Deja Vu

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_87171044_composite976_afpAmericans had our comeuppance when we ridiculed the Brits for their foolish vote on Brexit. After the UK decided to break from the European Union, many Britons had  “voter’s remorse.” Many didn’t really understand what they were voting for. It seemed a travesty – until November 8, 2016. On that day, many of us had to eat crow when we realized our nation had just elected an unstable, egotistical game show host as President of the United States.

Now the French are having their turn in the spotlight with a presidential election, and it feels to me like a bad case of deja vu. There are so many parallels between the 2016 American election and the upcoming contest in France.

As in America, there is no incumbent running for president. The two likely contenders are Marine Le Pen of the far right National Front party and Emmanuel Macron, a centrist “insider,” while in the wings there is a Bernie Sanders-like figure in Jean-Luc Melenchon, a leftist with rabid followers who likely will refuse to vote for the more centrist Macron, leaving Le Pen’s unlikely candidacy to imitate that of Donald Trump, the xenophobic outsider who wants to make their country great again.

The nationalist, anti-immigrant stance of Le Pen is similar to that of Trump’s. Like Trump, Le Pen is capitalizing on the sentiment that immigrants (mostly Muslim) are taking resources from hard-working Frenchmen, causing violence, and creating a clash of cultures. Her refusal to cover her head in a meeting with Lebanon’s highest religious leader solidified her support with the far right. She has also denied France’s complicity in sending thousands of Jews to their deaths during World War II.

Also as in the U.S. election, Russia is meddling with the French election. For example, Russian website Sputnik spread rumors that Le Pen’s likely opponent, Macron, is gay.  Le Pen, for her part, paints Macron as a part of “the system” and vilifies his opinion that globalization is actually a good thing.

The white nationalist movement is growing in Europe, due in part to the refugee crisis and in part to the economic uncertainty of a rapidly changing, interdependent world. Leaders like Trump and Le Pen appeal to a “me first” mentality that causes people to hark back to an imagined simpler time when they and their country were considered strong and great.

Unfortunately, the isolationist tendency to retreat from the European Union and from trade treaties, to crack down on minorities and immigrants, and to scapegoat those who don’t fit a sanitized cultural mold won’t make our countries safer. Rather, such nationalism will create greater polarization, inequality, and radicalization, all of which will serve to destabilize our great democracies.

I hope France does not succumb to the politics of division and hate. But I am not optimistic. After all, this is a country whose cultural hero used to be Jerry Lewis.

Pen and Sword

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Many Fox News media personalities (I hesitate to call them journalists) are crowing over the president’s smackdown of the “liberal media” in his now infamous press conference last Thursday. Having been singled out by Trump as praiseworthy for their supposed fair and respectful coverage of His Highness, Fox pundits went on their own rant about liberal media bias with conservative comedian (also a term I’m using loosely here) Greg Gutfield yesterday. What Gutfield and friends don’t seem to realize is something Trump, however buffoonish he appears, understands quite well: The pen is mightier than the sword.

When Trump tweeted, “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!,” the entire political establishment on both the Left and the Right should have called for his immediate resignation. Instead, the lone critic among conservatives was Sen. John McCain, who to his credit has been unceasingly critical of Trump’s unconscionable statements.

On his show, Gutfield proved that he has totally missed the point of Trump’s relentless attacks on the media by pointing out that no one has tried to ban or silence news outlets. But the Trump administration knows it doesn’t need to take such drastic action. Instead, they seek to create a reality in which the media in general is suspect, not to be trusted. Among Trump’s loyal supporters, this has already been the case for months. But as serious allegations surface concerning the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia and other Trump administration ties to the despotic regime, it has become imperative for them to discredit the very independent press that could do the most damage to their existence.

I grew up during the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon. America learned about the Republican dirty tricks and coverups of the Nixon administration only because two intrepid reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, relentlessly pursued the truth. I have no doubt that there are serious journalists right now who are investigating Trump’s ties to Russia. But will they be believed?

There are some encouraging signs of the media fighting back. Chris Wallace, anchor on the right-leaning Fox News channel, took White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to task this morning for Trump’s words. As he pointed out to Priebus, “You don’t get to tell us what to do, Reince. You don’t get to tell us what to do any more than Barack Obama did. Barack Obama whined about Fox News all the time, but I’ve got to say, he never said we were an enemy of the people.”

A free press is the very foundation of a democracy. Without true freedom of speech and an acknowledgment of the difference between facts and opinions, a democratically elected president can become an autocrat. It is up to responsible journalists to keep asking the probing questions, to keep investigating, to keep seeking the truth, whether it favors the Right or Left.

And it is up to the American people not to let a bully tell them whom or what to believe.

 

 

March in Like a Lion

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I have seen them called ReSISTERS. They are gathering across the country and even around the world. Many of them will be donning knitted pink “pussyhats” or “Nasty Woman” t-shirts. They are women from all different walks of life, ethnicities, and religions. Some are men! They are marching in solidarity against our newly elected president, Donald Trump and his politics of hate.

