Just after midnight last night, Donald Trump was frantically on his phone talking to senior campaign advisors begging for them to give him a way out of his Mike Pence VP pick. Perhaps he didn't like the straw poll results he was getting on Twitter. Pence was even more ridiculed yesterday than Newt Gingrich the day before. Not helping matters was the stupendously stupid, awkward and, frankly, derivative and provocative campaign logo referencing Trump and Pence. Or perhaps, as with John McCain eight years ago, he simply didn't vet his running mate before the MSM had the chance to. In fact, hours after introducing Pence today at his little right wing cotillion, Trump announced he was refusing to campaign with his new running mate in his home state of Indiana.
The problem is, unlike the 2008 Sarah Palin, Mike Pence is a known quantity. A former member of Congress, Pence went on to become Governor of Indiana and he wasted little time in alienating everyone who isn't aligned with Pence's 12th century brand of Republicanism. Pence became perhaps the most hated man in America after signing the "religious liberty" law that essentially protected bigots and homophobes. Trump's new running mate was strong-armed into modifying the bill when businesses and corporations were threatening to move because of the bill's thinly disguised bigotry against the LGBT community.
And perhaps, like McCain before him, when he began to look at this idiot's positions that plainly conflicted with his platform, Trump was seized with panic akin to that of a guy waking up with a hangover and realizing he'd drunkenly climbed into bed with an axe murderer. But as with any bad marriage in a bygone age, you grin, bear it and make the best of it. Hey, they even have matching Twitter banners! How adorably Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum of them!
What's even more amusing is that the last eight Twitter accounts followed by Mike Pence are Trump accounts, meaning Pence didn't even think enough of Trump to follow him on Twitter until he was named his running mate. Yes, Donald, yes, America, welcome to Hell. And while we're on the subject...
The Fire Burns Still
Those of you who live in Pennsylvania may remember the case of Centralia, PA. To break it down to the barest abstracts, Centralia, the inspiration for Silent Hill, was a fairly prosperous coal mining town, virtually the only one in the nation capable of producing anthracite coal. The Fire Dept. had made a tradition of burning the local land fill just prior to Memorial Day but in 1962 things didn't go according to plan.
Whether one believes a trash hauler dumping hot ash or coal the day before into the exposed hole leading to the mine shafts started it or that it was the re-ignition of a coal fire that had begun underground in 1932, Centralia's Fire Dept. certainly didn't do the town any favors when the so-called controlled burn of the land fill found its way into an exposed mine shaft. The fire has been burning for 54 years now and the town that had once boasted nearly 2800 in the 1890 census now has 10.
The weird thing about the Centralia fire is that despite it burning beneath their feet for 17 years, the residents weren't even aware there was a problem or how severe it was until a gas station owner did a stick reading of his tanks and discovered his gasoline was over 172 degrees F. And it still took two more years when a 12 year-old boy named Tom Dombowski fell into a sinkhole that had opened up beneath his feet. Rescuers discovered fatal levels of carbon monoxide coming from the fissure.
This is essentially how bigotry works. Racism is like an anthracite coal fire that never goes out (anthracite being the gold standard for coal. You'll get your money's worth because it burns longer and hotter than any other coal known to man). And bigotry often works in a subtle, subterranean manner so that those nice folks who live above it aren't even aware there's a problem.
The Centralia coal fire began at about the same exact time as the Civil Rights Movement during the Kennedy administration. And it took the triple homicide of three Civil Rights workers in Philadelphia, MS to begin to wake up the rest of the country just as the near death experience of Tom Dombowski was needed to wake up Centralia.
Jim Crow Redux
There was a hashtag on Twitter that asked people to define 2016 in three words. For me, that was a no-brainer:
It's fruitless to speculate whether the proliferation of fatal police shootings is due simply to the endemic nature of cell phone video recorders or political bloggers''s desire to tie these shootings and racial tirades to the Trump campaign. Although the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile show there is clearly a problem, one that had finally resulted in a horrendous backlash in the Dallas shooting that left five officers dead, the fact we should keep in mind is this:Jim Crow 2.0. #2016in3words— MikeFlannigan (@MikeFlannigan78) July 16, 2016
Racism and bigotry are slow-burning fires that continue to smolder beneath the fabric of American society and threaten to open sinkholes below us. Just as Centralia's subterranean fires make their presence known through plumes of smoke, so the fires of bigotry manifest in police shootings that largely go unpunished. We see the evidence on social media in which the N word is freely used as if we've been catapulted to the antebellum South.
And whether or not Donald Trump is directly or indirectly responsible for the seeming escalation of racism in the United States, it cannot be said with a straight face that he is doing the slightest thing to discourage it. By calling Mexicans rapists and criminals, by calling for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country and resurrecting the beloved right wing trope of building a wall separating us from Mexico, Donald Trump is cynically using preexisting xenophobia and shamelessly capitalizing on it.
Then today, he officially announced his running mate who became notorious for signing into law a bill that made discrimination against gay people legal (at odds with Trump cynically trying to court the gay vote). Mike Pence has done his level-headed best (as if such a mentally and emotionally constipated man can ever be considered level-headed) to subtract from the store of human knowledge by denying climate change and gay people their inalienable rights as American citizens.
Trump's game in picking Pence is simple: To shore up the Republican base that had long since begun to rebel against him. It's a transparent attempt to put oil on the roiling waters of the GOP establishment by picking a triple conservative party insider. But on the progressive side, Trump's choice of Mike Pence proves he remains as disinterested as ever in putting out the fire of bigotry that is even now threatening to break free and visit Hell on earth.