Email #253: “alt-left”?

Condemnations of President Trump’s “many sides” response to fascist violence in Charlottesville is international.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May: “I see no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them.”

Scotland’s Conservative Party leader Ruth Davidson: “The President of the United States has just turned his face to the world to defend Nazis, fascists and racists. For shame.”

Germany’s Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz: “One must denounce Nazis definitively. What Trump is doing is inflammatory. Whoever trivializes violence & hate betrays western values.”

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas: ”It is unbearable how Trump now also glosses over the violence during the march of the right-wing protests in Charlottesville. Nobody should trivialize the anti-Semitism and racism of neo-Nazis. When it comes to right-wing propaganda and violence, there is nothing to relativize.”

Former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni: “In Nazism, anti-Semitism and racism there are never two equal sides — only one side is evil. Period.”

Here in the U.S., members of your party are equally condemning.

Mitt Romney: “No, not the same. One side is racist, bigoted, Nazi. The other opposes racism and bigotry. Morally different universes.”

Governor John Kasich: “Pathetic. Just pathetic, isn’t it? This is terrible. The president of the United States needs to condemn these kinds of hate groups. The president has to totally condemn this.”

Senator Rubio: “Mr. President, you can’t allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of blame. They support idea which cost nation & world so much pain. When entire movement built on anger & hatred towards people different than you, it justifies & ultimately leads to violence against them.”

Senator Graham: “President Trump took a step backward by again suggesting there is moral equivalency between the white supremacist neo-Nazis and KKK members and the people like Ms. Heyer. Many Republicans do not agree with and will fight back against the idea that the Party of Lincoln has a welcome mat out for the David Dukes of the world.”

Senator Moran: “white supremacy, bigotry and racism have absolutely no place in our society, and no one – especially the President of the United States – should ever tolerate it. We must all come together as a country and denounce this hatred to the fullest extent.”

Senator Flake: “We cannot accept excuses for white supremacy and acts of domestic terrorism. We must condemn them. Period.”

Senator McCain: “There’s no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate& bigotry. The President of the United States should say so.”

House Speaker Ryan: “We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.”

Rep. McCarthy: “the violence was a direct consequence of the vile and hateful rhetoric and action from white supremacists.”

Rep. Dent: “@POTUS must stop the moral equivalency! AGAIN, white supremacists were to blame for the violence in #Charlottesville.”

Even corporate CEOs are condemning the President as they leave his administration’s advisoary committees.

General Electric chairman Jeff Immelt: “The Committee I joined had the intention to foster policies that promote American manufacturing and growth. However, given the ongoing tone of the discussion, I no longer feel that this Council can accomplish these goals.”

JP Morgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon: “Constructive economic and regulatory policies are not enough and will not matter if we do not address the divisions in our country. It is a leader’s role, in business or government, to bring people together, not tear them apart.”

Campbell Soup chief executive Denise Morrison: “Racism and murder are unequivocally reprehensible and are not morally equivalent to anything else that happened in Charlottesville. I believe the president should have been — and still needs to be — unambiguous on that point.”

Former Medtronic CEO Bill George commented on the exodus: “It’s entirely stunning. He gave them great access. They’re on these councils, and all those industry committees are coming together. Now they’re saying, ‘I can’t tolerate this.’ This has never happened — not in my lifetime.”

NPR published a poll this morning finding that only 27% of Americans felt that the President’s response to Charlottesville was “strong enough.” Even 58% of Republicans believe the death of Heather Heyer should be investigated as an act of “domestic terrorism,” a term the President still refuses to use. This coincides with his lowest Gallup poll approval rating of 34%, the lowest of any president at the end of his first summer.

Despite the range and depth of these condemnations of the President, you have said nothing. It is not enough to condemn the fascists and KKK. President Trump says the blame falls equally on both sides, coining the term “alt-left” to describe the Charlottesville counter protestors who marched in moral defiance of the Unite the Right rally. By saying nothing, you are expressing agreement with the President’s opinion.

Your silence is morally repulsive.


Email #252: “a pardon for Sheriff Arpaio”?

On July 31st U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton ruled that former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio was guilty of defying a 2011 court order prohibiting racial profiling. Arpaio continued to instruct his officers to detain anyone they suspected might be in the country illegally, resulting in the detention of citizens and other legal residents. The judge found that he “willfully violated” the order with “flagrant disregard” by broadcasting “to the world and to his subordinates that he would and they should continue ‘what he had always been doing.’” Arpaio faces up to six months in jail—unless of course President Trump intervenes.

