Betwixt and Between: The Shadowy Politics of Political (In)Correctness
BY TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 10 Jul 2017
3 Jul 2017 – We are all discovering that Donald Trump has Olympic skills when it comes to traversing a minefield, escaping mostly unharmed from high magnitude explosions that would long ago have ended in ignominy almost any other political life. How can we explain the enigma of an American real estate magnate and raunchy entertainment celebrity who gets away with insulting a war hero like John McCain, demeaning a conservative presidential dynasty that gave the country two recent Republican presidents, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, making public fun of Serge Kovaleski a disabled NY Times journalist, rebuking women with extremely vulgar remarks about their bodies and minds, devaluing the service of an American soldier killed in combat who happened to be the son of Iraqi born parents?
For such a man to amble into the Oval Office as the electoral choice of the American people confirms many unflattering suspicions about the body politic as it exists and functions today in the United States. And after proposing one cruel measure after another, rebuffing his gracious predecessor every chance he gets, and undermining the reputation of the American government at home and abroad, Trump’s base support holds steady as if this is just what they wanted and expected. Even the Republican Party establishment has so far held its nose, and except on a few occasions, refraining from jumping ship even in the face of Trump’s childish tantrums and utterly disastrous, mean-spirited health and tax proposals.
Explaining the Trump ascendancy is far more complicated than pointing out the electoral weakness of the opposing candidate, or blaming Clinton’s poor tactics at the last stages of the campaign, or attributing Trump’s rise to Russian hacking or the blustering intrusions of the now fired FBI Director, James Comey, shortly before the elections last November. These unsavory realities may have swayed votes here and there, but they do not begin to account for Trump’s overall success or ultra-Teflon sensibility, or the uncanny rapport with his base, those passionate folks that keep showing up at rallies and continue to give him a steady 40% approval rating come what may, give or take a point or two here and there. And it’s really not mainly about jobs, either. Remember a colorless fellow like François Hollande scored around 4% in the last stages of his presidency, and Obama was disliked by close to 80% in Israel despite trying very hard to exhibit unconditional support for every misstep taken by Tel Aviv, probably because his body language revealed some ambivalence and early on he had the ambition of finding a sustainable solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, apparently not aware that Israel was not the least interested in a peace crafted by Washington know-it-alls, no matter how far its framework leaned in Israel’s direction.
What then is Trump’s secret? Is it just that he has been anointed as the savior of the justifiably angry and alienated American underclass, not primarily of its material interests, but of its lost self-esteem that depends on the recovery of a sense of belonging and national rootedness?
Clearly, Trump provided a powerful magnet for some contradictory strivings. Some of those most alienated wanted the established order savagely attacked, and were drawn to the Trump inflammatory rhetoric about ‘draining the swamp’ and ‘locking her up.’ It seems not to matter that he doesn’t really mean it, appointing a cabinet of billionaires and insiders and leaving Hillary Clinton to lick her wounds alone in the Chappaqua woods. His credibility did not even hinge on whether he actually builds that ‘beautiful wall’ along the Mexican border as long as he gets tough with illegal Mexicans living in the country and does his best to keep out visitors from Muslim countries, while vigorously waving the American flag. It seems that if the anti-immigrant rhetoric is politically incorrect enough, inconsistencies will be overlooked if not forgiven.
In this period of alternate facts, outright lies, and fake news, words speak much louder than words, at least some words depending on who is the speaker. During the presidential campaign of a year ago Trump became the media center of attention night after night, with Beltway pundits parsing the broken twisted language of his tweets, acting if nothing other than Trump’s latest outrage was of any public concern. CNN panels consisting of pro and contra Trump watchers tussled, smiled, even laughed, while Syrians perished in the rubble of Raqqa or Aleppo and Yemenis struggled daily with hunger and Saudi bombs. What seemed to count was that cable ratings went through the roof, and objections were mainly mute. It is no surprise the obsessive interest in the daily doings and undoings of Trump has continued, may have even risen, since he became president: Same old panels, same old heated exchanges of antagonistic interpretations, and same disregard of serious news issues so as to give almost total attention to Trump’s frills and frolics, trivia on the surface, yet subverting the constitutional and societal order as never before.
