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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

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Post-democratic Society

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) A somewhat schizophrenic attitude toward the concept and practice of democracy in America is becoming more noticeable in this, the summer of Trump. In the most bizarre presidential election campaign in living memory, the fundamental assumption of US politics and civil society – that the nation is essentially a democratic one – is up for discussion. We see one group of US citizens espousing the view that the United States is the most democratic and free nation that has ever existed, and that this aspect of American exceptionalism needs to be defended from interlopers. But average votercuriously, that same group also seems to hold that the country is riddled with corruption, that its political leaders are bought and paid for, and that what’s needed is a shakeup that would involve drastically curtailing the very freedoms that they insist make America exceptional. If asserting both positions simultaneously isn’t schizophrenic, at the very least it involves tolerating a high degree of cognitive dissonance.

However, the conflicting perspectives held by any rational citizen of a western industrialised country tend to gloss over even deeper problems with some fundamental assumptions. In play today is the assertion that (taking the United States as the most graphic example) we are now living in a post-democratic historical period. And if one were to look at it realistically rather than emotionally, democracy, as an ideal form of government, in which the people are sovereign and in which the elected legislators represent the desires, interests, and viewpoints of the citizenry, simply does not exist now, if it ever did.

winston-churchill-democrasy            The United States cannot truly be described any more as having a democratic system of government. The people of the country are accustomed to and have come to accept the reality that their congressmen and senators are far more responsive to those who finance their political careers than they are to their constituents. There is scarcely any outrage or public outcry when Congress grants billions of dollars in government subsidies to the big oil companies who have financed their campaigns; the fact that those companies are the most profitable enterprises in the history of mankind and don’t need any social assistance to thrive makes absolutely no difference to anyone. And the very same lawmakers can sanctimoniously point to having voted to cut funding for the most desperate and vulnerable of their constituents, and pat themselves on the back for their exercise of “fiscal responsibility”.chuck heston NRA

When you have party leadership that vets every initiative by checking with their lobbyists before bringing them to the floor for discussion; where the National Rifle Association has de facto veto power over any gun-related proposed legislation, democracy is not at work. When special interest groups with enough financial support can create “think tanks” to draft legislation that favours themselves, and then see their tame representatives and senators table those proposed laws without changing a comma, we are not dealing with a democratic process. When a blind eye is turned to gerrymandering, to deliberately created electoral inequalities, to state level disregard for federal laws, we are not looking at democracy.

We have to accept thCongressional BJat, in the United States, congress and the courts are not genuinely accessible or answerable to the average citizen. Laws are made by corporate interests. Well heeled anti-democratic special interests like the extreme religious right can determine a politician’s career path.  Legislators spend at least 50% of their time in office raising money from wealthy private donors and corporate interests to whom they owe their allegiance and who can threaten to withdraw support if they’re not satisfied with their purchase. The last tenuous shreds of democracy have been lost when one considers that the two big parties’ nominees for the presidency are among the most despised people in the country.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump can find millions of supporters when his campaign, on the one hand, can be based on the notion that the country has gone to hell, and that it is a laughing stock in the community of nations; while on the other hand he is selling the snake oil that the country is so wonderful that the drawbridge needs to be raised and all hands prepared to repel boarders. He can repeat, day after day, that the country has become a third world cesspool and still garner applause when he condemns an athlete for failing to show proper respect for the national anthem. Trump claims that he is defending freedom by demanding that the athlete in question be punished for exercising that very freedom.

In a world where people are encouraged to come to important decisions viscerally, where they are bought and paid for congresstaught that reason, logic, and knowledge are east coast liberal conceits, and that their own ignorance supported by intense feelings is superior to another’s facts and researched information, the mechanisms of representative democracy cannot work. The failure of democracy and the decline of expertise, education, and factual knowledge are inextricably entwined; each contributes to the other and results in an inevitable vicious cycle. The rise of demagoguery, as well as the belief in magical thinking and the increase in divisiveness are the other side of the same coin. The increase in ignorance is reflected in the decreasing respect for rational and prayer-350empirical thinking; and ignorance is always accompanied by its dark companions: fear and hatred. But democracy, particularly representative democracy, requires leadership that embraces reason and arms itself with knowledge and compassion. As things stand at the moment, reason is eschewed for gut instinct, knowledge is rejected in favour of opinion, and compassion is dismissed as weakness and seen as being taken advantage of. Democracy cannot and does not work under these conditions.

When some of the greatest intellects of the Enlightenment collaborated and drew up the Constitution of the United States, they did not design a two-party system of government; that was something that emerged spontaneously as the infant democracy found its footings. They didn’t mention parties at all in the document they produced. And when a country is as polarised, when groups are uncompromising and determined not to give an inch, but rather, inclined to harden their positions, a two party system doesn’t work. There is only a binary choice at the polls, and neither option is likely to be fully satisfying to the vast majority of voters. A multiparty system, like in a parliamentary democracy would work better because it would force compromise, it would require coalitions and working with opponents to achieve anything.

But the founding fathers believed that their constitution would be even more democratic, because therush_822 people themselves, more than any party, would be the drivers of the nation’s destiny. Because of the intricate system of checks and balances built into the constitution, they believed that the people would always be sovereign and their will would be expressed through the election of representatives in congress, and in their choice of president, who would express his understanding of their will through his judicial appointments. Nevertheless, in the Federalist Papers, Publius, (the pseudonym of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay) was clear that a rational and thoughtful population was critical to making the system work:

 “It has been frequently remarked, that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force. (Federalist 1)

At this point in US history, and in much of the rest of the developed world, accident and force are making a comeback as the deciding factors in political decision making. Thlincoln on revolutione Federalists were not completely convinced that democracy was a good idea; their concern was that bad, or unfair polices would be enacted by a majority and trample the rights of the minority. The Federalists were deeply concerned that democracy would be little more than mob rule. They accordingly built in those checks and balances. But mostly, their justification for opting for democracy was that they had confidence that the people of America could live up to their ideal of conducting politics with reflection, human decency, and informed thought.

In the era of Trump, that optimism is demonstrably unfounded. Mob rule is taking over and democracy is clearly failing. Can it be rescued and revived? Ask me again on the morning of November 9, 2016.

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….

