When We Can’t Look Away

I’ve been harping on the role of pictures in generating social change–how the flood of visual testimony of racism, culminating in the video of George Floyd’s murder, has forced recognition of a reality too many Americans hadn’t previously understood–or wanted to acknowledge.

But a couple of recent columns–one by Michelle Goldberg and one by Russ Douthat–have expanded on that observation. Both writers suggest that seeing Donald Trump and experiencing the travesty that has been his administration have also been “pictures.”

Goldberg notes “two big examples” of how Trump’s presidency has triggered progress.

The sudden, rapid embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement by white people is a function of the undeniable brutality of George Floyd’s videotaped killing. But public opinion has also moved left on racial issues in reaction to an unpopular president who behaves like a cross between Bull Connor and Andrew Dice Clay.

And the thrilling 6-3 decision the Supreme Court just issued upholding L.G.B.T. equality wouldn’t be as devastating to the religious right if it had happened under a President Clinton.

Goldberg suggests that the Supreme Court’s LGBTQ decision dealt a real blow to the “but the Supreme Court!” argument made by conservative supporters of Trump. (And this was before the Court slapped him down on DACA.)

We’ve all encountered those people: yes, they’ll admit, Trump is an offensive ignoramus, someone we’d never socialize with or hire, but we need to support him in order to put conservative judges on the courts. (The argument used to be accompanied by “and look at your 401K!”–but that justification disappeared with Trump’s criminally incompetent “management” of the pandemic.)

The phrase “But Gorsuch” is shorthand for how conservatives justify all the moral compromises they’ve made in supporting Trump; controlling the Supreme Court makes it all worth it. So there’s a special sweetness in Gorsuch spearheading the most important L.G.B.T. rights decision since the 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

Goldberg quotes one conservative for the sentiment that, if Trump’s appointees can’t  deliver Supreme Court victories to social conservatives, “there’s no point.” If that reaction means that social conservatives will be less enthusiastic about heading to the polls in November, it makes the Court’s decision even more satisfying.

On the Sunday before announcement of the Court’s decision (which, I am happy to report, was accompanied by others that cheered me: refusal to hear a challenge to California’s refusal to co-operate with ICE, refusal to hear challenges to state gun control laws, and one protecting the Clean Water Act) Russ Douthat, one of the conservative columnists at the Times, attributed the increasingly leftward shift of public opinion to Trump’s Presidency, suggesting that “so long as he remains in office, Trump will be an accelerant of the right’s erasure, an agent of its marginalization and defeat, no matter how many of his appointees occupy the federal bench.”

In situations of crisis or grave difficulty, Trump displays three qualities, three spirits, that all redound against the movement that he leads. His spirit of authoritarianism creates a sense of perpetual crisis among his opponents, uniting left-wingers and liberals despite their differences. His spirit of chaos, the sense that nothing is planned or under control, turns moderates and normies against him. And finally his spirit of incompetence means that conservatives get far less out of his administration than they would from a genuine imperial president, a man of iron rather than of pasteboard.

Douthat concludes that Trump has been little short of a disaster for conservatives.

What we are seeing right now in America, an accelerated leftward shift, probably won’t continue at this pace through 2024. But it’s likely to continue in some form so long as Trump is conservatism, and conservatism is Trump — and four more years of trying to use him as a defensive salient is not a strategy of survival, but defeat.

For principled conservatives–in contrast to the more numerous racists and homophobes who’ve adopted the label–the Trump Presidency has been that very bad car wreck at the side of the road–the one every passing car slows down to gape at. 

It’s a horrifying picture, and they can’t look away. None of us can–and the compelling pileups keep coming.

Friday’s effort to fire the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York–this administration’s “Saturday night massacre”– looks to usher in an even more dramatic and compelling collision, as Barr frantically tries to keep the lid on pending disclosures and indictments…

Popcorn, anyone?

As a friend recently posted to Facebook, this isn’t government–it’s the Days of Our Lives. 


  1. I’ve never seen Trump as a conservative. He’s a NewYork Democrat with an R by his name. Even tough his appointments may show his trend as pro conservative in some ways most people see judges as moving to the left after they are appointed

  2. Barr was forced to back down in his attempt to fire the D.A. in NYC. When numerous opinions from experts indicated that only the district court judges could replace Berman, he changed his tune and assured Berman that his assistant would replace him, not some schmuck who has donated to Trump’s campaign. So Berman agreed to step down.

    What is amusing is that Berman was also a donor to Trump’s campaign, so he must be onto something hot.

