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The Metastasizing Cancer Of Trump
Vote as soon as you can. Vote Biden.
(Displayed on a monitor, U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, 2019. By Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
The Uighur women in exile in Istanbul are the fortunate ones. They managed to escape the control of the Chinese Communist regime, thanks to relatives who found ways to get them out of the country. But one woman refugee also has a confession: “She speaks of participating in at least 500 to 600 operations on Uighur women including forced contraception, forced abortion, forced sterilisation and forced removal of wombs. She told me that on at least one occasion a baby was still moving when it was discarded into the rubbish.” She believed, she says, that this was just part of the Chinese government’s overall birth control policy. Now she knows that was a lie. While birthrates have fallen by 4 percent over the whole country, in Uighur areas, they have declined by 60 percent. The only word for this is genocide — something we have now known for some time.
Meanwhile, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has denied that he had anything to do with the sudden sickness of Alexander Navalny, the most prominent Russian opposition leader. A Russian hospital where Navalny was initially treated claimed there was no evidence of poisoning. But as soon as he was transferred to Berlin for medical attention, incontrovertible evidence emerged that Navalny had been poisoned by the now-familiar nerve agent, Novichok, a substance manufactured by the Russian government. It is the same poison used against a former Russian spy in exile in Salisbury, England, a little over two years ago.
China’s dictator, president-for-life Xi Jinping, has made some efforts to hide his new complex of concentration camps, but he does not appear to be worried. Vladimir Putin, despite the pro forma denials, is also not particularly concerned that he be discovered as a state assassin. In fact, the blatant use of a nerve agent long tied to the Kremlin is a sign that he wants these attempted murders to be attributed to him.
And both dictators know very well that in president Trump, they have an American leader who is actually impressed — rather than repelled — by this kind of state thuggery. Trump has excused Putin’s murderousness in the past by claiming that the US is no different. And Trump, unlike Chancellor Merkel and prime minister Johnson of the UK, has declined to personally condemn Putin’s assassination attempt, although his spokesperson has. Xi knows too that he can get away with anything. Why? Because, according to John Bolton, Trump privately encouraged Xi to continue with the Uighur genocide.
This is one part of the price of Trump that the world and the US continue to pay. The tortured prisoner, the poisoned dissident, the forcibly sterilized woman, the jailed peaceful protestor, wherever they may be, now know that the United States president is not on their side, and is more likely to be in alliance with the dictators who rule over them. The complete loss of any moral authority the United States might have once had, along with the collapse of a system of alliances that rallied liberal democracies against foul tyrants for decades, are the consequence. I’m not arguing for neoconservative or liberal interventionism. I am simply arguing for the kind of basic moral clarity that the West once tried to advance, even if we often failed, and has now been sacrificed tout court for one wannabe tyrant’s depraved, delusional psyche.
In this election, we can be easily distracted by the news of the last cycle. And Trump is a genius of instant distraction, deflection, and misdirection. He thrives in a Twitter world where yesterday is a century ago. This is hard to resist, and I’m not an exception. But that’s why I want to say something as clearly and as emphatically as I can. I despise what too much of the left has become. I worry about the far left’s contempt for liberal democracy and their view of the American experiment as a form of racist oppression which can only be righted by reverse racist oppression. And I’m dismayed by the liberal denial and appeasement of these deeply illiberal trends.
But it’s also vital to understand that the most powerful enabler of this left extremism has been Trump himself. He has delegitimized capitalism by his cronyism, corruption, and indifference to dangerously high levels of inequality. He has tainted conservatism indelibly as riddled with racism, xenophobia, paranoia, misogyny, and derangement. Every hoary stereotype leveled against the right for decades has been given credence by the GOP’s support for this monster of a human being. If moderates have any chance of defanging the snake of wokeness, and its attempt to deconstruct our Enlightenment inheritance, we must begin with removing the cancer of Trump from the body politic. It is not an ordinary cancer. It is metastasizing across the republic and spreading to the lifeblood of our democracy itself. Removing it will not be enough. But not removing it is democratic death.
