SPECS IN A JAUNDICED EYE (political & social commentary)

ALTERNATIVE FACTS?

Campaigning for office and serving in office require two very different skill sets. Hillary Clinton proved again how poor she was in the former even as her work as New York senator showed a degree of acumen in the latter. 

Throughout his winning campaign Mr. Trump led his rabid followers like a drum major while beating the Republican field like a drum. He considered a bold assertion every bit the equal of a proven fact, and often its better – facts, after all, are so messy and inconvenient with that whole need for supporting evidence. He said as much in his books.  

“People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest,” he said in The Art of The Deal. “Call it truthful hyperbole.”

So he says what he thinks people want to hear in order to close the deal, and doesn’t let truth get in the way. Recall what Paul Simon reminded us of in his classic song The Boxer, “still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

That’s why the 58-story Trump Tower was advertised with a top floor at 68 stories. Not because it had a 68th floor, but so it would sell at a higher price if listed at 68, and caveat emptor.

trump-17-v-obama-09-inaugural-crowds-11-a-m

Obama 2009  vs. Trump 2017 – 11 a.m.

This is why, in the face of evidence to the contrary, Mr. Trump can say that Vladimir Putin had no hand in altering the election with Russian hacking, say his election is “a movement like we have never seen before in history”, or why he can look at the overhead pictures of his inaugural crowd compared with others taken at exactly the same time of day in previous years and declare his was the biggest ever. 

Black is white, down is up, bad is good. It’s the cynicism of the Big Lie. Tell it over and over and over again and, who knows, after a while it begins to seep in until people will either begin to believe it, or don’t know what to believe. Truth is only what is perceived as truth. History, after all, is written by the winners.

But this kind of truth-twisting is significant in a president, because now it involves each of us, and the world at large. And to show how the disease can begin to infect the body politic, already presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway has coined a new Orwellian phrase for it,  “alternative facts”.  As if 2 + 2 = 5 is an alternative fact to 2+2 = 4.

And to prove how “on message” the new administration is, on Monday White House spokesman Sean Spicer told the press corps in the first press scheduled briefing under President Donald Trump“I believe that we have to be honest with the American people, but I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts.”  As if opinion and fact were now interchangeable.

“The less we have a reliance on a common set of facts, norms begin to fall in a quick and decisive way,”  warned Politico’s Jeff Greenfield on Dec. 18, 2016 Meet the Press. 

Can you believe it?  

Heaven help us. 

END

MARCHING NOW?!

protest-march

From a distance the scenes were resonate of the massive anti-war rallies that eventually led to the U.S. pull out of Vietnam in the 1970s.  But those protest marches took place when their opposition actually helped determine the outcome of the war.  In the case of yesterday’s series of protest marches across America railing against the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States the question looms, NOW everyone gets upset about the election?  Now, after he’s been administered the oath of office?  Little tardy to the party, don’t you think? Didn’t Obama say, ‘don’t boo, vote’?

We learned nothing from the Brexit vote in the U.K?  At least you can excuse Brits who never understood what Brexit meant. But who didn’t know exactly who this guy was?  You think he was holding back for the last 18 months, disguising his qualifications and personal qualities?  He reveled in them.  You didn’t see?

So what forces, you think, kept this civic uprising from happening before 11/03 when it might’ve done some good?  Where was this passion then?  I’m sure 99.7% of the marchers voted for Hillary, but it wasn’t with any of the fire in the belly, which is what the Trump supporters had. 

The Democrats got caught napping, that’s what happened.  They believed the polls, and assumed that what they saw as self-evident – that Trump, like Sarah Palin in 2008,  was unqualified for national office –  would be apparent to everyone on election day, too. Instead, not even close! 

Trump generated passions on all sides, yes, but there was a larger group pushing him forward than there was shoving him back. People miscalculated, but didn’t realize how badly till it was too late. Now they march?  Now they carry placards?   

That said, only 26% of those eligible actually voted for Mr. Trump, but more than enough to win the electoral college tally. And it wasn’t just true Trumpers either, there was bleed-over from those Repubs and Indys who voted Obama in either 2008 or 2012. Don’t think there wasn’t.

What is evident is that Hillary never struck a nerve this time around. She was like an old Republican candidate, say Bob Dole; it was just her turn. But there was no passion in the argument for her, only angst in the opposition to her opponent. 

