Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

Crime and punishment and sense and sensibility

February 10, 2019

Liberals oppose the death penalty. They’re really not even comfortable with the idea of punishment — “an eye for an eye makes the world blind.” Instead, forgiveness, rehabilitation, and redemption are watchwords.

Except when it comes to crimes against their political sensibilities. No concepts of forgiveness or redemption here. Instead it’s capital punishment — off with their heads! — civic heads at least, their offices, their jobs, their public trusts.

So it is with Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, whose 1984 yearbook page had a racist photo. Was it bad? Yes. Should we condemn it? Yes. Northam acknowledges as much. But is defenestration, the maximum penalty, appropriate? What of all he’s done since then for racial progress and advancing the interests of people of color? Does one decades-old picture trump everything? Where is the sense, the proportionality, the justice, in reducing a man’s entire life to literally this one photo?

Who among us has led a perfect life, a saint having never done a thing wrong?

Predictably, meanwhile, Republicans ascend to new heights of hypocrisy by piling on against Northam and jeering at Democrats over this.* There’s even an idiotic trope that it’s Democrats who are the racist party, the party of slavery even. Ignoring the last half century of history. As if the very raison d’etre of today’s Republican party isn’t to keep down people of color. Republicans bray for Northam’s head while their own Steve King, who recently defended “white supremacy” still sits in Congress — and their king of race-baiting sits in the White House.

The Northam episode, and Democrats’ extremist intolerance toward any such transgressions, are all of a piece with the left’s whole troubled relationship with freedom of speech and thought. They’re all about tolerance for differences, like sexuality and ethnicity — but not differences of ideas. We see it in political correctness enforced on campuses with Stalinist ruthlessness. Anyone expressing views outside their narrow canon is disgraced, demonized, punished, banished. Like Larry Summers booted out of Harvard’s presidency for daring to theorize that brain differences might lead fewer women into science. Or corporate chief Brendan Eich hounded from his job for having dared to support the wrong side in a public referendum on gay rights. The civic equivalent of capital punishment. Off with their heads.

How is this not exactly the kind of McCarthyism whose denunciation the left has worn as a badge of honor for six decades? They still lionize its victims — people blacklisted and unable to work because of their political opinions. Isn’t that exactly what they themselves did to Larry Summers and Brendan Eich? (But of course repression of the left is a dastardly crime. Repression by the left is all good.)

We see it as well in the excesses of “me-tooism.” Again it’s either you’re a perfect saint or off-with-your head, and nothing in between. No room for repentance, atonement, or redemption. No matter the severity of the offense, or its lack, there’s only one punishment, you must be stripped of your job and all public respectability. And so Al Franken was forced out of the Senate for behavior toward women far less egregious than Trump’s. (Though Sarah Sanders said there’s no comparison because Franken admitted wrongdoing while Trump called his accusers liars.)

It’s an irony that in one part of our culture civil standards are being enforced with Savonarolan severity, when elsewhere they’ve collapsed so far that we elected Mister “grab them by the pussy” as president.

And there he sits grinning and preening in the White House — this monster of depravity in every aspect of his existence — having the supreme shamelessness to tweet “Unforgivable!” about Northam.

* Click here to see a hyperbolic e-mail they sent me.

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Steve King, Trump, and the Republican white nationalist party

January 21, 2019

The sky has fallen on Iowa Republican Congressman Steve “Cantaloupes” King for the latest in his long train of racist rantings. “White nationalist, white supremacist . . . how did that language become offensive?” he queried.

Maybe because “white supremacy” means black inferiority, “white nationalist” means black subordination. And because such words were connected with putting African people in chains and into ships to enslave them. And with barbaric lynchings to terrify African-Americans into submission for the denial of their citizenship and human rights. That, Mr. King, is how such language became offensive to any decent person.

But my point is not to call out Steve King, which many others have done, including the Republican House leadership. They’ve condemned and punished King, as though his sentiments have no place in the party of Lincoln. It’s this hypocrisy I’m calling out. The party of Lincoln (my own former party) has now become the party of Trump — and of Steve King, whose words actually reflect its true nature. Trump has been silent about King. Today’s Republican party is, above all else, the white nationalist party.

