I’m not pro-Trump. I’m anti-violence.

For the past two days, I have had a series of exhausting Facebook discussions about the election results. In order to make my point, I’ve had to defend, albeit halfheartedly, some truly awful people, Donald Trump being the chief among them, but Steve Bannon being a close second.

I do not like Donald Trump or Steve Bannon. They are bad people. I do not want to defend them. I am opposed to them. I think they will do awful things, and I think every attempt they make to do awful things should be met with opposition.

It frustrates me that I even have to say this. It frustrates me that the point I’ve been trying to make over the past few days somehow calls my disgust with Donald Trump into question. It frustrates me that every discussion about Trump is so deeply and relentlessly polarizing and painful that it is impossible to find a rational center where people can address the real problems and concerns of what a Trump administration will actually mean, and where people who passionately disagree can still find ways to peacefully navigate the difficult days ahead.

But my frustration is my problem. The larger problem, and the one that preoccupies me as I consider where our country is and where it is going, is that violence is becoming an acceptable option.

Of course, it was already acceptable for the racists and bigots who were Trump’s most vocal supporters, and now they have been emboldened by a bully’s victory. Everyone, including the vast majority of the tens of millions of people who voted for Trump, can see this violence for what it is. It is squalid and ugly, and it is easily identified as such. This kind of bile has always been with us, and it will likely always be with us. It cannot be tolerated, and it should not be defended. I’m confident that the vast majority of people in this country are people of good will who will not tolerate or defend such things.

What unnerves me is that there is a violence that many otherwise decent people will be willing to defend. It is a violence that cloaks itself in virtue, even though it is as squalid and ugly as the violence of racists. It represents itself as the violence of the righteous, or the violence of the oppressed. This violence is predicated on the principle that Trump’s victory is so completely unacceptable that morality provides no limit on the vehemence of an appropriate response. If you accept that principle, you start with peaceful protests, but you’re not willing to end there. If chants and signs and marches don’t bring Trump down – and (spoiler alert) they won’t bring Trump down – then escalation is not only acceptable, it’s imperative.

This kind of violence was not acceptable before Trump. It is becoming acceptable now.

And it is already happening. A man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat was accosted and then choked on a subway train. A woman was thrown to the ground and repeatedly punched at a polling place because she announced she was voting for Trump. A girl was beaten at school because she announced she was a Trump supporter.

From the last link:

“This girl comes up to me and she said, ‘Do you hate Mexicans?’ and I was like, ‘no,’ and she said, ‘You support Trump. You hate Mexicans.'”

Armenio says the girl hit her, threw her to the ground, pulled out her earrings and hair. She was left with a bloody nose and scratches and bruises.

Trump opponents even beat up a homeless woman who was trying to protect Donald Trump’s star on Hollywood Boulevard.

homeless-trump-supporter-assaulted-youtube

This is a small handful of examples. There are many, many more. And, if the current overheated rhetoric continues, there will be many, many more after that. People will get hurt, and people will die, and many of those outraged by violence from Trump-supporting racists will turn a blind eye to the so-called violence of the righteous. Some will even applaud.

This is not a good thing. This is a very, very bad thing.

Just as we need to oppose Donald Trump in his awfulness, we need to oppose violence from whatever source it may come. Your anger and frustration over Trump’s victory does not give you the right to punch a Trump voter in the face.

Trump/Hitler – Part II: Why It Matters

So whenever I post something here and link to it on Facebook, the conversation all takes place over there and not here. For those of you who are not my FB friends, you should know that my earlier post today has ignited something of a firestorm.

“I quit reading after the 4th paragraph,” wrote one friend. “Not marching people into gas chambers made me throw up in my own mouth. Wish you were here so I could’ve done it in yours.”

Ouch.

Another friend told me that my “defense” of Steve Bannon was “close to treasonous.” (I tried to make it clear that I was not trying to defend Bannon in any way, shape, or form, as I describe him as “a thug, a bully, and a bigot.” He seemed unconvinced.) Later, the same friend insisted that “white power is entering the [W]hite [H]ouse, and anyone not enraged is complicit and Vichy.”

Which is precisely the problem and the reason I wrote that piece.

There’s a Doctor Who episode titled “Let’s Kill Hitler!” The plot involves going back in time to off the Fuehrer, but they don’t succeed. That hasn’t stopped other fictional characters from trying. The idea is the subject of movies, literature, and even comedy sketches. progressVermin Supreme, the perennial presidential candidate who wears a boot on his head, has made “time travel research to kill baby Hitler” one of the planks in his political platform.

