Trump’s flip-flops, and that big Berkeley protest
The Trump narrative of the last half-week (discounting the ridiculous warmongering that was clearly designed to shift attention away from RussiaGate) has been his flip-flopping on almost every issue he campaigned on. It makes one wonder how his fans are feeling about him now, since he’s been disappointing them in every way (except for Gorsuch), but his ardent devotees, who let’s face it are not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier, don’t seem to care.
Flip-flopping among politicians is a way of life, indeed almost a religion. They all do it, Democrats as well as Republicans. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both famously changed their positions on gay rights. Hillary shifted on TPP. But no politician, much less president, in my long memory has ever abandoned previous positions with the frequency and élan of Donald J. Trump. His latest pronunciamento, that NATO is no longer “obsolete” as he had earlier insisted it was, actually elicited a rare joke from Sean Spicer, who quipped that, rather than Trump changing his position on the Treaty, “It’s…NATO…evolving towards the President’s position.”
Hitler also changed positions with alacrity. His first big shift was in the early 1930s, when he renounced armed revolution in favor of gaining power through the ballot box, which earned him the sobriquet “Adolf Legalité.” Many people have compared Trump to Hitler—and there are definite similarities, especially of personality type—but a better comparison is with Benito Mussolini. The Italian fascist changed positions like Cher changing costumes. Listen to this, from the 1983 book, “Mussolini: A Biography”:
“[Mussolini’s] frequent changes of opinion do not necessarily mean that he was an intellectual light-weight, but rather that he placed little value on ideas. He appeared to adopt opinions merely because they fitted some new attitude or would help his career. He sometimes seemed to change his whole philosophical outlook overnight and would justify the fact as an example of an inner intuition…his particular skill was to pick up ideas almost at random if they coincided with some prejudice or tactical need; and he would renounce them as easily once they ceased to serve his turn.”
This pragmatic political approach is known as realpolitik. It is usually found among rightwing politicians. Henry Kissinger was the most famous, or infamous, practitioner of realpolitik in modern times until the advent of Trump; so it is not surprising that Kissinger, in near-senile dotage, “sidled up to Trump” in the days following the election, hoping, perhaps, for a juicy power-job in the new administration. That didn’t happen. What did happen in the case of Mussolini is that the dictator ended up hanging from a lamppost, upside down, when his own people turned on him.
THE BERKELEY PROTESTS
Now, on to last Saturday’s Berkeley violent protests, in which about a thousand pro- and anti-Trump forces battled in the streets of Berkeley.
No one has been more harshly critical than I of the “black bloc,” the masked thugs who have infiltrated peaceful protests in Oakland and Berkeley since 2011. Under cover of night, they smash, loot, pillage and burn our downtowns. I’ve called them assholes, cowards and worse—and gotten into feuds with them online, in places like NextDoor and Twitter.
But in the case of the lefties who did battle with the Trump clique, I support them. There’s a big difference between the two cases: in the former the black bloc accomplished nothing politically; all they did was perform anarchistic acts of vandalism, act out their own stupid Rambo fantasies, and hurt their own people. But on Saturday, the lefties were defending their town, their values and—let’s not forget—themselves. The pro-Trump people, most of whom were not local but were members of white nationalist and neo-nazi groups, came heavily armed to Berkeley for one reason and one reason only: to provoke. As Mark Cuban tweeted, it was “an organized alt.-right white terrorist attack.”
The Trumpists were quite candid about this. They wore Storm Trooper-type costumes, admitted in interviews to being fascists and white supremacists, and told Trump-style lies about free speech. But there is a concept in the law called “fighting words,” which means that people are entitled to defend themselves when provocateurs come in to rile things up. Free speech only goes so far. “Breaches of the peace” (the Supreme Court’s phrase) are indefensible, and fall outside the protection of law.
Look, Bay Area lefties don’t go to Idaho or the Central Valley demonstrating against Trump and looking for trouble. So why do the Trumpists feel they can come to Berkeley, give the whole town the middle finger, and then expect to be left alone? They incited the violence and deserved every broken nose and bloodied face they got. The young freedom-loving anti-fascists who resisted them are to be applauded.