In This Pennsylvania Town, Racism ‘Was Quiet.’ Then Trump Stoked Fears of Violence

Above: Troy Johnson of Aliquippa speaks up on election turmoil

MILTON, Pa. — Kareem Williams Jr. sits on a park bench in the center of town and waits for the racists to attack. He tells himself he is ready. It’s a cool Saturday morning in fall, and the valley is alive with the rumble of pickups.

When the trucks stop, here at the red light at the corner of Broadway and Front Street, drivers gun their engines. Some glare directly into Williams’ eyes.

Williams is a Black man. The drivers are white. All their passengers are white. Williams returns their gaze with equal ferocity. He tells himself he is ready. He is not. His back faces the Susquehanna River. His car is parked a block away. If these white men jump from their truck, fists or pistols raised, Williams has nowhere to run.

The light turns green. Engine roar blasts the river. Williams follows each truck with his eyes until it’s gone.

“I always knew racism was here. But it was quiet,” said Williams, 24, a factory worker and a corporal in the Pennsylvania National Guard who grew up in Milton. “Now, in this election, people are more openly racist. The dirty looks, middle fingers, the Confederate flags.”

To Williams, and to many non-white people he knows in central Pennsylvania, this rise in overtly racist behavior is linked inextricably to the reelection campaign of President Donald Trump. In yards up and down the Central Susquehanna Valley, Williams sees Confederate flags and Trump flags flying side by side. People with the most Trump bumper stickers seem the most likely to shout hateful things.

As the presidential election approaches, Williams said, such threats grow more common, more passionate.

“On election day I’m going to be in my house. I’m not going anywhere,” said Williams, known by his nickname K.J. “If these racists are looking to protest, they’ll go to Harrisburg or Philadelphia or D.C. If they’re looking to kill people, this will be the place. They’re gonna come here.”

Experts on American racial history agree. For Black people living in towns like Milton, they say, the threat of white terrorism is the highest it’s been in generations.

“Historically, most acts of racial terror have been enacted in rural communities, small towns or medium-sized cities,” said Khalil Muhammad, a history professor at Harvard University. “The conditions for wide-scale anti-Black violence are today more likely than at any point in the last 50 years.”

‘That’s a powder keg’

Within a month, 230 communities in Pennsylvania organized 400 anti-racism events, said Lara Putnam, a historian at the University of Pittsburgh who studies grassroots movements.

“That is an insane number,” Putnam said. “It’s an order of magnitude larger than the number of places that ever held a Tea Party event.”

Many protests happened in towns where African Americans and other non-white people constitute a tiny minority, surrounded by rural communities with virtually no people of color at all. Those areas are overwhelmingly conservative, said Daniel Mallinson, a political science professor at Penn State Harrisburg. Out of 6 million votes cast in Pennsylvania in 2016, Trump won the state by 42,000.

But in Milton he dominated, carrying the surrounding Northumberland County by 69%. In front yards and country fields, Trump flags and Confederate flags comingle.

“Traditionally when we think of political candidates, we think of yard signs. But a lot of Trump flags went up in 2016, and in a lot of places they didn’t come down. It’s a visual representation of tribalism in our politics,” Mallinson said. “There’s a lot of implicit and explicit racial bias in central Pennsylvania.”

As local critics and defenders of the white establishment grow more engaged, state and national politics raise the stakes. Pennsylvania is the likeliest state in the nation to decide the presidential election, according to FiveThirtyEight, a polling and analytics aggregator. Statewide polls place Democrat Joe Biden ahead of Trump by 7%, the same as Hillary Clinton’s lead in Pennsylvania three weeks before the 2016 election.

Large-scale voting fraud has never been detected in modern American politics. Yet Trump often claims he can lose only if the 2020 election is fraudulent, which stokes fear and anger among his core supporters, experts said.

“They fully expect Trump will win,” said John Kennedy, a political science professor at West Chester University outside Philadelphia. “When they hear the results on election night, that’s a powder keg.”

Trump also appears to encourage the more violent factions of his coalition. The president repeatedly has declined to promise a peaceful transition of power. He defended Kyle Rittenhouse for killing an unarmed protester in Kenosha, Wisconsin. During the first presidential debate, Trump appeared to encourage white terrorists, urging the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” and insisting that “somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left.”

