The Trump campaign clearly wants to make the presidential race about a "culture war" on people who support Democrats like Black Lives Matter.
Well, first things first, the presidential race will never be about that. And it is therefore a disastrously losing argument. There has been a pandemic overwhelming the country for the past half-year, and 187,215 Americans have died so far. And 57 million Americans have filed for unemployment. And most children aren't allowed back in school but are staying at home -- and the few that are back in school are mostly there over the protests of their parents. (Two weeks ago, the University of Alabama opened up -- and 1,200 students are already infected!) And the economy has crashed, with the GDP down a horrific 33% annual rate. That's what the race is about, and will be about.
Further, every political race -- and most especially every presidential race -- with an incumbent running is about the incumbent. A referendum on whether you approve of what the candidate has done while in office. The incumbent might want to try to make it about something else, like a magician using misdirection, but everyone knows who the incumbent is, and they're either happy with the job the person has done and want the incumbent to stay in office, or they aren't happy with the person and don't.
And none of this even touches other critical issues that are part of the Trump administration, like separating parents from their children, putting kids in cages, being the only nation in the entire world that has pulled out of the Paris Accord on Climate Change, gun violence, ignoring intelligence reports that Russia paid bounties to kill American soldiers and not even bringing that up to Putin, having the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee releasing a report that says the 2016 Trump campaign regularly met with Russian officials, knowing that Trump wants to eliminate the Affordable Care Act (in the middle of a pandemic) and is supporting the Republican states lawsuit to get rid of pre-existing conditions protection, and also the reality that Trump was only the fourth president in U.S. history to be impeached.
Nor does it include that Trump appears to have a health problem that they're trying to hide, which Republicans can only hope doesn't manifest itself worse, and that he spends most of his days watching TV, tweeting and playing golf.
And it doesn't include that as the election nears, Trump will get more frantic and fascist and out of control, which isn't a guess because we've seen him for 3-1/2 years and that's who he is and how he acts. Holding rallies with bigger crowds, not social distancing, not wearing masks, and infection numbers from them will keep rising. If you want "culture," that's a Petri culture dish that will actually infect and kill people.
So, all of that -- what's of primary important during this election and "secondary" -- is "first things first," before even getting to the matter of Republicans trying to create a "culture war" in supposedly "Joe Biden's America."
Okay, then, let's put all of that aside (which admittedly is A LOT to put aside, but for the sake of argument, let's do it) and look at the "culture war" Trump not only wants to create, but is really his only issue he can create.
First, the biggest problem Trump and the Republicans have is calling this "Joe Biden's America." Because no matter how much you yell that out and pound the table in full angst, Trump is president of the United States. This is Trump's America. People know it's Trump's America. People see it's Trump's America. And all of these cultural and race issues going on that the Trump campaign and its GOP minions want to paint as being so horrible are ALL happening in Trump's America. And that is a high hurdle to get over. The people who are flim-flammed by it were voting for Trump anyway. Everyone else? Everyone knows that Trump is president and that this is Trump's America.
The other problem is that "culture wars" go both ways. Arguments have two sides. And as much as you may yell and wring your hands about the other side and about Black Lives Matter, you are making the argument that your own side is so much better, made up of real Americans and very fine people.
And that's where Republicans and Trump hit their brick wall. Because however much you demean Black Lives Matter, the bottomline -- whether you support the movement or not -- is that the issue causing protests and sometimes even riots is that black people shouldn't be killed by the police for no reason. Whereas on the Republican side, in order to make that the "good side," you have to defend the racists, the white supremacists, the neo-Nazis and the hate-filled people who support vigilantes carrying illegal semi-automatic weapons in the street and shooting to death two innocent people whose "crime" was trying to stop him.
I would suggest that no matter how much some people may not support Black Lives Matter as a movement, if you're making a "culture war" of your side's supporters, then having racists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis as Exhibit A of why you're better is not going to travel as far as you can spit.
I would suggest further that as outrageous as it is that, thus far, $225,000 has been raised by Trump supporters to defend a vigilante murderer who was arrested for "intentional homicide," the issue is not that court trial in the future, but that this is what Trump supporters stand for: defending a vigilante murderer carrying an illegal AR-15. That it is Trump supporters who are calling such white supremacist-sympathizers "heroes" and who they want as "my president." And that the more this kind of support goes on, the more money like this is raised to defend killers -- and it has to go on for the "culture war" argument to continue for two months -- the more these efforts will profoundly backfire, because it will be clear in a "culture war" that the Trump side is a sickness that is anathema to America. Most especially a safe America. And again, that it is Trump's America.
