Thursday, November 29, 2018
It is safe to say that Donald Trump's entire political career has been based on a bed of lies: from his questioning Barack Obama's birth certificate to his absurd brags ("I know more about Isis than the generals!"), Trump has never been a truth teller. Instead he insists his version of reality is the truth, no matter how absurd that may be.
The worst lie that Trump told during the campaign is the one that we've all heard so many times, and that he gave in the opening declaration of candidacy speech: "When Mexico sends their people over, their not sending people like you or you, they're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists, and some I assume are good people." Despite his almost child like attempt to walk back the racism of the statement with his last few words, his meaning was clear: many, perhaps even most, Mexican immigrants are criminals. It was this openly racist blast of hate, which will go down as easily one of the most divisive and frightening statements in American political history, and which was swiftly followed by his desire to build a wall on the border, that Mexico would pay for, that, sadly, drove millions of white voters into his corner and ultimately propelled him to the White House.
The fact his statements about Mexican immigrants is a lie is easily proven: study after study has shown that immigrants (both documented and undocumented) are less likely to be criminals than people born in this country are. Most immigrants come here looking for a better life for themselves and their families; they usually work hard, play by the rules and benefit the country enormously. Are some of them criminals? Of course, but when you're talking about a group of millions of people, it's inevitable that some of them will be criminals; again, it bears repeating, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born here.
If Trump's lie was so easily disproven, why was it allowed to fester? Well, over the years, right wing media has programmed a segment of population to believe what they say over actual facts, or to put it another way, they want to hear what they believe is true, not what actually is true. And hatred of non white immigrants is an easy truth for them. There's a sad bit of irony in that many of the white Americans hating recent immigrants are themselves descended from Italian and Irish transplants who faced the same kind of hatred and xenophobia on their arrival. Sadly, the argument over who the "real Americans" are is still with us.
Another lie that Trump told has taken a longer time to unravel, but it seems to be reaching it's breaking point: during the campaign he stormed through middle America declaring that he would bring back manufacturing jobs to rural areas around the country. With many towns feeling decimated from factory and mine shut downs, this seemed like a dream come true, even if his vague promises of bringing back jobs had no specific plans. And while the economy has done well overall, his pledge to bring back manufacturing jobs has been shown to be another lie. A recent headline showing that the General Motors auto company is closing down factories in the US, putting thousands of Americans out of work, reveals in small part, a large truth: manufacturing jobs have been slowly disappearing in this country for decades, and no president can ever bring them back.
Once upon a time, you could graduate from high school in America and go to work in a factory or mine and make a solid, middle class living, but those days are gone. Either those jobs have been replaced by lower paid workers in other countries, or by machines. And since all corporations treasure their profitability, there's really no way to force them to hire more highly paid workers or get rid of modern machinery.
Yes, America is facing a transition job wise that is obviously difficult for small towns built around factories and mines. And while there are no easy solutions, job retraining, making it easier (and cheaper!) to get a college degree, and perhaps the idea of a living wage to cushion the blow of unemployment are things to be considered. But one thing is sure: it's foolish to bank this country's future on manufacturing jobs, as foolish as horse and buggy owners defying auto companies.
Wednesday, November 7, 2018
The past two years have been utterly disastrous for anyone in this country on the left as Donald Trump has barreled his way through history, dispensing lies, brags and bigoted comments while attempting to destroy every possible legacy of Barack Obama's presidency. And while he has always not always been successful on that score (Obamacare is still hanging in there), he has trashed treaties, cut taxes for the rich and appointed judges in a manner that has horrified any progressive brave enough to pay attention. And all the while the majority Republican party in congress has encouraged him while shrugging off every racist or sexist comment he has made, caring only about scoring political wins and ignoring his trashing of not only presidential norms, but the norms of basic human dignity. The build up to the mid term elections showed the president at his absolute worst, making false promises of a middle class tax cut coming from an out of session congress(!), claiming(despite numerous constitutional scholars disagreeing) that he could rescind the 14th Amendment guarantee of birthright citizenship by presidential order, and worst of all, demonizing a caravan of Central American refugees making their way to the American border, saying that they were an "invasion", claiming without proof that the caravan contained middle easterners, and implying that they would somehow force their way into the country to commit crimes. He even sent thousands of American troops to the border "to deal with" this so called invasion, in an obscene bit of racist political theater paid for with hundreds of millions of our tax dollars.
