Thursday, August 17, 2017

If There Was Ever Any Doubt....



My next newspaper column:
Last Saturday a call for greatness came from Charlottesville. Trump didn’t answer. 
The poisonous racism and 1930s anti-Semitism flaunted at that Nazi, KKK, white-whine rally confirmed the self-evident. Likewise Trump’s cowardly first reaction and the gloating words of Klansman David Duke, characterizing the rally as “fulfilling the promises of Donald Trump.” This is what “take our country back” has always meant, and who Trump really is. None can claim they didn’t know. 
In his initial remarks, Trump began, as usual, bragging about the beautiful things happening since his tainted victory, because he hasn’t yet bent downward the trajectory of the Obama recovery. Of the vile hatred, the Heil Hitlers and heil trumps, the Nazi slogans and brandished weapons, Trump’s first thoughts were about Trump.

Then came vapid greeting card words about joining together, followed by refusal to name the marchers, who carried torches he might as well have lit himself. The self-pitying white men, filled with hate for everyone else, simulating manliness by packing armaments: about them, Trump was, in effect, silent.

Two days later, he spoke again. At critical junctures, some presidents’ words soar. His were leaden. Recognizing the need for eloquence and moral clarity, any president worthy of the office would have spoken very differently about Charlottesville. In an archive of orators rising to an occasion, Trump’s page would be blank.

“Very fine people on both sides,” he declared a day after that. No, Donald, only one side. White supremacists and Nazis aren’t fine. These are people who speak of killing Jews and Blacks, who consider them “filth” and “vermin,” Donald. But it’s always been clear your amoral sentiments lie with them. Everyone who voted for you bears responsibility; none can feign surprise. The Gold House has become base camp for the Nazis with whom you have surrounded yourself, and Mecca for the ones who love you for it.

Some Republicans (they knew who he was and voted for him anyway) implored Trump to speak against the horribles basketed in Virginia. It’s almost courageous in today’s Republican Party to condemn racism, and it had an effect. The man whose campaign explicitly encouraged violence and unmistakably dog-whistled racism read some words. Nearly in monotone, unconvincingly. And has been taking them back ever since.  
After the car ran down those anti-hate marchers, comments on right-wing websites ran from claims of “false flag” and “self-defense” to disappointment that he hadn’t taken out more protesters. And people defend them. People who email me do. Trump does. People claiming racism is dead, who contend it’s whites who are persecuted. 
Trump may not have accomplished much for average citizens (his factually deficient claims notwithstanding), but he’s been hugely successful in finding the bottom of the barrel and dragging us all there. To Donald Trump, journalists and educators are America’s enemies, not the white supremacists and Nazis who put him in office. 
If any remain, true conservatives, Christian and otherwise, ought to be carrying torches, too; but up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, forswearing further complicity, apologizing, demanding their party cleanse itself of this stain and disavow his clientele. Liberals who didn’t vote (except the several-hundred-thousand prevented from it by red-state legislation) should admit responsibility, too. 
More than any from abroad, home-grown Trump-loving terrorists directly threaten our way of life. Watch interviews from Virginia, and hear them say it, proudly. Fine people, indeed. Excused by the president of the United States. From Trump we can expect only lip-service to American ideals, of which he’s functionally ignorant. He shows no desire to elevate himself, nor the intellect, energy, or even the common sense required by his job, preferring twice-a-day folders of flattery over the demands of leadership. Donald Trump, the putative moral voice of the United States, her image in the eyes of the world, passes time watching Fox “news,” golfing, tweeting, and basking in words of praise unctuously, pathetically, delivered by caterers to his needy narcissism.

