distal muse

observations, opinions, ephemera, and views


March 01, 2017

Worth Noting

During the campaign, I noted that the GOP was having a difficult time repudiating Trump because he in fact was saying nothing that had not been a mainline Republican position for decades. The question was one of style, not substance—although we’re getting a lesson now in how they really aren’t that different.  Last night’s unofficial state of the union address represents all the evidence needed to make that claim.  It should be noted that he said nothing he had not said before.  The only difference was in his tone and the manner of phrasing.

Now, if you agree with the programmatic direction of the GOP, then you may find yourself quite pleased with the president’s performance last night. But then you will have to eventually come to terms with the harm that direction is likely to produce within the country and among our allies, not to mention the world in general.

He doubled down on his “Radical Islamic Terrorist” rhetoric, despite having been counciled by his new national security advisor to stop using that term, as it serves only to alienate allies and potential allies.  That, therefore, had to be intentional, because clearly he didn’t write that speech.  Nothing new with that, few presidents do write their own, but they all have final say in what is in them.

His use of the widow of the SEAL killed in Yemen is one of the more cynical moves I’ve seen from a public official. That she should receive sympathy is beyond question. That her husband did his duty is clear.  That he used her tears in public to justify a boneheaded action, asserting that we got important and substantial intelligence as a result despite initial reports that we got nothing from it other than a lot of bodies on the ground, is pretty low.  Yemen is going to be Trump’s Fast and Furious (which, despite being a mess, nevertheless produced 34 indictments of drug dealers and gun runners) and he’s trying his best right now to draw the venom and rewrite the reality.

On its face, this speech resembles what we might have expected from Rubio or Cruz, a reasonable-sounding assemblage of soundbites to float in coming weeks as talking points for policy wonks that seem mainstream Republican.

Fine. Let’s look at that.

His cabinet appointees draw a different picture than what people may be expecting.  Betsy De Vos is there to destroy the Department of Education.  She’s all about vouchers and so-called “school choice.”  What could be wrong with that?  Nothing, if that’s what it really is. But advancing private companies to manage what should be a public trust at the expense of the public institutions already in place is in the long run a reduction of choice, because eventually they will all fall into similar business models designed to turn out “product” rather than educated citizens.  This is a viable system only if you have a healthy public education system to set standards and hold the private institutions accountable to those standards.  If you eliminate the source of the standard then you initiate a rush to the bottom and the gradual homogenization of education into two camps—the one for the Haves and the one for the Have Nots, with predictable results.

Scott Pruitt is there to disassemble the EPA.  The horror stories about the mismanagement in the EPA and its subsequent impact are the stuff of legend.  Of course, with something this large and complex, people will run afoul of the rules, but to assert that the mission of the EPA is in any way unnecessary is a thread that has run through the GOP for decades.  The utterly pointless and cynical removal by executive order over coal waste dumping in streams is representative.  Coal as an industry is dying, at least as it has been practiced till now.  The jobs lost have not disappeared because of environmental regulations—that’s just distracting rhetoric— but because we’re in a market that has seen natural gas shove coal aside massively.  With the increase in sustainable and renewable energy technologies, coal is about to be marginalized even more.  Basically, the coal industry that remains is in charge of a growing share of a shrinking market. But like parasites, they will suck the last juices of the decaying corpse of the industry if given a chance, and removing such regulations has the single effect of adding a few paltry dollars to the dividends they pay themselves.  In the meantime, we dump on people who have to live in the resultant mess and will, once the EPA is gone, have almost no recourse to protect themselves.

Rex Tillerson is there to reverse the sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Lest anyone think this is sort of okay, let’s review.  Putin oversaw a massive development of oil. The payoff could be huge, both for himself and his country.  However, the pipelines run mostly through Ukraine, and Ukraine was levying a rather substantial use fee on the oil passing through.  Putin wanted them to stop doing that.  Things were getting tense.  Money was at stake.  Putin had no moral or legal grounds on which to stand, though.  Then Ukraine made noises about joining NATO.  That would have made anything Putin did even riskier and constrain his ability to act further.  So he invaded.  All the excuses were made about traditional rights of access to Sebastopol and the rights of Russian citizens living in Ukraine, etc etc, and it is true, historically Russia will do just about anything to maintain open access to the Crimea and the warm water port there, but this also removed both the NATO threat and the tax on his pipelines, at Ukraine’s expense.  And lest the point is still lost, Exxon and Trump both have a financial stake in those Russian oil fields and the potential pay-out will be enormous.  That’s why Tillerson is there, to line pockets.

