Texas Outlaw Writers Newsletter: The Cruelty Competition Edition

Texas Outlaw Writers Newsletter: The Cruelty Competition Edition
Photo by Mitchel Lensink on Unsplash

The quote that keeps coming back to me from the Trump years appeared in the NY Times during Trump's second federal government shutdown at the end of 2018 (which continued through January 2019.) Crystal Minton was a secretary at a federal prison in Marianna, Florida.

"“I voted for him, and he’s the one who’s doing this,” she said of Mr. Trump. “I thought he was going to do good things. He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting.” -C. Minton, reported by the NYT

Ms. Minton, like hundreds of other residents of Marianna, was employed by the prison and was having to restructure her life without a regular paycheck. To make matters worse, that fall Marianna had been hit by Hurricane Michael. Many in the small town had not recovered from that storm.

The government shutdown was prompted by Trump's demand that his border wall be funded in the 2019 budget. A budget bill had been passed by both houses, but Trump wanted his $5.7 billion wall tacked on. The newly elected Democratic House told him to pound sand, so his Orangeness held had a tantrum and shut it all down. (After Congress passed a second spending bill w/o funding the wall, Trump repeatedly threatened to invoke the Emergency Powers Act, which he ultimately did not do.)

It is lost on no one that Ms. Minton's employer, like many others in her small town, was the federal government. During the shutdown, many were forced to turn to food banks and other assistance to get by. Some states and localities offered aid through food supplies and various unemployment benefits. The Coast Guard suggested that its members "hold a garage sale."

It would have been OK if hardship had fallen on someone else, obviously. But how difficult it must have been for supporters to fathom that one of the most hateful and crooked politicians ever seen in this country might somehow turn on his own devoted supporters.

In a revealing bit of testimony, Senior Aide to Trump's Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Cassidy Hutchison told the Jan. 6 Committee that the president raged to his staff about the magnetometers near the White House before his "Stop the Steal" rally. They were slowing down his loyal followers. “I don’t f—ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the f—ing mags away.”

It's not a big secret that the country was founded on genocide and built by slaves. (Though the GOP would ask you to believe otherwise and destroy any evidence in our libraries and cease any discussion in public schools over the matter.) And politics has always been a bit of a blood sport. From knee-busting labor union enforcers to the equally violent (often government-supported) strikebreakers. A viewing of "The Gangs of New York" gives a pretty good idea about how politics worked in the mid-19th Century. And then there was also "The Late Unpleasantness.” A bit of a political disagreement during that period which resulted in over a half million American deaths.

some early New York politics

But the modern post-WWII era is mostly remembered as a prosperous and politically moderate period. OK... let's not forget the wacky and sometimes scary 60s as the fight for Civil Rights took to the streets, and the Viet Nam war and draft motivated hundreds of thousands to protest. And right- people were beaten, arrested, and shot over these matters. OK, OK... it was a rough period with some rough politics also. But the middle class gained a strong foothold. Blacks did gain some ground along with women, Hispanics, and other minority groups.

Arguably, this fueled ultra-conservatives to begin the long game to regain control. Reagan, (the polished version of Goldwater/Nixon) was known as the 'Great Communicator,' and knew how to advance the interests of the oligarchal class while dragging the middle class along with them. "Big business" and the wealthy were incensed over the New Deal: progressive taxation that supported social safety nets, government bureaucracy, and public education available to the poor, the immigrant, and of course, blacks. Reagan and Co. were determined not to repeat the mistakes of Alabama Governor George Wallace who famously stood in the portico of his state Capitol and declared, "I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." Instead, they spoke of "state's rights," and framed those on public assistance as "welfare queens."

If you think that's inaccurate, consider that Lee Atwater (a top consultant for Reagan and later H.W. Bush,) famously said, “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘N___r, n___r, n____r.’ By 1968 you can't say ‘n____r’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites... You follow me? Because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘N____r, n___r’.” Yeah. Sure clarifies a lot, doesn't it? And btw, not hearsay. You can listen to a recording of that famous interview, here.

Republicans also set out to develop a network of communications channels to reach their audience. At first, they relied on inexpensive but convenient media. Rush Limbaugh commanded AM radio airwaves. He practically revived the format. With his daily bellowing about "femi-Nazis," ("Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society,") affirmative action, and democrats, (he would hiss the word "liberal" as a slur so often that democrats wisely abandoned it and began using "progressive" to describe their ideology.) He railed constantly about government overreach, regulation, and assorted social programs. His rhetoric was so venomous and anti-government, that he was blamed for inciting the Oklahoma City bombings by then President Clinton. He reached a daily audience of 20 million+.

