In liberal democracies, the integrity, impartiality and professionalism of intelligence agencies matters. That’s why it is essential that intelligence agencies remain aloof, not only from the political debates of the day, but also from the policy decisions that individual governments may take. The intelligence community’s core task is to provide brutally realistic analysis on the threat environments we face so that governments can then make the best-informed policy decisions possible to preserve our common security.
The failures of the intelligence community before the Iraq war, the gullibility of much of the western media, as well as the cynical manipulation of both by the political class of the day, provide us with a stark reminder of what can go radically wrong. On 8 September 2002 the New York Times published one of this century’s most consequential news articles. The front-page story, supplied by the Bush administration, claimed that Saddam Hussein had stepped up his quest for weapons of mass destruction by acquiring key components for a nuclear weapon. In the UK, the Blair government’s “dodgy dossier” compounded the error. John Howard did the same in Australia. The problem was that it just wasn’t true. These were over-egged stories designed to soften the public up for what would become a disastrous war.
The invasion of Iraq in March 2003 casts a long shadow. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, first in the invasion, then the ensuing chaos, then in the rise and fall of Islamic State. It strengthened Iran’s hand in both Iraq and Syria. It contributed to a massive outflow of refugees across the world, a factor in the resurgence of the far right across Europe. And Washington has spent nearly two decades trapped in a Middle Eastern mess of its own making, diverting much of its attention from China’s regional and global rise.
Lies were reported as facts. Credible sceptics were downplayed, ignored or attacked as unpatriotic “appeasers”. The thrill of landing a big “story” overtook the media’s fundamental duty to prevent the public from being deceived. Journalists who believed they were muscling up to a looming security threat turned out to be working instead against their own countries’ long-term interests. And in all this the Murdoch media were leading the pack across the anglosphere as the unrelenting cheerleaders for war – and vilifying those, like me, who opposed it.
This brings us to the Covid-19 pandemic and the public health and economic mayhem it has unleashed across the globe. The sheer magnitude of the damage means that the people of the world have every right to know how this came about. Whether China’s new class of “wolf warrior” diplomats care to recognise it or not, there are fundamental questions we can all legitimately demand answers to. These include the origin of the virus in Wuhan; whether the earliest genetic evidence of the outbreak has been properly preserved for independent research; the danger of wildlife “wet markets” in the transmission of such viruses; what delays occurred in notifying central authorities; why some local medical staff were either silenced or punished; what delay occurred in notifying the World Health Organization of human-to-human transmission, given China’s obligations under the relevant international health regulations. There are also fundamental questions on whether the WHO properly discharged its mandate to provide clear and early warnings to the international community. And whether national governments took all necessary actions to prepare for the virus reaching their own shores, or whether these warnings were effectively ignored – as appears to have been the case in the US.
But amid all these questions, and the parallel debate about the mechanism now needed to conduct an effective international inquiry, we suddenly have a unilateral declaration by the US president and his secretary of state that the body of evidence overwhelmingly points to the virus having leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where research projects have been under way into various categories of coronavirus borne by bats. They claim a “high degree of confidence” in this theory, citing compelling but as-yet undisclosed evidence – despite the US director of national intelligence issuing a rare public statement disparaging this theory.
The bitter lessons of Iraq appear to have been lost on Trump and the Murdoch empire that supports him
Enter the “global exclusive” story of Rupert Murdoch’s Australian Daily Telegraph last weekend, headlined “China’s batty science – bombshell dossier lays out the case against the People’s Republic”. The paper claims to have been leaked a 15-page research dossier prepared by unnamed “western governments” on the Chinese government’s culpability for the outbreak. The clear inference from the Telegraph report is that the document was prepared by the “Five Eyes” intelligence community linking the US, UK, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand intelligence services. Other Murdoch journalists, re-reporting the story, have expressly stated it was a Five Eyes document. While the article itself shies away from stating explicitly the document’s authorship, the newspaper goes on to detail a number of investigatory actions being undertaken by the Five Eyes to nail the Chinese state’s responsibility.
The most critical part of the Telegraph newspaper report deals with apparent divisions among the wider intelligence community on the authenticity of the “Wuhan laboratory leak” thesis. And it’s here that Murdoch’s paper becomes explicit in its assertion that the Five Eyes research dossier helps validate the as-yet-unproven claim by Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo that the virus was “invented” at the Wuhan laboratory. The article and associated stories are laced with colourful reporting about Chinese “bat virus” researchers – “bat men”, “bat women” and other tales from the Wuhan bat cave. Nonetheless, having delivered its political ordinance in support of Trump and Pompeo, the Murdoch story carefully and cleverly seeks to cover its traces by stating repeatedly that nothing is yet proven about the laboratory leak.
The Murdoch journalist in question, Sharri Markson, a few days later pops up as the prime interview on the Murdoch-owned US cable TV network Fox News. The interviewer is none other than Trump’s personal favourite, Tucker Carlson, who together with Sean Hannity are his cheerleaders-in-chief in the American media. Right on cue, Tucker chimes in that the dossier “is the most substantial confirmation of what we’ve suspected that we’ve had so far” and that “because it’s a multinational effort I think it would be hard to dismiss it as a political document”.
The truth is, at this stage, none of us know definitively whether the virus came from the Wuhan laboratory. The best we can do is accept the Australian government’s assertion that this is at best a 5% possibility. Politically, the bottom line is that the leak of this alleged Five Eyes intelligence dossier to the Murdoch media in Australia, before being resold back into the US political audience by the very same Murdoch media, appears designed to back Trump’s and Pompeo’s claim. But this time with the added “authenticity” factor of the dossier being “multinational” and not just a normal drop from the White House to Fox, which have become a dime a dozen.
This is all about US presidential politics. There are three issues in this campaign: Trump’s handling of the virus; how to dig the US out of its virus-induced economic hole; and who can be most hardline on China – the Donald or “Beijing Biden”, as the Republicans now seek to tag his Democratic opponent. There’s little else on the table. Therefore, using an intelligence leak pushing Chinese culpability, laundered through a foreign country, turbocharged with the credibility factor of being an alleged Five Eyes product, helps the partisan political cause. And let’s be clear: Murdoch is campaigning full-bore for Trump.
Here are questions now for the Australian government and potentially its Five Eyes partners. First, was this an “intelligence” product, or was it simply open source material derived from information in the public domain? Second, was it an authorised Five Eyes product, or was just prepared in the US? Third, who leaked it, given that leaking such material is a criminal offence – as the US has made plain in its handling of Chelsea Manning’s and Julian Assange’s cases that included the large-scale unauthorised release of classified Five Eyes material. Were any ministers of the Australian government complicit in this? Or was the US embassy in Canberra involved? If the Australian government is serious about the protection of classified documents, then why hasn’t a full police investigation been commissioned? Or is the government fearful of what it might discover if, as is likely, the leak has been driven by political and electoral interests within the US.
The extent to which the Australian intelligence community has sought to distance itself from the “dossier” suggests it does not wish to be in any way drawn into domestic politics – either Australian or American. The British intelligence community is reportedly doing the same. This is good. These institutions appear to have learnt from the Iraq war fiasco and the political abuse of intelligence agencies that occurred at that time. But on this question, the bitter lessons of Iraq appear to have been lost on Trump and the Murdoch empire that supports him.
China has much to answer for, including the ultimate origins of the virus. But if Trump’s claim in the Wuhan laboratory saga ultimately ends up being disproven, either by the Five Eyes or by US intelligence itself, then the irony is that the net political winner will be China. Remember the humiliation when no WMD were found in Iraq? Beijing would seek to exonerate itself as a result of egregious presidential overreach – once again aided and abetted by the Murdoch media. This is why the watchword of any sophisticated intelligence agency is caution in endorsing premature conclusions until all the facts are on the table.
Donald Trump’s political ally Alex Jones described his cannibal fetish in an online video with gruesome detail.
Stalking, killing, skinning, gutting, chopping up and eating his neighbors, to feed himself and his children.
Alex Jones; a serial conspiracy nut, makes loud emphasis on his “drinking blood” and “eating ass” as apparently his personal choice beverage and flesh portions.
Evoking his blood-craving Christian god; cannibal Jone’s pledged, “I swear to God, if it’s the last thing I do I’m going to get my hands around your throat.”
