When to Bolt

I live in this area and used to be active in the local Tea Party group. I know people who are not white nationalists who oppose the removal of the statues based on high-minded ideas about preserving history. None of them were [at the Charlottesville rally], and if they had been, they would have bolted the moment they saw a bunch of guys with torches chanting “Blood and soil.”

– Robert Tracinski, “Donald Trump Needs Not To Be President Yesterday
The Federalist, 8-16-2017

This week’s featured posts are “What to Make of Antifa?” and “A Few Points About Confederate Monuments“.

This week everybody was still talking about Charlottesville

Led by the president — more about him below — conservative media has been pushing an even-handed or even pro-alt-Right narrative of the Unite the Right rally — the one that culminated with the murder of counter-protested Heather Heyer in a car attack that injured 19 others: The “alt-Left” was just as bad. Lots of “fine people” were rallying not for white supremacy, but to defend Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee statue, and so on.

These stories become more convincing the further away from the events you get, so I think it’s important to distribute as much raw video footage and as many eye-witness accounts as possible. (Along with the posters advertising the event, which say little-to-nothing about Robert E. Lee, and a whole lot about white supremacy and anti-Semitism.) I’ve already linked to some eye-witness accounts about Antifa in “What to Make of Antifa?“, but I’ll add some more testimony here.

If you’ve got a half hour, Vice News had a reporter embedded with the white supremacists, and that piece makes compelling television.

Some of the most thoughtful accounts are by clergy who came to protest, perhaps willing to get their heads bashed in or perhaps imagining that KKK types would be cowed by ministerial vestments. (They weren’t.) Here’s Brian McLaren of Auburn Seminary and local Unitarian Universalist ministers Wayne Arnason and Kathleen Rolenz.

Alan Zimmerman, president of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, describes the atmosphere of fear:

For half an hour, three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple. Had they tried to enter, I don’t know what I could have done to stop them, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them, either. Perhaps the presence of our armed guard deterred them. Perhaps their presence was just a coincidence, and I’m paranoid. I don’t know.

Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, “There’s the synagogue!” followed by chants of “Seig Heil” and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols.

But there were also heart-warming moments:

A frail, elderly woman approached me Saturday morning as I stood on the steps in front of our sanctuary, crying, to tell me that while she was Roman Catholic, she wanted to stay and watch over the synagogue with us. At one point, she asked, “Why do they hate you?” I had no answer to the question we’ve been asking ourselves for thousands of years.

At least a dozen complete strangers stopped by as we stood in front the synagogue Saturday to ask if we wanted them to stand with us.

and Trump’s horrible response

The day Heather Heyer was murdered, Trump denounced violence “on many sides“, and seemed mainly to regret that Heyer’s death — he didn’t mention her by name — was diverting attention from his own accomplishments.

Our country is doing very well in so many ways. We have record — just absolute record employment. We have unemployment, the lowest it’s been in almost 17 years. We have companies pouring into our country. Foxconn and car companies, and so many others, they’re coming back to our country. We’re renegotiating trade deals to make them great for our country and great for the American worker. We have so many incredible things happening in our country. So when I watch Charlottesville, to me it’s very, very sad.

Monday, his staff prevailed on him to read a more specific statement finally saying the kinds of things that any other president would have said immediately:

Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.

At the time, I thought he looked like a hostage reading a statement prepared by his kidnappers, and I wondered how long it would take him to undercut the whole thing. About a day: His Wednesday press conference went completely off the rails. He was back to “blame on both sides” and “very fine people, on both sides”. He supported the pretense that the rally was primarily to protest removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, and suggested that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington would be next. (I discuss that in more detail in “A Few Points About Confederate Monuments“.)

Trump supporters started to bail out on him almost immediately. Both his Manufacturing Jobs Initiative Council and his American Manufacturing Council had to be disbanded as its members resigned. Several Republicans in Congress also criticized him. But Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell made careful statements against violence and white supremacy in general, without confronting Trump directly.

Russ Feingold makes a good point:

The lesson from Charlottesville is not how dangerous the neo-Nazis are. It is the unmasking of the Republican party leadership. In the wake of last weekend’s horror and tragedy, let us finally, finally rip off the veneer that Trump’s affinity for white supremacy is distinct from the Republican agenda of voter suppression, renewed mass incarceration and the expulsion of immigrants.

It’s nice to see a few tweets separating elected Republicans from Trump, but they need to speak out on substance, not just symbolism. Toxic statements are not an impeachable offense, but an official resolution of censure would be a good start, followed by action on the issues Feingold lists. So far, no Republicans are taking those steps.

Trump keeps “waiting for all the facts” before condemning white supremacists. But the massive counter-demonstration against a proposed right-wing “free speech” rally in Boston Saturday got no such consideration. He knew at a glance that the thousands of counter-protesters were “anti-police agitators“.