So here we are with the Tangerine Dream ensconced in the Oval Office in command of the full set of powers that attend it.  I get it, and wish him God’s speed for all our sakes. But the fact that a misogynistic unqualified opportunist is now POTUS is the unblinking mirror that America will have to look into each morning for the next four years.  So all the protesters have to ask if they did enough when the chips were still on the table. 

But now is not the time to despair, it’s time to trust the system that has sustained the country for nearly two and a half centuries. How fragile would that system have to have been if this man could fundamentally alter it?  We need to have more faith than that in all that has come before, and the continuing promise that lies ahead.

END

DISRUPTOR IN CHIEF 

trump-inauguralWith the entire political establishment arrayed at his back, and leaden clouds looming overhead, newly sworn in President Donald J. Trump addressed his “Make America Great Again” followers in the crowd stretched along the capital mall.

“From this day forward, it’s going to be ONLY America first, American first,” he said, speaking simultaneously to a jittery world beyond. “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.”

Mr. Trump had promised never to betray his followers, and his inaugural address  didn’t disappoint.  “Me and you against them,” was his message as the rain began to fall.  There were some who thought (wished) Mr. Trump would assume a more conciliatory tone once the swearing in had taken place, as Lincoln had in his famed second inaugural, as Trump himself had done when meeting with President Obama at the White House during the transition.  But the tone of his 16-minute inaugural address was vintage Trump, reflecting his bombastic campaign stump speeches more than any of the previous 57 inaugural addresses.  Absent was any historical context, unifying message. or appeal to what Lincoln called ‘our better angels’. Instead, Trump gave them the devil.

“Their victories have not been your victories,” he said speaking of the Washington insiders; “their triumphs have not been your triumphs.  And while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.”

Pure pessimism with solutions that were presented, as always, as simple, Trump-centric,  and never complex. In fact, there was little more than the Trumpian promise to deal in short order with what he described as the dystopian American carnage of crime, gangs, drugs, and rusted out factories that like tombstones are scattered across the American landscape.  Just as he promised to wipe radical Islamic fundamentalism from the face of the earth, rebuild the military, reconfigure the healthcare system while refitting America with a whole new infrastructure.  Easy.

America as leader of the free world, bulwark against injustice and totalitarianism wherever it may be found, re-builder of vanquished foes in Europe and Asia, architect of the post-WWII Pax Americana, well, that had come to a full-stop reset. The America that Frank Capra and Steven Spielberg had given us on the big screen had slipped away in the name of quarterly profits.

Even giving the New York billionaire builder president the benefit of the doubt that he was still playing to his base, and will come to his senses once he sees reality for what it is – America remains the richest, most powerful nation in the world, the indispensable North Star   –  the fact that his mind is so fixed, so lacking in self awareness as not to understand how his words could be interpreted by crazies on the fringe, enemies at the ready, or allies in a panic is enough in itself to frighten many more than it comforts.  This isn’t a matter of being PC, telling it like it is, it’s a matter of having a fundamental capacity for critical political judgement.

Presidential?  Makes you yearn for G.W. Bush. And who thought that would be possible? Trump is a walking carnival barker, constantly trying to coax people into his gold-fringed freak show tent.  And for responsible Republicans to kid themselves into thinking this blustering editorial cartoon is up to the office of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, Roosevelt, Reagan and Adams because of some sense of party loyalty, is a testament to how far off-road that party has gone.

Remember well, it was writer Joseph de Maistre who said, “In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve.” So good luck fellow Americans, we have quite a future coming our way over the next four years with no one left to blame but all us rubberneckers as we pass the next political accident sitting in the ditch off the side of the road.

END

stars-in-night-skyBY THE LIGHT OF A NEW DAY

Astronomers believe there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe, and between 100 and 300 billion stars in our own Milky Way alone.  The sheer immensity of it is both humbling and beyond our modest comprehension.  Yet more and more people can’t even take in the vast spray of stars cast across the night sky anymore, as that display has been veiled by the light pollution enveloping our cities. Thus, while much has been gained in our relentless technological trek, much has been lost along the way.

With even the majesty of the night sky taken we tend to shrink in the dim light of man’s own making.  By that weak light many people remain in the darkness of fact-aversion, beyond the light of acquired knowledge and accepted science.  And though all science is amenable to challenge, there is no light strong enough to penetrate blind denial or unquestioning allegiance.  Accordingly, many see only right/wrong, light/dark, win/lose, here/there, yes/no, a very restricted, brittle outlook, indeed. Even our political framework has been so constructed into cartoonish either/or choices.