Jones is a like-minded political ally of Televangelist sycophant Donald Trump.
Trump praised Jones, massaging Jones’s ego by saying “Your reputation is amazing”
JONES: I’ll admit it. I will eat my neighbors, I’m not letting my kids die. I’m just bein’ honest. My superpower is bein’ honest.
JONES: I’m literally looking at my neighbors now and going: I’m ready to hang them up and gut them and skin them and chop them up, you know what? I’m ready. My daughters aren’t starving to death, I’ll eat my neighbors.
He will eat his neighbors to keep his daughters from starving to death. How … how exactly does he feed his daughters?
JONES: See? My superpower is bein’ honest. I’ll eat your ass. I will!
Alex Jones is being superpower honest about eating your ass.
JONES: I’m — combat model, optimal self-sufficiency, probably the leader. The point is have you thought about that yet …
Have we thought about Alex Jones eating our ass? Hard no.
JONES: … because I’m somebody that thought I could fix this and I’m starting to think about having to eat my neighbors. You think I like sizing up my neighbor, hell I’m gonna haul him up by a chain and chop his ass up?
It’s going to hurt Alex Jones to eat your ass more than it hurts you.
JONES: I’ll do it! My children aren’t going hungry! I will eat your ass!
These! Seem! Like! Unrelated! Thoughts!
JONES: And that’s why I want the globalists to know, I will eat your ass first.
Legs up, (((globalists)))! (When far-Right conspiracy theorists with pretty obvious mental issues mention “globalists,” they mean Jews.)
JONES: You’re not – we’re gonna dig you out of those bunkers, we’re gonna dig you out of those holes, you make us eat up – let me tell you something right now: I swear to god if it’s the last thing I do I’m gonna get my hands around your throat and you know that’s why you’re beggin’ for peace right now. You should’ve thought about that when you turned out Christ a long time ago. You wanna meet with me you satanist!? Meet with me!?
Oh boy. Wow. This has to do with Christ, somehow? Is that because of the (((globalists)))? Yes. Alex Jones is going to … strangle (((globalists))). For Jesus. Huh.
JONES: How about you get on your knees to Christ, you’d meet with my boss right now! But you can’t do it. You think you can meet with some low-level nobody? I’m nobody! You think Christ would eat somebody? He would never eat do that? He would never do that. I will.
Christ would not eat your ass. But Alex Jones would. Christ is the Prince of Peace, not the Prince of EAT YOUR ASS. Alex Jones is the ass-eat prince.
JONES: I’m not gonna watch my daughters starve to death!
And if asses must get eated to prevent that from happening, get Alex Jones a bib!
A retired Harvard psychiatry professor described President Donald Trump as “essentially a predator” and a “successful sociopath.”
Lance M. Dodes, MD, a former assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, is yet another mental health expert to call into question the president’s state of mind
“His focus on his personal benefit at any cost is why he’s a successful sociopath,” Dodes told Salon, adding that he can “see Donald for who he really is.”
“It’s very hard to get this across to the public, because every time people talk about him, they start out with the unspoken unconscious assumption that he’s basically like the rest of us,” Dodes told Salon.
“But in order to explain and predict Trump’s behavior, you have to begin with awareness that he is essentially a predator.
“Once you keep in mind that Trump lacks a conscience and lacks empathy, he becomes very easy to follow. Unlike normal people, who are complex, he’s basically running on a very simple and very disordered program.”Related Stories
Last week, John M. Talmadge, MD, a physician and clinical professor of psychiatry at U.T. Southwestern Medical Center, wrote on Twitter that Trump’s “mental impairment means he cannot think strategically or in abstract terms.”
“Trump does not have a vision or a plan, because he can think only in concrete, elementary, childlike, one dimensional terms,” Talmadge, who was commenting in a personal capacity, wrote.
“He does not process an abstract idea like American forces stabilizing a multilateral conflict with geopolitical implications.
“This Trumpian brain failure is hard for normal people to understand because for normal people, abstract thought is natural, baked in, largely unnoticed. Normal people see the consequences, assess risk, make rational decisions most of the time.”
It followed a tweet by Trump in which the president claimed he would “totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!)” if Turkey did anything that “I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits.”
“Am I the only psychologist who finds this claim and this threat truly alarming? Wouldn’t these normally trigger a mental health hold? Right and Left must set aside politics and agree that there is a serious problem here,” Gilbert wrote on Twitter.
Lee wrote in a piece for The Conversation that Trump displayed “psychological symptoms reflective of emotional compulsion, impulsivity, poor concentration, narcissism and recklessness.”
In a recent article for The Atlantic, George Conway, an attorney and former Republican who is married to senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, detailed at length the evidence that Trump is mentally unfit to hold his office.
“Simply put, Trump’s ingrained and extreme behavioral characteristics make it impossible for him to carry out the duties of the presidency in the way the Constitution requires,” Conway wrote.
“The question is whether he can possibly act as a public fiduciary for the nation’s highest public trust… Given that Trump displays the extreme behavioral characteristics of a pathological narcissist, a sociopath, or a malignant narcissist—take your pick—it’s clear that he can’t.”Related Stories
As the impeachment process against Trump rolled on, a letter to Congress signed by 250 medical professionals led by Bandy Lee warned lawmakers to take into consideration the president’s mental state.
The letter stated that Trump “has the pattern of fragile sense of self and is prone to blame and attack others when threatened” and has “shown himself willing to encourage violence against his perceived enemies.”
“The unfolding of an impeachment inquiry raises the specter of President Trump feeling threatened in ways he never has before,” the letter said.
“This sense of threat is likely to lead to an exacerbation of his attacks on perceived enemies and to increased encouragement of violence against them. This encouragement may lead to violent actions by others, such as we have seen over the last couple of years but highly exacerbated.”
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The president’s firing of the intelligence watchdog who validated the Ukraine whistle-blower complaint is his latest threat to the rule of law.
By Noah Bookbinder
Mr. Bookbinder is the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
When President Trump announced late on Friday that he would fire the government watchdog who told Congress about the Ukraine whistle-blower complaint, which ultimately led to his impeachment, it touched off one of the most acute threats yet to our democracy. But it didn’t even make the front page of most papers.
That’s understandable. Thousands of Americans are dying every day from the terrifying coronavirus pandemic. People are worried about their own safety and that of their families, as well as about their jobs and livelihood. Questions abound about how the crisis got to this point, whether the Trump administration took appropriate steps to address it and what steps are needed to minimize the devastation going forward; there is little bandwidth for anything else.
But we can’t afford to ignore the anti-democratic steps the president is taking while the American people are appropriately preoccupied with this outbreak. If we don’t respond to these outrageous abuses now, the damage may be done by the time anyone is the wiser.
The worst of the president’s latest round of steps to undermine checks and balances came not just in this time of crisis, but on a Friday night, the classic black hole for sweeping problematic actions in Washington under the rug.
First, the president announced that he would be firing Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community. Mr. Trump said in a required letter to Congress that he no longer had “the fullest confidence” in Atkinson; there was not even an effort to disguise the fact that what caused the president to lose that confidence was Atkinson following the law and allowing the truth to come out about Mr. Trump’s lawless attempt to pressure a foreign power to announce politically helpful investigations. Mr. Atkinson will be fired 30 days after the letter went to Congress, the soonest he can be under law, but the president undercut even that law by putting Mr. Atkinson on immediate administrative leave.
Michael Horowitz, the respected inspector general of the Department of Justice and chairman of a council that coordinates inspectors general, went out on a limb to vouch for Mr. Atkinson, praising his integrity and his handling of the Ukraine whistle-blower complaint. Mr. Horowitz is right, and his affirmation that the inspector general community “will continue to conduct aggressive, independent oversight” is heartening.
But President Trump’s further action makes that claim questionable at best. The president compounded the Atkinson announcement on Friday night with his intention to nominate White House lawyer Brian Miller to be special inspector general for pandemic recovery, a key position for oversight of the just-passed $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, which is ripe for fraud and corruption without aggressive review. The position demands ironclad independence, particularly with the risk that the president’s company, relatives, customers and donors could seek to benefit from the stimulus package. Mr. Miller, who served for nearly 10 years as inspector general at the General Services Administration, but more recently played a role in the White House’s response to the impeachment inquiry, is precisely the wrong person to ensure independence. A former senior Senate staff member praised Miller’s “loyalty to the administration” in explaining why he’ll make a good choice, even though loyalty is the exact opposite of what is needed.
