Saturday, August 6, 2016

Obama made me do it

By now nothing I suppose can surprise us that comes out of the mouth of Donald Trump, but I still find myself with a capacity to be astounded at the mealy-mouthed excuses, sleazy evasions, and pusillanimous justifications offered by Republican officials for even the most morally repugnant, socially destructive, and anti-American utterances of their Chosen Leader.

One of the more sickening manifestations of this has been the repeated theme from Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP leaders that the only real problem with Trump has been his lack of "discipline" and his "inexperience" in the tactics and mechanics of a political campaign, and that if he can just get more "focused" and "on message" then they will be just hunky-dory with him.

Yesterday Ryan showed what a man of deep principles he is by offering this ringing denunciation of Trump's appalling weeklong attack on the Khans, the Muslim American parents of a US Army captain killed fighting in Iraq (Trump hit an all time low even for him when he said that the real reason Mr. Khan was "bothered" by him was that he, Trump, wants to stop "thousands of radical Islamic terrorists coming in"; his factotum Roger Stone meanwhile claimed that the Khans were actually secret al-Qaeda operatives). Here is what Ryan said:

“I wish [Trump] would be a little more disciplined. What I say to him privately and what I’ve said publicly is Hillary Clinton is the one to focus on, not another Republican, not a private citizen criticizing you.”

Yes, Trump's only mistake — in his crazed, callous, bigoted attacks on a family that had made the ultimate sacrifice as loyal, patriotic Americans — was that he should have been focusing on Hillary Clinton instead. Correct that little lapse in "discipline," and he's our man!

The refusal of GOP officials who do know better to take responsibility for the monster they have created is I suppose human nature, but it reflects a much deeper moral chasm that has encouraged and inflamed the truly vile racism, violent threats, and dehumanizing attacks that have characterized a disturbing part of the Trump phenomenon. Rather than denounce these violations of all norms of a decent society, democratic political values, and American traditions of tolerance and respect for opposing views, Republican leaders have been pumping the line that every new line their party has crossed this year has simply been a completely understandable counterreaction to the "divisive" policies of President Obama.

What exactly it is about Obama that is so "divisive" as to throw their party into the arms of a racist demagogue they can't quite seem to agree on. Bobby Jindal explained that the rise of Trump's no-nothingism was the direct result of Obama's being too "cool" and "weak" and "nuanced" and unreasonably refusing to adopt Republican policies favoring more tax cuts and slashing Medicare and Social Security benefits. ("After seven years of the cool, weak and endlessly nuanced 'no drama Obama,' voters are looking for a strong leader who speaks in short, declarative sentences," Professor Jindal opined in the Wall Street Journal.)

Jeb Bush claimed the exact opposite: that Obama was too strong, which forced "a few" in the Republican Party to overreact by adopting totally uncharacteristic Republican positions such as denouncing global warming as a hoax, vilifying immigrants, defunding Planned Parenthood, opposing same-sex marriage, and trying to bust unions:

"Eight years of the divisive tactics of President Obama and his allies have undermined Americans’ faith in politics and government to accomplish anything constructive. . . . In turn, a few in the Republican Party responded by trying to out-polarize the president, making us seem anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker and anti-common-sense."

So, the next time you hear Donald Trump's supporters chant at a rally, "build the wall, kill them all," remember that would never, ever have happened were it not for the "divisive tactics" of President Obama that make "a few" in the Republican Party "seem anti-immigrant."

Even before Obama even took office, lest we forget, Republicans were already vowing among themselves to oppose every initiative Obama advanced — to deliberately sabotage, in other words, "Americans’ faith in politics and government to accomplish anything constructive" — for the sole purpose of making his presidency appear to the American public a failure. "If he was for it," former Ohio Senator George Voinovich explained, describing a meeting of GOP senators in January 2009, "we had to be against it. . . . All [Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell] cared about was making sure Obama could never have a clean victory."

In lockstep, the talking head faction of the right pointed to the Republican obstructionism itself as proof of how "divisive" Obama was, basically saying, "look what he made us do?" 

This is the rationalization of abusive spouses from time immemorial: If I got so mad I hit her, that shows how much she must have provoked me, right?

Perhaps more to the point, it reminds me chillingly of the circular justifications invoked by the white supremacists who destroyed Reconstruction and civil rights in a campaign of calculated terrorist violence against African Americans in the years following the Civil War. In my book The Bloody Shirt, which chronicled this terrible chapter in our nation's history, I quoted a typical specimen of this reasoning from a white citizen who explained that the vilest of their morally abhorrent acts of vigilante violence — whipping, mutilating, and murdering black men who tried to exercise their newly won political rights to vote and hold office — just went to show how sorely "respectable men" must have been pressed.

In the horrifying video clips the New York Times compiled and posted this week of the vilely racist and violent behavior of Trump supporters at his rallies, there is one bit where Trump repeats this well worn Republican talking point about Obama being the most "divisive" president.

A loyal Trumpite in the audience then clearly shouts out, "fuck that n-----!"

Yes, what can be more "divisive" than being black and being president? Why, he's so divisive he even makes us shout out the vilest racial slur in the book when we hear his name mentioned.

And no one, from Trump to anyone else in attendance, seemed to mind in the least.