Some white people in central Pennsylvania appear to be following the president’s lead.

“Do I worry about right-wing vigilante violence against peaceful protests if people are protesting Trump after the election? Yes,” Putnam said. “It’s happening. And there’s every reason to think more of it will happen.”

In September, Trump proposed designating the KKK and antifa as terrorist organizations. Antifa is not an organization, however, but rather an idea shared by some on the left to aggressively challenge fascists and Nazis, especially during street protests.

“President Trump has unequivocally denounced hate groups by name on numerous occasions but the media refuses to accurately cover it because that would mean the end of a Democrat Party talking point,” said Samantha Zager, a Trump campaign spokesperson. “The Trump campaign will patiently wait for the media to develop the same intense curiosity on these actual threats to our democracy as it has with regard to hypothetical scenarios from the left.”

In July, neo-Nazis rallied in Williamsport, 20 miles north of Milton. In August, a white person fired into a crowd of civil rights marchers in Schellsburg, Pennsylvania, wounding a man in the face. At a recent event for police reform in Watsontown, three miles north of Milton along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, white counter-protesters yelled that Black people “live off white people.”

Overlooking the protest, on the balcony of the Mansion House restaurant, white men stood armed with assault rifles.

“They looked like snipers,” Williams said. “Trump is the motivator in all of this. He has a huge following here.”

The last time America witnessed such an open embrace between white supremacists and the White House was the administration of Woodrow Wilson, said Muhammad.

“You have to go back 100 years,” Muhammad said. “We have every reason to be extremely vigilant about the possibility for violence over the next several weeks. Anywhere where people are flying Confederate flags are places where people ought to be mindful of where they move in public.”

Racism in the land of Chef Boyardee

The side streets of downtown Milton end in rich river bottomlands where the autumn corn grows 7 feet tall.

Continue reading In This Pennsylvania Town, Racism ‘Was Quiet.’ Then Trump Stoked Fears of Violence

beyond tactics: Even if Trump Loses, Trumpism Will Live On

A defeat for Donald Trump in next month’s election is unlikely to banish the cultural divisions he has stoked © Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

The US is too militantly divided for a sweeping repudiation of the president to last. We need to keep on keepin’ on in organization a progressive majority for years ahead.

By Edward Luce
Financial Times Guest Link

OCT 15 2020 – Though few will dare admit it, much of America is preparing to celebrate the end of Donald Trump. Not only would his defeat bring the curtain down on an administration they regard as the worst in modern US history. In their eyes, it would also dispel the MAGA hat-wearing, militia-sympathising deplorables who make up the US president’s base.

It would be a moment of redemption in which not only Mr Trump, but Trumpism also, will be written off as an aberration. After four years of unearned hell, America could pick up where it left off.

That would be a natural reaction. It would also be a blunder. Should Mr Trump lose next month, it would be with the support of up to 45 per cent of expected voters — between roughly 60m and 70m Americans. Even now when Joe Biden’s poll lead is hardening into double digits, a Trump victory cannot be discounted.

Even if he loses, it is highly unlikely to match the sweeping repudiation that Walter Mondale suffered against Ronald Reagan in 1984, or Barry Goldwater to Lyndon Johnson in 1964. America is too militantly divided for that.

A victorious Biden camp would need to take three concerns into account. The first is that the Republican party is Mr Trump’s, even if he departs the scene. Five years ago, many evangelical voters still felt distaste for Mr Trump’s libertine personality. They quickly learned he was the kind of pugilist they wanted.

The likely Supreme Court confirmation next week of Amy Coney Barrett, and that of Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch before her, are testaments to that. America’s Christian right has embraced its inner Vladimir Lenin — the end justifies the means.

The same applies to professional Republicans. Self-preservation might imply they would distance themselves from Mr Trump as his likely defeat drew nearer. The opposite has been happening. As an Axios study shows elected Republicans have become steadily more Trumpian over the past four years.

