Praise for Donald Trump

American-Exceptionalism

President Trump’s statement on US-Saudi relations in the wake of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a perversely refreshing breath of fresh air. That sounds kind of like praise, but it really isn’t.

No, what Trump has done, in his typical barely-literate way, is to brutally expose the hypocrisy that has long marked the United States’ approach to human rights. In this, his statement represents a real service.

Other American presidents have long claimed to stand for human rights, but as human rights scholar Julie Mertus writes in her award-winning book Bait and Switch:

The United States still pretends to support universal human rights when it actually recognizes different standards for itself and its friends than those it applies to its enemies.

Mertus concludes:

For the White House … human rights talk is not supported by consistent human rights behavior. On the contrary, the United States applies a double standard for human rights norms: one that applies to the United States and one that applies to the rest of the world.

This makes Trump’s honesty that much more surprising, given his serial dishonesty. He doesn’t even bother with the human rights talk. Trump truly does not care if human rights are violated if there’s something in it for us. Like arms sales, or cooperation against our enemies, or a regional alliance, or low oil prices:

After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries – and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!

Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!

That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!

After the United States, Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world. They have worked closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world. As President of the United States I intend to ensure that, in a very dangerous world, America is pursuing its national interests and vigorously contesting countries that wish to do us harm. Very simply it is called America First!

Journalist Graeme Wood sums it up like this: “In other words: our friendship is too sweet to spit out, no matter how poisonous it may be.”

By reaffirming our alliance with Saudi Arabia and standing by Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, whom the CIA has determined ordered the assassination of Khashoggi, Trump shines a bright spotlight on the very hypocrisies other presidents have hidden behind high-minded human rights rhetoric. Like this from Ronald Reagan:

The American people cannot close their eyes to abuses of human rights and injustice, whether they occur among friend or adversary or even on our own shores.

And now consider the reality of Reagan’s record on human rights: condemnation for abuses in the Soviet bloc while turning a blind eye to the brutality of the Haitian government, the murder of civilians by the Honduran and Guatemalan militaries, government-backed death squads in El Salvador, and pro-US contra rebels in Nicaragua, atrocities committed by pro-American rebels in Angola, selling arms to the genocidal Suharto regime in Indonesia …

So maybe we should thank Trump for his honesty by saying out loud what foreign policy realists like Hans Morgenthau long advocated:

The principle of defense of human rights cannot be consistently applied in foreign policy because it can and must come in conflict with other interests more important than the defense of human rights.

Or, as Trump says, America First!

‘Two voices, perfectly paired’

(Credit: Austin City Limits)
(Credit: Austin City Limits)

 

It has been a pretty grim couple of weeks, in a pretty grim season of what’s been a pretty grim year or two. And this blog has been a grim read of late.

All the more reason to roll into the weekend with something to lighten the load the little. The Milk Carton Kids, Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, as NPR music critic Bob Boilen puts it,

… sing with harmonies steeped in the great duos of days gone by, like The Everly Brothers and Simon & Garfunkel.

Fellow NPR music writer Stephen Thompson elaborates:

The history of folk and pop music is littered with gorgeous intertwined voices: Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, The JayhawksMark Olsonand Gary Louris, and many others have found their own delicate blend of chemistry and charisma. The Milk Carton Kids‘ Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale operate in those pairs’ rich tradition, singing sweet but intricate songs of melancholy when they’re not dishing playful banter between songs.

Ryan and Pattengale get a lot done with subtle gestures — their ballads, like “Michigan” and “Stealing Romance” here, have a way of smoothing over many of their moving parts — but there’s real sophistication.

If you’ve not heard the Milk Carton Kids before, click on the video below to hear them perform one of my favorite songs, “Michigan,” recorded live at Austin City Limits.

If you like what you heard, you can click here for a live recording of their set at the 2013 Newport Folk Festival. The duo are currently touring in support of a new album, this time backed by a full band to support their evolving sound and creative growth:

It helps that, while their influences haven’t gotten lost, Ryan and Pattengale have long since acquired a willingness to stretch out creatively. Take the Joe Henry-produced All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do, whose centerpiece (“One More for the Road”) spans more than 10 minutes as the pair reflect on a desire to prolong a doomed relationship just a little bit longer. Even for a song about lingering, it takes its time — with the help of a full band, a welcome addition — and gathers emotional heft along the way. …

Together, they’ve written a batch of wearily delicate (and, in the case of the rambling and rootsy “Big Time,” zingy) songs about major transitions — both personally and, in “Mourning in America,” politically. But the darkness that seeps in is leavened, as always, by the sun-dappled beauty of two voices, perfectly paired.

