distal muse

observations, opinions, ephemera, and views


June 06, 2017

Uncle Joe

Now we know what it’s like to have Uncle Joe running things.

I’ve been watching, as has the world, the Trump administration unravel. I have to say, anyone capable of making George W. Bush look like an exemplary president has a degree of chaos in attendance difficult to comprehend.

But this is our Uncle Joe.  In charge.  You know who I’m talking about. Most families have an Uncle Joe, who shows up at family functions and proceeds to dominate discussion with his opinions on everything from the world series to nuclear proliferation.  He will sit there and tell you how if he were in charge things would be different, he wouldn’t let those people get away with this or that, he’d solve the Middle East problem thus and so, and Russia? Hell, they’d be all the way back within the original borders of the Duchy of Moscovy! Uncle Joe knows what went wrong with Cousin So-n-so’s marriage to that bimbo and didn’t he say all along that it wouldn’t end well?  Uncle Joe thinks PBS is too much a family business and its sole purpose is to provide “traveling money” to people who live large for very little work by doing “educational” programming, which always seems to be about something America did wrong to some group we never heard of or showcases these scientific know-it-alls who want us to believe in climate change and evolution. Lotta nonsense, you ask Uncle Joe. And what’s with that new husband of what’s-her-name and all his nose-in-the-air posing? He talks about wine like he invented it and books no one reads and you never hear him cuss, can’t trust a guy like that, doesn’t drink beer, reads all the time, and tries to be polite to everyone, what’s he trying to do, make us all feel inferior? Uncle Joe thinks they should level Jerusalem so no one can have it and nuke North Korea and what are we wasting time worrying about Syria for when everyone knows Iran wants to conquer the world! And don’t get him started on civil rights, my gawd, give them people the vote and they think they have a right to burn everything down they don’t steal first…

Uncle Joe. Everyone tolerates him because Aunt Phoebe has been with him umpteen years and she’s as sweet as could be, always telling us “he doesn’t mean anything by it, but since he retired, you know, just ignore him,” which drives Uncle Joe to even greater heights of pomposity and displays of ignorance, because the last thing he wants is to be ignored. So he doubles down until everyone’s nerves are ground to an emory thinness and when is this party supposed to end?

But Uncle Joe has his fans, kindred spirits who feel just as marginalized by the complexities of a world that constantly demands their attention and threatens them with obsolescence every day. Sycophants of all ages who feel overwhelmed by matters they find barely comprehensible.  Uncle Joe has it down, as far as they’re concerned, he has a good bead on it all.

And that new husband with the wine-savvy and the book-learning?  He’s some leftist, socialist, social justice warrior who wants to take their jobs away and make them feel bad for being Americans.

Uncle Joe—uninformed by anything more current than the Korean War and the SALT talks, wondering why nobody sings like Frank Sinatra anymore, convinced the EPA is only there to take everyone’s job from them, and the solution to everything is the Big Stick philosophy (which not even Teddy actually used)—is now in the White House.  We have been watching, waiting for the moment when things rationalize, when he takes off the Sunday barbeque façade and begins acting like he knows something about how all this is supposed to work, and what we are seeing is everything promised in the campaign.  In charge and making a hash of it all.  There will be no moment when he reveals himself to be smarter than the act he put on to get people to vote for him.  This is what he is, this is what we have, and even many of his supporters are beginning to wonder what they were on back in November.

He is proposing to take an axe to just about everything worthwhile in this country.  And for those who somehow believe that in the wake of the destruction they will be better off, that somehow the EPA, the NEA, the space program, education funding, Pell Grants, and the FEC are the reasons they don’t feel secure and are at risk of losing their jobs and that by getting rid of these programs they will get back what they feel they’ve lost, all I can say is—

Actually, I don’t know what to say to them that wouldn’t be just more salt in a wound they don’t know how or when they received.  They don’t know.  Anything I might say to them would just be kicking them some more.

What I will say is, the media and the government agencies responsible for the conduct of the networks and the licensing and oversight—there are laws regarding public service and equal air time which have been pretty much ignored since the aftermath of Watergate.  You have obsessed over lowest-common-denominator irrelevancies for so long you actually think it’s news.  Your obsessive attention to someone’s emails and Uncle Joe’s antics abetted this situation because you didn’t do your job.  When someone as odious as Glenn Beck publicly acknowledges that he did it all wrong and is sorry for his part in gulling the public and contributing to this mess, you all know you have failed.  Not all of you.  A goodly portion of the print media tried.  But they’re hamstrung by their Owners, who can fire them at will for not toeing the corporate line, a situation allowed by the greed is good politics we’ve wallowed in since Reagan. Most people get their news by broadcast and the overwhelming majority of you failed us.  You’re the journalistic equivalent of ambulance chasers.

So Uncle Joe’s in the White House.  And we’re getting a lesson in just how fatuously stupid Uncle Joe has always been.

I hope we survive the lesson.

April 17, 2017

Perceptual Drift

Once in a while, something comes along to knock us out of our course, drives us to take a look at things from a perspective long discarded, and calls upon us to reassess.  Shocks that set us not only back but prompt the kind of deep re-evaluations we sometimes believe we do all the time. It’s fair to say one such shock is this election just past, which many of us, on both sides of the political divide, are puzzling over, conservatives no less than liberals.

Coming upon the heels of that we may be fortunate to find a book or two, hear a lecture, find revelation in an analysis that brings us up short and calls into question everything we took for granted for, well, decades.

Thomas Frank, known for his first book, What‘s the Matter With Kansas?, most recently published such an examination—Listen, Liberal is as complete an indictment of the Democratic Party and the assumptions of liberalism as I have seen in one place in many years. What is particularly troubling for me—and perhaps for many like me—is that all the points he raises are based on history which I knew, events that I remember, paths taken that at the time seemed inevitable, but which I never interpreted this way. I indulged a fairly banal process of explaining it to myself so that all these things became acceptable, even normal, in a way that now, looking at the shambles of where I always thought we were headed, I find bewildering. None of us, ever, are free of self-deception, especially in the face of specific alternatives we find unacceptable at the time.

Then Frederick Dutton, Democratic Party power broker, went farther: he identified workers, the core of the New Deal coalition, as “the principle group arrayed against the forces of change.” They were actually, to a certain degree, the enemy. Dutton acknowledged that it was strange to contemplate such a reversal of the moral alignment that had put his own party into power, but you couldn’t argue with history. “In the 1930s,the blue collar group was in the forefront,” Dutton recalled. “Now it is the white-collar sector.” Specifically: “the college-educated group.” That was who mattered in the future-altering present of 1971.

This was in the aftermath of the 1968 debacle of Democratic failure which put Richard Nixon in office and announced the coming Age of Plutocracy which has come upon us with the inevitability of an ice age glacier. The “student” movements of the Sixties aligned with the perceived betrayal of the Johnson Administration over Vietnam and the chasm of perception between generations that placed the youth movements on the opposing side against their traditionalist parents’ generation. The Republicans capitalized on the Old Guard vote in the wake of Johnson’s resignation and the year of political chaos that was 1968. The anger exploded in Chicago and the Democratic Party leadership saw the future as one in which the educated class would be the group to court.

Yet somehow this was seen as something that had to be done at the expense of labor, which was suddenly perceived as hopelessly archaic, a drag on change. Even though Labor, as an organized body politic, was still solidly Democratic, they were seen as a burden. Of course, they were also seen as a reliable source of votes. They were, in short, taken for granted.

This is the story Frank narrates in his new book and it is a hard thing to realize how correct he is. That basically the Democratic Party—and by extension America itself—left Labor in the ditch and committed itself to fostering a class of voters who are in many ways indistinguishable from the so-called upper 10%, if not in money then in aspirations.  And it is in those aspirations that the tale is told most painfully, because we have witnessed the betrayal even of them, despite the fact that they are exactly who the Future was supposed to be about.

I have a slightly different take on the path Mr. Frank describes. I remember all that with a different emphasis.

My parents were born during the Great Depression. One thing that bound many of them together, ideologically, was a conviction that their children and grandchildren would not have to suffer through what they did. They were solidly blue collar people.  College was a fantasy for most and I think it was understood that the upper reaches of white collar sinecure would always be for the few. But they would try. If at all possible, they would get their kids into college.  I remember my father telling that he wanted me to be able to make a living without having to cut my fingers. Also, the assumption for many was that white collar was more secure, despite the realities at the time that union jobs represented the better security.

They succeeded beyond their wildest expectations, but it didn’t turn out the way they hoped, for many reasons.

The other thing was the Space Race.

