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El Paso – the United States’ descent into xenophobic barbarism (part 9)

By Europaeus *

Continued from Part 8

While President Trump and his supporters epitomise American racism and narcissism, millions of Americans exhibit such tendencies across the political spectrum. (D. E. Collins, ‘Racism and narcissism: America’s original sin’, Al Jazeera, 10 August 2019).

“What if the El Paso shooter had been a Muslim?” asked Dr. Ramzy Baroud in The Guardian of 6 August 2019.

In that case, President Trump “would be lobbing accusations such as ‘Islam hates us’ in the direction of Muslims and not lecturing the public about video games.”

Bayoumi was referring to the double standards which define much of ‘western’ official and media discourses regarding violence. When the alleged perpetrator of violence is a Muslim, then the case becomes a matter of national security and is categorically dealt with as an act of terrorism. When the perpetrator is a white male, however, it is a whole different story.

Neither American authorities nor media used the term ‘terrorism’ in describing Crusius’ criminal act at El Paso. Instead, the Departmenr of Justice was “seriously considering” bringing federal hate crime charges against the killer, C.N.N. reported.

On the other hand, President Trump reasoned that “mental illness and hatred pull the trigger, not the gun,” in another attempt at whitewashing violent crimes by white individuals.

The “mental illness” explanation, in particular, has served as the convenient rationale for all similar violence.

For example, when 28-year-old Ilan Long opened fire on college students in Thousand Oaks, California, in November 2018, killing 12 people, President Trump offered this logic: “He was a very, very mentally ill person,” he said, referring to Long. “He’s a very sick – well, it’s a mental health problem. He is a very sick puppy. He was a very, very sick guy.”

The mental illness argument was infused repeatedly, including in March 2019, when Brenton Tarrant opened fire on Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 people.

“I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems,” President Trump said of Tarrant’s anti-Muslim terrorist attack.

Compare this to President Trump’s response to the killing of 14 people in San Bernardino, California, which was blamed on two Muslims. He President immediately assigned the word “terrorism” to the violent act, while calling for a “total and complete shutdown” of the entry of Muslims to the United States, “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

Yet everyone knows “what is going on”, a truth which goes beyond ‘western’ double standards. Crusius, Tarrant and many such white terrorists are connected through a deep bond which exceeds the supposed claim of mental illness into something truly sinister.

These individuals are all part of a larger phenomenon, an amalgamation of various ultra-nationalist governments, political movements and groups all around the world, all united by their hate for immigrants, refugees and Muslims.

Crusius and Tarrant were not ‘lone wolf’ terrorists. as some would want us to believe. They are members of a large, ideological, militant network which is dedicated to spreading hate and racism, one which sees immigrants – especially Muslims, as “invaders”.

In his manifesto, a 74-page document, Tarrant mentions the far-right, the racist ideologues who inspired him, along with fellow ‘ethno-soldiers’ – like-minded murderers who committed equally horrific acts against civilians.

It was not by accident that Tarrant named his document The Great Replacement, as it was framed after a similarly named conspiracy theory made popular by Renaud Camus – oddly a strong Israel supporter.

Camus is a French writer whose Le Grand RemplacementThe Great Replacement, an even more extreme interpretation of Samuel P. Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations and the remaking of world order, envisages a global conflict in which Muslims are the new enemy.

The Great Replacement, along with other such literature widely popular among the far-right, represents the ideological foundation for the, until recently, disorganised and disconnected efforts by various ultra-nationalist movements around the world, all united in their desire to deal with the “Muslim invasion.”

The common thread between violent white males who commit mass killings is obvious: a deep indoctrination of racism, anti-immigrant sentiment and hate for Muslims. Like Tarrant, Crusius also left his own manifesto. Moreover, both seemed to subscribe to the same intellectual discourse, as they had posted links to a 16,000-word document on Twitter and 8chan which was “filled with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments.”

White militants are gripped by the groundless fear that they are being ‘replaced.’ ‘The Great Replacement’ promoters argue that Islam and the Islamic civilisation are ‘ethnically replacing’ other races, and that such a supposed phenomenon must be stopped, using violent means if necessary. Unsurprisingly, they see Israel as a model country which is succeeding in fighting against the ‘Muslim menace.’

