Ignore the Clowns in the Center Ring

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Every day, the Trump circus provides some new craven and offensive remarks that send the media a-Twitter. Today’s insults were directed against a decorated war hero and his uniform of all things. Cue the outrage and opposing memes reminding America that President Bone Spurs and his sons have done exactly zero to be of service to our country – including and especially throughout their disastrous stint in the White House.

Never mind that any self-respecting 10-year-old playground bully wouldn’t lower himself to the level of these “burns.” Democrats have to come out angrily denouncing the comments, and the statements themselves take on a new life on Facebook, Twitter, the news etc.

I have news for everyone. This is exactly the intent of Trump’s constant barrage of attacks on Twitter, in speeches, and at his omnipresent political rallies. He wants to distract the American people from the reality of what is proceeding in Congress these days as dignified and credible witness after witness testifies that our president used the power of his office to extract political dirt on his likely opponent in the 2020 race.

I’m not saying we should excuse or ever get used to the leader of our nation reducing individuals to dismissive nicknames, mocking their looks, manner and dress, or questioning their patriotism. But at this stage, our main goal should be focusing on Trump’s misdeeds, of which there are many, and keeping his actions as president the focus of our criticism.

It is quite clear that not only did Trump ask for help from Ukraine to discredit Joe Biden, but he withheld military aid from an ally that is currently besieged by the object of Trump’s main bromance: Vladimir Putin. If, prior to 2016, you had asked people to imagine Republicans standing by silently while a U.S. president praised a Russian leader and simultaneously maligned distinguished members of our own military, most people would think you were either crazy or a Hollywood screen writer.

Let’s stop feeding our narcissistic leader the attention and even outrage he so obviously craves. Ignore the side show and focus on the main events: the current impeachment hearings and the next presidential election. The only way to make the circus leave town is to get rid of the man in the center ring.

OK Boomer

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The latest expression to make the rounds of popular culture is a dismissive quip younger people aim at their parents and grandparents: “Ok, Boomer.” This snarky bon mot is used to insult the generation that did not grow up with a smartphone growing out of its hand and often finds itself exasperated with the habits of Gens X, Y, and Z.

“Ok, Boomer” is partly a defensive response to criticism. Every older generation criticizes the younger one for their softness, their entitlement, even their style of dress and choice of music. Rather than bother themselves with a reasoned response to such criticisms, young people will simply hurl the disdainful “Ok, Boomer” at their critics.

Sometimes I applaud such a response. For instance, a young woman in the New Zealand legislature cut off a heckler during her speech on the climate crisis with an “Ok, Boomer,” and then resumed her oration without missing a beat. Indeed, when it comes to certain subjects, reasoning or defending just seem to be a waste of time.

Yet I resent being lumped in with climate change deniers, people espousing intolerance toward minorities and gays, or others, many of a certain age, who hold antiquated and mean-spirited views. We Baby Boomers are no more homogenous a group than any other social, ethnic, or religious demographic. Indeed, the Baby Boomer generation can take credit for the Civil Rights and women’s movements, as well as the beginnings of environmental activism in the Sixties and Seventies.

I also dislike it when younger people mock their elders for having a hard time with modern technology. I’d like to see them try to dial a rotary phone or type on a manual typewriter – or read cursive for that matter. As a meme I’ve seen on Facebook puts it, “Never make fun of me for needing help with computer stuff. I taught you how to use a spoon!”

Like many expressions, I’m sure “Ok, Boomer” will wane in popularity eventually. In the meantime, I’d like to assure you young whippersnappers that I’m an OK Boomer, and I’m not going to take any of your guff. As a 1967 self-help book would say, “I’m OK, You’re OK.” Let’s leave it at that.

Dystopian Lit Is Giving Me Nightmares

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I have been reading a lot of fiction lately about a future dystopian United States – from the vampiric world of Justin Cronin’s Passage trilogy to Octavia Butler’s nightmare Parables to Margaret Atwood’s scary land of Gilead in The Testaments, a sequel to the acclaimed work The Handmaid’s Tale. And I’ve got to say, I’m feeling more than a little unsettled.

You see, the worlds created by these masterly writers seem all too close to current realities. One of the themes that runs throughout dystopian fiction is that of an Earth ravaged by human excess and the resultant climate change. While many deny the existence of man-made climate change for political reasons, there is little doubt that the Earth is warming and that this warming is already causing sea levels to rise, Arctic and Antarctic ice to melt, and weather-related devastation in the form of high category hurricanes and arid lands being ravaged by wildfires.

Another theme of dystopian fiction is that of totalitarianism taking hold. In Margaret Atwood’s two books about the fictional land of Gilead, an ultra right wing faction has seized the White House, suspended the Constitution, and created a total police state. In Butler’s book The Parable of the Talents, a presidential hopeful promises to restore order to a lawless and broken country through heavy-handed means, including lynchings and burnings. Most ominous to me in reading Butler’s novel is this politician promising to “make America great again,” a slogan we have heard only too often in recent history. Yet Butler wrote The Parable of the Talents in 1998.

