distal muse

observations, opinions, ephemera, and views


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.

April 06, 2017

Your Money

Richard Cordray, head of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, was interrogated on Capitol Hill by Republicans who want to shut his agency down. The agency was set up under Obama. Originally, it was to be run by Elizabeth Warren, but she received such violent resistance that she stepped aside, making way for Cordray, and then ran for the Senate, where she has been a burr under the GOP saddle ever. They might have been better off, by their own thinking, to leave her alone, but thinking long term doesn’t seem to be their chief strength.

You might ask why the CFPB is the target of so much bile. If you really don’t know, then you’ve never been strapped for money, in need of a loan, and then taken advantage of by a lender with all the morals of a Glyptapanteles. The CFPB stands in the way of banks picking pockets.

No, really, it’s that simple.

Back in the 1980s, we were thinking about buying a house. We went to our then bank to get pre-approved. Good to know what you can bring to the table when it comes time to actually buy. We sat with a lending officer who crunched our numbers and announced how much we qualified for. Both of us swallowed audibly. It was an absurd figure. I did some quick math and laughed.

“You’re joking,” I said.

“No,” he said. “This is was you qualify for.”

“But we can’t afford that.”

“Sure you can.”

“Not and continue to eat.” I then laid out our budgeting constraints for utilities, food, insurance premiums, and so forth. At the end of the month, we were shy the amount he had just given us and not by a small amount.

“That’s not our concern,” he said. “According to us, you can pay this much. How you manage the rest is up to you.”

We were appalled. I stopped short of telling him that was unethical to say the least, because I realized that according to him he was being ethical. He didn’t lie about anything—not technically, at least.  But the tables and formulae he used to arrive at his figures were industry standard. He was following the rules. It was entirely up to us to take him up on it.

But when you consider how innumerate people are and how little many of them understand about finance, added to the unadorned desire to own a home, you can see how being told by someone in authority—a banker—that you can afford the house of your dreams will roll right over any prudent misgivings you might have but cannot quantify.  This is what led to the 2008 meltdown—bad loans, made with the full awareness that many of the people taking them could not sustain them. Add to innumeracy the widespread illiteracy among the most vulnerable demographic groups—illiterate not in the sense that they cannot read a sentence, but in that they do not know how to comprehend complex writing—and you have a recipe for abuse.

Which is what happened.

The CFPB was established as a bulwark against such abuse. A barrier between banks that frankly don’t give a shit about people as other than ledger entries and people who are ill-equipped to defend themselves.  And really should not have to. We’re supposed to be a country of laws, but in the last few decades it seems that any law keeping a banker from your money is bypassed, repealed, set aside, ignored, or smashed into useless pulp by people who for no reason they seem willing or able to explain claim to be doing this “for the people.”

(To be fair, there were many people in lending at low to mid-level who knew this was going to be bad, some even tried to avert some of it, tried to act responsibly, and were told by higher ups to just make the loans. Many quit their jobs, unwilling to screw their customers, others were fired for being moral actors, a lot just shrugged and went ahead, because after all they had their own situations in need of tending.)

Now, if you, Representative Consumer, have a major case of the Wants and go to a bank to get a loan to satisfy it, and the bank says no, according to these guys over here (the CFPB or some similar agency) we can’t make those kinds of loans to people “like you” and you get annoyed because you still have your case of Wants, you might want to consider that you just can’t afford it. And if you do get that loan, eventually you may default and that will hurt other people.  If enough of you say be damned to “afford” and force the lending institutions to hand over the loans whether you can afford them or not, and most of you default, well, a lot of bad shit happens. (In reality, though, no one had to force the banks to do anything, because the real money was being made on bundling—part of the whole credit default swaps thing that even insiders had a hard time understanding—and it never mattered if anyone could “afford” their mortgage, it only mattered that they had one that could be bundled and sold with thousands of others.  Small banks got hurt, homeowners got hurt, but the major financial institutions made out, as they say, like bandits.)