The one-two punch of Mr. Atkinson and Mr. Miller is, unfortunately, just the tip of the iceberg of the president’s dangerous attacks on the independence of inspectors general. Mr. Trump will likely fire additional inspectors general because he and his allies view them as “deep state” operatives who undermine him. Indeed, the president seems to view any independence within the government and certainly any checks on him as intolerable disloyalty; that notion, of course, runs counter to our entire system of checks and balances.
Friday night’s actions came at the end of a week of scary departures from democratic practices. Reporting indicates that more and more power has gone to the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, whose coronavirus “shadow task force” of government allies and private sector connections may run afoul of federal law. Mr. Kushner is meanwhile also reportedly playing a significant role in the Trump re-election campaign from the White House, which may also violate federal law. Nepotism and disregard for the law have characterized this administration from day one, but the volume and brazenness of these anti-democratic tendencies is increasing.
Indeed, earlier Friday, the government changed its description on a federal website of the strategic national stockpile to correspond to Mr. Kushner’s description of it as being for the benefit of the federal government, not the states. Also last week, the Navy fired a captain who blew the whistle on the scope of a Covid-19 outbreak on his ship, another example of apparent payback for truthtelling, and the president reportedly wants to have his own signature on stimulus checks to Americans, which may also run afoul of law. All of these autocratic steps come on top of the president’s February purges of officials who testified in the impeachment trial and attempts to meddle in the sentencing of friends and allies convicted of crimes.
Here’s why this matters: times of crisis are when democracies are in the gravest danger of crumbling. We are seeing that play out in the world right now. Hungary, which has watched its hard won post-Cold War democratic reforms slipping away for some time, this week saw its Parliament give Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whom Mr. Trump has praised, unlimited authority, effectively turning the country into a dictatorship. Dictators around the world are using the pandemic to tighten their control.
We’re not there yet. But the president’s attempts to rid the government of those who would provide appropriate oversight and accountability for abuses and speak truth to power, to put in place loyalists who will look out for him rather than providing independent checks, and to empower relatives and disregard laws sets us on a dangerous trajectory. Firing inspectors general and replacing them with loyalists is a serious threat to our democracy. The American people must register our outrage; Congress must investigate the firings aggressively and rigorously vet nominees. If we ignore the erosion of checks and balances because we are preoccupied with more immediate concerns, we may find that our democracy — when we need the institutions of this country the most — is disappearing. Just ask Hungary.
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On Sunday, initially at least, there was no White House briefing on the president’s public schedule. But the bad news kept coming. Coronavirus deaths continued to climb and reports of the heartland being unprepared for what may be on its horizon continued to ricochet around the media.
In the words of one administration insider, to the Guardian: “The Trump organism is simply collapsing. He’s killing his own supporters.”
Members of the national guard, emergency workers, rank-and-file Americans: all are exposed. Yet Trump appears incapable of emoting anything that comes close to heart-felt concern. Or just providing straight answers.
Rather, he is acting like Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America: repeatedly letting governors know the burden of shoring up their sick, their doctors and their people falls on their shoulders first. The national government? It’s the world’s greatest backstop.
Remember when the Republican party freaked out about Barack Obama and the US “leading from behind” abroad? Remember the howls that evoked from GOP leaders? Those days are gone. Welcome to what Martin O’Malley, a Democratic former governor of Maryland, calls the “Darwinian approach to federalism”.
There is nothing like populism marinated in wholesale contempt for the populace
Trump is telling NFL owners he wants the season to start on time. He is disregarding Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advice on wearing facemasks in public. And he is touting untested coronavirus cures live on national TV.
Think Trump University on steroids, only this time we all stand to be the victims.
When Dr Anthony Fauci says there is no evidence to back up Trump’s claims surrounding hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, pay attention. The fact Jared Kushner is on the case is hardly reassuring. He’s the guy who thought firing James Comey was win-win politics and promised Middle East peace in our time.
While all this is going on, the Wisconsin Republican party is giving America a taste of the campaign to come in the fall. Right now, the Badger State GOP is fighting in the US supreme court efforts to extend mail-in voting for this Tuesday’s Democratic primary.
In other words, voters will be forced to choose between foregoing their rights and risking their lives. Democracy shouldn’t work that way.
There is nothing like populism marinated in wholesale contempt for the populace. In case Trump and the Republicans forgot, “We the People” are the constitution’s first three words.
If you can leave your soldiers to suffer then no American is truly safe
Sadly, once again we are reminded that Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe’s masterpiece, Gladiator, is the movie for this presidency and its tumultuous times. In one scene, a senator, Gracchus, attempts to confront Commodus, the emperor, about a plague spreading through Rome. The emperor declines, threatens the senator and muses about disbanding the Senate.
On Thursday, Trump forced the removal of Captain Brett Crozier from his command of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, for having the temerity to plead his sailors’ case as more than 100 of them tested positive for coronavirus.
Hours after dismissing Crozier, Trump sacked Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general, for simply doing his job. Trump’s Ukraine call was never perfect, however many times he says it was.
Whether Trump wins reelection is an open question. For now, the economy is cratering and the coronavirus death toll has exploded. Not a promising combination. Herbert Hoover faced a depression, not a plague. Trump may contend with both.
According to Chris Christie, a former New Jersey governor and the man who sent Charlie Kushner, Jared’s father, to prison, November will be a referendum on Trump. Joe Biden is nearly irrelevant.
For the moment, Trump holds a commanding lead among Republicans. Seven months from now, we will learn if party loyalty is enough to secure a second term.
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Over the past three years, many terms have been thrown around to describe Donald Trump. Phrases like “huge moron,” “colossal jerk,” “massive prick,” and, our personal favorite, “malignant tumor.”
Obviously many have agreed that the 45th president of the United States is both a terrible person and an idiot incapable of tweeting a coherent sentence, let alone running the country. Still, some have worried it would be taking things too far to diagnose the man as a full-blown sociopath. Are we being too cavalier with the designation, they’ve likely fretted. Shouldn’t we wait until the Mar-a-Lago groundskeepers find a few dozen heads in the basement, they’ve probably wondered. On Friday, however, Trump confirmed for all the world to see that he indeed has no conscience.
During a press conference at the White House, NBC reporter Peter Alexander asked Trump, “What do you say to the Americans who are scared, though? Nearly 200 dead, 14,000 who are sick, millions, as you’ve witnessed, who are scared right now. What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?” In reality this was a softball question that anyone with a semblance of a soul would be able to answer, responding with something like, “That’s an understandable feeling. I would tell them we’re in this together and we’re doing everything we can, as fast as we can.” But Trump literally only thinks about himself, so instead he told Alexander: “I say that you’re a terrible reporter. That’s what I say. I think it’s a very nasty question, and I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people. The American people are looking for answers and they’re looking for hope, and you’re doing sensationalism and the same with NBC and con-cast. I don’t call it Comcast, I call it ‘con-cast.’ Let me just tell you something. That’s really bad reporting, and you ought to get back to reporting instead of sensationalism.” Seemingly responding to criticism that he’d irresponsibly hyped the drug chloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, despite the fact that it hasn’t yet been approved by the FDA for the virus, Trump snarled, “Let’s see if it works. It might and it might not. I happen to feel good about it, but who knows. I’ve been right a lot.”
Caroline Orr @RVAwonk : Peter Alexander was trying to get the president of the United States to address the fears Americans have about #coronavirus. His attack on Peter is absolutely shameful and hard to watch — but realize that he attacked Peter so he could avoid answering to you.
As many have noted, employees at NBC, where Alexander works, lost a colleague to the virus today, but obviously it shouldn’t take such an event for the president to muster up or even fake some empathy for people who are terrified about a fast-moving pandemic. Later, given the opportunity to prove to the American people that he’s not a total monster, Trump declined:
After Pompeo asks Americans to rely only on trusted sources of information, @colvinj asks him: “Does it undermine you at all when the president stands up here and he attacks news outlets, calling us untrustworthy?”
Within 30 minutes of taking chloroquine phosphate, the man in his 60s experienced “immediate effects” and had to be admitted to a nearby Banner Health hospital, the medical system in Arizona said in a press release Monday.
