Archive for the ‘stinking piece of s—’ Category

“Race, Class & the Future of Democracy”

October 21, 2017

(Panelists Carol Anderson, Jose Cruz, Juan Gonzalez, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc; moderator Gilbert King)

“Make America Great Again” — and when was it great before? When blacks and other minorities were repressed. That’s the slogan’s subtext. Trump’s announcement speech, calling Mexicans “rapists” and so forth, set the tone — of stopping the “brown tide.” But he cannot. Trumpism is really that mindset’s “last gasp.”

In 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson legalized Jim Crow. But Justice Harlan — a Kentuckian who had once supported slavery! — dissented, calling the constitution color-blind. His grandson joined in the unanimous 1954 Brown v. Board decision, overturning Plessy. That sparked a big backlash of southern resistance and the disappearance of moderates. But it also gave rise to the civil rights movement.

The 2008 election drew 15 million new voters who believed they had a stake in this democracy. Most voted for Obama. But his election provoked another white backlash, which indeed Trump has empowered. And he’s delivering the goods to those supporters — like “throwing chum to sharks.”

This includes policy reversals like militarization of police; backtracking on post-Ferguson initiatives; attacking affirmative action; and reigniting the drug war. Previous drug epidemics (heroin, crack) affected mainly minority communities, so the drug war really amounted to a war on those communities. However, today’s opioid crisis is largely white, so the response is different — many people (though not Jeff Sessions) realize that the drug war and criminalization approach is not the right one.

Anderson said the white working class must understand that their interest is not in whiteness but in having a better society overall. Gonzalez meantime suggested that today’s young people are not carrying the ethnic baggage of prior generations.

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The Iran Deal — more Trump destructivism

October 13, 2017

Must I address every Trump atrocity? (Actually I don’t, it’s impossible; I haven’t discussed the NFL nonsense.) But I feel a civic duty to call out truly bad stuff.

Even The Great Liar can’t say Iran actually violated the nuclear deal, to justify trashing it. Instead his fig leaf is to claim it somehow harms U.S. security interests. But that too is a great lie. What does harm our security interests is trashing the deal.

Iran is a bad actor in many ways, yes. But the deal at issue is limited to just the nuclear program. Will undoing it make Iran a better global citizen? Certainly not; to the contrary, it will remove any leverage we have over Iran, and thus any constraints on its behavior. Is that in our national security interest?

It’s argued the deal was a bad one because it won’t stop Iran’s nuclear program. But the whole point was instead to slow the program, subject it to international inspection, and buy time. That was the best we could achieve; Iran would never agree to give up its nuclear ambitions entirely. Those who criticize the deal offer no plausible path to a better one. While undoing the deal will free Iran to go full speed ahead to a bomb, with no international inspections or other restraints. Is that in our national security interest?

But it gets worse. The Iran deal represented the kind of American leadership Trump refuses to understand. We led the international coalition of nations joining in this effort. Those others strongly support the deal. What will they think if we wreck it, reneging on the deal we had committed to? Will they look to us for leadership in the future? Will anyone make any deals with a nation that can’t be trusted to fulfill them? Or was that not covered in The Art of the Deal?

Remember the term “rogue nation?” I used to bristle when anti-Americans turned it against us. It was untrue before; but now, alas, it is true.

Abdicating America’s global leadership role leaves a void that Russia and China are all too eager to fill.

Is that in our national security interest?

Trump’s action quite simply makes no sense (except, of course, pandering to his know-nothing base). However, in typical Trump fashion, there’s less here than meets the eye — yet another in the unending saga of Trump flim-flams. It doesn’t actually tear up the Iran deal. Instead it bucks the issue over to Congress, to restore sanctions. But even if Congress does nothing, that won’t repair the grave damage to America’s international credibility and standing.

Another day, another disgrace

September 7, 2017

Trump has killed the DACA program — “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” — allowing people brought to America before age 16 to stay.

Most of these 800,000 are educated and employed, pay taxes, and contribute to society. They cannot legally work absent DACA. Some have served in our military. A majority have siblings who are U.S. citizens. A quarter have kids who are. They were induced to come forward and register with the government on the promise that the information wouldn’t be used against them. To break that promise, breaking up American families, is indefensibly cruel and base.

Trump claims to love these kids — shedding buckets of crocodile tears for them. He says Congress should fix this. So has he proposed legislation? Of course not. The idea that Congress will, within his 6-month deadline, pass a law it could never pass before (remember the “Dreamer” act?) insults our intelligence. Yet another huge Trump lie.