Partly this was because a handful of moderate representatives either retired in Mr Trump’s first two years, or were ejected by hardliners in primaries. Mostly it was because of the visceral power of Trumpism. It turns out there is not much grassroots passion for fiscal conservatism in today’s Republican party — if there ever was. The impetus is with those who fear that America will cease to be America, partly because of the US’s growing ethnic diversity.

Swamp notes

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The second point is that America’s information culture is far more degraded today than in 2016. Democrats often blame Mr Trump’s victory on the Russians. Maybe so. But whatever disinformation Russia spread was dwarfed by home-grown material. According to a study this week by the German Marshall Fund, the amount of fake, or disguised fake, news that Americans consume on their social media has more than tripled since 2016.

Facebook is a much greater vehicle for disinformation today. More importantly, US consumer demand for news that is either distorted or plain false — about the pandemic, for example — continues to grow. A dark conspiracy cult such as QAnon would have been hard to imagine a few years ago. Today it reaches tens of millions of Americans.

The evermore disruptive impact of digital technology on public culture makes governing increasingly difficult. A Biden presidency’s first priority would be to roll out a national coronavirus strategy to flatten America’s curve. Little else can happen before that.

Much of its success would depend on Americans following rules such as wearing masks, avoiding crowds and complying with contact tracers. But a Trump defeat is unlikely to banish the cultural divisions he has stoked. Large numbers of Americans say they will reject a vaccine and view masks as a surrender of their freedom. Mr Biden’s fate will partly hinge on the degree to which he can marginalise those sentiments.

Trump vs Biden: who is leading the 2020 election polls?

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His final concern should be on the conditions that gave rise to Trumpism. The ingredients are still there. Hyper-partisanship, blue-collar deaths of despair, the China threat and middle-class insecurity are all worse, or as bad, as four years ago. Most of those looking to follow Mr Trump, such as Mike Pompeo, his secretary of state, or Tom Cotton, the Arkansas senator, are harder-line versions of him without the caprice.

The fixes to America’s problems are manifold, complex, and painstaking. A vaccine will not suddenly banish the pandemic. Nor would Mr. Trump’s defeat magically bring an end to Trumpism.

Pennsylvania Becomes a Battleground over Election Security

By Marc Levy and Christina A. Cassidy
Associated Press

OCT 15, 2020 – HARRISBURG — For anxiety over voting and ballot counting in this year’s presidential election, it’s hard to top Pennsylvania.

Election officials in Philadelphia, home to one-fifth of the state’s Democratic voters, have been sued by President Donald Trump’s campaign, blasted by the president as overseeing a place “where bad things happen” and forced to explain security measures after a theft from a warehouse full of election equipment.

Add to that an investigation into military ballots that were mistakenly discarded in one swing county, partisan sniping in the state Capitol over the processing of what is expected to be an avalanche of mailed-in ballots and an 11th hour attempt by Republican lawmakers to create an election integrity commission.

One of the most hotly contested presidential battleground states is trying to conduct a pandemic election in a hyper-partisan environment where every move related to the voting process faces unrelenting scrutiny from both sides. State and local election officials say they are doing all they can to make sure Pennsylvania doesn’t end up like Florida two decades ago, when the last drawn-out presidential tally ended before the U.S. Supreme Court.

‘A really destructive scenario’: Pennsylvania could hold up outcome of presidential election

“For years, we have trusted our election officials to be reliable and nonpartisan. Why should we suddenly not trust them?” said Eileen Olmsted with the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, a nonpartisan organization that advocates to expand access to voting. “A lot of this is based on the perception of voter fraud, which there is absolutely no evidence of.”

Continue reading Pennsylvania Becomes a Battleground over Election Security

Book review: ‘THE MINISTRY fo THE FUTURE’

It’s unwise to ignore Mother Nature, and not to find ways to live in harmony with her, and all other beings as well

By Kim Stanley Robinson
Orbit ($28)

Reviewed by Tom Cox

Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Make no mistake, Kim Stanley Robinson’s new novel, “The Ministry of the Future,” is a good old-fashioned monster story. As with most monster stories, there is an inciting incident witnessed by a few wide-eyed and hysterical nobodies, but their cries are deemed “unreliable.” Who knows what they saw? It only affected those people. And besides, what do they expect us to do, empty the beaches on a holiday weekend just because somebody thinks they saw a shark?

