Reflections on the Ku Klux Klan

 

Let’s review what happened yesterday:

The polls are still putting Trump ahead in Tennessee, Georgia, and Virginia. Substantially ahead. The only Super Tuesday state in which he’s not leading is Texas — Cruz’s home state.

For years I’ve had an obviously narcissistic conceit. No one appointed me, but I’ve taken it upon myself to be the American Ambassador, everywhere, mostly because I’ve always been baffled and not a little angry that our appointed ambassadors don’t see it as part of their jobs to defend Americans against calumnies in the foreign press and imagination. I don’t expect them to do that with outrage, or undiplomatically, just calmly to confront lies with facts, and point people to sources where they can learn more, if they’re so inclined. I’m not rude when people say crazy things to me about Americans; I’ve almost always judged them to be misinformed, not bad. But I’ve never absented myself from the conversation, either. I’ve seen it as my personal responsibility to give them better information.

Years of living as an expatriate has made me keenly aware that the United States is unusual — that is to say, exceptional — in many ways. But two ways, in particular, strike me as particularly unusual and are for me a source of real pride.

The first is our conception of freedom of expression. I can’t tell you how many people don’t understand it at all, or don’t believe me when I tell them, “There is literally nothing you’re forbidden to say in the United States.” In Turkey, I’d read in the press and be told, repeatedly, that “every advanced country” has laws against “hate speech,” or that “no country” would allow certain kinds of people to hold rallies.

Again and again, I’d say, “No, that isn’t true.” It does happen to be true of most developed countries. You all know why those neo-Nazis in Germany don’t brandish swastikas: They’d go to jail. Holocaust denial is illegal in France. Britain has extensive “hate speech” laws. When our campus wingnuts grow up, we may have them, too. But we don’t have them now. Our campus wingnuts remain, for now, campus wingnuts.

I like explaining this to people. I like explaining the brilliance of the phrase, “Congress shall make no law.” It’s quite different from constitutions that splendidly express a positive commitment to freedom of expression. Our constitution takes a much dimmer view of abstract promises to have Good Things. Ours denies the government the power to make any law infringing upon speech. It’s a big difference, and a consequential one.

People tend not to believe this at first, or don’t quite understand it. It’s a hard concept to understand, especially because it’s deeply unnatural, or so I’ve concluded from conversations in which I explain it. It seems, to most people, appalling and indecent to allow people who seem to mean it to march about shouting, “Heil Hitler.” In countries where ethnic tensions have in recent memory resulted in ethnic cleansing, it also seems, frankly, stupid. Do you want to see a Turkish mob screaming that they’re going to do to the Kurds what they did to the Armenians? No, neither do I. So yes, I do understand why well-meaning Turkish liberals think hate speech laws in Turkey might be an excellent idea. I disagree, because I know they’ll be used, in reality, to prosecute anyone on the wrong side of the government. But well-meaning people can disagree.

Usually I tell people about Brandenburg v. Ohio and National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie. These really were landmark cases. I think even many Americans, if not most, aren’t fully aware that our modern conception of freedom of speech dates from these verdicts almost as much as it does from the Constitution itself.

Clarence Brandenburg, as I’m sure you all know, was a Ku Klux Klan member who held a rally in Hamilton County, Ohio. “We’re not a revengent [sic] organization,” he said, “but if our President, our Congress, our Supreme Court, continues to suppress the white, Caucasian race, it’s possible that there might have to be some revengeance taken.” Others in the film footage were hooded, but they were armed, burning crosses, and muttering, “This is what we are going to do to the [racial epithet],” “Send the Jews back to Israel,” “Bury the [racial epithet],” “Freedom for the whites,” and “[racial epithet] will have to fight for every inch he gets from now.”

Brandenburg was convicted, sentenced to prison, and fined $1,000 under Ohio’s criminal syndicalism laws, which made it illegal to advocate “crime, sabotage, violence, or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform,” or to assemble “with any society, group, or assemblage of persons formed to teach or advocate the doctrines of criminal syndicalism.” Brandenburg (or his ACLU lawyers, to be precise; he wasn’t that sharp) argued that these laws violated the First Amendment. The case went to the Supreme Court, and the Court unanimously agreed with him. They struck down Ohio’s laws.