I know, this seems an unlikely cause of our present calamities, but consider—with Sputnik, the United States entered into a technology showdown of unprecedented configuration. We were suddenly in a do-or-die competition over knowledge-based innovation. This was a Cold War initiative that got sold to the public in the guise of exploration—which it was, in many of its parts—so we could count political coup and perfect missile technology along the way.  Industry had to be conjoined with science and for the coming Age of Space we needed scientists and engineers—not Teamsters or Auto Workers. The National Science Foundation made a big push to transform education to meet the coming requirements. Education had to be remade.

The experiment turned out to be a disaster in slow motion. In spite of the success of the space program, teachers found themselves at odds with the new requirements, students were being short-changed in basics, the ability of the massive edifice of public education to turn on a dime and create the Future turned out to be a pie-in-the-sky wish. And of course in the midst of all this came the convulsions of the Sixties, by the end of which even the basic assumptions of education were called into question, along with all the confidence in government that had existed since FDR.  Unions were seen more and more as stodgy repositories of old school billy-club thinking (not without some justification—but there’s the rub, of course: all of this transpired with “some” justification), more in the way than not.

(My father was screwed over by his union over technological innovation. This was a real thing. Many unions sensed the coming problem all this innovation was bringing, because the basic question that was asked last if at all was “What about the displaced workers?”)

We were about to Build The Future. As of 1969 we were on the Moon, we were going to the other planets, space stations would soon be orbiting the planet, the future the future the Future!

And it didn’t happen.

Instead we were made ripe for a political realignment that sidelined Labor in the name of that Future which was then turned into a source of votes to undo the New Deal. Instead of going to Mars, we got the Shuttle; instead of universal healthcare, we got the benefits of skyrocketing medical technology along with skyrocketing costs the government refused to take on, leaving more and more people unable to pay for what should have been medical care the envy of the world; instead of full employment, we got a war on the poor and demands for “welfare reform” that created a permanent underclass of poor by which management threatens workers with banishment if they unionize or demand a fair share of the burgeoning wealth owned by fewer and fewer.

All aided and abetted by a Democratic Party that decided its political fortunes were best cast with those people who didn’t want to cut their fingers to make a living.

Frank calls it the Professional Class.  These are the people who don’t join unions because they more or less see themselves as independent contractors, quasi-libertarians, loners, wannabe entrepreneurs. Without benefit of the formal structure, they also make up one of the strongest unions in history because they keep nonmembers out more effectively than any organized union ever did.  They do it by social category, not by skill set or paid dues.  Although if one wished to see it this way, college degrees represent paid dues of an extortionate level. They like to believe they represent a merit-based social hierarchy, but in fact out-of-the-box skills trouble if not frighten them. The idea that someone may be able to “do what they do” and in some cases do it better without benefit of matriculation through the unofficial union membership program they prefer is inconceivable and anyone who comes along to show that this is an error on their part is not welcomed for his or her abilities but shut out because they have rough table manners.

And just as the base of the GOP seems unable to see how their party is not doing well by them, these shiny professionals are dismayed by their party’s inability to challenge the GOP on the state and congressional level because the Democratic Party is serving a class that is simply in most ways too like Republicans to draw a base of natural allies, namely Labor.

What should be a merit-based society has become what might be called a Credentialist Society, which is not the same thing, though in many respects the two resemble each other. Bernie Sanders’ call for free college is a blunt attack on the chokehold universities have on who is or is not to be allowed to participate. The price of that union card has grown all out of proportion to the benefits it confers on the membership.

There’s nothing anti-American about this, though.  While we boast of our founding as a nation of immigrants and a society based not on pedigree but ability, the fact remains that we have a history of exclusion, attempts to keep certain people out.  We are functional snobs.  Real equality scares us, because individually we fear we won’t measure up on a level playing field. Some of us, anyway. And both parties have played on that fear to achieve essentially the same result. While the Republicans are an Us vs. Them party for the rich, the Democratic Party has become an Us vs. Them party representing those who want to be the rich—and feel like they have a shot at it if they can just find a way to free themselves of their declassé roots.  Consequently, most of us have been left in the lurch.

A friend of mine who is a thoughtful conservative once told me, when I asked, that one of things about the Democratic Party that troubled him most was its racism. I thought that was odd, since in recent years it was fairly obvious that most of the racists seem to adhere to the Republicans. I’ve since rethought that. Not that I believe the racism of the GOP is any less real, but the Democratic Party exhibits a kind of circumstantial racism, a racism by default because the economy has been engineered in such a way to assign poverty along broad racial lines, casting such people into labor pools that suffer the most when the jobs are lost and technology displaces them and the housing prices of the upwardly aspirant make it impossible for them to live in desirable neighborhoods.  The Democratic Party would rather fob them off with entitlements than do anything to address the economic situation that makes them, essentially, the Left Behinds.  The GOP at least is more honest in saying they aren’t interested in those people at all, if not in word then deed.

But going back to Thomas Frank’s argument, the Professional Class is where we all wanted to be.  And we didn’t want to be unionized because unions are drags on upward mobility—or so we believed.  We collaborated in the current situation by failing to understand our own preferences—our own prejudices.

Which has brought us to our current situation.

There is nothing natural about the the 1%. There is everything natural about their success.  Why?  Because that’s who we wanted to be.  Many of us.  And we went along with changes in our political reality because we were told that the Future was going to come about by virtue of innovation and technology and the concomitant methodologies of investment portfolios and fey capital.  We were played—by both parties in their own way, yes, but also by our own conceits.

There are a number of quibbles I have with Mr. Frank’s narrative—those technological innovations are not phantoms and are having very, very real effects on they way work is done. The reality we have now is that we simply do not need as many people to make all the things we need to have made.  When Obama talked about “shovel ready” programs, the reality he evoked no longer pertained.  When Roosevelt did that, building a highway could employ ten or twenty thousand men.  Today a hundred people can built that same road.  What we have failed to realize is that while the labor requirements of the mid-20th Century no longer pertain, neither should the economic structures of the 19th Century, which is what we have.  Just because a business owner can do the same work with less than half the workforce previously employed doesn’t automatically mean said owner gets all that money personally.  “Share in the wealth” used to mean one thing by participation in its creation, but the human component in that creation has changed and now it means something else.

In any event, I recommend Thomas Frank’s new book. Argue with it, by all means, but if nothing else it should dislodge preconceptions and open us to the possibility of redoing our political expectations.

March 27, 2017

About Those Deplorables

In response to the question of why the election went the way it did, one of the reasons given was Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” comment.  That hurt her, they say. It turned people off.

Really? Which people?  People so close to not voting for her that, once in the voting booth,  remembering that phrase over and above everything else drove them to pick Stein instead? Or people who were already committed to not voting for her? Or perhaps people who were already disinclined to go to the polls anyway—because they had something more important to do than participate in deciding the direction of the country for the next four years—that maybe, had she not said that they might have decided on that day to go vote anyway.

Because I doubt seriously it hurt her among those who had already decided to vote for her, especially since, whether they might wish to admit it or not, they actually agreed with that assessment.

Because really those who were never going to vote for her under any circumstances would likely not have been affected positively or negatively by that remark. They already didn’t like her. Being nice to them would have gained her nothing, because they would not have either believed her or recognized the concession. Not saying something about them would have had zero persuasive impact.

So exactly who then are people talking about when they criticize her for that?

No one.  They’re trying to come up with excuses for either their own poor judgment or the lack of involvement in the process by people who were disinclined for many other reasons to vote.

Hillary’s loss is a case study in the dysfunction of our electoral process. She lost due to a toxic combination of apathy, anti-intellectualism, ignorance, and a media environment that offers little in the way of separating fact from fiction, truth from fraud, legitimacy from exhibitionism.  The markers necessary for people to draw useful coverage from the ocean of feed in which they swim are either absent or so obscured as to be invisible.  If you don’t already have an idea how to judge worthwhile from dross you simply have to guess, and a lot of people guess wrong.

Ah. Why should anyone assume that those who did not vote would have voted for Hillary? A perfectly legitimate question. The answer, roughly, has to do with turnout and dedicated numbers. The GOP seems to have a very solid army of about sixty million voters who vote that way every single time. No doubt the Democrats can count on a similar cadre.  But only if the turnout is below 63%.  Once turnout rises to 65% or more, the vote tends to go against the Republicans.  Those voters who sit at home tend to vote Democrat or Liberal.  (People like to point to Reagan’s “landslide” win, but there was only a 52% turnout.  True, he buried Carter, but had the turnout been 65%…?  Of course, to be fair, Bill Clinton won his second election with about the same turnout, 51%.  His first, though, was 58% turnout and he buried Bush I.)  Where it seems really to tell, though, is in congressional elections and the problem there is with gerrymandering. Gerrymandering has always been a bit of a problem, but the GOP has turned it into a high art.  One suspects they know in a fair fight they wouldn’t have a chance.  All they have is that 60 million block.