In many of these tales, the monster is a metaphor for something else, such as “Babadook” (grief), “Rosemary’s Baby” (motherhood), “Get Out” (racism), and “Frankenstein” (humanity). But some of the scariest monster stories give us nightmares about the normal things we see in life. Not vampires, werewolves, blobs or radioactive lizards but crazed fans, preppie New York investment bankers or creepy hotel clerks. In “The Ministry of the Future,” Mr. Robinson aims his flashlight into the black waters to reveal just such a monster: climate change. Yeah, we’re going to need a bigger boat.

True to good monster lore, our story begins with an attack: a record-setting Indian heat wave knocks out power and roasts 20 million of the planet’s most vulnerable in two weeks’ time. Enter Mary Murphy, head of the Ministry of the Future, a rather toothless U.N. watchdog agency based in Zurich and created by an international treaty. Nevertheless, Murphy is serious about making a difference in the world and about her agency’s stated mission: “to advocate for the world’s future generations and to protect all living creatures, present and future.” Despite the Indian tragedy, her attempts to enact real and drastic reduction in carbon emissions is resisted. National sovereignties are cited. Fingers of blame are pointed at the long-term carbon culprits, who in turn accuse the most recent contributors. Financial institutions entrench behind privilege and market share. The monster is not our problem.

When the rebuffed Murphy is confronted and briefly held captive in her own home by an addled survivor of the Indian carnage, she recognizes in his frantic demands not a criminal element but perhaps humanity itself (her own humanity?) crying out for drastic steps to be taken — acts of eco-terrorism and even the assassination of select carbon perpetrators. After the man is captured and her safety assured, Murphy finds it hard to dismiss his humble sacrifice and haunted eyes. Does confronting a monster like climate change call for more drastic steps? If black ops are used to fight terrorism, why not this? Maybe it’s time to get our hands dirty. She soon discovers, however, that her darkest notions of such an unauthorized, covert and lethal outfit already exists.

Whereas Mr. Robinson’s earlier novels on climate change, “New York 2140” and “2312,” are set far in the future and deal with the long-term aftermath of the destruction it caused, “The Ministry of the Future” dares to set events within our lifetimes, or at least within the lifetimes of our children. Thirty years from now, the devastation is just beginning. Things can still be done to stop the monster, but only if drastic and expensive steps are immediately undertaken and only if the whole world takes it seriously. If you have met the world, however, you know that this probably isn’t going to go well.

Mr. Robinson’s intrigue and geopolitical drama are well supported by his meticulous research into every sort of environmental theory, proposed solution and geo-engineering possibility, which he deftly incorporates into his work. If you’ve been looking for an environmental monster story in which the heroes are scientists who aren’t above taking off their gloves and getting their hands dirty, this might just be the campfire story for you.

Tom Cox is a writer living in Penn Hills.

Report from Lordstown: Trump Lied to Heartland Workers

Under Trump, we’ve lost 5 million of the 11.6 million net jobs created under Obama. That’s the worst jobs record of any modern president. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Trump is bragging about his jobs record in the Midwest. So why didn’t he lift a finger when 14,000 GM workers were laid off?

By Chuckie Denison
Common Dreams

Sept 24, 2020 – As the election draws near, Donald Trump and Mike Pence are campaigning across Ohio, Michigan, and the rest of the Midwest, making big claims about “bringing back” jobs.

I have one question for them: Why does the Trump administration continue to turn its back on America’s workers?

In 2016, Trump won big in the Mahoning Valley, the traditionally blue stronghold in northeast Ohio where I live, helping Trump carry the state after it twice voted for Obama. Blue-collar voters believed Trump when he said he would be the “greatest jobs president that God ever created.”

We deserve the chance to work hard and earn enough to feed our families, afford our own home, go to the doctor when we’re sick, and walk down the street without being afraid of the police.

Four years later, it’s obvious we were duped. Under Trump, we’ve lost 5 million of the 11.6 million net jobs created under Obama. That’s the worst jobs record of any modern president.