The Court used a two-part test to evaluate speech: (1) speech can be prohibited if it is “directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and (2) it is “likely to incite or produce such action.” [My italics.] That “and” is important.

I’m sure I’m telling you nothing you don’t know, but I promise you that no one outside of the US has heard of the Brandenburg test. I don’t know why. You’d think explaining this would be part of our public diplomacy worldwide, because it’s such an important part of our history, culture, and mores, and it’s something of which we can be so justly proud.

Sometimes they think I’m just making this stuff up. So I show them this:

tumblr_inline_no1jw50IGA1qcpjwc_540

There you go. We Americans do not ban this kind of speech or that kind of rally.

One of the most common wacko beliefs about the US is that we literally forbid anti-Semitic speech. Yes, this is actually a conversation you can really have, in many parts of the world — you can find real people who believe there’s something hypocritical about our objections to Iran’s sponsorship of Holocaust-denial conferences, because at least they allow such things to be said, whereas we just lock up our anti-Semites and our Holocaust deniers.

Yes, many people believe this. But no, it’s not, generally, because they’re stupid. How could people know otherwise, if that’s what they’ve heard everywhere and we make no effort to explain our culture and our legal system? That’s why they need Ambassador Berlinski. Fortunately, that one’s easy to disprove. “Ah,” I’ll say, laughing. “Let’s see. Google David Duke.” They may not know his name, but they pretty much always know what the Klan is. I guess we must make a lot of movies about the Klan.

David Duke, the American white nationalist, anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist, and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Sufficiently famous around the world that I can win the same argument over and over and over again by pointing out that David Duke is still very much alive, at liberty, saying whatever the hell he pleases, and denying the Holocaust. You can also buy Mein Kampf on Amazon and have it delivered the same day. Want a copy of The Communist Manifesto? The Protocols of the Elders of Zion? We don’t ban any of it.

I’m proud of our First Amendment.

But there’s another thing of which I’m just as proud, and I’m not sure whether it makes sense to be proud of both at the same time, although I am. I’m proud that we’re the kind of country that can let Nazis and Klansmen disgrace themselves in public, because Americans are basically decent. Such views just could not gain wide purchase.

I’ve asked myself many times whether these court verdicts truly represented an originalist interpretation of the First Amendment. Did they reflect a principled commitment to the plain meaning of the Constitution? Or is it possible that this jurisprudence seemed a plausible interpretation only because these cases followed such a long period of peace, prosperity, and social stability? Did we come to see ourselves as too decent to be corrupted by such obviously vile ideas? So decent that the Supreme Court justices just knew, deep down, that American Nazis and the Klan weren’t ever going gain purchase in the United States of America? Yeah, we can put up with the occasional Sieg Heil and a few flaming crosses. That stuff’s never going to get anywhere with Americans these days.

That’s the other calumny I try to correct everywhere I go. The notion that Americans are deeply racist. I would have sworn, until yesterday, that people who insisted to me that this was still a significant political sentiment in American life were out of their minds. I genuinely thought this was, overwhelmingly, a left-wing fantasy.

I still believe the first part to be true.

But I believe Trump knew exactly what he was saying. There’s no such thing as an adult American who’s never heard of the Ku Klux Klan. There’s no such thing as an adult American who’s never heard of David Duke.

The United States’ history of practicing human bondage is real. It was based on views about race still espoused by David Duke. This is known to every American adult.

That such a comment could come out of the mouth of a frontrunner in the GOP polls is a disgrace to all of America. Any attempt to pretend he didn’t really say that or it didn’t mean what it sounds like will be about as convincing as efforts to persuade Americans that Ahmadinejad was simply expressing a lively disdain for the world’s suffocating political correctness.

This one wasn’t the hypersensitive Left’s wild imagination. This was the real thing. People who vote for him tomorrow can’t say they have no idea what he stands for.

