Republicans crushed, now a minor third party in California

 

While Trump and his ever-smaller, beleaguered cult are crowing about gubernatorial elections in Florida and Georgia they “won” through voter suppression by Republican officials, here’s a story about real victories that are causing heartburn in Republican circles.

California—the fifth-largest economy in the world, the nation’s biggest, richest state, successfully governed by Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats for the last eight years, leader in the fight against climate change, and with a $40 billion surplus*—took the Blue Wave and made it a Blue Tsunami.

  • Super-Democratic majorities in both state houses.
  • All state elected officials are Democrats.
  • The Bay Area no longer has a single Republican congressperson—and guess who else doesn’t?
  • Orange County, home of modern Republican conservatism, where the John Birch Society was born, whose money has fueled Republican campaign coffers for decades, the beating heart of Reagan Country. Orange County’s seven congressional seats, long Republican, have been swept clean of Trumpism. All seven representatives are now Democratic.

Let that sink in. Orange County. Red to blue overnight.

This is a revolution of unprecedented scope and importance. California—from north to south and east to west—has utterly repudiated the Republican Party. It has vomited them out, and for one reason, and one reason only:

Trump.

Almost every elected official who had anything to do with him went down to crushing defeat. Trump is so toxic in California, people would vote for Ebola over him. This tale isn’t just about Democratic bragging rights about our victories–although we have every right–but California Republicans, shell-shocked into finally telling the truth they tried so long and so hard to avoid. They include Kristin Olsen, who was the Republican leader in the California Assembly. Now the de facto coroner for the California Republican Party, her official verdict is: “The Grand Old Party is dead [and] isn’t salvageable.”

They didn’t just lose. They’re dead.

I am cutting my own commentary short today because of the importance of reading the Politico article (here’s the link again) and if you have the time, Ms. Olsen’s, too (here’s that link), which was published in the San Francisco Chronicle.

See you tomorrow.

* This includes the official state surplus plus a “rainy day fund” Brown instituted–roughly 50% each.

A lesson Trump could learn from Churchill (but won’t)

 

In the early Fall of 1938, the leaders of Great Britain, France and Italy met in Germany with Hitler, where they acceded to his demand that Czechoslovakia be dismembered, its Sudetenland region to pass to German control. This was the famous Munich Agreement, to which the Czechs themselves were not even invited, even though their country was being destroyed by others.

This Munich Agreement came to be understood as “appeasement,” now a dirty word in politics. But at the time, following the ghastly slaughter of World War I, Europe was horrified by the prospects of another war, and the Munich Agreement was seen by most as a wise and careful keeping-of-the-peace on the Continent.

No one saw it this way more than the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. When he came back to London bearing the signed protocol, he declared, to a cheering crowd, “I have returned from Germany with peace for our time.” It surely was one of the more unfortunate statements any world leader ever made.

At least one British politician wasn’t buying it. Winston Churchill then was not in the government; he merely represented his district, Epping, near London. For the previous four or five years, Churchill had warned Parliament, his fellow countrymen and anyone who would listen of the growing Hitler menace. Few cared. The period 1934-1949 has been called Churchill’s “years in the wilderness” because, out of power, disliked by many in Parliament, a bit of a showboat, he was perceived as a rather excitable, cranky and dangerous old man, ranting (albeit in memorable phrases) about a Germany few Englishmen felt any reason to fear.

After Chamberlain returned from Munich, Churchill, on Oct. 5, 1938, gave a remarkable speech in the House of Commons. It was a scathing indictment of the Prime Minister. Churchill’s best biographer, Roy Jenkins, calls it “a speech of power and intransigence.” Among its more memorable phrases: “We have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat…the utmost [Chamberlain] has been able to gain for Czechoslovakia…has been that the German dictator, instead of snatching the victuals from the table, has been content to have them served to him course by course…All is over. Silent, mournful, abandoned, broken, Czechoslovakia recedes into the darkness.”

 Churchill suffered immediately from the speech. Even his Parliamentary friends thought it intemperate and unfair to “the Prince of Peace,” as many were calling Chamberlain. His re-election prospects in Epping dimmed. Churchill himself called this episode “one of the major political crises” he had ever experienced (although he was returned to office). Jenkins, the biographer—no political slouch himself, he rose to be Chancellor of the Exchequer–in analyzing this period writes with insight of the balancing act Churchill had at that time to perform: he must respect his constituents’ views, on the one hand (and his Epping constituents were pro-peace and pro-Chamberlain), while on the other hand remaining true to his ideals and beliefs. Churchill chose, in that speech, to side with the handful of militants who believed Chamberlain had sold out a tiny country in the name of appeasing a menacing dictator.

“Politics,” writes Jenkins, “could hardly function without militants. But the difficulty of sustaining enthusiasm without giving militants excessive power has been one of the perennial problems of democratic government.”

Meaning that the wise politician, who aims to be re-elected while simultaneously and hopefully making a mark in History, needs his militants to provide the energy of political support that wins elections. But that politician has to recognize that militants may contain the seeds of their, and his own, destruction. Churchill, throughout his long (55 years) career in Parliament, was not always the most cautious politician, and often found himself in trouble, McCain-like, with his own party. But he did manage successfully to negotiate the shoals of the political vicissitudes that blew in England during his turbulent years of service. Whenever he tacked too far one way, he corrected course, and this kept him alive.

We have now, in America, a leader decidedly not in the Churchillian mold, either rhetorically, or with anywhere near the same political skills not to mention basic human decency. Trump would have profited from reading Jenkins’ advice to keep your militants close but not allow them to write his entire playbook. I understand, as a student of history and politics, that Trump had to play to the Tea Party, evangelicals and neo-nazis, in order to get elected. But once he did get elected, he ought to have realized z fundamental principle of politics: When you have your base by the short hairs, move to the middle. Where else could his white-nationalist right flank go, if he turned in a more moderate direction? He might even broaden his base. Bill Clinton understood this implicitly when, for instance, he criticized Sista Souljah. He knew that some Lefties and African-Americans would be pissed. But who else did they have?