Alex Jones started in Austin, Texas on public access television, and quickly moved into radio, preaching about the New World Order. Glenn Beck started as a Top-40 DJ, but found his conspiratorial voice when he made it to AM radio. Right-wing talk radio became its own industry. Sean Hannity, Dan Patrick, and others followed. There are currently about 1500 right-wing radio stations in the country. Every pickup truck in every small town has an AM radio receiver and can tune into the likes of Sean Hannity. Equally important are the small market radio jocks that pontificate directly to their own communities about the evils of Biden-the-socialist, the unGodly abortionists, and the big gub'mint that's going to take away your guns.

They can also hear how Biden and Kamala Harris are leaving our borders open and unprotected as illegals come and take your jobs, go criming in your neighborhood, and traffic your children. They repeat that message... Every. Day.

And when they get home from hearing all of that F.U.D. (fear, uncertainty, and dread,) they can hear it for hours on Fox News TV, the OAN network, and any TV station owned by Sinclair Broadcasting and other conservative media groups. From their morning shows to their evening news and prime-time talk shows, there is always ugly vitriol being spewed by the GOP.

So when Trump came along, the country was primed and ready. He floated down the escalator in the atrium of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York and within a minute or two of his speech announcing his candidacy, he said,

"When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people...
I would do various things very quickly. I would repeal and replace the big lie, Obamacare...
I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall...
if I get elected president I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and we will make America great again.
-d.t. June 16, 2015

He disparaged others in his speech. Within a few months, he would mock women, the disabled, former POWs, Gold Star families, and a "Mexican" judge, (a District judge of Hispanic heritage, born in Indiana who would hear a lawsuit about Trump University.) Trump bragged about the size of his manhood, (because of course he did.) When questioned if he ever asked God's forgiveness for sin, he told an evangelical audience, "I am not sure I have. I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture. I don't." And then there was his famous comment about groping women, "Grab 'em by the p***y." Any of these comments (and many more,) would have buried another candidate.

But Trump knew his audience. And he knew what they wanted to hear. Decades of mannered political debate were over. An angry and embittered constituency was tired of educated, wealthy "elites" telling them how to behave and what kind of conduct was acceptable. The filters were off. And by association, his followers were free to emulate their pugilistic leader.

Civility was an early casualty under Trump and his acolytes. Mutual respect is considered weak and effete. Strength and masculinity are the only values that matter. That, and unquestioned loyalty to Trump. The only way to be relevant in the MAGAverse, is to demonstrate power over and malice toward outsiders.

Closer to home, Texas Governor Abbott recently signed House Bill 2127 (the "Death Star" bill) into law... it "strips construction workers in Austin and Dallas of the right to water breaks every four hours and time to rest in the shade while on the job." With temps reaching the 100s this summer, can anyone say why this bill was ever written, much less passed into law, OTHER than as a badge of dishonor? Meanwhile, Abbott has continued to vilify immigrants crossing the Rio Grande. Once again, families are being separated at the border. You have certainly read about his big, red balls, the concertina wire, and other deadly obstacles placed to block and injure immigrants as they attempt a river crossing. Or about how a whistleblower reported that DPS troopers were "ordered to push small children and nursing babies back into the Rio Grande, as well as being told not to give water to asylum seekers even in extreme heat."

In his piece this week, Jim Moore goes into detail not only about Abbott's cruelties fostered upon asylum seekers but how the inhumanity of the GOP is openly, proudly violating every principle that undergirds the foundation of our country.

The Golden Door | Texas Outlaw Writers
The president of Mexico was incensed. “No good person would do this,” Andrés Manuel López Obrador said at his daily news conference Thursday. “This is inhumane, and no person should be treated like this.”

In what has seemingly become a contest, both Abbott and Florida Governor DeSantis have delighted their base by putting immigrants on buses and hauled them to New York, Washington D.C., and even Martha's Vineyard. Nice stunt, right? Meanwhile, the Republicans in Congress refuse to address any measure of immigration reform. Governors in the southern states could easily pressure their senators to work together with Democrats and the President to craft some meaningful legislation and work diplomatically with Central and South America to curb the flow. But compromise is weakness. You might just get your truck nutz taken away from you if you were to work with Democrats.