We could go down the list.  This is all good, solid Republican programming.  If it hurts a corporation it is bad.  If some actual people get hurt, well, collateral damage, we didn’t really mean for them to get hurt.  Doing something for anyone making less than mid six-figures?  Not on the table.

This is nothing new.  The argument has been made that restricting corporations with regulations, taxes, and requirements to abide by some standard of fiscal ethics has cost us jobs and that removing all those things will benefit everyone.  Why this is still believed I do not know, because we have now had  thirty years of proof that this is not what happens. Ever.

It may well be that the counterarguments and alternative programs offered by the Democrats will not remedy the problems we face, but we should all by now realize that we are being conned by the Republicans.

The people invested in believing otherwise have given us a con artist for a president.  If on occasion he manages to sound “presidential” it will serve to validate their belief that they voted for the right guy.  When things still don’t improve for them, what will they say?  Who will they blame?

But the con is party-wide.  That’s my point—he was not expunged during the campaign because he did not run on anything that wasn’t good, solid GOP dogma.  He just phrased it with less glitter and less rhetorical obfuscation.  The Republicans have been practicing for decades how to “reframe” their message so it doesn’t sound so bad and so they could appeal to people who are not racists or nationalists or who might actually believe in some kind of a safety net (but only for people who “deserve” it, however you define that), but really does have the net effect if not intent of being fundamentally inegalitarian, divisive, and culturally if not biologically racist.

The con is widespread.  The Democratic Party has more than a bit of this in it as well, though shifted to class distinctions rather than cultural.  It makes it difficult to see an effective difference from issue to issue, but only if you don’t pay attention.

Anyway, as polished and “moderate” as last night’s speech may have been, it’s basically the same old shabby, off-the-rack suit.  Putting a rose in the lapel doesn’t make it a tux.

 

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.

 

 

47

The number will make sense presently.

It’s Friday. I’ve spent the last few days trying to process what happened Tuesday. It is not going well. I’m angry, frightened, and more than a little disgusted by the fact that we allowed Donald Trump to be elected president. I’m a cynic most days, an optimist forced by reality to concede that the world is perhaps more malign than not.  But I’m also, marginally, an intellectual. By that I mean someone who deals with that reality by trying to understand it and make it cogent. By looking at things through the lens of causality, knowing that events are products, usually of combinations of factors no one person can see. So when the inexplicable happens, I do my best to analyze it and find the underlying drivers. This is how I am able to walk out my door every morning and conduct my life.

It is clear from everyone’s reactions that no one expected this, least of all Trump.  I think he was planning his next reality show, Real Losers of Presidential Races.  For that reason among many others, I do not believe he is even remotely prepared for the unsortable mess he is about to be required to deal with. As for the country, well, we’ve been playing with this idea that a “businessman” might be a good president. We’re about to find out.

What concerns me even more is the vast ocean of Red that now controls the country.  If Trump’s election was some kind of protest against establishment Washington, it failed, because most of the incumbents kept their seats.  So clearly there was only one office this vote was aimed at.  I’ve been saying to anyone interested in my opinion that possibly the more important part of this election was Congress.  Well, clearly no one listens to me.

Why am I so pessimistic about this election?  Because the ideology in control of this majority is contrary to everything I thought we were trying to build.   I can’t think of one thing these people want to do that will be good for anyone but the rich.  And actually I don’t think it will be very good for them in the long run, either.

Trump has sided with congressional Republicans in a desire to repeal what they persistently misname Obamacare.  There are people who have been hurt by this law, yes.  But there are many, many others who for the first time in their lives had access to meaningful healthcare.  Those millions will lose that unless what the Republican Party intends to do is simply expand MediCare to cover them.  That is not in their playbook.  They are committed to a policy that you should pay for your life yourself, that it is not the government’s job to make your life easier or better, even if the condition of your life is a consequence of government policy in the first place.  So the ACA gets repealed, insurance companies start voiding existing policies which are not profitable, healthcare costs resume their precipitous rise, and in a few years people start dying from treatable and often preventable illnesses that they might have avoided had they had the resources.  The pharmaceutical industry will once again gouge people, their profits will once more soar to ridiculous heights, and the poor will go begging.

