Center-right Democrats who support Joe Biden are telling left-leaning Democratic progressives that they should stop being “purity ponies” and support Joe Biden even though his politics are very different from theirs.
He was a difficult personality and his policy toward Native Americans was atrocious, but Andrew Jackson had an actual record of military accomplishment when he ran for president. No one could argue that Ulysses S. Grant wasn’t ready for the presidency when he ran. Dwight Eisenhower led the biggest naval armada in human history and played a crucial role in defeating Adolf Hitler. JFK is experience as the captain of the PT 109 during World War II was a legendary example of grace, courage and leadership under terrible circumstances. Now Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, who by all accounts never experienced combat, is bragging about his desk work in Afghanistan to convince us to vote for him.
There’s a lot of good reasons to impeach Donald Trump. Let’s start with the fact that he is an asshole. Rude, crude, socially unacceptable. Openly talks in racist language. Coddles Nazis. But in their impeachment inquiry Democrats are instead focusing on a very hard to follow narrative about his phone call to the president of Ukraine, in which he asked that country to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of vice president Joe Biden, and initially threatened to withhold military aid but then granted it. This is way too much like Iran Contra: who can follow the story even if it’s true?
George Carlin said: “Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.” Given the timing I assume he was referring to how the Nixon Administration ramped up bombing in order to strengthen its hand against the North Vietnamese at the upcoming 1972 Paris peace talks. Thousands of residents of Hanoi were killed with no practical effect at the negotiating table. “The wording of the [final peace] agreement was almost exactly the same as it had been at the beginning of December—before the Christmas bombing campaign, Rebecca Cesby wrote for the BBC.
Henry Kissinger, the chief U.S. negotiator in Paris, admitted as much. “We bombed the North Vietnamese into accepting our concessions,” said Nixon’s secretary of state, never missing a chance to be droll while bathing in the blood of innocents.
Here Donald Trump goes again.
“U.S. Heightens Attacks on Taliban in Push Toward Peace in Afghanistan,” read the headline in the New York Times on February 8th. One wag on my Facebook page commented: “It’s like the headline writers aren’t even trying anymore.”
“The Pentagon has stepped up airstrikes and special operations raids in Afghanistan to the highest levels since 2014 in what Defense Department officials described as a coordinated series of attacks on Taliban leaders and fighters,” began the Times piece. “The surge, which began during the fall, is intended to give American negotiators leverage in peace talks with the Taliban after President Trump said he would begin withdrawing troops and wind down the nearly 18-year war.”
Bombing a military target has obvious benefits: troops, equipment, materiel and infrastructure are destroyed or damaged that otherwise might have been deployed against you and your forces.
Military planners tout a more subtle theory in favor of the strategic bombing of civilians. Military planners assume as an evidence-free article of faith that blowing up urban areas accomplishes more than killing people and destroying their homes. They believe it “softens them up,” lowers their morale and undermines support for the government, perhaps even culminating in a popular uprising bringing the conflict to an earlier conclusion and the installation of a friendly new regime. The thing is, it only seems to have worked once—when Japan surrendered following the nukings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
There is no evidence that non-nuclear bombing campaigns, no matter how ferocious or sustained, have ever accomplished more than leaving craters where people once lived. “Although more than 40,000 people died during the eight months of the Blitz and in London about 1,000,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, there were no riots and war production increased steadily,” notes an Economist review of the book “The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945” by Richard Overy. “People suffered, but the majority got used to it… Even when the Royal Air Force in 1942, closely followed by the U.S. Army Air Force, began to put together the famous ‘1000 bomber’ raids that were supposed to ‘knock Germany out of the war,’ German war production continued to ramp up and the Nazi regime never came remotely close to losing political control.”
Like the North Vietnamese in 1972, the Taliban in 2019 read newspapers. They know they’ve won. They know that the U.S. knows it has lost. They know U.S. voters have turned against the war against Afghanistan. Bombing or no bombing, all the Taliban have to do is hang tight before the U.S. leaves and tosses them the keys to the country on the way out.
Ramping up the violence now looks like what it is: a bitter, desperate, last-ditch effort to act even more like the monsters Afghans have become convinced that we are.
Aside from its pointlessness and total waste of life and treasure, what’s shocking about the Trump Administration’s “killing toward peace” campaign is its utter cluelessness about human nature. Trump won the presidency by accurately reading the mood of the electorate, particularly the long-neglected Rust Belt Midwest, when Democrats and the media could not. Why can’t his Defense Department see that an escalated bombing campaign against Afghanistan won’t improve our bargaining position and could make things worse?
