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A veteran journalist's take on such diverse subjects as religion and religious violence, democracy, freedom of expression, sociology, journalism, criticism, travel, philosophy, Southeast Asia, politics,economics, and even parenthood, the supernatural, film criticism, and cooking. Please don't hesitate to participate by starting a comment thread if you have an interest in any of these subjects...or anything else, for that matter... p.write@gmail.com

What If…

 

The Stuff That Nightmares Are Made On

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA) In my last column I proposed an answer to the question of what exactly is motivating Donald Trump to run for the presidency of the United States. I deliberately left out one of the possible answers to that question because it is not at all impossible that it is the correct one, and if it is, the repercussions would be almost unthinkable.

As Trump himself might put it, “Lots of people are saying…” that Trump is, quite simply, an old school fascist with ambitions to place himself at the head of the most powerful country in human history and rule it and, by extension, the world with an iron hand. The notion isn’t as far fetched as one might hope. His campaign so far appears to have been modeled (at least insofar as it has had any conscious planning) on the paths of the 20th Centuries two best known populist fascist demagogues. Both Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini appealed to the fears and hatreds of their electorates. The were rabid populists who identified other, inferior races as both the cause of their countries’ problems and as the biggest threat to the nation. They painted dismal pictures of the conditions of their countries and offered themselves as the only solution to those problems.

They were both strongmen who were quite prepared to whip their followers into a frenzy and then turn them loose to do violence to their opponents and to the minorities they had designated as scapegoats. They both demanded loyalty and basked in the adulation of the massed crowds. They both were clinical narcissists and were convinced that they were superior to ordinary people and were destined for historical greatness. They both managed to parlay their fanatical minority support into political power and then took control of their governments and systematically eliminated any opposition until they were the unquestioned seat of all political power; they made themselves dictators.

Adolph on lies

Sounds very familiar

Significantly, from the perspective of decades later and a better understanding of the mechanics of the usurpation of political power, when we watch old newsreel films of the two fascist dictators, they are comical in a morbid kind of way. Hitler, foaming at the mouth and contorting his face and body in passionate paroxysms while in full rhetorical flight would be laugh-out-loud hilarious if we didn’t know what followed from those hate rallies. Mussolini, in his comic opera persona Il Duce, lapped up the cheers and chanting of the crowds below while he puffed out his chest and preened and postured. If we weren’t Benito_Mussolini_in_Yugoslavia_croppedfamiliar with mid 20th Century history, he too would be a source of mirth. Charlie Chaplin satirised both demagogues in his brilliant and hilarious The Great Dictator. So transparently buffoonish were those two populist fascist leaders that a good many reasonable people couldn’t really take them seriously at first; when they realised that they had succeeded in their power grabs, it was too late.

Trump is clearly cut from the same cloth. He talks the same law and order game; he paints a false but horrifying picture of the nation’s condition; he tells his loser followers that they are not to blame for their failure to thrive; he points to “others” as the real cause of the problems he exaggerates; he offers himself as the only solution to the problems he inflates; he encourages his followers to commit violent acts against anyone who doesn’t chant his name with sufficient fervour. He doesn’t offer policy specifics. He simply persuades his followers that what is needed is his strong hand on the tiller of the ship of state, and someone like him with the courage to face up to reality and eschew the lily-livered weak kneed, politically correct failures who have reduced the nation to its current deplorable state. He is every bit as narcissistic as the Fuhrer and Il Duce and, like them, his favoured interaction with the people is at extravagantly organised and choreographed rallies where he can bask in the worship of the faithful.the-great-dictator-1940-wallpapers-9

But Donald Trump is not a carbon copy of the two European fascists. He differs in a way that might be very significant. He is lazy and he is not very smart.

He is virtually a savant when it comes to media manipulation. In fact, that may well be his only real talent. He has been demonstrated to be a particularly lousy business man; his multiple bankruptcies and the level of debt that he has been shown to be carrying all testify to that. His ignorance of anything donald-trump-face-outside of his short-fingered immediate reach, from history and geography to economics and constitutional law is breathtaking. His refusal to bone up on subjects that are indispensable to a head of state is a clear testament to his laziness. In fact, it has been widely reported that, while he was desperately searching for a politician willing to tank his own career by accepting the vice-presidential nod, he tried to sell some prospects on the job by promising them complete control over domestic and foreign affairs, leaving him to be a figurehead doing little more than taking credit for successes and addressing the rallies that he thrives on.

Whether that was the deal he cut with his VP ticket partner, Mike Spence, isn’t clear, but it does seem likely. And that’s why Trump as a strong man leader with anything approaching a mandate in November would be such a nightmare. Trump, for all his bluster, is a weak man. He is a bully and his wealth has always insulated him from any consequences; but his inability to absorb criticism, his instinct to lash out at any perceived slight, and his tissue paper thin skin demonstrate his fundamental fragility. As long as his ego is fed, he would be easily manipulated by someone stronger, smarter, and willing to work behind the scenes. Dick Cheney’s control of American domestic and foreign policy while George Dubya vacationed at his ranch for over 850 days of his presidency demonstrates that such an arrangement wouldn’t even be unique in presidential history.

But where it gets really frightening is not the concern that Mike Spence would really be running the show during a Trump presidency. Spence is a far right conservative who ticks all the boxes: anti LGBTQ; pro-life; trickle down believer; climate change denier; etc. etc. If given any genuine power, his impact could set the United States back decades and his Supreme Court nominations would be hair-raising. Nevertheless, the real fear of some eminence grise employing Machiavellian tactics behind the scenes of a Trump regime has more to do with Vladimir Putin and the crush that Trump has on him.

bromance-between-trump-and-putin

Trump has repeatedly demonstrated his admiration for Putin and has regularly expressed a desire to get closer to the Russian dictator. Given Trump’s aversion to doing the actual work of governing, given his intellectual vacuity, and given his vulnerability to ego-stroking, he would be an absolutely perfect candidate for manipulation by the right person. And that person, were Trump to be elected, could very well be Vladimir Putin.

We are very fortunate that, as things stand, Trump is unlikely as hell to be elected. The foregoing doomsday scenario has very little chance of playing out. But think about it. If anybody thinks that not voting for Hillary Clinton is a good idea, consider the possibility. Then try to sleep at night.

ENDITEM…

Peering Inside the Candidate’s Head

Just one question: Why?

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) The world of punditry has been thrashing around for about a year now, asking, and answering one another with speculation and educated guesses, why Donald Trump is running for the presidency of the United States. It seems strange under the current circumstances, but that’s a question that I can’t remember ever having been asked of or about any other candidate in any other its-a-mystery-500x325presidential election year. Much of the discussion about the most discussed presidential election campaign in recent memory can be distilled down to that one fundamental question: What is behind Trump’s decision to throw his hat into the ring and take a run at achieving the highest office in the country? A multitude of possible answers has been proposed, ranging from the preposterous to the ridiculous, and each answer tells as much about the person proposing it as it does about the candidate himself. As the Republican candidate’s campaign flounders, reboots, flounders again, reboots yet again, and then repeats the sequence, the question becomes less and less academic. At the time of this writing we appear to be watching the imminent implosion of the most bizarre campaign in US presidential history. Here then is a sampling of some of the answers to that question; it is far from exhaustive, but it is indicative of the inscrutability of Trump’s motives and, therefore, his endgame…if he has one.

marketing-plan

  • From the beginning, there were suggestions that Trump never expected to succeed to the extent that he has; his campaign was supposed to raise his already considerable public profile to another level, increase the value of his personal brand, and wrap things up early in the primaries. It was, according to this suggestion, another publicity stunt intended only to increase his income in much the way other Republican candidates have used their candidacies as little more than book tours paid for by their supporters; Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee come to mind. Things got out of control, though, and Trump couldn’t just walk away. Now he’s doing his level best to sabotage his own campaign by alienating every demographic he can think of, with some success.

