Friday, June 22, 2018
Spoken into the Void
Except for the occasional spikes in viewing, I feel like I'm speaking into the void. This was the lead story in a collection of essays by Adolf Loos at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries in describing the state of European architecture at the time, resulting in his most famous essay, "Ornament and Crime," but figured his essays were falling on mostly deaf ears if any ears at all.
He likened ornament in architecture to tattoos on convicts. He felt that we as Europeans were above all that but today the proliferation of tattoo parlors across Europe and America says otherwise. The tattoo has long been an emblem of identity, but was largely viewed as one among marginalized persons, gangs and miscreants. When sailors, merchant marines and other sea men came back from the Pacific with tattoos emblazoned on them, tattoos began to reach a broader segment of the population and have proliferated over the decades.
Some prefer modest tattoos in immodest places to be seen only by loved ones. Others literally cover their bodies head to toe in tattoos, proudly showcasing themselves on social media. The boldest emblazon their crudest political and religious supremacist beliefs on themselves as if they are begging for a fight. Whatever the case, it is irremovable other than to go through a painful laser operation, often leaving scars.
Right now, America is going through such a process. Regardless of your political view, all Americans are being branded by the Trumpism taking place, and it will be a painful process to have this stain removed.
I'm still scratching my head as to what Republicans saw in Trump to nominate him for President. Given how the general election turned out, it seemed like any of their nominees could have beaten Hillary Clinton, as Trump was the worst nominee imaginable. Polls consistently showed him as the least liked among the broad field of candidates, but there he was after a tortuous serious of primaries - the last man standing.
In the end, Republicans embraced him, some even rode on his coat tails into Congress and state governments. There was this belief that he would "pivot" at some point and embrace a broader set of ideas, enlarging the party into a "big tent," but as each month of his presidency has gone by that tent has gotten smaller and smaller.
Many Republicans now try to disown him, while others have left the party, remarking that Trump has turned the GOP into a cult of his personality. But, they all served as his enablers, as so few spoke out against him during the election. Even those who tried to keep a low profile, like Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, were enablers as they waiting out the election.
Whatever good instincts his supporters claimed he possessed have all but disappeared in the wake of the immigration crisis along the border. We have seen the most vile, ruthless manifestation of Trumpism yet. One which he tried to pass off on "Democrats" before him, but in reality was the product of his own shameless administration, using women to try to defend this heinous separation policy, and now his wife and daughter to put a kinder, gentler face on the crisis.
You'd have to go back to WWII to find a similar analogy, as Laura Bush referred to in her condemnation of the immigration policy. This was when Japanese-American families were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in internment camps, purportedly for their protection. It took decades to finally reach a settlement with the survivors of those atrocious policy. The scar still remains.
It seems that the only good immigrants are white immigrants in American society. Darker hued immigrants are seen as a taint on the purity of our founding fathers' vision of America. The Constitution is greatly overblown, as it never had plans for persons of color to become full members of our society. That only came about through amendments over the years, starting with the 13th amendment, which eliminated slavery in the country, and even then it was permissible "as a punishment for crime."
For decades Southern states got around the 13th amendment by locking up blacks for a variety of minor crimes and putting them on chain gangs for indefinite periods of time. This split apart families the same way slavery had. It was only with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 that these wrongs and many others were addressed. Yet, here we are 50+ years later, seeing it play out all over again as the Trump administration takes a "zero tolerance" approach to illegal immigration.
The last comprehensive immigration bill was signed by Reagan in 1981. Since then we have had several attempts to tighten the policies, most notably a 1996 illegal immigration "reform bill" that allowed the government more severe measures in dealing with this unwanted problem. It was a product of the new wave of conservatism at the time, resulting in the notorious "Contract with America" that was going to restore the original intent of the Constitution, among other things. Bill Clinton begrudgingly signed onto it, making this new reform bill the law of the land.
