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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

Casualties of the Trump Presidency

The Death of Political Satire

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Many years ago mathematics professor and musical political satirist Tom

Tom Lehrer

Lehrer demurred when asked to return to satirical songwriting and performing. His reason for refusing? Henry Kissinger having been awarded the Nobel Peace prize was the last word in political satire and that absurdity had made any further attempts unnecessary. Lehrer is now eighty nine years old and has long since retired from both stage and lecture hall; one wonders if he still feels that politics can’t get any more ridiculous.

Late night talk show hosts and stand-up comedians have been buried in raw material for their monologues and club acts for over a year now; the Trump ascendancy has been a bottomless source of raw material and they have benefited mightily from the insanity in Washington since Trump first descended on his gilded escalator to warn threaten announce his candidacy for the presidency. Every day, it seems, the American president says or does or tweets or neglects to do something that is so outrageous that one can’t help but suspect for a moment that the report is satire and not an actual piece of news. The debacle that is US politics could not have been foreseen by the most cynical and pessimistic satirist. Tom Lehrer used to say that he always followed a friend’s advice:  “Always predict the worst and you’ll be hailed as a prophet.”

Samantha Bee

Nevertheless what is actually happening in Washington staggers even a prophet’s imagination.

Donald Trump and the GOP spent years and tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer’s money investigating and desperately seeking evidence of criminal behaviour in Hillary Clinton’s handling of her official emails. Despite coming up dry, the Republicans tried to enact legislation that would refuse the former Secretary of State access to classified material as, in their view, she was too careless to be trusted with the nation’s secrets. And yet, as I write this, there is no indication that any Republican in Congress or any White House staffer sees the irony in the recent disclosures of Donald Trump’s farcical fuckups over highly classified intelligence.

As we know, it started with reports of Trump banning any journalists from attending an unprecedented meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office. Any journalists except Russian state media, that is. And at least one of those officials is known to be an intelligence officer. The White House said they were “tricked” into allowing Russians and their photographers free rein in the Oval Office. But the story didn’t stop there. It turns out, as more and more information leaks out of the rather porous White House, that Trump actually disclosed to the Russians some top secret material that came from the highest levels of Israeli intelligence, and that it compromised at least one undercover agent who had infiltrated ISIS, almost certainly condemning him to a very unpleasant death. How do Republicans respond to this outrage? They remind us of the fact that the President has the authority to declassify anything at any time; hence he wasn’t sharing classified material. Shades of Nixon’s view that if the president does it, it’s not illegal!

No satire, no humorous dystopian fiction, no pessimistic prophet could top what’s happening as a result of a large number of fearful white voters casting their ballots for an ignorant, racist, mentally ill billionaire. This could never have been written. Not for laughs and not as a dire warning. Nobody actually thought this could happen.

The impeachable offenses committed by Donald Trump and his loyalists are piling up; nothing like this has ever been seen before. In just the last few weeks, we have seen abuse of power, rent-seeking, influence peddling, perjury, and now treason. Of course treason has long been suspected of Trump and his campaign; further investigation will almost certainly bring those details to light. But now it’s overt, and in-your-face. And yet the Republican party line is: Get over it and move on. No situation in American history has so clearly demanded an impartial investigation than the current one, and yet Republicans steadfastly refuse even to consider a special commission, much less the special prosecutor they insisted upon when it looked like a Democratic president had been on the receiving end of an intern’s blowjob. Never has a political party worn its venality, its disdain for rule of law, its contempt for the country and its citizens, and its breathtaking hypocrisy so blatantly on its sleeve. The GOP isn’t even pretending very much anymore to believe in truth, in justice, in the constitution, or in anything other than their sworn mission to dismantle the fabric of the US government and to transfer as much wealth as possible from the majority into the endlessly greedy hands of the 2%. Their obstructionism in the face of the obvious criminality of their leadership reminds me of a bad guy running for the exit with his bag of swag and twitching furniture behind him into the way of his pursuers. They know that this assault on the nation can’t last forever; so on their way out, they’re running roughshod over social programs, environmental initiatives, education, health care, human rights legislation, and every other good thing their predecessors have done – all to finance the greatest upward redistribution of wealth the world has ever seen.

The question used to be: What will it take to shake the GOP out of their sullen refusal to uphold their oaths of office and put their country before their party? That is no longer a reasonable question, because by their inaction the Republicans have answered it. There is nothing whatsoever that Donald Trump can do that would alienate his solid base of support. He said it best when he said he could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue and not lose a single voter. Except it’s not voters who will stand by him; it’s members of Congress. The GOP has such contempt for the people of the United States that they don’t even care about the 2018 midterms or even the general election in 2020. As long as they fill their pockets and offshore accounts between now and then, they will not turn against Trump. Some believe they can carry the con even further and survive a vote; others don’t care and are happy to retire in insulated wealth while the country crumbles into 3rd World chaos.

