Understanding Alito’s flag

Gun Rights

Speaking to the National Rifle Association last Saturday, Trump questioned whether he might be a three-term president if victorious this November. “You know, FDR 16 years, almost 16 years, he was four-term,” he stated, adding, “Are we three-term or two-term if we win?”

Someone could be heard shouting “three” as he continued to speak.

Was Trump joking, or was he seriously contemplating two more terms if elected, in violation of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution? Or was he doing something else — giving his middle finger to the liberal establishment (who became appropriately alarmed by his suggestion of a third term)?

We all know about virtue signaling — performative sanctimony designed to tell the world how humane, thoughtful, fair, inclusive, and, well, liberal one is. Anyone recall Tom Wolfe’s hilarious sendup of Leonard Bernstein’s party for the Black Panthers at his duplex apartment on Park Avenue?

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Now, in the age of Trump, the right is vice signaling — intending to outrage Democrats, progressives, and the liberal establishment. It’s a giant “f— you” directed at all of us.

Trump is a master at giving liberals the finger. The more outrage he generates in letters and opinion pieces in The New York Times and similar outlets, the more delight and loyalty he ignites among his followers.

Many Republicans are trying to imitate Trump’s middle finger — getting enough rise out of Democrats and liberals to earn applause (and maybe even campaign donations) from the thug-publican right.

Think of Marjorie Taylor Greene. Or South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, whose story (in her autobiography No Going Back) about killing her 14-month-old wirehaired pointer, Cricket, who had chased some pheasants and nipped Noem, has enraged dog lovers, animal-rights advocates, and everyone who treats four-legged creatures with respect.

The liberal media thinks this spells the end of Noem’s chances to be Trump’s running mate, but I’m not so sure. It’s just the kind of middle-finger signaling that Trump and his followers love.

Times columnist Michelle Goldberg called attention to a video posted last week by John McIntee, Trump’s former director of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel. In it, McIntee explains that he keeps “fake Hollywood money” in his car to give to homeless people so “when they go to use it, they get arrested, I’m actually like helping clean up the community.”

A story like this could put McIntee in line for, say, director of the Office of Management and Budget or even chief of staff in another Trump administration.

The point isn’t just the cruelty. It’s the gleeful in-your-face offensiveness. To be so politically incorrect, so un-woke, as to enrage Democrats and liberals. The more upset they are, the happier is the base.

In the 1980s, Rush Limbaugh built up a radio audience in excess of 20 million listeners by saying things he knew would rile up liberals. The secret to his success was that his listeners knew he was enraging liberals — which delighted them no end.

Roger Ailes built Fox News on the same principle, with his middle finger directed at the liberal establishment.

For decades, a large and growing number of working Americans have felt overlooked, dismissed, and disrespected. They were once proud of the industrial jobs they held and the good money they made. But since the deindustrialization of America and the dominance of finance, they’ve been treated like horse manure.

Not surprisingly, their resentment has grown. They want to say “f— you” to the people they regard as the establishment — Democrats, liberals, “coastal elites,” New York Times-reading, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, Hollywood-loving city slickers who think they’re culturally superior.

In 2004, George W. Bush mocked John Kerry as part of the “Chardonnay-and-brie set” who found a “new nuance” each day on Iraq (Bush drew out the word “nuance” to emphasize Kerry’s French cultural elitism. “In Texas, we don’t do nuance,” Bush said to laughter and applause).

In more recent years, the middle-finger mockery has gained a deadly serious undertone. Those who want to f— the liberal establishment are now supporting a neofascist who incited an attempted coup and gave the finger to the Constitution and the rule of law.

No one knows for sure why Justice Samuel Alito flew the American flag upside down outside his house soon after the January 6 insurrection. He blames his wife, but that’s nonsense. Flying a flag is one of the earliest and most blatant forms of signaling — and if it’s in front of your house, your household is doing it.

Alito hinted at the real answer in an interview he gave to Fox News (choosing Fox News to air your explanation is itself a middle finger to the liberal establishment).

Alito says that a neighbor had posted a sign saying “F— Trump” near a school bus stop and then a sign attacking his wife. The Alitos got into an argument with the neighbor, who used the term “c—” at one point. It was then that the inverted flag went up.

So of course Justice Alito was sending a signal — to the neighbor and the neighborhood and beyond: He was a Trumper. He believed the election was stolen from Trump. F— his liberal neighbors. F— Democrats.

The problem for the rest of us is that Alito is now sitting on a case that will determine whether Trump is ever held accountable for what occurred on January 6. And every day that goes by without the Supreme Court issuing an opinion on presidential immunity — it’s now been 26 days — is the equivalent of an upside-down U.S. flag directed at America.

Alito’s obvious bias (not to mention Clarence Thomas’s) requires not just recusal from a final decision in the case, but recusal from the ability to further delay issuing that decision.

Trump wants Democrats and liberals to be worried and incensed, because this delights his base. But it’s no joke. If he wins the presidency again, he’ll f— America.

Robert Reich is a professor at Berkeley and was secretary of labor under Bill Clinton. You can find his writing at https://robertreich.substack.com/.

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