Danger! Danger Will Robinson!

August 14, 2018

If you had a glimpse of the coverage of Trump’s “mass rally” in Tampa last week, you might have noticed a packed crowd behind him on stage with a single African-American featured prominently over his left shoulder. Not that I would suggest anyone has a morbid sense of curiosity, but if you have watched video clips of past rallies, you would have noticed two things. First there is always a single African-American always situated behind him so that whenever Trump is on camera, so would that man. Secondly, you would have noticed that the designated black man has changed from a rather animated and odd looking guy to a more conservative-looking and reserved black man. Other than that, the staged events always featured people deliberately crowded into a small area behind him, with no shots of the crowds (which have grown smaller in the past year). This is an effort to make it appear that huge turnouts of diverse people come to his rallies – a propaganda technique developed by German cinematographers in the 1930s.

Although the content of each rally is essentially always the same reiteration of the campaign top hits (e.g. lock her up!), the vitriol has increased to the point where many fear that violence will result – in particular, violence directed against the media covering the rallies. Trump infamously encouraged people at is rallies during the campaign to attack protesters in attendance, promising to pay their legal bills. This thuggish behavior was widely condemned, except among the Trump base. However, that was a different sort of malignancy from the recent rallies. Attacking protesters attempting to disrupt the rally was a reaction, a calculated reaction, but different from encouraging hatred of the media covering the rally. The difference being one where he is attempting to identify a class of people – not just individuals but a class. The transition from having an “enemies list” to having an entire class of people identified as enemies (the “fake media”) is a tactic historically used by dictators under stress in the past to divert attention from their failures. Stalin identified the media as an “enemy of the people” (that is a direct quote), Hitler identified the “Jewish media” as the enemy of the people. Putin was the author of the term “fake news” (contrary to Trump’s lie that he invented the term) and targeted assassinations of the fake news journalist, who happened to author reports critical of his regime.

In another blatant borrowing of a term used regarding another leader, Trump propagandists now speak of “Trump Derangement Syndrome” (remember Obama Derangement Syndrome?), to trivialize the legitimate concerns of Americans. Obama Derangement Syndrome referred to provably false accusations about Obama such as he was not a citizen, he was a Moslem, he wanted to create an alliance with ISIL, etc. In contrast, Trump Derangement Syndrome may refer to questions about his behavior that are rooted in evidence, history and his own statements that leave open such questions as to whether he is compromised by Putin, or that he is a pathological liar.

I propose an alternative definition to Trump Derangement Syndrome: the vast majority of his supporters who believe everything he says, even when he blatantly contradicts himself or when his comments are demonstrably detached from reality. People who attend his rallies are true believers and that would be alarming in itself, but they represent only a fraction of Americans who have a more realistic appraisal of his character and revile him, but still support him politically. These are millions of people and that is a real danger.

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Their Hero

August 13, 2018

Who ARE these people who attend Trump rallies, such as the one in Tampa last week? The familiar scene are the crowds roaring in admiration, and reciting the same repetitive lines used in every rally has grown more ominous as Trump’s vitriol has crossed the line into dangerous incitement. Trump is their hero.  A Gallup poll today provides some insight as to who these people are. The only demographic category that has positive job approval ratings for Trump were white, high school educated, lower middle class. Virtually every other demographic category of Americans has negative job approval ratings. In an ironic way, these are the people who are being betrayed by the policies being implemented by the Trump administration in contrast to the very promises he makes at every rally. For example, while Corporation and billionaire investors are experiencing the tremendous profits as the result of the tax bill that was passed, wages have experienced a negative growth rate, insurance premiums are climbing while coverage has decreased, and tariffs have begun to increase the cost of living.