A Chicago Sun-Times column by Laura Washington is headed, “GOP condemns Steve King’s racist remarks — and ignores Trump’s.” His racism is just one small notch below King’s. Here is a compendium of it: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/01/15/opinion/leonhardt-trump-racist.html.

This is by no means incidental to the Trump phenomenon, but of the essence. His presidential campaign actually grew out of his leadership of birtherism — the racist lie that President Obama was born in Kenya (where his mother never set foot). Careful analysis of polling data has shown that the one factor most closely correlated with Trump support is white racial resentment. It’s what got him elected. And his behavior in office shows his understanding that this (in the guise of the immigration issue) is the one supervening concern in his base that he dare not trifle with. His presidency’s bottom line.

If the people at our southern border did not have brown skins, we would not be hearing the word “wall,” and the government would not be shut down today.

Sholem Aleichem and my Jewish roots and American identity

January 18, 2019

We watched a PBS documentary about Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem (1859-1916) — making me ponder what I feel as my personal identity.

People used to be securely rooted in distinct cultures, but those boundaries have become fluid in today’s cosmopolitan world. Yet many still crave the belongingness of cultural identity. (It’s a big factor in Trumpism.)

Sholem Aleichem’s roots were in the Jewish shtetl culture of Russia and Eastern Europe. Mine too. My mother (now 98) arrived in America in 1938 as a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. My paternal grandparents were apparently born here, but their ancestry was in Sholem Aleichem country. “Robinson” was presumably anglicized from something like Rabinovich (which was Sholem Aleichem’s original name too).

I had long supposed that all these Jews were traceable back to the Holyland. But when I wrote an autobiography, research indicated that isn’t likely. We may well have derived instead from the Khazars, a Central Asian people whose ruler, for some reason, decided to go Jewish around a millennium ago. (Making “anti-Semitism” a misnomer; the Khazars were not Middle Eastern Semites.)

Sholem Aleichem bopped around various European locales but finally wound up in America — like a couple million other Jews. The documentary said most jettisoned their traditions. “Tradition”  is the insistent refrain of a lead song in Fiddler on the Roof, which was based on Sholem Aleichem’s work. Again we see the powerful role of cultural tradition in delineating one’s personal identity.

Religion is a big element of that. And many Jews in America have — like me — eschewed the religion. A big issue for Fiddler’s main character Tevye was his daughter’s marrying a non-Jew. As many American Jews have — like me — also done.

But a great thing about the human animal is our adaptability, always changing ourselves to fit new circumstances. And if we Americans of Jewish ethnicity have cast off old traditions, it is to create new ones.

Yet my lineage is by no means irrelevant to who I am. My Jewish immigrant heritage is important to it — not the Jewish part so much as the immigrant part. I feel spiritual kinship with all those who made the journey; the leaving behind and the creating anew. That indeed is the very essence of what America represents. This country was conceived as a new human beginning, free of all the stifling old baggage of the lands from whence we came.

So my identity is as an American. I feel embedded in that American story of “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” to reinvent not only themselves but the world. Creating a great society where human beings can best flourish. America has indeed enabled me to have a wonderful life, and that’s thanks to its openness and fundamental character, which has been such a magnet for others to come here.

Many Americans today, however, see their identities rooted not in such universal ideas and values but rather in an ethnic parochialism. Thus the hostility to those migrants who are the latest legions of “wretched refuse” knocking on our golden door. Thousands of children, taken away from their parents, are in detention camps, in horrible conditions. This cruel inhuman treatment, by an America that seems to have forgotten its own true identity, breaks my heart.

UPDATE: I received a message from Kevin Alan Brook who authored a book addressing recent DNA evidence about the origins of European (Ashkenazic) Jews. He says there actually is no material Khazar connection after all. I will quote his e-mail: “About 45-50 percent of Ashkenazic DNA derives from the ancient Israelites. The deep-ancestry calculator Eurogenes K36 has categories called “Near Eastern”, “East Mediterranean”, “Arabian”, “Armenian”, and “West Caucasian” and Ashkenazim always score big amounts in those.”

Facebook: the monster destroying civilization

January 13, 2019

First it was Facebook as an addictive time sink; substituting for life in the actual world; even ruining marriages. But all that was in a more innocent time. Now there are bigger issues.

