Since the inauguration, I’ve only written one post. While I haven’t been silent – my whole Twitter account is dedicated to politics – I have tried to make sure I don’t get too caught up in any given event or moment. I’ve really wanted to be able to think about what’s going on in order to make sure that, when the time came to say something, I felt confident what I was writing was as correct as possible. This is not a time for anyone to go off half-cocked. Sad to say, I see just a bit too much of that, especially on Twitter.
I thought I’d point out some things Trump critics do on a fairly regular basis I find either wrong-headed, distasteful, or both. First, I truly dislike armchair psychiatric diagnoses, particularly from people who think reading a paragraph in the DSM-V teaches them all they need to know about this or that mental illness. That’s not how it works. To diagnose someone without professional training, without repeated personal interactions, without any collaboration with like-minded colleagues is both stupid and unprofessional. Alas, way too many people call Trump a “narcissist” or “crazy” or “needing meds” or some such related word or phrase. Besides displaying a great deal of ignorance, this stigmatizes people who have mental illnesses. It tells folks like me that the world is watching and waiting to pass judgment upon us. It’s wrong, it’s hurtful, it’s ignorant, and it achieves nothing at all. Donald Trump may be many things, but pathologically narcissist is just not one of them. To repeat this over and over does no one any good at all and needs to stop.
Second, I really and truly believe people who insist this or that action taken by the White House is a “distraction” from “the real issue”. As if people cannot concentrate on more than one particular matter at a time! It is at least possible there are people who follow current events and politics who can see and understand multiple events and connect them – or not – without a whole lot of trouble. The ability to do so is kind of the mark of intelligent adulthood.
Now, another reason I dislike the whole “distraction” stuff is because it grants to Trump and his senior advisors both intelligence and an ability to plan neither he nor they have evidenced since the summer of 2015 when Trump announced his candidacy. To be blunt, these people just aren’t that smart; or if they are intelligent, they work with certain dysfunctions – obvious alcoholism in Steve Bannon; a desire to be liked that pushes hi to discredit criticism in Trump; these are just a couple – that hobble any advantage their natural intelligence might give them. There is no “larger strategy”, there are no planned distractions from this or that crisis of the moment or the whole Administration. These guys are flying by the seat of their pants, lashing out at critics inside and outside the state bureaucracy more from habit than anything else. If we grant them more intelligence, foresight, ability to think and act strategically than they actually possess, we miss the far more important point that the appearance of ineptitude and chaos may actually be just that and no more: ineptitude and chaos.
I think it’ fair to say that the various elements of the federal bureaucracy cannot function under current conditions for an extended period of time. While senior cabinet positions have been filled for the most part, there exist hundreds of Assistant Secretaries, Under Secretaries, Assistant Under Secretaries who are in need of Senate advising and consenting. Absent the guidance from these political appointees, the various federal agencies and departments simply cannot function. Now, I know there are some who would and do insist these positions are unnecessary: we have cabinet secretaries who develop policies along guidelines set by the President. It seems so easy, right?
Just this week, several junior members of the White House staff were escorted out by Secret Service because they failed their background checks for security clearances. This isn’t a fluke; Trump lost his National Security Advisor because he was compromised by the Russians. Should Trump, his chief of staff, or others continue to select people who cannot pass government clearance, or even display basic competence (Ben Carson at HUD, Betsy DeVos at Education), the whole machine grinds to a halt. We are not just a nation of over 300 million people. We are a continental nation-state, with discontiguous states and territories in need of the smooth functioning and open communication of state and federal bureaucracies. The federal government may or may not be too large – that’s an ideological and political matter that’s certainly debatable – but as of right now, it is what it is and combining the internal chaos at the top and the absence of a mass of critically needed upper and mid-level people to help develop policies, quite literally nothing will get done. Not relief to California; not the coordination necessary for our military to function properly; not agricultural policy to continue as we enter planting season. The whole thing just stops, or at best coasts along without any real understanding whether what they’re doing is in line with current policy parameters.
As for the matter of Russian penetration of the national elections last year, since stories about just that were appearing over the summer and continued with more or less attention paid to them during the Presidential campaign, I think it is more than fair to insist we need a serious, full-on investigation. Our National Security Advisor to the President of the United States was compromised by the Russians. We know Donald Trump has business ties in and with Russia, both private and public. We also know Russian intelligence hacked the databases and internal servers of both major political parties. We know they fed matieral concerning just one of those parties to a third party – Wikileaks – who published it, damaging Trump’ opponent. Hell, we even know Candidate Trump all-but-invited the Russians to conduct espionage on the Democratic Party. Considering recent Russian actions, from buzzing an American destroyer in the Black Sea to parking a military/intelligence ship just outside our territorial waters on the East Coast without a word either from the President or more than general statements from the Secretary of Defense, I think it is more than fair to insist we need to understand the full extent of Russian penetration of our recent elections. If anyone was compromised in one way or another by Russian intelligence or business interests.
These are the more important matters. There are others, such as Trump’s mindless Twitter-usage, including using a “lügenpresse” and an old Soviet epithet “enemy of the people” to describe our major corporate media outlets. This latest crosses a very dangerous line, with the President of the United States not only attempting to further discredit a constitutionally protected part of our civic life, but make of it an opponent to the orderly functioning of government. Yeah, this is bad and lots of folks have made that point so I won’t belabor it that much.
