Open Minded?

In a review of  The Kinsey Report that Lionel Trilling published in 1948 he notes that the Social Sciences were already suggesting ways folks ought to behave instead of simply telling us how they do in fact behave. They were already becoming prescriptive when they should have restricted themselves to description. This greatly affected the way we raised and taught our children. That went well!

He also makes a fascinating point about our democratic way of thinking, what he calls our “generosity of mind.” He regards this as peculiarly American and he insists that it is “often associated with an almost intentional intellectual weakness.” What he is speaking about is our refusal to make distinctions because of our fear that such distinctions will point the way toward discrimination.  Indeed, given the date of this review, one must conclude that Trilling was prescient, because we are now handicapped by our fear of “being judgmental,” by our inability to even allow for the possibility that anyone is different from anyone else lest this suggest that the one is somehow inferior to the other.  To quote Trilling at some length:

“[This intellectual weakness] goes with a nearly conscious aversion to making intellectual distinctions, almost out of the belief that an intellectual distinction must inevitably lead to a social discrimination or exclusion. We might say that those who most explicitly assert and wish to practice the democratic virtues have taken it as their assumption that all social facts — with the exception of exclusion and economic hardship — must be accepted, not merely in the scientific sense but also in the social sense, that is, that no judgment must be passed on them, that any conclusion drawn from them which perceives values and consequences will turn out to be ‘undemocratic.'”

This is a powerful statement and is worthy of serious reflection. What Trilling is saying is that our refusal to make distinctions has led us to the point where we are now intellectually disabled. Our fear that we might be “judgmental” renders us unable to make important distinctions between those who can and those who cannot. In our effort to “leave no student behind,” for example, we have dumbed down the curriculum in our schools to the point where those who graduate have learned very little, if anything — and the very bright are the ones who are left behind. On a broader canvas the liberal arts, as has been said many times, are elitist (“undemocratic”) and cater only to the very few. On the contrary. They can make it possible for all who come into contact with them to gain possession of their own minds and become autonomous persons who can resist the temptation to follow the herd and swallow the latest political pill that will eventually make them very sick.

The notion that certain thoughts are “undemocratic” is a brilliant way to point out that our determination to think alike has made it impossible for most of us to gain any sort of real intellectual freedom. Liberals must think in a certain way which (God Forbid!) must be nothing like the way conservatives think. And vice versa. True intellectual independence would allow us to make the important distinctions, to point out major differences, say, between women and men, between social classes, between the gifted and the obtuse. It would allow us to make distinctions between such things as the use and the mention of the “N” word, for example. Additionally it would allow us to distinguish between a protest against racial injustice and disrespect for the flag of this country, a distinction so many, including our President, seem unable or unwilling to make. To add to our intellectual burden is the current proscription against using certain words — despite the fact that words form sentences and sentences form thoughts. Without words, all words available, our thinking becomes crimped and begins to resemble, oh I don’t know, say, tweet-speak??

Trilling is on to something here and the fact that he was aware of this tendency in the late 1940s is truly remarkable. The tendencies he points out, as I have suggested, have only become worse and we are, as a society, even more “intellectually weak” than we were in 1948. The only way out is through education properly conceived, a course of study that takes the young on a challenging journey with the greatest minds that ever lived and, while being sensitive to the feelings of the disadvantaged, it allows for the open discussion of even the most controversial of topics with those who agree with us and, more especially, those who do not.

 

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Enlightened Despot?

Joseph Schumpeter. whose remarkable book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, I have referenced before, alludes to the difficulties that democracies have in passing necessary legislation — and the ease with which a dictator such as Napoleon had in making it happen:

“One of the most pressing political needs of the moment was a religious settlement that would clear the chaos left by the revolution and the directorate and bring peace to millions of hearts. This he achieved by a series of master strokes, culminating in a concordat with the pope (1801) and the ‘organic articles’ (1802) that, reconciling the irreconcilable, gave just the right amount of freedom to religious worship while upholding the authority of the state. He also recognized and refinanced the French Catholic Church, solved the delicate question of the ‘constitutional’ clergy, and most successfully launched the new establishment with a minimum of friction. If there ever was any justification at all for holding that the people actually want something definite, this arrangement affords one of the best instances in history.”

