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What if…

The World of Trump

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Despite the uproar caused by the inexplicably ham-fisted mountain-or-molehillrelease of yet another batch of innocuous Hillary Clinton emails, with less than a week until the US presidential election, the Democrats are on track to win the White House for another four years. The prospect of the needed humiliating landslide has dimmed somewhat, but a Hillary Clinton presidency is still the most likely outcome of the most bizarre and ugly political contest in American history.

Nevertheless, I have spoken to several political junkies and people on both sides of the battle for the position of most powerful person in the world, and indulged in a little trumphousefantasising and prognosticating in a masochistic attempt to imagine a world in which Donald J Trump wins the election. It doesn’t do anyone any good, but like poking with your tongue at a loose tooth, it’s hard to resist. So, to make sure that we do it right, I’ve also imagined that the Republicans also cement their domination of the House of Representatives and, what the hell, win a majority in the Senate as well. The scenario is unlikely to unfold, but, being technically possible, is scary to contemplate.

The first thing to consider is that, before the inauguration in January next year, it is virtually certain that the stock markets in the United States, and to a very slightly lesser extent the rest of the world will take a nosedive. We know this because within the last crashfew weeks, when Trump’s poll numbers rose for a few days, the markets immediately reacted by plunging by hundreds of points before recovering when Hillary Clinton climbed back up. It is a truism that markets abhor volatility; whatever policies a government supports, stability and predictability are what investors crave. Uncertainty sends them running for safe harbour; money moves from corporate stocks to perceived safety in things like gold investments. Trump has said many times that he likes to be unpredictable and to keep people in suspense.

the-1As the stock markets crash, Trump’s wealthy friends and the rest of the 1% will have protected themselves and moved their investments into insulated assets, but the rest of the country will see a recession that will make the 2008 crisis that Obama clawed the country out of look like a blip on the screen. There is every possibility that the stock market plunge will lead to a panic resulting in a depression every bit as brutal, or even worse that the crash in 1929.

With that as a backdrop, Trump will take office in January of 2017. At that point the question will be whether the new president will throw himself into the job and get down trump-cabinetto the work of governing. Or will President Trump, as many of us have speculated he might do, leave all the heavy lifting to his coterie of acolytes while he does little more than bask in the focus and attention his office guarantees? We know he has a severely limited attention span, and he certainly knows virtually nothing about policy, domestic or foreign, has no understanding of the powers of his office or the US Constitution, and is completely ignorant of economics. Perhaps it would be all for the best if he chooses to remain nothing more than a figurehead.

One thing we know for sure about Trump is that he lies with breathtaking frequency; should we expect him to keep any of the promises that fired up his followers and form the basis of his support? There is no reason we should expect Trump to follow through on any of his promises; the only thing we could count on is his mismanagement and an trumpwallair of chaos surrounding the governance of the US. Nevertheless, let us assume that either the president or his inner circle decides to fulfill his first and arguably most contentious campaign promise. He will begin to build a wall along the US/Mexican border. Congress will, of course, have to allocate billions of dollars for the project, as Mexico certainly won’t be paying for it. And with Trump’s abysmal track record of completing projects on time or on budget, that wall will be a boondoggle riddled with squandered funds, corruption in the bidding and purchasing processes, and will be a black hole into which taxpayers’ money disappears, while the farcical project just goes on and on with no end in sight.

Given Trump’s history and business practices, contractors will be lined up to file suits for non-payment, labour unrest will be a daily issue, and racial tensions, especially in blameobamaborder states, but also throughout the country, will escalate to crisis levels. While the White House will push the narrative that the broken economy, the massive unemployment, and the racial and class conflict are all the fault of the previous administration, the alt right and white supremacists will be emboldened and become a visible and violent part of the political scene.

We will almost certainly see instance after instance of the deployment of militarised police forces and the mobilising of the federal National Guard to quell civil unrest; theadam12 White House will show the country just what Donald Trump meant by his promises to “get tough”. The military itself will be in disarray as the natural result of ethical general officers resigning their commissions rather than having to obey unlawful orders from their commander in chief. Torture will be re-introduced, and it will be employed on those who object to the actions of the executive branch, in the interests of “national security”. The president will subscribe fully to Nixon’s delusion that “if the president does it, it’s legal”. With no coherent domestic policy, civil unrest, in disparate pockets and population centres throughout the country, will be rampant and increasingly violent as demonstrations will be crushed with increasingly harsh methods.

