Conditions were some of the darkest of this election cycle on Saturday morning when Marco Rubio made what may have been the most compelling comments of his presidential campaign.
The Florida senator spoke to the press after a now infamous Trump rally in downtown Chicago was mobbed and infiltrated by organized Black Lives Matter and pro-Bernie Sanders protesters. For hours, broadcast on live television, America watched as this boiling caldron of vitriol sporadically broke down into bouts of physical violence. It was Trump, not the Chicago Police Department, as he claimed, who made the decision to shut down that event before things got even further out of hand. This dynamic, one in which Trump protester and supporter square off amid the tensions of imminent violence, has come to characterize many Trump gatherings since Friday. The candidate himself is now a secondary attraction at his own traveling roadshow. The latest titillation toward which his fans gravitate is the prospect of watching blood spill and of coming dangerously close to the action.
Asked about this deeply regrettable spectacle, Marco Rubio made it perfectly clear who was to blame. “This is a man who, in rallies, has told his supporters to basically beat up the people who are in the crowd and he’ll pay their legal fees,” Rubio said. “And I think the media bears some responsibility.” He added that Trump is responding to a perverse set of incentives in which the free media coverage from which his campaign has benefited is only sustained so long as he can continually increase the ante, and that is a recipe for disaster.
“This is what a culture and a society look like when everyone says whatever the heck they want,” he added. “If I’m angry, it gives me the right to say or do anything I want. Well, there are other people that are angry, too. And if they speak out and say whatever they want, the result is it all breaks down. It’s called chaos. It’s called anarchy.”
Rubio noted, as have others, that many of the liberal protesters who descended on Trump rallies were a professional sort of agitator, but he was also clear that the tensions that typify Trump events are the result of a conscious calculation on the candidate’s part. The design of many of these protesters is to provoke a confrontation and present themselves to a sympathetic media environment as the victims of a dangerous movement. This is not a new tactic, but past targets of it have previously been wise enough to avoid giving their harassers precisely what they want. In Trump’s case, violent agitation is meeting with violent agitation. And it is happening repeatedly, across the country, and only at Donald Trump’s events.
“Forget about the election for a moment,” he added. “This boiling point that we have now reached has been fed largely by the fact that we have a frontrunner in my party that basically justifies physically assaulting people who disagree with you.”
The Florida senator observed that a supporter at a recent Trump rally “sucker punched” an African-American protester on camera and, after his release following arrest, promised next time to kill him. Rubio noted that Donald Trump has not condemned his supporter, nor has he offered any thoughts for the man he attacked. Instead, on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Trump revealed that he was looking into making good on his promise to pay the legal costs associated with the execution of violence in the name of Trump. This is a formula for tyranny, and it is one that Donald Trump is skillfully exploiting. He sows the seeds of disorder and will soon present himself as the only candidate that can contain the forces he has unleashed.
I had initially assumed that Trump’s irresponsible rhetoric was simply a strong-arm political tactic — that Trump campaign operatives threatening chaos, or worse, was a strategy designed to intimidate the Republican Party into giving their candidate the nomination at a potentially contested convention. That might have been the original plan, but it’s not any longer. The violence Trump has stoked has arrived months ahead of schedule. It suggests that this is a phenomenon over which Trump no longer has full control, and the cooler heads that we all expected to prevail are still largely silent about it or positioning themselves to benefit from it.
The country is careening into a familiar dark abyss. Trump supporters now feel confident enough in their surroundings to scream “go back to Africa” at blacks and “go to Auschwitz” at Jews. This anti-social behavior is being abetted from the top, because the top seems to have no interest in stopping it. Indeed, the celebrity candidate appears to think he can ride this ugly wave into power.
Only under the assumption that 2016 is still a winnable election for Republicans does it make sense to try to avoid alienating the cohort of new GOP voters attracted to Donald Trump and his dangerous brand of politics. The GOP should embrace the liberation that comes from knowing that the stability and continuity-seeking general electorate will not endorse the kind of chaos they’re seeing on television. This is a candidate who continues to employ a campaign manager who is facing a criminal complaint alleging assault on a female reporter. This is a candidate who has made no effort to shun the violent or the racists openly amassing around him. Those who continue to stand by him have by now seen enough to know exactly what it is they are validating.
“Every major institution in our society has failed us,” Rubio concluded. “You’re working as hard as you ever have, and you can’t make ends meet. And along comes a presidential candidate and says to you, ‘You know why your life is hard? Because fill in the blank. Somebody, someone, some country; they’re the reasons for it. Give me power so I can go after them. That’s what he’s feeding into. That is not leadership. That is not productive leadership. That is not good leadership. And that is not in keeping with our American tradition.”