In the face of an inept and stupefied Congress in this country in our day, we find numerous changes that would make our democracy work more effectively and which we know full well will never get done. I am thinking of a Constitutional Amendment eradicating the absurd Supreme Court decision in “Citizens United” that gave the corporations the power to pull the political strings in this country; I refer also to another Constitutional Amendment clarifying the Second Amendment to make it crystal clear that it is the militia that has the right to bear arms — as was the original intent of the Amendment; the eradication of PACs which coerce the government in the direction of special interests; and, of course, term-limits for the members of Congress. We know these things will not happen because those who would make them happen prefer the status quo which favors themselves and their political party.

After Warren Buffet announced on CNN recently that “I could end the deficit in five minutes,” . . . You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election” there appeared  a petition making the rounds of social media  that insists that he could remedy the financial crisis in this country with the following seven step plan:

1. No Tenure / No Pension. A Congressman / woman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they’re out of office.

2. Congress (past, present, & future) participates in Social Security.

All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose.

3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

5. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen/women are void effective 3/1/17. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen/women.

Now, whether Buffet could manage to pull it off or not depends on whether he could be declared “despot for a day” and given the emergency powers to effect change. His hope that his foray into the social media will alert enough people to the problem and his solution to place sufficient pressure on the Congress to effect these changes is a bit of a pipe dream —  like the changes I noted above — much needed, but not bloody likely.

This sort of situation makes the heart yearn for an enlightened despot who would indeed be able to make the changes that are so necessary for the well-being and happiness of the citizens of this country — who are supposed to be the ones in whom the sovereignty resides. This softening of the heart goes all the way back to Plato who had a very low opinion of the democracy that condemned his beloved Socrates to death, and preferred a “philosopher king” who, like Napoleon or Warren Buffet, would make things right.

But, as we all know from reading our history (?), despots can become corrupt and instead of an enlightened despotism citizens often find themselves faced with a tyrant. At present we have a president who would be a depot if allowed — and the recent discussions in Congress about giving this man “emergency war powers” to deal with the situation in the Middle East would help bring this about. But we can see at a glance that such a man would turn that despotism into a tyranny in the blink of an eye and we shudder to think of the consequences — and sincerely hope the Congress stops such talk immediately, if not sooner.

So, perhaps, we should stop day-dreaming and simply be content to muddle through with a slow and inept (if not downright corrupt) Congress in the hope that while they accomplish nothing worthwhile they will at least keep the man in the Oval Office from making mistakes that would shake the globe and bring the democracy (or what is left of it) crashing down about out ears.

Plato’s Take On Things

About 400 years before the birth of Christ the Athenian philosopher Plato wrote what many regard as his greatest work, The Republic. In that book he sought to answer the question: why should we act justly? His premiss was that the human soul could be better understood if he drew a picture of an ideal republic, a city-state that was perfect in every way. The good soul, the soul of the man or woman who pursued justice, would be seen in magnification, by analogy. After depicting the perfect state Plato discusses the various ways in which even perfect states deteriorate. Together with Aristotle, he agreed that the major factor in the dissolution of political states is self-interest. When the citizens begin to put themselves before the state, the state suffers and weakens. Plato was very critical of Athens, for example, when they started paying jurors, because he thought it should be an accepted part of their duty as citizens.

In any event, he describes at length the dissolution of what he called the “polity,” which was a well-ordered society governed by public-minded citizens. When it deteriorates, it becomes a democracy, a state run by “the demoi,” the people. These people represent the appetites that struggle with reason for control of the human soul. He describes this deterioration as it affects the soul of young men (and women) whose healthy soul, you will recall, is much like a well-ordered state. These young people have been overcome by their appetites and reason has lost control:

“In the end, [the passions] seize the citadel of the young man’s soul, finding it empty and unoccupied by studies and honorable pursuits and true discourses, which are the best watchmen and guardians in the minds of men who are dear to the gods. . . .And then false and braggart words and opinions charge up the height and take their place and occupy that part of such a youth. . . . And then he returns to those lotus-eaters and without disguise lives openly with them. And if any support comes from his kin to the thrifty element in his soul, those braggart discourses close the gates to the royal fortress within him and refuse admission to the auxiliary force itself, and will not grant audience to envoys of the words of older friends in private life. And they themselves prevail in the conflict, and naming reverence and awe ‘folly’ thrust it forth,  dishonored fugitive. And temperance they call ‘want of manhood’ and banish it with contumely, and they teach that moderation and orderly expenditures are ‘rusticity’ and ‘illiberality,’ and they combine with a gang of unprofitable and harmful appetites to drive them over the border. . . .