Trump wants to “do something” about immigration. What he and apparently the majority of GOP congressional members mean by that involves mass deportations, stricter rules for visas, green cards, guest worker permits, etc, and punitive restraints against countries which have a problem with drug cartels running roughshod over them and making life hell for people trying to make a living, which is why they’re coming here in the first place.  We do not recognize “life under threat from a drug dealer” to be a legitimate form of persecution, so the drug war, which we fund, puts all these countries and their citizens in a bind which we refuse to take responsibility for.  Medium-sized businesses here that presently rely on guest workers (which is a good portion of the agricultural industry not owned by Archer Daniels Midland and the like) will find themselves stripped of a labor force they to date have had a difficult if not impossible time replacing with Americans who can’t afford to live on seasonal work at low wages. Other examples abound.  This will also mean deporting children and young people born here but never naturalized who have never known any other country.  In essence if not status they are Americans, but no matter.  Their “documents” are not in order.

Trump wants to produce jobs, “big league.”  Obama will be leaving office after presiding over seven years of the largest private sector jobs growth since the end of the Vietnam War (which is very relevant, that date), but Trump and the GOP act as if nothing has changed since 2008.  If you are one of those still underemployed or out of work, maybe Obama’s record makes no difference to you.  But it should.  The usual method of pumping up jobs numbers, employed by both parties but much indulged in recent times by the very Republican administrations who vowed to shrink the size of the government, has been to increase federal jobs and supply grants to states for state jobs.  These are not stable jobs because they depend on funding tools that are also unreliable given the recent push to cut spending and cut taxes.  Obama has reduced the deficit, which will rise if President Trump opts to pump money into infrastructure programs in order to produce those jobs.  If he intends to stick to the GOP pledge to cut taxes even further, that means he will have to borrow the money, which will increase the debt again. We don’t have much wiggle room there after the catastrophic policies of the Bush years.  We’re going to be bouncing up against 100% of GDP and then, Katy-bar-the-door if we have another recession because there will simply be no relief.  Trump has a track record of borrowing and defaulting.  He cannot default on this kind of debt, so the question will be,. what then?

But I can get behind a push to invest in infrastructure.  We need it badly.  What I cannot get behind is the continued refusal to address the extraction of capital out of our economy by way of a tax cut program that sees even more money sucked into the coffers of Big Business and out of the country.  You can’t increase spending AND cut taxes forever.  Eventually you reach the point where the mule dies.  (Old joke, the farmer who tries to train his mule to work on less and less food over time, until one day the mule keels over dead and he doesn’t understand why.)

I will say this again.  I know people don’t like taxes, but it’s largely reflexive.  They fail repeatedly to understand whose taxes are supposed to go up.  Coupled with the fact that to make up for what states are not getting from the federal government anymore, local taxes have to rise, the blame is universal.  People want services, but they don’t want to pay for them.  As services deteriorate due to lack of funds, they complain when a tax increase is sought which is intended to bring those services back up to par.  It’s a vicious circle of misapprehension.

Taxes are one of the surest tools to fix capital in a community.

Be that as it may, let us go on.

Why did people vote for Trump?  We don’t have to dig far to understand that by his own words he is a misogynist, a racist, someone who sees no problem contradicting himself, a liar, what we used to call a demagogue.  The projections for the election gave him a very low chance of winning. What happened?

A combination of things.  People wanted someone not a Washington “insider.”  Whatever that means.  No, I know what it’s intended to mean, but then why did they send all their incumbents back?  But Trump is not an insider, so there is that.

A certain segment of the population has been chafing under what they derisively term Political Correctness for decades.  It’s like having your table manners constantly corrected.  Why can’t I haver as baseball team named after Native Americans?  Why does that make me “culturally insensitive?” It’s just baseball.  And why do I have to adjust a lifetime of rote understanding to accommodate a biological male using the girls’ bathroom at my daughter’s high school?  And why are you still making me feel bad about slavery 150 years after it ended?  And why can’t I whistle at a pretty woman on the street?

Why do I have to change everything I’ve always taken for granted because someone I don’t know has gotten their feelings hurt?

Of course it’s more complicated than that, but for many it amounts to that level of anger.  They want to be who they are and not be criticized for it.

Unfortunately, this includes a host of less trivial-sounding factors, like reflexive distrust of anyone who doesn’t look like them, talk like them, think like them, or go to church like them.  These are not harmless traits, as we have seen.  Racism, nativism, intolerance, protectionism, all aided and abetted by a thick strain of anti-intellectualism which manages to include antagonism toward expertise, toward science, toward any kind of reasoning that calls into question who they are.