So when critics of regulation claim that the 2008 crisis was really the fault of the people receiving those loans, they have a point.  Not much of one, but enough that it can’t be ignored.  But that point is like pretending one tree is a forest.  (Even so, if that one tree catches fire…)

When people who should know better—and do, actually—oppose regulations to keep you from being abused by a system that has no regard for your dreams or your situation, you should be very angry with those people.  You shouldn’t be voting them back into office.  They are not on your side.  They see you as sheep and they want to make it easier for you to get sheared.

Because those loans were not made in good faith. Those loans were bait. Those loans were made to be swallowed so all the rest of your money could be reeled in. Once you made one of those loans, your money ceased to be your money—for a long time.

We might debate that things are not that simple, but let’s be honest—they are that simple. A banker tells someone they can afford a loan that will consume up to 70% of their monthly income—or more—and if you don’t have the savvy to know you’re being suckered, while it may technically be your responsibility when you go ahead and take those terms, we all know an agreement based on a lie is in no one’s best interest.  Lie?  It depends on how you interpret “afford.”  If one side of the discussion is depending on the vagaries of language to get in the other side’s pocket, the result is dishonest.

Why are so many people so willing to be had?

 

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.

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 15, 2016

New Look

Maybe I should have waited till January, but then again maybe I’ll change the theme again then. But I was starting to get bored with the old one and decided that–because I’m older now, but why that should matter I don’t know–it was time for a new look.  This one has sliding images on the header.  I grabbed a couple at random but I’ll likely change those at some point.

This has been a fascinating year. My boss asked me–because I’m older–if I’d ever witnessed an election cycle this bizarre.

No.

Contentious, yes. Clownish, surreal, weird–no. It’s been suggested that you’d have to go back to Lincoln’s election to find one even close to this in unpredictably oddball strangeness, and that’s a good contender, what with the near-demise of the Democratic Party as it split into three smaller parties, the Know Nothings, variations of fence-sitters, nativist groups, and the odd prediction of the apocalypse. Note that the Democratic Party of that time would have been the functional equivalent–even the philosophical equivalent–of the current Republican Party.

1968 was the first presidential year in which I had any kind of political awareness, and that was a bad one.  We had Wallace running a third party ticket based on the assertion that there was no real difference between the Democratic and Republican Parties (it would end up being a race between Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon, after an assassination and a steamroll over McGovern), but he himself was a nativist bigot who would most closely resemble the governor of Maine these days.

Nixon won on the promise of ending the Vietnam War (he didn’t, at least not fast enough for most of the country) and to “bring us together again”–which he also didn’t because he turned out to be a paranoid misanthrope.  I wonder how many people who had voted for him wished they’d gone with Humphrey, even though he had some baggage as well.  In 1972, Nixon was challenged by Edmund Muskie, who was a decent man who might have turned the country around, but the RNC ran a smear campaign highlighting his wife’s problems with depression.  As I say, Muskie was a decent man and withdrew rather than put his family through what he correctly perceived as a new level of nastiness.  You can probably trace it from there how our campaigns have become obsessed with the personal and have lost all sense of decency and decorum.  Carter may well have been our last decent president from the old school of national politics.

It is possible, though I do not expect it, that we may be able to alter the way we conduct politics.  It has reached a new low this time with a candidate who embodies all the worst aspects of the vulgar side of the American character.  People support him because they are getting off on being able to be rude, sexist, racist, and basically what they mistakenly see as open and honest.  Trump has elevated the idea that trash sitcoms are the highest form of national philosophy.  He’s a one-man roadshow based on Three and a Half Men and Sh*t My Dad Says.

