The year of f/u

When I was a kid, we had Nixon. His first election was 1968, when I was 10. His reelection was 1972. Of course after that he went down because the Watergate event ended up unwrapping him and putting his deeper character on display. We thought he was one thing—a bulwark against communism abroad, a bulwark against crime at home. The Watergate scandal, and with it public exposure of sound recordings of nearly every minute of his tenure in the West Wing, showed us the real thing behind those appearances. Not that he didn’t hate communism, and frankly not that he didn’t do a fair amount of good in his foreign-policy exertions: his “opening of China” was an epic accomplishment. I guess. We’re still waiting to see how that will play out, aren’t we?

But there’s no denying that the man behind the curtain of anti-communist globalism turned out to be a paranoid, megalomaniacal powermonger. And there’s no denying that tough on crime boiled down to likes calling Black people niggers when he thinks Henry Kissinger is the only one listening.

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But the person we thought we (and our parents and uncles and whatnot, since we were too young to vote) thought we were supporting, or at least told ourselves and others we were supporting, was the man depicted in all those photos of the arms raised and two fingers extended in the double victory sign. This sign recalled the victory over fascism in World War II, and it promised victory over global communism in the Cold War, and victory over “crime” at home. Nobody said out loud that what we were really fighting was desegregation and racial equality. That was those uncouth George Wallace people. Decent Christian Republican people could feel pretty good about being solidly behind Mr. Double Victory.

Now we have Trump. I am feeling nostalgic for Richard Nixon. The double victory sign was in some ways deceitful, but at least right out on the surface it was positive, uplifting, promising. It was consonant with the exclamation that Nixon quoted during the 1968 Republican convention from a sign held up by a schoolgirl during a campaign rally in Ohio: “Bring us together!” What an inspiring slogan! No wonder an opinion columnist in The American Spectator picked it up in June 2016.

But if there’s a desire for unity, from which side might we seek it? Not from the Democrats, a Party whose m.o. is to divide us, women against men, gays against straights, blacks against whites. . . . If the message of unity is to come from anywhere, it will be from Donald Trump. . . . You can’t speak about uniting people when you try to divide Americans, when you ask one group to hate another. And you aren’t dividing Americans when you distinguish between Americans and the non-Americans who are living here, or who wish to come here. That’s why only Trump can pick up Vicki Lynn Cole’s sign.

So wrote one F. H. Buckley, a Foundation Professor at George Mason School of Law and the author of The Way Back: Restoring the Promise of America in an Age of Diminishing Expectations.

Well, how did that work out, F.H.? Only Trump can bring us together?

If with Nixon we got the image of the double victory sign, with Trump we have the f/u president, the leader who brings a third of us together to raise the middle finger to the rest of us. He doesn’t strike this physical pose openly. The arguments about whether he has deliberately flipped people off who disagree with him are unresolvable and, like so much of the hoohah he deliberately stirs up, juvenile in the bad sense of that word. But his manner and his words give the message clearly enough even when he’s raising a different finger, or no finger at all. Whoever is making the money off of that bobblehead doll knows what both supporters and opponents see when they look at this man.

Tucker Carlson, speaking of Tammy Duckworth, one of the people being discussed as a possible running mate for Joe Biden, says “These people actually hate America. There’s no longer a question about that.” This is just more of what we got from Trump himself in the Mount Rushmore speech, which was largely a pastiche of Tucker Carlson talking points.

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If you’re a conservative or a Republican or both, there are two possible ways to respond to a mass movement like the Black Lives Matter protests. You can acknowledge the wrongs, acknowledge the legitimacy of the hurt and the anger, contest representations that you think are misunderstandings, and plea for a better, more constructive way of channeling those feelings and that energy. I’m speaking hypothetically here. Personally I think the protests (not the looting and burning that have happened at the same time in some places) have been a very good way of expressing the feelings and channeling the energy, though they have to be followed with effective political action. But if you don’t, you could still try to “bring us together” around your view.

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Or, you can do what Tucker Carlson, and Trump are doing. The Mount Rushmore speech, with breathtaking (as in full-out roundhouse kick to the stomach) vehemence, takes the path of denouncing the whole movement, and indeed the entire opposition to Trump as America-hating left-wing fascism, as “a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children,” as a “left-wing cultural revolution . . . designed to overthrow the American Revolution” and “destroy the very civilization that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence, and hunger.”

There you have it. This will be the f/u campaign, the campaign to end all campaigns, the nuclear-option middle finger.

November is about many things. There are disagreements about policy. But it is fundamentally about this: do we want to be brought together, or do we prefer to be driven further apart? Do we prefer angry lying, or will we aspire to speak truth in love? Can we disagree honestly on policy questions and debate conflicting philosophies of government? Or do we prefer the way of f/u?

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