Get A Life

How sad it is that the social media have taken over the hearts and minds of our young people. We have seen it coming for some time. The evidence suggests that the electronic toys themselves are damaging the brains of those who use them, but the fact that they are addictive is also of major concern. In a recent interview with Katie Couric comments by the author of a book that studied the effects of social media on teen-age girls are most revealing — and disturbing. An article on the internet (speaking of social media) tells us about the problem:

These dangers are just one of the topics journalist Nancy Jo Sales explores in her new book, “American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers.” She sat down with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric.

“One of the first conversations that I had with some girls in Los Angeles really set the tone for the whole book to me,” Sales told Couric, recounting a specific exchange she had with one of the girls. “She said, ‘Social media is destroying our lives.’ And I said, ‘So why don’t you just go off it?’ And she said, ‘Because then I would have no life.’”

Ponder, if you will, the final remark of that young woman. If she abandons social media she will “have no life.” Aside from the grammatical mistake she makes (“media” is a plural noun) — which has become common with those who tweet and have forgotten how to read and write — this is a terribly sad comment on today’s youth. I assume that this remark was not random but fairly typical of those whom Sales encountered in her research. Without social media this young lady would have no life. Her entire self-concept is wrapped up in the positive reaction of her peers to what she posts on social media. If what she says and shows is not “liked” then she is not liked.

Some years ago I brought up in class that willingness of parents to buy presents for their kids that they know might be harmful. One of the mothers in the class held up her hand and asked “what are we supposed to do? All their friends have those toys.” This is peer pressure in  a society in which acceptance from one’s peers counts for much more than it is worth. But the parallel is almost exact: if my kids don’t start to immerse themselves in social media as young children they will be left out. The schools encourage this as they frequently provide students with the toys and/or assign work that requires that they use them. Thus parents must succumb to the pressures their kids are already subject to, even if they know the electronic toys they subsequently buy for their kids will do them harm. We seem to be caught in a spiral from which there is no escape. At least, none that I can see.

A conspiracy theorist would see behind all this an insidious plot: the powers-that-be want worker-drones and what better way to produce them than to capture their minds? I am not a conspiracy theorist and reject this interpretation. But I do worry that our young people are entering adulthood with serious damage to their self-esteem (despite our best efforts in that direction) and to the left-hemisphere of their brains — that part that does their thinking.  Since this has been going on for some time now, it may go a long way toward explaining the popularity of the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. It is not a minor problem by any means. As I say, I don’t see a way out of the downward spiral. Do you?

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Hillary As President?

While this notion will scare the pants off many a hard-line Republican, it warms my heart to think that a woman might be elected president of this country, following on the heels of a black man. But the question is whether or not this woman would be more effective than her predecessor. Her strengths seem to be her ability to get things done. She would appear to be better able to work with a recalcitrant (entrenched) Congress than her chief Democratic rival for the office, since she knows where many of the skeletons are buried and she’s tough — and she can lean on the political savvy of her husband (which is considerable). However, she would be beholden to the corporations in whose political pocket she is buried deep, whereas her Democratic opponent realizes that the real battle in American politics is between the corporations and the people who are supposed to be the real base of power in a democracy. While Bernie Sanders would be a serious speed bump on the path the very rich in this country are taking toward a full-fledged oligarchy, Hilary would be a pebble. Her election would mean the continuance of the seemingly inevitable replacement of our democratic system by a system engineered by the very rich who are at present in the process of buying themselves a government.

Sanders is an idealist. Some would say he is a dreamer and totally out of touch with reality. It is certainly the case that he would be unable to work effectively with a Congress made up like the present one. He would be at least as ineffective as his predecessor. I imagine him as a Quixotic figure galloping full speed at windmills. And we know how that turned out! But this election year will see 47 House and Senate seats on the Republican side up for grabs and only 26 on the Democratic side. If the citizens of this country were able to hand Sanders a majority in the Senate, and perhaps even in the House, he might be able to realize some of his dreams. This assumes that those elected to the Congress have the nerve to stand with Sanders against the special interests and the very wealthy who are clear in their determination to take over the reins of government. That is a pivotal question.

