Monday, June 20, 2016

Donald Trump is the real 'snake' in the 2016 presidential race

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In the aftermath of the Orlando Massacre, presumed Republican 2016 presidential nominee Donald Trump has doubled down on his nativism, racism, fear-mongering, and bigotry against Muslims and his other political enemies. Last Monday, Trump made sinister threats against Muslim-Americans. The following day, Trump continued his political rodeo and barnstorming tour of hatred with a stop in Greensboro, North Carolina. There, Trump ginned up his foot soldiers to a fever pitch as he railed against Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, the news media, and of course, Muslims.

As reported by Jared Sexton in the New Republic, the Trumpthuglicans were fully receptive to their leader’s message of fear, intolerance, authoritarianism, and strongman politics:

By the end of Trump’s speech, everything had been touched: His successes in the polls. ISIS and illegal immigrants in the same breath. Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren. The “dishonest” media and Trump’s revocation of the Washington Post’s press credentials, during which my section chanted “Kill them all / kill them all.” 
He’d rambled until he couldn’t ramble anymore and seemed spent. He’d exhausted yelling “Shut up, you SILLY WOMAN!” during an odd, misplaced poem that compared immigrants to snakes. At another point, a boy interrupted with “We all bleed red” and was dragged out by security as Trump sarcastically called, “Don’t hurt him! Please don’t hurt that person!” and the crowd replied, “Hurt him! / Hurt him!” As he was led to the doors, a small pack of supporters broke off from the throng and followed as if they meant to pummel him just past the exit. 
Outside, the lot was filled with more vendors and beyond them cars and trucks with Confederate Flag bumper stickers, decals, license plates, and actual Confederate Flags. In the shadow of one I watched a dad spank his child heatedly, as if the man needed somewhere to focus all his anger. 
On everybody’s lips were strange non-sequiturs of hate.
“You can’t trust Latinos. Some maybe, but not most.”
“Immigrants aren’t people, honey.”
“You know them crazy black girls, how they are.”
Donald Trump’s performance style leverages emotion and impulse over facts and intellect. Influenced by professional wrestling, Trump is selling “the sizzle and not the steak.” Consequently, his ability to manipulate an audience is made possible by simple narratives and emotional appeals. To that end, Donald Trump has repeatedly referenced a parable and song about a snake who betrays the confidence of a Good Samaritan, biting him, and then leaving the kind helper to die. In Trump’s telling “real Americans” (read: white, Christian, conservatives) are taken advantage of and ultimately killed by “snakes,” i.e. “Muslims,” “immigrants,” or whatever group has earned his ire on a given day.

As I wrote about in an earlier essay at the Washington Spectator, this is eliminationist language that is designed to legitimate and encourage political violence against a vulnerable or otherwise marginalized population:

During the Rwandan genocide of 1994, for example, similar words were piped out across the radio waves. Orders to murder were given. The Hutus were told to kill the Tutsis, who were described as “cockroaches.” 
“We must finish with them, exterminate them, sweep them from the whole country,” was one line of widely quoted radio propaganda that the dominant group used to encourage ethnic violence. 
Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf contains similar rhetoric about the Jews and others who are “pollutants” in what should be a “pure” Aryan empire: 
“Here he stops at nothing, and in his vileness he becomes so gigantic that no one need be surprised if among our people the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew.”
As part of their concerted effort to legitimate genocide, the Nazis repeatedly compared Jews to animals, including snakes. For example, Holocaust scholar Mary Mills has highlighted how such hatred was even taught to children in books such as Der Pudelmopsdachelpinscher (The Poodle-Pug-Dachshund-Pincher), a picture book published in 1940: 
“Like the cuckoo, Jews are depicted as stealing other people’s homes. They are the foreigners who threaten to displace the Germans from Germany. As hyenas strike disabled animals, Jews are portrayed as praying upon disadvantaged Germans/Christians. Other animals included in these comparisons are the chameleon (the great deceiver), the locust (the scourge of God), the bedbug (the blood sucker), the sparrow (good-for-nothings), the poodle-mops-dachshund-pincher (an inferior race created by cross-breeding various types of races), the poisonous snake . . . Finally, Jews are compared to a deadly bacteria . . . Just as a deadly bacteria must be eliminated, so the Jews must be exterminated.”