In the world of political punditry, rumours of sealed indictments by several grand juries are circulating. We now have to wait and see. If those indictments are real and if they are indictments of Donald Trump and others in the White House, there will be an unimaginable constitutional crisis; what would actually happen if federal marshals were to serve the papers on the President and slap the cuffs on him? What kind of an upheaval can we expect if justice is served and those at the very top of the food chain in US politics were to be charged and arrested for their crimes? No one knows. But we are now at a point where it has to happen and we will find out; or we can sit on the sidelines and watch the United States of America collapse under its own greed.

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…

Bagging and Tagging on a Sunday Morning

And the beat goes on…

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Fifty dead and counting. More than that number wounded. It’s all becoming horrifyingly familiar. The latest mass shooting in America, this time in Orlando, Florida is also one of the worst; as I write this, corpses are being bagged and tagged while wounded survivors are being transported and treated in hospitals around the city of Disney World. This time the venue was a nightclub with a largely gay clientele and reports are coming in that the incident was triggered by the sight of two gay men kissing. The shooter, however, was a second generation Afghani-American, so depend on this being put down as an act of Islamic terrorism.

There are so many infuriating aspects to this gruesome and tragic bloodletting that it’s difficult to know where to start, even though I should be able to write this piece on autopilot from so much experience with this kind of story; it is cold dead handsafter all, not exactly a quotidian event, but certainly not as rare as earthquake or tsunami stories.

Let’s start with my anger at the fatuous Republican senators whose first instincts were to get in front of a microphone and burnish their Christian credentials by proclaiming the need to pray for the victims, their families, for the police officers, first responders, and everybody else in sight, on the scene, or within earshot. Every high level GOP official from Orrin Hatch to Mitch McConnell, all of whom have called for prayer, seem to have forgotten that they all took blood_on_their_handsthousands upon thousands of dollars (Orrin Hatch: $97,848.00 from the NRA, Mitch McConnell: $922,000.00 from the NRA) in donations from gun lobbyists and then voted not to ban people on the FBI’s watch list from buying firearms. The shooter was on that list.

Of course they’ll now have to wait until the authorities have sifted through the remains and determined who among them was gay and which were straight so they can decide who gets posthumous prayer and who will be eulogised by preachers who will tell us that they now burn in hell eternally for their “choice”. They also seem to forget that they have spent the last decade or more demonising LGBT people and deliberately and cynically inciting hatred of LGBT people in the name of the very god they want us now to pray to. One has to wonder just how genuinely upset those hypocrites are simply because someone just did what they have been saying ought to have been done all along.

This brutal act of Grand Guignol violence is the natural result of a society that preaches hatred and intolerance and at the same time worships the possession and deployment of automatic weapons. Mix virtually unlimited access to firearms with constantly reinforced hatred, add religious justification and moral encouragement of violence from the country’s gay_rights_stickerleadership candidates and you have a pretty gnarly cocktail. Who can pretend to be surprised when the inevitable happens?

Already Fox News has blamed this outrage on Obama; apparently by his politically correct refusal to demonise all Islam he has permitted this act of terrorism, even actively sponsored it. Never mind that there is no indication that this was an act of terrorism at all; never mind that their politicians’ ownership by the NRA permitted this citizen to purchase the murder weapons openly; never mind that the shooter was legally entitled to carry a concealed weapon into that nightclub; never mind that their encouragement of employing violence as a response to any discomfort was taken seriously; Obama wasn’t sufficiently bigoted…that’s the real problem.

Already the voices are ringing out to Hillary and to Bernie. Watch over the next few days as the right wing media will try to crucify them for “politicising” this tragedy. They will be asked to comment on the events, and, like any rational person, they will poinprayert to the need for radical changes to gun legislation; that will be shouted down as cynical political posturing; they will be shouted down and told that now is not the time for politics. Now is the time for prayer. A single more useless exercise could not even be imagined than prayer without concrete action. Nevertheless, concrete action is going to be criticised as politicisation while empty and hypocritical prayer will be seen as suitable. Others, myself included, will raise our voices and ask, if now is not the time for the politicisation of gun violence in America, when is it? The only time anyone even talks about it is in the wake of another slaughter.

This column is a short one simply because everything that can be said about this shooting has been said before; there is almost nothing new except the details. Another day, another angry gun-toting American shoots into a crowd. Not to be political about it or anything, but I guess that’s just the American way. Let us pray.

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.

ENDITEM…..

Reconciling Conservatism and Compassion

Putting the pieces together again

Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – The political system of the United States is in utter disarray. At the moment, it is so dysfunctional that questions as to the fundamental viability of the US model of constitutional governance are being raised. The seemingly unbridgeable rift between the Democrats and the Republicans has led to legislative gridlock and has produced a Congress with lower approval ratings than syphilis, cockroaches, Donald Trump, or genital herpes.

But more than the left – right divide, there is division within the right itself; the Republican Party is so internally fragmented that it’s hard to see what all the Kings horses and all the King’s men can do to reconstruct the shattered egg. The Republicans at one time were a cohesive, strong, and patriotic force in US politics. At the moment they are a collection of ideologues representing a host of incompatible, even contradictory ideologies and special interests. That absence of cohesion is matched by their lack of strength as demonstrated in the last election, and their recent history of obstructionism and economic sabotage even suggests that patriotism is no longer one of their characteristics.