Speaking of dangerous territory, I do have to say that seeing currently serving general officers of the US military publicly comment on the current political climate – chaotic and confusing – is also disquieting. While I appreciate that senior military officials might well just be looking for the public to pressure the White House, particularly the National Security apparatus up to and including the Commander-in-Chief to get their act together, I honestly don’t like it when military officers, particularly generals, go public with stuff like this. I didn’t like it when they did it to George W. Bush. I didn’t like it when they did it to Barack Obama. And I’m not a fan of it now with Donald Trump is President.
I also do not like rumors that either the Intelligence Community or what’s called the Deep State (the domestic and foreign National Security apparatus, from the FBI through the various intelligence agencies, the military) might well be planning on the strategic release of damaging information the end the Trump Presidency. If that’s even in discussion among some folks in the Intelligence Community, they need to stop it. We do not need parts of our national security bureaucracy deciding who is and is not fit either to lead them or to be our President.
Venturing a guess, barring some serious disaster somewhere, either Congress will discover it’s collective spine and act, or pressure from the public will push them to act in their oversight funtions both to investigate and demand accountability from the departments of the executive and the President himself. This will happen sooner rather than later precisely because the status quo is just not tenable. Something will give soon enough. My greatest hope is that when it does, as little damage as possible is done either to our public institutions or the American people.
Today is the last day of Pres. Obama’s two terms as President of the United States. There’s been so much written about how people “feel” about the end of his terms, with people expressing sorrow and joy, wishing them will and wishing them ill, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at Barack Obama’s record as President of the United States. What has happened in the United States over the past 2,922 days? Are we as a nation more economically stable? Are we safer? Have Americans lost any rights or privileges because of President Obama? What kind of America is Donald Trump going to be leading as of noon tomorrow?
One measure of economic vitality is how well the Stock Market is doing. There are many averages, but the one most commonly used is the Dow Jones Industrial Average. At the close of business on Jan. 20, 2009, the Dow stood at 7949.09. Yesterday it closed at 19,774.01. This shows both that the economy is moving along and that investors feel confident the economy will continue to be healthy.
Another way of understanding economic health is the unemployment rate. Now, that number only examines potential members of the workforce who are currently unemployed who are actively seeking unemployment. It is not a measure of the total numbers of Americans who are eligible to work and are not working. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in January 2009, the unemployment rate was 7.8 percent. Because of the worsening of the American economy due to the bursting of the housing bubble, it would continue to rise to a high of 10% in October 2009. In December 2016, the unemployment rate was 4.7%. Since the end of the Second World War, “full employment” was usually thought to be an unemployment rate of 5% or less. With that in mind, the United States has been at “full employment” since September 2015.
The safety and security of the American people and nation-state should be one of the highest priority of any state executive. There are several measures that are helpful in understanding our safety both here and abroad. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting tables, the first is the violent crime rate in 2008 was 454.5. The property crime rate was 3212.5. In 2014, the last full year for which data is available, the violent crime rate was 365.5; the property crime rate was 2596.1. It’s important to note that this continues a downward trend in the overall crime rate that began in the early 1990’s and has continued more or less unbroken in the years since. It’s also important to note these rates represent the number of persons per 100,00 Americans. In the early 1990’s, the American population was around 275 million people. It’s around 335,000,000 now. Not only are the rates lower, with a far larger population the chances of any particular individual being the victim of crime has reduced significantly.
The United States Department of Homeland Security and the University of Maryland have teamed up to create a single source database for terrorist activity around the world, including the United States. START, The Study of Terrorism And Responses to Terrorism project is an invaluable resource for scholars and your average citizen to learn about how terrorism has evolved over the past four decades, how terrorist attacks have changed, and what groups – at any given moment – are responsible for terrorist activity.
According to the report, Patterns of Terrorism in the United States: 1970-2013, just one of many reports from the Terrorist and Extremist Violence in the United States (TEVUS) Project at START, from its peak in the early 1970’s, both the frequency and fatality of terrorist acts have decreased dramatically. This graph is clear:
If you look at the actual statistics of terrorist acts by specific groups, during the period 2000-2013, “Unaffiliated Individuals” accounted for nearly a third, 31%, of all terrorist activity. This includes the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. The next two groups on the list, The Earth Liberation Front (ALF) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF), account for just about half of all terrorist actions in the United States during those thirteen years. Al-Qaida is responsible for 4% while White Extremists account for 2% of the total.
While Al-Qaida is certainly responsible for more deaths during this time period, only the Ku Klux Klan was related to American fatalities during the period 2001-2011:
Even if you include the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, the actual rate of terrorist attacks in the United States continues to be quite small.
Another measure of social and economic health is the percentage of Americans who live below the poverty rate. According to a report from the Bureau of the Census (.pdf), in 2008 13.2 percent of all American households lived below the poverty rate. According to the same report, in 2008, 15.4 % of Americans had no health insurance. In 2015, the percentage of American families below the poverty line was 13.5%. The uninsured, however, had fallen to 10.4%.
By many metrics, including the most important ones, Barack Obama had a successful Presidency. Hardly perfect, but far better than one might guess if one’s only source of information is social media.