His wife, also in her 60s, is in critical condition after taking the additive, which is used in aquariums to kill some organisms, like algae, that may harm fish.
Prices of the product on eBay skyrocketed after some studies found that the pharmaceutical version, the anti-malarial drug chloroquine, and a derivative of it called hydroxychloroquine, were effective in killing the virus in laboratory experiments.
Trump said last week the drug would soon begin to be distributed to treat some coronavirus patients. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn clarified that the drug would be made available as part of a clinical trial.
Officials warned people not to take the drugs to treat coronavirus symptoms unless it has been specifically prescribed by their doctor.
“The last thing that we want right now is to inundate our emergency departments with patients who believe they found a vague and risky solution that could potentially jeopardize their health,” said Dr. Daniel Brooks, medical director of the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center.
Chloroquine is especially not recommended for use by non-hospitalized patients.
“We are strongly urging the medical community to not prescribe this medication to any non-hospitalized patients,” Brooks said.
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Trump announces travel ban from Europe to the US in bid to stem coronavirus – video
Donald Trump’s first Oval Office address – that almost sacred altar for US presidents on prime time television – came in January 2019 amid a partial government shutdown and asserted that only a border wall can keep out dangerous illegal immigrants.
His second such address on Wednesday night was again couched in terms around the need to resist a foreign invasion that is someone else’s fault. The problem is that the coronavirus is already inside America and spreading.
And the message was delivered by a 73-year-old man with a sniffing habit who did not seem to be a glowing picture of health nor entirely at ease reading from a TelePrompter. His bold assertion last week – “I like this stuff. I really get it … Maybe I have a natural ability.” – seemed even more incredible than before.
Addresses to the nation from the Oval Office are meant to be defining moments for a president to act as commander in chief or consoler in chief.
After the crew of the space shuttle Challenger perished in a disaster in 1986, Ronald Reagan promised: “We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God’.”
George W Bush made half a dozen Oval Office addresses, including on the night of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Barack Obama delivered three. Trump has typically resisted conventions – it has been exactly a year since the last White House press briefing – but even he finds some of them necessary or useful.
On Wednesday he wore a blue suit, white shirt and blue patterned tie – not his favourite red. He also sported a stars and stripes pin and had hands his folded before him (he said nothing about the potential perils of shaking hands). His face looked undeniably orange. Behind him were framed photos, including portraits of his parents, and flags and gold curtains. Advertisement
At 9.02pm, Trump began as presidents so often do: “My fellow Americans.” But in the next breath, he reverted to his familiar us-versus-them nationalism, referring to the coronavirus outbreak “that started in China” and is now spreading throughout the world. “This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history.” Not just a virus. A foreign virus.
The president touted his own sweeping travel restrictions on China and, far from expressing sympathy and solidarity with allies, argued the European Union “failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hotspots. As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travelers from Europe.”
Trump announced the US will bebanning travelers from many European countries to the US for the next 30 days with exemptions for Americans, permanent residents and family of US citizens who have undergone screenings and, mysteriously, the UK, despite it having a higher caseload than some other European countries. Could Brexit be the new TSA PreCheck?
The president then made an awful bungle. He said “these prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things as we get approval”. Such words could trigger global economic panic. Trump was forced to hastily clarify on Twitter: “… very important for all countries & businesses to know that trade will in no way be affected by the 30-day restriction on travel from Europe. The restriction stops people not goods.”
He went on to talk of the pathogen as if it was a foreign army or terrorist network. “The virus will not have a chance against us,” he said. “No nation is more prepared or more resilient than the United States.”
And seen in the midst of an emergency, Trump could not resist some campaigning. “Because of the economic policies that we have put into place over the last three years, we have the greatest economy anywhere in the world by far,” he said.
“This is not a financial crisis, this is just a temporary moment of time that we will overcome together as a nation and as a world.”
Many observers found the address unreassuring and downright weird. Susan Glasser, a staff writer from the New Yorker, tweeted: “The militaristic, nationalistic language of Trump’s speech tonight is striking: a ‘foreign virus,’ keeping out China and Europe.”
David Litt, who wrote speeches for Obama, posted: “As a former presidential speechwriter, my careful rhetorical analysis is that he’s gonna get us all killed.”
Trump’s second Oval Office address was over in 10 minutes. Then a man off camera said: “We’re clear.” The president unbuttoned his jacket and exclaimed with relief: “OK!”
To millions of viewers, it was anything but.
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It is insufficient to state the obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit.
His political career began in advocacy of birtherism, that modern recasting of the old American precept that black people are not fit to be citizens of the country they built. But long before birtherism, Trump had made his worldview clear. He fought to keep blacks out of his buildings, according to the U.S. government; called for the death penalty for the eventually exonerated Central Park Five; and railed against “lazy” black employees. “Black guys counting my money! I hate it,” Trump was once quoted as saying. “The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.” After his cabal of conspiracy theorists forced Barack Obama to present his birth certificate, Trump demanded the president’s college grades (offering $5 million in exchange for them), insisting that Obama was not intelligent enough to have gone to an Ivy League school, and that his acclaimed memoir, Dreams From My Father, had been ghostwritten by a white man, Bill Ayers.
It is often said that Trump has no real ideology, which is not true—his ideology is white supremacy, in all its truculent and sanctimonious power. Trump inaugurated his campaign by casting himself as the defender of white maidenhood against Mexican “rapists,” only to be later alleged by multiple accusers, and by his own proud words, to be a sexual violator himself. White supremacy has always had a perverse sexual tint. Trump’s rise was shepherded by Steve Bannon, a man who mocks his white male critics as “cucks.” The word, derived from cuckold, is specifically meant to debase by fear and fantasy—the target is so weak that he would submit to the humiliation of having his white wife lie with black men. That the slur cuck casts white men as victims aligns with the dicta of whiteness, which seek to alchemize one’s profligate sins into virtue. So it was with Virginia slaveholders claiming that Britain sought to make slaves of them. So it was with marauding Klansmen organized against alleged rapes and other outrages. So it was with a candidate who called for a foreign power to hack his opponent’s email and who now, as president, is claiming to be the victim of “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.”
In Trump, white supremacists see one of their own. Only grudgingly did Trump denounce the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke, one of its former grand wizards—and after the clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, Duke in turn praised Trump’s contentious claim that “both sides” were responsible for the violence.
To Trump, whiteness is neither notional nor symbolic but is the very core of his power. In this, Trump is not singular. But whereas his forebears carried whiteness like an ancestral talisman, Trump cracked the glowing amulet open, releasing its eldritch energies. The repercussions are striking: Trump is the first president to have served in no public capacity before ascending to his perch. But more telling, Trump is also the first president to have publicly affirmed that his daughter is a “piece of ass.” The mind seizes trying to imagine a black man extolling the virtues of sexual assault on tape (“When you’re a star, they let you do it”), fending off multiple accusations of such assaults, immersed in multiple lawsuits for allegedly fraudulent business dealings, exhorting his followers to violence, and then strolling into the White House. But that is the point of white supremacy—to ensure that that which all others achieve with maximal effort, white people (particularly white men) achieve with minimal qualification. Barack Obama delivered to black people the hoary message that if they work twice as hard as white people, anything is possible. But Trump’s counter is persuasive: Work half as hard as black people, and even more is possible.
For Trump, it almost seems that the fact of Obama, the fact of a black president, insulted him personally. The insult intensified when Obama and Seth Meyers publicly humiliated him at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2011. But the bloody heirloom ensures the last laugh. Replacing Obama is not enough—Trump has made the negation of Obama’s legacy the foundation of his own. And this too is whiteness. “Race is an idea, not a fact,” the historian Nell Irvin Painter has written, and essential to the construct of a “white race” is the idea of not being a nigger. Before Barack Obama, niggers could be manufactured out of Sister Souljahs, Willie Hortons, and Dusky Sallys. But Donald Trump arrived in the wake of something more potent—an entire nigger presidency with nigger health care, nigger climate accords, and nigger justice reform, all of which could be targeted for destruction or redemption, thus reifying the idea of being white. Trump truly is something new—the first president whose entire political existence hinges on the fact of a black president. And so it will not suffice to say that Trump is a white man like all the others who rose to become president. He must be called by his rightful honorific—America’s first white president.