Trump also claims this is simply about enforcing the law. Obama is condemned for promulgating DACA by executive order. Yet Trump did exactly the same, getting around existing immigration law by executive order, with his Muslim ban. Anyhow his newfound reverence for law is piquant right after he pardoned Joe Arpaio, convicted of defying court orders. But Arpaio was a poster boy for the war on immigrants; especially brown-skinned ones. These actions cater to Trump’s most xenophobic racist fans. America used to be governed toward its highest aspirations; now, the lowest.

I heard Alternative Radio the other night; it’s a left-wing program but helps sharpen my thinking. Thomas Frank was discussing the political landscape. I previously reviewed one of his books quite negatively. But he’s an engaging speaker I enjoyed hearing. And nowadays I’m weirdly sympathetic toward people like him. I particularly relished Frank calling Trump a “mountebank.” A lovely archaic word, and deliciously apt.

My local paper has been filled with anti-Trump reader letters. But one on Tuesday caught my attention — by David Hauber of Troy — who voted for Trump. “I believed that Trump would be good for America,” Hauber writes. “I thought our government needed a shakeup, and that the ‘swamp’ was spiraling out of control. How could we go wrong with a successful businessman* who claimed he would make America great again?”

He found out. “I was wrong,” says Hauber. “Failure to protect Americans, uphold our laws, and understand the difference between facts and lies has made America the laughingstock of the world and endangered us all. This is the opposite of making America great again.”

His final words: “I am sorry.”

It takes a big person to admit they were wrong and apologize (which the mountebank never does). So far it’s been disheartening that so many Trump voters won’t either. But thank you, David Hauber, for a glimmer of hope.

I too regret my last presidential vote (for Libertarian Gary Johnson). I did agonize over it; I didn’t like Clinton’s politics, character, or personality. Yet compared with Trump . . . ! Not a day passes without my reflecting how much better off we’d be if she’d won.

* Successful? At defrauding customers (Trump University) and screwing anyone who invested in, or did work on, his projects.

Trump pardons Arpaio: America sinks lower

August 28, 2017

After outraging decency with his putrid rant about Charlottesville, welcomed by white supremacist Neo-Nazis, Trump compounded it by pardoning former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Arpaio was a vicious man, perverting law enforcement and rule of law by illegally targeting and terrorizing people he didn’t like ethnically. Subjecting them to literal and intentional torture during often unauthorized confinement, out in blazing desert sun. Finally voters had enough of this and threw him out. Then he was convicted in federal court for having ignored judicial orders that he stop his illegal tactics. He was awaiting sentence.

And now Trump pardons him. Why? Because Arpaio stands for hostility toward immigrants and brown-skinned people. Trump stands with that.

True, the President has the power to pardon. But this is a flagrant abuse of power, flouting every norm of proper presidential conduct. Our government has developed rules and procedures and criteria for appropriate exercise of the pardon power. Pardons are normally granted only after Justice Department review, not less than five years after conviction, and only where there is some good and valid reason for a pardon, either to advance the cause of justice or the person has proven himself or herself worthy. Trump disregarded all of that. This pardon has no legitimate excuse; the reason for it stinks to high Heaven. The Mayor of Phoenix called it “a slap in the face to the people of Maricopa County,” many of whom suffered from Arpaio’s misdeeds. The pardon sticks Trump’s thumb in the eye of his own government, whose prosecutors had the courage to properly do their jobs by holding to account this lawless creep of a sheriff; and the judges and juries that likewise did their civic duty. Trump’s action, undoing all of theirs, savages the rule of law.

That even 35% of Americans still support such depravity makes me weep for my country. How low can America sink?

Statues and history

August 26, 2017

Trump has attacked removal of “beautiful” monuments to Confederate icons like Stonewall Jackson, Jeff Davis, and Robert E. Lee. Will Washington and Jefferson be next, he said; our culture and history are being “ripped apart.”

He is, of course, such a deep student of culture and history.

Washington and Jefferson did own slaves. Washington freed them at his death; Jefferson agonized in writing about the moral problem. But we honor them not for their slaveholding history, but in spite of it, because their larger meaning to us dwarfs that one facet. Washington won our independence, then led the new nation so as to consolidate our democracy. Jefferson gave voice to its great principles.