TV land

  • Trump, clearly uninterested in actually governing, is laying the groundwork to create his own TV network. Since Trump is largely a creation of the media and his only real expertise is in its manipulation, further incursions into that world make some sense. According to this theory, his penchant for trashing the media, even Fox News, and cozying up to the bosses at Breitbart and even recruiting alt right hero Stephen Bannon to chair his campaign are all indications of his plan to start up a network that appeals to the extreme fringe right. Judging by his rallies, there is an audience for that kind of hate speech.

spy

  • Trump is a witting or unwitting pawn of Vladimir Putin. He is being pushed toward the White House by Russian apparatchiks so that Russia will effectively control the Western world by having their puppet agent in Washington. Trump’s unrelenting praise for Putin, his Russian financial connections, his previous campaign manager, Paul Manafort’s history of working for the Russian government are all supporting evidence for this hypothesis.

worried-trump-hands-headache

  • And this is the one to which I subscribe: Trump did indeed expect to increase his celebrity and drop out early in the primaries. So, not trying to be elected, he simply blurted out whatever crossed his mind. Since what crossed his mind was a fetid jumble of racism, bigotry, misogyny, paranoia, hatred, and incoherent but revolting ideas, he resonated with a group of Americans who share his xenophobia and hatred. They responded with fervour bordering on worship; Trump, being a textbook narcissist, experienced an orgasmic ego boost and found he couldn’t get enough. Although the more outrageous his rhetoric, the more support he loses; on the other hand the more fervently his hardcore supporters respond. Trump prefers rallies to any other form of campaigning because he can do no wrong, as long as he keeps whipping up the hatred. He doesn’t appear on the daytime talk news circuit; he phones it in. He hates town halls. He is trying to find ways to avoid debates. He doesn’t care about polls; he cares about the reaction he gets at rallies. He wants the shattering ecstasy he experiences when his frenzied base chants, roughs up protesters, and sings his praises.

The only reason he hasn’t dropped out at this point, with a landslide defeat looking probable, is that he needs the fix. He will likely tough it out as long as he can get it; he has already laid the groundwork for his excuse for losing. The system, you see, is rigged. As long as even a relatively tiny slice of the demographic pie is big enough to fill a venue and can be relied upon to speak in tongues and scream his name, he’ll stay in.

Of course, what’s missing from this brief list of possible reasons Trump is running for the presidency is the answer that applied, to a greater or lesser extent, to virtually every serious contender in US history: That the candidate has ideas and policy suggestions that he believes would be beneficial to the people of the country, and that he genuinely believes himself to be the best person to work with Congress in an effort to enact them.

DonaldTrump2Trump has no genuine economic plan; he has done nothing more than trot out shopworn and long since debunked trickle down theories and promises to cut taxes and create jobs and win in trade negotiations. No plan, no actual understanding of even the basics of economics. He has no conception of foreign policy beyond promising to get tough with foreign countries he doesn’t like, abrogate international treaties, and perhaps employ nuclear weapons in a first strike. All he has is absurd and unworkable promises to build a border wall, to round up more than 10 million undocumented residents, to block Muslims and to register them…a series, in other words, of illegal, unconstitutional, and logistically impossible proposals intended to fire up the latent hatred and prejudices of his poorly educated base. Even Richard Nixon, another mentally unstable Republican narcissist, had a plan, knowledge and understanding of the things with which a president needs to be familiar, and a conviction that he was the person to make it all work for the country.

That a desire to serve the people of his country has never been proposed as a reason for the Trump candidacy by any serious analyst says a great deal about the nature of Trump’s campaign and about Trump himself. It is clear to America, and to the world, that Trump is in the race for some motive that devolves entirely to Donald Trump. The question of the consequences to the country of a Trump presidency only amounts to opinions as to whether it would be catastrophic or merely disastrous.

apocalypse

ENDITEM….

 

 

A Glimmer of Hope

Let’s Talk About the People

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) I am trying to avoid writing entire columns on Donald Trump for a number of reasons. One is that I, like any other political writer or TV or Internet pundit, have to shoulder some responsibility for helping create the Trump nauseaphenomenon by providing him with billions of dollars of free publicity. Another is that there is very little left to say about the Republican presidential candidate; what hasn’t been said by left-leaning, centrist, and even moderate right-leaning commentators? I have never written the words “fascist”, “bigot”, “racist”, “misogynist”, or a host of other offensive descriptive nouns as frequently as I have since Trump descended on his escalator to announce his intention to vie for the presidency of the United States. But the overriding reason I want to avoid writing specifically about Donald Trump is that I literally feel nauseated when I am forced to watch him in his public address mode. What needs to be examined, given the media’s saturation with Trump, is the people who will vote for him or Hillary Clinton (or cast a protest vote) this November.

Donald Trump is one man; it is the voters who have made him into the threat to the nation and the world that he has become. He is a threat now because it is still possible that he will be elected. If he were to be elected, we go to DEFCON 1. He will represent an imminent existential threat to the nation and the world.

So who are those people who want to see that scenario play out? Why can they not grasp the deadly seriousness of their support for a dangerously unstable and clearly mentally unbalanced candidate?

For one thing, I suspect that, the polls notwithstanding, as things stand with three months to go until the election, Donald Trump is going to be soundly trounced. I also suspect that congressional and senatorial seat losses will be primarily news_election-results-1024x768those currently held by candidates who have failed to distance themselves from Trump. Republican incumbents who have denounced him or somehow stayed above the fray will be relatively safe, while his ardent supporters will face serious challenges; only the GOP’s gerrymandering will save some of them.

This may turn out to be wishful thinking. I may end up feeling like Grover Norquist and other Republican stalwarts who were gobsmacked by Obama’s re-election in 2008, and I reserve the right to flip flop on this right up until the polls close on the 8th of November. Nevertheless, my reasoning has more to do with my unscientific reading of the American people than the empirical data collected by scientific and ever more accurate public opinion data gathering methods.

Because Trump’s campaign relies on the free publicity he is able to garner by his over-the-top pronouncements, his palpable bigotry, his embracing of violent rhetoric, and his willingness to offend, he finds himself having to outdo himself each news cycle to stay in the headlines. Mexicans, women, African Americans, the disabled, veterans, Muslims; all these groups and more have been subjected to his hateful rhetoric; he is systematically alienating one demographic after another. While there are undoubtedly some outliers in each of his targeted groups who will, bizarrely, vote for him, he has narrowed his appeal down to his hardcore base: white second generation or more WASP males with lower levels of education. That block, which used to be sufficient to elect a Republican candidate in past years is simply no longer big enough on its own to elect a president.

There is, of course, another group upon which he can rely on come election day. That is the very wealthy and those who peasants-for-plutocracy-by-michael-dal-cerro2thrive as a result of the corporate control of the United States. Trump’s recent speech in which he outlined his economic plans made it clear that he has no intention of departing from party orthodoxy in this realm. He intends to push the old trickle down policies that devastated the middle class when last tried. He intends to reduce the taxation and regulation of corporations, he plans to reduce or eliminate social programs at the same time as he reduces taxes on the wealthy; nothing new here, just more screwing the working classes and further enriching the top few. The problem is that the top one percent are just that; one percent.

That demographic simply doesn’t wield enough votes to make a big difference; it is those whom they are able to influence that could be a significant voting block. Nevertheless, traditionally, the wealthy and the corporations have been able to persuade millions upon millions of working and poor Americans to vote against their own interests. As John Steinbeck wrote: “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” The have always bought into the myth of the American dream; since before the nation was formed in 1776, Americans have always believed that hard work, thrift, and diligence would be repaid with success and wealth. There may even have been a time when that was true; in 2016, however, it is painfully obvious that those who actually did achieve massive wealth have entered the castle, pulled up the drawbridge behind them, and locked, loaded, and prepared to repel intruders.

The Trump campaign has made that eminently clear. Until his unveiling of the latest soak the poor and reward the rich economic platform, the Republican nominee had offered the voters nothing but encouragement for their darkest impulses.

'I'm taking more responsibility for my actions since I ran out of scapegoats.'

He fired up people who never even think about economic policy but are angry at every ethnic, racial, or social minority they know of, and are ecstatic at finding someone who validates their suspicions. He convinces them that those people are standing between them and what they feel entitled to. He also persuades the less knowledgeable, the truly ignorant, that: A) the problem is those groups, and, B) he alone has a solution.

