Friday, September 28, 2018

Easy Choice

Saturday's newspaper column, today.
Let’s ignore whether Brett Kavanaugh’s behavior as a teenager predicts future character. After all, who among us didn’t attempt a rape or two in high school? What parents didn’t raise their children, boys and girls, to understand it’s just how things work? And what evangelical preacher son of an evangelical preacher hasn’t taught us that attempted rapists “respect” their victims when they “walk away” after the girls lock themselves in bathrooms? 
That aside, assume, for a moment, Professor Ford is being truthful. Is it hard to imagine how traumatized she’d have been? Might one understand her sense of injustice at seeing her attacker ascending to our nation’s highest court? Is it impossible to believe she’d feel compelled to speak out, for her own sake, if not for the country’s? 
Consider other possible responses. What if Kavanaugh had the human decency to say, “I don’t remember the events, but I got so drunk in those days I can’t say they didn’t happen. If so, I’m deeply sorry, and I understand the anger and hurt. I hope people can believe I’m no longer that boy.” What if, instead of attacking Professor Ford, Republicans had expressed a modicum of empathy and understanding? Might it make approval more palatable?  
None of that happened, of course; empathy and understanding aren’t who they are. Leaders and, evidently, most members of today’s Republican Party, including, amazingly enough, many women, don’t regard women that highly. Their responses to Kavanaugh’s accusers include only “she’s lying” and “what’s the big deal.” Comments coming from the Republican men on the Judiciary Committee (most of whom voted against the Violence Against Women Act) ought to appall all women and at least that subset of men who have wives, daughters, sisters, or mothers.  
Having elected a “president” who bragged about sexual predation, the reaction from the right is consistent. Trump’s amorality was well-enough known before the election that it must have been thought a positive by his voters, making their current attitude explainable. 
To characterize Professor Ford as anything but brave is to be willfully blind. She knew what she was in for, including now-routine death threats, yet decided sharing her story was important enough to risk ruining her life. Will it ruin Kavanaugh’s? Hardly. He’ll likely be approved anyway; if not, he still has a lifetime job with cushy hours and enviable pay.  
That she didn’t report the crime when it happened is no mystery. Girls have always known what to expect: insinuations and accusations, word against word; especially privileged word. Who can doubt the fear and shame, the blame and repercussions certain to follow? Republican leaders, and Trumpists, is who. 
So the question isn’t just whether Brett Kavanaugh belongs on the Court. It includes the much larger issue of how women are treated, especially by our respective political parties. Whether women who accuse men of sexual crimes should be considered truthful unless proven otherwise, or only the accused? Someone is lying. Why should that presumption apply only to the claimant? Yes, false accusations can happen; as can false declarations of innocence. Which is why not rushing to Judge-ment is called for. 
Accordingly, one might ponder the significance of Ms. Ford requesting an FBI investigation, while Kavanaugh and his backers stand against it. Maybe they’re worried about his fishy finances being addressed, too.  
But, okay. She’s lying, as are the others who’ve since come forward, because what woman wouldn’t? Besides, assaulting women is simply what guys do. As it happens, though, there remain compelling reasons to reject Kavanaugh, beginning with the gnathonic, non-independent-judiciary-ish words he spoke at his nomination ceremony, and ending with lying to Congress, at least twice, under oath. Not that Republicans ever considered the latter an impeachable offense.  
Dodging questions, claiming memory loss, offering self-righteous refusals, Kavanaugh made Neil Gorsuch seem like Moses on Sinai. Running to Fox “news” was glaringly unjudicial in itself, and pathetic as he repeated rehearsed talking points, again and again. But, having chosen him not for integrity, but for his views on presidential indictments, regulations, workers’ rights, plus his irrefragable future approval of their voter-suppression tactics, Republicans are determined to seat him, regardless.  
Whatever else is true, his performance at Thursday’s hearing, unhinged, making crazy claims about the Clintons, hyper-partisan shouting, emotional instability, says he’ll never be an impartial jurist. And that was when he was sober! His unsuitability for the Court couldn’t be more evident
[Image source]