Not too shabby, Mr. President. Not too shabby at all.
N.B.: This is a slightly edited repost from one of my other sites from last year. It’s one of two that give an indication of what it was like to be part of my large, wonderful, sometimes slightly unbalanced family during the period from the late-70’s to mid-80’s. Thanksgiving was my Mom’s day to shine, and since so many of these memories have to do with holidays, I thought it a good idea to hoist it out of my archives. Have a great Thanksgiving, and enjoy your post-meal snoozes, everyone!
Moriah asked me something about growing up. God knows what led me down one particular path. I think it was after Thanksgiving last year, and I told the story – again I was reminded – about the time the chair in which I sat gave way beneath me. I looked up and my sister’s then-boyfriend looked down at me and said, “What are you doing on the floor?” That moment probably would have been less embarrassing if I hadn’t been 16 and there weren’t . . . let me count to make sure . . . twelve people sitting around the table.
It wasn’t just that we were a big family, at least by the standards of most of my friends. It wasn’t just that my siblings were a good deal older than I. It was the age difference, the bigness, and the appearance of friends and boyfriends and of course local extended family and my parents’ friends . . . and for a short season, the world was a lively, interesting , beguiling place. If anyone’s to blame, it’s my oldest sister and her husband. Gregarious and friendly not quite to a fault, their home was open to some of the most interesting, funniest, and just-plain-nicest people you’d want to meet. When my youngest sister was living with them, that circle expanded and cross-pollinated, with my youngest sister dating some of their friends, my oldest sister’s family’s friends becoming friendly with my youngest sister, then getting to know us as we’d visit on occasion. Looking back, I’ve never quite been sure when that very brief wild season began. I know it ended before I was old enough really to get the most out of it.
Best as I can remember, it was a Friday afternoon of my Junior year in high school I came home and there were four people in our house. My youngest sister, her boyfriend, and two other women, friends of my sister. It was something of a rule, I think, that to really associate with our family you had to have a sense of humor. So there was so much laughter. My sister was twenty, her friends probably close to the same age, her boyfriend a few years older. To me, at that time, mid-20’s seemed impossibly grown up. The thing is, though, when they asked what was going on and I told them a home high school football game and that I was in the marching band, they said they’d go.
That was the first time a friend of one of my adult siblings had acknowledged something I was doing and agreed to go. That was the moment I felt like I had moved from being that youngest kid who tags along until given something to do to being a part of that circle of my older siblings. It was huge. The fact that my sister always had the coolest people around her certainly helped.
And then there was that Thanksgiving. All those people. It was absolutely insane in some ways. At the time I don’t remember it feeling overwhelming. At the time, however, I was deep in the throes of . . . what? Trying to figure out how I felt about this girl I kissed? Yeah, that’ll do nicely for an explanation. Like most teens, my emotional world was about whatever happened to blow by at any particular moment. I do remember having a phone conversation with this young woman after school on the last day before Thanksgiving, and my oldest sister’s husband was getting his ass kicked in backgammon by my youngest sister’s boyfriend. I remember her asking why someone was yelling “fuck” a lot in the background. My time with this young woman was brief; the larger setting in which our conversation took place, though . . . that’s forever.
Like I said, my oldest sister and her husband had a large group of friends. All about their age, so mid-to-late 20’s. Impossibly old and so mature. They all worked hard. They loved their kids who are now far older than their parents were 34, 35 years ago. They also enjoyed themselves. This was true of my family no less than any of the others. When they started sharing stories of some of their parties, or just their goings-on, I had the impression that there probably wasn’t anything better in the world than being a part of my sister’s circle of friends. In fact, I was sure of it. To me, this is what “growing up” would be like.
Which is why I still wonder why I blew my first offered opportunity to smoke marijuana. In retrospect, probably the best decision I could have made given the context: Thanksgiving Day, 1981. It was my brother and my youngest sister’s boyfriend. The guy always had good weed, that I knew. Just the three of us were sitting in my parents’ living room. My sister’s boyfriend asked my brother if he wanted to “go for a drive”. My brother said yes. Then, in what was probably the biggest compliment I would receive for a long time, he asked me. I wondered what they were talking about. My brother leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Smoke some pot, stupid.”
I froze. I knew I wanted to experience that . . . some day. It was something that, in that large circle of friends, people did. It wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t believe all the scary crap people still get spoon-fed about marijuana. All the same, all I could think is that Mom and Dad would surely know something was wrong with me* so my best answer was “No”. For the sake of future generations I went with that “No” and the two others left without me. They returned, I don’t know, 20 minutes later, eyes bloodshot, plopping back down in the chairs they’d vacated earlier. They stared at nothing. They were quiet at dinner, except when my chair collapsed.
I titled this post “The Wild Years” because, well, compared to how I’ve lived in the years following, these were wild times. So full of people and laughter and drinks and the occasional toke and of course more laughter. Sitting and shooting the breeze. Sitting and solving the problems of the world. It was during this time my oldest sister’s husband gave me a phrase I have used, slightly edited, twice in my life: “I’m X fucking years old! If I want to go out after work and buy my wife a TV, I will!” So, thanks, Larry. That’s come in handy.
