SPECS IN A JAUNDICED EYE

LEARNING FROM de TOCQUEVILLE IN 2020

Remember that it was the French diplomat and political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville who first extolled the vibrancy of America’s civil society in his two-volume Democracy in America (1835 and 1840).  Forty-six years later the French people affirmed de Tocqueville’s assessment when they gifted America with the Statue of Liberty (dedicated October 28, 1886).

In other words, it wasn’t us blowing our own horn, rather an outsider who saw in us something new and laudatory within the family of nations.

Historically, what made America so appealing is the same thing that made Babe Ruth so appealing. We were big and strong, but fun-loving, good-natured, and out-going, too, and maybe, endearingly, a little naive, as well. Though originally blind to the damage done by our slave-owning past and roughshod Manifest Destiny striving, overall, America was a smile and a clap on the back, a little less cynical than the ages-old societies that preceded us. And within that spirit was a readiness to lend a hand to those in need, another reflexive, Ruthian trait.

We didn’t play up our size or our might. Instead, we were ‘aw-shucks’ humble in our strength, embracing in our openness, and generous in our spirit.

What happened to that America?

Now we brag incessantly about how great we are – “the greatest country in the history of the world”.  We wrap ourselves in the flag and conduct military fly-overs at every turn, ostentatiously reveling in our armaments while simultaneously holding one hand over our heart while patting ourselves on the back with the other like a double-jointed massage therapist.

Biff in Back to The Future

Coming from where we began and how the world came to know and respect us, it is all more than a little unseemly.  Instead of Uncle Sam, we have morphed into Biff Tannen from the movie Back To The Future.

When America declared her independence, the founders felt it prudent to address how the world would view our separation from England. Because our rational would undergird the moral standard to which the United States would strive as a new nation while deterring other nations from backing Britain in her pushback.

Thus, the final clause of the Declaration’s introduction read “…a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

“A decent respect to the opinions of mankind” was among the founding concerns of this nation. Now it’s “America First”.

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There has always been a difference between old money and new in how wealth was displayed. Old money hid behind long driveways and simple facades. The new has always presented more ostentatiously. Though a relatively new nation, America carried herself with understated confidence as she grew in size – “walk softly and carry a big stick”, said Teddy Roosevelt – knowing that with our declaration of equality, and goal of perfecting our union, we carried more than just an industrial might, but a moral strength, too. We did not ascribe to the Nazi or North Korean jack-booted, goose-stepping swagger.

Give me back that America of the big heart and open hand. Such attributes didn’t make us suckers, they made us saviors.

Remember what else de Tocqueville said of this nation: “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”

America is given that ability every four years on the first Tuesday in November. With a record of staggering incivility, disunity, and fear-mongering before us, we can see what a monumental error we made in November 2016. Though made in good faith, that error represented an honest attempt to put an end to the dynastic cycle of two families that had overseen the American government since 1980, the Bushes and the Clintons. But as some could readily anticipate, the bombastic cure we elected was much worst than the ill he was meant to heal (OUR PRESIDENTIAL APPRENTICE).

And so again on November 3, 2020, we will again be presented with an opportunity to correct what has become arguably the most corrosive agency ever allowed within the halls of power and near the founding spirit of this unique nation. Once again we are drawn to de Tocqueville for guidance.

“Society is endangered not by the profligacy of a few, but by the laxity of morals amongst all.”

Vote, my friends, as if your nation’s fate depended on it because it very well may.

END

AMERICA IN THE BALANCE

Both political parties have staged their virtual conventions, both have set off their fireworks displays, and both have warned us against the existential threat to America posed by voting for their opponent. And that is the scratch line behind which we stand in the race for the White House in 2020. Perhaps the overriding question before us is: Irrespective of the outcome, can there be anything approaching a victory given such a divergent match up?

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Pressured by a polarizing presidency, a viral pandemic – along the economic crisis that attends it – and street protests erupting against a backdrop of police brutalities committed against unarmed black people (like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks), America is once again searching for those elusive ties that bind at a time when there are money and political capital to be made by the forces of denial, distrust, and opposition.

