The Casual Blog

Tag: President Trump

Visiting Oberlin Cemetery, and five lessons from Hurricane Trump

Oberlin Cemetery in Raleigh

This week I went over to the Oberlin Cemetery, off of Oberlin Road in Raleigh, and learned a little history.  The cemetery served the Village of Oberlin, which was founded in 1865 by just freed formerly enslaved people.  It was named after Oberlin, Ohio, an abolitionist stronghold on the underground railroad, and site of Oberlin College, my alma mater.  

For a time, even as Reconstruction ended and the racist Jim Crow system started in the late 1870s, the little Village of Oberlin did just fine, gradually adding black owned businesses, schools, and churches.  The Depression of the 30s dealt it a harsh blow as local jobs disappeared, and many young people went north in the Great Migration.  In the 1950s, it was cut in two by an extension of Wade Avenue, and further disassembled by so-called urban renewal in the 1960s.  How much of the destruction of the community was driven by racism and how much was due to ordinary merciless capitalism?  Further study is needed.  

Today Oberlin Avenue is largely a commercial strip, and hardly anything remains of the 19th century village.  But there is an old cemetery that was started in the 1870s, which is worth visiting.  As these pictures show, it has large oaks, pines, and magnolias, and some attractive monuments.  Much of it isn’t carefully tended, but the fact that it is still there is a testimony to the strength of the black community there and its descendants.  

Last week we celebrated the Fourth of July more quietly than usual, or at least, most of us did.  President Trump had military jets fly over Mt. Rushmore, and before the fireworks, gave a speech in which he went all in on his trademarked fear mongering.  He targeted “angry mobs” tearing down our statues, and “bad, evil people” intent on intimidating “[us].”  You understand who he means by “us,” right?     

At this point, it looks like more and more people are noticing that Trump is totally incompetent and corrupt, a person who manages to be at once ridiculous and alarmingly vicious, who’s putting our lives and our democratic institutions at risk.  From recent polling, it looks reasonably likely that he’ll be defeated and gone in a few months.  Then we’ll be faced with the large task of the post storm clean up and rebuilding.  But in a way, I feel grateful that we’ve learned some things from Hurricane Trump.  

For example, here are five lessons learned:

1. Old-style racism is far from dead in America.  I’m talking about the people who still want to fly the Confederate flag and use the N word.  They’re a minority, but Trump turned them from a barely visible minority to one that feels proud and empowered, marching in the streets with guns and shouting excitedly.  The good thing is, we now understand that they are there and that we have to calm them down and address them.

2.  Xenophobia, the close relative of racism, is far from dead in America.  Lots of people who are uncomfortable with the N word are fearful of immigrants who look different and speak different languages.  “Build the Wall” makes no sense as geopolitics, but it makes perfect sense as political theatre.  Scapegoating foreigners has a long and ugly history in our country, and it has had another nasty revival as part of Trumpism.  But as with the previous item, at least now we know, and can start to address it. 

3. The American racial caste system is alive and well.  I’m distinguishing here between the racist ideals of avowed white supremacists and the more widespread sentiment that it’s natural and normal that white people have better schools, better houses, more money, and so forth, because that’s just how things happened to work out. 

The caste system ensures that we avoid inquiries that would undermine the system, like looking at our long and bloody history of oppression of minorities and the structural inequalities in jobs, housing, education, banking, and health care.  The caste system is harder to grasp than full on racism, but probably more corrosive.  Trump has done us the great service of bringing it more into view, and here again, he’s made it more possible to address. 

4.  We are sufficiently powerful to endanger a lot of the natural world, but not so powerful as to stop it from destroying us.  Over the last few decades, the science of climate change has become harder and harder to deny, but the President is still a die hard denialist.  Far from countering the looming catastrophe of climate change, he is working hard to bring it upon us as quickly as possible, through more fossil fuel mining and burning, less efficient cars, and opposition to every mitigation effort, including international climate cooperation and scientific research.  He even has new regulations to encourage more killing of wild animals!   

But we can be certain that Trump will not stop nature.  It’s very strong.  If we don’t change course, the atmosphere will continue to warm, with still more of our weather disasters like extreme hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, floods, and rising sea levels.  We can look forward to more deadly pandemics related to climate change and expanding human populations.  Here again, Trump has made our problems more visible and urgent.

5.  People are more prone to manipulation and delusion than we thought.  It’s easy to make fun of proponents of Pizzagate and QAnon, which are self-evident lunacy.  And we might have thought that having a president that lies constantly and shamelessly would eventually cause some distress and consternation even among his strong supporters.  But strangely, at least for many, it doesn’t.  

It turns out that constant lies tend to make us exhausted, cynical and indifferent, not much interested in truth, or prone to exotic conspiracy delusions like the Deep State.  With an efficient propaganda machine led by Fox News, facts are gradually replaced by alternative facts, and actual facts come to be viewed as fake news.  Even Orwell never imagined a manipulation and delusion system as disturbing, and as effective, as the one created by Trumpism.  

