Trump and “Nasty”, by Penny Smith – May 19

Our current President appears to have a decided affection for adjectives: “Sleepy” Joe, “Mini” Mike, “Lyin’” Ted, “Fat” Jerry. There’s even a Wikipedia site dedicated to them (check out “List of Nicknames used by Donald Trump”). However, his range of adjectives is both limited and childish. The “Trumptive” that fascinates me is “nasty.”

Denmark’s prime minister was called “nasty” after she reacted negatively to his suggestion that Danes sell us Greenland. Nancy Pelosi has been labeled “nasty,” as has Megan Markle, Hillary Clinton, Carmen Cruz (the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico), Elizabeth Warren, Mazie Hirono (an Hawai’ian Senator), and Kamala Harris. They are all women who have criticized him. To be accurate, Trump calls some men nasty, but the word seems, in Trump World, to pertain primarily to females. And, I suspect, when he does it to males, he wants to feminize them, to make them less manly men.

He has called questions, often asked by female reporters “nasty.” See, for example, a response to Yamiche Alcindor (PBS).  Reporters, again often female, have been criticized for their “nasty” tones. See Weijia Jiang (CBS). 

The word itself seems an odd choice. One reason I suspect it appears often is that Trump simply does not know a whole bunch of adjectives and, thus, reuses those he does know. Think how many times we’ve heard “great,” “powerful,” “amazing,” and huge” come out of his mouth. He declares “I think he’s a good guy” or “I’ve heard he’s a good guy” as though “good” nailed down something specific. Good to me? Good for me? Good as in moral, ethical and upright? 

When I was a child, my parents used “nasty” to describe something I should avoid. “Don’t touch that; it’s nasty.” Usually the object under discussion was connected to something germ-laden. Webster’s agrees that its use refers to things unpleasant or harmful, to a “physically nauseating” thing. My parents never applied it to a person. So, to see it used as Trump does is jarring.

According to dictionaries, when applied to a person, “nasty” means behaving in “an unpleasant or spiteful way.” “Nasty persons” are meanies, villains, rogues or scoundrels. If the word is applied to a woman, however, it suggests she is “ill-tempered, sexually adventurous, or self-empowered.” (An aside: Have you ever noticed how ideas of female empowerment and sex are often entangled when it comes to describing women?)

I think our President, ever the germaphobe, uses it in the sense my parents did. He connects nasty with something that one should leave alone; it’s garbage of the filthiest kind. But by transferring it to people and particularly to women he provides us with a window into really disturbed thinking. Our President cannot abide contradiction. He is, after all, a “very stable genius,” his words, not mine. In particular Trump cannot tolerate challenge from females and, so, he reserves special designations for them. 

Like a little child denied his way, he fights back with whatever limited means he has. He dehumanizes people who disagree, reducing them to something fit only for flushing down the nearest toilet. It is a peculiar verbal tic. However, it is also a “tell,” a habit that lets us know something about the speaker. In this case, it tells us how he values women who behave in a certain way. No wonder “Nasty Woman” t-shirts became so popular over the past couple of years.

Two Senate Seats Open? Watch This Space, by Penny Smith – May 19

We members of the Tribe of the Politically Addicted were greeted this week with the news that Senator Burr is under investigation by the FBI. Apparently not all is forgiven after Senator Burr cashed in some of his Stock Market holdings following a “Behind Closed Doors” briefing about the coming epidemic; made the news about that sale in the wake of a market crash; and then sought a review by the Senate Ethics Committee.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Burr’s cell phone was seized on May 13. A day later we learned that, beginning in March, four US Senators have been under investigation for insider trading. 

A wrinkle in the current dilemma in which Senator Burr finds himself is that his Senate committee charged with investigating Russian involvement in the 2016 election issued a bi-partisan report that was at odds with a partisan production by its House counterpart. Burr’s committee found Russian involvement; the Republican majority House Committee did not. Given that our President has found “unacceptable” conclusions that disagree with his world view, it seems unlikely that there will be a Trump rescue card in sight. Mr. Flynn walks, but Burr may not.

