Alan Zendell, July 5, 2020
The Fourth of July is usually a time when we allow ourselves to beat our breasts and reassert how wonderful it is to be an American. I’ve always done that, for one day, at least, ignoring problems and challenges, enjoying the sights and sounds of shooting things up into the sky and exploding them with marching bands playing patriotic music in the background.
When I was a kid in the years after World War 2, I was more struck by the similarity between the massive fireworks and the aerial bombardments that killed millions in the previous decade. Fortunately, I eventually succumbed to the American fantasy that all was well, so my own breast could swell with pride and I could enjoy the spectacle. Usually, our leaders helped feed that one-day delusion with inspirational speeches promising unity and better times to come.
Not this year. When Donald Trump formally launched his Culture War at Mount Rushmore, he shattered that temporary bubble before it even had a chance to glow. Instead, he fired the first clear, unvarnished salvo in the battle for White Supremacy. His tactics were those of the Fascists after whom he models himself, but his message fell flat on most Americans.
By selecting Mount Rushmore as his Fort Sumter, Trump pulled the scab off the long-festering wound of genocide, the near-extermination of the culture and civilization of our indigenous peoples. Specifically, he reminded us that Mount Rushmore was a holy place of the Lakota Nation that was stolen from them by our government, and that the massive sculpting project was more of a marketing ploy to prop up the ailing pre-Depression economy of South Dakota than a monument honoring four of our most revered presidents.
And in attempting to characterize the Black Lives Matter movement as a gang of violent anarchist, Marxist mobs, he simply reminded most of us of our other original sin – slavery. And perhaps worse, how a century-and-a-half after that issue tore our country apart in the Civil War, the remnants of that confederate mentality still don’t believe our founding phrase, “All Men are Created Equal” does not mean only white men, and in fact, does not even mean only men. It means all human beings regardless of gender, race, color, religious belief, or sexual orientation.
In stoking delusional fears of Marxist-inspired insurrections, our president also reminded us of a third dark stain on our national identity, the McCarthyism of the 1950’s. And in throwing around words like treason and indoctrination of our children, he again raised the specter of the Nazi Storm Troopers and the Hitler Youth. All of this struck me as I watched the Fourth of July celebration in Washington last night (on television.) Superimposed on the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic from which our president is desperately trying to distract our attention, it suddenly it all seemed hollow. What in Hell were we celebrating?
Trump’s Culture War is a cynically contrived re-election strategy, designed to re-energize the base that elected him in 2016. It’s a classic Hail Mary pass with the clock running out. The frightening thing is that Hail Marys are sometimes successful. That’s what Trump is counting on, but not this time, Donald. You were elected by a once-in-a-lifetime coalition of angry people and Hillary-haters who drank your populist Kool Aid, but that coalition no longer exists.
The Trump base can now be seen to consist of two very different groups. There’s the hard core cult of Alt-Righters, gun extremists, pro-life activists, and people who simply hate government. Then there’s the other group who were angered by the arrogance and incompetence of the former Democratic Party establishment and influenced by nearly thirty years of relentless right-wing hate radio. That second group is now expressing buyer’s remorse. All Trump has left is his loyal cult, which may be as large as one third of the electorate.
Trump hopes his message of hate and divisiveness will resonate yet again, and that fear lurks in the minds of all of us. But there is a new Monmouth University poll which captured a snapshot of the sentiments of likely voters after Trump’s rallies in Tulsa and Phoenix – you remember, the ones at which he thumbed his nose at his own government’s policies combating COVID-19. The same ones that drew far fewer people than Trump hoped for.
The Monmouth poll shows Biden ahead of Trump nationally by 53-41%, exactly the same margin shown by previous polls throughout the month of June. Tulsa and Phoenix didn’t move the needle at all. Memo to the president: except your core group of cultists, no one’s listening.