There was something special about those times. They were young. We all were. My oldest sister’s house, and by extension our family home, was occasionally filled to capacity with beautiful, wonderful, funny, smart, people who, because they were young, got the most out of life. You couldn’t help but get caught up in all that. I certainly have no regrets for any of my meager participation (well OK yeah, that one time I drove Pete and Larry to distraction after we’d finished a bottle of Tequila at Pete’s house; sorry about that).
At the same time, I don’t miss any of that. That’s who we all were then. It was a bit wild but God knows we all need a season in our lives to go a bit wild. If I became overly serious later in life, forgot all that or at least tried to deny its importance, well that I’m ashamed of. It was a great, brief, shining moment when it was OK to be young and wild and foolish. Nearing fifty, one daughter in high school, another in college, getting ready to start a lifetime of anti-cholesterol meds, trying to read this through my bifocals . . . I couldn’t go back to that if I wanted to.
I’m so glad I went through it, though. And I’m especially glad I went through it with my siblings. You guys have always been the best.
The studies, about Daily Show viewers and better-sized amygdalae, are knowing. It is the smug style’s first premise: a politics defined by a command of the Correct Facts and signaled by an allegiance to the Correct Culture. A politics that is just the politics of smart people in command of Good Facts. A politics that insists it has no ideology at all, only facts. No moral convictions, only charts, the kind that keep them from “imposing their morals” like the bad guys do.
Knowing is the shibboleth into the smug style’s culture, a cultural that celebrates hip commitments and valorizes hip taste, that loves nothing more than hate-reading anyone who doesn’t get them. A culture that has come to replace politics itself. – Emmett, Rensin, “The Smug Style In American Liberalism,” Vox.com, April 21, 2016
You may not be able to change the minds of these “anxious” people with facts. Truths like “Your plastic orange president-elect reflexively spits out lies like some kind of remarkably duplicitous Pez dispenser” will get you nowhere. Pleas to their sense of compassion, and duty to the larger community, will likely be met with an overcompressed JPEG plastered with a conspiracy theory and some invented statistics; you will make no headway with logic or science with Trump supporters. – Tabatha Southey, “Trigger warning, Trump fans: This column calls racists ‘racists’”, Toronto Globe and Mail, Nov. 11, 2016
There is no doubt that the most powerful motive – which weighs upon us like an interdict, the motive which prevents us from questioning the elements of this civilization, and from starting on the road leading to the necessary revolution – is our respect for facts. It is well known that in other civilizations men did not respect facts to the same extent, nor did they conceive facts in the same way. At the present time the fact – whatever it is – the established fact, is the final reason, the criterion of truth. All that is a fact is justified, because it is a fact. People think that they have no right to judge a fact – all they have to do is to accept it.
Thus from the moment that technics, the State, or production, are facts, we must worship them as facts, and we must try to adapt ourselves to them. This is the very heart of modern religion, the religion of the established fact, the religion on which depend the lesser religions of the dollar, race, or the proletariat, which are only expressions of the great modern divinity, the Moloch of fact. – Jacques Ellul, The Presence of the Kingdom, p.27
I remember the mid-term elections of 2006 very well indeed. As summer moved to fall, it was becoming clear the Republicans were going to be defeated. When the story of Florida Republican Rep. Mark Foley broke, with the news that senior Republican leadership knew of Foley’s preferences for teenage male pages and did nothing (we have since learned that may well have been because then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert had similar dark shadows in his past), there was very little chance, it seemed, for the Republicans led by historically unpopular Pres. George W. Bush, could do much else but look on as the Democratic Party took over both the House and Senate.
A popular mantra that year was, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. No one is entitled to their own facts.” I remember that mantra well. I remember being more than a little troubled by it. After all, of course people are entitled to their own facts, What are “facts” anyway? Is there something inherent in an event, a statistic, a study, a photograph, whatever it might be, that makes its existence unquestionable? How would it ever be possible to get most, let alone all, people to accept any particularly claimed moment as “factual”? If things like history, psychology, sociology, even physics and astronomy, tell us anything, they tell us that “facts” are the most labile things in the world. One person’s indisputable fact is another person bald-faced lie, non-event, irrelevant factoid. We laughed at Karl Rove’s statement that the US, being an empire, can create its own reality. We forgot the radical critique of imperialism that takes this as a given.
It isn’t fancy, nonsensical, irrational post-modernists who declare the reality that there are no more metanarratives determining our collective lives. They weren’t making this up to justify some hip new idea. The statement that we no longer live in a world dominated by a single, or several, metanarratives – call them “religion”, “science”, “rationality”, or “patriotism” – that set the parameters for what is and is not proper discourse, truth, knowledge, and goodness. It was stating the reality that we had long ago reached the end of the power of any over-arching narrative to determine our individual and collective lives. A whole lot of people, liberals and conservatives, reactionaries and revolutionaries, refuse to accept this observation, usually because these are people whose lives are dedicated to a particular metanarrative. Being told those commitments are figments of their imaginations certainly is no way to get them to pay attention.