Some people claim that the high school educated, white people of America need someone to voice their concerns and fears that their lifestyle and economic security is threatened, and that may be true, but what about actually representing them with policies that address the reality of their condition? Is telling them at rallies that they are the real elite, that they are smarter than ivy League graduates what they really want? They claim he is keeping his promises, but what promises? Do they have better wages? No. Do they have better medical insurance at a fraction of the cost? No. Is there even a Wall that Mexico paid for? The tax bill returned fractions of a penny compared to what billionaires gained. If no one earning over a million dollars got a tax break, every person earning less than a million dollars a year would have realized $68,000.00. The only promise kept turned out to be a rip off of his most ardent followers.

Is Trump their hero because of his character? Most of the people at his rallies would never cheat on their wife as she just delivered their child, or grab women by their vaginas, mock disabled people, or lie without any conscience. It is true that many of them are racist, could that be the appeal? Many of them wish they were as rich (or appear to be as rich), could that be the attraction?

I suspect that Trump is a hero to many of these people because he appears to be rich enough to say whatever he wants, and do whatever he wants. That illusion is reinforced when he exploits their fears and voices their resentments. Its not about what he does, its about what he says that matters – even if he is lying to them. These are emotionally vulnerable people, who dance to the siren song of demagogues. He is their cult leader, and like many of those types his behavior matters less to his followers than his words and how he makes them feel.

Many of them could also be led to something much more productive and meaningful for their lives without appealing to our baser natures and emotions, but fear is a powerful thing and there are very few people in the GOP with courage these days.


Religion and Politics

August 13, 2018

Our Founding Fathers recognized that organized religions were poisonous to a Representative Democracy and explicitly put a wall between government and religion. They did not preclude that men (women were not allowed participation in government at that time) with religious convictions would apply their religious principles to how they governed, only that their religion could never be the reason for why they governed (i.e. the goal of governing is never to be the institution of an official religion).

However, government may also be just as toxic for religion as vice versa. Perhaps the involvement of the Evangelical Movement in the present government has done far more damage to their institutions than the benefits realized thus far. For decades now the American Evangelical Movement has sought to impose their religious beliefs on the rest of the country through political activism. They routinely condemned the character of Liberal and Conservative politicians who also happened to oppose their legislative agenda. Their claim to political legitimacy was their moral legitimacy – they wanted a government and people who govern that reflected their moral beliefs – and they claimed that it was their Christian duty to elect men and women who reflected their heart-felt religious beliefs.

Throughout the history of the country, whenever organized religions flexed their political muscle it tended to expose the illusion of their moral authority. For example, the Christian religion’s justification of slavery with scriptures, and Native American programs that resulted in cultural and actual genocide. The result has been the recognition by the wider society that Christian control of government policy results in harm to our democracy and to society as a whole.

The present condition of American politics is yet another confirmation that when Christian leaders exert extraordinary control over society, then we all suffer. It also illustrates that Christian involvement in government has revealed that the Christian kings have no clothes – to quote their own scriptures their “sins have become naked before the Lord”. The same Christian leaders who condemned Clinton for his moral shortcomings and called for his impeachment, openly excuse their support of Trump whose character and behavior daily manifest every contradiction to their teachings on moral character.

The Christian leadership justify their hypocrisy with the anticipated results of reversing Constitutional rights to abortions and freedom from discrimination. They even justify some of the most basic tenets of the teachings of Christ such as taking children from parents and locking them up, refusing services to people based on their sexual preference or religions. Some people argue that Christianity by nature is intolerant and dangerous to freedom, and when put into practice in government policy results in a destruction of liberty and tolerance. I am not so sure about that being true for all Christians, but it is certainly true when Christianity becomes a part of government policy.

The risk that these “Christian” leaders supporting Trump no matter how immoral he behaves or evil his policies are, is that their followers will come to see their hypocrisy and question whether their leadership is authentic. The even greater threat to Christianity is that the followers of these corrupt hypocrites will lead their flocks to conclude that their faith is not so much misplaced as it is false.


