Posted Tuesday evening, March 21, 2017.
[Editor's note: All the direct quotes below are from the Boston Herald.]
Here’s the Boston Herald’s headline for the AP profile of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch:
Disarmingly warm Gorsuch loves ‘cold neutrality’ of law
Warm. Disarmingly warm.
What does it matter that he's warm? He wasn’t nominated for his warmth. He was nominated because he's a hardline Right Wing idealogue.
He was nominated because he’s expected to rule in ways that advance Trump and the Republicans' agenda which is divisive, destructive, and cruel. He was nominated because he’s expected to serve the interests of the corporatists and their Right Wing Christian allies---limiting government regulation of big business and limiting when not eliminating the rights of women, LGBT people, minorities, immigrants, the elderly, the disabled, and probably the press.
Who cares if he’s warm? On the bench he'll be as cold-hearted as the people who are putting him there.
He’s nice, is he? As well as warm? A real nice guy? Our bloody-minded President can’t wait to get America torturing again. When he served in the Justice Department under George W. Bush, Gorsuch helped craft and defend Bush’s torture policies. How nice was that? You think the people in the administration who recommended him didn’t call the boss’s attention to that line on his resume as a point in his favor?
Oh, but he’s a lovable dad, a fun boss, a good friend?
Who is Neil Gorsuch?
He's the dad whose standing birthday present from his family is an agreement to watch a Western with him.
He's the sports nut who jogs with his law clerks, teaches them the Zen of fly fishing and waits at the top of the ski slopes to see which of them he'll need to help up after a fall…
"He's someone who knows the names of the security guards at the courthouse and gets to know who their families are," says former law clerk Theresa Wardon…
When [the father of a friend and colleague at the Justice Department] was gravely ill, it was Gorsuch who encouraged him to take time off.
He does sound nice. But so what? Nice is easy, it’s an affect more than a virtue, a matter of good manners, appropriate expressions of sympathy and understanding, sincere smiles, frowns, and nods of the head as called for. Nice is the bare minimum of decency. Nice is what you hope your new neighbor will be. Nice earns your waiter a 15 percent tip. What does nice mean in a Judge? How does nice translate on the bench? How nice has he been towards people like those poorly paid clerks and the security guards and their families when they’ve appeared before him in court? How nice will he be? Remember who’s nominated him. What if they’re Muslim or Mexican or brown or black or LGBT? What if they’re women looking to control their decisions about their own health and bodies?What if they’re otherwise and anywise not rich, white, and straight?
What if they’re working stiffs who’ve been screwed by their employers?
What if they’re not one of his friends and are dealing with a sick relative or an illness of their own and legal problems arise?
He's also the judge who wrote that a university's six-month sick leave policy was "more than sufficient" for a cancer patient who sought more time off when a flu epidemic hit and she worried about how an infection might affect her weakened immune system.
Professor Grace Hwang wasn’t being a hypochondriac and she wasn’t malingering. She wasn’t “worried” about what might happen if she went back to work then. Her doctors were. They advised her not to go back yet. But what do doctors know? Not as much as Judge Gorsuch. The law was on Professor Hwang’s side, according to the ACLU, but Judge Gorsuch said the law didn’t require employers to become “safety net providers for those who cannot work.”
That’s not a legal principle. It’s a conservative sentiment, an expression of the monied and propertied classes ages-old, near religious belief that workers are allowed only as much in life as their bosses see fit to give them.
When he left the Justice Department in 2006 to take his appointed seat on the Appellate Court bench...
...the 39-year-old Gorsuch promised to set aside personal political views in favor of the "cold neutrality of an impartial judge," citing the words of political theorist Edmund Burke.
One of the most partisan and cynically opportunistic political principles espoused by Right Wing Republicans is that they’re not partisan or political, liberals are.
Over the next decade, Gorsuch became known for his plainly written opinions and his approach as a "textualist" who sticks within the boundaries of established law and precedent.
Gorsuch is an ardent admirer of Antonin Scalia so I take it textualist is like originalist which is like strict constructionist---intellectual cover for finding arguments to deny rights and redress to those without them and who need it but don’t have the power or money to secure either on their own. Somehow sticking within the boundaries of established law and precedent always results in rulings that favor of the rich and the strong and the selfish and greedy.
Professor Hwang wasn’t expecting Kansas State to provide a safety net. She could work and she wanted to work. She just needed some short term accommodation. She asked Kansas State to let her work from home. This was 2014. Teaching courses online wasn’t a new and untried idea.
She was fired.
Too bad for her. That’s the implication of nice guy Gorsuch’s opinion. You get sick, you have a disability, that’s your lookout.
How’s that for nice?
You say that’s just one case?
How about this one?
But some of Gorsuch's rulings and outside writings lead critics to say he tends to favor powerful interests over ordinary Americans.
They cite the case of a truck driver fired for leaving his trailer of meat on the side of an Illinois road after breaking down on a frigid night in 2009, fearing he'd freeze to death.
Gorsuch dissented from a ruling in favor of Alphonse Maddin's reinstatement, writing: "It might be fair to ask whether TransAm's decision was a wise or kind one. But it's not our job to answer questions like that."
Note that Gorsuch’s opinion was a dissenting one. His fellow judges might have thought it wasn’t their job to answer those questions either. But they clearly thought TransAm didn’t have the right to expect their truck drivers to die to protect its bottom line. Respecting the “cold neutrality” of the law doesn’t always mean a human life should be thrown away for the sake of a making a buck.
What does Gorsuch’s dissent imply? That a company can demand that a worker die to protect a truckload of frozen meat that’s almost certainly better insured than the worker.
His dissent wasn’t just callous---he called the driver’s brush with hypothermia “a legal if unpleasant option”---it was, says Fordham law professor Jed Handelsman Shugerman, spiked with sarcasm and meanly expressed. That doesn’t sound like a nice guy or a warm guy to me. Neither does this:
As he was introduced to the nation, Gorsuch said it's not his job to engineer happy endings:
"A judge who likes every outcome he reaches is very likely a bad judge, stretching for results he prefers rather than those the law demands."
What this sounds like someone trying to protect his reputation for being nice while giving himself permission to be mean and cruel: "It’s not me. It’s the law. I’d help you if I could, but it’s out of my hands." His heart may bleed for the people whose lives are made harder or ruined by his decisions but he has to put his personal feelings aside. But what if his personal feelings include satisfaction at having been cruel? What if it means more to him to be tough-minded and cold-hearted than to be fair-minded and warm-hearted. That's vanity not principle. I don’t know if that’s true of Gorsuch. It doesn’t matter why psychologically he rules one way or another. That’s something for biographers and novelists to puzzle out. What matters is the effect of his rulings. Which are not...nice.
The President who nominated him is definitely not a nice person. The Republican Senators who’ll confirm him don’t care if he’s nice. Nice is one of the last qualities they want to see in a Justice of the Supreme Court.
Portraying him as "nice" guy is putting a nice face on Donald Trump and the Republicans' plans to make things the very opposite of nice for most Americans.
Updated upon a appeal, Wednesday afternoon:
One of Gorsuch's less than nice decisions has just been over-ruled unanimously by the Supreme Court. See the story by Ian Milhiser, While Gorsuch was testifying, the Supreme Court unanimously said he was wrong, at ThinkProgress.
Monday, March 20, 2017.
The historian Kevin M. Kruse won the internet the other day by captioning this photo accompanying Sunday’s New York Times Style section profile of Donald Trump Jr.:
The article’s portrayal of Trump Jr. as a kind of not all that prodigal Prodigal Son who’s returned from his wanderings to take his place as his father’s heir and favorite but, you know, on his own terms reminded me of Stewart Buntline, a character in Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater:
[Stewart’s] father had left him fourteen million dollars, tobacco money mostly. That money, churned and fertilized and hybridized and transmogrified in the hydroponic money farm of the Trust Department of the New England Seafarer’s Bank and Trust Company of Boston, had increased by about eight hundred thousand dollars a year since it had been put in Stewart’s name. Business seemed to be pretty good. Other than that Stewart didn’t know much about business…
Some twenty years before, Stewart had come into [his lawyer’s office] a wild-eyed young man, [and] announced that the free enterprise system was wrong, and that he wanted to give all his money to the poor. [The lawyer] had talked him out of it but he continued to worry about Stewart’s having a relapse…
He needn’t have bothered...Stewart was irrevocably committed to free enterprise now.
Actually, Stewart’s irrevocably committed to others being enterprising on his behalf. He’s not at all enterprising himself. His thirteen year old daughter Lila is. She makes good money for herself selling pornography and black market fireworks to her classmates. Stewart spends his days drinking and napping and obsessively reading about the Civil War and studying old railroad timetables and ignoring his daughter’s business dealings and his lesbian wife’s quasi-affair with a married neighbor.
Thing to note before I get rolling here is that that picture of Donald the Son trying his best to look like Thoreau’s marcher to a different drum was taken on Donald the Father’s estate in Bedford, New York. It’s worth nothing because of the headline, which like all headlines, gives only a partial indication of the article’s point.
Donald Trump Jr. Is His Own Kind of Trump
Implies he’s an independent spirit who’s broken away from his father’s sway and set out to forge his own path in life, don’t you think? In actuality, it’s not that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. It’s still clinging fairly tightly to the branch.
Once upon a time, though, he gave independence the old post-college try:
Donald Trump Jr. is the Trump who has not always seemed at ease with being a Trump. He grew up in the penthouse of Trump Tower but was happy to escape the gilded trappings of his Manhattan childhood to spend parts of the summers hunting and fishing with his maternal grandfather in the woods of what was then Czechoslovakia.
After graduating from his father’s alma mater, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, he tended bar in Aspen, Colo., rather than immediately join the family business. Several months later, on Feb. 25, 2001, during a Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans, he was arrested on charges of public drunkenness and spent 11 hours in jail.
“I think, like anyone else, I made my mistakes,” Mr. Trump said of his arrest. “We have to be honest with ourselves. I’m not good at it, moderation. You have to have the conversation, be a realist, and say, ‘I guess I’m not doing myself any favors.’”
What a rebel.
I don’t know how it was for you when you were in your early twenties, but the trials and tribulations of Young Man Trump sound like one typical bad weekend for my friends and me.
At any rate, he survived his prodigal youth and since returning to the family fold has somehow become his own kind of Trump by trading lucratively on his father’s name:
In 2001, Mr. Trump, the eldest of the five children from Donald J. Trump’s three marriages, went to work for the Trump Organization in the same building where he had grown up. He rose to executive vice president, and his status as a family member in good standing was on display when he appeared as a boardroom adviser on “The Apprentice,” the NBC reality show that re-established his father as a celebrity mogul nearly two decades after he had captured the public’s attention with his first best seller, “The Art of the Deal.”
Now Donald Jr., 39, has completed his own apprenticeship.
Since his father was sworn in as president, he and his brother Eric, 33, have taken over management of the Trump Organization, with Donald Jr. overseeing commercial licensing and much of the international business and Eric managing the golf courses, among other duties. Donald Jr. is also a rising figure in Republican politics and a robust defender of the family name. As a public speaker who brings in an estimated $50,000 per speech, he has impressed conservatives with a rough, straightforward manner that belies his cushy upbringing.
Ok. It’s the Style section, a part of the Paper of Record that exists only to wrap “content” around ads aimed at the likes of Donald Trump Jr., entitled young people who aren’t as young as they think they are anymore with too much money that they probably didn’t earn on their own looking to be told how to assuage their boredom by shopping and dining and with nights out on the town and expensive weekend getaways. So I shouldn’t have expected it to be more than what is what it is, the profile of a not at all original type of spoiled rich kid, the type who finances his or her usually very short period of youthful rebellion on their parents’ credit card before settling down to a life very much like their parents’ of piling up money on top of the piles of money they were handed at birth presented as if the walking cliché is a unique and fascinating personality of the like never seen ordering another sunrise at brunch at the trendiest bistro on the Upper West Side or West Side or in Midtown or in the Village or…
There’s nothing about Trump in and of himself that justifies the Times’ attention any more than there is about nine out of ten such types you can find behind behind a desk in every office on Wall Street. He hasn’t started his own business. He doesn’t have any outsized or unusual ambitions. He doesn’t support any notable causes or charities. He doesn’t have any interesting hobbies, unless you find it fascinating that he’s a gun nut. It is (mildly) interesting that he’s different from his father in liking the outdoors (and in being more of a traditional family guy). Donald the Father seems only to go outside for fun to play golf and golf courses are about as natural a natural environment as a movie set. Donald the Son likes to hunt and fish. How many rich men does that make him like? And like many hunters and fishermen he can be a bore about it.
The only out of the ordinary rich guy thing about him is he’s the middle-aged son of the old man who happens to be President of the United States. Donald the Son is thirty-nine years old. Not an age when most people are still defined by their role as somebody’s child. And that’s the thing about him that’s newsworthy: he is defined by his role as Donald Trump’s son.
Donald Trump Jr is only like Stewart Buntline in that at one time he seemed not to appreciate his own good fortune in having been born rich and set out to live as if he hadn’t been before coming to his senses and settling down to a life greased by family money.
But unlike Stewart Buntline, he is an active participant in the free enterprise system and not just a beneficiary. Donald Junior has a job. And he knows about business or at least he knows what his business is which is to make more money for his father’s business. He hasn’t taken over the business, however. It’s not even the case that he works for his dad. His job is to be his dad. And his dad is a cheat and a fraud and scoundrel who thinks the only thing that matters in life is making money for himself in any way he can, including leveraging his position as President of the United States. In short, Donald Jr is a tool in his father’s burglar’s bag, a human picklock.
And that’s it, that’s the story, the only story about him or any of them that matters. Anyone who works for our Mr President Trump is doing his work and it’s all dirty work. Never mind Neil Gorsuch’s warmth or how cute it is that KellyAnne Conway’s Secret Service Code Name is “Blueberry” or Donald the Son’s becoming his own kind of Trump which seems not much different from being any other kind of money-hungry Trump. They’re all conduits for President Trump’s self-expression, and President Trump is expressing himself as a venal, cruel, irresponsible, divisive and destructive tyrant.
That makes them minions serving the venality, irresponsibility, destruction and divisiveness, and with a stake in advancing the tyranny.
The Times doesn’t leave that aspect of Donald the Son's life out entirely. It just treats it as one thing among all the others that make him a personality worth a lazy read over brunch:
At the Republican convention in Cleveland last summer, he made use of a trope that served his father well: targeting the elite, despite his own privilege. “We’ve produced the thickest network of patronage and influence of any country at any time in world history,” he said from the stage. “It’s composed of a self-satisfied people at the top, our new aristocrats.”
Critics said his views were influenced by white nationalists. After an interview with a Philadelphia radio station, he was accused of making a Holocaust reference when he warned that the media would be “warming up the gas chamber” for Republicans who behaved like Hillary Clinton. The Trump campaign later said he had been talking about “capital punishment.”
Mr. Trump was also interviewed on a radio show hosted by James Edwards, who has described himself as a “European-American advocate” and whom some have called a white supremacist. Mr. Trump was criticized, too, for earning an estimated $50,000 for delivering a speech at an October event at the Ritz Paris hosted by the Center of Political and Foreign Affairs, a French think tank whose organizers have promoted Russian interests in Syria and elsewhere. He declined to comment on his speech.