Added to that, we have people who have adopted a political view akin to religious dogma.  Hillary is a criminal.  No matter that she has been investigated, questioned, and cleared on every charge for decades.  FOX news or Rush Limbaugh told them.  This is holy.  They will not be dissuaded because if they have this wrong then everything they believe, everything they are, is wrong, and then what?  It took them years to acquire the veneer of informed opinion, they have neither the time or the capacity to undo all that armchair work.

Then there are people who truly believe the federal government is nothing but evil, just by virtue of existing, and they may feel that this is a good chance to see it crippled.  The instances of militia groups declaring armed uprisings should Hillary win are examples.

Some people are so enamored of money that anyone with more than seven figures to their name is automatically worthy of respect if not outright admiration.

Finally, there are those who simply cannot get past the idea of a woman in charge.  For them, it wouldn’t have mattered who it was.  I doubt Michelle Bachman or Sarah Palin would have gotten their vote.

It may also be that, Americans being traditionally contrarian, a sizeable number of voters resented being told that Hillary was a shoe-in.  We still retain a perverse affection for the underdog—I say perverse because we don’t seem very consistent on who that may be.  When some CEO raking in hundreds of millions of dollars on bonuses complains about the cruel regulations placed on his company can successfully pose as a persecuted underdog, we may have a problem with understanding what that word actually is intended to describe.  Be that as it may, I wouldn’t doubt that a significant fraction of those who voted for Trump did so out of a misplaced sense of fairness.

Which brings me to the number.  47.  That would be 47%.  According to some polls, that is the percentage of people who did not vote.  Ninety million, more or less. I suspect the odds are good that the overwhelming majority of them would probably have voted against Trump.  Since this has been the case in the past, I’m going to assume it to be true. Hillary did win the popular vote.

Liberal apathy.

Oh, certainly a lot of them stayed home because they didn’t get to vote for Bernie Sanders.  “I didn’t get my candidate so I’m not going to vote at all!”  I have zero respect for this.  For many reasons, but just look at what you have done to the rest of us if that’s your reasoning.  Because if so, you not only left us with Trump, you were also instrumental in all those GOP incumbents going back to Congress.  You have damaged us with your petty snit.  “If I can’t have chocolate ice cream, I don’t want any!”

But there are many others who saw the projections and decided they didn’t need to go vote because Hillary was a shoe-in.  Despite the fact that she told you not to rely on those polls.  But even if that were the case and she was a shoe-in and she had won, the fact that you also didn’t vote to oust the Republican majority would have meant four years of the kind of grinding gridlock Obama has been through.  This was irresponsible.

47% of you decided to have no say in the future of your country and by your absence you have left us with what may turn out to be the most devastating administration since—

I won’t say.  You have no sense of history.  You don’t understand the concept of voting strategically.  I can only conclude that you are either selfish or lazy.  Either way, you will learn the price of abstaining.  As will we all.

I’m not criticizing people who voted third party.  They voted.  They acted responsibly.

So thank you for your nonparticipation.  The subsequent state of the country can be laid in large part at your feet.  You have, by your absence, shot us all in the face.

This is, in my experience, a liberal problem.  I remember back in the Sixties, when the country was in comparable disarray, how the Left began to hate liberals.  It seemed to many that the Left was a monolith, and subsequently all of them were painted with the same brush and labeled Liberal.  Liberal bashing has been a hallmark of the Republican Right since Reagan took office,  but really the GOP should be grateful to liberals, because they are so uninvolved.  There are likely many reasons for this, but the big one I have noticed is that liberals don’t seem to have any staying power.  They attack a cause, work to solve the problems, often overcome obstacles and put reforms in place.  Things change.  And then a curious thing happens.  They go home.  They leave the field.

In a way, this is understandable and very American.  For them, politics is a grimy, necessary chore that must be attended to in order to have the time, the space, and the freedom to do all the other things in life worth doing.  We should be able to solve the damn problem and be done with it.  Finished.  Now there are Other Things.  They assume the fix is done and we can go about our lives.

The Right has been like that as long as there was a status quo few people complained about.  But that hasn’t been the case since the Korean War.  So the Right does what it does.  For many of them, this is religion.  They fight, they stay, they don’t go home.  So when the liberal left decides it has won and does go home, the conservatives are still there, working to undo everything they don’t like.  That has been happening since 1980, consistently, and it is time liberals learned this lesson.  You can’t assume problems stays fixed.