But this a very rough calculus.  The question remains, why Trump?

(I suspect another chief reason Hillary lost—and part of the reason for low turnout this time—has to do precisely with her opponent.  Had Cruz won the nomination, I suspect turnout would have been considerably higher, because that would have looked like a real fight instead of the joke this appeared to be, especially with the media putting out all those charts showing how she was a shoe-in because, really, who could possibly in their right mind vote for him?  Of course, where it really hurt was the all-important congressional races.)

So, how is this “new era” working out for the people who voted for him?

We have already seen the dismay of many who supported him when it dawned on them that repealing the ACA meant they would lose their own health coverage. Either this is an example of stone ignorance (a few, we don’t know how many, actually did not realize that their ACA was the same thing as the hated Obamacare) or an example of self-selected delusion—that they thought the repeal would only affect people of whom they disapprove.  They were voting to take it away from Other People.

It was claimed that Hillary didn’t understand lower income and working class people.  That may well be true, but what kind of mental gymnastics is required to convince yourself that a billionaire born to wealth who even in bankruptcy lived a life of luxury did understand, on the kind of intuitive gut-level clearly meant by those statements?

But this is anecdotal at best.

Two questions now dominate concretely.  The growing evidence of collusion with Russia in securing the election and the deals made more than a year ago.  And the efficacy of Trump’s “leadership style” which seems to be nonexistent.  The very first time he runs into the kind of normal roadblocks of Washington politics, namely the lost vote on the ACA repeal, he declares it a dead issue and asks congress to move on.  This is lack of staying power at best, a lack of genuine conviction at worst.

During the campaign, one of things Trump said was “vote for me, what do you have to lose?”  More or less.  It doesn’t matter which group he was talking to, it matters which group heard him.

A recent book by Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers In Their Own Land, takes up the question of the voter block that seems consistently to vote against its own best interests. Hochschild, who lives in Berkeley, California, practically lived in Louisiana among people who are both dependent on and victimized by the oil industry. In the course of her study, many contradictions emerged. One example, she met many dedicated environmentalists—who also hated the EPA and wanted to see it gone.  People who knew that the refineries and processing plants were destroying their environment, had poisoned friends and family, were responsible for wild-life die-offs, and yet resisted the idea of regulation, often because they feared it would adversely impact employment. Jobs meant more than the rest, but it was by no means a simplistic metric being applied. Many felt the companies themselves would eventually “do the right thing” and clean up and improve safety.

Reading this book gives us a tour through funland mirror thinking.  Coming face to face with the blatant contradictions and the ingrained belief in systems that have repeatedly failed them and the rejection of solution because of a belief that failure from them would be even worse.  The conviction that the federal government was the Enemy.  Hochschild tried to find the Narrative.  In anthropological terms, this is the ur-story people tell themselves in order to organize their beliefs, the strategies of their lives, and determine  the principles by which they live.  It’s the Who We Are story and when that is found, then what follows begins to make more sense.  What Hochschild discovered was a variation of the City on the Hill dominant among these people. Instead of the religious kind, though, this one had to do with the American Dream.  They believed in the idea that hard, honest work would get them to their city, where they would finally achieve the comfort and security they see as the promise of dedication.  They are willing to wait their turn.

And it’s at that point that the Narrative becomes the problem.  Because they see, they perceive, in their view undeserving people cutting in line in front of them.  Poor people, minorities, refugees, illegal aliens.  People who, in their opinion, have not done the work, have certainly not waited their turn.  And in service to this, the federal government is to blame, because they see federal programs enabling this butting in.

Meanwhile, their own reward recedes before their very eyes.

Resentment is only natural.

At this point, it is fair to ask, how come the default blame goes where it goes?  There are many reasons for their eroding situations.  The changing economic environment, the increasing population, the influx of legal immigrants, the globalization phenomenon.  Even without the federal programs they blame, it is likely their situations would be just as precarious.

Except they have been told that all those factors are the result of government overreach, government meddling, government—by means of treaties, of regulations, of corruption.  Their preferred media services certainly have told them all this, but they also get it through their jobs, from the companies that are also anti-union, advocates of Right To Work, multinationals often that pretend to be America Firsters but then remove the wealth of communities and put it elsewhere.

The kind of people Donald Trump is part and parcel of.

Their fears are easily played upon because they have them.  Fears.  No one is doing much to educate them out of such fears.  Rather they are told, from a hundred sources, that they are justified in their fears.

And they vote for anyone who tells them they are right to be afraid.

The profound distortions of fact to be found among them is indicative of much of the problem.

A few examples of belief versus reality:

Welfare rolls are up and people on welfare don’t work.  The reality is, total welfare rolls dropped 20 % since 1996, which was the year of Clinton’s welfare reform, the reform that cut welfare to a short time and required work for certain benefits.  As for that work, the poorest 20% only get 37% of their income from welfare.  The rest is compensation for work. You might ask, if they’re working, why do they need welfare?  Obviously because their jobs do not pay enough.  You might want to look at the current debate over minimum wage.  At best, “welfare” is a supplement, and most of the beneficiaries are children and the elderly.  But of course, this is not believed by people dedicated to not believing it and scapegoating the poor.

Black women have more children than white women.  I was startled that this was still current.  I grew up in the heyday of the Welfare Queen, which was a canard even then.  The reality is that fertility rates for white women and black women is just about equal.

Maybe as much as 40% of people work for federal and state government and are overpaid.  This sounded to me like the one about foreign aid.  The numbers are inflated because few people bother to find out, they just want to be angry at something.  Adding together all levels of government—federal, state, and local—total workforce as a percentage of employed people comes up to around 17%.  It varies with which party is in office.  Republican presidents since Reagan have overseen expansions of federal workforce because it’s an easy way to finesse unemployment figures.  Obama oversaw a real reduction in the size of the federal government measured by employees, but of course no one opposing him wishes to believe this.  As for the overpaid aspect, on average private sector workers at comparable levels make 12% more than government employees—government employees, by the way, who often work longer hours.

These are a few of the beliefs held by people who likely voted for Trump.  Clearly, there is a simple lack of fact in this, but it seems just as obvious that there is a lack of interest in any fact that contradicts as belief that helps explain their anger.  Make no mistake, these are angry voters.  They don’t want to be informed, they want to be vindicated.

Trump is representative of all this.  Whether he genuinely believes anything he says, he has played these people.  The rest of the GOP has decided evidently that as long as he’s the president, they’ll play him to get what they want.

How’s that working out?

Not well.  All the myths that have been driving Tea Party and affiliated rage for a decade are now coming onto the front lines and getting an opportunity to play and it turns out that the myths aren’t based on solid anything.  It seems a lot of people voted to strip Other People of things they believed were not their due.  Except these angry voters will lose out as well and that wasn’t the way it was supposed to work.

The small government argument has gotten lost, consumed by a mindless urge to eliminate government altogether.  People are being played by international finance.  Everything in the GOP wish list serves only one end—the unopposed leaching out of latent wealth into capital pools disconnected from any nation.  If Trump and Ryan and McConnell got everything they wanted, all the people who voted for them would see their incomes reduced, their savings (if any) pillaged, and jobs decimated.

For their part, the Democrats are unwilling to tackle this head on because they have become tied to the same teat for campaign financing as the GOP.  They have the rage but they often waffle.  With a few exceptions, they won’t call this out, but would rather work at it around the edges and try to mitigate its worst effects while avoiding being shut out of the flow of money.  Fundamental policy changes are required and once in a while someone calls for something, but then they talk it to death.

In the meantime, that basket of deplorables continues to work at gorging itself at the public trough.

Hillary did not lose votes over that comment.  If we’re honest, we recognized the truth.  The problem with it, if anything, is she didn’t specify very well who was all in that basket.  But let’s assume for a moment that saying that did have a negative effect on her campaign.  Why would it?  What is it  about calling something out for what it is that would put off people who, perhaps secretly, agree with her?  We are, those of us who count ourselves progressives, sometimes falsely delicate, it seems.  Like being unwilling to use the word “lie” when in fact that is a perfectly accurate description of what the president has done.  And when someone is so sunk in their own petty resentment that they are willing to dump on everyone out of revenge for what they see as their raw deal and tolerates no counterargument at all and be damned the consequences—well, that really is kind of deplorable.