There will arise a movement in opposition to the excesses of Trump’s military and quasi-military assets in unconstitutional ways for unconstitutional ends. This will put the country into a state of perpetual military readiness to defend against its own citizens. With a cooperative Congress, Trump will immediately fill the current Supreme Court partisansupreme_500vacancy with a reliably compliant Justice. But even scarier is the thought that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is now 83 years-old, Justice Arthur Kennedy is 80, and Justice Stephen Breyer is 78; any or all of them could retire at pretty much any time, allowing for the SCOTUS to be packed with Trump selections, skewing the highest court toward fascism for decades.

In this atmosphere, initiatives like creating a “deportation force” to round up millions of undocumented immigrants; placing a “temporary but total and complete ban” on any Muslim from entering the country; legislating “some kind of punishment’ for women civil-rights-suspendedwho undergo abortions; “tightening” control of the media, especially the press; and restricting freedom of expression by “opening” legislation regarding libel, slander, and defamation lawsuits are all distinct possibilities. None of those are far-fetched or paranoid fantasies; each of those initiatives has been promised by the Republican candidate, and each enjoys broad support among Republican voters.

From there it isn’t any kind of leap of the imagination to take Trump at his word and expect him to use – or abuse – his authority to “lock her up”; to put his rival candidate in prison, despite her having been cleared of any criminality in every one of the countless investigations to which the Republicans have subjected Hillary Clinton. That specific initiative doesn’t just have the support of Donald Trump’s base; it is one of their primary rallying points. Trump’s supporters will not just approve of incarcerating Clinton; they will demand it.

This deeply disturbing exercise could be extended to imagine the next generation and more if Trump were to succeed in his bid for the White House, we could continue to envision the dystopia that those who claim to want to “shake things up” would wreak upon the US and the world. But let’s just stop here and look at the United States as we have imagined it would be in the short to medium term after a Trump win in November.

police-stateA country in financial crisis, riddled with civil unrest; race riots being quelled by increasingly militaristic domestic police; civil rights suspended; executive power maximised and centralised without congressional or Supreme Court restraint; political opponents jailed without due process; habeas corpus suspended or not applicable to certain religious groups. This is a picture of the world’s largest banana republic. This is a vision of the end of the United States as we know it. This may well be what the US looks like just before its balkanisation as one state – or group of states – after another simply opts out of the union and refuses to accept the legitimacy of federal authority.

Can’t happen in the US? Of course it can. It has happened throughout history to empires and regimes that had been around a lot longer than the US has. It is currently the state of affairs in Putin’s Russia, and there are plenty of tin-pot populist wannabes in countries all over the world just waiting in the wings with ambitions and egos similar to Trump’s. A Trump presidency must be guarded against; it must not happen. If it should come to pass, all bets are off. Except this: The United States will not be a place rational and moral people would want to be.

ENDITEM…

 

A Free Press…

is a right; reading it critically is a duty…

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) One thing that we have learned from the bizarre 2016 United States presidential elections is that the media is simply no longer equipped to perform its function as an impartial, objective reporter, and analyst of important events. And in the only thing I have ever or am ever likely to agree with Donald Trump, the media have done an execrable job covering this election thus far.

There are two salient reasons the coverage of the candidates and their campaigns has been so dismal; the first one is an endemic problem with US media and has existed for a long time: news has to be profitable.

Walter Cronkite reporting breaking news: the Kennedy assassination.

Walter Cronkite reporting breaking news: the Kennedy assassination.

At one time, within my lifetime, the news departments of TV networks were expected to be a net expense; nobody expected them to be profit centres. News desks were occupied by actual journalists and anchors had proven their journalistic chops before they became talking heads. Walter Cronkite, before he became the most trusted man in the country anchoring CBS Evening News, had been a print journalist who had done everything from sports reporting to flying on B17 bomber missions over Europe during WWII.

The “Big Three”, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, and Peter Jennings anchored their respective networks’ evening news from the ‘eighties through to the 2000s, all having started and subsequently retired within

At that point it was a question. Later, it became obvious: profits.

At that point it was a question. Later, it became obvious: profits.

a year of one another. All three were highly respected actual journalists with training, experience, and talent. But it was toward the second decade of their reign as the trusted triumvirate of television journalism that television journalism began to die. Palpably and incrementally, news began to be replaced by entertainment.