 

 

Democracy is as Democracy Does

Democracy: A great idea

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Here in North America, particularly during election campaigns, we repeatedly hear about the democracy we enjoy. Democracy is used as the benchmark for fairness, justice, and integrity. To say that someone, or some institution or action is undemocratic is to condemn; if the accusation can be seen to have merit, there is no defence. To be democratic is good; to be undemocratic is bad. The notion of democracy is so deeply ingrained in our Western psyches as an absolute and unquestioned value, that the dissemination of democracy is virtually the only acceptable moral justification for a war of Western aggression.

Forget for a moment that in the last several decades the West has initiated and waged wars primarily for economic war is terrorismbenefits or to feed the ego of US presidents; the continuation of those wars was always justified by the assertion that the invaded countries would be given democracy. Democracy was a gift that we were willing to bestow on the people of countries we first carpet bombed and then occupied. Once we devastated the countries, we would make it all worthwhile by instituting Western-style governments and democratic systems of governance; we would stick around indefinitely in the form of heavily armed “peacekeepers” to ensure that the newly democratised people didn’t backslide to their traditional non-democratic ways. Here in the West, the value of democracy itself is always assumed without question.

There are two major problems with that view. The first difficulty is formulating an argument that persuasively defends democracy as the ideal we assume it to be. And the second is finding an example of democracy anywhere in history or in existence today.

Winston Churchill, upon being voted out of office immediately after he orchestrated the Allied victory in the 2nd World War, famously said that the people of Britain could do what they wanted, as theirs was a democracy. And as to democracy Winston-Churchill-Democracy-Quotesitself, he said in a speech to the House of Commons on November 11, 1947, “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…”

The notion that democracy is the best, indeed the only righteous form of government seems self evident; from the smallest group dynamics to the vast complexity of a system of government like that of the United States, something is considered just and fair if it has been put to the people and a majority approves. Even three children will recognise that if two of them want to do something and one doesn’t, the majority should get their way. And yet democracy as a philosophy of government or politics is a fairly recent development.

Ancient Greece (or more accurately, the city-state of Athens) is held up as a model of ancient democracy and in ower to the peoplesome ways it was. But Athenians would have been horrified at the prospect of real democracy being instituted; no self-respecting Athenian democrat would have countenanced extending the vote to people who were too ignorant to be trusted with that responsibility. It would be absurd to expect that slaves, paupers, or women ought to be among those enfranchised. Democratic though the vote was among leading Athenian men, the fact is those with the right to vote formed a tiny minority of the population.

More recently, even the Founding Fathers of the US did not agree that democracy as a model of enlightened governance was self-evidently the way to go. They were more afraid that the political process would be dominated by the democracy-quotes-8rabble; there was real concern that most people simply weren’t sufficiently sophisticated, educated, or possessed of sufficient wisdom to have much say in government. Nevertheless, democracy as a political philosophy won the day and the US Constitution was written with elaborate safeguards and failsafe mechanisms to ensure that neither one branch of government nor any outside faction could upset the balance of powers. However, just like the ancient Athenians, the draftsmen of the US Constitution explicitly denied the franchise to their slaves, their wives, mothers, and daughters, and to anyone who was not a landowner.

Over the decades, the franchise expanded and the country became incrementally motrikosko-Marchers-with-signs-at-the-March-on-Washington-1963re democratic; women were granted the vote only in the 20th Century. It took the bloodiest war in American history, but slavery was abolished and African Americans were eventually given the right to vote. Nevertheless, Jim Crow laws curtailed that theoretical right and it wasn’t until the mid 1960s that the Civil Rights Act (1964) and then the Voting Rights Act (1965) were passed. And still today there is an ongoing effort on the part of the Republican Party to disenfranchise black voters by legislating new hoops for them to jump through in order to cast a ballot.

In theory now, every adult US citizen has the right to vote for the candidate of his or her choice. But disregarding the gerrymandering that deliberately skews the results of elections, and ignoring the laws insisting that voter IDs rarely owned by minorities must be presented at polling stations, and forgetting about the dirty tricks like reducing voting hours and polling stations in minority districts, we still have to ask whether we are looking at a democratic form of government in the United States. The current state of American society would suggest that democracy in the US would be a terrific idea and really ought to be tried some day.

As this is being written (1 July, 2016), all indications are that the two candidates for the country’s presidency will be the Democrat Hillary Clinton and the Republican Donald Trump. Barring some unforeseen cataclysmic shakeup, those will be the only alternatives voters will really have. And yet by actual polls those two potential presidents are among the clinton_trump_donkey_most thoroughly despised people in the United States. Donald Trump is ahead of Clinton in the “viewed unfavourably” sweepstakes, but both people have more people respond negatively to them in polls than they have positive responses.

That could perhaps be blamed on the candidates’ respective parties and their method of candidate selection which is so labyrinthine and Byzantine that the average voter is at a loss to understand or even participate meaningfully in primaries. The average voter has absolutely no idea that although they cast a ballot favouring their preferred candidate, their wishes don’t actually count; it’s the vote of the electoral college in their particular state that decides who actually wins. It isn’t cynical, it is only realistic to point out that the will of the majority doesn’t determine the winner of a presidential election; if it did, we never would have seen George W. Bush in the White House and we would be looking back fondly on the Al Gore presidency.

In the democracy that the US believes ought to be given to other nations as a gift, it is worth noting that occupying a seat in the legislature permits the representatives or Senators to vote as they see fit. Fair enough; that’s representative democracy as opposed to direct democracy. But is it any sort of democracy when 90% of the population is strongly in nascarfavour of legislating gun control measures, but congress refuses to do so? It is neither unfair nor cynical to point out that the members of congress who steadfastly refuse to vote as their constituents want are accepting contributions from the gun lobby that is against any form of gun control. Mitch McConnell, the head of Senate Republicans and consistent opponent of any sort of gun control, has accepted just under 1 million dollars from the National Rifle Association as a contribution to his last election campaign. If it walks like a bribe and it quacks like a bribe…

While much noise is generated by the established legislators about the lazy “takers” and the hardworking “makers” as justification for reducing welfare benefits for the most destitute, the same group writes an annual cheque for billions of dollars in corporate welfare for the oil companies that finance their campaigns. These grants are given to the most profitable corporations in the history of the world and are used largely to pay the multi million dollar salaries and bonuses of the corporations’ senior executives.

