Animals

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President Trump has once again revealed his true self. Speaking at a White House meeting on his attempts to rid America of undocumented immigrants, he said, “These aren’t people, these are animals.” (New York Times, May 16, 2018)

He was referring to notorious members of a gang called MS-13 who, according to Trump, are crossing the border in droves to rape and murder Americans. The problem with this reasoning is that MS-13 is a home grown gang that started in the largely Hispanic underclass neighborhoods of Los Angeles. According to PolitiFact, it is difficult to determine how many undocumented youth in MS-13 were gang members before they arrived in the U.S. and how many were recruited once here. (“Immigration, MS-13 and crime: the facts behind Donald Trump’s exaggerations,” Miriam Valverde, politifact.com, Feb. 7, 2018)

Highlighting the heinous acts of a Latino street gang is just another of the Trump Administration’s attempts to vilify non-white immigrants and build a case for his precious wall. Trump has consistently called non-whites criminals, rapists, and animals, and he has vilified their countries of origin as “shitholes.” How this transparent racism is allowed to stand is a mystery to me.

Trump’s latest remarks have concerned many people who recall that Hitler used the same term to refer to Jews before his successful campaign to exterminate millions of them. I think the rhetoric of this administration deserves universal condemnation from our leaders.

But let’s think for a moment about animals, forgetting for the sake of argument that all humans are considered animals. Animals are predominantly creatures of instinct. They spend their lives in a difficult environment just trying to survive. Some eat only plants, others just meat, and many are omnivores. Although there is some evidence that our close relatives the chimpanzees perpetrate wanton violence, most animals only kill in order to live or protect themselves and their young.

The scariness of the fictional Cujo notwithstanding, animals do not lurk in the shadows waiting to do harm. They can’t lie, cheat, or steal. They aren’t bullies or con artists. Their intentions are much more pure than that of even our own beloved children. (Just ask any pet owner.)

I really don’t think Donald Trump should be calling people animals. It’s an insult to animals.

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The Greatest Charlatan

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I’ve been mystified by the success of the 2017 musical The Greatest Showman, a movie based on the life of P.T. Barnum of Barnum & Bailey’s Circus fame. How does someone make a “feel good” musical about a man who preyed upon people’s basest instincts to make money?

P.T. Barnum literally rented an elderly black slave and peddled the fiction that she was George Washington’s nursemaid. He exploited people of other races, such as the famous Siamese twins Chang and Eng. People came to see his freak show of humans with physical characteristics outside the mainstream of society. (smithsonianmag.com, Dec. 22, 2017) All of this is whitewashed by rousing musical numbers and anthems, ironically, of tolerance for people’s differences (Academy-award nominated song “This Is Me”).

I guess the popularity of The Greatest Showman shouldn’t surprise me. After all, we live in an America that elected Donald Trump. Like Barnum, Trump exploited people’s prejudices and fears to win votes. He peddled the fiction that he was a man of great business acumen despite numerous business failures and the exploitation of many who worked for him.

Both Barnum’s and Trump’s greatest gifts have been for self-promotion. Barnum even titled his autobiography The Life of P.T. Barnum, Written By Himself. Similarly, Trump travels around the country like a religious tent revivalist, whipping up crowds and congratulating himself for his greatness and popularity. Trump is fond of phrases such as “we have the best …” and “like no one’s ever seen.”

Donald Trump has created his own three-ring circus to dazzle, obfuscate, and distract the media and the American people from his lies and the backroom dealings that keep coming to light through the Mueller investigation. He has managed to convince Republican legislators and conservative media pundits that the true chicanery lies elsewhere, with the Hillary Clinton campaign, the Justice Department, and American intelligence services. Unlike the offensive but entertaining smoke and mirrors of P.T. Barnum, Trump’s con artistry is bent on destroying American institutions.

Americans who so want to invest their hopes and dreams in a man like Trump are the perfect audience for a sugarcoated movie about a man who conned and exploited his way to fame and fortune, a man who was wiling to abuse both humans and animals to make a buck.

As historian Daniel Boorstin puts it, “Contrary to popular belief,” as Boorstin wrote, “Barnum’s great discovery was not how easy it was to deceive the public, but rather, how much the public enjoyed being deceived.” (smithsonianmag.com, Dec. 22, 2017)

If anything explains the ascendancy of Donald Trump, that does.

In Praise of Moderation

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America is a nation of extremes. Either we are subsisting on grass and twigs with the Paleo diet, or we are Supersizing our fast food hamburgers and fries. We can’t just use our phones to stay in touch with each other. We have to have them in our hands constantly to check email or go on social media. And watching a television show or two won’t do. We have to binge watch an entire series in one sitting.