PBS’s Frontline recently ran an eye-popping two-part report on Facebook. The mantra of Facebook and its creator/boss Mark Zuckerberg is “open and connected.” It’s the idealism of improving the world by bringing people together and empowering them. The 2011 Egyptian revolution was organized largely via Facebook.

But Facebook, as Reinhold Niebuhr said of religion, is a good thing for good people and a bad thing for bad people. And while most people are good, unfortunately not all are. Containing bad people’s badness is civilization’s age-old problem. Bad people have had a field day exploiting Facebook’s idealistic concept for their own malign purposes, and Facebook has failed abysmally in dealing with this.

Facebook makes its money by using its algorithms to target ads to people likely to be receptive. The Russians utilized this to subvert the 2016 election (with the connivance if not collusion of the Trump campaign); a well-financed and well-organized attack on America and its democracy by the Internet Research Agency operating under the Kremlin’s aegis. The IRA launched a tsunami of Facebook ads. But it did much more, also flooding Facebook with trolls pretending to be Americans posting content, including establishment of innumerable Facebook groups that attracted millions of followers.

And the Kremlin’s aim was not only Trump’s election (which they didn’t actually expect) but, more broadly, to undermine American society itself by sowing division. They did this through content advocating both sides of hot-button issues, like abortion, immigration, and guns — made as extremist as possible, to enflame partisanship and get Americans to hate one another. (Seems it was pretty successful.)

While all this was happening during 2016 — and happening massively— Facebook’s management was oblivious. Literally unaware how its platform was being so horrendously abused. Only afterward, once the stench finally reached their nostrils, did they start to investigate. And Facebook was shocked, shocked, to discover what had happened.

But things didn’t really blow up in Facebook’s face till the Cambridge Analytica story broke. Cambridge’s business is targeting people with content (not necessarily truthful) that will sway their opinions. Facebook had always sworn to protect users’ privacy and personal information, but sold some to Cambridge, and their controls proved to be so lax that Cambridge winkled out the data for many millions more.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Frontline also showed how Facebook is used to whip up ethnic hatreds and violence in Myanmar, and “weaponized” by backers of Philippine President Duterte to crush critics of his policy of dealing with drugs by murdering thousands. These are just examples of a global problem.

Part of it is that people aren’t mis-using Facebook just to promote political or social agendas. They do it for money. Creating “click bait” content that attracts a lot of eyeballs enables one to sell ads (on top of those Facebook itself sells). I heard a radio interview with one guy who unashamedly told how he’d made thousands by concocting a fake “report” about Hillary vote fraud.

Frontline interviewed a bunch of top Facebook people about all this. Every one sounded downright lame. All acknowledged that Facebook was “slow” to address these problems, but were vague about remedies. The problems at issue don’t much affect Facebook’s profitability; whereas quashing them might.

One thing Facebook is doing pro-actively, though, is trying to dig up dirt to smear its critics.

Zuckerberg appeared frequently in Frontline’s report. He came across as a dewy-eyed robotic snowflake totally out of his depth. Never appreciating the magnitude and seriousness of what’s at issue.

Facebook has always insisted it is a technology company, not a media or content company. And there is a principle, enshrined in legislation, exempting internet platforms from liability for stuff other people put up on them.

But not so fast. Facebook’s “News Feed” has become its most prominent feature. For a vast number of people, it is their primary (if not sole) source of news. Fine and dandy if it’s news like Walter Cronkhite used to broadcast. But this is totally different. This too is governed by algorithms tailored to showing users stuff they are most apt to like and respond to —whether true or not. (The purpose again is selling ads.)

The traditional role of a news purveyor is to exercise editorial responsibility. Recognizing that recipients of their product have an interest in getting accurate news; and, indeed, that this is vital for a society, especially a democratic one. But Facebook exercises no editorial responsibility whatsoever. Doesn’t even recognize that the concept applies to them.

This might not be terrible if Facebook were just another news outlet. But Facebook is now by far the world’s biggest disseminator of “news.” It has a stranglehold monopoly in the “social network” sphere, becoming indeed an integral part of the very fabric of life, throughout the globe. This gives Facebook truly immense power. But it refuses to shoulder any real responsibility.

Zuckerberg on Frontline said he assumes Facebook users are not so naive as to believe everything they see there. How naive is he to believe that? On what planet does he live?