This is Western democracy. A government that, to be realistic, is comprised of an oligarchy of enormously wealthy individuals, transnational corporate interests, and a dug-in and all but permanent governing class. It is government of the quote-the-people-have-the-power-all-we-have-to-do-is-awaken-the-power-in-the-people-john-lennon-79-88-40wealthy, for the corporations, and by the established interests. It is complacency and blindness that encourages the average Westerner to refer habitually to their system of governance as democratic. It is beyond arrogant to insist on imposing that system on others and believing that they’re doing them an enormous favour.

The system in question is not fundamentally democratic; until we have put in the effort and political will to revamp it to the point that we can be a positive example, exporting it is the most pernicious expression of nationalist hubris imaginable.

ENDITEM…

Living in the Shadow of the Gun

Happiness is a warm gun…

Pagun

victims-pulse-orlando-shooting

The victims

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) I didn’t write about the American gun culture in the immediate aftermath of the Orlando slaughter because I was too angry. All I could really do at that point was raise points and frame arguments that had been made many times before and which had always been defeated when actual steps needed to be taken to save lives. In the days following the latest and bloodiest American mass shooting, I would have been just one more voice crying in the wilderness. How many times, after all, can the same rationale be raised only to encounter the same half-baked defenses of unfettered and unrestricted access to firearms by US citizens? There seems to be no upper limit.

Nevertheless, it has to be done. So let’s look at the story that just came in through my morning newsfeed here on the usa_orlando_shooting-1west coast. In Washington, while I slept, the Republicans, almost exactly along party lines, voted down a proposed bill that would impose a 72 hour waiting period on those on the terrorist watch list who wish to buy assault rifles and other firearms. That’s right; a waiting period for people already on the terrorist watch list was too much to consider. Does that decision not make it absolutely clear that the Republican Party is in favour of selling guns to the terrorists they maintain are the greatest threat to the nation? The proposed bill was one supported by over 90% of the country, including gun owners. Among American citizens, there is no opposition to the safety measure. The objection, of course, comes from the NRA which has donated baskets of money to those Republican senators. In Mitch McConnell’s case, almost 1 million dollars for his last election campaign. How can those bought-and-paid-for hypocrites justify such a blatant act of influence peddling?

They don’t even try to be original in their sophistical talking points. I actually heard one of those gun-culture-sodden senators repeat the immortal mantra: “If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.” How does a normal person respond to such an inane remark? Very simply: “Exactly right! Now you’re getting it!”  That’s the whole point. Outlawing guns means that if you retain firearms in spite of a hypothetical weapons ban, then you are in violation of the law. Then you can be arrested and your weapons confiscated and the world will be a marginally better place for having dealt with you. Outlawing guns would be precisely and specifically a measure to make outlaws of gun owners.

The unfortunate thing, though, is that no one is pushing an agenda to outlaw guns; the whole argument is a straw man. What we were talking about was a three day waiting period for terrorists to endure while they stockpile weapons with which to kill you and your families. The whole paranoid mantra of gun safety measures being an attempt to disarm the most heavily armed civilian population in the world is breathtaking in its dishonesty. Safety regulations are not government overreach; they are the bare minimum a responsible government can do…and this NRA sponsored congress won’t even do that.

I also heard the hoary old favourite this week: Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. That stunningly idiotic stupid gunownersdefense of the right of everyone, including terrorists, to purchase and own weapons, even semi-automatic weapons with high capacity magazines, was actually dusted off and trotted out for an airing his week. As far as its attempt at a sort of faux zen logic is concerned, it’s partly right. It’s not the gun that kills; it’s usually the bullets that the gun shoots that actually do the killing. And yes; it’s people who kill people. But far too frequently people use a gun to shoot bullets into other people to kill them. And to help stop people from killing other people, we’d like to make it a lot harder to shoot those bullets into other people. We do that very simply by making it a lot harder for people who want to kill people to get their hands on a gun with which to do it. And again, the vast majority of US citizens, including gun proponents, are in favour of common sense gun safety legislation. The only opponents are their Republican representatives who accept over 23 million dollars per year in campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association.

I think my favourite NRA sponsored talking point this week has been their packaged response to gun control advocates who rail against the number of firearms in civilian hands in the US. When a gun control proponent mentions that civilian gun ownership in the US is far and away the highest in the world and that the numbers of deaths by gunshot reflects this, the party line and prepared response is: Look at Switzerland; everybody has a gun there and there’s practically no gun violence. We are apparently supposed to take that to mean that gun ownership and gun violence have no causal relationship. And, yes, I actually heard that one today.

That one has so many holes in it that it’s hard to know where to start. In 2007, the US had approximately 112.6

Yes! Please let's try the Swiss model!

Yes! Please let’s try the Swiss model!

firearms per 100 people. That is more than one gun per person, man, woman, and child in the country. Switzerland had 45.7 per 100 people. That difference alone makes the comparison of the two countries unworkable[1]. And even more importantly, the Swiss number includes weapons owned by militia members who do not take their weapons home. But the real objection is this: Switzerland has among the most rigid and restrictive gun ownership regulations in the world, and everyone who owns a weapon must be trained in its use, its safety and storage, and the law regarding its use, transportation, storage, and maintenance. This article is worth reading before we ask gun proponents if they would consent to laws similar to Switzerland’s. Would they consent if it was certain to reduce death by gunshot? I doubt if the NRA would want to go there. Nevertheless, whenever the Swiss model is mentioned by the gun lobby as proof that gun ownership or access to weapons is not the cause of gun violence, I find it worth responding that I’d be wholly in favour of even wider gun ownership in the US – if gun legislation was modeled on Switzerland’s. The fact is, most Americans couldn’t even imagine thoseStephen King guns kinds of restrictions.

Assault weapons have one purpose only. They are designed for the purpose of killing as many human beings as possible in the shortest amount of time and with the least inconvenience to the shooter. They simply should not be in the hands of civilians; the simple possession of one of these weapons should be seen as prima facia evidence of an intent to commit homicide. The ban on those weapons ought to be a no-brainer. Ditto for the high-capacity magazines for all auto and semi-automatic weapons. Some legislative effort at getting to that simple and obvious level of common sense should be made immediately and with very little argument; most Americans favour these measures. And yet, the Republicans absolutely draw a line in the sand: no legislation imposing any regulation of any sort is acceptable.