Members have made 72 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of Songwriter Member

    I’m having a Pauline Kael Moment. I am a Tennessee voter and a conservative evangelical Christian, and I do not know a soul who has openly supported Trump. To the contrary, every one I know disdains the man. That he is leading in the Tennessee polls not only dismays me, it baffles me.

    • #1
    • February 29, 2016 at 6:09 am
  2. Profile photo of rebark Member

    Very well written. The State Department probably ought to have you on the payroll.

    I know Trump supporters will want to point out that the man is not quite for David Duke, it’s just that he’s not explicitly against the KKK and what they stand for.

    And while that is a meaningful distinction in most cases, I really can’t think of a reason why one wouldn’t seize every opportunity to be against the KKK.

    I mean really, the K K K. Surely we can all agree that they are worthy of vehement opposition? I guess Donald Trump thinks that staying neutral on white supremacists will help his voter base more than coming out against one of the most unpopular (and, let’s be frank, evil) organizations in the nation. Somehow.

    To those on Ricochet who are inclined to support Trump, what do you think about all this? I’m going to just assume you are all decent people and not racists. So does this bother you at all?

    • #2
    • February 29, 2016 at 6:15 am
  3. Profile photo of Manny Member

    Unfortunately I don’t think that’s a smoking gun against Trump yet. I would like to think it is, but Trump is refraining from committing to saying anything at the moment. It’s entirely plausible that Trump was taken by surprise and didn’t want to give an impulsive answer, even if he knows (and I’m sure he does) who David Duke is. Never commit to impulse is a sound business approach which I’m sure Trump the businessman adheres to. It’s something we consumers should adhere to. Now he needs to come back today and say I studied it and I refuse Duke’s endorsement. If he doesn’t, then it’s an issue.

    • #3
    • February 29, 2016 at 6:19 am
  4. Profile photo of Manny Member

    Songwriter:I’m having a Pauline Kael Moment. I am a Tennessee voter and a conservative evangelical Christian, and I do not know a soul who has openly supported Trump. To the contrary, every one I know disdains the man. That he is leading in the Tennessee polls not only dismays me, it baffles me.

    I’ve been asking that for a while now. Where the hell is he getting his support? It’s mind boggling.

    • #4
    • February 29, 2016 at 6:21 am
  5. Profile photo of Columbo Member

    Tempting to post a conversation in Member Feed about … Reflections on men who make penis jokes ….

    • #5
    • February 29, 2016 at 6:23 am
  6. Profile photo of Steven Jones Inactive

    I will be voting in the Texas primary tomorrow. I will not be voting for the candidate endorsed by the Klan.

    • #6
    • February 29, 2016 at 6:32 am
  7. Profile photo of Amy Schley Member

    Manny: It’s entirely plausible that Trump was taken by surprise and didn’t want to give an impulsive answer, even if he knows (and I’m sure he does) who David Duke is. Never commit to impulse is a sound business approach which I’m sure Trump the businessman adheres to.

    I’d buy that logic if we were talking about anyone other than Trump. The man always gives the impression he’s saying the first thing that comes to mind. Now maybe that’s an act; if so, he should have been given Leo’s best actor Oscar last night.

    • #7
    • February 29, 2016 at 6:37 am
  8. Profile photo of rebark Member

    Columbo: Tempting to post a conversation in Member Feed about … Reflections on men who make penis jokes ….

    Whatever crassness Rubio had to wade into in order to get within arm’s reach of The Donald is hardly on the same level as tacit support of the K K K.

    And even if it was, “your guy did a bad thing too” is not an argument for why it’s okay for Trump to do this.

    • #8
    • February 29, 2016 at 6:38 am
  9. Profile photo of OkieSailor Member

    Mr. Trump has clearly shown that he LOVES anyone who supports him as well as has deep disdain for anyone who does not. That’s the sum total of his qualification process. That such a man could be a viable candidate for President is very disappointing to me as I view the future prospects for our American Experiment of Liberty under limited government. I do not know whether liberty could survive 4 or 8 years of such attempted despotism but I sincerely pray we do not find out. None of the other R. candidates are perfect but all are miles better on the scorecard of understanding and respecting our constitutional form of government, if we are to take seriously the many statements by Mr. Trump as to how he will do the things he promises to do as President. He has a right to say the things he says in the way he says them, if enough voters don’t understand what his kind of ‘just do it with or without Congress, etc.’ would do to our Liberties then we may have already lost the Republic (my apologises, Mr. Franklin.)
    If you support constitutional liberties and have reasons to believe Mr. Trump would not run roughshod over them, please, please enlighten me.

