Tuesday Reads: Toni Morrison, Trump’s Gaslighting, and Other NewsPosted: August 6, 2019
The news just broke that Toni Morrison has died. I’m sorry to say that I haven’t read her work; maybe now would be a good time to start. The Washington Post: Toni Morrison, Nobel laureate who transfigured American literature, dies at 88.
Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist who conjured a black girl longing for blue eyes, a slave mother who kills her child to save her from bondage, and other indelible characters who helped transfigure a literary canon long closed to African Americans, died Aug. 5 at a hospital in the Bronx. She was 88….
Ms. Morrison spent an impoverished childhood in Ohio steel country, began writing during what she described as stolen time as a single mother, and became the first black woman to receive the Nobel Prize in literature. Critically acclaimed and widely loved, she received recognitions as diverse as the Pulitzer Prize and the selection of her novels — four of them — for the book club led by talk-show host Oprah Winfrey.
Ms. Morrison placed African Americans, particularly women, at the heart of her writing at a time when they were largely relegated to the margins both in literature and in life. With language celebrated for its lyricism, she was credited with conveying as powerfully, or more than perhaps any novelist before her, the nature of black life in America, from slavery to the inequality that went on more than a century after it ended.
Morrison begins the essay, published in 2015 in the 150th anniversary edition of The Nation, by recalling her despairing thoughts after George W. Bush was reelected in 2004. Was she foreshadowing our future under Trump?
Dictators and tyrants routinely begin their reigns and sustain their power with the deliberate and calculated destruction of art: the censorship and book-burning of unpoliced prose, the harassment and detention of painters, journalists, poets, playwrights, novelists, essayists. This is the first step of a despot whose instinctive acts of malevolence are not simply mindless or evil; they are also perceptive. Such despots know very well that their strategy of repression will allow the real tools of oppressive power to flourish. Their plan is simple:
1. Select a useful enemy—an “Other”—to convert rage into conflict, even war.
2. Limit or erase the imagination that art provides, as well as the critical thinking of scholars and journalists.
3. Distract with toys, dreams of loot, and themes of superior religion or defiant national pride that enshrine past hurts and humiliations.
The Nation could never have existed or flourished in 1940s Spain, or 2014 Syria, or apartheid South Africa, or 1930s Germany. And the reason is clear. It was born in the United States in 1865, the year of Lincoln’s assassination, when political division was stark and lethal—during, as my friend said, times of dread. But no prince or king or dictator could interfere successfully or forever in a country that seriously prized freedom of the press. This is not to say there weren’t elements that tried censure, but they could not, over the long haul, win.
In these demoralizing days and nights in Trump world, we need artists and journalists so much more than in Bush’s awful presidency.
We are still feeling the aftershocks of the latest mass shootings in California, Texas, and Ohio. Yesterday Trump was forced to read someone else’s words from a teleprompter; it didn’t take long for him to go back to tweeting his resentments. We all knew he was gaslighting us. Nothing he could ever say or do will erase the damage he has done with the ugly racism, xenophobia, and hatred he has spewed since he announced his campaign for president in 2015. He words and deeds have enabled white supremacists and encouraged them to act out violently.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday attacked former President Barack Obama over the latter’s statement on the weekend’s mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, tweeting edited quotes from Fox News hosts to make his point and again claiming he is “the least racist person” in the world.
“‘Did George Bush ever condemn President Obama after Sandy Hook. President Obama had 32 mass shootings during his reign. Not many people said Obama is out of Control,’” Trump wrote online. “’Mass shootings were happening before the President even thought about running for Pres.’ @kilmeade @foxandfriends”
Trump’s message was a distillation of a sentiment “Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade expressed on air shortly after 6 a.m. Tuesday morning. The president followed up that tweet with another post paraphrasing a comment from Kilmeade’s morning show colleague, Ainsley Earhardt.
“‘It’s political season and the election is around the corner. They want to continue to push that racist narrative.’ @ainsleyearhardt @foxandfriends,” Trump continued. “And I am the least racist person. Black, Hispanic and Asian Unemployment is the lowest (BEST) in the history of the United States!”
Obama on Monday afternoon lamented the violence that transpired Saturday morning in El Paso, Texas, and early Sunday morning in Dayton, Ohio, which left at least 31 people dead and injured dozens more.
In his statement, Obama called on Americans to “soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist sentiments.” The former president did not mention Trump, or any other politician, by name.
Obama simply did what Trump could not and would not do: act like a president.