“And when they have emptied and purged of all these the soul of the youths that they have thus possessed and occupied, and whom they are initiating with these magnificent and costly rites, they proceed to lead home from exile insolence and anarchy and prodigality and shamelessness, resplendent in a great attendant choir and crowned with garlands, and in celebration of their praises they euphemistically denominate insolence ‘good breeding,’ license ‘liberty,’ prodigality ‘magnificence,’ and shamelessness ‘manly spirit.’ And is it not in some such way as this that in his youth the transformation takes place from the restriction to necessary desires in his education to the liberation and release of his unnecessary and harmful desires?”

This is Plato’s take on democracy, the form of government that tried this teacher and mentor Socrates and found him guilty of “corrupting the young” and condemned him to death. Thus, we might say, he has a prejudice against democracy. Or we could say, in light of recent political developments in this country, Plato was prescient. How else do we explain how a man of Donald Trump’s stamp could ascend to the highest office in this land?

 

Democracy and Education

Years ago John Dewey wrote a book about the relationship between democracy and education, making the claim that the former relies upon the latter. Without an educated citizenry democracy cannot survive. I have been harping on the same theme for many years now and am saddened to say that Dewey was spot on. We are seeing his prediction come true, especially of late.

Thousands of qualified American citizens are ready to vote for a demagogue who has openly lied and insulted whole classes of people while making it abundantly clear that he is an autocrat in the mold of Vladamir Putin: he wants to (and thinks he can) run the show by himself. He doesn’t realize that as president he must work with the sitting Congress in order to achieve anything. Given his past performance it is fair to say that if the Congress doesn’t act as he would want them to he will try to bully them into doing so and (if he had his way) fire them if they don’t — like the generals he regards as incompetent. The extent of this man’s ignorance of this democracy which he wants to lead and how it is supposed to work beggers belief.

But the point is that so many of our fellow citizens are prepared to support him and are convinced that he is the only one who can deliver this nation from the depths to which he insists we have plunged. This, in itself, demonstrates the truth of Dewey’s thesis. Given all the indicators employed by a wide variety of disinterested parties, American education is failing and the numbers of those who plan to vote for a candidate supremely unfit for the office is clear indication of that very failure. I have written about this so many times it doesn’t bear repeating. But the truth, no matter how many times repeated, bears serious reflection.

Donald Trump would be America’s tyrant and take this country down a path that leads away from true human freedom, a path that an educated citizenry of a true democracy would avoid at all costs. Our government has already altered its form and now more nearly resembles an oligarchy than it does a republic. The wealthy in this country at present buy and sell politicians like toilet paper. The ordinary citizens, like you or like me, stand in line and vote once every four years for a candidate selected by wealthy corporate interests because they meet with their approval and will do their bidding. But even here intelligence is required to guarantee that the best qualified candidate wins the job.

There is no question the system is failing on all counts. At the roots of this failure is the fact (undeniable, though stoutly denied by many) that our education system fails to teach young people how to use their minds. The evidence is abundant as the trend in our schools has increasingly moved in the direction of job training and away from true education, know-how rather than know-why. Unless or until enough folks get worked up about this fact it will not change. Indeed, the trend will continue and demagogues like Donald Trump will continue to capture and hold America’s attention and even affection. Our democracy will be completely undone.

It all starts in the home before kids go to school. It then proceeds through the grades and into high school and college where increasingly parents and educators have allowed the students to dictate what they will learn and in doing so those parents and educators abandon their primary responsibility and weaken the structure of the political system that supports them. It is ironic, to be sure. But more to the point it is terribly sad.