Ted Cruz and John Kasich both deserve credit for not mincing words about what Donald Trump has invited, but no Republican elected official has yet identified the forces at work here as clearly and succinctly as Rubio. More in the GOP would do well to echo his concerns. Chicago was only the beginning; either the beginning of the end of the Trump phenomenon or the beginning of something much worse.
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Careening Toward the Abyss
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An appeal for sanity.
Can a right-wing American writer help spark a resistance movement inside the U.K. Labour party? Probably not. But these aren’t ordinary times. There is a great danger looming inside Labour. Its shadow extends from the British Isles across the West, including the United States. That danger has a name, Jeremy Corbyn, and there is a duty to prevent his ever coming to lead Her Majesty’s Government.
The latest revelation about the Labour leader—that in 2014 he laid a wreath at the graves of several Palestinian terrorists, including the masterminds of the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre—underscores the urgency of the task. As the Daily Mail reported on Friday, Corbyn was photographed honoring the burial site of members of Black September, the terror group that murdered 11 Israeli athletes in Munich.
“One picture places Mr. Corbyn close to the grave of another terrorist, Atef Bseiso, intelligence chief of the Palestine Liberation Organisation,” per the Mail. “Another image shows the Labour leader apparently joining in an Islamic prayer while by the graves.”
His Labour handlers claimed Corbyn was there to commemorate some four-dozen Palestinian militants killed in an Israeli air strike against a Tunisian PLO base. But hang on: “On a visit to the cemetery this week, the Daily Mail discovered that the monument to the air strike victims is 15 yards from where Mr. Corbyn is pictured—and in a different part of the complex. Instead, he was in front of a plaque that lies beside the graves of Black September members.”
Corbyn himself has described the conference as one “searching for peace,” but the Daily Mail on Monday debunked that apologia, as well. The gabfest—titled the “International Conference on Monitoring the Palestinian Political and Legal Situation in the Light of Israeli Aggression”—featured leading members and ideologues for the Gaza-based terror outfit Hamas. One such leader, Oussama Hamdan, offered a “four-point vision to fight against Israel” and hailed Hamas’ “great success on the military and national levels.”
This comes on top of everything else we know about Corbyn’s Labour: the unreconstructed Stalinist party spokesman, the anti-Semitic outrages from local councilors and top MPs alike, the Labour leader’s stints as a broadcaster for state-run Iranian television, his invitations to Hamas and Hezbollah, which he has called “our friends.” And on and on and on. The noxious ideological fumes wafting from a once-honorable party of the center-left are suffocating.
There was a time when conservatives, including Americans like yours truly, took a certain pleasure in Labour’s Corbynite woes. Corbyn was so extreme, the thinking went, that his hostile takeover of Labour would ensure Tory ascendance for a generation. The man’s goofy manners—his tweed jackets and bad ties, his bicycling and gardening—only added to the fun. But the joke stopped being funny long ago. The Tories under Prime Minister Theresa May are in a shambolic state, Brexit has stalled, the pound sterling is in a downward spiral, and the electorate is deeply polarized. He really could pull it off.
To avert that dreadful prospect, Britons of good will should set aside quotidian policy differences and rally around the “Never Corbyn” standard. The outcome of Brexit, taxes and welfare, immigration and the National Health Service—none of these questions is more important than ensuring that the Jew-baiting, Black September-honoring, Hamas-befriending crank from the People’s Republic of Islington gets nowhere near No. 10 Downing Street.
For the love of all that is good and just.
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Mirror images of one another.
On August 16, the Boston Globe will publish an editorial denouncing Donald Trump’s “dirty war on the free press.” They will not be alone. According to the Globe’s deputy editorial page editor, over 100 American newspapers ranging from major city dailies to local outlets will join with the paper in a united assault on this White House’s attacks on political media as the “enemy of the people.” The tension between media consumers and producers—regularly exacerbated by the president—has even been condemned in the United Nations. The institution’s outgoing high commissioner for human rights said that the president’s agitation verges on “incitement to violence”—a legitimate concern that justifiably haunts many of Trump’s domestic critics.
For some, the pretense of concern for civic decency and national comity melts away when those desirable conditions conflict with their team’s political imperatives. Among Donald Trump’s self-appointed phalanx in the conservative press, the fear that the president may again be creating the conditions for violence will be waved off. After all, the sources of this criticism are hardly objective, and Trump’s critics cannot be lent one inch of legitimacy lest they take a mile. But to dismiss the potential of incitement to produce anti-media violence is to be blind to the rhetoric-fueled political violence we’ve already witnessed in the Trump era. By and large, though, that violence is not the product of Trumpian incitement. Just the opposite; it appears to be the result of anti-Trump anxiety.
