Friday, August 16, 2019

Division Works For Him

Tomorrow's newspaper column:
Last week, Trump’s toxicity flared like that exploded Russian missile. And here’s the thing: any Republican president would have given them what Trump did. Tax cuts, deregulation (perhaps not all would have re-allowed carcinogens, made global warming worse, or set about killing Bristol Bay); maybe even reneged on the Iran and Paris agreements. For sure, lying that Democrats want socialism. 
Some reasonable people might support Trump because of those actions, even as it requires disowning former outrage at budget deficits, abandoning arguments for free markets, and acquiescing to poisonous levels of xeno-, homo-, and Islamophobia. 
But there’s a mammoth difference between Trump and any theoretical Republican president, not to mention most human beings: his adamantine indecency and inhumanity. Some called it “presidential” when he stood against murder in his “unity” speech. Anyone paying attention, though, knew he’d revert to type in less than a day. He did.  
Even if he weren’t a racist (he is); even if his divisive, hate-promoting language weren’t intentionally divisive and hate-promoting (it is), the peril of Trump is obvious. Doesn’t matter how great the economy is, even if it’s because he hasn’t ended what President Obama began (it is, and he’s about to, and it’ll be on him); doesn’t matter that unemployment is low, even if it’s because he hasn’t ended what President Obama began (it is, and he will). Trump’s pathological need for adulation, for which he’ll do and say anything and which we witnessed in high relief last week, threatens all Americans; even those thanking Jesus for purging voter rolls and hiring Vladimir Putin to put him in office. 
After those murders, Trump’s psychopathy was writ large, showcasing his doleful inability to act as normal people behave toward one another. Because he can’t help it, he made his trips to El Paso and Dayton entirely about himself. Inappropriate crowd-size brags. Preferring to attack opponents instead of consoling a grieving nation. Calling a discharged patient back to pose with him because other victims refused. Demanding aides say he was received like a “rock star.” 
Which is the key to understanding Trump: his overarching need to be treated like a rock star. In a “president,” for its exploitability, it’s ominous. Kim, Putin, MBS, and Xi are using it to their advantage. 
Then, that grotesque photo-op: Melania, smiling like a bridesmaid, holding a baby orphaned by a mass murderer who’d manifestoed all the hateful words Trump disgorges at every rally. Trump giving a bizarre thumbs-up, s-e grin plastered on his face like a fresco in the Ninth Circle. 
Hours after his perfunctory visitations came the ICE raid in Mississippi. Nearly seven-hundred people, herded into buses, many of whom were there legally. Children and parents traumatized, some still separated days later. To whose benefit? Contrary to Trump’s anti-immigrant demagoguery, these people, legal or not, were working, paying taxes. Illegal is illegal, but is this the best use of ICE’s resources? 
And what of the owners (who just happened to owe those workers millions); like Trumpco, off the hook if they didn’t “knowingly,” wink, wink, hire the undocumented. Let’s see how the factory does without them. Let’s see how many “real” Americans apply for those jobs. 
Accomplishing little else for America, such raids are intended to please the most rabid Trumpists. Another key to understanding Trump: appeal to the worst in the most misguided, for it’s they who give him the fawning blandishment he craves. No policy homework required.  
Topping it off, the “president” of the United States, role model, retweeted a claim that the Clintons were behind Trump party-pal Jeffery Epstein’s death. If Trump can do that, which some might consider legerdemain, let the rest of us consider whose DOJ took him off suicide watch and mysteriously removed his cellmate. And whose AG will investigate. 
Trump’s divisiveness is what renders unto him the veneration he requires, no matter the damage it causes. A third of the country loves it. Like Trump, they see the dysfunction and fracturing it has engendered as affirmatory. But for Republicans who care – surely they exist -- demanding better of themselves and their party is overdue. Including selecting a more worthy standard-bearer.  
World problems are gathering faster than glaciers are melting: Hong Kong, Kashmir, Syria, Iran, tariff-ruined farmers, looming recession, the accelerating climate crisis. Trump’s toolbox contains only false promises, ignorant narcissism, lying, tweeting, and caving to dictators. In a role once considered leadership of the free world, that’s not enough. 
Conservatives used to be better than this. We all did.

[Image source]

Friday, August 9, 2019

Catching Up

Here's my next newspaper column:

So much winning. Hard to keep up.

·      Reading his teleprompter like a forced hostage video, Trump condemned white supremacists and division. Which is like Jeffrey Dahmer condemning meat-eaters and freezers. His moral high ground cratered within hours.

·      Previously, at a rally, Trump: “How do you stop these people?” “Shoot them,” someone shouts. Attendees cheer. Trump laughs. But, we’re told, an inflammatory “president” bears no responsibility for inflaming the inflammable. A solitary Republican with guts and a conscience calls it what it is.

·      Democrats want reasonable gun regulations, Republicans blame video games. (Video games are in every country. Mass murders aren’t.) Trump added “fake news,” of which he’s the prime vendor, and poison on the internet, for which he’s patient zero.

·      Trump wants to designate Antifa, some of whose members have stood up to and had fisticuffs with Nazis, a terrorist organization. White supremacist groups and Q-Anon qrazies, though, are welcome at his rallies.

·      FBI director Wray testified to Congress that “a majority of the domestic terrorism cases that we've investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence.” No mention of Antifa.

·      Anticipating this flaying of the body politic must be among the reasons Russia chose Trump. Accordingly, their social media trolling pushes conspiracy theories and custom-curated lies, weaponizing Trump’s.

·      Kim Jong Un, Trump’s objet d’amour, launched another fusillade of nuclear-capable missies. Trump says not to worry, because they’re friends and Kim “will do the right thing.” Murderous dictators always have.