The scope of Trump’s commitment to whiteness is matched only by the depth of popular disbelief in the power of whiteness. We are now being told that support for Trump’s “Muslim ban,” his scapegoating of immigrants, his defenses of police brutality are somehow the natural outgrowth of the cultural and economic gap between Lena Dunham’s America and Jeff Foxworthy’s. The collective verdict holds that the Democratic Party lost its way when it abandoned everyday economic issues like job creation for the softer fare of social justice. The indictment continues: To their neoliberal economics, Democrats and liberals have married a condescending elitist affect that sneers at blue-collar culture and mocks the white man as history’s greatest monster and prime-time television’s biggest doofus. In this rendition, Donald Trump is not the product of white supremacy so much as the product of a backlash against contempt for white working-class people.
“We so obviously despise them, we so obviously condescend to them,” the conservative social scientist Charles Murray, who co-wrote The Bell Curve, recently told The New Yorker, speaking of the white working class. “The only slur you can use at a dinner party and get away with is to call somebody a redneck—that won’t give you any problems in Manhattan.”
“The utter contempt with which privileged Eastern liberals such as myself discuss red-state, gun-country, working-class America as ridiculous and morons and rubes,” charged the celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, “is largely responsible for the upswell of rage and contempt and desire to pull down the temple that we’re seeing now.”
That black people, who have lived for centuries under such derision and condescension, have not yet been driven into the arms of Trump does not trouble these theoreticians. After all, in this analysis, Trump’s racism and the racism of his supporters are incidental to his rise. Indeed, the alleged glee with which liberals call out Trump’s bigotry is assigned even more power than the bigotry itself. Ostensibly assaulted by campus protests, battered by arguments about intersectionality, and oppressed by new bathroom rights, a blameless white working class did the only thing any reasonable polity might: elect an orcish reality-television star who insists on taking his intelligence briefings in picture-book form.
Asserting that Trump’s rise was primarily powered by cultural resentment and economic reversal has become de rigueur among white pundits and thought leaders. But evidence for this is, at best, mixed. In a study of preelection polling data, the Gallup researchers Jonathan Rothwell and Pablo Diego-Rosell found that “people living in areas with diminished economic opportunity” were “somewhat more likely to support Trump.” But the researchers also found that voters in their study who supported Trump generally had a higher mean household income ($81,898) than those who did not ($77,046). Those who approved of Trump were “less likely to be unemployed and less likely to be employed part-time” than those who did not. They also tended to be from areas that were very white: “The racial and ethnic isolation of whites at the zip code level is one of the strongest predictors of Trump support.”
An analysis of exit polls conducted during the presidential primaries estimated the median household income of Trump supporters to be about $72,000. But even this lower number is almost double the median household income of African Americans, and $15,000 above the American median. Trump’s white support was not determined by income. According to Edison Research, Trump won whites making less than $50,000 by 20 points, whites making $50,000 to $99,999 by 28 points, and whites making $100,000 or more by 14 points. This shows that Trump assembled a broad white coalition that ran the gamut from Joe the Dishwasher to Joe the Plumber to Joe the Banker. So when white pundits cast the elevation of Trump as the handiwork of an inscrutable white working class, they are being too modest, declining to claim credit for their own economic class. Trump’s dominance among whites across class lines is of a piece with his larger dominance across nearly every white demographic. Trump won white women (+9) and white men (+31). He won white people with college degrees (+3) and white people without them (+37). He won whites ages 18–29 (+4), 30–44 (+17), 45–64 (+28), and 65 and older (+19). Trump won whites in midwestern Illinois (+11), whites in mid-Atlantic New Jersey (+12), and whites in the Sun Belt’s New Mexico (+5). In no state that Edison polled did Trump’s white support dip below 40 percent. Hillary Clinton’s did, in states as disparate as Florida, Utah, Indiana, and Kentucky. From the beer track to the wine track, from soccer moms to nascar dads, Trump’s performance among whites was dominant. According to Mother Jones, based on preelection polling data, if you tallied the popular vote of only white America to derive 2016 electoral votes, Trump would have defeated Clinton 389 to 81, with the remaining 68 votes either a toss-up or unknown.
Part of Trump’s dominance among whites resulted from his running as a Republican, the party that has long cultivated white voters. Trump’s share of the white vote was similar to Mitt Romney’s in 2012. But unlike Romney, Trump secured this support by running against his party’s leadership, against accepted campaign orthodoxy, and against all notions of decency. By his sixth month in office, embroiled in scandal after scandal, a Pew Research Center poll found Trump’s approval rating underwater with every single demographic group. Every demographic group, that is, except one: people who identified as white.
The focus on one subsector of Trump voters—the white working class—is puzzling, given the breadth of his white coalition. Indeed, there is a kind of theater at work in which Trump’s presidency is pawned off as a product of the white working class as opposed to a product of an entire whiteness that includes the very authors doing the pawning. The motive is clear: escapism. To accept that the bloody heirloom remains potent even now, some five decades after Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down on a Memphis balcony—even after a black president; indeed, strengthened by the fact of that black president—is to accept that racism remains, as it has since 1776, at the heart of this country’s political life. The idea of acceptance frustrates the left. The left would much rather have a discussion about class struggles, which might entice the white working masses, instead of about the racist struggles that those same masses have historically been the agents and beneficiaries of. Moreover, to accept that whiteness brought us Donald Trump is to accept whiteness as an existential danger to the country and the world. But if the broad and remarkable white support for Donald Trump can be reduced to the righteous anger of a noble class of smallville firefighters and evangelicals, mocked by Brooklyn hipsters and womanist professors into voting against their interests, then the threat of racism and whiteness, the threat of the heirloom, can be dismissed. Consciences can be eased; no deeper existential reckoning is required.
This transfiguration is not novel. It is a return to form. The tightly intertwined stories of the white working class and black Americans go back to the prehistory of the United States—and the use of one as a cudgel to silence the claims of the other goes back nearly as far. Like the black working class, the white working class originated in bondage—the former in the lifelong bondage of slavery, the latter in the temporary bondage of indenture. In the early 17th century, these two classes were remarkably, though not totally, free of racist enmity. But by the 18th century, the country’s master class had begun etching race into law while phasing out indentured servitude in favor of a more enduring labor solution. From these and other changes of law and economy, a bargain emerged: The descendants of indenture would enjoy the full benefits of whiteness, the most definitional benefit being that they would never sink to the level of the slave. But if the bargain protected white workers from slavery, it did not protect them from near-slave wages or backbreaking labor to attain them, and always there lurked a fear of having their benefits revoked. This early white working class “expressed soaring desires to be rid of the age-old inequalities of Europe and of any hint of slavery,” according to David R. Roediger, a professor of American studies at the University of Kansas. “They also expressed the rather more pedestrian goal of simply not being mistaken for slaves, or ‘negers’ or ‘negurs.’ ”
Roediger relates the experience, around 1807, of a British investor who made the mistake of asking a white maid in New England whether her “master” was home. The maid admonished the investor, not merely for implying that she had a “master” and thus was a “sarvant” but for his basic ignorance of American hierarchy. “None but negers are sarvants,” the maid is reported to have said. In law and economics and then in custom, a racist distinction not limited to the household emerged between the “help” (or the “freemen,” or the white workers) and the “servants” (the “negers,” the slaves). The former were virtuous and just, worthy of citizenship, progeny of Jefferson and, later, Jackson. The latter were servile and parasitic, dim-witted and lazy, the children of African savagery. But the dignity accorded to white labor was situational, dependent on the scorn heaped upon black labor—much as the honor accorded a “virtuous lady” was dependent on the derision directed at a “loose woman.” And like chivalrous gentlemen who claim to honor the lady while raping the “whore,” planters and their apologists could claim to honor white labor while driving the enslaved.
