Category Archives: US government

A Kleptomaniac in theWhite House, with a couple of extra thoughts

 

Thank God for SNL–

 

I think this article has to be required reading for anyone concerned about the course of our country under Trump (written by a conservative, by the way….)–

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/03/how-to-build-an-autocracy/513872/

This article immediately reminded me of a book I read years ago, Friendly Fascism by Bertram Gross, which resonates with David Frum’s concept that the autocracy Trump intends to build will not be based on the heavy-handed models of 1930’s fascism, but which will still just as effectively castrate our civil liberties.

Frum’s article has a lot to recommend it, especially how it frames Trump’s main purpose as the creation of a kleptocracy with him and his family at the center, all of which, if unopposed, would be as utterly destructive of our civil liberties as the worst of the Nazi regime.  I am, however, a little cautious about Frum’s assumption that we won’t see the same sort of heavy-handed political and social control as previous fascisms.  If it were left to just Trump, that might be true, but too many of the people around Trump are positively scary, starting with Jeff Sessions and ending up with Steve Bannon, whose white nationalist views are nothing less than apocalyptic.  If Trump leaves much of the actual running of the government in the hands of his aides, as seems likely, then people like Sessions and Bannon will inevitably use that power to further their own agendas– or get us into disastrous situations in foreign lands.  A crook opening a door for worse criminals is nothing new, except, perhaps, in this country.  That the crook is a buffoon doesn’t make the situation any easier.

It’s going to have to come down to people, progressive and conservative, putting aside their differences on issues to join forces to stand up to these people.  The test of Americans as a people will be whether we can do that.

Hang in there.

 

 

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A little perspective…..

As Inauguration Day arrives, I find myself in a strange mental state.  At the most basic level, it is still a matter of incredulity to me that Trump is going to take the oath of office and become President of the United States.  If I stop to think about it I start rehearsing in my mind the utter absurdity of it.  Teeth get gritted and steering wheels death-gripped.  It’s like the universe has played a practical joke on humanity (because who POTUS is at any given moment affects most if not all of the people on the planet) and we’re just waiting for the sumbitch to bust out laughing and tell us it was all a joke.

At another level, I am trying to think what I can do.  Writing, for sure– this is one time I wish I had the gift of satire, because, by all the evidence, a good satire gets right under Donald’s skin in a way that really highlights his narcissism and self-centered ways.  Contributing to progressive causes and groups and being the best citizen I can possibly be are other things I can do.  Oh, and if the Clown-in-Chief actually implements a Muslim registry, I intend to register as a Muslim, which will at least tell El Bozo that his little plan to scapegoat a religion isn’t going to slip by unnoticed and unremarked.

At the same time it is strange how  everyday life still makes its demands on you.

I still need a job.  I still need to lose weight (not helped by all the comfort eating I’ve been doing in the last two months).  I am in the midst of figuring out how to end a very long relationship.  I’m worried about my blood-pressure and diabetes and trying to remember to take my medication for both.  I am adjusting to the consequences of a long-distance relocation, some of which I anticipated and some I didn’t.  I worry about my daughter, from whom I am now physically separated but still as close as a text.

I still have to brush my teeth and shower and (at least once or twice a week) shave my face.  I still have to do laundry (note to self: today is probably a good day for that).  I have books to read and items to pick up at the store.

I am still trying to write fiction– I’m attempting to serialize The Horseman on this blog, and Princess of Stars, about which I haven’t talked a great deal in the last few months, is still an active project, at least hypothetically.  Part of me wonders if fiction isn’t a frivolous distraction right now, but then I remember that fiction can be a powerful vessel for truth.  It’s an open question whether I have the talent to make my writing as effective as it could be, but I am still possessed of the impulse to write stories, even as the house burns down around me.

And then I find myself, just for a moment, wild with happy excitement at a new Logan trailer (careful, it’s got splashing gore in it, but then, it’s Logan, waddaya expect)–

At one level, you might expect this to be far off my radar, but on the other hand, I suspect in the next year or so we’re all going to need moments of down-time, of allowing ourselves to be distracted from whatever disaster is unfolding.  Logan is not the only movie I’m looking forward to this year, and then there’s Season 7 of Game of Thrones.

This is an important point– for all our fear and uncertainty, and despite the necessity of resistance, we will still need to tend to our ordinary, workaday lives.  It’s essential we take care of ourselves and our loved ones, to make the lunches for the kids to take to school and to get the car lubed when needed.  If we don’t we won’t be able to sustain our effort to speak truth to power, to stand up for the helpless, and to preserve the Republic.