On Twitter he has reposted false reports and passed along memes favored by white nationalists. An example of this occurred during the campaign, when he compared Syrian refugees to a bowl of Skittles candies sprinkled with a few that “would kill you.” He also retweeted a post by @voxday, who claimed that a woman making a Nazi salute at a Trump rally was a supporter of Bernie Sanders. The claim was false. (Further, @voxday is a pseudonym for the writer Theodore Beale, an advocate for the alt-right movement.)
Mr. Trump said he did not know who Mr. Beale was. “It just popped up in my timeline when someone retweeted it,” he said.
Recently he reposted a Twitter message that said CNN tried to silence guests who went against its supposed liberal agenda. It was also untrue and was later deleted.
Which naturally leads in to this bit of news:
While he mainly uses Twitter to defend the president, with frequent attacks on liberals thrown in, Mr. Trump also uses it for posts about his family, with many including photos of his wife and children. There is Vanessa Trump, bowling in the basement bowling alley at the White House on inaugural weekend. There is his son Tristan, snuggling with his parents in bed.
I'll bet he makes really great dad jokes.
To read the whole profile by Lauren M. Holson, follow the link to Donald Trump Jr. Is His Own Kind of Trump at the New York Times.
Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this post and would like to help keep this blog going strong, a good way to do it is by buying books, like Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, which is available in paperback and for kindle at Amazon.
Thursday, March 16, 2017.
This is the second part of what I expect will be a three-part series. Follow the link to read Part One, The Sorrows of Young Lance Mannion and the Republican Health Care Act.
Start with the given.
Just about everything Republican politicians say is in service to the Rich Corporatists who own them. Much of what they say is to disguise the fact that they are serving the Rich Corporatists who own them, from their voters and from themselves---they say a lot of things that are meant to assure themselves they’re good people for doing the People no good. And almost all the rest they say is to reassure their racist voters that they---the voters and the politicians---aren’t racist but even if they are it’s ok because those people are nothing but lazy bums and thieves except for the ones who are drug addicts, drug dealers, murderers, and rapists.
Thus the Republican health care plan which is basically a giant tax cut for the rich, a boondoggle for the worst of the insurance industry, and a means of punishing those people for having the temerity to be poor and get sick and need government help to stay alive.
But all of what they say is said out of the very human tendency to form opinions and hold beliefs based on the assumption that they know everything they need to know to form those opinions, that they’ve learned the hard truths about life from experience, and that their experience is typical. In short, their thinking like everybody else’s is based on ignorance, vanity, and narrow self-interest, all of it frosted over by the self-flattering, complacent certainty that we’re thoughtful, decent, intelligent, and rational people who see the world for what it is and call it the way it the way we see it.
Once we think something’s the case, it’s very hard to get us to unthink it.
Don’t bother us with evidence to the contrary. We have all the evidence we need. If we don’t, we find it in a glance. Inside our own heads or right there, right then, in front of our own eyes, which amounts to the same thing, considering our tendency to see things as we expect to see them and as we need to see them as we want to see them, our vision directed by our biases and prejudices, wishes and desires, informed by memories we edit in the very act of remembering---that is, by what’s already inside our heads.
We are our own first, favorite, and most reliable source for news and information about how the world works and what it all means.
“Look. There it is. That one story on CNN, the experience of a friend of a friend of a friend, what just happened at the grocery store, what I remember doing to get my life back on track when I was twenty and had just flunked out of school confirms I’m right. So get out of my face with your ‘facts’ and your ‘science’ and your ‘fake news’! I know what I know and that’s all I need to know!”
But of course we don’t know...or don’t know enough. And we don’t even know we don’t know so we certainly don’t know what we don’t know.
Our memory is suspect, our store of personal knowledge insufficient, our experience limited, our level of expertise probably nowhere near what it needs to be, our capacity for self-deception boundless, our own thinking mysterious, and our self-awareness laughable.
“Here, clearly,” Michael Lewis writes in The Undoing Project, his new book about a pair of psychologists who in the 1960s and 70s studied the way people assessed risk and reached decisions and came to what were at the time some surprising conclusions, chief among them that people don’t think rationally, “was another source of error: not just that people don’t know what they don’t know, but that they don’t bother to factor their ignorance into their judgments.”But what else do we have to go on?
Day in and day out, as we go about the business of keeping our lives relatively together and moving forward on an even keel, this works out ok. We do what seems best and hope for the best, asking ourselves, What’s the worst that can happen? While trying not to think about the worst that could happen.
But it’s a problem. It causes us to get in the way of our own thinking when we need to think the most practically and clear-headedly and to not even know we’re doing it.
The water heater’s shot. Do I need to buy a new one or can I just get this one fixed? What’s wrong with it? How do I know? Should I call in a plumber or will a handyman be able to handle it? Which one should I call? I can ask a friend, ask a neighbor, check with the owner of our local hardware store, he’s pretty knowledgeable about these things. Maybe I can just go online, watch a few videos on YouTube? Or just say the heck with it and head over to Lowes and let the sales rep talk me into whatever. But what’s the best way to pay for it? Can I pay for it? Can the sales rep be trusted? Is the plumber or the handyman the owner of the hardware store recommend reliable? Will he show up? When? Whose advice should I take? Which of my own internal arguments should I listen to? What should I do?
I have to do what seems best and hope for the best. What’s the worst that could happen? I go a few more days without hot water? I’m out a couple hundred more bucks than I would have been if I’d made another, smarter decision, whatever that might have been?
But suppose the situation’s more urgent, suppose someone’s immediate health and well-being are at stake, suppose the decision’s far more complicated and the consequences of a wrong decision far more severe? Suppose, say, Mrs M wakes up one morning two days before Christmas with a tightness in her chest and feeling it’s hard to breathe? She’s had a cold for a few days running, maybe it’s just that her cold has gotten into her chest. Or maybe it’s pneumonia? Or maybe it’s her heart! The doctor’s office opens in an hour. Should we wait and drive up there? Or should we go straight to the hospital? Is there time? Maybe it’s best to call 911 and get the paramedics here right away, let them decide.
Which is what we did.
The doctor at the ER diagnosed the flu.
Mrs M would have been fine if we’d waited a half hour and gone to our doctor’s. We did go to the doctor’s that afternoon. She’d had an appointment for a checkup already scheduled. Our doctor agreed with the doctor at the emergency room.
Here’s the thing.
That decision was easier for us than deciding how to deal with the hot water heater, because we had a key question already answered for us: how were we going to pay for it? We weren’t. Not all of it, at any rate. Not even near all of it. Our insurance covered it---the ambulance, the ER, the tests they did there, the doctor’s fees, whatever they charged us for whatever incidentals hospitals routinely tack onto your bill that you didn’t even know existed to be charged for. The co-pays were nothing to sneeze at. (Ha! A little medical humor there. Just keeping things light. You’re welcome.) But the fact is we were lucky in having the insurance we have. We didn’t have to worry about whether or not it would cover the trip to the hospital. We didn’t have to decide on the spot which hosptial. We didn’t have to make our own medical diagnosis that would have been influenced by our having to make a financial decision at the same time, which is what Republicans want more of us to have to do in order to keep down everybody’s medical costs in order to keep down their taxes.
You might remember that back in December a Republican Congressman from Michigan named Bill Huizenga boasted---seriously. He was boasting. He thought he was being a great dad!---about how he had let his son’s broken arm go unlooked at overnight in order to save himself the cost of a possibly unnecessary trip to the emergency room. Huizenga did some on the spot doctoring. He diagnosed a sprain, splintered his son’s arm himself, and sent him to bed to sleep it off. His son didn’t. And in the morning they went to the doctor. Yep. Broken. Other parents having made that same judgment call and finding out how wrong they were would be overcome with guilt. Not Huizenga. He insisted he did the right thing. What’s more, he insisted that that’s the way every family should handle decisions about their health care.
From Talking Points Memo:
"When it [comes to] those type of things, do you keep your child home from school and take him the next morning to the doctor because of a cold or a flu, versus take him into the emergency room? If you don't have a cost difference, you'll make different decisions," he said.
He offered the example to explain his view that health care consumers should shoulder more of the financial responsibilities, instead of the current health system, which he said "continue[s] to squeeze providers."
"We have to be responsible, or have a part of the responsibility for what's going on," he said, while advocating for health savings accounts, a common GOP proposal.
"Way too often, people pull out their insurance card and they say 'I don't know the difference or cost between an X-ray or an MRI or CT Scan.' I might make a little different decision if I did know [what] some of those costs were and those costs came back to me," he said.
Thoughts like that didn’t even cross our minds. They didn’t have to, because we were able to do what Huizenga thinks we ought not have been able to do, pull out our insurance card. What’s more, if we had had to think that way we wouldn’t have known what to think. I’ve had three MRIs on my back in the past four years, all leading up to my surgery. I have no idea what their actual cost was because our insurance covered it. No copay! And I’m lucky I didn’t have to worry about that because I would not have been able to make an informed decision about whether or not I really needed them. I left that to my surgeon. I left it up to him to decide whether or not I should have the surgery. I’d have been a fool not to have. What did I know about stenois of the spine except that it was painful and debilitating and was getting worse? I could---and did---do some research, in order to make a reasonably informed decision to leave the decision up to the guy who went to med school, but if I was capable of truly understanding my condition I’d have become a doctor myself.
But this is a basis of the Republican health care plan, that everybody’s smart enough to play doctor.
This is stupid enough when you’re making decisions affecting your own health.
But we’re expected to make decisions affecting everybody else’s by way of who we vote for to send to Congress to make decisions and pass laws about health care policy.
It’s fundamental to democracy that the People are presumed to be intelligent, informed, and rational. It’s a basic quality of human nature that they generally aren’t.
When you think about it, it’s crazy, leaving the governance of a nation of 300 million people spread out across a vast continent and out into the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean and living and working in a global economy up to individuals who don’t know what they don’t know but think they know all they need to know, who form opinions and make judgments based on what’s going on inside their own heads without understanding how it got there or even what all is in there and how it's influencing their thinking.
For decades, the divide between Democrats and Republicans has been increasing along this line: what to do about the fact that the world is growing more and more complicated and complex and therefore more and more beyond individual understanding. Democrats believe the way to deal with it is more education plus a greater reliance on facts and figures gathered and analyzed and put to use by experts. Republicans have generally responded by denying that the world is complex or complicated. It is what you think it is, which is what it always was. Not only can folks understand it just by looking out their own windows, as it were, hardly need to bother---they know pretty much all they need to know already. Not only do they not need experts to tell them what’s what, there really aren’t any such things as experts. What there are are bunches of overeducated elitists working toward their own self-interested ends and in the process telling the rest of us what’s in our best interest, as if we’re a bunch of idiots incapable of figuring that out for ourselves. Experts, in short, are con artists who take us all for fools.
You thought I was going to say Donald Trump, didn’t you?
Nope. I’ll get to him. Right now, Jason Chaffetz.
End of Chapter Two.
Posted Wednesday, March 8, 2017.
When I was twenty I dropped out of college.
The college I was no longer attending disagreed on the technicalities. According to them, I flunked out. And I guess technically I had. But I didn’t see it that way. In the middle of the semester my sophomore year I stopped doing the work and stopped going to class. I heard from friends this perplexed several of my professors who thought I was a good student and on my way to earning A’s in their classes. But I’d just been going through the motions for a while and then simply couldn’t see the point of it anymore. Nothing was interesting. Nothing was fun. Nothing seemed worth the time or the trouble. I spent most of my time reading the library. I had no intention of coming back anyway so I just quit. I just didn’t go through the formalities. That was the beginning of the most miserable two years of my life.
I was probably depressed but it didn’t occur to me and I’d have denied it anyway. I knew from depression. My grandmother suffered from it terribly. I thought all depressed people suffered the way she did, unable to bring themselves to do anything except sit in a chair and stare into space or weep silently for hours on end. I could do things. I did things. I did lots of things. I did them mostly without enthusiasm or enjoyment but I did them. And I had a plan. I blamed my unhappiness on having gone to the wrong school and I made up my mind to get into the right one. Boston University. So I got a job. Two jobs, actually, one to pay for my upkeep, the other to pay for classes at Albany Stare where I went part-time to repair my GPA and make myself presentable as a potential transfer student. This didn’t leave me a lot of money to play with. But I didn’t mind. I was unhappy but I was busy and I was doing something I hadn’t done in my life so far---paying my own way. I felt independent, responsible, and like I was getting somewhere. Back on track, at any rate.
Part of paying for my upkeep was paying for my own health insurance. I don’t remember if this was my idea. Probably not. Probably Pop suggested it because I was no longer automatically on his insurance. There was no requirement that insurance companies cover children over eighteen. He was allowed to keep his kids on his policy while they were in college. I think it’s likely I had two options. Pay Pop whatever extra his insurance company charged him to keep me on his policy or buy my own. That there was a third option, going without health insurance, either didn’t occur to me or struck me as out of the question. I was twenty and felt invincible but I knew I wasn’t and I wanted to be able to see a doctor or go to the hospital whenever life inevitably and routinely proved my lack of invincibility.
I can’t tell you the details of the policy. My bet would be I never really knew them. Probably I let Pop pick it out for me. He wouldn’t have let me buy a shitty policy but almost certainly it provided only the most basic coverage and I’d have been in trouble if something really serious happened to me. It was from Blue Cross Blue Shield, I remember that, and I remember being pleased about that. I thought Blue Cross was the best insurance company going, the way I thought Ford made the best pickup trucks and Hyatt ran the best hotels. I was a sucker for their advertising. But I can still picture the paper ID card and remember the little surge of pride every time I opened my wallet and saw it in there. The sight of it assured me I was a responsible and independent grown-up now. For the life of me, though, I can’t remember if I ever had to take it out to use it. Seems likely I’d remember if I had, considering how many buttons I’d have busted when handing it over to the receptionist at the doctor’s office and how disappointed I’d have been when it didn’t earn me the pat on the head I’d have expected---”You’re carrying your own health insurance? My, aren’t you a responsible young man! So unlike other young men your age. Are you dating anyone? Would you like to meet my daughter?”
At any rate, I carried that card for two years. When I got into BU I went back on Pop’s insurance, stayed on it through grad school (His must have been a generous insurance company or, more likely, his employer, the State University of New York, was a tough negotiator on behalf of its professors.) When I left Iowa I bought my own insurance again for the year I was out of school and living off a fellowship. Then I want to work teaching and I’ve been covered ever since.
Now, obviously, this little stroll down Memory Lane was inspired by the Republicans’ finally releasing what they call their health care plan---since it doesn’t include the costs or mention how many people are going to be stripped of their insurance, it’s not so much a plan as an advertisement for one. The first teaser trailer, so to speak. But what does it really have to do with what’s going on now? Virtually nothing.
This is just a fragment of my autobiography. A story---practically just an extended anecdote---about me and only me. And it happened a long time ago. The world has changed. Health care has changed. The only lessons I’m comfortable drawing from it are ones about who I was way back when from which I can infer some things about who I am now and how I got this way. Basically, all it is is background that explains why I’m unsympathetic to young single people who are mad that they are required to buy health insurance or pay a penalty on the grounds that they’re young and invincible and it’s unfair to make them buy a product they don’t need or want.