And why not? Who doesn’t want to kill Hitler? Furthermore, who wouldn’t be justified in killing Hitler? The Nazi dictator represents the very embodiment of human evil. There is no punishment he does not deserve, and no response to his evil would be too extreme. Taking out Hitler is not something to be left to chance. You certainly don’t arrest him or put him on trial. You strangle him with your bare hands. If you can’t get close enough to do that, then you lob grenades into his bedroom. Or you bomb the snot out of any building where he might be hiding. Yes, innocents may die, but surely that’s a small price to pay to take out the worst person who has ever lived?

Well, thankfully, Adolf Hitler is long gone. But now here comes Trump Hitler. What punishment does he not deserve? What response to his evil would be too extreme? Are you seriously thinking we should put him on trial and leave it to the system to prevent the horrors he’s about to unleash? Isn’t it time someone strangled him with their bare hands? And if they can’t get that close, wouldn’t blowing up the White House and killing Trump Hitler be an entirely justified course of action? If Trump is Hitler, than a violent response is not only justified; it’s necessary.

That leads to horror very quickly.

Again, and I can’t stress this enough, I think Trump is awful. I think Steve Bannon is awful. I think this campaign played on America’s worst fears and exploited the darkest side of who we are. Nobody should read this and presume than I’m on the side of those who wish to divide us because of what we look like or how we worship. At the same time, I’m not on the side that thinks that violence is an acceptable response to Trump’s election. I stand firmly against rioting, bombing, or any other violent response to President-elect Trump. If Trump really were Hitler, I might think differently. As it stands now, I’m with John Lennon. “When you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out.” (“Imagine” is still a sucky song, though.)

America is surely flawed, but we remain a nation of laws, and we have a system of government that is designed to thwart potential Hitlers. I think it will prove quite frustrating to President Trump, and that he won’t be able to be Hitler even if he wants to be. It is important that our response is commensurate with the actual challenge we face instead of acting like Krsitallnacht has just taken place.

Is Trump Hitler?

I’m going to try and thread a needle here that may not be threadable. So if I fail, it’s Donald Trump’s fault.

Indeed, I want to be clear at the outset that a lot of things are Donald Trump’s fault. I have believed, from the outset of the campaign, that he is wholly unfit to be President of the United States, and I have said so repeatedly and publicly. I officially left the Republican Party after he became the nominee. I have been on national television three times deriding Trump and his candidacy, so I would hate to have anyone read this blog post and assume that I’ve “come around,” that Trump is somehow my guy now, or that what am I about to say should in any way be interpreted as apologia for a president who, in the best case scenario, will largely be an ineffectual buffoon, and, in a more-likely worst case scenario, could do real and permanent damage to the nation.

With that as background, I’m now going to begin my needle-threading. Conceding and recognizing everything about Donald J. Trump that is loathsome, repugnant, and genuinely stomach-turning, I think it also needs to be said that the president-elect is not the moral or practical equivalent of Adolf Hitler.

trump_hitler1-1-354x354Hear me out here. This shouldn’t be interpreted as high praise, as “Not Hitler” is a pretty low threshold to cross. One can be all kinds of despicable and still not approach the evil of slaughtering six million people in a deliberate, state-sponsored genocide. One can also be legitimately and justifiably opposed to Trump, frightened by Trump, enraged by Trump, and sickened by Trump even if he doesn’t round up people and put them into gas chambers.

Which, honestly, he’s not going to do.

Again, understand the needle I’m trying to thread. Trump’s call to keep all Muslims from entering the country is xenophobia at its worst. (He’s backed down to something called “extreme vetting,” but the standards he’s using to accomplish this would essentially accomplish the same goal.) He’s now talking about a Muslim immigrant “registry” that sounds embryonically Hitler-ish, and so I understand the concerns, and I’m not encouraging complacency. As Trump proposes awful things, and he will continue to propose awful things, he needs to be vigorously and unrelentingly opposed, and I intend to be part of that opposition.

Now for the needle-threading. Is cracking down on Muslim immigration a step toward Muslim concentration camps? Is it a precursor to Trump rounding up Muslim-American citizens and authorizing the police to smash their windows, loot their shops, and throw them into ghettos before engineering a “final solution?” And after he’s done purging Islam from America, are we going to see ethnic cleansing against Hispanics or Jews, too?

