I’m Disappointed

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I’m disappointed that Hillary Clinton recently came out of virtual seclusion to hawk her book rather than to lead the resistance against the Trump Administration.

I’m disappointed that President Trump treated an appearance at the site of massive flooding in Texas as another campaign rally: “Look at the crowd; look at the turnout.”

I’m disappointed that petty Americans are spending their time criticizing Melania’s choice of footwear.

I’m disappointed that Berkley antifascist groups used violence to counter a white supremacist march.

I’m disappointed that deniers refuse to concede that climate change might possibly have something to do with the heaviest amount of rainfall ever to fall on the 48 contiguous states.

I’m disappointed that even a natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey can’t seem to bring our country together.

Life is just full of disappointments. And yet . . .

Online and on TV, I am seeing first responders and volunteers helping residents of Texas escape the floodwaters. Everywhere from furniture stores to churches are opening their doors to shelter the displaced. In my home town, residents are making plans to collect needed supplies and drive them down to the Houston area. Donations are pouring into relief agencies.

The innate goodness in people seems to be taking over. I am going to choose to ignore the hate and snark and acrimony that is ever present on the internet these days, find out how best to help others, and go do something.

 

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Is Trump a Racist?

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birthertoon10It seems a pretty open and shut case when answering the question: Is Donald Trump racist? He began his political career, after all, by questioning whether Barack Obama was actually born in Kenya, not Hawaii. His dog whistle campaign to “Make America Great Again” was seen by and large as code for “Make America White Again.” And let’s not forget his references to Hispanic immigrants as rapists and “bad hombres,” not to mention his repeated vilification of Muslims as terrorists.

Since taking office, Donald Trump has only solidified his white supremacist “street cred” by appointing such figures as Steve Bannon as White House strategist and Jeff Sessions, a man condemned by civil rights groups, as attorney general. One of Trump’s first executive orders was to ban residents from 7 Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States. He has increased the detainment of illegal immigrants. He has formed the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, a thinly disguised vehicle for enhancing voter suppression in minority areas. And, of course, he refused to condemn white supremacists for their brazen and violent demonstration at the University of Virginia. Instead, he spoke of the violence “on many sides,” as if calling out bigots and neo-Nazis for the despicable creatures they are is somehow wrong.

Yes, there’s plenty of evidence to conclude that Donald Trump holds racist views. But what if he doesn’t? What if he really doesn’t believe any of the hateful things he’s been spewing since he set his eyes on the prize of the presidency? In a way, that would be worse. It would mean that Trump is cynically stirring up bigotry and hate only to gain and hold onto power. The ruthlessness of a man who believes in nothing except his own financial gain and self-aggrandizement should take our breath away.

Yet White House officials are standing behind the president and making excuses for Trump’s failure to call white supremacists by name. Why won’t Donald Trump excoriate such hate? Well, he’s already raising money for his re-election campaign. He needs those disgruntled whites who blame all of their failures on non-whites in order to win another term. Are we horrified enough yet?

 

“Frankenstein” Republicans Losing Control of Their Monster

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Earlier this week I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post about choosing a president via reality TV. Ironically, the White House itself resembles the cast of The Apprentice these days.

Trump’s newly appointed communications director Anthony Scaramucci has gone rabid, claiming the White House, like a fish, “stinks from the head down,” a reference to White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. Scaramucci, acting like an extra on The Sopranos, has vowed to fire the entire communications staff in order to stem the tide of leaks from disgruntled White House employees. (Chicago Tribune, July 28, 2017)

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claims the Donald likes pitting his employees against each other, a fact confirmed by former employees of the Trump organization. (Tribune, July 28, 2017) I half expect to see the president on TV, sitting behind his desk in the Oval Office and shouting, “You’re fired!” at Priebus, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and special prosecutor Robert Mueller.