If you’re a bad guy and you throw something up on the web that’s outrageously false but incendiary and calculated to push certain people’s buttons, that’s exactly what it will do, thanks to Facebook, whose algorithms will give it “News Feed” prominence for precisely that reason. Much more prominence than (unexciting) genuine news. It’s a form of Gresham’s law — bad (fake) news drives good (true) news out of circulation. In fact, many people today have less trust in traditional news sources. They refuse to believe CNN yet wallow in Facebook’s “News Feed” — which is really a crap feed.

This is insanity. No wonder we have the president we have.

What is the solution? It is long past time to hope that Zuckerberg and Facebook will suddenly wake up and (somehow) grasp the nettle. Meantime, while I am a believer in free market capitalism, Facebook is not just another standard type of business enterprise. It is, again, certainly a monopoly, and it’s in a class by itself, in terms of its immense societal role. This could be seen as an antitrust matter; but I don’t know that there’s an antitrust solution, along the lines of breaking up the company, that would make any sense.

My professional career was spent in the public regulation of monopoly utilities. The deal was that government would license them as monopolies, in exchange for their agreeing to being subject to regulation, including rate regulation. I would suggest designating Facebook a public utility. Rate regulation would be irrelevant here, but there needs to be regulation of how Facebook operates. At a minimum, the “News Feed” should be subjected to public oversight so that if it continues to exist at all, it must be limited to what is generally recognized as legitimate actual news.

Transgender wars

January 7, 2019

Sex is a huge, and very anxiety-ridden, part of the human psyche. That (not the Bible) is why some are freaked out by gays. Well, they lost that war; but transgender freaks them out even more. So then we had the bathroom wars. And then Trump tried to ban transgender people from the military. His latest atrocity is to define, for all federal purposes, your gender as what’s on your birth certificate, deemed immutably fixed at birth or before. As if people go trans for nutty or perverse reasons.

This is not just cruel and hateful, it’s counter-factual. Here’s some biological information:

An embryo actually begins sexless, able to develop into either gender. (That’s why men have nipples.) Which gender it assumes is (normally) governed by its genes, with a lot of complex steps, elaborately choreographed by chemical signaling (via hormones). This creates male or female hardware and software. The hardware is the anatomy. The software tells you how to use it, and is installed in your brain.

My own software makes me sexually attracted to females. But there’s another aspect – feeling male– that’s so second nature we’re not even aware of it. It’s just part of one’s operating system, humming along in the background.

But what if there’s a signaling glitch during embryonic development, and incorrect software gets installed? We know some males have software telling them to mate with males instead of females. But, more rarely, some get entirely the wrong package – telling them they are female.

This is not some psychological hang-up, confusion about gender, or wishing one’s gender were different. Male and female brains are different, not just in how they work, but even physiologically. And it’s possible to be genetically and genitally male while having a mismatched female brain.*

Most of us, with everything matching, can hardly imagine what it would be like otherwise. But that’s the transgender situation. A basic incompatibility with one’s own body. That’s not something you can make yourself simply adjust to, or ignore. It’s something fundamental to who you are.

The condition is called “gender dysphoria,” usually showing up (and strongly) fairly early in childhood. The treatment can include drugs to delay puberty; then, if the condition persists, hormones and surgery to change the anatomy to better match the brain software.

Going through all this is a terrible experience; one’s social structures, and even one’s own family, are often non-supportive if not downright hostile. Even after transitioning, it’s still very tough for trans people to adjust. Their suicide rates are very high.

So they deserve empathy and human kindness; anything to make their road easier. Trump’s opposite tack is vile.

As to the bathroom panic, it’s not completely baseless. Some male sexual perverts and predators might try to get their jollies in women’s rooms. But let’s take a deep breath and remember that such behavior is always illegal and punishable, and transgender rights don’t change that.

This concludes this essay’s politically correct portion.

Just as Trump, playing to his most retrograde supporters, makes the transgender phenomenon political, it has also become political on the other side. Support for the “full Monty” of transgender rights has become part of the politically correct “progressive” catechism — and Heaven help anyone murmuring heresy.

This means all-in with the idea of gender self-identification — no questions asked. Any male who says he wants to be treated as female gets treated as female. More, it means children not only taught to be accepting, but actually encouraged to question their own gender identity. And, by all means, to change it if they like.