All these things are possible, I suppose, but they’re also very, very unlikely. And here’s why.

In the first place, Trump is not smart enough to be Hitler. Keep in mind that by the time Hitler came to power, he had already written Mein Kampf and laid out for the world his rancid reasoning for blaming the Jewish people for all the world’s ills. Hitler was evil, vile, and wrong, but he was not a casual or shallow thinker. One of the reasons he was able to rise to power is that the elites didn’t take him seriously, and they assumed he didn’t really mean all the vile things he had said and written. They were horribly wrong. Hitler knew exactly what he wanted to do, and he let the world know well in advance that genocide was at the top of his agenda.

Donald Trump has not only not written a book; he’s never read a book. I don’t think he’s even read his own books. (Read this piece by the ghostwriter for The Art of the Deal to get the full extent of Trump’s ignorance.) A couple of years before running against Hillary Clinton as a pro-life conservative, he was praising Hillary Clinton as “terrific” and reiterating his support for partial-birth abortion. This is a man without any discernible ideology who believes only in his own ego and who’s thinking seems to be a byproduct of his bleached and ludicrously-swirled hair. He is only a racist when it’s convenient to be a racist. He lacks the sustained and bilious passion necessary to codify American genocide.

“Ah,” I hear you say. “But what about Steve Bannon?”

For those of you living under a rock, you should know that Bannon is Trump’s “white supremacist” appointee who will serve as the Karl Rove of the new Trump administration. Ostensibly, Trump will be a vapid and thoughtless puppet having his strings pulled by Wormtongue Bannon, who will sneak into the sleeping president’s bedroom every night with wireless earbuds so he can subliminally expose the Puppet Fuehrer to an iPod looped with Nuremberg Rally speeches.

The problem is that the case the Bannon is a “white supremacist” is hanging on a pretty thin reed. The smoking gun is a single statement by his ex-wife made in the crucible of a heated divorce, wherein she claimed he didn’t want his daughter to go to school with Jews. The fact that the daughter did, in fact, go to school with Jews would suggest that perhaps one statement from an angry ex-wife is not sufficient to convict Bannon of being a 21st-Century Goebbels. Bannon has been the subject of many supportive columns from Jewish defenders who know the man and insist that genocide is not at the top of his agenda, and I’m inclined to believe them.

Once again, do not mistake this as an endorsement, or even a defense, of Steve Bannon, who may well be an anti-Semite. Certainly he’s a thug, a bully, and a bigot. He’s also said a number of things about Mormons that demonstrate conclusively that he’s Grade-A pond scum. My point is that pond scum is pond scum, and, generally speaking, I would prefer that pond scum weren’t in the White House.

But pond scum is still a whole lot better than Hitler.

There’s also the rhetorical problem of the fact that we’ve seen too many instances of the Boy Who Cried Hitler in recent years. We were told that Bush was Hitler; we’re told that Obama is Hitler. Now that there’s someone who’s exponentially more Hitler-esque than either of the previous Hitlers, we need to be really worried, because, well, this one’s really Hitler.

Okay. Maybe this one is. But can we admit, then, that the previous ones were not? And can we also consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, this new Hitler may not be Hitler, either?

So What Now?

So what now?

Not everyone is asking that question yet. Emotions are still raw, and it will take time for many to heal. I’m grateful to note that my FB feed is almost entirely gloat-free, and last night’s winners seem to have no appetite for adding to the pain of the Hillary supporters. I take that as a good sign. We’ll need a surfeit of kindness in the days ahead. For my part, I’m strangely at ease with last night’s results. Many people I love are not.

Prior to the actual returns coming in, I had resigned myself to the reality of another corrupt Clinton presidency, and to have that possibility eliminated was a genuine relief. It was quickly replaced by trepidation about what a Trump presidency will mean. I don’t think anyone knows, least of all the President-Elect himself.

I think there are several things that it does not mean. In the lamentations of the Clinton faithful, I’ve seen warnings that “women will lose all access to birth control,” that “gay people will be rounded up and put in prison,” and that Trump’s critics will start to mysteriously disappear. I don’t think any of those things are remotely likely, nor do I believe abortion rights or same-sex marriage are genuinely at risk. I also don’t really worry that nuclear war is in the cards, although the battle over the Supreme Court will likely feel nuclear. The Republicans, for over a year, have refused to consider a legitimate SCOTUS nomination by a sitting president, so Democrats in the Senate will have no qualms about filibustering any and all Trump nominees now and forever. Given the wafer-thin Republican Senate majority and the deep unpopularity of the incoming president, gridlock will be the order of the day.