·      Iran fired missiles, too, and will resume enriching uranium. Under the agreement out of which Trump pulled, because, you know, President Obama, they were doing neither. Trump asked nations to join him in sanctions. Including the US, he’s amassed a coalition of one. Thus we see the respect he’s engendered around the world.

·      Fresh off maligning US Representative Elijah Cummings and other non-white citizens, Trump, who’s definitely not racist, gloat-tweeted about a burglary at Cummings’ home, virtually suborning more. Decent people would have abandoned him long ago. For hold-outs, therefore, his indecency must be the point.

·      That, and his cruelty to people unlike them. Trump’s latest budget throws three-million Americans off food assistance, adding to poverty and hunger. But, hey, small price for enriching wealthy donors. Mega-fraud – sorry -- megachurch leaders defend it, so it must be WJWD.

·      Exceptional among the holy, the Archbishop of Washington, D.C. criticized Trump for “diminishing our national life.”

·      Yet again, Trump is muzzling government climate-change researchers. In Greenland, unprecedented glacial melt is occurring, twelve-billion tons per day. July was the hottest month in recorded global history. Seventeen countries plus thirty-three highly-populated cities are running out of water. Those who deify Trump don’t care. At long last, have they no grandchildren?

·      “Conservatives” castigated President Obama for costing taxpayers $106 million in eight years of vacations. Trump’s golf excursions alone surpassed $110 million in two-and-a-half.

·      Trump’s ignorant, self-referential, national-embarrassment response to the anniversary of the anti-Nazi Polish Uprising: “The people of Poland like me, and I like them… And I know they’re building an installation that — and they’re putting in all of the money... So they’re building something very nice for the United States to have.”

·      But all’s well: “We will be ending the AIDS epidemic shortly in America, and curing childhood cancer very shortly.” (And Mexico will pay for it.)

·      In North Carolina, more Republicans were indicted for election fraud. But dead people voted for JFK sixty years ago, so we need discriminatory voter ID laws.

·      The founder of “Students for Trump” pled guilty to wire fraud, stealing thousands as a fake online lawyer. A student of the master.

·      ISIS is regrouping in Syria, says the Pentagon.

·      Moscow Mitch broke his shoulder. False flag? Then he retweeted his opponent’s name on a tombstone. AFTER the weekend murders.

·      Asked about his vetting process when defenestrating abysmally unqualified John Ratcliffe as DNI, Trump said he relies on the press (DBA “enemies of the people”) to do it. Nine cabinet secretaries have left, many in disgrace. Not counting nominees withdrawn. At this point, President Barack Obama had had zero.

·      This week saw the perils of using tariffs as instruments of “presidential” pathology, especially when the target is smarter and has a plan. Despite those tariffs, trade deficits with China are setting records. We’ve now learned taxpayer-funded reparations to harmed farmers (socialism!) are going mostly to the wealthiest. And China just stopped purchasing US farm products altogether.

·      “Trade wars are easy to win.”

[Image source

Friday, August 2, 2019

Moscow Mitch And Other Miscreants

My latest newspaper column:
Embracing the disappearing art of bipartisanship, Congress passed a bill blocking Trump’s proposed arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Because, in part, the sale would give Saudi Arabia access to secret military technology. Not to mention their murderous governmental terribleness. And it’s not as if MBS and Putin aren’t bedfellows. From Trump to MBS to Putin? Gonna need a bigger bed.  
Trump, who’s done business with and has been bailed out by Saudis, and undoubtedly has post-“presidency” plans for more, assuming he avoids prison, vetoed the bill and will proceed with the sales. Seem fishy? Any reason to suspect future quid for past quo? Ho hum, say Trumpists.  
Displaying more bipartisanship, a day after Robert Mueller’s testimony, in which it appeared what he learned has blown his mind, but during which Trump’s malefactions were made clear, the Senate Intelligence Committee released its report on Russian election interference; those virtual acts of war Trump has called fake news.  
Consistent with the new normal, the report was heavily redacted, but the essential message wasn’t. Contrary to White House claims, Russians hacked into voting-related systems of all fifty states, including some voting machines. Voter rolls, too, in ways that could have enabled altering or eliminating names. Makers of the machines were also hacked. 
Are viewers of Fox “news,” which reports so they may decide, aware that a Russian oligarch just purchased the company that manages Maryland’s voting apparatus? Far as we know, it’s only one state; but, given recent history, isn’t it a little worrisome? 
Another Russian billionaire is pouring money into Kentucky, home of Moscow Mitch McConnell, the one man in Washington, D.C. more destructive to Constitutional governance than Trump. The inflow began after he wrangled the removal of sanctions on that Russian’s company. Moscow Mitch also takes a whiskey-barrel of money from voting machine manufacturers. (Moscow Mitch resents that moniker. Respectfully, we’ll stop.)  
Shall we believe it’s coincidence that Moscow Mitch subsequently quashed three Democratic bills aimed at preventing future Russian election interference, including regulating voting machines? By calling the legislation “hyper-partisan,” Moscow Mitch confirmed, in effect, that fair elections help Democrats; that he believes Trump wouldn’t be “president” without Russian help; and, one assumes, that his own reelection would be at risk. It was Moscow Mitch, as all Americans know, who threatened President Barack Obama with a disinformation campaign were he to reveal the Russian attacks before the 2016 election. 
In a functioning democracy, protecting voting integrity wouldn’t be associated with only one party, nor considered “hyper-partisan” by the other. But here we are. Broken, by Republicans who understand they can’t win fairly.  
They’ll continue to rationalize Russian help. Trump’s campaign did, and Trump admitted, live on TV, he would again. His supporters rejoice in it. If that’s what got us Trump, some have said, we’re fine. Weird, though: couldn’t Jesus have enthroned him without employing a murderous dictator?  
Because he refused to be silent about ongoing efforts and their implications, DNI Coats is gone. Naming an unqualified sycophant to take his place (now withdrawn; will the next be better?) already stashing the execrable William Barr at DOJ, Trump is turning Justice and National Intelligence into instruments of personal power and cover-ups. His enthusiasts, chanting “Send her back,” don’t care. By what standard is this conservatism?  
The Senate investigation couldn’t prove votes were changed, although some relevant computers remain unexamined. Polls have shown minds were changed, though. Unanswered is whether hackers managed to hide vote-changing (at a hacker convention, American children successfully changed votes on voting machines, in minutes), or just intended to undermine confidence in results, should Trump lose. No matter: Moscow Mitch’s efforts make him a de facto Russian asset. 
We’re at a once-unthinkable point in our history. Manipulated into fearing imaginary bogeymen, Trump supporters fantasize immigrants voting illegally while raping their women; Democrats ready to turn the country into a socialist dictatorship while murdering newborns; rampant voter fraud; phony climate-change warnings meant to punish patriotic polluters. Efforts to preserve capitalism by improving buying power and promoting the general welfare of consumers are seen as the opposite. Accurate information and those who provide it are considered enemies.  
In plain sight, abetted by enemies foreign and domestic, and by the complacency of the contentedly misinformed, our republic is being systematically dismantled by an autocratic “president” and his Congressional enablers. Angered and distracted by fake news, Trumpists maintain it’s they who support America’s greatness, even as they facilitate its destruction, chanting enthusiastically, looking away.