His wait-for-the-facts stance also got under the skin of Yusef Salaam, who was one of the falsely convicted “Central Park 5” sent to prison in 1990 for beating and raping a white female jogger. (DNA evidence cleared them years later and someone else eventually confessed.)

During our trial, it seemed like every New Yorker had an opinion. But no one took it further than Trump. He called for blood in the most public way possible. Trump used his money to take out full-page ads in all of the city’s major newspapers, urging the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York. … He never acknowledged his rush to judgment, and last year when asked about us, he still stuck to the line that “They admitted they were guilty” and “The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty.” Never mind that we weren’t.

and Steve Bannon’s exit

Bannon’s firing/resignation/whatever on Friday means that in a mere seven months, Trump has gotten rid of his entire Inauguration Day inner circle: Bannon, Reince Preibus, Michael Flynn, and Sean Spicer. Pence’s mandate comes from the Electoral College, so Trump can’t fire him.

The fact that Bannon was going to be in the White House at all was bad news, so him leaving has to be good news. He has been the administration’s clearest link to the alt-Right, and was responsible for other white nationalist hires like Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Miller. (It would be great if they go next.)

That said, it’s not like Trump is a puppet who will now be voiced by some more reasonable puppeteer like John Kelly. Trump has been at his worst when he spoke with the least outside input, as during his unhinged Tuesday news conference. Bannon encouraged and orchestrated Trump’s worst instincts, but those instincts are still there.

but not enough people are heaping shame on Trump’s religious lickspittles

The Thoughtful Pastor blog, written by Rev. Dr. Christy Thomas, a Methodist, notes something that should be scandalous: Even as Trump’s business advisory councils are exploding, his Religious Advisory Council is standing firmly behind him. As of Friday, exactly one of the 24 (mostly Evangelical Christian) members had resigned, and none has spoken out clearly against Trump’s echoing of white supremacist rhetoric. Some have openly supported those statements.

This points to an issue that deserves a lot more attention: The leadership of the Evangelical Christian movement has been corrupted by politics, to the point that it has abdicated the traditional prophetic role of speaking truth to power. Increasingly, “Christian” is a tribal identity rather than a religion. How else can we explain white Christians’ allegiance — both among the leadership and the rank and file — to an amoral, self-righteous, non-religious huckster like Trump?

During Bill Clinton’s administration, conservative Christian ministers frequently talked about the importance of character and of having a strong Christian man in the White House. During Bill Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky scandal, Trump RAC member James Dobson wrote:

Why aren’t parents more concerned about what their children are hearing about the President’s behavior? Are moms and dads not embarrassed by what is occurring? At any given time, 40 percent of the nation’s children list the President of the United States as the person they most admire. What are they learning from Mr. Clinton? What have we taught our boys about respecting women? What have our little girls learned about men? How can we estimate the impact of this scandal on future generations?

But he looked at Trump’s Pussygate scandal differently:

There really is only one difference between the two [candidates]. Mr. Trump promises to support religious liberty and the dignity of the unborn. Mrs. Clinton promises she will not.

Since the election, Evanglical leaders have been acting as if Trump were God’s anointed, and competing to see who can be the most perfect toady. (Robert Jeffress is winning.)

Rev. Thomas finds this kind of thing appalling, as any authentic Christian would. Ministers who can’t keep up morally with the CEOs of the big corporations deserve nothing but public shame. I often hear that Islam needs a reformation. Well, Evangelical Christianity needs a reformation; its corruption runs both wide and deep.

and you also might be interested in …

If the sky suddenly goes dark while you’re reading this, you might be in the middle of a solar eclipse. Go check.

The Trump administration has decided what to do about that annoying National Climate Assessment: disband the federal advisory board that produced it.

This evening, Trump will announce his Afghanistan strategy. Speculation is that he will call for a modest increase in troop levels and maybe some changes in how they’re used. This is one of the rare cases where I wish Trump would stick to the isolationism of his 2016 campaign. Somebody needs to explain to me what our 15-year military action has accomplished, and what more we can expect from further involvement. I suspect tonight’s speech will not do that.

Those of us who encountered Neo-Paganism back in the day, as a movement inside the liberal counterculture, can be shocked to discover some of the reactionary directions it has taken since. I recommend reading Amy Hale’s “Marketing Rad-Trad: the Co-Influence Between Paganism and the New Right“.

[T]he idea that there is a sacred link between people and place can inspire fixed ideas about the relationship between people and territory.

