Lazy Caturday ReadsPosted: June 13, 2020
On Thursday, June 11, Lawrence O’Donnell discussed the speech on Civil Rights that President John F. Kennedy gave from the Oval Office on that day in 1963. The purpose of the speech was to propose the Civil Rights bill that passed after Kennedy’s assassination. Fifty-seven years later, we’ve made some progress, but systemic racism still runs rampant in this country. I thought I’d share some excerpts from that long-ago speech today.
On June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation on the most pressing domestic issue of the day: the struggle to affirm civil rights for all Americans. His administration had sent National Guard troops to accompany the first black students admitted to the University of Mississippi and University of Alabama.
Excerpts selected by NPR:
…It ought to be possible… for American students of any color to attend any public institution they select without having to be backed up by troops.
…It ought to be possible for American consumers of any color to receive equal service in places of public accommodation, such as hotels and restaurants and theaters and retail stores, without being forced to resort to demonstrations in the street, and it ought to be possible for American citizens of any color to register and to vote in a free election without interference or fear of reprisal.
It ought to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color. In short, every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated. But this is not the case….
…This is not a sectional issue…Nor is this a partisan issue…This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone. It is better to settle these matters in the courts than on the streets, and new laws are needed at every level, but law alone cannot make men see right.
We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.
The heart of the question is — whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities. Whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?
One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free….
…It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this is a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the fact that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all.
Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality…
You can watch the entire speech at C-Span. I watched it yesterday and it made me so sad. The comparison between Kennedy and the current occupant of the White House so so glaring. Not only was Kennedy capable of compassion and empathy, but he also spoke eloquently, in complete sentences and paragraphs. Today we have a fraudulent “president” who babbles nonsense, effortlessly lies about everything and has no idea how to do the job he holds even if he actually wanted to be a leader.
Speaking of Trump’s incoherent babbling, on Thursday he gave another strange Fox News interview with Harris Faulkner (who is black). For Fox, the questions were pretty tough. You can read the transcript and watch video excerpts at Factbase.
The most stunning moment in the interview was when Trump claimed to have done more for black Americans than any previous president, including Abraham Lincoln. Business Insider: Trump says Abraham Lincoln ‘did good’ for the Black community but that ‘the end result’ is ‘questionable.’
“So I think I’ve done more for the Black community than any other president, and let’s take a pass on Abraham Lincoln because he did good, although it’s always questionable, you know, in other words, the end result —” Trump said before Faulkner interjected.
“Well, we are free, Mr. President, so I think he did pretty well,” she said, referring to Lincoln.
“We are free,” Trump said. “You understand what I mean.”
“Yeah, I get it,” Faulkner said.
This isn’t the first time Trump has claimed he’s done more for the Black community than his predecessors.
“This may well be the president’s most audacious claim ever,” Michael Fauntroy, a professor of political science at Howard University, told The New York Times earlier this month. “Not only has he not done more than anybody else, he’s done close to the least.”
Of course it’s not really clear what Trump was trying to say, because his speech is so incoherent. At Slate, Jeremy Stahl tries to make sense of Trump’s words: What Was Trump Trying to Say About Abraham Lincoln?
A lot of people saw the transcript of those words—and perhaps watched the clip—and interpreted Trump as having said that “the end result” of Lincoln’s presidency—i.e., winning the Civil War, preserving the union, and ending the atrocity of chattel slavery—was “always questionable.” [….]
I would never definitively state that I believed Trump didn’t mean the most racist possible interpretation of one of his often hard-to-grasp word salads. Indeed, he has in the past questioned the fact that the Civil War needed to occur, stating in 2017 that had Andrew Jackson been president at the time he would have stopped the Civil War from happening because he would have realized “there’s no reason for this.”
“The Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask the question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?” Trump said back then.
As my former colleague, Jamelle Bouie, wrote at the time, that statement—apparently that Jackson could have come up with a perfect “deal” to prevent the Civil War—was as dangerous as it was ahistorical.
Given that past remark, it’s certainly plausible that Trump’s brain is so rotted from his own racism that he would say that the end results of Lincoln’s presidency were “questionable.” Based on the context of the question, though, and more recent comments from Trump, I think that is unlikely.
I interpret this particular word salad to be an attempt by Trump to validate his recent tweet that his administration “has done more for the Black Community than any President since Abraham Lincoln.”
Trump was likely attempting to say that while “I think I’ve done more for the black community than any other president,” he would ask that in such a ranking “let’s take a pass” on including Lincoln, because it’s an unfair comparison, but—even if he were to go head-to-head with Lincoln for the title of “best president for black people ever”—despite the fact that Lincoln “did good,” it would still be “always questionable” whether Trump was better, because you have to consider “the end result” of each man’s presidency.
Okay . . . I guess that’s as good an interpretation as any.
At Vox, Zach Beauchamp discusses another howler from the interview: Trump: “The concept of chokehold sounds so innocent, so perfect.”
When asked about police use of chokeholds on suspects like George Floyd, who was killed after a Minneapolis officer pinned him by the neck with his knee for nearly nine minutes, Trump initially told Faulkner that “I don’t like chokeholds,” even saying that “generally speaking, they should be ended.” But he contradicted that pretty quickly, saying that when you’ve got someone who is “a real bad person … what are you gonna do now — let go?”
He even went further, saying that “the concept of chokehold sounds so innocent, so perfect,” if a lone police officer is attempting to detain someone.
His position, as far as I can tell, seems to be that maybe sometimes individual officers need to use chokeholds, but the more police there are, the less likely it is they’ll need to use one:
TRUMP: I think the concept of chokehold sounds so innocent, so perfect. And then you realize, if it’s a one-on-one. But if it’s two-on-one, that’s a little bit a different story. Depending on the toughness and strength — you know, we’re talking about toughness and strength. There’s a physical thing here too.
FAULKNER: If it’s a one-on-one for the [officer’s] life …
TRUMP: And that does happen, that does happen. You have to be careful.
The most relevant part here isn’t the president’s views on the details of self-defense tactics, but rather the lack of empathy in the way he talks about the issue. The only world in which police using chokeholds could sound “innocent” or “perfect” is a world in which you don’t think about what happens to people when they’re literally being choked — or one where you assume that it won’t happen to people like you.
A recent LA Times investigation found that 103 people were “seriously injured” by police using “carotid neck restraints” in California between 2016 and 2018. Black people, who make up 6.5 percent of the state’s population, were 23 percent of those injured in such holds.
Trump’s thinking seems so deeply shaped by his sense of generalized police innocence, his unwillingness to really process the fact of racial discrimination in police use of force, that he’s capable of saying out loud that chokeholds sound “innocent.”
What all this interpretation really boils down to is that Trump is disastrously incapable of doing the job of POTUS. And yet we’re stuck with him, so writers struggle to figure out what the hell he is talking about.
Stories to check out today
David Smith at The Guardian: ‘He just doesn’t get it’: has Trump been left behind by America’s awakening on racism?
The Washington Post: Trump says he’ll ‘go on and do other things’ if he loses in November.
Julian Borger at The Guardian: ‘Trump thought I was a secretary’: Fiona Hill on the president, Putin and populism.
The New York Times: Trump’s Actions Rattle the Military World: ‘I Can’t Support the Man’
The New York Times: Trump Moves Tulsa Rally Date ‘Out of Respect’ for Juneteenth.
The Daily Beast: Survivors of KKK’s Ax Handle Attack Appalled at Trump Speech.
Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: Michael Flynn Writes Column Confirming He Is Definitely Insane.