Trump’s appeal as the antithesis of Obama

David Axelrod writes: The Republican base is infuriated by Mr. Obama’s activist view of government and progressive initiatives, from health care reform to immigration, gay rights to climate change.

Beyond specific issues, however, many Republicans view dimly the very qualities that played so well for Mr. Obama in 2008. Deliberation is seen as hesitancy; patience as weakness. His call for tolerance and passionate embrace of America’s growing diversity inflame many in the Republican base, who view with suspicion and anger the rapidly changing demographics of America. The president’s emphasis on diplomacy is viewed as appeasement.

So who among the Republicans is more the antithesis of Mr. Obama than the trash-talking, authoritarian, give-no-quarter Mr. Trump?

His bombast allows no room for nuance or complexity. He proudly extols his intolerance as an assault against “political correctness,” and he vows to bring the world to heel, from Mexico to China to Syria and Iraq.

Mr. Trump has found an audience with Americans disgruntled by the rapid, disorderly change they associate with national decline and their own uncertain prospects. Policies be damned, who better to set things right than the defiant strong man who promises by sheer force of will to make America great again?

Yes, we can? Hell, no!

Just leave it to me, Mr. Trump says. Yes, I can!

The robust condemnations Mr. Trump has received from media and political elites have only intensified the enthusiasm of his supporters, many of whom feel disdained and forgotten by the very same people who regularly mock and chide their man for his boorishness. To his base, he’s a truth-teller, thumbing his nose at conventional politicians, whether they are liberal or conservative. Rebukes from fact checkers and purveyors of civil discourse? They’re just so much establishment claptrap.

Relentlessly edgy, confrontational and contemptuous of the niceties of governance and policy making, Mr. Trump is the perfect counterpoint to a president whose preternatural cool and deliberate nature drive his critics mad. [Continue reading…]

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Republican elites surrender to Trump

Dana Milbank writes: Late Thursday night, National Review, the storied conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley, published an issue denouncing Donald Trump.

“Trump is a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones,” the editors wrote. “Donald Trump is a menace to American conservatism who would take the work of generations and trample it underfoot in behalf of a populism as heedless and crude as the Donald himself.”

The Republican National Committee reacted swiftly — immediately revoking the permission it had given National Review to host a Republican presidential debate next month. “Tonight, a top official with the RNC called me to say that National Review was being disinvited,” the magazine’s publisher wrote online. “The reason: Our ‘Against Trump’ editorial.”

That soft flapping sound you hear is the Grand Old Party waving the flag of surrender to Trump. Party elites — what’s left of the now-derided “establishment” — are acquiescing to the once inconceivable: that a xenophobic and bigoted showman is now the face of the Republican Party and of American conservatism.

In recent days, influential Republicans including Bob Dole, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, Rupert Murdoch and, as my Post colleagues reported, Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Peter King (N.Y.) have made noises about being able to stomach Trump. Republican donors are trying to insinuate themselves in the billionaire’s orbit. Trump himself said Thursday: “I have received so many phone calls from people that you would call ‘establishment,’ from people — generally speaking, conservatives, Republicans — that want to come onto our team.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial page had long criticized Trump’s candidacy, publishing an editorial in July arguing that the conservative media who applaud Trump “are hurting the cause.” The editors opined: “If Donald Trump becomes the voice of conservatives, conservatism will implode along with him.”

A week ago, the Journal reversed course. “Mr. Trump is a better politician than we ever imagined, and he is becoming a better candidate,” the editorialists wrote, speculating that “he might possibly be able to appeal to a larger set of voters than he has so far.” [Continue reading…]

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How to create a better politics

I didn’t watch President Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday, but news reports alerted me to this passage:

A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country, with different regions and attitudes and interests. That’s one of our strengths, too. Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens. It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice, or that our political opponents are unpatriotic. Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise; or when even basic facts are contested, and we listen only to those who agree with us. Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get attention. Most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest.

It’s easy to view politics as a marketplace in which trading is taking place as competing constituencies haggle over power. From that perspective, the only question is which group best represents your interests and if no such group exists, politics then becomes a dull spectator sport. Such a marketplace is inevitably dominated by the loudest voices.

Even if that characterization is reasonably accurate, it is likely to have a constricting effect.

Politics seen as jostling power groups, makes those groups into somewhat static entities and it saps a spirit of inquiry.

If the activity of asking and answering questions — an activity that needs to be driven by curiosity — seems pointless, it gets replaced by a much less constructive exercise: the solidification of opinion through affiliation.

In other words, politics is reduced to the question of who you want to stand with and who you stand against.

In the Republican response to Obama’s speech, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said:

Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That is just not true. Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume. When the sound is quieter, you can actually hear what someone else is saying. And that can make a world of difference.