“Sierra” Speaks

The recent issue of “Sierra” magazine has a most interesting editorial which I quote in part:

“Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been like an oil-train derailment in slow motion — the spectacle is awful to witness, impossible to turn away from, and mesmerizing in its sheer horror.

“Trump enjoys being a bully. His bigotry and his bile are nauseating: the calculated cruelty, the willful ignorance, the lack of empathy and grace. But, as the old saying goes, even a stopped clock is right a couple of times a day. It would be a mistake to blithely dismiss this real estate mogul turned politician. Trump’s brand of nationalism may be ugly, yet he has tapped into a deep vein of resentment that many Americans feel toward the way politics is practiced in this country. He isn’t wrong when he complains that many of our elected officials are ‘puppets’ who are controlled by ‘special interests, the lobbyists, and the donors.’

“Our democracy is, in a word, busted. In this new Gilded Age, U.S.politics has become a pay-to-play game in which the quickest way to bend a politician’s ear is to dip into one’s own pocket. Electoral watchdogs estimate that during the 2016 elections, candidates for office will spend a total of $10 billion. Much of that comes from a wealthy elite who can afford to buy an elected official’s attention; just 158 families have donated nearly half of the money raised by presidential candidates in this election cycle.

“Such an imbalance obviously undermines the one-person-one-vote ideal upon which this democracy rests. . . The environmental movement has popular sentiment on its side: poll after poll shows that a majority of Americans want action addressing climate change and value clean air and water. . .  But it is difficult to translate these positions into policy when elected officials are being funded by industrial interests like the Koch brothers.

“Note that I said difficult, not impossible. Given the sickly state of our body politic it is tempting to view cynicism as wisdom. The best antidote against cynicism is staying engaged in the political process, with the knowledge that reform only happens when people demand it. . .

“It’s a delusion, of course, to imagine that a self-described billionaire will wrench the political system away from wealthy interests. Real reform will require putting all political candidates on a level playing field, stopping voter suppression that disenfranchises poor people, and ending gerrymandering that keeps incumbents in office. That’s how we’re going to make America great.”

This editorial was written by Jason Mark, editor in chief of “Sierra,.”

Why? In Politics

I posted recently about the need to continue to ask “the why question? in an effort to exercise the little gray cells. At no time is this more important than when we have to make major decisions in the midst of a media frenzy that overwhelms us with political rhetoric and thinly disguised lies and fictions. Like many others, I continue to ask myself why I should or should not vote for particular candidates and here’s what I have come up with so far — noting that this is tentative and subject to further evidence and argument.

Why Donald Trump? I honestly cannot find many reasons to support this man and this makes the project that much more difficult. I don’t like him or what he stand for, thus I fear that I am guided by gut feelings. But, at the same time, I seek to understand why so many people have fallen in behind this man and I discover a few reasons though they do strike me as rather weak. I doubt that their affection for this man has much to do with reasons. Anyway, many who seem devoted to him are opposed to “big government” which they also regard as corrupt. They see Trump as a step in another direction. There is a certain weight to this reason. It is said that he is anti-establishment, not a politician of the usual stripe. Many find him disarmingly honest and straightforward, though when one looks closely this appears to be a facade behind which hides a failed businessman, a xenophobe and misogynist, a thin-skinned bully, and a megalomaniac who is, as was recently noted, a “serial liar.” Moreover, and more importantly, he is ignorant of international affairs and lacks credibility with our allies, thus weakening the nation’s position vis-á-vis other nations. In a word, it would appear the “reasons” for supporting this man are few in number and very weak.

Why Bernie Sanders? Here the reasons jump out. He appears to be a man of principle and integrity. As well, it appears that he is out of the mainstream of politics, having served in the Senate as an Independent and refusing to accept any of the PAC money allowed to politicians who run for president. The fact that he lacks the support of the Democratic Party and that the media ignore him are factors in his favor, strange to say. He is bright and very up on current issues; he obviously cares about the nation and realizes that the real battle is not between Republicans and Democrats but between the corporations that are taking over this country and the people who are supposed to rule. On the other hand, he appears to be naive, an idealist who has many good ideas but very little hope of realizing many of them if elected and forced to work with a Congress like the present one that has sworn to refuse to cooperate with any Democrat of any stripe whatever. His idealism is delightful, but idealists can become cynical when they realize how few of their ideals can be realized. Unless he has a more cooperative Congress, he would almost certainly be a lame-duck for four years.