Donald Trump needs a Sista Souljah moment but he’s not going to have one, because he can’t allow any daylight between himself and the cult of Fox “News,” Breitbart, Limbaugh and the rest of the right wing propaganda machine. He doesn’t understand what a great favor he’d do for himself if, say, he supported the recounts in Georgia and Florida, or if he condemned Steve King’s overt racism, or if he had a few kind words to say about transgendered people (probably, Ivanka could dig up a few), or if he admitted that he’s been wrong, climate change is a big problem and is exacerbated by human activity. If he did any of these things, the Right would howl, but stick with him, while Democrats would have to publicly praise him. He might even salvage a few independents.

But he can’t, for two reasons. First, he doesn’t possess the political skills. Secondly, and more importantly, he can’t repudiate the more egregious sins of his base, because he believes in the same things. He really is a racist. He really is a homophobe. He really does support white nationalists like Alex Jones, and he really does believe in suppressing minority voting. Trump is no Churchill, obviously. He isn’t even a Bill Clinton. He isn’t like anything we’re known before. But he is like, or aspires to be like, the man whom Churchill, in his wilderness, warned the world about.

Put on your Hazmat suit and Sewer Boots, we’re visiting The Daily Stormer

 

Stepping into dogshit isn’t the most pleasurable thing, but journalists sometimes have to subject themselves to nasty experiences in order to understand and report what’s really happening. It was in this intrepid spirit of discovery that I visited the website of The Daily Stormer [TDS], which calls itself “the most censored publication in history.”

I don’t know that that characterization is accurate; at any rate, the “other” most censored publications in history—Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Tropic of Cancer, Lolita, The Satanic Verses—are High Literature, whereas The Daily Stormer is the dogshit to which I referred. But as I say, in the spirit of journalism, I offer you this brief description of it, so that you, yourself, don’t have to go there.

Most of TDS’s articles are on these topics:

Pro-Trump

Anti-European

Anti-Immigrant

Pro-Homophobia

Anti-Media [except for fox]

Anti-Black

Pro-Nationalism

Anti-Semitism

of which the last, anti-Semitism, constitutes the core of TDS’s raison d’etre. The attacks on Jews are truly bizarre: it’s not in the particulars, which vary from day to day, but in the psychoneurotic obsession the site’s writers have with Jews. Do they secretly envy us? Hitler too suffered from this obsession; it drove him insane, and because nobody stopped him, 80 million people died, large tracts of Europe were reduced to rubble, and Germany ceased to exist as a country.

Trump may have a similar legacy; we’ll see. In the meantime, if there were a satiric publication that pretended to be anti-semitic, a sort of Colbert Report parody of race-baiting violence, TDS would qualify. It’s so patently ridiculous–think Mad Magazine–that you can hardly believe these people are serious. “Jewish Comic Book Propagandist Stan Lee Finally Dies.” I mean, really?

 The National Enquirer achieved its reputation for satiric humor with funny headlines like “Supreme Court Justice Scalia Murdered By A Hooker.” Intelligent people understood that the Enquirer’s stories were fake, and that its headlines were written by very talented, rather cynical New Yorkers who knew how to catch shopper’s eyes. What we didn’t know (but do now) was that the Enquirer’s publisher, David Pecker, was a closet supporter of Trump; Pecker’s lies were meant to influence feeble-minded, low-information white people to hate on Democrats.

The Daily Stormer is the online equivalent of The National Enquirer. Much creative effort goes into crafting its articles  in a way that maximally excites white, rightwing nationalists. TDS’s publisher, Andrew Anglin, works in the David Pecker mold, with an additional twist: his idol is Josef Goebbels, Hitler’s chief propagandist, who invented many of the modern techniques of inciting race hatred amongst the neurotic, frightened masses.

(Standup segue: Here’s a headline inspired by the National Enquirer and The Daily Stormer: Neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin Caught in Gay Sex Orgy With Eric and Donald Trump Junior)

The name, Daily Stormer, was appropriated by Anglin from the newspaper Der Sturmer, one of the Nazi Party’s favorite rags (which, incidentally, Hitler privately ridiculed). TDS’s connection with Nazis stems directly from Anglin’s fascination with them; his most memorable quote is By the Grace of God, I found Adolf Hitler.”

I have found myself lately caught up in debates over what constitutes free speech. Rightwingers have criticized my writings concerning Isabella Chow, the conservative Christian who is leading the anti-transgender fight on the U.C. Berkeley campus. Her supporters ask me why I would censor Chow but allow, say, Bernie Sanders to speak on campus. My response has been that not all “free” speech is equal. We do not allow certain forms of speech that are based on inciting violence. You can’t tweet that you want to kill Trump without expecting a nasty visit from the Secret Service.

Free speech is an important issue, and we do have to tread cautiously when we make decisions about what’s allowed and what isn’t. When all those social media companies—Facebook, YouTube, Apple, Spotify—removed Alex Jones’ (Info Wars) content, they certainly engaged in censorious behavior: let’s be clear about that. But they made the decision—correctly, in my judgment—that preventing the violence Jones’ comments provoke outweighs in importance protecting his free speech rights.