It would be easy to dismiss these appeals from Obama and Haley to reduce the level of rancor in politics as simply calls for a cosmetic change — as though politics can be reformed by making it more pleasant. But I don’t think these calls for a tone change should be trivialized.

The dynamic at issue is driven by the cycle of attention-seeking and attention-giving.

Donald Trump’s success has had less to do with either his financial independence or his alignment with a large segment of the population, than it has with his skill in co-opting the services of the mass media.

He took reality TV to the next level (cliche intended) by turning a presidential campaign into a form of mass entertainment. Trump supporters commonly say that a significant part of his appeal is that they find him entertaining. The tedium of politics has been turned into a raucous circus with Trump as ringmaster.

He couldn’t have done this without the help of a media which salivates at each and every opportunity to boost ratings and make more money.

Ultimately, this is an issue of American values. If creating wealth is the axis around which American life turns, then the media will inevitably function like every other branch of commerce.

The health of any society, however, requires a balance between self-interest and collective interests.

If government, the legal system, the media, education, medicine, and the arts, are controlled by commerce then we all end up as the slaves of profit.

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America divided

John Brockman asked contributors to The Edge: what do you consider the most interesting recent scientific news? Jonathan Haidt responded: If you were on a selection committee tasked with choosing someone to hire (or to admit to your university, or to receive a prize in your field), and it came down to two candidates who were equally qualified on objective measures, which candidate would you be most likely to choose?

__A) The one who shared your race
__B) The one who shared your gender
__C) The one who shared your religion
__D) The one who shared your political party or ideology

The correct answer, for most Americans, is now D. It is surely good news that prejudice based on race, gender, and religion are way down in recent decades. But it is very bad news—for America, for the world, and for science—that cross-partisan hostility is way up.

My nomination for “news that will stay news” is a paper by political scientists Shanto Iyengar and Sean Westwood, titled “Fear and Loathing Across Party Lines: New Evidence on Group Polarization.” Iyengar and Westwood report four studies (all using nationally representative samples) in which they gave Americans various ways to reveal both cross-partisan and cross-racial prejudice, and in all cases cross-partisan prejudice was larger.

First they used a measure of implicit attitudes (the Implicit Association Test), which measures how quickly and easily people can pair words that are emotionally good versus bad with words and images associated with Blacks vs. Whites. They also ran a new version of the test that swapped in words and images related to Republicans vs. Democrats, instead of Blacks vs. Whites. The effect sizes for cross-partisan implicit attitudes were much larger than cross-race. If we focus just on White participants who identified with a party, the cross-partisan effect was about 50 percent larger than the cross-race effect. When Americans look at each other or try to listen to each other, their automatic associations are more negative for people from the “other side” than they are for people of a different race. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump and the politics of disgust

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Alexander Hurst writes: In 2012, a team of academics from Europe and the U.S. — Yoel Inbar, David Pizarro, Ravi Iyer, and Jonathan Haidt — published a paper titled “Disgust Sensitivity, Political Conservatism, and Voting,” looking at the role disgust plays in political orientation. The researchers posited three different types of disgust: interpersonal disgust (i.e., the feeling produced by drinking from the same cup as someone else); core disgust (the response to maggots, vomit, dirty toilets, etc.); and animal-reminder disgust (how we react to corpses, blood, anything that evokes our animal nature).

Disgust, they write, “serves to discourage us from ingesting noxious or dangerous substances,” but also plays a role in moral and social judgments. Those who feel more disgusted by unpleasant images, smells, or tastes judge more harshly that which violates their subjective moral code.

The team had respondents position themselves on a political scale from conservative to liberal. The respondents then stated how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements like “I never let any part of my body touch the toilet seat in a public washroom,” and rated other hypotheticals according to the level of disgust they generated. Even when controlling for age, education, geography, and religious belief, individuals with higher “disgust sensitivity” were found to be more likely to tolerate wealth inequality, view homosexuality negatively, and place more belief in authoritarian leaders and systems.

Most strikingly, interpersonal disgust was an important predictor of anti-immigrant attitudes.

Trump, of course, is a well-known, admitted germaphobe. “One of the curses of American society is the simple act of shaking hands,” he wrote in The Art of the Deal. “I happen to be a clean hands freak. I feel much better after I thoroughly wash my hands, which I do as much as possible.”

Trump even described shaking hands as “barbaric” in an interview with Dateline in 1999, saying, “They have medical reports all the time. Shaking hands, you catch colds, you catch the flu, you catch it, you catch all sorts of things. Who knows what you don’t catch?”

Beyond the aversion to hand-shaking, Trump used to pre-test his dates for AIDS, and reportedly avoids pushing elevator buttons.