Friday, September 21, 2018

At Last, A Truthful Trumpist

The next newspaper column:
Put up your umbrellas when you go outside, folks: pigs are flying. 
I heard from a Trump supporter who admitted, without the usual pretense, why he supports him. Were it me, I’d have been ashamed, but at least he was honest. The more usual critics repeat Trump’s lies, deny the obvious, ignore my point, and insist what I write is nothing more than baseless hate for Trump and his supporters. 
It’s an easy way out, passing off criticism of Trump as blind hate. Were I to spend time in his company, it’s likely I’d find Trump’s arrogant ignorance repulsive, not someone with whom I’d want to spend more time. Rather than hate, I’d call that realistic. I know several Trump supporters, and I don’t hate them. Some, I consider friends. But I sure find their rationales repellent; particularly their all-too-common delight in seeing liberals upset by what Trump says and does. What a hoot: unhappy about making climate change worse, attacking the press, lying about pretty much everything, demanding to use the DOJ for personal vendettas against perceived enemies.
Silly libtards. Advocating a cleaner, cooler planet, a sustainable budget, access to healthcare, a president who’s occasionally truthful: what a bunch of haters. (Trump just rolled back methane reduction rules, the worst greenhouse gas. I do hate that. Everyone should. And who knew liberals could feel sorry for Jeff Sessions!)  
Which returns us to the subject Trumpist. Until our conversation devolved, as he began forwarding an endless stream of repetitive rightwing memes based on misquotations and outright lies, preceded by gleeful “This will make liberals’ heads explode,” and when the barrage continued even after I’d respond with proof of their falsehood, we had exchanged a few borderline thoughtful emails.  
I asked if and why he stopped caring about deficits, now rising to over a trillion dollars; whether he had children or grandchildren about whose health and future survival he worried, given the increased pollution and climate change we’re seeing. Did it bother him to see nonstop attacks on institutions designed to protect us from dictatorship? At first, he responded with by-the-playbook distractions and what-aboutisms. Eventually, though, he got down to it. “I don’t care about any of those things,” he wrote “Trump’s tax cuts are making me rich.” (Paraphrasing, but not mischaracterizing the message.) 
He’s the prosperous business owner at whom those cuts were aimed. Deficits, pollution, climate change, truth, democracy itself: not among his concerns. And if they’re the next generation’s problem, his kids’, and theirs, so what? It’s the current agenda of today’s Republican party in a nutshell, isn’t it? 
I guess you could say such candor is refreshing. Better, I guess, than what I hear more commonly to excuse Trumpism: he’s draining the swamp (seriously, by what possible metric?), he’s fixing the economy Obama ruined (a tad unhistorical), he cares about every American (rich white males), he never lies (just passed four-thousand), he’s fulfilled every promise (other than most). All said to pretend away the obvious, that they love him for what he hates. Oh, they don’t like it when I say that, but what else is there? Are they wealthy enough to be getting richer like my other pixel-pal? Don’t they have children who’ll need healthcare, breathable air, and drinkable water? Deficits suddenly don’t matter? Dictatorship trumps democracy?  
How timely then, after our exchange, to learn of two very wealthy and generous longtime donors to Republican candidates and causes who’ve announced their intent to fund Democrats. First was Ohio’s biggest Republican bankroller, billionaire Les Wexner, who seems to have had an epiphany when President Barack Obama visited Ohio last week. “I just decided I’m no longer a Republican,” he announced, and called Obama’s visit a “great moment for the community.” Among other things, he said he was “ashamed” when Trump refused to call out white supremacists.  
Next was Seth Klarman, New England’s biggest Republican moneyman, who said, after assuring people he’s not a Democrat, “I think democracy is at stake. And maybe I’ll be able to convince some other people of that. And get them to support Democrats in 2018.” He too acknowledged making money under Trump, but, he said, “There are things more important than making money.” 
Which is where my conversation with the Trumpist ended. At what price, is what I asked.             
[Image source]

