…Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice
Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.
– Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
So if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato,
knock the crap out of ’em, would you? Seriously. Okay?
Just knock the hell…I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.
I promise. I promise. – Donald Trump
July 20th, 2017 – half a year since the inauguration. I don’t need to remind you how stunningly weird our public life – and for many of us, our dreams – have been, these six months. Or perhaps I do: Consider Rolling Stone’s compilation of “100 WTF Moments From Trump’s First 100 Days”.
Of course, Trump’s arrival in the White House is an arbitrary point in time. If you have read my book or many of my articles, I’m sure you’ll agree that life in the United States has been straight-out, uncompromisingly, bat-shit crazy for a very long time. And yet, it seems to be in our nature as Americans (at least as middle-class, white Americans) to swing back, like elastic bands, into our familiar mode of denial. It can’t happen here.
So in the course of this blog series I am going to itemize for you, in rather detailed fashion, what’s been going on, if you’re willing to stay with me. I could suggest that you skip the meat of these articles and just head toward my conclusions. But that would be to treat you like a child who can’t tolerate your necessary and inevitable confrontation with reality.
Coming to consciousness often – perhaps always – involves dropping or being forced to drop our sense of specialness or uniqueness and privilege, our naiveté, and/or our innocence, and painfully accepting the reality of the darkness that surrounds us – as well as our own dark potential. This process is almost always necessary before we can fully accept that other reality: the light that both surrounds us and is within us. No dark, no light. The brightest lights cast the darkest shadows.
To go into the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark, go without sight.
And find that the dark, too, blooms and sings
And is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
– Wendell Berry
There’s no doubt that the current version of our national madness began before the election. Perhaps it began when Trump entered the Republican primary and immediately proceeded to debase that lofty tradition.
Or was it when you realized that he was openly articulating the racism and demonization of people of color that the other candidates had only been addressing in euphemisms? Clearly, plenty of these things were already being said long before the election season. They had been happening (depending on your degree of privilege) forever. Let’s be clear about this: nothing he said was new. His rivals and his predecessors had been articulating the same hatred and intolerance for decades. The only difference was that they had been limited by some vague consensus about good taste, so they (at least as far back as Ronald Reagan) had been forced to use the coded language of implication, which had always provided them with “plausible deniability” and allowed them to say that they had not been saying what everyone knew they were saying.
But in 2016 countless white people were thrilled that Trump could “speak his mind,” without concern for “political correctness.” The phrase, writes Moira Weigel,
…conjured powerful forces determined to suppress inconvenient truths by policing language…The term is what Ancient Greek rhetoricians would have called an “exonym”: a term for another group, which signals that the speaker does not belong to it. Nobody ever describes themselves as “politically correct”. The phrase is only ever an accusation.
Or was it when it dawned on you that our political system (even Trump bragged about this) is so broken that the Democratic establishment really did steal the primaries from Bernie Sanders?
Perhaps it was a few years earlier, when you heard Hillary Clinton chortle about Muammar Gaddafi’s death: “We came, we saw, he died!” Or when Obama wept about gun deaths in America while raining death all over the Mid-East. Or the insanity of Bush’s wars, or the election of 2000, or…I could go on indefinitely.
In book talks I often ask members of the audience: When did you lose your innocence?The answers often go to the events of 9-11, or with older folks, the Kennedy assassinations. Then I ask, when did you lose your innocence the second time, and the third time, etc…The point I then have to make is that in our demythologized culture, in which true initiation rites have long been lost, the default mode that we all lurch back to at every opportunity is the denial and the desperate desire to remain innocent – in both senses, childlike and untainted by guilt. Once again, we have permission to ignore what is right in front of us. So the next time our innocence is punctured, it feels like the first time.
In a (very) different context, I could also ask: When did you get radicalized? When did it feel OK to hate? When did you feel permitted to act? When did your sense of (pick one or more) loneliness, alienation, anger, entitlement, privilege, etc, rise to the point that released your inhibitions about inappropriate speech or action? Or: When did your Dionysian moment happen?
