In Case You Missed It

In case you missed it, the Confederate States of America (CSA) ceased to exist 155 years ago.  It will not rise again.  The current divisiveness over Confederate symbols, flags, and names for military bases makes no sense to me.  As I have written in this space before, there was a time when I was a young boy that I bought into the culture of the “Lost Cause” — the idea of a chivalrous, valiant, and courageous battle of the southern states against the oppressors from the North.  But, then I grew up.  I learned history.  I grasped what the Confederate States stood for.  I was appalled that many of the military leaders of the CSA were West Point graduates who swore a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and that they turned into traitors willing to destroy the country to which they pledged their allegiance.  And, oh yeah, they were losers.

Even today one will hear arguments that the war was really about “States Rights” (the right to enslave other human beings), or to preserve a “way of life” (based on the enslavement of other human beings) or to keep their economy from being destroyed (an economy based on free labor from the enslavement of other human beings).  It doesn’t take much to realize what all the code words mean.

Arguments that the majority of Confederate soldiers were not slave holders but were merely protecting their families and homes doesn’t hold water when you realize the psychology of those times.  While they may not personally have enslaved other human beings, they knew that no matter how bad their life might be, someone else was worse off and could be looked down upon as sub-human, abused, and treated as property — which made their own lot in life more acceptable.

The Defense Authorization Act working its way through Congress contains an amendment to rename the ten U.S. Army bases named after Confederate generals and directs the Department of Defense to no longer name anything after anyone or any battle victory or any other landmark from the Confederacy.  The Worst President Ever is threatening to veto the bill — putting in jeopardy the funding for our military currently fighting over seas — because of that provision.  Ridiculous.

Let’s look at the facts.  Of the ten bases, five were built and named during World War I, five during World War II.  Each of the bases were named for a general from that state in an effort to smooth the way for annexation of land needed to build the bases to fight our wars.  Local politics was mostly the reason for naming the bases, not some glorification of their military prowess or heroism.  Indeed, several of those generals were among the worst in military history, wasting lives on ill-conceived and poorly executed battle plans.  Losers.

And the monuments.  Yes, let’s look at the Confederate monuments that are now slowly coming down.  Of the roughly 740 monuments that remain, almost 700 of them were put up in the decades after 1900.  Nearly 400 in 1900-1920 were established in cities and towns.  The main source of those statues?  A powerful and determined lobbying group we know as the United Daughters of the Confederacy were responsible for the vast majority of them.  Ostensibly their cause was to honor their gallant fathers and grandfathers but they were so readily received because in post-Reconstruction America it was a clear signal to Black Americans that they may be free of their enslavement, but the rules and societal norms of the slave era had not changed.  Imagine as the free son or daughter of a former slave going to the county court house seeking justice and outside the building is a monument to a Confederate soldier or to someone like John B. Gordon (for whom a fort in Georgia is named) who was later the leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia.  Intimidation was the goal and it clearly sent a signal that there was no justice under any law for Black Americans, regardless of what may be written in the statutes.

The Confederate battle flag came into popular use during the 1950’s and 60’s.  For example, it was flown at the state capital in Georgia beginning in 1956 and over the capital in South Carolina in 1962.  Coincidentally, one might suppose, with the beginning of the Civil Rights movement?  (Thankfully, they were removed after the shooting in a Charleston church in 2015, but not without a political fight.  Last week the Mississippi legislature voted to remove it from their state flag.)  Just today Mr. Trump got on Twitter and chastised NASCAR officials for banning the flag from their race tracks.  The U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps only recently banned the flag from all of its bases, ships, aircraft and property.

Cries that the removal of these symbols of treason and oppression are attempts to “rewrite history” fall on deaf ears in my case.  The only rewriting is the canard that these symbols are somehow proud vestiges of America’s culture and founding principles and that they reflect the American spirit.  The only American spirit that they reflect is that of white supremacy.  When armed right wing militia groups demonstrate in Michigan or Oregon carrying Confederate flags, they are not celebrating their heritage.  They are purposely carrying a symbol of their hate for the “others” — anyone who does not have the same color skin as they do.

Under the First Amendment anyone can fly any flag they care to fly.  If some redneck thinks that a giant Confederate battle flag flapping from the back of his pickup truck somehow makes him more manly, have at it.  To me it only shows a heaping pile of insecurity on his part.  Or ignorance.  Or discrimination.  Or all of the above.  However, no institution in the United States government should be a part of glorifying a shameful part of our history.  In my opinion, no corporation, sports authority or any other public entity should support that cause either.