Friday, September 14, 2018

Bet On Brett

Saturday's newspaper column, today:
Outcome predetermined, the Senate hearings on Brett Kavanaugh were revealing nonetheless. They were the culmination and confirmation of the lengths to which the devolved Republican party has gone to gain and maintain power despite having an agenda with which the majority of Americans disagree. And they showed the depths to which that party has descended since the days of such admirable Senators as Dan Evans, Mark Hatfield, Lowell Weicker, Everett Dirksen, Jacob Javits, Margaret Chase Smith, and so many more: people with whom one could disagree respectfully, and who sought common ground. Because that used to be America. 
Third only to Trump and Gingrich, Mitch McConnell has done more damage to our legislative process and trust in our political system than any in modern times. The personification of hypocrisy, his career, by his own admission, committed to party over country. Calling it his proudest moment, he allowed not even meetings with President Barack Obama’s final SCOTUS nominee, let alone hearings and a vote, claiming precedent where none existed. And now he’s pushing a nominee whose pre-judicial career was partisan hackery unknown in any prior candidate who made it through. Kavanaugh’s boorish behavior continues today. 
Forcing hearings before the record could be reviewed, looking the other way when tens of thousands of documents were withheld, Republican Senators made clear their desperation to solidify ownership of the Supreme Court before the next election, without even pretending to the Senate’s past integrity. It’s not mysterious. 
Sure, their base will delight when Roe v. Wade is overturned, and when access to birth control is further reduced. But that’s distraction from the aforementioned truth: a majority of Americans disagree with nearly everything Republican for which they stand. Lacking a path to power by persuasion, counting on stacking the courts for cover, they turned to rigging the game. Which they’ve been doing with undeniable success. 
Because whereas Republican Party affiliation has been declining for years, among young people Democratic membership has been on the rise: about twice the number identify as D over R. Among non-whites of all ages, well, it’s unsubtle. Self-described independents now number around forty percent of voters; among them, support for Trump is at its lowest, down to barely thirty-percent. Although still above eighty-percent, approval is lessening even among Republicans. Consider: eighty-percent of twenty-percent of Americans, plus thirty-percent of forty-percent means Trump’s quantitative support is impressively exiguous.  
Importantly, it’s not just the current “president:” Republican members of both chambers, despite being in control, received a lower percentage of votes than Democrats. Yet there they are. Whether it’s the esoteric, like net neutrality and cannabis, or the broad-based, like tax reform, budget priorities, immigration, minority rights, religious separation, LGBT issues, abortion, or healthcare, Americans reject, widely, Republican priorities. How, in a democratic republic, is that possible? Ah. There’s the nub.  
Gerrymandering, voter suppression, and Constitutional quirks. The last on the list won’t change anytime soon, if ever, but between the Electoral College, created before there were political parties or announced candidates or campaigns, and the preference given to voters in small (i.e., Red) states in the Senate and the number of voters per Representative in small states, it’s easy see how the minority of the populace can become the majority in representation, intended or not. 
Worse, though, because they’re deliberate, extra-constitutional, cynical gaming of the system, are extreme Republican gerrymandering and intentionally suppressing votes of citizens who prefer Democrats. In those four states Trump won by a total of less than eighty-thousand votes, over two-hundred-thousand legal voters, mostly Democrats, were denied the right by “voter ID” laws, under pretext of non-existent in-person fraud. We’ve yet to learn if Russians hacked voting machines, but it’s as clear their fakery affected votes as it is that Republicans intend to do nothing about it.  
With popular opinion and demographics abandoning them, Republican leaders came to understand they can’t win fairly on the issues. Seeing the writing on the wall (not all of it in English), they turned to virtual electoral fraud. Lower courts, both state and federal, on too-rare occasions have overturned their most egregious efforts, but it’s not over until the Supreme Court has its say. They’ve already gutted the Voting Rights Act. Enter Kavanaugh. We know what’s next.  
Once upon a time, principled Republicans would have rejected embracing theft over cogency. Do any still exist? 
[Image source]