It has long been part of the rhetoric of the right that Democrats, if elected, would institute draconian and widespread restrictions on their civil rights. They would come for their guns, they would persecute Christians, they would create “death panels” as part of their socialised medical plan. But even the less dazzling intellects among the stalwart Trump supporters must have noticed that despite two terms in office, the Democratic president has never even proposed that sort of legislation and certainly hasn’t used his executive powers to make any such order. There has been not a single attempt, much less a successful assault on their civil rights. The black helicopters never flew, the rednecks still have their guns, and Christian churches still outnumber synagogues, temples, and mosques. But, if any of them take even a cursory glance at news that doesn’t come from Fox, they will see that the Democratic administration has been responsible for an improved economy, steady job creation, and insulating them from the economic disaster they inherited.

So, it is mseeing the lighty belief that before November 8, a critical mass of Republican voters will see through the hypocrisy of promising them whatever vile and repugnant social legislation they support, while asking them to vote for economic policy that is directly and clearly intended to take from them and give to corporations and superwealthy individuals. At some point they will see that they have been sold a bill of goods. They will see that they have been persuaded by a variety of Orwellian doublespeak. They like Trump “because he tells it like it is”. The truth is that, more than any other political candidate in US history, he tells it exactly like it isn’t. His lies are becoming public knowledge. They cheer Trump when he tells them that Hillary Clinton is “unhinged”; they are beginning to see the truth – Trump is clearly mentally unfit for any public office.

Now, Trump is likely not to see this reversal of his political fortunes happening. He lives in a bubble of sycophants and yes-men and the occasional yes-woman, all of whom seem to tell him exactly what he wants to hear. He simply takes in information that feeds his ego and disregards the rest. He gets his quotidian fix at rallies where the hard, small kernel of utterly faithful, the deluded and delusional fanatics respond with hysterical chanting at his prompts, cheer his every personal insult, approve ecstatically of his dogwhistle threats of violence, and salivate in a Pavlovian manner at his racial taunts.

What I believe is happening, though, is that he managed to woo a vast number of people to his side during the primaries, but he reached a saturation point some time just before the convention. As he found his numbers leveling off, he ratcheted up the vulgar, hateful bigotry that had served him so well. The problem was that he was now starting to alienate those supporters who had thought he might simply be a breath of fresh air in Washington; they were seeing that he was dangerously unfit for the presidency and that a hypothetical Trump administration would be a terrifying and chaotic reality.

His hardcore band of enablers and codependent crazies will keep him going, but the American people are better than he believes they are. They are not as stupid as he is counting on, and when push comes to shove, they are not as hate-filled and vicious as he needs them to be to vote for him.

I hope.

ENDITEM…

Time for a reckoning

Morality, Ethics, and November 2016

Pagun

 

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Okay, that’s it; we’ve all had enough. The Trump candidacy started as a joke, got more and more serious, became a threat to civil society, and has now become something repellent and vile; something that normal people would refuse to scrape off their shoe and instead toss the offending footwear into the nearest incinerator while they try to swallow their vomit.

In just a little over a year, the monster that was cooked up over the last decade or more in the Republican Party’s frankenstein1backroom laboratory has staggered out into the daylight and done precisely what he was created to do: sow fear and hatred and viciousness across the entire country and the rest of the world. It’s alive! And its creators are astonished at the fact that they succeeded beyond their fondest wishes. Their golem is made up entirely of ingredients found on the shelves of the GOP; the disgusting creature that they have elevated to be their standard bearer has never said or done anything that is without precedent in the party’s recent history. He’s not different in kind from what the party has degenerated to; his variance is only one of degree and overtness. He blows a trumpet where they have employed dog whistles. He says what they imply; he asserts what they hint at.

And now the Republican Party stands exposed for what they really are; they can no longer get away with their customary “Gee whizz! I’m not a racist (misogynist, bigot, Nazi, white supremacist, etc.) You’re reading something into what I said that I certainly didn’t mean!” They have named him their candidate and the party aristocracy, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, havetrump-and-immigration-cartoon-darkow gone further and endorsed him, even as they try to waffle by claiming they object to his more extreme rhetoric and behaviour. Ryan, by way of example, described Trump as a textbook racist, something of which he claims to disapprove, and then says the candidate has his vote and he should have yours as well. While the inner circle has doubled down on their medieval platform of supporting the most regressive social legislation seen outside of the Nation of Islam, Trump recently made a pro forma economic policy speech that was nothing but tired, old, utterly debunked trickle-down, take from the poor and give to the rich, Republican dogma. It never worked except for the corporations and the rich and everyone knows it. The Republicans know it and their corporate and wealthy private sponsors who draft their economic policy sure as hell know it.

They get their quid pro quo: massive deregulation; across the board tax cuts on corporate profits; repeal of estate taxes; the general tax burden shifted to consumption from profit, thereby disproportionately targeting the least well off; the defunding of programs relied upon by the middle and lower income earners from veterans to the disabled. Those, of course are the main louis-brandeisitems on the wish lists of the owners of the GOP. The problem is that, to own a president as well as their representatives and senators, they need more votes than those they can rely on from their fellow members of the 1%.

That’s where the regressive social platform comes in. Less than a policy statement, it is, from the first paragraphs of the preamble and all the way through, a preciously worded dismissal of every one of the accomplishments and successes of the Obama administration as being un-American, dismal failures, betrayals of the people, overreaches of power, unconstitutional, and even illegal. Their promise to the base (not the 1%…they have the economic policy and that’s all they care about) is that when the Republicans can place their man in the White House, they will dismantle all of those initiatives. So long, Obamacare; good-bye, Roe v. Wade; hello, expanded implementation of the death penalty; adios, Planned Parenthood and the EPA. And since their corporate owners need to sell a lot of oil and gas and coal, we’ll deregulate anything that seems to recognise the scientific reality of anthropogenic climate change. It is, after all, a liberal intellectual conspiracy to hoodwink real Americans. And since we really need the evangelical vote, let’s agree that creationism, or “intelligent design” must be taught in science classes in public schools alongside that other liberal intellectual hoax, evolution. Until we dismantle the public school system, that is; education should be privatised and it shouldn’t be mandatory since that is the state interfering with a parental purview.

They pander to the Christian right by holding that life begins at conception and that therefore abortion is murder and ought to be treated as such. The only acceptable contraception is to be abstinence. Religious bodies, currently forbidden to engage in political acts or advocacy, or relinquish their tax free status, will no longer face those constraints. Of course this expanded freedom of religion also means that they can once again discriminate against the minorities of their choosing. Moreover, their religious freedom (a sacred right) means that they won’t have to see mosques or synagogues; their very existence would be a restriction of their right to something or other.

The NRA is also being well represented. The Republicans’ interpretation of the 2nd Amendment was intended to thrill the base, as it seems to be that every American should have unrestricted access to pretty much any weapon up to and possibly including tactical nuclear warheads.

So, the owners of the GOP get the economic and domestic policy that will repay their investment. But since their agenda is against self-interestexactly opposite to the best interests of the base, the GOP gives them what they want in exchange for their support at the polls. They give them all the restrictions on personal freedoms they could wish for (as long as they’re aimed at “others”). The NRA gets what it wants because the base wants guns, guns, and more guns while the NRA represents the corporations that make and sell those guns.

And the rabid, fanatical devotees of the Trump magic, those who make up the crowds at the rallies, just eat up his racism, his hatred, his promises to bring them back to a future that is supposed to resemble a past that never was. They have nothing but sheer, ecstatic worship for a presidential candidate who validates their ignorance by repeatedly suggesting that his utter lack of knowledge or understanding of the constitution, geopolitics, domestic policy, economics, or the powers and limitations of public office is somehow a good thing. His ignorance and, frankly, stupidity, validates theirs. They have been conned into supporting an economic policy that strikes directly at them and their neighbours. They have sold their birthright for a wave of cathartic anger and hatred.