Nowhere is our penchant for extremes more obvious – and potentially more dangerous – than in our politics. Both the Democratic and Republican parties have been skewing far to the left and right respectively in the past several years. The Tea Party movement on the right has pushed candidates with views that go way beyond traditional conservative beliefs about limited government. Tax cuts at all costs seems to be the new Republican mantra, regardless of how severely they will impact the national debt. And the election of Donald Trump shows a disturbing trend on the right to vilify immigrants and minorities, roll back environmental protections, and normalize the white nationalist movement.

On the Democratic side, we see the popularity of socialist-leaning Bernie Sanders and such idealistic but impractical agendas as providing free college for all Americans. And while I personally favor a single-payer health care system such as the ones found in most Western European nations, the hue and cry over the baby steps of Obamacare shows that the country is not ready for quite that massive of an overhaul. I believe that Sanders supporters’ refusal to get behind Hillary Clinton in the presidential election was in part responsible for the election of Trump.

The political polarization is being fed and magnified by social media algorithms and the various websites that have sprung up pushing extreme agendas and often fake news. There is no more talking or meeting of minds. We are simply shouting at each other, and our political leaders are, for the most part, perpetuating the great divide we have between the left and the right.

There needs to be a new movement: not the Tea Party nor the Coffee Party. Let’s call it the Milk Party. Milk is a little bland and unexciting, but it’s also wholesome and nutritious. It builds strong bones and teeth. Likewise, we need our leaders to come together and work with each other. Compromise is not a bad word. As Sheriff Hopper explains to Eleven in Stranger Things, it means “halfway happy.” I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be halfway happy than completely miserable.

After the recent tax bill passed, legislators admitted that they had not even read it. And already the U.S. Treasury Department is being deluged with complaints about ambiguous language and unintended consequences of the new law. We are paying our government leaders well. I think we deserve better than the dysfunction in Washington, which, contrary to the intentions of the Tea Party, has grown worse.

In short, we need the moderates to stop hiding or being co-opted by the extreme right and left. We need the leaders in the sensible shoes and serviceable haircuts to step forward and lay claim to being the voices of reason in the insanity that has grown up around politics in America.

As in most areas of life – including our diet, exercise, religious practices, child-rearing, and the like – moderation in politics may be the key to saving our democracy.

Cult of Celebrity

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America’s cult of celebrity is ruining our democracy. Our obsession with being famous brought us the presidency of Donald Trump, a reality TV star more than anything, who gloried in shouting “You’re fired!” each week at a hapless contestant on The Apprentice. Now Trump is playing a high-stakes version of The Apprentice with the highest office in the land.

The ouster of National Security Chief H.R. McMaster yesterday is just the latest in dozens of firings from our volatile president. I used to be worried about Trump’s peopling his administration with military men. Now, as Trump starts combing the ranks of Fox News pundits and resurrecting the career of John Bolton, I’m missing those generals with wistful fondness.

It’s a measure of our fascination with famous people that someone like Oprah is being considered a great presidential candidate in 2020 . And just the other day, Cynthia Nixon of Sex and the City fame announced she will run for governor of New York. Of course, we’ve already had the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in California, as well as the presidency of the late Ronald Reagan, an actor who parlayed his work with the Screen Actors’ Guild into a stint as governor before becoming a two-term Republican president.

I’m not saying celebrities have no right to run for office or that their fame makes them unqualified to hold a government position. But I think that if we continue this obsession with electing people on the basis of their fame, we are apt to have Pauly D. from Jersey Shore as our next president (with The Situation his chief of staff).

I understand that voters are tired of business as usual in government. Career politicians whose every move is calculated against their chances of winning re-election have left a bad taste in our mouths. But we still need thoughtful, principled and knowledgable individuals to make laws and shape policies so that our democracy continues to be the thriving and vibrant envy of the world it has always been.

Politics as entertainment has to go. As volatile as this fledgling presidency of Donald Trump has been, I dread the prospect of seeing the reruns in 2020.

 

Everybody Needs a Friend

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I recently found out that my best friend from childhood had passed away in her late teens or early 20s. Kathy and I were both shy little girls, and we gravitated toward each other because of that. When we were young, we were both obsessed with horses and pretended to have stables of them, each with a unique name. As we got older, we’d spend hours in her quiet room (unlike the bedlam in my family of 13) listening to 45 rpm records on her record player.

Although I got along fine with the other kids in my small Catholic school, it was Kathy I spent time with outside of school. Then in the summer before eighth grade, my family moved away. I quickly made a new best friend in the junior high I attended, one whose friendship I have maintained to this day. But I regret how easily I let my friendship with Kathy slip away.

Everybody needs a friend. A friend is a buffer against the harsh realities of life – the pressures of school, the meanness of children, the dysfunction in families. A friend can make us laugh, share our secrets, and have our backs in tough situations. Family is important, sure. But a friend is someone who chooses to be in your life.

Lately I’ve been wondering whether Donald Trump has any friends. He seems like a lonely figure in the White House. I can’t know for sure, but his relationship with his wife seems frosty and with his son, distant. He always seems to have so much to prove, tweeting away at all hours of the night, viciously attacking allies and enemies alike, needing to have the upper hand.

