Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Q: Why Does Moloch Keep Eating Children?

May 12th, 2019

A:  Because that’s what he does.

It is perversely reassuring that even very intelligent and perceptive people are so baffled by Donald Trump’s mentality.  It means that he is an extreme outlier, so far outside the normal ken that he might as well be another species.  I was listening this morning to David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, and Bill McKibben, climate change activist, pronounce themselves stumped by the question whether Donald Trump believes in his climate change denialism.  By contrast, I do not find this puzzling at all. I think I possess a key to understanding Trump that these intellectual lions are searching for in vain.  What that says about me, is something I don’t want to think about too much, right now.

The key is to take really seriously the obvious fact that Trump does not believe anything, at least, not in the same sense that you and I believe things.  For him, facts and truth are entirely fungible.  The only point of reference in his universe is Donald Trump.  Sure, he has certain fixations, like the utter undesirability of any non-Nordic immigrant to the United States and the idea that the trade imbalance with China can be rectified to the United States’ advantage by making U.S. consumers pay more for Chinese goods; but a fixation, an orientation towards the world determined by involuntary psychological factors, is not a “belief” in the same sense that you and I mean by the word, that is, an interpretation of reality based on accepted authority and evidence.

I often say that Trump lies constantly about everything, but I am not being entirely accurate.  In order to lie, one must have some notion of truth, which he does not.  It would be a more precise description to say that no word comes out of his mouth that is neither false nor misleading, because no word of his bears any relation to a referent other than what he conceives to be the advantage to Donald Trump of pronouncing those sounds in that moment.  This is the one thing you never will hear him say.  Otherwise, he will say anything, including things that are directly contrary not only to easily verifiable facts but that directly contradict things he may have said only minutes before.

Another way of seeing it is that words, for Trump, are meaningless except as social currency. They buy attention.  They manipulate behavior.  These reasons alone are why he bothers with grammar and syntax. He displays no sense whatever of the aesthetics of speech, no indication that he uses it to achieve empathy or understanding.  His few attempts at expressing empathy, as when belatedly after a school shooting he will utter his “warmest condolences,” are the clumsy, studied actions of an alien imitating how has observed humans to behave in those circumstances. Language, for him, is purely a transactional medium.  If you want to study Trump, one place to go is the old television series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  One of the humanoid species populating that show was the Ferengi, a race of Trumps, preoccupied almost entirely with personal commercial advantage.  The main Ferengi character was named Quark.  When Trump speaks, I often hear Quark’s distinctive combination of ingratiating whine and bare-toothed snarl, except that Trump’s emotional range is somewhat different, lower and heavier.  There is the occasional ingratiating whine, to be sure, but more often in its place there is the triumphal roar, as when leading a crowd in chanting “Lock her up!  Lock her up!”  That descends through the cheerlessly smirking taunt to the dull, aggressive monotone.

What people like Mr. Remnick and Mr.McKibben canot seem to rid themselves of, despite all evidence to the contrary, is the notion – really, the hope – that Trump possesses some sort of ideology.  Nothing could be farther from the case.  The people Trump seeks to ingratiate himself with are not his fellow believers, of whom there are none, but those whom he can manipulate to his own ends.  (For a fascinating, terrifying closeup depiction of how he does this to the individuals he surrounds himself with, see James Comey’s op-ed in the May 1, 2019 New York Times.)  He goes after the most malleable and gullible, like a scam artist selling fake driveway asphalt services in a housing development full of elderly people.  Of course he espouses climate change denial.  The people who can be taken in by the climate change denial industry are Trump’s meat.  People who understand climate change, despite all the Koch brothers’ expensive efforts, are harder to dupe.  Like any predator, he expends his time and energy on the easier prey.  If Flat Earthers were sufficiently numerous, he’d be directing NASA funding to them.