Surely we can agree with their decision: some forms of expression have to be eliminated to protect domestic tranquility, a phrase the Founders included in the Preamble to the Constitution, by which they meant that peace, calm, and law and order ought to prevail in America, for the benefit of all. When you have voices like Jones’, Anglin’s, Chow’s and, yes, Trump’s instigating hatred and fear, that is the opposite of “peace and calm.” They provoke, not domestic tranquility, but domestic terrorism. Unless you desire domestic unrest—which can lead only to the worst possible outcome—you have to be in favor of silencing these voices. If you had a wound you wouldn’t keep picking at it; you’d leave it alone to let the body’s natural defenses heal you. Same thing: Jones, Anglin, Chow, Trump, they all pick at America’s wounds. They don’t want healing.

But why not? They, themselves, are not honest enough to admit their motives, leaving the rest of us to infer what they’re really up to. Here’s my suspicion: they want civil war. They really do. They think their young white thugs are tougher, stronger, more numerous and better equipped at warfare than we snowflake, elite, gay coastal liberals, if it comes to shooting. That’s where things stand: and with each passing day, I sense what’s coming: open battles in the streets in America, the immediate spark being the Right’s insistence that nothing happen to Trump no matter what criminal activities Mueller proves him to have committed. The rest of us—the majority–will insist on Justice being done. Justice will not be done, if Trump and his brownshirts prevail. The clash will be a stark illustration of that old, rhetorical question: “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?” We’re about to find out.

 

Hating on trans folk: The moral collapse of the Christian right

 

My blog on transphobia, published yesterday, was highly critical of a University of California, Berkeley student named Isabella Chow, who claims to be a loving Christian but is one of the leaders on her campus to marginalize transgendered people and deprive them of their rights. After I published an open letter to her on her Facebook page, her friends rushed to her defense. They offered the most pitifully weak rationales for siding with her—rationales that a six-year old could easily destroy. But for me, the most objectionable is their theory, constantly resurrected by rightwing religious extremists, that the Founding Fathers were bible-thumping Christians, the implication being that America is a Christian nation.

Nothing is more unacceptable to those who understand History, and who respect our Constitution.

I don’t know what educational level Chow’s friend, Jonathan Sarfati, has reached, but his ignorance of our country’s roots is profound. (His spelling and factual errors suggest a limited education.) He wrote:

This [First] amendment [to the Constitution] was to marginaliza [sic] the government [sic], not Christians. When Jefferson talked about the extra-constitutional [?] phrase of separation of church and state, he was talking about protecting the church from being invaded by the state.

Can you believe it? Here’s what the First Amendment actually says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”. It seems to me, and I would think all reasonable people would agree, that this twofold proposition grants to religion the freedom not to be interfered with by government, and grants the American people the right not to have the Congress (the lawmaking branch of government) interfered with by religion.

That’s a wise solution to an old problem: our Founders really got it right. But it’s easy to see that religious fanatics like Sarfati believe only in the first part of the equation (no government interference in religion) but not the second (no religious interference in government). And, in fact, they allege that any attempt to limit religious interference in government represents governmental interference in religion! How weird is that? It’s like saying that if a cop arrests a crook, the cop is interfering in that crook’s freedom!

Of course, these radical Christians want to protect the ability of their particular religion to interfere in government. That’s why they elect fanatics, like Marsha Blackburn, to Congress. They want their religion to influence the debate on gay rights, on abortion, on taxes (Does Jesus really have a position on tax rates?), on the rights of corporations as opposed to the rights of the people (Was Jesus in favor of Citizens United?), on protecting the environment, on creches in front of City Halls, on Christian crosses on public lands, on forcing school children to accept Christian prayers in the classroom, on Trump’s Muslim ban, and on almost every issue you can name. They want to reshape the laws of America so that they foster evangelical/fundamentalist/Catholic/Mormon values, not democratic, pluralistic ones.

Another of Chow’s friends accused me, predictably, of being a Christian-basher. I replied, No, I’m not. Jesus was a Jew; as a Jew, I love his teachings. It’s what the church later became that is offensive. There are many branches of Christianity I respect: Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Quakers, in fact any Christian branch that welcomes LGBTQ people. But I an unalterably opposed to the rightwing, Trump-affiliated, homophobic sects, of which the leaders are Catholics, Mormons, evangelicals and fundamentalists.

People like Chow and Sarfati want government to keep its hands off religion (well, their religion, anyway). But they want their religion to get its hands all over our government. (By the way, the Chow-Sarfati argument that religions in America should be free of government interference clearly doesn’t apply to non-Christian religions, such as Islam, Wicca, Native American, etc., which these Christian extremists, led by the former agnostic, now newly-born Christian, Donald Trump, would like to see extirpated from our shores. It’s also bizarre that Chow, who I believe is of Chinese descent, apparently has forgotten that the Chinese were the LGBTQ community of California 150 years ago–hated and discriminated against by–guess who?–Christians!)

Another defense of Chow that is being peddled by her friends is that she’s a decent, loving Christian woman who has only the warmest and most tender feelings towards LGBTQ people. Here, for instance, is Amanda Raghunandan, advancing this howler: “[Chow] has not bashed the lgbtq community, she has been polite in explaining her stance. However, for doing so she has been bashed and harassed by the students at UC Berkeley.”

As I wrote yesterday, this is reminiscent of the Spanish inquisitor, Torquemada, “praying for the souls of ‘heretics’ even as he stretched them on the rack, waterboarded them, tore out their entrails, and set fire to the kindling (the ‘faggots’) upon which their bodies were bound.” I can see Chow saying “I love you” to a gay person, even as she gives them electroshock conversion “therapy.”

The Spanish Inquisition started a war against “heretics,” mainly Jews and Protestants, a war they could not and did not win, and that has stained the Roman Catholic church with a deserved reputation for violence and truth-squashing—a stain that mars the church to this very day, when they have spent billions of dollars defending pedophile priests and covering up their indefensible sexual crimes against children. How anyone could conceivably still view the Roman Catholic church as a legitimate institution, worthy of respect, is beyond me; and I will add fundamentalist/evangelical Christianity and Mormonism to that list of deplorables.

