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Houston Chronicle, July 5, 2018

Civility War

Who can stop Trump’s ugly tone from the top?

Jeffrey Denny

Facebook is struggling to fight the spread of vicious fake news. But my news feed recently offered this item (beware — it’s nasty):

(Natural News) Gay men were once accepted as “liberal” by the Democrats, but they’re now targeted by an increasingly lunatic, deranged Leftist party that openly attacks people for being white or male.

Now, a whole new movement — #WALKAWAY — has gone viral across social media as gay men (and women) denounce the hateful, bigoted tactics of deranged Leftists.

It was started by Brandon Straka, the gay man featured in the wildly popular video shown here. Straka talks about why he’s rejecting, “a system which allows an ambitious, uninformed and dogmatic mob to suppress free speech, create false narratives, and apathetically steamroll over the truth.”

Straka and the scores of former Democrats who are flocking to line up behind his ‘cause’ are sick of the rage, sick of the violence, sick of their party’s creeping authoritarianism, and most of all sick to death about what’s happening to our country, thanks to perpetual Left-wing hate and violence,” reports Natural News.

“Natural News” is Mike Adams.

Adams poses as a legit journalist, reporting the honest news the mainstream media won’t tell you. But he’s really a notorious spam-scam artist, laughably fringe conspiracy theorist, AIDS denialist, 9/11 and Obama birth “truther,” vaccine opponent, “everyone’s favorite über-quack #1 anti-science website” and seller of dubious dietary supplements. He’s literally a snake-oil salesman.

Adams has even seized on celebrity cancer deaths to tout his unproven “remedies,” not caring if people believe him and get sick and die sooner than they need to.

No surprise, Adams is a collaborator of the infamous InfoWars’ Alex Jones, the crown prince of nasty false conspiracies. They’re part of the shameless internet bottom-feeding industry that profits from suckering the naïve, paranoid and susceptible. Of course, Mike Adams is a “rising star in the alt-right movement” and aligned with President Trump.

As for Straka, he’s a Fox News and alt-right sensation. “As is common for political tags, Straka’s #WalkAway enjoyed a boost from fake accounts, identical astroturfed tweets and a legion of bots,” Daily Beast reported. “It’s not yet clear how big a role such accounts played in pushing the hashtag up Twitter’s trending chart.”

Straka told the Daily Beast, “If you’re a white person, you’re not supposed to talk. If you’re a man, you’re not supposed to talk.” Hard to believe he’s never seen Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Brett Baier, Neil Cavuto, Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade, etc., etc., etc., on Fox News.

It’s no surprise the Adams family of online shysters has turned its attention to suckering Trumpsters, pitching whatever feeds #MAGA beliefs for hits and revenues.

In a deliciously evil twist, this ilk is selling Trump folks a story line that “the liberals” are running a “plantation” enslaving minorities, LGBTQ and others who tend to vote Democratic.

Patently false? As Seinfeld’s George Costanza famously said, “It’s not a lie — if you believe it.”

The Adams/Natural News/Straka piece was posted on Facebook as an authentic news source.

When challenged, the poster replied that Natural News was just as trustworthy as anything “the liberals” rely on, such as The New York Times.

I resisted responding. Maybe it was an elaborate joke. If not, pushing back even politely can quickly descend into a logical hall of mirrors and become a pointless roundelay of intensifying frustration.

Here’s how the Trump supporter v. non-Trump supporter “debate” works:

  1. Trump supporters post items deliberately intended to provoke non-Trump supporters.
  2. Trump supporters succeed — non-Trump supporters are provoked, even outraged, and react angrily.
  3. Trump supporters sneer at the non-Trump supporters for being stupid pathetic sensitive snowflake sheeple haters on the liberal plantation, or — the latest — lacking civility.
  4. Argument heats up. Non-Trump supporters, frustrated by the welter of alt-right alt-facts and unsupported Hannity/Fox & Friends declamations, bring out the big guns, launching a fusillade of objective and verified facts; e.g., the sky is blue, the Earth round.
  5. Trump supporters respond, “you have your facts and I have mine.” Or they throw the victim card, “liberal haters are attacking me.” Or accuse non-Trump supporters of being part of the “ambitious, uninformed and dogmatic mob to suppress free speech, create false narratives, and apathetically steamroll over the truth,” to quote Mr. Straka in Natural News.
  6. Non-Trump supporters sputter or damage their ocular muscles rolling their eyes, and go silent out of boredom, stress-avoidance or pity.
  7. Trump supporters take the sputtering and silence as victory, “winning” the debate, even if Pyrrhic or hollow.

Who started this ugly division in public discourse?

Trump die-hards declare it was the liberals, the mainstream media, the elites, Black Lives Matter, Antifa, college professors and students, Obama, Hillary, the Deep State, anyone who ignored or denigrated white people in the flyover states, the Rustbelt, the real America.

But could #MAGA say, with a straight face, that Trump hasn’t deliberately, even delightedly, fueled the division and ugliness?

Instead of binding up our wounds, elevating our tone, and leading us to higher ground as presidents do?

