Silliness and Sleight of Hand

By Charles M. Blow

President Obama buckled.

On Wednesday, he released his long-form birth certificate, but not without chiding the media and his detractors for their “silliness” in forcing the issue.

No sooner had he released it than Donald Quixote was off to his next windmill: the president’s college grades.

Donald Trump is still playing to suspicions of President Obama. And it’s no longer theoretical. It’s theological. For the detractors, truth is no longer dependent on proof because it’s rooted in faith: faith that American exceptionalism was never truly meant to cover hyphenated Americans; faith in 400 years of cemented assumptions about the character and capacity of the American Negro; and faith that if the president doesn’t hew to those assumptions then he must be alien by both birth and faith.

This is how the moneyed interests — of whom Trump is one — want it. That is how sleight of hand works: distract and deceive. They need this distraction now more than ever because the right’s flimsy fiscal argument — that if we allow fat cats to gorge, crumbs will surely fall — is losing traction.

It’s losing traction with voters as the Supreme Court continues its crusade to put corporate interests above those of citizens. Just Wednesday, it ruled that there is a way for businesses to keep consumers claiming fraud from banding together in a single class-action lawsuit.

It’s losing traction among workers. Gallup reported this week that a majority of Americans worry that they won’t have enough money in retirement. And that worry is well founded. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s annual Retirement Confidence Survey released last month, 56 percent of American workers said they have less than $25,000 in retirement savings and investments. Twenty-nine percent of those said they have less than $1,000. At the same time, the average Wall Street cash bonus in 2010 was nearly $130,000, and the Republican budget proposed by Representative Paul Ryan seeks to dismantle Medicare and lower taxes on the wealthy.

It’s losing traction among young people as it was reported last week that the unemployment rate for workers ages 16 to 24 reached a record high last year, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Meanwhile, last summer,student loan debt exceeded total credit card debt for the first time, and the Republican budget seeks to slash Pell grants.

It’s losing traction with families as the national average price of a gallon of gas is nearing $4, while oil companies are reaping record profits while taking billions of dollars in government subsidies.

(There’s something immoral about giving handouts to entrenched corporate interests with armies of lobbyists while seeking to cut those to hungry children, struggling families and frail seniors.)

It all loses traction as more Americans begin to see the far right for what it truly is: a gang of bandits willing to sacrifice the poor and working classes to further extend the American aristocracy — shadowy figures who creep through the night, shaking every sock for every nickel and scraping their silver spoons across the bottom of every pot.

In fact, Gallup reported on Thursday that unfavorable views of the Tea Party, which was cheered and championed by billionaires and business interests, had jumped to 47 percent this month, a new high, while last week it reported that approval of Congress among Republicans and independents had dropped to a depressing 15 percent.

So the right needs to backfill its shaky fiscal reasoning with political segregationist rhetoric — amplifying a separation of the “us” from the “other.”

State Senator Jake Knotts of South Carolina last year called President Obama — along with the state’s governor Nikki Haley, who is Indian-American and a Republican — a disparaging slur. When pressured to resign, he refused,proclaiming that: “If all of us rednecks leave the Republican Party, the party would have one hell of a void.” Do tell.

This is not to say that all Republicans are tolerant of this behavior. Far from it. But the party has taken the strategic position that in some cases it’s politically advantageous to allow demagogues and xenophobes, sectarians and homophobes to not only see the party as a sanctuary but as a place to rise to its top.

In the last several months, Republican state lawmakers and party officials have said the most reprehensible things about Hispanics, gays and blacks.

State Representative John Yates of Georgia compared the state’s threat from illegal immigrants to the threat from Hitler in World War II and suggested that border agents should be allowed to “shoot to kill.” State Representative Curry Todd of Tennessee compared pregnant illegal immigrants to multiplying rats.

State Representative Larry Brown of North Carolina suggested cutting off financing used to treat people with H.I.V. and AIDS because they are “living in perverted lifestyles.” Brown also drew criticism in October for an e-mail he sent to fellow Republicans in which he used disparaging terms about gays.

And David Bartholomew had to resign as the Virginia Beach Republican Party chairman after forwarding an e-mail that joked about someone taking his “dog” to the welfare office and saying: “My Dog is black, unemployed, lazy, can’t speak English” and has no clue “who his Daddy is.”

In 1965, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described how the strategy of separating people with common financial interests by agitating their racial differences was used against the populist movement at the turn of the century, explaining that “the Southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow.”

He continued that Jim Crow was “a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man.” He called this “their last outpost of psychological oblivion.”

But the right, with a new boost of energy from Trump, is reaching for new frontiers. The language and methodology are different, but the goal is the same: to deny, invalidate and subjugate, to distract from real issues with false divisions.

Trump is helping the right shape new weapons from old hatreds, forming shivs from shackles, all the while patting himself on the back and promoting his brand.

But his point of pride is the right’s mark of shame.

About Michaela

I am a wanderer and a wonderer, like you are. I love our journey and to walk in the company of friends – to learn, experience, share, laugh, cry and above all I simply love this marvelous, magical, mysterious life. I have no plan (cannot believe I am saying this) and my only intention is to be truthful to myself and others.
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4 Responses to Silliness and Sleight of Hand

  1. Michael says:

    The ultra conservative movement is generally heavily fear based. To achieve their goals most activities are permissible. Deception, diversion and distraction are 3 of their favorite tools or methods. Underlining these is a firm belief in their righteousness.

    Talk with any ultra conservative person, whether they are involved in a religion or politics and be prepared to just listen as it is very unlikely they will listen to anything you might say, especially if it contrary to their understandings. Balanced discussions and the exchange of ideas simply don’t happen.

    Of course such things are clear examples of an ego in total control. Their need to be right takes precedence often times over everything else. Rational thought and true compassion are not normally involved.

    One could say such activities are reminisant of the dark ages. The period of history where any independent thought is taboo.

    In this age of tremendously increased communication this “dark age” will not be long lasting. Most people prefer openness versus something fear based. More people will see through this fear based reactionaryism and choose differently.

    The tea party republicans by focusing on Obama’s birth records and now whether race played a role in his admission to the best schools are so obviously filled with deception and distraction that the average citizen will tire of it very quickly. They don’t know it but they are helping more progressive people be heard.

  2. johanna11 says:

    Whoa! Could this man, who aspires to be the president of the US, possibly represent the majority?

    According to Wikipedia, Donald Trump’s salary (2009) was $50 million; his ‘net worth’ $2.7 billion (Forbes 2011). apart from real estate – in which he continued and expanded his father’s business) he also owns gambling casinos. See the Wikipedia article on him. So this man accuses Obama of not being a real American, and of not getting high grades at college…. Are those the worst things he can say of Obama?

    How about discussing the actual political issues?

  3. Michael says:

    I watched Obama’s speech at the press club where he talked about Trump. Old Donald was in the audience. As Obama humorously pointed out Trump is concerned with areas that have nothing to do with our countries real state of affairs.

    Perhaps Donald is used to being able to buy whatever he wants but he won’t be able to buy the presidency if he remains this shallow. So far the presidential contenders are more of a joke which I’m sure will be useful to the Democrats.

    Part of me wonders if Trump is a democratic plant…..

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