Tag Archives: Presidents

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Is Trump a Brand-New Weird Existential Threat to the Republic? Not Even Close.

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This past week more than 300 American newspapers colluded — if the word fits… — to simultaneously publish editorials declaring themselves, contra Trump, not “the enemy of the people.” Shortly thereafter the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution declaring that it too did not consider the press to be, in a phrase that evokes the rhetoric of the former Soviet Union, state enemies.

The Boston Globe organized this journalistic flash mob.

“The greatness of America is dependent on the role of a free press to speak the truth to the powerful,” the Globe‘s editorial board wrote. “To label the press ‘the enemy of the people’ is as un-American as it is dangerous to the civic compact we have shared for more than two centuries.” President Trump has repeatedly derided the media as “the enemy of the people” and purveyors of “fake news” on Twitter and at campaign rallies.

The First Amendment guarantee of press freedom, the Globe wrote, “has protected journalists at home and served as a model for free nations abroad. Today it is under serious threat.”

Is it really?

The surprise election of Donald Trump has elicited more the-sky-is-falling handwringing than any other political event in my lifetime (I will turn 55 next week). Very Serious People have warned in Big Important Newspapers that the rise of Trump harkens the transformation of the U.S., and other Western democracies, into fascist states. Even before he took office, the ACLU called Trump “a one-man constitutional crisis.”

No doubt, Trump’s rhetoric evokes the president’s authoritarian instincts: deriding his foes as anti-American, calling for and ordering mass deportations, supporting torture, and yes, press-bashing showcase the mindset of a man who doesn’t support democratic values and probably doesn’t even know much about the history or philosophy behind them.

But let’s separate Trump’s crude rally remarks and crass online rants from his Administration’s policies. What is he actually doing? How does his day-to-day governance represent a radical departure from the norms established by presidential precedents?

When you set aside Trump’s talk in order to focus instead on his walk, it is hard to conclude that he is an outlier by American standards. A better analogy, a friend observes, is Kaposi sarcoma, a cancer commonly associated with AIDS. It can kill you. But it’s not the main reason you’re having problems.

In other words, Trump isn’t — despite what 300-plus newspaper editorial boards would have us think — a root cause of American crisis. He is a symptom of preexisting conditions. This is important. Because if we delude ourselves into thinking that getting rid of Trump will fix what ails us, things will only get worse.

Running down the list of what offends people about Trump, there is nothing here we haven’t seen before — and ignored when other presidents did them.

Trump stands accused of colluding with Russia to steal the 2016 election. There is still zero evidence that this happened. It’s still just vague insinuations leaked to newspapers with histories of cozying up to the CIA-FBI-NSA by anonymous CIA-FBI-NSA spooks.

There is, on the other hand, ample evidence that Ronald Reagan colluded with Iran to delay the release of the 52 American embassy hostages held in Tehran in order to destroy Jimmy Carter’s reelection chances.

Richard Nixon colluded with a shadowy Taiwanese business executive with ties to South Vietnam in order to scuttle the Johnson Administration’s last-ditch attempt to negotiate peace between South and North Vietnam just before the 1968 election. Nixon squeaked by the Democratic nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, by 0.7%. LBJ said Nixon was guilty of “treason,” but nothing happened.

Trump has been criticized for mass deportations of illegal immigrants, including separation of children from their parents, and rightly so.

But there is nothing new about Trump’s actions on immigration. Bill Clinton deported 12 million people, George W. Bush deported 10 million and Obama deported 5 million. (Obama’s numbers were lower but more robust because he ordered ICE to charge illegal immigrants as criminals. They faced prison if they returned. Previous presidents merely sent them home on buses and planes.)

As the National Immigration Law Center points out, “President Trump is exploiting the tools and infrastructure set in place by previous administrations to (1) expand the definition of who should be banned and deported and (2) militarize federal agencies and build up the deportation machine.”

Separating children from their parents at the border began under Obama, albeit in smaller numbers.

Trump has legitimized the “alt-right,” i.e. the psychotic right-wingers we used to call Nazis, Klansmen and fascists. Even after a fascist murdered a woman and injured others at an alt-right riot in Charlottesville, the president wallowed in false equivalence: “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” Coddling racists is disgusting. But it’s not new to American politics.

During the 1990s then-First Lady Hillary Clinton called some African-American youth “superpredators.”

Reagan relied on racist dog-whistles during his 1980 campaign, which he launched in the small Mississippi town where the Klan murdered four Freedom Riders during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. “I believe in states’ rights,” Reagan said. States right was political code for supporting racial segregation.

Reagan also referred to Cadillac-driving “welfare queens” and “strapping young bucks” buying T-bone steaks with food stamps on the campaign trail.