For my part, I figure Sanders is a long shot and the possibility that this electorate will be wise enough to give him a Congress to work with coupled with the unlikely possibility that the Congress even then will not be in the pocket of the corporations and their bosses makes his successful presidency appear all the more unlikely. But, assuming that he could survive the race for the office and live out his term without being shot by one of the many crazies who have been encouraged to emerge from the shadows of late, it may be our last hope if we are to salvage some semblance of what the founders envisioned over 200 years ago. Hillary does not embody that hope, sad to say.

Regarding the Republicans, it is impossible to take any of them seriously. They appear to be a confederacy of dunces the leader of whom seems perfectly capable of hauling this nation to the brink of disaster without having the least idea that he is doing so. At present, they appear to be divided into a cluster of warring camps as Robert Reich recently pointed out. Their disarray should increase the probability of a Democratic win. If the country does not feel strongly that “it’s now or never” then Hillary would be the acceptable alternative, one who is best able to work within a corrupt system. But any claim that the system is not terribly flawed is naive and unworthy of serious consideration. It is now or never, even though it seems a very long shot. Can the people reject the corporate control of this country or are we so far down that road we cannot turn back? That is the question.

Quote Of The Day (Reposted)

Göring said the following while being interviewed in his jail cell by Gustave Gilbert during the Nuremberg trials. The conversation provides an interesting perspective. I repeat it here with an added comment because it strikes me as worth a moment of reflection:

Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.

Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

I have said before that the Trumpet is not a fascist, strictly speaking. But, given his thin skin and paranoia, he has fascist tendencies; his presidency might well lead to the kind of suppression of dissent that was common in Hitler’s Germany.  This point was driven home to me today as I was watching a show on The American Heroes Channel that recounted Hitler’s fatal attraction to the German people. The parallels were chilling. Both men are megalomaniacs, both have thin skin and cannot accept criticism, and they both insist on finding others responsible for their own shortcomings — Hitler blaming the German people at the end of the war for “letting him down.” Please note Göring’s comment about the relative ineffectiveness of any sort of  checks on this man’s success — even in a system such as ours. People are easily duped, especially when the promise of a brighter day is held out. Hitler’s goal was a New Germany after their defeat in World War I, Trump’s is “Making America Great Again.”

Foolish Consistency

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said that a “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Please note the modifier “foolish.” He did not say that being consistent is foolish or that only a fool would seek to be consistent in his or her thinking. What he is saying is that it is foolish to hang on to a conviction when the evidence clearly points in another direction — as in the case of global warming, for example. Only a fool would insist that global warming is a fiction because he said so yesterday and the day before and damn it he is not going to change his mind, no matter what anyone says. Don’t confuse me with the evidence; my mind is made up!

Strange it is that a foolish consistency in one’s beliefs is regarded in this culture, by a great many people, as a virtue. One hears that Jones is a courageous man because he “stands by his guns,” even though everyone knows he is dead wrong. George McGovern, it was said, lost a presidential race because he changed his mind about his Vice Presidential running mate. Heaven forbid that a person change his mind when the evidence suggests that it requires changing! Yet, surely, it is foolish to hang on to one’s beliefs when there is no longer any solid ground beneath them to give them support. Little minds, indeed.

But we now see on the national front candidates running for president with hoards of followers behind them who claim to be Evangelists, True Believers in the words of Christ who condemned practically everything the leader of that political parade stands for. The leader (who will remain anonymous) says the most frightful things about his fellow humans, casting aspersions left and right, threatening to punch those who disagree with him. He is a known philanderer and a failed businessman who exhibits every one of the Seven Deadly Sins except, perhaps, sloth. And yet his “Christian” followers believe he will turn the country around because “he means business.” They ignore what he says even though it is in direct conflict with their most deeply held religious convictions. Or are they deeply held? Is it possible that those who claim to follow the same Christ who threw the money-changers from the Temple really would rather follow the money changers and see to it that they themselves are financially well off, comfortable in their beliefs — and in their warm, safe houses where “undesirables” are forever denied access at gun point? One must wonder.