A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC  poll (June 7, 2020) found that 80% of the public believes the country is out of control, while only 15% view it as being guided by a steady hand.  If we break that WSJ/NBC poll down, it is likely that we will find a wide gap in the understanding of how the nation became so polarized and what we might do to correct it, if anything.

Gadsden Flag

But the sense here, and it’s an ironic one, is that the Gadsden Flag’s “Don’t Tread On Me” brand of staunchly American individualism and anti-government sentiment that earmarked our nation as something new and revolutionary at its founding, the same individualism that helped create the American pioneering and entrepreneurial spirits that proved to be such a strong character trait within a more widely spread but homogenous population, has now become the very quality that keeps us from being able to unite in a time of crisis in a more tightly packed, heterogeneous society.

Imagine that, our greatest strength now part of what is working to keep us apart. So much so, that the concept of “We, the people” no longer seems applicable some 244 years after our founding.

What’s missing in America 2020 is a widely accepted sense of common values and purpose, like the unifying drive for freedom from monarchical England in the 18th century – which, don’t forget, wasn’t monolithic at the time, either – or the shock of Pearl Harbor in 1941 or 9/11 in 2001.

But cataclysms don’t provide sustainable political unity. We have to be for something together, not just against this thing and that as individuals.

The effects of globalism that ties capital together beyond national borders, and a series of new technologies that make every citizen complete in him/herself, has left the once unifying concept of community and country incapable of bringing us under a common tent.

And absent any such a new unifying purpose, besides war – hell, even a raging pandemic doesn’t bring us together – the American experiment in self-rule will continue to split farther and farther into those deeply opposing camps until any sense of an American people as previously understood will dissipate into permanent divisions of Us and Thems.

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It’s a delicate determination, for sure, but the perception of what it means to be an American is what hangs in the balance this November of 2020.

If America is primarily defined by its language, borders, and culture, the first and third brought to the second from the shores of Great Britain – and later, the descendants of the slave population shipped to these shores beginning in 1619 – then the wave of brown-faced, not native-born Americans who are increasingly displacing those of a whiter shade of pale is understandably a disquieting turn worth opposing.

But if the true America isn’t just its language and culture, important though they are, but the idea that was articulated at the founding that “ALL men are created equal, etc.”, the America exemplified by “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, if that is the real America, then whatever shade the American complexion may take or language it may speak or culture it may produce, are less consequential if those complexions, languages, and cultures pledge allegiance to that same originating American ideal, not simply its constantly evolving cultural milieu. And since our borders have long since expanded to Hawaii and Alaska, the concept of place as being determinative has already been traversed.

Yet in these circumstances, we can still wholly honor the founders of the country for their ideal in spite of their contradictory nature of claiming freedom and espousing equality while at the same time owning slaves, and put that contradiction into the context of their times even as their ideals continue to spread hope for freedom around the world.

But if America truly does define itself in terms of a  country of majority-white Anglo-Saxon Protestants with an additional few Catholics from middle and Eastern Europe, and some oppressed Jews, and maybe some STEM-infused Asians to keep us ahead of the scientific curve, and some ballplayers out of the Dominican Republic, and everyone else just stay the f#ck out, then America never was the country it purported to be in the first place.

At the same time, failure by newcomers to assimilate into long-standing national norms will only further fragment an already multi-faceted population until what we share isn’t a land but simply its ground.

In the end, we either believe in the founding declaration itself or just in the people who made the declaration and accept, as they did, the assumed limitations they intended upon making it, i.e. “all land-owning white men are created equal and endowed by their (Christian) creator with certain unalienable rights…”

And that is the question being asked of today’s Americans like never before.

It is how we answer that question in November – what truly defines “America”? – that will determine which direction this republic takes into her future years, a forward-thinking idealized one of many shades or the backward-looking one of a single color and attitude.

END

THE TRUMP COMEUPPANCE

“We need to make this an aberration, not our reality,“ said historian Jon Meacham when asked what he took from former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s insider account of the Trump presidency, The Room Where It Happened. Yes, call 2017-2021 the Trump interregnum, a one-term crie de coeur from a long-suffering segment of the American population that Trump pandered to and then exploited for his own gain.