Let us count the ways of his destructiveness. He has turned the Department of Justice into a politicized machine dedicated to attacking his political opponents, delegitimizing the most essential rampart of any democratic system: the rule of law. He has perverted US foreign policy for his own domestic political objectives, and been impeached for it. He has tried and largely succeeded in rendering his own administration immune to Congressional oversight and legal scrutiny, by reckless brinksmanship in the courts, and contempt for separation of powers. He has grotesquely done all he can to enrich himself, his kleptocratic family and his talent-free cronies at the public’s expense.
His lies are beyond anything seen previously in American politics — aimed at destroying any confidence in fact, objective truth, and reasoned deliberation about either. At his convention, he recast his own record in ways only cults and totalitarian regimes usually attempt. According to him, he has been a fantastic success in economic management, even as he added a trillion to the debt in peacetime to goose a recovery he inherited — a goosing that never actually happened. He also brazenly boasts of triumph in controlling the Covid19 epidemic, while the US remains a shameful exception in keeping the virus at bay, and, precisely because of that, 180,000 people are dead, millions will be dealing with health damage for years, and unemployment remains at staggering levels. In all this rank denial, he is as post-modern as his neo-Marxist opponents.
The tribal polarization of this country is deeper and more dangerous than at any time since the 1860s — and yet Trump continues to exacerbate and exploit it. The abdication of any presidential responsibility for the whole of the country, the contempt he has allegedly expressed for the war-dead, the appropriation of sacred national sites for partisan purposes, the open lawlessness, the sheer laziness: these are core abdications of basic presidential responsibility.
Tit-for-tat shootings in the wake of police protests would prompt any other president of either party to join with his political opponent to call for calm and peace. But Trump actually thrills to the conflict, inflames it with ever viler rhetoric, and stokes it. He is even trying to destroy in advance the legitimacy of an election that might turf him from office — by raising the idea that mail-in votes make a fair result impossible. He has doubled down on voter suppression. He is urging his own supporters to break the law and vote twice. He is deliberately spreading conspiracy theories about shadowy figures controlling his opponent.
If, because of mail-in ballots, it takes time to get the final result, and Trump leads in early counts only to lose as the days go by, we all have every reason to believe he will claim fraud, never concede and instigate civil violence if Biden is deemed the winner. It is insane that we have to contemplate such a strategy from the man responsible for the entire system of government. It is disqualifying in itself. I beg my conservative and Republican readers to see what is in front of their nose.
When I say “metastasizing,” I mean he has turned some of his opposition into a mirrored version of himself. Civil servants, diplomats, judges, and journalists have, understandably but fatally, leaked and over-reached, propagandized and cut corners, hyperbolized, and inflamed — in ways that have only weakened our system even further. When the governor of New York State seems to threaten a sitting president with violence if he visits New York, as Andrew Cuomo just did, Trump wins. When the former Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, urges Biden not to concede “under any circumstances”, Trump wins. God knows I appreciate why they have these responses. But they only unwittingly deepen Trump’s assault on our democratic liberal norms.
The only way out of this spiral is an unlikely figure, Joe Biden. An old-school moderate representing a party fast moving leftward, he is, quite simply, the least worst we’ve got. I’m worried the far left will eat his lunch in office, but that is a less pressing worry than the potential destabilization of the entire system if Trump wins in November. The potential for spiraling unrest in a Trump second term could prompt the dictatorial nightmare many of us have been worried about for years.
Biden is not perfect. He’s too old. But he understands our democratic system; he loves this country and has a grasp of the Constitution. He’s trusted by African-American voters who gave him the nomination, and has not alienated white voters in the middle who loathed Hillary Clinton. He is not deranged; he is not lacking in basic human empathy; and he does not treat all his opponents as enemies.
Some Democrats mock his vow to restore a semblance of dialogue with some Republicans. And I understand their position. It is not without reason. But I reject it. If Trump is defeated, and a modicum of reason and decorum returns, and the embers of liberal democracy are not completely extinguished, we have a chance to rebuild the republic. But it may be our last one.
Vote Biden. Vote as soon as you can. And save this democracy from itself.
Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, 7.54 pm
Dissents Of The Week
A deluge of criticism followed last week’s “The Trap The Democrats Walked Right Into.” Many readers are mad I described Jacob Blake as an “alleged rapist.” Some didn’t realize the police responding to the 911 call from Blake’s girlfriend knew about his arrest warrant for third-degree sexual assault against her; other readers acknowledged that but found it irrelevant to the tragic shooting. Here’s one of the latter:
An excellent column, but one I cannot share with anyone else, because once again you are being needlessly provocative. What possible relevance is there that Blake is an alleged rapist? He was unarmed and shot in the back multiple times, all caught on video. If you are implying some larger context that complicates what appears to be clearly unwarranted police violence, you really need to state it. Otherwise this just looks like a nasty, irrelevant smear.
There are reports that Blake had a knife — but details are still murky. We also know that, in July, according to court documents, Blake was accused of breaking into her home, sexually assaulting her, and stealing her credit card and car. When a rape victim calls the cops because her assaulter was back in her house, and wouldn’t leave, it’s relevant context, but, as I wrote, “I’m doing my best to convey the gist of what happened … without justifying any of it.”
Another reader asks, “What exactly is your message here — that Blake is such a bad person that he deserved to be shot in the back while slowly entering his car containing three children?” Of course not. And I said so explicitly in the piece: this was a failure by the police. But, according to the cops, Blake was resisting arrest, had been tasered to no effect, and wasn’t “slowly” doing anything. The Dish provided a link debunking a related, baseless pedophile smear. Another reader points out: “Police did not need to shoot Blake in the back to secure the woman’s safety.” No they didn’t. We’ll only find out the full context in due course.
Another reader highlights the most controversial passage of my piece:
If one party supports everything I believe in but doesn’t believe in maintaining law and order all the time and everywhere, I’ll back a party that does. In that sense, I’m a one-issue voter, because without order, there is no room for any other issue. Disorder always and everywhere begets more disorder; the minute the authorities appear to permit such violence, it is destined to grow. And if liberals do not defend order, fascists will.
That’s a glaring logical fallacy. Of course there are good and moral reasons to NOT maintain law and order all the time and everywhere. A few easy examples throughout history: German officers involved in the Valkyrie plot, American slave revolts, apartheid uprisings, underground sabotage efforts against (insert murderous dictator here). So of course there are good reasons for disorder. What you seem to be saying is: you do not believe the cause of BLM and/or Antifa is worthy of the disorder being sowed. Which is a different argument altogether.
I wish I’d rewritten that passage to make it clearer. That’s on me. But we do not live in Nazi Germany, the ante-bellum South, or a dictatorship. In a democracy, as long as it is operating, non-violent protest and civil disobedience is essential — but that’s not the same as rioting or looting or murder. Some on Twitter seized on the line “if liberals do not defend order, fascists will” to make the preposterous claim that I support fascism. The following two emails from a Dish reader reflect Twitter so well. First up:
Fuck you for defending fascism and a murderer. I so regret subscribing to you.
Followed up with:
I’ve actually read the whole column now, not just excerpts. I retract my “fuck you.”
Another reader dissents:
So Trump actively encourages violence and vigilantism but violence and vigilantism are the Democrats’ problem? It seems like you fell for the sleight of hand that Trump was hoping you would: what is happening on the streets today IS IN TRUMP’S AMERICA. He isn’t controlling it; he isn’t managing it. But he is, like you, laying it at the feet of the Democrats. Give me a break.
Uncontrolled rioting, violence and looting in cities controlled by Democratic mayors are, at least partly, the responsibility of those Democratic mayors. But I agree with the point about Trump’s ultimate responsibility, which is why I’ve laid it out at length in the lead item this week. Another reader:
From an electoral strategy standpoint, you see nothing but risk for Biden, but I see an opportunity. It takes very little from Biden to remind people that every instance of violence is happening while he is the leader of the country, that leaders take responsibility and don’t shift blame, and that he was VP of an administration that presided over record-low crime. If he can highlight Trump’s lack of responsibility and blame-shifting in this present instance to larger themes of leadership, and if he can do it with consistency, he will do himself a major favor.
Agreed. Another dissent:
Everything about your piece today is about how “The Democrats,” particularly Biden, are capitulating to the far left and acquiescing to violence and terror. But the nomination of Biden was a thorough rejection of the left! And the Democrats constantly decry violence in the protests. The thing they do, is to try to understand why the protests are happening in the first place.