I don’t think I need to refer to the surface level. You already know about the 3:00 AM tweet wars with Arnold Schwarzenegger; the misogynistic insults; the juvenile bragging and veiled threats; the three million fake voters; the golf weekends; the smarmy, fake religiosity; the casual statements about missile attacks; the appointment of corporate toadies to destroy the regulatory and protective federal agencies; Sean Spicer’s and Kellyanne Conway’s surrealistic interviews; the ghoulish Stevens (Miller and Bannon); the vampire Trump siblings and Jared Kushner; the scandals; the refusal to address global warming, the attacks on Syria (nothing new there), the allegations of fake news, the actual fake news; certainly not the new Cold War and harping about evil Russians (did you notice when Democrats and the media began to refer to “the Russians” as “our adversaries?”). Even if you avoid the news altogether, you still get much of this from Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show or Facebook in easily digestible form.
No, infuriating or depressing as it is, that’s all on the surface level. But it – and especially Trump himself – have been expressing a certain mythic role that I’ll have to take some time to unpack. And that time will be filled with the list of what else has been going on. But for now, I’ll think of this surface level as the most obvious expression of permission – letting the dogs out, or what some have called the “Trump effect.” My list has four categories: prominent hate statements; specific acts of hate; government policy; and local police actions. The list is neither perfectly chronological nor complete; indeed, I fully expect to add plenty of items before I complete it. But I have to start somewhere. Eventually, I’ll try to put all this into a mythic context.
“Free Speech”, Provocations and Threats
– Within 24 hours of Trump’s victory, there was a burst of “celebratory” incidents. “We actually counted 1,094 different hate crimes and lesser bias incidents in just the first 34 days after the election,” said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center:
And in 37% of those incidents, the perpetrators actually named Trump, his slogan, ‘Make America Great,’ or his comments about grabbing women by the genitals…It was a real wave of incidents that washed across this country in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s election, and I would describe it as celebratory violence and hatred.
The SPLC found that many “patriotic” or militia groups became dormant in 2016. But Potok said that was because Trump was “so revered” by the people in these groups that they no longer needed to operate independently and simply joined his campaign. On the other hand, Trump’s white nationalism led other previously shadowy groups to emerge publicly, and the emergence of the so-called alt-right was nothing but a “rebranding” of white supremacist ideology aimed at luring younger adherents.
– Before the inauguration, the Ku Klux Klan celebrated with a parade in North Carolina.
– A prominent hate group leader bragged that his allies are now “…very well placed in his administration.”
– The White House’s Holocaust Memorial Day statement failed to mention Jews. Later, Trump responded to a question about anti-Semitism by bragging about the size of his election victory.
– An Asian American family found ‘Chinks’ painted on their garage door after moving into a new neighborhood.
– A Flint, Michigan official resigned after blaming the water crisis on “fucking niggers”.
– Trump terrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka is a sworn member of a Nazi-allied Hungarian group.
– News surfaced that James Mattis, briefly considered for Defense Secretary, had dismissed evidence that troops under his command had slaughtered dozens of Iraqis at 2004 wedding party.
– A Tennessee politician created a billboard that said, ‘Make America White Again’.
– Alabama Police called It an ‘honor’ to protect the KKK at an LGBTQ pride march
– Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, briefly considered as Trump’s DHS secretary, proposed that a million people should be sent to Guantanamo Bay if they use “jihadi rhetoric” online.
– “Anti-Sharia law” rallies occurred in 30 cities.
– Televangelist Jim Bakker claimed the victims of the bombing in Manchester, England “literally invited” the attack by mocking God.
– Arizona Trump supporters called for ‘Liberal Genocide’ and deportation of Jews:
– No professional team would hire the black football star Colin Kaepernick because of his political views, despite re-hiring several convicted felons.
– A Neo-Nazi blogger raised $150,000 after being sued for harassing a Jewish Woman:
– 48 Jewish community centers received bomb threats. In late February, Trump suggested that these threats were coming from within the Jewish community. Did he have inside information? Nearly a month later, an Israeli Jew was arrested for sending them.
– Louisiana Congressman Clay Higgins told supporters on Facebook to ‘hunt And Kill’ Muslims.
– On the second day of Passover, Sean Spicer said that even Hitler didn’t “sink” to using chemical weapons like Bashar al-Assad. Later, he said Hitler “was not using the gas on his own people” the way President “Ashad” did, and referred to concentration camps as “Holocaust centers.”
