PATRIOTISM IN THE AGE OF TRUMP
Untitled, Watercolor, 21.5 x 29.5, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy Van Wagoner Family Trust**
“Acting New York Jets owner Christopher Johnson told Newsday he did not like the policy. ‘If somebody takes a knee,’ he said, ‘that fine will be borne by the organisation, by me, not the players. I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest.’
On Saturday, [Representative Peter] King[, R. New York] tweeted: ‘Disgraceful that [New York Jets] owner will pay fines for players who kneel for National Anthem. Encouraging a movement premised on lies vs police. Would he support all player protests? Would he pay fines of players giving Nazi salutes or spew racism?’”
How patriotism manifests depends largely on one’s personal history, point of view and depth of love for or devotion to country. Kneeling in protest of class-based violations and deprivations of fundamental rights is exponentially more patriotic than the mindless nationalism demanded by corrupt politicians, the billionaire oligarchs who purchase them, and their collective base who lap up the verbal and conceptual sewage spoon-fed them by Fox and other enablers.
I was born a male, heterosexual Caucasian in the United States in the late 50s. Another accident of my birth was being born into a local culture and religion that preached of a god who favored the likes of me above all others. For much of the first half of my life and with god’s approving nod I took for granted my inexplicable unmerited status along with the attendant rights of white male privilege. I mindlessly employed the superficial gestures of deference to patriotic symbols—flags and anthems and pledges. Why wouldn’t I? Nothing to protest, no loss, no deprivation, no depth perception, no skin in the game. It worked for me.
I was young and paid little attention during the decade of assassinations (with the exception of noting high-ranking Mormon official, future president and prophet of the church and former Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson labeling Martin Luther King, Jr. a communist) and Viet Nam. During Watergate I had little appreciation of the level of corruption in the White House or its significance in undermining the foundation and institutions of government. I have since read a fair amount about Dr. King, Viet Nam and Watergate. I eventually changed my political and religious orientations and became more introspective and, I hope, empathic. I have advocated for fairness, equal rights and protection of people who need and deserve but are—as a strategic and calculated and practical matter—without the panoply of rights bestowed on my kind.
The value I place on the sacrifices and personal losses patriots suffered in order to establish and protect our form of self-government, the concomitant rights and the hope for their expansion to all corners of the country increased dramatically in the face of their potential loss. Trump was elected. I, along with millions of others, became more engaged in civic dialogue and protest. I was invited back onto the board of the local ACLU affiliate. I began blogging shortly after January 20, 2017. I march, protest, contribute money, vote. I wish I had been as engaged before Trump.
I tried but abandoned the effort to keep the man’s putative policies (with which I mostly disagree) separate from what has emerged as a full-on crime syndicate. The two are mostly merged. Every aspect of his ascendancy to and occupancy of the White House is subject to question. Was the election of Mr. Trump a legitimate exercise of American sovereignty? This week former DNI chair James Clapper, someone who would know, announced Russian interference swayed the election in favor of Mr. Trump. The motivation behind virtually every Trump decision is suspect. Money, emoluments, awards, prizes, retaliation, revenge, flattery, praise, pussy, self-preservation and -congratulation over the interests of anyone and everything else, компрометирующий материал.
Adam Serwer’s May 21, 2018 piece in The Atlantic, There is Only One Trump Scandal, gave his point of view which largely resonates:
The sheer volume of Trump scandals can seem difficult to keep track of.
There’s the ongoing special-counsel investigation into whether the Trump campaign aided a Russian campaign to help Trump’s candidacy and defeat his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton; there’s the associated inquiry into whether the president obstructed justice when he fired former FBI Director James Comey, whom he had asked not to investigate his former national-security adviser; there are the president’s hush-money payments to women with whom he allegedly had extramarital affairs, made through his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and facilitated by corporate cash paid to influence the White House; there is his ongoing effort to interfere with the Russia inquiry and politicize federal law enforcement; there are the foreign governments that seem to be utilizing the president’s properties as vehicles for influencing administration policy; there’s the emerging evidence that Trump campaign officials sought aid not only from Russia, but from other foreign countries, which may have affected Trump’s foreign policy; there are the ongoing revelations of the president’s Cabinet officials’ misusing taxpayer funds; there is the accumulating evidence that administration decisions are made at the behest of private industry, in particular those in which Republican donors have significant interests.
The preceding wall of text may appear to some as an abridged list of the Trump administration’s scandals, but this is an illusion created by the perception that these are all separate affairs. Viewed as such, the various Trump scandals can seem multifarious and overpowering, and difficult to fathom.
There are not many Trump scandals. There is one Trump scandal. Singular: the corruption of the American government by the president and his associates, who are using their official power for personal and financial gain rather than for the welfare of the American people, and their attempts to shield that corruption from political consequences, public scrutiny, or legal accountability.