But the time has come to stop pretending that we are dealing with the reductio ad absurdum of the American way of politics. This is not a contest between opposing views or competing political philosophies. The monster has exposed the ugly truth. This has become a contest between an old-school politically connected and savvy representative of Washington insider politics, and chaos, destruction, fascism, and a complete denial of all that is decent in humanity. One cannot still support Donald Trump without conceding that one is, or at least supports, a vicious, hate-filled destroyer of whatever good is left in mankind. There is absolutely no possibility of taking a position of supporting Donald Trump without copping to being a racist, misogynist, bigoted fascist.

There is an old myth that if you drop a frog into hot water, he’ll immediately jump out; but if you put him in a pot of cool water and gradually bring up the heat, he won’t notice when it gets to be a lethal temperature. Something like that may be at play froghere. Trump started out this campaign by announcing right on Day 1 that Mexicans were criminals, rapists, and drug dealers. Then he promised his famous (fatuous?) wall to keep them out. It was outrageous. It got him noticed and the pundits gave him an unconscionable amount of coverage. But each day, he brought the heat up another notch; in each news cycle, he outdid himself. Perhaps he was counting on the water reaching a boiling point just as the polls opened in November, catapulting him into the White House because his faithful hadn’t been aware of just how cooked they were.

But today I watched him specifically and deliberately incite his rabble to assassinate Hillary Clinton should she be elected and dare to exercise her presidential duty to nominate Supreme Court justices who might share her views on gun control. He told the crowd that if she did that, there was nothing to be done about it. Then he added: unless some 2nd Amendment supporters could do something, that is. It was instructive to watch the faces of his partisan crowd when he made that suggestion; even his most dependable loyal true believers, those who were placed where they could be relied upon to fawn for the cameras, were stunned. The frogs had suddenly been made aware of the steam coming up all around them. This candidate, they suddenly recognised, was not just a demagogue; not just a narcissist with an inclination to blurt out a stream of semi-consciousness at trump restrainedthe podium. Their candidate, they saw clearly, is a madman. He is a homicidal, mentally unstable, and very dangerous man who has no business being allowed out without a keeper; that he is actually vying, on behalf of the party of Lincoln, for the presidency of the United States is a nightmare of apocalyptic proportions.

Now, nobody… NOBODY…has any excuse to support this maniac. The most enthralled and stubbornly deliberately ignorant supporters have even woken up to reality. GOP stalwarts are defecting; even Fox News has taken to disparaging him. Anyone who is left now has chosen the dark side. To continue to support Donald Trump can no longer be characterised as merely “willful ignorance”; ignorance is no longer possible. To support him is to endorse what he stands for. And we all know what he stands for. If, after today, you are able to rationalise your intention to vote for this evil man, you have sold your soul. There is no more room for dodging the issue. You have thrown in with the forces of evil, and you did it knowingly, willingly, and with full understanding of what you are doing.

ENDITEM…

Either Or

The Choicenaughty-chimpanzee

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Political campaigns in the United States have a venerable tradition of being rough, combative, and down and dirty; not for the faint of heart or the thin of skin. In the last few election cycles, though, the race for the presidency has become an exercise in vicious, no holds barred exhibitions of adults behaving like primates flinging their excrement at one another.

The two-party system into which the American political structure has settled has created a style of politics that has degenerated into a shameful gladiatorial display of brutality. Every four years we watch the ritual of bloodletting that starts with having the parties tear themselves apart in the primaries by pitting their higher profile members against one another in a zero-sum, winner takes all slugfest for the nomination. This is then followed up by a cringe-inducing spectacle of the bruised and bloody vanquished mimicking sincerity as they endorse the similarly wounded nominee in a disingenuous spectacle of faux unity.

Then comes the main bout. After a full year of nonstop thrusting, parrying, feinting, and slashing, the nominated Trudeaucombatant of each party chooses a running mate to be thrust into the arena and then, to the sound of taunts, cheers, heckling, and wild applause, locks horns with the other contender. For the next three or four months, vitriolic abuse and accusations of various iniquities are raised, denied, and responded to in kind. Lies are told, fact-checked, and repeated. Rumours are started, spread, and embellished. Characters are assassinated, past sins are blown out of proportion, words are quoted out of context, outrage is ginned up at an awkward turn of phrase, inconsistencies pounced upon, and guilt assigned by association. Opponents do not disagree on matters of policy; they strive not to persuade the electorate of their suitability for the office, but to annihilate their opponent. The last candidate standing is then awarded the golden ticket to the White House and, after a transition period of a couple of months, settles in to govern the most powerful and fractious country on Earth.

The new president now faces people from both parties who are still harbouring resentment and hidden thoughts of vengeance over the personal abuse to which the were subjected during the last year and a half; these people are expected to work together and somehow collaborate on legislating in bipartisan ways. The campaigns are over and it is now customary to treat the vitriolic bellicosity of the previous year as though it was all pantomime. The pitiless ad hominem rhetoric, the ruthless personal attacks, the deliberate poisoning of reputations are all supposed to be forgotten and a new collegial spirit is supposed to emerge in order to govern with only the best interests of the nation as considerations.

It never happens.

On the contrary; old wounds fester and vengeance is planned and prepared to be served up as a cold dish. Partisan animosity Obama plotprevails and cooperation is only for the cameras. While President Barack Obama was taking the oath of office at his first inauguration in 2008, the Republican old guard, including most of today’s GOP leadership, met to plot their strategy for undermining his administration. The Republican senators and congressmen settled on a strategy of obfuscation and obstruction; they agreed that the party’s only priority for the next four years would be to ensure that President Obama would be a one-term president. When Mr. Obama was re-elected to a second term, they doubled down. Now their stated aim would be to deny their president any accomplishment and to block any initiative he might support. They put it this way: If he was for it, they were against it.

The result was a gridlocked Congress. The 113th and 114th Congresses were among the least productive in the country’s history. The GOP used the previously rarely employed filibuster regularly and routinely to stall any movement on anything their president initiated or even approved of. They willingly brought upon themselves the lowest approval ratings in history; as long as it thrust a stick in the spokes of the Obama administration, they embraced it. Then, without the slightest hint of embarrassment or shame, they screamed for change, arguing that government was ineffective and needed to be reduced to nothing more than the military and a mechanism for enacting legislation to deny human rights to LGBT people, women, and minorities.

And now we have Donald Trump. He saw the dysfunctional, broken American political system and picked up on the acrimonious and hyper-partisan machinations that characterise modern Washington; he thought that he might just be able to increase his visibility and feed his voracious ego in that kind of environment. The infighting, the backstabbing, the personal abuse, all these appealed to him; he would be in his element. In this toxic milieu, he could thrive; he knew he was a master at lies and deception, at reneging on promises and commitments, at insulting and demeaning those who disagree, let alone oppose him. He knew instinctively that the world of national politics was so crippled and anger-filled that someone with his character, or lack thereof, could get in there and push it until it degenerated into an utter, chaotic, demolition derby. And he was right.

No one alive today has seen such a debased, ugly, and hateful exhibition at the highest level of American political discourse. perot quoteThe potential for this degraded spectacle has been there for a long time, and has been steadily increasing, but we might have thought that rock bottom had been reached with the reaction of the GOP to the country’s first black president. If we did, we were wrong. Candidate Trump has embraced that only partly latent bigotry in the country. He has liberated the beast of racial, religious, and gender-based hatred and given permission for divisive odium to be freely expressed. And to ensure that the political arena continues to morph into the hostile, angry, and bigoted environment in which he is comfortable, he deliberately and repeatedly stokes the prejudices and fears of his followers. He points to the ugly chaos he thrives in and tells them that only he can lead them to the Elysian Fields where they will be free to hate and to apply his version of ethnic cleansing by rounding up the Hispanics, the Muslims, and anyone else that pops into his mind.

A Trump victory in November will seal the fate of the American political system. It has been ailing for several decades now; a Trump presidency will sound the death knell for the remnants of the great democratic experiment that is the United States of America.

On the other side of the ledger is Hillary Clinton, a flawed but clearly not venal professional politician. Despite the smear campaign of the GOP, she is not a criminal and no individual in American history has been more thoroughly investigated. There have been active ongoing investigations with Hillary Clinton as a target for 25 years now, and despite the hundreds of millions of dollars and the person years spent on trying to find some dirt that will stick, she has never been found to have broken a law. Most of us couldn’t survive that level of scrutiny; I know I couldn’t. Moreover, as President Obama has pointed out, there has never been a presidential candidate who was as thoroughly prepared for the office of the presidency than Hillary Clinton.