But while the world-at-large is being tested by a deadly novel pathogen, with some nations passing that test better than others, I have a sneaking suspicion that America’s triple 2020 whammy of Coronavirus, Donald Trump, and the Black Lives Matter movement is just old-fashioned karma finally come a-calling on the US of A. And we might one day come to know that combination as the Trump Comeuppance.

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Lawmakers and the judiciary often refer to Original Intent as the Northstar that guides our path forward as a nation. But you have to wonder how sincere our Founders’ declaration “all men are created equal“ really was if after 244 years we still can’t make it apply universally. And so, after a long and, to date, blemished record in color-coordinated democratic self-rule, America has finally seen the Fates step up.

New Mount Rushmore

In a fit of 21st-century pique, the Fates presented America with a Brioni suit-wearing Apprentice President, one over-ripened with vacuous self-confidence and a truly imbecilic understanding of government and history – “everything will be simple and done quickly”, right? Then taxed him with a raging pandemic, a nuanced foreign field of play, and a long-simmering domestic social injustice brought to a boil, and let nature take its course.

You never know what might be the catalyst for historic change. In a different time, at a different place, today’s catalyst would be just another average tragedy added to the long list of previous tragedies, like the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, for instance. Horrible to see, yes, but just chalk it up as another brown man killed for being brown, wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Seen it before, will see it again.

But the quickly following slow-motion kneel-lynching of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, and the jaw-dropping case of Breonna Taylor, killed in her own home by Louisville police who busted into the wrong house they were tasked to serve and protect, was enough to break the lockdown dam. The newly witnessed killing of Rayshard Brooks by Atlanta police just added volume to the already rushing current.

And that’s all after the Fates had given us a mulligan or two when we first got started.

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After Columbus opened the American continent to Europe, competing national powers fought over and settled North America – well, took over would be a better description – by bringing a can-do pioneer spirit along with diseases that wiped out 90 percent of the indigenous population.

By the time of the American Revolution, however, our intentions were ennobled. We came out of the blocks as a nation with a mission statement for the ages, “All men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…”

Historic words, indeed, and a breathtaking declaration in the era of the divine-right-of-kings. Except, our forefathers meant those words literally. Men were created equal. Actually, land-owning white men were created equal, not women, and for godsakes, not slaves. What, are you kidding? They were farther down than the native Americans.

From that starting point, it took 87 more years – the last three of which took the form of Civil War – before Abraham Lincoln reconfigured our mission to include freed black slaves. Once more the Fates gave us a pass. They could see we were on the right path, at least from a leadership standpoint.  But laws don’t change the hearts of men. And so did Jim Crow replace slavery as the privileged majority continued to see itself as the real and only first among equals. Even then, women, white or otherwise, didn’t get the vote until 1920.

And so have the original racist tendencies fostered by the Brits and Scots who founded this country continued to infect the body politic.  It’s true, the origins of American racism go back well before our founding. So maybe the Fates were allowing for that, as well. “We will give these new Americans time to figure it out then work it out.”

But just like marathon runners can make pacing errors in the first 15-20 minutes that can have dire consequences down the road, the introduction of slavery to North America in 1619, and the vestigial remnants that have echoed on since January 1, 1863, were finally enough to exhaust the Fates.

“These people aren’t ever going to change.  This IS who they are. And now they double dared us by electing the current Tool in Chief?

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What about American exceptionalism, you ask, that hoary trope of self-promotion? Well, isn’t the old adage, “You’re only as good as your last race?”

So while there may well have been exceptionalism imbued in her aspirations, even in some of her foreign actions like with the Marshall Plan in Europe and General MacArthur‘s benevolent rebuilding of Japan following World War II, there were certainly less so in America’s actions at home.  In fact, those actions have been all too consistent from the get-go. Racial intolerance and injustice trace our history step-for-step like a country line dance.

Is that sad?  Perhaps. Or maybe it’s just honest. If you haven’t been able to live up to your own ideals after 244 years of nationhood and another 157 before that when you first imported fellow human beings in shackles to work as slaves, how likely are you to change in another 29, 49, or 60 more years?

