To understand the circumstances that have brought America to paralysis, one must return to the psychology of the modern Republican mind.1This topic was covered in some detail here. Today’s Republicans do not believe in good, bad, right, wrong, or any concept other than survival. What is more, that survival instinct has been honed by their obsession with combat. It is every Republican for his or her self, all the time. The Republican Party acquiesced to Donald Trump not despite this, but because of it.
Central to this mindset is the exercise of leverage. Leverage is what hostile parties use to obtain compliance from the other party. Leverage may be necessary in some contexts. In a lawsuit, for instance, it may force the parties to resolve the dispute.
It is not, however, necessary in all, or even most, human transactions. Normal people can obtain the same ends by productive means, using trust, friendship, cooperation, teamwork, and reason. Not Republicans. Moreover, they generally rely on the most unsavory forms of leverage available to them, like blackmail and hostage-taking. Such was Trump’s strategy Friday night at Mt. Rushmore.
Trump began his argument innocently enough, with the premise that “we are all endowed with the same divine rights, given us by our Creator in Heaven, and that which God has given us.” These rights, Trump says, “we will allow no one ever to take away ever.” Ever. You heard him. But no one disagrees that Americans have rights, whatever their source.
What rights have to do with Confederate statues, though, is anyone’s guess. The statues have no rights, and no individual person has any right to preserve them. If anything, they represent arbitrary government power, as they can be removed tomorrow. Indeed, their survival is an express act of state power. If the tyranny exists anywhere, by definition it can only be here.
But no, it turns out that American citizens are the “fascists,” attempting to “wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children.” Angry “left-wing” mobs—people who disagree with Trump, apparently—are “trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities.”
In Trump’s Wonderland, the government—the entity with supreme power, a multi-trillion dollar military, hundreds of thousands of militarized police officers, and multiple layers of prosecutors with nearly limitless discretion to enforce byzantine legal codes—is the champion of liberty, and citizens are the “tyrants.” The math here is troubling.
Well, first, let’s dispense with the obvious. By equating political dissent with “violent crime,” Trump is tweeting his racial dog whistle. No surprise there.
But there is so much more than that. He is raising the stakes. Trump now intends to leverage not just the weak-willed Republican Party, but the entire American experiment. The Founders are no longer heroes, they are hostages. And Trump has strapped a bomb to their chests.
The goal is to save his failing presidency. Trump posits that if his presidency fails, America fails with it. Similarly, if the statues depicting Trump’s Confederate heroes—Lee, Jackson, and Davis—fall, then Lincoln, Washington, and the rest must fall as well. He bargains that Americans will go to any lengths to save their history.
This is obscene. One can argue about the Founders’ merits and demerits while uniting a fractious band of nation-states into a Union, but the monuments in question here were erected decades after the United States spent buckets of blood and treasure in civil war. As noted previously, they only symbolized a resurgent South dedicated to racial oppression. Yet, Trump demands that Americans—only a month after George Floyd’s unconscionable death2There have been many deaths. I simply do not have space to list them all here.—ratify them anyway. And what is more, he leverages such men as Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, as if they hadn’t been martyred by the very cause Trump embraces.
Then there is Trump’s whining about “cancel culture.” Sure, imagine if you couldn’t speak freely, or hold a job, or engage in your community—you know, like African-Americans in the South (or many other places) for 300 years. Not to mention the audacity of a man whose Twitter feed defines “cancel culture” warning against “shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees.”3Inane Trump press flack Kayleigh McEnery today claimed that Trump supports the Confederate flag because he wants “no part of cancel culture.” Even gullible observers see through this. Trump would simultaneously cancel more than half of America at the same time he supports the Confederate flag. This is not complicated.. Trump claims he never kids, but that’s comedy, folks.
Trump also warns that the “cancel” culture’s “attack on our liberty . . . must be stopped.” But whose liberty? Trump indiscriminately tosses undefined pronouns like MAGA hero Tom Brady tosses underinflated footballs. How far does this alleged liberty reach? Apparently, it covers “Christians” who won’t bake wedding cakes for gay weddings, but not “left-wing fascists” opposed to confederate statues?
And what does this have to do with liberty anyway? Conservatives used to think it was my business whom I hired. I know they’re opposed to quotas in any event.
Trump even explains where the left-wing fascists come from—a vast conspiracy in America’s “schools, … newsrooms, … [and] corporate boardrooms.” But here, of course, he simply proves too much. Schools and newsrooms are just two places conservatives refuse to work because they don’t pay. And as at home in corporate boardrooms as conservatives are, they know that the economy has no ideology. Apparently, old-fashioned racism doesn’t sell in a pandemic.
Trump hatched this whopper to soothe Boomer voters unable to handle the truth. One poll released Friday morning put former Vice-President Joe Biden 50 points ahead among college-age students. There’s no conspiracy. Trump supporters created their own “left-wing mob.” Just ask Kellyanne Conway.
If there is a silver lining here, it is that Trump’s rhetoric reeks more of desperation than a cogent racialist strategy. Advisors claim it is meant to target suburban moms, but have obviously never met one. The children of suburban moms are attending Black Lives Matter protests.
More likely is that Trump’s advisors can hardly leak, even anonymously, “yeah, we’re losing in Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia; Arkansas and Texas are toss-ups; and we couldn’t muster a high school football team’s worth of people to attend a rally in Oklahoma; so we decided we’d better activate 30- to 55-year-old white, non-college-attending, NASCAR-watching males.”4It is helpful to remember that Republicans lie for sport, whether they have reason or not. It’s just more logical to observers when they have a reason. Here, they have a reason.. Suburban moms are just the cover story for Trump‘a adoption of a strategy revealing his abject political weakness.
Which is to say that Trump is approaching America’s racial divide the same way he approaches the economy, China, Putin, COVID-19, and his entire presidency: Gaslighting. On the other hand, Trump’s opponents are clear: They demand a systemic response to a systemic problem—eradicating the too-long-surviving remnants of the Jim Crow South. The monuments are low-hanging fruit in advance of the more complex national discussion to follow.
But unfit (and unwilling, in any event) to engage in that discussion, Trump instead takes Lincoln hostage and in the name of supposedly sparing him, demands that white America save Lincoln’s enemies and Trump himself. Remarkable. At least John Wilkes Booth had the class to just shoot Lincoln in the head.