But there is hope for the Republican Party. And, like it or not, the United States needs the GOP, or something to replace it; a two party system needs that party of the right to keep the left honest and to represent the views of those who cling to conservative ideals. So, the

CPAC speakers in the green room

clownshow of disparate factions that makes up today’s conservative movement are meeting at their annual CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference). It remains to be seen whether the shrill and intransigent zealots can cut through their own anger and bitterness to see a fairly obvious way to come together and start to repair the infrastructure of their own movement, their designated political party, and incidentally, the political system of the United States of America.

CPAC has speakers like Donald Trump, the game show host who continues to insist that the president of the United States is an illegal alien; Wayne LaPierre, the NRA spokesperson who insists that the best way to protect children in schools is to arm virtually everyone in the country and to refuse to require background checks or registration of firearms; Sarah (I can see Russia from my house) Palin; Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal who referred to his party as “the stupid party” but at the same time eliminated income taxes on millionaires and paid for it by instituting a tax paid disproportionally by the poor and middle class; Mitt (47%) Romney; and some real nutjobs. What is interesting about this lineup is that apart from calling themselves conservative, these people have very little in common; if they didn’t know each other and were chatting about politics in a bar somewhere, they would come to blows…or more likely, they’d each draw their guns and start shooting.

And that is why the right is falling apart. They have no unifying principle, no common ground at all except for an expressed hatred of government. And that coalesced when a Harvard educated, black community organiser from Chicago drubbed them in two sequential general elections.

Hate government? Sure. Hate Obama’s presidency? AAARRRGGGHHHHH!

The party of the right, the Republican Party, has always stood for limited government, personal liberty, and individualism. But over the years, that tent has broadened to include the religious right who have a different agenda from the tradition limited government advocates; the religious right are, despite their rhetoric, proponents of increased government intrusion into the lives of citizens. They believe that limiting government would include having the government mandate medically unnecessary vaginal probes on women who choose to terminate an unwanted pregnancy (a constitutional right). From there, everyone with a restrictive agenda has gravitated to the GOP.

Where the right has fallen into a bog and foundered is in the bifurcation between eliminating government interference in civil liberties on the one hand and legislating moral values on the other. And this is symptomatic of the whole problem with today’s political right. They seem unable to draw boundaries between things in which they believe and things which are objectively, factually true; they can’t seem to separate one notion from another or draw distinctions between what they would like and what is best for the country.

The Republican Party would find some reconciliation if they were to learn to draw distinctions. The first one they should consider if they want to pull themselves out of the hole into they have dug themselves is between two primary functions of government: actually governing, for one; providing benefits and services for another.

The Republicans have made a crusade of demanding that the deficit be slashed as a method of reducing and ultimately eliminating the national debt. It’s bad economics in the current situation; in fact the notion of curtailing spending and paying down a debt when the economy is sluggish and interest rates are at an historic low is counter to every piece of economic wisdom available. On the contrary; now is the time to increase spending as a stimulus and to take on debt to finance it while rates are this low. When the economy has rebounded, the debt will be much more manageable and the rates for those who wish to borrow from the US will be higher than the rates paid on the national debt. They know this.

So what is the real agenda? They have said it among themselves…they just don’t say it out loud where their electorate can hear it. They want to reduce government by starving it to death. And they want to do this as a moral issue. Government bad. But this is largely a matter of failing to distinguish between the two functions of government enumerated above.

Perhaps the conservatives should look at it this way: most people would agree that excessive government, in the sense of being over-governed, is a bad thing. Rather than destroying the economy in an effort to undermine the ability of the administration and legislature to govern, perhaps they ought to consider introducing legislation to limit legislation and to diminish the size of the legislative machinery. In other words, employ the power of Congress to reduce the influence of Congress and the administrative branch in areas of our lives that should be private.

But a distinction could be drawn between that aspect of governance upon which most people agree, and the function of government to utilise the market strength of hundreds of millions of consumers to purchase things for everyone that everyone needs. Things like universal health care, employment insurance, food stamps, universal day care, public education, and the military are benefits that accrue to every member of society and they can all be far less expensive if the buying power of an enormous population is harnessed and directed. That isn’t government interference; that’s wise shopping.

I genuinely don’t believe that most conservatives are as hateful and self-serving as some of the wingnuts at CPAC would lead us to believe. If the rank and file were to step back from the rhetoric for a moment they would see that government has a function beyond interfering in our civil liberties, and that function is to corral the economic clout of the third most populous country on earth to accomplish, for a fraction of the cost of doing it individually, that which everyone would like to see done. Conservatives don’t really want to live in a country where the poor die of hunger and exposure at the steps of the mansions of the wealthy. Conservatives don’t really want child labour to be a reality in America. Nor do they really want education only to be available to the elite. They simply abhor government to such an extent that they don’t want even necessities provided by government.

A paradigm shift needs to be made so that the real conservatives can see that it wouldn’t be government imposing these things on people. It would be the people pooling their resources to buy these things for the country, and the government carrying out its function 

of administration. Of course that would require toning down the vitriol, thinking outside the reactionary bubble, and actually thinking about what’s best for their country.


But Judging by CPAC, that ain’t about to happen.

…enditem…

 

 

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