We have got to recognize that there are dangerous people in this country, self-identifying as Christian, who pose a clear and present danger to our way of life. I’ve had it up to here with trying to be reasonable with them, with trying to bargain with them, with trying to teach them that LGBTQ peoples’ rights are worth defending. I mean, their favorite president is a serial adulterer, and they don’t care! I’ve had it up to here listening to their nonsense about the bible, a concoction of fairy tales. I’ve had it up to here with them trying to sneak their hatred and prejudice into our laws. They have to be resisted—indeed, that is one of the main tent-poles of The Resistance against Trump. And let’s remember this: The Resistance just won the midterms in a massive, historic, still-building Blue Wave! So Chow, Sarfati, Raghunandan and all who would destroy American democracy and create a theocracy: you have been repudiated by the great majority of the American people. We don’t want you! Please go away. Nurse your grievances within the halls of your churches and prayer groups, and leave the rest of us alone!

Election 2018: The Aftermath

 

There is great rejoicing in California over Tuesday’s election results. Gavin Newsom easily won the Governorship in a landslide over his hapless, colorless Republican opponent, and now finds himself on the national stage—albeit a very crowded one—of prominent young Democrats with promising futures.

Dianne Feinstein also won, although only by eight points (over her Democratic opponent, Kevin de Leon, the two Democrats being the result of a curious law California passed that has the two top candidates in the primaries run against each other in the General regardless of party). A lot of people voted for de Leon (I did) not out of anger at Feinstein but simply because, at the age of eighty-five, she seems a bit tired, while de Leon, a mere stripling at 51, is more progressive than Feinstein, and far more energetic.

But the best news is that Democrats regained the House of Representatives. Not by the margin I might have wished, but a win is a win, and Nancy Pelosi likely will once again wield the Speaker’s gavel—much to the rage of the neo-nazis at Breitbart, who have swallowed Trump’s fiction that the election was a “victory” for Republicans. To paraphrase an old saying, with “victories” like that, they don’t need defeats. I heard Elijah Cummings, who will be the new chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, on NPR yesterday after the election, and in his mild-mannered way he guaranteed that there will be investigations into Trump, the Trump family, the Trump Cabinet and emoluments. Meanwhile, between Maxine Waters, Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler and other emboldened Democratic chairs (all of whom Trump has repeatedly insulted), numerous hearings (and subpoenas) are about to be launched (after swearing-in day, next January) that will grip the country and put Trump even more on-edge than he normally is, which is very, very much.

He deserves it. I’ve written frequently on the topic of karma, an Eastern concept but one that finds expression in our Western notion of “What goes around, comes around.” Kavanaugh said that in his deranged self-defense before the Senate Judiciary Committee; in his case, he meant it as an hysterical threat (to rule against Democrats simply because they’re Democrats, and not on any judicial merits). In Trump’s case, it’s pure, unadulterated karma. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Trump is about to reap the dark, twisted sickness he has unleashed on the rest of us, and (I say this a bit maliciously, but we Democrats are entitled to some malice after the last two years), it’s going to be a pleasure watching Trump squirm, panic and twist slowly, slowly in the wind.

Finally, somewhat overlooked in the glare of the House victory are Democratic wins for Governor. Dems now have 23 states, seven more than before the election, and there is a distinct possibility that Georgia’s results—clearly illegally manipulated by Kemp—will be overturned. This means, of course, that redistricting in Democratic-run states will now be organized more fairly as we head into the 2020 cycle, thereby further strengthening the Democratic majority in the House. We may not regain the Senate for a while—but with Speaker Pelosi and all those smart, aggressive Democratic committee chairman, Trump is going to have a very bumpy ride. And there’s still Mueller, tick tick tick…

So good work, all of you who voted Democratic! As Pelosi said yesterday, “Democrats are on the right side of the future.” Not “right” as in “rightwing conservative” but “right” as in correct, proper, healthy, sane, progressive. I am convinced that someday, and sooner rather than later, this stain of Trump and Trumpism will be declared an historical catastrophe in America and roundly condemned, much as we now condemn slavery. Someday, generations of Americans, perhaps not yet born, will look back at this era and ask, “How could it have happened?” in much the same way young Germans today wonder how a Hitler could have arisen in their midst. Historians will offer endless theories to explain Trump (as they do to explain Hitler), but sometimes the explanation is as simple as this: Evil exists, and occasionally gets the upper hand.

 

 

 

 

THIS IS IT!!!

 

Amidst all the headlines, this one from Politico is seared into my head:

Democrats traumatized by 2016 are having pre-midterms nightmares

Election Day 2016 was one of those dates, like JFK’s assassination and the Challenger explosion, that I will remember as long as I live. Throughout the Fall of 2016, I’d been addicted to the polls, especially FiveThirtyEight, where Hillary maintained an admittedly slender but significant lead right up to the last moment. But all during September and October I’d had the most dreadful feeling that all was not well. In fact I was so filled with tsouris that on the day before the election I ended up in the hospital with a coronary artery condition. I’d thought it was stress—the shortness of breath, the dizziness—but the doc put me on a treadmill and from there it was straight to the operating room, where they planted two life-saving stents into my chest.

I’m convinced it was all that September-October worrying that clogged up my pipes. And that is the point of the Politico article: 2016 was indeed traumatic, and I doubt if there’s a Democrat in America today who’s not stressing the outcome of these 2018 midterms.

The polls once again look good for Dems, as you know, especially on the House side. I think most of us are resigned to the fact that we’re going to be stuck with that ugly (inside and outside) McConnell in the Senate for a while longer (what a nasty piece of work he is!). But most of us believe equally that the House is ours. So what accounts for this gnawing, pernicious sense of dread?