And already, after just days, we have finally seen the first push back. The magnificent, calm, seething press conference on Sunday held by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler who called out Trump in even-tempered fury. Saying that, no, of course Trump said he wasn't surprised by the killing in Portland, since Trump has been inciting such violence for years. The more Trump incites violence and the more his supporters defend it, then the more others will make clear what is obvious: this is Trump's America, and from his dystopian Inauguration speech on his first day in office (and before, during his campaign), Trump has been inciting violence. The press are the enemy of the people. the courts are illegitimate, Mexicans are thugs and rapists, if you see a protester at his rallies and beat them up he'll pay your court costs, if you're a policeman who arrests someone you can be rough putting them in cars, defending the NRA, offering no outrage at mass murders when committed by white people and on and on. The public knows this, and Democratic candidates and spokespeople. like the Portland mayor, will be speaking out and pointing the finger directly at Trump the more that Trump tries to make violence about anyone but himself. It is totally about himself. It is the foundation of fascism. It is Trump's America.
These are both sides of America. "Culture wars" are not a one-way street. They require both sides to make your hoped-for point. And I would suggest that both sides are not only far from equal in Trump's America, but as the days and months pass as we near Election Day, the fascist horror of those most-vocally defending Trump's side -- the racists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis who feel they have aid and comfort under Trump, and can protect those who incite violence on his behalf -- will be the losing side compared to those who don't believe unarmed black people should be killed by the police
Republicans likely think they can win a "culture war," because they see what Richard Nixon did in 1968. But Nixon was not the incumbent, he was out of office, and he was running against the party in power. And as much as Nixon railed against the protests in the streets -- the protests were over a divisive, unpopular war being run by the same party as the protesters. The Democrats in power were hugely divided in 1968. Republicans out of office made that their issue. If Trump and Republicans think 1968 is the blueprint for 2020 after four years of marches, protests and resistance in the streets against the impeached Trump, they have zero understanding of history. This is Trump's America.
There are two more months to go before Election Day. Passions are high right now on the "culture war" issue -- yet if the public voted today, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are up by 8-10 points, leading strongly in far more than enough battleground states, and would swamp the election. If Trump and Republicans want to win on a "culture war," they have to get the public to forget the pandemic, 187,215 dead, 57 million Americans signing up for unemployment, no school, Trump's impeachment and all the rest, all of it, and maintain for two months an "outrage" against people whose position is that they are upset at police killing unarmed black people -- while having that very "outrage" fueled by racists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis on the Republican side...and make that the only issue Americans want to vote on. Needing each day of the two remaining months to help make up the 8-10 point deficit they currently face.
Is it possible that could happen? It's absolutely possible, which is why Democrats have to be alert and aggressive. But is that scenario likely or probable? I think it's monumentally improbable.
And this doesn't take into consideration that people are starting to vote in just a few weeks, and those votes will be locked in. And that Republicans won't have every last day of the next two months to maintain that improbable one-issue outrage of white supremacists against protecting black lives -- while hoping the country ignores a pandemic, unemployment, collapsed economy and no school. And all the rest. Just that one issue.
If there is a "culture war," no matter how long or short it lasts, there will absolutely be those upset by black people rioting, or even merely protesting. There will most certainly be those for whom the GOP efforts to outrage will have an impact. There will be times when the race tightens. But make no mistake: life is not a one-sided coin. And there will be times when the race widens. Because the other side of that "culture" is racists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis...and Trump.
And that's if you ignore what this race is really about, which is pretty much what all elections are always really about. How people's lives are affected by what is going on around them. And in this case, in Trump's America, their lives are actually, seriously, daily affected by a pandemic, 187,215 dead -- which will be many more by Election Day, well-over 225,000 dead -- massive unemployment, bankrupt businesses, a collapsed economy and the incumbent.
Could I be wrong? Definitely. And yes, when people say to me, "I hope you're right," I hope I'm right, too. But I'm not hoping out of despair, I'm not guessing based on gossamer wishes. It's not that I think I'm right -- it's that those are all the many reasons I believe I am. And anyone who thinks this is all wrong -- fair enough. It could be. But it requires reasons why it is. And right now, that is an exceedingly high bar to reach in what is quite literally, Trump's America.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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