Speaking of compromise, Roger Gray once again boards the Wayback Machine in search of decency in politics. He's covered his share of political conventions and has seen the best and worst of candidates in both parties. Sure, elections are partisan - always have been. But there is usually a handful of those running for office that values the idea of "public service." Roge recalls his visit with one such candidate who, like Jimmy Carter, was a decent man, a war hero, and who had his clock cleaned by Richard Nixon.

What were you thinking? | Texas Outlaw Writers
When you don’t just shoot yourself in the foot, but take an M-16 to it.

I learned about cruelty early. If you know me, you know that in my age cohort, I have always been the shortest guy in the room. Being a diminutive kid is a bully magnet. You learn quickly about all kinds of people and form all manner of strategies to deal with the ever-present danger of an ass-whuppin'. A whuppin' for what? Whatever: lunch money, display of power, but mostly just cruelty-for-fun. I realized as a youngster that more people than you think simply enjoy sadism, or certainly have no problem idly standing by as it occurs. An even greater number of folks have no sense of empathy. They could not care less if their actions cause harm to others as long as their own needs are met and their status is not threatened.

"He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting."

Even as an adult, or maybe especially as an adult, I still periodically hear the name-calling, the lame jokes, the assumption of weakness or incompetence due simply to my size, and all forms of disrespect whispered under the breath in workplaces or in public spaces. And I'm a white guy. I simply can't imagine what women or minority groups are subjected to. Or if I were to be honest, since I (barely) make the cut into the privilege-group (old white guys,) I'm in a position to overhear the jokes, slurs, and condescending judgments whispered about folks that aren't white, European-descended males. After hearing that ugly conversation, I'll take my vertically-challenged-white-dude privilege and run.

Myra Jolivet thinks that we may be trapped in a never-ending cycle. These periods of war/peace, hard times/prosperity, and chaos/calm... we seem doomed to repeat history. As her daddy told her, "there ain't nothin' new."

There Ain’t Nothin’ New | Texas Outlaw Writers
“There are recurrent types of people who will return to their folly as a dog to his vomit. They play the same roles and do similar things every 80 years, according to the theory.” Rinse. Repeat.

One final, disheartening word, (I know, sorry!) NPR's Scott Detrow recently interviewed Russell Moore. Moore was at one time a top official of the Southern Baptist Convention. He was, until he criticized Trump, spoke out against the white nationalistic tone that the Convention was taking on, and finally criticized the SBC's response to their sexual abuse crisis.

Evangelicals are, of course, the base of Trump's base. The SBC is a huge part of that support. Trump courted their vote continuously, though his personal and public behavior was simply obscene. His bible photo-op on June 1, 2020 during the George Floyd protests in Washington, D.C. perfectly demonstrates the depth and authenticity of this "faith." Law enforcement officers and riot control police used tear gas and physical force to push peaceful protestors out of Lafayette Square so that he could have a photo op with a bible in front of St. John's church. He had just finished a fiery speech where he urged the governors of U.S. states to put down violent protests by using the National Guard to "dominate the streets," or he would "deploy the U.S. military and quickly solve the problem."

Yay, God.

By The White House from Washington, DC - President Trump in front of St. John's Episcopal Church, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=90897698

Moore has a new book, "Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call For Evangelical America." While discussing the book, he spoke of why he thinks Christianity is in crisis today in America.

"...it was the result of having multiple pastors tell me essentially the same story about quoting the Sermon on the Mount parenthetically in their preaching - turn the other cheek - to have someone come up after and to say, where did you get those liberal talking points? And what was alarming to me is that in most of these scenarios, when the pastor would say, I'm literally quoting Jesus Christ, the response would not be, I apologize. The response would be, yes, but that doesn't work anymore. That's weak. And when we get to the point where the teachings of Jesus himself are seen as subversive to us, then we're in a crisis." -Russell Moore

So, to hell with the poor, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers... Weak! And who is this Jesus? Sounds Mexican. Was he born here? Does he have a birth certificate?

When you wonder what the evangelicals see in Trump, now you know. They see themselves. Only he's a stronger version of themselves, and with a power that they covet.

They wanted someone who could dominate. They wanted a warrior. They got one.

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