Why Hillary Clinton? Here we have an interesting problem. This woman is a seasoned politician though this is not a good thing these days when so many folks are convinced that all politicians are corrupt. There are clear signs that she is not above corruption: she has her hand deep into the pockets of the corporations and has shown a disturbing willingness to compromise her principles. But she is a progressive Democrat with a good mind and she might be able to work with an otherwise intransigent Congress. She knows where the skeletons are buried and if she doesn’t her husband does. Together they have shown they have consummate political savvy, and while this is a curse as well as a blessing, it would serve her well as Leader of the Free World (as some would have it). And given the shenanigans of the Democratic party and its system of nominating those chosen by the “superdelegates” Clinton is almost certain to be the nominee.

On balance it would appear that anyone who might approach this election with an open mind — which, admittedly is a very difficult thing to do when we are surrounded by lies and half-truths and are asked to go with our gut rather than with our minds — Clinton appears to be the least problematic of the three, the one most likely to accomplish a few things while president which under her leadership, unfortunately, will continue in the direction of an oligarchy — as many, including myself, believe our system already is.

When the dust finally settles and we are provided with two candidates for president (who might be none of the above!) I side with the the leader of the Scottish National Party, Alex Salmond, who worked closely with Donald Trump on the development of one of Trump’s golf courses. He recently said America has a choice between insanity and sanity. If Trump emerges as the Republican nominee I do believe the Scot is basically correct.

 

Corporate Power

One of the major issues facing this nation, and one which I have addressed several times on this blog, is that of the immense power of the corporations and their determination to take control of this government. It goes without saying that we are becoming an oligarchy, if that ship hasn’t already sailed. The wealthy hold the reins of power. The real strength of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy is his determination to take control away from the corporations and return it to the people — where it should reside. Our democracy is under attack and most of the citizens of this country are totally unaware of this fact. If they pay any attention to politics they simply want do move away from “politics as usual,” a sentiment I strongly share. But the real problem, the elephant in the room, is the unfettered power of major corporations.  The following comments from a site called macintosh reader.com show that this is not a new problem:

If the populace ever had true control of the US government, they lost it shortly after the nation’s founding. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people, we have the finest government money can buy.

In 1816 Thomas Jefferson said:
I hope we shall … crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.

In 1864 Abraham Lincoln said:
I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country … corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.

In 1947 George Seldes said in One Thousand Americans:
The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in essence, is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling power. Among us today a concentration of private power without equal in history is growing.

In 1961 Dwight D. Eisenhower said:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Since the founding of this nation, prominent thinkers such as those above have warned about the unrestricted power of the corporations. Lincoln’s comment is particularly prescient. The Supreme Court decision Citizens United determined that corporations are legal persons and entitled to the same rights and privileges as you and I. This decision opened the coffers of the corporations who have untold treasure and are throwing it at political candidates right and left in an obvious attempt to buy the government. Sanders is perfectly correct, but the real question is whether he can get enough popular support to stem the tide and return this country to some semblance of what the Founders envisioned.

Related to that, as I have noted in previous blogs, is whether a Democratic Congress would have enough courage to support Bernie in some of his more radical innovations (such as taxing the wealthy!).  It seems doubtful given the number of politicians the corporations already own. A Hillary presidency seems a real possibility given the support that she has within her own party and the fact that she is not much of a threat to the corporations.  So, instead of a return to true democratic principles where the people run the government, it appears we will continue to snail along toward a government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich.

 

Bernie?

I recently came across a most interesting piece on-line that deserves thoughtful consideration. It was written by a woman by the name of Rebecca Unger and it begins as follows:

I am a 22-year-old Democrat living in New York City. I work in a creative industry that pays a low salary. I am socially liberal: I believe in LBGT rights, a woman’s right to choose, women’s rights across the board, racial equality, gun control and confronting climate change in a major way. I am upset about income inequality. I believe rich people should be taxed more to help fund policy initiatives that benefit poorer people: healthcare and education and better infrastructure, for example. And yet the idea of voting for Bernie Sanders never once crossed my mind.

