Sunday, March 6, 2016

Sunday Reading

They Go Together — Robert Mann in Salon on how Donald Trump and David Duke are basically one and the same.

After watching him romp through the early weeks of the Republican Party’s primary season – spewing hate, stoking xenophobia and attacking the Washington establishment – this thought keeps coming to mind: Is Donald Trump just David Duke in a better suit?

Twenty-five years after the unrepentant neo-Nazi and former KKK leader made the runoff for Louisiana governor (then a GOP state representative, he lost to Democrat Edwin Edwards), Duke and his ideology are enjoying a renaissance, of sorts.

Last week, Duke shot back into the headlines when he urged listeners of his radio show to volunteer for and support Trump’s candidacy. Duke said his remarks were not an endorsement, but his support was enthusiastic nonetheless.

“Voting for these people [Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio], voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage,” Duke said on February 24. Anyone who knows Duke and his decades of white supremacy knows that by “heritage,” he meant “white heritage.”

“I’m not saying I endorse everything about Trump,” Duke added, “in fact I haven’t formally endorsed him. But I do support his candidacy, and I support voting for him as a strategic action. I hope he does everything we hope he will do.”

After initially rejecting Duke’s endorsement, Trump appeared to backtrack in a CNN interview. Asked about Duke’s quasi-endorsement last weekend, Trump replied, “Just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke, OK?”

Trump eventually renounced Duke – he said, simply, “I disavow” – but offered nothing more than those words until after his Super Tuesday primaries victories in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia. Safely on the other side of March 1, but just days before Saturday’s Louisiana primary, Trump finally coughed up a slightly more pointed renunciation on Thursday. “David Duke is a bad person, who I disavowed on numerous occasions over the years,” Trump said.

Those were rather mild words from Trump, who is highly skilled in the art of the invective. What does it say about Trump’s supposed disdain for Duke that he has unleashed venomous attacks in recent days against Mitt Romney and Rubio but could muster only that weak insult against the former KKK leader?

Trump, however, was correct about one thing. He had, indeed, denounced Duke in 2000. That, however, was long before he launched his current White House bid and before we knew the real estate magnate as the racist he’s become.

Disavowing Duke while earning the votes of former and current Duke supporters has proved a bit more problematic. That may explain why he waited four long days to “attack” the former KKK leader. Did Trump defer criticizing Duke because he feared alienating the not-insignificant percentage of white voters in the South who have never been repelled by Duke and who are now attracted to Trump? Whatever the reason for Trump’s hesitation, it did not appear to cost him many votes in the South on Super Tuesday.

As Public Policy Polling (PPP) reported in mid-February: “Trump’s support in South Carolina is built on a base of voters among whom religious and racial intolerance pervades.”

What does that mean, exactly? PPP found that 70 percent of Trump supporters in South Carolina “think the Confederate flag should still be flying over the State Capital.” Even worse, PPP reported, 38 percent of Trump voters “say they wish the South had won the Civil War.”

Is there any doubt left that Trump’s support, at least in the South, is built on a foundation of racism and xenophobia? All of which begs these questions: What is it about Trump that Duke so admires? And what about Trump appeals to former and current Duke disciples and other racists?

Having watched Duke for 25 years, I am certain he would not support Trump unless he firmly believed they held similar views on race. To say that Duke and his supporters care about race is like saying Alabama coach Nick Saban cares about football. Duke is obsessed with race – more specifically, he is rabid about safeguarding his perceived “white heritage.”

Like Duke when he ran for U.S. Senate in 1990 and governor the following year, Trump is a master at racial dog whistles. His listeners know what he really means, even if others less attuned to his code words do not. For Trump (and much of the GOP) most of the dog whistles now summon listeners (including Duke) to hear unmistakable messages about immigration.

Duke and his supporters clearly like the way Trump talks about undocumented immigrants, particularly Mexicans.

“Anybody in this country illegally needs to be sent home. Simple as that,” the candidate has said. “We’ve had our policies that have been really wrong. We’ve had productive people been kept out. The Irish people are having a difficult time right now in Boston, where we have massive numbers of Mexicans and Haitians in the country right now and other immigrant groups who are not contributing to the country, who are loading up our welfare rolls, increasing our crime problems. They’re bringing in a lot of the dope that comes into the country.”

Actually, that quote was not from Trump, no matter how much it might sound like him. That was Duke in March 1992 at a press conference in Plymouth, Mass., as he campaigned for the 1992 Republican presidential nomination.

While Trump doesn’t pepper his speeches with references to “white heritage,” the tenor and tone of his belligerent rhetoric is remarkably similar to Duke’s – and not just on race. Trump and Duke sound very much alike when striking the pose of economic populist who will deal harshly with our trading partners.

In his March 1992 press conference, Duke insisted it was time to get tough with Japan over its refusal to allow more U.S. auto imports. He presaged the blustery Trump of 2016. “It’s about time the Japanese [open their markets] and if they’re not willing to do it, then we cut ’em off,” Duke declared. “We cut ’em off. Simple and surely as that.”