– NRA board member Ted Nugent called for Hillary Clinton to be hanged.
– African-American professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor canceled her book tour after Trump supporters threatened to lynch her.
– California State University Fresno halted its Middle East Studies search due to outside pressure.
– California Assemblyman Rob Bonta introduced a bill to remove a nearly 70-year-old statute that makes it illegal for members of the Communist Party to work in that state’s government. The statute was an obvious violation of free speech rights, and the Supreme Court had already declared similar laws unconstitutional in 1960. Conservatives quickly mobilized to oppose the bill, and Bonta withdrew it.
– Harvard University rescinded admissions for at least 10 prospective students over offensive Facebook posts.
– A Muslim woman wearing a hijab headscarf was refused service at a gas station by an attendant who announced, “I don’t need to serve you anymore. We’re trying to make America great again.”
– Trump pointedly laid a wreath on Andrew Jackson’s tomb.
– Over 50 reports from 26 states indicated that schoolchildren were using Trump’s words to bully Latino, Middle Eastern, black, Asian, and Jewish classmates. The Southern Poverty Law Center claimed that over 90% of educators reported that school climate had been negatively affected by the election.
– Boston baseball fans hurled racial slurs at Black players.
– HUD Secretary Ben Carson said publicly that public housing is too good for poor people.
– Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks claimed to support covering pre-existing health conditions, but only for people who ‘lead good lives’.
– Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador told a town hall meeting that nobody dies due to lack of access to health care.
– In the San Francisco Bay area, four Albany high school juniors punished for their roles in a racist Instagram posting incident sued the school district, alleging their free speech rights were violated. Racial slurs were reported at nearby Piedmont and Berkeley High Schools.
– Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi told school children that men in dresses are “asking for” violent beatings. Fox News pundit Erick Erickson concurred.
– Alaska State Representative David Eastman said that women in Alaska get pregnant to get a “free trip to the city” for abortions.
– Fliers appeared at the University of Maryland claiming ‘America is a white nation’.
– Missouri State Representative Tila Hubrecht called rape-induced pregnancy God’s ‘Silver Lining’.
– A white man in Texas taunted a Muslim family with “Donald Trump got you motherfuckers!”
– Oklahoma Representative Mike Ritze suggested handing 82,000 non-English speaking kids over to ICE.
– In Charlottesville, Virginia a torch-wielding mob protested the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.
– Mississippi State Representative Karl Oliver publicly called for the lynching of anyone attempting to remove Confederate monuments in his state.
– A Texas judge recommended on Facebook that a Black defendant be lynched.
– At the confirmation hearing of Jeff Sessions, activist Desiree Fairooz was convicted of disorderly conduct for laughing when Senator Richard Shelby claimed that Sessions had a track record of “treating all Americans equally under the law.” The verdict was reversed on appeal.
– Trump publicly threatened James Comey and Robert Mueller and regretted having hired Sessions.
– The city of Berkeley was rocked repeatedly when white supremacists claiming to support free speech battled anti-fascists after the University refused to allow provocateurs Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter to speak there. After the second event, an anarchist café’s windows were shot out. After similar events in Portland, local Republicans invited militia groups to provide security at public events.
– Trump proposed that Americans who fail to report their suspicious neighbors should be ‘...
– Theaters bearing William Shakespeare’s name reported a surge of abusive messagesfollowing a New York production of Julius Caesar in which the title character was dressed to look like Trump.
– Fox analysts called for Muslim internment camps.
– Former Arizona state senator Russell Pearce suggested sterilizing poor women as a condition for receiving food stamps.
– New Hampshire state representative Josh Moore said that if a law to ban topless female nudity fails, men should be able to squeeze exposed nipples in public.
– A Connecticut trump supporter admitted to vandalizing a school with left-wing slogans in order to frame liberals.
– An Ohio sheriff refused to carry an opioid overdose reversal drug in a county (Butler) where 150 people died of heroin- or fentanyl-related overdoses in 2016.
– A Florida Teacher said that black students were ‘rats’ that could infest her classroom.
– On Independence Day Trump tweeted a video that endorsed violence against journalists.