Take recent developments: There’s the president’s attempt to aid the Chinese telecom company ZTE, mere hours after the Chinese government approved funding for a project in the vicinity of a Trump property in Indonesia. There’s the millions of dollars corporations paid to Cohen after the election in an attempt to influence administration policy in their favor. Trump’s Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, also the acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, urged banks to pay off politicians in an effort to weaken the CFPB’s powers legislatively—since taking the helm of CFPB, Mulvaney has dropped a number of cases against payday lenders who charge exorbitant interest rates, after taking thousands from the industry as a congressman. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s own mini-universe of scandals stems from his improper relationships with industry figures, his misuse of taxpayer funds, and his attempts to obscure the truth about both. Trump attempted to pressure the Postmaster General to increase fees on Amazon in order to punish Jeff Bezos, owner of The Washington Post, which has published many stories detailing wrongdoing and misbehavior on the part of the Trump administration, and the Trump campaign before that. Not long after The New York Times reported that Trump officials may have solicited campaign help not just from Russia, but also from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the president “demanded” that the Justice Department launch an inquiry into whether the FBI improperly investigated a campaign that was eagerly soliciting international aid to swing the election in its favor.
In each of these cases, the president or one of his associates was seeking to profit, personally or financially, from their official duties and powers. When that conduct has potentially run afoul of the law, Trump has sought to bend federal law enforcement to his whim, the better to protect himself and his associates from legal accountability. The president’s ongoing chastising of his own Justice Department, and his war of words with current and former FBI officials, stem less from any coherent ideological principle than from Trump’s desperate need to protect himself. An authoritarian model of law enforcement, where the president personally decides who is prosecuted and who is not based on his own political agenda, is simply the best way for Trump to shield himself and his inner circle from legal consequences. . . .
The latest Trumptown fable, that the FBI inquiry into the Trump campaign was meant to aid Clinton’s campaign, is as incoherent as it is absurd. The FBI properly kept the Russia inquiry under wraps while high-ranking FBI officials defied Justice Department rules and made public statements about two inquiries into Clinton prior to election day. Neither of those inquiries led to indictments or guilty pleas; the special-counsel inquiry has led to more than 20 so far. Had the FBI been motivated by a political vendetta against Trump, leaking the fact of the inquiry on its own, even if it uncovered no malfeasance at all, would have been enough to damage his candidacy. The essential quality of pro-Trump punditry, however, is that its perception of reality must be warped to conform to the latest Trump proclamation, even if it contradicts previous Trump pronouncements or established facts. Trump dictates reality, and his supporters rush to justify whatever has been decreed. In this way, Trump manages to corrupt not just those in his immediate orbit or inner circle, but even those who have never met him, who endeavor to reconcile the insurmountable gap between his words and the world as it exists. . . .
[T]he ongoing corruption of the official powers of the U.S. government on behalf of ego, avarice, and impunity should not be seen as separate stories. They are the same story, and it is the story of the Trump presidency.
As Americans we accept, even celebrate, the fact of administrations with which we disagree on the merits. The constitutional and legal mechanisms are in place for the self-governed to effect change. As Americans and patriots, we must not withstand an administration set out to corrupt the American government and thereby undermine or destroy its forms and institutions. In Sunday’s New York Times, Peter Baker and Katie Benner discussed Trump’s most recent wrecking-crew attacks on “institutions that form the bulwark of a democratic society”:
"The confrontation [with law enforcement] has no precedent in the modern era and holds great stakes not just for the president but for the relative autonomy of law enforcement investigations established after Watergate. Mr. Trump’s allies argue that he has every right to manage the executive branch and every reason to be outraged at possible misconduct aimed at his campaign. But many law enforcement veterans say he is wreaking untold damage on institutions that form the bulwark of a democratic society."
Some have suggested Pence would be worse: he is “principled.” He is, without question, a bad man. His election was no more legitimate than Trump’s. His relationship with truth is nearly as strained as Trump’s. He would do his damnedest to put the country further in reverse. But the form and institutions of government would survive Pence, and he is otherwise unelectable beyond a truncated term. More importantly, recognizing and enforcing the rule of law ought to be paramount.
Trump is a grave enemy of and domestic threat to the United States. Given his compromised status he refuses, and is otherwise impotent, to protect us, U.S. sovereignty and the institutions of government from foreign enemies and threats. In the face of these real dangers to American sovereignty and its form and the institutions of self-governance, patriotism to me is working in every legal way to assure Trump and his ilk fail on every level and by every measure. In the inimical words of Mr. McConnell, our “number one priority [must be] making sure president [Trump’s] a one[-half-]term president.” An outcome that could begin the long road of restoring this country’s credibility from within and to our allies and enemies abroad would be Mr. Trump’s removal through the implementation of constitutional and legal remedies, the very norms and institutions he so vociferously attacks.
That would be patriotic.
*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com
**My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father's work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father's art reproduced in lastamendment.com are hers.