My fiancé Cheryl and I met at the General Motors plant in Lordstown. In 2014, we bought our house up the street from the plant because we believed our future with GM was bright.

Today, everything we thought was possible has been replaced by uncertainty.

When GM closed the Lordstown plant in 2019, I took a medical retirement. Cheryl moved hundreds of miles away to Tennessee to work at GM’s Spring Hill plant, leaving her daughter behind to finish high school.

This summer, GM announced they would be permanently eliminating the third shift at the Spring Hill plant, laying off 680 workers. Cheryl doesn’t know how much longer she’ll have a job.

We decided to sell the house that was our American dream. Now, we don’t know where we’re going to live. Ohio, where our community has been devastated by the plant closure and job opportunities are scarce? Or Tennessee, far from our families, where the cost of living is higher and Cheryl’s job could disappear?

GM is a billion-dollar company that was built on the backs of workers like me and Cheryl. If we had a government that stood up to companies like GM and demanded they put their workers first, our lives wouldn’t be decided by the whims of corporate greed.

Instead, we have a president who has broken promise after promise.

Trump visited the Mahoning Valley in 2017 and told workers not to sell their homes. “We’re going to fill up those factories,” he vowed.

But he didn’t lift a finger when GM laid off 14,000 workers across Michigan, Maryland, and Ohio, including me. Instead, the Trump administration let GM continue collecting $700 million in federal contracts and massive tax breaks.

All told, 1,800 factories have disappeared since Trump took office. Even before the pandemic, job growth had already plummeted in Ohio and had fallen to its lowest level in a decade next door in Michigan, the Institute for Policy Studies found recently.

America’s working people are tired of lies and broken promises. We won’t be fooled again. That’s why Our Revolution groups across the Midwest are organizing working people to spread the word about Trump’s broken promises.

America’s working men and women deserve a president that will make our government work for them. We deserve the chance to work hard and earn enough to feed our families, afford our own home, go to the doctor when we’re sick, and walk down the street without being afraid of the police.

We deserve to reclaim the American dream.

Chuckie Denison is a founding member of Our Revolution Mahoning Valley and a former GM Lordstown worker. This op-ed was adapted from a letter to the Warren Tribune-Chronicle and distributed by OtherWords.org.

All Aboard to Defeat Trump: Biden Train Tour in Pennsylvania Steel Country

The “Build Back Better Tour” by Joe Biden originated in Cleveland and made a campaign stop in Alliance, Ohio. Riding into Pennsylvania, Biden made stops in Pittsburgh, Greensburg, New Alexandria, Latrobe, and concluded here in Johnstown.

By Anthony Mangos
People’s World

Oct 7, 2020 – A freight train passes by as Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden talks to the crowd at the Amtrak Johnstown Train Station, Sept. 30, 2020, in Johnstown, Pa. | Andrew Harnik / AP

JOHNSTOWN, Penn.— It was an unusually warm autumn evening in Johnstown as Joe Biden’s Amtrak pulled into the city’s historic passenger station, opened in 1916. The station is a unique structure, as trains arrive above the depot on an elevated level. The adjacent wall was adorned with a massive Biden-Harris sign, rising above a very enthusiastic crowd.

This was a drive-in style outside event in Johnstown, with social distancing. It would be highly unlikely for Donald Trump to campaign by rail, as he has continually ignored and sought to defund Amtrak. On the contrary, Biden says he knows how essential passenger train service is, connecting communities like Johnstown, and supports Amtrak faithfully.

It’s common knowledge that “Amtrak Joe” loves trains. He hit the campaign trail on rails Sept. 30 after taking on Trump in the first debate—and before the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis.

The whistle stop campaigning brought to mind the nostalgic tradition of candidates riding the rails through America. On the heels of the debate, for many voters, the arrival of the Biden train seemed the equivalent of comfort food, a signal of Biden’s claim he’d restore decency and accountability in the White House.

The “Build Back Better Tour” originated in Cleveland and made a campaign stop in Alliance, Ohio. Riding into Pennsylvania, Biden made stops in Pittsburgh, Greensburg, New Alexandria, Latrobe, and concluded here in Johnstown. In-person campaigning has been limited during this year of the pandemic. At the whistle stops, attendees were properly spaced out with social distancing and masks.