Similarly, nearly all the head-scratching analysis of Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign strategy, based on demographics and economics and careful consideration of whose interests he may be weighing against what, is misguided.  There is no strategy.  Likewise, the people who perceive Trump as engendering “chaos” also miss the point.  There is a polestar to everythinghe does.  It is him, now.  This may look chaotic, observed from the outside, or it may seem to result from the operation of some inscrutable purpose.  Doubtless the cosmic debris plummeting towards the event horizon of a black hole looks chaotic, yet subject to some mysterious direction.

Electability

April 26th, 2019

President Mondale.

President Dukakis.

President Gore.

President Kerry.

President Clinton.

 

Anybody see a pattern?

On Point

April 16th, 2019

Recently, Rep. Ilhan Omar incurred the wrath of the Orange Shite by referring to the World Trade Center attacks with the words, “some people did something.”  There is no way that a reasonable person could construe Rep. Omar’s reference to September 11 as minimizing or belittling the scale or importance of that tragic event.  The only reasonable interpretation, in context, is that 9/11 served as a springboard for islamophobia.  As if to illustrate Rep. Omar’s meaning, the present occupant of the White House seized upon her phraseology as an excuse to wave the bloody flag, inflaming anti-Moslem resentment and libeling Rep. Omar as an extremist supporter of terrorism, thus exposing her to death threats. 

I was dismayed to hear David Folkenflik introduce his radio show, On Point, on April 16, by suggesting that Rep. Omar’s words could be interpreted as anything other than what they manifestly were, or that there was any substantive content to the White House response other than hatred, emotional manipulation, and cynicism.  Mr. Folkenflik clearly is an intelligent, reasonable man with a good grasp of language.  It is dismaying when he joins the all too prevalent practice in the media of acting willfully stupid in order to pursue controversy.  To be sure, careful attentiveness to the principle of “both sides now” is a keystone of journalism.  But so is telling it like it is.  Sometimes there are not really two sides to the story.  Sometimes evil needs to be called by its name.   Sometimes – far too often! -by pretending that there are two sides, and by indulging in euphemistic misdirection, journalists mislead and misinform.  Sadly, On Point is not immune to this.

Who Lives By The Sword

March 22nd, 2019

Since New Zealand responded to the recent white supremacist atrocity against Moslems at prayer in Christchurch by quickly moving to ban the types of weapons used in the attack, the American media has been scratching its head and making clucking noises regarding the unavoidable question, why can’t our political classes seem to muster a similar sense of urgency about protecting their constituents from mass murder?  One hears about the power of the NRA, “our”  (every time a pundit employs that pronoun, one can be sure bullshit is about to follow) “gun culture,” and the Second Amendment as construed by “Justice” Scalia (R, Asshole).  What never gets mentioned is this country’s history of toxic race relations.  This omission is particularly strange in light of the geographic distribution of resistance to gun control in the U.S.  The states most strongly opposed to gun regulation are those of the former Confederacy and of the Mountain West, the very places most recently and enduringly polluted with that toxicity.

It seems to have been forgotten that until 1863 slavery was legal here, and that the ultimate reason and purpose of the Civil War was to abolish this abominable practice.  Whites in the slave-owning territories lived in constant terror of slave revolts, and reserved to themselves a monopoly on violence and on the means of violence, which they used with unremitting brutality to suppress even the vaguest hints of rebellion.  After the brief Reconstruction period that followed the Civil War, during which there was some attempt to treat freed blacks with decency, white supremacists once again took control in the South, oppressing blacks in every way they could devise, including horrendous terrorism and casual, daily violence.  As formerly in slave-owning times, whites enforced their dominance with firepower.  The overall oppression was so severe that for the first half of the twentieth century blacks fled the South in droves, seeking a tolerable life.  It was called the Great Migration.  (One might suggest a parallel in what is producing the so-called “crisis at the border” today, but that is a subject for another time.) What they left behind was a society permeated with racially based fear, in which whites used firearms as a means of social control against the black underclass.  The undercurrents of racial separation, fear, and reliance on a gun as a sort of social-psychological comfort blanket, continue today.