Because 2016 happened, that’s what. And if it could happen once, it can happen again.

I’ve been surprised—probably you’ve been, too—at how loyal Trump’s base has remained. This has been a very difficult fact to wrap my head around—an inconvenient truth, if you will. My default explanation is that there’s something seriously wrong, psychologically, with Republicans who are still committed to Trump. He is so clearly disgusting and vulgar, so obviously base and evil as a human being, that only somebody as morally corrupt as he is could support him. This is indeed my strong opinion, but its implications are deeply troubling. About 138 million Americans voted in the 2016 election. Let’s say that one-third of them are Trump’s base: that’s 46 million people. Am I really prepared to believe that 46 million Americans are completely, thoroughly immoral and/or insane?

If the answer is “yes,” then I become depressed and demoralized, ready to move to Canada, France, Mexico, anyplace else not overrun by lunatics. If the answer is “no,” then I have to try and put myself into the heads of these 46 million and figure out what the hell they think they’re doing by supporting a sociopath.

This is a hard thing to do. I watch Trump’s MAGA rallies on T.V. and all I can see are screaming, maniacal haters, demonically possessed by something I can’t fathom. There’s something in me that hates them—that wants to ship them all down to Gitmo, lock them up and throw away the key. I realize that this testifies to a certain vengeful insanity in me—but I rationalize it by telling myself that (a) Trump started this and (b) I’m not really going to send them all down to Gitmo, so that fantasy is only me letting off steam.

For me, this argument between red and blue isn’t even so much about Trump’s or Republican policies. I wasn’t entirely turned off by the corporate tax cut: it seems to have stimulated the economy. I’m not entirely unsupportive of tighter border security, and while I don’t have a detailed understanding of environmental issues and their economic consequences, it does seem to me that over-regulating businesses can have a negative impact. I am of course entirely in favor of universal healthcare, and I hate the race-baiting, xenophobia and homophobia of the Republican Party, not to mention their voter-suppression tricks. But there are plenty of areas in which Democrats and Republicans could reach agreement, if bipartisanship were real.

For me, the stumbling block is Trump himself. I’ve seen a lot of bad, evil people in my lifetime, but he really is in a class by himself. The lies, the smears, the bullying—you know the retinue, so I don’t have to repeat them. I’m used to having respectable presidents, Democratic and Republican, men (and only men, so far) who were dignified and comported themselves with decorum. But now we have a president who is the opposite of dignified and decorous, and it grieves me that this man is the face of my country before the world. It grieves me to hear him tell lie after lie after lie, often so blatantly that my chin drops down to my chest in “Did he really say that?” disbelief. It grieves me to see a man so out of touch with his conscience (if he even has one) and so ready to accede to the darkest of his impulses and pander to those of his followers.

If I see Trump that way, why don’t the 46 million?

Yet if my blog has had a consistent message since September, 2016, when I switched the topic from wine to politics, it’s this: Never give up hope! I believe that today the House of Representatives will switch from Republican to Democratic. That is my touchstone, my guiding star. I don’t know about the Senate; I don’t know about governorships (although I’m hopeful Dems will pick up a bunch, and yesterday’s FiveThirtyEight supports this). I don’t know about state legislatures or county or local races. But I do believe that Democrats will pick up at least thirty House seats, and that will be enough to swing the chamber and put, for the first time, an effective check on a criminally rogue president and a low, dishonest Republican Party. Tomorrow evening, I expect to be in full celebration mode.

Now get out there and vote, if you haven’t already!

The day before Election Day: If Lincoln could vote…

 

Exactly one hundred and fifty-eight years ago tomorrow—November 6, 1860–the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, was elected.

The Republican Party had been founded in 1854-1855 for a simple, compelling reason: anti-slavery. Sentiment against slavery and the inclusion of new territories as slave states ran high throughout much of the county (excepting the South, obviously), but Republicans were not the fiercest anti-slavists. That distinction went to the Abolitionists, who were far more militant. Republicans by contrast were moderate on the issue. (Lincoln’s famously squirrelly statement, If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that”, illustrates how soft Republican opposition to slavery actually was.)

Nonetheless Republicans saw themselves as the moral stalwarts of politics, even while their morality was tempered by pragmatism. What strikes the observer today, looking back over those 158 years and considering the plight of the current Republican Party, is how thoroughly the GOP has shed its former idealism. It now resembles nothing so much as the political party that was its arch foe in the mid-1850s: the abysmal Know-Nothings.

This party, centered in Northern cities where Irish, and later German, immigration was highest, focused on anti-immigration issues. Its adherents were the bedrock of traditional Americanism: white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants (which all the Founding Fathers had been). While the new immigrants were Anglo-Saxon, they mostly were Catholics (especially the Irish), at a time when anti-Papism ran hot through the country. The Know-Nothings were called that, not because they were ignoramuses (although many were), but because they refrained from acknowledging their membership in a party of hate that was largely shunned by polite society: if asked, they “knew nothing” about it, wink-wink.

Let’s give credit to the first Republicans for being anti-slavery, as vanilla as it might have been. And yet this plank in their platform—the very reason for their existence—vanished almost as soon as the Civil War ended (1865) and Reconstruction resulted in the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, which decisively ended slavery forever. After that, the Republican Party had to find a new rationale, which it soon did: it became the party of business, a cause with which it is still associated.

This business wing of the Republican Party dominated it for more than a century, culminating in the trio of Harding-Coolidge-Hoover that brought us the Great Depression. Since then—over the last 80 years or so—Republicans have moved steadily rightward, until today, when the difference between them and the old Know-Nothings is barely discernible.