But, as long as we’re wishing for seemingly impossible things, what ultimately needs to happen is a national conversation about the confusing and vague language of the US Constitution’s 2nd Amendment. The Supreme Court needs to clarify once and for all whether the preamble, the part that reads: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” means that states may raise militias, or whether it means that every citizen should have completely unregulated access to any kind of weapon they can afford. And if SCOTUS opts for the latter, the NRA’s self-serving interpretation, then clearly the Constitution needs to be amended yet again.2nd-Amendment

If, as many extremists believe, the Constitution guarantees every American the right to own and carry lethal weapons, then the Constitution is wrong and needs to be changed. The Founding Fathers couldn’t have foreseen the technological developments that resulted in the lethality and capacity for killing that modern firearms use as a selling point. But most of all, what the Founding Fathers could not have foreseen is that far too many of their descendants would lack the intelligence, character, and maturity to be trusted with a pointy stick, let alone a high capacity, rapid firing, lethal weapon.

***

[1] It’s also worthwhile noting that these figures are taken from studies and reflect the numbers in the year 2007. In the years since then, the US numbers of gun ownership has increased significantly, while Switzerland’s have decreased. The estimate of Swiss-owned guns per 100 people in 2014 is 25.

 

ENDITEM…

Home of the Whopper

In all honesty…

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) I have argued elsewhere that we ought to pay attention to the scientific studies that have demonstrated that those professing to be liberals are, on the whole, more intelligent than those who self-identify as conservatives. Although for obvious reasons that observation isn’t repeated very often by those on the right side of the political spectrum, and is usually politely glossed over by most of my fellow occupiers of the left, it’s fair to say that it’s pretty much self-evident. That the right is aware of its own intellectual disadvantage is clearly expressed in the anti-intellectualism that they embrace.homer-simpson-quote-how-is-education-supposed-to-make-me-feel-smarter But one other characteristic that the right can assert as having in greater abundance than the rest of us, is their inherent dishonesty. Although, in politics, the truth is an endangered species by any measure, the hypocrisy of the conservative movement outpaces any that the left could claim.

Politically, the right is known for repetition of long since debunked memes; statements of fact that run entirely counter to reality and yet are routinely trotted out as self-evident and widely known facts. One of their favourites, by way of example, is their reliance on the people to accept the myth that Republicans (or, in Canada, Conservatives) are fiscally responsible while Democrats (Liberals and NDP) are the tax and spend parties. Looking at modern US history very easily shows anyone willing to face reality that exactly the reverse is true. In actual fact, history shows us a pattern of Democratic presidencies leaving surpluses or balanced budgets for incoming Republican presidents who then promptly squander the peoples’ money and through deficit spending, run up enormous debts while at the same time eschewing revenue by reducing taxes on the wealthiest. Look at how Bush the Younger managed to piss away the Clinton legacy of a balanced budget and cash surplus. Desperate to be seen as

Mission Accomplished: Who are you gonna believe? Me or your lyin' eyes?

Mission Accomplished: Who are you gonna believe? Me or your lyin’ eyes?

a swaggering, macho, wartime president, he squandered over a trillion dollars of his people’s money on hypocritically justified wars as a monument to himself. He built a debt that is serviced by continued deficit spending and, not incidentally, cost the US thousands of lives and orders of magnitude more foreign lives. That shows how tough he was.

Tax and spend, especially for wars, is obviously, even self-evidently, a Republican “conservative” principle. And since we’re looking at the hypocrisy that typifies the conservative movement, let’s just note for a moment the so-called justification for Bush’s aggression. Weapons of mass destruction, anyone? Perhaps aluminum tubes that could only be for the production of nukes?

Another particularly egregious example of the hypocrisy of the conservative Republicans and their pretence of fiscal responsibility is their views on the social safety net and its forms of government support for those in desperate need. The prevailing view from the moral high ground on the right is that poverty is generally a result of laziness; if denied food stamps and welfare, those parasites would get up off their indolent asses and work for their daily bread. They argue that the US is the land of opportunity and, with hard work, anyone can become not just successful, but vastly wealthy; government handouts erode that ambitious spirit. With that as a cornerstone of conservative philosophy, they proudly vote down any initiatives that could ease the burden of the desperately poor in their country. Nevertheless, they take billions of dollars out of the budget to give as subsidies to the most profitable corporations inCorporate_Income_Tax_as_a_Share_of_GDP,_1946_-_2009 the history of the world – oil companies, like Exxon and Shell, great friends of the Bush family – every year. Moreover, among non-oil corporations, corporate tax paying is only for suckers; those companies that actually pay corporate income tax do so at laughably low rates. Apparently that doesn’t mean corporations are among the “takers” that Romney and Ryan railed against during the last general election cycle. And after all, remember Mitt Romney’s statement from those days? “Corporations are people too, my friend!”. Even better than people, apparently. Corporations deserve our financial support where actual human beings can starve as an object lesson in conservative values. The poor, it seems, should contribute far more than they do to the election campaigns of conservative candidates for Congress. A Congressman doesn’t come cheap any more, and Senators are really pricey these days.

These big picture hypocrisies are evident to anyone who actually looks at the situation; they are so commonplace and familiar that they are part of the political landscape and barely register any more. Most people just shrug and say, “Whatcha gonna do?” But the smaller, quotidian assaults on truth and reality are out there too.

For a long time, the Republican initiatives to suppress the vote among constituencies that are likely to vote Democrat were justified by a spurious need for curtailing voter fraud at the polls. Despite Voter-ID-1athe fact that the kind of fraud that the picture ID requirement is supposed to address simply doesn’t occur, Republicans routinely enact more and more restrictive legislation. Recently, however, it has become perhaps unfair to accuse them of hypocrisy here. These days they are stating explicitly that the aim is to make voting more difficult, that having many polls, early voting polls, and having them open for long hours just makes it too easy for “those people”.

Part of the rock bottom, immutable conservative political philosophy is that the smaller the government is, the better; a realpolitik expression of the idea that “less is more”. Republicans, and particularly their Tea Party faction, all repeat the mantra of wanting to eliminate governmental intrusion into people’s lives. Grover Norquist famously expressed that view in his crusade to “starve the beast” and his desire to shrink government to a size where he could drown it in a bathtub.