The President said over the weekend: “I am seriously considering a pardon for Sheriff Arpaio. He has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration. He’s a great American patriot and I hate to see what has happened to him.” Although the White House is not confirming whether the President was serious, he retweeted a Fox News story about his intention to pardon Arpaio, possibly in the next few days. More inexplicably, the President retweeted a response to the Fox News link by another Twitter user on Tuesday: “He’s a fascist, so not unusual.” The retweet was deleted later that morning.

Whether the former sheriff is a “fascist” or a “great American patriot” is irrelevant. He broke the law and was found guilty. Why then is the President considering a pardon? Do you agree that law enforcement officials should have the ability to disregard court orders? You said last October:

“We are a nation of laws. That principle was important to our Founders, and it is rightfully at the very core of our government. In fact, as I travel the Sixth Congressional District, folks continually tell me about the importance of following the rule of law as the best way to govern our country. Too often they have seen laws ignored with little or no consequences for those who break them, and want this to change.”

Arpaio ignored the law, and now he needs to pay the consequences. Arpaio also campaigned for Donald Trump, perpetuating the debunked conspiracy theory that President Obama was not born in the U.S. even after Trump dropped the claim himself. If the President pardons him because he agrees with his racist policing techniques and is repaying him for his campaign support, in what sense are we a nation of laws? Regardless of how you personally feel about immigration policing and racial profiling, you are duty bound as a member of Congress and as the chair of the House Judiciary Committee to oppose the President’s threat to pardon Arpaio.

Email #251: “praying for our Commonwealth”?

Charlottesville was no starting point. The Confederate flag appeared at multiple rallies during President Trump’s campaign. High school students in Silverton, Oregon displayed it at a Trump rally on Election Day, telling Hispanic classmates: “Pack your bags; you’re leaving tomorrow.” The two students were suspended, which wasn’t an option for other post-election Trump supporters who waved it in Durango, Colorado; Traverse City, Michigan’ St. Petersburg, Florida’ Hampton, Virginia; and Fort Worth, Texas.

White supremacists have been rallying around the Confederate flag for over a 150 years, but even Donald Trump supported removing it from South Carolina’s statehouse in 2015: “I think they should put it in the museum, let it go, respect whatever it is that you have to respect, because it was a point in time, and put it in a museum.” I’m not clear what there is to “respect,” but the “point in time” is called the Civil War. If you read the declarations of secession, the South began it for one reason and only one reason: to continue slavery.

President Trump’s chief White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon is the former head of Breitbart News, which said the Confederacy was “a patriotic and idealistic cause,” and that its flag “proclaims a glorious heritage.” This was posted after the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting, in which white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine people.

Now even conservative Republicans are calling on the President to remove Steve Bannon from his administration. Senator Cruz’s former campaign spokesperson Rick Tyler said yesterday: “If he doesn’t want this to consume his presidency, he needs to purge anyone involved with the alt-right. Breitbart has become a pejorative … It has been a vehicle for the alt-right. You can’t allow the Oval Office to be a vehicle for the alt-right.” Governor Kasich’s former campaign adviser John Weaver tweeted similarly: “Bannon, Miller, Gorka must go. Probably more. But I don’t want to hear this primarily staff issue. Give Kelly time my ass. Trump owns this.”

The white supremacist rally in Charlottesville literally centered around a statue of Robert E. Lee. The people of Charlottesville want to remove it; the KKK and other domestic terrorists drove into town with military weapons to preserve it, sailing Confederate and Nazi flags side-by-side. Whatever you may feel about “heritage,” the Confederate flag is irredeemably tainted by its use as a white supremacist symbol.

You said in the e-newsletter I received this morning: “We are all praying for our Commonwealth to come together and heal at this difficult time.” Private prayer is not enough. You must demonstrate where you stand on this moral issue by joining other Republicans to demand that the President remove Steve Bannon and other representatives of the alt-right from his administration. And you must acknowledge the Confederate flag as the defining icon of white nationalism and condemn its use.

Email #250: “asked to condemn”?

My family is flying home to Virginia today. I had thought that with you and the rest of Congress on vacation, and with the President on a working vacation in New Jersey, that little would have happened while we were away. Instead we return amid the President’s threats of nuclear war with North Korea and to a Virginia that is not only on the front page of U.S. newspapers but a top story in international papers too.

Since I rarely receive even form letters from you anymore, I have to assume that your staff disregards most of my messages. I did not, for example, receive a response to my June 19 email. I wrote:

“The KKK left a flier on my lawn last August—the same month that Donald Trump received the Republican nomination. They’re not the only white supremacists who voted for him because they think he represents their opinions. Because of that identification, false or not, the GOP has an enormous obligation to counter it.