What makes violent ‘white supremacists’ even more dangerous is the fact that they now have friends in high places. President Trump’s refusal to address the issue of white nationalist militancy in a serious way is no accident.

Understanding of white nationalist violence should move beyond the double-standard argument into a more wholesome analysis of the ideological links which tie these individuals and groups together. In the final analysis, no form of violence targeting innocent people should be justified or tolerated, regardless of the skin colour, religion or identity of the perpetrators. (R. Baroud, Manifestos of hate: what white terrorists have in common,’ Common Dreams, 14 August 2019).

Can one imagine what President Trump and the media would have said if the shooter had been a Muslim instead of a white male?

If the El Paso shooter had been a Muslim and born in the United States, 1) s/he would still be referred to as an immigrant; 2) the entire Muslim American community would be blamed for the actions of this one person; 3) President Trump would be lobbing accusations such as “Islam hates us” in the direction of Muslims and not lecturing the public about video games; 4) one would have a Muslim ban on immigration to the United States; 5) the national security infrastructure would penetrate the Muslim American community. Mosques would be monitored. Informants would be contracted. Spies would be deployed. Rush judgements would soon be reached; 6) the gun lobby and its partisans would offer arguments like “blaming guns for terrorist shootings is like blaming airplanes for 9/11. They would argue that more access to guns is needed to protect America from dangerous Muslims; 7) the cable news shows would constantly be asking where one can find ‘moderate Muslims’ and how one can keep terrorists – that is to say, foreign terrorists – away from America’s peaceful shores; 8) Muslims would immediately denounce the shooter and the shooting, only to be repeatedly asked why they would not denounce the shooter and the shooting; 9) finding a job if one is a Muslim would become that much harder; 10) finding a place to live if one is a Muslim would become that much harder; 11) establishing a place of worship would become that much harder; 12) more mosques around the country would be vandalized or firebombed, and women in hijab would worry even more about being assaulted in public; 13) though s/he might have been born in the United States, s/he would still be referred to as an immigrant; 14) s/he would bear the brunt of blowback on every level, and the state of America’s our civil liberties would suffer; 15) a lot of things would change, though not really for the better. At first, things would get worse for Muslim Americans. But then they would get worse for everyone.

But Crusius is not a Muslim, so nothing will change. And that outcome, too, is worse for everyone. (M. Bayoumi, ‘If the El Paso shooter had been Muslim,’ The Guardian, 6 August 2019).

On tweets on 13 August 2019, President Trump was almost surely referring to The hunt, a horror film in which wealthy foreigners hunt ‘deplorables’ for sport. The movie was scheduled for release in late September, but Universal Pictures, which had already paused its marketing campaign after the twin mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, cancelled it amid the political backlash from conservatives. President Trump’s tweets followed similar remarks to the press earlier in the day. “Hollywood is really terrible.” he said. “You talk about racist – Hollywood is racist. What they’re doing, with the kind of movies they’re putting out – it’s actually very dangerous for our country.”

To the extent it pertains to The hunt, Trump’s accusation of racism was befuddling. The film’s plot is an exaggerated satire of the far-right populist worldview, albeit shorn of the racist overtones which often accompany it: that they are systematically oppressed by a vast left-wing cultural hegemony. The cast, at least judging by the trailers, is largely white. More to the point, the ‘deplorables’ seem to be the victims, not the villains, in the film. How can a movie in which villainous white élites hunt President Trump’s white supporters be racist?

President Trump’s racial views are made explicit by his rhetoric and actions toward people of colour; no interpretation is necessary there. But his definition of racism, and how he wields the term in public debate, is worthy of sustained analysis. As with any interrogation of President Trump’s random musings, there is no coherent and comprehensive worldview to be unearthed here. But there are two consistent themes to President Trump’s use of ‘racist’ over the past decade, and they show how ‘white supremacy’ shapes his approach to American politics today.