The non-coastal Western states suffer from a lingering frontier mentality, which includes recent history of genocidal, exploitative interaction with Native American tribes. Whenever someone speaks of gun ownership in terms of self defense, I hear, in addition to the slave-owner terrified his chattel will rise up against him, the voice of an early white settler in Montana or Iowa, alone with his kin, nearest neighbor perhaps miles away, feeling a real or imagined threat from outraged indigenous people.  The Indian Wars started in the East in 1622 and continued right up until the 1890s, moving westwards all the time.  In historical terms, a hundred twenty years is not that long ago.  Reflexive attitudes, such as finding comfort in firearms, die slowly, particularly when the origins and reasons for them are largely unacknowledged and unexamined.

White people, long the majority, whose dominance over other groups was obtained and buttressed with bullets, today are a declining demographic in the United States. In a few more decades, if present trends continue, they will be only a plurality.  Meanwhile, unless they can adjust healthily to their lessening dominance and find a way to feel secure among demographic groups many of them traditionally have hated and suppressed, who they have some reason to fear may feel reciprocally, many whites will feel increasingly embattled and despairing.  We see signs of this already in slightly declining white life expectancy and elevated rates of addiction and suicide.  A healthy adjustment is perhaps in doubt. Assuming the worst, they will not be inclined to accept restrictions on the weapons they traditionally have leaned on for social control and individual security. Resistance to gun control in America will relax only as the collective political power of white people ebbs, and as white people learn to get over themselves and live in peace among the people surrounding them.  I hope the latter occurs long before the former reaches its nadir.

Using a Sledgehammer to Swat a Fly

March 6th, 2019

Congress is on the brink of voting on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, intended as a rebuke to Representative Ilhan Omar, who questioned why it is “okay” for powerful lobbying groups “to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” meaning Israel, compounding her previous sin of criticizing the influence on Capitol Hill of the American Israel Public Action Committee.  As a sop to even-handedness, language has been added to the resolution also decrying anti-Muslim bias, but the clear motivation is to slap down Rep. Omar.

As a Jew who frequently doubts whether Israel deserves the level of support it receives from the United States, I have written to my Representative, the excellent and honorable Peter Welch, urging that he abstain from voting on the resolution.  The fact is that Israel’s treatment of Palestinian Arabs is brutal, discriminatory, oppressive, and often and in many ways violative of international law.  By referring to an age-old canard that American Jews have divided loyalties, Rep. Omar chose a tactless way of challenging our government’s reflexive support for Israel; but dissenting on policy, which is what she intended, is a far different thing from embracing bigotry against Jews.  A newcomer to the national stage, Rep. Omar needs to learn to express herself in a more acceptable manner.  On the other hand, the House needs to consider the substantive merits of what she has to say, and not to react in such a hysterical, extreme manner as to drive home the very point that Rep. Omar is making.

Banging all our heads against the wall

January 4th, 2019

As the nation, or at least the media, obsesses over the president’s insistence that spending $5.6 billion on a physical barrier along the southern border is more important than nearly everything else the executive branch does, along comes Francisco Cantu in the January 17, 2019 issue of the New York Review of Books to remind us of the context to which the phrase “government shutdown” currently refers.  Mr. Cantu points out that since the 1990s our government’s policy regarding immigration along the southern border has been known officially as “Prevention Through Deterrence,” that is, reliance upon the forbidding geography and climate of those regions to make migration prohibitively difficult and dangerous and to channel migrants who persevere into areas that can be blocked by patrols and barriers.  The predictable result is that people die trying to cross the border.  You may be interested to know how many.  No accurate count exists, because, according to Mr. Cantu, the death tolls do not include thousands of people “who have been reported as missing and never found, not to mention those whose disappearances are never reported in the first place.”  The official tally, says Cantu, is more than 6,000 between 2000 and 2016.  “When the Border Patrol demands recognition for saving lives,” says Cantu, “it’s as if firefighters were asking to be thanked for putting out a blaze started by their own chief.”