Whereas I can remember a time when network news broadcasts were uninterrupted by commercials, the network executives started to ask themselves why, in an hour that attracted among the most viewers of their entire lineup, they had no revenue-generating ad spots. They argued with their news department journalists that the additional revenue from selling advertising in between news stories would offset the cost of new overseas bureaus, newer and better technology, and higher salaries. Seduced, but in reality not having much choice, the network news departments capitulated and, almost instantly, became seen as profit centres rather than the pro-bono public services they had always been.

All kinds of things changed, from the network studios in New York, all down the line to the regional affiliates. The news departments tenaciously, and increasingly desperately, tried to maintain their journalistic integrity. First, and most obviously, the anchors themselves, and all the other on-air talent began to be selected primarily for their telegenic qualities; journalism experience was unimportant, it

NEW YORK - JULY 7:  Actor Will Ferrell aka Ron Burgundy participates in Q&A after a special screening of the film "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" at the Museum of Television and Radio July 7, 2004 in New York City. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)

was rationalised, for someone simply to read from a teleprompter. Anchors now were expected to fit neatly into a marketer’s bland, blow-dried conception of a trustworthy television newsman; Ron Burgundy and Ted Baxter were born. And if the public was to believe that the weather reporters were actually meteorologists, one would have to believe that among the pre-requisites for meteorology courses were big tits and a propensity for wearing tight dresses and five inch spikes.

But it wasn’t just the on-air personalities that morphed from journalists into vapid eye candy. Now that the news had started to generate revenue, the suits upstairs couldn’t leave it alone; having found money in a hitherto untapped source, their new mission was to maximise the take. So, in a shameless scramble for ratings, the news weathergirlitself changed. The affiliates and the networks demeaned themselves by running with stories that had no real significance or impact on viewers’ lives but had shock value. If it bleeds, it leads, became the mantra. Any story with violence or carnage was guaranteed a few minutes, while less viscerally appealing real news was barely mentioned. And, of course, anything that could be strip mined for prurience will be covered. If a school board decided to stop teaching cursive writing and concentrate on keyboard skills instead, that would be a story that is of some importance and relevance to a large number of viewers. If, on the same day, a local mall was holding a lingerie fashion show, there wouldn’t even be a discussion as to where to send the camera crew.

With television journalism at such a low ebb, it is no surprise that coverage of the elections this year is so inept. But there is a second element that contributes to the appallingly unprofessional media coverage.

In the absence of any serious coverage by the major networks, alternative media have sprung up like mushrooms after an autumn rain. Given that anyone can have access to the Internet and potentially reach an audience even greater than any of the networks could twenty years ago, anyone with a WiFi hate-pressconnection can report and comment on the news. There is no tradition of responsible reporting or providing balance or fairness to what is posted on the ‘Net. It’s the wild west out here in the cyberworld. There are some highly partisan but nevertheless reliable outlets run by actual journalists but there are also hate-spewing, attack sites. And they form the majority.

As a consequence, the television news media find themselves trying very hard to appear like seasoned, professional journalists. They strive for an appearance of neutrality and an absence of bias. Unfortunately, they are still playing by rules and conventions that prevailed at a time when the behaviour of a candidate like Donald Trump would have been unthinkable. Virtually every one of the mainstream news media have fallen into the trap of treating Trump as though he is a serious candidate.

The press, in an effort to demonstrate their even-handedness, press Hillary Clinton on the tired, and long since laid to rest email story. Despite having been investigated for years by 9 different panels and agencies, from rabidly partisan Congressional panels to the FBI, and exonerated each time, Matt Lauer

Matt Lauer: Journalist

Matt Lauer: Journalist

shamed real journalists by wasting her time and ours, apparently thinking he’d turn up something everybody else missed. He then compounded his incompetence by letting Donald Trump slide when he repeated lie after fact-checked lie.

Trump throws around racial, sexual, and ethnic epithets with abandon; he has made prejudice and bigotry the principal pillar of his candidacy. But when Hillary accurately refers to half of his followers as “a basket of deplorables”, she is vilified for being divisive. And the press, to demonstrate their absence of bias, reports the two candidates’ remarks as though they are somehow comparable in their offensiveness. They deliberately create false equivalencies, because to apply the same rules of comportment to both candidates would result in such breathtakingly lopsided reporting, with Trump taking the worst of it, that it might seem as though he was being persecuted when, in fact, he would only be experiencing the same level of scrutiny and reportage any candidate should expect.