For thousands of years in both the Western and Eastern worlds, the peace negotiations that ended the overwhelming majority of wars were concluded during ceasefires. Winding down armed conflict allowed the parties to mourn their dead, revel in their victory or wallow in loss. Most importantly, a ceasefire gives warring sides breathing space to begin to reframe their image of their soon-to-be former adversaries. Enemies become neighbors, eventually trading parties and perhaps even friends. Monstrous Others transform into who they were all along—people just like you and me.
We see now that the senseless slaughter of the 1972 Christmas bombings delayed the true peace of rapprochement between unified Vietnam the United States by years. If the U.S. is ever fortunate enough to reach a similar accommodation with Taliban-run Afghanistan, it will have been pointlessly delayed by America’s latest attempt to “bomb toward peace.”
(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 hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
What if other countries mourned their national tragedies the way we do? The United States reads off the names of the dead during annual commemoration ceremonies and builds walls with names. Other countries have far bigger death counts, often due to us, but the scale of the carnage makes it impossible for them to wallow in such niceties.
“This is not who we are.” Americans are saying this about the forced separation of children from their migrant parents at the border with Mexico. They said it about torture. Yet we keep doing these horrible things over and over again. So it isn’t really true. These horrible acts are exactly who we are.
Continuing his effort to keep his twitter feed wild and crazy and important, President Trump recently issued a series of broadsides against members of the media. He seems to spend a lot of time tweeting, and significantly less time doing everything else. Though amusing, these mini-communiques are coarsening our national conversation.
To the French, it felt like the end of the world. 1940: defeated in six weeks, surrender, subjugation, overrun by German soldiers whose power of life or death were absolute and absolutely capricious. Fascism triumphant; organized resistance as yet unimaginable.
Simone de Beauvoir, who dedicated herself to the study of ethics, struggled to adjust to everyday life in Nazi-occupied Paris. On the Metro, a German soldier — Wehrmacht, low-ranking and therefore a conscript? — asked for directions. Seemed like a nice kid. Besides, refusal was dangerous. But he was an invader. What was the right thing to do: a little treasonous help, or send him to some dangerous neighborhood?
On a macro level, the French had to decide to what extent to cooperate with the terrifying new regime.
On one extreme were the collaborators and war profiteers who exploited their fellow citizens, welcomed every chance to advance their personal fortunes and thereby legitimized the Nazis and the Vichy-based puppet regime led by Philippe Pétain. Many were executed by extrajudicial tribunals after liberation in 1944.
At the opposite end of the behavioral spectrum were the Communist résistants de la première heure and the men and women of the maquis. Abandoning jobs and families, these people of principle lived rough lives underground, risking everything to terrorize the Germans and their French fascist allies. Many were tortured and murdered.
Though it’s premature to draw a direct comparison between Nazi Europe and Trump’s America, it’s never too early to start thinking about the ethics of resistance in a United States whose government whose repressiveness is likely to feel unacceptably severe to a significant portion of the population.
What is the correct way to behave after January 20th? Should one Keep Calm and Carry On? (Given that those now-clichéed posters were supposed to have been plastered on walls by a retreating British government in the face of a Nazi occupation of the UK, my inclination is to say no.) Ought one take to the hills and practice shooting down drones?
Like the French during World War II, most Americans opposed to/afraid of Trump will muddle through some murky middle ground. In times that try souls, ambiguity abounds.
We Americans may not be familiar with them, but there are standards. Everything does not go. There are clear rights and wrongs. Now, as we plunge into the moral abyss, it is important to learn, spread and enforce the Rules of Resistance for people who want to be able to hold their heads high when their children ask “what did you do during the war, daddy/mommy?”
Rule 1: Anything for survival.
As a teacher, Beauvoir would have lost her food rations, ID papers and livelihood if she hadn’t signed an odious Vichy-required certificate swearing that she wasn’t a Jew. Though she was appalled, she signed. You’re not required to starve to death over a principle.
Rule 2: Nothing for Trump.
Even though Jewish writers were banned from publication, Beauvoir submitted her novel for a literary prize. “If I had been awarded the Prix Goncourt that year I should have accepted it with wholehearted jubilation,” she recalled. Disgusting. Her participation legitimized the regime’s anti-Semitism.