We cannot rewrite history. No one is trying to wipe out our past by advocating for the removal of these symbols.   However, we do need to write a fuller history that incorporates all elements of that past.  As the cliche goes, we need to include the good, the bad and the ugly and to put it all into context.

Arguments ensue and demagogues rabble rouse over the question of “where does it stop?”  How far do we go in understanding the flaws and failures of those who went before us?  Outside of the hate mongering and fear laced rhetoric, it is a difficult question.  Who should we honor and how should we do that are legitimate questions that deserve consideration through community input, scholarly research, historical context and the realization that no one of us is perfect.  Perhaps we differentiate between those that laid out fundamental principles toward which our nation continues to strive versus those that worked to hold back progress and to deny freedom for all.

It seems to me that it is a no-brainer as to where to start.  There should be no tax payer supported monuments or other honors for those that forswore their oath to the Constitution, turned into traitors against the United States of America, and fought a war to enforce the enslavement of our fellow Americans.

After 155 years, enough is enough!


White Supremacist Terrorism

Here we go again.  More mass shootings and more “thoughts and prayers.”  As of this writing twenty-two people died in El Paso, Texas and nine in Dayton, Ohio with dozens more wounded and injured.  This comes on the heels of a mass shooting at a Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California that left three dead and sixteen wounded.  There is an epidemic of violence in our country that is aided and abetted by the cowardice of politicians to deal with the issue in any practical way.

No piece of federal legislation concerning guns has reached a president’s desk since the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994 — and that law expired in 2004.  More specifically, no law regulating the use of fire arms has passed since then.  Two others, however, have been passed. In 2004 an Act was passed that allows current and former law enforcement officers to carry concealed fire arms in any jurisdiction.  In 2005 an Act passed that prevents fire arm manufacturers and licensed dealers from being held liable when crimes are committed using their products.  That’s it.

There is a more pressing issue to deal with right now, however.

The acts of these despicable individuals, of which more and more are occurring in all segments of our society, including churches and synagogues, are not really the work of lone wolfs as some would like to depict them.  They are the acts of white supremacists that increasingly act in concert.  Instead of being lone wolfs, they are more like wolf packs.

There is little difference between these white supremacists conversing with each other, supporting each other, giving ideas to each other, helping each other in on-line chat rooms and on the internet, especially 8chan, than 80 years ago when a bunch of white guys in sheets would congregate in the back room of a warehouse in a small town.  It is the same, they just don’t have to travel any further than the lap top in their bedrooms to get their hateful ideas.  The FBI and other reputable agencies tracking these trends know the threat and they know that it is increasingly likely that the members of these hate groups will take action.  They are “heroes” to each other.  One may debate as to whether their psychological profile leads certain types of individuals into joining these groups, but they are not “crazy” or clinically mentally ill.  They are purposeful in their actions.  They have plans. They have goals.  They have the means to work towards achieving their ends.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said in Congressional testimony on July 23 this year that “homegrown violent extremists” are the biggest threat to the United States.  He went on to say, “I will say the majority of domestic terrorism cases we’ve investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence.”

I am concerned that we are on the way to another terrorist attack that will be the “new” attack of September 11, 2001, only this time it will be carried out by one or more young white guys.  Think Timothy McVeigh and the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April 1995.  168 men, women and children died that day.  Hundreds more were wounded.  It is possible, and some believe probable, that something similar will happen again.

We need to call it what it is.  These attacks are not the result of video games, or drugs, or not going to church or mental illness or anything else.  Every country in the world deals with these same issues and they do not have the pervasive and never ending attacks on their fellow citizens that we do here in the United States.

These acts are increasingly the work of white nationalists who want to eliminate anyone in our country that they deem “impure” — in other words anyone that is not white and not Christian.  (It would be laughable that they call themselves Christians if it wasn’t such a deadly issue.)

It is staring us right in the face.  Call it what it is.  Call out the president when he says that Hispanics are conducting an “invasion” of our country.  Call out the president when he calls Mexicans “rapists” and “murderers.”  And on, and on, and on he goes with spiteful, hateful rhetoric towards people of color.  In a rally in Florida just this May he talked of the “invasion” from Mexico and then laughed along with the crowd when someone yelled “shoot them.”

Mr. Trump is not the one that pulled the trigger in El Paso or elsewhere.  He didn’t order it.  He does inspire these white nationalists when he uses hateful language that leads them to violence.  His barely disguised racist language is a deliberate campaign strategy to rally his “base.”  Shame on him.  Shame on us all.  We are better than this as a country.

More importantly, we need to take action as a country and tell the government to use the same tactics against domestic threats that we do to protect ourselves against foreign terrorists.  The oath I took as a Navy officer says in part “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.”  We have a clear and present danger from domestic terrorists.