The Women’s March on Washington is expected to be one of the biggest demonstrations in our history. Here in Chicago, the venue for the march has changed as the number of women participating has grown.

Critics will say that marching does little to change the direction of government or the country. I disagree. The famed civil rights marches of the Fifties and Sixties helped abolish discriminatory Jim Crow laws and policies that kept blacks down. Protests against the Vietnam War turned the tide on our involvement in that terrible conflict. Now women are gathering to say, “No. We will not just ‘get over it.'” President Trump needs to know we have the numbers and the will to resist policies that discriminate and divide. He needs to see that he cannot broadcast his deep disrespect for women without consequence.

I know a number of women who will be marching in Washington, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Some are relatives; some are friends. Even a young Chicago bride-to-be decided to have her bachelorette party at the Washington march, according to the Chicago Tribune. I admire the commitment these women have made to be heard and seen and to let those in power know that half the U.S. population will not tolerate an assault on their rights.

To me it’s sad that 240 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, we still have not seen a woman become president of the United States. The equality for all enshrined in that document and in our Constitution still seems like a dream to be grasped for many marginalized groups. But the women’s marches taking place today give me hope that Americans will continue to demand just treatment for all people.

My hope and prayer is that the marches will take place peacefully, that marchers will return home safely, and that their actions today reignite the women’s movement in our country.

 

 

 

Trump: Republicans’ “Prince Alarming”

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glass_slipperIn the fairy tale “Cinderella,” every maiden in the kingdom wishes to marry the prince. But a lowly maid who sits in ashes and waits on her evil stepsisters hand and foot captures the prince’s heart. Determined to find the perfect mate, the prince searches the kingdom to find the girl whose foot will fit into the glass slipper she had left behind. The ugly stepsisters, grimly determined to fit into the shoe, cut off their toes and heels in a desperate effort to make it fit.

This story puts me in mind of the Republican Party, which has squirmed and squeezed and cut off its own principles to make Donald Trump an acceptable president. Early in the primaries, the Republican establishment roundly denounced Donald Trump as unfit to be president. Then slowly and inexorably, one by one, the same Republicans started to endorse a man who had not only uttered racist and sexist statements, but had mocked and vilified the very individuals now holding their noses and serving up the excrement for their party to swallow.(You know who you are, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio et al.)

Accepting Donald Trump’s presidency has truly forced Republicans to repudiate their own values. A perfect example is free trade. While conservatives always champion the sanctity of the marketplace, Donald Trump has denounced recent treaties like NAFTA as job stealers and promised to put a stranglehold on free trade. The only reason NAFTA passed is that it enjoyed bipartisan support. Are Republicans retreating from their long-standing principles here?

Donald Trump has also attacked the big banks, despite the fact that he has named numerous Wall Street insiders to his administration. Once again, his campaign platform flew in the face of conservative objections to  overregulation. Trump promises to punish companies that send jobs overseas. But what about allowing the hallowed marketplace to thrive without government interference? I guess Republicans are going to have to hold their breaths and swallow.

During his campaign, Donald Trump attacked the military, which is the entity closest to godliness in the Republican psyche. He vilified the parents of a war hero and claimed that he knew more than the generals. And speaking of godliness, how do conservative evangelicals defend their support of a man who disregards the sanctity of marriage and talks openly about sexually assaulting women? The fact that Trump may name a Supreme Court justice that will be harsher on abortion is not a sufficient excuse. “The end justifies the means” comes from Machiavelli, not the Bible.

Republicans are apparently banking on the idea that since Donald Trump ran as a Republican, he will rubber stamp all the conservative policies they are so hell-bent on instituting. Trump, however, has already proven himself to be inconsistent, contradictory, and petulant. If you get on his bad side, he will not only send out a mean tweet about you,  his minions will threaten and intimidate you.

Republicans may soon find themselves hobbling along on their bloodied feet with little to show for their efforts and an angry populace betrayed by empty promises. If so, I’ll chip in for their wheelchairs when the voters force them into an unwanted retirement.

 

 

 

 

War on Christmas

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I’m so relieved! Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has announced that, thanks to Trump’s election as president, Christmas is saved. So glad that President-elect Trump is Making Christmas Great Again.

To be honest, though, I was pretty sure Christmas was not going underground when I shopped recently at my local Target. Here’s the display of Christmas items there:

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In contrast, here are the Hanukkah items you can buy at Target:

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And thank heavens I didn’t even see any Eid or Kwanzaa decorations. I guess Christmas’s dominance over the holidays is assured.

But not so fast. Many Americans are still concerned that the political correctness police (AKA the Democratic Party) is preventing innocent citizens from uttering the words, “Merry Christmas.” For instance, just this morning the smiling but frozen Salvation Army bell ringer offered me a mere “Happy Holidays.” But seriously, folks, I think the “C” word is safe, what with all the radio stations playing Christmas music 24/7. I haven’t heard of one instance of someone feeling affronted by being wished a Merry Christmas.