First, I want to say to them, you aren’t invincible, and sooner or later life’s going to prove that to you, and, second, when it inevitably does, when you walk out in front of a bus or fall off a cliff or discover that young people can get cancer, who’s going to pay for it after the hospital and the doctors have taken every penny you have and sent you back to live in your parents’ basement? We are! The rest of the costs are going to be passed along to us directly and indirectly.
This isn’t just me being a grumpy old man. I’d have made the same argument back when I was twenty, although back then it would have been as much a boast about my own good sense and personal responsibility. (I’d have counted on nobody pointing out that if really had any sense and was a responsible a young adult I’d have still been in school and on my father’s insurance and not have had this particular reason for boasting.) But my point would have stood and still stands: Nobody is ever perfectly free of responsibility to others and no personal choice is completely personal. We’re social beings, we can’t survive outside society, and that makes us intimately involved in each other’s lives. Whatever I do affects you. Whatever you do affects me. Things are not simply ok to do because we might think it’s not anyone’s business but our own.
“Who am I hurting?”
“You want a list? How much time have you got?”
But there are too many things I don’t know that I need to know before judging. I don’t know how much my insurance cost. I don’t know what it covered. I don’t know if my policy was the nearly worthless type that would have been cancelled right away under the provisions of the ACA and if I could have afforded the equivalent of the better policies now required because I don’t know how much money I made with my two jobs. I don’t know off the top of my head what the cheapest policy for a young single person costs today. I don’t know how much money the young people complaining make. I do know that the ones who are complaining are either over 26 or their parents for one reason or another don’t have insurance themselves. It would be nice to think that everyone over the age of twenty-six has a job with benefits that include health insurance or is making enough money they can afford to buy a decent policy for themselves. But that’s simply not true. That’s why we need an affordable health insurance program. It’s why we need national health insurance. It’s why we need national health care!
If I’m going to lecture young people on what they should do based on what I did when I was their age then I should know what it really was that I did when I was their age. Memory is not a good basis for judgments of any kind. Not only do we forget more than we remember, we misremember more than we remember accurately, and often that’s because we need to misremember. We select memories that serve our interests at the moment, the main interest of the moment being our vanity. We actively edit memories even in the process of remembering. “When I was your age…” is usually the opening salvo of a lie.
And it’s not only the case with old memories. We do it with memories from yesterday, this morning, an hour ago. We misremember in the process of forming a memory. The fact is that most of what we think we know about ourselves and the way the world works is based on fictions we’ve invented as we go or made up afterwards to make sense of what’s happening in a way that comforts us. Basically, we don’t understand our own lives any better than we understand other people’s lives because we don’t do a good---or honest---job of self-observation and analysis.
A lot of what I don’t know is knowable, even information from four decades ago. It’s possible that at the bottom of some box in Mom and Pop Mannion’s attic I could find my copy of my actual policy or the check stubs from my monthly payments. My tax returns from those two years might be up there too. Someone at Blue Cross could probably tell me that the likeliest policy a twenty year old single male would have bought at the time and how much that cost and what it covered. It’s even possible that somewhere in their archives is their copy of my policy. I could look it all up...if I had the time and the staff and the inclination and the reason. But I have none of those because…
I’m not a United States Congressman. It’s not my job to know any of this stuff. I’m not making policy and enacting laws that affect the lives of millions of people. It’s one thing, then, for an old coot like me to complain about kids today based on how I think the world used to be. It’s another thing for the likes of Jason Chaffetz to tell people who can’t afford health insurance that they could if only they’d give up their iPhones.
End of Chapter One. Follow the link to Chapter Two: Problem is we don't know what we think we know.
Posted Wednesday, February 15, 2017.
“Stephen's passion for drawing attention to the plight of middle Americans—men and women of all ethnicities and backgrounds—is unmatched, as he believes (correctly in my opinion) that elites in both culture and government who disdain them have left them behind over recent decades––and Stephen is determined to change course...”
Doesn’t that sound special? A passion for the plight of middle Americans of all ethnicities and backgrounds? Why, it’s almost liberal. Except that “middle America” is always a way of saying white America and the ethnicity of the men and women whose plight is of utmost concern to the speaker, his subject, and his actual audience is White and that their plight is that they have to live in country where there are people of other ethnicities and background and the subject, the person with that passion for the plight of those selfish and self pitying whites who don’t want to share the country with any of those people of other ethnicities and backgrounds is one of the chief architects of the travel ban targeting people of a specific ethnicity and background which is most definitely not White and “Middle American.”
I’m not a moral philosopher but I’m happy to play one on social media, and I see two types of evil actors featured in this Atlantic profile of the White House’s new star liar, Our Mr. President Trump’s Senior Advisor Stephen Miller.
Ann Coulter is the first type. Miller himself is the second.
For purposes of discussion---that is, in my opinion conveniently adopted for the moment---let’s say that evil is consciously doing harm and hurting others with the purpose of doing harm and hurting others.
I’m pretty sure Coulter knows she’s evil or at least that she makes her living hurting and doing harm to others and that that isn’t the noblest way to earn a buck. But she doesn’t care because she loves the money and attention it brings her.
Coulter seems irrelevant now. Don’t know what she’s doing in the article. She takes the reporter’s phone calls, I guess. Hard to remember she ever mattered. As a star of the Right Wing Noise Machine of the now almost forgotten Bush years, she contributed enthusiastically to the closing of the Republican mind, poisoning her fans’ thinking, turning them against their fellow Americans, feeding their paranoia, gleefully encouraging their suspicion and hostility towards not simply the government but towards government and undermining their confidence in their ability to govern themselves. Her theme, the Right Wing Media’s theme as they delivered the message of the rich bastards they shill for, was and is: “Everything that’s wrong in your life is their fault. They can’t be trusted. So just leave it to us to take care of you by taking care of them!” She never had real, direct, practical political influence, which was fine with her, because that meant no responsibility, no consequences. She just did what she did for the money and celebrity and the fun of it. She could say whatever she liked---”joke” about putting rat poison in the food of a Justice of the Supreme Court, for instance---and then sit back and rub her hands and laugh as her agents fielded requests for more TV appearances and negotiated another lucrative book deal.
Miller is Kylo Ren.
Like the whiny, self-pitying Darth Vader cultist of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he’s a villain who believes perversely that evil is good and good is evil, that deliberately hurting and harming others is the mark of heroes and angels. Presumably raised to know better, he decided early in life that the way to do good was by causing discord, insulting and offending people who’d done him no great wrong except in not accepting his own high opinion of himself as the correct opinion to have of him, and infecting others with his anger, hate, personal sense of grievance, and belief in the need for violent redress if not at the moment, then as the inevitable, just, and deserved option. He entered high school seemingly determined to make people dislike him and continued in his determination through college and probably on up to the present day.
Of course, my calling Kylo Ren doesn’t mean I think there’s a father or father-figure he’d like to murder symbolically or in actuality any more than calling someone a Hamlet means he’s out to revenge his father’s foul and most unnatural murder and wants to sleep with his mother. It’s worth noting, however, that Miller’s parents are liberal Democrats. He grew up in Santa Monica, California, one of the bluest cities in one of the bluest of blue states. He’s Jewish, which is neither here nor there, except that in becoming a white nationalist he doesn’t appear to have adopted any self-loathing nor does it appear he found his way to his extreme neoconservatism through the usual Right Winger over-identification with Israel. By his own account it was gun nuttery that turned him to the hard right when he read the book Guns, Crime, and Freedom by NRA chairman Wayne LaPierre. It looks like he scared witless by 9/11, like so many conservatives, but in 2001, he was sixteen, and according to a childhood friend he turned himself into a bigot a couple of years before that. When he was fourteen he told the friend they couldn’t be friends anymore because the friend was Latino.
There’s no evil grandfather-figure he worships, either, not as far as I can see. No doubt he shares with most Republican politicians their simplistic veneration for Ronald Reagan. Like Right Wing Evangelicals who worship Jesus without understanding or caring what he actually said and did, Republicans genuflect at the shrine of St Ronnie without thinking about Reagan the man, so they don’t comprehend the nastiness and destructiveness of his politics or the decent qualities and pragmatic intelligence that sometimes mitigated the nastiness and destruction. It’s a matter of faith with them that Reagan brought the Soviet Union to its knees. They never let it cross their minds that he brought about an abrupt end to the Cold War not simply by saying “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall” but by believing he would do it. Reagan had more faith in the United States, democracy, capitalism, and people than his self-professed apostles and disciples seem to have.
I haven’t read anything that gives a good clue to what turned Miller into such a precocious bigot, nihilist, and hater. There’s not a lot to read about him. He’s only thirty-one and has just begun to develop the kind of national reputation that attracts journalists to want to tell your life story. And, of course, at the moment his life as far political journalists, pundits, late night comedians, and the general public cares began Sunday with his spectacularly appalling appearance on Face the Nation defending the travel ban, lying about voter fraud, and claiming dictatorial powers for President Trump. Whatever the actual cause, it’s easy to imagine that it was some real or perceived blow to his developing sense of self-importance. Either some Latino kid bullied him, or more likely, outshone him in class, on the playground, or in front of a girl he wanted to impress.
Strikes me as a pretty good summation of Kylo Ren. And I can imagine Miller throwing a Kylo-esque temper tantrum and taking his lightsaber to his office walls after he realizes he’d become a national joke after Sunday’s fib-fest and the popular kids are still making fun of him and no girls will go out with him. And I can further imagine him taking solace in brooding before some symbolic or even literal shrine to his own vanity megalomania, the way Kylo Ren assuages his hurt feelings and bruised ego in conversations with what is essentially the skull of Darth Vader.
But here’s the thing the once upon a time Ben Solo doesn’t consider about Vader…
You probably caught on right away that this post was really going to be more about Star Wars and not so much about politics and I’m using Miller as an excuse to indulge my inner geek.
Ben---Kylo---doesn’t realize that Darth Vader is really Anakin Skywalker.
It’s Anakin Luke saves and redeems, and Anakin deserves salvation and redemption. He was a true hero of what he and all the other Jedi thought was a Republic. He was seduced to the Dark Side by Palpatine’s playing upon his noblest qualities, his love for Padme chief of all. And he was betrayed by the Jedi, in a way---they neglected him, leaving him to be raised by Obi-Wan who was too young to have an apprentice, and, in fact, still in a significant way an apprentice himself, learning not from a master anymore but from experience. And his being young is important to the story, not only in his lacking experience and the maturity and wisdom that comes with it, but in his wanting the experience---that is in being eager for adventures on his own and for adventure’s sake. In my fanfic universe, Obi-wan is a master at coming up with excuses to leave Anakin behind while he goes off to have fun being the Jedi’s top secret agent, James Bond with a lightsaber instead of a clumsy, random, and uncivilized Walther PPK. When he’s in that bar on Coruscant, hunting the shape-shifting assassin Zam Wessell, I imagine the drink he orders is that long ago and far away galaxy’s version of a vodka martini, shaken not stirred. But when he comes home after his adventures, he overcompensates for neglecting Anakin’s training by being hyper-critical, demanding, restrictive, and, frankly, hypocritical---”Do what I say, Anakin, not what I do.”
Obi-wan admits he’s failed Anakin and feels guilty enough about it that he lies to Luke about it twenty odd years later. My suspicion---I should say my hope---is that we find out in Episode VII that Luke didn’t fail Ben Solo. Ben failed all on his own. He wasn’t seduced by the Dark Side but by his own vanity. Naturally, he would see it as Luke’s having betrayed him, but it’s Lucifer’s sense of betrayal. He’s outraged at not being seen and celebrated as the favorite angel. His comeuppance ought to be that he’s forced to accept a final blow to his vanity: that he doesn’t matter to Snoke except as a tool. He’s a minor villain and a fool.
I don’t expect that’s what fate has in store for Miller. Life rarely works out that way. But who knows? There’s a hint in the Atlantic story that Miller’s making himself unpopular around the White House and Reince Priebus is not a fan. Does that make Priebus Snoke? Depends on who and what Snoke turns out to be. Point is, the implication is that around the White House Miller is viewed as useful but not inexpendable and not, despite his title, a leader. In fact, since college he’s made a career out of being useful and attaching himself to people who get things done rather than getting things done himself. He’s a minion and minions tend to end their careers kicked to the curb and thrown under buses.
Kylo Ren, as far as we know and I hope we’ll ever know----I like it that he’s not in any way in the same league as the grandfather he tries so hard to identify with---was never a hero in his own right. His turn to the Dark Side wasn’t a hero’s tragic fall but an adolescent’s rebellion to spite his parents and his uncle. Ben Solo became Kylo Ren in a snit. He was born with tremendous talent and ability, not to mention advantages and privileges, but he put it all to use to aggrandize himself.
The Atlantic article quotes Ann Coulter marveling at Miller’s tremendous talent and ability, talent ability Miller has put to use helping bigots like Jeff Sessions and now Donald Trump make life easier and more comfortable for a select cohort of white Americans and harder and grimmer for just about everybody else but especially for people who aren’t white and don’t fit the Right’s definition of Americans.
“Someone with Miller’s gargantuan IQ could have been making millions on Wall Street, hundreds of thousands as a lawyer—but he’s been working in the Senate because he loves this country and the people who live here,” Coulter wrote in an email.
Leaving aside how Miller and his bosses show their love for the country by trying to throw people out of it and not letting any more in, Coulter doesn’t mention that there are other things someone with a gargantuan IQ could be doing. He could be a doctor, or a scientist, or a teacher. He could be a lawyer who helps poor people who are in trouble rather than one who helps rich people become richer. He could be a lawyer working for the ACLU to rescue people from the depredations of the travel ban.
In fact, I think there’s an example of someone who actually did become a lawyer and was recruited by Wall Street where he could have made millions of dollars but decided to put his talent and ability to use helping people build their community and give themselves and their children opportunities to improve their neighborhoods, their schools, their city, and their lives. People used to compare him to a Star Trek hero rather than a Star Wars villain, I think.
Whatever became of him?
More about Miller than you probably want to read but should read anyway:
Rosie Gray's profile at the Atlantic, How Stephen Miller's Rise Explains the Trump White House.
At univision: How White House advisor Stephen Miller went from pestering Hispanic students to designing Trump's immigration policy by Fernando Peinado.
How a liberal Santa Monica high school produced a top Trump advisor and speechwriter by Lisa Mascaro at the Los Angeles Times.
Thank you for stopping by. If you enjoyed this post and like what goes on around here---and you can swing it---please consider making a donation. It would be a big help and much appreciated.
Adapted from the Twitter feed, Wednesday, February 1, 2017.
Here's my secret which isn't much of a secret: Back before HRC declared, when it was still a question whether she would run, I was hoping she wouldn't.
But not for the conventional reasons. You know: She wasn't liberal enough. She was too compromised by her Wall Street ties. She would lose or find a way to lose. No coronations. No dynasties. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Nope.
I was hoping she wouldn't run so that the way might be clear for Kirstin Gillibrand.
Gillibrand was my first choice then and she's my first choice for 2020. I'm glad she's way out in front in opposing Trump's nominees. I admire her no end. And I’m proud she’s my senator. But here’s something to keep in mind when wishing more of her colleagues had as much courage and gumption.