    • #9
    • February 29, 2016 at 6:41 am
  10. Profile photo of RightAngles Member

    I talked to a 63-year-old woman last night. She voted early for Trump last week. She had never heard of David Duke. None of this will have one iota of an effect on Trump supporters. Nothing will.

    • #10
    • February 29, 2016 at 6:44 am
  11. Profile photo of Manny Member

    Amy Schley:

    Manny: It’s entirely plausible that Trump was taken by surprise and didn’t want to give an impulsive answer, even if he knows (and I’m sure he does) who David Duke is. Never commit to impulse is a sound business approach which I’m sure Trump the businessman adheres to.

    I’d buy that logic if we were talking about anyone other than Trump. The man always gives the impression he’s saying the first thing that comes to mind. Now maybe that’s an act; if so, he should have been given Leo’s best actor Oscar last night.

    Yes, if it’s a vacuous statement or an attack on a rival. But anything to do with substance, I have never seen him talk off the cuff.

    • #11
    • February 29, 2016 at 6:44 am
  12. Profile photo of Columbo Member

    rebark:

    Columbo: Tempting to post a conversation in Member Feed about … Reflections on men who make penis jokes ….

    Whatever crassness Rubio had to wade into in order to get within arm’s reach of The Donald is hardly on the same level as tacit support of the K K K.

    And even if it was, “your guy did a bad thing too” is not an argument for why it’s okay for Trump to do this.

    No attempt so made. Apologies for any inference that KKK = penis jokes. I also expect Donald and his spokespersons to “extend and clarify” his remarks to completely disavow the KKK and David Duke.

    • #12
    • February 29, 2016 at 6:46 am
  13. Profile photo of A-Squared Inactive

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: But I believe Trump knew exactly what he was saying. There’s no such thing as an adult American who’s never heard of the Ku Klux Klan. There’s no such thing as an adult American who’s never heard of David Duke.

    Trump knows exactly who David Duke is. Trump previously disavowed Duke

    Mr. Trump painted a fairly dark picture of the Reform Party in his statement, noting the role of Mr. Buchanan, along with the roles of David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and Lenora Fulani, the former standard-bearer of the New Alliance Party and an advocate of Marxist-Leninist politics.

    “The Reform Party now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke, a neo-Nazi, Mr. Buchanan, and a communist, Ms. Fulani,” he said in his statement. “This is not company I wish to keep.”

    Powerline thinks Trump might be a Democratic party agent. I tend to agree. His campaign is like a caricature of what the left thinks of the Republicans. That so many Republicans support him seems to prove they were correct.

    • #13
    • February 29, 2016 at 6:48 am
  14. Profile photo of tigerlily Member

    Steven Jones:I will be voting in the Texas primary tomorrow. I will not be voting for the candidate endorsed by the Klan.

    Remember when said candidates were always members of the Democratic Party?

    • #14
    • February 29, 2016 at 6:58 am
  15. Profile photo of Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    A-Squared: Powerline thinks Trump might be a Democratic party agent. I tend to agree.

    My first reaction when I heard that was, “This cannot be. This is so absurd that it has to be a conspiracy.” Unfortunately, it’s a conspiracy for whom people are voting, so I don’t think it matters who put him up to it. It’s a real cancer in the GOP. And I’m heartbroken by it. And frightened for my country.

    • #15
    • February 29, 2016 at 6:58 am
  16. Profile photo of rebark Member

    Wait, so I’m confused now. He knew who David Duke was at this press conference on Friday, then forgot two days later?

    Why on Earth would you deliver a meandering response like the one he gave Jake Tapper two days after disavowing the same endorsement inside of ten seconds?