So it comes down to this: Hillary Clinton, certain to be an effective president but perhaps low on the likeability scale on the one hand; Donald Trump, on the other, unconditionally guaranteed to plunge the United States and the world into an economic and moral whirlpool. A Trump presidency could realistically spell an end to any genuine democracy in the USA; he

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton meets with civil rights leaders at the National Urban League in the Manhattan borough of New York City, February 16, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar - RTX277XM

literally poses an existential threat to the country. Anger at the status quo is understandable; the GOP ensured that by their subversive policies of the last two presidential terms. But to elect Trump would be a paradigm case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There is no question that the bathwater needs to be replaced, but the baby – the once respected United States of America – needs not only to be kept, but protected and nurtured.

For anyone who thinks the US has any decency remaining, anything of value left after what we have seen on the political scene, that is the choice.

ENDITEM….

 

 

THINK!

Why the Trump faithful are impervious to reason

Pagun

 

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Progressives, liberals, and especially registered Democrats are bewildered by Donald Trump’s ability to commit every sin against political orthodoxy and human decency imaginable angun trumpd yet, not just survive, but actually thrive. Each time the Trump campaign, or Trump himself, does something that would end anyone else’s political career, let alone candidacy, his followers, far from abandoning him, seem to become even more firmly committed to seeing him elected to the presidency of the United States. Trump famously bragged that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose a single vote; the record of the campaign thus far would suggest that the boast might not, like most of his claims, be entirely empty.

Examples of this phenomenon are plentiful. Joe Biden’s presidential aspirations were crushed as the result of his having plagiarised a part of a speech. Trump’s wife is treated like a victim for having been called out for plagiarising a speech by one the Republican’s most frequently attacked targets, the wife of Barack Obama. Who else but MockeryDonald Trump could mock a human being with a disability and be cheered by his fans? Who else could continue to repeat an utterly debunked lie, time and time again and not have it affect his numbers negatively? Does anyone think that Hillary Clinton could maintain her support if she refused to release her tax returns? What about if she had promised to do so several times and then simply reneged? Could anyone but Trump, with utter impunity, flip flop on every contentious issue and then claim he has in fact been completely consistent? What is it that makes Trump invulnerable to any reasoned argument or to any empirical evidence of his compulsive lying? Why can’t his supporters see the obvious?

The answer is actually quite straightforward and reflects the type of campaign Donald Trump has run and will continue to run right up until November. Trump’s supporters are impervious to rational arguments because of this principle: You can’t reason someone out of a position they weren’t reasoned into. If someone holds a position that he settled on because he was no thinkingpersuaded by rational arguments, by supporting factual evidence, and by critical thinking, that position can be successfully challenged by raising rational counter-arguments and presenting fact-based evidence that outweighs the original and opposing rationale. But if someone holds his position because he is committed to it out of fear, hatred, or other powerful emotions; if his position is clung to because it feels better than to abandon it in the face of reason, all the rational argumentation and fact-based evidence in the world will have zero effect. Trump’s supporters can’t be persuaded by reason because reason isn’t what makes them Trump supporters; if reason could persuade them, there wouldn’t be any Trump supporters left.

Moral reasoning has no effect on those people either, and for the same reason. Although their rhetoric is laced with moral and ethical condemnations of Hillary Clinton and anyone who rejects Trump’s hate-driven movement, those attacks are nothing more than protective colouration. His followers weren’t persuaded of Trump’s suitability to lead the nation by their moral consciences. To look at Trump through a lens of moral or ethical reasoning would unquestionably cause a sense of revulsion in anyone who believes that even a minimum level morality is a reasonable criterion for choosing a national leader. But one needs only a cursory look at the language and behaviour of the Trump faithful to see that anything resembling conventional morality is virtually absent. They weren’t persuaded by any ethical or moral calculus, so they are impervious to moral or ethical arguments against their views.

angry cartoon            The Trump ascendancy is strictly a result of a calculated and very effective appeal to the basest emotions of an ignorant, vicious, and hate-filled segment of American society. Trump launched his campaign by targeting those Americans who feel that they have been sidelined by the march of civilisation. Trump’s base; angry, poorly educated, white males; was elated to hear someone blame their personal failures on an identifiable minority. He gave them permission to scapegoat minorities and to stop worrying that they might be the cause of their own misfortune. Don’t educate yourself, he was telling them, and don’t put any real effort into coming to terms with the 21st century; blame Mexicans. Or African Americans, or Muslims…you’re off the hook. This was seductive music to their ears.

As soon as they bought into the fairy tale he was spinning for them, a couple of things happened. They felt good; they felt better than they had when they thought correctly that their current malaise was of their own makingvalues. They saw that there were others like them; they found solidarity in the certainty that the other losers in the crowd felt as they did and they reinforced and propped up each other’s most vile and repugnant viewpoints. They followed Trump’s lead and gave one another permission to voice the cruelest and most hateful, dark thoughts that popped into their heads and pretended that by expressing bigotry they were courageously eschewing “political correctness”.

They cannot be talked out of their support; they are junkies who need Trump because he is the only person who can give them their guilt-free fix of overt hatred. For one of them to consider rationally anything that Trump promises would interfere with the rush he gives them. Reason would be the ultimate buzzkill. They are a lost cause to rational, moral, or ethical persuasion. The only hope for an America that could ever be respected again is if people who don’t find pure, unadulterated fear and hatred to be reasonable starting points for a rational decision get out and vote against what Donald Trump, in his latest and greatest swindle, is peddling this time.

ENDITEM….

 

 

 

A Post Trump America

The Hangover

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Describing what the world would look like during a hypothetical Donald Trump presidency has become something of a cottage industry, with pundits predicting everything from a glorious rebirth of a prosperous and powerful supernation to a post-apocalyptic wasteland. While my instincts are that the latter would probably be closer to reality than the former, I contend that a Trump post-apocalyptic-fantasy-245333presidency, barring something explosive occurring before November, will not happen, that cooler heads and reason will prevail and Trump will lose by a wide margin. That said, it would be worthwhile to look at what the US will look like after Trump has returned to his regular job of media whore and flimflam artist.

The Trump candidacy and campaign has introduced a new style of politics in the US. Trump, who injected himself into the national political scene on the strength of his name recognition and his self crafted image of a flamboyant billionaire real estate developer, parlayed his ignorance of everything political into an asset. Wafted in on the winds of dissatisfaction with the way government was working, his bellicosity with respect to the entrenched political forces resonated with those who don’t think deeply about politics, but embrace a visceral anger at the status quo. And in 2015, the status quo was pretty disgraceful.

The Republicans in Congress had just spent the president’s second term doing virtually nothing, except obstructing and filibustering every Democratic initiative, and doing their level best to deny obamagraphicObama any accomplishment. In their relentless crusade to destroy the presidency of Barack Obama, they ground government to a halt, and earned the title of least productive congress in US history, and the lowest approval ratings ever recorded. By the time Trump descended on his escalator to announce his candidacy as an outsider to politics as usual, syphilis had a higher approval rating than congress. To the surprise only of pundits and political insiders, his candidacy took off and he steam rolled his way through the primaries to become the presumptive nominee.

His pose as a straight-talking firebrand and hugely successful businessman appealed to those who bought the pose. But his pretence at straight talk, from the very beginning, was simply expressing thoughts that most people have been taught since childhood not to blurt out, and his dishonesty in business was not seen as a serious issue by his base. As his business record was exposed bit by bit, it became clear to everyone that Trump, in fact, was not what he advertised himself as being. The gradual uncovering of his nearly unmatched record of business failures didn’t perturb his base in the slightest; his fraudulent practices, including Trump University and his list of questionable bankruptcies, all seemed just fine to his true believers. Described like that, it would be something of a miracle that he managed to retain any following at all.