This IS who we are. All men ARE created equal. Just not in the application of their higher ideals, but in the acting out of their frailties, faults, and base prejudices.

The Fates have seen enough. The time for self-correction has passed. The triple whammy of Coronavirus, the Trump presidency, and Black Lives Matter are the karmic payoffs. The economy is at risk of cratering, the President polarizes in a panic of self-interest, and the streets are awash with both protesters and magical thinkers even as the pathogen licks its lips in gluttonous anticipation.

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Today’s polarized populace has been spun to the far ends of the political spectrum, setting in motion centrifugal forces that threaten to spiral this country out of control. The sense of civic responsibility and the common purpose that defined America is disappearing faster than NCAA men’s cross country and track programs.

On top of that, there is race-based incivility that keeps on metastasizing even as we, of our own volition, elected a president who is as far from Abe Lincoln as a 58-story glass tower in Midtown Manhattan is from a log cabin in New Salem, Illinois.

Today, we have a president who is the gift that just keeps giving. Sadly, it’s to Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang, and Tehran.  So ill-informed of mind, so petty of personality, so weak in character, his Gatling gut reactions spray authoritarianism and flummery without any deducible coherence beyond self-aggrandizement.

Not only does our Dear Leader Donald not embrace the torment wracking the most vulnerable of his charges, but his utter bovinity (sic) not only spreads division but spews political bile like a projectile-vomiting Manchurian candidate planted to corrode the ties that bound E Pluribus Unum into a nation that much of the world took as the beacon for its own dreams.

How quickly the world’s oldest, most powerful democracy has come under existential threat with just one horrific choice for president.  What is leadership worth?  “What have you got to lose?” as one candidate candidly asked in 2016.  Look and see for yourself.

We just learned that Russia was paying bounties to the Taliban for killing U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Knowledge of this policy made its way up the chain of command to the highest reaches of the White House, but President Hear-No-Evil claims he knew nothing about it.

Our adversaries can save their time and money.  We won’t be overthrown by an invading foreign force. No need. We’ll take ourselves down from the inside in a Shakespearean tragedy for the ages. And the Future will weep at what might have been.

I’m telling ya, karma’s a bitch, ain’t it?

END

THE MADNESS OF KING DONALD
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If you didn’t actually see him say it yourself, you wouldn’t believe anybody who told you about it later.

“No, he didn’t. Stop it. Nobody would suggest injecting disinfectant to treat anything. What am I, an idiot?  You must’ve heard wrong.”

Uh…actually he did.

On Thursday, April 23, Mr. Trump stood behind the lectern in the White House press room at the daily Coronavirus Task Force briefing and mused aloud whether medical experts should study injecting disinfectant into people to kill the virus.  But that was only the half of it. That jaw-dropper followed his original corrective suggestion of subjecting the human body to heat and light as a possible cure.

The president’s witless wanderings followed a presentation from William Bryan, undersecretary for science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security, who presented results of a study showing how the coronavirus deteriorates on surfaces and in the air more quickly when subjected to higher temperatures and humidity.  He also said his office was studying how certain disinfectants might kill the virus more effectively than others, referencing isopropyl alcohol and bleach.

Seizing on a connection that doesn’t exist – between humans and Formica – that nobody over three would ever make, Trump began inquiring about using light and heat as part of a potential cure.

“So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous – whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light – and I think you said that hasn’t been checked but you’re going to test it,” Trump said to Bryan who was sitting next to Dr. Deborah Birx, medical coordinator of the White House Task Force who was experiencing a belief meltdown internally. “And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside of the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way. And I think you said you’re going to test that too. Sounds interesting.”

Deluded into believing he was onto something, and with rhetorical bit firmly in his teeth, Trump next floated the head-spinning theory about the potential use of disinfectants on Covid-19 patients.

“And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?” Trump said to Dr. Birx. “Because you see it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that. So you’re going to have to use medical doctors with — but it sounds interesting to me.”