The connection between modern xenophobia, disgust sensitivity, and the strength of Trump’s campaign is fairly easy to make. As Inbar, Pizarro, Iyer, and Haidt point out, “Disgust evolved not just to protect individuals form oral contamination by potential foods, but also from the possibility of contamination by contact with unfamiliar individuals or groups.” And after all, Trump’s success has come not from presenting voters with detailed policy proposals, but from connecting with them on a gut level. [Continue reading…]

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Who was more prescient: Clinton or Awlaki? And why is YouTube helping promote a Trump conspiracy theory?

After a 52-minute video made by al-Kataib, the media outlet of Somalia’s al-Qaeda-affiliate, al-Shabaab, was posted on YouTube yesterday, it was swiftly removed. YouTube has a long-standing policy of banning videos that incite violence.

As the ABC News report above shows, the element in the video which has grabbed the media’s attention is its use of Donald Trump’s recent call for Muslims to be prohibited from entering the United States.

Here’s the part of the video which features Trump — although, by the time you read this post, YouTube will have removed this clip, which is why I’m also posting a transcript:

First we see the American imam, Anwar al-Awlaki, making a prediction about the fate of Muslims who continue living in the U.S. — Awlaki was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011. Then comes a clip of Trump and then Awalaki again.

Awlaki, date unknown: Muslims of the West, take heed and learn from the lessons of history. There are ominous clouds gathering in your horizon.

Yesterday, America was a land of slavery, segregation, lynching, and Ku Klux Klan. And tomorrow it will be a land of religious discrimination and concentration camps.

Trump speaking at a campaign rally on December 7: Guys remember this and listen: Donald J Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States [cheers] until our country’s representatives can figure out what [expletive bleeped] is going on [cheers and applause].

Awlaki: The West will eventually turn against its Muslim citizens. Hence, my advice to you is this: You have two choices, either hijra or jihad. You either leave or you fight. You leave and live among Muslims, or you stay behind and follow the example of Nidal Hassan [perpetrator of the Fort Hood mass shooting] and others who fulfilled their duty of fighting for Allah’s cause.

In response to pressure from Western governments, YouTube and other social media channels are becoming increasingly aggressive in blocking the distribution of terrorist propaganda. There is understandable frustration at the fact that the internet is being used to threaten the very societies within which this global communications system was created.

Censorship can easily backfire, however, and this is happening with the removal of clips of the new al-Shabaab video.

After the full-length version had been removed, snippets which just showed the al-Awalaki statement and Trump, have also been removed (as I noted above).

It is clear that these videos are being posted by Trump critics rather than al-Shabaab supporters and their removal is breathing life into a conspiracy theory being propagated by some Trump supporters: that the al-Shabaab video itself is a fabrication created by the Clinton campaign!

It seems likely that there are some Trump supporters who — following the lead of Bashar al-Assad supporters — are using YouTube’s community guidelines in order to silence criticism.

Although in the short clips of the al-Shabaab, Awlaki is indeed inciting violence, the clips themselves are clearly not being posted in order to incite violence — they have been posted to show how Trump’s rhetoric serves as a propaganda gift for jihadists.

By removing these clips, YouTube is playing straight into the hands of conspiracy theorists.

At the same time, censorship also buttresses the perception among ISIS and al Qaeda supporters, that the West feels threatened by “the truth.”

It’s worth remembering the trajectory Awlaki followed which eventually led to him promoting terrorism from Yemen.

In 2000, he supported George Bush’s campaign to become president and after 9/11 believed his own emerging role must be to serve as bridge between America and all Muslims.

Last August, Scott Shane wrote:

At midnight on Sept. 14, 2001, Awlaki, then a young Yemeni-American imam at the prominent Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Va., finished a long day by answering an email from his younger brother about the terrorist attacks of a few days before. ‘‘I personally think it was horrible,’’ he wrote to Ammar, a college student in New Mexico at the time. ‘‘I am very upset about it.’’ He added, ‘‘The media are all over us.’’ Anwar was disconcerted, but perhaps also pleased that an onslaught of reporters had turned his Friday prayers, or jummah, into a circus. ‘‘At jummah today we had ABC, NBC, CBS and The Washington Post.’’ He closed on a positive note, hinting at a noble purpose, to be sure, but also displaying a trace of personal ambition: ‘‘I hope we can use this for the good of all of us.’’

Though the country was in mourning, a sense of defiant unity emerged. A non-Muslim neighbor of Dar al-Hijrah organized a candlelight vigil around the building to show solidarity with the mosque. Roughly 80 residents of a nearby apartment building sent over a note saying, ‘‘We want your congregation to know that we welcome you in this community.’’ Journalists, hunting for an authoritative voice from the Muslim community, began to pass regularly under the mosque’s grand marble arches or to gather in Awlaki’s modest family home. He denounced the 9/11 attacks but in the same breath would criticize America’s record in the Middle East. Reporters were impressed. The New York Times wrote that Awlaki, just 30, was being ‘‘held up as a new generation of Muslim leader capable of merging East and West.’’ He relished the spotlight. He seemed to be quite self-consciously auditioning for a dual role: explainer of Islam to America and of America to Muslims. ‘‘We came here to build, not to destroy,’’ he declared from his pulpit. ‘‘We are the bridge between America and one billion Muslims worldwide.’’