It would be foolish indeed to hold on to a set of religious beliefs that are in direct conflict with certain truths — say about the origins of the universe. But it is equally foolish (if not downright hypocritical) to continue to pay lip service to those beliefs while embracing the rantings of a political candidate who is the embodiment of everything that religion condemns. When one’s religious beliefs condemn the very things that man stands for it is indeed a foolish inconsistency to continue to support that man, if not patently illogical. Unless, again, those religious convictions are merely a sham, a facade behind which the “True Believer” hides his own hatred of anyone who differs from him and who might possibly pose a threat, no matter how remote that threat happens to be.

When Christ said “Love thy neighbor” he did not qualify it by defining “neighbor” as those who agree with oneself. The word is meant to include all our neighbors of every color, shape and belief. It is not a foolish consistency to act on that prescription and rid hatred from our hearts and reject those who preach it with a loud and angry voice. Indeed, it makes perfect sense.

Choosing Blindly

It’s time to take a break from the depressing news about the upcoming election in which the Trumpet keeps bringing more and more idiots onto his bandwagon. Here’s a post about something I have always regarded as very important and which I am realistic enough to acknowledge will not change.I speak about my opposition to electives in college. And while I am aware that most of my readers who have graduated from college have taken a host of electives I must mention that I am not talking about them. I am talking about the norm. Most students going to college these days are subjected to a system that has undermined the real strength of American higher education and rendered it a crapshoot.

The elective system was first introduced in Harvard by President Charles William Eliot in the 1920s. It was designed to provide young men [sic] who came to Harvard well prepared a number of choices at the upper levels of their education.The idea was to supplement the basic core education with a few courses in the student’s area of special interest to provide him with both a broad and a specialized knowledge. It made sense at the time. But it has become the bane of American higher education in my mind because — aside from the major courses which faculty members defend with their very lives — students now often have more electives than they do requirements. And this at a time when they come to college unprepared and in need of careful guidance. The elective system has even now filtered down to the level of high school where a growing number of schools allow the students to pick courses of varying merit from long lists of options.

The problem here is that the system rests on the assumption that the students are in position to make choices that will benefit them in the long run. It presupposes that they know something about each of the options they face before they make their choice — they know that physics is more important than badminton. This was a reasonable assumption in Eliot’s day. It most assuredly is not any more.

Imagine, if you will, a hungry young person in France who speaks no French facing a table filled with food labelled in the native language they do not speak. They are allowed to choose any food they want from the table with the proviso that what they choose will be both healthy and beneficial to future growth. It won’t happen. Obviously. They will hesitate, ask friends, and in the end take what look best in the off-chance that it will fulfill the requirements demanded of them. In the end, I predict, they will eat the sweet foods and leave the vegetables and become sick and emaciated. The parallel here is almost exact, except that in higher education we are concerned about mental health rather than physical well-being.

The problem has arisen because since the 1960s college faculty members have grown increasingly uncertain about just what it is that students need in order to become intelligent, thoughtful adults. They understand their own area of specialization and because territory has become increasingly important to insecure faculty members who worry about their continued employment, they seek to increase major requirements at their college and reduce the number of “core” courses that are the residue of what was left after students attacked requirements as “irrelevant” in the 1960s. In many colleges and universities, those core requirements have been totally replaced with electives, either free electives of selected electives in groups that give the student the illusion of real choice.

The problem is the students are not in a position to choose sensibly, unless it were possible to have them choose in close association with a faculty member of demonstrated objectivity who is clearly concerned primarily with what is best for the student and not what is best for his or her department or career. Such a person is rare indeed, and most faculty sluff-off advising because there are too many students and they prefer to spend their time doing things they regard as more important. Furthermore, they are primarily concerned with filling their own classrooms.  I know this from personal experience and from the talks I have had with colleagues from around the country whose experience mirrors my own.