Whatever the case, let’s be clear about one thing—it wasn’t the people she was talking about when she said that who changed their mind about voting for her.  She was never going to get those votes.

And I doubt it turned very many if any of those leaning in her direction off at the time.  They’re all just using that as a rationalization for the fact that too few of them turned up at the polls.

Come to think of, doesn’t that kind of count as deplorable?

February 03, 2017

Reality Check

The question came up in a recent discussion, “Why are you so sure if more people had voted they would have voted for Hillary?”  Well, I’m not.  I am fairly certain most of them would not have voted for Trump.  I base that on a very simple number:  Trump pulled the base that always votes that way and in fact received fewer votes than Mitt Romney.  You can try to spin that any way you like, but to my mind that says something very significant.  Namely that the GOP in its current manifestation is utterly dependent on two things to stay in office—that base and keeping the rest of the country disaffected from the political process. They do this by a number of strategies, the two most important being propaganda about their opponents and redistricting in key states.  A host of lesser strategies added to these have effectively suppressed votes in some areas while largely throwing the opposing electorate into a bog of ambivalence about their political choices.

For their part, the opposition—Democrats, liberals, so-called socialists, and a variety of smaller categories with perhaps less clearly defined boundaries—have played into this by a combination of solicitude and poor explication of their positions.  As well, it seems that they have failed to connect with the ground level concerns of those who normally would be their natural constituents, namely working class people being displaced by the changing economic and social ecology.

To be clear, when I say solicitude, what I mean is the perfectly reasonable and basically preferable practice of bipartisan cooperation in order to move the business of the people forward.  We have a rich history to show that this always works best and it is natural to assume it is the way to govern most effectively. However, it presumes a two-way street, give and take.  When one side or the other decides that no matter what, cooperation is not on the table, then it behooves the other side to understand the new paradigm and respond accordingly.  When you see the kind of obdurate obstruction on the part of your opponent that we have seen for the last eight years, it becomes frustrating to see your preferred representatives continually yielding in an attempt to “work with” the other side.  That willingness is being used quite opportunistically to undermine programs and run a cynical power grab to their own benefit. The Democrats for their part seem not to be willing to risk losing what seats and positions they have to form a line and push back against this, possibly because what information they get from whatever sources they use tells them people wouldn’t like it.  They might even feel retributions for such resistance could cost ordinary people.  Whatever the reason, they have been unwilling to play as dirty as their Republican counterparts, at least in the public’s view, and this has resulted in continual loss of confidence.

To be clear, “playing dirty” is not something either side should be doing on our behalf, at least not with each other, but it is a reality.  The Right has a plan, or at least a goal, and they have adhered to it with religious fervor.  One thing we should note is that criticisms of that goal based on the undesirability of it play poorly.  Telling someone that what they just voted for will result in a loss of civil liberties for a particular group has no moral traction because that is exactly what the desired outcome is.  When you say to someone who seems to be on this bandwagon “But you’re taking away their rights!” it is as if an imp of the perverse in the depths of their psyché claps its hands in glee and shouts “They shouldn’t have those rights in the first place!”

We must be clear about this.  Legislation based on the notion that certain groups, however they’re defined, should not have certain rights—which in the parlance of the Right comes out as “privileges” instead of rights—we cannot confront this by trying to explain to them how they misunderstand the nature of such things. As far as they’re concerned, they misunderstand nothing.  Their desired outcome is to suppress.  What needs to be done—and is being done by many—is to confront and declare that they are flat wrong.  And their success will bite them in the end when they lose their rights.  Or are they privileges?

It is unpopular and unpleasant to recognize a basic misapprehension about rights.  We have floated for centuries now on the belief that rights are somehow Natural.  The Natural Law argument which informed most Enlightenment thinking, which is the thinking that defined the context in which the Founders constructed our national image, may have considerable to recommend it, and we could have a very healthy discussion about it, but we aren’t talking here about nature but politics.  The reality is, and has always been, that a right is an artificial construct, and is only as true as our ability to assert it in the face of antagonistic forces seeking counter-advantages.  This is why we put such stock in so-called Rule of Law.  If a right were so self-evident, as we like to say, why would we need law to establish it, define it, and defend it?  We may wax philosophical about “natural rights” all we want, but rights do not exist in nature, they are the product of intellect and political will.

This is unpopular for many reasons, but one of the chief in our present era is that it demands responsible participation, and for people who do not wish to be bothered this is burdensome.

Seldom in our history have the consequences of not wanting to be bothered come so viscerally home.

Why do I say that?  Because, depending on which breakdown you look at, the entire edifice of the current Right is in power based on less than a quarter of the electorate. Somewhere between 35% and 50% nonparticipation in regular elections—all of them, not just national, but it is in national elections where the consequences are so dramatically evident—means that a minority always determines the political complexion of the country.  It may well be that the true majority of Americans prefer what we have now, but we don’t know because people do not vote.

Voter suppression is real, however.  Let’s not forget that. In fact, that alone is illustrative of my point above about rights.  The right to vote ought to be a given, so how could it be possible to deny it to so many people?  One example that rarely rises to the surface in such estimates is the approximately six million people denied the vote outright due to felony convictions.  If voting is a “right” then why should that be allowed?  Redistricting—gerrymandering—has resulted in distortions of state elections and subsequently a distortion of the electoral college outcomes.  The Supreme Court overturn of the Voting Rights Act resulted in the closing down of several hundred polling sites, overwhelmingly in the south and overwhelmingly in African American and Hispanic districts.

But this kind of thing has been the case for a long time now and we have seen higher voter turnout even when it has been difficult for many people.  Ninety million people did not participate this past November, which suggests that all the effort to dissuade as well as suppress paid off.  Because Americans have traditionally disdained politics, advantage was taken.

All the major news sources failed to behave ethically, some morally.  Trump received an inordinate amount of free air time and in a culture that values celebrity the way we do, negative coverage can be just as useful as good coverage.  Any careful analysis of what he said on the campaign trail shows he had very little of any substance.  Hillary Clinton demonstrated clear superiority in all three of her debates with him—command of facts, comprehension of the global situation, a set of policy positions—while his entire rebuttal amounted to “She’s a nasty woman.”

Uncharitably but realistically, one can only conclude that people did not vote for her because they didn’t like the way she dressed.

The argument that she carried a “lot of baggage” is simply another way to avoid the responsibilities of reason and the requirements of citizenship.  During the course of the campaign, as details emerged, and material was made available, it became increasingly clear that most of the negativity about her was baseless, that in fact she proved to be even more honest than her chief rival, Bernie Sanders (a fact which surprised even me), but overcoming well-nurtured antipathies and working through the tsunami of rightwing invective about her apparently proved to be too much effort.

During the campaign one could make the argument that Trump’s opposition was based on the same kinds of detractions—smear—and that once he was in office it would be different.

I doubt any reasonable person, even one who voted for him, in the secret chambers of their own heart, thinks he is doing the job they may have imagined him doing.

On the other hand, maybe he is.  Maybe what was desired was no more than validation in the office of the president of their basic belief that government does not work.  Maybe they put him there purely to prove their opinion—uninformed, ill-considered, often bitter and sometimes malevolent—was right.

Whatever their reasons, what should concern us all is that so many who most likely feel otherwise felt it acceptable to stay home.

But to return for a moment to the current situation.  Trump’s selections for his cabinet demonstrate a clear misunderstanding of the purpose of the office. He is surrounding himself with mediocrities.  Nixon did the same thing, but he also had a few people who actually knew what they were doing.  The conflicts of interest alone ought to disqualify most of these people, but the Republican majority is proceeding to try to rubberstamp them.  To be clear, Rex Tillerson is not a mediocrity—but clearly he has no business being there.  I’m sure some would disagree, but his financial ties to Russia alone argue against him, and right now a bill is being introduced in the Senate to repeal a disclosure law that sheds light on foreign bribes which has been a thorn in the side of Exxon.

Trump did not seem to be aware that Steve Bannon would have to be approved by the Senate before taking a seat on the national security council.  This is basic knowledge.

We can continue, but his supporters will not care.  What is important is that those rights of which I spoke must be recognized as at risk and that relying on the privilege of never having been a target to remain uninvolved is inexcusable.

