Category Archives: President

I want to turn it all off, but I can’t- Frontline’s Divided States of America

I just finished watching the two part Frontline documentary Divided States of America (Part One is here), which recapitulates the history of the Obama administration and the rise of populist rage in this country.  It’s enlightening and difficult at the same time, especially as it is unsparing in its recounting of Obama’s naivete and missteps during his two terms.  On the whole it is balanced and sober.  It is also sobering– it ends on the note that Obama came into office with the idea of bridging divides, and he leaves office with the country more divided than ever.

In the documentary there are talking heads from both sides of the political spectrum, and some of those on the right are quick to blame the president for the divisions.   That is both unfair and typical of the right.  The divisions were there before Obama became president; his presidency, however, laid them bare in ways we did not anticipate when he took office in 2009.

The documentary is very good about outlining the rise of populist anger in this country in the last eight years. What exploded at first as the Tea Party and then the candidacy of Donald Trump has deep roots.  The documentary ties the current populism to that which emerged during the 2008 Republican campaign and which found its focus in Sarah Palin, but of course it goes back decades, to the civil rights era and the culture wars of the Eighties and Nineties and the drastic changes in our society and the technology it employs for work and communication.  The absolute (and to progressives, irrational) rage of conservatives who think their country is being stolen by blacks and immigrants, and that Obama was a Muslim socialist bent on destroying white America, is outlined in detail.  The documentary describes the divide in the country as being so profound that it almost amounts to there being two antithetically opposed Americas at war with each other.

That observation resonated with me.  Over the last three decades I have watched this country grow more and more polarized, to the point that we hardly consider those on the other side of the divide from us to be true Americans.  That polarization is what really frightens me, far more than even Trump, because I don’t know how to heal it, and because it is absolutely destructive to our political unity.  I fear this country has gone past some limit without realizing it.  Once this sort of rhetoric gets past a certain point, and people begin to accept it as normal, then there comes a time when your opponents don’t just disagree with you, they are evils that have to fought, in the streets and house-by-house.  In other words, the logical end of this sort of rhetoric is civil war and social dissolution.

And when Trump inevitably spins out of control and crashes, the rage of Trump supporters will not go away.  He did not create it; it created him.  When he’s gone– and I will be surprised if he lasts as much as two years– his supporters will have to find another figurehead to encapsulate their anger.  And what new monstrosity will they create the next time?

I am tired of it all.  I wish I could turn it all off.  But I can’t.  I am not optimistic about America’s chances, but I can’t join a rush to the lifeboats.  Weary and weak as I am, I have to stay and try to do what I can.  I hope you do, too.

But we don’t have to watch the inauguration.  That much, at least, is a relief.

I recommend the Frontline documentary to anyone who wants a good summary of how we got here.

Later.

 

Prove me wrong, Mr. Trump….

Trump is proceeding with his cabinet picks, and while they are not all vicious knuckle-draggers, there are more than enough to indicate the direction Trump’s administration will take.  Billionaires, CEO’s and alt-right operatives, oh, my….

Not much in this group changes my mind about what I fully expect will be the most racist, authoritarian and and criminal presidential administration in our nation’s history (which is saying something).  We Americans have shot ourselves in the foot, and it’s an open question how much suffering and blood– and I may not be talking metaphorically– we will have to go through before we can bandage up the wound.

But no crimes have been committed yet.  The constitutional process is working itself out.  Nothing irretrievable has happened.

So I want to address President-elect Trump directly.  I don’t think I’m wrong about you, Mr. Trump, but, you know, for the sake of my country, I am willing to be mistaken.  I am willing to be proven completely wrong, butt-headed wrong, completely off the beam.  There is still time.

You have promised to build a wall on our southern border.  Even if that’s just metaphorical, making our relationship with Mexico– tied to us by economic and social bonds far stronger and more intricate than most people realize– into a battleground over an imaginary influx of rapists and thieves hurts everyone.  I expect you meant this when you said it.

So prove my expectation wrong, Mr. Trump.  Walk back your rhetoric; engage Mexico as a respected partner, not as some sort of punching-bag for your ego and the titillation of your followers.  Make your deeds better than your rhetoric.

You suggested you will make religion a criteria for admitting people to this country, a criteria profoundly un-American.  Half the people in this country would not be here, if such a criteria had been applied to their ancestors.  But you said this, so I expect you meant it.

