North Korea, White Nationalism, and Reality TV: The Key To the Fake King

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Look, I’m sorry, I love this image.

In Deadspin today, Burneko talks about why he doesn’t think Trump is a real ideological Nazi or Confederate or even an actual white supremacist. I sort of disagree, but this is a solid point.

Honestly, even his white supremacism is a second-order thing, an artifact of the coincidence that he, himself, is white, and cannot tolerate less than personal supremacy. He likes the things in the world that gratify him, and those things happen to be good for preserving the power of white people, men in particular, literally any of whom he’d run over with a combine harvester in a moment if it got the New York Times to treat him like a True New York Big Shot.

There’s a lot to that, I think, especially about how he’d uncaringly destroy the people who for whatever reason adore him. He has no problem crushing the people closest to him, his advisors and staff and defenders. Indeed, he likes cruelty, probably because it reminds him that, despite being a mush-headed coward, he still has unearned power.

He clearly doesn’t care about any of his voters. As Burneko puts it, ““Nazi” and “Republican” and “fork” and “war” and “hello”: For Donald Trump these are just noises you make with your mouth. You make the ones that get people to look at you; if they also smile, fine, but if their eyes widen in shock or horror or disgust, that’s fine too, so long as they don’t look away.” I do think he’s a pretty old-school Queens/Staten Island racist, but he played it up more to get the people cheering. He’s a wrestling heel and a reality show savant (that’s not a compliment). He knows how to gin up conflict for the cheap seats.

Indeed, that’s confirmed by a post late yesterday in the Times.

The president’s top advisers described themselves as stunned, despondent and numb. Several said they were unable to see how Mr. Trump’s presidency would recover, and others expressed doubts about his capacity to do the job.

In contrast, the president told close aides that he felt liberated by his news conference. Aides said he seemed to bask afterward in his remarks, and viewed them as the latest retort to the political establishment that he sees as trying to tame his impulses.

First off, people who are stunned: you’re idiots. This is who he has always been. It isn’t like he somehow became a different man over the 200 days of his Presidency. Everyone knew this was exactly how it would go, so don’t act surprised. When Gary Cohn resigns because his conscience was rocked, don’t treat him as a hero. He’s a goddamn dope if he ever thought differently.

But it’s the last line that’s key. The political establishment is trying to “tame his impulses”, and that’s why he feels great. It doesn’t matter what he said, it doesn’t matter how divisive it was, it doesn’t matter that he broke up his precious CEO conclaves or emboldened Nazis or hurt his chances of passing policies. He was able to be Trump.

That’s what it is all about. That’s what it has always been about. He wants to be the swaggering anti-PC cowboy he envisioned back in his old draft-dodging days, and wants to be seen as the big man who tells it like it is because he’s the only one smart enough to know that George Washington owned slaves, and because all he really wants is attention.

The key to this is his reality show days, which are the main reason he is now President, as terrible an indictment of the United States as that is. On his show, he pretended to be the titan of business and the guy in charge, deciding on the fates of supplicants depending on if they pleased him or not. In reality, producers decided who came and went. At least, according to Clay Aiken, but come on: does Trump seem like the guy who makes real decisions?

He doesn’t. He just likes the trappings of power and fame. A perfect example of this was the North Korea showdown. Trump blustered and blathered, but the DoD played it straight, and Nikki Haley did her job, and we didn’t move to DefCon 1 or anything. Indeed, Trump’s statements seemed outside the process. He was the fake President.

The problem is that he is still the real President, and he made the situation more tense, and could have made it catastrophic. On TV, he could pretend to be the boss and say stupid shit, and it didn’t matter. But here, all you have is people trying to do their jobs under a guy who has no concern for protocol or the right way to do things, because they constrain Trump from being “Trump”.  He doesn’t know anything, doesn’t make actual decisions, doesn’t care to handle things, but wants to be seen as the boss. Wants to be seen as the swaggering tough. And that’s enormously dangerous.

When he adopts the language of white nationalism because he likes to be seen as anti-PC, it is dangerous. When he threatens North Korea because he likes to be seen as bold, it is dangerous. When he is willing to say anything because he can’t stand being anything other than his own stupid caricature, it is dangerous.

The entire Donald Trump candidacy and presidency has been about serving this empty ego. It’s about propping up his fraud. Maybe that’s the only way to get through to his most stubborn supporters. Just keep pointing out that at no way, in no form, has this ever been about them. It never will be.