Things in Washington have clearly gotten out of control. Donald Trump’s insulting tweets about Sessions and threats to fire Mueller have been met with dismay by Congressional Republicans, who have issued stern warnings to Trump not to remove either man from his post. But that’s a little like expecting the pit bull in your backyard to play nice when you’ve trained it to be a killer.

In a week when the President of the United States managed to politicize a Boy Scout Jamboree, offend the LGBT community, and appear at yet another self-aggrandizing rally in Ohio, it is hard to see how the party that unleashed the Trumpian monster will be able to rein him in.

Trump actually managed to do something positive this week, and that was to bring jobs into Wisconsin by way of a deal with electronics company Foxconn. (We’ll ignore the inconvenient fact that the supposedly saved jobs at Carrier in Indiana are going away.) Yet the behavior of both the president and his minions has overshadowed any good news coming from the White House.

Meanwhile, many Republican leaders are experiencing buyers’ remorse about supporting a president who has turned out to be a loose cannon they can’t control.

If ever there were a time for Republicans to reach across the aisle and unite with Democrats to do something about Frankenstein’s monster, that time is now.

The New Republicans: Pitbulls in Lipstick

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I haven’t missed Sarah Palin. Seeing her on TV news today in response to word that her former running mate John McCain has brain cancer was an unwelcome reminder of her existence.

As I listened to her speak, I was reminded of her coarseness, her lack of knowledge, and her family drama that rivals anything seen in an episode of Jerry Springer. And it hit me: Sarah Palin helped usher in the era of politics as reality TV.

Her famous comment about hockey moms as “pit bulls in lipstick” was eaten up by a certain segment of the American electorate, and the Republican Party took note.

Of course, we have seen an intertwining of politics and entertainment in the past. Our rash of “celebrity” governors – Ronald Reagan, Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger – has contributed to the idea that one need not have stellar credentials to be elected to high office.

And the entertainment-oriented nature of the news media has not helped. It was a sad state of affairs when a comedy show, The Daily Show, was considered by many to be a better source of news than any of the network or cable news programs. Daily Show host Jon Stewart was even encouraged to run for office.

But the Trump campaign took politics to a completely new – and unfortunately low – level. He initially sparked interest because of his larger than life persona and celebrity due to the reality show The Apprentice. Once news outlets saw how crowds were eating up his crude and outrageous statements, they started covering Trump’s campaign slavishly.

It is depressing to me that a sizable number of Americans were willing to elect as president a reality show star with no political experience and questionable business dealings who routinely puts down women, immigrants, war heroes, and the disabled. Yet a recent report indicates that despite all the apparent conflicts of interest, possible collusion with the Russian government, and a petty penchant for tweeting insults and threats to those who oppose him, Donald Trump’s fans continue to support him and to delight in his boorish behavior.

This is not simply the dumbing down of American politics but the lowering of standards of acceptable behavior for no less than the President of the United States.

Far from making America great again, our 45th president is managing to make America mean.

 

 

 

 

Behind the Veil

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Women and their head coverings have been much in the news lately. There have been alternating praise and criticism for Melania and Ivanka Trump, for instance, for their sartorial choices on their recent Mideast trip with the president.

Some found hypocrisy in the fact that the women refused to wear a hijab when in Saudi Arabia but were practically covered head to toe in black to meet the pope. Others cheered their spunk and refusal to bow to a hated Islamist ideology. Similar decisions to cover or not cover their heads have been the subject of criticism for other First Ladies, such as Michelle Obama.

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To all of this I have to ask, what’s the big deal? I am far more disturbed by the fact that President Trump said nothing about the dreadful state of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia than whether the First Lady was making a pointed political statement by allowing her hair to be seen. On the other hand, such criticism might be seen as hypocritical coming from a man who does not seem to hold women in particularly high regard. Still, it’s all relative, and I hope that at least privately the president put pressure on Saudi Arabia to advance the rights of women as a condition for continuing to arm them to the teeth.