It’s an outrage to compare them with the likes of Davis and Lee. American heroes they were not — traitors in fact, who made war upon the United States.* They might well have been hanged at war’s end, but for our immense magnanimity, “to bind up the nation’s wounds.”

And if Trump wants to talk history, here’s some more of it:

Ever since the Civil War, Southerners have tried to whitewash it as battling for “states’ rights.” Rights to do what? To enslave kidnapped people; torture them and steal their labor with whips; to rape them (a bigger aspect of slavery than is commonly realized). That’s what the war was about.

Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens candidly said so at the outset, proclaiming the true purpose to be continuing enslavement of people deemed racially inferior.

Should we keep statues honoring warriors for that evil cause? And make no mistake why those statues were erected. Most went up long after the war — indeed, they were really monuments to a new war — against integration and racial equality. For all their blather about “states’ rights” and “history” most who romanticize the Confederacy and venerate its monuments really have (n-word)s on their minds. The “culture” in question is the culture of white supremacy. Those monuments stand to tell African-Americans, “We honor those who fought to enslave you, and would love to do it again. Be intimidated! Whites rule!”

Trump too, with his tweets about “history and culture” is likewise sending a message. A message to those racist Confederacy lovers, that he’s with them.

America is better than that. Better than its president. Better than those statues.

* Lee was in some ways a noble figure. A true military hero, when the war began, he was actually offered command of both armies. Lee agonized between loyalty to state versus nation. I think he chose wrongly.

White supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the president they love

August 17, 2017

When white supremacists march with Nazi swastika flags, and one of them, an avowed Hitler flan, intentionally kills and injures counter-demonstrators, the response of the president of the United States should be a no-brainer.

It does not include saying there are “fine people” among the neo-Nazis, defending what they were marching about, and blaming the victim. In a snarling, belligerent rant no less.

It’s suggested that Trump’s veering back and forth reflected some tug-of-war among his lackeys, and he’s calculatingly pandering to his base — at least that small segment that’s racist neo-Nazi. And those knuckleheads, like David Duke, loved it.

But there’s no political calculation here, cunning or otherwise (as if swastikas are a net vote winner in America). Rather, the president is a deranged moral moron without the sense to control his vicious impulses.

Like Trump, white supremacists have no self-awareness. Do they actually somehow imagine that behaving as they do promotes white racial superiority? When instead it screams the opposite: look at this bunch of stupid loser creeps!

And if you really want to advance white superiority, maybe lose the swastikas? Ya think?

Marching with Nazi flags spits on the graves of those who gave their lives fighting the Nazis. So does Trump.

The Nazis too considered themselves a superior race. They showed it by murdering millions they deemed inferior. Is that how superior beings behave? Even if Jews (and blacks) were inferior, even subhuman, shouldn’t superior beings treat them with humane compassion? Even animals deserve as much.

When it’s needful to explain the moral wrong of Nazism it’s a sad day for America.

Postscript, 8/20: Sorrowful as I am at the utter degradation of my beloved country, yet I actually welcome this episode because it is finally, at long last — after the pussygrabbing, Trump University, birtherism, and too many other travesties to count — a moment of moral clarity, drawing a red line between decent people and cretins still sticking with Trump. Between Nazis and anti-Nazis, Trump doesn’t know what side the president of the United States should be on. The Economist has declared Trump unfit to be president (what took them so long?); Republican Sen. Bob Corker said about as much; business leaders are fleeing all association with him. No one with brains and a conscience can defend this vile creep.

Groupthink in the Divided States of America

August 12, 2017

I remember, on Election Night 2008, when the result was declared, a middle-aged black woman in Chicago jumping up and down crying, “God bless America! God bless America!”

Though I didn’t vote for Obama, I was deeply moved by her. Just seeing black Americans then made me empathize with how it must feel – after centuries of abuse, now one of theirs was president.

But the coin had another side, which only gradually grew visible. While blacks could now feel more at home in America, some whites felt less so. While blacks saw the president as kindred, some whites saw him as wholly alien. This metastasized into the “Birther” and Obama-as-Muslim nonsense, embraced by surprisingly large numbers, really as badges of their active dissociation from what Obama represented. J. D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy depicts how large this cultural factor loomed among the working class whites he wrote about.