Nevertheless, it is conservative and almost exclusively Republican politicians who routinely introduce legislation that would control women’s bodies; anti-abortion laws requiring the most invasive intrusion imaginable into people’s lives, and the increase in governmental oversight to enforce the law are apparently okay here. They also don’t mind using government resources to ensure that some of their desperately crackpot initiatives would be enforced; they presumably would be happy to have government monitor the sex at birth of those wishing to use public toilets.

bathroom cop

No Republicans

As far as hypocrisy goes, here’s one of their greatest hits. Amid all the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over their idiotic laws intended to keep our children safe from cross dressing sexual predators in public facilities, they neglect to confront the fact that more Republican politicians have been charged with sexual offenses in public washrooms than have transgendered people. If children’s protection rather than simple discrimination were their true aims, they’d keep “family values” Republicans out of public restrooms.

This list could be expanded to fill a book. Everywhere we turn, we see hypocrisy and specifically conservative mendacity; so common is it that they don’t even try very hard to hide or excuse it. Republicans will vote themselves a pay raise and at the same time blithely refuse to support an increase in the minimum wage. They will take an oath of office to put their country ahead of their party or lyingunderoathpersonal interest and assure each other that their primary mission as representatives of the people is to undermine their own president and his office – regardless of the consequences to the country.

And of course, the Mount Everest of hypocritical conservative bullshit is their choice of Donald Trump as their party’s candidate for the highest office in the land. From a “Never Trump!” position to “I’ll pinch my nose and vote for the party’s candidate,” to “I’m starting to be persuaded that Trump is the best candidate”, the Republicans have betrayed their constituents and their country time and again.

So given all the lies, all the hypocritical posturing and all the reversals of pledges, promises, and guarantees, one has to ask why anyone would continue to vote Republican. And the question almost answers itself. Look at the very first sentence in this column; they just aren’t all that smart.

ENDITEM…

What I Love About You…

All Honourable Men

Pagun

 

It’s an interesting exercise to watch two of the most thoroughly disliked people in the USA getting ready Dalai Lama quoteto duke it out as their respective party’s chosen nominee for the presidency. Is it something wrong with the system that people who poll as being so thoroughly despised by millions upon millions of Americans can also be their democratically chosen candidates, or is it something wrong with the electorate? Then again maybe it’s the current zeitgeist that permits an utterly despicable bigot and quite probably sociopathic chronic liar rise to the top of one party, while a cold, rather unpleasant professional politician with a long track record of dubious associations and financial dealings nabs the nomination of the other. Either way, the current clusterfuck that passes for the 2016 US election cycle has clearly brought out the very worst in American politicians and in the people themselves.

wallace trump        There is no question that the current contest is ugly, but that is not to say that there is equal blame to be apportioned or that either side is as culpable as the other. Donald Trump, the Republican presumptive nominee is in a class by himself when it comes to sheer, crude, repulsive, human behaviour; there has rarely been a more disgusting person at this level of the American political system.

This public display of human ugliness of spirit raises a number of questions. It makes us think about human qualities, for example, and what characteristics make a person admirable or respectable in a society. Since, presumably, a head of both government and state ought to be admired and respected by the people he represents, he or she must have some personal traits that arouse those sentiments in the no_respect1voters. As we try to understand the Trump phenomenon, we can’t help but be confused; what on earth does Trump’s crazed mob of followers see in the man that is worthy of any admiration or respect? I’ve asked several of them and I invariably get variations on a theme. Their main points are always these:

  • Trump is a great businessman.
  • Trump tells it like it is.

And that’s pretty much it.

Let’s try to deconstruct that, shall we? The first, most obvious point to consider is whether or not there is any truth to the contention that Trump is a great, or even good businessman. And the answer is, well….not really. The man managed to bankrupt casinos. Yes, casinos. If there ever was a business that was tantamount to a licence to print money, that would be casinos. Trump has filed for bankruptcy often enough to suggest that he ought not be permitted to manage a lemonade stand without adult supervision. It has been pointed out that he would be much wealthier than even he says he is had he just put the money he inherited in a bank and lived off a portion of the interest. Of course much of this is speculation since he, uniquely among presidential candidates, refuses to release his tax returns. The smart money says that they would show that his claims of enormous wealth would probably be exposed as more grandiose talk than anything else. And Hillary Clinton suggests that they would show that he pays little or no personal income tax. Either way, it’s obvious that Trump is betting that the fallout from releasing the returns would be worse than what he’s getting from refusing. Must be pretty damn bad.

A secondary point would be that it’s all irrelevant anyway. The skills learned in business and the mindset of a businessman are not the skills required of a statesman and head of state. As the president of a corporation, he can issue orders, rely on his judgment to make rules, form plans, apportion resources.trump BK Not so with a political figure who must work hand in hand with opponents, must forge alliances, and who is always answerable to the people who elected him. Moreover, the very aims of business are different from public service. A business is formed to make a profit for the owners. A nation requires a leader who can protect and enhance the lives of the people. Trump wouldn’t have the first idea of how to do that and wouldn’t have the inclination to do so if he figured it out.

Trump tells it like it is. The Republican candidate is a human id personified. Indeed, he does tell it like it is…if by that we mean like it is in his head. But it seems that his supporters mean by that phrase something else entirely. They seem to think that Trump expresses truths that everyone else is to afraid to speak; that “political correctness” prevents others from saying what everyone is thinking, but that Trump has the courage to rise above that.

Much has been written about Trump’s habitual lying; never has a politician failed so dismally to survive fact checks. Simply put, Donald Trump lies and lies all the time. He is known for telling it like it certainly isn’t. So what they must mean by “telling it like it is” is that he says things out loud that even they, his redneck, racist acolytes are afraid to voice openly. He can be an overt racist and all the closet Trump's baseracists jump up and down with glee; he has given them permission to be hateful and vicious. And then the ones who have always been vocal racists also fall in line because they have been given legitimacy. Tell it like it is? Hardly; tell it like they wish it was, certainly.

So what is it that they find admirable or respectable in Donald Trump? It seems to boil down to his ability to pretend to be competent at something, and his predilection for voicing racist, misogynist, and generally ignorant thoughts.