So, take a deep breath, everybody.  Take care of yourselves and your loved ones.  Do what you can, and stay together.  And we will get through this.

Later.

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.

 

 

The state we’re in– further political thoughts, August 8, 2016

In a  previous blog post I made the case that Donald Trump is basically a megalomaniacal con-man who is exploiting the real hurts of average people to promote his brand, which is himself.  He has no a real plan to redeem the country, or even run it with reasonable competence.  His ideas are not merely unworkable (“We’ll build a wall and make Mexico pay for it!”), they are actually dangerous.

The sad truth, however, is that Trump is in no way the cause of the division this country is experiencing at the moment.  He’s merely using it to his advantage.  Our division into mutually antagonistic ideological camps has been going on for decades.

There has always been social and political tension and contention in this country.  This is inevitable in a society made up of many different groups holding a variety of beliefs.  The Founding Fathers actually recognized that faction was inevitable and took it into account when formulating the Constitution.  Americans have long had a genius for weaving contentious groups together into a, if not completely harmonious, then at least reasonably unified consensus.

Sometimes, however, this consensus breaks down.  The most obvious example, of course, is the Civil War.  Americans in the middle of the Nineteenth Century found themselves unable to continue to paper over the chasm between free state and slave state, between an agrarian South focused on social hierarchy and chattel labor and an industrializing North focused on an open society with free labor.  All attempts at compromise failed and Americans divided themselves into antagonistic camps which, in the end, could find no way to resolve their disagreements other than by force of arms.  The war quite literally destroyed the old Union and birthed a new political order, a new United States.  If that new society was any more just and free than the old, the price paid for it was undeniably high.

We live in another era of partisan division.  Many have remarked on how people are living more and more in “ideological silos”, in which they interact only with people who largely agree with them.  The Pew Research Center has done statistical analyses of this fact that are worth reading.  One of the interesting aspects of these analyses is the finding that those who are more political involved tend to have the most consistently liberal or conservative ideologies.  As these studies put it, centrists largely “…remain on the edges of the political playing field….”

The reasons for this bifurcation are numerous and go back decades– the upheaval of the Sixties, the rise of a vocal and uncompromising conservatism, the culture wars of the Eighties and Nineties, the advent of largely conservative media that has been less interested in journalistic fairness than in demonizing those who hold contrarian opinions (although liberals are hardly innocent of this sort of thing), the contested presidential election in 2000, 9-11, the Iraq war, and the growing threat of terrorism.  People have a profound sense that their government is more and more the creature of plutocrats and money-men.  On top of all of this, the nation is going through demographic and social changes which leave some people feeling alienated from their own country– the United States is well on its way to no longer being majority white, nor normatively heterosexual, nor largely Christian (I personally doubt we were ever really that Christian as a society, but that’s another post).

We are increasingly a nation divided against itself.  We have lost much of our sense of common purpose and identity as Americans– or rather, we spend a great deal of time telling ourselves that people who think differently from us or who look different are not real Americans.  This partisan division has been reflected in the operation of our government, or perhaps rather, its non-operation.  In recent years ‘legislative action’ has too often consisted of using the mechanism of government to deny your opponents legitimacy and anything resembling policy success.  When you see this sort of thing becoming common, it is a sure sign that the established mechanisms of governance have begun to break down, and that new mechanisms and a new consensus need to be created.

Unfortunately, at the moment no one seems to have a clear understanding of how to achieve this new consensus.  At the same time, many people seem to want to restore the America they think they’ve lost, or to bring in someone who will take positive action– whether or not it’s constitutional– to ‘protect’ us.  Hence, Trump.

The essential point is that, even if Trump loses this election, the forces he is exploiting– or that, in another sense, brought him into being– will still be seething with resentment and misplaced rage, doubtless looking for the next man on a white horse. This is almost unprecedented in our history.  The only analogous situation I can immediately call to mind is Huey Long in the Thirties, who was another demagogue who exploited populist discontent.  There was a reason Franklin Delano Roosevelt considered Long one of the most dangerous people in the country.

Personally, I have no ready remedy in mind to heal this rift and soothe the minds and hearts of those who are looking for– let’s not mince words– a dictator.  The rhetoric has become too heated, the divisions too deep for an easy solution.  Possibly all we need to tip us over the edge into some sort of authoritarianism is for some latter-day John Brown— domestic or foreign– to do something appalling (a terrorist nuke on America soil would do the job, if an example is needed) and the American people might just select a Trump-figure to lead them.  We are in dangerous waters.

The only thing I know for sure that we must do is speak the truth, protect the rights of everyone– even if they wear a hijab or have Mexican grandparents– and vote as if the future of the Republic is on the line.

Because it is.