Lastly, regarding Trump, is the question of moral suitability.  “Giving him a chance” is an empty plea.  When he mocked Serge Kovaleski, he demonstrated a clear absence of moral capacity. How can I say that?  He was just goofing?  No.  This is basic.  This was at the level of courtesy, it is so basic.  We don’t even consider it in the context of moral failing because we view it in terms of good manners.  But this was a powerful man making fun of a less powerful man in public (South Carolina) in order to discredit him.  Rather than attack the news article that prompted the attack, he attacked Kovaleski’s handicap.  That is the tactic of a bully.

No.  Special pleading, “Oh, he didn’t mean it”, attempts at recontextualizing it after the fact, none of that alters the fact that he behaved boorishly, without regard for another human being, attacking—mocking—the thing that had nothing to do with any issue at hand, and then lying about it afterward.  That was a test and he failed.  And if you voted for him, you failed, too.

So, reality check:  Supposedly, you voted to “Make America Great Again.”  How is that working out?  We have a bully in the White House who instead of “draining the swamp” is importing more alligators.  None of them have a thing in common with you unless you’re a member of the seven figures annually club (and most of them probably did not vote for him).  He is threatening to end longtstanding agreements around the world, given verbal approval to Japan and South Korea to develop nuclear programs, annoyed China to the point where a war is at least imaginable, appointed people to his cabinet with zero expertise in the fields chosen for them, thrown hissyfits on Twitter over the size of the crowd at his inauguration, placed gag orders on various agencies, made promises he is either backing out of or revising to fit the feedback he gets from FOX News, has anointed  a xenophobe as his chief strategist, threatened long-settled law with Executive Orders, allowed that a man dead since 1882 is an African American who has done great work that is being recognized more and more, asked for  prayer at the first national prayer breakfast for the new host of one of his reality shows, and has yet to release his tax returns while threatening American businesses and playing with their futures by indiscriminately tweeting about them.  He has given tacit approval to the president of the Philippines for his “program” of murdering alleged drug dealers in the streets without due process and he has gotten into a flame war with the president of Mexico over a wall that would do nothing to alleviate a problem he has no real concept about in the first place.  He has signed an order barring immigration based on religion—no, it is, because we have it on record that he asked several people, especially Giuliani, how he could legally keep Muslims out of the country, so his backpedaling on that is for naught—while not barring immigration from countries we already know have originated terrorists that did us harm.  He is restarting the antipathies with Iran that over two decades of diplomacy was beginning to alleviate and get us to a point of normalizing relations with, in spite of their presumed leadership, what is really is a moderate country and could be an ally given the right moves on our part. He has placed people’s lives in jeopardy over this for no reason other than apparently a lot of his supporters are scared to death of people who dress funny and speak with an accent.  The only reason he has apparently, for now, backed off of attacking LGBTQ rights is that a “friend” of his called and asked him not to.

There is no thoughtful consideration evident in any of this.

While all this is going on, at the state level we have a sea of Republican controlled legislatures and governors who are passing Right To Work bills designed to strip unions of any serious power and although we have seen the consequences of such laws in state after state wherein standard of living and even environmental conservation erode in their wake, somehow the people voting for these representatives believe it won’t happen to them.

My conclusion is that such votes are driven by spite.  The almost volcanic eruption of people who suddenly realized that they might loser their healthcare under the man they voted for is telling.  It’s just probable that they thought it would only affect Those People Over There, the ones they’ve been told to fear and hate, who have been “getting away with things” and “cut in line” and “get things they don’t deserve.”  Along with that, the number of people who apparently did not understand that the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare were one in the same thing, while marginally amusing on one level, is stunning example of the corrupting power of corporate media.

Next up is the privatization of Social Security and MediCare.  I’m sure some people think doing so won’t change a thing and then maybe congress can balance the budget and pay off the national debt.  I’m sure some feel that way.

I’m sure.

So What Do We Do Now?

It has been clear for all of the campaign season and is now becoming clearer that Donald Trump should not be president.  He is temperamentally unsuited to the position, he does not have the working knowledge of how things work in a government, and he is wildly unpredictable.  He is also as thin-skinned as they come.

But so what?  He has been elected.  For better or worse, unless something remarkable happens, he will be president for the next four years.

By remarkable I mean any of several possible legal scenarios.

There is a petition circulating to request the Electors of the Electoral College change their vote. This is possible and, as previously noted, not only perfectly legal but one of the reasons the College was established to begin with.  It is also possible Trump will decide this is a bad move for him and resign.  It is questionable whether this would leave Pence in place. After the inauguration, it is possible congress could impeach him.  There is ample in his background that would seem sufficient.

Addressing just one of these, I could suggest that the Electors do something even more remarkable, and that is to nullify their vote entirely.  Give it to no one.  This would likely force a new election.  We would have to do the whole thing over.

I do not believe we have ever had a nominee winning the Electoral vote with such a gap in the popular vote before,  As the ballots continue to be counted, it is clear that among those who actually went to the polls, Hillary Clinton is the winner.  It would be ethical and legal for the College, on December 19th, to change their votes to reflect this reality.  Will that happen?  I rather doubt it.  I do not believe there is sufficient moral fiber extant to take that kind of a position and it may well be that most of them, aligned with Party the way they seem to be, want this.

Which means the elephant is loose in the china shop.  This is going to hurt and hurt a lot.

So what are our options?

It has been suggested we abolish the Electoral College.  It is, however, in the Constitution, so getting rid of it requires a constitutional convention, which means opening the whole thing up to revision.  I personally don’t trust that we have on hand the wisdom to do that.  We see all the time other countries that continually rewrite their constitutions and it rarely ever comes out well.  We might pass a new amendment to nullify it, the way we did with Prohibition, and that would avoid putting the whole thing on the surgeon’s table, but that would also require an enormous consensus across the country, something we’ve been lacking of late.  I don’t think that would work, either.

So here’s a thought.  There is no reason to have the Electoral vote announced at the same time as we’re doing the popular vote tally.  As we are now painfully aware, on that day, the votes just aren’t all in.  Expecting this big complicated mechanism to do all this fairly and honestly in one day may be too much.  Had we not locked in those ballots on the day and waited for the balance of the vote count, we would not have a fait accompli the undoing of which could cause a violent ruction.  Since it is the case that they meet for the final vote on December 19th, we should simply wait till then for any kind of announcement.

There was a time I hated the idea of term limits, but I’m coming around to the notion.  The real damage of this election is in the fact that through negligence and apathy we returned a vast number of incumbents who are set on undoing so much that mitigates the reality that we have been on a course of public pillage which has cost us jobs, savings, security for millions of people who simply do not have the resources to hire the kind of legal help to protect themselves.  Supposedly, that has been the task of our government.  But how can the government do that without some sense of what its constituents want?  We do not vote in sufficient numbers, regularly enough, to place representation in Washington that reflects the reality of our lives.  For whatever reason, Americans have traditionally disliked politics and whenever an excuse presents refuse to participate, even at the most basic level of exercising the franchise.

With that in mind, two things we could change that might make it easier.  First, make election day a national holiday.  That would be simple enough.  Secondly, do what Bernie Sanders suggests, make registration automatic, a birthright.  When you turn 18, you’re registered to vote.

Of course I can see obstacles.  Certain parties have always tried to tie the right to vote to property.  The resistance to things like Motor  Voter registration demonstrates that.  But dammit, that would settle it.  At the time of your majority, you would also receive a federal ID, good for all manner of thing.  If you can’t get to the place to do so, then we should have mobile registration units that will come to you to secure that ID.  I think voter ID laws as they stand are there simply to bar people from voting.  We saw this in Wisconsin in a pronounced way.  So simply make it law that at 18 you are automatically registered to vote and at the same time you receive your federal ID.  In fact, it could be done as part of the whole senior high school process, folded in with yearbook photographs.  Done.  Turning someone with such an ID away from a polling place would then be a violation of federal law.

Another issue is this whole nonsense about third parties.  Here’s a reality.  Third parties have never gained traction in this country.  There are many reasons for this.  Firstly, because it was never intended that there be parties as such, but secondly because we do not create coalition governments as are done in many places where having three, four, even five parties is normal and the winning party must create a government from proportional parts of all parties.  Here, with the winner-takes-call method we have, third parties do little more than muddy already murky waters.

But a more trenchant reason is that the two parties we do have take in and absorb viable third party concepts and people.  One or the other morphs into what becomes effectively a new party.  Which is one reason talking about what either party was like half a century ago is absurd.  There may be some continuity but rarely consistency.

Given that, what I would suggest right now is for Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, and Barack Obama to form a coalition to essentially invade one or the other party and begin to transform it in accordance with whatever program they devise between themselves.  We cannot ignore Stein or Johnson or at least not what they represent, they made substantial showings in this election.  But they will never, at this rate, achieve the kind of authority to challenge either major party, certainly not soon enough to do much good.  But by forming a nexus of change within one or the other, they could remake one of the two major parties.  Rather than let it happen as it does by accident, it should be done consciously and directly.  These four represent the chief aspects of what might make a responsive party.  Together, they could be amazing.

