This is in response to a posting here earlier today regarding Senator Tim Kaine’s speech at the National Press Club yesterday.
Senator Kaine’s talk shows his fine, humane spirit. I’m glad to have such a man as my senator, and would be glad to have him get the Veep slot on the presidential ticket.
But this talk also shows, I believe, a too-narrow understanding of the political drama being enacted before our eyes.
Here’s the quote from Senator Kaine that reveals the issue: “the violent reaction that you see in some of this rhetoric and some of the appeal is not the sign of an increasing sentiment of division or hatred but it’s the loud death spasm…”
What I believe Sen. Kaine is saying is that what we’re seeing doesn’t mean that there is more racism than there used to be (e.g. in the Virginia of 1958 into which he was born). Rather, it’s the consequence of our changing demographics, and the “death spasm” of white privilege as people who have long been in the majority are protesting their loss of power and status.
That’s part of the picture. But I believe that what he is regarding as “the problem” should rather be understood as a fuel being exploited by something deeper — something that is the real problem in our politics today.
While it is important to understand that Trump’s ugly march to the nomination reveals a problem with the base that endorses his belligerent talk, it is also important to recognize that much of the problem with the base does not originate there. For a generation, a political force on the right has been stoking people’s hatreds and fears in order to gain political power.
(Consider how big a deal the Republicans have made about immigration even during those post-Great-Recession years when there was a net outflow of undocumented immigrants as the jobs on our side of the border dried up. There does not have to be a real problem for the right-wing media and its political allies to whip people up into a frenzy of “hatred and division.”)
One other tip-off to the excessive narrowness of Senator Kaine’s perspective is found in his saying, about President Obama: “There’s something about this president that is causing [the Republican Senators] to threaten” to break the long-established precedent regarding the “advise and consent” role on filling Supreme Court vacancies.
Yes, there is something about this president: he’s not their guy! Sure, the fact that he’s African-American figures into how they conduct themselves. (The well of American racism is something that they can exploit.) But there was also “something” about President Bill Clinton back in the 90s that caused them to do everything they could to delegitimize and eventually impeach him: he, also, was not their guy.
Indeed, it has been forty years since the Republicans have treated any non-Republican president as legitimate. Not since Jimmy Carter have they done other than everything they could to destroy or at least disable a president from the other party.
Since Jimmy Carter’s day, there has emerged new and different Republican Party. It is a party that insists on division and conflict, and that deliberately and persistently foments hatred and division in order to manipulate a large chunk of the American people into backing them in their chosen form of politics as war.
So: The problem is not just Trump and his rhetoric. The problem is not just the base — with its insecurities and prejudices — that is giving Trump his current prominence. No, the real problem is the force beneath all this that has worked steadily to create a base that’s responsive to hateful, divisive messages.
The real problem is a force — whose components are the right-wing media, the Republican Party, and the plutocratic powers — that has so degraded the political consciousness of millions of Americans to the point where they are on track to reward a man employing fascistic rhetoric with the nomination, by one of our two major political parties, for the presidency.