And we have come to see what happens when people decide they have “won” the field and go home.  I’ll leave everyone to sort out who I’m talking about.  I’ll add that clearly the mean-spirited, compulsively frightened element of the Far Right were the ones who did NOT go home and today we see the results of their taking the field.  The Koch Brothers, the Tea Party, Alex Jones, Breitbart, Limbaugh…

I’ve unfriended a few people on Facebook over this.  First time since I’ve been on it I have preemptively done so, because I just get so weary of the mindless toxicity that shows up on my feed from them.  One in particular galled me by completely failing to make a distinction between fiction and personal opinion.  Maybe all of them, but one in particular decided that since J. K. Rowling had written about ugly things she had no standing to condemn the ugliness in real life.

I suppose one of the things that has bothered me more than maybe it should is the upsurge of people who don’t seem to understand the meaning of personal choice when it comes to sex.  I didn’t expect Rush Limbaugh to understand it and it didn’t surprise me when he came out condemning Consent.  But so many other people who ought to know better…

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.  I’ve known people who seemed to think that if a woman decided to have a sex life on her own terms it meant she should be willing to fuck anyone who comes along, indiscriminately.  I thought there were fewer of them and I’ve been dismayed at how many women seem to think that way.  But it makes one thing abundantly clear, that no matter what else you might think about Hillary’s relationship with Bill, there was no way she could have divorced him and have the remotest chance of becoming president.  Because people are that petty.

Now, it may well be a divorced man might have just as much trouble, but I doubt it.

Anyway, we have a bit over three weeks till the election.  I’ll make one prediction: the fallout from all this weirdness is going to cling to our political landscape for months if not years.

And since Dylan has been awarded the Nobel Prize, it seems appropriate to end this post with…

The changes they are a-coimin’.

October 08, 2016

What Grabs You

So The Donald was caught on tape saying something egregious about what he wants to do with women.  This has caused much ire among those in his party of choice.  Not most of the other egregious things he has said, alleged, alluded to, implied, or otherwise allowed to exit from his mouth.  We have witnessed basically a year-long example of escalating reaction not to the content of his pronouncements but to the manner of their expression.

Paul Ryan has weighed in with an egregious bit of condescension of his own which adds to the evidence that he is a “classic” conservative who seems not to Get It.

As bookends showcasing the problem they could not be more apt.

The basic privilege the self-appointed “ruling class” has always tried to keep to itself is just this—that they are allowed, by virtue of their own money and power, to treat those not in the club any way they choose.  The whole idea of equality and respect is anathema to one of the main reasons they act and think as they do.  Trump is spilling the secrets of the inner sanctum by speaking the way he does.  He is being supported by people who have long chafed under the requirements to matriculate from the high school locker room.

So why is what Ryan said just more of the same?

Mr. Ryan said:  “Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified.”

Now, on its face you might see nothing wrong with that statement.  But remember, this is coming from a man who has consistently opposed women’s right to self-determination where it conflicted with his conception of morality.  (To be clear, he never actually said “rape is just another vector of conception.”  But he made it clear that he has a moral and ethical framework which would demote women’s ability to determine life choices to secondary status in the case of unwanted pregnancy)

This suggests that he sees women as having a role to fill.  A role which under certain circumstances supersedes their position as individuals.

Women are to be championed and revered…

Why?  Because they can’t champion themselves? And how do you revere something without putting it in a special category? Reverence is akin to a religious appreciation.  We can revere life but it becomes trickier to revere an individual without bringing to bear expectations that merit such reverence.  The first—life—is a concept not a person.  It’s easy to revere ideas, beliefs, works of art.  These are not people, they are categories of object.  People are revered only when they are removed from the daily grime of actual living. Saints are never made so until they are dead and for good reason.  A person cannot—nor should—fulfill the expectations of such status.  And it is not a status one seeks but one that is imposed.

Women are not objects of reverence.  He contradicts himself in the next phrase, “not objectified.”

This is the problem at the center of this whole issue, which is difficult to parse for some folks.

And the reason that what Ryan is saying is not much better than what Trump says.  Only different.

Trump is saying out loud what has been implicit in a certain mindset among self-styled “conservatives” for a long time.  They want their privilege.  They want things made available to them and denied to the general public, because these things constitute the trappings of power.