Show me I’m wrong.  Call it campaign rhetoric, call it hyperbole, call it indigestion, but drop the suggestion of religious selectivity, even in the name of national security.  Live up to the standard that has guided our country throughout its history, that a person’s religion is no bar to inclusion in America.

You’ve played footsie with alt-right white nationalists.  You’ve made one of them a top adviser.  I have to suppose this is because, somewhere deep down, you are in sympathy with their philosophy.

Prove me wrong, please.  Please.  An administration that explicitly promotes a white nationalist agenda would tear this country apart, obliterating everything accomplished in the last fifty years.  Even engaging these people with a wink and a nod goes too far.  Rise above them, repudiate them, throw them out, wipe your feet on them–truly prove that you really will be president for all Americans.

You’ve suggested torture would be brought back in the name of national security; you’ve threatened to re-write and possibly not honor solemn treaties which have been drawn up between the US and other sovereign nations; you’ve played kissy-face with a dictator while suggesting countries threatened by him might not be able to rely on the US fulfilling its treaty obligations.  There are a myriad of things you’ve said you would do that would hurt the country or spell actual disaster.  Listing them all would take too long; but you get my drift.

So now’s your chance to prove you really didn’t mean all this bilge-water.  Confound my expectations and show yourself to be a real patriot and a true leader. No one will be happier than me, Mr. Trump, to see my many expectations about you confounded.  I’m not asking for you to undergo a conversion of a progressive form of politics– that would probably require divine intervention.  All I’m asking for is that you set aside your ego and need for attention long enough to think about the well-being of the nation.  That’s the action of a true patriot.  If you could do that, I will eat crow for breakfast from now until November, 2020.  I wouldn’t care, if it would spare the country pain and despair.

The ball’s in your court.  There’s still time.  Either confirm my expectations that you’re a authoritarian narcissist, or rise above all that and become a true leader.  It’s up to you.

I will be watching.  And so will a lot of other people.

 

 

Some random thoughts among the ruins

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  1. I still had to balance my checkbook this morning.
  2. Six to twelve months of Trumpism in power, and I predict many of the people who thought they’d like his brand of change will be begging for some of the old order back.
  3. A note to the pollsters and pundits– please get your heads out of your asses.  At the very least this should not have been a surprise.
  4. “Up to three Supreme Court picks” (11/9/2016 ABC News).  With the Senate and House both in Republican hands, this has the potential of locking a right-wing collar around America for at least a generation.
  5. That’s assuming that the economic depression Trump’s asinine monetary policies will cause leaves a country to collar.
  6. I’m just glad Keith Olbermann didn’t blow a complete gasket.  He still calls it pretty good, though.
  7. An ABC News commentator just mentioned that votes are still being counted in California and that Hillary will probably win the national popular vote while losing the Electoral College– only the fifth time that’s happened in our history.  If we needed a clinching argument to do away with the Electoral College, we got one now.
  8. Perhaps the chief moral of this election is that there is a deep, deep reservoir of resentment and fear in this country among certain people who have been generally shafted by the shifts in the economy away from industry toward information and services, left behind by the concentration of too much wealth in the hands of too few, and who don’t see themselves included in an increasingly diverse country.  It was that alienation Trump tapped into.  Like most demagogues, he has no real remedy for these perceived ills, and will doubtless only exacerbate them in the long run.
  9. Trump’s election ties the US to what is clearly an emerging international wave of retrograde nationalism and anti-immigrant feeling (e.g. Brexit) that threatens the world order as we have known it since the end of the Cold War, and maybe since World War II.  Right now, it really sucks to be a Syrian refugee, but given Trump’s waffling on NATO, in the near future it might be even worse to be Estonian or Latvian.  That’s scary– and it’s just the start of the potential horrors.
  10. A note to Mr. Trump– per the Constitution, you are President-elect.  But when you take office, Mr. Trump, expect the people– and there are a lot of us– who see through your bullshit to be watching.  That same Constitution that designates you as President will also provide the mechanism to hold you accountable.  If there is any life left in this Republic, you will find that Presidents are not dictators– at least, please God, not quite yet in this country.
  11. A note to my fellow Democrats– let’s all take a deep breath, take care of the necessary, mundane business of life, and try to think about what’s next.  Keep calm, and persevere.

More thoughts to come…..