The IG and Amusing Musings

June 26, 2018

The IG report on the Hillary investigation ended with the proverbial whimper. Instead of one of the “greatest scandals of all time” and “a massive criminal conspiracy”, we ended up with nothing more than a couple of FBI agents bad mouthing the President (and Hillary) and an FBI Director who acted improperly to influence an election (against Hillary). However, the spectacle of GOP Senators trying to exploit the only aspect that conforms with their delusions of the “deep state”. At the very same moment Special Agent Strzok and his girlfriend were calling Trump a “fool” and expressing fear that he would be elected, members of the very Congressional Committees now expressing outrage at their opinions include the following:

Sen. Lindsey Graham Trump “is a disgrace and a nutjob”

Sen. Marco Rubio Trump “is a con man and pathological liar”

Sen. Ted Cruze Trump “is a sniveling coward”

Sen. Mitch McConnell trump “doesn’t know much about the issues” and was a “snake-oil salesman”

That’s just a sampling of the hypocrisy of the GOP in the whole “Hillary is corrupt and should be locked up” and how terrible it is that FBI agents said bad things about the President. There would be an argument if the their opinions affected their investigation or the legal conclusions, but the (and very inconvenient) fact elicited was that the Director Comey acted improperly and to the detriment of the Hillary Campaign.

This was just another of the numerous greatest scandals of all time and most corrupt FBI scandals of all time, along with Obama bugging Trump Tower and millions of illegal votes campaigns that have fizzled down to just another Trumpian delusion. The Senate exam of the IG and his report was at least an amusing interlude in an otherwise frightening time.


The Face of Evil

June 25, 2018

The current crisis of forced separation and internment of immigrant children may not be the first moral crisis faced by the country on the issue of immigrants, but it may be the most challenging. Virtually every wave of immigrants to the country has been met with controversy and hostility. The pattern of immigration crises has always been the same in many regards, waves of immigrants precipitated by some natural or economic disaster enter the country. Initially the need for cheap labor provides a benefit for American businesses (e.g. Chinese workers and the Railroad industry), but once Americanized and owning property and demanding rights they become the object of hostility and violence. Demands are made to curtail the immigration, political parties exploit the bigotry and even encourage violence and laws are passed (e.g. No-Nothings). The process is always the same, even to the details of the accusations. First immigrants are dehumanized and grouped together in hostile stereotypes. The Chinese were not educated human beings but were “coolies”, The Irish were “Micks” the Italians were “dagos”. The threats they posed once they gained some economic traction were always the same and eerily similar to the ones used by Trump: immigrants were violent “murderers and rapists” and posed a cultural as well as criminal risk. The voices and the words of hatred used by immigration demagogues are always the same. They exploit fear with hatred. They dehumanize the immigrants to make it easier to justify suspending legal and moral norms. They even extend their hatred to first and second generation children of immigrants (e.g. Japanese-American Internment Camps).

However, even with our history of demagoguing, violence and moral hypocrisy towards immigrants, we have never as a country ever used the children of immigrants as a tool of terror. This is a uniquely Trumpian development and its manifest immorality (evil) is beginning to shake loose some threads of the political cult. Even the Evangelicals who long ago sold their souls I exchange for a Supreme Court seat are protesting. The Catholic Bishops are protesting. Virtually every religious institution is condemning the Trump Policy. Labor and even Business organizations are condemning the practice – for god’s sake, even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is condemning the forced separation and internment of children and infants.

It obvious to any sentient human being that these children are being used for deterrence (if you bring your children we will take them from you) and negotiating leverage. Trump capturing his true abusive character protests like an abusive husband “I hate doing this. It’s all your fault. I wish you wouldn’t force me to hurt you, if only you would be reasonable and do what I want you to do…”

Other immigration crises were resolved once the demagogues were exposed and disenfranchised, and now the previous generations of “murderers, rapists and drug dealers” are now an accepted part of American society. This crisis has begun to expose the moral monster a minority of Americans elected to office, and the moral bankruptcy and hypocrisy of most of the GOP who stand by with each successive scandal and self-created crisis. Anyone watching Secretary Neilsen (herself a mother and from the family of an immigrant) lie and justify abusing children as a policy saw the face of evil. The only question unresolved is: what will you do in the face of evil?


