Don’t miss the real story on white nationalism

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On the roster: Don’t miss the real story on white nationalism - Buttigieg’s bundlers - Another retirement, more trouble for Texas GOP - Audible: Requiescat in pace - Rock on, Dee

In the summer of 2017, a knot of white nationalists gathered in Charlottesville, Va. to protest – among other things – the removal of statues honoring the heroes of the Confederacy.

Like toads hopping into the first morning sun, they had come to bask in the warm glow of national media attention; every ray of indignation and outrage warming their warty hides.

But before they were done with their pageant, though, one of them killed a woman. The killer, now serving a life sentence in federal prison without the possibility of parole, confessed to driving his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, injuring dozens and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer

Two summers before that, another white nationalist had killed nine parishioners who had gathered for a prayer service at a historically African-American church in Charleston, S.C. A little more than a year after the Charlottesville murder, another racist slaughtered 11 Jews who had come to worship at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue.

So why does the 2017 incident loom so much larger – becoming synonymous with a fine, historic city that is home to one of our greatest public universities – than the other incidents that were more tragic in their scopes?

Certainly the brazenness of the gathering that preceded the attack was remarkable. People, apparently desensitized to good sense and decency by social media, came out to celebrate hatred. It was like “The Nutcracker” but it was Twitter replies, not candy and toys, that came to life.

But what really made Charlottesville a cultural touchstone was President Trump’s response. He bungled the first couple of takes, batting around the issue with evident reluctance to blame a pro-Confederate-monument movement that he and his party were exploiting in that year’s elections. 

After Trump slouched into a denunciation of white nationalism, he gunked it up with some drivel about there being “very fine people on both sides.” His botched response was the low point for his new administration. And it was such a big story because it fit so well with the way so much political journalism is done these days.

Here’s the cycle: Someone says or does something outrageous or despicable. Reporters then demand that politicians from the perceived same ideological quadrant denounce the words or actions. These responses are measured for sincerity, intensity and thoroughness. 

Partisans live for these outrage cycles. Did a freshman congresswoman from Minnesota say something anti-Semitic? Light ‘em up. Did a veteran congressman from Iowa canoodle with some white nationalists? Here we go. 

The president is at the top of the umbrage-taking food chain, and his responses are measured the most carefully. And given Trump’s penchant for exploiting racial and cultural animus, he gets an extra dose. Layered over the traditionally greater scrutiny for Republican presidents on such matters, it is absolutely consuming.

Today, as he did following the Pittsburgh massacre, Trump followed the script for such moments. He denounced in absolutely certain terms not just the slaughter of 20 innocents at an El Paso, Texas Walmart, but also the white nationalism that apparently motivated the killer. 

So here’s the question: Are you satisfied? 

Do you think that we are safer and less riven by hatred than we were before Trump read the prompted words? If you were incensed by Trump’s response to Charlottesville, are you placated by his El Paso response?   

Political journalism is pretty obviously broken but maybe in no way is it more broken than in these pitiful cycles of umbrage harvesting that follow attacks such as these. It is fine to talk about how Trump’s divisive politics stokes ill will. That is certainly part of the story. But it’s not the whole story. 

In recent decades political coverage went from focusing on Washington, to the presidency, to now just the person of the president himself, almost to the exclusion of anything else. 

Whether Trump screws up his responses, like he did two years ago, or says the lines as scripted (pace Toledo) as he did today, isn’t the main thing. If every story about the rise of ethnic violence perpetrated by white Americans is centered on one man, even if he is the president, then we are missing the story. 

As our founders feared we might, Americans have turned the presidency into some sort of divine kingship. We become more and more susceptible to demagogues as we place more and more power and a now-obsessive focus on one office and its occupant. 

Voters want magical, transformative results and politicians hungry for power are only too willing to make such promises. They pretend to be shamans capable of curing all our problems, as if the right words would fix what ails us.

Presidents do not heal us or break us as a people. They are political leaders. When we invest such powers in them we not only open the way for demagogues but let ourselves off the hook for problems that can only be fixed from the bottom up.  

“If it be true that all governments rest on opinion, it is no less true that the strength of opinion in each individual, and its practical influence on his conduct, depend much on the number which he supposes to have entertained the same opinion.” – Alexander Hamilton or James Madison, Federalist No. 49

AP: “Egypt started the first-ever restoration work on a gold-covered sarcophagus of the famed boy pharaoh Tutankhamun, ahead of the country’s new museum opening next year, the antiquities minister said Sunday. Khaled el-Anany told reporters that work on the outermost coffin, which is made of wood and gilded with gold, is expected to take at least eight months. He said that’s because ‘the state of conservation is very fragile, as it was never restored’ since 1922, when British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the intact 3,000-year-old tomb and the treasures it held. The coffin remained in the tomb until July, when it was moved to the new Grand Egyptian Museum, being built near the famed pyramids of Giza outside Cairo. Tutankhamun ascended the throne at age nine, ruling until his death at age 18 or 19.”