The challenge presented by ISIS, al Qaeda and other jihadist groups is more than one of security and communications. At its core, this is a moral challenge.

The jihadists present themselves as offering the solution to a moral problem: a way for Muslims to confront the immorality, corruption, and hypocrisy they see in the contemporary Western-dominated world.

An effective counter-jihadist strategy cannot simply brush off this critique of the West. It has to present an alternative solution.

Currently, who has the more credible voice? Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or Anwar al-Awlaki?

Unfortunately, it’s Awlaki.

As Shane observed:

Awlaki’s pronouncements seem to carry greater authority today than when he was living, because America killed him.

Right now, it’s easy to castigate Trump for providing terrorists with fodder for propaganda, but we mustn’t forget the extent to which the U.S. led by Bush and then Obama, has helped reinforce the jihadists’ narrative — by opening Guantanamo; through the use of torture, rendition and secret prisons; through the disastrous war in Iraq; through drone strikes in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia; through continuing to prop up authoritarian regimes across the Middle East; through allowing the Assad regime to destroy Syria, and through failing to broker an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The real challenge for Western political leaders and whoever becomes the next U.S. president is not whether they can destroy ISIS and effectively tackle global terrorism.

It is this: How can they regain sufficient moral authority that their words carry weight? How can they restore some much-needed respect for democracy?

In a global failure of governance, the Middle East can be viewed as the emergency room, while in the West, governance suffers from chronic illness for which symptom-relief is the only treatment on offer.

It’s time we face up to the fact that terrorism is just a symptom what ails the world. Indeed, much of the time a global obsession with terrorism is having the effect of turning our attention away from broader issues that undermine the health of societies and our ability to survive on this planet.

This isn’t a question of striving for some kind of unattainable and contestable moral purity. No one wants to live under the control of zealots. It’s about trying to create societies in which government is no longer a dirty word, where ordinary citizens receive the respect they deserve, and in which individuals are no longer cynical about the possibilities for securing collective interests.

In a word, it’s about the restoration of honesty in public life.

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America moving left — and right

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Peter Beinart writes: By the time Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, in part because of her support for the Iraq War, the mood inside the party had fundamentally changed. Whereas the party’s most respected thinkers had once urged Democrats to critique liberal orthodoxy, they now criticized Democrats for not defending that orthodoxy fiercely enough. The presidency of George W. Bush had made Democrats unapologetically liberal, and the presidency of Barack Obama was the most tangible result.

But that’s only half the story. Because if George W. Bush’s failures pushed the Democratic Party to the left, Barack Obama’s have pushed it even further. If Bush was responsible for the liberal infrastructure that helped elect Obama, Obama has now inadvertently contributed to the creation of two movements — Occupy and Black Lives Matter — dedicated to the proposition that even the liberalism he espouses is not left-wing enough.

Given the militant opposition Obama faced from Republicans in Congress, it’s unclear whether he could have used the financial crisis to dramatically curtail Wall Street’s power. What is clear is that he did not. Thus, less than three years after the election of a president who had inspired them like no other, young activists looked around at a country whose people were still suffering, and whose financial titans were still dominant. In response, they created Occupy Wall Street.

When academics from the City University of New York went to Zuccotti Park to study the people who had taken it over, they found something striking: 40 percent of the Occupy activists had worked on the 2008 presidential campaign, mostly for Obama. Many of them had hoped that, as president, he would bring fundamental change. Now the collapse of that hope had led them to challenge Wall Street directly. “Disenchantment with Obama was a driver of the Occupy movement for many of the young people who participated,” noted the CUNY researchers. In his book on the movement, Occupy Nation, the Columbia University sociologist Todd Gitlin quotes Jeremy Varon, a close observer of Occupy who teaches at the New School for Social Research, as saying, “This is the Obama generation declaring their independence from his administration. We thought his voice was ours. Now we know we have to speak for ourselves.”

For a brief period, Occupy captured the nation’s attention. In December 2011, Gitlin notes, the movement had 143 chapters in California alone. Then it fizzled. But as the political scientist Frances Fox Piven has written, “The great protest movements of history … did not expand in the shape of a simple rising arc of popular defiance. Rather, they began in a particular place, sputtered and subsided, only to re-emerge elsewhere in perhaps a different form, influenced by local particularities of circumstance and culture.”