She's my senator. That is...
She’s the senator from THE GODDAMN STATE OF NEW YORK!
She got 72% of the vote last time out. Her stands against Trump's nominees are not going to cost her re-election in 2018. Not many other Democratic Senators running for re-election in 2018 have her job security.
To put it mildly.
Taking the stands she's taking will help her win the presidential nomination. She can take those stands because she's from New York and not from, say, Montana or North Dakota or West Virginia or Florida or...
You get my point, so I'm done with this. For now.
Wednesday, February 1, 2017.
I wish somebody would tell us what the Democrats are supposed to do about being outvoted in both houses of Congress?
I know what they can't do. Win any vote that divides along party lines. That's the obvious one.
But they also can't make us feel like Donald Trump isn't president and the GOP doesn't hold all the cards. And they can't make us feel good about that or make us feel less worried, less anxious, less depressed, less frustrated…
And they can't make those of us who are inclined to do so to stop looking for comfort, reassurance, and validation from sources outside ourselves. And they definitely can't make us feel good about ourselves or about being who we are.
That's what religion's for.
Mined from the notebooks, Sunday, January 1, 2017. Thursday morning, February 9, 2017.
On the drive up this morning to the old Mannion Family Homestead for New Year’s dinner with the clan, Ken and I began listening to Adam Hochschild’s recent book about Americans who fought in the Spanish Civil War, Spain in Our Hearts. One of the main figures in the book, young volunteer named Bob Merriman who fought for the Republicans against Franco and the fascists and who may have been one of the models for Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls, had studied economics at Berkeley where one of his classmates was John Kenneth Galbraith. Ken had never heard of Galbraith---Has anyone under fifty? Anyone without a degree in economics, at any rate?---so I gave him quick a biographical sketch and the titles of his two most well-known books---If anyone under fifty has heard of him, have any of them, including the economics majors, read The Affluent Society and The New Industrial State?---and I added Ken’s personal connection to Galbraith. He’s one degree of separation from Galbraith. Through me. I had dinner with him once. Not much of a connection, but it’s a good family story.
It’s a story in two-parts. I think I’ve told the story before, although a long time ago, so I feel it’s safe to tell it again. This time I’m starting with the second part and finishing with the first which is where the title of this post comes from.
Back in the late 70s and early 80s, Pop Mannion was president of the local chapter of The Freedom Forum, a now long defunct organization of civic-minded professionals who met regularly to hear prominent movers and shakers in government, law, academia, and other patches of the public square speak on important issues of the day. It was sort of a Kiwanis Club for policy wonks and political junkies. In October of ‘82, Galbraith was the invited speaker. As president, it was up to Pop to introduce him. Galbraith was six foot-nine. The lectern and the microphone were set up to accommodate his height. Pop Mannion is five-six. When it came time, they couldn’t find a step stool tall enough for Pop to stand on so he could see and be seen behind the lectern. So he stood beside the lectern and pulled the microphone, which was on a bendable stand, over and down. It required a considerable stretch on his part and caused some good natured laughter. Pop, of course, took it in good fun. But things got more amusing when Galbraith strode over to take the mic. He paused a bit and looked down smiling from his great height, making sure the audience had time to enjoy the Mutt and Jeffishness of the scene. When he stepped up to lectern, he made a bit of a show of readjusting the mic and settling his notes on the lectern, demonstrating that both were still too low for him. Then he began with an anecdote, inspired by the moment.
It was about the first time he met Charles de Gaulle. DeGaulle was a mere six foot five. But it was a novelty for both men to be looking someone they were having a conversation with in the eye without having to stoop and Galbraith felt that was worth remarking on. He asked de Gaulle if he found it was an advantage for a politician to tower over everybody in the room. De Gaulle said he’d found it was but he added, “But we still must beware of the little men.”
Galbraith delivered the line with a slight sideways glance and a smile in Pop’s direction.
That’s the second part. Here’s the first part.
There was a dinner before Galbraith’s speech and---another prerogative of being president---Pop was seated at the head table with Galbraith. I happened to be home on a visit from Boston and Pop had brought me along as his guest so I was at the table too. I didn’t take much part in the conversation. Too tongue-tied and overawed at being in the company of Galbraith, whom I admired, having read both The Affluent Society and The New Industrial State (without having majored in economics---earned a C in the only economics course I ever took) and his Ambassador’s Journal, which I remember as a very interesting book filled with insights into the cultures and ways of India where he served as JFK’s ambassador but which I probably read for the high-toned gossip it included about the Kennedys. Also I was overwhelmed by my now one degree of separation from John Kennedy and all I wanted to talk about with Galbraith was that, but fortunately I knew better and kept my trap shut. You wouldn’t really call it a conversation anyway. Mainly it was a matter of someone asking a polite question and Galbraith then holding forth. That’s the way these things go.
The talk was mainly about politics, naturally, and everybody at the table, most of whom were liberals, wanted Galbraith’s reassurance that things were going to be ok. If you think Democrats and liberals are demoralized now, imagine your way back to 1982. Reagan had won in a landslide in 1980. The Republicans had picked up twelve Senate seats. The bright spot was the House, where the Democrats still held a sizable majority, but it was hard to focus on that. The Senate election coming up didn't look at all promising. (The Democrats did manage to add a seat. Still left them in the minority, 54-46.) And we didn’t have the consolation of having had eight successful years of a Barack Obama as President. The thought of Jimmy Carter filled everyone with a mixture of sadness, gloom, frustration, and fury. The question at hand was what could and should the Democrats do to regroup and whom could they run in ‘84 who’d stand even half a chance against Reagan. No one at the table, including Galbraith had any convincing answer.
No one except Pop.
“Fritz Hollings,” he said.
Hollings was then senator from South Carolina. He’d been governor. He wasn’t especially conservative for a Southerner of his time, but he was far from especially liberal either. Pop was wasn’t thrilled with him, he was just putting his name out there for discussion, but he thought Hollings was competent and personally appealing and he looked the part of President. That last was important. Carter had never looked like anyone’s ideal of a President and by the end of his term he looked beaten down, careworn, defeated, and unhappy. And that wasn’t even in comparison to Reagan. Pop thought we needed someone robust and confident-looking and confidence-inspiring to stand toe to toe with Reagan. More to the point, though, he thought we needed to run someone conservative enough to carry states in the South and Midwest. Galbraith disagreed. Vehemently.
“No!” he boomed. Actually, I don’t remember if he boomed. I don’t remember what he sounded like, actually. But I remember he was emphatic enough that he as good as boomed. “No more Southerners!”
He didn’t add not now! Not ever! Never! But it was implied.
I suspect he wasn’t thinking only of Carter. As a member of Kennedy’s inner circle, he didn’t hold Lyndon Johnson in the highest regard either.
When Ken and I reached the old homestead, I told Pop about what we’d talked about on the drive up. He remembers that night. Remembers introducing Galbraith. Remembers Galbraith’s joking at his expense. He remembers having dinner with him. He doesn’t remember that turn in the conversation, although, considering the time he doesn’t doubt the question came up. So he doesn’t remember making his case for Fritz Hollings. Know what else he doesn’t remember?
Sic transit etc.
Another thing Pop doesn't remember? Ever thinking he was smarter than John Kenneth Galbraith. But time proved Pop right and Galbraith wrong, at least on the question of running a Southerner. Took ten years to do it, though.
Hollings did try for the nomination in 1984. Didn’t get very far. I doubt Pop was much surprised or cared. By that time he had his eye on another Southern governor. Guy who’d been the youngest governor in the country and had ended his two-year stint as the youngest ex-governor a month after that dinner with Galbraith, 1982 being the first of the Comeback Kid’s comebacks.
Yes, in 1982 and in 1992, Pop was thinking like a New Democrat. Keep in mind, though, that Pop is one of the last of the true New Deal Democrats. In his heart, Franklin Roosevelt is still his President. Pop served two stretches as our town’s supervisor---Sounds like he was in prison. I imagine that some days it felt like he was.---the first go-round for ten years, the second for eight. During his time in office, he built parks, improved the infrastructure, and worked on his stamp collection, just like his hero. I have to ask him if he was inspired to start collecting stamps when he was a kid by the example of the President. At any rate, as a politician, Pop modeled himself on FDR as best he could. He was able to do something however, FDR couldn’t do but would have liked to have done and tried when he could manage it to do---balance the budget. Things have to be paid for and as Pop liked to say, throwing shade at Republicans, “You can’t do it with smoke and mirrors.”
In the spring of 1961, President Kennedy sent his Vice-President on a series of good will trips to Africa and Asia. It was partly done to give Lyndon Johnson, who was already feeling miserable, bored, useless, and neglected as VP, something to do that might help cheer him up. "I cannot stand Johnson's damn long face,' Kennedy told Florida Senator George Smathers. "He just comes in, sits at the Cabinet meetings with his face all screwed up, never says anything. He looks so sad." It was Smathers who suggested sending Johnson on around the world trip "so he can get all of the fanfare and all of the attention and all of the smoke-blowing directed at him, build up his ego again, let him have a great time." In May, Johnson landed in India, where he came under the satirical eye of Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith.
Galbraith...gave the President a sample of his famous wit in a note about Johnson's arrival. "Lyndon...arrives next week with two airplanes, a party of fifty, a communications unit, and other minor accoutrements of modern democracy. I...will try to make him feel good that he was on the ticket. His trip may not be decisive for the peace of Asia. The East, as you know, is inscrutable." In New Delhi Johnson had what he called "a belly to belly talk" with Prime Minister Jawaharal Nehru, an neutralist in the Cold War. [Baffled editor's note: "Belly to belly"? Look at Nehru in the photo up top. He was five-ten. Johnson was six-four.] A want of "appreciable business" between the two produced long silences on Nehru's part until Johnson hit on the subject of rural electrification, a matter on which they were in fervent agreement. The conversation impressed Galbraith as innocuous: "Both Nehru and Johnson spoke rather formally on education, which they favored; poverty, which they opposed; freedom, which they endorsed; [and] peace, which they both wanted."
The rest of Johnson's stay in India consisted of brief trips outside New Delhi, where he campaigned as if he were running for Congress. Galbraith told a translator: "If Lyndon forgets and asks for votes, leave that out." Johnson rode on a bullock cart, drew water from a well, laid a cornerstone at an engineering institute, shook hands all around, handed out pencils with the inscription, "Compliments of your Senator, Lyndon B. Johnson---the greatest good for the greatest number," and recounted the triumphs of electrification in rural America. Galbraith advised the State Department that Johnson "carries all precincts visited and would run well nationwide."
That's from Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973 by Robert Dallek.
Please help keep this blog chugging along: buy books! Dallek's Flawed Giant, along with Hochschild's Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, Galbraith's The Affluent Society and The Great Crash of 1929, and the Library of America's collection of some of Galbraith's most influential books, Galbraith: The Affluent Society & Other Writings, 1952-1967: American Capitalism / The Great Crash, 1929 / The Affluent Society / The New Industrial State are available at Amazon.
Adapted from the Twitter feed. Wednesday, December 21, 2016.
Oh for crying out loud!
A Republican congressman outlined the way he would like to see the health care system operate if Obamacare is repealed, as GOP lawmakers are promising. It is a brave new world in which parents would wait and think about it before bringing in their sick or injured kids for costly treatments.
The example Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) gave in an interview with MLive.com was from his own experience when he waited until the morning after to take his youngest son to the doctor with an injured arm, because he did not want to waste money on an expensive emergency room visit. The arm, it turned out, was broken.
"We weren't sure what was going on. It was in the evening, so I splinted it up and we wrapped it up, and the decision was, okay, do we go to the ER? We thought it was a sprain, but weren't sure," Huizenga said, adding that he and his wife "took every precaution and decided to go in the next morning."
"When it [comes to] those type of things, do you keep your child home from school and take him the next morning to the doctor because of a cold or a flu, versus take him into the emergency room? If you don't have a cost difference, you'll make different decisions," he said….
"Way too often, people pull out their insurance card and they say 'I don't know the difference or cost between an X-ray or an MRI or CT Scan.' I might make a little different decision if I did know [what] some of those costs were and those costs came back to me," he said.
That’s from Talking Points Memo.
I’d like to give Huizenga the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s misremembering conveniently to serve his political purposes and that he didn’t listen to his kid crying in pain and say to his wife, “You know, ER visits have high co-pays, let’s see if he sleeps it off.” I’m assuming instead he and his wife had a normal parent’s reaction and let their hope their kid wasn’t badly hurt cloud their judgment. Kid might not have been crying. He might not have been in that much pain. You don’t whisk your kids to the emergency room every time they say ouch.
But he’s a Republican and they tend to be a little tight with their money. Maybe he does do a cost-benefit analysis whenever his children need medical attention. Most people don’t and many times they don’t have the time or the inclination---when a bone is actually sticking out through the skin, for instance. And setting up the circumstances under which people would be forced to ask themselves “Can I afford this?” and “Is it worth the cost?” when faced with decisions about their own or their children’s health and well-being is worse than heartless, it’s inhuman because it forces people to be inhuman. But that’s what Huizenga says he wants done. And clearly he expects them to not get treatment if they can’t afford it.
Makes me mad. So I’m writing him an email.
Dear Congressman, I hope your son didn’t suffer too much pain while you were making him wait overnight to see the doctor about his broken arm. I also hope he appreciated how much money he was helping you save with his enforced stoicism. It’s good, though, you could afford to take him to the doctor the next day. I’m guessing your insurance covered that. Actually, if his accident happened while you were in Congress, I’m sure it did, because we taxpayers pay for it and we’re pretty generous when politicians decide to spend our money on themselves. But I suppose you may have a point, people should consider the cost of an emergency room visit and avoid one if they can.
What I’d like to know is what if they can’t avoid it and can’t afford it? And what do the people who can avoid it but can't afford the visit to the doctor the next day do?
Or the people who put off an expensive test because of your stingy advice only to find out later the cancer's advanced too far?
I had two MRIs before my back surgery. I didn't pay a dime for either, on the spot. Our insurance picked up the whole tab. If the costs had been going to come back to me, I wouldn't have had the MRIs and I wouldn't have had the surgery. My back would have gotten worse and worse and eventually I’d have become completely disabled. That would have meant I couldn’t work.
Since you obviously think only in terms of cost, what's the cost to the country to have millions of people doing without medical care?
Millions of people who can't work, can't go to school, can't contribute to the cost of running the country, a part of that cost, as I mentioned, being medical insurance for members of Congress.
The logical conclusion to your thinking is either the government picks up the more expensive cost LATER or people suck it up and die.
But what of that? If they'd rather die they had best do it and decrease the surplus population, right?
To read all of Tierney Sneed’s post at TPM, follow the link to “GOP Rep's Vision Of Post-ACA World: You Wait To Treat Your Kid's Broken Arm.”
Thanks for reading the post. If you enjoy what goes on around here and would like to help keep this blog going strong---and you can swing it---please consider making a donation. It would be much appreciated.
Adapted from the Twitter feed, Tuesday, November 30, 2016.
The defining trait of conservatives used to be greed. They'd prefer to call it "thrift" but it was greed. They wanted to keep all the $.
"Not with my tax money, you don't!" As if they did all the work and paid all the taxes.