Fair enough. I was worried that they can’t break through on this, but Biden’s speech this week was a big improvement. Another reader challenges me calling Biden “a party man to his core”:
Sure, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to cave to the left of the party. The account of his leadership in the Bork fight contained within Richard Ben Cramer’s book What It Takes is useful here. Cramer describes Biden as ardently against the activist left wing of the party, and quotes him saying, in essence, that they are stupid and have no idea how to achieve their policy aims. Yes, the Bork fight was a long time ago, but it’s wrong to say that Biden is someone who has “surrendered to the far left at almost every turn.” He shares many convictions with them, but even when he does, he refuses to fight on their terms, preferring to take the ball himself.
Point taken. Another reader:
I just realized that each week I look forward more to the dissents and reader feedback than to your actual posts. They much more eloquently point out the flaws in your thinking and your bizarre obsession with a small group on the far left/BLM.
Well, that’s why we publish them, and always have. Here’s a regular dissenter:
Blast it, Andrew, now that you’re back on the Dish I can tell I’m going to spend way too much time arguing with what you write. (We’re not going to talk about the entire fiction book I ended up writing to you after one of your pieces on gender; it pissed me off that much.) Could you clarify something so that I know what direction to argue in? Do you agree or disagree that 1) racism still exists and 2) that past racism is causing current harm? It’s not clear to me from your writing on racism if you think there’s a problem and disagree on the solution, or if you disagree that the problem exists in the first place.
Yes, I believe there is a problem and the racist legacy of the past is real. I think that’s vital to acknowledge. But that is the beginning and not the end of the debate. If we are to understand lingering inequality of outcomes, and want to progress further, we also have to examine class, poverty, violence, family structure, and culture. Banishing this complexity in favor of hyperbolic descriptions of “white supremacy” as the only issue, is a distortion of reality that robs African-Americans of agency and makes solving any of this impossible without jettisoning the basic principles of liberalism.
The same reader asks:
Do you read all your mail? I get there’s a limited number of dissents you can post, but it would be nice to know some idea of the volume of emails you get and/or if they’re being read.
Either I or Chris reads them all — about 350 this week alone — but Chris is lord of the in-box and selects these dissents to make me squirm. If you didn’t like my column last week, a reader recommends Packer’s piece, “This Is How Biden Loses,” adding:
One thing you and Packer gloss over, however: Trump’s convention expropriating national institutions and using them as partisan props. This isn't a legal technicality. A certain political party (in 1930s Germany) did that very same thing. So much for Godwin’s Law, but this isn't alarmist. This is fact.
It is indeed. It disgusted me. I refer to it in this week’s column.
Lastly, many of you are still annoyed that I’ve slipped on my promise to stop tweeting, a.k.a. Twexit. Here’s an elegant smackdown from a reader:
I frankly dread looking at your Twitter feed, waiting to cringe at the latest quick take that often employs faulty logic and lazy analysis to flog your ideological opponents. The worst part is that your underlying positions are sound, but by grabbing the nearest heavy object with which to hit people, you actually make others less likely to consider the underlying substance, and you hand your opponents ammunition to discount those positions. If I were coming to your writing with no prior knowledge and only read your Twitter feed, I would have little to no interest in reading your work.
I’ve been thinking about this. I don’t want to abandon the nearly 200,000 followers I have, I’m still going to stay on Twitter for the articles — and will “like” a few. But it may make more sense for me to pass along the best I’ve seen each week to you here. Among the tweets I bookmarked this week: Matt Yglesias, Wes Yang, Matt Yglesias (again), and Musa al-Gharbi, on Biden’s relative weakness with black and Hispanic voters, compared with Clinton; and LGB Alliance on world rugby and the trans question.
Other pieces worth checking out: the WaPo on Bolosnaro’s resilient popularity, despite Covid19 failure; Graeme Wood’s brilliant take-down of a looting defender; John Cleese’s search for a woke joke; a report from a Wisconsin focus group; Cathy Young’s masterful “The Politics of Riots”; and why Francis Fukuyama was right all along in Unherd, an increasingly impressive magazine.