Finally, given that we are likely stuck with the situation at hand for the next four years, two more ground level suggestions.  The first, the people in congress are supposed to represent all of us.  Whether you voted for them or not, by law they are still our representatives—our employees, basically.  Treat them that way.  Don’t leave the conversation because they’re not your guy.  Flood their offices with your input.  Tell them what you want.  All the time.  Burn their ears.  They must represent you, that’s how it is supposed to work.  Act toward them as if you had put them there.  You can still work to unseat them and put someone more to your liking in their place, but while they are there make them do their job.

Secondly, since it would seem civics is rarely taught in school anymore, maybe we should start local classes in it to acquaint people with how all this is supposed to work.  Bring the kids.  It has become obvious that too many Americans don’t understand the first thing about the way the government works—or could work if people did their part, which they can’t do if they don’t know how.

We are possibly about to lose a great deal.  We have a government in place that won by a minority of voters.  That is not majority rule it is minority veto.  It may be that such things must happen before we act.  Secession, a Great Depression, the Cold War.  If true, it does not reflect well of us.  The tools are there but we have to turn the dials.

Lastly, there are many people in this last election who were turned away from the polls.  Voter suppression is very real.  But many more just opted out.  They were discouraged, perhaps, by their choices, but that’s simply not good enough.  You play the hand you’re dealt or you end up barred from the game.  Stop waiting to be inspired.  Inspiration is not reason, it is not logic, it is not a substitute for dealing with reality.  It’s not sexy, but when you vote, the fact is you’re hiring an employee to do a job.  The only factors that matter are “Is he/she qualified” and “Do they support the things I support?”  Everything else is a bonus and that merits reelection.  If they fail in their job, your fire them at the next election.  But being swept off your feet by bold rhetoric and substanceless campaign slogans and baseless judgments of “personality” is a sure way to be disappointed—even badly betrayed.  But significantly, keep that in mind—at the end of the day, the president is an employee.  He—or she—works for you.  Handing over your conscience because they dazzle you with promises of brilliance not based on ability or sympathy is irresponsible.

 

 

Trump Card

Just a couple of thoughts.  We’ve been hearing for months, here and there, how Donald Trump might be a trojan horse placed by the Democrats to discredit the Republican Party.  That, presumably, a deal was done between The Donald and Hillary to run the most absurd campaign and make her look like the only viable choice.  Not a bad idea for a potboiler political thriller.  And the closer to the election we get, some variation of that idea is making more sense.

However.  Despite what pessimists might say, the American electoral landscape is not really that controllable.  And any such actual plan would long since have been discovered and revealed.  You can’t keep something like that secret for this long.  Someone will know and will tell.  Just because that’s how things roll here.

But it’s not at all unlikely that some kind of a deal was done inside the GOP involving Trump.

Given the roster of candidates taking the field last year, what is perfectly plausible is that Trump was invited—maybe not even formally—to throw his hat in the ring.  Be a Republican candidate. It would have been easy to tickle his vanity and get him to do it.

Why?

Because he’s a known berserker.  We all know The Donald.  He could stand up there and say things none of the others could and make them look like rational choices by comparison.  Good cop bad cop.  When you look at the row of right wing crazy that was running—people dedicated to deregulation, tax breaks for the wealthy,  bigger military build-up, gutting healthcare reform, reinforcing corporate personhood, using immigrants as strawman threats against labor, natavism, anti-civil rights, security state wonks, anti-science pro-fundamentalist christian, nothing but a bucket of bad news for working class people—they needed, or thought they would benefit from, having someone who could draw attention away from all that by standing up there and being all the things Trump has been all along.  The others would look civil, thoughtful, responsible.  We would overlook their basic anti-egalitarianism and anti-intellectualism and, in some cases, their anti-humanitarianism, choose one of them, and clear the field for a fistfight they thought they could win with Hillary.  Or Bernie.

It went pear shaped very quickly.  They lost control of their candidate.

And the problem was they couldn’t really contradict him without making themselves vulnerable by their records, because Trump has not said a thing policy-wise that they had not all said, only in “nicer” terms.  He didn’t contradict one policy plank.  All he did was strip away the shiny so we could see the ugly underneath.

And they lost control.  Is this possible?

It’s happened before.  Back in the late Seventies the GOP courted the fundamentalist christian community, which till then had been traditionally apolitical.  They went in, backed a guy named Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority, invited them into the tent to participate, made them promises about returning the country to a christian moral code (as defined by them, of course). It was a very cynical move because they clearly never intended to follow through on those promises.  All they wanted was a kind of religious fifth column that would stir up the conservative base and get out the votes.  It took longer, but they lost control of them.  By the Nineties they had morphed into neocons and eventually gave birth to the Tea Party.  That traditionally apolitical group got a taste for power politics and took matters into their own hands and look at the mess we have now.  The Republican Party lost control.

And a lot of sane, responsible, decent Republicans lost elections or just left the field, unwilling to mix it up with the fanatics.

The GOP grew this faction from a bean and it has now lurched into the field flailing against anything that is not consistent with—

Well, that’s part of the problem.  The Party apparatus itself knows that if it comes right out and says what the goals really are they could lose and lose bigtime.  By actions if not words it has been clear for a long time they want an oligarchy.  They don’t trust the average American, who may be too concerned with taking care of his or her family and might vote for things which will remove power from the privileged classes.  You can argue if you want, but just follow the money—and the jobs—and the voting records of those who have enabled the decimation of the middle class and the empowerment of the corporate elite.

But now the Party apparatus has a bigger problem—the frightened mob they have nurtured since 1976 has turned into a mindless mass of terror-driven reactionaries, poorly educated, selfish, and aggressively anti-progressive.  And they have lost control of that mob.

Which voted for the guy who was never supposed to get the nomination.

Now the rest of us have a problem.  Trump is not only uncontrollable by the GOP, his supporters are beginning to sound like those fifth columnists the religious right was supposed to be. Except they aren’t talking about voting conscience—as far as I can tell, they don’t have one—but about taking up arms if Hillary wins.

And some of the GOP stalwarts are doubling down.  McCain declaring that the Republicans will block all supreme court nominees made by Clinton is nothing but an attempt to appease that mob who seem to want no government rather than one they can’t understand.

They’re all complaining now that this isn’t what they intended, that they can’t support Trump, they never meant for this—

I’m reminded of the film Judgment At Nuremberg, in which Spencer Tracy plays a justice on the war crimes court, hearing the case of a German jurist, played by Burt Lancaster.  At the end, Lancaster tells Tracy “We never meant for it to go so far.” To which Tracy responds, “Sir, it went that far the first time you sentenced an innocent man.”  Or something to that effect.  One could say to those now-chagrined and embarrassed GOP apparatchits claiming they never intended this:  “It went this far the first time you placed party over country.”

We have a few weeks till the election. I don’t think there’s much else to say.  We have a choice between progress and destruction.  I believe that, no hyperbole intended.  The destruction has been coming for a long time.  Presidential election aside, we must expunge that mob of deplorables from the halls of power.  Maybe Hillary had to apologize for that, but she was right.  They are the worst aspects of our nature and—I’ll say it—too stupid to know how stupid they are.  But that’s not their fault.  They’ve been succored on the milk of ignorance by a cynical party machine that is now about to choke on its own poisons.

Vote.  Vote congressional seats.  Right now they’re as if not more important than who ends up in the oval office.

October 17, 2016

Consensus Delusion

Reading and listening to the jeremiads of impending doom and catastrophe electing Hillary Clinton will bring, it becomes clear that a significant part of her opposition is flat out delusional.  It’s not just her, it’s this whole “lib’ral agenda” thing, wrapped up with the gay agenda and the persecution of christians and on and on.  Some people obviously believe she descends into a secret temple every night to eat the livers of virgin meerkats and praise Cthulhu while demoniacally laughing in anticipation of the power about to come into her hands by which she can trample on our freedoms with the abandon of a Godzilla.

How many times does the senate have to haul her into hearings on Benghazi and end up finding nothing—NOTHING—that she did which was illegal or even immoral before people begin to realize that she didn’t murder four Americans for reasons which no one has made very clear anyway.  And how many times do these same people have to be reminded that the problem there was a viciously slashed budget for embassy security, done by the very people in congress who are trying to tag her with the blame before they start to realize they’re being snowed?