Not all of them pushing this program.  Some, I suspect, are just neurotic and insecure.  Trump is neither.  Ryan is just shallow.  But the arrogance of a Trump has found a home in the shallow waters of what has become conservative philosophy.

Other Republicans, in response to Trump’s comments, have opted for the word respect, but given the repeated, consistent assault on women’s health care options, the concerted opposition to equal rights legislation, the open misogyny toward female politicians, and the general inability to understand the driving essence of the women’s movement for, well, forever, these pronouncements carry little weight outside the fact that they fear for their privilege because a loudmouth is talking out of school.  They want to impose a style of respect on women that will push the real issues back into the box wherein they’ve been residing all along.  These same people have had many gracious and pleasant and approving things to say about the late Phyllis Schlafly and given her quite unvarnished statements about what she thinks women (of a certain class, of course) ought to do rather than try to live lives of personal fulfillment, I take their repudiation of Trump for what it is—an attempt to put the lid back on that box.  From time to time many of them have said things about women that demonstrate a vast disconnect—lack of understanding and lack of empathy and a total disregard for women as people.

They like women to be objects of reverence.  Why can’t they just climb back up on that pedestal where they “belong” and smile?

I don’t want to beat up too much on them, because I also believe that they believe they’re speaking from conscience.  I just wish they had taken the trouble to examine that conscience a few decades ago, before they laid the groundwork for someone like Trump, who has yet to say one thing that has not been part of the conservative playbook since Goldwater displaced liberal Republicans and started us on this road in 1964.  They only say these things in well-turned, polite, and convoluted ways so the average person won’t understand that they basically want to turn this country into a “gentlemen’s club” where they can get what they want without having to respect those who are expected to provide them their services.

 

June 25, 2016

Embracing Stupid

I’m hearing from some folks about Brexit and by and large what I’m hearing says this is a calamity.  The idiots “broke the U.K.”

There were plenty of people explaining what would likely happen if they did this, but hey, what do experts know?

Well, quite a lot, actually, but that fact alone makes them unpalatable to the voters who actually cast a Leave vote.  We see precisely that kind of—what would we call it?—“learning fatigue” here.  Who do you think supports Trump?  People who know little or all the most useless things when it comes to politics and economics and quite adamantly do not want to know, because knowing would contradict the fantasy world in which they stand forth at weekend keggers loudly proclaiming positions that might hold some value in a Game of Thrones episode, but since the folks they’re holding forth to know just as little or less, no one challenges them and they feel justified in clinging to their ignorance.

This is the same crowd whose collective eyes glaze over when you start talking about the mechanisms of trade deals, the dynamics of boom-and-bust cycles, or the pathology of bigotry.  People who can’t seem to think outside of very broad categories (i.e. Radical Islamists are Muslims therefore all Muslims want to kill us) and feel empowered whenever someone gets up on a podium and tells them they’re right to be terrified of boogeymen.

So a lot of people, and by the demographics a majority of older British voters, decided that leaving the EU is the same as getting rid of the immigration problem (and somehow they’ll be safer, even though they ought to know better because of past history, namely the IRA, but they at least were white) and that all their money, which will now disappear at an even greater rate because of the catch-up homegrown institutions will have to do to replace EU systems (either that or just let people die, which may happen anyway), will magically reappear in their private bank accounts, and anyway they didn’t understand a lot about what was going in Greece much less down in the Levant and they’d rather not know, as if removing themselves from a source of information somehow eliminates the problem.

Look, knowing things is hard.  Not only is it a bit of work to find out in the first place, but it can be difficult to know what to do with what you’ve learned, and often enough knowledge has the consequence of making you feel responsible.

And that, I think, is where much of the problem is.  People are past exhausted being told to give a damn.  And the less they know, the easier it is to be confident in dismissing problems that don’t seem to have anything to do with them.

But of course, problems always have something to do with you.  Maybe not directly or even tomorrow, but somewhat and eventually, and left ignored will grow.