Oakland, California, 8.02 pm
Quote For The Week
“I happen to think Mr. [Charles] Murray’s wrong, not just in his estimation of black people, but in his estimation of the broader American public. But I do think Mr. Murray’s right about the growing distance between the races. The violence and despair of the inner city are real. So’s the problem of street crime. The longer we allow these problems to fester, the easier it becomes for white America to see all blacks as menacing and for black America to see all whites as racist. To close that gap, we’re going to have to do more than denounce Mr. Murray’s book.
We’re going to have to take concrete and deliberate action. For blacks, that means taking greater responsibility for the state of our own communities. Too many of us use white racism as an excuse for self-defeating behavior. Too many of our young people think education is a white thing and that the values of hard work and discipline and self-respect are somehow outdated,” — Barack Obama, on NPR’s “All Things Considered” on October 28, 1994, the same week I published the TNR symposium. He engaged the debate; he didn’t say it should never have happened.
Mental Health Break
A trippy commute:
A reader keeps the new Dish feature going:
I’m Venezuelan. I’ve seen mass renamings before. And now it’s happening again in my life: I go to BU. And I love our mascot, a Boston terrier named Rhett. A month ago, BU sent an email explaining that an alumnus realized the dog’s name is “racist” and that they were going to create a committee to discuss if the dog should be renamed ...
Apparently he was named, decades ago, after Rhett Butler (the Confederate guy from Gone with the Wind) because nobody loved that brat of Scarlett more than Rhett, and BU’s color is scarlet: that’s the whole silly joke. Yet some people are now arguing that the dog’s name is associated with slavery, racism, etc, etc.
If we follow this logic, shouldn’t BU rename itself? Shouldn’t it clean itself of a British imperialist name as Boston? Should we rename America, Colombia, and Bolivia because they are named after colonizers or slave owners? Or Europe, a name associated with an ancient rape story (where a European god rapes a Middle Eastern princess)? Or Africa, the name of a province after the white Romans conquered Libya?
I also learned a new two wokeisms this week: “allocishet” and “cisheteropatriarchalism”. I wonder if there is a guide on how to pronounce these elegant new terms.
In The ‘Stacks
Some great stuff elsewhere on Substack:
As if the strongest storm to ever hit Louisiana wasn’t bad enough, a major heat wave followed in Laura’s wake. Emily Atkin takes stock of both disasters and calls attention to the new campaign to create a naming system for heat waves — the most deadly form of extreme weather. (Sign up for her popular climate-change newsletter here.)
Curtis Yee schools the media for assuming that evangelicalism is “just a white people thing.”
Jimmy Evans explains what Jesus has to do with the planet Venus.
You can always find popular pieces trending here — check it out to discover new independent writers on Substack. #unsponsoredcontent
The View From Your Window Contest
So, where do you think it’s located? (A clue: Going into this election, you should know it.) Email your entry to email@example.com. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject heading, along with any details about the location within the body of the email. If no one guesses the exact location, proximity counts. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two gift subscriptions to TWD. Happy sleuthing!
As always, keep the dissents coming, along with anything else you might want to add to the conversation: firstname.lastname@example.org. (But please try to be concise: the new format of The Weekly Dish is much more constrained than The Daily Dish, so it’s harder to include your smart commentary when it stretches into many paragraphs.) Corrections are very appreciated too. Here’s one from a reader:
I don’t think your Marcus Aurelius quote on “the ranks of the insane” is actually from Marcus Aurelius. The internet certainly seems to think so, but I’m in the middle of a personal study of Aurelius’ Meditations (2nd read through, got my pen out now to highlight the good stuff) and the quote you mentioned doesn’t ring a bell at all. Wikiquote doesn’t think it’s legit either.
Neither does Reddit. The misattribution seems to have originated with Tolstoy. One more reader:
Please be more careful with superlatives about the United States (“the most tolerant country on the planet”). The US did not even make the top 20 in this ranking of “most tolerant” countries. Canada was ranked second after Luxembourg and ahead of New Zealand, Iceland, Ireland, Uruguay, Netherlands, etc.
See you next Friday.