Friday, July 26, 2019

I Get Complaints

My next newspaper column:
Oh, the letters expressing dismay at my writing. They’re right, of course. In the twilight of my life, I’ve devolved from a surgeon who received high praise and produced (mostly) excellent results, to a curmudgeon micturating into the wind. (I’d suggest a certain disapproving but admirably centenarian teacher recall the words Mark Anthony delivered prior to those about which she did figuratively ope her ruby lips, however.) (A local reference to a recent letter.)  
But this is beyond “Get off my lawn.” I see bulldozers, plants being uprooted, defoliants poured on the greenery. Ugly specters leer in the windows, dripping gas and lighting matches, threatening my grandchildren. Not just an old flatulent, though I am that, I’m calling for help from my neighbors. You’re next, even if you don’t see it, I cry. Help us, I shout, in frustration, fear, and exasperation. Help us all, even if you figure, hey, it’s not my house. It will be.  
If the destruction kept escalating, while your neighbors stood mute, would you go gentle into that good night? Not me. I’m shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, only it’s not a prank. Flames are everywhere. As are mixed metaphors.  
Those who consider my writing baseless, hate-filled invective are untroubled by Trump’s rhetoric. Not when he says Democrats “want to destroy you.” Not when he says four Congresswomen “hate America,” while lying about what they’ve said. Or when he calls opponents names that would embarrass a five-year-old for lack of originality. Even when he claims “the right to do whatever I want as president.” Every American should find that one horrifying.  
Nor do they object when he eliminates regulations designed to protect them and their progeny from drinking poisoned water, breathing befouled air, getting a subpar education, being trapped in poverty, hungry and desperate. Or when he brings incompetent swamp-dwellers into his Cabinet. Runs up trillion-dollar deficits. (His latest budget proposal is even worse.) You’d think they’d appreciate someone sounding alarums. If they didn’t believe you, would you walk away? I tried that, once.  
Belaying the bombast makes no difference. Those in the thrall of Trump’s vindictiveness and attacks on constitutional governance, and politicians like Lindsey Graham, who act as if they fear Godfather-like reprisals, ignore the dangers beneath the surface of their approval. Wednesday, unable to dispute facts to appease their Mafia don, disgracing themselves and America, Republicans attacked Robert Mueller, all but approving Russia’s acts of war. 
It’s convenient to dismiss my criticism, or anyone’s, as “hate-filled invective.” It rationalizes ignoring the reasons behind heartfelt and, yes, patriotic concerns. When toned down, the facts to which I refer are still called lies. Arguments are still rejected reflexively as a hammered knee, calling me a communist. Which is as far from reality as Trump’s views on climate change.  
After his eagerly-enraged crowd chanted “Send her back,” Trump lied that he tried to stop it, lied that he didn’t approve, then spent days excreting praise. “Go back home” would have been run-of-the-mill, deplorable Trumpism. “Send her back,” though, means round her up and haul her away, an American citizen and elected Representative. Sound familiar? It does to me: having lost relatives in the Holocaust, it sounds like cattle-cars. In their derelict approval, Trump’s rally-goers are but a step or two behind the Kristallnacht rioters. What I feel is nausea, not hate. 
Malign clouds are approaching. Those who don’t see are deliberately looking away. Those who don’t hear the klaxons are fingering their ears. They who do see, who hear and enthuse, confirm how easily would-be dictators turn crowds, even here, into angry mobs, seeking formless, atavistic vengeance. It’s they who hate, need to hate, not me. And they won’t change. Only by being outvoted might they be made to crawl back under their rocks. Which is why they’re targeting free and fair voting.  
I receive more notes of approval than disgust. Still, I’d sleep better if I stopped paying attention. But what of my grandchildren and the future they face? Silence is surrender. 
Which is more harmful: agonal cries of a grandpa with an audience of tens in a tiny corner of the PNW, or the unrelenting promotion of fear, hate, division, and perpetual grievance, the autocratic ignoring of constitutional restraints, by a “president” who’d grab absolute power if he could? Not to mention those thrilled by the prospect, readying their pitchforks for the rounding-up. 
Invective? Nope. It’s a cri de cœur. Open your eyes. Read this.
[Image source]