And so George Fitzhugh, a prominent 19th-century Southern pro-slavery intellectual, could in a single stroke deplore the exploitation of free whites’ labor while defending the exploitation of enslaved blacks’ labor. Fitzhugh attacked white capitalists as “cannibals,” feeding off the labor of their fellow whites. The white workers were “ ‘slaves without masters;’ the little fish, who were food for all the larger.” Fitzhugh inveighed against a “professional man” who’d “amassed a fortune” by exploiting his fellow whites. But whereas Fitzhugh imagined white workers as devoured by capital, he imagined black workers as elevated by enslavement. The slaveholder “provided for them, with almost parental affection”—even when the loafing slave “feigned to be unfit for labor.” Fitzhugh proved too explicit—going so far as to argue that white laborers might be better off if enslaved. (“If white slavery be morally wrong,” he wrote, “the Bible cannot be true.”) Nevertheless, the argument that America’s original sin was not deep-seated white supremacy but rather the exploitation of white labor by white capitalists—“white slavery”—proved durable. Indeed, the panic of white slavery lives on in our politics today. Black workers suffer because it was and is our lot. But when white workers suffer, something in nature has gone awry. And so an opioid epidemic among mostly white people is greeted with calls for compassion and treatment, as all epidemics should be, while a crack epidemic among mostly black people is greeted with scorn and mandatory minimums. Sympathetic op‑ed columns and articles are devoted to the plight of working-class whites when their life expectancy plummets to levels that, for blacks, society has simply accepted as normal. White slavery is sin.
Nigger slavery is natural. This dynamic serves a very real purpose: the consistent awarding of grievance and moral high ground to that class of workers which, by the bonds of whiteness, stands closest to America’s aristocratic class.
This is by design. Speaking in 1848, Senator John C. Calhoun saw slavery as the explicit foundation for a democratic union among whites, working and not:
With us the two great divisions of society are not the rich and poor, but white and black; and all the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.
On the eve of secession, Jefferson Davis, the eventual president of the Confederacy, pushed the idea further, arguing that such equality between the white working class and white oligarchs could not exist at all without black slavery:
I say that the lower race of human beings that constitute the substratum of what is termed the slave population of the South, elevates every white man in our community … It is the presence of a lower caste, those lower by their mental and physical organization, controlled by the higher intellect of the white man, that gives this superiority to the white laborer. Menial services are not there performed by the white man. We have none of our brethren sunk to the degradation of being menials. That belongs to the lower race—the descendants of Ham.
Southern intellectuals found a shade of agreement with Northern white reformers who, while not agreeing on slavery, agreed on the nature of the most tragic victim of emerging capitalism. “I was formerly like yourself, sir, a very warm advocate of the abolition of slavery,” the labor reformer George Henry Evans argued in a letter to the abolitionist Gerrit Smith. “This was before I saw that there was white slavery.” Evans was a putative ally of Smith and his fellow abolitionists. But still he asserted that “the landless white” was worse off than the enslaved black, who at least enjoyed “surety of support in sickness and old age.”
Invokers of “white slavery” held that there was nothing unique in the enslavement of blacks when measured against the enslavement of all workers. What evil there was in enslavement resulted from its status as a subsidiary of the broader exploitation better seen among the country’s noble laboring whites. Once the larger problem of white exploitation was solved, the dependent problem of black exploitation could be confronted or perhaps would fade away. Abolitionists focused on slavery were dismissed as “substitutionists” who wished to trade one form of slavery for another. “If I am less troubled concerning the Slavery prevalent in Charleston or New-Orleans,” wrote the reformer Horace Greeley, “it is because I see so much Slavery in New-York, which appears to claim my first efforts.”
Firsthand reports by white Union soldiers who witnessed actual slavery during the Civil War rendered the “white slavery” argument ridiculous. But its operating premises—white labor as noble archetype, and black labor as something else—lived on. This was a matter of rhetoric, not fact. The noble-white-labor archetype did not give white workers immunity from capitalism. It could not, in itself, break monopolies, alleviate white poverty in Appalachia or the South, or bring a decent wage to immigrant ghettos in the North. But the model for America’s original identity politics was set. Black lives literally did not matter and could be cast aside altogether as the price of even incremental gains for the white masses. It was this juxtaposition that allowed Theodore Bilbo to campaign for the Senate in the 1930s as someone who would “raise the same kind of hell as President Roosevelt” and later endorse lynching black people to keep them from voting.
The juxtaposition between the valid and even virtuous interests of the “working class” and the invalid and pathological interests of black Americans was not the province merely of blatant white supremacists like Bilbo. The acclaimed scholar, liberal hero, and future senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in his time working for President Richard Nixon, approvingly quoted Nixon’s formulation of the white working class: “A new voice” was beginning to make itself felt in the country. “It is a voice that has been silent too long,” Nixon claimed, alluding to working-class whites. “It is a voice of people who have not taken to the streets before, who have not indulged in violence, who have not broken the law.”
It had been only 18 years since the Cicero riots; eight years since Daisy and Bill Myers had been run out of Levittown, Pennsylvania; three years since Martin Luther King Jr. had been stoned while walking through Chicago’s Marquette Park. But as the myth of the virtuous white working class was made central to American identity, its sins needed to be rendered invisible. The fact was, working-class whites had been agents of racist terrorism since at least the draft riots of 1863; terrorism could not be neatly separated from the racist animus found in every class of whites. Indeed, in the era of lynching, the daily newspapers often whipped up the fury of the white masses by invoking the last species of property that all white men held in common—white women. But to conceal the breadth of white racism, these racist outbursts were often disregarded or treated not as racism but as the unfortunate side effect of legitimate grievances against capital. By focusing on that sympathetic laboring class, the sins of whiteness itself were, and are still being, evaded.
When David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, shocked the country in 1990 by almost winning one of Louisiana’s seats in the U.S. Senate, the apologists came out once again. They elided the obvious—that Duke had appealed to the racist instincts of a state whose schools are, at this very moment, still desegregating—and instead decided that something else was afoot. “There is a tremendous amount of anger and frustration among working-class whites, particularly where there is an economic downturn,” a researcher told the Los Angeles Times. “These people feel left out; they feel government is not responsive to them.” By this logic, postwar America—with its booming economy and low unemployment—should have been an egalitarian utopia and not the violently segregated country it actually was.
But this was the past made present. It was not important to the apologists that a large swath of Louisiana’s white population thought it was a good idea to send a white supremacist who once fronted a terrorist organization to the nation’s capital. Nor was it important that blacks in Louisiana had long felt left out. What was important was the fraying of an ancient bargain, and the potential degradation of white workers to the level of “negers.” “A viable left must find a way to differentiate itself strongly from such analysis,” David Roediger, the University of Kansas professor, has written.
That challenge of differentiation has largely been ignored. Instead, an imagined white working class remains central to our politics and to our cultural understanding of those politics, not simply when it comes to addressing broad economic issues but also when it comes to addressing racism. At its most sympathetic, this belief holds that most Americans—regardless of race—are exploited by an unfettered capitalist economy. The key, then, is to address those broader patterns that afflict the masses of all races; the people who suffer from those patterns more than others (blacks, for instance) will benefit disproportionately from that which benefits everyone. “These days, what ails working-class and middle-class blacks and Latinos is not fundamentally different from what ails their white counterparts,” Senator Barack Obama wrote in 2006:
Downsizing, outsourcing, automation, wage stagnation, the dismantling of employer-based health-care and pension plans, and schools that fail to teach young people the skills they need to compete in a global economy.
Obama allowed that “blacks in particular have been vulnerable to these trends”—but less because of racism than for reasons of geography and job-sector distribution. This notion—raceless antiracism—marks the modern left, from the New Democrat Bill Clinton to the socialist Bernie Sanders. Few national liberal politicians have shown any recognition that there is something systemic and particular in the relationship between black people and their country that might require specific policy solutions.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton acknowledged the existence of systemic racism more explicitly than any of her modern Democratic predecessors. She had to—black voters remembered too well the previous Clinton administration, as well as her previous campaign. While her husband’s administration had touted the rising-tide theory of economic growth, it did so while slashing welfare and getting “tough on crime,” a phrase that stood for specific policies but also served as rhetorical bait for white voters. One is tempted to excuse Hillary Clinton from having to answer for the sins of her husband. But in her 2008 campaign, she evoked the old dichotomy between white workers and loafing blacks, claiming to be the representative of “hardworking Americans, white Americans.” By the end of the 2008 primary campaign against Barack Obama, her advisers were hoping someone would uncover an apocryphal “whitey tape,” in which an angry Michelle Obama was alleged to have used the slur. During Bill Clinton’s presidential-reelection campaign in the mid-1990s, Hillary Clinton herself had endorsed the “super-predator” theory of William J. Bennett, John P. Walters, and John J. DiIulio Jr. This theory cast “inner-city” children of that era as “almost completely unmoralized” and the font of “a new generation of street criminals … the youngest, biggest and baddest generation any society has ever known.” The “baddest generation” did not become super-predators. But by 2016, they were young adults, many of whom judged Hillary Clinton’s newfound consciousness to be lacking.