On Monday morning, President Donald Trump finally took the time to issue a (hollow and thoroughly unconvincing) denunciation of white supremacy in the wake of mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas over the weekend that collectively resulted in at least 31 deaths and scores of injuries—in the latter case involving a gunman whose manifesto clearly reflected Trump’s racist immigration rhetoric and reportedly targeted Hispanics.
Of course, it never takes long for him to return to his usual bullshit. So it’s the opposite of surprising that by Monday evening, Trump was posting clips from a Fox News interview with a former Google engineer who claimed the company discriminated against him for his conservative political views. In reality, said employee had reportedly urged other Googlers to contribute to a “bounty” to find an individual who punched white supremacist Richard Spencer, as well as suggested that the Golden State Skinheads (GSS) rebrand so as to provide better “branding” for the “American nationalist Right.”
In the clip from Lou Dobbs Tonight posted to the president’s feed at 9:33 p.m. ET, former Google engineer Kevin Cernekee parroted debunked claims that the company’s executives “want to use all the power and all the resources that they have to control the flow of information to the public and make sure that Trump loses in 2020.” This dovetails nicely with Trump’s grudge against Google, which along with all of the president’s other perceived political enemies, he has targeted with baseless smears and doctored videos asserting a devious conspiracy against him.
While many news outlets were reporting on the stunning hypocrisy of Trump’s speech on the mass shootings, The New York Times chose to take Trump’s words at face value with a headline that was quickly attacked on Twitter.
The New York Times weathered intense backlash Monday night for its front-page headline about President Trump’s response to the pair of mass shootings that read: “TRUMP URGES UNITY VS. RACISM.”
A preview of Tuesday’s front page shared to social media sparked instant criticism from members of the public, journalists and politicians, including several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, many of whom took issue with how the publication framed Trump’s comments on the weekend attacks in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, that left at least 31 people dead and dozens injured. In the aftermath of the tragedies, major media outlets have faced scrutiny from all sides over how they confront Trump and his often inflammatory rhetoric.
About an hour after the headline went viral, the Times announced it had amended its wording.
“The headline was bad and has been changed for the second edition,” a spokesperson for the Times told The Washington Post in an email.
Later editions of the print paper feature the words, “ASSAILING HATE BUT NOT GUNS.” Subheads above the two stories about Trump’s speech were also changed.
It’s the new “but her emails.” It’s time for executive editor Dean Baquet to resign.
The Washington Post story was more in line with reality: Teleprompter Trump meets Twitter Trump as the president responds to mass slayings.
Teleprompter Trump repudiated Twitter Trump in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on Monday.
Speaking in the wake of two mass shootings in less than 24 hours that left at least 31 dead over the weekend, President Trump spoke of “the inherent worth and dignity of every human life” and the scourge of “destructive partisanship.”
“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy,” the president said, reading from a script that scrolled on a teleprompter in front of him. He added, “Now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside — so destructive — and find the courage to answer hatred with unity, devotion and love.”
That unifying message stood in stark contrast tomore than 2½ years of name-calling, demonizing minorities and inflaming racial animus, much of it carried out on Twitter. Just two hours before his White House speech, Trump tweeted an attack on the “Fake News” media for contributing to a culture of “anger and rage.” And in another set of tweets, the president suggested pairing “strong background checks” with “desperately needed immigration reform” — then dropped the matter entirely during his speech.
Such is the picture of a divisive leader trying to act as a healer, particularly in the aftermath of Saturday’s anti-immigrant attack in El Paso, where officials are still investigating but believe the alleged gunman posted a manifesto that echoed Trump’s harsh rhetoric on immigrants, including describing his attack as “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Trump, in tweets and in rallies, has repeatedly decried the “invasion” of undocumented immigrants across the nation’s southern border.
More stories to check out:
Max Fisher at The New York Times: White Terrorism Shows ‘Stunning’ Parallels to Islamic State’s Rise.
Ali Soufan at The New York Times: I Spent 25 Years Fighting Jihadis. White Supremacists Aren’t So Different.
The Daily Beast: DHS Official: Trump Can’t Admit ‘This Is Terrorism.’
The Texas Tribune: A racist manifesto and a shooter terrorize Hispanics in El Paso and beyond.
The Texas Tribune: Running while brown: How Julián Castro is navigating white presidential politics.
The Washington Post: Ex-girlfriend says Dayton shooter heard voices, talked about ‘dark, evil things.