Friday, July 19, 2019

Two Horrors

My next newspaper column. It's getting pretty damn depressing out there.
Recently I lost a friend because he thought I’d called all Trump supporters, including him, racist. In fact, I was calling on non-racist supporters to speak out against Trump’s deliberate manipulation of those he believes are racists. He was unconvinced. 
I wonder how he feels about Trump telling four Democratic Congresswomen of color, three of whom are American-born, the fourth a naturalized citizen, to go back to their “broken” countries. As Trump claims they’re “pro-terrorists,” feigns outrage that they say “vile” things and use the F-word in public, one concludes the White House mirrors are broken. 
If you defend Trump’s latest, it’s because he hates the people you hate. Because of you, he sees it as winning strategy, sees you as an easy mark. If that characterization offends, take a stand. Or stop pretending. 
Like the above-the-law dictator he imagines himself to be, Trump is attacking America itself, made great since its founding by disagreement and protest. It’s who we are. Except for Trump’s latest ralliers, chanting “Send her back.” To whom he listened, gloating. If, in your heart, you’re chanting with them, you have no idea what patriotism is nor what America is about; you make it clear it CAN happen here. 
But enough. Believe it or not, we’re facing something even worse than Trump: mass extinction. 
Commissioned by the UN, a summary of the results of a three-year study on the magnitude of the problem has just been published. Comprising the work of five-hundred scientists and referencing fifteen-hundred research papers, it covers a wide range of earthly perils. 
Driving Mercer Street to downtown Seattle lately, one comes to understand. In addition to traffic that allows three cars per stoplight on a good day, high-rise dwellings are sprouting like asparagus, block after crowded block, readying to house more people by the thousands. There are too damn many of us.  
“The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” wrote the co-chair of the eighteen-hundred-page report. “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”
We’re bludgeoning our planet to a slow but certain death. As we heat it up to intolerable levels, deplete finite resources, cause the elimination of millions of species, we’re destroying the home whose complex ecosystems sustain us. And though it’s obvious what needs doing, it’s increasingly unlikely to happen, for humanity lacks the required collective wisdom, and America’s leadership is no more. Increasingly, we seem to be looking backward, wishfully, not ahead and clear-eyed. 
Around twenty-five-percen of plant and animal species are threatened, and an additional million are heading toward extinction. For those who don’t care about flora and fauna any more than they do about Trump’s anti-Americanism, the report catalogs the deadly threat to all humankind, including them. For those who do care, the summary can be found here
Climate change is a big part of it, but there’s more. We’ve lost eighty-five percent of the world’s wetlands. Two-thirds of ocean waters are stressed; half of the world’s coral reefs are dead. It’s happening hundreds of times faster than millions of years past. We’re clearcutting hundreds of millions of hectares of rainforest, gobbling up rapidly-diminishing, essential elements, as the world population has doubled since 1970. People are already fighting over food and water, fuel and land, to the tune of twenty-five-hundred conflicts currently ongoing. It’ll get worse.  
Topping the list of required changes are two all-but impossible actions: stopping population growth and decreasing consumption. These would entail entirely re-constituting the developed world, in which all economies are, to a greater or lesser extent, predicated on consumerism: increasing and housing customers, making newer and more irresistible products. 
Could we abide a less self-destructing economic model? Would we be willing to keep our current smartphones and outdated HDTVs? Not in the irreparably divided, conversation-averse, science-rejecting US, where our “president” has convinced half of us our biggest problem is immigration. 
Years ago, there was an experiment in which mice were challenged with dense overcrowding. Good news: they stopped reproducing. Bad news: they turned to cannibalism. Thanks to Trump’s self-serving provocations, we’re already tearing each other apart in a kind of verbal feeding frenzy. Trumpists are stockpiling weapons, and their food-stores won’t last forever. Are we better than rodents? 
If Trump’s rallies portend America’s future, the answer is no. Clearly, undeniably. No.
[Image sources]

Friday, July 12, 2019

Unjustices Of The Supreme Court

My upcoming newspaper column:
When the other party has the better hammer, what you do is steal all the nails. 
Credit Republicans: they play the long game. Realizing they could no longer enact their policies legitimately, because they create massive deficits, are unpopular with and/or do harm to non-wealthy, air-breathing, water-drinking, homeothermic, empathetic Americans, they set about preventing the majority from having electoral influence. Fair elections, and democracy itself, they came to understand, were inimical to their aims. This insight underlies everything they’ve done since, at the state level and nationally. 
It’s working. And, though it’s been evident for years, Democrats’ legendary inability to formulate a coherent message, and their penchant for shooting at the wrong targets, including each other, all but guaranteed Republicans’ success. Days ago, by a predictable 5–4 decision, the Supreme Court chose to allow egregious gerrymandering by Republican-led legislatures around the country, bringing the plan to fruition. 
Already enfeebled by prior 5-4 decisions, namely Citizens United and eviscerating the Voting Rights Act, democracy died that day; poisoned by people who figured they had plenty of time to pull it off, people who renounced what makes America great. Now firmly entrenched is rule by a minority determined to enrich the wealthy and do the bidding of polluters and other miscreants, disregarding the needs of most voters, in return for cash.  
A 5-4 court decision is a political one, by definition. The concept of dispassionate interpretation of the law, or, as John Roberts described it in his bravura nomination performance, “calling balls and strikes,” is fiction. Every Republican jurist has been selected with the endgame in mind. 
As they welcomed the contributions of Reagan’s hitman Lee Atwater, then Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove, and Roger Ailes, the Republican Party began abandoning democracy. Their goal: prevent the majority voice from being heard by whatever means necessary; when it can’t be done subtly, don’t bother pretending. Witness refusing to allow even a hearing for President Barack Obama’s choice of a universally-respected, highly-qualified nominee to the Supreme Court. Witness our Republican neighbors to the south, going into hiding to prevent a vote on a climate-change bill favored by a large majority of Oregonians (and threatening harm to state cops sent after them). Witness Mitch McConnell.  
Republicans may not have imagined, all those years ago, help from a global adversary in placing a “president” in office, but they’ll take it. To prove the point, demonstrating his disinterest in preserving our democratic republic, McConnell, an unashamed hypocrite more ruinous than Trump, refused to allow consideration of a bill passed by House Democrats aimed at preventing future foreign influence, and at securing voting machines. He’s done the same to all Democratic legislation, including those that would actually “drain the swamp.” Then taunts Democrats for accomplishing nothing.  
Elected Republicans are undermining every protection of ordinary citizens’ ability to influence public policy: truth, education, voting, journalism. Understanding tribalism and the gullibility it engenders, they demonize immigrants, LGBT and Americans of color. And, of course, liberals, making America’s founding genius, legislative compromise, anathema. How can you compromise with people who’d “destroy you”? 
To cement their perversion of original intent, Republicans established an unscrupulous propaganda network. Now, the internet affords even greater opportunities for fake news while claiming it’s the other side spreading it. Into this septic stream they dumped the lie that illegal voting was rampant, justifying laws crafted specifically to disenfranchise potential Democratic voters. They’ve admitted their purpose – bragged about it -- even as the premise was proved false. 
Having thus empowered themselves, they’ve taken gerrymandering to unprecedented levels, rendering Democratic voters powerless; sometimes, even, when they were in the majority. 
Fulfilling the promise of his appointment, Chief Justice Roberts says it’s none of the Court’s business. Really? If this isn’t, what is? America has a cherished tradition of states’ rights, but a crucial role of the federal judiciary is stepping in when states disregard Constitutionally-guaranteed rights of their citizens. Protecting equality of voting, you’d think, would be among the obligations of our highest court. Turns out, it’s not. 5-4. 
What would Honest Abe, between whose knees, on July 4, Trump produced a taxpayer-funded, campaign-ad-ready affair (the ad is already in circulation), think of what’s become of his party? Stolen court; dark money; voter suppression; cynical gerrymandering; presidential lies; devalued education; rejected science; politicizing the census; ignoring checks and balances. 
Game over. And Republicans are dancing in the endzone. 
[Image source]

