This column criticizes the Rally for Sanity. I don’t intend it to attack my many beloved friends who had a great afternoon in D.C. blowing off steam and embracing humor and catharsis at the rally or the goodhearted celebrities and musicians who participated. Saturday afternoon’s onstage lineup was entertaining, and the signs that creative rally-goers made were even more clever and fun. Kudos to the sloganeers, the creatively-costumed, the subversive or just merry bands of friends who went down to D.C with purpose or purposelessness. And particular kudos to the folks who brought pro-tax messages to the rally–I loved it and have never seen anything like it before.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with meeting the insanity of the Tea Party with irony, a tradition that began organically last spring when progressive infiltrators began showing up at Tea Party rallies with jest-filled signs.
And yet a major problem remains. The Rally for Sanity’s organizers and the mainstream coverage of politics that they were explicitly critiquing actually have a lot in common. They are both exemplars of the same overarching flaw in our so-called progressive and intellectual class. It’s a problem of timidity in the name of politeness and a confusion of equivocation with objectivity. It’s the mistake of being scared to engage with and sift through ideas because one side’s ideas might prove to be right, and so instead reducing political debates to those about “tone” and “message.”
Everyone on both sides needs to calm down, this flawed outlook implies. Really? Who on our side is threatening to bomb clinics? Who on our side is calling each other baby-killers? Who on our side is pressing for xenophobic immigration laws that would separate families and strand young children?
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But no, we all need to calm down. So the extreme right-wing will keep spouting violent rhetoric and accusing us of being godless un-Americans while well-intentioned people like Stewart and our President himself will ask “why we can’t just get along?” claiming that those of us (often those of us with wombs) who genuinely find the political moment threatening are overreacting. And so they will address their rational plea to an in-the-tank audience that already wants harmony, an audience that can be as uncomfortable with heated rhetoric from its own side as it is from the opposition. Obama and Stewart could say “let’s be friends” and “you’re a total d-bag” to Glenn Beck supporters, and the ensuing response would probably have the exact same level of disdain and outrage because they’re not really listening.
So yes, the rally’s wry nonpolitical “we’re above all that” tone made me deeply sad, even as I chuckled at signs pointing out their own limitations: “My political beliefs cannot fit on a sign.” I was sad because instead of mocking the Tea Party for hating gays and women, for believing lies that our president is a terrorist and a Muslim, and for (in angry confusion) supporting with votes the same billionaires and corporations who have robbed them of jobs and financial security, the rally mostly mocked the Tea Parties for, well, rallying. And that’s distressing because the one quality of this hate-spewing movement that we progressives should be emulating is their ability to show up en masse and get angry and focused on their political goals.
The masses gathering at rallies is, in fact, a crucial part of the process of change. Look at the effect that hundreds of thousands of Obama rallies had on his core constituents during the last elections–we were fired up and ready to go, right? Sure, rallies can feel futile at times. But the Tea Partiers remember what we knew two years ago. A rally itself won’t get a victory in policy. But it will get media attention and send attendees back home fueled up and eager to get organized online and in local political groups–and by donating money. And that is how agendas get passed. Our opponents’ anger is going to send them to the polls on Tuesday, while Stewart and his ilk’s “moderate” frustration with that anger is going to send people home from this weekend rally psyched and energized… to go where, exactly?
Not to the polls, not to canvass, not to phone-bank, apparently. Because Jon Stewart refused to even politicize the afternoon’s discourse to the level of “please vote on Tuesday” or “google ‘get out the vote efforts’ so you can be part of this political process.” Or the benign “think about what issues matter most to you personally, and then find someone who can help get those issues out in the open and support him or her.”
Stewart was probably utterly scared of being painted as a liberal counterpart to Glenn Beck this weekend. He begged the media (which unsurprisingly has completely failed at covering the rally in an un-bewildered way) not to paint him as scornful of the Tea Party or Beck’s followers. And he’s right. He wasn’t really targeting them in particular; he was just spoofing all people who care a lot. He has chosen to take on irrational people for their passion and their involvement, not for their irrational beliefs. And in doing so he’s fallen into a trap laid by the very same mainstream media he so despises, doing the same dance away from the term “liberal” as they do by following their creed: avoid analyzing the issues and just analyze their presentation.