“KKK voters right here in the 6th district voted for you because you’re a Republican. That’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility. You consistently win by huge margins, so your job doesn’t depend on the racist vote. Though if it did, it would still be your moral responsibility to reject it. The KKK and other white supremacist hate groups are rising in our front yards. What are you doing to stop them? What steps are you taking to address hate crimes and the role our President and your party has played in their increase?”

You of course have taken no steps. You have done nothing to stop the rise of white nationalism in Virginia. You haven’t even bothered to create a form letter because you do not respond to topics that do not interest you. The KKK and its support of the President and other GOP members wasn’t important enough in June. Two months later the rise of the KKK in Virginia is an international headline. Instead of responding to the growing crisis that I and I’m sure many others identified, you squandered that time doing nothing. I also wrote to you about the President and white supremacists on April 5:

Donald Trump is being sued for inciting violence. Three protestors were shoved and punched by his supporters at a Kentucky campaign rally last March. The assaults were recorded on video. One of the supporters later apologized, admitting that he “physically pushed a young woman down the aisle toward the exit” after “Trump kept saying ‘get them out, get them out.” Another supporter has attempted to hide the fact that he belongs to a white nationalist group and was at the rally because he believes Trump shares his views.

Trump’s lawyers say he didn’t mean for them to use force, but the judge saw more than enough evidence that the assaults were a direct result of Trump’s violence-inciting words: “It was an order, an instruction, a command.” Trump’s lawyers also tried to hide the fact that the crowd shouted racist and sexist slurs at one of the protesters. The judge said: “While the words themselves are repulsive, they are relevant to show the atmosphere in which the alleged events occurred.”

You did not respond to this letter either. Have enough of your constituents written to you now about the President and white supremacists for you to create a new form letter yet? Alternatively, you could stop pretending that your personal political agenda justifies your blind support of a bigoted President. The neo-Nazi publication The Daily Stormer was pleased by President Trump’s response to the rally and terror attack: “When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”

You are being asked to condemn the President, and you are walking out of the room too. But no one is blessing you for it. You should instead consider President Kennedy’s paraphrase of Dante: “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”

Email #249: “take our country back”?

Jason Kessler, a white supremacist co-organizer of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, said: “We are going to make Charlottesville the center of the universe.” His promise has already come true since I am reading about the bloodshed through BBC articles from my family’s rental apartment in Amsterdam. Even J. K. Rowling tweeted a rally photo of men parading Nazi and Confederate flags together yesterday. That was before a white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd of anti-protestors, killing one person and injuring 19 others.

I can’t count the number of times my family and I have strolled down that same block of the Charlottesville walking mall. I assume you have been there many times yourself too. The President responded to this act of domestic terrorism by emphasizing that the violence was displayed on “many sides” and did not begin during his administration: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It has been going on for a long time in our country — not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It has been going on for a long, long time.”

Rather than correcting the statement, a White House spokesperson reiterated the President’s refusal to condemn the white supremacists specifically: “The president was condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides. There was violence between protesters and counter-protesters today.”

But just two weeks ago, the President was bragging how he was willing to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism.” He mentioned you in the same sentence: “We’re also working with Chairman Bob Goodlatte on a series of enforcement measures — and he’s a terrific guy — to keep our country safe from crime and terrorism — and in particular, radical Islamic terrorism. A term never uttered by the past administration. Never uttered. Did anybody ever hear that term? I don’t think so. But you heard it from me.”

So why isn’t the President using the terms “white supremacist” and “domestic terrorism” now? Why isn’t he calling the attack in Charlottesville “radical Christian terrorism”? His tweets sound more like Hillary Clinton campaign slogans: “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!” His “one” includes the KKK. Former imperial wizard David Duke said the Unite the Right rally was “going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” and “take our country back.” Many carried Trump campaign signs. Charlottesville mayor Mike Signer rightly said of the President: “I do hope that he looks himself in the mirror and thinks very deeply about who he consorted with during his campaign.”

It’s a question you should ask yourself too. According to the statement you released yesterday, you are “deeply saddened and revolted by the hate and violence taking place in Charlottesville,” feel that the “racist and anti-Semitic views embraced by white supremacists have no place in our nation,” and “strongly condemn such detestable views against fellow human beings.” I agree and thank you for being far more direct than the President. But you and other GOP leaders must acknowledge that these white supremacists are core Trump supporters and their detestable views are growing with him in the White House. If they have no place in our nation, then what does that say about a President who needs their support?