Friday, July 5, 2019

The Fourth Of Trump

Saturday's newspaper column, today:
My reaction to Trump making himself central to our capitol’s annual Fourth of July celebration is what Trump supporters’ would have been, had President Barack Obama done the same. Lest anyone thought the Fourth of Trump was a celebration by and for all Americans, he provided special-access, front-row, VIP tickets for his swamp-dwellers. 
For seventy years, presidents had chosen not to insert themselves into America’s day. Not Trump; but at least he stuck to the teleprompter, reading words wrongly attributing America’s greatness almost entirely to its military strength, starting when the Continental Army took over airports. Nice words. No mention of Democrats wanting to “destroy you,” nor the press being our enemy.
Including presidential plane and other flyovers, and obtrusively parked, decommissioned tanks, citizens chipped in $2.5 million in Park Service funds intended for improving national parks, as Trump Commander-in-Chiefed a military presence, aping Moscow and Pyongyang. There, dear leaders beam as troops march by. He couldn’t conjure goose-stepping soldiers, but his intentions weren’t subtle. 
Which brings us to that made-for-TV step across a painted line onto North Korean concrete, including camera-ready posturing and Kim Jong-Un calling Trump “courageous” for doing it. The recidivist draft-dodger whose daddy bought him a pair of disappearing bone spurs fearlessly took some of the most heavily-guarded steps in human history. 
At Fox “news” the swooning was unrestrained, even as they admitted that, had Obama done it, they’d have been outraged. Kim, they’d have railed, is one of history’s worst mass murderers. Who but a naïve narcissist would accept his compliments and believe his promises? 
Trump’s self-celebration in D.C. and his one poke over the line at the DMZ are of a piece. The first shows his pathological need for adulation; the second underscores the danger to America in having such an emotionally destitute “leader.” All it took was Kim calling him brave, and denuclearization fell off the table as if pushed by a cat. 
As Trump flatters men more all-powerful than he to earn their praise, they exploit his neediness, giving him the kudos he craves, knowing he’ll mistake the disdainful manipulation for admiration. Doing so, they get away with murder. And nukes. And contracts to manufacture secret American military technology, and tariff-busting opportunities with China. 
Accompanying Trump to Korea was white-supremacist hero Tucker Carlson, invited after he’d shared his unique insight that to be a great leader you have to murder the occasional citizen. Just the way it is. Not a deal-breaker. (Flaming out elsewhere, Tucker found a welcoming home on Fox “news.”) But it’s true: Kim, Putin, and MBS are nothing if not murderers. Trump has yet to order a hit himself, far as we know, but the subset of his supporters who are murdering Americans in documented, increasing numbers, claim motivation by his words. Not to mention renegades (we hope) in his unleashed and energized Border Patrol, discovered mocking immigrant deaths and spreading racist memes online. His people. 
While Trump turns a deaf eye to homegrown terrorism, he jokes with his most-admired strongmen about their crimes. Laughs with Putin over “getting rid of journalists,” which Putin has, repeatedly. Reaffirms his “friendship” with MBS, chopper-up and disposer of same. Neither has logged the murderous numbers of Kim, though, which may be why Trump reserves particular love for him. Kim, however, as revealed by the highest-ranking North Korean official to defect in decades, has a less romantic attraction to Trump: He’s “not moral,” and “doesn’t judge.”  
Democracy’s protector, though he doesn’t understand the term “Western liberalism,” Trump also traded laughs with Putin about meddling in our electoral process, which he’d previously announced he’d happily accept again. Obey American law? “That’s not how the world works,” he said. Aloud. On TV. The “president” of the United States says following our laws isn’t how things work. Not in his career of cheating his way out of his business failures, not now. Un-hyphen-believable. (Resisting the more colorful tmesis.) 
Paraphrasing a diagnosis invented by the late Charles Krauthammer, Trump’s Fifth-Avenue-firing-range boosters dismiss his critics as suffering from “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” We who point out and warn of the obvious are blinded by hate, according to Trumpists. But the truly blinded are they who can’t see the ease with which Trump’s narcissism is being exploited by the despots he emulates. 
The authentic Trump Derangement Syndrome causes people to look at his record of capitulations to dictators and neither recognize nor understand the peril in which Trump’s personal pathology places our country, abroad and at home.
[Image source]

