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Inside Politics: Social radicalization and the wilding of America

So much happened inside politics these last two weeks one could write a book. As I watched disparate stories unfold, there was an unsettling commonality apart from the political nuts and bolts. The nitty gritty issues seemed consistently overshadowed by the behavior of the newsmakers entrenched in the issues. The behaviors ranged from heroic to murderous.

In the Texas Statehouse, legislation regarding sanctuary cities was under consideration. Protesters on all sides of the issue packed the galleries, including some Latinos proclaiming their undocumented status.

There are legitimate disagreements about America’s economic dependency on undocumented labor — security, impacts on American labor, paths to citizenship, etc. It’s complicated, lacking simplistic solutions, in desperate need of debate and comprehensive emigration reform. But what made this news explosive was none of these issues, but rather Texas Rep. Matt Rinaldi’s reported reaction to the protesters.

Reportedly Rinaldi embroiled himself in a shouting match, declared with profanity that he had called ICE, and then became belligerent toward fellow representative Poncho Nevárez. Another representative, Justin Rodriguez, said Rinaldi threatened to put a bullet in someone’s head. Afterward other versions disputed who started the kerfuffle and who threated who first. However, Renaldi vowed in a Facebook post to shoot Nevárez in self-defense, if it came to that.

Not the greatest display of civil discourse regarding an important and sensitive issue.

Meanwhile, Louisiana began removing Confederate memorials. Understandably, a significant portion of both white and African Americans have, in the 152 years since the Civil War, asserted that most, if not all such memorials, inappropriately lionize slavery, racial discrimination and secessionism. Also, understandably, some (I’m guessing mostly whites) feel such memorials legitimately recognize an aspect of our history which the nation has, ostensibly, learned from and should respect, not purge.

Karl Oliver, a Mississippi state representative, felt compelled to remark on Louisiana’s business. On Facebook he posted “The destruction of these monuments, erected in the loving memory of our family and fellow Southern Americans, is both heinous and horrific. If the, and I use this term extremely loosely, ‘leadership’ of Louisiana wishes to, in a Nazi-ish fashion, burn books or destroy historical monuments of OUR HISTORY, they should be LYNCHED!”

African Americans likely felt excluded from that loving memory of family and Southern Americans. While slavery and racism are indeed heinous and horrific, removal of statues linked to such heritage are probably at worst unsympathetic. While Oliver’s comment was hyperbolic, the depth of his insensitivity was scandalous given that he hails from Money, Miss., the town where 14-year-old Emmett Till was beaten and shot in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman.

Oliver deleted his Facebook post after being nationally rebuked. He publically apologized for his indiscretion. And his apology wasn’t one of those non-apologies that many obstinate politicians throw in the face of their critics. The Associated Press quoted him as saying “In an effort to express my passion for preserving all historical monuments, I acknowledge the word ‘lynched’ was wrong. I am very sorry. It is in no way, ever, an appropriate term. I deeply regret that I chose this word, and I do not condone the actions I referenced, nor do I believe them in my heart. I freely admit my choice of words was horribly wrong, and I humbly ask your forgiveness.”

Brietbart, of Twin Falls pot-stirring notoriety, by contrast lamented removal of Louisiana’s Confederate statues as a “victory for political correctness.”

In Montana, Gregory Gianforte couldn’t restrain his anti-Obamacare/anti-press rage for 48 remaining hours of campaigning. When Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs attempted to ask Gianforte’s about the AHCA, the candidate grabbed and body-slammed him to the ground. Gianforte’s campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon contended Jacobs aggressively approached Gianforte, causing them both to trip and fall. His statement was vehemently contradicted by Fox News reporters Alicia Acuna, Faith Mangan and Keith Railey, as well as by audio recordings.

Acuna reported that “Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.” She further stated “ … at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte …”

Sheriff Brian Gootkin, who donated $250 to Gianforte’s campaign, investigated the incident, charging Gianforte with misdemeanor assault, asserting his behavior didn’t rise to a felony, despite the fact that Jacobs suffered a cut cheek and broken glasses.