This does not void the reality that, no, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. This is neither irrationalism as many might claim nor some kind of weird notion that reality is little more than a mental construct of each individual mind (Bishop Berkeley was a big proponent of this idea in the 17th century). Rather, it is just the observation that human communities revolve around particular narratives, narratives that tell us who we are as opposed to “them” who tell a different story about “themselves”. These stories sometimes overlap, sometimes conflict, sometimes ignore one another, but in their difference do not cancel one another out. Philosophers like Richard Rorty, committed to a kind of post-modern liberalism without any need for metaphysical justification, offered us possibilities for telling different stories about ourselves, stories in which we human beings strove to live and be together without any felt need for God or Natural Law or Science or anything else to determine whether or not those stories are in some way or another “true” or not.
Having come through an election in which it became very evident two large groups of Americans told very different stories about “their” country, “their” history, “their” current predicament, we should at the very least have the humility to accept that, like it or not, people really do tell very different stories about themselves. Even people who may well share much in common, who may live close to one another, whose stories may well overlap far more than they separate, may well have differences that are large enough to make those different stories determinant of how they live their lives and vote.
Earlier this summer, I wrote something on Facebook about Hillary Clinton, about how a study showed that despite a sense among voters that she was dishonest Hillary Clinton was in fact the “most honest” candidate. A FB friend wrote something, the opening lines of which I still remember clearly: “I don’t care what anyone says . . .” At the time, I was shocked – shocked! – that someone would be so cavalier with a fact! Humbled now in the aftermath of the election, I am reminded what I had forgotten: Facts are little more than those things we decide to be factual. Thus, perhaps Hillary Clinton did indeed report certain statistics correctly, her role in particular events in the US Senate and the first Obama Administration, and other such things. That did not make her honest in the minds of those already committed to a story in which Hillary Clinton is inherently dishonest. Two very different stories take the same “facts” and come to the opposite conclusion. Who’s right?
It seems, for the moment, those who refused to accept Mrs. Clinton’s honesty are right. We who believe otherwise can never and will never make those folks change their minds. Not because they’re stupid or backward or racist or uneducated. Rather, they already have a story determining a set of commitments that preclude Hillary Clinton’s honesty. It is a hard reality to face that we are not so much engaged in an apocalyptic fight of absolutes warring against one another so much as different folks whose stories contradict, and that the determination of which story is right has no independent judge to which any group may appeal.
We may yet surrender our worship of that Moloch, fact. We may yet rid ourselves of the hubris that we have a monopoly on facts, on “truth”, are members of “the reality-based community”. We can stip ourselves of these prejudices, prejudices that always seem to preclude our willingness to listen to the stories of those we determine to be “racist”, “misogynist”, “uneducated”, on and on. We may not like the election results. We may fear for the future of the American experiment, for ourselves or loved ones who no longer represent “real” America to those in power. That does not absolve us of the need to listen to voices we have refused to hear, to stories we have discounted as irrelevant, and perhaps add a few sentences from their stories to the one we tell about ourselves so that we may yet be able to cross the divides that keep us from understanding one another.
We walked away from Eden
Put heaven in the sky
Put angels on the houses
That the Devil lives inside – Dead Soul Tribe, “In A Garden Made Of Stone”, lyrics by Devon Graves
The other day our younger daughter asked me what I thought of the anti-Trump protests. Miriam’s an intelligent, wise, insightful 15-year-old, but sometimes wants to hear what her parents have to say about things. I told her much of what I said Wednesday, that I found them a bit odd, to say the least. On the other hand, I told her, protest marches that sometimes defy the law and include mild property damage are an honorable American tradition that predates the Republic. So, too, does political violence, whether it’s the Whiskey Rebellion, the “troubles” in Kansas and Nebraska before the Civil War, the Haymarket Riots, the many race riots (most of which were attacks upon black communities by whites), the “We Want To Go Home” riots in Europe by American occupation forces, the counter-inauguration in 1968, I could go on. To pretend there is something un-American or inherently wrong with political protest, including political violence, is to ignore our short, bloody history.
I told Miriam that what I, at least, was seeing was, on the one hand our long tradition of political protest. On the other hand, however, I was also seeing a lot of violence sparking around the country, aimed at minorities and their communities, women, and others. The former has a long and respectable history. The latter, formerly chalked up to isolated pockets of bigots or drunk kids being stupid, can now be understood as political, as well. Donald Trump’s victory on election night seems to have emboldened many people, offering them what they believe to be license to express their rage, hatred, and fear of Others. Muslim women have had their hijab ripped off in public. Hateful graffiti like the above have been popping up all over the country. Hispanics are being shouted at to go back to Mexico. It is, and I hate using the analogy but I can’t seem to escape it, a kind of slow-motion Kristallnacht, the night the Nazi’s allowed mobs to attack Jewish businesses, burn synagogues, and attack and beat Jews going about their business. As each event occurs without a response from Trump, it’s easy to get the feeling he approves of such actions.
I spent the previous two days engaged in some soul-searching that I found important and necessary. I think I’ve made that point enough that now I can move on to talk about other things. Among those things are the celebration of Trump’s election by David Duke; the planned victory parade in North Carolina by the Klan; the very clear signs that not only will the advances made under Pres. Obama be reversed, but much of the civic infrastructure, carefully constructed over a century yet always precarious because it lives at the beneficence of increasingly hostile Congresses, that interlocking set of public institutions to keep the worst ravages of power run amok from our social, cultural, and economic life. It would be nothing at all to destroy it all in fairly short order.