All of this led me to give some consideration to the question of what ought we consider qualities worthy of our admiration. Many people supported JFK because he was so telegenic; it’s part of modern history that JFK won the debates with Nixon among those who watched it on TV but lost to those who JFK (1)heard it on the radio.

And yet most of us would conclude that good looks are not really a quality for which a person is entitled to admiration. That’s so shallow, we would say; physical attractiveness is merely a matter of having the right genes as a result of a lucky sperm contest; nothing was earned. What we ought to admire about someone like JFK is his intellect, his raw IQ. Except that his intelligence is vulnerable to precisely the same criticisms his looks are. Lucky sperm again; he inherited those smarts and did nothing to earn them.

So what’s left? The most important qualities of all: being a decent human being. Choosing to care about those who have less than you do. Being inclined to elevate others rather than tearing them down; decencygenuinely working for the overall happiness in the world and at the end of one’s life, leaving the world better for having been there.

Those qualities are what makes a person worthwhile; not wealth, not looks, talent, or even brains. It’s the content of one’s character that matters; I’ll even use the word soul here. That is what we should be looking for in a national leader. As head of state, we need a person who has the qualities of intelligence, of knowledge of the responsibilities and requirements of the office; an understanding of history, geopolitics, and domestic policy; he or she needs to understand economics and diplomacy and be capable of eliciting respect from foreign leaders; all of that should be a given, they are minimum requirements. On top of all of that we need someone who carries the virtues of integrity, kindness, compassion, and an instinct for simple human decency.

Have we seen anyone like that recently?

ENDITEM…

 

 

 

The choice has never been clearer

The Politics of Demagoguery

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Any discussion of politics during this time of a Donald Trump ascendancy has to touch on the subject of polarisation. It would be virtually impossible not to have become aware of the split in the political thinking of North Americans, with the liberal left on the one hand and the conservative right on the other. Certainly every individual will have considerable nuance attached to the broad left/right distinction but given the two party system of US politics, the dialectical division is the salient distinction nowadays. Nevertheless, virtually everyone identifies with one side or the other, and in the US, most people will define that distinction by whether they are registered as a Democrat or as a Republican.mencken quote

On an individual level, there is a great deal of variation and even disparity among the positions held, the beliefs supported, and convictions adhered to by those who clearly fall on either side of the divide, and these are crucial distinctions even among those who share a place on the left/right chasm. It is the system of US primaries that airs out those differences and helps the parties’ candidates fine tune their platforms to the desires and inclinations of their voters. But during the Bush the Younger and Obama presidencies that left/right split evolved from a political philosophy shortcut that could from time to time be jumped over into an unbridgeable, yawning chasm. There was no more “crossing the floor” as those of us in parliamentary systems would say. And for that reason, the internecine bloodletting that is characteristic of a primary battle has become ruthless and vicious. In the days when an individual felt that it was okay to vote Democratic in one election cycle and Republican in another, the primary fights were never as venomous as they are now that the voters feel that they must vote for the party’s nominee.

However, the Trump phenomenon has thrown a joker into the pack. Looking at the Republican free-for-all that has resulted in the most despised man in America almost certainly becoming the GOP candidate for the presidency of the United States of America, one can see that a lot of the old rules can be thrown out. Amid all sorts of discussions regarding what to do about this upstart, there has been much ink pilled over whether Trump represents “authentic conservative values”, and whether a third party candidate might be introduced to return to those values.

The trouble is that Trump very much represents the core values of the old Republican guard; so krause quotemuch so that an unshakable base of his support would, just as Trump pointed out, not change their views if Trump were to shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue. But Trump’s deeply troubling and overt racism, xenophobia, misogyny, authoritarianism, and bigotry combined with his willful ignorance of the constitution, US history, foreign and domestic policy, geopolitics, or anything else that a POTUS might find necessary, have made the remaining thoughtful Republican politicians wonder just what to do.

The last eight years have caused Republican office-holders to abandon any pretense of putting the country ahead of their careers or their political dogma. They have pledged to undermine Obama at every opportunity regardless of any negative consequences; they have even tried to shut down the government in their efforts to show that government itself doesn’t work. Although they have failed in that endeavour, there are actually some Republicans who have a vestigial shred of self -respect and sufficient integrity to question whether they should support their party’s nominee or do the right thing. Their problem is that they see Trump as an outlier and as not being a “true Republican”. In Canada, we’d call that an argument over whether someone is sufficiently pur laine.

What even the best of the Republicans are missing is that Donald Trump is not an outlier or a sam stein quotemaverick at all; he is the logical outgrowth of everything that party has come to represent. Every hateful and horrifying aspect of Donald Trump is perfectly in tune with the written and unwritten policy of the GOP in the years since the Tea Party movement came to Washington.

The right has become the Party of Trump because, given the direction the Republicans were heading made it inevitable. With Trump it is fair to say that the US right has embraced the beginnings of fascism. And that is exactly where the party was heading.

A simple way to test this thesis is to look at exactly what Trump has promised, what Trump’s followers cite as the reasons for their support, and how that differs from or resembles fascism. When you do that, the interesting thing is that you find that virtually everything that the current right supports is, by any reasonable measure, a bad thing; everything they rail against is a good thing. So let’s see, does Trump qualify as a fascist? Or is my calling him that nothing more than typical liberal hyperbole and hysteria?

Authoritarian rule? Check. Remember Trump telling his adulating audience not to worry, that if he ordered his military leaders to commit war crimes, they would fall into place?

Intolerance? Big check. A big beautiful wall? Ban anyone of a particular faith from entry to the country? The necessity of further research to determine if the KKK is racist?

Demagogue? Check and recheck. Have you listened to him?

And what about his promises?

Well, he has promised to build a wall along the Mexican border. His followers love this, of course, but it is a bad idea, obviously. Mexican migration is a net exodus at the moment, so the wall would be counterproductive as well as just being offensive, and, well, silly.

He’ll slap a 25% (or sometimes 40%) tariff on Chinese imports. His breathtaking ignorance of macro-economics and international trade law comes to the fore here. He seems not to be aware of the impossibility of that action within the law or of the fact that, if done, it would implode the US economy as well as starting a catastrophic trade war. Another bad.

He’ll negotiate to lower the US debt. Very very bad. The only negotiating tool he would have is a threat to default. That would cripple the US credit rating and cause an international monetary and financial crisis.