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When the President Matters

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How many times over these last few horrible days have you heard a variation of the phrase “Donald Trump failed to act like the President when the nation needed it.” I’m guessing a lot. The POTUS faced universal and happily bipartisan outrage for his mealy-mouthed avoidance of the true nature of this weekend’s horror, for merely conjuring up vague images of violence and bigotry from “many sides”.

The condemnation was of course correct. This is a man who pulls out the knives for literally anything that displeases him, from Gold Star families to newscasters to suspected Islamic knife attacks in Turkey. For him to be vague was a deliberate choice.

What’s more, it isn’t like he has been reticent to plunge into matters of racial violence beforehand. Last year, after the horrifying and sickening murders of police officers in Dallas by Mich Johnson, Trump consistently repeated the lie that Black Lives Matters activists called for a moment of silence for the shooter.

There was literally no evidence of it. As far as I was ever able to tell, no one (not even O’Reilly, who also repeated this) ever even found like a stray comment on an obscure message board that could get conflated to BLM “calling” for a moment of silence. It was something that was just made up.

But that didn’t matter to Trump. So not only was he legitimately angry and sickened at the murders (as we all were), but he added to it an incredibly divisive and dangerous lie. Those are his instincts.

And then we saw his instincts again this weekend when he refused to condemn anything except vague violence. Yeah yeah, he gave a “firm” statement yesterday, but the damage was done. His white nationalist allies know whose side they are on, and they are emboldened because of it. They all know that yesterday’s statement was pro forma and forced.

There is a chance that their hands are forced. There’s a chance that Jeff Sessions, who grudgingly admitted that the car attack “met the legal standard” of terrorism, will have to crack down on white nationalist militias and gangs, because it is politically impossible not to. My guess is that not much will happen. My guess is that a conviction of the driver will be touted as a major win, and be used to say “get off our backs.”

This is why the President matters. His appointments and his priorities matter. Jeff Sessions matters. Trump’s de facto approval of white nationalism matters. His using the phrase “cherish our history” was a direct homage to the ostensible goals of the white nationalist movement, to protect Confederate monuments, because liberals are trying to erase white history, which is, of course, “our history”. He encourages them because his only political ideology above and beyond the cult of self is vague white nationalism.

But then, there’s that phrase: “when the country needed the President”. To me, that’s super pernicious, and it is shown to be so because of Trump. The country doesn’t need a father-confessor, and we shouldn’t pour our hopes and dreams into the Presidency. We shouldn’t have an elected public official be our moral guidance counselor.

That’s a problem we have had for generations, and it is dangerous. Sure, we’ve had some good compassionate people. Barack Obama was incredibly empathetic and eloquent, and could channel grief into something productive (like in his Charleston eulogy). George W. Bush wasn’t as eloquent, but was able to speak to the country in times of grief. Bill Clinton could do it well, but never seemed totally sincere; seemed more like a man in love with his voice. George HW Bush was distant and patrician and saw the Presidency as a job, not a calling. Reagan was a gifted storyteller.

And HW was the only one who served one term, because we have a need for the President to be the Boy Scout leader of the nation (that’s not the only reason he lost, of course). That need we have is sometimes filled when we have a Reagan or and Obama, but it clearly isn’t when we have Donald Trump, a paranoid racist tiny little man. Because then the opposite happens. We feel more adrift, and the worst get filled with even more passionate intensity.

But maybe that’s changing. Maybe that’ll be Trump’s one positive contribution to this country. No one even really expected Donald Trump to do the right thing. No one, I think, except pundits and other Green Room creatures, turned their lonely eyes to Washington. We know we can’t rely on him. We know we have to fight these bastards locally, city by city, message board by message board. Maybe breaking the feeling that the president has to be the best of us will make it matter less when we elect the worst of us.

 

Trump on Paris: Equal Parts Racism, Terrible Government, And Maddening Idiocy

 

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More like the “Arch De Jim Doesn’t Want To Go To Paris Anymore!”

 

I feel that for everyone, there is one Trump habit or event that sticks in your craw more than others, something that seems minor (in the grand scheme of Trump horrors), but that, to you, just wraps everything up in a disgusting, pulsating meat-bow. For me, it’s France. Or, more specifically, what he has to say about Paris, which comes up every time he’s talking about “terror”. He did so in his CPAC speech.

