“Damn the torpedoes! Four bells. Captain Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, full speed!” Thus did Union Admiral David Farragut order an attack on the Confederate fleet at Mobile Bay in 1864. As with Farragut, defeating Donald Trump’s tide of racist populism calls not for caution but for boldness and conviction like that of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.
Gillum, who last week won the Democratic nomination for governor of Florida, is dismissed as a socialist and a communist by partisans of a president whose lips are firmly planted on the butt of veteran KGB agent Vladimir Putin.
Gillum’s issues page states, “Andrew is running for Governor so that Florida can finally confront the challenges we’ve shrunk from over the past 20 years: rebuilding our economy, revitalizing public education, protecting and expanding healthcare access, and addressing our climate change crisis with a clean energy economy.” Somehow Republican nominee Ron DeSantis interprets this as Gillum wanting “to turn Florida into Venezuela,” though it’s DeSantis backer Trump who appears bent on turning America into a banana republic.
DeSantis indignantly denied any racist intent in his “monkey this up” reference to Gillum. That‘s how it works: blow the dogwhistle and play innocent. Two days later, DeSantis had to denounce robocalls by an Idaho-based Neo-Nazi group portraying Gillum with a minstrel voice and jungle noises.
Trump’s diehards don’t want honest debate. They prefer to smear and caricature. Gillum sticks to his positive message. He exemplifies the appeal of fresh voices who focus on solutions rather than kowtowing to fearmongers.
Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for Georgia governor, is a progressive whose bipartisan efforts in the General Assembly belie Republican labels of her as radical. She can win not just because her proposals like Medicaid expansion and small business investment address popular needs, but because the diversity some decry as a leftist slogan describes a changing electorate.
Another impressive Democrat is Beto O’Rourke, challenging Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. His answer to a question about NFL player protests has gone viral. Here is a portion: “The freedoms that we have were purchased not just by those in uniform, and they definitely were. But also by … peaceful, nonviolent protests, including taking a knee at a football game to point out that Black men, unarmed; Black teenagers, unarmed; and Black children, unarmed, are being killed at a frightening level right now, including by members of law enforcement, without accountability and without justice…. I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up or take a knee for your rights anytime, anywhere, anyplace.”
Cruz twisted this into an attack on wounded veterans.
If Trump’s desired autocracy takes hold—and we are on the knife’s edge—the main cause will not be white nationalist stockpiles but a fatal decline in our habits of thought and discourse. In our click wars we are like someone walking down the street who is too fixated on his smartphone to notice the open sewer grate he is approaching.
Trump has lately threatened Big Tech companies, not because their platforms help disseminate misinformation but because he is a thin-skinned bully. He doesn’t want Google’s search algorithm to be fair and unbiased, but only to be flattering towards him.
Reality is like that sewer grate. If we are distracted by bots and trolls, we are in for a fall.
Mockery and epithets have replaced arguments. Solving our shared problems requires connecting across various divides. It requires mutually recognized facts, norms, and authorities. These foundations of our republic are under assault by Trump and his enablers in the GOP.
In his latest display of family values, Trump has ramped up passport denials to Americans born in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley; one report blamed President Obama despite his having settled in 2009 an ACLU case begun under George W. Bush. A gunman echoing Trump’s “enemy of the people” mantra threatened to kill Boston Globe employees, yet Trump calls Democrats violent.
This madness can only be countered by a voter turnout large enough to overcome vote suppression. Our country is governed by an unrepresentative minority determined to lock in its power. If we don’t rise to this fight like many insurgent Democratic candidates, that may happen.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2018 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.