But what’s left out of that description is the true source of his appeal; what really sits well with his base has nothing to do with his business skills (or lack thereof); it has nothing to do with whether his net worth is anywhere near what he claims; they don’t care that he lies with breathtaking regularity and reverses himself so often that he seems to spin like a dervish. What matters to them is that he is belligerent and hostile; he is playing to a demographic that is angry and bewildered by what is basehappening in their country. His base is fuming that their previously unassailable position of white male privilege is now being assailed. They can’t understand, and simply won’t accept, that this is the first time in their history that being a white, working class man isn’t an automatic guarantee of respect and financial stability. Donald Trump’s open and unapologetic race-baiting is like a breath of fresh air to a demographic that desperately needs scapegoats for their declining fortunes.

People who are confronted with the reality that they and their peers are rapidly becoming a minority; people whose heads are exploding at the thought that Latinos, African Americans, Asians, and Muslims together are forming a majority and white Christian Anglo Saxons are making up a smaller and 2012-2013-Demographic-Pie-Chartsmaller wedge of the pie chart, are desperate for affirmation that their woes can be blamed on those groups. They are ecstatic to find a candidate who will openly attack the groups they used to dominate.

They are thrilled to find a candidate who routinely retweets white supremacist memes; who promises to expel millions of Mexicans; who promises a total and complete ban on Muslims entering the country; a candidate who refers to a black attendee at his rally as “my African American”, and never walks anything back, but rather, when challenged, doubles down on his bigotry – now, that’s their kind of guy. Trump has legitimised their racism. He has given bigots permission to express their hatred loud and proud, where before they felt compelled to speak more circumspectly or risk society’s stern disapproval. Now, all they have to do is say that they refuse to be politically correct, and they feel free to express their darkest, most loathsome and cruel thoughts. They believe that a refusal to be constrained by courtesy, or even the slightest shred of human decency, when those are described as “political correctness”, is courageous and honest. Given that permission to lash out at the groups they blame for their declining status and am-i-the-only-one-that-can-tell-the-difference-2460307fortunes, it is no surprise that their candidate can do no wrong. It is quite possibly literally true that Donald Trump could, as he has bragged, shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose a single vote. And if that person was Hispanic, black, LGBTQ, or, even better, Muslim, he would probably solidify his position.

That is the legacy that the Trump candidacy will leave after he goes back to his TV appearances, his cons, and his phony investment scams. The tone of public discourse has been coarsened and degraded; campaign hate rhetoric has few, if any, limits now. The belittling and personal insults, the utter lack of substance, and the surfeit of vicious animosity has become the new normal. Hatred is back and it’s back with a vengeance. It is probably not entirely coincidental that alongside the rise of Trump we have been seeing a horrifying spate of police shootings of unarmed black men. Nor is it coincidental that police in Dallas were targeted by an African American. We are seeing racism unbridled. Political correctness, far from being the evil that Trump and his followers claim they have risen above, was simply a societal consensus as to what ought not be said or done lest we hurt others. Now it is a dirty word along with tolerance, inclusion, equality, and restraint.

Coming soon to your neighbourhood!

Coming soon to your neighbourhood!

A post-Trump America will be more openly bigoted. It will have a lower standard of media and political conversation. The country will be more divided than at any time since the social revolution of the late 60’s. But this time it will be divided along religious and racial lines; we can expect to see more violence, we can expect to see an increase in the popularity and membership of hate groups like the KKK and Aryan Nations. Respect and courtesy are already becoming extinct.

Donald Trump has done very little for anyone he doesn’t see in the mirror; he has done nothing for his country before his candidacy. But he has done plenty since then: he has diminished it in the eyes of the civilised world and he has made it a much more callous, hostile, and dangerous place.

ENDITEM…

 

 

Is Dialectic Dead?

When did “consensus” become a dirty word?

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Anyone who spends a great deal of time, as I do, reading online news feeds, news analysis, and op-eds is bound to be fed up with the hyperbolic headlines that herald fairly pedestrian stories.Jon Stewart and The Daily Show headlines Headlines, intending to draw in web surfers and current affairs junkies, all too often promise something rare and explosive if you click on it, then routinely turn out to introduce a story of mild interest at best. Internet headers are papered with expressions like “explosive revelation”, “epic rant”, or “complete meltdown”. Clicking on these screeds brings you to stories of mind numbing tediousness and utterly devoid of anything explosive, epic, or even complete.

On the internet, the number of clicks a page receives determines the value of that page and, in aggregate, the worth of the site. The owners and webmasters couldn’t give a rat’s ass if you read the cretinous drivel that supports the headline; as long as you clicked on the page you’ve done your job. Headlines are now breathless, overblown, and misleading; they are an insult to their readers’ intelligence and an affront to anyone who cares about journalism.

Nevertheless, the hyperbolic headline is an indication of the depth to which political discourse has descended. Overstated claims, describing molehills as mountains, and screams of outrage at the slightest hysteria from trumpprovocation are all part of the dialectic. Political positions have become like those headlines: overblown, shrill, uncompromising, and extreme. Political positions have become extreme, not in an effort to increase one’s click-through rate, but to eliminate the possibility of compromise. To stake out an extreme or radical position helps to ensure that no common ground can be found; compromise thus becomes impossible.

Bombast, in the expression of a political position or in a demand made in the political

'That's what i hate about being a caveman. Everything has to be carved in stone!'

sphere, has become so commonplace that those who express their views in extreme language have come to believe their own rhetoric. That which was once either simply florid language on the one hand, or the expression of an initial negotiating position on the other, has become a bottom-line non-negotiable demand. Today, all stances assumed in the political sphere have become unalterable and carved in stone. An uncompromising position is the only type of position we see at this point in social history.

Compromise, the backbone of civilised society, the very essence of culture and non-confrontational relations, has become anathema. Where compromise used to be taught to kindergarten children as a necessary social skill, today, and particularly by those on the far right, compromise is seen as synonymous with defeat and surrender. Insistence on seeing one’s most extreme demands acceded to without the slightest alteration, modification, or moderation is the new standard in public discourse. Stubbornly refusing even to consider an opposing view is seen as integrity; loyalty is defined as an unthinking rejection of anything that differs from the party line. It doesn’t matter how extreme the party line, or how benign the contrasting idea, refusing even to consider it is seen as a virtue.

In the US, the infiltration of the Republican Party by the Tea Party faction was the watershed moment of TeaPartythe new politics of absolutism. They came roaring into Washington on a wave of support for their evangelical fervour and their rejection of the traditional way of doing politics. Drunk with their own success, they demanded that even (or even especially) their most outrageous and radical ideas be accepted, and they simply would not compromise or retreat even fractionally from those positions. The result was acrimony in discourse and gridlock in Congress.

But they went even further in their refusal to compromise; when they were given, as the result of negotiations, what they demanded, they simply staked out a position that was even more extreme and refused to back down from that as well. They waged a tireless war against the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), even though it was a compromise on the part of the administration and the Democrats in Congress, and was, in fact, the health care reform recommended and supported by their own party before the Tea Party came to prominence. As long as the other side was willing Thinking gop styleto accept it, they wouldn’t; it was too much like capitulation to their minds.

So polarised has the political world become, actual thinking has become suspect. If someone is thinking about the implications and consequences of their views, the possibility of considering modifying them is raised, and that will never do. Polarisation has become so extreme that political philosophies and viewpoints have become secular religions and to apply critical analysis to them is to commit heresy.

And, as politics becomes similar to religion in its adherence to immutable doctrine and dogmatic cohesion, religion becomes increasingly political in its insistence on imposing its doctrine on the body politic. This is seen most graphically and most dangerously in the rise of a faction of extremists within Islam.

The radical jihadists, who form a tiny minority within Islam have persuaded many in the western world that they speak for all Muslims and their savage actions are supported by all or most Muslims. The acts Terroristsof brutal terrorism the radicals carry out against western targets are intended to raise the anger and fear of Islam as a whole; they want westerners to hate and fear all Islam so that their warped and vicious heretical Islam will dominate. And, here in the west, we find some politicians playing into their hands by blaming all Muslims for the actions of a few. And what those politicians don’t mention, since it conflicts with their views, is that jihadist terrorism kills and injures far more Muslims than western Christians. To acknowledge that Muslims are the vast majority of victims of jihadist terrorism would contradict their lies that the west is in a war with Islam rather than the truth: that extreme Islamic jihadists are in a war with the rest of the world.

