Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Literary Corner: Gothic American


Garbage truck outside Kenosha courthouse. Photo by Chuck Quirmbach via WUWM radio. I like the way the background hints that the square may not be a burnt-out wasteland, though the treatment of the truck itself was clearly pretty terrible.

Interviewed by Laura Ingraham on Fox, Emperor Trump took a deep dive into Gothic narrative, of all things. Fiction has always been an important element of his work, of course, but mostly in the uncomplicated form of news items ("Portland has been burning for many years, for decades it's been burning"), scientific reports ("Paint is not—paint is a defensive mechanism. Paint is not bullets"), and of course the first-person memoir. This new venture, the painstaking construction of an atmosphere of dread in which his characteristic vagueness heightens the tension, is pretty remarkable:

Big Damage

by Donald J. Trump

"Who is pulling Biden's strings?"
                —Laura Ingraham

People that you've never heard of.
People that are in the dark shadows.
They're people that are controlling
the streets. We had somebody
get on a plane from a certain city
this weekend. And in the plane,

it was almost completely loaded
with thugs, wearing these dark
uniforms, black uniforms, with gear
and this and that. They're on a plane!
I will tell you some time, but
it's under investigation right now.

But they came from a certain city,
and this person was coming to the
Republican National Convention,
and there were like seven people on the
plane like this person, and then a lot of
people were on the plane to do big damage.

This is apparently the basic Trump 2020 campaign theme, that after almost four years of the Trump presidency the country is thrashing in endless nightmare, so you should vote to re-elect him, which may sound odd. But the idea is that it's a Democrat-induced nightmare, because Democrats run most of our big cities, and the cities are where the horror is at home, paralyzed by riot, looting, and fire, so a Democratic president and Senate would probably make it worse.

If you're a New Yorker, you know that the deplorable looting in midtown Manhattan and the Fordham Road neighborhood in the Bronx that started on 31 May finished on 1 June and hasn't resumed, though demonstrations go on. If you're a Fox watcher, you have a confused sense that it's all Fort Apache at this point. The rioting that infected Minneapolis just after the murder of George Floyd ended by 29 May, but Sean Hannity was still running footage of it as terrifying news almost four weeks later:

And Portland, of course, hasn't been in flames for decades, and isn't even slightly in flames at the moment, and was never especially enflamed—the police exaggerated it as much as they could from the start:

Trump is still running against Obama, and the "darkness" and "blackness" of urban America, because that's what he has to work with, and there's some real reason to fear it could work for him, even though it would be happening, if it were happening, on his watch as president, because the secret is that they don't expect him to change or "fix" anything: Trump is an entertainer, an artist even, and they expect him to express their inchoate feelings of rage and resentment. And to inflict some representative punishment on a selection of those they see as enemies—to work that into the show. And to win, with your dramatization of the conflict, to win the contest, to be the American Idol.

And so his campaign is pushing the America-in-flames message, based the Republican convention on it, continues to lie about the physical state of Portland and Kenosha, and when they can't hide the absence of a nightmare, work to create one: send in the goons from DHS or encourage rightwing provocateurs like the "Patriot Prayer" to stage "cruise rallies" and see if they can get a fight going with their pepper spray and paintball guns but sometimes carrying real guns as well
The lead-up to Saturday’s “Trump cruise rally” generated fear of yet more violence from both sides. A post pinned to the Facebook event page, which drew some 2,500 attendees, discouraged people from openly carrying firearms and instead encouraged concealed carry.
as may have happened in Portland on Saturday night, when one of them took a bullet in the chest and died (at this point there are some on the "left" carrying firearms as well, I'm sorry to report, though I still think Aaron J. Danielson might have been killed by one of his companions waving a locked-and-loaded gun in the air like Mr. and Mrs. McCloskey).

Today Trump scheduled 20 minutes to look at the Kenosha damage, though the governor and mayor more or less begged hm not to:

  • 12:35 p.m. - Trump arrives at property affected by recent riots in Kenosha, WI
  • 12:40 p.m. - Trump surveys property affected by recent riots in Kenosha, WI
  • 1 p.m. - Trump departs property affected by recent riots en route to Mary D. Bradford High School

A lot of commentators, including George Packer at The Atlantic, seem to think candidate Biden ought to accept the Republican narrative to some extent, making a bigger point of condemning the property damage putatively caused by "leftists" as he approves of the protests themselves, deliberately allowing his audience to confuse looting with protest:

Biden, after speaking with the Blake family, condemned both the initial incident and the subsequent destruction. “Burning down communities is not protest,” he pleaded in a video. “It’s needless violence.” He said the same after George Floyd’s killing.

How many Americans have heard him? In the crude terms of a presidential campaign, voters know that the Democrat means it when he denounces police brutality, but less so when he denounces riots. To reach the public and convince it otherwise, Biden has to go beyond boilerplate and make it personal, memorable.

I think Packer isn't sensitive enough to the difference between property damage, which is deplorable, and violence against persons, which is at another level. Trump can't disown his personal share in the worst: those provocateurs driving in and trying to turn demonstrations into streetfights like the Sturmabteilung brownshirts looking for "collisions" (Zusammenstösse) with socialists and communists in 1920s Germany. 

And the best thing Biden is doing is pointing this out as part of his own approach to talking about the George Floyd protest season, as Natasha Korecki and Christopher Cadelago note at Politico:

After days of Trump contending that Biden was a tool of a radical movement sowing discord in American cities, Biden tried to put the president on his heels. Biden called on Trump to denounce all forms of violence and accused him of fanning unrest with streams of tweets, including some that seemed to support confrontations in the streets.

“The road back begins now, in this campaign. You know me. You know my heart, and you know my story, my family’s story,” Biden said in the speech, which was carried live on several cable networks. “Ask yourself: Do I look to you like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?"

He added, "I want a safe America — safe from Covid, safe from crime and looting, safe from racially motivated violence, safe from bad cops. And, let’s be crystal clear: Safe from four more years of Donald Trump.”...

Trump seemed to cede whatever ground he might have gained when he turned to social media and not only refused to condemn violence from some of his own supporters, but retweeted a video of his supporters attacking protesters. His spokesperson later said he hadn’t watched it.

Biden, in his speech, dared the president to reject violence perpetrated by his own supporters. Yet hours later at a White House briefing, Trump refused to do so, even when he was asked about his supporters shooting pepper spray and paint balls at protesters.

I think this will be a far more productive approach for Biden to sustain. There aren't any looters wearing Democratic merch, after all ("I Don't Watch Fox" or "Stand Up For Science" T-shirts). No graffiti on federal courthouses or Wisconsin garbage trucks says "vote Biden". If Aaron Danielson's killer was the "impulsive and irrational" 48-year-old former professional snowboarder and gun and drug offender who described himself as "100% antifa", as some rightwing outlets are claiming,  he's calling for "Revolution", not for a Democratic Senate (and I'll bet nobody affiliated with antifa, which really does exist in Portland, knows him either). 

Biden can easily disavow property damage and shooting both, because nobody who backs him will object. It's crazy that you'd have to say that about a politician, but in fact you can't say it about Trump, and Trump keeps proving it: his base demands that he approve of violence, and he's a member of the base himself.


Apparently Trump lifted his story about the dark-uniformed people in the airplane from some fool's Facebook post of 1 June, originally about "a dozen males" going to Boise for pure trouble, not Washington for the convention. I apologize for suggesting he was capable of making it up. Via NBC. Doktor Zoom was way on top of this (Wonkette had covered the original Idaho story).

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