If Senator Burr were to resign or be found guilty of a crime, that would leave another North Carolina Senate seat vacant. Now wouldn’t that make for an interesting November? However, the wheels of American justice run slowly and are subject to multiple appeals, so we are likely to be voting for only one senator this November (that would be, of course, Cal Cunningham). Burr may have a difficult time outlasting the investigation, particularly since Trump probably no longer holds him within his inner circle.

Stay tuned.

FYI: According to Section 163-12 of the North Carolina General Statutes, if a vacancy occurs in an United States Senate seat the Governor must appoint a person from the political party that held the seat. The State Executive Committee of that party would present the Governor with a list of three names from which to make his selection. It must submit that list of names within 30 days of the vacancy. The state will then hold a special election for that seat at the next regular election for members of the NC General Assembly, which would be in 2022. The person winning that election would serve whatever time remains on that individual’s term. 

Burr would normally be up for re-election in 2024, although he indicated in the last election that this would be his final term in office. There are a few timing quirks in this process, but that’s basically what would happen.

Cal Cunningham Rising, by Penny Smith – May 19

I don’t know if you’re noticing it, too, but the Cal Cunningham name is showing up more and more in the news. That’s true for both print and social media. What’s even more interesting is that it’s true for both state and national news.

Cunningham, in case you’ve been taking the shelter-in-place admonitions too seriously, is the Democratic Party’s nominee for the United States Senate. He will face the incumbent, Thom Tillis, sweetheart of the Koch Brothers, ardent follower of almost all things Trump and architect of the disastrous policies of the GOP-dominated state legislature of the 2010s. Over the spring North Carolina has moved from probably red state to lean red to now being considered by many pundits a toss-up.

What changed?

Well, for one thing, Trump’s economy turned sour. We could argue that’s not his fault, since there was/is this pandemic thing going on. However, the obvious counter argument to that is: “things probably wouldn’t have been as bad as they are had Trump acted wisely.” So, the Trump pandemic caused the Trump Recession, which is now heading toward the Trump Depression. 

Or we could counter by pointing out that the economy Trump inherited was healthy and on the rise; Trump himself has done little to incentivize growth, particularly for our waning middle class. Indeed, many of his initiatives have proven harmful. The tariffs he continues to claim are being paid by China are actually being paid by Americans. The wall that Mexicans were going to finance slowly grows, also paid for by Americans. The price of fossil fuels is sinking lower by the day and with it that sector of our energy economy, thanks in large part to his friends the Saudis and the Russians, who are engaged in a petroleum supply war. 

Some of our crops, largely planted and picked by immigrant labor, are in danger of finding no one to harvest them; the absence of sufficient farm workers is the result of immigration policies almost too cruel to contemplate.  Chinese retaliation for tariffs has meant that many farmers found no customers for their products, so it’s your tax dollars and mine that have flowed from Washington into their pockets to compensate for their losses. And, not surprisingly, it’s the big players that got most of that compensation and not small family farms. Once the tariff fights end, there’s no guarantee China will return to purchasing things from us, even though that’s what our President claims will happen. He has, after all, been known to be wrong. Clorox for the virus, anyone?

We have alienated our friends and many of the best international consumers of American products. We have passed tax cuts for the wealthy and tossed peanuts to our workers. Trump, in his effort to grease the skids for business friends, has loosened regulations, ensuring that we will have more polluted air, dirtier water, and contaminated landfills. Those actions mean expensive costs down the road to repair the environment and our citizens’ compromised health. Promised redrafted, “huge and improved” international agreements remain either undone or unratified. 