The hyperbolic headlines, and the polarisation of politics and religion that they reflect are seen in the increasingly radicalised evangelical Christian movement here in North America. Christian radicals, who are increasingly disconnected from anything like the mainstream interpretation of the teachings of Jesus Christ, have taken to manipulating politics by trying to persuade the media and their consumers that they represent the views of the majority. Precisely like ISIS.

The positions staked out by the Christian right include a rejection of the doctrine of separation of church and state; they insist that Christianity is the religion of the United States and that legislation, education,

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church hold anti-gay signs at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Veterans Day, November 11, 2010.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)

and daily life should reflect that. Disconcertingly, they insist that their right to practice their religion is being compromised by having to obey the same laws that the rest of us do. They insist that the existence of legal same sex marriage is oppressive to their religion. They demand the right to practice their religion by discriminating against various groups, most notably the LGBTQ community. They demand that the rest of the country provide, through tax breaks, financial support for their institutional bigotry. There is no room for compromise, and their rhetoric becomes more strident and more extreme every day.

What can be done about this gridlocked and hostile state of affairs? Are we doomed to keep spinning our wheels as we push against one another? Will public discourse remain nothing more than two opposing sides shouting slogans and epithets while nothing gets done and forward momentum dies? Only a few things come to mind.

In the first place, we can read news media that carry opposing views. In an effort to avoid being locked in an echo chamber in which we only hear our own thoughts and ideas parroted back to us in different words, we can actively listen to what the other side is saying. We can choose the media we really pay attention to by eschewing the ones with the overblown and bombastic headlines that sparked this column, and instead turn our focus on the outlets with restrained and moderate headlines; the content under those headers is likely to be more thoughtful as well. We can develop our critical thinking skills and apply them both to what we read about hot button subjects and to what public figures actually say.

demand-evidence-and-think-critically-17But most of all, to get out of this trap of strident and hostile gridlock caused by a refusal to back away from extreme views, we can avoid voting for candidates who fan the flames of fear and anger; we can reject the politics of polarisation and dogged adherence to extreme and exclusionary views. We can decide that our culture of inclusion and cooperation is worth saving. We can reject those who harangue us with the notion that we need to treat everyone who is different from us with cruelty. But the simplest and perhaps the most important thing we can do right now, today, is reject people who seek high political office on a platform of easily debunked and consistently repeated lies. We can reject those who appeal to the very worst in human nature and we can support anyone who is willing to consider opposing views, to apologise for mistakes, to correct factual errors, and to assume the best in people rather than the worst. We can refuse to fall into the trap of voting out of despair, out of anger, out of fear and hatred. We can have faith that if we reject fear and hatred, there might just be a chance to renovate our civilisation and have a society where we work together constructively and cooperatively.

All of that is much harder to do than to relax into the comfort of groupthink and tribalism; but if we want to back away from the abyss just in front of us, we have to have the courage to do what’s right.

ENDITEM…

 

Life With JJ

Thoughts About Fatherhood

Pagun

 

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) My son JJ just graduated from Grade 1 and is now home for the summer.  I remember being that age, when the two months of summer school holidays stretched out in front of me like a nearly infinite time, and the idea of being able to do all those things that going to school precluded was intoxicating. Of course this was all in the first week, before boredom set in and moping around Summer Holiday Swithout direction or goals was all that seemed to be available. I didn’t have the Internet to babysit me for hours at a stretch and video games were still uninvented, but there was TV and there were books; nevertheless, the phrase “I’m bored!” became something of a mantra. Being his age is tough; a year or two more will make a big difference. When he’s just a little older, he’ll be independent enough to gather a group of friends and, as a group, find plenty of trouble to get into. But right now, with me being a single father, we are inseparable and he needs me or, in a pinch, another adult he knows, to be within view, or at least earshot.

JJ, after just one week of summer, has reached the point where he hangs around repeating his bored mantra. It may be even more difficult for him, because all he really grasps about what I do every day is that it doesn’t involve me getting suited up and heading to an office or worksite. As far as he knows, video_games_1while he’s at school, I do pretty much what he would do, given a lack of direction: spend the day online. Naturally, he fully expected to pull me away from the keyboard so I could spend the extra hours provided by summer vacation with him.

In the first week of the summer, I got him used to the idea that in the time between driving him to school at 7:30 am and meeting him at the school bus stop at 2:10 pm, I actually did stuff. He’s starting to grasp that in that small window, I manage to put out as much as 2500 words of finished copy; research, write, illustrate, and post up to 1500 words for Pagunview.com; do the laundry, dishwashing, meal prep, and housecleaning; and deal with personal correspondence. He is wise enough to begin to grasp that all that stuff needs to get done despite the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer being upon us. Unfortunately, he also seems to think that my schedule should be reflected by him lying on the couch with his concentration fixed on his tablet watching video game reviews by an assortment of social outcasts, for the bulk of the day.

JJ bike 1JJ having just recently mastered the art of riding his bicycle without needing a steadying hand, I had assumed that we had created a sure-fire pastime for summer days. I hadn’t realised that my watching him ride is as important as him riding in the first place. Living in a very rural area, the friends he is used to seeing daily are scattered and are mostly miles away; just playing with them requires planning and working out the logistics. I’m tempted to be selfish and get some of his friends’ stay-at-home moms to take him on to hang out with her kids for several days of play dates, but the truth is, I can’t reciprocate and take several, or even one, of their kids and spend the day breaking up fights, keeping them out of danger, and feeding a variety of different tastes and appetites. Well, I probably could, but I just don’t think I’m equipped to handle it with the grace and fortitude I’ve seen their mothers demonstrate. So we struggle along, me encouraging him to do something active, him responding that he needs me to join him in the activity. My work suffers a bit, and I’ve adjusted my routine to work more at night in order to spend more of the day with him.

But the extra time I spend with him has made me think a lot about what I want for him in his life, and about what’s important, and what’s just about me wanting a surrogate. Because I love him with a fierce, profound, intensity – a kind of love that, before being a parent, I had no idea existed and would never have thought myself capable – I want him, above all, to be happy. And because my son is very special in his capacity for empathy, his sensitivity, and his inclination to love others, I worry that the world is going childcareto hurt him. Until now, I have protected him from the sharp corners and sharp elbows that are everywhere in this world. But that time is coming to an end; he needs to be prepared to meet the world on its own terms, a little more each day.

I want, as I said, above all, for JJ to be a happy child, and ultimately an adult with a sense of joy in his life. That’s hard for me to help him with because, as one who has suffered from bipolarity  (manic depression) all my life (although only recently conclusively diagnosed and, even more recently, treated and controlled), normal, healthy happiness isn’t something with which I am very familiar. I cannot intuitively relate to the healthy happiness of a well-adjusted child. My memories of my emotional states in childhood are garbled and morbid. But I most certainly know when my little boy is happy or sad or frustrated or angry; and with my relatively newfound emotional equilibrium, I am able to employ parenting strategies that seem to work. They work because JJ and I are so close that we hardly need verbal communication to understand one another.

I’ve given a great deal of thought to how I want JJ to grow up, and to what I’d like him to grow into. I’m not entirely sure of a great many things but there are some absolutes that I consider crucial and which I stress in all our interactions.

Above all, I want JJ to be a good man. I want him to be kind; I want him to consider, in everything he does, the impact his actions will have on others; I want him to be inclusive and accepting of others’ differences; I want him to commit random acts of kindness; I want him to go to bed every night and ask himself whether he has contributed to the net overall happiness in the universe. I want all that for JJ because it is morally the right thing to do; and on a pragmatic level, I know for certain that he will be change-the-worldhappier in general if he has a sense that he has done good things rather than bad.

I want JJ to be strong. I want him to know that real strength doesn’t consist in beating or dominating others but in conquering his own inclinations to do harm. I want him to have sufficient self-respect to be able to stand tall and refuse to be dominated by others; I want him to be prepared to be in a minority of one if those around him are wrong.