Racists and anti-Semites are Trump’s truest base. Under pressure, he rebuked them. For a day. Then he equated hate and anti-hate; implied, in fact, the latter were more violent, worse. Everything that happened in and after Charlottesville was predictable. It’s who he’s always been, and those marchers have always been his people. They’re Trump’s America, the America, as David Duke said, he promised.  
By now, if you deny it, you’re blind. Or them.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Worst Among Us


My upcoming newspaper column:
Proctor and Gamble just produced a video that’s become a minor sensation. Showing black parents talking seriously (and heartbreakingly) to their kids about racism they’ve encountered, or will, it’s affecting and realSurprising as sunrise, right-wingers online and elsewhere are outraged: it’s racist, they scream. Horrifying. Playing the race card. Boycott, boycott, boycott. To them, even to discuss racism is racist. Because there’s no longer any, if there ever was. Rug, sweep under.  
The video is racist the same way ones touting heart-healthy diets are coronary-arterist. 
When President Obama had the uppityness to talk about race and racism, sometimes very personally, they called him divisive. Most divisive president ever. “Deep seated hatred of white people,” opined an infamous right-wing screamer, locally rooted. No person of color may speak of such things, and, evidently, no Trump supporter will, other than to deny it.  
In another unhinged tweetstorm (so much for General Kelly), Trump assured us his base is “bigger and stronger” than ever. (It isn’t, of course.) Look at those rallies I hold for myself, he crows. Actual people show up. Cheering, chanting “Lock her up,” just like when my favorability was above 33%. A few thousand people showering me with love is all the proof I need. 
We can learn from this. First, consistent with his and his supporters’ unflagging avoidance of evidence, his need to believe he’s super-popular Trumps reality. Which explains why he holds those unprecedented self-congratulatory and compliment-fishing expeditions. Second, his voting “base” is the sole target for his dishonest rhetoric, which, third, reveals the superficiality of his regard for them. This president doesn’t even pretend to care about other Americans. He knows his zealots and what they want from him, which, to keep them from noticing his true base, he provides. But it’s the very wealthy to whose continued accrual of fortune his economic ideas are aimed, even as they’ll harm his enthralled ralliers. 
Thus, his abrupt, counterproductive announcement, widely unpopular except with his base, that transgender people shall no longer serve in our military (he lied that he’d talked it over with “his” generals). 
Thus his abrupt, counterproductive, and widely unpopular plan except with his base, to cut legal immigration by fifty percent (he lied that it’s about raising wages for Americans, which it won’t. (For the record, merit-based immigration is worth discussing, and not just because an immigrant Trump wouldn’t meet his own criteria; nor would have a majority of his wives or his mother.) 
It’s been a week since the bombing of a mosque in Minnesota. If Trump has had anything to say about it, I missed it. Since his election, incidents of violence against African-Americans, Muslims, LGBT, Jews, Sikhs, have increased significantly. I don’t claim Trumpism has created more racists and omni-haters than there were before his election; only that by his words and non-words, actions and non-actions, he’s made them feel empowered to act on their worst impulses. Patriotically. To the extent that he’s spoken out, it’s been a half-hearted “Stop it.” Like a napping parent to a mildly annoying child.  
Spend a minute or two online, see video of Trumpists vilely berating immigrants in public. Comments on those right-wing websites are, literally, sickening. Yes, on some liberal websites comments are disgusting, too. But they’re not aimed at minorities or defenseless people, nor do they repeat the equivalent of Foxolimjonesian lies, or have the equivalent of presidential approval the reddest ones do. Clear as climate change, both sides are not equal. Countenancing this kind of hatred comes from the top of only one. 
Now, having confirmed his duping of the basest, Trump moves on to threaten nuclear war, surprising our military and State Department, showing the world’s second most irresponsible leader who’s the more unbalanced. Mine’s bigger than yours, he says, claiming, eight months in, without allocating a dime or building missile one, he’s made our nuclear arsenal more powerful than ever. Trumpists who believe that are more delusional than he is.  
Excusing Trump the person, as he appeals to America’s worst instincts, careening between impulse and error, lying to himself and us, wagging war as his approval sinks: at this point, remaining defenders are demonstrating how empty their claims of “values” were, all along.