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Trump job performance
Average approval
: 42.4 percent
Average disapproval: 53.6 percent
Net Score: -11.2 points
Change from one week ago: down 4 points 
[Average includes: IBD: 40% approve - 56% disapprove; Gallup: 42% approve - 54% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 40% approve - 54% disapprove; Fox News: 46% approve - 51% disapprove; NPR/PBS/Marist: 44% approve - 53% disapprove.]

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Politico: “Pete Buttigieg is drawing new blood into the world of big-league presidential fundraisers. Buttigieg’s campaign has amassed 94 people and couples who have already raised more than $25,000 for him in the race, according to a list of his top bundlers obtained by POLITICO. But roughly two-thirds of those donors were not among the major fundraisers for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton during recent election cycles, according to a POLITICO analysis — though in many cases they are well-connected people in their own right. Buttigieg’s roster of top bundlers, known inside the campaign as his ‘investor’s circle,’ includes well-known hedge fund manager Orin Kramer and Esprit co-founder Susie Tompkins Buell — each of whom has raised upward of $25,000 for his campaign. The rainmakers were instrumental in making Buttigieg the biggest fundraiser in the Democratic presidential field this spring, as he brought in $24.8 million in the second quarter of the year.”

Klobuchar snags spot in next Dem debate - NBC News: “Senator Amy Klobuchar has met the donor threshold to compete in September's third Democratic debate, her campaign said early Friday morning. In an email to supporters less than forty-eight hours after debating in Detroit, Klobuchar announced more than 130,000 donors catapulting her into the fall phase of the Democratic primary. … Klobuchar's campaign previously said she'd met the polling qualification of at least two percent in four major surveys for the ABC-hosted debate in Houston, Texas. But meeting the donor threshold makes her the eighth of 24 candidates to check both qualifying boxes. … Former Vice President Joe Biden, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, California Sen. Kamala Harris, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren have also qualified for the next debate stage.”

DNC adds staff in battleground states - Politico: “The Democratic National Committee is placing operatives in six states to focus exclusively on attacking President Donald Trump and driving local conversation about his policies ahead of the 2020 election. It’s the DNC’s first round of staff hires in battleground states, drawing an early outline of the 2020 electoral map: Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, four of the closest states that Trump won in 2016, as well as Arizona — which has slowly been moving to the left in recent years and voted for Trump by a narrow 3.5 percentage points in 2016 — and Ohio, a traditional swing state that some Democrats argue should be considered a second-tier priority in 2020. The new communications aides will work for state parties, but will be funded by the DNC, a new approach for the committee to building staff in swing states early during the election cycle.”

Texas Tribune: “U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant will not seek reelection in 2020. He is the fourth member of the Texas delegation to announce his retirement in recent days. ‘I am looking forward to finishing out my term and then returning to Texas to start a new chapter,’ Marchant said in a statement. … Marchant, who was elected to Congress in 2004, is a founding member of the House Tea Party Caucus. He represents Texas’ 24th Congressional District, which spans the northern suburbs of Fort Worth and Dallas. The district has historically been reliably red, but Marchant’s margins of victory have grown thinner in recent elections. In 2016, he won by a comfortable two-digit margin. Last year, Marchant squeaked by with a 3 point win over Democrat Jan McDowell.”

Why Dems are rooting for Steve King - Atlantic: “J. D. Scholten is back for round two. The 39-year-old former baseball player announced early this morning—in a dreamy, nostalgia-laced video narrated by the Field of Dreams actor Kevin Costner—that he’s running for Representative Steve King’s congressional seat in Northwest Iowa. Scholten has tried this before: In last year’s midterms, the Democrat proved capable competition for King—a Republican whose name, for many Americans, has become synonymous with racism and xenophobia—by driving to every corner of the district in his Winnebago, called Sioux City Sue, and aggressively courting voters. Scholten ultimately lost by a thin 3 percent margin, the closest race King has ever had. … Scholten is running again, he said, to address this ‘unfinished business.’ And when he does, he’ll have the power of his party behind him: Nothing would give the Democrats more pleasure than ousting King and flipping Iowa’s last red congressional district blue.”

Kentucky governor banking on Trump - Politico: “President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign is still a year away, but Kentucky is going to get a preview this fall. Gov. Matt Bevin is clinging as tightly as he can to Trump — even borrowing some of his tactics — as he attempts to overcome rock-bottom approval ratings in a bid for a second term. The unpopular governor is counting on Trump’s appeal in the Bluegrass State — the president won Kentucky by 30 percentage points in 2016 — and conservative cultural positions to knock off his chief political rival, state Attorney General Andy Beshear, the son of Bevin’s predecessor. … Bevin’s penchant for controversy … has rendered him vulnerable in this conservative-oriented state. Public polling is limited, but Bevin scored a worst-in-the-nation 32 percent job-approval rating in Morning Consult’s quarterly tracking of governors' popularity.”

Pergram: El Paso, Dayton could define August -- a historically turbulent month Fox News

Mitch McConnell fractures shoulder after fall in Kentucky home - Fox News

Rand Paul has part of lung removed after 2017 assault by neighbor Fox News

“So he pretty much lived because she gave her life.” – Leta Jamrowski, the sister of El Paso victim Jordan Anchondo, describing how her two-month-old nephew survived Saturday’s mass shooting.