I could go on, but you get the idea.  Thanks to Trump, we can now see that elements of our system that we took for granted as sound and workable were badly deteriorated and close to catastrophic failure.  We thought we were living in a well constructed, comfortable house, and it turns out the foundations are rotten and the roof also needs to be replaced.  

The repairs are going to be time consuming and expensive.  It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is.  We need to focus hard on getting him safely out of the house, and then we can get started on the crucial repairs.  

On a cheerier note, I recommend Becoming, a documentary about Michelle Obama  which we just saw on Netflix.  I knew she was a gifted person, but I hadn’t known much about her story, or her remarkable ability to connect with people.    

What can you do when the President refuses to defend the U.S. against Russia? It’s simple.

Cold canoes at Umstead Park, January 13, 2018

“Have you heard the latest from Trump?”  Sally asked as I got home on Thursday, and my heart jumped.  It had been a few minutes since I’d last checked the news, so it was quite possible that I hadn’t.  It’s hard to keep up with the latest startling pronouncement from the White House.  Just trying can wear you out, which may be part of the idea.  

Even so, I found the energy to download and read some of the new minority report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee entitled Putin’s Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe:  Implications for U.S. National Security.  The report gives useful context for understanding how Putin is threatened by democracy, and how his regime has worked diligently to undermine it using, among other malign tools, cyberwarfare, disinformation campaigns, and military force.  

The report summarizes the Kremlin’s propaganda effort as involving “four simple tactics:  dismiss the critic, distort the facts, distract from the main issue, and dismay the audience.  . . . [D]isinformation operations seek to challenge the concept of objective truth . . . . [to subvert] the notion of verifiable facts and casting doubt on the veracity of all information, regardless of the source . . . .” (Report at 39)  The effort relies on high volume — “a firehose of falsehood” — that propagates faster than fact checkers can check.   (Id. at 40)

The Kremlin’s cyber arm includes carefully organized efforts by hundreds of young Russians employed as social media trolls.  In the run up to the 2016 presidential election, they were “trained on ‘the nuances of American social polemics’ . . . to set Americans against their own government: to provoke unrest and discontent.”  (Report at 45)  They use bot networks to quickly spread disinformation.  The Kremlin’s hackers also use “doxing” — breaking into networks, stealing private information, and leaking it publicly.  An example was the doxing of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election.  (Id. at 46)

The Senate minority report also describes how governments in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, the Baltic states, and the Nordic states have successfully responded to Putin’s program to undermine political order.  This is in contrast to the U.S., which “still does not have a coherent, comprehensive, and coordinated approach to the Kremlin’s malign influence operations, either abroad or at home.  Instead, “the U.S. President continues to deny that any such threat exists . . . .”  (Report at 3-4)  As Senator Benjamin Cardin states in the letter of transmittal, “Never before in American history has so clear a threat to national security been so clearly ignored by a U.S. president.”  

This is obviously not OK, and I checked to see if it was unconstitutional.  I think it is.  Article II, section 1 of the Constitution requires that the President take an oath saying “I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”   This is the oath Trump took at his inauguration (before an incredible crowd, in his telling).  Protecting the United States is the prime directive of the President.  You might try to argue that you could protect and defend the  Constitution while denying and trying to divert attention from the efforts of a hostile foreign power to undermine the government.  But that would not be a persuasive argument.

It would be interesting to know for sure whether the Trump campaign worked directly with the Russians during the campaign, or intended to obstruct the investigation of such efforts.  But we don’t have to know those answers to chart our course.  Never mind the corruption, for the time being. Leave to one side Trump’s cluelessness, shamelessness, and titanic incompetence.  Once we understand that we’re targets of serious and sustained aggression by Russia intended to weaken and undermine our country, and we know that the President denies that and refuses to defend against that aggression, that President should be removed from office.  That presidential failure all by itself is a violation of his constitutional oath.

In other words, it’s not only absurd that the President claims Russia’s interference in our elections is “fake news” and efforts to investigate its actions are a “witch hunt.”  It’s grounds for impeachment.   

So how can a member of Congress continue in good faith to support President Trump?  Political expediency and self-interest are tolerable to a point, but I think we’re well past that point.  Our democracy faces a serious threat from Russia, and the President’s refusal to address that threat is a violation of his constitutional oath.  

If you agree, you might call your representatives and ask them (probably via their answering machine) to focus on this problem.  Here are three questions you could ask.  1.  Do you support President Trump’s refusal to defend the United States from Russia’s interference in our elections and other aggression ?  2. Do you think a President who refuses to honor his constitutional oath should be allowed to continue in office?   3. Do you acknowledge your oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and do you intend to fulfill it?