Hitler’s 1,000-year Reich would last 12 years. It was the banality of evil that visited destruction on almost every corner of the world. And that evil began with eliminationist speech.
In a cosmopolitan, multicultural, liberal democracy such rhetoric is especially toxic because it locates political community in primordial identities of blood as opposed to shared values and beliefs. Unfortunately, eliminationist rhetoric against non-whites, liberals, progressives, feminists, gays and lesbians, and other zgroups has been mainstreamed for decades by the right-wing American hate media. Eliminationist language is used so frequently by conservatives that it is now accepted by many in the American public as normal.

While Donald Trump may reference the song The Snake as means of channeling bigotry and prejudice against Muslims and “illegal immigrants," in reality the song’s writer, Oscar Brown Jr., was a left-wing populist and truth teller.

As featured by the Chicago Tribune:

The song, written by Brown in 1963 and recorded by Al Wilson in 1969, is based on one of Aesop's fables, which means it's been told in various forms for about 2,500 years. It's an allegory, so it can be about a lot of situations where one party unsuspectingly lets in an evildoer and then gets hurt. 
It's not clear when or how Trump discovered the R&B song — his campaign hasn't answered my inquiries — or whether he knows anything about Oscar Brown Jr. Trump is more of a classic rock guy, according to Rolling Stone's digging, and especially loves Neil Young. That love soured, though, after Young demanded that Trump stop using his "Rockin' in the Free World" on the campaign trail. 
Now Brown's family would like Trump to stop using "The Snake." 
Brown, who died in 2005 at 78, was a singer, songwriter, playwright, actor and social activist. Tribune jazz critic Howard Reich called Brown "one of the greatest socio-political songwriters of the 20th century." He wrote such civil rights-era classic as "Signifyin' Monkey" and "Work Song," and he brought scenes from the violent streets of Chicago to the stage through his musicals, "Great Nitty Gritty" and "Kicks & Co."
His family is certain that Brown would be on the "polar opposite side" of Trump if he were still alive — and whether the billionaire presidential candidate is violating any copyright or not (lawyers say it's unclear whether Trump could claim "fair use"), family members say Trump's anti-inclusive message is reason enough to demand that he stop using the song.
Oscar Brown Jr. most certainly would not have approved of Donald Trump’s use of his song The Snake to advance the latter’s reactionary right-wing agenda:
"We don't want him using these lyrics," said Brown's daughter, Maggie Brown, also a distinguished singer. "If Dad were alive, he would've ripped (Trump) with a great poem in rebuttal. Not only a poem and a song, but an essay and everything else." 
Maybe Trump was just confused? Perhaps he thought he had something in common with Brown because their families both have history in the real estate business. 
It's true: Brown's father, Oscar Brown Sr., like Trump's father, Fred Trump, earned his living in real estate. But that's where the similarity ends. 
Oscar Brown Sr., the son of a former slave, a World War I veteran and lawyer, was the first manager of Chicago's Ida B. Wells Homes in 1940 and was a lifelong social activist on behalf of fair housing and equal justice. At one point in the 1930s, disillusioned with the progress of racial integration, he advocated for a new, separate state for African-Americans in the South. In 1944 he served as president of the Chicago chapter of the NAACP. 
Meanwhile, Fred Trump and his son, Donald, spent much of the early 1970s in a legal battle with the Department of Justice over allegations that the Trump real estate business in New York violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against African-Americans trying to rent apartments.
Because he is an unapologetic demagogue, Donald Trump does not care about facts or reason. Power by any means or at any cost is his ultimate goal. Donald Trump will manipulate his bigoted, racist, low-information, “white working class” voters to attain victory in the 2016 presidential election. But it should be asked: In all of the news media’s discussions of Trump’s “presidential temperament” and “qualifications,” how should we assess a professional bigot who cannot even get the context of his racial and ethnic slurs correct?

Ultimately, if there is in fact a snake in the 2016 American presidential election it is Donald Trump, not “Muslims” or “illegal immigrants.” Trump the trickster has deceived millions of Americans into believing the opposite is true.

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