That’s what is so scary to me about dystopian fiction. Writers such as Butler and Atwood seem frighteningly prescient in their imaginings of future worlds. In some of Atwood’s other novels, pigs are implanted with human brain tissue, drones are used to spy on citizens, and for-profit prisons make ordinary people’s lives a living nightmare. None of these imagined realities seems out of the realm of plausibility.

In times of fear and stress, people are often willing to suspend their own freedoms in order to be protected. We saw this immediately after 9/11 when the Patriot Act was passed with little political opposition. We now allow agents of the federal government to search our possessions, x-ray our persons, and deny our right to carry particular nonlethal items just in order to board a plane. Technological innovations of the past two decades have also threatened to destroy our privacy in ways reminiscent of Big Brother in George Orwell’s classic 1984.

The other day my daughter asked me if I thought it would be possible for the United States to become a totalitarian state. I told her that the Constitution is only a document. It takes the will of the people and their leaders in government to assure that it is enforced. Today we are seeing individuals in the executive and legislative branches of our government refuse to abide by the norms and stipulations of that document. To my mind, it is not that far-fetched to imagine a group like the “Sons of Jacob” in The Testaments overtaking our democracy and turning it into a dictatorship.

Perhaps I should start reading other types of fiction for a while. These dystopian novels are giving me waking nightmares.

Trump’s Naked Ambition

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When are the people surrounding Donald Trump going to acknowledge that the emperor has no clothes? That was my thought when I saw a Washington Post story about the president ranting during a Cabinet meeting about the impeachment “witch hunt” and the “phony emoluments clause” in the Constitution that seeks to prevent His Orange-ness from profiting off of the presidency. Like deer caught in the headlights, these hapless dupes just sat there as Trump raved.

The silence of White House officials and Republicans on Capitol Hill serves only to embolden Trump. He has blatantly admitted to demanding a quid pro quo from the Ukrainian president in order to damage a political rival. Back at the onset of the Mueller investigation, he was quoted as saying, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked.” (If only!) In light of the recent revelations about his attempts to get Ukraine to help his political fortunes, does anyone actually doubt that Trump attempted to get Russia to help him back in 2016?

Mueller’s circumspect conclusions gave Trump the sense that he was untouchable. Despite Mueller’s refusal to acquit him of obstruction of justice charges, he claimed total vindication. Now that he’s been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, it’s obvious that the man will do anything to further his own fortunes and self-aggrandizement.

From the start of his presidency, Trump has financially profited from his office. All his weekend trips to Mar a Lago put money in his pocket at taxpayer expense. His hotel in Washington D.C. has hosted countless delegations doing business with the government. And it becomes clearer by the day that his foreign policy revolves around relationships that will personally benefit him: his support of Saudi Arabia despite the state-sanctioned killing of an American journalist, and more recently, his withdrawal of troops in Syria to appease Turkish president Recep Erdogan.

Voters should have known better than to elect a man who refused to reveal his tax returns during the election. There is one person at the center of Donald Trump’s mind: himself.

Tulsi Gabbard recently compared Hillary Clinton to the Wizard of Oz. But that comparison is much more apt for Trump, a man of flim flam and bombastic  rhetoric. The only difference is that with Trump, there is no curtain. His naked ambition, his narcissism, and his spite are on display for all to see.

It’s time for Republicans to take the veil from their eyes, unite with Democrats, and do something about this disastrously unfit president.

The Death of Shame

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Growing up Catholic in the Sixties, I was more than well acquainted with the concept of shame. “Shame on you!” was a common reprimand to children who stepped out of line. As I got older, I started to see the propensity to shame people as a negative thing. And it can be. Making people ashamed of their natural feelings and inclinations leads to a low sense of self-worth.

Nowadays, however, I think we’ve completely lost the sense of shame to the point where we can hurt and abuse others and still go about our normal lives without any sense of contriteness or trying to rectify the situation.

The #MeToo movement exposed the sexual predation, harassment and assault perpetrated by many men in the public sphere. From Harvey Weinstein to Bill Cosby to Matt Lauer, we were horrified to discover how many powerful men have used their position to prey on women (and in some instances men). The behavior of these men -ranging from sexual remarks to nudity to sexual assault – was rightly denounced, and the perpetrators seemed to pay a price. For a while.

Take the case of Charlie Rose. Not long after he was fired from CBS over allegations that he paraded around naked in front of female interns and made inappropriate sexual comments, a report came out that Rose had been shopping around a comeback show in which he interviewed men who, like himself, had been accused of sexual harassment and predation. In other words, he had the audacity to attempt to profit off of the very heinous behavior that made him temporarily slink away from the public eye. My initial thought was, Have you no shame?