[Image source

Friday, August 4, 2017

When One Party Loses Its Mind


My forthcoming newspaper column:
Think we’re overtaxed? Overregulated? We can talk. If it’s your opinion public education has problems and you have ideas, it’s conversable. If you believe our country is heading in the wrong direction, let’s debate. Which direction, especially. We could have a conversation about military vs. social spending, and where the balance is; to what extent each protects us. I’ve even had almost room-temperature excursus about why, in successful societies, people care for one another. 
However. 
If you believe the planet isn’t warming, or humans have nothing to do with it, or it’s not serious, there’s no point in wasting either of our time. If you deny evolution or feel sure the earth is six thousand years old, or flat, I’ll defend your right to such beliefs, but they announce the impossibility of fruitful back-and-forth. Likewise if you think homosexuality is a choice. I suppose we could discuss whether tax cuts pay for themselves, but we wouldn’t get far.  
The need to reject indisputable facts is something that puzzles me about humans. In our evolutionary history, gut feelings no doubt played an important role in survival. React first, analyze later: it got us a long way. So, several hundred thousand years ago, did prehensile tails, the vestiges of which we all retain, occasionally causing coccygodinia. 
According to polls, forty percent of Republicans are certain Russian election interference is fake news created by liberals to distract Trump from his job. This they believe despite knowing every relevant intelligence agency has concluded otherwise and, shown the evidence, so has every member of involved congressional committees, Democrat and Republican. Of Republican voters who acknowledge it occurred, most seem undisturbed. (In a recent challenge, American hackers broke into voting machines in minutes.)  
In political fora, many Republicans insist our economy didn’t tank until Obama took over, and continued to decline throughout his presidency. Presenting them with indisputable facts makes no difference. The best hope is that such people are trolling. Otherwise it’s a serious mental defect of information processing, the same kind that rejects unwelcome news as fake. In theory, voting presumes the ability to evaluate data; this broad-based dismissal of evidence by a major political party is ominous. 
I don’t think forty percent of Republicans are innately stupid or unable to learn new things. In fairness, they’ve been victimized by intentional disinformation for decades, so it’s not entirely their fault. Whatever the explanation, because it requires both sides accept basic facts, rational discourse has become all but impossible. If political beliefs are a mutable hodge-podge, especially in a messy democracy like ours, facts are not. For propaganda to take root, there must be fertile soil. In that, Democrats are a raised-bed backyard garden. Today’s Republicans are a corporate farm. Our democracy was designed by men who didn’t imagine such a divide was possible. 
Aided by clever gerrymandering, Republicans dominate state and federal legislatures. In many red states, not unlike the US Senate (and the current president, thanks to the quirky Electoral College), Republicans received fewer votes than Democrats. And those elected tend to be the most rigid denialists. If it were true, as third-party nihilists argue, that there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans, it wouldn’t matter. 
But when one’s adherents are consistently disdainful of facts, and when its leaders count on that instead of winning on ideas, a pathologically lying president who considers the White House “a dump” and lies about Boy Scout phone calls is what happens. The White House revolving door happens. An EPA following the law only by court order, its scientists resigning, happens. Incoherent foreign and domestic policy by tweet, Pizzagate, Seth Rich fake Fox “news” allegedly pushed by the president all happen; a president who’s made it impossible to believe anything he says. Happens. The Republican Prevaricare farce happens (Lindsey Graham called it a disaster and a fraud. And voted for it.)  
Ironically, the same information-processing deficiency that allowed Trump’s voters to disregard his lifelong moral and ethical failings, his businesses based on inherited (and laundered?) money and swindling, caused them not to reckon how incapable of governing he’d be. His ineptitude is the only thing saving us, so far, from dictatorship. Or worse. The arch-conservative NRO gets it. Republican Senator Jeff Flake, too. Who’s got next? 
[Image source]

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