Personally, I’d love to have seen us counteract the Beck event with a rally to protect women’s right to choose or to advocate for gay marriage or to plead for peace or to do all three and legalize marijuana too, despite the fact that such rallies don’t change minds in Washington. Because it would have reminded us that specific issues matter, whether they’re being whispered or shouted about. No matter how much I love things that are “meta” and ironic and laugh-inducing–I’m a pop culture blogger after all–a rally to make fun of rallies is just not my cup of Tea.
U.S. presidential candidates and their supporters will encounter sustained protests from supporters of the Fight for $15 movement and labor unions during this fall’s presidential and vice presidential debates.
Thousands of Americans who work for low wages on Saturday joined forces during the first-ever Fight for $15 convention in Richmond, Virginia, and signed the Richmond Resolution, a vow to intensify the fight for a living wage.
The Richmond Resolution vows that its signees will hold elected officials accountable on Election Day and every day thereafter.
“The work we do generates billions of dollars in profits and makes our country stronger. But we are paid so little that far too many of us are living on the edge and cannot afford our basic needs, trapping us in poverty,” the resolution reads.
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The name of the two-page document not only acknowledges the place where it originated, but the former capitol of the Confederacy. Organizers said they convened in Richmond to highlight racist policies that still hold back families of color in 2016.
Fight for $15, which contends that 64 million Americans work for less than a living wage, committed to engage in rallies at state capitols nationwide on September 12. Those rallies, which will be part of the Moral Revival Movement for a National Day of Action, will call on lawmakers to “advance moral policies like a living wage, voting rights and criminal justice reform,” Fight for $15 said.
“This year, underpaid Americans will show elected leaders in every state in America that they are a voting bloc that cannot be ignored and will not be denied,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of Service Employees International Union, a supporter of Fight for $15.
The Rev. William Barber II, an architect of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina and the founder of the social justice group Repairers of the Breach, said in a statement that advancement has always been the result of unity.
“Every step forward in our nation’s history—every stride toward a more perfect union—has been the result of people coming together, pushed by a moral movement towards higher ground,” Barber said. “It took us 400 years from slavery to the present to reach $7.25, but that was far too long, and we can’t wait. We have to stand together and fight together now for $15 and union rights.”
The Richmond Resolution vows to support legislative actions to raise the minimum wage in Alabama and other states that were once part of the Confederacy.
The National Employment Law Project (NELP) Action Fund, a project of The Advocacy Fund that researches issues affecting people who are unemployed or work for low wages, this month highlighted how the fight for a living wage has permeated U.S. political races.
NELP Action said U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty, for example, is “edging out” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) by focusing her campaign on boosting the minimum wage and other economic issues that would help people who work low-paying jobs.
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities fellow Jared Bernstein noted in the Washington Post that Seattle’s minimum wage increase has helped grow the city’s economy. That follows warnings from business lobbies across the country that increasing the minimum wage would devastate local economies.
Bernstein cited a study published by the Seattle Minimum Wage Study Team at the University of Washington showing that the city’s minimum wage ordinance has effectively raised the wages of low-income workers by “seven percentage points more than might otherwise have occurred.”
Republicans have tried to pass Trump's most recent comments off as a joke because to accept the reality of that rhetoric would mean going to the core of their entire party platform and their strategies. The GOP would have to come to terms with the toll its power plays are taking on the country writ large.
This week, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump stated that, if Hillary Clinton were elected and able to nominate justices to the Supreme Court, “Second Amendment people” might be able to do something about it. After blaming the media for “being dishonest” in reporting his statement, the Trump campaign has since tried to pass the comment off as a joke. However characterized, Trump’s statement is not only part of his own election strategy, but also a strategy that has become synonymous with those of candidates, legislators, and groups affiliated with the positions of the GOP.