Thankfully, his horrible tactics mostly failed; last Tuesday the Democrats regained a majority in The House of Representatives, the first time that they have held a majority there in eight years. While the Republicans strengthened their hold on the Senate, that was expected because most of those races were in conservative states that almost never elect Democrats (that said Ted Cruz winning reelection in Texas was certainly a painful blow).
So the Democrats have only one house of congress, what can they do? Well, quite a bit actually; they now will be able to carry out investigations of all the corruption that Trump and his family have carried out in the past two years that Republicans have ignored. From his violation of the Emoluments clause of the Constitution to the numerous economic ties that his family members have with foreign governments, there's a lot to dig through. And Democrats will soon have the power of the subpoena as a way to force testimony out of those family members, along with any other corrupt members of the Trump administration who now will be held to accountability. They also may be able to compel the president to release his tax returns, something that will probably play out in the courts but is certainly worth a shot.
The Democrats can also pass legislation in the house that may not survive in the Senate, but that will force Republican Senators to go on the record as voting against popular issues like raising the minimum wage. Heck, they may even be able to pass things that Trump will sign, like a much needed infrastructure spending bill.
They can also vote to impeach the president, but seeing as how they will need a super majority in the Senate to actually remove him from office (and that's pretty much impossible), it would mostly be an empty gesture. A more likely scenario is that a frightened Trump, forced to reveal his tax returns and being investigated for his many shady looking financial schemes over the years, could resign rather than suffer the humiliation that would come from a full investigation. Sure, it may not seem likely, but then the idea that an unqualified Reality TV star actually becoming president on a wave of bigotry seemed impossible three years ago. If the Trump presidency has taught us anything, it's that now almost anything is possible in American politics. Hang on, our highly conflicted country is about to start fighting again.
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
One of the most infuriating things about the unlikely rise of Donald Trump is how hard it is to publicly oppose him. As he whittled his way through the fifteen other Republicans for the nomination back during the primary campaign, their frustration was almost palpable: his childish bullying and insults had to answered to, but there was no easy way. Calling him a liar and a bully just seemed to make him double down, while ignoring him looked weak. When Senator Marco Rubio attempted some childish insults of his own, none of them sticked. And Hillary Clinton, of course, ran into the same problem during the campaign. At one point she said that “to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it.” This statement was treated as a huge misstep, practically a scandal. Meanwhile, Trump would say things like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were the co founders of ISIS, or lead chants of "Lock her up" at his rallies, and there was just an acceptance of Trump being Trump.
America really wasn't ready for a candidate like Trump; how does one shame a man who clearly has never felt shame in anything he has ever done in his entire life. No other political figure has lied so openly and so often, refusing to stop and demanding that his version of reality is the absolute truth through sheer force of will. And who's misogynistic and bigoted statements are not only accepted but actually cheered on by his base who see those characteristics as features and not bugs. While I always bristle at people on either side of the political fence comparing the other side to Adolf Hitler, I do think it's fair to say that Trump is the the closest thing to an outright fascist that this country has ever had. From his strongman statements ("I alone can fix it!"), to his admiration of dictators like Kim Jong Un and Rodrigo Duterte, to his attacks on the free press (“What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”), this man sees himself in almost god like terms.
So how do you fight against someone like that? Recently, Senator Elizabeth Warren tried something that backfired: she got a DNA test proving that she may have some Native American relatives in her past. Why? Because when she worked at Yale, the school mentioned that she was the first woman of color to get tenure, citing her Native American ancestry. For this, she was roundly mocked by conservatives, and Trump, never one to pass up a chance to use a bigoted insult, began calling her "Pocahontas" repeatedly. He even offered to give a million dollars to charity if she would take a DNA test proving her heritage. Warren's attempt to call his bluff backfired because she didn't run the test by some Native American groups, who, not surprisingly, were not thrilled about her using their culture as a political football. Meanwhile, the president just kept insulting her, shrugging off her demand to give the promised money to charity, which was to be expected by such an intrinsically dishonest man. Basically, her attempt to sink to his level and wrestle with the Trump pig just left her muddy.
Personally, I think the last thing that the Democrats should do is try to out Trump Trump. Consider that Clinton lost partly due to interference by the Russians, combined with that last second memo to congress from James Comey that revived her email scandal just days before the election. And she still won the popular vote by around three million. Really, it was an absurd bank shot of narrow victories in the right states that propelled Trump to the White House. And his approval ratings have never been particularly high, even with the current strong economy. Remember that America elected Barack Obama twice because he was smart, capable, charismatic and honest; he never took the low road in either election. So let Trump lie, brag and bloviate to his base; meanwhile find a candidate for 2020 who can appeal to the same people that voted for Obama (like Senator Kamala Harris, or perhaps Warren herself if she can get beyond this silly story), and hope that the Russians don't find a way to hack the election again.