But these days it's cruelty.
They're not happy unless they've done something to make someone suffer.
They seem to think it's their divine mission.
They're still greedy. But cruelty comes first and they're willing to waste money to punish the weak, poor, and unfortunate.
TX will spend millions in tax money to defend embryo funerals, and the state is cutting funds for actual children: https://t.co/JUy0OwEBCm— Amanda Marcotte (@AmandaMarcotte) November 30, 2016
Amanda follows up with a post at Salon:
https://t.co/VrwVUC88Mc Texas will now require funeral services for women who miscarry or have abortions at a clinic or hospital.— Amanda Marcotte (@AmandaMarcotte) November 30, 2016
To jump straight to Elena Mejia Lutz and Edgar Walters story at the Texas Tribune, follow the link to "Texas moving forward with budget cuts for disabled kids' therapy services."
For Amanda's post, follow the link to "Texas will now require funeral services whenever a woman has an abortion."
Posted Wednesday morning, November 23, 2016.
Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna (left) and his crony John “Bathhouse” Johnson, a pair of practitioners of honest graft in Chicago in the 1890s.
Probably wouldn’t really feel any better, but I can’t help thinking it would be better if Trump was surrounded by old-fashioned political scoundrels, crooks, and thieves than by the creeps and weasels he’s taking into the White House with him. Pence, Sessions, Flynn, Bannon, Kobabch, Guilian, the list goes on and will go on---these are deeply troubled and twisted human beings who are working out their personal issues and pathologies through their political activities. Using your office just to line your pockets seems much healthier-minded and, well, normal.
Of course some of these creeps and weasels are thieves too, so there’s that.
Been finding some comfort and amusement distracting myself from the corruption building in D.C. by reading about the corruption rampant in Chicago in the last decade of the 19th Century. Book I’m reading is Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned by John A. Farrell. Still early in the story. Darrow’s only recently arrived in Chicago and beginning to make a national name for himself as a defense attorney. But he’s making his living as a lawyer for the city which means that he’s entangled in city politics and Chicago city politics in the 1890s was not a business for the high-minded and morally fastidious.
So the cast of characters includes all sorts and conditions of crooks and liars, thieves, swindlers, grifters, grafters, sharpers, main-chancers, bag men, coat-holders, ward heelers, influence peddlers, malfeasants, misfeasants, and other types of skimmers and hangers-on with their hands out or in somebody else’s pocket. Then there are the criminals.
Some of the names are new to me. Some are familiar. For instance, I was glad to see a pair of old favorites make their appearance. Bathhouse Coughlin and Hinky Dink Kenna.
Altgeld and Darrow were joined in Cregier’s camp---at least for a time, since things were always shifting as the boys chased the better deal---by the city’s gambling kingpin, Michael Cassius “KIng Mike” McDonald, corrupter of cops and public officials, and the boss of the city’s vice district, Joseph “Chesterfield Joe” Mackin, fresh from Joliet Prison. With them were aspiring scoundrels like MIchael “Hinky Dink” Kenna and John “Bathhouse” Coughlin, a Laurel-and-Hardy pair destined for fame as the “lords of the Levee,” the downtown sin sector. Kenna, a spry, poker-faced little wizard, ran the Workingman’s Exchange, a saloon and gambling den that became the headquarters of the First Ward political organization. In return for a cut of the action, he arranged police protection for the pimps and barkeeps, and in return for votes on Election Day found tramps a place to flop. Coughlin was “a rubber”---a masseur at the Turkish baths---who graduated to the exalted status of alderman. He was known for his elocution and unique dishabille---he wore Prince Albert coats of billiard-cloth green, plaid and mauve vests, lavender trousers, pink kid gloves, and gleaming yellow pumps. Kenna and Coughlin were a team, and they followed the advice of Senator Billy Mason, who told Bathhouse, “You and Mike stick to th’ small stuff. There’s little risk and in the long run it pays off a damned sight more.”
I made the spiritual---today it’d be virtual---acquaintance of Bathhouse and Hinky Dink through their photograph hanging on a dining room wall of the Chicago Chop House where Mrs M and I were having dinner on one of our frequent weekend escapes from Fort Wayne back in the late 1980s. The caption under the photo gave only the briefest summary of their contributions to the Windy City’s legendary reputation as the most politically corrupt town, past and present, in the United States. But our getaways were regular enough that I’d begun to think of myself as an honorary Chicagoan and therefore an heir to its long and storied history of crime and political shenanigans, and as soon as I saw Hinky Dink and Bathhouse in their high collars, vests, and straw boaters---the photograph was black and white, of course, so unfortunately I couldn’t see what color pants Bathhouse was wearing the day it was taken---and learned their beguiling nicknames from the caption, I took them to my heart like a pair of long-lost friends.
Hinky Dink and Bathhouse and all their fellow rogues and scoundrels are fun to read about. But the truth is they were all to lesser or greater extent villains. They arguably did less harm than some of the city’s “respectable” citizens who believed the only reason to have a government was to keep the poor in their helpless place and the working class beaten-down, demoralized, obedient, and grateful for whatever their bosses deigned to pay them:
That was Chicago. The dollar ruled. The wealthiest citizens set the city’s standards fro quiet offices high above the factory floor, or in their splendid drawing rooms. The great newspapers, and their editors, were fiercely conservative. The “good people” sang psalms on Sundays, equipped the local militia with ten-barreled Gatling guns to mow down striking workers, and launched crusades to close down the saloons. “These were church people who had grown rich on running grist mills, plumbing factories, piano factories; they were managers of dry-goods stores, and proprietors of elevators and wholesale candy houses,” said Edgar Lee Masters, another young lawyer drawn to the city. “These were the specimens of odious respectability and...hypocrisy.”
The only right workers possessed was the right to go look for another job. Darrow became famous---infamous---taking on cases in which the forces of respectability were going after labor and its leaders. At the point of the story I’m at, he’s just failed to win the appeal of the anarchists convicted for the Haymarket bombing and about to take on as a client Eugene Debs facing for inciting the Pullman Strike riots.
Bathhouse and Hinky Dink and their cohorts were minor villains in the scheme of things. Paying bums to vote early and often is nothing compared to paying goons to beat and shoot striking workers. They were practitioners of what’s known as “honest graft”, the cheerfully corrupt practice of taking cut of the money they helped get spent on useful and necessary civic improvements like paving roads, building bridges, cleaning the streets, hiring cops and teachers. All for the public good. True. But also routinely done on the cheap with shoddy materials and workmanship with contracts going to cronies, family, friends, and whoever could pay the price to play. Waste, inefficiency, and fraud were features not bugs. The people got sidewalks and schools, that’s a fact. But they also got bilked. Good things were done but in the long run they contributed to the idea that all government spending is on make-work projects that don’t do anything but line the pockets of the dishonest and undeserving and buy votes for unscrupulous politicians. They helped people’ to think they’re saying something true when they say “good enough for government work.” They gave the forces of respectability and hypocrisy an excuse to feel smug, virtuous, and self-righteous in resisting any government program that might raise their taxes. They contributed to the still popular image of cities as sinkholes of crime and corruption and the Democratic Party as the party of giving away “free stuff”. And they helped create and perpetuate a political culture of What’s In It For Me that still makes it hard for the would-be practitioners of good and honest government of good and honest to be good and honest. Having to associate and do business with the likes of Hinky Dink Kenna and Bathhouse Coughlin corrupted Darrow or at least caused him to have to act corruptly from time to time, as well as Darrow’s political mentor and patron, John Peter Altgeld, the great Progressive reformer whom in the book Farrell credits with turning the Democratic Party into the progressive party it is---well, tries to be and, thankfully, often is.
Still, thinking it over, I think I would feel better---a lot better---if I believed all Trump’s planning to do is use his office to make his family as rich as he’s been pretending to be and if the creeps and weasels he’s putting to work weren’t going to work for the forces or respectability and hypocrisy.
Posted Saturday afternoon, November 5, 2016.
Donald Trump isn’t running for President.
“Donald Trump” is.
It’s astounding but true, at least according to recent polls. More people think Donald Trump is honest than think Hillary Clinton is. Not a lot more. Actually a small percentage. But that adds up to a lot of people. And while it may be shocking that anybody but the most deluded partisan could think that pathological liar and lifelong cheat, thief, conman, and fraud is honest, the polls don’t show that most people think he’s honest. They know he isn’t. They know he’s dishonest. The polls simply show that lots of people think she’s more dishonest.
Please don’t refer me to Politifact. Most voters don’t even know what Politifact is let alone how they’ve rated her the most honest candidate to have run this campaign season by large---YUGE!---margins. What matters isn’t the truthfulness of what she’s said versus what he’s said. What matters is that when voters judge a politician’s honesty, they include in their judgments their sense of whether or not that candidate is the person he or she purports to be.
The question isn’t simply “Are they telling the truth?” It’s also “Are they living out the truth about who they are?”
It should be obvious that Trump isn’t. But the problem is what I said at the start.
Donald Trump isn’t running for president. “Donald Trump” is.
It has to be kept in mind that Trump entered the race as a celebrity. He was a TV star. It’s easy to dismiss him as a mere game show host. But that’s not what he was in the eyes of the show’s fans. He was playing a character named “Donald Trump” created for the show and in their eyes the character was a real person. A real person they grew to like and admire and to want to be like---that’s the basis of every celebrity’s appeal, isn’t it? They provide alternative selves for their fans to live vicariously through. At least for the moment we’re watching them do whatever it is we admire them for---and in some cases like the Kardashians that’s simply being worshipped for being themselves---we live more interesting, exciting, and rewarding lives. We imagine what it would be like to stand in their shoes---or run in their sneakers and cleats--and for that moment we get to be more interesting and exciting and likable to ourselves.
Trump played the type of rich guy and boss many people would like to be. Believe that they would be if only… Someone who made his money the hard way, through hard work and by being smart. Not rocket scientist smart. Not lawyer smart. Certainly not college professor smart. Working guy and girl smart. Smart as in having common sense and knowing how to get things done. Which means he came by his money honestly. No shady deals. No payoffs and kickbacks. No promising one thing and delivering another. No screwing his partners, investors, employees, customers, and friends. (Basically, doing none of the things the real Trump did and does as a matter of routine.) And he was an honest boss. Tough when toughness was needed, fair when fairness was required. No nonsense. No bullshit. No saying one thing while meaning another. No sparing of the feelings of people whose feelings don’t deserve to be spared. No withholding of praise or reward from those who’ve earned both. (If people didn’t imagine themselves as Trump, they imagined they would like working for him and wished their own real bosses were more like him.) President Obama once got off some good jokes about Trump’s firing Gary Busey. Well, fans of the show knew Trump was right to fire Gary Busey. It was the tough, fair, and no-nonsense thing to do. It was the honest thing to do.
That “Donald Trump” was just a part Trump played. I never watched the show but I’ll bet he played it pretty well. Probably hammed it up too much but still. I’ve heard he thinks he deserved an Emmy for it but then he thinks he deserves every reward and honor just for being him. Like the Presidency. He should just be given that. The point is he’s still playing that character, playing it to the hilt, on the campaign trail---well, actually, on TV. There’s a subject of a hundred books when this is over: how Trump ran the first truly virtual presidential campaign. His rallies, his speeches, his victory dances after the Republican debates were all staged for the TV cameras and played for the audiences at home. Of course every 21st century politician has to do all that and does do it, but that’s not all they do. It’s all he’s done except Tweet which besides being virtual campaigning by definition is also intended to grab the attention of the cameras. And it's worked. His tweets are reported as news.
News in the sense that they've been shown on the news. Not news in the sense they've been examined seriously. But then for most of the election season nothing Trump did or said was examined seriously. They were just covered. He was just covered, like the celebrity he is. It didn’t matter what he said or did. It just mattered that Donald Trump said it or did it.
Or, really, that “Donald Trump” said it or did it.
For far too long the media made no attempt to separate “Donald Trump” from Donald Trump. In fact, they accepted that “Donald Trump” was Donald Trump.
On the whole, political press is depraved. Reporters and pundits don’t care that lives are at stake in an election. They don’t care that who gets to be president literally does decide that some people live and some people die and who and how many those people are. To them, politics is a game show, when it’s not a sporting event, and who wins and who loses is all they care about. Winners make better stories and make for better ratings and more clicks. At the end of every Republican debate and for days after, Trump was covered like the winning coach of a football team or the manager of a champion boxer. What he’d said at the debates didn’t matter to the coverage. Only that it worked to help him win. He wasn’t called on his lies. He was simply allowed to boast about having won and how smart and tough and strong he was.
Or to bring this back to The Apprentice, he was covered as that “Donald Trump” and as if what he’d just done was fire another Republican who deserved to be fired.
But weren’t the lies obvious? Weren’t they egregious? Weren’t they disqualifying in and of themselves? Did it really need the media to show him up as a pathological liar?
Well, yes, but, on the other hand, it’s not certain that they could have done it. They would have been working against the image of “Donald Trump” as an honest guy.
Honest in the sense of someone who’s always who he is, someone who doesn’t hold back, who says what he thinks and too bad if you don’t like it. That’s part of what people mean when they praise him for not being “politically correct.” They mean he doesn’t care what others think of him.
They also mean they like that he’s a racist, but let’s leave that aside for now.
That he’s saying exactly what he thinks is a jarring idea, considering that it doesn’t appear that much thought goes into what he says. But that’s another sign of his basic honesty. He doesn’t filter. The words come out and it doesn’t matter that they don’t make much sense if you try to parse his sentences. It doesn’t matter that the little he says that does parse doesn’t match up with any verifiable facts. The facts are beside the point. The words are beside the point. The feelings behind the words and the feelings the words elicit are the point, and those feelings are honest.
What’s more he expresses those feelings in an honest, straight-forward, regular guy way.
How? By lying outrageously?
No. By exaggerating.
A little here and there. You know, for emphasis. And for fun. The way people do. It’s bullshit but we all know it’s bullshit. But it’s more fun and it’s funnier if you say it that way. You just got to know what he really means.
So he’s really not going to build a wall across the border?
“Don’t be ridiculous. But we need some kind of ‘wall’, don’t we? We can’t just keep letting them pour in.”
And all Mexicans aren’t rapists?
“Of course not. But some are, and how are we going to throw the ones who are out?”
And he won’t claw all those jobs back from China?
“I wish. But at least he knows what’s going on and that something’s got to be done and he’s going to do it. He just has to figure out how.”
What about locking her up? What about having her hauled off in cuffs?
“Won’t happen, will it? The Clintons always skate. But she deserves it. And in a just and fair and more honest world she would be.”
And the country isn’t worse off that it’s ever been? America isn’t pretty great as it is? It doesn’t really need to be made great again?
“Maybe the country’s not worse off, but my life sure stinks, and America may not need to be made great, but I sure could use some help and he’s the only one who seems to know it.”
Not all this stems from his celebrity, of course. But it goes a long way toward helping him get away with the con he’s running on his own voters. Like I said, it’s very difficult for people to see him for what he is because they’re so used to seeing him as “Donald Trump”.
Hillary’s a celebrity in her own right. She’s also a TV star in that most people only know her as someone who appears on their TVs. To a degree it’s worked for her in the way it’s worked for Trump. Her fans see the image they identify with and wave away things that don’t fit with that image. But also like Trump she’s playing a fictional character. Just unlike Trump it’s not a character of her own creation and it’s certainly not one she wants to play.