Yet what about that creche you want put up in the public square? The hateful U.S. Constitution won’t allow it! To these people I say: If you want to see baby Jesus in the manger, get your a** to church. They all have them on display, usually outside, so you don’t even have the inconvenience of attending a service.

I do believe there is a war on Christmas, but to my mind it’s a spiritual one. It’s the lack of civility and kindness that has really ratcheted up since the election of the Divider-in- Chief, Donald Trump. Newsweek recently reported the following:

There were nearly 900 reports of hate incidents in the 10 days after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and schools across the country reported an uptick in violence, derogatory comments and verbal harassment, according to a new study from the Southern Poverty Law Center. (newsweek.com, Nov. 29, 2016)

In the ultimate irony of conservatives’ insistence that Christmas is under attack, the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, was vilified for having a black Santa Claus greet kids and hear their Christmas wishes. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which reported this “first” for MOA, was forced to turn off the comments section of its online site due to the racist and hateful messages posted. And the corker is that black Santa Larry Jefferson is a U.S. Army veteran. The right loves their veterans, except when they are black and trying to be Santa.

On the very first Christmas night, when angels appeared to announce the birth of a newborn king, they proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

That is the Christmas spirit for which we should all be striving during these next few weeks. All the rest of it – the jingle bells, decorated trees, presents, and Santa – are just trappings.

 

 

 

Witch Hunt Just in Time for Halloween

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Again with emails!

In an outrageous political stunt, FBI Director James Comey announced that the bureau would be investigating emails related to the Anthony Weiner case for possible security breaches on the part of Hillary Clinton. Even though there is no reason to suspect that Weiner’s connection to Hillary, through his unfortunate wife and Clinton staffer Huma Abedin, involves national security issues, Director Comey felt the need to resume the investigation and announce his intentions little more than a week before the general election.

Although Comey claims that the FBI is an apolitical organization, he himself has been a lifelong Republican who has spent a substantial part of his career investigating the Clintons. (cnn.com, Oct. 30, 2016) Notwithstanding his earlier decision declining to prosecute Mrs. Clinton, Comey now claims he is duty-bound to look into yet more emails (albeit ones not from Clinton’s private server) that may incriminate the presidential hopeful. This sounds more like a witch hunt designed primarily to hurt Hillary’s chances of being elected.

The timing is certainly suspicious. After the last debate, as people began to see Donald Trump for the out of control “disaster” that he really is, Trump’s poll numbers took a drastic tumble. Then lo and behold, Director Comey found more emails to hold up as ones that may or may not be incriminating to Hillary. It reminds me quite a bit of Sen. Joe McCarthy’s infamous statement, “I have here in my hand a list of 205 . . . a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.” (“Enemies from Within,” historymatters.gmu.edu)

For those who doubt that Comey’s actions were politically motivated, just look at the reactions from the Trump camp. Trump crowed, “Maybe they’re going to right the ship,” in reference to Comey’s announcement. And Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway tweeted, “A great day in our campaign just got even better.”(cnbc.com, Oct. 28, 2016)

When the smoke coming out of Republicans’ ears clears, maybe good sense will prevail. Maybe the American electorate will actually look at the experience and temperament of the two presidential candidates and do the right thing on Nov. 8.

 

 

Scary Clowns Emblematic of Election

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In the months leading up to Halloween, there has been a rash of scary clown sightings across America. While many reports are mere urban legend, individuals have been arrested for filing false police reports, making threats, and even chasing children while dressed as a clown.

I don’t think I could find a better metaphor for this year’s presidential election campaign. In the early days of the presidential primaries, Donald Trump’s candidacy was considered nothing more than a joke. His outrageous comments, orange hair and skin, and cartoonish bluster all pointed to a buffoon whose primary purpose seemed to be entertainment. But as his candidacy picked up steam, the ugliness of his rhetoric and of the way a certain segment of the American people really think started to come to light.

While many people think of clowns as funny slapstick figures in circuses, many others are genuinely afraid of clowns. Numerous sources estimate that about 12% of the population suffers from coulrophobia, a pathological fear of clowns. Turns out that clowns have always had a dark side. According to a recent New York Times article, one of the earliest forms of the clown was the Harlequin, who first appeared in literature as a denizen of the underworld. Subsequent scary clowns throughout history include “the baby-bashing, wife-beating, serial-killer clown Punch,” the murderous clown in the opera Pagliacci, and more recent killer clowns, such as in Stephen King’s frightening novel It. (“What Do the Scary Clowns Want?,” The New York Times, Sunday, October 16, 2016.)

The NYT article goes on to explain that the figure of the jester has historically been “the only person who could speak truth to power.” Indeed, many supporters and even detractors see Donald Trump in this role. The problem is that Trump’s malevolence overshadows any perceived truth telling. In recent months, he has threatened press freedom, vowed to sue or imprison his critics, and encouraged violence against his opponent.

So while Trump’s appearance and demeanor, his crazy ramblings both during and after the debates, and his willful ignorance about world affairs all make him ripe for mockery, his sinister threats and the disturbing rants of his followers make him a very scary clown indeed.