This is not about disagreeing with the message Bernie is preaching to Americans — I happen to agree with a lot of what he says. This is about the simple fact that his is an idealistic, naïve agenda that could never be put into practice in America. In this country, to legislate even one tenth of such an ambitious plan would take degrees of cooperation, sacrifice, even manipulation and such an immense amount of ‘give-and-take’ tactics that an idea that once stood untarnished, glistening at the campaign podium, would come out looking like a child’s napkin after a meal of spaghetti Bolognese. Yes, there may be some white patches left around the edges, but no bleach will ever get out all the stains.

Rebecca says much better than I do something I have been trying to say for some time. As exciting as Bernie is and as attractive as he is to all of us who care about the future of this democracy, there are serious questions about his ability to get a single thing done were he elected to the presidency. Unless he could somehow bring enough Democrats along with him into office (who are not bound to corporate sponsors), he would face a belligerent and uncooperative Congress — the same Congress that Barack Obama has had to deal with for eight years — and there is simply no way such a group would support any of his programs. And this is true even if it were proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that his programs are feasible and of tremendous benefit to the country — as, indeed, they are.

The problem is the Congress, of course. It has been bought and paid for by the corporations and they are not about to allow a politician of Bernie’s ilk to stand in the way of inreasing their profit margins. They will doubtless meet and agree, as they did upon Obama’s election, not to support any of Sanders’ programs. And we will have another four years (at least) of gridlock. This would be bad for the country, to say the least.

Thus, despite the fact that Hillary has many battle scars and is a far less principled politician (and there are precious few of them any more) she does have the experience and political savvy to know how to get progressive programs through a recalcitrant Congress. She is flawed, to be sure, but those who now support Bernie Sanders and who insist that they will not support Hillary if she is the Democratic nominee are terribly naive. After all, the alternative — given the nature of the Republican candidates, especially the one who is currently leading the pack — is simply unacceptable. In the end, we must be realistic. And in this regard, Ms Unger’s determination not to vote for Sanders strikes me as equally unrealistic. Again, consider the alternative.

The sad fact is that Bernie has been an outsider all along as an Independent Senator from Vermont. He has few, if any, powerful friends in the Senate who could support, much less sponsor, any of his programs. He is right about so many things. But he is reminiscent of Don Quixote flailing against windmills. And, as we all know the windmills win in the end. It is sad, because Bernie represents a possible way not only to restore the middle class, as he says, but also to return a semblance of the democratic system to a government that is heading non-stop toward oligarchy. Hillary wouldn’t stop that trend, sad to say. But she is assuredly preferable to the alternative — no matter which off those clowns the Republicans finally come up with. And if Sanders were to become the candidate I would most assuredly vote for him even though I agree with most of what Ms Unger says. I prefer an ineffective idealist to an ignorant despot.

Protest

The increase in violence at Donald Trump’s rallies of late has tongues wagging and writers furiously pounding the keys. It is indeed disquieting at the very least. Trump himself swears he is opposed to violence even though he is on record as encouraging his followers to hit those who protest at his rallies. He’s even promised to pay their fines! His apologists on Fox News are calling for more violence against the protesters who are blamed for the violence. We now have the interesting scenario of those who hit and those being hit both claiming to be innocent. Sounds like the NFL! Trump, as is his style, blames everyone else, including Bernie Sanders and the president, for the violence that has erupted at his rallies. Now there’s paranoia and delusion together in a most interesting mix.

But the reports of a woman standing quietly at his rallies with a peace sign being roughly escorted from the place, conservative reporters who merely seek answers to obvious questions being grabbed by Trump’s right-hand man and nearly thrown to the ground — and Trump later saying the woman is “delusional” and “made the whole thing up” — or blacks in the crowd who report that they are shouted at (the “n” word) and glowered at simply for being present and even struck by Trump followers as the so-called “protesters” are led (again forcefully) from the arena, all lead one to suspect that the tendency of Donald Trump to encourage this sort of violence is the root cause of the entire problem.