That’s what happened to Occupy. The movement may have burned out, but it injected economic inequality into the American political debate. (In the weeks following the takeover of Zuccotti Park, media references to the subject rose fivefold.) The same anger that sparked Occupy — directed not merely at Wall Street but at the Democratic Party elites who coddled it—fueled Bill de Blasio’s election and Elizabeth Warren’s rise to national prominence. And without Occupy, it’s impossible to understand why a curmudgeonly Democratic Socialist from Vermont is seriously challenging Hillary Clinton in the early primary states. The day Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy, a group of Occupy veterans offered their endorsement. In the words of one former Occupy activist, Stan Williams, “People who are involved in Occupy are leading the biggest group for Bernie Sanders. Our fingers are all over this.”

It’s true that Americans have grown more conservative on some issues over the past few years. Support for gun control has dropped in the Obama era, even as the president and other Democrats have pursued it more aggressively. Republicans also enjoy a renewed advantage on combatting international terrorism, an issue whose salience has grown with the rise of the Islamic State. Still, in an era when government has grown more intrusive, African American activists have grown more confrontational, and long-standing assumptions about sexual orientation and gender identity have been toppled, most Americans are not yelling “stop,” as they began doing in the mid-1960s. The biggest reason: We’re not dealing with the same group of Americans.

On issue after issue, it is the young who are most pleased with the liberal policy shifts of the Obama era, and most eager for more. In 2014, Pew found that Americans under 30 were twice as likely as Americans 65 and older to say the police do a “poor” job of “treating racial, ethnic groups equally” and more than twice as likely to say the grand jury in Ferguson was wrong not to charge Darren Wilson in Michael Brown’s death. According to YouGov, more than one in three Americans 65 and older think being transgender is morally wrong. Among Americans under 30, the ratio is less than one in five. Millennials — Americans roughly 18 to 34 years old — are 21 percentage points less likely than those 65 and older to say that immigrants “burden” the United States and 25 points more likely to say they “strengthen” the country. Millennials are also 17 points more likely to have a favorable view of Muslims. [Continue reading…]

Still, these measures are relative.

In a recent poll of support for Trump among Millennials, 32.2% of young adults aged 18-24 said they would support his ban on Muslims entering the U.S. They were outnumbered by 46.4% being opposed, but the fact that opposition was not found in an overwhelming majority is telling.

As much as it might be true that the Bush era provoked a backlash that pushed America leftward, the ideology of the war on terrorism can be viewed by its advocates as a success in this sense: the core issue perceived by most Americans is their experience of insecurity and any remedy for that insecurity must make them feel safe.

Many Americans express opposition to policies instituted in the name of counterterrorism and yet simultaneously harbor the multifaceted fears which have become a core component in American consciousness.

Insecurity comes in many forms — economic insecurity, fear of police brutality, fear of terrorism, fear of immigrants — but whenever the problem is fear, the remedy is security.

The fact that fear has become the foundation of the American zeitgeist is evident in the varieties of isolationism found across the political spectrum.

Isolationism on the right calls for increased defense spending and stronger borders, while on the left it promotes anti-interventionism and a broad disengagement from global affairs.

This inward turning has happened not only collectively, but also individually. No generation has become less trusting of others than are Millennials.

Millennials Less Trusting of Others

Where trust is so lacking, how can mass movements grow? Where will a sense of human solidarity take root?

Consider the tepid response to Donald Trump’s proposal to exclude Muslims from America. As much as he might have provoked many expressions of principled outrage, why has he not been countered by calls for a massive increase in refugee intake?

The United States is almost 30 times the size of Germany and has four times the population. If the U.S. was to match Germany in its willingness to welcome refugees, President Obama, following Chancellor Merkel’s lead, would be saying we need to accept four million and not a paltry 10,000.

There are 300 cities larger than 100,000 population across America and if all were to accept an average of 500 refugees, this would only amount to a modest intake of 150,000.

The number of Syrian refugees granted asylum in the U.S. in 2015 amounted to one per 172,000 Americans.

Let’s suppose that Americans were to feel collectively strong enough that 1,000 would still feel safe if they were to welcome just one refugee in their communities. This would result in an intake of 322,000 refugees.

The issue here has much less to do with an economic burden or national security, than it has with xenophobic paranoia.

That paranoia might be at its highest concentration in Trump’s America, but it seems to exist in varying dilutions across much of the rest of this nation.

Among the presidential candidates, as the self-declared socialist, Bernie Sanders should have taken the boldest stand on Syrian refugees and he has called on his supporters to sign a petition saying “we should not turn our backs on these refugees escaping violence in the Middle East” — a feel-good sentiment. But when it comes to a call for action, all he appealed for was this:

Support continuing the refugee program that promises to resettle 10,000 Syrians, mostly women and children, who are escaping violence in their home country.

Perhaps he and those in his campaign who arrived there from the Occupy movement personally favor a more radical response to the refugee crisis but have refrained from advocating for this because they believe it would undermine Sander’s electoral viability. Or perhaps this timidity is their own.