And if Trump’s admirers admit, even a little bit, that he’s fanning the flames, is that really any way for the President of the United States to act and if so, why?

Americans, as many have noted, look to our president to set the “tone from the top” for the country and our culture. Like CEOs and all leaders are supposed to do.

In my adult lifetime, Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama all sought to set a high tone of political discourse that was respectful even of opponents and critics. Yes, even Clinton maintained a civil public tone while under seige for private misdeeds.

But President Trump delights in going low and lower (and lower) because it thrills his base and incites crowds, and possibly feeds his inner demons.

Trump has now insulted some 472 people, places and things on Twitter since his candidacy announcement, per the ongoing tally by The New York Times. The tally does not include the spewing at his his rallies, speeches and other public appearances.

Gently tossing a DNA test to Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren to avoid hurting her arm in the #MeToo generation? What president says this stuff?

But when the target of Trump’s provocations and outright insults are provoked and offended, and push back or try to set the record straight, he and his fans lash back even harder.

Bullies do this when they have deep-seated emotional issues.

It’s interesting: You criticize Trump, and his supporters attack you personally and viciously with shocking venom, like it’s personal and you’re attacking kin.

But criticizing Trump, holding him accountable, is not personal. It’s our job as American citizens to challenge politicians, especially the president.

That’s my point here — challenging this president is even more important given his almost daily disrespect, indecency and disregard for American values.

I wish Trump supporters would challenge Trump’s nonsense and demand he act presidential. Instead of cheering, accepting or emulating his worst.

Trump listens to his base. Everything he does he does for his base. Trump derides and divides because his base either likes it, or accepts it, or defends it as a reasonable response to “liberal” criticism.

And the more Trump is criticized for his behavior, the more his supporters rally around, support and defend him — egging him on.

Asking Trump to tone down his nastiness could actually advance the agenda #MAGA thinks it wants.

But you know what they say: If wishes were horses beggars would ride, and if horse flop were donuts they’d eat ’til they died.

Wishing Trumpsters would change his behavior is a big fat horse-flop donut.

So it’s up to Republican leaders, the party and voters to step up and stop accepting or defending Trump’s worst.

It’s not enough to tut-tut and look away. Or say Trump’s antics are worth it.

Selling the Republican soul for Trump’s behavior is not worth the short-term economic sugar high of the tax cut. Cutting regulations is nice but every president has promised that, and most efforts backfire and wind up hurting people. And even Republicans worry that Trump’s trade war to excite his base could kill any tax-cut gains and perhaps lead to recession and job loss.

The GOP sneered at Obama’s “hope.” But it sure places a lot of hope in Trump. Hope is the thing with feathers, as the recluse poet from Amherst wrote. Here today, not so much tomorrow.

When sensible Republicans put their hope in Trump, or say or do nothing about his antics, they’re complicit in the harm he’s doing to our country, our unity and our values.

Consider how Americans feel about our divisive political discourse:

Per the nonpartisan Pew Research Center survey results published in May, and I quote:

· A majority of Americans (61%) say it is very important that the tone of debate among political leaders is respectful.

· Just 25% say the following statement — “The tone of debate among political leaders is respectful” — describes the country very (6%) or somewhat well (19%).

· Majorities of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (59%) and Democrats and Democratic leaners (75%) say political insults are never fair game.

But most surprising, Republicans (40%) are more likely than Democrats (24%) to say personally insulting political opponents is sometimes fair game.

And among Republicans, those who describe themselves as conservative (44%) are more likely than moderates and liberals (33%) to say political insults are sometimes fair game.

In short, most Americans — Republican and Democratic— are worried about the nasty tone of today’s politics.

But Democrats worry more. Democrats are now the party of civility.

Yes, this may reflect the Republican defense of Trump, since his approval rating among GOP voters is nearly 90% versus around 40% for the country on the whole. The Republican defense of Trump might be realpolitik.

But Trump must be getting harder every day for reasonable Republicans to defend or stand by silently.

No wonder many prominent Republican and conservative thought leaders are outraged about Trump.

Big names are leaving the GOP in protest. Thoughtful conservative and constant liberal critic George Will’s renouncement of the party was the most recent major straw. If Will be done, then his party soon shall be.

The establishment GOP’s death might please the #MAGA crowd.

“Drain the Swamp!” they say, which includes “Kill the RINOs!” Conservative Daily shouted “Stop these spineless traitors now!” when GOP Senators supported a reasonable bipartisan immigration bill that failed to demonize and victimize immigrants.

To #MAGA, anyone not on the Trump boat is off the boat, like (spoiler alert) Rose letting Jack slip into the waters at the end of Titanic.

Yes, I’m torturing a metaphor, but the point is, Trumpsters don’t care if responsible Republicans and conservative flag-bearers are disgusted with Trump and leaving the party over his behavior. He’s president and they’re not. Sad.