On substance, legislation and regulation, Donald Trump is virtually indistinguishable from his predecessors, many of whom are responsible for far more serious attacks on democracy.

George W. Bush alone is guilty of far more heinous crimes. He introduced the dangerous explosion of “signing statements” in which the president signs a bill into law and then crosses his fingers behind his back, secretly ordering that the law not be enforced. And he invaded Iraq preemptively, an extreme violation of international law, which states that nations may only go to war in self-defense or when faced with a grave and imminent military threat.

Where Trump differs from previous presidents is in tone. He is obnoxious and obscene. He lies — loudly. At least in public — they all swear in private — Americans like their leaders calm, deliberative and low-key.

It isn’t surprising that Trump’s trash-talking is freaking people out. But we shouldn’t conflate rudeness with an existential threat to democracy. Democracy, decency and civility were never real American values in the first place. That, not Trump, is the real problem.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s independent political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: So What if President Trump is an Asshole? All the Presidents Have Been Assholes.

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President Trump is under fire and we’re all shocked shocked SHOCKED that his shithole mouth called the (predominantly black) nations of Africa “shitholes,” helpfully comparing them to (predominantly blonde) Norway to make sure nobody missed the point. To drive home just how pissed off people are about this (and rightly so), Trump’s shithole comment overshadowed news that the government accidentally told the citizens of Hawaii they were about to get nuked. As George W. Bush would say, that’s some weird shit.

This is a big deal unless you’re reading this more than a few days after this writing, at which point Trump will have raised more hell with some new idiotic utterance that makes us forget about this one.

Speaking of hell-raising: I managed to raise a few social-media hackles recently when I posted the following: “I honestly don’t understand why people are so depressed about Trump. Policy-wise, he isn’t much different than Obama. Trump is truth in advertising: he is an asshole, our country acts like an asshole. No need for phony smiles, PC rhetoric.”

This led to a discussion comparing Trump not just to Obama, but other American presidents. There were lots of great comments. Still, I was struck by something that few people seem to be aware of — America’s rich history of presidential assholery. Given how wicked smart my readers are, I was surprised to hear some of them refer favorably to Trump’s predecessors.

Trump is a thieving, lying turd. In that respect, he is as presidential as it gets. Going back to Day One, the United States has been led by white males behaving badly.

Trump gets attacked for using the presidency to line his pockets, and rightfully so. Yet The Donald has nothing on the Father of Our Country.

George Washington was worth more than half a billion in today’s dollars — riches he accumulated in large part by exploiting his political influence to loot federal coffers. He joined the Masons, married well, scored a few lucky inheritances and invested the loot in real estate along what was then the Colonies’ western frontier in Indian territory that he came across as a young land surveyor.

GW’s acreage was on the wrong side of the Appalachian mountains — but not for long. Talk about conflict of interest: as commander of the revolutionary army and president, he promoted settlement of the west by whites that pumped up the value of his early investments. The fact that those whites were engaged in genocide bothered Washington not one whit.

Even on the Left, some Americans point to Lincoln as a pillar of moral rectitude. But Honest Abe suspended the ancient writ of habeas corpus; in 2006, a militaristic asshole named George W. Bush relied on Lincoln’s 1863 precedent to abolish it altogether.

Since nothing in the Constitution bans secession, Southern states enjoyed the legal right to leave the Union. Defying the Constitution, Lincoln went to war — illegally — to bring them back. Not only was the Civil War a bloodbath, it left us with a nation that remains politically and culturally fractured to this day. Blacks were 13% of the population of the Confederacy. Had Lincoln chosen peace, a slave uprising might have brought down the Old South — and killed a lot of racists.

Lincoln cheated in the 1864 election by playing both sides of the secession. To justify the war, he claimed the breakaway states were still part of the Union, yet didn’t count Southern electoral votes because they would have cost him reelection.

You name the president, I’ll name at least one unforgiveable sin.

FDR? The New Deal was a grand achievement. But if trying to stack the Supreme Court isn’t impeachable, what is? When World War II broke out, Roosevelt played footsie with Vichy France while snubbing the Resistance. He turned away Jewish refugees and refused to bomb the Nazi infrastructure used to murder Jews. He dragged his feet taking on Hitler so that the Soviet Union would take the brunt of Nazi savagery.

Folks are already saying: “Barack Obama will be inducted into the league of Great Presidents.” Obama, most Democrats have already forgotten, broke his promise to try for a “public option” in the Affordable Care Act. He went on languid vacations while the global economy was collapsing, handed trillions to bankers no strings attached and did nothing to help the unemployed and people whose homes were stolen by the banks. And he slaughtered thousands of innocent civilians with drones — people who represented zero threat to anyone — just for fun.

If that’s a great president, give me a shitty one.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is co-author, with Harmon Leon, of “Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America,” an inside look at the American far right, out now. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)