Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sunday Reading

Devolution — Neal Gabler on how the Republican Party has turned into the party of ignorance and hate.  Why won’t the media cover that?

Ah, the crescendo of complaint! The Republican establishment and the mainstream media, working hand in hand in their unprecedented, non-stop assault on the “short-fingered vulgarian” named Donald Trump, would have you believe that Trump augurs the destruction of the Republican Party. Former Reagan speechwriter and now Wall Street Journal/CBS pundit Peggy Noonan expressed the general sentiment of both camps when she said on Super Tuesday that “we’re seeing a great political party shatter before our eyes.”

But here is what no one in the GOP establishment wants you to know, and no one in the media wants to admit: Donald Trump isn’t the destruction of the Republican Party; he is the fulfillment of everything the party has been saying and doing for decades. He is just saying it louder and more plainly than his predecessors and intra-party rivals.

The media have been acting as if the Trump debacle were the biggest political story to come down the pike in some time. But the real story – one the popularity of Trump’s candidacy has revealed and inarguably the biggest political story of the last 50 years — is the decades-long transformation of Republicanism from a business-centered, small town, white Protestant set of beliefs into quite possibly America’s primary institutional force of bigotry, intellectual dishonesty, ignorance, warmongering, intractability and cruelty against the vulnerable and powerless.

It is a story you didn’t read, hear or see in the mainstream media, only in lefty journals like The Nation and Rolling Stone, on websites like People for the American Way, and in columns like Paul Krugman’s. And it wasn’t exactly because the MSM in its myopia missed the story. It was because they chose not to tell it – to pretend it wasn’t happening. They are still pretending.

It is hardly a surprise that the GOP establishment and their enablers in the media are acting as if Trump, the Republican frontrunner, is a break from the party’s supposedly genteel past. Like Captain Renault in Casablanca, who was “shocked, shocked,” to find gambling in Rick’s establishment, the GOP solons profess to be “shocked, shocked” by Trump’s demagogic racism and nativism. Their protestations remind me of an old gambit of comedian Milton Berle. When the audience was applauding him, he would shush them demonstratively with one hand while encouraging them gently with the other.

Neither is it a surprise that the conservative media have been doing the same thing — decrying Trump while giving us Trump Lite. Indeed, even less blatant partisans who ought to know better, like every “thinking man’s” favorite conservative David Brooks, deliver the same hypocrisy.

No, Brooks isn’t too keen on Trump (or Cruz for that matter), but he is very keen on some mythological Republican Party that exudes decency. On the PBS NewsHour last week he said with great earnestness, “For almost a century-and-a-half, the Republican Party has stood for a certain free market version of America – an America that’s about openness, that’s about markets and opportunity, and a definition of what this country is.”

Free markets? That’s what he thinks defines America? Let me rephrase what I said earlier: Trump hasn’t just fulfilled the Republican Party’s purpose; he has exposed it. And he also has exposed the media’s indifference to what the party has become.

Obviously, I am not saying that the transmogrification of the Republican Party happened surreptitiously. It happened in plain sight, and it was extensively chronicled — but not by the MSM. The sainted Reagan blew his party’s cover when to kick off his general election campaign in 1980 he spoke at the Neshoba County Fair, just outside Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers had been brutally murdered in 1964. He wasn’t there to demonstrate his sympathy to the civil rights movement, but to demonstrate his sympathy to those who opposed it. This was an ugly moment, and it didn’t go entirely unnoticed in the media. In fact, David Brooks would later be moved to defend the speech, which invoked the not-so-subtle buzz words “states’ rights,” and to act as if Reagan had been slandered by those who called him out on it.

But if some in the media did call out Reagan on his disgusting curtsy to George Wallace voters, the press seemed to lose its nerve once Reagan became president and the Republican Party lurched not just rightward, but extremist-ward. Do you remember these headlines: “Republicans Oppose Civil Rights”; “Republicans Work to Defeat Expansion of Health Insurance”; “Republicans Torpedo Extension of Unemployment Benefits”; “Republicans Demonize Homosexuals and Deny Them Rights”; “Republicans Call Climate Change a Hoax and Refuse to Stop Greenhouse Gases”? No, you don’t remember, because no MSM paper printed them and no MSM network broadcast them. Instead, the media behaved as if extremism were business as usual.