The part was written for her nearly twenty-five years ago by David Maraniss in his psychological biography of Bill Clinton, First in His Class, which was basically a 500 page long exercise in mind-reading, and Joe Klein, whose novel Primary Colors was taken as to heart by Washington insiders as a roman à clef. Klein published Primary Colors under the clever pseudonym Anonymous and a lot of time and energy was devoted by readers and critics and folks in-in-the-know in figuring out how Anonymous really was. But it was more or less taken for granted that the book itself was wearing a disguise too, that it was a work of journalism disguised as a novel, and it helped establish the idea that the Clintons were the main characters in a real life soap opera, prototypes, if people back then only knew, of Frank and Claire Underwood. Maureen Dowd took over as showrunner and has been relentless in her portrayal of Hillary as a duplicitous, scheming, self-entitled, hyper-ambitious bitch. Most of the political press corps has taken that character as the real Hillary and that’s the “Hillary” they’ve been covering all along. That’s the “Hillary” who’s the villain of the email stories. She must be lying because of course “she” is. She must have done something wrong because of course “she” would.
Clinton didn’t help herself by constantly trying to come up with explanations and excuses that would have satisfy the press. She couldn’t come up with one because there wasn’t one the press wanted to hear. They wanted to hear her admit she is what they believe she is. They wanted her to say, “I gave away classified information to our enemies and then I ordered my staff to cover it up because of the pay for play way my no good husband’s foundation operates and because I want to be president no matter the cost to the people who work for me, my friends, or the country!”
Every answer she tried sounded like an evasion, because it was---she was evading saying "Fuck off. I can't explain it. I wasn't paying that much attention to the details back then because it didn't occur to me I'd have to explain why I was doing what my predecessors did as a matter of course to a howling pack of shallow-minded, self-important, clueless hacks!"----but also because it wasn’t accepted or reported as an answer. It was just another excuse for another story about how there were still “questions.”
In short, all along she’s been portrayed as not just another politician indulging in routine politician lies but as nearly a traitor lying about revealing state secrets and then lying about it for the sake of her vaulting ambitions. It’s a wonder that anyone thinks she’s honest at all.
Bernie Sanders and his surrogates didn’t help. On the whole I’m glad Bernie got into the race. I think his campaign was good for the Democratic Party and for her. But it did a good deal of harm, as well, by relentlessly pushing the ideas that she was “corrupt” and a “tool of Wall Street.” Bernie himself dismissed with contempt the email “scandal”, but many of his supporters online and, I’m sure, out in the field, embraced it and pinned their hopes to it. Even as late as June, Bernie Bitter-enders were gleefully predicting she’d be indicted. When in July the FBI said, nope, ain’t going to happen because there’s no grounds for it, they cried out in outrage. Only her elitist white privilege had saved her, they insisted. Still insist, some of them. They’re still out there. They may not be voting for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson---or Trump---but they sure aren’t voting for her. They’re voting against him. But without much enthusiasm. In fact, it’s hard to tell whether they’ll more relieved if she wins than they’ll be disappointed at not being able to say “I told you so” or more appalled if Trump wins than they’ll be satisfied to have been proven right.
Doesn’t matter. The effect of the pettiness of it all is that they've taught a generation of young progressives that Hillary Clinton is a liar and a criminal who is only barely more fit to be president than Donald Trump, the lesser of two evils, certainly, but still evil. So of course they’re ready accept right away that the “new revelations” about the email are revelations and that they’re damning.
Then there is the problem that politics is a performance art and she isn’t a natural performer. She just isn’t. She does best in campaign situations where she doesn’t have to perform, where she simply has to be herself---as opposed to having to play herself---small events where she can meet and greet people face to face and one on one. Before large crowds, that is, when she’s onstage and on TV, she stiffens up. Her voice tightens. Her face becomes a bit of a mask and her expressions are, well, less expressive. She seems scripted and over-rehearsed because she is and she hasn’t mastered the art of hiding it. But it’s also the case that she doesn’t want to be up there doing what she’s doing. Which isn’t to say she doesn’t want to be campaigning. She wants to campaign. She loves campaigning. It’s just that to her campaigning isn’t performing, it’s talking honestly and intelligently and thoughtfully about issues to voters directly and not through the media. It’s to be dull but sincerely dull.
The effect, unfortunately, is that she doesn’t come across as honest, at least not as if she’s honestly being herself. People get the sense she’s holding back. They feel it’s not so much that she has a public position that differs from a private position but that she has a public self who differs from her private self so much that her public self is a less than brilliant disguise. An attempt at disguise. A clumsy attempt. In another word, she’s a phony.
Trump is a natural at playing “Donald Trump”. He enjoys it. He revels in it. Besides the fact people take it for the real him, they get a kick out of him getting a kick out of it. He’s fun to watch. But it’s more important that people buy that it’s “him.”
Finally, though, what decides it for them is what decides the question for most people, whether or not the politician in question is saying what they already think is the truth, which, surprise, is usually what they want the truth to be.
A politician sounds honest when he or she tells us what we already think and that we’re right to think what we think.
Hillary is not particularly good at that, because she’s not interested in doing it. She wants to tell people what she knows. I’m not saying she’s a know-it-all and likes to show off. I’m saying that what matters to her is what is in fact the facts as she’s come to learn them through study, practice, and experience. She doesn’t want to use words to express feelings. She uses them for their precise meaning.
A lot of people don’t want to hear a politician talking like that because it makes them feel dumb and foolish. To their ears it sounds like someone talking like that in order to make them feel dumb and foolish.
But on top of all that, Hillary’s an optimist. She doesn’t just see the glass as half full, she sees it filling up. These days, a lot of people aren’t feeling optimistic. Their glasses aren’t even a third full and it seems every time they look away, someone grabs it and steals a swig.
And that’s the truth Donald Trump’s telling them, that they’re right to be pessimistic, that someone is draining their glasses on them.
The system is rigged against them. The country is falling apart. Their lives stink and it’s all THOSE PEOPLE’S fault. Those OTHERS! Those NOT US. Those NOT ME’s.
Donald Trump---or “Donald Trump”---is assuring people that they come by their anger and hatred and fears and resentments honestly.
And that’s the truth. The God’s honest truth. "Donald Trump" wouldn't lie to them.
Photo up top courtesy of NBC via A.V. Club, and, yep, that is Trump Twitter Nemesis George Takei over there on the right. I'm sure he's sorry he did the show and contributed even to that small degree to creating the image of Trump as an honest man. But that episode ran in February 2012 and back then who'd a thunk it? Well, me, for one, sort of. From February 2012, actually: The Donald Contextualizes the Mitten.
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Another one mined from the notebooks. June 17, 2016. Posted Wednesday, November 1.
I try not to make election predictions. There’s no percentage in it. I don’t get paid to stir up debate to bring in eyeballs and bump up the clicks so I can’t fail upward. I don’t get rewarded for being wrong because I was wrong in a way that served the business model. All I can be is wrong.
I don’t like being wrong.
The other thing is, I don’t mind not knowing.
Making predictions is a way of fooling yourself into thinking you know.
And I don’t know.
At best, I have an idea.
I have an idea of what’s going on.
Sometimes it’s a pretty good idea.
Usually, however, it’s only a vague one. Often the vaguest idea.
Since he’s become the “presumptive nominee”---I put that in quotes only because I swear this is the first election in my lifetime I’ve heard that phrase used to describe the candidate with enough delegates that their nomination at their party’s convention was pretty much a sure thing. In the past, as far as I can recall, people were content to call them the candidate with enough votes that their nomination’s pretty much a sure thing. Too many words, I guess, to fit on a chyron or in a Tweet.---Since he became the presumptive nominee back in May, honest and self-shamed pundits and analysts have been busy explaining how come they predicted Trump wouldn’t win or, at any rate, how they failed to predict he would. Nate Silver seems to feel especially guilty and in need of offering what sounds almost like an apology.
Since I didn’t predict anything, I don’t have anything to apologize for. But I did have an idea and it wasn’t a vague idea. It was the wrong idea.
I had the idea he would fade.
It chagrins me to keep having to admit this, but for a long while back last year had that idea and held onto it. I expected Trump would fade because I was sure people would get tired of him and his act.
After all, he’s boring.
He bores me, at any rate.
Same song, same jokes, same shtick, delivered the same hammy, obviously overly-pleased with himself way.
But I forgot.
Donald Trump is a clown but he’s also something else. A salesman.
A great one.
Took a while for me to realize the reason I didn’t appreciate his routine was I wasn’t in the market looking to buy what he was selling. I don’t need the brand of snake-oil he’s peddling. I’m not sure what brand that is, maybe because I don’t need it. I like to pride myself on not being a sucker for any brand of political snake oil or patent medicines, homeopathic remedies, or magic cure-alls. Oh, maybe from time to time I’ve reached for the political equivalent a bottle of cold medicine or cough syrup or an aspirin and I think we’re about to overdose on that metaphor. Point is, since I wasn’t buying what he was selling, which from what I could tell from listening with half an ear was the same old Right Wing Republican mixture of resentment, grievance, hatred, anger, fear, and the kind of self-pity that’s hard to distinguish from self-loathing, I found his relentless patter tiresome, and I figured it wouldn’t be long before most Republicans got tired of hearing it too.
There was never a time when I didn’t take him seriously as a dangerous demagogue tapping into the the fears, angers, and hatreds of a significant portion of the Republican base. I knew he’d get a lot of votes and amass delegates. I didn’t think he would win the nomination, but I always thought he could. I didn’t dismiss the polls or ignore the polls. I just didn’t trust them.
Too early to tell, I was saying to myself---and online and to my worried students---well into fall. After all, the polls in the fall of 2008 had Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson leading John McCain by wide margins. And the polls now had Ben Carson in second place, and at points even leading. So I figured that as the primaries drew closer and voters really started paying attention one of the guys I was pretty sure would be the nominee--probably Jeb, maybe Rubio, but quite possibly Cruz---would start rising in the polls and Trump along with Carson would plateau and then fade.
I made several mistakes. The first was I was slow to realize just how truly awful a candidate Jeb Bush was.
Then I didn’t look closely at the GOP’s rules for winning the primary so I didn’t know just how few delegates the eventual winner would need and I took it for granted that Trump’s running for a long time at just a little of over a third in the polls wouldn’t get him close enough to the nomination. (As it turned out, he won over half the delegates with significantly less than 50% of the popular vote---1441 and 44.9%, respectively.) And I underestimated just how eager the media would be to help him sell his snake-oil.
But my big mistake was not seeing soon enough what he is.
What else he is.
I saw him for the effective demagogue he is. I saw him for the clown he is. I didn’t see him for the great salesman he is. I didn’t see was that the clowning and the demagoguery were part of a sales pitch. And I didn’t see what he was selling along with the racism and the anger and the hatred.
That’s the not-so-secret secret ingredient in the snake oil.
And for most people SUCCESS means money. Lots of it.
Sure, there are other things that go with it. Status, influence, opportunities for fun, further achievement, more money. But those come from having the money and they’re only added perks. Having the money is the point. It’s enough to be rich.
To be rich is to be successful by definition.
Rich, of course, is relative. Lots of people’s idea of rich doesn’t mean being a billionaire or even a millionaire in quantitative terms. It simply means having enough money that you can pay your bills without worrying and fretting and still have plenty left over to spend on having fun and enjoying life. Things get complicated and troublesome when your idea of having fun and enjoying life involves buying lots of expensive toys and luxuries and unnecessary comforts. And unfortunately for their mental health and well-being, most people think rich means RICH. It means being a millionaire or a billionaire...like Donald Trump.
And that’s what Trump has been selling for decades with his books and with his example on The Apprentice, the formula for being rich and successful like Donald Trump.
It’s been an implicit theme of his campaign that as president he will make “us” all rich in that limited, modest way of having just enough money to pay the bills and have some fun---maybe you can’t buy a yacht, but you might buy that speedboat. He doesn’t promise that all those jobs he’s going to bring back will be high-paying, high-status jobs---actually, the Democrats implicitly promise that when they talk up the value of a college education and STEM and working people resent it. They take it as elitists telling them that they’re living their lives wrong and raising their kids to be failures. No, Trump is going to get people good jobs, the best jobs. And for most people that means steady work with decent pay and good benefits.
It’s his version of a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.
And if Trump stopped there, he truly would be the populist and champion of the working class so many people in the political media seem determined to portray him as.
But he doesn’t stop there.
Trump himself makes it clear he has only one qualification to be president. He’s a SUCCESS!
That’s more than enough, the best qualification, the only one that matters, really. To be successful, to be rich, is to be SMART! And competent. You can’t succeed, you can’t become rich, you can’t make money unless you’re smart and competent, and the more money you have, the smarter and more competent you must be. That’s one of the cons Trump is running on his voters, that he is richer than he is, rich as Croesus, richer than those people, at any rate, the smart guys and women of the political and business elites whose stupidity and incompetence have caused the problems that have to be fixed in order for America to be made great again. Trump, says Trump, over and over again, is the only one smart enough and competent enough to do the job. Need proof? Look at how rich he is! Look at all the things his money has bought him! Never mind what’s in his tax returns. He has a private jet, a big one, a YUGE one!
Like I said, I don’t think most people believe that electing him president will in itself make them rich. But they do expect it will make their lives materially better. If it doesn’t put more money in their pocket, at least it might keep more in it, just by slowing the flow of money out of it. And who knows what might follow from that? When things settle down, when the bills get paid…
Trump is selling that kind of success.
But there are people who want MORE!
They do want to be rich as Croesus. And Trump sells himself as a role model for them. That’s the theme of his books, a theme of The Apprentice, the reason for buying Trump steaks. Model yourself on me, use me as your example, and you too can be a SUCCESS!
If not, well, then, at least you can feel rich by identifying with me, the rich guy.
Now, as it happens, I don’t need to feel rich.
I’d like to be rich, but that’s different. And I definitely need more money.
But if I thought there was a magic medicine that would make me a SUCCESS, that would make me rich or at least put more money in my pocket, I wouldn’t buy it from that rich guy.
It’s not just because as we all now know, he’s probably not that rich and he hasn’t been a success, not the kind of successful businessman he wants us to think he is. His whole career as a businessman has been a decades-long upward fail, enabled by tax breaks and other people’s money and hard work. He’s gotten by, if not truly ahead, by cheating his employees, investors, and partners, screwing the tenants of his many heavily leveraged properties, and conning credulous bankers and government officials. His only truly sustained success has been as the star of a TV show in which he acted the part of a successful businessman named Donald Trump. I never watched The Apprentice so I don’t know how well he acted the part. But it couldn’t have been well enough to fool me into thinking it was the real him.
The fact is I’ve never thought of him as a successful businessman, even back in the 'Eighties when he was doing a pretty good of passing for one and fewer people had caught onto him. He has always looked to me like his idiot sons look to most people now. A spoiled rich kid and playboy, using his money to show off, aggrandize himself, indulge himself, and revenge himself on anyone who got in the way of his satisfying his whims, vanities, and appetites.
In short, I saw him as exactly the monster of ego, desire, and spite Garry Trudeau portrayed him as in Doonesbury.