Check them out if they come through your neck of the woods.

 

What the lit fuse looks like

(Cartoon: Dom Nelson)
(Cartoon: Dom Nelson)

 

The three members of a Kansas terrorist cell convicted of a 2016 plot to detonate simultaneous car bombs at an apartment complex housing Somali immigrants are now facing sentencing. The lawyers for one of the convicted terrorists, Patrick Stein, are making a plea for a more lenient sentence.

By citing President Donald Trump’s rhetoric.

That’s right: Stein’s lawyers are arguing that the judge should consider how Trump’s words fanned the flames of Stein’s fear and hatred of Muslims, which he learned from and had reinforced by the internet and conservative talk shows, when deciding their client’s sentence.

You can read their sentencing memorandum by following this link. As attorneys James Pratt and Michael Schultz argue:

Patrick Stein was afraid of the Muslim refugees that had come to live in the western Kansas towns of Liberal, Dodge City, and particularly Garden City, Kansas.

Patrick was afraid of Muslims because of what he read about them on the internet and the videos he watched on YouTube. …  Patrick’s knowledge of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, came directly from the internet and conservative talk-show hosts such as Sean Hannity and Michael Savage. Patrick himself had never read the Quran, nor had he participated in a comparative study of any religion.

All of Patrick’s exposure to the Muslim religion has been negative – by choice, through the media to which he exposed himself …

And by the poisonous and paranoid political swamp in which Stein, described by his lawyers as “an early and avid supporter for Donald Trump,” wallowed. That swamp echoed with the anti-Muslim bile vomited up by Fox News hosts like Sean Hannity and talk-radio bigots like Michael Savage.

The fear that it inspired was stoked and amplified by the opportunism of the Kansas Republican Party, which produced campaign mailers like the one below. Gary Barker, executive director of the Kansas State Republican Party, explained that this mailer, and others like it, were distributed across the state because polling showed it was “a positive issue for Republicans.”

Campaign mailer for Kansas GOP candidate
Campaign mailer for Kansas GOP candidate

 

As Stein’s lawyers put it:

2016 was “lit.” The court cannot ignore the circumstances of one of the most rhetorically mold-breaking, violent, awful, hateful and contentious presidential elections in modern history, driven in large measure by the rhetorical China shop bull who is now our president.

They go on to argue that Trump’s appeal for people like Stein, was as “the voice of a lost and ignored white, working-class set of voters,” and that the eventual president’s words had a particularly powerful effect on their client:

Trump’s brand of rough-and-tumble verbal pummeling heightened the rhetorical stakes for people of all political persuasions. A personal normally at a 3 on a scale of political talk might have found themselves at a 7 during the election. A person, like Patrick, who would often be at a 7 during a normal day, might “go to 11.” See SPINAL TAP.

In their effort to secure a lighter sentence for their client, Stein’s attorneys make one last pitch. Acknowledging that the FBI disrupted the plot before it was carried out, his lawyers argue that, thanks to Trump’s victory, Stein and his fellow conspirators would have shelved their planned terrorist attack.

Trump’s win changed everything, and it is reasonable to speculate that it would have changed things among the defendants as well. The urgency for action would be gone. The feeling of a losing battle would be gone.

In short, Stein’s lawyers argue that their client wouldn’t have become a full-fledged terrorist. He wouldn’t have gone through with the plan to slaughter innocent Somalis after all.

Because Trump was the terrorist’s candidate. And Trump won.

The truth about terrorism in America

american-domestic-terrorism

I started writing this blog in February 2015. Three months later, in May, I wrote these words:

1) Not all terrorists are foreigners.

2) Not all religious terrorists are Muslims.

I have now written some variation of this formula more than 20 times over the last three-and-a-half years. After the tragic events of last week, I find myself writing these words again:

The typical face of terrorism in America belongs to an angry, right-wing, middle-aged, white man.

In May 2015 I was writing about the death of Neal Horsley, who called for the murder of abortion doctors and clinic workers in the name of protecting the unborn. Today, I’m writing about, and the nation is mourning the lives taken by, anti-semite Robert Bowers, who slaughtered 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday.