Friday, June 28, 2019

Take Back Your Tired, Your Poor

Next newspaper column:
Behold the newly-made greatness of Trump’s America: Ben Ferencz, last surviving prosecutor of Nazis during the Nuremburg trials, calls Trump’s policy of separating refugee children from their families “a crime against humanity.” He should know. 
And that was before we heard of hundreds of children crowded into foul-smelling detention facilities designed for far fewer, without soap, toothbrushes, showers, or beds. His remarks were also before a DOJ lawyer testified to Congress that kids really don’t need those things. Another 3,500 are being held in for-profit “facilities.” 
Behold the greatness of Trumpists’ America: “They’re children of criminals,” some have said. “They deserve what they’re getting.” In fact, they’re children of desperate refugees, of whom Jesus is reputed to have spoken favorably. 
Rather than considering the outrage itself, rightists attack those who’ve called those places concentration camps. Which is consistent with their general rejection of facts. If climate change, why not dictionaries? 
Outrage. Attorneys had to force Border Patrol agents to hospitalize children dying before their eyes. Unresponsive. “Eyes rolled back in her head.” Absent adequate help, older children are caring for neglected younger ones. At least seven have died, so far, in American custody, in our name. To be silent, to rationalize, is to expose one’s enjoyment of Trump’s cruelty.  
Notwithstanding statements last weekend from our “president” and vice-president, this is not okay. Nor is it a continuation of Obama’s policies, or the fault of Democrats, as those men lied, respectively, to Chuck Todd and Jake Tapper; the latter of whom tried, unsuccessfully, to get Godly Mike Pence to stop changing the subject and admit the inhumanity.  
With few exceptions, people arriving at our southern border are refugees, not criminals. Seeking asylum, they’ve escaped from intolerable conditions. Trump’s policy of effectively kidnapping their children, placing them in filthy, neglected, intentionally horrible, “message-sending” conditions, ought to be denounced by even the most avidly pro-Trump (and pro-life?) Americans. Surely, were it their children, they could imagine the pain. Surely, they retain a modicum of un-Trumpian empathy. 
But it’s not denounced. Defended, denied, excused, is what it is. What’s that word, again? Oh, right: deplorable. Or, like a recent letter-writer claiming Democrats want illegal immigration to get voters, Foxified. You have to lap up lots of lies to believe such absurdity.  
Failure to address our immigration problems has been bipartisan. If answers are hard to come by, though, making things worse ought to be off the table. Yet that’s exactly what Trump, in his short-sighted, ill-considered, please-the-worst-among-us manner, is doing. 
These people are fleeing their countries out of fear, or hunger, or hope for their children. An obvious, cost-effective, long-term approach would be to help improve the conditions from which they’ve fled. In reducing aid to the Central American countries refugees are abandoning, Trump does the opposite. “Punishing” these poor countries for not stemming the tide. It doesn’t get more bass-ackwards than that. 
Moreover, as previously noted, Trump is actively making a root cause – climate change – worse. This he’s doing purposefully, apparently motivated by sticking it to liberals and universally more-admired President Barack Obama. Drought, famine, and floods: all results of climate change, compel those people to leave. Some, who ran for their lives, were sent back home, where they were killed. Just now, U.S. asylum officers are requesting a court injunction against Trump’s simplistic “remain in Mexico” policy, saying it endangers asylum-seekers’ lives. But it pleases his base.  
We Americans are facing imminent, critical decisions about no-longer-ignorable issues, solutions to which will be difficult and costly. Not just immigration: climate change, deficits, health care, education, infrastructure, energy. But first we must decide whether to reaffirm or renounce what we once were: generous, welcoming, innovative, willing to sacrifice when the times required it. Which, if any, of those values remain? Are we willing to spend money in service of them? Are there better investments than weaponry to protect the futures of our children? Are we ready to make them?  
Can we even discuss these things as long as we have a “president” who tells his supporters that over half of Americans want to destroy them; whose party seems fine with it? Preserving their power takes precedence, evidently, over future sustainability. Unwilling even to debate Democrats’ solutions, Trumpists reject them reflexively, obediently branding them as socialism, as told to. 
It’s a downward spiral with nothing but bad outcomes ahead. Only they can stop it. 
[Image source]

