We’re back! A friend of mine observed recently that it feels like the news cycle has gotten even shorter. It certainly feels that way! I honestly forgot about some of these things that happened two weeks ago in the wake of the White House superspreader event scandal (which Natalie covered in her intro to the VP debate recap). This week’s Extra! Extra! gives an update on the latest scandals from Trumpland, some reflections on what happened in Minneapolis this summer, another setback in the fight for Indigenous rights and sovereignty and news on some of the growing conflicts in the Western world.
The News from Trumpland
Natalie: We knew there was a voter suppression effort, aided by the Russians, that targeted black voters… but this sophistication of this effort, by the Trump campaign and the Republican Party, is just so deeply offensive. What’s particularly galling about this to me is that the campaign had a list of people who were skeptical about Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and instead of doing the work to persuade those voters, the campaign thought voter suppression was the better option.
Himani: Two weeks is a strangely long time and also not. Honestly, as I was putting this news round up together, I had realized that I had forgotten that The New York Times released this searing expose about Trump’s taxes. Since that happened, we had the shocking fiasco of the first presidential debate and then, of course, the White House turned into ground zero for the latest Coronavirus outbreak in the US. A lot has happened.
But this news from the Time is pretty monumental. I’ll be honest, I haven’t had the time to read the whole thing (this tl;dr is pretty helpful though). Yes, there was the much reported news that lasted a day that Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2017. Yes, that is appalling, truly. But what got lost in the headlines is the fact that he actually paid more in taxes to other countries because of his business ventures there: “In 2017, the president’s $750 contribution to the operations of the U.S. government was dwarfed by the $15,598 he or his companies paid in Panama, the $145,400 in India and the $156,824 in the Philippines.” That being said, there was no new information regarding Trump’s entanglements in Russia.
The most damning part though, in my opinion, is the glaring conflict of interests. We all kind of sort of knew that this was happening. But Trump is in deep, deep amounts of debt. And that debt makes his use of the presidency as a forum for trying to save his businesses all the more corrupt. As the Times reports:
“His properties have become bazaars for collecting money directly from lobbyists, foreign officials and others seeking face time, access or favor… At the Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., a flood of new members starting in 2015 allowed him to pocket an additional $5 million a year from the business. In 2017, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association paid at least $397,602 to the Washington hotel, where the group held at least one event during its four-day World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians…. When he took office, Mr. Trump said he would pursue no new foreign deals as president. Even so, in his first two years in the White House, his revenue from abroad totaled $73 million. And while much of that money was from his golf properties in Scotland and Ireland, some came from licensing deals in countries with authoritarian-leaning leaders or thorny geopolitics — for example, $3 million from the Philippines, $2.3 million from India and $1 million from Turkey.
Natalie: You’re forgiven for forgetting this story momentarily, Himani, because the Trump administration is just a perpetual shitshow… and as soon as your grappling with one unfathomable misstep, another one is announced and we’re forced to grapple with that. It messes with your sense of time.
I think, as egregious as that $750 income tax payment is — hell, I’m mad right now just typing it out — the real story is the point you’ve seized on, Himani: how much debt is the president in and to whom does he owe that money? And, as he seeks reelection, that becomes a national security question because, if he’s susceptible to blackmail from whomever owns his debt. What if a hostile government purchases his debt? How does that impact the decisions that he might make? We endanger ourselves by putting a man carrying this much debt back in the Oval Office.
More broadly: we have (had?) a set of political norms in this country… things that we’ve been doing for as long as anyone can remember for reasons that most of us have forgotten…but, if anything, I hope the last four years — and this story in particular — crystallize why those norms exist and why they should be codified so that a candidate isn’t allowed to willingfully disregard them again.
Natalie: There are people working in the White House — in the People’s House — who have COVID or know they have been exposed to it and are doing nothing to protect the people around them. They believe, in spite of the evidence and the 210,000+ Americans we’ve lost, that they are immune from the science. And if that wasn’t enough to be angry about, there’s still so much we don’t know: when was the president’s last negative test? Why did the vice president just abruptly cancel his campaign trip to return to Washington? The president is CLEARLY unwell, why hasn’t the cabinet moved to invoke the 25th Amendment? Where in the world is Bill Barr?