Whatever the base cause, the fact remains that, at least for me, everything I like about this country is under attack by people who, for a variety of reasons, don’t like what progress has brought them.  In my opinion, they have bought the argument that it is not rich people taking everything not nailed down that is hurting them but all the people who have benefited from the totality of a civil rights movement that has not yet finished its work.

I still believe we can make a pretty good world.  But we have to collectively get over the idea that unrestrained acquisition is the only valid metric of success.

But you people who stayed home and left us with this mess? Read between the lines.

 

October 26, 2016

Endorsement

With only a couple weeks now till the election, I’ve decided to make it plain (if i I haven’t already) that I intend to vote for Hillary Clinton.

I have a number of reasons for doing so, some of which are not quantifiable, but if I may I’d like to state a few of them.

First off, she is opposed, disrespected, and outright hated by all the right people. Her list of detractors is a grocery list of those I would like to see ousted from their own positions in government. This includes people like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, Representative Issa, and just about every firebreathing Tea Party moron who has been miring the workings of my government in the muck of intransigence like a child refusing to eat their vegetables for far too long.  Given their records, if Hillary Clinton bothers them, then I’m voting for her.  This extends to the entire Republican establishment which made it their number one priority eight years ago to simply block and impede everything President Obama tried to do, for no good reason.  Try as I might I can find no justification for this other than petulance. If you aren’t willing to play the game you do not get to set the rules.

This has cost us as a nation.

Secondly, while I have been lukewarm about her for years, this past year I have come to respect her.  She’s tough, smart, and by virtue of the relentless vetting she has undergone at the hands of a congressional majority determined to ruin her has apparently been demonstrated to be not only less corrupt than one might wish to believe but also one of the more honest candidates we’ve had.  As to her criminality, the fact—the galling fact to many of those in my first category—is that if she were guilty of something we would know it by now and she would be under indictment.  They have tried.  They have spent multiple tens of millions, wasted months of public time, scoured, probed, intimidated, and otherwise made a nuisance of themselves in service of destroying—

Destroying what?

Apparently (and thirdly) a woman they fear. A woman.  I know there is another woman running for office, but in the course of this last year I have come to feel that Jill Stein is not capable of managing the office.  Her understanding, for one thing, of international finance and even basic economics seems lacking.  While she opposes many things I also oppose I do not see her as someone who could do a damn thing about any of it, not just because both parties would be disinclined to work with her but because she doesn’t show to me the requisite comprehension of the complexities of the problems.  She’s not being attacked much by the major parties because she is not a viable contender, but if she were then they would be going after her for the simple fact that, like Hillary, she is a woman. (Which means they would not bother discussing the issues, it would all be personal attack.)

(Years ago Phyllis Schlafly endorsed a woman for president—Michelle Bachman.  Demonstrating that she was less interested in the historic meaning of having a woman as president as she was in wrecking the legitimacy of the idea.)

Like Obama, I believe the bulk of the antipathy toward Hillary Clinton is in her failure to be a white male.

Yeah, I do think on a gut level, for many of her detractors, that’s about it. First a black man and now a woman. A woman!  Good gosh, what will the world think of us?  As far as I’m concerned, it’s about time.  She’s qualified.  Her lack of the appropriate genitalia should not be a factor.  But for some, it is. It will be.  If they’re in congress, they must go.  We need to get past this nonsense.

Fourthly, given her range of experience, I believe she will be best able to steer this ship that is our country through the reefs of the next several years quite ably.  Not, perhaps, spectacularly, but we don’t need that.  Spectacular has drawbacks. I’d like to bank on competence.  That’s what I’ve liked about Obama.  Say what you will, he has not wrecked us.  We’re coming out the end of his term better than when he began.  No, not for everyone, and for certain not without mistakes, gaffs, and bad calls along the way, but I believe we are in a better position to face the future now than we would have been under either of his opponents.  I have no desire to have that derailed by handing over the wheel to a berserker.