To mark the first anniversary of the terrible events in Charlottesville this weekend, a band of white nationalists just large enough to have gratuity included in their check descended on Washington D.C. There, they were confronted by a crowd of anti-racist demonstrators numbering in the hundreds. Between the counter-protesters, the journalists, and the police assigned to keep order, the handful of white supremacists who instigated this event quickly ceased to be of relevance. Unfortunately, the threat of civil unrest did not abate with the successful intimidation of the alt-right. The left’s more agitated elements quickly turned on the police and the press.
The anti-racist demonstrators paraded down the streets in Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting “All cops are racist, you better face it.” “No borders. No Wall. No USA at all,” another group of demonstrators shouted. “Last year they came w/ torches,” one of the protester’s banners read. “This year they come w/ badges.” The Washington Post reported that the demonstrators were confused and agitated by the large riot gear–clad police presence. That “confusion” led to a variety of confrontations, including one in Washington D.C. where an officer was pelted with objects and nearly torn off his motorcycle.
Police did not have it anywhere near as bad as the press. Demonstrators assaulted an NBC News reporter and tried to prevent him from filming the mass demonstration. “Fu** you, snitch ass news bitch,” yelled one demonstrator as he lunged at NBC News correspondent Cal Perry. ABC News reporter DeJuan Hoggard was confronted by protesters who were so agitated by the prospect of being filmed that they cut the audio cable on his recording equipment.
It would be ignorant to dismiss these and similar moves by potentially and actively violent left-wing organizations as the outbursts of an inchoate movement without an ethos. Anti-police violence and anti-media agitation are predicated on mature intellectual and organizing principles.
Mark Bray, a Dartmouth College historian and the author of Translating Anarchy: The Anarchism of Occupy Wall Street, explained that Antifa’s purpose is to “preemptively shut down fascist organizing efforts.” As a movement, it “rejects the liberal notion that fascism is a school of thought worthy of open debate and consideration.” Writing in praise of Antifa’s “militant left-wing and anarchist politics,” the Nation’s Natasha Lennard mocked “civility-fetishizing” liberals who “cling to institutions.” Presumably, she meant institutions like the right of objectionable elements to peaceable assembly, or, in her words, “predictable media coverage decrying antifa militancy.” Animated by the increased visibility of white nationalism in the Trump era, Mother Jones published a less-than-condemnatory profile of the resolve of “left-wing groups” to resist white supremacy, which “sometimes goes beyond nonviolent protest—including picking up arms.”
These activists’ sentiments are not limited to the liberal fringe. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has picked up a failed liberal war on right-wing media’s credibility where the Barak Obama administration left off. The mayor has never been shy about dismissing Rupert Murdoch-owned properties like the New York Post and Fox News Channel, which he does not consider “real media outlets.” This weekend, de Blasio devoted himself to attacking these “tabloid” institutions for deliberately “increasing racial tensions” in America. In a world without these media outlets, “there would be less hate,” he said, “less appeal to racial division.” Given the political environment, you can see how this might be misconstrued as a call to action.
In the parlance of the militant activists on the streets, de Blasio is contending that these media outlets deserve to be “no-platformed.” And the mayor seems prepared to act on his exclusionary beliefs. When a credentialed Post reporter tried to approach the mayor this weekend at a public event, the mayor’s New York City Police Department security detail physically escorted the reporter out of de Blasio’s sight. As the Post correctly noted, the incident was not unlike the White House’s efforts to demonize CNN and bar its reporters from access to the White House.
The prospect of imminent violence resulting from white supremacist and anti-media fervor recklessly whipped up by the president needs to be urgently and forcefully confronted. As I and others have written, Trump’s penchant for demonizing the press and flattering his most unsavory supporters has the potential to radicalize his more unstable fans, who perhaps cannot see through the act. But the same is true for liberals. Their popular elected officials are demonizing media they don’t like, blaming them for racial tension in America and deeming them, in effect, fake news. Their left flanks are populated by ghoulish polemicists who are role-playing at violent revolutionary politics. And amid all this, the potential exists for these ingredients to yield precisely the kind of bloodshed that the press fears Trump may be inviting.