Sunday, October 7, 2018
The New York Times recently ran a lengthy article that took a long look at the finances of President Trump and came to a conclusion that should surprise no one who's been following the man's unlikely path to The White House: that he has been lying about the source of his wealth.
Of all the literally thousands of falsehoods that Trump has been saying for years, this one may be the the one that he has repeated the most. He has often held himself up as the embodiment of the American dream, the hard working, successful businessman who built a multi billion dollar empire out of a "small" loan of a million dollars from his father. While always absurd on the face of it (since when is a million dollars a small loan, especially when it was given fifty years ago?), we now know that it's another example of Trump's con artist nature and massive ego creating a mythical world in which he has almost god like powers of success. In fact, according to the article, Trump was already a millionaire at age eight! And time and time again, his father was there to bail him out as he stumbled from one failed business venture to another, surviving six bankruptcies and terrible ideas (Trump steaks? Trump water? Trump university?). He even tried to have his father's will rewritten shortly before his death to gain more power and money to bail him out yet again. There is nothing self made about this man.
In fact he is, put simply, the living embodiment of everything wrong with American capitalism: the rich get richer and poor get poorer. The American ideal is that with hard work and determination, anyone can be a success. But what about the children of those who have had success? While it's reasonable to want your children to be well provided for, is it right for them to raised in a way where their every desire can be met and every problem can be bought away? Where prep schools train them for entrance into ivy league colleges that they very well may not even deserve to go to? Where a family business can lead to a cushy job that others would have to put in years of experience to get? Has our reverence for the American dream led us to have our own form of royalty, a tiny elite of super rich brats who rule over the rest of us because of the station of their birth and little else?
We've gone down this road before: when I hear about Trump's life of enormous wealth and privilege, I can't help but think about our last Republican President, George W Bush. Not only were both born wealthy, but they also lived lives of entitlement and privilege: they both found ways to avoid serving in Viet Nam (Bush served in the Champagne Unit of the National guard, so named because of the number of rich kids in it, Trump had a mysterious bone spur in his foot), attended Ivy League schools without earning the right to (Bush was a wealthy Yale legacy, Trump transferred to Wharton Business School after a family member intervened on his behalf) have been able to shrug off years of behavior that would have disqualified many presidential candidates (Bush's drinking led to a DUI and a Drunken Disorderly arrest, Trump's womanizing saw him accused of sexually assaulting nineteen different women). They both won Republican presidential nominations through dubious means (when Bush was running against John Mc Cain in 2000, somebody spread a vicious rumor about his adopted daughter, while Trump openly accused Ted Cruz's father of somehow being involved in the Kennedy assassination!), lost the popular vote and yet swaggered into office basking in the new power that their privileged birth right had won them. They then both began cutting taxes for wealthy families like theirs, doing nothing to aid the nation's poor and middle class. They even both have attacked affirmative action, ignoring the role that their race, money and power had in their own lives. And their complete and utter lack of any empathy for people not having the pampered childhoods that they had was (and is) often apparent. It should be remembered that even in the era of crazed Trump press conferences, George W Bush's statement on Hurricane Katrina, in which he reminisced about his drinking days in New Orleans and expressed regret over his rich friend Senator Trent Lott losing his summer home (!) in the disaster, while thousands were left dead or left with nothing, ranks as one of the most tone deaf and thoughtless presidential addresses ever. Almost as bad, Trump as president has gone to disaster sites and bragged about the turnout or told people to "have fun". Like all psychopaths, the man is incapable of caring for anyone else but himself.
So what can we do about these smug elites buying their way through life? Well, back in the 1950's, the top tax rate on the wealthiest people in this country was a whopping 89%. Flush with cash, the government spent that money on three things: education, infrastructure and scientific research. The result was the largest growth in the size of the middle class in this nations history. Sadly, that shared prosperity ended in the 1980's, with Ronald Reagan's deep tax cut for the rich, combined with his assault on unions, beginning a steep decline in the well being of the middle class and a growth in the rich and super rich. Although right now progressive taxation seems crazy given Trump's latest trillion and half dollar tax cut/hand out to the rich, there will come a day when common sense will finally assert itself in this country, and the wealthy elites like Trump and Bush that buy their way into power will find themselves slightly less well off. And I hope that all they will be able to do is throw a tantrum about it, like the spoiled brats they are.