Immigration wasn’t an issue in the young American Republic. Everybody’s antecedents came from somewhere else. When the first waves of Irish arrived (some two million between 1820 and 1860, when the total population of the U.S. was only 31 million), sentiment against them was rampant, although this hatred was as much anti-Catholic as anti-Hibernian. Resentment against “the other” long had manifested itself in America in anti-Negro feelings and practices, but bigotry against other white people was something new; the nation was supposedly based on “All men are created equal,” a tenet difficult to preach if you were practicing exclusion of whole groups of Americans.

The most dexterous (or, some would say, unscrupulous) politicians, however, never had any problems balancing such opposites. Richard Nixon could call for national unity even while practicing a Southern Strategy that clearly appealed to racists by demonizing African-Americans. Ronald Reagan could speak soothingly about “a shining city on a hill,” even though his refusal to recognize the AIDS epidemic resulted in countless, needless deaths. Now, we have the heir to that tradition of hypocrisy, Donald J. Trump, picking up the corpse of Know-Nothingism and breathing it, Frankenstein-like, back to life.

There always is a bit of logic even within the most insane political posturing, and so it was with the Know-Nothings. They feared that if too many Catholics were allowed into the U.S. and permitted to vote, the country would gradually be taken over by the Vatican and ruled by the Pope. This sounds crazy to us, but it was true in the 1850s, and it remains true today, that the Vatican has an outsized influence on American politics despite our First Amendment forbidding a national religion. (For instance, the Catholic Church’s antipathy to homosexuality and abortion appeals to certain intolerant voters, and is frequently decisive, especially when joined with evangelical/fundamentalist forces.) I too am concerned by the Vatican’s conservative influence in our country, particularly given the overrepresented presence of Catholics on the U.S. Supreme Court.

But this recent anti-immigrant frenzy among Republicans contains not even a kernel of logic. There is no reason in reality why the various caravans coming up through Mexico cannot be dealt with efficiently and compassionately by U.S. officials. Well, I take that back: there is one reason, Donald Trump. We long have known that he’s a racist; now, Michael Cohen, his closest confidante for a decade, confirms that. And Trump telegraphs his racism (which encompasses xenophobia) through dog whistles to his base, which pretty much is composed of the same sort of people who belonged to the Know-Nothings.

So it’s come to this bizarre twist: a Republican Party founded on sympathy for enslaved Negroes, and actively opposed to Know-Nothingism, has become a racist party trying to stop or suppress the Black vote, and is as intolerant of immigrants (in this case, brown-skinned and Islamic) as any American political party has ever been. Republicans might do well to remember the fate of the Know-Nothing party: by 1860, it had largely disappeared, rejected by all elements of the body politic. Today, “Know-Nothing” is an epithet used to describe a political movement that in stupidity and bigotry is as bad as any that ever arose in our history.

What would Abraham Lincoln think of Republicans, if he could come back and see what’s happened to his old party? I think he’d be mortified. I think he’d denounce the Republican Party and, while Lincoln was never a very good impugner of character, even those of his political enemies, I think he would find a ripe vocabulary for Trump, in particular. Abraham Lincoln today would be a Democrat.

Vote tomorrow, if you haven’t already! We shall very shortly find out if we can salvage America from the damage Trump and his Know-Nothing cultists have already caused, and rediscover our way back onto the paths of morality and righteousness from which an indecent regime has pulled us, temporarily.

 

 

 

 

Five days until the Election!

 

A lot has happened since pro-trump forces sabotaged my blog for a couple of days, resulting in a message that read THIS SITE HAS BEEN SUSPENDED for anyone who tried to get in.

It’s stupid, of course, for these neo-fascist hackers to imagine that through dirty tricks they can end all the anti-trump news and information flooding the airwaves.* They can’t, and this past week has been a notoriously bad one for trump (whose name I no longer do him the courtesy of capitalizing). Coming off the (alleged) Kavanaugh bump, which had us all worried, trump now is revealed to be the agent provocateur behind both the Sayoc pipe-bomb attempted assassination of the senior leadership of the Democratic Party, and the Bowers mass murder of Jews who, he believed in his tortured fantasies, pace trump, were inspiring illegal immigration.

One can only imagine the impact these revelations have had on the vast majority of American voters, who are decent, fair-minded people (I exclude the Republican base). The Hill reports that trump’s approval rating dropped a precipitous 4 points in a week, largely on the Sayoc-Bowers tie-in, but also due to the assassination of Jamal Kashoggi, which reminded Americans, in a most troubling way, that trump’s charge that “the media is the enemy of the people” has murderous ramifications, not only in our country, but worldwide. Sayoc, Bowers and Kashoggi all have been albatrosses on trump’s (and Republicans’) necks, demonstrating the sheer awfulness, danger and violence of trumpism.

I plan to watch T.V. on election night until the results are in, and I look forward to the moment when one of the news anchors says, “We can now report that the House of Representatives will return to the control of Democrats.” At that moment, a mighty cheer will arise across America, from the Pacific beaches to the East Coast, as our nation takes a deep sigh of contentment in the realization that trump and trumpism will now be checked. And maybe the Senate will flip, if the Blue Wave is more powerful than anyone now thinks. How amazing would that be!

trump supporters, naturally, will be very unhappy. They’ll be in a fighting mood, like a frenzied mob roaming the streets looking for a fight, and their leader, trump, no doubt will give them reasons to start shooting. He may cry “Rigged election!” He will probably cite “facts” that are utter lies: “this election had more illegal ballots cast than any other in American history!” or “We have evidence that Republicans were harassed at the polling places by Democratic operatives, possibly members of the Black Panthers.” He may insist on multiple recounts, which would place the election results into hiatus. He could do anything he wants—nothing will stop him—certainly not the craven Republicans in the Congress. One thing he will NOT do is graciously concede defeat. And his surrogates (particularly the human scurvy known as Donald Trump, Junior) will be out there in full-attack mode, lying on a massive scale, inventing “scandals” that exist nowhere except in Kellyanne Conway’s febrile head.