The Rockettees and the singer Jackie Evancho will perform at Trump’s inaugural. “I just kind of thought that this is for my country,” Evancho said. Jennifer Holliday initially said she’d do the gig as well: “I’m singing on the mall for the people,” said Holliday. “I don’t have a dog in this fight.” They are wrong: it is precisely for their country that they ought to have opted out, as Ice-T and Elton John did. The one thing Trumpism offers is ideological clarity; at times like this, everyone has a dog in the fight, ostriching not allowed.
When you’re considering whether or not to participate in something Trump-y or government-y during the next few years, get educated. Then ask yourself: what would I think if I were one of the people being targeted by Trump and the Republicans? How would an immigrant awaiting deportation feel about Jennifer Holliday while watching Jennifer Holliday croon on TV in a nasty ICE prison? How will someone dying of a disease because she can’t afford treatment after losing Obamacare feel about the Rockettes?
Normally, when your president calls, a patriot heeds his call. But Trump isn’t normal and these aren’t normal times.
Rule 3: Ignorance is no excuse.
Whether you live under Nazi occupation or Trumpian oppression, refusing to keep informed is no longer acceptable.
To her credit, Jennifer Holliday backed out of her scheduled inaugural performance in response to a social media firestorm, explaining that she had been “uneducated on the issues.” She continued: “Regretfully, I did not take into consideration that my performing for the concert would actually instead be taken as a political act against my own personal beliefs and be mistaken for support of Donald Trump and Mike Pence…I HEAR YOU.”
Everything is always a political act. Now the stakes are even higher.
If you’re a member of the armed forces or the police, you are morally required to resign and find another job.
If you work in a political post within the federal government — the diplomatic corps, for example — or a post that has policy implications, like the NSA or CIA, a morally upright person has no choice but to quit in protest.
If you have the opportunity to expose wrongdoing from within, you must act as a whistleblower.
If you have the chance to resist Trump’s protofascist policies, you must do so. You must hide the undocumented immigrant on the run. You cannot submit a bid to construct the Wall. You must, if you work for an insurance company, try to avoid enforcing rules that deny healthcare.
One of the things people overseas tell me they like about Americans is that we’re happy-go-lucky. That has to change.
It’s time to get serious.
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
George Stephanopoulos, ABC News: “You’re increasingly being compared to Hitler. Does that give you any pause at all?”
Donald Trump: “Because what I’m doing is no different than what FDR [did]. FDR’s solution for Germans, Italians, Japanese many years ago. This is a president who was highly respected by all. He did the same thing — if you look at what he was doing it was far worse.”
When it comes down to core values, you can never make an exception.
This week shows why.
After Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump called for a ban against Muslims to enter the United States — all Muslims, including businesspeople, college students, athletes, performers, even U.S. citizens currently living abroad — corporate media and the experts in their contact lists called the idea outlandish.
Primarily, they said it was crazy because it is unprecedented.
For example, NYU law professor Nancy Morawetz told The New York Times: “This is just so antithetical to the history of the United States. I cannot recall any historical precedent for denying immigration based on religion.”
True, there hasn’t been a religious test for admission to the U.S. But in a broader sense, Trump’s idea continues a long tradition of using immigration rules as expressions of American racism and intolerance.
There have been plenty of blanket bans motivated by bigotry. The Chinese Exclusion Act comes to mind. The Immigration Act of 1924 banned all immigration to the U.S. by Asians and Arabs. People with HIV-AIDS weren’t allowed to visit the U.S. from 1987 to 2009.
In each case, supporters of blanket exclusions argued that their extraordinary measures were “temporary” (that’s what Trump says) responses to unusual threats, such as the 19th century “yellow peril.” (Asians with “special powers,” Americans were told, were going to crush white culture.) Now we understand that the threats were trivial or nonexistent, that these responses were outlandishly reactionary. At the time, however, idiots and opportunists exploited the masses’ fear and ignorance to whip up paranoia — which set some terrible precedents we’re living with today.
Trump’s no-Muslims-need-apply plan is being criticized harshly. Rightly so, though no one asks the obvious question: If this is about border security, wouldn’t a real Islamic terrorist lie when asked about his religious affiliation, or claim to have renounced Islam, while applying for a visa? After all, some of the 9/11 hijackers were clean-shaven, drank alcohol and hung out in topless bars.
If anything, criticism of Trump has been too muted. Not one single Republican presidential candidate or major GOP official has said he or she would not support Trump should he win the Republican nomination. Believe you me, they’ll all fall in line if The Donald becomes The Man running against Hillary or Bernie.