Which brings me to Five.  She is not Trump.  If ever there was a clear distinction between two candidates, this is it.  Aside from the meanness he has elicited in his base, he has a pitiful grasp of government, he has been a blatant hypocrite, a consistent liar, and a demagogue.  I don’t believe you can call him an ideologue because I can’t discern a cogent ideology, unless it’s narcissism.  But above and beyond all that, I do not believe he will Be There.  I believe he will get quickly bored and leave it all to his vice president.  We’ve seen a bit of what that can lead to (Cheney) and Pence is an ideologue, on par will all those in my first category, and I am weary of them.  But Trump will quickly tire of the innate difficulties of managing an office he doesn’t understand.  I believe this is why he has failed at so many of his well-touted business ventures.  He has no staying power.

Hillary Clinton does have staying power.

Finally (Six) at least publicly she supports many things I support.  Her statements on policy are consistent with many of my preferred positions.  I need not recount them here, I think. Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time should know.  Yes, there are some things that trouble me.  But I will still back her rather than risk destroying the country.

That has often been part of the hyperbolic campaign rhetoric of many campaigns, but this is the first time I’ve felt it had some legitimacy.  Trump’s assertion that he will virtually eliminate corporate taxes should surprise no one—he will directly benefit—but it will, under present circumstances, put us in such a hole that we might never climb out of it, effectively transforming the United States into the richest third world nation on the planet.  The poverty, the collapse of infrastructure, the ruin of any and all safety nets will tear us apart.

I know people don’t like taxes.  But for once we have to stop thinking of them as some kind of penalty.  Taxation, at its most basic, is the best and surest way to secure capital in the country.  That’s why we were able to build the strongest economy in history during a time when the top marginal tax rates were north of 80%.  Even the private sector did better because the money was  here, not free floating in some vague transnational pool of capital under no nation’s control.

Anyway, there’s my endorsement.

Since I’m in Missouri, I’m also throwing in my support for Jason Kander for senate and Chris Koster for governor.  Both of their opponents hold positions antithetical to my own.  It’s that simple.  I do not agree with either Roy Blunt or Eric Greitens.

Maybe now there will be no more political posts from me till after November 8th.  Maybe.  We’ll see.

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.

Stumpf and the Body On The Pavement

Watching Elizabeth Warren disassemble Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf is a gotcha moment, one wherein we assume the bad guy has been handed his still steaming intestines by the champion and justice will soon be served.  Much as I hate to admit this, I doubt it.

I doubt it because…look at him. He’s looking at her with an almost-blank expression, but there is enough there to tell.  To tell that he just doesn’t Get It.  He’s listening to her, he’s answering her questions with well-advised Policy Speak, doing his best to evade a direct answer until she pins him to the wall, and even then there seems to be a kind of “okay, sure, but so what?” attitude practically shining from him.

The problem which Warren, which the Justice Department, which the SEC, which we cannot address and which underlies all of this is that Not Getting It.

There is a hole in the psyché where some form of non-tribal empathy should be.  It’s not there. People like Stumpf follow guidelines and if the guidelines say what they do serves their tribe, it’s by definition ethical.  Whatever that is.

In his case, ethical is whatever benefits his selected tribe and keeps him from being ill-treated at their hands.

He’s looking at Warren as if she’s speaking some archaic form of English no one has spoken in a century or two.  He understands the words but the cultural content is foreign, alien.  Not there for him.  Why, he must be thinking, should I give a damn about a bunch of people who own no stock in Wells Fargo who got badly treated by the people I put in place to treat them badly?  And what’s that mean, anyway?  It’s not like it’s their money!  And besides (so he might tell himself, late at night, when everyone else is asleep) if everything works out they won’t know the difference and my tribe will be richer.  I will have Done Good.

But it didn’t work out, so, hell, now I have to sit here and listen to this tight-ass social justice warrior lecture me about something called ethics.

What is this nonsense about jail time?  How dare she compare what I do with a teller who might pilfer from the till!  Of course that person should go to jail, that’s theft!  I’m not a thief!

Why isn’t he a thief?

Because he’s following the guidelines.  And, just as an added bit of justification, if that teller steals twenties from the till, who else is that benefiting?  No one!  But what he has done has increased profits for the company and therefore put more money in the pockets of the shareholders.  What he has done has benefited people!  His people.  According to the guidelines they have given him.

What guidelines?

Make us more money.  We don’t care how.  How is your job, that’s why we hired you.  If we didn’t like the job you were doing, we would fire you.

He kept trying to talk about the Board, you note.  Warren wouldn’t let him.  If, in his view, what he had done was wrong, the Board would have fired him.  Therefore, he did nothing wrong.

