Category Archives: Presidential election

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.

 

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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.

 

 

More random thoughts….

Why didn’t we listen to Michael?

There’s actually a critical point here– the anger and disenfranchisement of what used to be the middle class in this country has been out in the open for quite some time, and it has been given voice/exploited by movements of the left and right.  The Tea Party and the Occupy Movement, Trump and Bernie Sanders, have all addressed, in different ways and from different angles,  the collapse of the old economic order in this country.  To me, obviously, some of these approaches are more legitimate than others, but they are all talking about basically the same thing.  The part that grieves me is that Hillary just could not get across to those caught in this upheaval that she, and not that shyster Trump, would be better able to help right our socioeconomic ship.  For sure, it’s now clear that this is a core issue that can no longer be explained away, nor can those suffering because of it be patted any longer on the head and given blithe and vague assurances that everything will be all right in the end.

Hillary failed to make that connection, and that’s on her.  In truth, she had her issues and she was not the most inspiring candidate.  But it is also an evident truth that she rode into this campaign with the weight of twenty-five years of right-wing lies and character assassination on her back, and that had to have contributed to her defeat.  Well, congratulations, FOX News, et. al.– you finally achieved your goal, the destruction of a competent and qualified public servant’s career.  You can be proud of yourselves, I guess, in your narrow-minded and mean-spirited little way, but when the bill comes due in the next six months to a year, don’t come back to us whining that you didn’t know how horrible it was going to be under President– and soon, Il Duce– Donald Trump.  What goes around, comes around.

I’m trying to find silver-linings around here, although they seem elusively scarce.  One is perhaps the thought that Trump is going to unite those of us who see through his bullshit and who want something better for the country.  Another is that, just maybe, when everything sorts itself out this country may be in a position to finally face up to and deal with all the broken promises and lost hopes that fueled the anger that Trump fed upon, or which generated him in the first place.  But it’s an open question how bad things are going to get in the interim, how much suffering people will have to endure before this is over.

Note: here and there on the blogosphere I am detecting the occasional “Trump better watch out, look what happened to….” insert your favorite assassinated politician from history.  So far I’ve seen allusions to Caligula and JFK.  We need to knock that shit off, right now.  We’re supposed to be the ones who respect Constitutional process, guys, and part of that is having the patience and courage to let it work out.  Muttering about political violence only feeds the paranoia of the other side; actually committing political violence is the last act of desperation, when all other means of redress has been exhausted.  That, by the way, is called ‘revolution’, and we are not there, people, not yet.  Pray God we won’t have to go there.  So put a sock in it.

Personal note: in my posts from yesterday I tried to sound an encouraging note on the lines of ‘carry on with normal life while getting ready to oppose Trump’.  I will admit that the first person I am trying to calm down is me.  I am positively oscillating between taking deep breaths and screaming out loud.  I hear the words ‘President-elect Trump’ on the radio and I want to puke.  We have entered a danger zone such as we have not seen in this country since 1861, and it’s hard to not to panic over it.  But just as you don’t want to panic while swimming or on the road, so we don’t want to panic over Donald Trump.  This disaster– and I have no doubt it’s going to be a disaster, unless God grants us an unwonted measure of grace– is going to take some months to unfold.  We need to keep our heads about us and work on ways to resist what is coming.

Sad/scary note: Trump, of course, is the effect, not the cause.  He was produced by the anger and dislocation of millions of ordinary Americans, which has been aggravated and exploited by decades of right-wing propaganda demonizing anyone perceived as ‘progressive’ or ‘other’.  Americans, in fact, have spent the last generation dividing themselves along ideological lines, to the point where we no longer see each other as fellow Americans.

The logical end of such a path is, to put it bluntly, civil dissolution and civil war.

Pray God, we can find a way off this road before we get near that destination.  But we need to understand where we’re headed, in case anyone was unclear.

Geez, I was going to try and end on a positive note.  Okay, here goes– there are millions of people who worked for Hillary and voted for her, and we are not going away.  We were even a majority.

More thoughts to come.

 

 

 

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…..

Well….

It hasn’t happened yet, here in north Texas, but I’m reasonably sure the sun will come up today.

That’s about all I’m sure of at the moment.

I watched the election results come in last night with a group of increasingly distressed folks in a local pub, who could not believe this was happening.  I finally went home before Wisconsin and Pennsylvania sealed Hillary’s fate, but with the mathematical certainty looming on every TV screen.

It is now evident that are we are entering a time of testing in this country.  It remains to be seen how severe this test will be, but all the signs to point to an acute constitutional crisis in the near future.  Trump has given every indication that he will manipulate and twist the levers of government to suit his own ends, as well as doing things that are strictly illegal.  How much damage will be done before the shaky mechanisms of constitutional checks and balances take hold is unclear.  It’s even unclear whether those mechanisms are up to the task.

