Trump’s enablers must share the blame for America’s toxic divisiveness – By Mohamed Hamaludin

N: By MOHAMED HAMALUDIN

If the mailing of bombs to the homes of two former presidents of the United States, other senior Democratic leaders and one television station did not unify the nation, nothing will.

The one person who could have done so chose not to. Asked whether he would call bomb targets Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, President Donald Trump told reporters, “If they wanted me to, but I think we’ll probably pass.”

Instead, Trump all but ignored this unprecedented act of domestic terrorism to concentrate on campaigning for Tuesday’s mid-term elections and to hawk his “fake news” claims, citing CNN, a target of the bomber. The president also appeared to give credence to those alleging the bombs were “fake,” and that they were mailed by Democratic operatives to win sympathy votes – although the suspect is a registered Republican, his van is plastered with pro-Trump posters and his social media posts are virulently anti-Democratic.      

Mailing bombs to former presidents aims at the heart of our democracy and is not a matter for partisan bickering. Rather, it is the sacred duty of the president, as head of state, to unequivocally denounce it and bring the nation together, not fan the flames of divisiveness. But his relentless vitriolic rhetoric resonates with his supporters and evidently the bomber heard a call to arms.

Someone has to tweet to the president the 848-year-old story of King Henry II of England, who, frustrated by the criticisms from Archbishop Thomas- a-Becket of Canterbury, commented, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” Four knights rode for more than five hours and killed Becket the next day. Words matter.

But there cannot be a Trump without the enablers, those who believe he can do no wrong and those who provide him with political cover. They bear responsibility for the toxic environment in which we all must live.

Tens of millions of Americans obviously see Trump as their political savior, feeling, justifiably, that they were sidelined politically and economically for decades – the “basket of deplorables,” as Hillary Clinton  called them, the ones about whom Obama said,  “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

But these folks are no better off under Trump. The economy and the jobless rate have improved but income growth is now the smallest in 15 years. The health insurance situation has worsened. The much touted tax cut has benefitted mostly the very rich and 60 percent of Americans want it repealed rather than cutting domestic spending. The budget deficit is nearing $1 trillion. Still, these Americans cling to the illusion that a politician who  is a billionaire is their kind of guy.

And class differences are often complicated by racial factors so many of them also see themselves as warriors in a battle to save the white race. Some now openly proclaim their racism. Just about the time the bombs were on the way, a 51-year-old white man in Kentucky randomly shot and killed two African Americans at a Kroger grocery store. He told an eyewitness, “I won’t shoot you. Whites don’t shoot whites.”

Trump acolytes mindlessly applaud his demonization of immigrants, Muslims, Jews, gays and the press. It was not a big leap for them to see others who are different from them as their “enemies.” He fuels that belief, unable to rise above pettiness, as the late U.S. Senator John McCain did when a woman at a campaign rally claimed that Obama was an Arab: “No ma’am. He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about.”

Meanwhile, bona fide racists, lurking for decades under rocks, have crawled out into the open now that the political sunlight has turned to darkness. They are given space, including social media, to promote white superiority, some making millions of dollars peddling hate on radio and television and in books, and the president has finally proclaimed himself a “nationalist.”

Then there are the aides, such as Stephen Miller, architect of the heartless immigration policy, and others who use high office to promote Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, sometimes with deadly consequences, as in the killing of 11 worshipers in a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday.

An even higher tier of enablers includes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and House Majority Leader Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, along with a Republican-dominated Congress. They have done absolutely nothing to check the behavior of their party leader and president. Most are scared they would be voted out of office if they oppose him.

Even Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who is not up for re-election, couldn’t bring herself to empathize with a university professor courageous enough to face the chauvinistic hounds on the Senate Judiciary Committee. She sat in silence as the likes of Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Chuck Grassley of Iowa humiliated a woman who merely wanted to tell her story of sexual assault. Even Jeff Flake of Arizona, who professed to be fed up with living in the re-stocked swamp and is retiring, in the final analysis supported Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court and had the gall to admit just a few days ago that he still does not know if he believed the nominee.

Then there are the evangelical leaders such as Jerry Falwell Jr. who do not even have the decency to hold their noses as they cohabit with man who is antithetical to all that was dear to Jesus. Falwell, the Guardian reported, delivered 81 percent of the white evangelical vote to Trump and has labored diligently in the vineyard of hypocrisy to keep that support going, with 71 percent of white evangelical Protestants still holding a favorable opinion of Trump.

The editors of Decision Magazine, organ of the Billy Graham Evangelistic  Association, recently wrote, “If progressives reclaim a majority in Congress, not to mention in state and local governments, believers will once again be open targets for punishment by left-wing activists bent on silencing those who wish to live out their faith in society.”

