The gross hypocrisy of ‘woke Donald Trump’

There’s something about this last week before Labor Day — the slight nip in the late-day breeze, the grey gloaming that arrives at an hour when your brain is still expecting sunshine. Yeah, it’s depressing every year to remember that the Beach Boys were wrong. Summer is not endless. But there’s also anticipation in that chillier air — World Series dreams framed by psychedelic visions of autumn leaves. Ready or not, it’s time to fall forward.

📮 A lot of you had suggestions for a Donald Trump GOP running mate in 2024: What was fascinating was that pretty much everyone believes The Donald will go with a woman as his No. 2 this time around. Nikki Haley got a couple of votes, presumably on her strong debate performance and not her closeness to Trump, which long ago melted away. Wrote Daniel Hoffman: “My guess is that if he decides to go that way, Sarah Huckabee Sanders is a woman with whom Trump knows he can work. From Trump’s perspective, which is to say, projecting from the mentality of a 17-year-old, Hugh Heffner wannabe, his major knock against naming Sanders is that she is rather plain looking and out of shape.” I agree with that take, and also with Terry Snyder: “I don’t know who he should choose, nor do I care, but I’d love to see a huge cat fight between Kari Lake and Margie Greene as they battle over it.”

This week’s question for the readers: The nation remains mesmerized by the current No. 1 song, Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond.” What’s your take? Is the song a righteous screed on behalf of the American working class, or right-wing flavored incoherence? For a chance to be featured in my newsletter, email me your answer.

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The racism behind Trump’s claim a 20-minute jail stop made him a social justice warrior

A vehicle and trailer drive by the Fulton County Jail, Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, in Atlanta. Trump is charged alongside others, who are accused by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis of scheming to subvert the will of Georgia voters to keep the Republican president in the White House after he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.. … Read moreMike Stewart / AP

It was just over 60 years ago that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., from a cramped cell in Alabama’s largest city, began scribbling on a newspaper and then smuggled scraps of paper to produce his “Letter From Birmingham Jail” — his plea for white moderates to understand the fierce urgency of the Black American quest for civil rights.

It was just last week that Donald Trump, the 45th president now facing 91 felony counts in four jurisdictions, auto-penned his Fundraising Letter From Atlanta Jail — his plea for white ultra-conservatives to give him their credit card numbers because his less-than-20-minute stop for a mugshot at the Fulton County Jail awakened him to the injustice of the American penal system.

Even the email header — “My experience at the Fulton County Jail” — suggests images of the alleged billionaire sleeping on a hard cot, with a toilet a few feet from his head, scratching out the days on a brick wall while the plaintive whistle of a freight train blows in the distance, and not the reality that Trump arrived at the Atlanta lockup in a massive, regal motorcade, never went anywhere near actual inmates, and his stay was a lot shorter than an episode of The Apprentice.

None of that stopped Trump from writing. “Patriot, … While I was being arrested, I got a firsthand look at the poor and disgraceful conditions of the Fulton County Jail. It’s worse than you could even imagine. It’s violent. The building is falling apart. Inmates have dug their fingers into the crumbling walls and ripped out chunks to fashion over 1,000 shanks. Just this year alone, 7 inmates have died in that jail.”

Trump claimed that the traumatic experience of his incarceration (which, again, lasted less than 20 minutes) “made me even more determined to run for President.” The solution, apparently, was for email readers to send a donation to Trump’s Save America PAC, which would presumably further the 45th president’s new passion as a social justice warrior.

It didn’t stop there. Team Trump immediately spun the reality of their candidate’s new identity as Inmate Number P01135809 to portray him as a kind of gangsta rapper, an outlaw, and anti-hero. “He is now seen by non-political folks as a rebel, an outsider with swagger,” pundit Raymond Arroyo told Fox News primetime host Laura Ingraham. “As one Black lady I spoke with today in New Orleans said: ‘Trump’s a gangsta.’ That means he has cred among a new block of voters that perhaps have never given him a serious look … ”


The “Black lady I spoke with today” isn’t the only bizarre right-wing claim that felonious Trump is surging with African American voters.

On Monday night, Fox News host Jesse Waters claimed, without evidence, that “The mugshot has breathed new life into his campaign and broadened his appeal among Black Americans,” adding, mysteriously, that “today, my garbageman told me that he’s buying T-shirts with Trump’s mugshot for everyone he knows this Christmas.”

The notion among mostly white Republican pundits that getting arrested will make Trump relatable to Black people — and that their garbageman or some Black lady on the street told them so — has to be the most racist public discourse I’ve seen in some time.

Despite a legacy of racist policing in this country, most Black people have not been arrested, most Black people are not talking to Fox News reporters, and — if 2024 is anything like 2016 and 2020nearly nine out of 10 African American voters will not be voting for Trump in the general election.

One reason why Black voters aren’t fooled by Trump’s new “wokeness” shtick is because they’ve seen him with a four-year opportunity to make the criminal justice system more equitable, as the most powerful public official in America, and they know that the 45th president failed. He instead took the nation backward — even after the racial reckoning sparked by the 2020 police murder of George Floyd.