To be sure, it takes two to have a fight, but when one side becomes violent because those who disagree with them are merely present this suggests that the tendency is already there and that the violence is simply a matter of course. It’s not hard to see which foot the shoe fits in this case. But the larger question is: why is this man so afraid of listening to those who oppose him? Or, more to the point, why is this man afraid to even allow those who oppose him to be present at his rallies? One does begin to realize that this man has a very thin skin indeed. Further, he is a bully and filled with hatred toward those who might happen to think he is wrong. He is never wrong — in his own mind at least — and it is the “true believers” like him who are most dangerous. Their minds are closed tighter than traps; they are convinced they have all the answers and that the ends justify any means whatever.

But, again, why this brew-ha-ha over protest? This country is founded on protest. It is not only protected by the First Amendment, it is the very life-blood of this country, the very thing our forefathers died to protect. The fact that the man, Donald Trump, fears those who protest against him is a sign of his stunted personality. The fact that his followers are quick to follow his lead and strike out against those who represent opposing views suggests another pathology. It suggests that there are those among us, growing numbers in fact, who are willing to follow wherever they are led. The world has seen such followers before and the damage and destruction they have left in their wake is clear for all to see. This is what is so disturbing about the violence at the political rallies of late. It’s not about the lies and delusion the leader exhibits — though this is indeed unsettling — it’s about the growing number of folks in this country who buy into his confused and even conflicting ideas and are wiling to swear allegiance to someone who wants only power for himself and uses others simply to guarantee that the power belongs to him and to him alone.

Protest is a good thing. It is absolutely necessary in a democracy if the system is to remain vital. As Thomas Jefferson said the country needs a revolution every fourteen years. Anyone who doesn’t see this is blind to history and fails to understand what a democracy is all about. But violence is not a good thing and it is not a necessary thing either. That one should lead to the other, as it has done in this case, must give us all pause.

The Demagogue

I attach here a portion of a most interesting opinion piece from the Washington Post that is making the rounds on the web. It is by Michael Gerson and the title is “Trump is the Demagogue our Founding Fathers feared.” It is most interesting.

In a dangerous world, fear is natural. Cynically exploiting fear is an art. And Trump is a Rembrandt of demagoguery.

But this does not release citizens from all responsibility. The theory that voters, like customers, are always right has little to do with the American form of government. The founders had little patience for “pure democracy,” which they found particularly vulnerable to demagogues. “Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs,” says Federalist 10, “may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people.” A representative government is designed to frustrate sinister majorities (or committed pluralities), by mediating public views through “a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country.”

Trump is the guy your Founding Fathers warned you about. “The question is not ‘Why Trump now?’ ” argues constitutional scholar Matthew J. Franck, “but rather ‘Why not a Trump before now?’ Perhaps some residual self-respect on the part of primary voters has driven them, up to now, to seek experience, knowledge of public policy, character, and responsibility in their candidates. The Trump phenomenon suggests that in a significant proportion of the (nominally) Republican electorate, this self-respect has decayed considerably.”

With the theory of a presidential nominee as a wrecking ball, we have reached the culmination of the founders’ fears: Democracy is producing a genuine threat to the American form of self-government. Trump imagines leadership as pure act, freed from reflection and restraint. He has expressed disdain for religious and ethnic minorities. He has proposed restrictions on press freedom and threatened political enemies with retribution. He offers himself as the embodiment of the national will, driven by an intuitive vision of greatness. None of this is hidden.

The founders may not have imagined political parties as a check on public passions, but that is the role the GOP must now play — as important as any in its long history. It is late, but not too late. If he loses in Ohio and Florida on March 15, Trump may well be held below a majority of delegates at the Cleveland convention. And then this chosen body of citizens should play its perfectly legitimate role and give its nomination to a constructive and responsible leader.

The reference to the “wrecking ball” has to do with what Gerson says Trump is: the “Republican electorate’s” tool to destroy the “old political order.” But anyone who believes that the Trump phenomenon is all about folks who are sick of politics as usual, and that’s it, are fooling themselves. He has shown us the ugly underbelly of this nation, folks who have been afraid heretofore to shout out their hatred and bigotry in public. This man has made it not only acceptable, but even admirable. It’s no wonder the rest of the world is looking askance at this country and the hatred and even violence that has clouded this election thus far.