According to his social media posts, Bowers’ attack was motivated by a toxic combination of white supremacy, hatred for Jews, anti-refugee animus, and a belief that the U.S. government was doing too little to stop the migrant “caravan” making its slow way from Honduras, through Mexico, toward our southern border.

Last week I was writing, and the nation was talking, about Cesar Sayoc, who over the course of a week mailed more than a dozen pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and liberal activists, all of whom shared the common characteristic of having been publicly named by President Donald Trump as enemies of himself, his agenda, or both. Sayoc was arrested on Friday. His social media, and the van he was living in, was literally covered with images and language dripping with pro-Trump, anti-Democrat, anti-media bile.

I could repeat all of these arguments again. I could remind you, as I did an audience earlier this month, that since 1965 right-wing extremists have killed 20 times more police officers than have homegrown Islamic extremists, and that over the last decade have been responsible for 71 percent of all the murders perpetrated by political extremists in the United States.

Instead, I’m going to give you what amounts to a digest of all of the writing I’ve done in this space on the reality of right-wing terrorism in the United States. You can lie to yourself all you want that the main threat of terrorism comes from refugees, or immigrants, or foreigners.

The truth is a lot harder to face.

  • July 2, 2015 – This is what terrorism in America really looks like – “These incidents are a reminder that, with a few notable exceptions, and a single extraordinary one on Sept. 11, 2001, the story of terrorism in the United States has long been one of Americans using violence against Americans in support of causes or in the pursuit of goals that are embraced by yet other Americans.”
  • Nov. 24, 2015 – As we panic over refugees … – “It would be comforting to think that this sort of thing is unusual in the United States, but the reality is more unsettling. Since 9/11, right-wing extremists have been responsible for nearly twice as many deaths in the United States as have jihadists.”
  • June 13, 2016 – The direct line connecting Oklahoma City to Orlando runs through the far right – “While today we associate lone wolf attacks with homegrown Islamist terrorism, like the Ft. Hood, Boston Marathon, San Berndardino, and now Orlando killings, the strategy of leaderless resistance has its origins in the American white supremacist, neo-Nazi, and paramilitary far right groups of the 1980s.”
  • Sept. 29, 2016 – Americans at war with America – “According to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department, the suspect indicated that he was ready and willing to ‘go to war’ and told an acquaintance that he shared McVeigh’s anti-government ideology. Would he have followed through on his threats? It’s impossible to know, and thankfully we won’t have to find out. But whether he was serious or just blowing smoke, the threat of right-wing terrorism is no joke. In June 2015 the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security reported that ‘Law enforcement agencies in the United States consider anti-government violent extremists, not radicalized Muslims, to be the most severe threat of political violence that they face.’
  • Oct. 15, 2016 – What counts as terrorism? – “For most Americans, near as I can tell, it’s not what the guy pictured above did. He’s Wade Michael Page, and four years ago he gunned down six worshippersat a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., before before being killed by a local police officer. Page, a veteran of the US Army, had spent decades swimming in the deep end of the cesspool that is the white supremacist universe. He was a member of two white power skinhead bands, End Apathy and Definite Hate. In 2010 End Apathy played at a racist music festival in Baltimore called Independent Artist Uprise.”
  • Oct. 17, 2016 – This week in terrorism history, Oct. 16-22 – “Over the weekend news broke of a thwarted terrorism plot in Kansas in which three members of a far-right militia group were charged with conspiring to destroy an apartment complex where Somali immigrants lived and maintained a mosque. They intended to detonate four simultaneous car bombs similar to the one which Timothy McVeigh used to destroy the US federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.”
  • Oct. 26, 2016 – Some afternoon reading on America’s ‘patriot’ right – “… I’ve also become interested as a consequence of the toxic rhetoric that has emanated from Donald Trump’s campaign for the White House and the way that parts of his message are being embraced by some individuals and groups that make up the armed anti-government far right.”
  • Oct. 31, 2016 – This week in terrorism history, Oct. 30-Nov. 5 – “Two weeks ago, three members of a right-wing militia in Kansas were arrested and charged with plotting a terrorist attack on an apartment complex where Somali immigrants lived and maintained a mosque. To understand the climate of fear and bigotry that could inspire and nurture such a plot, look no farther than the above campaign literature produced the Kansas State Republican Party and mailed throughout the state.”