I want JJ to discover what he is good at and what he is passionate about. I want him to nurture that talent and that passion, and eventually develop a strategy to make a living doing it. But I also want him to be curious, to read or otherwise teach himself about everything that he might find interesting or intriguing; I want him to develop a lifelong habit of looking into things that arouse his interest. I want him to develop critical thinking skills so that he doesn’t fall victim to those who would attempt to persuade him of falsehoods. I want him to recognise that despite his love for humanity, there are people out there who spread lies, who sell hatred and intolerance; I want him to be intellectually and emotionally prepared to reject their views.

I want JJ to be a man of his word; I want him to believe in integrity and honesty in all his relationships from business to romantic. I want him to be loyal to his friends and always live up to his commitments to them. I want him to help his friends, and even strangers, to the very best of his ability and not expect reciprocation. I want him to realise that being in a position to do something kind and helpful for NoActOfKindnessIsEverWastedsomeone is a privilege. I want him to recognise that the smallest gesture or act of kindness can have profound and unforeseen positive consequences.

I want all those things for JJ because I genuinely believe that if he can embrace those things as essential aspects of his adult character, he will be a happier person, a person who will have few regrets and who will be able to look himself in the mirror and be comfortable. I want those things for my son because I don’t believe that human interaction is a zero-sum game. On the contrary; every one of us has the capacity and the power to improve the world in a small way, every day we breathe of the atmosphere we all share.

ENDITEM…

A Closer Look

Trying to Figure Out the Trump Phenomenon (Part 2)

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Since there is a dearth of firm policy statements coming from the Trump camp we have to look at the general tone and atmosphere of his campaign. Even his supporters will acknowledge that Trump has lowered the level of discourse and public debate; the Trump campaign has coarsened and degraded the way in which politics and democratic functions are carried out. His followers have justified his and their own hateful rhetoric by suggesting that they are courageously refusing to submit to “political correctness”. His and their vulgar and bigoted language is gleefully deployed and political correctness is condemned as too restricting. The political correctness they reject is,political-correctness of course, nothing more than socially acceptable ways of behaving, and communicating respectfully and without causing undue offense. But Trump’s rejection of respectful communication and behaviour gives his followers licence to speak hatred and to act violently. In fact, Trump has explicitly encouraged violence against his detractors, and his people have enthusiastically rejoiced in the freedom they have been given to behave like a mob and to express their racism in ways that were unacceptable just a little over a year ago.

Trump is an authoritarian. He also seems to be unaware of the responsibilities and limitations on the power of the office he seeks. He speaks as though he expects to be elected to be an all-powerful national leader with the authority of a Roman Emperor. Remarkably, he does this while simultaneously lambasting President Obama for using his authority to employ executive orders. Also remarkably, he condemns Obama’s use of that authority as dictatorial when, in fact, Obama has employed that authority far less frequently than his Republican predecessors.

So, what exactly is it that Trump supporters see in him as being valuable or desirable in someone who is asking to be made the most powerful man in the world? The most common answer to that kind of question is that he is a great businessman and that expertise will serve the country well should he be elected. There are a few problems with that reasoning, however, when one looks at it a little more carefully.

TrumpWealthEarningsanIllusionIn the first place, Trump is losing support every day as the reality of his business acumen is being exposed as largely imaginary. Trump has an enormous list of business failures on his resume. From Trump Steaks to Trump Vodka; from failed real estate projects to bankrupt casinos; and frauds like Trump University, Donald Trump has an abysmal record as a business giant. A number of financial analysts have stated that, had Trump simply put his inherited millions in a mutual fund with an average return, he would be better off than he is as a result of his business adventures. Whether that is accurate is hard to determine since Trump, the first candidate in over 40 years to do so, has refused to release his tax returns. He knows that keeping his returns secret is hurting him; that means he knows that releasing them would hurt him even more. It is likely that public scrutiny of his tax returns would put the final nail in the coffin of Donald Trump’s self-created mythology of being a philanthropist and vastly wealthy.

The second problem is that the notion that business experience is a critical credential for a presidential candidate is simply wrong. Not one of the great presidents was a particularly successful businessman. Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Kennedy, Reagan; none of them relied on their reputations or experience as business successes to govern. In fact, governing and managing a corporation require utterly different skill sets, as the two institutions are completely different in structure, in purpose, and in benchmarks of success. A president of the US needs to govern with the rights, needs, desires, and even lives of all Americans in mind. A corporate president needs to increase the corporation’s profits for the benefit of the shareholders. If it works as part of a broader profit-making strategy, a CEO may downsize, government and businessdismantle, or even bankrupt a corporation; Trump claims to be an expert at that sort of thing. That kind of strategy would be catastrophic for a country. A CEO has virtually unlimited authority. A US president is an executive who manages according to the laws passed by congress and with the approval of the Supreme Court; despite Trump’s poor understanding of the constitution, a president is not a dictator.

So what is it that his followers see in Donald Trump? The best way to figure that out is to look at the demographics of his base. Trump’s most solid and unwavering support is comprised of poorly educated white men. That demographic is the most alienated and dissatisfied identifiable group in the country. In the lifetime of the baby boomers among them, they have seen themselves diminished as the most influential and politically courted segment of the electorate. Having become a minority as the result of the diversification of the US population, as the result of increasing numbers of Americans seeking and earning college educations, and as the result of women taking a greater part in politics, they miss the angry white mengood old days when all politicians tailored their campaigns and policies to appeal to them. They feel abandoned. They have seen their real income and their job prospects take a hit. They have been reduced from solidly middle class to poor white trash at the same time as they see more minorities succeeding. They are angry.

Donald Trump has come along and told them that he’ll make America great again. He hasn’t told them what he’ll do to accomplish that other than to take actions against the minorities that his base fear and loath. When he goes into his tough guy shtick, they feel empowered. When he crosses the invisible line between straight talk and outright bigotry, they feel that he’s one of them because he has said out loud those things that they have always felt constrained to suppress. He has given racists permission to repeat outrageously hateful racist statements as being too honest to submit to “political correctness”. Being a vocal hatemonger has, with Trump’s ascendancy, become seen by some as courageous, rather than as the craven sniping it really is.

By knowing alanti-intellectualmost nothing about foreign or domestic policy, macroeconomics, constitutional law, geopolitics, or anything else that have always been critical areas of expertise for an American president, and by steadfastly refusing to take the trouble of boning up on those subjects, Trump has helped his supporters identify with him. They are delighted to see a candidate who dismisses expertise, knowledge, and critical thinking as nothing but elitist egghead rhetoric. Trump loves a conspiracy theory; in that, he also identifies with his base who get their news from Trump’s favourite supermarket tabloids. They respect him for buying into their own favourite crackpot beliefs. Trump, after all, has never backed down from the birtherism he spearheaded; he cannot retreat from claiming Hillary Trump is a criminal, despite her having been investigated for virtually her entire 25 years in public life without having come up with anything.

Trump is identified with because, apart from his claim to be a billionaire, he is like them: thin skinned, childish in his insulting and abusive language, both in speeches and in his obsessive use of Twitter to blurt out inanities. The Trump people are self-righteous and angry because they feel that the world has left them behind; they take it as a personal insult when a politician like their president speaks of the importance of education in achieving success in the 21st Century. Trump cozies up to them and validates their fear, their anger, their alienation. He doesn’t mind lying consistently and he couldn’t care less that his lies are exposed every single day, because when he is routinely called a liar, his people just put it down to liberal attacks on their guy.

Trump plans to be swept into the presidency on a wave of ignorance, violent rhetoric, bigotry, and fear and loathing. He is pushing all the right buttons to appeal to those who have those qualities in their Georgw F Will and Trumphearts and are ecstatic at the opportunity to see them brought out into the daylight. But there is a finite number of Americans who are willing to go down that road; thoughtful Republicans are jumping ship and finally saying, “Trump does not speak for me!”

Having tried to look at Trump and his followers objectively and give them the benefit of the doubt; having tried to walk in their shoes and understand where they’re coming from, I have to say that I arrive at the same place I was before that exercise. Trump is neither Republican nor Democrat and he doesn’t represent either party’s core values. He represents all the worst in America and he will lose badly in the general election the November.

ENDITEM…