Now the worm has turned. The alien black president has been replaced by one those same whites see as theirs. Never mind that he’s a New York billionaire. After their eight-year Obama-trauma, they’ve latched onto Trump as their guy, seeing him as speaking for them, and they ain’t gonna let go of that. Even if he shoots someone on Fifth Avenue.

A recent “special report” in The Economist, “The Power of Groupthink,” analyzes the phenomenon. Trump’s first months in office have been such a travesty that many are puzzled why his support has not eroded all that much. It’s partly down to what I’ve written already. His supporters’ emotive commitment lets Trump get away with a lot, to change his mind, lie outrageously, behave boorishly, and even to promote policies that actually harm them.

As The Economist elucidates, their stance is not tied to specific policies, nor even realities. Again, it’s mainly cultural, the sense that they, through him, are back on top, or at least no longer being thrown under the bus (even if they are). It’s the old line: “my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts.”

And it’s important to understand that facts are not much in the picture. The Economist estimates that only about a fifth of Americans are politically engaged and paying close attention; about equally split between pro-Democrat and pro-Republican partisan zealots. “For the rest, political issues are little more than ‘a sideshow in the great circus of life,’” says The Economist, quoting Robert Dahl in 1961.

It’s still true. Most people see political issues “through a glass darkly.” Of course they often have bedrock viewpoints on issues like abortion, guns, gays, and God. But the day-to-day chatter of news reports is just a blurry background buzz.

That applies to the Russia stuff. Most voters just don’t seem to care, failing to understand the powerful reasons why they should. And if Trump says it’s fake news, many accept that, taking his word over that of the news media. Not because he’s actually more credible; they just choose to.

It’s very different now than in the past when so many Americans sat down en masse to watch the evening news. When LBJ lost Walter Cronkhite on Vietnam, he lost America. And I remember seeing John Chancellor open with, “President Nixon stunned the nation today . . . .” Within weeks, Nixon was gone. Now those days are gone.

No such voices of authority today can nail Trump on his lies and make it stick.* And Chancellor’s assumption of “the nation” reacting collectively, as one, also has become quaint. Now everyone can choose their own truth. And as for what I called bedrock views, voters don’t act like calculating machines. Most, The Economist says, have only hazy ideas of what candidates and even parties really stand for. Rather than picking those “that best fit their own political views, they are deciding on some other criteria.” Some actually first pick the candidate they feel most comfortable with, and then associate that candidate (often incorrectly) with policies they notionally favor. And even bedrock can shift. The Economist notes that in 2011, white evangelicals were the most likely group to say personal morality is important in a president. Along comes Trump, and they’re the least likely to say that now. Similar political expedience has reversed past Republican antipathy toward Russia.

The Economist used the word “groupthink” and this too is a key factor. Bill Bishop’s 2008 book, The Big Sort, showed how America is becoming increasingly segregated politically, with people clustering in like-minded communities. Of course, political dividing lines are to a considerable extent socio-economic (and thusly geographic), with upscale urban professionals seeing things very differently from Vance’s rural working class. And there is some tendency, at least among those who take their politics seriously, to gravitate to locales where they feel at home. But for the less engaged majority, The Economist sees a different factor operating: “Most voters make political choices based largely on what people like them are doing.” If most guys in your local bar are talking Trump, you ain’t gonna be for Hillary. Many voters are political Zeligs who, chameleonlike, take on the prevailing political colors of their surrounding communities, fitting in with their peers.

The human tendency to fall in line with what others around you say is well documented. In experiments (e.g., featuring a “which line is longer?” question), people will even give what they know is a wrong answer if surrounded by others giving that answer.

Remember the “culture wars?” They never ended; indeed intensified. Today’s bitter divisions are as much cultural as political, between two worlds that see each other in apocalyptic terms and don’t even agree on what reality is. One can even imagine the country splitting up. Yet, once more, only about a fifth of Americans take things so seriously, and the rest go about their lives as normal human beings. That would be reassuring, except for this: it’s because America is the kind of country it is that most people can live their lives as normal humans without having to concern themselves greatly about politics. Yet that very character of America is itself a product of our political ethos (somewhat unique in global history), and it’s actually endangered. Maybe we can no longer indulge in the luxury of political disengagement.

*Perhaps they’ve given up. Last night discussants on “Washington Week” mentioned Trump’s claim to have refurbished the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and its being untrue, but without further comment. Previously such a presidential whopper would have been a Big Deal. Now it’s the New Normal.

