On Charlottesville

There has been a group of people who have been making arguments for what may be called white nationalism. They are essentially taking the ideology and updating it with philosophical underpinnings. They’re changing the image of the white supremacist from a compound dwelling, tattooed skinhead to a khaki wearing, clean shaven suburbanite. These new white supremacists are better looking, and when they’re not in a mob I would even venture to say that some of them are polite and well mannered.

This doesn’t make them better than the traditional neo-Nazi. It makes them worse. It makes them worse because they can’t hide behind drug problems or abuse or some other excuse. They’re not running to Nazism because they want to rebel, they’re joining white nationalism because they really believe it. The alt-rights aesthetic makeover and philosophical mask make them worse than neo-Nazis because it makes them more like regular Nazis.

In essence, they’re trying to make hate more attractive; they’re trying to fool you.

***

This past Saturday, a group of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and their ilk marched on Charlottesville, VA, ostensibly to protest the removal a statue honoring confederate general Robert E Lee. This was a minor goal, if that. Should the statue be torn down tomorrow, they will have accomplished everything they wanted and more.

The name of the march was “Unite the Right.” Since World War 2, Nazi’s have been person non grata in American politics, welcome in no party. While we have by no means been perfect in race relations, we have at least kept naked segregationists out of power for the past five or so decades.

“Unite the Right” aimed to change that. They want a seat at the table; for the alt-right to become a voice within the Republican Party.  David Duke, “former” Klansman and neo-Nazi, of whom former President Bush Sr said “has a long record, an ugly record, of racism and of bigotry,” tweeted to Trump on Saturday that “I would recommend [President Trump] take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.”  He was expressing just that, a belief that white nationalists like him are part of the coalition that put Trump in the White House.

On Saturday, Trump (who had campaigned partially on the idea that we need to name Radical Islamic Terror as such to defeat it), denounced these protesters in the gentlest possible terms; condemning not just the protesters but the counter-protesters as well, writing “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”

As an aside, for anyone who thinks this moral equivalence is OK, I have three points to make about that:

1. This country has a troubled history of racism; its not an exaggeration to say that a majority of our social problems even today are due to the legacy of slavery, segregation and bigotry, and the lingering insidious racism that millions of Americans are forced to deal with every day. The Klansmen, Nazis and white nationalists represent and seek to reintroduce this evil, the anti-fascists do not.

2. The white nationalists drove a car into a crowd, injuring 19 and killing one. This wasn’t an accidental killing, but rather a white nationalist decided to use his car a weapon. I don’t support the violence of the counter-protesters, but to equate it with the violence used by the white nationalists is just wrong, one side killed, the other didn’t.

3. The white nationalists chanted things such “blood and soil,” and “Jews will not replace us.” While this is of course horrible, their last chant is the most chilling. “Heil Trump.” (1 ) Of course, no politician is responsible for the acts of all of their supporters. But when a group of Nazis favorably equates the President with Hitler, the President owes it to the nation and himself to denounce the group and make it totally clear that he does not represent that group or its interests.

To his credit; Trump denounced the protestors by name; on a Monday, 48 hours after the murder of Heather Heyer, after just about elected Republican and Democrat in America urged him to.

That denunciation lasted less than a day. Today, Trump held a press conference about something (maybe infrastructure), but during questions, Trump said ” I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee… But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides… You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. O.K.?”

The aim of the alt-right, is to dress up an old hatred in new clothing, and sell it as respectable. They can’t fool me, and I doubt they’re fooling too many people. But it sure looks like they may have fooled the President. Fooled him into thinking that a lack of tattoos somehow means they’re not Nazis. President Trump is either woefully uninformed about what happened (despite saying 11 times that he waited until all the facts came out to make a statement), or he is endorsing some forms of white nationalism and white supremacy.

***

I have this illusion, about myself. Its that there is nothing left that Trump can do that can shock me, that he has no further capacity to disappoint me. And every so often, he does. Today was one of those days. Its hard to believe, but I guess I still thought that Trump had some decency left in him, that he could recognize evil in most obvious forms.

The Deep State

One of the first things that Trump did as President was to sign an executive order barring immigration from certain majority Muslim countries, as well as reducing the number of refugees admitted to the US, among other things.
The actual text of the order said nothing about denying entry to permanent resident (ie, green card holders).    (you can read the text here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/01/27/executive-order-protecting-nation-foreign-terrorist-entry-united-states ).  Yet, with its initial roll out on January 27, green card holders were denied entry to the US.  On January 28, DHS clarified that green card holders were included in the ban.  Two days later, they reversed their position, deciding that the ban did not apply to green card holders after all.  (https://www.propublica.org/article/trump-executive-order-could-block-legal-residents-from-returning-to-america).  (eventually, the ban was blocked by a federal judge, and the Trump administration replaced it with another order which specifically exempted permanent residents.  That order was also blocked by a federal judge, partially reversed by the supreme court, which will presumably make a more complete ruling soon).
In executing the order, there was apparently no clear direction who was and wasn’t actually banned.  The necessary training, review and explanation to the DHS and Customs agents who would make the actual decisions was inadequate.  What I imagine happened is that some agent didn’t know what to do with a green card holder, so they asked their manager, who asked theirs… and at some point somebody made the decision that it would be better for their career to keep somebody out than to let somebody in.  This decision soon became the law of the land, for at least two days, until the higher ups reversed these decisions.  I am of course speculating, for all I know it was the President who decided in the first place, and then reversed his own decision two or three days later.
Yet this has all the hallmarks of bad management and bad communication.  An order was issued, and it was up to the department to figure out what that order actually meant.
All this could be chalked up to a rookie administration within the first few weeks of its administration.
***