Announcing for president in June 2015, Trump said, “When did we beat Japan at anything? They send their cars over by the millions, and what do we do? When was the last time you saw a Chevrolet in Tokyo? It doesn’t exist, folks. They beat us all the time.”

When it came to driving a hard bargain – or, as Trump might put it, “making a deal” – Duke assured his 1992 audience he would do what then-President George H.W. Bush couldn’t. “If they know we mean business and we put that [protectionist] legislation into effect, I think they’ll open up their markets and there’ll be a lot of fairness,” Duke said of dealing with Japan. “I really believe that. I just believe we haven’t shown any will.”

In the quote above, simply substitute “Barack Obama” for “Bush” and you have Donald Trump speaking in 2016.

Duke also blamed weakness and lack of resolve – a constant Trump theme in 2016 – for the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979. “It’s kind of the same thing that happened when the hostages were taken in Iran and Jimmy Carter didn’t do anything,” Duke said in 1992. “And the ayatollah didn’t think Jimmy Carter would do anything. And he didn’t do anything. I think the same thing’s true right now of President [George H.W.] Bush. And I think we’ve got to have a tough guy in there in the presidency who will go and look the Japanese in the eye and say exactly what I said.”

The candidate added: “When somebody doesn’t treat you properly, you gotta be tough, you gotta be strong. You can’t let them push you around.”

Actually, that final quote was not from Duke, no matter how much it might sound like him. It was Trump in January speaking to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd about Fox News.

Clearly, the two men have much in common, which is why Duke is urging his supporters to back Trump. Does that mean Trump is a neo-Nazi white supremacist, just like Duke? Who knows?

What we know, however, is this: When Duke’s admirers listen to Trump talk about immigration, trade and other issues, they hear clear, unmistakable echoes of their racist hero.

Sticking Around? — Simona Supekar in The Atlantic on the evolution of the bumper sticker.

bumper sticker bumpersticker 03-05-16It’s election season, which means an uptick in the number of car bumpers declaring their drivers’ political allegiances. The application of the political sticker is a ritual I know well: When I was younger, one of my first purposely political acts was to cover the bumper of my used 1991 Toyota Corolla with progressive-minded messages.

But the bumper sticker has its origins in a very different realm. Before they were popular campaign tools, the stickers were used for marketing of another kind: vacation spots.In 1934, the Kansas City silkscreen printer Forest Gill launched Gill-Line Productions, the company credited with producing some of the country’s first bumper stickers. In the years following World War II, Gill began experimenting with new materials, combining an adhesive with DayGlo ink to create the first self-sticking bumper sticker. The new design was a significant upgrade from the paper-and-string contraptions known as “bumper signs.”
The bumper itself had only been around since about 1910. According to Leslie Kendall, a curator from the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, the earliest bumpers “were springy aftermarket devices designed to safely bounce obstructions (like oblivious farm animals) out of the way of the car, often during attempts to park”—helpful during a time when the roads were less well kept and the drivers less sophisticated.And, as it turned out, bumpers were also a boon to advertisers for national parks, motels, and other tourist attractions. Capitalizing on the wanderlust of war-weary Americans who’d scrimped and saved and were now eager to drive their new automobiles, marketers would often affix bumper stickers on tourists’ cars while they were visiting the attraction, explains Mark Gilman, the chairman of the board at Gill-Line. They were often a point of pride for consumers: “It meant that you’d been somewhere,” he says.By 1950, Gill had built a significant business selling stickers and similar products in the specialty advertising industry. The company’s first large volume request was 25,000 bumper stickers for Marine Gardens, a tourist attraction in Clearwater, Florida. But by the next decade, mass orders often skewed political: In 1968, the company printed 20 million stickers for the presidential campaign of the notorious segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace. (It has also printed stickers for candidates including LBJ, Kennedy, and Reagan.)If you look closely at a bumper sticker, you’ll likely see a label indicating which union printed it—my Bernie Sanders sticker, for example, was made by Sign Display Local 100. For this reason, Gilman says, bumper stickers are often popular with Democratic candidates. “We’re making a lot of Bernie Sanders bumper stickers this year,” he tells me.

The company has sold more than $2 million in bumper stickers this year, Gilman says, but sales of bumper stickers have been dropping. He blames it on digital and social-media advertising as replacements for the stickers, buttons, and campaign pins of yore.