Apparently always one more time than this one.

Same with the emails. Not that Hillary’s handling of them is without problems, but how many times do her detractors have to be told that the last three Secretarys of State did the same thing before they realize this is a common practice and hardly grounds for the kinds of accusations of treason being made?

Apparently always one more time than this one.

It beggars reason.  Why this level of denial?  Why this depth of entrenched delusion?

We have a model for it. Has to do with repeated insistence on a parallel reality.  We watched it happen to children, en masse,  during the McMartin PreSchool debacle.

Recall that this was a national item in the news for months.  It began in 1983 with false accusations by a mentally disturbed woman claiming the preschool was involved in the sexual abuse of children.  The detectives initially investigating thought it was absurd, but a very aggressive prosecutor with career ambitions got hold of it and rode it through seven years and the most expensive criminal trial in American history to that date.  It ended with all charges dropped, lives ruined, and the psychés of the children involved scarred.  It was part of a hysteria and the allegations made kept getting stranger and weirder, beggaring imagination,about networks of tunnels, secret airfields, black masses.  Lovecraft would have proudly claimed it as a masterpiece of fiction.

Yet people believed it.  Especially, after seven years of being told again and again that these things had happened to them, the children, who were a lamentable spectacle in the courtroom the day it ended and they were betrayed again.  First they had been made to embrace the charges, even though none of them initially validated any of it, and now, after seven years of living in a delusional bubble, many if not all had come to actually believe these things had happened—and the court told them none of it had.

It didn’t matter that to any rational person on the outside looking at all this it was clearly nonsense.  To those inside that bubble, this had become reality.  What is amazing is the ability of the human imagination to come to the defense of such delusions when they have become so personal that one’s very identity depends on them.  The capacity to invent seemingly plausible explanations to counter fact and logic is remarkable.  And frightening.

We see something like this in the byzantine conspiracy fears of the hardcore Hillary Haters.  Not the ones cynically manipulating that hate in order to gain power, but the ones willingly handing over that power because they truly believe she is evil and has a trail of bodies in her wake and that she was somehow, though the details get murky here, plans to sell us all down the River Iss.  (When I ask what it is they think she’s going to do, usually the response is either “You’ll see” or “Go ahead and vote for her if you love her so much!” In other words, they have no idea what it is they fear.)  They’ve been living in that bubble for so long that the larger reality has small chance of breaking through.

There is a whole roster of related delusions that go along with this.  That Obama was not born in the United States, that both he and Hillary will send out secret police to confiscate guns and overturn the Second Amendment (a president can’t do that), that 911 was an inside job, that death panels are part of the Affordable Care Act, that—

It goes on.  This makes the people still clinging to the grassy knoll in Dallas seem reasonable.

The screeling insanity of the allegations sets up a false dialogue in which those of us who simply prefer her to her opponent for reason short of embracing her as the next Lincoln can’t profitably discuss the issues.  For us it comes down to competence and policy positions which do not lend themselves to soundbyte “debate” tactics which depend on superlatives.  Do I believe Hillary Clinton is the best choice for president?  Given the present circumstances, yes.  But it’s conditional.  Do I think she’s the best possible choice?  No.  But that choice is not on the field.  I don’t even know who it would be.  Bernie Sanders might have been a better choice, but he’s not on the ballot.

Which points to another delusional bubble on the opposite side, which is that the election was stolen from him.  He’s not claiming that and insists on his supporters supporting Hillary.  Because he understands how politics works in this country.  There will always be another chance to do better or just differently in four years.  Do not tear everything apart because the party didn’t hire the right DJ.

Since the end of the Cold War, what we have needed—badly—is a manager who will step us back from the brink of world war and start returning us to the kind of republic and economy best suited to caretaking the country.  Instead, both parties have found themselves lashed to the masthead of demanding war leaders.  We are constantly preparing for war.  Like a traumatized child who can no longer trust that other realities might be possible, after World War II we have been unable to trust in our own principles.  That and the fact that war is very, very profitable for certain people, and money drives elections.  Bill Clinton was close.  All other things aside, he was a capable manager.  I believe George H.W. Bush was of a similar cut.  But even they were unable to withstand the pressures of constant war preparation.

The problems of the world are based on resource allocation.  This is a tractable problem, given the political will.  But not if everyone insists that they can’t be solved.  They can be.  But it requires that we change certain other basic practices and admit that some of the ways we’ve been doing things no longer (if they ever did) work.

But that’s a conversation that can only happen when there are no bubbles separating us into different realities. Delusion is the biggest barrier between people, which in this case is the reason we can’t see each other.

Either that or it’s Toxoplasma gondii.

My own bubble—yes, we all have one, to greater or lesser degrees, with lighter or denser membranes—suggests that the constant undermining of education since the Sixties has had a net effect on lowering people’s resistance to nonsense.  That given the fact that education has been roped to the requirements of the job market almost since its beginnings, this is no surprise.  We claim we want educated people but I believe what industry wants is, rather, well-trained people, which is not the same thing.  The assault on unions, the undoing of economic rules that once allowed for a robust middle class, and the apparently successful propaganda campaign by the Right to convince people to vote against their own best interests for nigh unto 40 years goes hand in hand with lowered standards in education and a neglect of what once we called the Liberal Arts.  But I don’t believe you need an organized conspiracy to do this.  Just inattention and the situational shrug of shoulders that allows something to become normal that once was not.

For instance, look at the terms.  Liberal and Conservative.  They don’t seem to mean what they once did.  In the long view of history, neither Barrack Obama nor Hillary Clinton would be considered liberals.  Centrists at best.  But those bubbles have enabled a shift in viewpoint that has pushed us to the right so much that a full-blown liberal is no longer recognizable as such.  It’s been said that in a more traditional (or sane) world, Hillary would be the Republican candidate and Sanders would have been the Democratic.

But that view bounces off the bubbles.

We have, in my opinion, a traumatized country full of children who have been told for decades that they’ve been abused and they can no longer recognize the reality outside that conviction.  Some have, but they aren’t the ones defining the inside of the bubble.

Anyone have a pin?

Why We Need To Teach Civics

Listening to the debates, not between the candidates but among the potential voters, it becomes clear that for many the workings of our government are a thing of deep mystery and frustratingly obscure. Donald hammered on Hillary repeatedly that in 30 plus years in office she had an opportunity to “do something” about certain issues and she did nothing.

She was a senator and then she was secretary of state.

Neither position affords anyone the power to just “do something” about any damn thing they want.

While morality may not be relative, politics is entirely so.  The problem is this:  you have a hundred people in a room who have been given a problem to solve.  There’s perhaps a right way to solve it, there are certainly wrong ways, and then there’s what each individual wants.

How do you simply “do something” in that situation?

Let’s compound it. Each of those hundred people is working with another set of probable conflicts. There is what he or she believes ought to be done, then there is what the people they represent want done, and then there is what she or he feels can be done.  Each one brings this bag of writhing conflict to the room and the task is to work with the other ninety-nine, each of whom has the same set of problems, to find a solution to the problem.

This is the fundamental nature of representative democracy.

In a word, it is impossible.  It is the human equivalent of asking the centipede how it manages to walk.

And yet.

Add to this the frustration of the constituency, each individual and group of individuals has a different set of desires.  They harangue their representatives to “do something” and get angry when nothing or, worse, the “wrong” thing gets done. Now yet another concern is heaped on top of all the others for the people in that room—keeping their job.

It’s amazing anything happens at all.

And despite what they may tell you, this happens in business, too.  All those moving parts have to be coordinated and, often—because they’re attached to people—assuaged.  So no, a Ross Perrot, a Mitt Romney, or a Donald Trump cannot magically step into this with their “business experience” and suddenly end the deadlocks and solve the problems.  Their “experience” ought to tell them this.  For one, they can’t actually fire the people they have to work with in congress.

If Trump’s accusations that Hillary “did nothing” when she had the chance have any resonance with voters it is because, I suspect, too many voters don’t understand the nature of the country in which we live.  Hillary tried to explain that she worked on several of those things, but if she can’t get people—many of whom in the last several years have publicly committed themselves to blocking any proposal that comes out of either the Obama White House or the Democratic side of the aisle—to go along with her proposals, just what do people think she could do?

That she has accomplished what she has is a minor miracle.

I received civics in grade school. We had to sit through it.  It was boring.  It used to be what was called social studies, which later seemed to morph into some kind of social psychology joined to history tracks instead of a study of how government is organized.  Probably it is taught in some schools still, but it seems not to be as a matter of course.