OMG!  This, ladies and gentlemen, isn’t Benny Hill, it’s the President of the United States of America. I mean, you knew he was unqualified for the job when he got elected, but…

When I was four, my mom was painting the kitchen and had to go to the garage for something, leaving a cut-in-half milk carton full of turpentine on the table. What did I know? Evidently as much as Dr. Numbskull, because I thought the turpentine smelled good and at age four smelled good meant tasted good.  So I drank some.

Next thing I know, I was in the hospital getting my stomach pumped. I guess I could’ve been President of these United States.

Inject disinfectant into a person because it kills the virus on a countertop?  This is the guy who’s in charge?  The Madness of King Donald.

“The whole world is watching,” he said at Friday’s briefing, the one that lasted only 22 minutes and ended without questions, because where the hell do you go from Thursday?  Yeah, the whole world is watching. That’s the problem.

Please, I know you personally keep Coronavirus away with daily tanning bed sessions, but couldn’t you inject some disinfectant too?  Just to make sure. Puh-lease!

END

BYE-BYE BERNIE

Even as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced the suspension of his campaign for the presidency today (Wednesday, 8 April 2020), he seemed to understand that he had found himself in the wrong election cycle, again.

Vt. Senator Bernie Sanders bids adieu to 2020 campaign (WireFax News)

In his 2016 campaign, Bernie was beaten not so much by eventual standard-bearer Hillary Clinton as by the Democratic Party itself, which engineered a Super Delegates head start for Hillary that Bernie could never overcome.

This year, after a dead-heat with Mayor Pete Buttigieg in the Iowa caucuses followed by convincing wins in the first two primary elections, Sanders came up against the Democrat Party machine once again in South Carolina where, with the endorsement of Congressman James Clyburn, former VP Joe Biden began his run to the top of the Democratic ticket.

Ever since, Biden has gone on a winning streak, piling up delegates even as people have reached out to Senator Sanders saying, ‘we believe in your cause’ and ‘we believe in what you’re projecting, but we think Biden is the man to beat Trump this November’.

Thus, Bernie’s call for a systemic progressive revolution led by a government-run universal healthcare system hasn’t been repudiated per se, but instead maybe just been postponed, just like the Boston and London Marathons have been put off in the face of the coronavirus crisis, as in “now is not the time”.

Whenever a patient is considered for major surgery, one of the first calculations doctors make is to evaluate his or her overall condition. Is the patient strong enough to withstand the procedure?  Well, the American body politic in 2020 isn’t nearly fit enough for the kind of major operation Sanders was prescribing. With the political polarization that currently defines and divides the nation, the electorate is in no condition to make an unemotional choice of this magnitude. 

Thus the long-term threats Sanders sees in the lack of universal health care and income inequality that is manifesting itself in the disproportionate number of African Americans being affected by the coronavirus are being trumped by the immediate existential threat posed by Trump himself.

Remember that in the 1964 general election Republican standard-bearer Barry Goldwater, the Senator from Arizona, was soundly beaten by President Lyndon Johnson as Goldwater was perceived as being too extreme – “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice,” he said. “Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

But the brand of ultra-conservatism Goldwater seeded in 1964 finally came to harvest 16 years later in the form of the Reagan Revolution, a revolution that Yale literary critic Harold Bloom said led to “the emancipation of selfishness” that built the 1999 DotCom Bubble, loosed the 2008 Great Recession, and currently is manifest in the polarization that makes the nation ill-equipped to handle a left-leaning counter-revolution.

That is why it could well be that Bernie Sanders’ unsuccessful campaigns of 2016 & 2020 will take another three or four election cycles, either 2032 or 2036, to come to fruition in the form of a yet unknown candidate who will appeal to today’s 18 to 39 year-olds, who support Bernie and his democratic socialist cause but don’t vote as widely as older Americans, when they come into their majority with ballots in hand rather than just poll surveys in mind.

Just saying.
(Not that I am a Bernie supporter, just a reader of history).