Isolation is a guarantee of eventual extinction.

I’ll let that sit out there for a while.  More later.  But think about it.

Isolation is a guarantee of eventual extinction.

Come Again?

The evangelical embrace of Donald Trump is, to my mind, one of the most bizarre aspects of this election cycle.  The pretzel logic by which these endorsements come defies Oedipus.   If there had been any doubt before that the Christian Right (which is in substance neither) is dedicated to any program that will see the established order overturned to make room for their brand of idiocracy, this would be it.

Because the only way this makes sense is to see Trump as the prophesied  Anti-christ who will bring about the Apocalypse and prepare the way for His return.  Back when Bush was in the oval office, it came out that a umber of “advisors” were pushing his Middle East campaigns because it comported with their view of biblical fate.  Whether Bush himself bought into this is a matter of conjecture, but some of the people whispering in his ear did.

So whatever the evangelical right claims to believe about Trump, on its face  they can only hope to gain one thing—the demise of the secular state, either through mismanagement, revolution, or the intervention of heavenly hosts.  Trump, if his rhetoric is to be believed, will bring a wrecking ball to the office of president and, lo, chaos shall follow.

Jerry Falwell must be grinning in his grave.

I listened this morning to such a booster on NPR describe in glowing terms how he “knows” Trump and sees a man ready for repentance.  Wouldn’t that be a feather in their cap, to convert a man like this?  And his serious ineptitude is a bonus.  This is a flawed, fallen soul who will fail and in failing come to the lord and all these sycophants will be waiting with prayers and possibly militias behind them to move into the gap left behind by broken institutions.  Trump, they must imagine, will preside over the end of the secular United States, thus bringing on the Last Days and the salvation of the world!

Because such people say “Jesus” every third or fourth sentence, people are loathe to see them for the empty suits they are.  Well, some people.  I suspect most people find them…odious.  But it’s hard sometimes to condemn the mouthpiece without being seen to condemn the apparent message.

On the other hand, if, as might be possible, Trump has been playing the part of the Big Guy in the ultimate reality show, and is doing all this in order to bring the vermin out of the woodwork and completely disrupt the Fundie poison that has been sickening our republic since Reagan brought the Moral Majority into mainstream politics, then these fatuous rubes are playing into his hands with the wide-eyed fecklessness of a kid at Christmas, participating in what could be their ultimate loss of any political credibility.  Trump is making them all look like the fools they seem unable to understand.

Moderate Republicans, if any actually remain in the Party, have been scratching themselves, trying to get the funk off, seeing what is nothing less than the distillation of everything the GOP has been moving toward, supporting, and embracing since 1979 rise up out the swamp and shamble toward the convention.  Because of the Tea Party, because of the Christian Right, because of the supposed constitution fundamentalists—because, really, all these elements have been bought and paid for by the moneyed interests who would love to see the federal government either completely emasculated or safely conjoined to Wall Street—and the unholy growth of the thing Eisenhower warned us about back in 1960, the GOP is a caricature of what it once was.  It has become a haven for the intolerant, the small-minded, the regressive, the xenophobic.  Perversely, I think, not because they actually hate but because protecting the rights of the marginalized, the other, the outgroup requires a strong government dedicated to civil rights.  And they have set themselves in opposition to a strong government purely because it is strong.

And the Religious Right has cheered them on because they see, whether admitted or not, a strong government as a barrier to their preferred template for the country.  If the government says you may not discriminate against anyone based on their religion—or lack thereof—then they have no real power to aggressively convert.  When you let people make up their own minds, many, maybe most, will do things you just don’t like.

It’s been a close-run thing for them all this time.  They had to couch their intentions in rhetoric that played well to an audience not wholly sympathetic.  They couldn’t just come right out and say what they wanted.

Till now.  They think they have their shot.  Trump’s their guy.  So the gloves are coming off.

I think they’re in for a serious shock.

