.

   2.  When then-presidential candidate Donald J. Trump first called for a Muslim ban, during the ensuing five days, there was an 87.5% INCREASE in hate crimes.

Another bit of evidence of the effectiveness (good or bad) of the bully pulpit -- even when the message comes in code or dog-whistle disguise:   just look at the response of David Duke and the bloggers representing the white supremacy groups.   They took it as good news for them that Trump didn't initially denounce them by name.   Even when he eventually did name the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and white supremacists, the long delay told them that he only did it for political expedience.   It did not come from his heart or his principles.

Former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke called Saturday's rally in Charlottesville "a turning point" for their groups who want to "take back our country" and "carry out President Trump's promises."   Eli Moseley, a leader of one of these new alt-right groups, told ProPublica that Trump has served as "a megaphone" for far-right ideas.

They know what he promised all during his campaign.   A delayed, scripted, forced speech for political expediency doesn't fool them.   A president's words from the bully pulpit can have a strong effect -- if his people believe he means it.   This president has no credibility, except with his base.   And he's losing that.

It's going to take strong action if he wants to undo that -- changing some policy initiatives, firing some people, speaking from his heart about his change of direction.   Otherwise, we're going to see more rallies from these folks, escalating violence, more chaos in the White House.   And a more divided country than we already are.

In order to save the country, Trump will have to lose his base.   Or else the Republican Party will have to lose Trump.   Maybe Mueller will give them convincing evidence to do just that.


PS:   Once again, in this rapid news cycle we're in, news keeps upstaging what I had already written to post the next morning.   Trump spoke to the media again Tuesday afternoon -- and essentially went back to his original "many sides are to blame" for the violence.   "What about the alt-left?" he asked.    Some of them were armed, too, he claimed.   He seems incapable of understanding a moral position.

This media event showed an angry president, verbally almost out of control.  It was his reaction to being forced (by public pressure, by his staff) to read that statement yesterday.  He has to do something to retaliate.   We almost overlooked his first try at that Tuesday morning, when he said he was thinking about pardoning Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was recently convicted of contempt of court for not obeying a judge's order concerning over-zealous policy of ID checks of immigrants.