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Podcast: Street Violence and Turkey
The COMMENTARY podcast discusses the weekend of unrest that followed the one-year anniversary of white nationalist-instigated violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Despite vastly outnumbering the white nationalists who showed up to commemorate the heinous anniversary, many of the anti-racist demonstrators were not content to be peaceful. The podcast explores what animates these violent movements. Also, the podcast unpacks the increasingly serious friction between the U.S. and Turkey.
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An idea whose time will come.
When President Donald Trump first floated the idea of creating an entirely new branch of the United States armed forces dedicated to space-based operations in March, the response from lay political observers was limited to bemused snickering. That mockery and amusement have not abated in the intervening months. Thursday’s announcement by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, that the administration plans to establish a sixth armed forces branch by 2020, occasioned only more displays of cynicism, but it shouldn’t have. This is deadly serious stuff. The expansion and consolidation of America’s capacities to defend its interests outside the atmosphere is inevitable and desirable.
Though you would not know it from those who spent the day chuckling to themselves over the prospect of an American space command, the militarization of this strategically vital region is decades old. Thousands of both civilian and military communications and navigations satellites operate in earth orbit, to say nothing of the occasional human. It’s impossible to say how many weapons are already stationed in orbit because many of these platforms are “dual use,” meaning that they could be transformed into kill vehicles at a moment’s notice.
American military planners have been preoccupied with the preservation of critical U.S. communications infrastructure in space since at least 2007, when China stunned observers by launching a missile that intercepted and destroyed a satellite, creating thousands of pieces of debris hurtling around the earth at speeds faster than any bullet.
America’s chief strategic competitors—Russia and China—and rogue actors like Iran and North Korea are all committed to developing the capability to target America’s command-and-control infrastructure, a lot of which is space-based. Trump’s Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testified in 2017 that both Moscow and Beijing are “considering attacks against satellite systems as part of their future warfare doctrine” and are developing the requisite anti-satellite technology—despite their false public commitments to the “nonweaponization of space and ‘no first placement’ of weapons in space.”
Those who oppose the creation of a space branch object on a variety of grounds, some of them merit more attention than others. The contention that a sixth military branch is a redundant waste of taxpayer money, for example, is a more salient than cynical claims that Trump is interested only in a glory project.
“I oppose the creation of a new military service and additional organizational layers at a time when we are focused on reducing overhead and integrating joint warfighting functions,” Sec. Mattis wrote in October of last year. That’s a perfectly sound argument against excessive bureaucratization and profligacy, but it is silent on the necessity of a space command. Both the Pentagon and the National Security Council are behind the creation of a “U.S. Space Command” in lieu of the congressional action required to establish a new branch of the armed forces dedicated to space-based operations.
As for bureaucratic sprawl, in 2015, the diffusion of space-related experts and capabilities across the armed services led the Air Force to create a single space advisor to coordinate those capabilities for the Defense Department. But that patch did not resolve the problems and, in 2017, Congress’s General Accountability Office recommended investigating the creation of a single branch dedicated to space for the purposes of consolidation.
It is true that the existing branches maintain capabilities that extend into space, which would superficially make a Space Force seem redundant. But American air power was once the province of the U.S. Army and Navy, and bureaucratic elements within these two branches opposed the creation of a U.S. Air Force in 1947. The importance of air power in World War II and the likelihood that aircraft would be a critical feature of future warfighting convinced policymakers that a unified command of operations was critical to effective warfighting. Moreover, both Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman believed that creating a separate branch for airpower ensured that Congress would be less likely to underfund the vital enterprise.
The final argument against the militarization of space is a rehash of themes from the Cold War. Low earth orbit, like the seafloor and the Antarctic, is part of the “global commons,” and should not be militarized on principle. This was the Soviet position, and Moscow’s fellow travelers in the West regularly echoed it. But the argument is simply not compelling.
The Soviets insisted that the militarization of space was provocative and undesirable, but mostly because they lacked the capability to weaponize space. The Soviets regularly argued that any technology it could not match was a first-strike weapon. That’s why they argued vigorously against deploying missile interceptors but voiced fewer objections to ground-based laser technology. As for the “global commons,” that’s just what we call the places where humans do not operate for extended periods of time and where resource extraction is cost prohibitive. The more viable the exploration of these hostile environments becomes, the less “common” we will eventually consider them.
Just as navies police sea lanes, the inevitable commercialization of space ensures that its militarization will follow. That isn’t something to fear or lament. It’s not only unavoidable; it’s a civilizational advance. Space Force may not be an idea whose time has come, but deterrence is based on supremacy and supremacy is the product of proactivity. God forbid there comes a day on which we need an integrated response to a state actor with capabilities in space, we will be glad that we didn’t wait for the crisis before resolving to do what is necessary.