Either way, this purported antidote to “anti-immigrant hysteria” nevertheless seems to accommodate rather than challenges America’s more pervasive fears.

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How Trump is helping American white supremacists evangelize

The Washington Post reports: Making friends is no easy task for modern white nationalists.

In an era of gay marriage and a black president, more than a half-century after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law, separatists can’t exactly swan dive into conversations with strangers about the white-power cause.

But Rachel Pendergraft — the national organizer for the Knights Party, a standard-bearer for the Ku Klux Klan — told The Washington Post that the KKK, for one, has a new conversation starter at its disposal.

You might call it a “Trump card.”

It involves, say, walking into a coffee shop or sitting on a train while carrying a newspaper with a Donald Trump headline. The Republican presidential candidate, Pendergraft told The Post, has become a great outreach tool, providing separatists with an easy way to start a conversation about issues that are important to the dying white supremacist movement. [Continue reading…]

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Seeing the Trump candidacy as an effect of the Obama presidency

Republican consultant, Frank Luntz, gathered a focus group of 29 past and present Donald Trump supporters in Virginia a few days ago and, among other things, asked them to come up with a phrase that characterizes Barack Obama.

These were some of the responses:

pathetic, jellyfish marshmallow, naive, lost, out of touch, clueless, ineffective, elitist, doesn’t respect American values, anti-American, un-American, zero leadership, out of his depth…

Luntz responded to the group: “Anti-American, un-American… Barack Obama? Seriously?”

For these Trump supporters there was no question.

In no doubt about their own identity as Americans and that Obama lacks an American character, their gravitation towards Trump seems to derive mostly from their perception that the billionaire stands out as authentically American:

he gives the image he’s not going to put up with any crap… his personality is so large… he’s entertaining… he looks presidential and he acts presidential… he’s a leader… I’m voting for the person… we’re tired of weak candidates [like John McCain and Mitt Romney]

Luntz probed further: “[Trump] used the word ‘shit’ [when saying he would ‘bomb the shit out of ISIS’]; that’s presidential?”

The group responded with a loud “yes,” fists waving and applause.

It matters less what Trump says than how he says it. He talks tough and he’s impolite and that makes him an American and makes him trustworthy among those who share this view of the American spirit.

If the general election ends up being a contest between Trump and Hillary Clinton, no doubt a significant portion of Trump’s support will come not only from his perceived Americanness but also from the notion that ruling the U.S. is a job for a man.

The fact that presidential campaigns are largely personality contests has been true for decades. In that respect, Trump has done nothing to reshape American politics.

Luntz concludes, seeming to confirm that this is very much a reflection of contrasting perceptions of personality: “I don’t believe there would be a Trump candidacy if there wasn’t an Obama presidency.”

If that’s true, it would be easy to infer that it meant that white America wasn’t ready for a black president, and to some degree that must be the case, but the criticisms thrown at Obama clearly express distaste and contempt for the way he carries himself.

Following the death of Benedict Anderson on Sunday — Anderson was an expert on Indonesia and the origins of nationalism — Christopher Dickey, noting the influence Indonesian culture played in Obama’s personal development, wrote:

As Edward L. Fox pointed out in a delightful essay a couple of years ago, the no-drama character of the American president is best understood as behavior learned when he was a boy, from the time he was 6 until he was 10, going to elementary school on the island of Java in Indonesia.

When Obama was being mocked by the other kids because of his dark skin, his mother encouraged him to adopt the kind of bearing and conduct associated with Javanese kings and the word halus, a regal sort of imperturbability. To this day, there are little tells, like the way Obama points with this thumb on top of his hand, rather than with his forefinger, which was considered very impolite; or the way he sometimes stands with his eyes down in a debate, not a broken man, but one containing his emotion.

In Anderson’s 1990 essay “The Idea of Power in Javanese Culture,” he wrote that halus is “the quality of not being disturbed… Smoothness of spirit means self-control, smoothness of appearance means beauty and elegance, smoothness of behavior means politeness and sensitivity. Conversely, the antithetical quality of being kasar means lack of control, irregularity, disharmony, ugliness, coarseness, and impurity.”

Which also sounds like a description of Donald Trump — the ugly American.

For Americans who despise Trump, the challenge he poses goes beyond the dangerous effects of his demagoguery, but towards the disquieting recognition that he may indeed be more typically American than a large portion of his critics.

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Video: Ali Gharib on what Trump reveals about the potential for fascism in America

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Trump and Le Pen grow in strength with the help of ISIS

Roger Cohen writes: America, like Europe, is rattled by Islamic State terrorism and unsure how to respond to the black-flagged death merchants. Its polarized politics seem broken. The right of Donald Trump and the right of France’s Marine Le Pen overlap on terrorism and immigration. On the American left, Bernie Sanders sounds like nothing so much as a European social democrat. But that’s another story.