What I find most disturbing about the recent brouhaha over headwear for women is that society persists in judging every single thing about a woman’s choices, right down to her clothing and hair. It’s the 21st Century, and yet we’re still focused on women as ornaments, somehow not fully human. No one mused philosophically about what the color of Donald Trump’s tie or the cut of his suit might indicate about his beliefs or intentions.

Muslim women who choose to wear the veil do so for myriad reasons, most of them religious. Why that choice should be denigrated and looked upon as political is beyond me. The primary purpose in covering one’s head and chest seems to be modesty. What devout Christian would have a problem with women being modest? Yet because of terrorism and the need to demonize those who oppose us, Americans have taken a hostile stance against Muslim women in hijab.

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Years ago, there was a great TV series called Jack and Bobby. It was about two young brothers, one of whom would one day become the president of the United States. The boys’ mother, played by Christine Lahti, is a college professor, and she has a hostile exchange with a female student who wears the hijab. In a memorable scene, Lahti’s character attacks the woman for allowing herself to be controlled by a male-dominated culture. The young woman throws back her belief that American women are the ones being controlled by men’s need to see them as perfect physical specimens whose looks are constantly on display.

That exchange gave me pause back in the Nineties, and it sticks with me to this day. Women of all cultures should be free to dress and speak and act in whatever way they choose. And it should be their character, intelligence, and personal inner qualities that are focused on, not their clothing, their hair, their modesty, or the lack thereof.

The real veil women are often required to hide behind is the metaphorical one imposed by a society that still does not see them as equal to men. Until we address that reality, what a woman does or does not wear on her head makes very little difference at all.

Snowflake, Meet Deplorable

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During the presidential campaign, I winced when I heard Hillary Clinton refer to Trump supporters as “deplorables.” First of all, name-calling is a mean-spirited and ineffective way of getting one’s point across. Secondly, I knew Trump supporters would have a field day with the comment, using it to point out how elitist and out of touch Clinton and her liberal base are with Middle America.

Conservatives have done their best to portray liberals as rich, intellectual elites who live on the two coasts and ignore the needs and wants of Americans in the “fly over zone.” Much was made of Hillary’s being part of the establishment in Washington, despite the fact that Trump was being propped up by career politicians in the Republican Party and is himself an “out of touch” billionaire.

The fact is that when it comes to belittling and mockery, the political Right is just as culpable as the Left. Lately it has become fashionable to sneer at college students as “snowflakes” who melt at the least little challenge to their multicultural, pie in the sky, kumbaya sensibilities. Over the past two decades, in fact, conservatives have taken an anti-intellectual posture, as if being smart and educated are bad things. What conservatives are really miffed about is that most colleges and universities have become bastions of liberalism where right wing ideas are marginalized. So their method of fighting back is mockery.

Since Bill O’Reilly was forced to resign from Fox News, the new champion of liberal-bashing has become Tucker Carlson. Tucker is a blue-blooded, boarding school, East Coast WASP, but you’d never know it the way he makes time to ridicule rich people. A regular on his show is Mike Rowe, a self-proclaimed man of the people whose job as host of a reality show called Dirty Jobs apparently makes him akin to all working class Joes. Rowe comes on regularly to belittle rich folk who would buy such preposterous items as pre-dirtied jeans or torn up sneakers for hundreds of dollars. I happen to agree that this practice seems crazy. But the subtext is what I object to. Here is a man worth millions of dollars pretending to be folksy and down to earth. Sound familiar? And who is his biggest fan? The baby-faced Carlson, who was born rich and undoubtedly has had servants taking care of his “dirty jobs.”

My point is this: We will never get anywhere in political discourse if we spend our time putting down people with opposing views. All Trump supporters are not racist. All Hillary supporters were not out-of-touch millionaires. We can criticize actions, statements, and policies without resorting to sarcasm and ridicule. With the exception of comedians, who are paid to be rude and sarcastic, Americans of all stripes need to put down their sharp weapons and try to meet in the middle. A little mutual respect would go a long way to heal divisions and truly make this country great again.