It is almost ironic that this wider conversation about cultural preservation and a desire to not appropriate have created the conditions for the New Right to be successful among Pagans. Particularly in the United States where Pagans and practitioners of New Age religions have been accused of appropriating symbolism and practices from Native American traditions, Pagans have become especially sensitive to these complaints and wish to practice their religion with a sense of cultural integrity. In short, Pagans do not want to be seen to be stealing traditions that “do not belong to them.”

As a result, Pagans feel as though they need to be able to legitimately claim ownership to the traditions they practice, which has led to an increase in ethnic reconstruction Paganism within the United States, as people try to become involved with traditions they feel they can legitimately claim as their own. The models for this type of practice tend to be heavily culturally bounded, using a genetic model of cultural transmission, one anthropologists recognize to be greatly flawed and incorrect, but which is a defining feature of New Right ethnopolitics.

and let’s close with something controversial

The closing I promised in the Teaser fell through (the video wasn’t what it claimed to be), so I’m going to substitute Tina Fey’s cake routine. A few people — like Rose Dommu at Out — took her literally as saying that we should all just stay home and eat cake rather than do anything. But I think there’s more to it than that. I saw as an expression of the frustration of seeing something obviously wrong and not knowing whether anything you do will make any difference.

And besides, it’s funny.

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  • Anonymous  On August 21, 2017 at 12:45 pm

    FWIW, my take on the Tina Fey routine was that it was funny because she was doing something absurd while talking about absurdities. It was just a funny thing for her to be doing while saying funny things. I really didn’t pick up any message in it about what we should or shouldn’t be doing in response to any of this, just that it’s all so messed up.

  • Roger Owen Green  On August 21, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    The Tina Fey bit WAS funny!

  • Mickey Jones  On August 21, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    RE: Tina Fey performance. I am surprised that so many missed the irony of Fey’s performance. I “got” most of her references, but have to admit to missing some of the more nuanced interpretations made by others. Perhaps the most salient point for me was observed by Tom Carson in Playboy: “…Fey isn’t in the advice-giving business. She’s in the satire business…”, see the link below.

  • paranoid  On August 21, 2017 at 8:01 pm

    Your “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party” explains the White evangelical silence on Trump and White supremacists. In the antibellum South, there was a strain of Christian theology that justified race-based slavery on the grounds of White male superiority as the natural, Biblical, God-given order of things. It isn’t a stretch to see today’s (patriarchical, dominionist) White evangelicalism as the heir to that theology.

  • dianejyoung  On August 22, 2017 at 12:09 am

    Re: Tina Fey, I’m white and I have read uniformly negative responses from black people. I pay attention to that. Here’s one response: “Satire or not, impact is always greater than intention — what Tina Fey has done, is offer an opportunity for white people to grab hold of a bare minimum “grassroots movement” that they feel they can get behind. #Sheetcaking began trending, thanks to them.” -https://wearyourvoicemag.com/identities/race/name-iconic-duo-white-feminism-white-liberalism

    • weeklysift  On August 22, 2017 at 7:55 am

      On the whole, we don’t listen enough to black voices. But this is a case where blacks are talking about how a white person’s voice will affect other white people. I don’t think they’re the experts on that.

      • Typhoid Mary  On August 23, 2017 at 10:43 am

        “I don’t think they’re the experts on that.” I strongly, strongly disagree.

        Black folks have had to become experts in whiteness in a way that we white folks can’t understand. The incomparable Ijeoma Oluo explains it well: https://theestablishment.co/white-people-i-dont-want-you-to-understand-me-better-i-want-you-to-understand-yourselves-a6fbedd42ddf

        Tina Fey’s sketch can be well-intentioned and even funny. It can still have the effect of saying “Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t worry, cooler heads will prevail.” Essentially what commenter dianejyoung quoted about the bare minimum.

        We gotta listen to Black folks on this one.

      • weeklysift  On August 23, 2017 at 11:48 am

        When people theorize about groups they don’t belong to, sometimes they benefit from an outsider viewpoint, but sometimes they’re way off base. I think this is a way-off-base case.

        Here’s what I think Tina Fey’s routine does:

        (1) It raises a huge amount of anger. This part is really artful, because the culture tends to write off female anger. I can’t imagine any other way she could have expressed that much anger and gotten so many people to watch it.

        (2) It presents an absurd suggestion for what you can do with your anger. I have not heard anyone take sheetcaking seriously as a course of action they want to adopt. She looks ridiculous doing it, and I can’t imagine that anyone was watching her and saying, “That’s what I’m going to do.”

        Taken together, those two points lead to the unspoken question: What are you going to do with your anger? So I read the routine as being activism-positive, not activism-negative.


  • By Goals | The Weekly Sift on August 28, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    […] the LA Times and the NYT have now published opinion pieces making the point I made last week: It’s shameful that Trump’s religious advisers stand by him even as his business […]

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