And the good Cunningham news: He out-raised Thom Tillis in the first quarter this year: $4.4 million compared to Tillis’s $2.1. (Unfortunately, Tillis still has a cash-on-hand advantage, since he had a bunch of money already in the bank.) Among the Cunningham donors are people like Bob Kerrey, the former Nebraska senator, and Steven Spielberg, the well-known movie director. So, Cunningham’s on the radar of people who have money to spend. He’s also risen significantly in the polls, whereas Tillis has declined.

Cunningham is an attractive candidate in many ways. He’s a veteran who saw service in both Iraq and Afghanistan; he continues to train special operations troops at Fort Bragg.  He has experience in the state legislature. He leads an environmental services and waste reduction company and has been an active voice for environmental sanity. While in the state legislature, he fought for a number of educational reforms, including higher teacher pay, smaller class sizes and more robust early childhood opportunities.

I once thought Tillis’s name recognition and outsider money, as well as the financial support of insider Art Pope, would guarantee his re-election; I no longer think that’s true. This seat is in play. Our job is to get as many Democrats to the polls as we can in November.

Your Moment with Gene Nichol’s “Indecent Assembly” by Penny Smith – May 19

I’m finishing Gene Nichol’s Indecent Assembly (Blair Press, 2020) at the moment.  I recommended another of his books (The Faces of Poverty in North Carolina) earlier. Nichol, a member of the Law School faculty, also ran the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at Chapel Hill, which the Republican Board of Governors (the oversight committee for the state’s university system) shut down. They thought he was too critical of GOP members of the state legislature. He may have been accurate, but they tired of getting their feelings hurt.

Indecent Assembly comes with a foreword co-authored by Reverend William Barber of Moral Monday fame and is pointedly critical of the behavior of Republicans after they secured power in all three branches of our state’s government. It’s both timely and well-documented as well as both depressing and infuriating.

It’s so good, that I’m going to share sections with you over the course of the next week. Today’s installment is the author’s summary of what happened in North Carolina when the GOP came riding into Raleigh:

So a cascade of change rapidly came. Strict voter regulations aimed at curtailing turnout; repeal of racial justice guarantees; new and generous school voucher programs for private and religious schools; potent and demeaning abortion restrictions; expansive new firearms possession and carry rights; attacks on teacher tenure and representation; dramatic cuts to K-12 and higher education budgets; eased, ‘business-friendly’ environmental regulations; internationally derided anti-LGBTQ+ measures; brutal cuts to an array of social programs designed to assist the poor; a formal and consistent opposition to Obamacare and Medicaid expansion; the largest cut to a state unemployment compensation program in American history; massive tax breaks for the wealthiest Tar Heels and out-of-state corporations, accompanied by astonishingly, tax increases for low income workers – operating on the odd premise that giving money to the wealthy makes them virtuous and giving money to poor people makes them venal. (pp. 1-2)

And they gerrymandered the state in such a way that they were assured of staying in power. Although much of what they did was successfully challenged in court, they were able to keep those district lines in place throughout the 2010s through multiple court appeals.

What does Nichol hope to demonstrate with his book? “That since 2011 the North Carolina Republican General Assembly has waged the stoutest war against people of color and low-income citizens seen in the United States in half a century.” (p. 6) Not only have they tried to do in some of their fellow Carolinians, but “they have also attacked the foundations of American constitutional government as well.” (p. 7)

Nichol notes that his book is “about the politics of North Carolina, but it is also a warning beacon for other states as well.” (p. 9) A whole lot of what Republicans tried here has migrated to other Republican-dominated states. Our Assembly’s efforts were Beta tests for a GOP power grab; that party is now scaling up their efforts and it’s not simply a state government at stake: It’s our nation.

Can You Believe It? Penny Smith – April 19

REOPEN NC is a Facebook Group created on April 7. As of the morning of April 18 it had received nearly 3,000 likes and claimed 33,521 members. I first encountered it while reading The Daily Beast online. According to their group description, they: “are residents of North Carolina that stand for The Constitution and demand our officials Reopen NC no later than April 29, 2020 … The shutdown is not warranted, nor sustainable for our area. The vulnerable can be isolated or protected in other ways, without sacrificing our entire state economy. It’s important to note, several other states have not enacted stay at home orders.”