To me, the phrase “Second Amendment people” translates to those reflexively opposed to any regulation of gun sales and ownership and who feel they need guns to arm themselves against the government. I’m not alone: The comment was widely perceived as an implicit threat of violence against the Democratic presidential nominee. Yet, GOP party leaders have failed to condemn his comment, with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) agreeing with the Trump campaign that it was “a joke gone bad.”
Republicans have tried to pass it off as a joke because to accept the reality of their rhetoric would mean going to the core of their entire party platform and their strategies. The GOP would have to come to terms with the toll its power plays are taking on the country writ large. The rhetoric is part of a longer and increasingly dangerous effort by the GOP, aided by corporate-funded right-wing organizations and talk show hosts, to de-legitimize the federal government, undermine confidence in our voting system, play on the fears held by a segment of the population about tyranny and the loss of liberty, and intimidate people Republican leaders see as political enemies.
Ironically, while GOP candidates and leaders decry the random violence of terrorist groups like Daesh—itself an outgrowth of desperate circumstances, failed states, and a perceived or real loss of power—they are perpetuating the idea of loss and desperation in the United States and inciting others to random violence against political opponents.
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Trump’s “Second Amendment” comment came after a week of efforts by the Trump campaign to de-legitimize the 2016 presidential election well before a single vote has been cast. On Monday, August 1, after polls showed Trump losing ground, he asserted in an Ohio campaign speech that “I’m afraid the election’s gonna be rigged, I have to be honest.”
Manufactured claims of widespread voter fraud—a problem that does not exist, as several analyses have shown—have nonetheless been repeatedly pushed by the GOP since the 2008 election. Using these disproven claims as support, GOP legislatures in 20 states have passed new voter restrictions since 2010, and still the GOP claims elections are suspect, stoking the fears of average voters seeking easy answers to complex problems and feeding the paranoia of separatist and white nationalist groups. Taking up arms against an illegitimate government is, after all, exactly what “Second Amendment remedies” are for.
Several days before Trump’s Ohio speech, Trump adviser Roger Stone suggested that the result of the election might be “illegitimate,” leading to “widespread civil disobedience” and a “bloodbath,” a term I personally find chilling.
Well before these comments were made, there was the hate-fest otherwise known as the Republican National Convention (RNC), during which both speakers and supporters variously called for Clinton to be imprisoned or shot, and during which New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a man not widely known for his high ethical standards or sense of accountability, led a mock trial of Hillary Clinton to chants from the crowd of “lock her up.” And that was the tame part.
The number of times Trump has called for or supported violence at his rallies is too long to catalogue here. His speeches are rife with threats to punch opponents; after the Democratic National Convention, he threatened to hit speakers who critiqued his policies “so hard their heads would spin.” He also famously promised to pay the legal fees of anyone who hurt protesters at his rallies and defended former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski after allegations surfaced that Lewandowski had assaulted a female Breitbart reporter.
A recent New York Times video compiled over a year of reporting at Trump rallies revealed the degree to which many of Trump’s supporters unapologetically express violence and hatred—for women, immigrants, and people of color. And Trump eschews any responsibility for what has transpired, repeatedly claiming he does not condone violence—his own rhetoric, that of his associates, and other evidence notwithstanding.
Still, to focus only on Trump is to ignore a broader and deeper acceptance, even encouragement of, incitement to violence by the GOP that began long before the 2016 campaign.
In 2008, in what may appear to be a now forgotten but eerily prescient peek at the 2016 RNC, then-GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and his running mate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, used race-baiting and hints at violence to gin up their crowds. First, Palin accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists,” a claim that became part of her stump speech. As a result, Frank Rich then wrote in the New York Times:
Nothing was in fact done. No price was paid by GOP candidates encouraging this kind of behavior.
In 2009, during congressional debates on the Affordable Care Act, opponents of the health-care law, who’d been fed a steady diet of misleading and sensationalist information, were encouraged by conservative groups like FreedomWorks and Right Principles, as well as talk show hosts such as Sean Hannity, to disrupt town hall meetings on the legislation held throughout the country. Protesters turned up at some town hall meetings armed with rifles with the apparent intention of intimidating those who, in supporting health reform, disagreed with them. In some cases, what began as nasty verbal attacks turned violent. As the New York Times then reported: “[M]embers of Congress have been shouted down, hanged in effigy and taunted by crowds. In several cities, noisy demonstrations have led to fistfights, arrests and hospitalizations.”