Thursday, September 27, 2018
Women are inherently deceitful. They will lie repeatedly to bring down powerful men and increase their own finances and social standing. This is one of the core beliefs of Donald Trump. After the release of the Access Hollywood tape in which he bragged about sexually assaulting women, nineteen different women came forward and accused him of assaulting them in much the same manner that he was heard talking about. He immediately said they were all lying, threatened to sue them, and, of course, even publicly insulted the physical appearance of one of them. Later, when serious allegations of his extra marital affairs with a porn star and a Playboy centerfold and his possibly illegal payoffs to those women arose, he again shrugged them off. More women just lying, as we all know they always do.
And those are just the women he believes are lying about him. He has also expressed sympathy for sexual harassers Bill O'Reilly and Roger Aisles, his former Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who abused his ex wife, and Senatorial candidate Roy Moore, who was credibly accused of having sexual contact with teenage girls. He openly endorsed Moore, again shrugging off the accusers; even more lying women.
Which leads to the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination. With his long history of Republican partisanship and conservative pedigree, along with the slim but strong majority his party holds in the Senate, it looked like he would be an easy lock for the court. But now, three women have come forward to allege that in his high school and college days, Kavanaugh drank heavily and assaulted girls or tried to get them under the influence of drugs and alcohol so that he could take advantage of them. Christine Blasey Ford claims that he himself assaulted her, while the two other women describe his aggressive behavior when drunk. He has, for his part, denied the whole thing, and the Republican party has either said they believe him, or that it happened a long time ago, so who cares? (Which, of course, means that he's lying in his denial). Remember that Kavanaugh was a spoiled prep school athlete, and he has admitted to over drinking in both high school and college. Is the notion that his drunken behavior often led to assaulting girls, or treating them like meat for the taking, all that far fetched?
According to Trump they are; as expected, he has defended Kavanaugh and, while not he did not outright call these women liars, he has claimed that the Democrats are pulling "a con job." “People want fame, they want money, they want whatever.” he said in a recent press conference. There's one small problem to this: despite what Trump wants to believe, decades of studies have shown that the people who make accusations of rape or sexual assault are very rarely lying. In fact, most cases go unreported, or, as in the case of Ford's accusations, are made years later, after much suffering and pain. The notion that Ford is doing this just for money or fame is absurd: she was reluctant to come forward, knowing that the media attention would often be critical (or downright insulting), but she still felt that she should be heard. And she and her family has inevitably been hit with death threats, something that Trump naturally, hasn't mentioned, because any sympathy he feels is for the "very outstanding" Kavanaugh, not Ford.
As it stands, it looks like Kavanaugh will weather this storm and the narrow Republican majority in the Senate will vote to put him on the court for the rest of his life. This means that a president who has been accused of multiple sexual assaults may put on the court another accused assaulter who very well may rule to overturn a woman's right to an abortion in this country, joined in that opinion by justice Clarence Thomas, another man accused of sexual harassment. And the Republican party will be enshrined not just as a safe place for bigots and homophobes, but also for misogynists.
Saturday, September 15, 2018
Imagine if a new organization were formed to comment on the various political and social issues of the day. Now imagine if that organization's founders openly declared that no woman would ever have any position of authority there. Oh sure, women could join the group, play a role as secretaries and other minor positions, (and, of course, donations from women would be accepted), but every decision ever made by that group would be made by men and men only, from the top down. And that this group of men would announce that any use of birth control is wrong, and that women's only choices in life are either celibacy or a marriage in which they will inevitably be constantly pregnant.
Now imagine if an educational organization that sent tutors to help out children in low achieving schools were rocked by scandals over some of those tutors being accused of molesting the children they were supposed to be helping. To make matters even worse, what if the administrators who ran the organization were aware of the accusations made against those tutors, and did nothing to investigate those accusations, even going so far as to send accused tutors from one school to another without a word about the allegations against them endangering innocent children. Picture this going on for decades, with literally hundreds of pedophiles molesting thousands of children without punishment.
Now look at the Catholic Church, an organization that has done all of the above and more (the Inquisition, part of the church for centuries, tortured and killed thousands for the crime of heresy, but that was a long time ago, so I guess we're supposed to ignore that). There is no way that any secular organization with a list of horrible behavior anywhere near the Catholic Church's could possibly survive. Why do we give religious institutions such leeway? Why are they allowed to openly discriminate and ignore crimes in a way no corporation could?