  • Nov. 2, 2016 – The militias are ready for Nov. 9 – “Whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump wins next Tuesday, the militia movement isn’t waiting to prepare for what comes next. They’re ready now.”
  • Jan. 30, 2017 – The typical face of American terrorism, Canada edition – “While Fox News spent the day falsely claiming that a Moroccan Muslim was responsible for killing six worshippers after evening prayers at a mosque in Quebec City, and White House Spokesman Sean Spicer latched on to that lie to justify the Trump administration’s Muslim ban, the real suspect was identified by Canadian police as a white, rabid, anti-immigration nationalist.”
  • Feb. 6 – 2017 – At war with America – “Tomorrow night the PBS program American Experience airs a documentary on what remains the worst act of domestic terrorism in American history. On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh parked a rental truck loaded with a five-ton fertilizer bomb in front of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It was the kind of bomb that leveled the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983, killing 241 US service members. It was the kind of bomb that the IRA used to turn the heart of London’s financial district to rubble in 1993.”
  • Feb. 9, 2017 – No, congressman, there really isn’t a difference – “Duffy’s poor memory and general ignorance on the topic of white extremist terrorism, whether racially, religiously, or politically motivated, is sadly not unusual. Americans tend not to recognize attacks like what Page did in Oak Creek, or for that matter Dylann Roof’s Charleston massacre, as acts of terrorism. … A dozen terrorist attacks in Wisconsin between 1994 and 2012 and they all have one thing in common. None were committed by Muslims.”
  • Aug. 6, 2017 – Yes, this is terrorism – “If a bomb goes off at a mosque in Minnesota and the headlines don’t call it terrorism, is it still terrorism? Yes. And yet acts of terrorism in the United States get little attention from the media unless they’ve been perpetrated by or can be attributed to Muslim attackers.”
  • Oct. 27, 2017 – Hate in the ranks – “According to a new poll, one-in-four US troops say they have seen examples of white nationalism among fellow service members, and they rate white nationalism a greater national security threat than Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.”
  • Nov. 2, 2017 – What the terrorists believe – “Jihadist attacks and the fears they generate dominate both the news cycle and the popular imagination, as this week’s deadly incident in Manhattan reminds us. But the START report makes clear that events like this are far from the only, or even the main, story.”
  • Jan. 18, 2018 – There’s honest threat analysis, and then there’s that DHS report – “Two new, high-profile reports on terrorism in the United States were released this week. One was incredibly dishonest. Of course that’s the one President Trump tweeted about … The other, released yesterday by the Anti-Defamation League, shows that in 2017, domestic right-wing  extremists, primarily white supremacists, were responsible for twice as many fatalities — 56 percent of the total — compared to domestic Islamist extremists who accounted for 26 percent.”
  • Jan. 31, 2018 – Red-blooded American terrorists – “Atomwaffen openly flaunts its Nazi affinities, from its use of swastikas and SS runes in its propaganda and recruiting materials to its German name, which translated means ‘Atomic Weapons Division.’ They advocate both race war and national socialist revolution against the United States.”
  • Feb. 17, 2018 – Parkland looks like terrorism – “The Anti-Defamation League reports that the leader of the white supremacist Republic of Florida has acknowledged that the accused shooter in yesterday’s mass killing at a high school in Parkland, Fla., was associated with his group.”
  • March 14, 2018 – Another typical American terrorist – “Last August, a mosque in Minnesota was bombed. Yesterday, three men from a rural central Illinois town were charged with carrying out the attack, which, according to the FBI, was intended to frighten Muslims in to fleeing the United States. This, my friends, is the very definition of terrorism.”
  • April 19, 2018 – Those Kansas terrorists? Convicted – “Three members of a Kansas terrorist cell have been convicted of plotting to carry out a car bomb attack on an apartment complex in the small town of Garden City. You remember these guys — angry, middle-aged, white, Christian, men — and the Somali immigrants who were their intended targets.”
  • Oct. 24, 2018 – The president lit the fuse – “Since Monday a series of  pipe bombs have been mailed or delivered to a particular group of Democratic and liberal political figures … But more importantly, all of the targets share something else in common. Each has been critical of the current administration, and each has been repeatedly and publicly attacked by President Donald Trump, either at his rallies, or via Twitter, or both.”