Little by little, however, these men will weasel their way back into the world of entertainment because we live in a world without shame. Not long ago, I read a story about an appearance by comedian Louis C.K. at a Chicago nightclub. (“No apologies, no notes at Louis C.K. show,” Chicago Tribune, Sept. 21, 2019) C.K. had been exposed (pun intended) for his propensity to masturbate in front of female colleagues behind the scenes of his standup shows.  During his Chicago show, C.K. alluded to the allegations against him by proclaiming that everyone had a “thing” that would be embarrassing if others found out about it – as if his behavior was a harmless peccadillo and not a case of harassment. He painted himself as a victim, alluding to the fact that he used to sell out giant venues and was now playing to a small crowd. No shame indeed.

I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised that famous men seem to have no sense of culpability for their own actions. After all, our current president bragged on video about grabbing women “by the pussy.” If ever there were a poster child for a world without shame, it’s Donald Trump.

Our society seems to have a high tolerance for the misbehavior of men, especially white men. For example, despite allegations of rape against Brett Kavanaugh, he was confirmed to the highest court in the land. Victims are consistently doubted and put on trial as if they were the perpetrators of harm. Even when we choose to believe the allegations, we seem to have a need to forgive and forget, thus allowing predators to get away with their actions and survive, if not thrive.

And that’s a shame.

 

Socialist or National Socialist?

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Hey, Republicans! I’ll make you a deal. I’ll stop calling Trump a Nazi if you stop calling Democrats socialists.

As the Trump presidency deteriorates further and further, I’ve noticed a tinge of desperation in Republican attempts to portray Democratic legislators, and especially the Democratic candidates for president, as Venezuela-style socialists who are bent on destroying our great democracy. Hogwash!

Since when is trying to rein in runaway prescription drug prices a socialist policy? Trump himself has attacked Big Pharma and promised to get drug prices in line. But when Democrat Nancy Pelosi pushes for legislation to do just that, she’s painted as a socialist. And why is Elizabeth Warren condemned for insisting upon holding banks and other financial institutions accountable for irresponsible and predatory business practices? The laxity of regulations on these institutions helped bring about the Great Recession, after all.

Wanting to insure that all Americans have access to affordable health care should be a bipartisan goal. Addressing the enormous inflation in tuition at colleges and universities should be a common goal as well. Insisting that the richest Americans pay their fair share in taxes is common sense. Yet all of these ambitions – which, by the way, have widespread appeal across party lines – are deemed marks of a slippery slope toward Big Government controlling our lives. It’s a lazy narrative, and Republicans need to stop.

After all, what are the gigantic farm subsidies Trump granted to maintain rural support for his candidacy but a form of socialism? What about all the tax breaks and subsidies to giant corporations to keep them doing business in the U.S.? Republicans decry welfare to poor individuals, but they say nothing against the rampant corporate welfare that occurs in this country.

The other day I was reading a book set in Poland during World War II. In a chilling scene,  SS officers ruthlessly separate children from their families to be sent off to concentration camps. It reminded me of the immigration policy of a certain current president. But I won’t call Trump a Nazi, despite his love of dictators and predilection toward authoritarianism.

So let’s can it with the comparisons to Hugo Chavez and the boogeyman word “socialist.” Let Democrats and Republicans debate national policy ideas on their merits, and allow the American electorate to decide what they want for their future without resorting to scare tactics and ad hominem attacks.

What’s in a Naming Right?

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Chicagoans have been up in arms about the announcement that the 86-year-old Museum of Science and Industry will henceforth be called the Kenneth C. Griffin Museum of Science and Industry. Billionaire Ken Griffin secured that feather for his already plumage-filled cap by donating $125 million to the institution.

I have to admit that my first reaction was to be appalled and to comment, “What an egomaniac!” about Griffin. The founder of hedge fund Citadel already has his name on numerous professorships and other endowments that he has made to various institutions across Chicagoland. Does he really need to see his name plastered on one of Chicago’s venerable cultural landmarks?

But who am I kidding? Naming rights often, if not always, go to their most generous donors.

People get upset about name changes such as the Sears Tower to the Willis Tower or the John Hancock Center to simply 875 North Michigan Avenue. But Sears and John Hancock were both corporate sponsors themselves. Once ownership of the building changed, so did the name. Even our beloved Wrigley Field was named for the chewing gum magnate.

I think it’s just a sense of comfort and nostalgia that makes people unhappy with the name change of a famous landmark. Here in Chicago, I thought there would be riots when Macy’s bought Marshall Field’s and had the audacity to change its branding. But in time people get used to the changes. As Chicago Tribune columnist Christoper Borelli pointed out in a recent op ed piece, our grandchildren will probably think nothing of the new name for the Museum of Science and Industry. (“It could be worse — The Yeezy-Kardashian Museum of Science and Industry,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 4, 2019) They’ll most likely start calling it “the Griffin” or even “the Griff,” Borelli suggests.

So I won’t begrudge Ken Griffin his monument to himself. I just hope some rich donor doesn’t help remodel a famous church and rename it the Donald J. Trump Holy Name Cathedral!