– Trump’s personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz threatened a stranger in an email with ‘Watch Your Back, Bitch.’
– The office of Nevada Senator Dean Heller, one of the few Republicans who hadn’t yet endorsed the “healthcare” bill was broken into and a threatening note was left.
― Tennessee State Senator Mark Green withdrew his name from consideration to become the next Army Secretary after comments he had made about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community surfaced.
– Education Secretary Betsy DeVoss spoke to a men’s rights organization and defended those accused of campus rape. Then the top civil rights official under her at the Department of Education said that 90% of women who make rape accusations are lying about them.
– A black Mississippi high school valedictorian was forced to share the honor with a white student who’d received lower grades. She was attacked online with multiple hate statements.
– An Ohio teacher was fired for dragging a black preschooler down a hallway:
– The head of Cleveland’s largest police union asked Governor Kasich to temporarily ban Ohio’s open carry gun laws during its Republican Convention due to the arrival of armed black protesters.
– Fox pundit Brit Hume claimed that giving health insurance to sick people “defeats the core ethic values of this country”:
Now, crude and ignorant as these statements were (and as often as they undoubtedly occurred prior to the inauguration), they were not physical acts. But clearly the people who uttered them felt empowered by Trumps’ ascendancy to power, and just as clearly their viral presence on social media encouraged – gave permission to – those who were more literal minded to commit actual crimes.
Specific Acts of Hate:
Demagogues understand that they don’t have to exhort their followers directly to violence. They are masters of the art of innuendo and coded messages – and of American mythology. Chip Berlet says:
…history tells us that if this message is repeated vividly enough, loudly enough, often enough, and long enough…it is only a matter of time before the bodies from the named scapegoated groups start to turn up.
Granted, during any six-month period in the Internet era, simple research would discover large numbers of hate acts in America. This list for the first half of 2017, however, is for Trump’s first six months, and it is by no means comprehensive.
– A white man attacked a black man with a machete in California.
– Another California white man, an admitted Trump supporter – murdered a black manafter a political argument.
– A white man attacked a black woman in Virginia.
– Vandals attacked a memorial to Anne Frank in Idaho.
– At least fifteen trans persons of color were murdered in these six months, four in one week, and at least four trans community centers were vandalized.
– A white man beat a Muslim woman unconscious In Ohio:
– Vandals burned four American mosques in January and February.
– Two people in Georgia were convicted for terrorizing black children at a birthday party with a shotgun:
– A white Oregon Driver, shouting racial slurs, backed his car over two Native American men, killing one.
– Jewish Defense League thugs brutally attacked a Palestinian-American outside an AIPAC conference in Washington, DC –
– In Washington, D.C., President Erdogan of Turkey watched as his bodyguards beat up non-violent protestors. Local police did not charge them with any crime for over three weeks:
– A Brooklyn man beat a woman unconscious during an anti-gay subway attack.
– A white man shot a Sikh man in Washington, and two other Indian immigrants were shot and killed in Kansas and South Carolina.
– A Texas lawmaker threatened to “put a bullet in (the) head” of another lawmaker.
– A Black Army sergeant found “Die Nigger” spray-painted on his car in Texas.
– Vandals desecrated dozens of headstones in a St. Louis Jewish cemetery.
– A Muslim teen was found hanged in woods near Seattle.
– A white supremacist traveled from Maryland to New York City with the express purpose of killing a black man, which he did upon arriving. The New York Daily News smeared the victim as a “career criminal.”
– The District of Columbia logged 22 unsolved cases of missing juveniles, most of them black or Latino girls, in the first three months of the year.
– United Airlines apologized for the forcible removal of a paying passenger, a man of color, from one of its flights.
– An African-American judge was shot dead outside of his Chicago home:
– An African-American judge was found dead in New York.
– Anti-Asian hate crimes in Los Angeles surged:
– A member of a racist group stabbed a Black ROTC cadet to death in Maryland.
– Two white men were stabbed to death in Portland while trying to stop Anti-Muslim harassment.
– Two Black Men were murdered in Jackson, Mississippi. One was found hanged in his own yard. Two weeks later, a second was found decapitated and burned.
– A Portland white man followed a Muslim couple in his car, shouting threats for 20 blocks and attempting to ram them.