We are in the midst of a true constitutional crisis, we have no idea who’s in charge of the country right now…and yet concern over that will continue to be painted as an extension of the campaign…a purely political concern.
A Closer Look at What Happened in Minneapolis
Himani: I spend a lot of time thinking about the racial hierarchies that exist in America and especially about the anti-Black racism that runs rampant in Asian communities. These two articles need to be read together. The first is a deep exploration of the many layers of racism (and its bedfellow poverty) that eclipsed George Floyd’s life long before he was murdered. The second dives into the story of the Palestinian-owned corner store where a clerk made the fateful 911 call that led to Floyd’s death. The inescapable pull of anti-Black racism and poverty reverberates strongly through the biographical piece on Floyd from the Washington Post. The impossible, untenable positions that non-Black minorities are cornered into emerges in the coverage from Slate.
Ultimately, the thing I can’t let go of, that reading these two pieces in succession makes crystal clear is that while both the Floyd family and the Abumayyaleh family have both, undeniably, experienced racism in this country, the extent to which racism can completely curtail a person’s life is worlds apart.
Rachel: We’re seeing iterations of the way that seeming momentum around racial justice over the summer of uprising was in some cases a self-serving bid to avoid criticism until they felt the moment had passed (for instance, COPS is notoriously starting filming back up after previously indicating they’d end the show). There’s certainly some of that happening in Minneapolis as well, but I think there are also complex legislative realities and realities of power at work. Several councilmembers quoted in the NYT piece above seem to be claiming a certain level of defensive naivete – “Councilor Andrew Johnson, one of the nine members who supported the pledge in June, said in an interview that he meant the words “in spirit,” not by the letter. Another councilor, Phillipe Cunningham, said that the language in the pledge was “up for interpretation” — implying essentially that they couldn’t possibly have known “defund the police” meant “defund the police.” What seems truer, as someone living here, is that many of those councilmembers either had enough commitment to the cause for one meeting but not the commitment to fight for it through months of bureaucratic roadblocks and public criticism (so, the commitment and long-term planning of organizers), and/or that they were ready to wait out public opinion, hoping that if they demurred long enough, the pressure to make real change would lessen.
What’s happening here is interesting to me because it’s a revealing one about how (especially Dem) established political structures can sometimes find it convenient for us to conceive of power – first, that their job is to use their power with respect to affect and sentiment (“I meant the words in spirit,” “I hear you,”) not material change, and second, that their hands are tied by the loudest public sentiment (“people are confused by this idea;” “a plurality no longer supports defunding the police,”) so they can’t act. The latter idea, of course, isn’t applied consistently; when a plurality wanted the four MPD cops arrested and charged, or a majority of the US wants Medicare for All, for instance. I’m reminded of the online outrage over elected representatives essentially tweeting to call their constituents to organize around an issue, as if they themselves aren’t the ones with the structural power to address it – this tweet being perhaps the prime example. Especially with the audience being a generation who grew up watching power struggles between Dems and the GOP with regard to whether or not one party would be able to totally gridlock the other from passing legislation, the posture of many blue pols right now seems to be to express public regret that they are just unfortunately powerless to do anything, and that they’re really at the mercy of citizens (by this logic, it’s also our fault when we suffer from systemic harm, not theirs). It’s a pretty gnarly piece of rhetoric! Speaking, again, from Minneapolis, it’s also helpful to know that all these decisions are being made (or allowed to die in committee) while ongoing protests continue in the city as they have for months, and police continue to raid encampments every weekend, exactly as the city promised they would not do. As a local tweet that I can no longer find expressed, the city has decided they’d rather just put up plywood over every building downtown against protests every single weekend than try changing anything.