Email #248: “adversarial”?

“The American legal system is adversarial and is based on the premise that a real, live dispute involving parties with a genuine interest in its outcome will allow for the most vigorous legal debate of the issues.”

That’s from Toni M. Fine’s reference guid American Legal Systems. I could quote a dozen other similar texts, since the statement is a common fact. As a graduate of Washington and Lee University’s Law School, you know that far better than I do. You also practiced law as a partner in your own firm, so you understand the adversarial nature of the legal system first hand. As a defense lawyer, you argued for your clients’ innocence, while prosecutors argued for their guilt.

You must also then know first hand the difference between factual and legal guilt. Though you must have known that some of your clients were factually guilty, it was still your job to do all that you could to prevent their being found legally guilty. An effective lawyer, whether defending or prosecuting, takes no interest in determining the actual truth or guiding a jury to a moral outcome. While this sounds unethical, it’s the bedrock of our legal system. If you or any other lawyer allowed personal judgements of truth and morality to sway your actions–and so not do everything in your professional power to persuade a jury of a defendant’s innocence regardless of their factual guilt–then you would be a failure as a lawyer.

While I know nothing about your career as a lawyer before you became a Representative in 1993, I assume you were no failure. I assume you took your adversarial duties quite seriously. I assume you set aside matters of truth and trusted in the larger system to produce the best results. You simply argued your position, right or wrong, knowing your opponents would do exactly the same, and then it would be up to the jury to decide. Sadly, what made you an effective lawyer has made you a destructive politician.

You entered Congress at a turning point in American politics, when Speaker Next Gingrich changed the norms of rhetoric to foster greater division between Republicans and Democrats. While party politics was always adversarial, the approach has grown to polarizing extremes in the quarter century that you’ve remained in office. You approach political issues with the intentional blindness of lawyer duty-bound to prosecute one side and one side only. If your side of the aisle holds a morally questionable position–the denial of health care to the poor in order to reduce taxes for the wealthy, for example–you argue with the same vigour as you do when claiming a moral highground. When the facts support your position, you use those facts in your arguments. When the facts don’t support your position, you ignore and obscure them. Both truth and morality then are irrelevant if neither determines your actions.

This paradoxically is the necessary and fully ethical attitude of a lawyer. But politicians are not lawyers. They do not represent sides. They represent their constituents, all of their constituents, regardless of party. Our district does not have two Representatives who go to Washington as adversaries who together create the best outcomes. We only have you. Even looking at the Congress as a whole, Republicans and Democrats should not treat each other as adversarial lawyers battling to win regardless of right and wrong. Your excellence as a lawyer has made you a harmful Representative. 



Email #247: “uphold our constitutional framework”?

I wrote to you previously about the EPA’s attempt to delay implementing a regulation for two years, a delay which a court struck down as unlawful because the delay violates the regulation development process. I now read that other agencies in the executive branch are acting similarly.

The Labor Department has delayed a rule requiring financial advisers to put consumers’ interests before their own, and the Food and Drug Administration has delayed a rule requiring restaurants to list calories on their menus.

The Interior Department also issued a two-year delay on rules limiting methane in wells. The GOP-controlled Senate had attempted to revoke the law requiring the regulation, but three Republican Senators joined Democrats to preserve it. That means the Interior Department’s delay is a way for the GOP-controlled executive branch to change the law without Congress.

Although you said the morning after your re-election that you “will work hard checking executive overreach,” you have not responded to the Trump administration’s overreaching abuse of these delays. You also said in May: “I take Congress’s role to uphold our constitutional framework of three co-equal branches of government very seriously. Congress and the American public should not and cannot allow one branch to assume too much authority without a challenge from the other branches of government.”

Why then are you not challenging the executive branch now? I realize you might personally agree with the individual policies that the delays support, but that does not excuse you from carrying out your duties as chair of the House Judiciary Committee. If anything, it raises the ethical bar. A failure to check the executive branch now reveals your earlier statements to be false. Did your concern for the Constitution stop when a Republican entered the White House?

Although my continuing research into your actions and inaction reveal startlingly consistent hypocrisy, I would still like to believe that at some point you will recognize the damage you are doing to the principles that you claim to uphold. I would like to believe that you are guided by more than political expediency. I would like to believe that you are an American before you are a Republican.

Opposing executive delays of legislative laws is an opportunity for you to define yourself in your own conservative terms and not as a Trump administration yes-man. Doing so now would also establish your credibility later when you are faced with far more serious choices regarding the President’s future in the White House.