Which is to say, Trudeau taught me who and what the real Donald Trump was.
Thirty years later, you read those cartoons and you’ll be amazed at how perfectly Trudeau captured him and how early. And at how the portrait’s still fresh.
Of course, that’s not how most people know him and see him. They know him as the character he played on The Apprentice. The tough, no-nonsense, but fair-minded boss named “Donald Trump”, the ultra-rich guy who hadn’t lost the common touch. The kind of boss they’d be if they could be the boss. The kind of rich person they’d be, if (and when) they got rich.
That’s the “Donald Trump” they’re buying the snake oil from. That’s the rich guy they want to be president.
It’s bad enough that people are going to vote for a fictional character without caring that he’s in reality an angry, hateful, ignorant, unscrupulous, irresponsible, racist, sexist, xenophobic monster of ego, appetite, vanity, and spite.
There are two pernicious notions at work that Trump is manipulating and exploiting.
The first is that it’s not enough to get rich. You should already be rich.
Rich is what you’re supposed to be.
Rich is the estate into which all Americans---the right kind of Americans, the good Americans---are meant to be born into or to inherit by God-given right.
So why aren’t you rich?
What went wrong?
What did you do wrong?
What’s wrong with you?
Well, there can’t be anything wrong with me. There must be something wrong with someone else. There must be someone keeping me from getting rich. The system must be rigged against me and I know who’s rigged it.
THEY did it!
And Doctor Don calls down from the stage at the back of his wagon, “Of course it was THEM! Of course THEY did it! They tripped you up coming out of the gate. They picked your pockets. They took what you had coming to you. They robbed you. And they’re going to come back for more. Everything you have, that you worked hard for, the SUCCESS that was your due, they’re going to take it.”
That’s one of the roots of their “economic anxiety.” The fear that the little success they have will be taken away by THEM.
The other is that they never will be a SUCCESS, never have that much money.
That’s what the local business owners with the Trump signs in the windows are afraid of. That’s what keeps them late at the store or in the office, has them pacing the lot trying not to look desperate as they watch the couple talking over the SUV they’ll probably decide not to buy. The country’s full of would-be mini-Trumps. Small business owners who think they should have been a SUCCESS by now. Could have been. Should have been. And they’re feeling the time running out on them.
That’s their economic anxiety.
And Doctor Don appears, his arms opening wide. “Fear not,” he says. “Fret not. Just buy my Magic Elixir. Drink it down. The whole bottle. It’s chock full of Vitamin S and Vitamin T. That’s S for SUCCESS and T for ME! Guaranteed to ward off infection by THEM!”
And they buy! They swig it down. Swallow tablespoon after tablespoon. And they get a jolt of confidence with every dose. And along with it come jolts of resentment, anger, hatred, and fear. Followed by a crash, naturally. Doctor Don’s Magic Elixir gives only temporary relief. It’s a stimulant. When the stimulation wears off, depression, self-loathing, and self-doubt return with a vengeance that have to be dispatched with another quick reach for the bottle.
There’s something else in it. A form of self-forgiveness.
Material failure is a sign of moral failure.
If you’re not rich, you haven’t simply done wrong in having made mistakes. You’ve sinned.
Your bad lot in life is proof of your bad character.
This is an article of faith it seems most Americans have inherited from our Calvinist ancestors. It’s fundamental to our self-flattering belief in our Protestant Work Ethic.
Republicans love to preach this sermon. Paul Ryan has written a book as an exegesis. It’s practically the basis of his budget. It frees them from having to care and from having to do anything to help, like pay more in taxes or pay any taxes.
The only way out of poverty, the only way to success, is thorough self-improvement. In other words, shape up! You got yourself into whatever mess you’re in. It’s your responsibility to get yourself out of it. Resolve to be a better person and strive to become one, without whining, without complaint, without expecting someone else to make up for your own bad and foolish behavior and your own moral failures.
It’s on this point Trump breaks ranks with other Republicans by offering something more in the way of forgiveness.
“Ok,” the others say, “Maybe you’re not so bad. Maybe it’s not your fault. Maybe it’s THEM! THEY’RE to blame. You’re paying the price for their bad character. You’re being punished for THEIR sins.”
Trump says all that, of course. Without the maybes. But he adds something the others can’t. An ideal of SUCCESS to identify with and, at least for a moment, the vicarious thrill of feeling SUCCESSFUL.
Back in the spring the New York Times ran a story that described the excitement that shot through the crowd at a Trump rally when his jet flew low overhead.
For that instant, everybody looking up in awe was on board that plane. For a second, they were lifted out of themselves. They weren’t what they were afraid they were, victims of their own moral failure. They were the opposite. They were rich. They were successful. They were...good.
Some time in the late fall of last year I gave up on the idea that Trump would fade. It was clear that he wasn’t. Most of the others were or already had. It was coming down to him and Cruz. By December I’d finally figured out what was in his Magic Elixir that made it addictive and that he had more than enough buyers to carry him to the nomination. By January’s end, there was no more doubt. There’d be no stopping Trump by the Republican establishment. Ted Cruz wouldn’t pull it out. It looked pretty certain he’d be the nominee.
I didn’t predict any of this. I just had the idea it was happening. And I’m still not predicting anything. But since I read that article in the Times, I’ve had the idea we should be worried.
The clown act may grow stale but now I have the idea the market for what he’s selling might only grow.
For a lot of Trump voters Make America Great Again is a way of saying Make Me Feel Great About Myself, and, after all, that’s something we all need.
A reason to like ourselves.
I don’t think most of us will find it in hating others, but that’s not even an idea I have, let alone a prediction.
It’s just a hope.
Like I said, the country's full of would-be mini-Trumps. I have the idea they're men mostly, many of them small business owners, but not all, who see something of themselves in Donald Trump and a lot of Donald Trump in themselves, and who encourage themselves---or console themselves---by identifying with him and his success. But here's a guy who over-identifies, and that's putting it mildly. He practically sees himself and Trump as twins separated at birth. At the New York Times: Shunned, Stared at, Still for Trump: The Holdout in Hillary Clinton’s Town.
The Doonesbury strip up top (by Garry Trudeau, as if you need me to tell you that) first ran on March 20, 1989. It appears here courtesy of GoComics but you can also find it in the collection YUGE!: 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump, available in paperback and for kindle at Amazon.
Posted Saturday afternoon, October 29, 2016. Significantly revised Sunday evening, October 30. See the second editor's note at the bottom of the post.
[Editor's note: The phrase "Squeekpips and notmuchers" in the title of this post is borrowed from from Roald Dahl's The BFG. For some reason it keeps coming back to me whenever I think about Donald Trump's challengers for the Republican nomination. I wonder why.]
Come Wednesday morning, November 9th, a lot people in print, online, and on TV are going to get suddenly very smart in hindsight. I mean that two ways. Some people writing and reporting about politics will be revealed to have been right all along. Some---a lot more, I expect---will discover that they knew it all along, never mind what they wrote or reported back on November 7th and before.
The focus, naturally, will be on how she done done it. Much of it. Much of it, as much if not more, will be on how he done blew it. Republicans and conservatives are going to want to talk more about how their side lost and the political media will still be addicted to Trump for the ratings and clickbait. Then there’s the matter that talking about how she won requires treating her as not just the winner but a winner.
I expect that a lot of what gets said, whichever way people are demonstrating how smart they were in hindsight, will have as a theme: Yes, she won, but she shouldn’t have. She was a terrible candidate and it should have been a Republican year. She was lucky she got to run against Trump.
A good Republican candidate would’ve thrashed her.
I expect this because I’ve seen it already going on.
Among the Republicans a good deal of what they’re saying, writing, and twittering amounts to “Wait till next year!” Losers of all stripes and in all endeavors have a habit of consoling themselves with the all too human perversely self-denigrating “They didn’t win. We lost.” Better for the ego to think of ourselves as having screwed up than having been beaten or, worse, having to admit the other team was just better.
But the mainstream media analysis is sure to be tainted with the sexism that along with racism, has tainted and skewed the coverage the whole campaign season long.
The press corps is still a bastion of white male privilege. They cannot let go of the idea that the United States is a white nation and that white male voters are the only real voters, the only ones who matter, at any rate. That was part of how they were able to cover Trump for so long as if he wasn’t Donald Trump but some hero of the working class of the likes of, well, no Republican who’s run for President has ever been . He had the white male vote therefore he was the candidate of regular Americans or what Sarah Palin calls the Real America. It’s debatable as to whether the sexism was more or less overt, but it was definitely there. A president is a man. A leader is a man. Therefore, Hillary couldn’t be a leader. She could only be and talk too loudly and shrilly. Plus, the political hacks didn’t like her, so they couldn’t believe anybody else did. The biases----biases? Hell. Prejudices!---pro-white, pro-male, anti-Hillary---combined to close their eyes and ears to what was going on. They didn’t hear the voices of all the millions of people who not only liked her but loved her because so many of those voices were female and non-white and they habitually don’t listen to those voices. Those voices aren’t the voices of real America. When the political media hear America singing it’s still the Mitch Miller Singers, an all-male chorus. And all-white.
This would explain something about this professor's prediction that it's still a Republican year and Trump will win. Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University, has come up with a series of true/false questions---he calls them keys---whose totaled answers have correctly predicted the results of every presidential election over the past 32 years, going back to Reagan versus Mondale in 1984. That, by the way, covers only eight election, a very small sample size that includes only three elections that match up with this one in having no incumbent in the running, which makes the sampling even smaller. Never mind. One of Lichtman's determining factors is whether or not the parties have nominated candidates who are "charismatic" or national heroes. Lichtman accepts the notion that Hillary Clinton is not charismatic. "Not Franklin Roosevelt," he says. He doesn't say why he thinks she's not charismatic but I would guess it's based on her favorability ratings in the polls and the conventional wisdom of the journalists covering her that she is charmless and unlikable (because she doesn't charm them and they generally don't like her.) Trouble is the polls can’t (or don't) take into account sexist bias of male voters or the enthusiasm of female voters and the journalists can't (or won't) admit to their own sexism and hostility. It doesn't seem to occur to Lichtman that charisma is in the eyes of the beholder or that Hillary Clinton is a national hero to a great many people. He hedges his prediction by noting that his keys are based on history and that Trump is a historical first. There's never been a major party candidate as unsuited to the job for as many reasons as Donald Trump. But he doesn't note that Clinton is a historical first too and in a way that resonates powerfully and positively with millions of women and men. I suspect he doesn't note it because the coverage of the election has pretty much failed to not it or, at any rate, many of the "analysts" in the press corps have failed to take it into account. You would think, though, that a history professor wouldn't take his cues on this from journalists.
On the whole, though, the conviction that this would have been a Republican year if only the GOP had nominated someone more appealing than Trump is based on the fanciful notion that the Republicans had someone more appealing than Trump to nominate and that they could have nominated that someone.
There wasn’t an appealing alternative to Trump. There couldn’t have been. The base didn’t want one.
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve written that Trump wasn’t saying anything the other candidates weren’t saying. He was just saying it with more passion, more force, more anger, and more style.
The Republican base wanted an angry, racist, loudmouthed demagogue promising to bully and punish everybody the base believes is taking from them their due, a group that includes immigrants and refugees generally and Mexicans and Muslims particularly, Hispanics, African-Americans, women of all colors and ethnic backgrounds, LGBT people, smart people, successful people, liberals, journalists, the disabled, and, as we’ve learned lately, Jews. So, pretty much every American who isn’t a white, reactionary, racist Republican.
None of the other candidates could channel so much anger and hate.
They tried, but for most of them, their hearts weren’t in it.
Only one of Trump’s rivals had established himself as a champion and activist on behalf of the angry, hateful, bigoted, know-nothing base.
Go ahead. Argue he’d have been a more “appealing” candidate than Donald Trump.
But here’s another thing about Cruz.
He was also the only one of Trump’s rivals who had the discipline, organization, money, base---Right Wing Evangelicals may be the only people in America who actually like Ted Cruz---and intelligence, that is, brains plus political savvy, to have won the nomination if Trump hadn’t run.
Hard to swallow, I know, if you’re a liberal. But we don’t like him.
He was, however, and he was, like I said, the only other one who sounded like he meant what he said, because he did.
The only other one with half a chance, I should say.
Mike Huckabee might have meant it. It’s hard to tell with him since he’s a more shameless con man than Trump.
The point is that it was unlikely to the point of impossible that the Republican nominee would have been more appealing than Donald Trump because it was unlikely they would have nominated anybody other than Trump except Cruz.
That's one thing. The other thing is that the idea this should have been a Republican year isn't just based on the supposition that the GOP could have nominate someone other than Trump. It's also based on the supposing the party could have nominated someone other than any of the other sixteen Republicans who were running.
I'm not sure the analysts and pundits doing the supposing know that that's what they're supposing. I think they're still operating under the conventional wisdom that the Republicans entered this election with a "deep bench." That was the Republicans boasting, of course, but the punditocracy accepted it. That "deep bench" meant that more than a handful of the crowd would make strong candidates, strong enough to beat Hillary Clinton, who, of course, was a terrible candidate.
But even if there was a chance the base would have gone for one of them, the fact is that not one of them, except Cruz, wasn’t either an empty suit, a lightweight, or a boob. Most of them were all three.
And here’s another way the media is responsible for Trump.
I should qualify. Nobody is responsible for Trump except Trump himself and the Republican base who embrace him and the Republican establishment who created and empowered that base in order to manipulate and exploit it and then lost control and now can’t summon the courage or principle to reject them, Trump and that base.
But the media have played their part.
The many ways they’ve done it have been addressed by more experienced and wiser heads, but here’s my two-cents.
Trump won partly because the media kept portraying him as a WINNER! He defeated any and all challengers with practically just a wave of his hand and a playground insult. Wow! What a fighter!
Except this image was based on the idea that he faced some really tough challengers.
And this idea was based, like I said, on the media’s accepting the Republicans’ boast that they had a “deep bench.”
Just look at all the potential presidents they could muster!
Really, you might very well have asked, and who are they?
Jeb Bush? Rick Perry? Scott Walker? Bobby Jindal? Rand Paul. Chris Christie? Marco Rubio? Ted Cruz?
I’m not going to bother with Ben Carson, nobody really did. He was just a novelty act, good for ratings and clicks. But at one point there were Very Serious People who took Carly Fiorina seriously.
These are the people the pundits and analysts think Hillary Clinton is a terrible candidate compared to?
All those people the media saw as not just having what it takes, but having a real chance. Even after it became clear Trump was going to win it with only Cruz presenting him any challenge.
As late as January, pundits were touting Chris Christie’s chances, seeing him climbing back into the race (as if he was ever really in it. How many debates had him relegated to the kids’ table?) by winning or at least putting up a good showing in the New Hampshire primary that no poll showed him anywhere near be able to do.
This is another sign of the political media’s failures not just this campaign season but over the last eight years. Many pundits and journalists didn’t just see Chris Christie as a potential president. They thought he’d make a good one.
As they fell by the wayside one by one, political reporters simply moved on to their next favorite, not just oblivious to their previous favorite's failure to appeal to the base---that is to the people who’d be doing the actual voting--and their own failure to identify (or admit) who the base was, but failing to take note of the fact that the challengers were chumps.