It’s why so many people are afraid a sitting president can take guns away from people or remove the Second Amendment.  A president can’t do that.  Just can’t.

But worse, it’s why so many people seem to not understand why their personal prejudice can’t be made law.

Frustration can be a driving force for a solution, though.  It seems that public frustration with the intractability we’ve endured in our politics is reaching a zenith and we may be about to witness an historic turn-over.

Ever since Reagan named government as the biggest problem we have there has been a tumor growing in the belly of our civil systems.  He was flat wrong.  Perhaps he was speaking in metaphor—he was an actor, after all, psychodrama depends on metaphor—but if so he delivered it with a straight face that appealed to the impatience everyone feels from time to time at the squabble in that room. With the benefit of the doubt, I believe he would be appalled at the consequences of his rhetoric.  We built the strongest nation in history through government, for good or ill, so just how much of a problem was it?  Depends on where you stand when you ask that question.

Because politics is relative.  Compromise is essential.

But I suspect a lot of people don’t actually know what compromise is.  You can’t tear down the bridge and then blame the other guy for not crossing the divide.

It might be useful to remember that the work in question is never “done” but is an ongoing, daily struggle.  Out of it we find a way.  But you can’t circumvent the process just because you think you’re right.  If you are, that will become evident over time.

We might want to remember that.  Civics.  The earlier the better.

September 28, 2016

Crossing Eyes and Dotting Teas

In my previous post I talked about the use—misuse—of a term: Snowflake. It was brought to my attention that I myself may be misusing it or at least misunderstanding it.

It derives from Fight Club, as a negative.  “You are not special snowflakes…you are not unique…”  More or less.  Tyler Durden exhorting the new members of a club no one is supposed to speak about.  Which kind of automatically makes them special.  Exclusive club, deeply hidden, secret, and very radical.  How much more special can you get short of joining the Masons or being recruited by the NSA?

The term then entered the language by way of gaming, applied to people claiming unique privileges—usually unearned—in the course of some rule-heavy role-playing extravaganza.  It went from there to an appellation attached to Millennials of a certain mindset who had absorbed the pseudo-Montessori-esque lessons of specialness and uniqueness and then took it to the next level as sinecure that they, being unique and special, can do no wrong and are allowed to exercise a degree of privilege and intolerance based on that assumed status.

Like all such terms, obviously, it has been handed on, re-purposed, reapplied, contorted, enlarged, expanded, and now, today, it is being used to label anyone even glancingly allied to that other wonderful term that has come to be applied as a derogation, the Social Justice Warrior.

That’s the problem with labels.  They start out one way, they inevitably become something else, and then history gets retroactively rewritten to incorporate the new meanings.

Democrats belong to the party of Jim Crow.

Republicans freed the slaves.

As if those claims describe what they are intended to today.

What I have witnessed and heard is the appropriation of the label Snowflake by people who are unfriendly to messages and arguments about social justice, equality, political correctness, diversity, and related issues so they can apply it where needed to shut down debate.  Classifying someone as a Snowflake (or a Social Justice Warrior) is little more than an attempt to categorize what they have to say as a specific kind of rhetoric which we are not obliged to listen to or credit because it only describes the presumed delicate, unique, and supposedly privileged character of the speaker.  We don’t have to listen to them because, well, it’s just the way they are.

And somehow these delicate souls manage to harass the virtuous manly men (male or female) who have right on their side to the point of silence.

I haven’t, if you’ll forgive the mixed usage here, seen the silence.  On either side, frankly.  What I have seen is a big fat fence raised between the deponents made up of labels.

Now, labels can be useful.  I like to know which aisle contains the pet food as opposed to the household drygoods as opposed to the liquor.  I like to know which building houses what services and addresses are very handy.  I even like knowing what kind of music I’m likely to find on what station and it is helpful to know where in the bookstore I can find History as opposed to Humor.

But when it comes to people, labels are useless impediments to dialogue and intercourse.  And just because those people over there insist on using labels does NOT justify labeling by anyone else.  Because it is the nature of such things—language—that usage is hijacked, meanings change, and context shifts.

Back in the Sixties, there was an event in San Fransisco.  There was a funeral for Hippy.  The label, the tag, the identity.  Because the people at the core of the counter culture saw what was happening—that what they were, how they dressed, talked, acted, was about to be appropriated as fashion.  They knew that all they intended, all they meant for themselves, all they held important was about to be changed by the normal misuse of the American dialogue.  So they declared Hippy dead and they held a funeral.  There was, after that, no authentic hippy.

It didn’t stop the entire country from assuming it knew what a Hippy was and that they were all around.

In the Fifties the label Communist was horribly misapplied.  A wide net of philosophical and political opinions caught people up and labeled them and lives were ruined.  Because it’s easy to think in labels.  Action follows thought.

I don’t care for labels like that.  Especially when deployed in such a way as to shut down meaningful dialogue.

What I am seeing is the use of a term that once described something quite different being applied by people who think they have the right to determine what is meaningful by excluding what they think is without merit.

Does this go both ways?  Of course.  Labels have universal utility.  They are shorthand.  The problem with them is they make it easy to not think.

Just in case anyone thought I meant something else.

On Snowflakes and Labels

I’ve heard it a lot recently. Snowflakes. “Those snowflakes.”

It’s an insult.  It means, apparently, thin-skinned, easily offended, a lightweight, someone prone to knee-jerk reactions to certain things which the ones applying the label don’t see the problem with. “We mustn’t offend the snowflakes!”

What topics?  It has something to do with political correctness, which is another one of those labels which has lost valence through overuse and misapplication.

What is political correctness?

Well, others may have their definitions, but mine is to speak truly about a subject rather than resort to cliché.  To find out the reality before talking through one’s hat, using whatever popular cultural handles that may be lying around.

You can pretty much pick the topic and find disagreement over things ranging from stereotyping to cultural appropriation.  There’s the popular opinion, then there’s the fabrication, and then there’s the reality.  P.C. ought to mean we go for the reality, which requires a certain amount of work and a bit of sensitivity, which seems in short supply.  And if you have no sensitivity, why would you bother to do the work?

Of course, if you don’t do the work, where will you ever get any sensitivity.

So we have a new label, a category—actually a steel-reinforced closet—into which and by which we can dispense with the need to deal with the issues raised by the behavior being tagged as that of a Snowflake.  Once so labeled we can simply use that term to dismiss whatever might be upsetting them.

It’s hard then to know if what is upsetting them has any legitimacy because the conversation has now stopped.

Here’s a thought: those applying this new label seem to believe that these are delicate people who get flustered at the mere mention of opinions with which they disagree. What if that’s not it?  What if it’s more likely the final loss of tolerance for dealing with attitudes, opinions, and treatment with which they have been subjected to for years and they’ve finally reached the point of saying “You know what, if you can’t see through your own bullshit, I don’t have to either help you or put up with it anymore.”

What if a good number, maybe the majority, of people being labeled Snowflakes are actually of such a toughness that it took years and decades of being misheard, misunderstood, categorized, dismissed, and otherwise bullied before they finally just had enough and decided to slam the door in your face?

I’ve been bullied.  The one thing that becomes clear, finally, is that being bullied has no rational cause.  Nothing you can say or do will change the fact that the bully just wants to hurt you.  It’s not rational.  They will bully you because you don’t fit some cool profile or they sense that you’re vulnerable or—more relevant to this situation—that you, just by being, represent a threat to their self-image.  You can’t negotiate, you can’t “be reasonable,” and you sure as hell can’t educate them out of their desire, their urge really to put you in a box and keep you there.

You abuse someone long enough they will snap back.  Right now, voices are being heard that have needed to be heard and certain people, who thought as long as the room was quiet everything was fine, are trying to shut them down.  This is nothing new, this has been the reality for a long, long time.  Now we have some acting out.  Now we have some payback.  Now the “nice, quiet, well-behaved so-n-so who was never a problem before” is standing up saying enough, and so a new label is required?

What you are seeing as hypersensitivity is really just the final loss of patience.  If the conversation had been engaged honestly long ago you wouldn’t be facing a challenge to authority like this.  And claiming you’re the ones under siege is one more example of the myopia of too-long hegemony.

Every time now I see or hear that label being used I think “Have you looked in a mirror lately?  If anyone’s being hypersensitive…”  But no, that’s wrong.  It’s not hypersensitivity.  It’s insensitivity.

Now, go to your room.  Write a thousand times “I will not be an insensitive jerk and pretend it’s a defense of conservative principles.”

You just don’t like the message and you think creating and using a new label will fix the problem.  Like that ever worked before.

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