In 2010, as first reported by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle, in an unsuccessful bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), suggested that armed insurrection would be the answer if “this Congress keeps going the way it is.” In response to a request for clarification by the host of the radio show on which she made her comments, Angle said:
You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. And in fact Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years.
I hope that’s not where we’re going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.
Also in 2010, Palin, by then a failed vice-presidential candidate, created a map “targeting” congressional Democrats up for re-election, complete with crosshairs. Palin announced the map to her supporters with this exhortation: “Don’t retreat. Instead, reload!”
One of the congresspeople on that map was Arizona Democrat Gabby Giffords, who in the 2010 Congressional race was challenged by Jesse Kelly, a Palin-backed Tea Party candidate. Kelly’s campaign described an event this way:
Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.
Someone took this literally. In January 2011, Jared Lee Loughner went on a shooting rampage in a Tuscon grocery store at which Giffords was meeting with constituents. Loughner killed six people and injured 13 others, including Giffords who, as a result of permanent disability resulting from the shooting, resigned from Congress. Investigators later found that Loughner had for months become obsessed with government conspiracy theories such as those spread by GOP and Tea Party candidates.
These events didn’t stop GOP candidates from fear-mongering and suggesting “remedies.” To the contrary, the goading continued. As the Huffington Post‘s Sam Stein wrote in 2011:
Florida Senate candidate Mike McCalister, who is running against incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), offered a variation of the much-lampooned line during a speech before the Palms West Republican Club earlier this week.
“I get asked sometimes where do I stand on the Second and 10th Amendment, and I have a little saying,” he declared. “We need a sign at every harbor, every airport and every road entering our state: ‘You’re entering a 10th Amendment-owned and -operated state, and justice will be served with the Second Amendment.’” [Emphasis added.]
These kinds of threats by the GOP against other legislators and even the president have goneunpunished by the leadership of the party. Not a word has come from either House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decrying these statements, and the hyperbole and threats have only continued. Recently, for example, former Illinois GOP Congressman Joe Walsh tweeted and then deleted this threat to the president after the killing of five police officers in Dallas, Texas:
“3 Dallas cops killed, 7 wounded,” former congressman Joe Walsh, an Illinois Republican, wrote just before midnight in a tweet that is no longer on his profile. “This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.”
Even after the outcry over his recent remarks, Trump has escalated the rhetoric against both President Obama and against Clinton, calling them the “founders of ISIS.” And again no word from the GOP leadership.
This rhetoric is part of a pattern used by the right wing within and outside elections. Anti-choice groups, for example, consistently misrepresent reproductive health care writ large, and abortion specifically. They “target” providers with public lists of names, addresses, and other personal information. They lie, intimidate, and make efforts to both vilify and stigmatize doctors. When this leads to violence, as David Cohen wrote in Rolling Stone this week, the anti-choice groups—and their GOP supporters—shrug off any responsibility.
Some gun rights groups also use this tactic of intimidation and targeting to silence critique. In 2011, for example, 40 men armed with semi-automatic weapons and other guns surrounded a restaurant in Arlington, Texas, in which a mothers’ group had gathered to discuss gun regulations. “Second Amendment people” have spit upon women arguing for gun regulation and threatened them with rape. In one case, a member of these groups waited in the dark at the home of an advocate and then sought to intimidate her as she approached in her wheelchair.
The growing resort to violence and intimidation in our country is a product of an environment in which leading politicians not only look the other way as their constituents and affiliated groups use such tactics to press a political point, but in which the leaders themselves are complicit.
These are dangerous games being played by a major political party in its own quest for power. Whether or not Donald Trump is the most recent and most bombastic evidence of what has become of the GOP, it is the leadership and the elected officials of the party who are condoning and perpetuating an environment in which insinuations of violence will increasingly lead to acts of violence. The more that the right uses and suggests violence as a method of capturing, consolidating, and holding power, the more they become like the very terrorists they claim to be against.