  3. Excellent and poignant blog today. Most people contributing to this blog have been putting forth testimony to all these things that Goldberg (one of my favorites) and Douthat (one of my least favorites) wrote. It’s not just a uniting of the left and the lefters, but the right is crumbling right up to the midpoint. Only the extremists still favor incompetence, hate and despicable behavior.

    In the clips from Trump’s “rally”, aka ego massage, I saw many of the “audience” sitting there looking bored or fondling their phones. And what were those black people doing there? The only serious applause I saw came from the Trump acolytes who clapped for such wretched creatures as Cotton, Jordan and Inhofe.

    Yes, it was hard to watch. But the overwhelming nausea from watching this goon show allowed me the justification to watch a movie. Popcorn up.

  4. “For principled conservatives–in contrast to the more numerous racists and homophobes who’ve adopted the label–the Trump Presidency has been that very bad car wreck at the side of the road–the one every passing car slows down to gape at.”

    Let’s look at two “principled conservatives” currently active in Trump’s unprincipled administration. Susan Collins who has two or three times spoken out publicly against one or another of Trump’s disastrous decisions and the impeachment then voted with the party when the time for action was put before her. Now look at Mitt Romney; outspoken against Trump throughout his campaign and his service to this country and he put his moral standards in action as he voted against Trump…and McConnell…when it counted.

    A friend who also comments on this blog E-mailed me of her fears regarding Trump’s Tulsa rally; fears I believe the majority of we thinking Americans had as it came on an ill-advised historic date and against all medical advice to stop the advancing spread of Covid-19 Pandemic. My response was that it is another of his actions amounting to an oncoming inevitable horrible accident we MUST NOT LOOK AWAY FROM. As it turned out, CNN reported the rally as “underwhelming” while inside with thousands of empty seats, Trump blamed the low turnout on the violent protesters, those thugs, outside and of course the media. Outside we watched as the protesting crowds milled around with few arrests and as the podium for the planned speech to the overflow crowd was dismantled and the huge TV screen of him speaking inside was viewed by approximately 20 people.

    I was expecting the worst but I couldn’t NOT look away and so glad I didn’t. Inside, Trump’s prompted crowd waved the signs provided to them, back and forth in unison on cue, as he spewed his lies. Because I couldn’t look away I saw him deny any involvement in the firing of SDNY US Attorney Geoffrey Berman. I also saw him again claim he wants Covid-19 testing cut back to cut down on the number of coronavirus cases; an idiotic statement which the White House (who exactly is the “White House?”) claimed the prez was joking. As Joe Scarborough stated on “Morning Joe”; that comment is like saying if you cut back on pregnancy tests there will be fewer pregnancies.

    “It’s a horrifying picture, and they can’t look away. None of us can–and the compelling pileups keep coming.”

    Media reports about and from Donald Trump have been “a horrifying picture” for almost FOUR DECADES. When will this country finally have enough and turn him off? November 3, 2020???

  5. Hey Vernon,

    What was wrong with”twitchy” Inhofe? He looked like he was possessed by the spirit of Tourette’s!

    By the way, your book is fairly interesting, I’ve been reading it on my Fire when I have time. Compelling!

  6. I no longer believe there IS such a thing as a principled conservative. Much of what passes for it has just been religious & social activism designed mostly to exert certain religious beliefs on all people. I’m hoping that Gorsuch recently sticking to his textualist guns and Roberts siding with 4 liberals on DACA is sending the message loud and clear to Biden, Dems and the left: “Please don’t expand and pack the Supreme Court”. If Dems CAN win the WH, House and Senate in November, however, one of the first bills they should pass and enact into law is to admit D.C. and Puerto Rico as the 51st & 52nd states. They can call it The Barack Obama Political Payback Act of 2021.

  7. Okay, listen up folks. Everything is pointing to the apparent, “nobody but the racists love Trump,” angle of 2020, but I want us all to remain mindful of the fact that those racists are ardent in their love of and support for the orange menace. This type of thinking can allow complacency to set in. Don’t ever think that he can’t possibly win. Remember, we are not a democracy. We are a republic. It is possible for Biden to win the popular vote by 7 million and still lose the election. Come November VOTE and please VOTE BLUE!

  8. Patrick; Justice Roberts later stated he based his vote on the wording of the case, NOT on the Constitution. Can we look forward to this being presented before SCOTUS in a different format in the future? The obvious answer is; yes if Trump remains in the White House.