Another thing we can look forward to is the Mueller Report. The Special Counsel has been quiet for the last two months (as we knew he would in the period leading up to Nov. 6), but once the election is over, it’s Katy Bar the Door (an old-fashioned saying I like). It means trump and Republicans in general are going to be in roughly the same situation as Londoners were in the Blitz of World War II. Incoming bombs everywhere! Danger, danger! Take cover! Only there will be no place to hide, no shelter in which to protect themselves. All will be exposed: the collusion, the coverup, the obstruction of justice, the financial crimes, the perjury, the lies, the degeneracy.

What will white supremacists like Steve King do then? Hopefully, he will have been voted out of office, but there will remain some truly deplorable Republicans in the Congress, who can be expected to put on their hazmat suits and wade even further into the sewers to protect their fuhrer. In the lame-duck session before the new Congress is sworn in next January, rump Republicans will be capable of huge distractions and may even cause grave damage. But the American people will not be misled. Having just voted Republicans out of office, they will be on the alert for Republican schemes, and will reject them, further eroding Republican credibility except among the most radically ignorant white supremacists, neo-nazis, racists, homophobes and xenophobes who constitute trump’s base.

I’ve lived long enough to see the political pendulum swing back and forth many, many times. One almost gets used to it: Democratic to Republican and vice versa, ad infinitum. But this election feels different. It feels like we came closer to the edge of the abyss than ever before in my lifetime—and then common sense and love of country yanked us back to safety, out of trump’s clutches. That’s what I hope. Anyway, trump’s forces tried their best to take my voice away and they failed. Here’s to continued failure by Republicans until they reject trumpism and return to normal politics.

* * *

*“Airwaves” is an almost obsolete term. In my generation, it referred to the broadcasting space through or over which television and radio programs were sent. My dictionary says its first known use was in 1900. It doesn’t give the precise situation, but 1900 was the year that, for the first time, the human voice was transmitted wirelessly, that is to say, over the “airwaves.”

 

Trump caused these horrible things to happen

 

Trump is complicit in both the Sayoc bombing attacks and the Pittsburg slaughter at the synagogue.

He caused the bombs to be sent. We can argue whether it was direct or indirect causation. It was not “direct” in the sense that (as far as we know) he did not personally tell Sayoc to make and send the bombs. But it was direct in that without Trump’s violent, vicious rhetoric against every single one of Sayoc’s intended victims, Sayoc would not have done what he did. Maniacs like Sayoc need prompting from some external source to carry out their nefarious deeds; and Sayoc got plenty of prompting from the president whom he worshipped, whose images he festooned his van with. As Hitler instigated the Brownshirts and the SS into bloodthirsty violence and murder through insane, incendiary speeches designed to inspire them to fury, so too has Trump inspired the least sane of his adherents to carry out their own acts of violence—in his name.

And the synagogue shooter, Bowers? While his precise motivation, beyond anti-semitism, isn’t clear yet, we do know that Trump created the atmosphere and the conditions in which Bowers committed his atrocities. The atmosphere is the hatred and sickness now rampant throughout the Republican Party, which Trump lit the match to and whose flames he continues to fan every single day. It is an atmosphere that tells unstable people that it’s all right to act out on their homicidal fantasies, because the president says so.

As for the conditions of Bowers’ mass murder, Trump has done everything in his power to prevent reasonable gun control from being enacted in America. There is no reason for any non-law enforcement person to own an AR-15. None whatsoever; it’s insane that a civilized country would allow private citizens to possess these weapons of mass destruction. Somewhere inside his paranoid, defensive mind, Trump must realize this—I’m sure that Melania and Ivanka do—but in his pandering to the N.R.A. and its ammosexuals, he has blocked all gun control, and therefore shares the blame with Bowers for this horrendous deed. When Trump expresses sympathy for the elderly Jewish victims, all one can do is recoil in horror.

So there it is: a president of the United States encouraging, aiding and abetting mass murder. In addition to all his other crimes—collusion, breaking election laws, money-laundering, profiting from the presidency, misleading the Congress and the American people with lie after lie after lie, perjury, obstruction of justice—Trump will be found guilty before the Bar of History with complicity in mass murder, and more: for deliberately seeking to undermine the stability of the United States of America.

What shall we do with him when he’s finally removed from office and at last answerable to the American people? He can’t be allowed to return to a normal lifestyle. That would be intolerable, after all the damage he’s caused to our nation (and to the entire world). It will be immensely pleasing when he falls from power and, embarrassed before the country, is reduced to sputtering, defensive babble. It will be lovely to see his nasty sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, rejected by large swathes of the population, as well they should be. But it would be galling wormwood to think of a fallen Trump still gorging on junk food on expensive china in the splendor of Mar-a-Lago, serviced by porn stars while a brooding, expensively-clad Melania pretends not to notice. No, Trump has to be made to suffer some kind of unpleasant fate.

What about a truth-and-reconciliation committee, like the one South Africa formed after apartheid? I say: Too late…not while Trump lives. We can explore truth and reconciliation with Republicans after he’s gone, but only if they denounce him utterly and clearly. This denunciation can’t be muddy or vague; it has to be explicit, by name, and it has to be expressed by the right people: not some little back-bencher from some Podunk district, but by bigtime Republicans like Peter King, Devin Nunes, Marco Rubio and Mitch McConnell—in other words, the very enablers who propped Trump up and did nothing while he destroyed America’s foundations. These are the ones who will have to apologize—grovel, to be frank–if there’s to be truth and reconciliation; for how can one reconcile with murder? How can one reconcile with complete, contemptible falsehoods? Do we split the difference with Republicans, with them admitting they went too far with the hatred and Democrats admitting that, Well, maybe Obama is a secret Muslim, and maybe Hillary should be jailed, if only for a short period of time?