On July 26, Donald Trump tweeted ( https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/890193981585444864 https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/890196164313833472  https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/890197095151546369  ) that Transgender individuals would be barred from military service.  While he made the decision “After consultation with Generals and military experts” he apparently did not inform the DoD; as they were reported caught off guard (http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/pentagon-says-trumps-transgender-tweet-was-not-an-order/article/2630201 ), and are awaiting more formalized instruction to begin implementing the policy.  Now, there may be some distinction between orders on the one hand and announcements on the other.  There may be reasons to ask clarifications during or before executing those orders.  Finally  there may be good reasons not to obey orders posted on twitter (or other social media sites), as they may be vulnerable to hacking or spoofing.
Yet despite this, it seems that the military is, in the smallest possible way, disobeying an order from the President.  Civilian control of the military is one of the hallmarks of a free society.  The awesome power of the military must be subordinate to our elected officials; doing otherwise invites military dictatorship.
Of course, I’m engaging in a little hyperbole.  Delaying implementation of an order until clarification is worlds away, in degree and in kind, from placing a favored candidate in office, or placing political opponents under military arrest.  The military’s actions are in many ways reasonable and may in fact be the best course of action.

***
One of the things that the alt-right wing of the conservative movement complains about is the deep state.  In essense, the theory goes, the true source of power in the US government isn’t the top, but the middle.  Middle to upper level government officials and employees are a type of rogue government within the government, acting not based on the will of the people but based on their own ends, enacting their own policies, working towards their own agendas.  The deep state is of course, totally liberal.  It is the deep state which is holding back Trump from truly making America Great Again.  The deep state is the source of the leaks plaguing the administration, it is really the source of the Independant Counsel investigation.
Moderate Conservative David Frum’s rebuttle of this is too good to pass up.  “‘deep state’ is code for ‘the rule of law,'”  ( https://twitter.com/davidfrum/status/865542966814818305 )
However, while most of the details of this stance of the alt-right (or most stances of the alt-right, for that matter) is somewhere between idiocy and totalitarian wish fulfillment, there is a kernel of truth in the theory.   The government should be accountable to the people; and within a representative democracy the accountability flows through our elected officials, especially the President.  While we may want environmental policy heavily influenced by environmental scientists, military policy influenced by generals, economic policy influenced by economists, et cetera, at each point we want one thing to be true: that the ultimate authority on any policy should be the citizenry.
***
Any time a person pushes some boundary or crosses some line, it becomes easier to do.  Stealing something small makes it easier to steal something big.  When you get used to something, it can be hard to stop doing. Delaying an implementation of a order until clarification doesn’t end civilian control of the military.  But it will take a small chip, a tiny sliver from that social norm.  With vigilance, intelligence, or even good luck, it will be replenished, and it will be as if nothing ever happened.  Yet if this continues; if we have orders announced but not formally given; then we’re essentially training our generals to decide on a case by case basis which orders to ignore and which to follow.
***

There are other norms in government as well.  The justice department should report to the citizenry via the President.  Yet there is an important counterbalance, a social norm which is more important.  And that is that the Justice Department should not be used for the personal aims of the President.  At the beginning of Trump term, I may have been a little worried that this may happen, that Trump would stack the department with his cronies, and it would be used to persecute Trump’s political opponents.

I am not worried about that anymore.  Trump, it seems, does not have the cunning to actually accomplish much nefariously.  When he laments that acting FBI director Andrew McCabe is somehow in league with Hillary Clinton and openly calls for his firing; (https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/890207082926022656 https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/890208319566229504 ), there is no action taken.  No one will rid Trump of this meddlesome director.  Far from obeying him, Attorney General Sessions, one of Trump’s first major supporters, just kind of ignores him.  There is simply no way the actual rank and file of the department would go along with prosecuting the President’s enemies on his orders.
But imagine what four years of openly and almost brazenly ignoring your superiors will do to you.  Sure, whoever replaces Trump will garner more respect.  And sure, the rank and file may not consciously decide to rebel or disobey or ignore.  But they may get used to it, and old habits die hard.
The deep state is a problem.  A government of the people, for the people, needs to be run by the people.  Far from attacking it however, Trump has only made it stronger, and the circus atmosphere which has pervaded the