“You said Congressman Hurd did not mention any of President Trump's racist tweets when he announced he was not seeking reelection. Sounds like a liberal and MSM talking point. You might have that same opinion, but I wish you would stick to factual information.” – DJ Jowers, Littleton, Mass.

[Ed. note: I’m just back from vacation, Mr. Jowers, and saw a lot of missives like yours in the mailbag. Your complaint is with the author of the Atlantic piece on the retirement of Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas. There’s been quite a kerfuffle over the word “racist” in regard to the president’s racially divisive approach to the 2020 election. It’s one I have avoided since it’s a silly semantic game in which partisans win and objective assessments suffer. And I generally don’t think it’s wise for journalists to get into assessing the motives of politicians. President Trump may be a racist or he just may be cynically exploiting the most sensitive issue in American public life by trolling Democrats on the issue. I don’t know, nor is it my place to guess. As we discussed above, we too often allow this linguistic Terpsichore to substitute for actual coverage and actual discourse. In hindsight, we should have used a piece that didn’t fall into this rhetorical trap. But the article is otherwise incisive and useful. We hope you don’t let trigger words interfere with your overall understanding of the battle for the House.]         

“I am very concerned about the deficit that Congress and our president are continuing to create. Most people who write about this report the consequences of this action on the federal budget and the tax consequence for future generations. Then they end their comments by saying or we will default on the debt. They never go on to list the consequences of defaulting on the debt. I even have a friend who thinks that is what we ought to do. But what would be the consequences of defaulting on our debt?” – Richard Neff, Bowie, Md.

[Ed. note: The problem with discussing the consequences of generations of fiscal profligacy is that we have little idea what it will actually look like. Will it come during wartime? Will it actually trigger a war? Will it be caused by economic decline or be a major contributor to economic decline? It’s possible that we will follow out some projection table to eventual insolvency and be essentially squeezed to death by the debt, but I imagine that it will be as Harold Macmillian is said to have said, “Events, dear boy, events.” Talking about the consequences of fiscal irresponsibility is like talking about what kind of car crash an aggressive driver will get into. He or she may hit a cow, a billboard, another car or a busload of orphans. Guessing which one isn’t that useful as compared to the larger understanding that it’s generally bad to go racing around.]   

“Why are taxpayers hit with the bill to cover primary election costs when only Democrats and Republicans face competitive races, if then? I've asked this of dozens of elected officials, and I always receive a blank stare and no other response.”  Stephen J. Tock, Dwight, Ill.

[Ed. note: A very fine point, Mr. Tock! As my views on how to fix our ailing political system continue to evolve, the abominableness of our current primary process becomes more and more obvious to me. Aside from the costs that you mention, there’s the disruption and inconvenience. But if the results were good and healthful for the republic, such impositions might be bearable. Instead, we get increasingly poor results even as the government and citizenry at large does the work of the parties. Our 40-year experiment with direct democracy in primary elections looks like a bust to me.]  

“I have enjoyed Halftime Report for months for the political nuggets I missed; the wisdom of our forefathers; and, the depth of Charles. I appreciate your perspective even if I sometimes wish things were going differently. The item that tickled me [Friday] was your news bit from Garden & Gun (our favorite magazine). If you are not Southerners or Texans you certainly have some Southern ‘soul.’” – Jem Gentsch, Goldthwaite, Texas

[Ed. note: Aside from her college years at Elon University in North Carolina, Brianna is 100 percent Connecticut (just ask her to say “button”). I grew up in West Virginia and for about four years in St. Louis, so I’m no Southerner either. I did go to school at the very Southern Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia and may have picked up some proclivities there. But I think the reason I love Garden & Gun so much is that it is so refreshingly different from other lifestyle magazines. They don’t do hot takes or edgy takedowns. Its writing and approach is thoughtful, warm and self-aware. A real treasure, whether you are wicked New England or an Appalachian American. What we hope every day is that for hundreds of thousands of Americans from every culture and corner of this great nation that we can be useful and expand their horizons.]   

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Fox News: “A Vancouver woman thanked the legendary heavy metal band Metallica for saving her life after she used their song ‘Don't Tread on Me’ to scare off a cougar on a logging road in Canada. Dee Gallant, 45, was on an evening walk on July 23 with her 8-year-old husky retriever Murphy outside Duncan, British Columbia, when she said she felt like ‘something was watching’ them, according to KelownaNow. That something happened to be a threatening cougar, which stood about 50 feet in front of them … Out of options, she opened her phone's music library and found a track she felt would sound the most threatening… She turned the music up to full volume and let the song play. … ‘As soon as he heard the first note, he bolted. He was just gone.’ … Afterward, the Canadian played the song for the rest of her hike with Murphy at her side until she made it to safety.”

“When some jerk tailgater rides my bumper in heavy traffic, honking his horn before passing and cutting me off, I do a turn-to-the-left, eyeball-to-eyeball, through-the-driver's-window two-worder -- mouthed slowly and with exaggerated lip movements. No interlocutor has yet missed my meaning.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on July 2, 2004. 

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.