Jeb never wanted to run and campaigned, as much as he can be said to have campaigned, as if he couldn’t wait to be beaten, leaving him free to go home to his cozy new cottage in Maine. Perry did not grow suddenly twenty-five IQ points smarter when he started wearing glasses. Walker was never more than a tool of the Koch brothers. Jindal was a failure as governor of Louisiana and besides had shown himself up as a lightweight with his rebuttal to the State of the Union way back in 2009. Rand Paul is a flake. Chris Christie is Chris Christie. The conventional wisdom had it that Marco Rubio was the Republican Barack Obama but that was pure racism of the most patronizing kind. Look, he's a young, handsome non-white Senator too. Why, he's just like Obama! But beside that, Rubio showed himself up as lightweight with his State of the Union rebuttal in 2013. He’s also craven, hypocritical, unprincipled, and, frankly, lazy. The emptiest of empty suits. Oh, and another rich man’s tool.
John Kasich’s appeal has always been overestimated. He’s mean and he’s prone to showing it. But even putting that aside, he’s actually the exception that proves the rule. He’s smart, he’s been a competent governor, he’s popular at home and home is an important swing state, the one a Republican has to win to have a chance of garnering 270 electoral votes. He was the type of appealing, establishment, supposedly moderate candidate who could have beaten Clinton. Polls even showed him doing it. And he got nowhere.
He didn’t hate enough people for the base to take to him. Why, he’d even gone and given health insurance to poor people. Poor people! Never mind how awful he is on issues of women’s rights and health. That's not being mean enough! He wouldn’t let poor people die from not being able to afford to see a doctor!
Then he had the temerity to say it was because he didn’t want to go to hell when he died. The implication wasn’t lost on an important segment of the base.
You don’t tell Right Wing “Christians” you think they’re going to hell.
What it all boils down to is that the media enabled Donald Trump by helping him sell himself as the Winner and Champion of the World or at least of the political scene by having sold all his opponents as worthy challengers.
The truth was he beat a pack of bums.
Or as the BFG might put it, a bunch of squeekpips and notmuchers moocheling and footchelling around.
[Sunday night's editor's note: We try to do our homework here at the Mannionville Blog Shoppe and Wonkery but I goofed up here. I wrote my first draft without going back to re-read the Washington Post interview with Allan Lichtman, thinking I remembered it pretty well and that I would in fact re-read it before I posted. One thing led to another, though, and I posted the draft without doing the re-read. Never blog from memory, folks. I've since re-read the interview and the result is that I've significantly revised the paragraph on Lichtman and his prediction and revised several of the paragraphs that followed it and deleted a couple of others.]
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Thursday morning, September 22, 2016.
Well, politics is a performance art.
Most of what Trump says boils down to "I would act the role of President well. I'd make President sounds. You would think 'He's President.'"— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) September 19, 2016
Posted Friday, August 19, 2016.
This morning I took what I regard as my first real walk since the operation three weeks ago now.
They had me up and moving about the day after the surgery and I did laps around the hospital floor every day I was there. Since I’ve been home I’ve taken regular strolls up the street to the corner and back and I’ve arranged an obstacle course in the house that I navigate a couple of times a day. But it’s not a real walk unless you actually walk somewhere, and today I walked along the riverfront in Newburgh. After dropping Mrs M off at the ferry and making a coffee run to the nearest McDonald’s (Because, Chris, it really is the best coffee in the world!) I returned to the riverfront and made my way up to a picnic area near the pleasure cruiser River Rose’s dock. Not exactly a long hike but farther than I’d ventured yet. I was feeling it by the time I reached the picnic tables, so I sat down to rest and take in the view.
The view there includes a marina where dozens of speedboats, launches, cabin cruisers, and other assorted expensive water toys are docked.
You may remember a few weeks back I wrote a post called Donald Trump is nothing like “Donald Trump” scoffing at the idea that Trump voters are motivated by “economic anxiety.” That has been a major theme of pundit conventional wisdom, on the left and the right, from the day Trump descended from the heavens on that escalator, that Trump’s base is made up of hard-pressed working stiffs fed up with the way the political and economic elites of both parties have left them to suffer and struggle and fail and grow broke while their local factories close, their hometowns die, and all the jobs travel overseas and all the money flows into the pockets of the bankers, hedge fund managers, and the politicians on their payrolls.
No wonder, then, said the pundits, all those hard-pressed working stiffs are drawn to the candidate who’s promising to claw back all “our” money, bring home all “our” jobs, and kick out all the freeloaders stealing “our” jobs and living high off the hog on “our” tax dollars. Of course, Trump doesn’t use the word “freeloaders.” He says immigrants, but the pundits have had a hard time hearing the word or reacting as if kicking out all the immigrants is a bad and cruel idea and as if most immigrants aren’t hard-pressed working stiffs themselves and as if they aren't in fact “stealing” jobs---you know, the way my Irish immigrant great-great-grandfather didn't steal the job in the sandpit that eventually killed him but by which he set up generations of Mannions to live here as productive, patriotic, "real" Americans.
The evidence was there from the first and has been accumulating since that this bit of conventional wisdom, like most bits of conventional wisdom, is, in the immortal words of Joe Biden, a bunch of malarkey.
Yes, many Trump voters are hard-pressed working stiffs (white working stiffs) beset by economic anxieties of various kinds. Which makes them just like the millions and millions of the rest of Americans who aren’t drawn to Trump, who are in fact repelled by him. But many Trump voters are doing just fine economically, thank you. And many of them aren’t working stiffs, let alone hard-pressed working stiffs. The factor that identifies and unites Trump voters isn’t what they do to earn their daily bread or their economic anxieties. It’s a general sense of aggrievement at the idea that THEY aren’t taking it hard enough it the chin. THEY being, well, everybody who isn’t angry, white, straight, Christian, and Right Wing conservative. In short, Trump voters are racist, xenophobic, bigoted, authoritarian, and reactionary and they don’t care who knows it, and how much money they have in the bank has only incidentally to do with their attraction to Trump, except in their expectation that somehow by electing Trump a lot more money will magically appear in their bank accounts.
At any rate, in my post I wrote that while some Trump voters are worried about things like how to pay for groceries this week and whether they’ll have enough left over to buy the kids new shoes, the main source of economic anxiety for a great many Trump voters is that they’ve had to put off buying a boat.
Here I am, down at the riverfront, taking in the view, and included in the view, among the many high-priced toys docked at the marina, is a cabin cruiser flying a large---large but not YUGE---red, white, and blue TRUMP flag waving proudly in the breeze.
So much for that economic anxiety. But times are tough all over and I’m sure the owner of that boat is feeling some other form of economic anxiety.
He’s probably had to put off building that addition to the summer house on the shore.
Tuesday. July 26, 2016.
Trump’s core voters clearly don’t care that he’s a know-nothing racist. They like that about him. They’re racists themselves and they don’t think there’s anything to know worth knowing that they don’t already know. They believe that everybody who claims to know things they don't---experts, intellectuals, political policy makers---is faking it, making it up, or actually stupid, lacking in common sense, street smarts, and the real life experience that would have taught them how the world really works and how real people live.
They don’t care, either, that Trump is a liar, a cheat, a criminal, a thief, a conman, and a madman. They don’t care that he’s pretty much promising to govern as a shake-down artist. Clawing our money back from China. Making Mexico pay for the wall. Taking their oil. Breaking our NATO commitments and leaving Europe to fend for itself against Russia. These are threats along the lines of Nice little restaurant you have here, shame if something happened to it. They like all that about him too, even the madness. Sure, they’ll tell you, he’s crazy. Crazy like a fox. As far as they can tell, the country is run by liars, cheats, thieves, conmen and conwomen, madmen and madwomen. Blackmail, bribery, and extortion are the arts behind the all the deals. And it’s hard to tell them they’re wrong. What they want from Trump is that he lies, cheats, steals, cons, blackmails, bribes, and shakes down other countries on their behalf.
On their behalf. Not on the country’s. Not on America’s. On their own specific and exclusive behalf. No sharing. They just use America as a synonym for ME and MINE!
And they don’t care that Trump doesn’t play by the rules, either in business or in politics or in his personal life. They like it that he acts as if rules don’t apply to him. The way they see it, rules are written to benefit the people who write them and to be used against people like themselves. And like I said before, it’s hard to tell them they’re wrong. Trump has given them permission to say to hell with the rules. Trump, they believe, is going to re-write the rules so they work in their favor at last.
These are disappointed and angry people. They believe they’ve been robbed, cheated, abused, and suckered. And now they want revenge. They want to make THEM pay!
This is why I say Trump’s an infection. He plays to their anger and resentment and sense of having been denied what they’ve rightfully earned and he inflames it and encourages them to spread it to others. And part of what makes him so infectious is that he’s promising to get revenge for them. To take it back. Finally, he’s telling them, you’re going to get what’s owed to you. Finally, you’re the ones who are going to come out on top. Finally, you’re going to be the ones raking it in. Finally, you’ll be the ones pocketing the loot.
That’s what they want. hat’s what they expect him to deliver.
Their cut of the take. Their piece of the action. Their slice of the pie.
Wait until they find out he’s planning to leave them holding the bag. Again.
Friday. July 22, 2016.
All straight, white, American men spend the first twenty years of our lives thinking we’re destined to be heroes.
Doesn’t matter that for most of us the evidence begins piling up while we’re still in grade school that we’re not going to be. We grow up convinced of it. We’re going to be the envy of other men and an idol to women. We’re going to be rock stars, movie stars, star quarterbacks, business tycoons, astronauts, generals, President of the United States, inventors of better mouse traps and curers of the common cold. We’re going to write the Great American novel, make Academy Award Winning motion pictures, found start-ups that will change the way Americans live, work, and play. We’re going to climb mountains, explore oceans, set records of all kinds. Secretly, many of us believe that in one real way or another we’re going to be superheroes.
The vast majority of us spend our twenties having it continually and brutally proved that we were wrong!
We learn that to a ridiculous and embarrassing degree we overestimated our talents and strengths and intelligence, our good luck, our merits, and our privilege. We learn that we’re not the geniuses and prodigies we thought we were, that we are, at best, mediocrities. We learn that relative to what we expected to be, we’re failures.
Those of us who don’t learn this in our twenties, do in our thirties and forties. Some lucky or just stubbornly obtuse few don’t learn it until they’re in their fifties or even their sixties when it dawns on them their youth is well and truly over along with their careers and they haven’t achieved what they set out to achieve and that what they have achieved doesn’t amount to as much as it seemed it would during the achieving and gives them less satisfaction than they assumed it would.
This means that that most of us spend our middle age coming to grips with disappointment and a sense of failure and loss. We learn to live with what we have and what we’ve done and accept our lot or at least resign ourselves to it. We find solace and contentment and the strength to keep going in friends and family and small pleasures. We even enjoy our lives and count ourselves lucky. Sometimes, often times, we’re actually happy. Some of us even feel blest.
But then there are those of us who don’t.
Many men spend their time brooding on their miseries and making themselves more miserable in the process. They grow bitter and sour, angry and vindictive, nursing grudges, storing up grievances, sinking into self-pity and self-contempt, which is no fun so they project it onto the world which they see as against them for no reason except malice and spite. They look for reasons to be mad and sad and sorry for themselves. They are constantly gathering evidence that others are to blame for their failures and disappointments. They go out of their way to get even. In---usually--- little and petty ways, they do what they can to make the world pay.
This is what those idiots marching around Cleveland with their guns strapped to their backs and their hips are trying to do. It’s not about their Second Amendment rights. It’s their way of making the rest of us feel as weak and afraid and at the mercy of other, more powerful people as they feel themselves. But it’s also what’s going on with the guy driving the over-sized pickup pulling up too close behind you at the light and then leaning on his horn when you’re not quick enough on the gas when it turns green. It’s what’s eating at the relative who ruins family get-togethers by spouting off loudly, rudely, and relentlessly about whatever he’s seen on TV or public offense he’s observed, or slight he’s suffered that’s proved to him that THEY are wrecking the country, the town, the schools, the sport, the food, the movies, the music, the economy, the whatever it is others are enjoying and benefiting from that he thinks they shouldn’t.
This is the core cohort of Trump’s voters. Angry, resentful, disappointed, vindictive, and frightened middle-aged and elderly white men looking for someone to blame and take it all out on.
Trump is a clown. And a con artist. And a dishonest salesman of shoddy merchandise. He’s a fascist, if he and his followers only knew it, but it doesn’t matter if he meets anyone’s textbook definition of one because he’s openly and consciously a would-be dictator, although more of the Banana Republic variety than anything else, authoritarian, self-aggrandizing, capricious, self-indulgent, vindictive, and dumb. He’s a malignant narcissist and quite likely a madman. But what worries me most about him is that he’s an infection.
He’s injected himself into the body politic. That is, he’s let loose a virulent strain of the hatred he’s infected with himself which includes a mix of envy and self-pity and---despite all the professions and demonstrations of self-love and the monuments to self-idolization he’s built---self-doubt and self-loathing. He’s set out to make people feel their anger and their disappointment and frustration and fear and succumb to it. But in order to do that he has to first make people feel disappointed, frustrated, and afraid, and to do that he has to play on their self-doubt and self-loathing. He has to convince them that they’re failures before he can assure them they’ve been unfairly denied the success they grew up believing they deserved. He has to make them feel like losers in order for them to be open to his promise to make them all winners. The germ at the center of the hatred he’s attempting to spread is self-hatred.
He was at it again in his acceptance speech last night, spreading his diseased view of America degenerating into a failed state of violence, crime, and disorder, a land of lost---stolen!---opportunity, with its people---its white people, the only people who count---at the mercy of thieving and murderous enemies without and within and prescribing his own wonderfulness at the only cure.
The fact is, however, he doesn’t have to work hard at spreading the disease, because people spread it themselves. They infect each other.
They infect each other while sharing complaints and anxieties and resentments in the break room at work, at a bar, on the sidelines at their kids’ soccer games, and while sitting in doctors’ waiting rooms with clipboards in their laps, filling out forms that don’t make sense. They spread it while standing in line at the bank or the grocery store or the DMV or the unemployment office. They incubate it within themselves while alone behind the wheel at a long light, late for work at a job they hate but don’t dare quit and pray won’t be taken away from them or on their way home to a house that’s underwater where an irritable spouse equally worried, dissatisfied, and distressed is ready to tell them all about their bad day. They aggravate it and inflame as they’re hunched over the kitchen table late at night with the checkbook open and a stack of bills in front of them, some of which, most of which, all of of which, won’t get paid.
I think I’ve made it pretty clear in past posts I don’t have much patience with calls by political analysts and journalists that we liberals should be sympathetic to Trump voters and their plight. The truth is I am sympathetic because just about all of us share the same plight. But I’m sympathetic only to point, right up to the moment someone says, “Fuck this! And fuck THEM! I’m voting for the racist demagogue and hate-monger promising to get revenge!”
This is the TRUMP brand. This is what he’s selling. Success as revenge. Success as getting some of your own back. Success as throwing it back in THEIR faces. Success as who the fuck cares what YOU think! Success as spite. Success as making THEM pay!
It’s a disease he’s selling. He’s the disease. And it’s catching.