The Parkland shooter didn’t seem to have any friends. There is some indication that his odd behavior made him an outcast. So when he lost his mother, he must have felt overwhelmingly alone. Without a friend to be that buffer against life’s vicissitudes, he turned into an angry and vindictive young man.

Society needs to recognize the danger of looking the other way while kids are bullied, people suffer from depression, and others are raised by harsh, demanding tyrants who leave them feeling unloved. Not having a friend not only affects the lonely person, but can have devastating repercussions for those around him. It’s important to reach out to those on the margins, to those who spend their time building up paranoid fantasies in their minds – before they do something harmful to themselves or others.

I truly hope President Trump has a trusted friend, someone with whom he can laugh and let off steam, someone who can listen and try to understand.

Everybody needs a friend.

 

 

 

Alternate Reality

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MadHatterSignpostDHThe other day I overheard Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson getting indignant over a New York Times story revealing that U.S. intelligence officers had paid $100,000 to a Russian operative for dirt on Donald Trump. Curious, I pulled up the actual Times article and read that the intelligence community paid the money to retrieve stolen NSA cyber weapons, not intel on Trump. The article specifically stated, in fact, that the officers did not want any “dirt” on Trump during a presidential election. This is the alternative reality that Trump apologists like Carlson have created – aided and abetted by a behemoth of an organization called Fox News.

The whole so-called political scandal inside the FBI is a creation of the right wing establishment and Fox News, who have been desperate to deflect attention from the very serious Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Instead of welcoming the truth, conservatives want to taint any findings that might come out of that investigation by claiming that the investigators themselves are all politically motivated.

The problem is that millions of Americans get their news from Fox, including the president himself. This leaves us in an Orwellian world where truth is a function of what one believes, not of what can be factually demonstrated. We should have been more frightened back in 2016 when Kellyanne Conway blathered about “alternative facts.” So between a steady diet of Fox News and an algorithm on Facebook that presents them with only pro-Trump, anti-Hillary/Obama/Democrats information, Trump supporters can live in their own alternate reality.

I’m not claiming that the editors of other news organizations are always free from bias. But I have never seen the deliberate omission and/or twisting of facts to fit the right wing, pro-Republican narrative as I have witnessed on Fox News. Even when something negative happens, such as the drastic drop in the stock market last week, Fox News calls it a “correction,” whereas in the Obama era, it would have been considered a sign of the president’s unfitness.

And when I hear people I know murmuring about “the Deep State” or referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man,” I realize the extent to which Trump and his own special news network have infected the American consciousness. Conservatives mocked Hillary Clinton back in the day when she referred to a vast right-wing conspiracy against her and her husband. But after a brutal presidential election that featured relentless attacks against Hillary and investigations prompted by conservative groups like Judicial Watch, I have to say I find her theory much more plausible.

Liberals and conservatives will never see eye to eye on all the issues. That’s what makes the political system interesting and vital. But if we can’t even agree on what constitutes reality, we are in danger of becoming a society in which the loudest and most well-financed voices are the only ones we hear.

 

 

Stormy Weather

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im-1368There is a deep irony at the heart of the story alleging that Donald Trump had an affair with an adult film star shortly after his son Barron was born. Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that a woman named Stormy Daniels was offered $130,000 in 2016 to keep quiet about her affair with Trump. It turns out that several news organizations already had information about the alleged affair during the presidential  campaign. So why are we only learning about it now?

The mainstream media, the very institution that Donald Trump likes to vilify on a daily basis, did not have enough corroboration and therefore declined to publish what would surely have been a lurid and game-changing scoop. In other words, they were responsibly upholding journalistic standards, despite what Trump and his apologists like to claim in their near daily attacks on the press.

Just a few days ago, Trump said he would be announcing the “2017 Fake News Awards” to continue his campaign of discrediting the media. This from a man who has uttered more than 2,000 false or misleading statements in the past 355 days. (Washington Post, January 10, 2018) Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain, both Republicans, have pointed out that dictators across the globe are using Trump’s term “fake news” to justify stifling the media in their repressive regimes. (Chicago Tribune, January 18, 2018)

Revelations that Donald Trump committed adultery yet again are hardly surprising. The man has shown himself to have few moral qualms or principles. But the president owes the mainstream media a debt of gratitude for their measured, responsible journalism. Without it, his “locker room” talk with Billy Bush that was broadcast during the campaign might have been looked upon differently. And voters might have abandoned him at the polls.

Donald Trump’s image of himself and his exaggerations about support from the American people are beginning to crumble like a week-old cake. Or to use another metaphor, his White House is a house of cards that is getting wobbly. Even his chief of staff called his Mexican border wall idea “uninformed.” I’d say he’s in for Stormy weather regardless of how this latest salacious tale plays out.