Friday, June 21, 2019

Hard To Believe

My next newspaper column:
Turns out, truth matters. Turns out, having a “president” who’s exceeded ten-thousand documented lies in office, and a party and millions of voters who don’t care, isn’t ideal. Who knew?  
If ever it’s preferable to find this “president” believable, it’s as he dangles desire for war. Tells us another country threatens us, violating agreements, moving weapons around ominously, attacking tankers. 
Time was, I believed our government wouldn’t lie about war. When in college, I signed a letter to LBJ, attesting that if he says we need to be in Vietnam, we trusted him. Two years later, my graduating class staged one of the earliest war protests, on the occasion of Robert McNamara receiving an honorary degree. Several classmates turned their backs; more walked out; one refused his diploma. By then, my certitude was wavering. When drafted, though, I went. If not me, someone else, I reasoned. Unlike Trump.  
And now, this draft-dodging man of ten-thousand lies, who gathers around him people similarly disposed, whose appointees turn over like rocks in a tumbler, tells us Iran is making warlike moves. The same man who assured us, after an hour with Kim Jong Un, that North Korea’s nuclear threat was no more; who said he had no business interests in Russia; who still contends Putin didn’t mess with the election and refuses to protect future electoral integrity. 
The man who’s broken his promises to replace the ACA with something better; balance the budget; eliminate our debt; protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; build a Mexico-funded wall. The man who says liberals want to end capitalism and execute newborns. The man who says China, not US consumers, pays his tariffs; whose EPA, disliking death projections from coal-fired pollution, plans to change the projections, and increase the pollution. The man who’s been calling our intelligence officers traitors.  
That man. Who continues to insist Hillary Clinton received millions of illegal votes, that his electoral win was a historic blowout, that he barely knew Paul Manafort, that Robert Mueller said there was no obstruction; who’s blocking testimony from witnesses to his obstruction; fires pollsters whose results he doesn’t like, after telling George Stephanopoulos those polls “don’t exist.” Priming us for war on claims he says are true but which our allies insist are false. 
Also, he cheats at golf.  
No longer is naiveté like mine, back then, an excuse. There remain people who insist Trump doesn’t lie, that he’s fulfilled every promise, that he rescued our economy after Obama, not Bush, crashed it. To such loyalists, truth stopped being important long ago, as they welcome authoritarianism with blinkered enthusiasm, figuring they’ll not be among those endangered by it.  
But now we’re talking war. Trump has threatened that, if it comes, Iran will cease to exist; in which case millions will die. Muslims, mostly. Perhaps that’s why so many Trumpists claim Jesus put him in office. 
Iran is breaking agreements and mining ships, Trump tells us, after he broke the nuclear pact they were, by all accounts, honoring. In doing so, he goaded them to do the same; yet we’re to believe it’s Iran that wants war. Maybe. But by what standard can we believe this “president,” downstream from his scaturient mendacity? After how many lies is trust extinguished? Fewer than thousands, surely. 
Neither owned nor flagged as American, it’s unclear why Iran would attack those ships. Perhaps they did. Shall we go to war, though, to protect Saudi oil? The Saudis, to whom Trump would sell weapons without Congressional approval, whose murders he ignores? Who he wants to build our high-tech weapons? His personal business partners, urging him to attack? And where was that drone, really? 
Approaching an election clouded by unfavorable polls and calls for impeachment, Trump faces the very situation in which he claimed Obama would start a war with Iran. Repeatedly, Trump serves his own interests above all else. Reasonable conclusions may be drawn. Based on simple observation, past and present, it’s wise to assume Trump is lying, unless proved otherwise. It is, as we’ve seen, what he does.   
Timely update: Last week, I pointed out that would-be despots create enemies for people to fear and hate. At his reelection kickoff rally, rife with animus and paranoia, Trump shouted, “Democrats want to destroy you.” Sharing space with Proud Boys and Q-Anon believers, attendees cheered him and praised the Lord, believing every word.  
Then, he lied some more. 

[Image source]

Friday, June 14, 2019

Coming To Terms

My upcoming newspaper column, previewed:
Hoping to divert attention from their agenda of enriching the rich, cutting Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid, censoring science, polluting the environment, taking healthcare access from millions without replacement, controlling women’s bodies, worsening climate change, gutting consumer protections, and suppressing minority voting, it’s clear that Republicans’ cries of “Socialism” will be central to their attacks on Democratic candidates. So let’s address it, starting with three compendious definitions:  
Socialism: state-owned production and commerce; workers are government employees. 
Capitalism: private ownership, workers employed by the owners. 
Communism: ownership of everything by everyone. Give what you can, take what you need. No private property. 
Only right-wing media and people unhappy with certain opinion columnists mention communism, and no Democrat advocates it. In purest form, it’s existed only on Russian kolkhozes, Israeli kibbutzim, and a few ephemeral, utopian enclaves in this country. A socialist dictatorship, the USSR was never “communist.” Because humans tend toward greed and jealousy, comm-baya fails. 
So does pure socialism. Which is why, Trumpic lies notwithstanding, Democrats aren’t proposing it. Touring the Soviet Union when a student of the Russian language, I saw it. Their products were junk, their workers unproductive, and it seemed their only incentives (other than avoiding Siberia) were omnipresent warnings of an enemy to fear and hate: namely, us. It’s what despots do. And would-be despots. Not that anyone comes to mind. 
Venezuela, the right’s disingenuous definition of Democrats’ desire, and one of two potential stages for performing our next war, is failing for many reasons, including incompetence and authoritarian corruption. For those seeking partisan analogies, there they are. Venezuela is as far from what liberals want as Trump is from veracity.  
We’ve never seen pure, unfettered capitalism, either, although the US came close in the Gilded Age, when regulations were few, capitalists were extraordinarily wealthy and oligarchical, and their employees, including children, were overworked, undercompensated, and disempowered. Workplaces were unsafe and unhealthy, often fatally. Along came liberalism and unions to rectify, at least partially, the inhumane inequality, but not before unbridled greed led to the Great Depression. MAGA, it turns out, means Make America Gilded Again. 
So there’s a spectrum, at the unoccupied extremes of which are absolute capitalism and absolute socialism. Most countries lie somewhere between. Given the worldwide breadth of that scale, differences between Democrats and Republicans are comparatively narrow, and none but hardcore Libertarians and “Freedom-Caucus” Republicans are aiming for a far end, despite what one hears from Sean “Tell ‘Em Liberals Hate America, Donnie” Hannity, and Donald “Liberals hate America” Trump. 
Believing regulations stifle growth, conservatives favor abrogating most of them, arguing “market forces” will ensure that corporations won’t, say, pollute, and, out of charitable patriotism or something, they’ll do right by their employees. History suggests otherwise. 
Liberals are proud of producing workplace-safety, child-labor, and pollution-control laws, plus other Republican-hated programs like SNAP and Medicaid. They believe seniors are better off with than without Social Security and Medicare, that education and press freedom protect our constitutional democracy, and that voter suppression doesn’t.    
Some prefer to disparage these accomplishments, but it’s Fox-level fakery to suggest liberals want anything like pure socialism. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and other targets of right-wing lies have issues with the sort of capitalism in which widespread, crushing poverty exists alongside unimaginable wealth; in which enormous corporations pay no taxes; which creates leaded drinking water, contaminated canals, and coal-ashed rivers. Everyone should.  
Which brings us to “Democratic Socialism.” Before reflexively dismissing it, people should consider what it is, not what they’ve been told to think it is. In short, it’s capitalism with a conscience. Flourishing capitalism. Like Sweden’s, with worldwide, for-profit, tax-paying corporations: Volvo, Saab, Ericsson, Ikea, and more; and, by all measures, happier, healthier, better-educated, more financially-secure citizens than Americans. Higher taxes, better perks. Fewer worries, better sleep.  
Democratic socialism replaces profit-above-all with profit for a purpose, recognizing that capitalism endures when its workforce is educated, healthy, has decent benefits, predictable retirement, and enough income to buy what capitalists produce. It thrives by not salting the soil in which it grows. 
Rather than engaging in honest debate, Trump’s rally-joiners prefer chanting “AOC sucks.” That’s Trumpism: reflexive, simplistic nescience replacing thoughtful discourse. That’s fatal to democracy. And it’s intentional. 
Among those who’ve gained the most and will gain still more from progressive policies are Trump’s fact-free adulators, obediently swallowing the lies without a moment’s thought to who’s telling them, and why. 
[Image source]