Which is fine by me. I’m a big fan of gridlock. The Constitution was written to make government inefficient by design to avoid concentrations of power. Gridlock means that even the worst presidents don’t have the ability to bring down the Republic singlehandedly. I think Trump will soon discover that he can’t do a lot of the crazy crap he thought he’d be able to do, and he is likely to find the presidency a whole lot more frustrating than he anticipated. That’s probably a good thing.

I also think it’s a good thing to see this election as a referendum on the media as much as the candidates. The smugness of the press was smacked down hard, and it was a smackdown that was richly deserved. This election cycle removed even the veneer of objectivity from most of the talking heads, and many of them will find themselves struggling to get their credibility back. It’s impossible to eliminate bias from any human endeavor, so to see the objectivity pretense exposed for what it is was very satisfying, indeed. For my part, I think we’d be better served by a media that is open and honest about who’s side they’re on.

This should also provide a welcome reminder that nobody in politics really knows anything more than anyone else. Everybody, every step of the way, got this wrong. Everyone, that is, except Scott Adams of Dilbert fame, who eerily got every element of this election right. If you’re not reading his blog, you’re really missing out.

Someone asked this morning whether or not it’s time to get rid of the Electoral College, given that Hillary is on track to win the popular vote. Yes, it is. The Electoral College distorts the whole process and leaves out a huge chunk of voters from the campaign. A genuine national election makes much more sense.

EDIT: I’m getting pushback on my Electoral College opposition, and I’m rethinking this to some degree. The idea that elections would then become contests to only persuade huge population centers is problematic and a valid concern.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I don’t know if this helped anyone feel better, or if it only depressed you even further, but I’m no longer willing to let my life be defined by something as squalid as politics. There will always be goodness and virtue in the world, regardless of whether or not there is any in the Oval Office.

EDIT: I’m also seeing some complaints about how third parties somehow made this outcome possible. I don’t think that’s remotely true. I couldn’t bring myself to vote for either party, and without a third party option, I probably would have just left the POTUS slot blank. If someone is disgusted enough with the two major nominees that they’re willing to “throw their vote away,” that’s not someone willing to sign on to one of the parties if their other choices are removed.

It’s Almost Over

I have had a number of complaints, online and off, that I have not been living up to my punditious* responsibilities in 2016, and to that I plead guilty. I have spent far less time talking about this dreadful election than I have in previous cycles, but, ironically, far more time talking about it than I would like. But now, on the eve of inevitable disaster, I thought I’d sum up where I am and what I’m thinking. I don’t have a grand plan here, so I may wander into all kinds of tangents and minefields as I try to make sense out of a senseless situation.

First off, I’m not going to tell you who’s going to win. I stuck my neck out in 2012 and insisted that the polls were all flawed and that Romney was going to walk away with it. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate how stupid it is for anyone to presume they know any more about these things than anyone else. With regard to this election, you have the same information I do, and you’re perfectly capable of making as accurate an assessment of the electoral landscape as any of mine. All you need to know is that a psychic Scottish goat has predicted a Hillary victory. So, you know, there’s that.

I will say that this election has conclusively demonstrated that television advertising is all but useless and will have no real impact on the final vote totals.  Trump cruised to the nomination with virtually no television advertising, and Jeb Bush and his SuperPACs spent tens of millions and got nowhere. Hillary has outspent Trump by an outrageous factor with regard to her media blitz – I don’t remember what the actual number is, and I’m too lazy to look it up – and, really, I don’t think it will make the slightest bit of difference.

The fact is that people just don’t watch TV ads anymore, so ads don’t move the needle. Social media is changing the nature of the public conversation, and non-professionals become pundits to their friends by forwarding amateur videos that none of the campaigns have created and which they really can’t control. I think the “Hillary Lying for 13 Minutes Straight” video packed more of a punch than anything the Trump campaign put out, and it was produced by a bunch of nobodies. In contrast, can you think of a single ad from either candidate that drove the discussion in any significant way? Me neither.