The power of suggestion is very big for youngsters. And a lot of kids are, of course, mixed up in varied ways, having trouble fitting in socially, relating to their families, struggling to form their personal identities, etc. Moreover, adjusting to puberty and the whole sexuality thing is difficult enough for even the most normal of kids. In this hothouse environment, being trans or “gender fluid” might seem an attractive ticket to coolness, to hipness. It’s the in vogue as thing to be now. And so there’s an epidemic of kids coming out with “gender dysphoria.”

Brown University scientist Lisa Littman recently studied this, and found many teen gals in friendship groups all suddenly asserting trans identities — often after binge-watching online videos by trans teenagers. Littman called this “rapid-onset gender dysphoria.”

But meantime, the “transactivist” movement is geared to fully honoring such a seeming choice. That means putting the kids on an express train to hormone treatments and surgery, irreversibly altering their bodies. That can be salutary for true dysphoria cases, but where some different psychological thing is actually going on, it can be a catastrophic mistake that will screw up that person’s later life. There have already been numerous such cases; sad stories. Yet in effect transactivists insist that these kids be allowed to self-diagnoseand get the associated treatment, with no second-guessing by medical professionals or other adults.

Where a child insists they are the other gender, starting early and consistently for years, that can be accepted at face value. But when it springs up suddenly in a teenager, it’s reasonable to question what is really behind it. Yet anyone urging such a cautious wait-and-see approach in such cases is condemned as an anti-trans heretic. After transactivist lobbying, Brown University withdrew its report about Littman’s research, saying it might “discredit efforts to support transgender youth and invalidate the perspectives of members of the transgender community.”

So with that smarmy bullshit, Brown caved to the trans Torquemadas. Yet another example of the left’s troubled relationship with freedom of thought and expression. At least Littman has not been burned at the stake.

* Rarely too, the anatomy can be messed up, ambiguous or in-between.

Ilhan Omar: from refugee camp to Congress

January 4, 2019

THIS IS MY AMERICA

 

 

 

 

 

 

Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), taking the oath of office yesterday.

An immodest proposal for reducing inequality

December 15, 2018

Inequality — the cri de coeur of the left. The rich get richer while the poor get . . . actually richer too, in fact, though not as fast. We should stop obsessing enviously that the top 1% or 0.1% are so rich, as if their wealth makes others poor (it’s not so). Instead, the concern should be to give more people more opportunities to get rich(er).

America’s real inequality is between the well educated and the less educated. And that gap inexorably grows as the economy increasingly demands smart workers. So education ought to be the big equalizer. But U.S. education does the opposite — instead of giving the poor a hand up, it slaps them down. The education they get is worse than what the better-off receive.

And they only get it for half the year! What with weekends, holidays, and, mainly, the summer vacation which — at three months in America — is just about the world’s longest.

Fixing all that’s wrong in education for poorer kids is a huge challenge. But here’s one extremely simple thing we could do: cut the summer break. The education poor children get isn’t what it should be, but it’s better than nothing, yet for three months of the year we do give them nothing.

Poor kids fall further behind during those months. Studies have shown that such a prolonged hiatus causes children to lose a lot of what they learned in the preceding term. Affluent parents can offset this with enriching summer activities, which poorer ones can’t afford. Even just letting kids range free outdoors can aid development, but even this is curtailed by safety fears (largely overblown; though in the worst neighborhoods it is indeed dangerous for kids to be in the streets). Summer jobs too have largely become a thing of the past. The result is that poorer kids often spend summers as couch potatoes, rotting their brains.

A 2007 Baltimore study found the summer learning fall-off could account for two-thirds of the achievement gap between rich and poor students, by their mid-teens.

It even actually makes poor families poorer. During summers their kids miss free meals in schools, so their grocery bills rise, and they face added child care costs too.

Lengthening the school year would cost money, but would benefit all American children — the poor especially, reducing the opportunity gap. We can afford the added cost. Indeed, this investment in our kids and their future ability to contribute to the economy would surely more than pay for itself in the long run.

At the very least, we ought to do much more to provide summer activities, including meals, for poorer kids. Instead, Trump (who in the campaign challenged black Americans, “what the hell have you got to lose?”) has sought to cut all funding for such programs from the federal budget. Better educated citizens aren’t good for today’s Republican party.