Everyone who believes in a future for the US that isn’t some devolved nightmare of racial and nationalistic stupidity, shot through with an economic buffonery that threatens not just the American economy, but the world’s, is going to need dig in and work to save what we can.  In previous posts I suggested the fate of the American Republic was at stake in this election.  That suggestion is now hard reality.  We have elected a demagogue and a fascist to our highest office, a man who would have dismayed Jefferson Davis.  This is a danger inherent in democracy, that sometimes manipulators of a distressed and frightened populace gain power.  When this happens, and it happened last night in this beautiful country, it’s then the duty of all true patriots, however much they disagree with each other, to stand up and resist.

There’s much more to be said, but I will need to say it when I’ve had a chance to get more sleep and to organize my scattered thoughts.

In the meantime, if you pray, pray for this country.

God help the United States of America.  God help the world.

 

Once more, thank you, Jon Stewart

Once more, Jon Stewart has a clear-eyed perspective on all the craziness that’s going down right now in our national political space.  This is an extended discussion with Dave Axelrod at the University of Chicago on May 9th.  The whole conversation is worth listening to, but the first thirteen or so minutes are particularly on point, and are excerpted here.

Stewart connects the rise of Trump to the increasingly vitriolic and even apocalyptic narrative that has for years been the daily meat-and-potatoes of right-wing talk radio in particular, and the conservative mindset in general.  He’s not the first commentator to link Republican exploitation of white and particularly male anger at the social changes of the last two generations (aka “the Southern Strategy”) to the rise of a nasty, know-nothing populism (see Sarah Palin as a Trump forerunner), but he does so here in terms that make it hard to argue with his premise. Trump is, quite simply, a monster created by the Republican Party that is now running amok, out of their control, tearing through the heart of our body-politic like Godzilla with bad hair.

Frankly, this is how democracies die.  People get afraid or angry and disgusted with the existing political process– and it’s simply a non-partisan truth that at the moment there’s plenty to be disgusted with about how our government is working, or not working– a figure on a white horse appears who promises to make the bad stuff go away, while spouting slogans such as “make the nation great again” or “regain our national honor”, and the people hand the government over to the horseman.  These strongmen are frequently strong only in their rhetoric, and absolute disasters as heads of state.  Trump shows every sign of having just such feet of political clay.

We cannot, cannot, cannot allow this man even close to the levers of power in this country.  The stakes are just too high.

 

 

 

Democracy– untidy and beautiful

I took part in the Washington State Democratic caucuses today.  It was a special day in more than one way– not only are the stakes in this election extremely high, but it was the first caucus in which my daughter was able to participate.  This simultaneously made me extremely proud and reminded me of my age.  Just a little while ago my daughter was far, far more interested in crayons and her dolls than politics…

Our district caucus was held at one of our local high schools.  We arrived early, but not early enough– the school parking lot was jammed, and street parking was quickly filling up.  I dropped my wife and daughter off, and then had to find parking seven blocks away.  This made my hike back to the high school a bit of a chore, as I am nursing a sprained knee (and a possible meniscus tear– medical assessment in progress).

But I wasn’t going to miss this caucus.

The caucus was wall-to-wall with people– quite probably the largest number of people I have ever seen at a caucus in this state.  People congregated by precinct, and the subsequent discussion was passionate, but generally respectful.  In the end Bernie Sanders took three-quarters of our precinct vote, Hilary Clinton one quarter, which, at the moment, roughly matches the proportion of the vote state-wide.

It was good, face-to-face grass-roots democracy, and nobody called anybody names, and nobody got into a fistfight.  It gives me hope, seeing so many people engaged and looking for change.

Because, frankly, in this country we need hope, and we need change.  There is a real sense that our essential democracy is slipping away.  Working people are getting profoundly shafted, and our republic is in danger of becoming a plutocratic oligarchy.  I am convinced that if certain people from the other party become president (by which I mean all of them, but some more than others) the danger to the country will move from chronic to acute.  We need a political revolution in this country to restore our democracy, and to point the US toward a future that includes everyone.

The problem is that there are a lot of people whose dreams for this country are quite different, far, far too many of whom are threatened by the changes the country is going through, and who are looking for scapegoats for their sense of dislocation.  Certain politicians are pandering to that fear and paranoia and dislocation, offering up empty promises of ‘restored greatness’.  Others are ideologues spouting doctrines that are seriously disconnected from verifiable reality, such as denying global warming in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence.  And all of this is wrapped up in a political polarization that is destroying our sense of all being Americans together.

So I’m hopeful, and I’m worried.  It’s seven-plus months to the general election, which is very long time in American politics, and will be even more so in this election, which has been off-the-wall whacked-out and off the charts.  All we can do is buckle up, hang on and keep working toward what we believe is right, while remembering that while one election is not going to automatically make everything better, that one election could also put us in serious danger.

At minimum, I can do two things for my country at the moment– pray and vote.  To my mind, that’s a pretty powerful combination.

Later.