And Elsewhere: The Movement to Defund Grows
Rachel: As someone who believes deeply in abolition I’m extremely familiar with the snarky gotcha of “so what happens when you need to call 911?” And while many people have done great work answering that, it also isn’t detrimental to the project of abolition to acknowledge that there are crises and times when someone is in danger, and it’s necessary for healthy communities to have resources to call on urgently when that happens. It’s always so wonderful to have even more examples of how new systems can provide that without causing harm! New Haven is also working on a program like the one above in Chicago; similar ones are already functioning elsewhere, like the CAHOOTS program in Oregon and STAR in Denver.
They’re Getting Bolder Because They are Hardly Ever Held to Account
Natalie: Of course they were.
Natalie: This is absolutely horrifying… I’m grateful that the plan was thwarted and the men behind this plot have been arrested. And we should, rightfully, call out the president and his allies for their propensity to fan the flames of hate against duly elected public servants. That said, I hope that as we move forward we also stop to think about what a chilling effect this incident or, worse, the attack on the family of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas have on women and their interest in being public servants.
Reveling in Conspiracy Theories Is So Much More Fun than Dealing with the Actual Issues
Rachel: One of the many insidious things about violent right-wing ideology is how often it co-opts aggressively unimpeachable ideals, albeit in very fatuous versions that never go beyond a slogan. Although it is very dumb, the GOP’s basic riff on “we must protect Americans and their freedoms from the evildoers who wish to harm it!” that it’s adapted to fit various foreign powers, gay people, antifa, the list goes on, is very effective. Many of us also remember the persistent “think of the children” layer of homophobic organizing in the 90s and early 2000s, conveniently invisibilizing, you know, LGBT children. Given this context, it isn’t surprising that QAnon has latched onto the ‘save imaginary children from sex trafficking’ organizing principle; it allows its followers to cast themselves in the roles of Benson & Stabler every time they log on, a heady power trip. And as is always the case with these self-serving and fanatic campaigns, it has no relationship to reality and is seriously harming the actual people who are impacted by the real-life counterpart to QAnon’s imaginary stories.
The EPA Just Reversed This Summer’s Landmark Tribal Sovereignty Ruling
Rachel: Jesus, this is just so awful – I don’t have words.
Natalie: It really is…and while Tribes will no doubt, head to court to try and challenge the ruling, using McGirt as their basis for argument (the Chief Justice predicted the majority ruling would lead to cases like this in his dissent). But it’s also worth noting that the governor of Oklahoma was permitted to ask for control over tribal lands because of a little known stipulation tucked into the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act.
We need to elect a new president and a new senate to undo that provision.
Himani: Natalie, you’ve raised this point before and, once again, it applies: what are Supreme Court rulings worth when the people charged with enforcing them brazenly do not care to follow the law?
The State of Voting in America
Himani: Are you registered? Are you sure? Do you know whether you can vote by mail and if so how?
Himani: It should not come down to individuals ignoring directives from their supervisors or working off the clock to save this election. But this is where we are at.
Discrimination, Strife and Conflict in Other Parts of the Western World
Himani: An armed conflict is escalating in the Caucasus with at least 400 people killed and drawing in other parts of the region. For the context on what’s going on, I recommend this article from The Guardian. It really does feel like the whole world is in flames right now.
Himani: This is such a thorny issue. My gut reaction is that there’s a lot of Islamophobia — which France has an incredibly long history of — that’s led to this point. I mean, as per The Guardian article: “The measures include placing mosques under greater control and requiring that imams are trained and certified in France.” Do they have the same requirement on Catholic churches? At the same time, back in April I wrote in this column about an expose on how Saudia Arabia is using money (mostly) and power to shape the practice of Islam worldwide. I stand by my gut reaction re: Islamophobia because I think there’s a lot of questions we need to be asking about the economic and political influence of organized religion around the world. Ultimately, this feels like just one more instance of holding Islam to a different, unfair standard under the ruse of “counter-terrorism.”
Himani: This article is just heartbreaking. It shows how so many fucked up things in the world intertwine and carry forward across decades.
Extra! Extra! is running on a biweekly schedule for the month of October. We’ll see you in two weeks!