END


TRUMPSIT
Posted on Toni Reavis

If you are searching for a particular set of tea-leaves to read before November’s U.S. elections – if they even happen in these very unsettling times – just look at the arc of the Brexit votes in the UK, the ones determining whether to withdraw from the European Union or not.  Spoiler Alert, they left!

In June 2016, the original Brexit referendum passed in what was seen as a shocker because so many Brits thought their “yes” to leave was simply a screw-the-establishment protest vote. Only after the votes were counted did it become clear that enough others had voted with that same thought that the referendum actually passed. Here are the totals.

Leave

17,410,742

51.89

Remain

16,141,241

48.11

Instantly, there was an outcry for a new vote so people could express their “real” feelings.  But three plus years and three Brexit delays later, leading to the resignation of Prime Minister Theresa May, an early general election was held on 12 December 2019.

As opposed to the 2016 vote, the 2019 election delivered a landslide of 80 additional Parliamentary seats to the pro-Brexit Conservatives, representing the party’s largest majority since 1987.

Following the vote, Conservative standard-bearer Boris Johnson declared that the UK would leave the EU in early 2020. The withdrawal agreement was ratified by the UK on 23 January, by the EU on 30 January, and entered into force on 31 January just as the Coronavirus was about to explode.

Now recall the 2016 U.S. election. How many of the electorate voted for Donald Trump as a protest against the status quo?  Oops!  Now, 3 1/2 years later on the cusp of the 2020 election, with an impeachment acquittal in his rearview mirror, and the Democrats in lockdown amidst the coronavirus crisis,Trump, like Brexit, is poised for a landslide win in November. You watch.

Of all the times for an insidious novel coronavirus to enter the body politic. No time would be right, of course, but this time is particularly fraught.

Here we are, not only in the middle of an election year when political contention is always at its highest, but now trapped in a healthcare vice that threatens to crumble the very foundations of the nation, and who do we find as captain of this Ship of State?  None other than an impeached but acquitted novel president, unmasked and unyielding, confidently unknowing, prowling the halls of the White House, prescribing unproven drugs based on late-night conversations with his kitchen cabinet cronies, cursing at anyone and everyone he perceives to be working against him, unable to see beyond the tip of his tanning-bed tinted nose as the danger mounts and the body counts rise.

“What we’re doing right now I think is going to be very successful,” he says as governors and mayors throughout the country beg for a national policy to coordinate a response to the growing crisis, even as he adds that at a certain point “we have a big decision to make. We cannot let this (lockdown) continue. So at a certain point, some hard decisions are going to have to be made.”

The perfect storm has arisen and with a Queegish captain at the wheel, the Ship of State is floundering.  As former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Now, in a divided country, efficient and farsighted government is necessary to overcome obstacles unprecedented in magnitude and global scope.”

People around the world just sit in slack-jawed wonder thinking, “OMG, maybe this is what America has become after all.”

Who would have thought it possible?

Here we sit deep into the era of our thumb-in-the-eye-of-the-establishment President who is changing the course of the American Ship of State without any navigation tools, charts, or dead reckoning skills to speak of, yet clinging grimly in all his strawberry blond, damn-the-torpedoes belief that he is the indispensable man despite overwhelming evidence of a Dunning-Kruger Effect insecurity and incompetence that argues the very opposite.

In 1992, 19% of the electorate was willing to take a chance on a squeaky-voiced Texas business man with sky-is-falling charts to plot the course ahead.  Fortunately, the 81% prevailed.

In 2004, candidate McCain chose a gubernatorial pin-up girl from Alaska as his running mate. But after the act proved paper thin, even hard core Republicans couldn’t find the courage to pull the lever for her ascent to VP.

And wasn’t that the thinking on Trump, too, in 2016?  Of course, this entertaining but buffoonish TV carnival barker wasn’t qualified for the job. People will come to their senses when they enter the voting booth.

But like the Brexit vote in the UK in 2016, what most thought would be little more than a strong protest vote, instead added up to an OMG election victory.  And now we are reaping the harvest of that whirlwind as a heartless virus spreads with a relentlessness that knows no borders and is blind to moronic, bombastic hubris.  Good luck, America, the piper is knocking at your door.

END


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.

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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