I don’t think the media would deny their indifference. They would say they don’t take sides. They’re neutral. They just report. Partisanship is for Fox News and MSNBC….

The White Party — Kelly J. Baker in The Atlantic on the history of the KKK.

Last weekend, Saturday Night Live produced a mock “Voters for Trump” ad, in which everyday “real Americans” gently describe why they support Donald Trump for president—before they are all revealed to be white supremacists, Klan members, and Nazis. Trump, of course, not only received former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s support for his candidacy, but also declined to disavow the Ku Klux Klan on CNN.

This has happened before. As The Atlantic’s Yoni Appelbaum pointed out, the Republican front-runner’s refusal to repudiate white supremacists’ support as well as the bombast in his campaign are both echoes of the Ku Klux Klan. As a historian of the 1920s Klan, I noticed the resonances, too. Trump’s “Make America great again” language is just like the rhetoric of the Klan, with their emphasis on virulent patriotism and restrictive immigration. But maybe Trump doesn’t know much about the second incarnation of the order and what Klansmen and Klanswomen stood for. Maybe the echoes are coincidence, not strategy to win the support of white supremacists. Maybe Trump just needs a quick historical primer on the 1920s Klan—and their vision for making America great again.

In 1915, William J. Simmons, an ex-minister and self-described joiner of fraternities, created a new Ku Klux Klan dedicated to “100 percent Americanism” and white Protestantism. He wanted to evoke the previous Reconstruction Klan (1866-1871) but refashion it as a new order—stripped of vigilantism and dressed in Christian virtue and patriotic pride. Simmons’s Klan was to be the savior of a nation in peril, a means to reestablish the cultural dominance of white people. Immigration and the enfranchisement of African Americans, according to the Klan, eroded this dominance and meant that America was no longer great. Simmons, the first imperial wizard of the Klan, and his successor, H.W. Evans, wanted Klansmen to return the nation to its former glory. Their messages of white supremacy, Protestant Christianity, and hypernationalism found an eager audience. By 1924, the Klan claimed 4 million members; they wore robes, lit crosses on fire, read Klan newspapers, and participated in political campaigns on the local and national levels.

To save the nation, the Klan focused on accomplishing a series of goals. A 1924 Klan cartoon, “Under the Fiery Cross,” illustrated those goals: restricted immigration, militant Protestantism, better government, clean politics, “back to the Constitution,” law enforcement, and “greater allegiance to the flag.” Along with the emphases on government and nationalism, the order also mobilized under the banners of vulnerable white womanhood and white superiority more generally. Nativism, writes historian Matthew Frye Jacobson in Whiteness of a Different Color, is a crisis about the boundaries of whiteness and who exactly can be considered white. It is a reaction to a shift in demographics, which confuses the dominant group’s understanding of race. For the KKK, Americans were supposed to be only white and Protestant. They championed white supremacy to keep the nation white, ignoring that citizenry was not constrained to their whims.

The Klan was facing a crisis because the culture was changing around them, and nativism was their reaction. Demographic shifts, including immigration, urbanization, and the migrations of African Americans from the South to the North gave urgency and legitimacy to the Klan’s fears that the nation was in danger. From 1890 to 1914, more than 16 million immigrants arrived in the United States, and a large majority were Catholics from Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Poland. Around 10 percent were Jewish. The Klan described the influx of immigrants as a “menace” that threatened “true Americanism,” “devotion to the nation and its government,” and, worst of all, America as a civilization. Evans claimed that “aliens” (immigrants) challenged and attacked white Americans instead of doing the right thing—and joining the Klan’s cause. (Yes, strangely, he expected immigrants’ support even though the Klan limited membership to white Protestant men and women. Of course, it’s also strange that Trump expects Latino support.) Writing in the Klan newspaper The Imperial Night-Hawk in 1923, Evans declared that immigrants were “mostly scum,” a dangerous “horde.”