To be sure, Trump did sign one bipartisan piece of justice reform — 2019′s aptly named First Step Act, which did help drive a small drop in the number of federal prisoners. But at the same time, Trump’s Justice Department actively fought the release of some prisoners under the law and underfunded its programs. When California tried to ban private prisons, with their horrific track record, the Trump administration went to court to fight them. It closed halfway houses and disbanded a program for education programs in federal prisons. His Justice Department generally sought longer sentences, and Trump himself urged harsh treatment for 2020′s Black Lives Matter protesters, calling them “thugs” in public and asking top aides in private, “Can’t we just shoot them?”

Trump oversaw an aggressive return of the federal death penalty, racing to execute prisoners in the final weeks of his presidency (ultimately, 13 were killed). Trump may have been generous with pardons for his friends and cronies like Roger Stone or Paul Manafort, but was stingy in using his clemency power for everyday folk. His 237 acts of clemency were third-worst since 1900, and compared poorly to a whopping 1,927 under Barack Obama. Trump’s record on policing was even more abysmal. He famously told police officers in a 2017 speech that in making drug arrests, “Please, don’t be too nice” — quite the contrast with the kid-glove treatment Trump has received in his four 2023 arrests.

Trump is no “gangsta.” Trump is The Man, pandering to his overwhelmingly white Republican base that he is the candidate of “law and order” with zero regard for America’s criminal suspects until he became one himself, 31 months after he lost his influence to change U.S. justice for the better. The hypocrisy is stunning — even by Donald Trump standards.


Instead, the most racist tropes about Black criminality are so embedded in modern Republican culture that Trump and his allies truly believe they are winning Black voters when they are crudely offending them. This becomes a huge problem when the entrenched myths of white supremacy collide with the realities of Black life in America — as happened Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla., when a 21-year-old white man wrote a racist manifesto, grabbed his legally purchased AR-15 with the swastikas he drew on the handle, and shot three Black shoppers to death at a Dollar General store.

“Targeting people due to their race has no place in the state of Florida,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis, the flailing presidential candidate — pretending that he hadn’t created a special election police force that targeted and arrested 19 mostly Black and brown voters on dubious fraud charges, or that he hadn’t targeted African American history, or that he hadn’t acted to eliminate a majority-Black congressional district in the state.

The sad irony is that Trump’s comments about the Fulton County Jail were spot-on — it is, indeed, a hellhole in serious need of government intervention. Funny that he never noticed such things from 2017 to 2021. I suspect that Trump will see how badly this pandering has backfired with Black voters on Nov. 5, 2024. By then, Trump may have actually have seen the inside of a prison cell, and will have something to truly complain about.

Yo, do this

  • Every couple of years, I do the unthinkable and, for my monthly book selection on Audible, I choose (gasp!) a novel. But with its historical roots in the bitter 1974 fight over busing to integrate public schools in Boston, and the track record of author Dennis Lehane, who all but invented the style of mobbed-up, working-class thriller that peaked with Mystic River, I found the allure of Lehane’s recent Small Mercies impossible to resist. The story of struggling single-mom Mary Pat Fennessy’s efforts to rescue her daughter in a world dragged down by drugs, despair, murder, political division simmering toward violence, and rampant racism may be set in a world 49 years ago, but Lehane is here to remind you that the past isn’t even past.

  • I got some attention this week for a column upbraiding my colleagues in the mainstream media for badly covering and explaining what is happening in the 2024 presidential race and to American democracy writ large. Almost on cue, my old friend Michael Tomasky — the veteran journalist who’s currently editor of The New Republic — appeared with a piece in that magazine which, better than anything I’ve read in this pivotal year, explains why Trump’s indictments are consolidating his GOP support instead of draining it. Tomasky writes that Trump’s “campaign will be largely about himself and his martyrdom for his people. This will be to some extent unavoidable, if he’s dashing in and out of courtrooms during the primary season and into the general election campaign. But it will also be what he and his followers want. Biden and his supporters want an election about empirical facts. Trump and his loyalists want an election about fascist truth.” Check out: “Trump’s Trials Don’t Interrupt His Campaign — They Are His Campaign.”

Ask me anything

Question: What, in your estimation, would Kamala Harris have to do to sufficiently increase her favorability? — Via The Big LeBlockski (@DevonScanlon326) on Twitter/X

Answer: There’s no question that the Biden administration was utterly flummoxed over what to do with its groundbreaking vice president during Joe Biden’s first couple of years in office. Harris was handed some of the thankless and arguably hopeless jobs — like addressing border politics with our Central American neighbors, which was mainly a series of photo ops — while her few good moments, like her advocacy for student loan relief, failed to break through. It’s been different in 2023; Team Biden seems to have found a sweet spot of unleashing Harris as a pit bull to rally the base, first around abortion rights and more recently to bash Republican efforts to re-write racial history. She needs both the experience and the goodwill, because I continue to believe there’s a significant chance that a second-term Biden passes the White House baton to its first female occupant.