It’s worth asking why the country has not been treated to a raft of sympathetic portraits of this “forgotten” young black electorate, forsaken by a Washington bought off by Davos elites and special interests. The unemployment rate for young blacks (20.6 percent) in July 2016 was double that of young whites (9.9 percent). And since the late 1970s, William Julius Wilson and other social scientists following in his wake have noted the disproportionate effect that the decline in manufacturing jobs has had on African American communities. If anyone should be angered by the devastation wreaked by the financial sector and a government that declined to prosecute the perpetrators, it is African Americans—the housing crisis was one of the primary drivers in the past 20 years of the wealth gap between black families and the rest of the country. But the cultural condescension toward and economic anxiety of black people is not news. Toiling blacks are in their proper state; toiling whites raise the specter of white slavery.
Moreover, a narrative of long-neglected working-class black voters, injured by globalization and the financial crisis, forsaken by out-of-touch politicians, and rightfully suspicious of a return of Clintonism, does not serve to cleanse the conscience of white people for having elected Donald Trump. Only the idea of a long-suffering white working class can do that. And though much has been written about the distance between elites and “Real America,” the existence of a class-transcending, mutually dependent tribe of white people is evident.
Joe Biden, then the vice president, last year:
“They’re all the people I grew up with … And they’re not racist. They’re not sexist.”
Bernie Sanders, senator and former candidate for president, last year:
“I come from the white working class, and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to the people where I came from.”
Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist, in February of this year:
My hometown, Yamhill, Ore., a farming community, is Trump country, and I have many friends who voted for Trump. I think they’re profoundly wrong, but please don’t dismiss them as hateful bigots.
These claims of origin and fidelity are not merely elite defenses of an aggrieved class but also a sweeping dismissal of the concerns of those who don’t share kinship with white men. “You can’t eat equality,” asserts Joe Biden—a statement worthy of someone unthreatened by the loss of wages brought on by an unwanted pregnancy, a background-check box at the bottom of a job application, or the deportation of a breadwinner. Within a week of Sanders lambasting Democrats for not speaking to “the people” where he “came from,” he was making an example of a woman who dreamed of representing the people where she came from. Confronted with a young woman who hoped to become the second Latina senator in American history, Sanders responded with a parody of the Clinton campaign: “It is not good enough for someone to say, ‘I’m a woman! Vote for me!’ No, that’s not good enough … One of the struggles that you’re going to be seeing in the Democratic Party is whether we go beyond identity politics.” The upshot—attacking one specimen of identity politics after having invoked another—was unfortunate.
Other Sanders appearances proved even more alarming. On MSNBC, he attributed Trump’s success, in part, to his willingness to “not be politically correct.” Sanders admitted that Trump had “said some outrageous and painful things, but I think people are tired of the same old, same old political rhetoric.” Pressed on the definition of political correctness, Sanders gave an answer Trump surely would have approved of. “What it means is you have a set of talking points which have been poll-tested and focus-group-tested,” Sanders explained. “And that’s what you say rather than what’s really going on. And often, what you are not allowed to say are things which offend very, very powerful people.”
This definition of political correctness was shocking coming from a politician of the left. But it matched a broader defense of Trump voters. “Some people think that the people who voted for Trump are racists and sexists and homophobes and just deplorable folks,” Sanders said later. “I don’t agree.” This is not exculpatory. Certainly not every Trump voter is a white supremacist, just as not every white person in the Jim Crow South was a white supremacist. But every Trump voter felt it acceptable to hand the fate of the country over to one.
One can, to some extent, understand politicians’ embracing a self-serving identity politics. Candidates for high office, such as Sanders, have to cobble together a coalition. The white working class is seen, understandably, as a large cache of potential votes, and capturing these votes requires eliding uncomfortable truths. But journalists have no such excuse. Again and again in the past year, Nicholas Kristof could be found pleading with his fellow liberals not to dismiss his old comrades in the white working class as bigots—even when their bigotry was evidenced in his own reporting. A visit to Tulsa, Oklahoma, finds Kristof wondering why Trump voters support a president who threatens to cut the programs they depend on. But the problem, according to Kristof ’s interviewees, isn’t Trump’s attack on benefits so much as an attack on their benefits. “There’s a lot of wasteful spending, so cut other places,” one man tells Kristof. When Kristof pushes his subjects to identify that wasteful spending, a fascinating target is revealed: “Obama phones,” the products of a fevered conspiracy theory that turned a long-standing government program into a scheme through which the then-president gave away free cellphones to undeserving blacks. Kristof doesn’t shift his analysis based on this comment and, aside from a one-sentence fact-check tucked between parentheses, continues on as though it were never said.
Observing a Trump supporter in the act of deploying racism does not much perturb Kristof. That is because his defenses of the innate goodness of Trump voters and of the innate goodness of the white working class are in fact defenses of neither. On the contrary, the white working class functions rhetorically not as a real community of people so much as a tool to quiet the demands of those who want a more inclusive America.
Mark Lilla’s New York Times essay “The End of Identity Liberalism,” published not long after last year’s election, is perhaps the most profound example of this genre. Lilla denounces the perversion of liberalism into “a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity,” which distorted liberalism’s message “and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.” Liberals have turned away from their working-class base, he says, and must look to the “pre-identity liberalism” of Bill Clinton and Franklin D. Roosevelt. You would never know from this essay that Bill Clinton was one of the most skillful identity politicians of his era—flying home to Arkansas to see a black man, the lobotomized Ricky Ray Rector, executed; upstaging Jesse Jackson at his own conference; signing the Defense of Marriage Act. Nor would you know that the “pre-identity” liberal champion Roosevelt depended on the literally lethal identity politics of the white-supremacist “solid South.” The name Barack Obama does not appear in Lilla’s essay, and he never attempts to grapple, one way or another, with the fact that it was identity politics—the possibility of the first black president—that brought a record number of black voters to the polls, winning the election for the Democratic Party, and thus enabling the deliverance of the ancient liberal goal of national health care. “Identity politics … is largely expressive, not persuasive,” Lilla claims. “Which is why it never wins elections—but can lose them.” That Trump ran and won on identity politics is beyond Lilla’s powers of conception. What appeals to the white working class is ennobled. What appeals to black workers, and all others outside the tribe, is dastardly identitarianism. All politics are identity politics—except the politics of white people, the politics of the bloody heirloom.
White tribalism haunts even more-nuanced writers. George Packer’s New Yorker essay “The Unconnected” is a lengthy plea for liberals to focus more on the white working class, a population that “has succumbed to the ills that used to be associated with the black urban ‘underclass.’ ” Packer believes that these ills, and the Democratic Party’s failure to respond to them, explain much of Trump’s rise. Packer offers no opinion polls to weigh white workers’ views on “elites,” much less their views on racism. He offers no sense of how their views and their relationship to Trump differ from other workers’ and other whites’.
That is likely because any empirical evaluation of the relationship between Trump and the white working class would reveal that one adjective in that phrase is doing more work than the other. In 2016, Trump enjoyed majority or plurality support among every economic branch of whites. It is true that his strongest support among whites came from those making $50,000 to $99,999. This would be something more than working-class in many nonwhite neighborhoods, but even if one accepts that branch as the working class, the difference between how various groups in this income bracket voted is revealing. Sixty-one percent of whites in this “working class” supported Trump. Only 24 percent of Hispanics and 11 percent of blacks did. Indeed, the plurality of all voters making less than $100,000 and the majority making less than $50,000 voted for the Democratic candidate. So when Packer laments the fact that “Democrats can no longer really claim to be the party of working people—not white ones, anyway,” he commits a kind of category error. The real problem is that Democrats aren’t the party of white people—working or otherwise. White workers are not divided by the fact of labor from other white demographics; they are divided from all other laborers by the fact of their whiteness.