The biggest threat to our security and safety walks among us.

 


Disturbing

The last few days have been deeply troubling.  I fear that I will be saying that over and over and over for the next three and a half years.  Every time it seems that our president cannot do anything more outrageous, he does it.  There is no low bar.  Every time I think he’s gone about as far as he can go, he goes further.  Yesterday takes the cake.  So far.  I can never say he won’t go lower.

I do not need to go into detail about President Trump’s impromptu press conference from the gilded lobby of Trump Tower.  You have undoubtedly heard all about it already.  And if you haven’t, all you need to know about his support of Nazis and Klansmen, not to mention how he butchered our history by putting Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on an equal basis with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, is the following Tweet at 4:45PM, immediately following the president’s remarks yesterday, from former KKK leader David Duke:

Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa.

So now what?  Well, lots of politicians and business executives separated themselves from President Trump’s moral equivalency of putting the KKK, Nazis, Anti-Semites and other white supremacy groups on the same level as those that oppose them.  Unfortunately most did not separate themselves from the president himself — just his remarks.  Look carefully and you will see that very few actually condemned the president.  A real failure of moral courage.

As Civil Rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer said in a speech to the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”  For two years we have listened to Mr. Trump disparage group after group after group, from women to Mexican Americans.  The events of the last few days are just one more data point in a long list of unacceptable statements and actions of the same vein. He is the same guy, we shouldn’t be surprised.  So, when is he going to be held accountable by an equal branch of government — the Congress? When are Cabinet members and White House Staffers going to leave?  Any ideas that Mr. Trump will change are pure fantasy.  In a piece published this afternoon, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote out five concrete steps that Republicans must take to regain the moral high ground, restore the good name of the Republican Party and put Mr. Trump in a box to limit any future damage to our country.  It is worth a look.

Unfortunately, it is extremely unlikely that the Republican leaders in Congress will do anything substantive to rein in Mr. Trump.  They are focused on achieving their “agenda” which apparently does not include taking action to counter the rise of the vilest elements of our society.  Thus the rats know that they can come out into the light now because no one is trying to push them back into their holes.

Looking at this from another angle, I am deeply disturbed not only by the president’s defense of racists bent on destruction (“both sides” did not commit a terrorist act, which I am not afraid to say even though Mr. Trump said it was “legal semantics”).  I am ever more disturbed by his actions, of which yesterday’s impromptu press conference was just one more in a long line of troubling actions by the president.

This is what I mean.  Yesterday’s press event was supposed to be an announcement concerning infrastructure plans.  The president was to sign an Executive Order and turn the event over to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao (spouse of Senator Mitch McConnell by the way) and depart — no questions from the press.  It was planned.  The Chief of Staff John Kelly, the Secretary and other cabinet level individuals were in place, briefed and all knew the plan.  The president knew the plan and said he would stick to the “script.”  He lied to all of them.  The evidence?  He had a copy of his speech from Saturday in his pocket which he pulled out.  It wasn’t left over from Saturday — he purposefully pulled it from his pocket to start his tirade about the events in Charlottesville.  He knew before he came down that would happen but did not bother to tell any of the other participants.  One look at the photos and videos of the Chief of Staff show his dismay and dare I say horror at what was happening.

And that is my point.

Mr. Trump just had to prove — had to — that no one can control him and that he can do whatever the heck he wants to do.  Period.  He gave an inappropriate speech on Saturday following the disturbing events in Charlottesville.  He doubled down through a nameless staffer on Sunday.  On Monday cooler heads got to him and he read a prepared speech, without any emotion or sense that he believed what he was saying, but he did it and it helped.  And then, and then, he could not control himself and the real Donald J. Trump came through.  A petulant, whiny individual who always, always, always has to have the last word.  He will not be controlled, he cannot be controlled.

You need further evidence?  Look at his remarks on North Korea and Venezuela.  Yes, Venezuela.  He threatened military action against Venezuela because he could.  And thereby undermined ongoing diplomatic efforts with our Latin American neighbors trying to bring pressure on that regime.  And undermined Vice President Mike Pence who was on a diplomatic mission in Latin America.

He does things just to show that he can.  Because he wants to.  It is always, always, always only about him. That is even more frightening than what appears to be in his heart.  Whether or not Donald J. Trump is a racist is something I can never know.  But his words and actions indicate that if he is not, he is at least clueless about the mission and intent of the white supremacists who see him as “their man” and see him as helping their cause.