    My God what’s become of me? I believed even a single word of what was said in a Trump tweet.

    • #16
    • February 29, 2016 at 6:59 am
  17. Profile photo of Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    rebark: Why on Earth would you deliver a meandering response like the one he gave Jake Tapper two days after disavowing the same person inside of ten seconds?

    He said this yesterday evening.

    Christie sure looks like he knows he just made the most embarrassing mistake of his life, doesn’t he.

    • #17
    • February 29, 2016 at 7:02 am
  18. Profile photo of A-Squared Inactive

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    My first reaction when I heard that was, “This cannot be. This is so absurd that it has to be a conspiracy.” Unfortunately, it’s a conspiracy for whom people are voting, so I don’t think it matters who put him up to it. It’s a real cancer in the GOP. And I’m heartbroken by it. And frightened for my country.

    I think many (by no means all) Trump supporters want to see the GOP blown up. Given the GOPs actions over the last two decades, that is understandable. I’m sympathetic myself.

    But, I’ve long thought this country’s best days are behind it. We are no longer the home of capitalism and freedom. Some other country will clearly pick up the mantle of capitalism and freedom that we seem to be shedding as quickly as we can.

    Our current situation reminds me of several prescient quotes from the Grand Inquisitor

    Man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that great gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born.

    In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet and say to us, Make us your slaves, but feed us.

    • #18
    • February 29, 2016 at 7:06 am
  19. Profile photo of Ralphie Member

    Manny:Unfortunately I don’t think that’s a smoking gun against Trump yet. I would like to think it is, but Trump is refraining from committing to saying anything at the moment. It’s entirely plausible that Trump was taken by surprise and didn’t want to give an impulsive answer, even if he knows (and I’m sure he does) who David Duke is. Never commit to impulse is a sound business approach which I’m sure Trump the businessman adheres to. It’s something we consumers should adhere to. Now he needs to come back today and say I studied it and I refuse Duke’s endorsement. If he doesn’t, then it’s an issue.

    Think Progress site says fromNYT concerning the 2000 race: “Trump also wrote in the New York Times, “Although I am totally comfortable with the people in the New York Independence Party, I leave the Reform Party to David Duke, Pat Buchanan and Lenora Fulani. That is not company I wish to keep.”

    Contrast to Cruz firing Tyler before a day is out.

    • #19
    • February 29, 2016 at 7:27 am
  20. Profile photo of Susan Quinn Contributor

    Trump has no principles. It doesn’t matter if he was caught off guard; he could have blatantly damned the KKK and been done with it after the fact. The way he stumbled around about “these organizations”– well, I guess he just wants to be inclusive, right? For a man who has no qualms about condemning anyone at any time for anything–sorry, the man shows his stripes and some still try to ignore or justify it. Unbelievable.

    • #20
    • February 29, 2016 at 7:43 am
  21. Profile photo of Ansonia Member

    It seems very strange to me that Trump didn’t say something like: ” I don’t know David Duke, but racial supremacy, of any kind, is false and loathsome. I don’t want the support of any kind of racial supremacy group.”
    If he had said something like that, I would be able to buy the idea that he was claiming not to know David Duke in order to emphasize that he has, and wants, nothing to do with him.

    • #21
    • February 29, 2016 at 7:45 am
  22. Profile photo of Herbert Member

    Amy Schley: I’d buy that logic if we were talking about anyone other than Trump. The man always gives the impression he’s saying the first thing that comes to mind.

    yes, his schtick is that he not politically correct, yet somehow he becomes circumspect when talking about Duke and the KKK. It’s either a calculated vote getter or reveals his mindset.

    • #22
    • February 29, 2016 at 7:58 am
  23. Profile photo of Dave Sussman Contributor

    Thanks for this. America needs more Claire’s across the world and less crony bundlers in cushy irrelevant ambassadorships.

    I’d still like to think America is the country that would prefer the Jake and Elwood treatment… If Trump still wins big, my faith will diminish.