Take a moment to let that sink in.  Our government’s official policy since the Clinton administration has been to create a state of affairs leading to the deaths of at least 6,000 people, nearly all of whom wanted nothing more than to become productive members of our society; and our current political imbroglio centers upon the president’s insistence on taking measures which could be relied upon to up the death rate.   Building a wall along the border will not stop desperate people from trying to go over, under, or through it, or die in the attempt.  When you hear or read a reporter or commentator tossing off the phrase “government shutdown,” that’s what they’re talking about.

Thousands of people are dead by design already, pursuant to official policy of the government of the United States.  The so-called “debate” over the wall is little more than a disagreement over how best to run the death machine.  I say, good for Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues for standing firm against the president’s horribly wasteful and monstrous demands.  But that’s a far cry from moving towards a humane, sensible, reality-based immigration policy.

Gag me with a Grassley

September 19th, 2018

A few thoughts on the farce now playing out around the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh:

It’s a job interview, not a prosecution.  Regardless whether there’s enough evidence to convict, would you hire the guy against whom there is a credible allegation that he assaulted somebody sexually a long time ago, or would you thank him for applying and then broaden the search?

Is it possible that there exists a professionally qualified Republican conservative (those being the minimum requirements for an applicant, at present) who is not subject to credible accusations of serious wrong-doing?

What is the point of setting up a he-said/she-said confrontation between Kavanaugh and his accuser, as quickly as possible, without any effort to investigate independently or to hear from other witnesses?

All of the above questions are entirely beside the point, since the sole objective is to appoint someone hostile to Roe v. Wade before the midterms.

At last Clarence Thomas will have a kindred spirit sitting beside him on the bench.

Who will rid me of this troublesome president?

September 11th, 2018

There is only one question that needs to be answered about any candidate for federal office this year. I hasten to add that in the past I have approached voting as the result of a multifactorial analysis including the candidates’ personalities and histories, their views on a variety of issues, their qualities of character, the various and often conflicting exigencies of the historical moment, and so on.  I’ve voted for Democrats, Republicans, Progressives, and Independents. Now, however it boils down to one thing. Who will rid me of this troublesome president?

The simplicity of the choice is due to the radical evil Trump and his GOP represent.  I could go on about threats to democracy, the rule of law, constitutional order, humane values, blah blah blah.  It includes but goes beyond all these things.  It requires no extensive reasoning or great historical knowledge to arrive at this conclusion.  Consider the following recent news items, and connect the dots. (1) The United Nations Secretary General says that continued dependence on fossil fuels is a direct existential threat to our species.  (2) The torrential rains that flooded Houston from Hurricane Harvey were linked to climate change.  (3) Rainier, slower moving storms like Harvey and Florence, about to devastate the Carolinas, are examples of the new normal.  (4) Trump’s EPA is preparing to make it significantly easier for energy companies intentionally to release methane, one of the most powerful greenhouse gases, into the atmosphere in the course of their drilling operations.

Whereas in the Sixties we called the military industrial complex a death machine aimed at soldiers and certain foreign nationals, Trump’s administration is a death machine aimed at everyone.  Republicans have proven that they don’t care.  Mueller may accuse, but he won’t indict and he can’t remove.  Third parties are mostly chimerical at the best of times and are almost entirely irrelevant to the present moment, unless you are absolutely sure your “alternative” hero really is another Angus King or Bernie Sanders.  Only by putting Democrats in control of the House of Representatives and, one hopes, the Senate, creating at least the possibility of impeachment or a forced resignation, do we have any chance of stopping or at least slowing down the death machine before 2020.  If, in addition to being an American citizen, you are a human being, you should vote for whatever Democrats are running for the House and Senate in your district this fall.  There are no other, more important issues.  A difference of even a year in the downfall of this regime could avoid incalculable death and destruction.