 

The Trump Effect

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Since Trump’s improbable run for the White House, public and political discourse in America seem to be devolving. Trump himself was able to call immigrants rapists and “bad hombres,” demonize Muslims, criticize women’s looks, and talk about his inappropriate sexual advances – all without having a substantial effect on his popularity. Notwithstanding the interference of the Russians and James Comey as factors in the Trump victory, Trump and his supporters seem to have taken this fact as license to spout off any mean-spirited remark that comes to mind. I call this the Trump Effect.

Case in point are some of the comments Republican lawmakers have made about health care in their efforts to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. For instance, Rep. John Shimkus questioned why pregnancy coverage should be required, and Rep. Roger Marshall said that poor people don’t care about their health anyway. More recently, after the House passed a bill that would allow states to opt out of coverage for pre-existing conditions, Rep. Robert Pittenger helpfully explained that people can just move to another state if they can’t get coverage. And Rep. Mo Brooks implied that getting sick was a moral failing that the “rest of us” shouldn’t have to pay for. Worst of all, Republican members of the House of Representatives voted essentially to deny health insurance to millions of Americans while keeping their own government-paid health plans.

The Trump Effect has not been limited to politicians. Across the country, Trump’s election has emboldened some Americans to dust off their swastika posters, shout racist epithets at strangers, and attack people wearing head coverings whom they think are Muslim. For example, not long ago, a man was removed from a plane for harassing Muslim passengers and asking them if they had a bomb in their luggage.

And speaking of airlines, the Trump Effect seems to have caused companies to say, “Screw it” in their approach to customer satisfaction. After the egregious abuse a man endured being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight, one would have thought all the major airlines would have run employee sensitivity training immediately. Instead, we keep hearing of more abusive behavior on the part of airline employees. Recently, an American Airlines flight attendant had to be reprimanded for her handling of a woman and toddler with a stroller. And just the other day, a young couple was threatened with jail and the removal of their children if they did not take their infant out of his car seat and give the seat (that they had paid for) to another passenger on an overbooked flight.

I honestly feel sorry for the writers of satire such as Saturday Night Live. People’s real life behavior has gotten so outrageous that it is hard to exaggerate for humorous effect. In fact, the situation in our country has gotten so awful that our comedians more and more have felt the need to play it straight. Jimmy Kimmel, for instance, made a heartfelt plea to lawmakers not to pass a law that would force families to watch their infant die because they couldn’t afford life-saving treatment.

Of course, Jimmy’s plea was met with compassion and restraint, right? Fat chance. Instead, we got deadbeat dad and right wing radio blabbermouth Joe Walsh saying, Sorry, Jimmy. I don’t care if your kid dies. I don’t want to have to help pay to save him. Yeah, I’m actually getting nostalgic for George H.W. Bush’s “thousand points of light” and his son’s “compassionate conservatism.”

The Trump Effect has also extended to alternate views of reality. Because Trump so often outright lies, members of his administration have been emboldened to do so. Remember Kellyanne Conway’s infamous “Bowling Green massacre”? Trump has peopled his Cabinet with climate-change deniers and shown his knowledge of history to be shaky at best. How else to explain his gaffes about Jefferson Davis and Andrew Jackson? The latest lies, of course, are about the effect the new health care law will have on ordinary Americans. The Republicans are hoping those lies hold until at least after the mid-term elections. Meanwhile, Trump, with a totally straight face, tells Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull that Australia’s universal healthcare program is better than the one in the U.S. No shit, Sherlock.

I don’t think I’m hyperbolizing when I declare that the Trump Effect is turning civilization on its head. Our rapidly descending standards for what is acceptable in a U.S. president are influencing the rest of American government and the society beyond. We need a return to norms of civility and kindness before it’s too late.