So what’s this senator all up in a huff about?  Doesn’t she understand that the number one rule in this country is to make money?  And that when you make money for other people that’s the only justification you need?  It’s not like we’re robbing banks.  No, we’re putting money in the bank.  It’s the opposite of robbery.

Isn’t it?

I agree with Senator Warren, this will not stop until people at his level face serious jail time.  There are people outside his tribe that he took advantage of who cannot afford to lose ten dollars let alone the fiscal date rape they experienced.  He hurt people he not only doesn’t know but doesn’t regard as important.  Only their money, in aggregate, matters.

There are, no doubt, if by virtue of probability alone, CEOs who regularly say no to plans like this because it will do harm.  We almost never hear about them.  Scandal drives media ratings much more effectively than what we used to call “soft news” or, worse, “puff pieces.”  Feel good news is pleasant but doesn’t attract the same kind of attention.  We need to find these people, these moral CEOs, and have them teach classes on saying no for moral reasons.  It would maybe be worthwhile having them at such hearings to offer a counterexample on camera.

But the truth is, for Stumpf and others of his ilk, the problem goes much, much deeper.  This is for him the driving heuristic of his life.  Do for his tribe.  And his tribe is comprised of people just like him.  Moneyed, “educated,” connected.  They doubtless give to charities.  They do this as substitute for actually giving a damn about people they don’t know.

It is not a problem isolated to them.

Over this past weekend we had another police incident, this time in Tulsa.  A man is dead whose only “crime” was being where he was.  The dashcam videos, even the video from other sources, all confirms that this man was shot to death for no reason.

Oh.  Wait.  He was black.

Interestingly, of all the officers on the scene, all of them went for their tasers—except one, and she was the one who fired the fatal shot.

Why am I linking this to the CEO of Wells Fargo?  Because in my opinion, they share the same problem.  They don’t recognize anybody not part of their tribe.

Because what the officer later said about the situation is contradicted by the videos. And I believe she actually doesn’t know how what she did was wrong.

Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, explains how we “think” most of the time  by heuristics.  There is a folder in our brain containing files of behaviors based on experience, on received wisdom, on made-up shit that got us through something before.  It is easier to pull a file from that folder and paste it over a new situation than to think through something from first principles every time.

So what was the file the officer pulled out of that folder?  Maybe something like:  Large black male, threat, must put him down.

Yes, I’m guessing.  Just as I’m guessing about Mr., Stumpf’s thinking in regard to pillaging the personal funds through fraudulent deals of people he has already placed in a file labeled “Customers: cattle: no further regard required.”

It’s a problem of categorization on both ends.

News flash to both ends: we aren’t categories.  We’re people.  Start getting it.

An Open Letter To Eric Greitens

Dear Mr. Greitens,

This morning, at the gym, I got on the treadmill, switched on the tv monitor, plugged in my headphones, just in time to catch one your campaign ads.  It prompted me to write, to ask a couple of questions.  Clarification seems in order.

Several years ago you founded the Mission Continues as a community activist agency and I was very impressed. I thought, this guy has a lot going, and when rumors began to circulate that you might run for governor, I thought here’s a Republican I could vote for.  I know there are Republicans worth my vote, they just seem overwhelmed by those who aren’t. You, I thought at the time, were an exception.

Then I saw your ad.

Not the first one, the one you pulled, on the shooting range.  An ill-conceived mistake, taken away.  Not a message appropriate to the people served by Mission Continues.  No, not that one.  The one in which you are looking at the camera, dark background, and earnestly telling us your positions.

I was very disappointed.

You preface your claim to be “Pro-life, pro-gun” but declaring your belief that Obama is the  worst president ever.  Or at least in your lifetime.  Granted that you’re only 42, which means your first opportunity to vote for a president would have been Bill Clinton, so as an active participant you don’t have much to choose from—three presidents.  But as someone aspiring to office I would expect you to have a better grasp of history than such a statement shows.

Worst president ever?  By what metric?

I hear that from people who hate Obama.  I look at them and while I can understand the emotionalism I cannot understand on what basis they make that claim.  Granted, most of them are not running for office.  They have not seen much of the world.  They do not have the experiences you have.  Most of them do not have a degree from Oxford nor have had your first-class education from Parkway to UMSL.  History is a foreign language to most Americans, but I expect people who aspire to high office to know better.

I have yet to hear one thing that merits such an assessment about Obama.