Le Pen is now a serious candidate for the French presidency in 2017. Her strong first-round performance in regional elections was not matched in the second round. She faded. But as with Trump, she answers the popular call for an end to business as usual after two Paris massacres this year in which the Islamic State had a role. The three jihadists who killed 90 Friday-night revelers in the Bataclan club were French citizens believed to have been trained in Syria.

“Islamist fundamentalism must be annihilated,” Le Pen says. People roar. “France must ban Islamist organizations,” she says. People roar. It must “expel foreigners who preach hatred in our country as well as illegal migrants who have nothing to do here.” People roar.

There is no question Le Pen is being taken seriously in France. Europe’s watchword is vigilance. Its entire postwar reconstruction has been premised on the conviction that peace, integration, economic union and the welfare state were the best insurance against the return to power of the fascist right.

That conviction is shaken. The rise of the Islamic State, and the Western inability to contain it, leads straight to the Islamophobia in which Trump and Le Pen traffic with success. It would be hard to imagine an atmosphere better suited to the politics of fear. Americans say they are more fearful of terrorism than at any time since 9/11.

“Every time things get worse, I do better,” Trump says. He does. They may get still worse. [Continue reading…]

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Is Trump on the way to becoming a pariah?

It’s unlikely Donald Trump will be planning to visit the UK any time soon. He might not get labelled as an “undesirable person” by the British government, as was the Islamophobic Dutch politician, Geert Wilders. Even so, since more than half a million Britons have already made it clear he’s unwelcome, I doubt that Trump would accept having to face the humiliation of seeking consent to travel to the country viewed by most Americans as the United States’ closest ally — a trip that in other circumstances doesn’t even require a visa.

The New York Times reports:

Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, has revoked Mr. Trump’s status as a business ambassador to Scotland, and Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen has stripped him of an honorary degree.

Prime Minister David Cameron, of the Conservative Party, castigated Mr. Trump’s position [on Muslims] as “divisive, unhelpful and quite simply wrong,” while J. K. Rowling, the author of the best-selling Harry Potter books, described Mr. Trump as worse than the series’ archvillain, Lord Voldemort.

Zac Goldsmith, a Conservative Party candidate for mayor of London, called Mr. Trump “repellent” and “one of the most malignant figures in modern politics,” according to news reports.

Trump has already cancelled a trip to Israel after having been criticized by Benjamin Netanyahu, while the Washington Post’s “Right Turn” Israel-friendly columnist, Jennifer Rubin, says Trump is “now is effectively a persona non grata” in the Jewish state.

It’s worth noting that Trump had already alienated himself from Jewish and Christian Zionists by refusing to express his commitment to Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided capital.”

Trump is also now the target of a new campaign launched by activist hackers in Anonymous, which warned the presidential candidate, “think twice before you speak anything,” while claiming to have taken down the website for Trump Tower in New York City.

And in an effort to weaken Trump’s position in the business community, a new petition has been launched to “dump Trump” from the PGA Tour.

Will any of this have much impact on Trump’s supporters?

Certainly not those of the variety to whom Olivia Nuzzi spoke:

James “Owen” Greeson said it so casually that it almost didn’t sound strange.

He was talking about how, at 76 years old, he’s never picked a winner, has always thrown his weight behind some presidential candidate who’s got no shot. This time was no different, but he didn’t much care. He sent $2,700 from Georgia, where he lives, to Donald Trump’s campaign coffers, just because he likes the guy and thinks he’s entertaining, not because he figured he could be president. It’s not that Trump isn’t fit for the office or too divisive to get the votes. “Come on,” he said, “they’ll kill him before they let him be elected.”

He meant it literally.

“George Wallace was shot,” he said, by way of explanation. And in case I wasn’t convinced, “Huey Long was shot.

“If you get too popular, you’re gonna get dusted off, you know? That should be Donald’s biggest concern, that somebody busts a cap in his ass.”

Greeson, calm and soft spoken, was already sure that the government had orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, so what was one more death, really?

“It looked like a false flag to me, come on!” he said. “Two buildings burn like that? There’s been fires in other countries that burned for 15 hours and the buildings didn’t collapse.” (He said he wasn’t sure who did 9/11, but that Dick Cheney was a good guess.)

After Donald Trump announced, on Monday, a plan to stop Muslims from entering the U.S. “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” I set out to talk to his donors about how it made them feel. I’d interviewed Trump donors before and found that above all else, they are quite a lot like the candidate himself. They aren’t all crazy or hateful or prone to shouting, necessarily, but they are fed up and they are politically incorrect. They feel as if the world and the country is changing too rapidly for us to understand it, and they resent being told that their questions are impolite or emblematic of a deeper intolerance. They see in Trump someone who would protect their interests the way he has protected his own, someone who would make a “yuge,” great deal for their benefit, perhaps. Like, really, really great. Big league.