Coming to America

December 9, 2018

Olga Porterfield, a friend of mine, gave a talk to the Capital District Humanist Society, about Jewish refugees exiting the Soviet Union. She was one of them, at age 20, in 1979.

She began with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. — “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

Olga Zemitskaya was born in Moscow in 1959. Jewish identity was submerged; in fact, she said, growing up she had no idea what “Jewish” meant. Her Jewish consciousness was awakened when her father brought her to a synagogue for a Simchat Torah celebration. This was actually a subversive thing to do in the atheistic USSR. Also subversive was the family’s “anti-Soviet” attitude; as a teenager she was reading “samizdat” — underground literature passed secretly from hand to hand. Being doubly such a rebel was heady stuff, especially when she fell in love with a boy with the same proclivities. But he was planning to leave for America.

Anti-semitism has a long and dreadful history in that part of the world. Russian anti-semitism went into overdrive in the wake of Israel’s 1967 Six-Day War victory. The situation was aggravated by the 1970 “Airplane affair” when a group of Jews tried to hijack a small plane to escape the USSR.

You couldn’t just pick up and leave. The authorities had to grant permission — and just requesting it marked you as a pariah, you were persecuted for it. Quite a few Jews nevertheless got permission, and went to either the U.S. or Israel. But there were also a great many “refuseniks” — Jews whose exit visas were refused. This became a focus of international condemnation toward the USSR. In 1975, America in response enacted the Jackson-Vanik amendment, punishing the Soviets on trade terms.

To illustrate the issue’s prominence, Olga showed Saturday Night Live’s Gilda Radner babbling on about “Saving Soviet Jewelry.” When informed that the issue was actually “jewry,” she responded with her standard line, “Never mind.”

Shcharansky

A leading refusenik agitator was Anatoly Shcharansky. I remember first seeing him, interviewed in Russia around 1976, and being flabbergasted by the courage of his outspoken criticism of the Soviet regime. In 1977, he was arrested, falsely charged as a spy, and sent to a Siberian ordeal. In 1986, finally, America got him out — exchanged for real spies. Today, as Natan Sharansky, he is an Israeli government minister.

Also mentioned by Olga was Andrei Sakharov, the nuclear physicist who became a vocal dissident, and his Jewish wife, Elena Bonner. Sakharov was immured in internal exile in Gorki.

Sakharov

But as the dictatorship began to crumble, Sakharov actually became a member of parliament, called the nation’s conscience. He died the month after the Berlin Wall fell.

But for Olga her greatest hero was her mother, for whom Olga’s emigration was a deep personal loss; yet she actively supported her daughter in this.

In 1979, the USSR invaded Afghanistan, becoming even more of an international pariah. In a piqued response to the criticism, the Russian regime slammed shut the door on emigration. But luckily for Olga, she had rejected her family’s pleas to hold off and wait until they all could go; she had applied for her exit visa; and got it before the door shut. Her parents were subsequently refused. (They finally reached America in the Gorbachev era.)

Soviet exit visa

Olga showed on the screen that most precious document — her official permission to leave the Soviet Union — forever.

She travelled first to Vienna, then to Rome, to wait for documents to come to America. She loved the weeks she spent in Rome. People were all smiling, she said; “nobody smiled in Moscow.” The workers’ paradise.

Olga arrived in the United States of America on June 21, 1979. When we still welcomed immigrants.

George H. W. Bush

December 3, 2018

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” That was a novel’s famous first line. George H.W. Bush was president in just such a foreign country.

It is hard to imagine a major political candidate in today’s America who isn’t some kind of ideological/cultural warrior. That wasn’t Bush. In his foreign country, it was all about just doing the job. You know, “public service,” remember that quaint concept? Bush was a capable man; a serious man; who took his responsibilities seriously. A thoughtful man of honor and integrity, who spoke and acted carefully, and whose word could be trusted. A thoroughly decent human being.

Of course you know where this is going.

Gary Hart

Another candidate in the 1988 election, that Bush won, was Gary Hart, and there’s a new movie out about him, The Front Runner. Hart’s campaign was ended by his adultery. In a different country.

Our president now not only had extramarital affairs — with porn actresses no less — but paid them hush money to cover it up — and lied about that. (And smeared his own “fixer” who revealed his lies.) And even bragged about committing sexual assaults, too.