Where are our moral leaders at the national level?  Thank goodness many mayors and governors around the country and of both political parties stood up and took action.  Shoot, even the members of the service leaders on the Joint Chiefs of Staff put out statements today condemning the events in Charlottesville and the racist nature of those acts.  They were clear and unambiguous.  They did not mention Mr. Trump directly, but it is very clear when you read them that they are reacting to the president’s remarks from yesterday.

When will Congress find its moral footing?


Shameful

It was a sad day for our country in Charlottesville Virginia yesterday when white supremacists, including self-avowed Ku Klux Klansmen, Neo-Nazis, Anti-Semites and others demonstrated, resulting in the loss of three lives — one woman killed in a white supremacist terror attack and two Virginia State Police Troopers helping to protect the citizens of Charlottesville died when their helicopter crashed.

I could hardly believe that this was happening in our country.  Not so much that such people exist — it is a sad but true fact that they do — but that so many of them came from around the country to impose their twisted vision of America on the good citizens of Charlottesville.

More unbelievable, and vastly more disappointing and troublesome to me, our president refused to denounce the white supremacists and refused to call it an act of terror when a car deliberately plowed into a crowd of peaceful protesters denouncing the white supremacists .

Shameful.

I just happened to see the president’s remarks live, as they happened.  Many of you probably saw them replayed on various news stations.  The clip most played is the president saying:

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides.”

Watching it closely, and paying attention to the body language, it was clear to me that President Trump was ad libbing the “many sides” phrase.  Which he repeated with his characteristic hand gestures usually utilized in conjunction with “believe me.”  What is not shown, and astounded me in the moment, was during his prepared remarks, he deviated from the script several times, including a long riff in the middle of his remarks about the unfolding tragedy in Charlottesville to assure us, as a nation, that he was doing a great job.

“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.”

It always has to be about him.

Not only did he fail his course on Presidency 101 and what to say and do when faced with a tragic event, he totally failed in calling out the white supremacists and in making clear that there was no place for them in our United States.  On “many sides” indeed.  He doesn’t have the guts to call out Nazis? The KKK? He has the guts to call out the immigrant parents of a United States Army officer killed in action defending our country but not these yahoos?  What the heck?  My father and father-in-law were World War II veterans, what did they fight for if professed Nazis can carry swastikas in the streets and the president refuses to call them out?

The only answer I can come up with is that he doesn’t want to upset his “base.”  One would hope that he doesn’t want white supremacists in his base, but apparently that isn’t the case.  Am I hyperventilating? Perhaps. But I am not making this up from thin air.  Look at the comments from the former Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke on the eve of the demonstration.

“This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump. Because he said he’s going to take our country back. That’s what we gotta do.”

Was that a one-off?  Let’s take another sample from a white supremacist who said the following after the president’s remarks.

“Trump’s comments were good.  He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us. He said that we need to study why people are so angry, and implied that there was hate… on both sides! So he implied the antifa [I looked this up — it is short for antifascists] are haters.”

“There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all. He said he loves us all. Also refused to answer a question about white nationalists supporting him. No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”

You get the picture.  That’s why words matter and especially from the president.  He knows that and if he doesn’t then his staff sorely let him down.  But having watched his remarks live, he appeared to deviate from his prepared remarks on several occasions so as not to be specific about the groups behind the hate.  I guess he just cannot bring himself to separate from his so called supporters.

As I write, the White House staff is in full damage control mode saying essentially that of course the president denounces all hate groups.  Why would they go into damage control mode if the president’s remarks were not in fact totally inadequate?  Because he didn’t and he hasn’t actually rebuked these far right-wing extremists and terrorists.  How hard is it to say that driving a car into a peaceful crowd to purposely maim and kill is an act of terrorism?  He certainly is not shy.  Except in these cases.  Where is Mr. I’m-not-politically-correct?

Thankfully politicians of every stripe from Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex) to former Vice President Joe Biden came out in full-throated condemnation of the white supremacists and also chastised the president for his missed hand slap to the violent white supremacists.  There is hope that all of us will stand up for what we believe actually makes America great and not let this behavior continue unchallenged. And we should voice our opinions to President Trump to let him know how badly he let us all down, both as president and as a person.

Clearly these far right-wing nuts think that the president is on their side.  With so called alt-right (a nice name for white supremacists) supporters on his personal staff in the White House — Mr. Steve Bannon and alleged doctor Sebastian Gorka to name two — they have good reason to think so.  The only way that he can disabuse them of that notion is to clearly, forcefully and unambiguously tell them to climb back into their holes and that he refuses their support in any way, shape, or form.  Otherwise, he is not the president of the United States that I know and love.