As one eventful year bleeds into the next, we find ourselves increasingly at a distance from one another. Yet to co-exist, much less thrive, we must embrace certain basic premises like no cutting the course, the line forms here, and ours is a country of laws rather than men or the teachings of any particular belief system. And that understanding has worked quite well for over two centuries, because over that time there has been a large enough aggregate invested in the system where the differences in other beliefs have been assuaged by the common good.

But once the constitutional system begins to corrupt and representation becomes available to the highest bidder rather than to the average voter, powerful historical forces like technological advancement and globalization can redefine winners and losers as the interests of the common man give way to the those of a few particularly advantaged men.  Soon special interests form while the population at-large drifts into camps of flinty-eyed like-mindeds.  Without a moderating middle things begin to polarize, until, dramatically out of balance, one side or the other snaps.

This is the unsettling equilibrium that now confronts us as an analysis from Oxfam shows how just eight of the richest men in the world have accumulated as much wealth as the bottom half of the planet’s entire population.  This imbalance is part of what helped elect Donald Trump, as he first reflected then ginned up a righteous, frustrated anger through an increasingly fearful population eager to lash out against perceived losses — even if not fully realizing the consequences of that lash.  Because once set loose a pent up populism will dance spastic for a while like a pack of lit firecrackers before it burns through leaving a charred husk behind. We may not be at the combustion phase yet, but the sparks of dissolution are becoming increasingly evident and disturbing.

Both the rest of the world and the U.S. have now repeatedly been visited by episodes of mass shootings, police shootings, bombings, and indiscriminate targeting of police by citizen shooters. Predictably, the carnage has released a welter of emotional responses, from anger and sadness, to fear and righteous indignation.  In the U.S. there have been calls for fewer guns and for more guns; for a more open, inclusive society and for a more fearful, walled-in nation. (BROTHERS ON ARMS)

In the Cold War the choice was between free-market capitalism and state-run communism, and the world fell into rough alignment along that borderline.  It took half a century for capitalism to prevail/communism to fail.  But the Soviet implosion left a vacuum along the political spectrum rather than a single-pole winner. It also had a shriveling effect on the entire left wing of political ideology, a reality that became apparent in the U.S. this last November 8th.

Today, camps have been pitched along several fronts, including one that lies along a values continuum balancing the advanced technologies and inclusive social mores of the progressive West against a retrenching populism at home. Another foments an even more radical 7th century barbarism in the Middle East, and yet a third extols a revanchist pride here, there, and everywhere.  And let the world beware of each.

While the promise of technology has always been great, its corresponding danger lies in how it simultaneously isolates us into a whirlpool of conspiracy theories that demonizes the “other”, while bringing us into closer proximity to the point where we can’t keep from bumping into one another. Now heat that brewing stew with the fervor of organized, faith-based belief – doesn’t matter which particular faith, because each and every one of them offers a zero-sum game that leaves no room for conciliation. It is my way or the Hell Bound Highway.  And moral certitude is dangerous no matter who wields it.

Rather than seeing one another as culturally-specific expressions of the same natural impulse, e.g. the search for meaning and and a path toward purpose-driven living, the righteous in every belief system sees an existential choice, either-or, with-us-or-against-us, with the consequences of right and wrong viewed through the prism of that particular belief’s tenets.

This is where sport once helped mend the torn fabric of humanity. Sport is where we strip ourselves bare and share the same humanity on a base, gravitational field. But sport, too, has been ripped by its own hand, abdicated its integrity, leaving the agitated world to build even more pressure. Fear and revenge are among the sticks of societal dynamite being set. All they need is a certain spark.

As  news reverberates that eight white men own as much wealth as the bottom 3.6 billion people on earth,  the 1% meeting in Davos, Switzerland have to be smart. Walls and safe-rooms have only limited utility, for whatever walls you might construct can just as easily come tumbling down like the on in Jericho once did.

The way forward isn’t to isolate and pull away, but to invest against the growing disaffection.  You aren’t separate from the masses, my friends, you are among them for better or worse. We have entered Fram Oil Filter ad territory – “you can either pay me now, or pay me (much more) later”.  So pay it forward while you still can, you Masters of the Universe, before the tinder ignites, and things blow apart and we make a light such that the stars themselves will weep at the loss beheld.

END