Friday, September 7, 2018

Mister Nice Guy

My next newspaper column, mostly written before the latest shit hit the fan:
I take seriously complaints about my rhetoric. Would that my apprehension over Trump’s authoritarian attacks on democracy were less intense. By ignoring climate change, caring less about the effects of unregulated pollution on my grandchildren, I’d sleep better; likewise, finding less depressing the contrast between a president who believed in bringing us together (but failed), and one who chooses to aggregate power by deliberately inciting division and hate for one another. Maybe I should regard Trump’s followers more highly than he does.  
I’ve told myself to tone it down, on the chance it might convince people of the ominous prospects we’re facing. If I asked more politely to think beyond enmity and fear, to consider the damage done by his lies, his virulent attacks on the press, former opponents, our system of justice, on people unlike them, might Trump’s supporters listen? 
Scorched-earth politics didn’t become a signature of the formerly honorable Republican Party until Lee Atwater, Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove decided no lie, no personal attack was out of bounds in the pursuit of power, no compromise acceptable. Trump has raised it to cosmic levels, but he’s their rightful heir and predictable result.  
Maybe I’m wrong.  
Whoever’s to blame, zero-sum gamesmanship has supplanted polity. Yes, I’ve thought Trumpists like him for hating whom they hate; and I’m told people like me are America-hating, commie “libtards.” I’ve tried more respectful interchange with those who say so, but no matter the beginning, it ends the same. Were I nicer to those who reject all evidence for everything I believe, everything that made America exceptional, would it make a difference? Experience says, “No,” and it asks, “Why bother?” But maybe I can understand Trump’s people in ways that wouldn’t make me despair. 
Maybe climate scientists really are a loathsome international cabal. Might trickle-down economics be logical? Maybe those who believe so deserve rehearing. Would people raise themselves out of poverty without help, find jobs, not turn to crime, their children grow strong, break the cycle of poverty, if only we stop giving them “handouts?” Is our future made brighter by redistributing wealth to the already-wealthy rather than spending on infrastructure, protecting elections, helping working parents with childcare, funding public education? Maybe shareholder profit really does outweigh increased wages. I’ve found nothing that confirms these things, but I could look harder. 
Let’s assume Trump’s right: protests should be illegal. Canceling raises for federal employees (forty-percent are veterans) to pay for millionaire tax cuts might support capitalism more than maintaining a middle class. It’s unremarkable, if unprecedented, that Trump withheld records of his Supreme Court nominee; not outrageous that Kavanaugh dumped forty-two-thousand pages twelve hours before the hearing. It absolutely doesn’t suggest he’s a partisan hack. Or that the Senate no longer serves the people (Cory Booker excepted). 
Maybe Trump’s defenders think he lies to them so they’ll appreciate truth if they ever hear it; Reaganomics would work if Republican economies didn’t keep crashing; the DOJ should only prosecute Democrats. It helps to think so. 
Conceivably, people who aren’t bothered by increasing pollution are convinced it will make children stronger. Possibly they’re thinking unselfishly: if some kids die, even their own, the ones that don’t will breed poison-resistant humans, evolved through natural selection to metabolize toxins healthfully, make following generations extra smart. If so, I’ve misunderstood them.  
Perhaps I’ve misjudged those nice folks at Trump rallies who, on his urging, turn to face the press in the back rows. Maybe those expressions aren’t hateful at all; maybe they’re using sign language to say, “Have one on us!” I could’ve misheard what those principled patriots are chanting. Sure sounds like “Lock her up,” but that’s so removed from American-style rule of law, it can’t be. “Brought our cups.” That’s it. 
Could be Republicans were right to denounce Obama’s (declining) deficits but not Trump’s exponentially increasing ones, now over a trillion dollars. Despite paying for top-heavy tax cuts by severely cutting Medicare, Medicaid, and more, their 2019 budget benefits everyone. Let’s say. 
Maybe when Trump said he prefers soldiers who aren’t captured, he was making an impassioned anti-war statement. Putin probably loves America more than John McCain did. Suggesting Russia attacked our electoral process is un-American; looking into it, treasonous. Blinded by partisanship, I’ve failed to see it. Henceforth, I must strive to be best. 
Or find a nepenthe.  
[Urgent addendum: That anonymous NYT author, et. al., should resign, go public, force Congresspeople to go on record. Everything is at stake. It’s a Fifth Avenue moment, Trumpists, without precedent. This once, read the links. Withhold your first response. And second, and third.]
[Image source]

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