Meantime he paid $25 million to settle the “Trump University” fraud case. And the New York Times ran a huge analysis of how his whole business history was one big lie; built on cheating, fraud, and tax evasion. His “charitable foundation” has been exposed as a fraud too.

None of it seems to matter. But just look at him, listen to him. Anyone with half a brain can see he’s totally full of shit. Is a total piece of shit. Yet we elected him president — and his poll ratings have hardly budged since.

I often talk about human evolutionary history, being shaped by our living in social groups, where cooperation and mutual trust was central. Thus we evolved highly tuned lie detectors, and instincts to punish those who violate behavioral norms. But now we’re a different species, inhabiting a different kind of society.

I heard an interview with one of the makers of The Front Runner. He commented that Trump is not being judged as a politician or public official would once have been (and as Hart was), but instead as a celebrity. And that Trump is not an aberration; rather, the new normal. He doubted we’ll ever go back to the old model, with leaders of the George H. W. Bush type. Now celebrity culture rules.

The President of the United States

The 2006 movie Idiocracy depicted a future where intelligent Americans have few children while nitwits breed like rabbits. Result: a nation of nitwits. Unsurprisingly, its president is a flamboyant performance buffoon. The film was a comedy.

Our reality is a tragedy.

Republicans, and the hole in America’s moral soul

November 27, 2018

“Republicans must stand up to Trump,” declared the heading on a recent Michael Gerson column.

“How fatuous,” I thought.

Gerson

Gerson is a former Bush 43 speechwriter and member of that endangered species, “principled conservative.” Usually clear-eyed about the gulf between those principles and Trumpism.

This column was about prospects for a Republican running against Trump in 2020. Gerson cites a poll saying 16% of Republicans prefer Trump to be a one-term president. “At least a place to start,” he says.

Good luck. The other 84% of Republicans are a red wall for Trump. Undaunted, Gerson muses that could change with “a particularly damaging new administration scandal,” or Mueller developments that “destabilize Trump’s personality in new and disturbing ways.” As if nothing so far has been damaging or disturbing enough. (Here’s a list.)

Yet Gerson does suggest the Trump cesspool is already stinky enough for a Republican challenger to pose the question: “why not conservative policy AND public character?”

Actually, Republicans now get neither; this ain’t “conservative.” But Trumpism is not mainly about ideology anyway. Instead it’s psychology; tribal and personal social identity. I increasingly think that deep down, many Republicans back Trump not in spite of his horribleness but because of it. Like women attracted to “bad boys;” like moths to a flame. It’s a fat middle finger shoved in the eye of a society which, Trumpeters feel, deserves it.

These are the people who spout about America’s “moral decline.” Mainly focused on homosexuality and other sex-related stuff. As though gays marrying, people changing gender, etc., is somehow immoral. They also feel the browning of our population somehow represents moral decline.

Yet it is true we’re in a national moral tailspin. Not because of tolerating gays but tolerating Trump. These people so full of moralistic blather sent to the White House the worst moral creep ever — and continue backing him, and his war against America’s values and ideals. Here we see the real hole that has opened up in our country’s moral soul.

“Republicans must stand up to Trump?” That horse left the barn long ago. What responsible Republicans must do is leave this degraded party (as I have).

I used to call myself, like Gerson, “conservative;” the odd man out in my social milieu full of liberals. My political principles haven’t changed, but have been superseded by more fundamental concerns, about the very character of our society. I and my liberal friends are together in opposing what’s happening. Yet I still feel somewhat alone in my grasp of just how bad it is, and what it portends for the whole world’s future.

I’ve made a lifelong effort to understand the world. It culminated in my 2009 book, The Case for Rational Optimism, where I tried to bring it all together. A comprehensive global picture, justifying a positive outlook.

Martin Luther King said the moral arc of the Universe is long but bends toward justice. However, there is no force out there, no deity or law of nature, that so bends it. Only we humans, with our actions, can. My book argued that, in the great sweep of history, we’d been doing better and better.

The Enlightenment began three centuries ago, putting us on a path of progress through increasing rationality. Plagued at every step by fools dancing around bonfires of Enlightenment values. Today those flames are getting out of control, threatening to engulf us all.

If Trump is defeated in 2020, maybe the fire can be contained. If he’s re-elected, maybe my book should be thrown into it.