So far, Trump’s success has not been achieved in spite of making enemies, but on the contrary, in large part it’s because he is so good at riling up his opponents. By co-opting the services of the media, his campaign has cost him virtually nothing and the criticisms he now faces, mostly have the effect of reinforcing the convictions of his base.

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The rise of right-wing populists

The New York Times reports: Mass shootings by Islamist militants. Migrants crashing borders. International competition punishing workers but enriching elites.

Across the Western world, a new breed of right-leaning populists like Donald J. Trump, Marine Le Pen in France and Viktor Orban in Hungary are surging in popularity by capitalizing on a climate of insecurity rivaling the period after the First World War.

Many of them — as Mr. Trump did this week — have made headlines by railing against Muslim immigrants, calling them a threat to public safety and cultural identity. Left-leaning critics have compared the populists to the fascists of the early 20th century. Some riding the wave, like the Freedom Party in Austria or Golden Dawn in Greece, have specific neo-Nazi roots.

Unlike earlier right-wing movements, this generation of populists disavows the overt racism, militaristic rhetoric and associations with fascism that until recently scared away many mainstream voters.

Before the recent terrorist attacks or the European migrant crisis cast a spotlight on Muslim immigration, the populists had built support as trade protectionists or economic nationalists appealing to working-class voters who felt disaffected from established parties and political elites. And, for the first time in nearly a century, established parties across Europe and the United States are struggling to fend off or counter the populist insurgents as their competition pulls the mainstream to the right.

“What you are seeing here is quite a radical shift,” said Roger Eatwell, a political scientist at the University of Bath who studies right-wing parties.

Ms. Le Pen is the best-known figure from more than a dozen right-leaning populist parties across Europe that have scored big gains over the last two years. This week, her National Front party won the largest share of the vote in the first round of regional elections in France, with 30 percent, making her a contender for the presidency in 2017. She campaigns against what she calls the Islamization of France and has compared Muslims praying in French streets to the Nazi occupation.

But Ms. Le Pen fuses her cultural chauvinism with appeals to the economic anxieties of working or lower-middle class voters who — like their counterparts across Europe — have suffered from high unemployment, stagnant wages and growing income inequality, especially since the financial crisis of 2008.

“They are pulling out all the stops for the migrants, the illegals, but who is looking out for our retirees?” Ms. Le Pen asked in a recent campaign appearance. “They are stealing from the poor to give to foreigners who did not even ask our permission to come here.”

Mr. Trump on Monday evoked comparisons to Ms. Le Pen and her European counterparts with his call to close American borders to all Muslims “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

Ms. Le Pen said that was too much for her, perhaps in part because she feared jeopardizing the progress she had made in shedding her party’s previous image as racist and anti-Semitic.

“Seriously, have you ever heard me say something like that?” she asked on Thursday when questioned about Mr. Trump’s comments during a television interview. “I defend all the French people in France, regardless of their origin, regardless of their religion.”

Others in Europe’s right-leaning populist parties, though, are applauding Mr. Trump for breaking with what they call the multiculturalist orthodoxy of dominant political elites. [Continue reading…]

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Lindsey Graham: Trump leading because 40% of GOP voters think Obama is Kenyan Muslim

BuzzFeed reports: South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said his presidential opponent Donald Trump is leading in the polls because nearly half of Republican primary voters hate Obama and think he is a Kenyan-born Muslim.

“Well there’s about 40% of the Republican primary voter who believes that Obama was born in Kenya and is a Muslim,” Graham said on Boston Herald Radio on Friday. “There’s just a dislike for President Obama that is visceral. It’s almost irrational.” [Continue reading…]

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For Muslims in the U.S. military, a different U.S. than the one they swore to defend

The Washington Post reports: U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Emir Hadzic was a Muslim refugee.

“The way Americans welcomed us made such a huge impression on me that I felt like I owed something back,” said Hadzic, a Bosnian-Muslim who fled Sarajevo in 1995. Shortly after arriving in the United States, Hadzic joined the Marine Corps as an infantryman — hoping to help peacekeepers deploying to his homeland.

“I thought I would sign up and pay my debt and on behalf of my family,” he added.

Eight deployments later and still in the Marine Corps, Hadzic has become disturbed by the rising anti-Muslim sentiment in this country after the recent Islamic State attacks in Paris and last week’s San Bernardino shootings. GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump, a candidate Hadzic used to support, has called for barring Muslims from entering the United States.

“We used to be a balanced people. We used to be true to our values, but now we’re willing to betray our values because of a sense of fear? That’s not American,” said Hadzic. “What the hell happened to that America I immigrated to?” [Continue reading…]

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