We might well face the prospect of a Trump Justice Department bringing charges against Hillary Clinton, perhaps the most blatant political prosecution in our history. While many will no doubt cheer the prospect of such action, folks should always know that if they bring legal action against a clearly innocent woman, there is literally no stopping them from doing so to any perceived political opponent. Just as Trump sometimes used tort law to destroy those who sought just recompense when Trump refused to pay his bills, it is oh-so-easy to imagine him using the full power of the Justice Department to do much the same to his political opponents.
To say we are entering frightening territory is, I believe, an understatement. We are facing the very real possibility of a marriage between some of the worst instincts of our political life with the worst habits of our social and cultural life. I know that not all Trump supporters would endorse all of this; many (perhaps most) would insist these are not the reasons they supported Trump. Nevertheless, we must speak candidly about the new realities that will be unfolding in ensuing weeks and months. Whether it’s recent civil rights gains made by sexual minorities, decades-old and once-thought-settled Civil Rights legislation, or the privatization of Social Security and the destruction of Medicare, I have little doubt that all these things will happen before Trump leaves office. To say otherwise is, as one of my sisters said the other day, to have one’s head up one’s ass.
I’ve seen a lot of people posting pictures of safety pins on FB. Like the folks who posted photos of hoodie-wearing kids after the Trayvon Martin killings came to light, this is supposed to be “an act of solidarity”. I appreciate the sentiment, but in all honesty, I would much rather read about people willing to go to threatened communities, putting their bodies on the line defending the most vulnerable in American society. Better yet, I’d rather not see anything at all like that. Our acts of righteousness, after all, should be done in secret so our left hand doesn’t know what our right hand is doing. Part of our problem on the left is we’ve endured way too much talk, much of it amounting to nothing at all. A whole lot of willingness to make symbolic stances without risking anything. Like the man who once insisted I didn’t care about the dead in Haiti from the earthquake and subsequent cholera epidemic because I wasn’t writing about it, I’m amazed by the people who really believe that speaking or writing is some kind of substitute for actually risking something, whether it’s financial stability, social status, or even physical health. It’s the height of absurdity to insist others don’t care as much as oneself does simply because those others remain silent. It’s also the depth of ridiculousness to believe oneself more righteous than others because one says or does something that, in fact, millions of others are doing. Putting a safety pin on my FB page won’t protect children of Mexican and other Latin immigrants harassed by classmates. It won’t protect minority communities from the threat of violence. It won’t shield women from the depredations of those insistent upon a license to sexual violence.
We face dark times ahead. We face the reality that political organization and movement building takes time, money, and commitment far too few people are willing to expend. We face a sense of impotence as we will watch so much of what has made the United States powerful is willfully destroyed. Worst of all, we face all this knowing it could have been different, even avoided.
I’m always amused by people who use the “problem of evil” as some kind of excuse not to believe in God. As if God, who created us as very good, offering us peace, protection, and sinlessness only to have it tossed away for the false promise of equality with God, somehow owed us a world free from evil, hatred, violence, and death. All that we shall witness over the next four years of a Trump Presidency are events that are the result of decisions made and not made, of all too human actions with consequences bringing very real pain to millions. The best choice any of us can make is to commit ourselves both to healing the divisions within our country all the while acting to secure the lives and welfare of those who face very real dangers ahead. We must also accept that organization takes time and effort. It takes money and commitment. It is no longer an option we might forego. We must live knowing that to do so is to risk.
I saw the images last night as a FB friend posted them in real time – thousands and thousands of anti-Trump protesters marching through the streets, shutting down Michigan Ave. and other major arteries. They were sitting at major intersections and the police seemed to leave them be. Perhaps, as much of a horrible mayor as he is, Rahm at least showed his Part colors last night, letting the protesters speak for the vast majority of Chicagoans who didn’t vote for Donald Trump. As I looked at the photos, I wondered more than once if I wasn’t seeing portents of something truly awful beginning to brew.
Remember the last Presidential debate? Trump was asked if he would accept the results of the election, and he got all the pundits heading for the fainting chaise when he said he’d “keep people guessing”. I also remember saying at the time I found all the tongue clicking and shock – shock! – by our opinion formers more than a little disingenuous. That has been the Republican MO through two Democratic administrations: refuse to acknowledge their legitimacy and work tirelessly to undermine any policies the President might offer. And through that quarter century they said nothing, all those oh-so-moral guardians of our abysmal public discourse.
Now we’re faced with all sorts of oddities, not the least of them being thousands of Americans who did not vote for Trump – and it should be noted that he did, indeed, lose the popular vote – refusing to accept the results of the election. The #NotMyPresident sign is all over the place. Seeking to reverse the results of an election that, as far as we know, was both fair and legal, hackers took over the Trump campaign’s homepage and Twitter feed, demanding Trump “Resign Now!”, as if them yelling it enough would make it so. In short, like those Republicans we’ve spent eight years denying any legitimacy to Pres. Obama or the clear mandate he received in not one but two Presidential elections, we are behaving like children. It’s both sad and disgusting.
There’s also the unbearable smugness of those who voted for a third party candidate. Not all of them, mind you. Believing they have achieved a moral victory – as if such a thing mattered in the face of the impending national catastrophe of a Trump Presidency – they seem to revel in a kind of superiority only small people find comfortable. Like die-hard Nader voters in 2001, at least up until 9/11, they really believe their choice absolves them of responsibility to work to keep the damage to our physical and social and civic infrastructure to a minimum.