Week after week Trump becomes agitated by this or that media insult. His staff make extraordinary efforts to keep him away from TV and his Twitter account, but to no avail. The latest escapade involves Trump’s response to some minor taunts from ‘Morning Joe,’ with co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski inspiring the mighty leader to tweet “low I.Q. Crazy Mika’ had been “bleeding badly from a Face-Lift’ a few years ago when he excluded her from a New Year’s Eve party at Mar-a-Lago. Responding, a spokesperson for First Lady Melania reminded the public that “..when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder,” a statement that seems a disproportionate response characteristic of the worst locker room bully. Quite incredibly Melania apparently feels that her defense of The Donald does not make a mockery of her supposed campaign against cyber bullies. The White House media deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders casually dismissed the whole incident as one of ‘fighting fire with fire.’ Somehow proportionality doesn’t matter when it comes to evaluating Trump’s behavior. We can only wonder what happens to someone flattened by a Trump riposte 10 times more severe than the blow struck to his miniscule ego and massive id.
This endorsement of disproportion by the Trump White House also recalls the much criticized Dahiya Doctrine relied upon in Israel’s 2006 Lebanon War when a leading general affirmed the use of ‘disproportionate power’ to destroy the civilian infrastructure of a neighborhood in south Beirut thought to be sympathetic with Hezbollah. It seems relevant to recall that one of the most hallowed and deeply rooted principles of international humanitarian law is that of proportionality. It would seem even more essential for maintaining an atmosphere of civility in a deeply divided society. It had been assumed that overall an American president, regardless of party or personal values, would throw his weight behind those elements in society who affirmed the relevance of civility to upholding trust and feelings of coherence in a democratic society. But obviously such an assumption no longer holds.
Is this action and reaction mostly about the proper boundaries of discourse in a democratic society? Yes, in part; the liberal insistence that nothing critical should be permitted if it is not respectful of racial minorities or gays currently collides with the Zionist all out push to have Israeli critics condemned and victimized as anti-Semites if they dare attack Israel’s policies and practices. Yet discourse doesn’t explain everything. If Trump were less thin skinned, media assaults would disappear almost as quickly as bubbles blown into the air. As it is, Trump tweets pull scabs off wounds that are not healed. Demeaning the bodies of Mika Brzezinski or Megyn Kelly is more than an insult of a person, it is a slap at the long exploited vulnerabilities of gender, which in the case of women has been endured for centuries.
Whose correctness? The white males that make up the most extreme Trump enthusiasts, clearly celebrate his unabashed revalidation of patriarchy, including even its ribald sexism, with a restorative effect on their self-esteem. The women these men most respect are content with their traditional roles, and do not shake the male ship of state, and further, mostly resent those women who challenge the established order of things human and divine. Sadly many religious institutions back them up. So values and worldviews as well as discourse are at stake.
The hung jury in Bill Cosby’s sexual assault case also seems relevant. Did it reflect some combination of the Trump gender ethos—men can do no wrong in the bedroom—and racial payback—now whites know better how blacks feel when their lethal assailants are repeatedly found not guilty. Of course, we should demand of our justice system the outcomes predicated on the search for the truth of allegations, which tells us why the goddess of justice is always portrayed blindfolded, safeguarding the judicial process from gender, racial, and class bias. But what if the real life experience of ‘justice’ over many decades has reflected mainstream racism toward minorities, is it then ‘unjust’ to return the favor when the rare opportunity arises? Of course, it is individually ‘unjust’ to exonerate Cosby or O.J. Simpson because each serve in a distinct way as a synecdoche for the numerous black men falsely accused of raping white women, and then cruelly punished? It does not lessen the criminality of their apparent errant behavior, but it may jolt the system enough to create a deeper awareness that accountability to be legitimate must apply to all equally regardless of skin color, ethnicity, or class and if it continues to reflect bias favoring the dominant race, nationality, and class then it deserves no respect from those identities being victimized?
Assessing the exploits of Trump, and Cosby, at least raise these difficult issues of individual and collective responsibility that need to be resolved before the country can hope to recover its moral compass, and learn to respect the dignity of all of its citizens in spite of their diversities of experience and background. This may be a more fundamental challenge to those who govern humanely than is the broad latitude accorded when the word ‘security’ is uttered by those in power.
Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, an international relations scholar, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, author, co-author or editor of 40 books, and a speaker and activist on world affairs. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to a six-year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus of the University of California in Global and International Studies, and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is Achieving Human Rights (2009).
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