Unsurprisingly, the 1920s Klan supported legislation to restrict immigration to preferred countries with Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian roots. The order championed the Immigration Act of 1924, which limited immigration visas to 2 percent or 3 percent of the population of each nationality from the 1890 census. When President Calvin Coolidge signed the bill into law, the Klan celebrated the continued protection of the “purity” of American citizenship. A white Protestant citizenry and the desire to maintain their dominance culturally and politically, then, defined 100 percent Americanism….

It’s In The Cards — Daniel Victor in The New York Times on the treasures among our trash.

The unattended bag found while cleaning out a great-grandparent’s home looked like trash, and it was nearly discarded. But someone decided to root through the pile of postcards and paper products, and was rewarded by finding seven baseball cards from 1909 to 1911 featuring the Hall of Fame player Ty Cobb.

Those cards, it turned out, may be worth more than $1 million, according to Joe Orlando, who authenticated them. The family, which he said wished to remain anonymous, had stumbled upon the kind of revelation that’s increasingly rare but consistently exciting for the flailing card industry.

“They are becoming more and more uncommon as time goes on, but until every attic is searched and every old box or bag examined, these finds represent the hope that all collectors dream about,” Mr. Orlando wrote.

The find, one of the industry’s most notable discoveries in years, could fuel the dreams of every longtime collector with eyes on a distant payday while boxes of cards continue to take up room in storage. But it also highlighted how much the industry has changed.

The mind-set that playing cards could represent not just a space-consuming hobby but also wise financial planning led to a boom in production and collecting in the 1980s and ’90s, as children were drawn to cheap packs they could trade among friends and adults saw financial opportunity. Parents, especially, could teach their children to see the hobby as an investment: Save these cards until you’re old and they’ll be worth a lot of money, the thinking went.

For the most part, that promise has fallen short as the value of modern cards has plummeted. If you held onto a 1984 Topps Darryl Strawberry rookie card, worth $15 in 1990, you perhaps should have sold it then: It’s down to $3 now, according to Beckett price guides. More bad news: Your 1986 Donruss Jose Canseco rookie card, worth $48 in 1990, is worth $15 today.

The cards’ popularity ultimately contributed to their own downfall. Companies printed more to keep up with demand and made the supply too abundant, said Brian Fleischer, senior market analyst for Beckett Media.

And collectors’ own seemingly savvy behavior fed the problem, said Dave Jamieson, 37, the author of “Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an America Obsession.” Since a generation of young collectors grew up thinking of their cards as investments, they’ve held on to them, shuffling them from one home to the next.

“The cards we grew up with never had a chance to become scarce because we kept them,” he said. “It became a better lesson in economics than any of our parents thought it would be.”

The cards Mr. Jamieson saved from his youth ended up being just about worthless, he said. When he finally decided to get rid of them, he couldn’t find anyone to buy, and no one would take them as donations. “These cards aren’t even worth a penny apiece,” he said.

The industry’s drop-off began around 1994, Mr. Jamieson said. Since then, most brick-and-mortar card shops have closed, shows are less frequent and more sales are happening via the Internet.

Jim Ryan, co-founder of JP’s Sports & Rock Solid Promotions, said cards remain a draw at memorabilia shows and autograph signings the company stages in the tristate area, but not like they were in the ’80s and ’90s. Children are still drawn by the chance to meet a player at an autograph signing, while adults are more likely to make a big-money purchase after physically seeing the cards.

Cards and collectibles for current players are like the stock market, rising and falling based on performance, he said. But the older cards tend to have safer values, he said.

“Mickey Mantle isn’t going to have a bad year,” he said. “His card’s always going to be worth money.”

Mr. Mantle’s cards are worth more than they used to be, reflective of a market for vintage cards that has not just remained strong, but has grown since the industry’s heyday.

The Yankee slugger’s 1952 Topps rookie card, worth $1,400 in November 1984, is now up to $30,000, according to Beckett price guides. A 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan rookie card, worth $33 in 1984, could now fetch $500.

The cards, which as far back as the 1880s were found in tobacco packs and later with bubble gum, weren’t always considered something to save, which is why children would sometimes bend them into bike spokes. The Ty Cobb find was exciting to collectors, Mr. Fleischer said, because it suggested such rare discoveries are still possible.

“There are still finds out there to be found,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

Doonesbury — Lighting up.