Which is exactly the reason I find #NotMyPresident not only childish and mindless; it is a way for people to cop out, to refuse to take responsibility for the mess we’ve made of our civic life that created the conditions for Trump to become President. One of the rules, maxims, whatever you may call it, by which I live my life is this: IT ISN’T ABOUT ME. The Universe, the world, the flow of time and events outside my immediate ability to affect and change – not a bit of it is about me. I assert the same is true for everyone: IT ISN’T ABOUT YOU, EITHER. It isn’t about your feelings or your wish to divorce yourself from responsibility for what’s happened. Asserting that Trump isn’t “your” President ignores something central to our republican polity: whether we voted for him or hot, he is both head of our government and head of state. We can struggle and protest and fight specific plans and policies; we cannot cease to be Americans by refusing to acknowledge that, love him or hate him, as of January 20 next year, he will be OUR President.
One of the most important psychological and spiritual disciplines I’ve learned in my life is this: When something bad or wrong or averse occurs, rather than search the immediate area for scapegoats, my first reflex is to look for my own culpability, for all the ways I have, through action or inaction, contributed to circumstances being what they are. Only then can I go about figuring out how to fix things. To do anything else, to my mind, is to shirk the central responsibility of healthy adulthood.
Yet far too many liberals and Democrats act no better toward our fellow Americans than conservatives do toward minorities and women, immigrants and people of other faiths. Before we can do anything about how Republicans act, we have to get it through our thick skulls that the only person’s behavior we can really change is our own. We can begin by not saying things like, “Why would I want to be in a Party with a bunch of racists?” or just shout at the top of our lungs, “Fuck you, America!” We can listen to Trump voters as they talk about their reasons for supporting him, and rather than tell them why they’re wrong, acknowledge their reasons are both real and important. Either we accept the humanity of our fellow Americans who checked a different name on the ballot or we become no different than those who display racist, sexist, or other prejudices.
The past week to ten days, I began to worry that I was inhabiting a bubble. Reading only liberal news sources, I refused to pay attention to what might be uncomfortable to read or hear. And now, like Mitt Romney four years ago who really believed the polls were skewed and that he was ahead, I like so many others realize we talked ourselves into believing Trump, who did everything wrong, could never win. We ignored all of the reality around us and cheered rogue Republicans like Ana Navarro. We shared all the stories about how this comedian or that person “destroyed” a Trump supporter on a news panel or during a late-night comedy routine. It appears, alas, all that destruction didn’t achieve any actual destruction.
Until and unless we on the left end of the political spectrum – from mainstream Democrats to Social Democrats to others even more radical – own up to all the things we did wrong (and please note the first-person plural here; I’m most definitely talking to myself) that allowed us the smug self-satisfaction that Trump just couldn’t win. That very smugness, that sense both of moral and political superiority – cheering while a major party candidate called supporters of another major party candidate “deplorable” without any sense of shame – is a very large part of why we are where we are right now. We either accept that we helped break our civic life and therefore own the responsibility of fixing it or we pretend that a social tantrum immunizes us from the many awful things that will unfold over the next few years. There is no more need of REAL solidarity across class, racial, religious, gender and sexual identities than there is right now. We cannot forget the many of the people who voted for Trump are going to be hurt the most by the things he both does and refuses to do. We either reach out and help when things get bad, or we forego any reason we should think so well of ourselves.
We demand a compassionate, loving, accepting nation, a people whose divisions aren’t as deep as our unity? Perhaps we can begin by loving those with whom we disagree the strongest. We listen to them and think about what they’re saying. We start acting the way we demand others act. We start living the way we believe we really do live but don’t.
None of this means we don’t protest, work, speak, write all tirelessly against any and every attempt of the upcoming Administration and Congress to undo the economic, social, and political gains made the past eight years. Of course we do. But rather than continue to tell a story of “two Americas”, we begin to tell a different story, of all of us in it together trying to shelter one another from the worst of what is to come.
Years ago, almost a decade perhaps, in the midst of an online political discussion, a conservative blogger began carrying on about Bill Maher, about what a smug, elitist nincompoop he was. To this person, Maher epitomized everything wrong with liberals. At the time, I wondered what the hell was going on. To me, Maher was a not-very-funny comedian who, for some reason, decided to use politics as his schtick. I never watched him, but saw enough of him – and his stupid movie about religion – to be of the opinion that he was one of those people who knew he was far smarter than he actually was; that he was a caricature of a coastal elite, sneering at the rest of the country much the same way H. L. Mencken would do (Mencken coined the term “booboisie” to describe people less sophisticated than he was), only without Mencken’s attendant racism and anti-Semitism.
I went to bed last night figuring Trump had won. Watching Netflix, I kept checking my phone for updates. When first Ohio, then North Carolina went to Trump, I knew it was over for Sec. Clinton. The only thing about which I was unsure was how I would react in the morning, fully awake and aware.
Turns out, I’m still trying to figure it all out.