Packer’s essay was published before the election, and so the vote tally was not available. But it should not be surprising that a Republican candidate making a direct appeal to racism would drive up the numbers among white voters, given that racism has been a dividing line for the national parties since the civil-rights era. Packer finds inspiration for his thesis in West Virginia—a state that remained Democratic through the 1990s before turning decisively Republican, at least at the level of presidential politics. This relatively recent rightward movement evinces, to Packer, a shift “that couldn’t be attributed just to the politics of race.” This is likely true—the politics of race are, themselves, never attributable “just to the politics of race.” The history of slavery is also about the growth of international capitalism; the history of lynching must be seen in light of anxiety over the growing independence of women; the civil-rights movement can’t be disentangled from the Cold War. Thus, to say that the rise of Donald Trump is about more than race is to make an empty statement, one that is small comfort to the people—black, Muslim, immigrant—who live under racism’s boot.
The dent of racism is not hard to detect in West Virginia. In the 2008 Democratic primary there, 95 percent of the voters were white. Twenty percent of those—one in five—openly admitted that race was influencing their vote, and more than 80 percent voted for Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama. Four years later, the incumbent Obama lost the primary in 10 counties to Keith Judd, a white felon incarcerated in a federal prison; Judd racked up more than 40 percent of the Democratic-primary vote in the state. A simple thought experiment: Can one imagine a black felon in a federal prison running in a primary against an incumbent white president doing so well?
But racism occupies a mostly passive place in Packer’s essay. There’s no attempt to understand why black and brown workers, victimized by the same new economy and cosmopolitan elite that Packer lambastes, did not join the Trump revolution. Like Kristof, Packer is gentle with his subjects. When a woman “exploded” and told Packer, “I want to eat what I want to eat, and for them to tell me I can’t eat French fries or Coca-Cola—no way,” he sees this as a rebellion against “the moral superiority of elites.” In fact, this elite conspiracy dates back to 1894, when the government first began advising Americans on their diets. As recently as 2002, President George W. Bush launched the HealthierUS initiative, urging Americans to exercise and eat healthy food. But Packer never allows himself to wonder whether the explosion he witnessed had anything to do with the fact that similar advice now came from the country’s first black first lady. Packer concludes that Obama was leaving the country “more divided and angrier than most Americans can remember,” a statement that is likely true only because most Americans identify as white. Certainly the men and women forced to live in the wake of the beating of John Lewis, the lynching of Emmett Till, the firebombing of Percy Julian’s home, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers would disagree.
The triumph of Trump’s campaign of bigotry presented the problematic spectacle of an American president succeeding at best in spite of his racism and possibly because of it. Trump moved racism from the euphemistic and plausibly deniable to the overt and freely claimed. This presented the country’s thinking class with a dilemma. Hillary Clinton simply could not be correct when she asserted that a large group of Americans was endorsing a candidate because of bigotry. The implications—that systemic bigotry is still central to our politics; that the country is susceptible to such bigotry; that the salt-of-the-earth Americans whom we lionize in our culture and politics are not so different from those same Americans who grin back at us in lynching photos; that Calhoun’s aim of a pan-Caucasian embrace between workers and capitalists still endures—were just too dark. Leftists would have to cope with the failure, yet again, of class unity in the face of racism. Incorporating all of this into an analysis of America and the path forward proved too much to ask. Instead, the response has largely been an argument aimed at emotion—the summoning of the white working class, emblem of America’s hardscrabble roots, inheritor of its pioneer spirit, as a shield against the horrific and empirical evidence of trenchant bigotry.
Packer dismisses the Democratic Party as a coalition of “rising professionals and diversity.” The dismissal is derived from, of all people, Lawrence Summers, the former Harvard president and White House economist, who last year labeled the Democratic Party “a coalition of the cosmopolitan élite and diversity.” The inference is that the party has forgotten how to speak on hard economic issues and prefers discussing presumably softer cultural issues such as “diversity.” It’s worth unpacking what, precisely, falls under this rubric of “diversity”—resistance to the monstrous incarceration of legions of black men, resistance to the destruction of health providers for poor women, resistance to the effort to deport parents, resistance to a policing whose sole legitimacy is rooted in brute force, resistance to a theory of education that preaches “no excuses” to black and brown children, even as excuses are proffered for mendacious corporate executives “too big to jail.” That this suite of concerns, taken together, can be dismissed by both an elite economist like Summers and a brilliant journalist like Packer as “diversity” simply reveals the safe space they enjoy. Because of their identity.
When Barack Obama came into office, in 2009, he believed that he could work with “sensible” conservatives by embracing aspects of their policy as his own. Instead he found that his very imprimatur made that impossible. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the GOP’s primary goal was not to find common ground but to make Obama a “one-term president.” A health-care plan inspired by Romneycare was, when proposed by Obama, suddenly considered socialist and, not coincidentally, a form of reparations. The first black president found that he was personally toxic to the GOP base. An entire political party was organized around the explicit aim of negating one man. It was thought by Obama and some of his allies that this toxicity was the result of a relentless assault waged by Fox News and right-wing talk radio. Trump’s genius was to see that it was something more, that it was a hunger for revanche so strong that a political novice and accused rapist could topple the leadership of one major party and throttle the heavily favored nominee of the other.
“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters,” Trump bragged in January 2016. This statement should be met with only a modicum of skepticism. Trump has mocked the disabled, withstood multiple accusations of sexual violence (all of which he has denied), fired an FBI director, sent his minions to mislead the public about his motives, personally exposed those lies by boldly stating his aim to scuttle an investigation into his possible collusion with a foreign power, then bragged about that same obstruction to representatives of that same foreign power. It is utterly impossible to conjure a black facsimile of Donald Trump—to imagine Obama, say, implicating an opponent’s father in the assassination of an American president or comparing his physical endowment with that of another candidate and then successfully capturing the presidency. Trump, more than any other politician, understood the valence of the bloody heirloom and the great power in not being a n*****
But the power is ultimately suicidal. Trump evinces this, too. In a recent New Yorker article, a former Russian military officer pointed out that interference in an election could succeed only where “necessary conditions” and an “existing background” were present. In America, that “existing background” was a persistent racism, and the “necessary condition” was a black president. The two related factors hobbled America’s ability to safeguard its electoral system. As late as July 2016, a majority of Republican voters doubted that Barack Obama had been born in the United States, which is to say they did not view him as a legitimate president. Republican politicians acted accordingly, infamously denying his final Supreme Court nominee a hearing and then, fatefully, refusing to work with the administration to defend the country against the Russian attack. Before the election, Obama found no takers among Republicans for a bipartisan response, and Obama himself, underestimating Trump and thus underestimating the power of whiteness, believed the Republican nominee too objectionable to actually win. In this Obama was, tragically, wrong. And so the most powerful country in the world has handed over all its affairs—the prosperity of its entire economy; the security of its 300 million citizens; the purity of its water, the viability of its air, the safety of its food; the future of its vast system of education; the soundness of its national highways, airways, and railways; the apocalyptic potential of its nuclear arsenal—to a carnival barker who introduced the phrase grab ’em by the pussy into the national lexicon. It is as if the white tribe united in demonstration to say, “If a black man can be president, then any white man—no matter how fallen—can be president.” And in that perverse way, the democratic dreams of Jefferson and Jackson were fulfilled.
The American tragedy now being wrought is larger than most imagine and will not end with Trump. In recent times, whiteness as an overt political tactic has been restrained by a kind of cordiality that held that its overt invocation would scare off “moderate” whites. This has proved to be only half true at best. Trump’s legacy will be exposing the patina of decency for what it is and revealing just how much a demagogue can get away with. It does not take much to imagine another politician, wiser in the ways of Washington and better schooled in the methodology of governance—and now liberated from the pretense of antiracist civility—doing a much more effective job than Trump.
It has long been an axiom among certain black writers and thinkers that while whiteness endangers the bodies of black people in the immediate sense, the larger threat is to white people themselves, the shared country, and even the whole world. There is an impulse to blanch at this sort of grandiosity. When W. E. B. Du Bois claims that slavery was “singularly disastrous for modern civilization” or James Baldwin claims that whites “have brought humanity to the edge of oblivion: because they think they are white,” the instinct is to cry exaggeration. But there really is no other way to read the presidency of Donald Trump. The first white president in American history is also the most dangerous president—and he is made more dangerous still by the fact that those charged with analyzing him cannot name his essential nature, because they too are implicated in it.