Friday, June 7, 2019

A Climate Of Lies

My upcoming newspaper column:
I’m just back from Boston, having accompanied my wife to her fiftieth college reunion. There, classmate Al Gore spoke about, no surprise, climate change. Nothing he said was surprising, though; not to those who’ve read the science and are awake to the disinformation campaign from polluters and their payees, which makes Big Tobacco’s campaign against cancer-causation seem like George Washington’s cherry-tree confessional.  
The science is clear. Everything happening has been predicted by climate scientists; their errors only in underestimating speed and severity. Drought, floods, cataclysmic rainstorms, stronger hurricanes, the Polar Vortex sending frigid air to North America, changes in ocean currents. Record-breaking heat, bone-chilling cold. 
Across the planet, it’s affecting food and water supplies, creating climate refugees by the millions, inflaming politics here and abroad. Honduras, for example, is among the countries most affected by climate change; from the resulting poverty and hunger, citizens flee to our borders. As with his policies in other areas, Trump’s climate denial makes our immigration problem worse. 
Iran, which Trump pretends wants war, is suffering climate-related disasters. Deluges inundate homes and buildings, wash cars and buses down city streets like corks, even as overheated farms die. A country suffering such conditions seems unlikely to attack us.  
Among Gore’s slides was a picture from space, of Earth and its tiny atmosphere. Our planet is rare fruit with the thinnest of peels; into this fragile layer of life-support we dump forty-billion tons of pollutants yearly. The heat energy added to the planet by human activity is the equivalent of five-hundred-thousand Hiroshima-type atom bombs. Every. Single. Day. If, as some say, only God can affect climate, that’s how He’s doing it.  
The morning after Gore’s lecture, the New York Times reported Trump’s redoubling his ignorant attacks on climate science and President Barack Obama’s carbon-pollution regulations. It’s madness. It’s dereliction of his sworn duty to protect Americans. Never mind his documented obstruction and attempted destruction of Constitutional governance: this alone deserves impeachment. It’s tantamount to premeditated murder.  
And, whether it’s just more of Trump’s insane need for revenge for President Barack Obama’s prior humiliation of him, or run-of-the-mill cravenness toward big-money donors to him and the Congress-dwellers who’ve sold their souls, it’s depressing as hell. Typical swamp politics, augmented by the delusional actions of a damaged human being. Who knows?  
More depressing is how easy it’s been for Trump and those who smuggled him into office to convince so many voters to spurn reality. And not just climate change. It’s broad-based, carefully-cultivated, factual illiteracy. Disagreeing with opinions is one thing; it’s what makes for the sort of useful dialog that finds workable solutions. But pigheaded rejection of facts is something else entirely. 
Is it that Trumpists continue to excuse his lies because they justify their empathy-free selfishness? (Some people don’t like my shared-hatreds proposition.) Those moral failings were always present; Trump just allowed them out of the closet.  
This strenuously-maintained disbelief applies equally to the Mueller report. Well-aware of the tractability of his supporters, Trump, aided by the least general Attorney General in decades, set the narrative before truth had a chance. Only days ago, after his stage-managed walkout on Pelosi and Schumer, for a “spontaneous” press conference, he arrived at a conveniently waiting rostrum festooned with signs lying, “No collusion, No obstruction.” 
By now, presumably because someone drew him pictures, Trump knows what’s in the report. Unless they’re as pathological as he, those repeating his lies cannot have read it. Moving their lips to words of another like ventriloquists’ dummies, they’ve chosen ignorance. After Mueller’s subsequent speech laid the truth out, they shouted, “La la la, we can’t hear you.”  
How nice if all discourse began with factually factual facts. Manmade climate change is real, it’s existentially dangerous, and it’s accelerating. Mueller documented multiple acts of obstruction and, but for destroyed documents, would have about collaboration. Before opining on climate, or Mueller, deniers ought to read the report, investigate climate science, and become enlightened. It’s what honest, truth-seeking, self-respecting people do.   
Al Gore ended with hopeful inklings: China and India, the greatest contributors to climate change, are converting to renewables faster than any other country. Europe is close behind. And, despite Trump’s efforts, the US is, too. Where people recognize and understand the future, his lies fail. 
Climate. Mueller. Unlike today’s Republican leaders, Democrats believe truth-telling makes better policy than lies. In Trump’s America, who’s right?
[Image source]

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