    I do not believe Washington, D.C. should be given statehood status, the seat of our government should remain a separate entity to maintain autonomy. It is a city; states are comprised of cities, towns, counties, townships, all with separate government leadership and laws. A state comprised of only one city would present a new set of problems; would you define areas as Democratic and Republican separate cities? Puerto Rico certainly deserves statehood but if a vote were taken at this time, would the citizens want to be part of what now passes as the United States Government? And how would the American flag be redesigned to add only one star on the field of blue? Just askin’

    Is President Barack Obama looking for a Political Payback on any level?

  9. Agree ?% Peggy and there are a LOT of racists in our country. We never thought Trump would win in ‘16 and I will NEVER belief that he cannot be re-elected until he is not. And THEN we will have to worry about which of his spawn try and replace him in politics: Ivanka, Jared or Don Jr. Frankly I think they’re all too lazy but you never know.

  10. Jon Sorg,

    Which book? Thanks for the review. Have you gone to Amazon and visited my author’s page? A new novel is listed. Thanks for being a fan.

  11. Nobody wants to thank Trump for anything but on the other hand he has ended the era of the Tea Party and other fascists by revealing that they are a small minority of loudmouths who needed to recruit other dystopian realities to even come close in elections.

    The movement died by overserving themselves with Trump, Pence, McConnell, Barr, Pompeo, etc.

    Time to move on. There’s a great deal of rebuilding work to be done.

  12. Sheila,
    My daughter and I have discussed a very, very sensitive subject about the power of photos and videos. We dare not say this to many people, but maybe it’s time to share. I hope I don’t get tons of backlash about this. After Sandy Hook, we know that the parents suffered in a special Hell that only they could experience. However, one photo of what a high-powered rifle does to the body of a child, we think, would have changed the minds of many of those who defend the right to own those killing machines. We were hoping one parent would allow the autopsy report to be made public – – with no photo. Maybe that would have helped. But I certainly respect the wished of those poor parents. I can’t even imagine how they survived themselves.

  13. Trump has been his own worst enemy all along. He is all about himself. Everything in the world (in his narcissistic mind) rotates around his me-me-me complex. Thus if (as an example) Merkel declines a visit to a G-7 meeting out of concern for handling the coronavirus situation in Germany, Trump takes that as a personal insult and withdraws troops from Germany, using the power of the state to cater to his personal sensitivities and ignoring the geopolitical implications of such a move with Putin’s troops nearby and our various understandings and protocols with NATO. Treaty? What treaty? Trade agreement? What trade agreement? It’s me-me-me. He is structurally incapable of representing anything or anybody other than himself and is the last person in the USA we should voluntarily empower to handle our affairs both domestic and foreign. We can correct that near fatal mistake in November.

  14. The pictures from the Tulsa Rally are in instructive. The Trumpet has managed to make wearing a mask and social distancing a political statement. Science in the absence of an effective vaccine or treatment for Corona chose the only viable option: Masks and Social Distancing.

    The Trumpet and his eager followers as expected ignored Science. If you go in for surgery, the expectation is the surgical team will follow best practices: hygiene, sanitation and proper surgical techniques. What the Trumpet and his eager followers have done is turned back the medical clock to amputations performed with dirty equipment.

    From another Blog the following:
    >> The multitudinous non-maskers aren’t a monolith, of course, but most can be loosely organized into two groups:

    1) Self-centered narcissists, who simply refuse to make the smallest sacrifice for the health and well-being of others, because they’ve been so weaned on individualism and have so little appreciation for interdependent community—that anything less than completely unfettered freedom feels restrictive.

    2) People with such a cultic adoration of this President that they refuse to wear a mask, because to do so would mean that he was wrong all along and that they were lied to and that we are in grave danger—so in an oxymoronic attempt at self-preservation, they swallow a toxic cocktail of tearful nationalism, Fox News fakery, macho flexing, and willful ignorance—and kill people to own the Libs. <<

  15. John Sorg – Inhofe is 85 years old and showed up sans a mask at Trump’s me-me-me party. He may be toast, but speaking of pictures, we can be happy that Trump’s audience was not of overflow status since I have little doubt that a maskless closely knit audience of thousands will bring a spike in the virus in Oklahoma and an increase in general in venues other than Oklahoma as it spreads to wherever Trump’s audience hails from. We’ll know more about that in ten to fourteen days, and I hope I am wrong.

    Of course, should there be a spike in Tulsa and environs, look for Trump to ascribe such spike to the protestors who were on the scene, i.e., their closely knit crowding. It’s always someone else’s fault in his me-me-me world, never the faultless me-me-me.