Let me say, first, that I’ve perused over a dozen regular political commentators from left-leaning Paul Krugman to right-winger (but anti-Trump pundit) Ross Douthat. I’ve read several of Josh Marshall’s personal, editorial posts at Talking Points Memo. Like many of you, I’ve seen my Facebook newsfeed explode with sadness, confusion, anger, and fear. From the Trump supporters I’ve only seen one comment I found a bit stupid (regarding “Obamaphones”). By and large, Republicans and Trump supporters are celebrating a victory that at least one of my FB friends was the result of faith as much as anything else. Their faith has been rewarded, and they’re mostly in the mood to celebrate.
One FB friend had a series of posts listing people ranging from Anthony Wiener through John Podesta to James Comey, inviting them to go fuck themselves. And certainly, there is much for which this group, which also includes Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, need to answer. As yet another FB noted, it does nothing to “blame American voters” for Trump’s win (as Wonkette editor Rebecca Schoenkopf did in a late-night post entitled “Go Fuck Yourself America”) when the Democratic establishment got behind a candidate known for being a poor campaigner who had high negatives (regardless of whether they were deserved; I’ve made the point enough, I think, that they are not). Those perceptions dictated reality. The high negatives Mrs. Clinton had presented a constant stumbling block for her and her candidacy. I wrote last summer that Mrs. Clinton was fortunate in her opponent this year, opining at the time that any of the other Republicans in the primaries would have beaten her. That even Donald Trump – setting aside the train-car load of awfulness that is his personality and public campaign – defeated her, without a substantial GOTV effort all the while doing and saying things that would have destroyed a normal candidate long since, says less about how horrible the American people are and far more about just how weak a candidate Mrs. Clinton was.
I do want to say something about one of my favorite political commentators, Charles Pierce, who writes a political blog at Esquire online. Ridiculing the notion of economic anxiety, he highlighted the many demonstrable instances of racism, sexism, and just general awfulness that seemed to flow from Trump and some of his followers like a broken sewer main. Alas, he and many others (including me), forgot a few things. There really is economic anxiety out there among that group that lives with it as a daily reality – the working poor, marginally poor, however you wish to categorize them – who heard nothing about their fears until Trump came along last summer and started talking about building a wall between the US and Mexico. That racism, sexism, and a kind of generalized fear of The Other accompanies such marginal communities is something any second-year sociology undergraduate could explain. The complexities of class, race, gender, ethnicity, and religious identification are such that this group, ignored and feeling pushed aside or left out both by Bush and Obama, felt they had a spokesman. Trump was the guy who got it. This was a guy who understood that all the attention minority groups, women, foreigners, and non-Christians received silenced millions of Americans. He became their voice.
Does any of this have to do with reality? What did I write above? Perception is reality. The most important, and most real, perception was and continues to be that the political class and those who vocally support it, regardless of stated party identification or ideology, ignore, ridicule, and dismiss the concerns of millions of Americans, telling them they’re racist and sexist, telling them that America is changing despite them, telling them they no longer matter. That there’s quite a bit of rage right at the surface of much of the Trump movement should surprise no one. Like that long-ago political commentator who railed against Bill Maher, millions of working-class Americans were and are sick and tired of being ignored, passed over, and existing merely to be the butt of the jokes of people no better than they.
So now we face the reality not only of President-elect Trump, but quite probably an Executive Cabinet filled with some of the strangest and scariest characters imaginable. Newt Gingrich as Secretary of State, anyone? Perhaps Rudy Giuliani as Attorney General? Just imagine if Stave Bannon becomes Press Secretary. All of this was avoidable had we liberals – and again I say “we” because I count myself among their number – not been quite so smug and triumphal as we celebrated the spread of gay rights and the rise of the Trans-community Civil Rights movement. Had we actually sat and listened to folks whose parents felt abandoned by the Democratic Party, perhaps we’d have better candidates who could address matters of racial, gender, and sexual equality while never forgetting the diffuse yet substantial working class population who ask only their contributions to America be recognized; their concerns be heard and given voice; and that they, too, have a place at the table.
Just to be clear, I expect a Trump Presidency not only to be as horrible as many liberals (and not a few conservatives) have predicted, but probably worse. Surrounded by ignoramuses and fools, the least-qualified person elected to the Office in American history can only stumble from one crisis to the next, with political regulars in Congress and the Press trying to figure out how best to stop our general plummet. Should we manage to survive in some manner, fashion, or form over the next four years, we might yet have the opportunity to return to something resembling good governance.
Rather than reach out to an increasingly marginalized and disenfranchised working class, both major parties discarded them, the Republicans for the money changers in the Wall Street temples and the Democrats for their vision of a technocratic elite who understood better than the rest of us how best to order our collective lives. As that working class fell further and further behind, obviously they flocked to a demagogue; at least the demagogue talked to them, and seemed to speak for them.
We will have much rebuilding to do in this country. As a man in my late middle-age, I fear for the world my children, one an adult, the other soon to be one, will inherit. I think we can begin this rebuilding by taking a deep breath and remembering that the millions of people who voted for Donald Trump are our fellow Americans, our neighbors, family, friends, co-workers. As Pres. Obama said this morning, we’re all “on the same team” as it were. Even as the future Trump Administration stumbles from failure to crisis, we have a chance to listen to one another, perhaps at long last. We’re in this for the long haul, now, folks. I think we ALL need to pull together now because there’s a storm coming, and we need to be helping each other.