The point is that students are given choices before they are in position to choose wisely. They are like the hungry young person facing a table filled with food that is entirely foreign to them: they choose blindly and stupidly, at times for the worst of reasons — “I have that hour open,” “Fred told me the professor was easy,” “I needed another elective.” What’s important is that the course they choose benefit them in the long run, helps them gain control of their own minds. That will not, cannot, happen unless they choose wisely and that presupposes they know what they cannot possibly know until after they have made the choice. It’s a classic “Catch 22.” But the fault lies not with the students, who do not know any better; it lies with the faculty who should know better.

 

Making America Great Again

The Trumpet blows loud and almost always off-key. But what he tells us is that his business acumen will once again make America great. In saying this I am put in mind of a recent article in Yahoo Finance  titled “Why Donald Trump is a Lousy Executive” that points out the probable lack of success of a presidential Donald The Trumpet — based on his obvious personality disorders:

Awful executives also tend to think that they have all the answers — to all the questions. CEO Wolfgang Schmitt drove Rubbermaid into a ditch during the 1990s. A former colleague remembered that under Schmitt, “the joke went, ‘Wolf knows everything about everything.’” Not surprisingly, know-it-all executives suffer because they fail to consider other points of view that might have merit. In fact, no one is always right, yet lousy executives act as if they are. In this regard, Trump’s impression of his own judgment and intelligence is telling. As he tweeted in May 2013: “Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest – and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure, it’s not your fault.” In September 2015, he made a similar statement on “The Tonight Show,” telling host Jimmy Fallon, “I think apologizing’s a great thing, but you have to be wrong. I will absolutely apologize, sometime in the hopefully distant future, if I’m ever wrong.” [Italics added]

In any event, his claim to restore America to its former greatness rests on the assumption that America is not great any more and that given his presidency he will have the power to effect radical change. He will do this apparently by turning over rocks that reveal bigotry, misogyny, racism, hatred, and intolerance; this will restore those years of greatness. But, we might ask, when were those years?

Perhaps he means the nation just after the adoption of the Constitution. But we had no army or navy and were terribly vulnerable to attacks by France, Spain, or Britain — which we discovered when we went up against the British in the war of 1812 , a time when president Thomas Jefferson reluctantly realized that we did need a navy and an army if we were to become a world power. But there wasn’t much of a nation at that time and there certainly wasn’t wide-spread prosperity (which, I suspect, is what the Trumpet means by “great”).

Could he be talking about the 1920’s when the Hoover campaign promised a “chicken in every pot and a car in every backyard”? But this was a time when, despite the general prosperity of the country at large, there was also wide-spread suffering and unemployment among farmers, laborers, and minorities. Indeed, there were those who saw a depression alongside the highest standard of living the world had ever known.

Or, will the Trumpet make America great again by returning it to the days of Eisenhower, a post-war economy that gave us widespread materialism and the promise of never having to put off until tomorrow what we can own today — thanks to the charge card? This was an era of moderate wealth within the middle class. Recently the gap has grown between the wealthy and the very poor and the middle class has all but disappeared, so it is hard to see how prosperity in the country at large can be restored when it is the middle class that must have the buying power necessary to turn the tide. I don’t recall the Trumpet pledging to restore the middle classes to their former strength by such things as, say, raising the minimum wage. But, then, I don’t listen to him any more; he might have made such a pledge. He would if he thought it would advance his personal agenda.

Perhaps the Trumpet means to return to the high level of prosperity during the Bill Clinton years when  unemployment dropped by 3.9%, the labor force grew by 2.8 million folks who had previously been unemployed under the Reagan Administration during which the 1% began to dodge the tax man and the rest of us waited for the money to “trickle down.” Or, when, under Clinton, the G.D.P. growth was at 3.8%, inflation was stable, and median wages grew from $661.00 a week to $700.00 a week. But, the Trumpet can’t be referring to those years, because they were years under a Democratic president and the Republican camp refuses to admit that Clinton restored an economy that had been crippled by his predecessor.

So, in the end, it is not clear what era the Trumpet is referring to. Which was the age we shall return to in achieving our greatness once again? He is certainly correct in saying that the tarnish has worn off the eagle, given the present state of the nation in the eyes of the rest of the world. But it is not clear how this man proposes to restore a greatness that is hard to define, much less quantify — especially since his preeminence in the political race has already driven much of the world community even farther away from America. He is long on generalities and half-truths — not to mention blatant falsehoods. So it is hard to see what he has in mind and how he thinks he can pull it off, given that he will not be a dictator, but simply the executor of the will of a corrupt and, I dare say uncooperative, Congress.