Himmler in the White House

June 20th, 2018

“The best political weapon is the weapon of terror. Cruelty commands respect.  Men may hate us.  But, we don’t ask for their love, only for their fear.”  So said Heinrich Himmler.  I thought of this quote today when I heard Trump today explain his decision to reverse his family separation policy, which he had attempted earlier to sell as a deterrent to illegal immigration; that is, as a weapon of terror.  He talked about the choice between being weak, pathetically weak, on the one hand, and being called heartless for being strong, on the other, and said, “I would rather be strong.”

It seems increasingly likely that the target of the family separation policy was not, in fact, immigrants so much as it was the United States Congress.  That is why Trump and his minions insisted, against all reality, that only Congress could change the policy.  The idea seems to have been to ram through the “Four Pillars” of Trump’s immigration policy (the Wall, etc.) as a necessary adjunct to any immigration reform that he would support.  Thus Congress would be compelled by public outrage to move  against the family separation policy, and the Four Pillars would be smuggled through Congress in connection with addressing that policy.  Since Trump is in fact heartless, he miscalculated the level of outrage that would be directed against him for ripping babies from the arms of their mothers.  The gambit having failed, Trump now reneges on his claim that only Congress could change the policy, and pledges to do it by executive order.  We will see if this promise is any more credible than anything else he says.

Himmler on some level seems to have been a true believer in Nazi racism.  One may debate whether he and Trump exercise a similar level of cynicism.  What seems incontestable is that, as with Himmler, the one constant guiding star of Trump’s political life, apart from self aggrandizement, is xenophobic, racist animus and that, like Himmler, he is not only expressly willing to sacrifice the most basic humane values in the service of that cause, he regards basic humanity as a source of weakness and brutality as strength.

 

Texas Theresienstadt

June 17th, 2018

One begins to run out of adjectives to describe the depths to which this administration is dragging our nation. Trump’s concentration camps for children are an abomination. They are evil. They are, or should be, intolerable. They are completely unjustifiable. They are an exercise in the crudest sadistic depravity, of helpless and innocent people being punished for no reason other than that they are helpless and innocent and vulnerable to the whims of those in power. This must be stopped, and stopped now.

Having said which, I am tempted to throw up my hands.  How to influence the policy of a psychopath so that it takes humane directions?  I am reminded of that scene in the movie Schindler’s List when Schindler prevails upon the concentration camp commandant to spare the lives of his inmates for a day, as an exercise in the allegedly transcendent power of mercy.  The commandant tries it for a while, enjoys some mild satisfaction, and then picks up his rifle.  Trump is cut from this cloth.

Some of us look to Mueller for succor, forgetting that he has power only to indict and prosecute, not to remove from office.  That latter power is confided to a Congress controlled by a party so abysmally corrupted by fear of its own authoritarian wing, like a giant cowering at the sight of its own shadow, and so riddled with ideologues, fools, and self-serving conscienceless hacks, that nothing good can be expected from it.  Some of us look to the 2018 elections for relief.  Some of us wake up every morning hoping to discover that a beneficent god, in whom we do not really believe, has sent St. Infarction to intervene, or caused the Malefactor In Chief to choke on a peanut.  (I confess I am one of these latter.)

The problem with all of these fantasies is that they give no room for me to act, and the crux of the matter is that to retain my self respect I must act.  Oh, I will vote for anybody or anything other than a Republican in the elections this year; and then the matter is out of my hands and depends on the political calculations of some 400+ ego-driven careerists, who in any event will take months or years to do anything and may well in the end do nothing at all.  (Viz. Andrew Johnson’s impeachment and trial.  Speaking of which, those who think Trump is unprecedented in our history should look a little more closely at Mr. Johnson.)  Meanwhile, I must do something, I can’t depend on them.

My particular gift, if such it is, for action in the world is through words; so I write these things and fling them up on the screen, hoping to inspire someone else to do whatever it is they are given to do.  We, individually and collectively, survive such times with decency only by refusing to surrender our integrity.  Please take the time today to use whatever gift you have been given to inject some good into the world.  Paint a poster.  Sing a song.  Speak to a friend.  Write letters to your representatives.  Howl with rage and sorrow.