First, when the term is used against white people, Trump typically rises to their defence. This reflex is shaped by President Trump’s personal regard for the target. When Ms. Hillary Clinton criticised some of his supporters for their bigotry in 2016, he and his base reappropriated her use of ‘deplorables’ as a badge of honour. That sense of racial solidarity is not without exception, especially when he sees a political opportunity or wants to deflect from his own racist history: During that same campaign, he highlighted the Clinton campaign’s use of race as a ‘wedge’ issue against President Obama in the 2008 primaries.

His sense of white solidarity can lead him to strange places. In July 2019, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez criticised Speaker Nancy Pelosi for what she described as the “explicit singling out of newly elected women of color.” She unequivocally noted that Pelosi was “absolutely not” a racist, but that did not stop President Trump from reading between the lines and riding to his political enemy’s defence. “I’ll tell you something about Nancy Pelosi that you know better than I do, she is not a racist,” he told reporters outside the White House. “OK? She is not a racist. For them to call her a racist is a disgrace.”

In President Trump’s eyes, ‘racist’ is practically a racial slur for white people. “Can you talk about any problems in urban America without being labeled?” a radio host asked him earlier in August 2019 after the furor had begun to subside. “No. I think not just me.” the President replied. “Well, they called Nancy Pelosi a racist two weeks ago too. So you know it’s one of those things. But anytime they run out of ammunition, they start throwing the R-word out there. It’s a terrible thing. I mean, it’s a terrible thing. I’m the least racist person there is. But it’s a terrible thing.”

Furthermore, President Trump typically reserves the term ‘racist’ for people of colour. As chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Maryland Representative the late Elijah Cummings launched a number of investigations into President Trump’s Administration. This, apparently, is what led Trump to describe Cummings’s majority-black Baltimore district as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” When his remarks, grounded in ‘white nationalist’ sentiments, were widely criticised, he responded by accusing Cummings and other top Democrats of being racists for their own comments on urban poverty.

Two tweets always come to mind whenever there is a debate about President Trump and race. The first, published in February 2013 is fairly straightforward: “Django unchained is the most racist movie I have ever seen, it sucked!” He sent the second one in October 2014: “How is A.B.C. Television allowed to have a show entitled Blackish? Can you imagine the furor of a show, Whiteish ! Racism at highest level ? ”

Good-faith interpretations of those two tweets are hard to come by. It is doubtful that President Trump meant to weigh in on the long-running debate over Quentin Tarantino’s treatment of black culture and characters over the past 20 years. Nor is it plausible that he somehow mistakenly thought that A.B.C. meant to insult Blackish’s cast by describing them as anything less than fully African American. The likeliest explanations are the worst ones. President Trump identified with Leonardo DiCaprio and the other slave-owning white villains, not the black freedman hero who burns down a slave plantation in the antebellum South; and he resents references to blackness in pop culture that white Americans could not replicate in a socially acceptable manner.

President Trump also recognises how powerful the word ‘racist’ can be. The Washington Post reported over the weekend of 10-11 August 2019 that President Trump expressed outrage to aides about being called ‘racist’ in recent months. The paper reported that his sensitivity stems from his private-sector background, when he took care to avoid the word when it could imperil his businesses. That would explain his general aversion to the word against other white people, but not how he wields it against others. Indeed, a casual scroll through the President’s Twitter feed shows that he most often directs the word ‘racist’ at people of colour, usually black men – such as former President Obama. In President Trump’s eyes, he gets to police the bounds of American racial identity – and no one else.

President Trump’s views did not form in a vacuum; those who complain about people ‘playing the race card’ or dismiss concerns about structural racism as ‘identity politics’ drink from the same cup. But this worldview is particularly disturbing given President Trump’s power over American politics and discourse. It threatens to legitimise an unmistakable appeal to white ethnic identity. It requires the believer to think that racism is not a major factor in American life, and that acknowledgements of it are almost always spurious. And it leads to the sinister conclusion that white people should continue to enjoy a privileged status in America, and that anyone who challenges that hierarchy is, somehow, a racist. (M. Ford, ‘Donald Trump’s guide to racism,’ The New Republic, 13 August 2019).

Speaking about films, one wonders how Donald J. Trump will feel on viewing Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary Where’s My Roy Cohn? It is about the man who was Donald Trump’s mentor and a very nasty piece of work.