But none of the Trumpet faithful seems to be interested in these considerations. It’s not clear what they ARE interested in. Or what they hear when he speaks. Or what is going on between their ears, if anything.

 

 

Women As Victims

In a recent comment on one of my posts dealing with the notion of “feminist ethics, I was encouraged to reflect on the related issue of women as victims, a recent cultural movement that has pretty much displaced radical feminism. In thinking about the issue I came across an essay on the topic by Alesha Almazroui that speaks to the important role words play in the way we think about and eventually deal with reality. It is suggested in this essay that the word “victim,’ like so many words we bandy about, demeans and exacerbates the situation of women the world over who are, indeed, discriminated against and often subjected to rape and domestic violence. The article suggests that we start to talk about such women differently if we are to avoid reducing the issue to one of self pity and perceived weakness; instead we should stress those situations in which those “victims” become empowered as a result of their experience. I enclose much of that discussion below, since I really cannot put it any better.

In a legal context, the word “victim” is usually used to describe an individual who has experienced injury or harm (or both) as a direct result of a criminal offence. However, using the word in a public discourse can, arguably, do more harm than good, as it helps to reinforce the disempowering narrative of victimisation of women.

This is not to underestimate the serious challenges that women around the world face every day. But the human ability to learn from our experiences and heal ourselves is something to consider and support when dealing with those who suffer from abuse, violence or discrimination.

The word “victim” is controversial, because it emphasises vulnerability and powerlessness. It is in essence a one-dimensional view that reduces a human being to a passive individual and undermines the human capacity to thrive after adverse events.

The term can be associated with weakness, deficiency, fragility and even shame. It could mean that the person is entirely dependent on others’ support to survive. Thus, it may potentially affect how women view themselves, how others treat them and how support to these women is designed and offered in the forms of programmes and services.

An important question here is this: if the word is avoided while discussing women’s issues, will it change anything? I think it will.

In this context, it’s helpful to remember how changing “disabled” to “special needs” has changed the entire discourse regarding this group of people. Pushing the term “persons with special needs” into the mainstream had led to a shift in attitude to the treatment and education of people who were traditionally described as “disabled” or “handicapped”.

The focus has shifted from what people with special needs were not able to do towards how we can, as a society, meet and support their special needs.

Reframing an issue by adopting a vocabulary that is more objective and less biased is more than an act of playing with semantics.

Such examples highlight the power that language has to construct. Viewing oneself as a victim can lead to a culture of dependency.

On the other hand, the word “survivor”, for example, has a positive connotation. Survivors are strong. They have conquered their bad experiences and managed to move forward with or without support. Language has the power to create positive and negative images of people which, in turn, affects social practices and even public policy.

Women who survived abuse or violence might be victims in some ways – but they are definitely more than that. There is much more to them, their lives, their feelings and their personalities than the instances of abuse or violence they have experienced no matter how profound these are. Each one of them has her own cultural and individual experiences. They are human beings worthy of dignity and respect.

Focusing on a negative narrative can be counterproductive. Instead, we can focus on “survivors” and tell positive stories to inspire young women to cope better with their challenges. It’s all about the narrative. ​

It is indeed all about the “narrative.” So much of our thinking is determined by the words we use and when we use them loosely it is highly likely that we will find ourselves thinking loosely as well. There’s far too much of that sort of thing going around. The notion that women who have been victims have shown the courage to become survivors changes the way we look at the situation and restores the women who have been badly treated to positions of strength. Self pity is replaced by a sense of self-worth by the women themselves  and negative connotations are replaced by positive ones on the part of those who know of their situation only from the outside..

Feminist Ethics?