It makes me think that the whole “ground game” buzz is irrelevant, too. Much has been made of the fact that Hillary has organized a big ground game to get her voters to the polls, and Trump has not. That may prove to be relevant. It may also prove to be an antiquated relic of campaigns past, given that social media, not a phone call, provides the more potent means to mobilize voters. I suspect the latter, but I’m probably wrong.

I do think the “Shy Trump” effect is a thing, although I only have anecdotal evidence to back that up. I have no idea how big it is or if it will provide any surprises in the vote totals. I only know I have several friends unwilling to admit their support for Trump, given that they are largely disgusted with him and don’t want to appear to be in league with Trump’s vocal legion of racists and bullies. The shy folk are good people who have nowhere else to go, and they’re especially worried about the Supreme Court, and they’re willing to back a loathsome man like Trump in the hopes of preventing SCOTUS from devolving into the extraconstitutional Superlegislature the Left so desperately wants it to be.

At the same time, I wonder how much more damage the Court can really do. I’m amazed at how many people think that a repeal of Roe v. Wade is the most pressing problem facing the nation. The fact is that a repeal of that rancid decision is ridiculously unlikely, regardless of what new appointments are made, and, in policy terms, little or nothing would change if it were repealed, given how many of Roe’s principles have been reinforced by a host of state and federal laws. If it were repealed, abortion would remain legal in all fifty states.

And, not to get too abortion-tangential on you, but I really wonder why Mormons are so eager to throw in with a movement that wants to criminalize all abortion from the moment of conception. Our church teaches that in cases of rape, incest, or a serious threat to the mother, abortion can be morally justified. How do you codify that position into law? If you legislate that abortion is illegal except in cases of rape, how does a woman prove she’s been raped? What kind of intrusive legal apparatus would be necessary to make that determination? Wouldn’t that just inspire every woman seeking an abortion to claim she’s a rape victim? Do you really want to turn doctors and nurses into narcs?

The reason abortion is not illegal, and extremely unlikely ever to be made illegal, is that the majority of Americans do not see it as immoral, particularly in the cases where the LDS Church makes exceptions. If they were convinced that it is moral to compel a woman to carry a rapist’s child to term, the law would reflect that. Absent any clear moral consensus, abortion will not be criminalized, and single-issue voters who focus solely on reproductive rights are largely wasting their time.

Still, that one issue is one of the few still animating the GOP faithful, many of whom now find themselves members of a party that can’t  figure out what the hell it’s supposed to be. That problem will persist even if, or perhaps especially if, Trump somehow manages to win. Last night, I had a conversation with my brother-in-law who sells computer cables. He’s as rock-ribbed a conservative as it is possible to be, and he’s terrified that if Trump were to succeed in starting a trade war with China, he’d be out of business. Now that the Republicans are the Party of Trump, isolationism and protectionism are the banner headline issues of a party that used to champion free and open markets. What the hell does it mean to be a Republican, anyway? I don’t think anyone can answer that question, and I think the answer will become even more muddled if a vapid buffoon like Trump is given the keys to the party’s ideological bus.

I think one thing most everyone can agree on is that Ted Cruz is a whiny and opportunistic jerk. Mitt Romney and John Kasich couldn’t, in good conscience, support Trump, so when Trump’s convention coronation rolled around, they stayed home when Ted decided to take a dump in the Trump throne room. And then Ted jumped on the Trump bandwagon late in the game for completely unprincipled reasons, leaving Cruzer losers like Glenn Beck to apologize for ever thinking he was a man of integrity. If there’s any silver lining in this debacle, and it’s a thin lining indeed, it’s that Cruz will not be the one the party turns to as it digs through the ashes of its disgrace to try to rebuild itself.

As for me, I can think of no outcome, barring a miraculous surge from Gary Johnson, that will lift my spirits after the polls close tomorrow. I will say that I won’t enjoy seeing either candidate win, but I would really enjoy watching Hillary Clinton lose and seeing the corruption of Clintonism finally broomed off the national stage. I would get an evening’s worth of a schadenfreude sugar rush out of that before falling into despair over the prospect of President Trump. Even typing those two words in such close proximity gives me bowel trouble.

I doubt I’ll have much more to say as the returns come in, unless something truly unexpected happens. In the meantime, I’m going to start listening to Christmas music, which serves as a welcome reminder that we live in a universe that is not defined by the squalor of politics.

  • I define “punditious” as “of or pertaining to punditry; punditioulous.”