The documentary director told Ms. Maureen Dowd of The New York Times that Cohn did the impossible. “He created a president from beyond the grave. I don’t think there’s any disputing that. The basic lessons that Trump learned from Cohn were: “Never apologise. If someone hits you, hit them back a thousand times harder. Any publicity is good publicity. And find an ‘other’.”

Trump “swallowed Roy Cohn whole”, said Tyrnauer. President Trump’s former public relations man Anthony Scaramucci, described it this way: it is “as if Roy Cohn and Joe McCarthy got together and had a baby and it ended up being Donald Trump.”

For Roy Marcus Cohn, the ‘other’ was anybody who could or would stand on the way – mainly ‘the intellectuals’, the communists – however defined, the Jews, or ‘the social deviants’ – as the gays and lesbians were referred to in ‘polite conversation’. Much depended on need, location, the weather – anything else. Of course, for Trump, they are now Mexicans, Latinos, Muslims … and the rest, as the occasion dictates.

Trump’s mentor was more of a barefaced hypocrite than one is likely to find around. Roy Cohn, who had pursued a stellar career as law student, graduating at age 20 from Columbia Law School, was an anti-Semitic Jew, a homophobic gay and a superb liar: he denied until the end having A.I.D.S. to which he fell victim in 1986.

He was a master of the ‘big lie’. As Ken Auletta, a journalist and media critic, says in the film: “What a demagogue does is throw out an untruth or a lie and then stands back and watches as that fills the void.”

He had made is public reputation as chief counsel of Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954, and later became Donald J. Trump personal lawyer. Other clients were Aristotle Onassis; the well-known mafiosi Tony Salerno, Carmine Galante, and John Gotti; and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. He is ‘credited’ – if that is the the word – with introducing Trump and Murdoch, in the mid-1970s, marking the beginning of what was to be a long, pivotal association between the two.

One of the best lines came from Roger Jason Stone Jr., lobbist and political consultant to a string of Republican personalities, including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp, Bob Dole and Donald Trump. Stone commented on the ‘nose job’ that Cohn’s mother, Dora Marcus, arranged for her boy. It was botched, leaving a scar. Then he had a face lift that left more scars. Stone said Cohn got a “cut-rate face lift.”

The saddest thing which may be said about Cohn is that, when it was certain that he had A.I.D.S., Trump discarded him. Cohn commented: “Donald pisses ice water.” (Gadfly [Richard Ackland], ‘Children of the Cohn’, The Saturday paper, 7-13 September 2019; for a longer view of Cohn’s personality, see: Scheer intelligence, ‘The American Villain Who Gave Us Donald Trump,’ Truthdig, 11 October 2019).

Trump is the most detailed manifestation of a new form of authoritarianism identified by the political theorist Sheldon Wolin, emeritus professor of politics, at Princeton University (1973-1987). According to Wolin, all the elements are in place today for a contemporary form of authoritarianism that he called ‘inverted totalitarianism.’

He expressed it this way: “Thus the elements are in place: a weak legislative body, a legal system that is both compliant and repressive, a party system in which one part, whether in opposition or in the majority, is bent upon reconstituting the existing system so as to permanently favor a ruling class of the wealthy, the well-connected and the corporate, while leaving the poorer citizens with a sense of helplessness and political despair, and, at the same time, keeping the middle classes dangling between fear of unemployment and expectations of fantastic rewards once the new economy recovers. That scheme is abetted by a sycophantic and increasingly concentrated media; by the integration of universities with their corporate benefactors; by a propaganda machine institutionalized in well-funded think tanks and conservative foundations; by the increasingly closer cooperation between local police and national law enforcement agencies aimed at identifying terrorists, suspicious aliens, and domestic dissidents.” (S. Wolin, ‘Inverted totalitarianism,’ The Nation, 1 May 2003).

Continued tomorrow … (Part 10)

 

* Europaeus landed in Australia over fifty years ago. Except for the blue skies and starry nights between 02.12.1972 and 10.11.1975 the place has been constantly overwhelmed by what Hannah Arendt called the ‘sand storm’ – a metaphor for totalitarianism.

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