Phobic Identity

Here’s a the thing.  If you need someone to be in some way “less” than you in order for you to feel good—or even adequate—about yourself, you have a problem.  It’s not their problem, it’s yours.

This “pastor” who spewed all over Twitter that we shouldn’t feel bad about the Orlando killings because they were “perverts” is a prime example.  If he’s really a pastor, a religious leader, there is no reason for him to say any of that unless he’s just trying to assert superiority.  Which is entirely not the point of Christianity, as I understand it.  The point is to embrace the commonalities among people, not sort them out into boxes labeled “Preferred Types” and “Types To Be Condemned.”  No, he’s just indulging in bolstering a shaky self-image by dumping his own head full of crap on a group he finds personally—

What?  Offensive? Incomprehensible? Or simply indifferent to his beliefs.

But, then, how would he know?

People who try to make themselves feel better by denigrating others have always been among us but they have never been so able to broadcast their inadequacies so loudly and regularly and they have found each other and formed support groups. I can’t imagine a gloomier or, frankly, duller forum.

I have found that prejudice rarely survives real knowledge.  Actually knowing someone makes it very difficult to shove them into a category and hate “just because” they are a particular “type.”  Oh, it’s possible.  I have heard all manner of tortured rationalization to continue hating a group while embracing individuals from that group as friends.  But that requires, I think, a profound myopia. (And I have to wonder how much of a “friend” they can be.)  Generally, once you know someone, I believe it becomes harder and harder to categorically judge and hate them and those like them.

Which is why much of this hatred is based on ignorance.

But a particular kind of ignorance, one based on identity.

After 9/11 we saw people who suggested we learn more about Islam condemned as some species of traitor.  How dare you suggest we learn something about this group that just hurt us so badly!  How dare you suggest that we can’t programmatically cast all of them into the same box and deal with our pain by blaming them all and hating them!  How dare you suggest that more knowledge will benefit us!

It was a spasm of national smallness.  “I know who the enemy is, don’t tell me more about him or I might stop hating him.”

Reality is always more complicated.

People who feel squeezed by circumstance, unable often by virtue of their own ignorance to make the decisions necessary to get themselves out of their own cesspools of anger and frustration, seem to contract into themselves and put up a wall to keep out any ideas or facts that might tell them they are in error.  They end up hating, many of them, and you see it all over, with signs that are not only wrong-headed but in too many cases suggestive of poor education, illiteracy, and parochialisms that reinforce a siege mentality that grows daily more dense and difficult to penetrate.

No, sir or madam, “they” are not the problem.  There are conditions and circumstances that make for a toxic situation and someone has told you that “they” are the cause, the consequence, and the catalyst, all rolled into one, and if we can just be rid of “them” then you will stop being afraid.  Whoever told you that lied to you, probably because in so doing they have made themselves feel (falsely) more in control of their situation or they have a power agenda that depends on you buying into the lie.  It certainly depends on you never asking deeper questions.  Easier to just target and hate.  There, the shots have been fired, the bodies are on the floor, “they” have been dealt a blow.

Then why don’t you feel any safer?  Why can’t you get past the hate?

Why must we now shift aim to yet another group you know nothing about except that they don’t look or sound or act like you?

Too many people in this country harbor and nurture identity hatreds—we know who we are because we hate those people over there, who are different.

While you’re feeding on that, someone has been stealing your soul to use for purposes you’re too busy hating gays or Muslims or socialists or single parents or blacks or Latinos or Asians or Liberals or Democrats or anyone who knows something you don’t know or has an education or a vocabulary or anyone who reads or supports birth control or feminists or accepts evolution or advocates tolerance or the group of the day to notice.

On some level, along the way, inside, you are one or more of these very things. Hate them, you hate yourself.  And if by so doing you define who you are, then you have created for yourself a prison, with bars on the inside, through which to look and resent a world of which you have little understanding.  Because you refuse to.

And that pastor?  He’s one of the wardens.

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