  16. While Trump and the media kept us entertained with a fresh new day of hell, the 1% has been raiding the treasury.

    The media trashed Bernie Sanders and every other progressive for suggesting that our government and treasury work for the people instead of the Oligarchy. Trump enriched the same folks that Obama made wealthy except he expanded socialism for the affluent while imposing raw capitalism for the Working Class.

    The Lincoln Project has been funded to destroy Trump via ad buys. It looks like the strategy is to sacrifice Trump and his down-ballot candidates to save the GOP from a death swirl.

    Since it’s Father’s Day, I’ll spare Biden and the DNC’s “strategy.” 😉

  17. joanne marie classick; I agree with you, that is what was done to those children, their parents had to see their child in that condition to identify them. Why should our elected officials be protected from the truth of what a high powered rifle or any gun does to the human body when deciding gun laws. I wonder how many NRA members or the gun tottin’ hombres we see on our streets have seen what their weapon can do; and the bullets that miss their targets do hit something or someone somewhere. The same is true of stabbings; defense attorneys try to keep autopsy photos and photos of bodies as they were found from being seen by the jury. The jury is there to decide the guilt or innocence of the crime committed by the defendant…they need to see the crime that happened. Pressing for responsible gun control is a major issue we can’t look away from.

    Patrick and others who have called for statehood for Washington, D.C.; I gave this more thought after my earlier comments. The Constitution requires each state have two Senators; the number of Representatives are decided by population in gerrymandered areas. Do Senators and Representatives all claim D.C. as their primary residence or their home state? Gerrymandering Washington, D.C. would be an interesting dilemma for both parties. Just askin’ Inquiring minds want to know.

  18. Joanne Marie Classick, and Sheila,
    The topic of imagery is interesting. I caught a clip on PBS about an author that realizes the unintentional power of imagery and writes graphic novels geared toward teens to show how imagery can effect lives. In this case marketing military style weapons to the public.

    This is not a plug for his book, and I have not read it, but the topic of imagery and influence is timely. http://www.topshelfcomix.com/catalog/any-empire/734

  19. I read that the Trump Tulsa rally was pretty much a bust and about 1/3 of the stadium was empty. Attendance at an outdoor rally was so low that it was canceled. Trump’s speech rambled and was disjointed with very little energy from such an underwhelming crowd. At the same time the Trump campaign claimed more than a million people requested tickets. Was this just another lie? Maybe not in this case.

    This doesn’t make sense until you know maybe a reason why. The NY Times reported a social protest movement started with teenagers requesting tickets with no intention of showing up. That may have discouraged some people from even trying to get tickets, but the campaign did not limit them. But it points to the fact that not even 19,000 Trump supporters showed up, because admission to that stadium was on a first come basis and if you showed up they would have let you in.

    What a way to pop that egotistical bubble!

    Oh… by the way most of the other 12,000 Trump loyalists that did show up crammed into the lower tiers with almost no masks. Let’s see if this becomes a super spreader event.

    One word of advice I got from the article, was if you decide to use this form of protest, make sure you use a Google Phone number, because if you use your real phone number, you will get spammed non-stop by the Trump campaign committee and they don’t seem to have an unsubscribe function.

  20. Vern,
    Meadows and minefields, of course!

    the way he was acting, I would have assumed he had the coronavirus already, LOL!

    I couldn’t take it anymore last night, it felt like
    My gray matter, the little I have left, was just melting and running out of my nose, lol.

  21. John,

    Oh, good. It’s my first novel. You’re gonna want to read the sequel when you get to the end. Clever, those writers… Glad you like it. Please review to Amazon when you’re done. Copy me too. I’m a big boy, so I look forward to a totally objective review. I can’t get better without it. dolfin553@gmail.com

  22. I’m reading about Joseph Stalin. I was struck by his similarity to Trump, a far greater similarity than to Hitler.

    For instance, Stalin, hiding out in his dacha, refused to believe reports from his Generals that three million of Hitler’s soldiers had attacked Russia’s southern border. Stalin blamed the reports on Western media, believing the media had somehow breached Russia’s codes and manipulated the wording in order to make him appear weak. So, by the time Stalin caved in to fact, the Nazi troupes already had killed two million Russians.

    For example, when his son was captured, Stalin issued notices than he no longer had a son. No son of Stalin would have allowed himself to be taken prisoner.

    For example, when generals disappointed Stalin, or even offered suggestions contrary to his wishes, he would fire them and then replace them with some dope from the ranks, who would get another quarter million troupes killed.

    Trump is more like Stalin because Stalin was stupid and hated smart people, whereas Hitler had a little more respect for competency.

  23. RE: Statehood for D.C. It does have a greater population than either Wyoming or Vermont.

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