Now, there are many things you might have said which would not have sparked my reaction.  Had you said you think he is a middling or even mediocre president, I might quibble, but fair enough.  It’s a complex office, context matters, and mileage varies.  I might disagree (I do) but I can respect an assessment like that.  It indicates a degree of thought went into it.  However, a blanket “worst ever” is nothing but political bombast irrespective of reality.

It is not what I expected from you.

So I repeat: by what metric?  Because based on the metrics Republicans usually use to claim success for their own, Obama is a raging success.

Therein lies the problem.  If I thought Republicans were critical of the situation that boasts an unemployment rate that disregards those chronically unemployed who simply have fallen off the roles, then I might listen.  If I thought Republicans were critical of trade deals that injured American job prospects even though the stock market shows the economy booming, I might listen.  We could go on, but you see my point.  The fact is, Republicans—at least those in office—are not critical of those things and if under the same circumstances one of them were in the White House with these numbers, they would be hailing that president as the second coming of Lincoln.  So it has nothing to do with what Obama has done.  By their own metrics, he should be lauded.

But he’s the wrong man for that, isn’t he?  For a number of reasons.

That kind of cheap denigration should be beneath you.

I repeat, by what metric?  Explain to me what he has done that has been so terrible that you would take the opportunity to craft an ad for your campaign that leads with that cheap shot?

And then I have to ask, compared to who?

Because if we’re going to dig into the box of history, we can come up with several far worse, including but not limited to Obama’s predecessor.

Memories are short.  Politicians rely on that.  People forget.

But let me move on.  Your next claim.  “Pro-life, Pro-gun.”  Do you have any idea how that sounds to reasonable people?  It is oxymoronic, a logical inconsistency.  You are pro-life in support of the personal means to take life.

I know that’s not what you meant, not exactly.  You’re playing to an audience.  People who don’t like abortion and think someone is about to take their guns away, which they need to protect themselves from people hundreds if not thousands of miles away.  Because in spite of what we see on television and on Facebook and hear from the pulpits of jingoistic opportunists, crime is on a downturn in this country.  Things have gotten better over the last few decades.  So feeding the myth that everyone needs their firearm because the crazed bad guys are coming through their doors any minute is just irresponsible nonsense.  This is the politics of fear and completely inconsistent with the Greitens of Mission Continues.

As for the pro-life part, that is pure emotionalism wrapped up in a bundle of distracting falsehood.  You want to cut back abortions, then you do something to provide women with the means to manage their own fertility.  Birth control, sex education, and empowerment.  We have the proof that these are things that work.  It is not guesswork, not wishful thinking.  Make birth control available, provide for comprehensive sex education at an early age, stop shaming people for their private lives, unwanted pregnancy goes down.

Defunding Planned Parenthood is the exact opposite of policies that work.

This is not opinion.  We have seen it work.  More, we have seen the abysmal, tragic failure of so-called Abstinence Only education.

Nothing in your c.v. to date would have suggested to me that taking a principled stand based on fact and reality would bother you.  Was I wrong?

As to the gun stuff.  Please.  Reasonable measures to keep weapons from easy access to people who clearly should not have them would not, in any sane world, constitute an infringement on anyone’s rights.

But a lot of people are having their rights infringed by the thoughtless support of public policies that see birth control as somehow worse than murder or suicide.

So what happened?  Did someone talk to you and explain that if you wanted to be governor you would have to toe the party line?  Did someone point out that if you took reasonable stands on these things, the party would not back you?  Did someone show you how all this requires money and those who have it don’t like politicians who think for themselves?  Was there such a conversation?

Because I am very disappointed.  The GOP has been pushing the same set of policies now since Reagan inaugurated the age of fear-based religious-driven right-wing powermongering and we have seen, repeatedly, how they do not work.  Every time the GOP gets its hands on enough power and authority, the average person suffers.  Wages go down because of the anti-union assaults.  Teen pregnancy goes up because money dries up for education and clinics.  Jobs vanish because deals are brokered with WalMarts and their ilk.  Tax revenues disappear and infrastructure decays.

Oh, sure, these things happen under Democrats, too.  But we just see them as bad at their jobs and eventually vote them out.  Republicans seem to have embraced this stuff as if it had been handed down on tablets from the mountain.

Even as strategy, this makes no sense.  You are appealing to a shrinking demographic.  A frightened, shrinking demographic that responds to the charge that our president is the worst ever based on nothing but confirmation bias.

It’s a cheap strategy.  I would have thought you above that kind of thing.

I guess not.

Yours truly,

 

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