He’ll eliminate the gun free zones in schools and churches and other places of gathering. Bad? It doesn’t get much worse outside of Trump’s world.

The effect of Trumpism on our understanding of 21st Century North American politics is that it is easy to see who is on the left (if you’re an American, that’s Democrat) and who’s on the right (that would be Republican). Just judge a statement or promise heard from a candidate or supporter and determine whether it is morally and ethically right or wrong. If it’s neutral, it could come from either.

If the statement or promise is what basic morality suggests is a good thing – providing aid to our handicapped neighbours, providing medical care for everyone, ensuring that minorities have a fair chance at employment and housing etc., ensuring that working people have a fair wage, extending civil rights to all (including the LGBT community), writing legislation that protects our environment, ensuring that the mega-wealthy contribute appropriately to the country that allowed them to accumulate their vast wealth – you can be sure it’s coming from the Democratic side of the aisle.

But if it is clearly immoral – cutting benefits to the poor and hungry, re-introducing torture, dictating behaviour for religious reasons, discriminating against minorities, aiding the wealthiest while forcing the poorest to support them, damaging to the environment, promoting a particular religion, stacked against minorities – you know it’s coming from Republicans.food stamp cartoon

At this point in the political sphere, one votes not based on simple disagreement as to how to achieve mutually agreed upon aims as Americans once did. Now the methods take second place; the aims themselves are different. There was at one time a shared vision of America; a country of moral leadership, of compassion, of firm democratic principles. Now, the extreme right – the only right that’s still in play – has a whole new vision and new aims as evolved naturally since they were first introduced by the Tea Party faction. And as we look at the Republican Party’s nominee, we can consider those aims and be afraid. Trump’s rhetoric and proposed methods are clearly fascist; but his vision of America as a compliant nation following his lead in bigotry, intolerance, nationalism, and authoritarian rule is also pure fascism.

ENDITEM…

 

 

 

 

 

Why the US Needs This Gong Show

A Two Party System

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) The problem with a two party system is that there are only two parties.

political-polarization-us-politics

 

A body politic that has only a choice between two parties is necessarily wildly contorted as a general election looms. Bifurcating something as complex as political and social ideology is an attempt to simplify something of nearly infinite nuance into three or four broad statements. The end result of that process of applying binary thinking is homogeneity on the one hand and chaos and self-destruction on the other. And that’s what we’re seeing as we grab our popcorn and watch in fascinated amusement the political train wreck that passes for a general election in the United States.

The first thing that needs to be noted is that, with a two party or binary system, in a free market capitalist country, polarisation must necessarily take place. Because of the cutthroat competitiveness that capitalism breeds, people of opposing political views face each other down and duke it out until one view is left standing and the other is left bleeding in the arena. gladiatior18fightingThere is no possibility of arriving at a consensus when politics are as polarised as they are in the US at this writing; there will be no dialectical process of thesis meeting antithesis to produce a synthesis. In this kind of politics, synthesis would be seen by all participants as capitulation and selling out. The US congress of the last eight years, the entire stretch of the Obama presidency, has demonstrated that better than any theoretical application of political theory could do.

As we have seen, the degree of polarity that has developed in United States politics has led lawmakers to the point where party loyalty takes precedence over loyalty to their oaths of office or even loyalty to their country. This is an inevitable result of the fiercely fought battles to control the narrative of one party in that two-party system. As a result of having fought so ferociously to stake out positions on the far right, the traditional territory of the Republicans, any backsliding toward the middle was simply not tolerated by the party. And with the right wing views so entrenched in their rhetoric and faceofftheir doctrine, it became it sign of weakness even to grant their president the simple courtesies due to him by virtue of the office he held.

The acknowledged mission of the Republicans came to be to deny the president any victory or accomplishment at all and to achieve this noble aim by simple obstructionism. Most of the time they simply did nothing; the rest of the time, at every opportunity, they threatened or attempted to shut down the government completely. So intent on undermining Obama’s presidency were they, that they were willing to destroy their country’s economy, its sense of self worth, and its standing in the world. Even if people were to die (another inevitability of shutting down air traffic control, police departments, the military, etc.) as a result of their actions, well that would be worth it not to compromise and work with the other party or, god forbid, the president. What they didn’t see, and what is only becoming clear to them now, is that in the process they destroyed their party.

What went wrong for the Republicans was the advent of the Tea Party faction within their caucus. The Tea Partiers, by their sudden election of a cohort of far right freshman congressmen and senators, persuaded the rest of the party that they could appeal to their base and more of the general public by pushing the envelope of their dogma farther and farther to the right. Soon Republican senators and congressmen were falling all over themselves to showcase their bona fides by refusing to consider compromise in their debates over legislation, even going to the extent of signing Grover Norquist’s “never raise taxes” pledge and cutting every social program in sight. These government employees were determined, as Norquist said, to shrink the government down until it was small enough to drown in a bathtub. The pledge itself being a betrayal of their oaths of office, wherein they had pledged that their country was to come first in all considerations, became a symbol of how narrow the Republican entrance gate had become.

The Republican Party had long stood for a few ideals: smaller government (not no government), free enterprise capitalism, states rights. But now, to be a good Republican, you have to deny anthropogenic climate change, oppose civil rights for the LBGT community, demand that planned Parenthood be defunded, support the intrusion of evangelical Christianity into government, profess that life begins at the moment of conception, deny that evolution is a scientific reality, be in favour of voter suppression, despise immigrants, and a whole laundry list of more and more bizarre dogma. The Republicans, in their struggle to elbow their way to the most extreme right of the party hadn’t considered the fact that by its very nature, an extreme position excludes many people. So while the real hard core Republicans gamely continued to participate in the rightward migration, occasionally they’d lose one of their own; one who had just a bit more sense than to follow the herd.

But meanwhile, registered Republicans were questioning whether the party of Lincoln represented their views any more. The Republican tent had been reduced to the point where nobody was left under its shelter except fanatics and political opportunists making a calculated strategic move. While there continues to exist an enormous Republican base, many are questioning whether they can in good conscience continue to go full Republican.