No. Reconciliation is fine; compromising on integrity and truth is a non-starter. If I die with a single firm conviction in my last thoughts, it is this: Donald J. Trump began this spiral into national disintegration. Nobody else. Not Obama, not Hillary, not Fox “News,” not Putin, not Nancy Pelosi. The culprit was and is Trump. He is irreconciliable. We can never forgive nor forget what this catastrophe has inflicted upon us. Were we to do so, we ourselves would be complicit in the awfulness of Sayoc, and Bowers, and all the other evils visited upon us by Trump and his regime. As America cleansed its soul with the abolition of slavery, so too are we now called upon to wash away the stain of Trumpism in our time. It is a task we should rise to with joy.

 

 

Sayoc: The new face of the Republican Party

 

The Miami Herald reports that Cesar Sayoc’s former lawyer describes the would-be assassin of Democrats as “an unsophisticated loner who wanted to impress people but failed at everything he pursued…he’s been living this fantasy” [of] “acting on Trump’s vengeful rhetoric as a way to fit into American society.”

Other media outlets reported that Sayoc was a great admirer of Hitler.

These attributes pretty much describe all of Trump’s supporters. “Unsophisticated” doesn’t mean merely that Trumpites never got very far in school (although many if not most didn’t), nor does it mean they all live in trailer parks or in their vans (although many, including Sayoc, did and do). It means they lack what we call “wisdom.” The root word of “sophisticated,” the Greek sophos, means wise. But what does “wise” mean in our complex, fractured society?

Ever since the Greeks, we’ve had a pretty good notion of the meaning of wisdom. As Socrates expressed it, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” He placed value upon this self-examination, explaining it in clear, unambiguous terms: “There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.”

Wisdom is true knowledge, based upon the close examination of self and life. All else is evil ignorance.

The ancient Greeks tended to disparage nations or tribes that did not live up to their standards of self-knowledge. They called them “barbarians,” who were “like children, unable to speak or reason properly, cowardly…cruel…politically unable to govern themselves.”

Socrates, it might be said, was an elitist: one of the more educated, articulate and intelligent of Greeks. Centuries later, Greece’s culture of erudition lived on in Great Britain, where Edmund Burke, the 18th century Irish statesman who supported the Colonies in the American Revolution, described barbarians as “the offspring of cold hearts and muddy understandings.”

Burke, too, was an elitist, as were all America’s Founding Fathers. America used to celebrate its elite: they possessed the knowledge, wisdom and vision to create grand institutions, including the grandest of all: The United States of America. These days, with the rise of a know-nothing class in the Republican Party, elites are hated (and envied). The Republican-Trumpite right wing glories in what they think of as the simple, manly virtues: formal education, they argue, only stagnates the mind and corrupts the natural instincts. Instinct, they allege, is a surer guide to living the good life than analytical thinking, which they view as a sort of evolutionary aberration from which strong men do not suffer.

And now, consider Sayoc. Certainly this was a man who did not overthink anything. Whether he “thought” at all, as we commonly understand the verb, is questionable. Information disappeared in inside him, and out came violence. What transpired in between? God only knows, except that it cannot have been rational, or “good” as Socrates understood the good, for if it were good, Sayoc would not have succumbed to the cult of Donald Trump and tried to assassinate Democrats.

Whenever Trump blew a dog whistle, Sayoc (like most Republicans) heard beneath the vibrations the message in its cruel, sickness: Liberals and Democrats are animals. They do not deserve to live. You must stamp them out ruthlessly. Lock Hillary up! Sayoc, “unable to reason properly, with muddy understanding, vengeful and cowardly,” took the message literally. He forged bombs and sent them to the Democrats Trump had urged him (personally, in his warped mind) to kill. And he did so with a “cold heart.”

In Sayoc we see “the unexamined life” reach its awful peak (or perhaps “nadir” is more accurate). This was a man who did not examine himself, his motives, his conclusions, or the truth or untruth of what his Leader claimed. Perhaps he could not, because he was mentally deranged. What we can say is that Sayoc represented the worst dregs of American culture, a truly deplorable and reprehensible human being; we are much better off that he will never see the light of day outside a prison cell.

But poor Sayoc was hardly alone. He is a member of a tribe, or a cult, as evil (in the sense that Socrates meant) as any this country has known: Republicans. To paraphrase Howard Dean, on T.V. last Saturday morning, “Republicans are evil and Trump is evil.”

Harsh words, yes, but true. Socrates would have understood; Edmund Burke would have understood. There is something horribly degraded in Republican minds: an absence of intelligence, of “sophistication,” of morality, of “heart,” “unable to govern themselves.” I don’t believe they constitute the majority of our population, but they are a sizable minority, and like any diseased population that represents a threat to the healthy majority, they need to be quarantined, to keep the plague from spreading.

How do we quarantine them? We can’t do it physically, obviously. Nor can we shut them out of public discourse, for there will always be disease vectors, like Fox “News,” that spread the germs throughout the general population. But what we can do is to isolate those malignant voices by calling them out for what they are—evil. We can confront them when they lie, oppose them when they march, sue them when they defame, defend ourselves when they attack, and bring them into the Courts of Justice when they commit crimes, as we’re doing now with Sayoc. And the ultimate form of quarantining them is political: We can vote them out, at every level: local, town, county, district, state, so that they’re reduced to insignificant pustules of infection that can be controlled, as we control chronic diseases by medication, even if we can never fully eradicate them.

So let “Sayoc” be the face of the Republican Party: psychotic, homicidal, infantile, diseased, evil, deplorable—a surrogate for the original germ itself, Patient Zero, the source and carrier of the infection: Donald J. Trump.

The face of the Republican Party