Father’s Day

June 18, 2018

A friend of mine once told me that no matter what anyone ever tells you, you will never be prepared for how your life will change when you have a child. That observation is so true. I’m not necessarily talking about how it changes decisions on how we spend our time, our money and other aspects of lifestyle. Being a father to children causes a fundamental shift in how we see and relate to the world. We become less dismissive of bad behavior and bad jokes. It changes choices of where we eat, the movies we watch, and the minutia of life that we never thought twice about previously. We begin to think more, and about different things. We become more concerned with issues like education, ongoing wars, and other events in the wider world.

Above all else, becoming a father shifts our focus from being egocentric to relating to the world in terms of how events affect other people, especially our own children. It also compels a sense of urgency to change the world for the better and to build a better future. And it’s a permanent change. The focus, the care and the responsibility doesn’t end when they become independent adults either. If anything, it causes more angst because the day to day contact ends and you always wonder how they are doing. It doesn’t change either when they have their own children. That just means it starts all over again for you with the grandchildren. There’s no denying that being a good father is a burden and a daily challenge, but it is a burden of love that rewards you more than your children.

This Father’s Day I am grateful for my children, and also grateful for how fatherhood has made me a better human being. And so, if you are planning on having children think twice because no matter how much you think about it and prepare for it, you have no idea…


The Swampiness Gets Swampier

June 18, 2018

New York’s Attorney General filed a lawsuit today against the Trump Foundation, alleging the Foundation violated numerous laws regulating “charitable” Foundations, IRS and State tax violations, Campaign Finance Law violations and self-dealing. This is one of an accumulating number of legal problems involving corruption with the self-declared swamp drainer, including the following:

  • Trump Inaugural Committee: The Committee raised over $107 million to pay for the Inauguration celebrations, and still has not provided an accounting for over $38 million. The money just disappeared.
  • Trump Hotel/Emolument Clause Violations: The Trump hotel profited over $3 million in its first year while most other D.C. hotels showed no profits, and two went bankrupt. Foreign dignitaries hoping to curry favor (or at least an appointment) with Trump know to book rooms and events at the Hotel. The Emolument Clause was written precisely to avoid this type of situation.
  • Payments to women to cover-up extra-marital affairs alleged to have violated Campaign Finance Laws and involving money from foreign donors.

Scott Pruitt is a walking corruption machine, with 15 formal investigations directed at him at last count. He may soon be following in the resignation perp walk with other Trump Cabinet members such as Tom Price (HHS) and Gary Cohn (NEC) for financial wrongdoing. Add to them the special White House advisers DJ Gribbin, John McEntee, Rob Porter and Keith Schiller, along with Flynn Senior and Junior, and you have more people being forced to resign/fired for corruption or scandal in the first year of Trump’s Presidency than in the 8 years of Obama. No wonder Walter Shaub, the Government Ethics Chief resigned.

During the transition Trump announced that they were asking every US Attorney to resign (except notably NY District’s Preet Bharara who was later fired for refusing to stop a Trump-related investigation).  This is a norm for every new Administration and nearly all AGs are usually retained. What was not normal was that Trump also announced that they wanted every Inspector General to resign so he could replace them with loyalists. That move was blocked by Congress. IGs are like Federal Judges in the sense that once appointed and approved they stay until they choose to retire. IGs are combination auditors and investigators who are charged with investigating the investigators. They are people nominated and approved because they have not only impeccable professional credentials, but also unquestioned ethics. And they are busier than ever right now…

Maybe after the full and formal indictment of Trump’s fixer (people who aren’t criminals don’t need a fixer) Cohen is announced we will discover all the swamp draining did was reveal the swamp monster – and how does he maintain that tan in the swamp?