– A Los Angeles Airbnb host canceled a reservation after learning that her guest would be Asian.
– In a road rage incident in Pennsylvania, a white man shot and killed a black teen girl.
– Charleena Lyles, a pregnant black woman was killed by the Seattle police – after calling them to her house.
Government Actions – and Inactions
This behavior, of course, did not occur in a vacuum. The federal government and several state governments, sometimes quietly and more often quite publicly, were actively broadcasting the new state of permission and removing the doors from the white supremacy dog kennel. Trump’s attempts at banning Muslim immigration, even unsuccessful, served to keep the issue of race – the Other – in the news and remained wildly popular among his base supporters, the very population that had been waiting for this new state of permission to enact the most brutal fantasies. Of course, not all of his people are overt racists. But if you still think that “the Russians” or “the economy” rather than racial animosity and fear was the primary factor in the election, please read here or see my Blog series on the election.
– In May, the Brennan Center For Justice summarized actions on the state level since the election:
Five states have already enacted bills to cut back on voting access, and one more is on the verge of doing so. By comparison, three states enacted voting restrictions in 2015 and 2016 combined. Overall, however, more bills to expand access to voting were introduced this year than bills that would restrict voting access. Still, of the legislation making the most substantial impact on voting access, more legislation to limit participation is advancing toward passage. Moreover, governors in Nebraska and Nevada have vetoed the bills that would expand access to the franchise… Overall, at least 99 bills to restrict access to registration and voting have been introduced in 31 states. Thirty-Five such bills saw significant legislative action (meaning they have at least been approved at the committee level or beyond) in 17 states.
– Trump’s nomination of the unrepentantly racist thug Jeff Sessions as the highest cop in the land – and his unanimous defense by the Republican Senate (some of whom had joined the Democrats in refusing him a federal judgeship in 1986) – was the clearest of messages, both to people of color and to the haters. Sessions’ entire life had been devoted to excluding more and more people from the lists of the saved. In 2000, he had brayed that protecting the rights of disabled students might be “…the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today.”
But much else was happening. Chris Hedges refers to these the early actions as “The Return of American Race Laws:”
Racial profiling. Random police stops. Raids at homes and businesses. People of color pulled from vehicles at checkpoints. Seizures of individuals with no criminal records or who never committed a serious crime. Imprisonment without trial. Expedited deportation hearings and removal proceedings that violate human rights. The arrest of a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Daniel Ramirez Medina, 23, who along with the program’s other 750,000 successful applicants had revealed all personal history to the government in applying for DACA status. Parents separated, perhaps forever, from their children. The hunted going underground. The end of the rule of law. The abandonment of the common good…White Europeans who are undocumented are not being targeted. The executive orders of President Trump are directed against people of color.
– The Department of Justice civil rights division issued verbal instructions through the ranks to seek settlements without consent decrees — which would result in no continuing court oversight. Other Federal departments (Labor, Education and the EPA) scaled back the power of their internal divisions that monitor racialized abuse.
– Sessions fired the dozens of Obama-appointed U.S. attorneys who still remained on the job. A month later, none of them, nor the 47 who had already left, had been replaced. Sending another clear message to people of color, he called for reviving the war on drugs, and Trump withdrew Obama-era protections for transgender students.
– Sessions’ nominee to head the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, Eric Dreiband, was best known for defending Big Business against discrimination lawsuits.
– The Department of Homeland Security withheld grants it had previously awarded to groups countering white supremacist violence.
– Emboldened by Trump, U.S. border officials were lying to asylum seekers and illegally turning them away.
– Outraged that New Orleans was removing Confederate Monuments, Alabama officialsmade such actions illegal in their state.
– Montana Congressional candidate Greg Gianforte slammed a journalist into the ground and was elected anyway.
– Alaska state senator David Wilson slapped a black reporter.
– West Virginia state police arrested a reporter for repeatedly questioning Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
– Capitol police arrested a professional photographer who was recording the protests at Trump’s inauguration. As of May 1st, he was facing a potential seventy years in prison for rioting.
– Over half of 2000 elementary and high school teachers surveyed reported increased racial and ethnic slurs and general hostility among students.