But given the lack of journalistic experience or training, one can expect little more from the mainstream media. The non-mainstream media is even worse, of course, but the heavily right-leaning press is largely a self caricature and no one expects high quality journalism.fox-news At least when one watches Fox News, one knows that what is being broadcast is straightforward Republican Party talking points and right wing dogma.

So, where should people, who want to know the facts and who expect journalists to have some integrity, turn for their news? There is no single source of news that can be relied upon for clear, unvarnished, fact based journalism. There are even very few news analysis and commentary sources that can be relied upon to tell the truth, even as they criticise a candidate or party. All that can be done is to read as many different sources as possible. Nevertheless, I provide the following tips for deciding whether a news outlet is worth following.

Your suspicions of unprofessionalism ought to be raised if:

  1. The copy in the reports or columns is in need of proofreading. Typos can occasionally be missed in the best publications, but if a piece is riddled with misspellings or grammar and usage blunders, the writer and/or editor are not professional.
  2. In place of rational argumentation, the writer relies on distortions of a person’s name to make a point. Expressions like “Killary” or “Obammy” are a tipoff that you’re reading something from someone who has all kinds of attitude but no knowledge of journalism or even argumentation.
  3. You are repeatedly fooled by clickbait headlines. How many times do you have to click on a header that says something like, “Trump surrogate reduces interviewer to incoherence” only to find that an interviewer stumbled over a word and nothing much else happened?
  4. A purported news story is structured so that you have to read to the very end of several thousand words to find the salient fact that induced you to read the piece. A professional news writer will have made a habit of writing in the pyramid style: the lede (journalism jargon) will contain the Who, What, Where, and When of the piece, and the Why will be filled in as you read the next sentences. If any of those Ws are only to be found deep in the content, the writer is not a journalist.

Try using those notions as hermeneutics and I’m sure that you’ll find yourself less outraged at the garbage that you have to sort through to get to some approximation of the truth. You’ll never get all the way there, but by discriminating among the multitude of choices available, you’ll have a better basis for judgment. And if the 2016 US presidential election is in desperate need of anything, it’s just that: judgment.

ENDITEM…

 

Life on the run

Joseph Anton: A Memoir

Salman Rushdie

 

Alfred A. Knopf, Canada
Copyright 2012
636 pages

 

Reviewed by: Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – One instinctively wants to like Salman Rushdie; moreover, one is inclined to open one of his books with a predisposition to like his work. His remarkable life story has the effect of inclining people in general, liberals in particular, secularists especially, and liberal anti-religionist writers like your faithful correspondent most of all, to want to celebrate his work and show solidarity with him in his struggle against religious fundamentalism and its associated violence.

Everyone who lived as a sentient being through the last several decades is familiar with at least the broad strokes of the Rushdie saga. Rushdie is the British author of Indian descent who wrote a book, The Satanic Verses, and published it in the UK during the regime of the Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini. The book was deemed by some Muslims to be offensive and an insult to Islam, and was brought to the attention of various Muslim leaders, including the Ayatollah. The book was banned throughout Islam; violent protests against its publication were staged; people died in the furor. So fashionable was the condemnation of the book, which most Muslim protestors proudly acknowledged they hadn’t read, that in February 1989 Khomeini issued a fatwa (an Islamic religious decree) that declared anyone who killed the author a religious hero and guaranteed entrance to paradise. The Ayatollah backed up the fatwa with a million dollar bounty on Rushdie’s life.

The British government determined that the threat to Rushdie’s life was serious, and the intelligence services caught wind of plot after plot to assassinate the British author, raising the level of protection necessary to Level 2, one level below that required by the Royal family. Rushdie went into hiding at government expense and for the next several decades lived with a special highly trained and (in Britain!) heavily armed detail of bodyguards. He led a peripatetic existence, moving from one rented (by a surrogate) house to another and never went anywhere without his protection team preparing for his arrival, much as they would for a visiting head of state.

Looked at from one perspective, the events that are described in the pages of Rushdies’s memoir, Joseph Anton, could form the outline for several novels and perhaps make up the raw material for dozens of meditations and dissertations on Rushdie’s central focus, the nature of religious intolerance. It was with the anticipation of my four year old on Christmas morning that I approached Rushdie’s latest and most personally revelatory book. On that basis, it’s only fair to say that my son had a better Christmas than I did.