Really?

But there are hopeful signs for the anti-Trump camp.  A number of evangelical groups have been formed to counter the betrayal of the message of Christ by those who have sold their pulpits for access to power. Vote Common Ground launched a 30-city tour to urge Christians to vote in the mid-terms to help Democrats take control of Congress, according to The Guardian.

Around two dozen church leaders issued a manifesto, “Reclaiming Jesus,” citing a “dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches.” Red Letter Christians laments the “toxic Christianity” and “the gospel of Trump.” Another group has revived Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People Campaign.

Also, a recent AP-NORC poll found that 77 percent of Americans are unhappy with the state of politics and 59 percent disapprove of Trump’s handling of the job of president.

But what will matter is whether there is a change in who controls the political discourse. A change in Congress will not immediately restore sanity to our politics but it will mark the start of a desperately needed course correction for the ship of state.

_________

Mohamed Hamaludin is a Guyana-born journalist who  worked for several years at The Chronicle (Guyana) in the 1970s and in the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands before emigrating to the United States in 1984 where he worked at The Miami Times, the Miami Herald and the South Florida Times.  Though now retired, he writes a commentary every two or three weeks for The South Florida Times in which this column first appeared. His email address is hamal1942@gmail.com

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  • Clyde Duncan  On November 5, 2018 at 11:35 am

    The Real Lesson of My Debate With Steve Bannon

    I argued against the false promise of what Trump’s former strategist bills as populism. Then events took a strange turn.

    David Frum | The Atlantic

    Tickets sold out within 15 minutes after Toronto’s Munk Debates announced I would debate Steve Bannon on their platform. The negative reaction arrived slower, but it was just as emphatic.

    A few days before the debate, a member of Parliament for Canada’s left-wing New Democratic Party called for its cancelation. The rest of the party — the third largest in Parliament — later signaled agreement with the no-platform demand.

    The Munk debates hold a special place in Canadian public life. For more than a decade, they have brought the learned, the preeminent, and the notorious to Toronto’s 2,800-seat symphony hall to test controversial ideas before a highly informed audience.

    Never before, though, had they ignited the fierce controversy that exploded around the scheduled debate between Bannon and me.

    Over the next hours, I took calls from television and radio bookers: Would I come on their air to defend ‘The Rise of Populism’ debate?

    I declined, again and again. I’d written an answer, and I wanted to deliver it once — at the debate itself.

    Some did not want to hear that answer or any other. They decided to shut down the debate by force and threat. They tried to block the entrance to the debate venue, then harassed attendees as they sought to enter.

    One police officer was punched in the face. Fear that protesters would slip into the event obliged the organizers to search every bag and wand every entrant — delaying the start time by 45 minutes. Even with that delay, many ticket-holders were unable to take their seats.

    One protester nevertheless managed noisily to disrupt Bannon’s opening statement, before being drowned out by audience applause and removed by police.

    Forceful interruption of public events is almost always wrong. If I see you reading a book I dislike, I have no right to grab it from you. In a free society, there can be no equivalent of the Saudi religious police, monitoring public behavior and discourse and interrupting things of which they disapprove.

    Yet the illegitimacy of violent interruptions of debate in general does not of itself justify any particular debate in specific.

    In 1860, Oxford University invited the biologist Thomas Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce to debate Darwin’s theory of evolution versus God’s design of the universe. No secular university would or should do such a thing today.

    So, no, I personally would not accept an invitation to debate “Resolved, husbands should be allowed to beat their wives,” or “Resolved, the white race is the best race,” I would strenuously object if any organization in which I had a role proposed to mount such a debate.

    If your group undertook to do it, I’d of course pay the taxes for your police protection, but I would not be happy about it, and I would not think you were contributing anything except mischief to our public life.

    Obviously, I did not think I was doing anything like that in debating Steve Bannon.

    Bannon is not a marginal figure. He is a central personality in the history of our times, who helped to elect a president of the United States and is now advising competitive political parties across Europe. If you think his — and their — influence is pernicious, well, that influence does not become any less pernicious if you refuse to argue why it is wrong.

    The debate in Toronto focused on a prediction:

    Whether the future belonged to populist politics – the polite term for the politics of Donald Trump and the many Little Trumps in power or competing for power across our Earth – or to liberal politics, in the broadest sense of the word liberal.

    As I told the audience, I’ve spent my life as a conservative, but what I’ve sought to conserve is not the Spanish Inquisition or the powers of kings and barons.
    I’ve sought to conserve the free societies that began to be built in the 18th century and that have gradually developed and strengthened — with many imperfections and hypocrisies and backsliding — in the 250 years since.