Full disclosure: For any #MAGAs who call me a “deranged Leftist” because I think Trump is making America worse, here are some facts if facts are of any interest:

I’m a middle-road Democrat, more pragmatic than ideological, not a fan of Bernie, Elizabeth Warren, single-payer, universal basic income or other things-are-better-in-Scandinavia European socialist economic policies touted by many so-called progressives.

While I’m a bit of Seinfeld’s Billy Mumphrey, the cockeyed optimist with unbridled enthusiasm that led to his downfall, I’m irritated by lefty Utopian nonsense because it undermines workable solutions.

I also believe in free-market capitalism. When bridled and encouraged to serve the public it depends on, business can do good while doing good business. Most Fortune 500 companies know and embrace this deal. This is why they’re in the Fortune 500.

Moreover, I was a press secretary for a moderate Republican congresswoman in the late 1980s when bipartisanship was not a dirty word. It got things done.

My chief client today, a colleague for 17 years and good friend, served in the Reagan White House, led the campaigns and offices of several Republican congressmen, and served with Newt Gingrich when he led the GOP takeover of the House in 1994 with the Contract for America.

And yet, my concern about Trump tars me an enemy of America.

Take Trump’s brutally ham-handed “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that angered Laura Bush, the Pope, and most decent humans — liberal or conservative — to speak out against.

Apparently now we’re all defenders of “rapists, murderers, child-traffickers, pedophiles, criminals, & spirit-cooking Satanists. Meanwhile referring to Christians, Conservatives, & our President as ‘evil Nazis’.” This is per Dylan Williams of educatingliberals.com @Education4Libs.

Thanks for the education, Mr. Williams and his followers, but especially for the mention of Christians to make your point.

All my life, Republicans branded themselves as the party of decency, good manners, morality and Judeo-Christian values.

To my Republican parents — Nixon fans — the party stood as the bulwark against the destruction of American society by the hippies, fighting the slippery morals and bad manners of degenerates who were promoting permissive behavior, free love, and eroding traditional family structures and Sunday school lessons.

Suffice that “the liberals” weren’t the ones who banned George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words You Can Never Say On Television.” Conservative censors protected our children, families and society from “f***.”

(Of course until the advent of HBO, now a crown jewel of the giant WarnerMedia conglomerate created by AT&T’s recent acquisition of Time Warner and headed by John Stankey, a big Republican donor. Republicans are ok with f*** now. There’s money in f***. F*** yeah.)

In the 1992 presidential campaign, Republican made “family values” a political wedge issue and accused Democrats of tearing apart the fabric of American society. Now 25 years later, Republicans seem OK or look the other way when Trump rips apart our nation’s fabric with glee.

Welcome, Republicans, to the moral relativism you long assigned to Democrats.

Be it far from me to preach Christian values or test my daily thoughts, decisions and actions against the question, “What Would Jesus Do?”

I was baptized Catholic before I had a chance to consider it, but was never confirmed, maybe because my mother got divorced when I was young.

On a few recent occasions I attended Catholic mass, I was reminded that it can be beautiful, transcendent thing. But I had no f***ing idea what was going on. Stand, sit, kneel, sit, stand — it’s harder than my physical training workouts I also rarely attend. I don’t know how to cross myself. If I even remember “spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch,” I get the order of things wrong and look like I’m doing the Village People YMCA dance. Which I also can’t do and learned one should not do during mass.

I toss a Jackson in the basket and thank the Lord it’s almost over.

In spite of my agnosticism or sacrilege, my sense of Judeo-Christian values comes down to: Be nice to others.

That involves common respect, decency, courtesy, consideration, empathy, loving all people especially strangers, and renunciation of vengeance (turning the cheek). It also means unconditional love, including loving your enemies, political or otherwise, real or imagined.

I try to be nice. But my devil inside wonders whether the #MAGA crowd, most of them white Christians, have switched their faith and follower-ship from Jesus to Trump. Proud patriots, they pledge allegiance to the flag, but then goad Trump to rend asunder “one nation, under God, indivisible.” They love and wrap in the flag, but desecrate its meaning of unity. They seem to think burning the village to save it works. They vilify minorities and immigrants, especially minority immigrants, and have unusual antipathy for the non-white poor.

Forgive me, but that seems more about hate than hope. Not so much what Jesus would do.

I’m asking reasonable Republicans to look up, stand up, step up and speak out against Trump’s degradations.

We know how Democrats and liberals feel about Trump. And maybe a blue wave will take the House in November and provide at least a modicum of checks and balances on presidential power our Founders established to ensure a healthy democracy that represents everyone.

But America needs reasonable Republicans to rise up and fight for our nation’s soul. Start by sharing concerns about Trump by posting articles, memes, comments and links on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites that now drive public knowledge, opinion and discourse.

The viral alt-right has hijacked the mainstream GOP voice. Time to fight back and take it back.

Reasonable Americans are depending on reasonable Republicans to save the nation. Deep down, my sensible GOP friends, you have got to be angry about what Trump is doing to your party and country. Act now.

America was built on hope. You’re our only hope now.

But whatever you do or don’t do, peace be with you, and also with your spirit.

Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer

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