As one who would regard himself as a feminist, i.e., one who has argued many times in favor of women’s rights, I confess I have some qualms about the position of those who might be called “radical” (“rabid”??) feminists. I have no quarrel with the desire to right the ship, level the playing field, provide women with an opportunity to show that they can do everything that men can do — and then some. I would like very much to personally take a sledge-hammer to the glass ceiling. My stand goes back to Plato who insisted that women could become philosopher kings in his ideal republic because they were as fit as men to rule.

But, at the same time, I have a problem with those who insist that women should be treated the same as men, that there are no real differences, when there are obvious differences (not just physically); in the eyes of many radical feminists those differences are fundamental. There’s a contradiction here somewhere.

One of the most eloquent of the radical feminists is the psychologist Carol Gilligan who wrote the book (In A Different Voice) about the important differences between men and women, especially when it comes to ethics. She developed what she called the “ethics of care,” stressing the fact that women tend to be more intuitive in their thinking and group oriented (“the self and the other are interdependent”), whereas men tend to be more self-assertive and seek power and success rather than love. Above all else, in Gilligan’s view, men and women reason differently. This has given rise to the peculiar notion of “male reason.” As she notes:

“. . .the moral judgments of women differ from those of men in the greater extent to which women’s judgments are tied to feelings of empathy and compassion and are concerned with the resolution of real as opposed to hypothetical dilemmas. . .  Power and separation secure the man in an identity achieved through work, but they leave him at a distance from others who seem in some sense out of sight.”

The argument runs that men’s reasoning in ethics stresses respect for persons as individuals — as with Immanuel Kant — whereas her ethics of care stresses the sympathy all humans should have for other humans. As she puts is:

“The moral imperative that emerges repeatedly in interviews with women is an injunction to care, a responsibility to discern and alleviate the ‘real and recognizable trouble’ of this world. For men, the moral imperative appears rather as an injunction to respect the rights of others and thus to protect from interference the rights to life and self-fulfillment.”

The problem I have with this argument is that it smacks of black and white thinking: men and women are totally unlike; they reason differently about important matters. According to Carl Gustav Jung, whom I respect highly, we are all of us a strange blend of both the masculine and the feminine. And with healthy folks the integration of the two is complete. We all know of masculine women and feminine men, but that’s not what Jung is talking about. He is talking about the fact that each of us has the capacity to reason and also to act in the ways Gilligan spells out. This is the Yin and Yang of Eastern religions. The ethics of care, therefore, is not reserved for women. Men can and do act with compassion and concern for others. And the notion that women do not reason about their actions is a bit strange and even counter-factual. A complete ethics, it has always seemed to me, would involve both care and a respect for the rights of all humans. The failure to find balance between the two selves results in mental and emotional imbalance, not only in our thinking about ethical issues, but in all aspects of our lives. The two selves are not mutually exclusive. Karl Stern put it well in his remarkable book The Flight From Woman:

“. . . affect, untempered by reason, and rationality unfettered by the heart, are both, each in its own particular way, manifestations of trouble.”

And this takes us back to my quarrel with the radical feminists. They cannot insist both that women and men are fundamentally different and at the same time insist that women ought to be allowed the same opportunities as men because they really are no different. Because each of us is male and female, yin and yang, both men and women are capable of embracing an ethics that stresses respect and care at the same time. We can all reason and care for others: care about all those whose rights we realize must be acknowledged.

Out Of Bounds

In the most recent Republican debate Donald “the Trumpet” had the audacity to speak the truth and the Republican loyalists collectively pilloried him. It matters not that he has been telling blatant lies throughout his campaign, as long as the lies are within the boundaries of accepted Republican dogma. It matters not that the trumpet insisted that the Muslims in New Jersey cheered when the Twin Towers were attacked (a lie) or that Mexican immigrants are all rapists (another lie). What matters is that he had the audacity to insist that the Iraq war was a mistake and that there never were any weapons of mass destruction. That was true but, more to the point, it was not acceptable to Republicans because George W. Bush was president at the time and he is regarded as the man who “made our country safe from terrorism” despite the fact that the Twin Towers were attacked during his presidency and all report indicate that he had been warned that an attack was immanent. The following slice from an interesting story on the internet spells out the essentials:

I won’t even hazard a guess as to whether this double-sided exchange helped or hurt Trump. Watching it on television you’d think Republicans watching hated everything he had to say. But the reality is that the in-studio audience was hand-picked by the state party, and seemingly stuffed with Bush supporters.