Such weaselry is part of the way these things usually go. First there’s some sort of shock. Then a demagogue enters the scene who frames the shock as part of a crisis, followed by overreaction (we must give up some freedoms to stay safe) based on “exceptional times” because “everything has changed. Ultimately sanity returns, thanks to the passage of time, the cooling of passions and moving on to other concerns. This is a pattern we’ve seen before and we will surely see again — mainly because previous overreactions, many of them never renounced, serve as a perfect justification for new crimes against humanity.
“Look at what FDR did many years ago,” Trump said by way of justification, “and he’s one of the most respected presidents.”
So, sadly, true.
During World War II Franklin Roosevelt issued presidential proclamations that allowed officials to declare people of German, Italian and Japanese ancestry to be “enemy aliens” who could be detained without trial. Even though there is no evidence that any Japanese-American ever committed a disloyal act during the war, FDR ordered the internal deportation of tens of thousands from the Pacific Coast to concentration camps. Many lost their homes and their businesses. (Trump hasn’t decided whether he’d create Muslim concentration camps beyond the existing facilities at Guantánamo and overseas.)
There are two problems with FDR’s assault on the basic legal principle that we are innocent until proven guilty: his actions themselves, and the failure of our political and legal culture to repudiate him and what he did.
Had they been reversed and retroactively annulled, the FDR actions cited so approvingly by Trump would nevertheless stand as historical precedent. When something Really Bad happens — a sneak attack on your naval base, planes crashing into buildings, a couple going berserk and shooting up their workplace — all bets are off, including the Constitution.
But they were never annulled, much less reviled. So they also stand as legal precedent.
As Trump says, FDR is considered one of our finest presidents. The New Deal and winning World War II are what we remember. The internment camps, which affected only people with yellow skin, are a minor footnote in history classes. The message is clear: No one cares. If we thought the camps were really so wrong, Roosevelt would stand with Nixon and George W. Bush among our worst leaders, the same way Woodrow Wilson’s accomplishments in World War I and with the League of Nations are now being eclipsed by his racism.
And he should. Send just one kid to a camp, as FDR did to thousands, and yeah, that really does erase the Social Security Act.
The United States has never fully renounced those concentration camps for Japanese-Americans. Forty-three years after the end of World War II, Congress finally issued an apology but only paid token $20,000 payments to each surviving victim. (40,000 of the 120,000 prisoners had died.) No one was compensated for lost property. It’s still a fairly obscure chapter in history; I’d be surprised if 10% of Americans know it happened.
Disgustingly, the legal underpinnings of Roosevelt’s actions remain in full effect, namely the 1944 Supreme Court ruling in favor of the government in Korematsu v. United States. Fear of espionage and sabotage — though completely unsubstantiated — outweighed the right to due process of Japanese-Americans, said a 6-3 majority.
As a rule Americans prefer “to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” as Obama said in 2009 about Bush-era torture. The trouble is, the future winds up looking a lot like the past unless that past is truly dead and buried.
Use waterboarding, as U.S. troops occupying the Philippines did with impunity against Filipino independence fighters, and it comes back after 9/11. (No Marines were ever prosecuted for using this form of torture, but the U.S. did execute Japanese soldiers who waterboarded American POWs during World War II. Since Obama refused to prosecute CIA waterboarders, we can be sure it will happen again.)
Allow the president to fight a war without a formal declaration of war, “exceptionally” violating the Constitution as Congress did in 1950 with Korea, and a future president will do the same in Vietnam. And Panama. And Iraq. And Bosnia. And Afghanistan. And Iraq again.
And now Syria.
Because America never drives a stake through the darkest heart of its history, like the Korematsu decision, “exceptions” become precedents that keep coming back.
Several of George W. Bush’s memos calling for the suspension of the ancient right of habeas corpus cited Korematsu in order to justify holding Muslim POWs without charges or access to an attorney at Gitmo. In 2004, the Bush Administration used the precedent to fight a challenge by Gitmo detainees — prisoners who have been languishing under both Bush and Obama. (The Military Commissions Act of 2006 ended habeas corpus, the 800-year-old right to a court trial, for American citizens.)
As recently as 2014, Justice Antonin Scalia said the ruling remained in effect. It was, he said, “wrong, but it could happen again in wartime.”
Or, under a President Trump, in peacetime.
Just this once.
Because this time is different.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net and SkewedNews.net, is the author of “Snowden,” about the NSA whistleblower. His new book “Bernie” about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, comes out January 12 and is available for pre-order. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
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