Take a look at what happened in Sweden. I love Sweden. Great country, great people, I love Sweden. They understand I’m right. The people there understand I’m right. Take a look at what’s happening in Sweden. Take a look at what’s happened in Germany. Take a look at what’s happened in France. Take a look at Nice and Paris.

I have a friend, he’s a very, very substantial guy, he loves the city of lights. He loves Paris. For years, every year during the summer he would go to Paris. It was automatic. With his wife and his family. Hadn’t seen him in a while. And I said, Jim, let me ask you a question, how’s Paris doing? Paris? I don’t go there anymore. Paris is no longer Paris. That was four years, four, five years, hasn’t gone there. He wouldn’t miss it for anything. Now he doesn’t even think in terms of going there.

Now. There’s actually a lot going on here. For one thing, it is weird and terrible to try to paint an ally (as France most certainly is) as a dystopian hellhole, and one that it isn’t safe to go to. That’s just being really bad at government. It’s considerably worse than criticizing a particular policy. Saying “Paris is no longer Paris” is attacking an ally on a fundamental, even existential level. French President Hollande is rightfully upset. Part of running the government, and being the face of the country, is getting along with allies and not going out of your way to needlessly insult. Trump is very bad at this job!

But let’s go a little deeper. The whole “Paris is no longer Paris” thing isn’t just about terrorism. Indeed, it’s more straight-up racism. The example here is from “Four, five years ago”, before Hebdo, before Nice, before the Bataclan. There’s a chance that Trump is just riffing and fudging the years, but he’s told this story many times. It isn’t that it is violent. It’s that there are immigrants there. Non-French.

And it is true that while before the wave of jihad violence France, and Paris, were trying to deal with poor immigrants who were not able to assimilate into society. It’s very complex, partly because France, unlike America (traditionally), had very strict requirements about what it meant to be “French”, and there wasn’t much of an attempt to change that, or to help newcomers from different cultures. They were immediately given up on and marginalized. One of the reasons the immigrant experience in America has worked so well, despite its flaws, is that the culture is flexible enough that it changes with new arrivals, and doesn’t try to change them (much).

So when Trump talks about his friend Jim not wanting to go to Paris because it is no longer Paris, he’s just updating and incorporating an older story into a narrative of terrorism. But the story is that Paris is no longer purely white, and that the non-whites would like some rights, and the right to be visible. The heart of it is pure racism; the conflation of religious bigotry with fears about terrorism are at the heart of the white supra-nationalist campaign. It would be subtly very smart, if I thought it was intentional.

I’m not sure it is, though, because of what bothers me the most: that the President of the United States of America, when discussing transnational terrorism, seems to base most of his thinking off a vague anecdote about a buddy of his named Jim.

This is enraging. It makes me so mad I can barely sit still. It’s not even the policy-basing part. It’s that he thinks this means something. He thinks it is interesting and important that a guy named Jim–a substantial guy–doesn’t like to go to Paris, and he always used to. Something’s going on!

Think about it. Imagine you got into a conversation in a bar and someone said, well, let me tell you about terrorism: here’s an incredibly boring story about a guy’s vacation history. You’d nod, and think, well, ok, that doesn’t mean anything. This guy just has a few vague, mostly racist assumptions, a second-person anecdote, and not much else. It would be a bad conversation in a bar, the faintly-lunatic ramblings of a know-nothing blowhard who seems like he’s more interested in impressing you by being friends with a substantial guy who can go to Paris whenever he wants than on actually talking about the issue.

Now imagine a Presidential candidate uses that anecdote as something meaningful. Now imagine the President keeps using it. What the hell? You have access to every bit of intelligence the country produces, and you want to talk about Jim?

I mean, maybe this is why he is “relatable”, because he talks like a normal guy. That’s backward in and of itself; his “normal guy” talk is so sweaty in its desperate lust for your admiration and filled with brags about the powerful people he knows that it should render itself as more out of touch than Romney, but we’re in the upside down, so who knows?

And maybe this is smart. Maybe it is a not-too-subtle dogwhistle about the mongrol hordes in Europe, and how they are coming over here if we don’t do anything. Maybe he knows exactly what he is doing, if just instinctively.

But let us not forget that the President is a man so deeply incurious about the world, and so vastly unlearned, that he bases his ideas on cable news crawls and other people’s idiot stories. That’s where we are.