Religion is, quite simply, such a deep primal thing, something that has such a hold on so many people, that just turning away from it is almost unthinkable for them, no matter what. Many of the first artistic images created by ancient humans were religious in nature, and every civilization has created some kind of belief system in gods and/or goddesses, with some even willing to sacrifice their lives to a higher power. That is how much strength religion has over people; it defines us to our very core. And that especially goes for an institution like the Catholic Church, which has a history that goes back centuries and that has spread to every corner of the globe. That's why it's entirely possible for someone to condemn the history of the Catholic Church, be sickened by the recent molestation scandal, completely disagree with the church's stance on birth control and abortion, and still attend church each week and drop money in the collection plate. The good feeling that human beings have evolved to get from spiritual belief on a personal level, a feeling that is usually engrained in us as children, often beats the sick feeling one gets when viewing a church's history as a whole. The logical part of our brain and the spiritual part do not often agree, which can lead to such seemingly contradictory behavior.
But there is a slow but steady drumbeat of people in first world countries moving away from religion. Although the Catholic Church still stands at over a billion members worldwide, more and more people are responding "none of the above" when asked their religious affiliation in both the US and Europe. And perhaps more pointedly, many members of a church are openly disagreeing with that church's teachings, like when the heavily Catholic country of Ireland voted in favor of gay marriage and abortion rights recently Despite the grip religion can have a hold on people, scandals like the ones the Catholic Church is going through can take their toll. Personally, I hope that these continuing scandals, along with the world's evolving views on women's rights and homosexuality, lead institutions like the Catholic Church to start changing their views or fading slowly away. I for one won't miss them.
Tuesday, September 4, 2018
TRUMP VISITS GOLF COURSE WHILE WASHINGTON MOURNS MCCAIN
The headline above from the September 1st edition of The New York Times perfectly illustrates the utterly classless and indifferent way that President Trump responded to the death of Republican Senator and war veteran John McCain. Not only did he spend time playing golf (something that he once criticized President Obama for doing) during the funeral, he also found time to tweet out his usual dose of lies, boasts and insults while the proceedings were taking place. Because even the death of one of the most admired politicians in the country can't stop Trump from thinking about himself. It is fitting that McCain pointedly forbade Trump from attending his funeral services, seeing as how he once turned a speech at his own father's funeral into yet another excuse to brag about himself!
The death of McCain at age 81 from brain cancer is more than a tragedy, it's a sad symbol of what has really died in Washington since Trump took that fateful escalator ride more than two years ago: simple human decency. McCain had a hot temper, was mostly a down the line conservative, and he was a constant defender of the disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq. But he was also a decent man who was willing to cross the political aisle to cut deals and build friendships. He was outspoken in his (sadly doomed) attempt to cut down the influence of big money in politics. And along with his war record, I will always admire him for three things: when, during the 2008 presidential campaign, he corrected a woman in the crowd who called Obama a Muslim, when he withdrew his (already reluctant) endorsement of then candidate Trump after the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape, and, of course, when he voted against the Senate's attempts to repeal Obamacare, which would have resulted in tens of millions of people losing their health care.
At the same time, McCain provided a bridge to the disastrous state that the country is in right now: in the 2008 campaign, when McCain's initial choice of vice presidential candidate, Independent Senator Joe Lieberman, was killed by the party because Lieberman was pro choice, McCain picked the mostly unknown governor of Alaska Sarah Palin as his running mate. While she proved to be a terrible choice for the campaign, her plain spoken manner made her very popular in the party. And as the campaign went on, her misstatements and lack of knowledge, combined with her willingness to embrace the more radical elements of the party (she once accused Obama of "palling around with terrorists") endeared her even more to the Republican base.
Is it any surprise that eight years later the party was ready to embrace an unexperienced, insulting, blunt talker as its standard bearer? And, in typical take no prisoners fashion, is it any surprise that Palin herself endorsed Trump, even after he had personally attacked McCain's war record? By 2016, McCain himself, was already a dinosaur, a remembrance of time when hyper partisanship wasn't the only thing driving the Republican party, as the often openly bigoted Trump wing of the party swept up behind the openly bigoted candidate.
The good news is that, while Trump remains popular with the Republican base, the number of people in that base is shrinking: recently, Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich admitted in an interview that "We’re now down to about 25 percent. It’s all becoming like a remnant." If any good can come from the Trump presidency, it may be that his open bigotry and conspiracy mongering may well whittle down the Republican party to only a few remaining lunatics in the future. But, for now, those lunatics are running the Washington asylum. And they can do a lot of damage.