Megan Kendall is the individual who put up the site. To her credit and that of the site’s administrators, there are some ground rules for posting that include: “Be Kind and Courteous;” “No Hate Speech or Bullying;” “No Promotions or Spam;” and “Respect Everyone’s Privacy.” Politeness, however, is not an excuse for promoting actions that may kill someone.

Yesterday they made national news with a Reopen NC Rally in Raleigh, when approximately 100 people gathered to protest stay-at-home orders. At least one protester was arrested after refusing to obey police requests to refrain from assembling for what was deemed a “non-essential activity.”

Apparently the group is going to model the behavior of Moral Monday protests. They plan to show up in Raleigh on Tuesdays to object to the current stay-at-home, social distancing restrictions. They have also incited a number of opponents to found an opposition Facebook page, Stay Home NC, but that’s another story.

I suspect we will begin to see more of these groups around the United States as social distancing guidelines remain in effect and as the economic toll on small businesses increase. Although some of these protests originate with people who are already on the fringe (Ashley Smith of Morganton, one of the site administrators, has used social media to advance her opposition to vaccinations), they bring into play a set of individuals who were outside the Tea Party phenomenon of the Obama era. We all know how badly that movement played out, both for our state and the nation.

One can reasonably argue Tea Party grievances were grounded in xenophobia, racism and/or mounting tensions fueled by growing economic inequality and the inauguration of an African-American President. However, the pandemic economic woes are more immediate, more obvious, and more likely to hit a broader swath of the population. And they don’t have an easy villain to blame, although our President is slowly rolling out a number of options: the World Health Organization; Democrats and Democratic governors; China; immigrants, who brought in the virus and are spreading it; scientists and health experts; and Fake News, who hyped a flu outbreak into a pandemic. So, individuals who were not attracted to the Tea Party might make common cause with something like REOPEN NC when they can’t pay the rent for their shop.

Economies like ours are dependent on small businesses and, to a significant extent, tourism. Closing shops, most of whose owners do not have a comfortable cash reserve nor a bevy of lawyers to ensure they get immediate assistance from government programs, causes palpable pain. And to have them closed and travel-restricted during the coming months of high tourist season means they are unlikely to earn the money necessary to keep them alive in the leaner winter months. Combine that with the loss of the WCU and SCC student populations and we’ve got a real likelihood of local economic disaster.

The popping up of REOPEN NC reaffirms our ideological divisiveness, particularly as it relates to suspicion of government in any form. Yet, if the pandemic has proven anything, it is that there are some situations which require, for quick and effective responses, capable government action. Certainly that is not what the United States got with regard to our current situation and it is reaping the effects of likely millions of undetected coronavirus carriers abroad in the land. Many Americans prefer libertarian individualism, except when they don’t – think Social Security, good roads, clean air, all of which require a collaborative effort. Hyper-individualism does not build bridges, find vaccines, nor favorably regard a desire to promote “the general welfare.”

What that means for us is that we need to be particularly sensitive to the economic toll the pandemic has, is and will take on our local businesses. We need to be prepared to support them when they reopen and to work toward local, state and national remedies that help make them whole. 

We need to persuade voters that if we want to rebuild our country they need to turn to Democrats (note FDR after Hoover and Obama after Bush). There was never a Trump Prosperity, but only an extension of the Obama economy, until, suddenly there wasn’t. And that happened on Trump’s watch, although there is plenty of evidence that he wasn’t doing much serious watching early on. And we need to do that while affirming the wisdom of science. North Carolina’s COVID-19 spread has not been as severe as that of other states precisely because of the swift action of our Governor and the overwhelming positive response of citizens who are practicing social distancing guidelines.