GELFAND’S WORLD-I believe that it's really Donald Trump's hair. I seem to be unique in this belief. It's nice to be unique in some way, but what bothers me is that I have also been nearly unique, until now, in arguing that Trump should be shunned and boycotted.
But times change. It's been a traumatic week both for Donald Trump and for the Confederate flag. This, I would argue, is not as much of a chance coincidence as it might seem. There is a relationship between the two downward trajectories.
The first of course is that the Confederate flag and Donald Trump are recognized by a large number of people as being in some ways evil. Trump's evil is trite and trivial compared to the Confederate Battle flag, but it is still there. It encompasses racism, pomposity, not a little public sadism, and now even more racism. This is small stuff if you compare it to the symbol of slavery, but Trump's behavior is contemporary.
For some reason that I don't get, a lot of people laughed off Trump's truly vicious attacks on the president a few years ago. You may remember the taunting boasts about Obama's origins and personal documentation. As I wrote at the time, it hardly mattered whether Trump was as racist as he sounded, or just making opportunistic use of other peoples' racism in order to gain personal attention. They are both evil things. The ultimate cynicism that would allow somebody to act the way Trump did at the time is totally shameful.
So why wasn't there the kind of firestorm of revulsion against Trump back then that we are seeing right now?
The question is not a lot different from asking why the Charleston church massacre provoked the downfall of the Confederate flag as an acceptable symbol. There have been lots of other outrages -- including massacres -- and they didn't provoke the kind of actions we have seen just now.
But all of a sudden, major department store chains and the National Park Service have pulled their Confederate flag items off their shelves. The final straw was when Apple Corporation pulled video games that include the Confederate flag.
Trump seems not to have sensed the moment. He made a particularly irritating and offensive comment about immigrants, but that sort of thing isn't really anything new. Trump's sort of comment would have been treated as acceptable discourse in the conservative political community even a few months ago.
And then the roof caved in on the flag, and Trump found himself almost equally isolated among a large fraction of the populace. The latest loss for Trump is Macy's, which now refuses to feature Trump's line of clothing. When the department stores put something off limits, whether it is the Confederate flag or Trump's suits, that's a strong message that the culture has shifted.
These things have a certain dynamic to them. Decades go by in which nobody offers up even a whisper of complaint, and then the dam bursts, and all of a sudden it's OK to pile on.
Allow me to offer a modest interpretation. The Charleston massacre wasn't that much different in size and brutality from earlier mass murders. The difference is that there could be no ambiguity over the racism of the killer, and that it has been a long time since public lynchings (as public celebrations) were a part of life in the south. The process of politely looking the other way over racism has been part and parcel of southern life for two centuries, but mass murder is different from voter suppression.
This created a situation that is sometimes referred to as a tipping point. We might even refer to it as a paradigm shift. All of a sudden, a whole class of attitudes were rendered obsolete. It's true that there is a certain amount of ambiguity over the meaning of the Confederate flag -- does it represent racism, or just some semi-defined sense of regional pride? But symbols matter, and this one is beginning its descent off of governmental flagpoles and into the realm of museums.
A lot of highly visible, highly placed politicians and corporate leaders found themselves in a difficult situation after the shooting. I'd like to think that at least some of them got to the point where they couldn't stomach the full ugliness anymore. I'd like to think that they had had enough of the more violent forms of racism. Once the governor of South Carolina broke this particular cultural barrier, it made it possible for others to follow suit.
I'd like to think that the movement against display of the Confederate flag represents a new social norm against public displays of racist sentiments. That social norm includes both cloth symbols and public statements.
It was a week for revulsion over public displays of hatred, whether of printed symbols or of spoken words, and Donald Trump seems to have had a really remarkable level of insensitivity over the changing times. He seems not to have noticed.
His attack on immigrants at this time was sort of akin to interrupting a funeral by telling bad jokes.
So there goes NBC, Macy's, and the country of Mexico. There go the two hosts for the Miss USA Pageant. They've all figured out that Trump is suddenly so radioactive that he has achieved pariah status.
It's been a long time coming.
What I don't get is that even with full knowledge of Trump's previous racist escapades, there have been local benevolent organizations that did fund raisers at the Trump golf course in the Palos Verdes area. Couldn't they have found some place with less offensive ties?
Let's have our own boycott of Trump right here in the south bay. If you are a decent thinking organization and you want to do a luncheon, don't do it at the Trump National Golf Club (what a pompous and arrogant name!). Rancho Palos Verdes, the city that hosts trump's golf course, should make sure not to do it any favors, under pain of being recognized as complicit. Corporations and wealthy business firms should refuse to subsidize use of the course. The rest of us should be watching to make sure that these things happen.
(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])
Vol 13 Issue 54
Pub: Jul 3, 2015