Since a memoir is intended to be self-revelatory and is an invitation to the reader to examine and make judgments about one’s character and personality, one can’t help but ask, as one reads a celebrity’s self-analysis, whether one would personally like to hang out with the author. Rushdie succeeds in persuading this fellow liberal anti-religionist author that he would rather undergo an unnecessary colonoscopy than spend the same amount of time socially with Salman Rushdie.

There is no question that Rushdie is a profoundly gifted author; his Booker prize for his second novel, Midnight’s Children, was entirely deserved and The Satanic Verses, his fourth, was a powerful and deeply insightful novel. Rushdie is certainly entitled to the honours that have been bestowed upon him before and since the fatwa was issued; his acknowledgement as a public intellectual is earned and far from being only ceded as the result of his abrupt catapulting into the public eye.

Nevertheless, Rushdie, the person, comes across as self-absorbed, egocentric, whiny, ungrateful, and insufferable.

It is important to Rushdie that we all recognise his superior intellectual capacity and he rarely pauses in his campaign to keep us reminded of his brilliance and wit. From his recounting of his experience at one of Britain’s premiere “public” schools, Rugby, in Warwickshire and the racial discrimination to which he claims he was subjected, to his recounting of social evenings with high-profile luminaries of today’s arts and letters, he is focused entirely on letting us know that he is above the mundane concerns of mere mortals and is aloof from daily non-intellectual life. (One of the games he and his fellow men and women of letters apparently enjoy playing is the serial suggesting of alternative, less successful titles for great literary works. Snag 22, he offers, doesn’t have the resonance of Joseph Heller’s title. Moby Richard was improved in the second draft. They also like to point out that some great works might have been entitled differently had today’s publishers been the final authority; Hamlet, they suggest, would have been retitled The Elsinore Ultimatum and Romeo and Juliet, the Verona Sanctions. I can’t remember if that last one was one of his, one of his friend the late Christopher Hitchens’ or one that popped into my mind, but you get the idea. An amusing game, and frankly, one that cracked us up as undergraduates in campus pubs.)

The memoir reads like an ingrate’s list of complaints about the amenities offered at a resort to which he was given a guest pass. He acknowledges in a patronising sort of way the dedication and thoroughness of his personal guards…men and women who would have taken a bullet for him regardless of his merit as an intellectual, but bitches that the government was reluctant to pick up the tab for the various charter flights he needed to take to destinations all over the world where he was invited to attend awards ceremonies and to receive various honours and honorary titles and degrees. And of course the list of honours is cited in excruciating detail.

The title of the memoir is derived from a code name or alter ego he developed during his underground years. He chose Anton as the first name of Anton Chekhov, one of his favorite authors, and the Joseph is derived from Joseph Conrad, the Polish turned British author who was remarkable, among other things, for being such a successful writer in his second language, as English is Rushdie’s second language, lest we forget. As the book plods on from mansion in the Cotswolds to townhouse in London, from one television appearance in Australia to another book reading in New York (at all of which he arrives in motorcades of Presidential proportions), he begins to distinguish between himself, Salman Rushdie, and his publicly known persona to whom he refers as Joseph Anton. He even derisively describes his long suffering bodyguards as referring to his alter-ego as “Joe”, because to him it demonstrates their lack of class; he misses the fact that they most likely referred to him that way precisely because of his overweening superiority and pomposity.

Salman Rushdie is deservedly recognised as one of the finest authors in the English language of the last fifty years. What he fails to take into account in his rosy self-assessment, however, is that his fame, much of his name recognition, and good number of those awards, some of which he derided and contemptuously refused were not simply recognitions of his skill and talent but rather benefits bestowed largely because of the fatwa…not the quality of his work. To suggest that he is a far, far better known writer than he would have been on his merits alone is not to disparage his abilities but to recognise the realities of fame and celebrity.

While I find a great deal of sympathy for the indignities he suffered as a result of his cocoon-like existence, while it is easy to pity him for the loss of freedom, the restraints upon his movements, and the anxiety for his life and the lives of those close to him, I reserve some sympathy for those of us who forced ourselves to keep reading until we were finally able to close Joseph Anton: A Memoir.

…enditem…

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