The involvement by labor unions in the Biden campaign has been strong; AFSCME, USW, and SEIU were just a few unions represented at the Johnstown rally. Local resident Brian Smith, former Navy Seabee and current SEIU member, shared how a good union job enabled his family to remain in Johnstown, before introducing the Democratic candidate.

Biden arrived on stage, to much applause, shouting, “Hello Johnstown!” As he began addressing the crowd, a loud freight train roared past. Turning around and pointing to the train, Biden said, “By the way, that’s a good thing!” Reflecting, he reminded the crowd of his long connection to the nation’s rail system. “I started by taking the train when I got elected as a 29-year-old kid in the United States Senate. I started going back and forth every single day so I could be home in Wilmington every night with my two young boys, and later, with my daughter.”

He talked about riding the train home at night after a debate in the Senate “about fair tax policy, or about health care, or about unions that I was fighting for…and I’d look out…I really mean this…I’d look out like I did coming from Cleveland today. I’d look out at all those homes I’d pass, those middle-class neighborhoods like I was raised in.”

Biden said the view made him wonder whether the families inside were “having the same conversations my mom and dad had when we were growing up…we need four new tires on the car, but we can’t afford it…or maybe we are going to have to worry about whether or not they’re going to turn the electricity off because we’re behind on the bill because the job changed or I lost my health insurance.”

In the midst of the ongoing pandemic and economic collapse, Biden said people today are having the same kind of conversations.

Johnstown was once a thriving steel manufacturing town located in Cambria County, Penn. While a few mills remain, some retaining a unionized workforce, a majority have closed. The city continues to struggle, as it is statistically one of the poorest places in Pennsylvania.

Once a Democratic stronghold, the county’s party affiliation numbers recently revealed that registered Republicans now slightly outnumber Democrats for the first time for as long as local residents can remember. This has been the trend throughout Western Pennsylvania.

In 2016, Trump held a rally in Johnstown and many voters here supported him then. Biden is intent on gaining those supporters back, and the labor movement here is determined to pull people away from Trump.

There is evidence they may succeed with some. When Trump passed through four years ago, he took people’s votes, but then gave nothing back. While fueling division across the nation, he plainly forgot about places like Johnstown. There is a sense here that local citizens are now realizing this.

Due to strict social distancing, Biden’s rally could only accommodate a limited number of attendees. Nonetheless, across the Little Conemaugh River from the train station, many local supporters arrived to glimpse the stage and express their solidarity.

A local pub, adhering to strict health guidelines, provided an outdoor television screen to broadcast the speech. In an encouraging sign, supporters also arrived from surrounding rural areas. An important factor concerning the election outcome in Pennsylvania will be the urban-rural divide, which the Biden campaign seems well aware of.

Johnstown was once home to a thriving steel industry. Here, a woman walks past the Gautier steel buildings in town. Trump’s promise to revive the industry came up flat, and voters have not forgotten. | Carolyn Kaster / AP

Speaking before the candidate, Jill Biden hit on the point. “We’re seeing that our differences are precious and that our similarities are infinite. Democrat and Republican. Urban and rural. Our communities are showing that the heart of this nation still beats with kindness and courage.” Pushing the crowd to look beyond the harshness and division of Trump’s presidency, she argued, “We don’t agree on everything. And we know we don’t have to. We can still love and respect each other. We care more about people than politics.”

Concluding his address, Biden again called out to labor, proclaiming “the middle class built America and unions built the middle class.” He vowed a presidency that would fight for working people and their jobs and families, “not for corporations.” To the residents of this town that’s been feeling hard economic times for years, he pledged to “build back better” after Trump. “It’s all about injecting life and capital back into places like Johnstown.”

Many registered voters in small Western Pennsylvania towns have a deep-rooted history of leaning conservative regarding social issues. This has been a factor in the realigning of the region politically, creating a challenge for uniting voters.

Biden knows this well, and his whistle stop campaigning through what the media calls the “Rust Belt” shows his campaign is reaching out in an effort to bring everyone back on board to defeat Trump.