    When I was young, the most important challenges to those free societies seemed to come from Communists and Marxists. When I was not so young, the most important of those challenges seemed to come from Islamists. Today, they seem to come from — again, speaking politely — populists.

    The vector of the challenge changes, but the thing to be cherished and protected remains the same.

    Why share a platform, then, with Bannon, one of the most adept and successful of the challengers to all I hold dear?

    I told the audience in Toronto that I hoped to speak to three groups of people:

    I hoped to speak, first, to the small numbers of the genuinely undecided, to those who might imagine that populism offers them something.

    This is not true. The new populist politics is a scam and a lie that exploits anger and fear to gain power. It has no care for the people it supposedly champions and no respect for them. It will deliver nothing — not only because its leaders are almost invariably crooks, but because they have no plans and no plans to make plans.

    I hoped to speak, next, to the many people who see populism for what it is — and who resist it. Since the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009 and the Euro currency crisis that began in 2010, the so-called populists have won election after election in the USA and in Europe.

    Even when the anti-populists have won, as they won in France in 2017, they have won by dwindling margins. Countries that formerly seemed secure against populism, like Germany, have been trending in ominous directions.

    But hope is not lost. On Tuesday, the American electorate has the opportunity to set the limit: This far you have gone, you will go no further. The tide turns here.

    What’s most urgently needed now is courage and confidence, and I hoped from the platform to do a little part to inspire even just a little more of each.

    I hoped to speak, finally, to those who see populism for what it is — and support it. I hoped to look in the face of their most self-conscious and articulate champion, Steve Bannon, and tell them:

    You will lose. You will discover what so many thugs, and bullies, and plunderers, and people who elevate themselves by subordinating and humiliating others have discovered before you:

    Liberal democracy is tougher than it looks. The cruel always believe the kind are weak. But human decency and goodness can also move human affairs. They will be felt. And today’s “populists” will follow their predecessors into what President George W. Bush so aptly called, “history’s graveyard of discarded lies.”

    Yes, the populists spoke to authentic concerns:

    About the after-shock of the Great Recession and the Euro crisis, about the dislocations of mass immigration, about failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, about the frustrations of the middle class, about the selfishness and irresponsibility of financial and political elites across the developed world.

    Demagogues succeed by talking about things that people authentically care about, not things they don’t.

    Bannon and I had met once before, a decade ago. He interviewed me for one of his films back in 2009. We shared then a perception that something had gone terribly wrong with both the American system and conservative politics.

    To me, that perception called for a constructive program of reform and renewal. It equally seemed to me that Bannon had seen an opportunity to be seized to bring dangerous people and ideas to a power they could never use for good.

    As a debater, Bannon proved engaging and entertaining. When one of his lines gained lonely applause from a single audience member, Bannon quipped, “Thanks, Mom.” That lit up the room.

    But the longer Bannon spoke, the clearer it became how empty the populist program is. It could observe and exploit the failures of the past 15 years. Trump in 2016 promised that he would provide better health insurance to all Americans at lower cost both to individuals and to the government. That promise has been dishonored.

    When asked to explain why? Bannon could only point to Paul Ryan and say, “His fault.”

    Ditto for Trump’s failure to keep his promise to cut taxes for middle-income people by raising them on the financial industry.

    Ditto for the broken promises to build infrastructure and save lives from opioid addiction.

    Ditto for the fact that illegal immigration and trade deficits are rising under Trump, despite his emphatic promises to lower both.

    The populists identified real concerns — but their answers amount to a fraud and a scam. The failures of a basically good system do not justify overthrowing it and replacing it with something evil.

    The new populist politics is a scam and a lie that exploits anger and fear to gain power. It has no care for the people it supposedly champions and no respect for them.

    It will deliver nothing — not only because its leaders are almost invariably crooks, but because they have no plans and no plans to make plans.

  • Cyril Persaud  On November 5, 2018 at 2:41 pm

    Toxic divisness was not in our environment before the election of President Trump, yea right

  • walter  On November 6, 2018 at 12:02 pm

    What is important……. There was a debate, there might still be hope. very suspicious of people trying to suspend discussion. good work Canada

  • Trevor  On November 6, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    I keep telling this writer that the Democrats only support Muslims to a certain extent; feminists from Sweden, Nordic countries and Western Europe have been pleading for support from the Alt-Right and Neo-Nazi groups to attack Arabian and African migrants because of a xenophobic “rape hysteria”.

    Democrats only ally themselves with Muslims to obtain votes, but on topics like marriage, modesty laws and religious customs, feminists will either use the law or seek Neo-Nazi groups to attack such ideas.

    It was a feminist from Ontario, Canada who prevented Muslims from adopting Islamic marriage laws for North America, I think in the year 2005.

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