 

North Korea: fear the madman

August 9, 2017

We keep hearing about the “madman” in Pyongyang. Is Kim Jong Un bad? Yes. Mad? Probably not. It’s the guy in D.C. who’s both.

Kim doesn’t have to be told that attacking America would be suicide. Trump’s “fire and fury” declaration was brainless bluster serving no purpose except foolhardy provocation. He warned Kim against any further threats. Kim promptly responded with a new threat. Where will this schoolyard standoff end?

As long as it’s just a war of words, okay. But this is recklessly dangerous because North Korea in the past has shown a penchant for military provocation too, as with its 2010 bombardment of a South Korean island. In today’s belligerent climate, the moment one side or the other does the least thing military, the risk of tit-for-tat escalation will be severe. Neither will back down readily.

The Economist recently ran a detailed scenario for how it could well unfold, ending in nuclear warfare with mass casualties. Either side could all too easily miscalculate. And Trump is no paragon of finesse.*

So what should we do about North Korea? I’ve wrestled with this problem before. Right now, the answer is: just shut up. Trump’s chest thumping achieves nothing except to make things worse.

We don’t have to do anything. Kim will not commit suicide by attacking us unless we force him to.

It’s the madman in the White House I fear.

* He might even calculate (insofar as he’s capable of such) that war with North Korea would produce a “rally ’round the flag” effect, just the thing to bury his Russia troubles on page 8.

Police State

August 3, 2017

I’d love to get back to non-political topics. But some things demand comment. By now it’s hard to be shocked by anything Trump. His Boy Scout speech was an utter disgrace. But the police speech was worse. Imagine: the President of the United States literally encouraged police brutality. Literally.

Some typically dismissed it as joking. I saw no humor. Trump himself later said he was not joking.

Police chiefs throughout the country have condemned the speech, as urging them to break the laws they are sworn to uphold.

Trump was addressing police in Suffolk County — whose own police chief was recently sent to federal prison for personally beating up a suspect (accused of stealing, from the chief’s car, a bag containing pornography and sex toys).

Police brutality against African-Americans in particular (not fake news) is a major societal sore point. The Trump administration is already thoroughly contaminated with links to white supremacists. And he speaks out for more brutal police behavior? Just what we need.

I sincerely hope that when men in blue finally come to escort him from the White House, they will ignore that speech and treat him with utmost gentleness.

The obviousness of the police brutality problem in some cities had prompted the Justice Department to enter into agreements with their police departments aiming at ameliorating matters. Attorney General Sessions has been working to undo these agreements.

Another major police scandal is the Fourth Amendment, against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” becoming virtually a dead letter with rampant police confiscations of money and property from citizens without needing proof of crime. Here again, the Justice Department, recognizing the abuse, had previously promulgated some rules to curb it. And here again Trump’s administration is rolling back those rules.

Say what you will about Obama (I criticized him plenty), he consistently maintained the dignity of his office, respected the law, and consistently invoked the high ideals and fundamental values that America stood for and which made it great. Trump’s values are of the sewer, smearing America in filth.

Henry Clay and John McCain

August 1, 2017

In my office hangs an old engraving of Henry Clay. It was no accidental acquisition. About 50 years ago I searched antique shops for it, being a political history freak and aspirant. Clay was the consummate model for a public career. The Senate was Olympus, and he its Zeus.

Clay was not a saint; he had eponymous feet; he was human, partisan, intensely ambitious, and scheming. But none of that undermined his devotion to the good of the country. You could even say he saved the country, twice no less, in 1820 and 1850, masterminding great bold compromises over the most divisive issue in U.S. history, staving off civil war.

“I like people that weren’t captured, okay?” said he who never served. “Captured” suggests insufficient warrior mettle. John McCain was shot down flying combat missions in Vietnam. Taken prisoner and tortured for five years. Offered early release because his father was an admiral, McCain considered it wrong to leave without his comrades.

Suffering aggressive brain cancer, John McCain postponed treatment last week to return to the Senate, to speak against the disgraceful way his Republican colleagues were trying to pass a disgraceful health care bill. It should instead be done, he said, in the open, with hearings and outreach and broad input. And, yes, compromise. And then John McCain cast the decisive 51st vote to kill, once and for all, that noxious bill.

Some saw here a rich payback for Trump’s disgusting insult. And perhaps this was some cosmic justice. But the true reason for John McCain’s vote was that it was the right thing to do.

Up in Senate Heaven, Henry Clay was smiling.