This is what many conservative pundits point to in defending the heinous actions of Trump, even though there was nothing explicitly written in that bill that allowed for the separation of families illegally crossing into the country. All the bill did was allow more severe punishment for what is regarded as a misdemeanor crime. It is only in this broad sense that the Trump administration could "justify" its policy, which it has now formally retracted.
To hear Trump, he was simply redressing a bad "Democratic" policy. He continues to refuse to own up to the policy at his campaign rallies. He makes it sound as if he was enforcing the law of the land, putting the onus on Congress to come up with a new immigration bill.
Maybe this is Trump's style - manufacture a crisis in order to get Congress to act, but he does so in the crudest way imaginable and appears to gloat over his decisions like a ruthless mobster extorting local businessmen. This mobster mentality is something we've only seen before in autocratic governments - notably the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany - and today in Russia and China. It is the product of a criminal mind, not a civilized mind, determined to attain power at any cost and hold onto it as long as humanly possible. Persons become meaningless in society, especially ones who are viewed as outsiders. We are all just extras in a dark game being played out.
In this sense, Trump's unquestioning supporters are just as much pawns as are the immigrants being detained along the border. Trump is playing on their Nativist sentiments, hoping to put pressure on conservative state and federal legislators who speak out against him. It is a form of extortion that has led to a new wave of Trumpist candidates scoring victories in Republican primaries, which he hopes will carry over in November, increasing his power base.
The only problem is that his tactics are so crude and openly vengeful that he is helping to energize the Democratic base like never before, ensuring strong opposition even in conservative states like Texas, where Beto O'Rourke is gaining on incumbent Ted Cruz, running a highly charged grassroots campaign. So much so that Ted is now looking for any good photo-ops he can, whether it is a pick-up basketball game with Jimmy Kimmel or reversing his position on family separations. Anything to make him look human.
It's hard to believe Ted Cruz was once a serious challenge to Trump in 2016, but given the choice the Republican establishment chose to side with Trump. You'd think Ted would be embittered by the way he was dumped, but he was quick to embrace Trump rather than risk losing favor among the Teabaggers-turn-Trumpists.
This is a movement that began in 2010 with the rise of the Birthers and Tea Party, which Ted and Trump were quick to embrace and turn into their political fortune. Ted turned into a successful Senate bid in 2012, whereas Trump became our 45th president, as hard as it is to believe.
But now a fatigue has set in, which is all too common among such rebellious movements. If no appreciable gains are seen, at least ones your elected officials can take credit for, then apathy is sure to follow. Trump continues to talk a good show, but the reality on the ground doesn't favor his bedrock supporters. So, he does what any embattled autocrat would do - blame it on the other side.
You can get away with this to some degree, but the fact that he has done nothing to expand the base of the GOP puts Senators like Ted Cruz in a difficult place. They now have to try to create a little bit of space between themselves and Trump if they hope to stay in office, hoping that their electorate will see the difference. But, you can't create too much distance, as Mark Sanford did in South Carolina, otherwise Trump will lash out at you as a traitor to his cause. Sanford was merely too soon in condemning the family separations. Trumpist Katie Arrington may well win the conservative South Carolina district, as Sanford won by 20 points two years ago, but the mood changes quickly even in the reddest of Congressional districts.
It's like Americans want to have this tattoo removed, no matter how painful the process. They've had to wear it for two years whether they wanted it or not, and it has come time to take it off.
There is little to suggest Trump will save the GOP, as he aims his tirades at all the wrong people, splitting the Republican Party in the process. West Virginia was considered a Senate seat they could win, but after a bitter Republican primary in which ex-con Blankenship is now running as an Independent, Joe Manchin holds as much as a 13-point lead over his Republican challenger. For many Republicans, this tattoo is permanent.
For the rest of us, the mid terms is the one chance we have between now and 2020 to corner Trump and make his Presidency as insufferable as possible in his remaining two years. We won't remove the stain entirely, but at least we can make it less visible.