But if it did go badly for Trump what’s fascinating is that it went badly in exactly the kind of way you would have expected Trump’s campaign to go south months ago.

He went way outside the boundaries of the kind of things Republican Party politicians normally say, and in response Republican Party politicians (and their backers in the state party) piled-on to diss him. A political party, after all, is a coalition of like-minded people. When you step outside their zone of comfort and say things they wouldn’t say, they team up to crush you.

What’s important here is not that the Trumpet actually said something that happened to be true (which is remarkable in itself) but that the  Republican fraternity determined that these sorts of remarks are heresy, even blasphemy. You can say anything you want, no matter how absurd or untrue as long as you don’t bash one of us — in this case the Shrub who was supposedly in control when the Towers were attacked and later ordered the invasion of Iraq for bogus reasons. It really is about Party Loyalty and not about the Truth or about the Common Good.

And now that Judge Scalia has passed on the Republicans have clustered about and are determined to block any nomination that the president puts forward. Why? Not because he might suggest the wrong person for the job, but because he’s a Democrat and whoever he chooses is unacceptable a priori. This is called “poisoning the wells,” and it is an example of faulty logic, a logical fallacy in fact. But logic doesn’t matter to politicians these days any more than the truth matters. What matters is circling the wagons and making sure that those on your team are of one mind — even if that mind is closed and terribly small.

Viewed From Up North

It is always enlightening to get the take on this country from the perspective of another. In this case, Gerald Caplan writes in Canada’s Globe and Mail about Bernie Sanders and about America’s mangled political system — and how out of touch we are with the rest of the world. It is worth a read:

Across the rich world, only in the United States is Bernie Sanders seen as some kind of extremist of the left. It shows just how dangerously far to the radical right America’s political culture has moved.
Sanders situates himself four-square within the tradition of American reformers like Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In the view of many historians, F.D.R., president through most of the Great Depression of the 1930s, saved American capitalism from its capitalists.
Nor does Sanders embrace such once-classic, now-abandoned left-wing nostrums as the nationalization of industries. “I don’t believe government should take over the grocery store down the street or own the means of production,” he told students at Georgetown University. “But I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a decent standard of living and that their incomes should go up, not down.” Throw in a couple of “hard-workings” here and there, and Comrade Bernie could jump right into the middle of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party.
Nowhere are the absurd limits of American politics better exposed than when Sanders is bitterly pummelled for supporting something really far-out, even near-Bolshevik – a Canadian-style public health system.
Last October, a voter challenged Bernie. “I come from a generation where [socialism] is a pretty radical term – we think of socialism [with] communism. Can you explain to us exactly what that is?” Bernie: “If we go to some countries, what they will have is health care for all as a right. I believe in that. They will have paid family and medical leave. I believe in that. They will have a much stronger childcare system than we have, which is affordable for working families. I believe in that.”
“What I mean by democratic socialism,” Bernie explained, “is looking at countries in Scandinavia that have much lower rates of child poverty, that have a fairer tax system that guarantees basic necessities of life to working people. Essentially what I mean by that is creating a government that works for working families, rather than the kind of government we have today, which is largely owned and controlled by wealthy individuals and large corporations.”
Whatever you call Bernie’s vision, bring it on! It’s what every civilized society should provide its citizens as a right. It’s what the NDP has long stood for.

But, as Mr. Caplan goes on to explain, Sanders has almost no chance of winning the American presidency. And if he were to somehow pull it off, Caplan predicts, “he will be gone within a month.” I’m not sure what he means by the latter statement, but it is clear to me that the American electorate is not sophisticated enough to elect a man who is regarded as an “extremist.” Their ignorance is exemplified here by the question Sanders is asked by “a voter” who doesn’t know the difference between communism and socialism. Nor is it that Sanders is going to be able to effect any real change in this country until or unless the Congress is totally separated from the corporations that at present elect them to public office and pull their collective strings. That seems to me to be most unlikely.