Later MSNBC’s Chris Hayes both excoriated Scanlon’s account as a lie and insinuated it was an orchestrated defamation. He asserted that if the same misrepresentation was filed with the police it would constitute a crime. About a month earlier Gianforte apologized to the Billings Gazette for threatening strangulation gestures directed at a reporter. Gianforte said he was just joking and is a supporter of the First Amendment. The Missoulian labeled his behavior as “contempt for journalists.”

These histrionics drowned out reports of Gianforte’s holdings in US-sanctioned Russian companies.

Immigration and hate took the Spotlight in Portland when Jeremy Christian attacked Micah Fletcher, Taliesin Namkai-Meche, and Ricky Best for defending two teenage girls from his xenophobic, bigoted rant. Christian was known to police as a vagrant with a rap sheet and frequenter of white supremacist rallies. Namki-Meche and Best died of knife wounds. Fletcher survived. Shamefully Christian’s twisted rampage has probably already received more “recognition” than the fallen heroes had in their combined lifetimes.

I was heartened by the story of 100 New Jersey graduates from South Orange Middle School. They resisted conventionality, instead politely refusing a photo op with House Speaker Paul Ryan. They didn’t want to be mistaken as validating what they saw as his harmful health care and economic policies. What a remarkable compliment that resistance to peer pressure was to their educators.

I couldn’t help wondering what issues or source of values could convince a group of high schoolers it was excusable behavior to impale a classmate’s rectum with a coat hanger — or convince a judge such inhumanity was not a jail-worthy crime.

Other View: On Paris climate agreement, the president is doing the right thing the wrong way

According to an Associated Press report Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump will soon exit the Paris climate agreement. It is uncertain whether he will withdraw from the deal—a process which could take up to three years—or if he will simply exit the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change from which the Paris climate agreement originated. Regardless, I think this is another example of Trump doing the right thing the wrong way.

The Paris climate agreement is flawed, legally and substantively. (Disclosure: My firm represents oil and gas companies.) It would not have been difficult to organize experts in the Trump administration and GOP officials to argue that much in advance of a final decision by the president, but in typical Trump fashion, the president is ripping the Band-Aid off without much coordination inside or outside the White House. Once Trump goes in alone on something, recent history has shown the result will be days of after-the-fact scrambling, unorganized surrogate appearances, unclear and changing explanations for the action, and angry tweets about negative process stories.

Republicans could score a major victory if the White House brought the Paris climate agreement to the Senate floor for a vote—where it would certainly fail. For one, I think the agreement should substantively be treated as a treaty. The Senate is constitutionally required to weigh in on such a matter. And politically, a treaty vote would allow the White House to avoid the uncertain consequences of going in it alone through unilateral action.

And yet, rather than have a debate on the Paris climate agreement’s merits, or lack thereof, we will be left with an enduring cacophony of wailing from the Democrats and an unorganized distribution of mixed and uncoordinated messages from the president’s allies. In all likelihood, a public debate would have at least brought out the conservative public policy community to support Trump’s assertion that “the United States pays billions while China, Russia, and India have contributed, and will contribute, nothing.”

Typically, liberals say climate change is the most egregious and alarming cataclysm this world has ever come to know. The planet is in peril, they argue. But, in an effort to lessen the political and economic blow of the Paris climate agreement, they claim its terms are less than onerous and non-binding. Well, which is it? If the world is about to come to an end, wouldn’t the usual rabble-rousing suspects on the left want to make sure the terms of this agreement would be as binding and onerous as possible? The fact is, they either don’t know or they simply don’t care. Democrats just want to bash Trump, no matter what he does or how inconsistent their message is.

Trump is doing the right thing by withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, but we are left wondering, why now? With a couple of leaks and tweets, the Trump White House is veering away from Republican priorities of repeal-and-replace and tax reform onto its backfoot, staggering to put a sensible gloss on another erratic non-sequitur. The clock is ticking, and the 2018 elections are soon approaching, so why the inexplicable timing? Sigh.

Eli Turner