Backstory behind the looming ‘impeachment’ of President Biden

FILE – Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks to reporters outside his office about calls for an impeachment inquiry of President Joe Biden, at the Capitol in Washington, July 25, 2023. Congressional leaders are pitching a stopgap government funding package to avoid a federal shutdown after next month. McCarthy raised the idea to House Republicans on a members-only call. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the two leaders had spoken about such a temporary measure.. … Read moreJ. Scott Applewhite / AP

You could literally see this one coming from miles away. Way back on Nov. 18, 2021 I wrote a column headlined: “The impeachment of President Biden and other American nightmares coming in 2023.” I wrote at the time that “it’s clear that neither the press, the public, nor the political classes are truly ready for the year that is going to shake American democracy to its core: 2023 … Given the party’s Trump-inspired push for tit-for-tat revenge against Democrats, it’s not hard to picture a 2023 effort to put Biden on a par with POTUS 45, who was impeached twice for the Ukraine scandal and the January 6 insurrection.”

I’ve noted this a lot lately, but Karl Marx wrote that “history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” This time 50 years ago, America was electrified by the tragedy of the man who once upon a time set the gold standard for presidential corruption, Richard Nixon. The impeachment proceedings that forced Nixon to resign in 1974 were solemn and serious, but since then the process has become more and more farcical — either because of the inability to hold a crook like Donald Trump to account or the trumped-up cases against Bill Clinton and, inevitably, Joe Biden. Exactly as I predicted 21 months ago, a Republican-led House is likely to launch an impeachment probe of the 46th president. And as I also predicted, they are moving forward without even a pretext.

The latest reporting from Capitol Hill is that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy — his grip on power in a divided GOP caucus still shaky and under pressure from the real nexus of Republican clout on a Bedminister golf course — is privately telling key colleagues that he hopes to launch a formal impeachment probe of Biden by late September. What exactly will they investigate? It presumably will center on the shady and probably illegal business activities of presidential son Hunter Biden, and any ties to his dad — even though none have surfaced. The good news is that the GOP majority is smaller than I predicted in that 2021 piece, and there are enough endangered moderates to almost guarantee this absurd investigation won’t result in an actual impeachment.

“There’s no evidence that Joe Biden got money, or that Joe Biden, you know, agreed to do something so that Hunter could get money. There’s just no evidence of that,an anonymous GOP lawmaker told CNN. “And they can’t impeach without that evidence. And I don’t think the evidence exists.” Right, so where is the courage from one Republican — any Republican — to go on the record and denounce this charade? Likewise, where is the courage from the media to center every story on the only salient fact around this “Biden impeachment” — that there’s zero evidence of wrongdoing? It needs to be called out for what it is: an anti-democratic fantasy of fascist revenge.

What I wrote on this date in 2012

A powerful hurricane bearing down on the American South, and a Republican Party running off the rails. That’s August for you! In 2012, I wrote an Attytood post about the confluence of Hurricane Isaac over Louisiana and the Republican National Convention that was held in Tampa that week, where Mitt Romney was nominated to oppose Barack Obama. I wrote that the RNC was dominated by the free-market, anti-government chants of “We built that!” even as the federal infrastructure of levees and flood control was sparing New Orleans from yet another Katrina-like catastrophe. I wrote: “Outside the Tampa hockey rink, in the reality-based world, millions of Americans were praying that not so much that “we built this” but that we — we the people, in the guise of our elected government spending our tax dollars — had built this right.” Read my entire piece from Aug. 29, 2012: “We built this! Isaac, the RNC, and its horribly timed message.

Recommended Inquirer reading

  • I promised you at the start of the month that August would not be boring: Are you not entertained, or terrified? For my Sunday column, I took a deep dive behind Pennsylvania’s recent state-funded studies that established a link between children who live near active fracking sites and lymphoma, a form of cancer. The studies also tied unconventional drilling for natural gas to increased asthma and lower birth rates. I asked why the bombshell findings were met with a collective shrug — even from Gov. Josh Shapiro, who ran promising environment protection. Over the weekend, I wrote a screed that went viral about how the news media has been badly botching coverage of the political stakes in 2024, sticking with tired horse-race tropes that fail to explain the increasingly fascist nature of today’s Republican Party.

  • Why is there a teacher shortage in America, and especially across Pennsylvania? The factors are many — starting with the post-COVID wave of career changes and including the broken pipeline of our struggling colleges and universities. But a key reason is that more and more teachers simply can no longer tolerate the political pressures of the job — especially under Republican-led suburban school boards that have educators freaked out over books in their classroom and how to discuss sensitive issues regarding race or the LGBTQ community. Locally, one epicenter has been the Pennridge School District in the Bucks County exurbs north of Philadelphia. There, board members called on a consultant tied to right-wing Hillsdale College to craft a new history curriculum that cuts out Native Americans to stress a conservative spin on America’s founding. “To be honest, I can feel a little panic setting in,” Melinda McCormick, a fifth-grade teacher, told the school board last week. The Inquirer’s suburban education writer, Maddie Hanna, has been all over the political battles over your child’s education, which are becoming defining debates of the 2020s. With the return to school, these fights are heating up, and you’re going to want to read all about it. You can do that, and support this vital coverage, when you subscribe to The Inquirer.

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