If You’re Feeling a Little Whiplash
Watching Donald Trump burn through early a.m. Tweets these days may make you feel as though you’re watching a horrible car crash. If you’re a concerned citizen, though, what makes it particularly frightening is that you probably feel as though you’re in the car! Beyond his incessant passive-aggressive attacks on Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, our chief executive has truly distinguished himself this week by: a) addressing the Boy Scouts of America; b) comparing himself to Abraham Lincoln; and c) “joking” that he should be on Mount Rushmore. Let’s take a quick look at each of these items.
The Boy Scout Jamboree
Since the days of FDR, U.S. Presidents have addressed the quadrennial “Jambo,” where thousands of Scouts aged 12 to 18 gather for a week of “Scouting.” Up until this week, of course, Presidents have avoided any and all talk of politics when addressing the young men. Trump, of course, looked out at the 35 to 40,000 people gathered at the Bechtel Family Reserve in West Virginia and apparently assumed it was yet another Campaign Event and quickly turned it into something akin to a Hitler Youth Rally. Here’s CNN’s Jake Tapper summing up the West Virginia Presidential Apprentice episode.
At a legitimate “campaign” rally in Youngstown, Ohio, Trump said this:
“Now here’s what I do. I’d ask whether or not you someday think I will be on Mount Rushmore. But here’s the problem, if I did it joking, totally joking, having fun, the fake news media will say ‘he believes he should be on Mount Rushmore.’ So I won’t say it. Okay? I won’t say it.”
“Every President on Mount Rushmore believed in protecting American industry. We have to protect our industry. And now we are going to start. We are reclaiming our heritage as a manufacturing nation again.”
Okay, as for the first quote: do any of us not believe that Trump thinks he deserves to be on Mount Rushmore? After 6 months of chaos, regression, and uncontrolled Tweets, why wouldn’t we want to put him on Mount Rushmore, right? As for the second quote, Trump never ceases to amaze with his total and complete LACK of knowledge of American History. Washington may have protected “industry” through his support of Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures, but Samuel Slater’s first “factory” was not opened until 1797 (after GW was out of office). Jefferson, of course, opposed all things Hamiltonian and was a proponent of agrarianism deeply believing in limited federal government. Lincoln was defending the industrial north, for sure, but was far more concerned with keeping the Union together and ending the spread of slavery. Apparently Wharton does not teach U.S. History –-- although you’d think The Donald might have taken a history course at Fordham, before he transferred to Penn, or that maybe he would have learned something at the New York Military Academy because it’s hard to miss TR’s “Trust-Buster” nickname. That Progressive Republican, in fact, defended workers’ rights (over their Monopolists), something Trump, of course, purports to do while trying to feather the nests of the 1% every chance he gets. Once again, claiming "Every President on Mount Rushmore believed in protecting American industry" is simply another example of Trump's drunk (with his own power) history.
It was also at the Youngstown rally that Trump said:
“with the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president that’s ever held this office.” (Jacqueline Thomsen, The Hill July 25, 2017)
Trump was sworn in on Lincoln’s Bible and brings up the first Republican President with regularity. A year ago, however, Philip Gourevitch (in The New Yorker, March 15, 2016) wrote a piece entitled “Abraham Lincoln Warned Us About Donald Trump.” The essay discusses a speech Lincoln made in 1838, when he was just 28 years old, to the Young Man’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois.. The speech was about a lynching that had occurred in Missouri and it highlighted a (then) national concern about mob violence. In Gourevitch’s words:
To Lincoln, the offense was lawlessness, and he argued that both those who indulged in lawlessness and those who fell prey to it would eventually come to regard “Government as their deadliest bane . . . and pray for nothing so much as its total annihilation.” It was this feeling of “alienation” rather than “attachment” to public institutions that Lincoln feared most in the “mobocratic" spirit.
And that’s where we can see the connection to Trump and his “base.” The alienation-from and distrust-of established institutions like government and the press typifies Trump voters. What Gourevitch observed a year ago last March was:
Donald Trump personifies the mobocratic spirit; he fuels it and is fueled by it, though it is doubtful that he can control it. All the elements are there: the incessant, escalating lust for violence; the instinct for mobilizing a mob to take the law into its own hands; the claim that whole groups are the enemy; the belief that those who are not with the mob forfeit all protection from the mob and invite attack; the attribution of hostile conspiracies to peaceful independent actors; the contempt for evidence, as if accurate information and honest adjudication of competing claims were dirty tricks contrived to disadvantage the mob; the vilification of the press as hooligans who deserve to be beaten, if not killed; an all-encompassing animosity toward the government and its institutions; in short, an ever-intensifying lawlessness. (boldface = mine)
Trump’s attempts to quash the Russia investigation, his insistence that any news that does not coincide with his world view is “fake,” his race-baiting and immigrant bashing, is all part of the kind of mob violence Lincoln abhorred and spoke out against. At the end of his Springfield speech, advising his audience as to how to deal with those who would support the mob:
it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs.
Words we need to observe today, for sure.