So, in the 2016 Republican primaries, Donald Trump came along and mobilised that contingent of the Republican base that supports all the narrow minded, mean spirited social dogma of the extreme right. He couldn’t care less about policy, foreign or domestic; he’s only interested in appealing to the hard kernel of deeply angry hard core Republicans that want to drive the vicious social agenda of the very worst of what’s left of the Republican party. And despite Ted Cruz and a rather shambolic collection of party stalwarts trying to play spoiler, Trump got them all signed up and swiped the nomination from anyone with the slightest hint of moderation in their views. Having shrunk their tent down to a size where it only covers this group of rabid fanatics, we are poised to see the GOP under Trump get slaughtered at the general and the rest of the party fracture and possibly splinter into third party startups. As long as Trump is the candidate there are millions of Americans who have never voted anything but Republican, but cannot countenance a Trump victory; they will stay home because they would rather sandpaper the insides of their eyelids than vote for Hillary Clinton.

Now, a third party is not at all a bad idea. Even better would be several more parties. If people are feeling as politically alienated as they seem to be, the reason for that alienation is obvious. The two party candidates at 2016’s general election will have the highest disapproval rating of any presidential candidates in history. Trump is hated because he embraces hatred and is gambling that there is enough hatred out there to carry him on a wave of odium and loathing to the White House. Hillary Clinton is disliked by fewer people but with some intensity for a number of reasons from her support of the Wall Street bailouts to the whisper campaign regarding the cellphone non-story. Nevertheless, no voter who agrees with the Democratic stance of providing a social safety net, progressive taxation, organised labour, and broad civil rights could ever vote for Trump, leaving abstention or Hillary as the only options.

A third party and even more than that would help the US avoid the angst of the limited choice they face and quite probably the circus that these primaries have become. If there were more parties, there would be no need for the internecine knife fight that’s destroying the only party on the right; there would be some place for Hillary-hating liberal elites to call home. There is nothing in the US constitution that requires a two party system; the constitution never even mentions parties. Even more importantly, the very structure of the United States government as determined by its constitution presumes that those seeking political office have the country itself as their primary loyalty. The two party system demands that pols adhere to their party above all, there being no alternative other than a complete reversal of all views previously held.

New-Years-EveSo here’s to the fragmentation and ultimate shattering of the GOP; Since a Republican candidate can’t possibly win 2016, with any intelligent foresight some additional parties might be formed out of the scattered pieces of the old party. If that were to come to pass, in the fullness of time we would see congress representing a kaleidoscope of different views and interests, the power of the lobbies would be seriously diminished, compromise would be a daily fact of life and not an act of apostasy to be punished by burning at the stake, voters would be far more engaged, and there would be a sense that finding genuine representation in congress wouldn’t be the far-fetched fantasy of a cockeyed optimist.

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A Discussion With Penn Jillette

Why I’m not a Libertarian

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) I’m a big fan of Penn and Teller. And I’m a particularly big fan of Penn (the one who talks. A lot) Jillette. He has spoken frequently and written at length about his atheistic worldview and about his version of libertarianism; one I often come near to embracing, but ultimately cannot.

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Penn (if I may be bold enough to presume a first handle basis: if you read this, Mr. Jillette, please call me Pagun), is very persuasive and admirable in his explication of his brand of libertarianism. He explains, for example, his adoption of that position by describing how he and his parents once looked at a government subsidised art exhibit and had two distinct reactions to what was on display. Penn liked it very much but his parents saw it as blasphemous; he then realised how unfair it was that his parents had to contribute to the support of something with which they totally disagreed. That is a very reasonable reaction to governmental expenditures with which a taxpayer may disagree; who wouldn’t agree that something is amiss when one has to pay for something that directly contravenes one’s deeply held beliefs?

Who would disagree? Well, me, for one.

You see, libertarians of every stripe hold the view that we are better off with minimal government intrusion into our lives. And as a corollary to that, we would be better off if we reduced current levels of government participation, and especially oversight in our day-to-day lives. But as positive as this all sounds, I must respectfully disagree with Penn and other libertarians who come at it (as he puts it) through a hippie point of view.

The problem with eliminating government sponsorship of the arts, for example, is that without such sponsorship, the arts would sputter and ultimately fizzle out in the current zeitgeist. Removing government sponsorship and requiring that the arts be entirely self-financed would create a cultural milieu in which the most popular would be all that is available for even the most counterculture and avant-garde art aficionados. Allowing the radical democratisation of the arts would simply eliminate what is now cutting edge and what just might be a breakthrough in the way that Van Gogh’s work was. Much of art, including literature, was wildly unpopular at its time and didn’t sell worth a damn until long after the death of the artist. What would survive, of course, would be, almost by definition, the mediocre.

There would be no highbrow art at all. There would be nothing but the homogenised mainstream literature and if we are to judge by viewership figures, by far the most successful of the visual arts would be pornography. Now pornography is great, but I would love to see the government support arts that aren’t quite so popular and mainstream.

In times past there were patrons of the arts. There were the Medicis and the Borgias and thblack-velvet-painting-of-matador-bull-fighter-at-ki-huic-market-cancun-BF0Y19e Popes and Royal families of Europe, Tsars of Russia, and private wealth holders like the Rothschild family to ensure that their favourite artists were paid a living wage, freeing them up to create works that would only be recognised in the fullness of time. Without the aforementioned patrons, the work of Michelangelo, Raphael, and the rest of the Ninja Turtles would never have seen the light of day. Even Vincent Van Gogh couldn’t have created his miraculous body of work without the patronage of his brother and friends; he didn’t sell a single piece in his lifetime. But those days are gone; there are virtually no patrons left.

The only system left to patronise the arts is society’s contribution even to art that individual taxpayers don’t understand, aren’t fond of, or even actively despise. To cut off funding for those arts is condemn a country to artistic mediocrity in the name of some misunderstood notion of democracy.

While I too abhor government overreach, I also take the view that the majority isn’t always right and I subscribe to the views of the United States’ founding fathers in their fear of a “Tyranny of the Majority”. It is, in my view, crucial that there is room for the creation of art that might go against the grain, art whose merit my not be appreciated for another generation or more. I view with horror the possibility of a cultural milieu in which art that is immensely popular is our only option. I hope I’m not alone in wishing not to usher in a world in which pornography, toreadors on black velvet, and giant-eyed waifs clutching kittens are our only options. And if there is no public patronage for the arts, that’s what we’ll get.

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