Larry Bird, a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, agrees that social media has played a role in the decline of bumper stickers. For Bird—a specialist in American political history and symbols—bumper stickers represent the last vestiges of the old “hurrah” campaigns of the 1950s, which were characterized by parades, painted tractor trailers, and rallies where campaigners would distribute their wares. Today, campaigning is significantly more manicured for television, and has lost what Bird calls the “thingness” that comes with receiving a button or bumper sticker from your favorite candidate.
The premise of bumper stickers, he says, is “actual physical contact and connection through that thing. In other words, I’m giving you this thing with my name on it, and I’m looking at you and you’re looking at me, we’re interacting.” It’s a more tangible declaration than a Facebook post: Postwar tourist stickers said, “I went somewhere”; political bumper stickers say, “I care about something.”A nice idea, but bumper stickers and the people who sport them are now often seen in a negative light. Kim Kardashian, when asked by talk show host Wendy Williams if she had tattoos, famously offered this wisdom: “Honey, would you put a bumper sticker on a Bentley?” And a 2008 study by Colorado State University researchers found that people who put bumper stickers on their cars tend to be more aggressive, territorial drivers.Even so, there’s a benefit to the bumper sticker: While we are cloistered in the tiny, antisocial world of our automobiles, these bumper stickers offer us an invitation to interact with the outside world. In his book If You Can Read This: The Philosophy of Bumper Stickers, the author Jack Bowen explained that bumper stickers all contain an unspoken if-then clause: Behind a sticker bearing the command “Imagine World Peace,” for example, is the condition, “If you can read this, then Imagine World Peace.” It’s a formulation that allows the reader to get closer, to engage in conversation, to align themselves with or against a belief.Sometimes, of course, those beliefs are outdated, vestiges of a moment when a now-obsolete slogan was in vogue; at any rate, a sticker always specifies a particular time and circumstance. Even though Forest Gill made the bumper sticker removable so many years ago, it can still be hard to get one off. Unlike social media, the bumper sticker still involves a verifiable commitment, and a simply stated one. “It says everything,” Bird notes, “while at the same time saying very little.”

Dear Bernie — Iain Reid at The New Yorker intercepts a letter from Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Bernie Sanders.

Dear Bernie,

Because I, more than anyone, understand the constant stress that comes with a modern political campaign, I wanted to reach out with some helpful tips. First, and this might be most important, to emerge as your party’s leader and then to defeat the Republicans, you’ll have to listen to the people. Not a revelatory concept, I know, but you’d be amazed at how few politicians actually do it. I’ve learned that just listening can make all the difference.

Next, and this word is crucial: empathy. If you listen, but can’t empathize—well, you’re going to have a hard time implementing positive change. Now, while you’re listening, and being empathetic, if someone wants to take a photo with you, so that they can post it online, maybe with a caption about your very symmetrical face, I say suck it up and go for it. All campaigns are full of surprises, and to come out on top you’ll have to roll with the punches.

Expect anything! You might be fully prepared to talk about a proposed tax increase on the wealthiest, but instead find yourself asked to parse your “implausible good looks.” You just never really know what questions will be lobbed at you by your constituents, or why.

Which leads me to another point: policy. You have to listen, of course, and you have to be empathetic and prepared for surprises, but, at the end of the day, you still need to have a firm grasp on domestic and foreign policy.

Contention can arise from an issue as innocuous as, say, un-airbrushed shirtless photos floating around the Internet that show off your chiselled body to millions of people. I’m not here to make any insane allegations, like that these photos aren’t accurate representations of reality, because, yes, they absolutely are. There are no filters, no tricks of the camera. That’s just me. With my shirt off. That’s literally what I look like, not just in photographs.

But don’t forget, I also pledged a ton of money to infrastructure, and before people were liking those photos on Facebook, I’d already outlined my strategy in plain English. That’s the point. I can’t stress this enough: avoid political jargon. Don’t needlessly inflate your vocabulary or dumb it down too much.

The next tip should be self-explanatory. You need a thick skin. That’s why so many people just aren’t cut out for public life. To have to endure, day after day, week after week, month after month, mobs of reporters; to put up with articles and essays and think pieces, not just from your own country but from all over the world, proclaiming how “sexy” you are—although accurate, it’s all quite wearisome.

Consider it from my perspective: you spend years preparing for a federal election, you defeat the once powerful Conservatives, and then, instead of getting to defend your voting record in Parliament, or explain why modest government spending isn’t the worst evil, all you read and hear about is how you’re the best-looking world leader, probably in history.

Essentially, what I want you to understand is that you’re not going to have complete control over the narrative that gets written about you and your administration.

Remarking on my height and calling my hair “lush” and “gorgeous,” as some have repeatedly done, is flattering, sure, and not incorrect. But I’ve also really, really worked on my empathy. I’m the elected leader of a G8 country! Canada is one of the wealthiest nations in the world! There has to be more to a leader of this stature than genuinely stunning physical characteristics.

But listen: at this point, even if an interviewer wants to spend a few minutes, or longer, pointing out, interpreting, and panegyrizing my undeniable physical appeal, I’m not going to sulk or storm away. Earmark this: leadership requires patience.

Take the high road, is what I’m getting at, Bernie. This is 2016, and personal questions, even superficial ones, are fair game. Be willing to talk about the environment and pipelines, but don’t freak out when the conversation inevitably takes a turn to one of those discouraging but sincere questions you’re bound to face, on the topic of your uncommon beauty.

For better or worse, this is modern politics, and it’s the life we’ve signed up for.

Your northern neighbor,

Justin Trudeau

Doonesbury — Can you help?

2 barks and woofs on “Sunday Reading

  1. 1. I would like Duke to sit with Skip Gates while he finds his roots. There’s got to be something buried way back that David is compensating for . . . if not a slave driver, maybe a slave.

    2. Who knew the beautiful Justin Trudeau was also really funny? Loved the letter to Bernie.

    • Justin didn’t actually write the letter. It’s wishful thinking on the part of the writer at the New Yorker.

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