    • #23
    • February 29, 2016 at 8:10 am
  24. Profile photo of Ansonia Member

    Re: comment # 22

    “It’s either a calculated vote getter or reveals his mindset.”

    It’s a calculated vote getter. People, especially non-white people, have now had all the warning they should need that there isn’t likely anyone or anything Trump won’t sacrifice for power.

    • #24
    • February 29, 2016 at 8:14 am
  25. Profile photo of Gaby Charing Member

    Watching from afar, mesmerised and appalled.

    • #25
    • February 29, 2016 at 8:34 am
  26. Profile photo of Sabrdance Member

    As was partially pointed out half an hour ago on the Moral Rot thread, it is eminently believable that most of America doesn’t know who David Duke is. I’m not sure that’s actually an improvement.

    And I do wonder if there isn’t a bit of the “in for a penny, in for a pound” going on among those who do know. If they want to control the borders like every other country in the world, they’ve already been branded racists by the Democrats. So they’re already in the same camp as David Duke.

    • #26
    • February 29, 2016 at 8:34 am
  27. Profile photo of Roberto Member

    Trump has been a New York liberal for most of his life, what views do New York liberals have regarding the South? That clearly all Southerners are racist hicks. Tomorrow is Super Tuesday, in Trump’s mind that hemming and hawing was in all likelihood tactical.

    • #27
    • February 29, 2016 at 8:56 am
  28. Profile photo of Lazy_Millennial Member

    As others elsewhere have pointed out, in 2000 Trump dismissed the Reform Party due to David Duke’s involvement.

    Friday night Trump tweeted a short “disavowal” (word of the weekend) for the KKK, which was unremarkable.

    Sunday this happened.

    Later Sunday Trump refers back to his Friday-night tweet.

    My thinking is that Trump had the initial sane knee-jerk reaction Friday night. But Trump’s whole campaign is based around saying outrageous things, then walking them back to seem reasonable. It’s also based around keeping his name in the news. And Trump loves everyone who loves him, and hates everyone who hates him. And so the second time he got a chance at the KKK question, he did exactly what he usually does with chances at outrage: said something over the line, then walked it back later.

    It is also the latest and greatest in a long list of reasons why I won’t vote for Trump. Living in non-swing-state Texas, I didn’t vote for McCain or Romney either, since I couldn’t honestly endorse either man for the office of the Presidency. The Republican Party offered up bad options, and I passed. Looking back on it, I had no idea how good I had it. But I will not endorse Trump for that office. And I will tell others to do the same.

    • #28
    • February 29, 2016 at 8:59 am
  29. Profile photo of Manny Member

    Ralphie:

    Think Progress site says fromNYT concerning the 2000 race: “Trump also wrote in the New York Times, “Although I am totally comfortable with the people in the New York Independence Party, I leave the Reform Party to David Duke, Pat Buchanan and Lenora Fulani. That is not company I wish to keep.”

    Contrast to Cruz firing Tyler before a day is out.

    Cruz was under pressure for repeated dirty tricks. Firing someone was a way to alleviate the attention. Hey, I’m not saying that Trump is not playing politics with this. He’s got a bunch of southern states on Tuesday where condemning the KKK might hurt a percent or so. So he did not want to come out with a statement out of impulse and wanted to weigh what he says carefully. It doesn’t prove that Trump is a closet Klansman or even sympathetic. In fact your quote is something Trump can easily pull out to prove he’s not.

    • #29
    • February 29, 2016 at 9:08 am
  30. Profile photo of Amy Schley Member

    Manny: He’s got a bunch of southern states on Tuesday where condemning the KKK might hurt a percent or so. So he did not want to come out with a statement out of impulse and wanted to weigh what he says carefully. It doesn’t prove that Trump is a closet Klansman or even sympathetic. In fact your quote is something Trump can easily pull out to prove he’s not.

    “He’s not a racist; he’s just being ambiguous about being one for Republican voters” is not a sentiment that makes me think better of the man. Frankly, I’d prefer an out-of-the-closet racist — at least he’d have a principle instead of just doing whatever it took to make more money and get more power.

    • #30
    • February 29, 2016 at 9:19 am
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