Revolution?

I was a bit dismayed by the lack of response to a guest blog I posted not long ago written by Jerry Stark. It struck me as extremely insightful and even a bit alarming. It is certainly worth a moment’s reflection. If Jerry is correct then we are in the midst of a revolution — which may or may not be a bad thing. Thomas Jefferson thought we needed a revolution every 20 years to clear the air, as it were! But this revolution is assuredly not a good thing, I fear, as it radically alters our perception of our world and other people in decidedly negative ways. I suspect it goes hand in glove with our cultural narcissism and may be exacerbated by our numerous fears and uncertainties. At the very least, it expresses the ressentiment of a growing number of people in this country who feel disenfranchised, excluded from the centers of power and influence, on the outside looking in.

In any event, I have selected the ten points that Jerry lists as evidence of the revolution in our thinking and will leave it to my readers to decide whether or not this alteration is a good thing — or indeed if it is widespread. I cannot argue against the fact that it is taking place. The only question is whether or not we will benefit from it in the long run. After all, like the oligarchy that has replaced our Republic, it replaces much of Western Civilization as we have known it for hundreds of years.

Here are Jerry’s ten points as he posted them:

(1) There is no truth other than the truth of the powerful. Any truth other than that of the powerful is not only false and fake; it is evil. The Leader is the source of Truth.

(2) Bigotry in defense of white supremacy is good. Non-white people are inferior. Social equality between races and religions is a dangerous lie.

(3) Nationalism, nativism and authoritarianism are good. Globalism, cosmopolitanism, and intellectualism are forms of weakness.

(4) Men are superior to women.

(5) Christians are superior to non-Christians.

(6) Real Americans, that is white Americans, are superior to all others.

(7) Strength is better than weakness. Military and economic strength are all important. Diplomacy and cooperation are signs of weakness.

(8) The strong are morally worthy; the weak are morally unworthy.

(9) Leadership is action for its own sake. Destruction is better than reform. Intelligence and policy analyses are unnecessary. All that is required is the will to act decisively and to prevail — in Trump’s words, to be a winner.

(10) Ignorance is virtue; intellect is vice.

 

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The Real Donald

You are probably aware of the revelations by Tony Schwartz who ghost-wrote Donald Trump’s book The Art of the Deal — which Trump swears he wrote by himself (and which Schwartz says he would now title The Sociopath). Schwartz’s comments are  making the rounds on the internet and are worth reading. Many of them reveal traits of Trump’s personality that are easily inferred from his public persona which has become so prominent (and annoying) of late. But some are revealing and deeply troubling, given that they are written by the man who got up close and personal to the huge ego that wants to become our next president. I refer the reader to this web page for further information, but I include several of the traits that were most alarming to me:

Schwartz is not troubled by Trump’s ideology because he does not believe he truly has one. He considered Trump’s personality “pathologically impulsive and self-centered.”
“More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.” Trump seems pretty convinced that he wrote the book himself. Schwartz also said, “lying is second nature to him.”
“I put lipstick on a pig. I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is. I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”
Schwartz remarked on Trump’s inability to focus on any topic for more than a few minutes, aside from his self-aggrandizing. It is impossible for him to focus on anything for long periods of time. He said, “that short attention span has left Trump with a stunning level of superficial knowledge and plain ignorance.”

I want to draw the reader’s attention to the comment near the end where Schwartz says that “I believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility that it will lead to the end of civilization.” Now, allowing for hyperbole, it does give one pause to think that this man might be so deranged that he would start a Third World War. Even to consider this a possibility at this point makes one shudder. But, given the thin skin, his temper, and the man’s deep reservoir of hatred and vindictiveness toward those who have the gall to disagree with him — much less criticize him — it seems less like hyperbole.

There are a great many people who have begun to realize what a danger to this country this man would be if elected president. Some are even devout Republicans, like Mark Cubin, who have become aware that this man is not to be trusted. Some, like Cubin, have come out openly for Hillary Clinton, despite their ties to the opposition party. This is a very good thing. There are those, however, who would reject both Clinton and Trump and vote for a Third Party candidate, because they are convinced the system is corrupt and both candidates are unworthy of the highest office.

Those who want to change the system which they regard as deeply flawed are, despite their slightly frantic tones, not far off the mark. The system needs changing. It has been transformed into an oligarchy, too reliant on big money and the influence of avaricious and ambitious people who have lost sight of their public duty to the ordinary citizens of this country. But, as one of the folks who posts on Facebook pointed out recently, in this election the stakes are too high to try to vote in someone like, for example, Jill Stein, who might have a strong case to be our next president but who would be unlikely to win and, moreover, as I have noted in previous posts, would prove to be an ineffective president. In addition, the case can be made out, as some already have, that a vote for Stein, or any other third party candidate, is a vote for Trump.

The real issue before us, then, is the number of people who will turn out in November and vote for Hillary. I hope it is a landslide and not simply because she is the only sensible alternative to Donald Trump, but because I have become convinced that she will make a fine president.

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.

 

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.

Bernie’s Battles

Bernie Sanders says all the right things — well, almost all the right things. He has been soft on gun control which is troubling. But, then, he is a politician and must say things to get himself elected to the Senate in Vermont that he may not really believe. That’s the name of the game. In any event, he truly wants to do the right thing by his country and he is certainly operating outside the mainstream of politics for the most part. As I noted in a previous post, he knows that the real battle in this country is not between the Republicans and the Democrats. It’s between the very wealthy together with their corporations and the rest of us.

Sanders' Official Senate Portrait

Sanders’ Official Senate Portrait

The problem, of course, is that so many of Bernie’s dreams are just that: dreams. They are pie-in-the-sky. Radical change that flies in the face of present politics-as-usual. He is labelled a “socialist,” which is inaccurate. A socialist wants the state to own the means of production. Karl Marx thought Socialism was a step toward Communism where there would be no private ownership, all would share things in common — not unlike the hopes expressed in the New Testament. So far as I know Bernie Sanders does not want that to happen. He just wants those who own the means of production and who just happen to make 300 times as much money as their average employee to share some of their wealth. He would raise taxes on the rich which, as history has shown, might just help this economy get back on track. We were never as fiscally healthy as we were when the wealthy helped bear their share of the burden of government. You know, before Ronald Reagan’s “trickle down” nonsense. As things now stand there are so many tax loops for the wealthy they hardly help at all. Bernie wants to right the ship.

But, as I say, his are dreams that seem will-o’-the-wisp, hardly the sorts of things the Congress will help him achieve. And, as I have also said in a previous post, without the help of the Congress the president cannot do much of anything. I dare say Bernie knows this and it would appear that he has in his sights a much larger prize: complete political reform. He wants to sweep into office with a majority of the Congress behind him. That would certainly make it more likely that he could actually initiate much-needed reform. And if he can light a fire in the electorate and get enough of the idealistic young on his side he may just do that. It’s a long shot, but it does inspire hope at a time when hope is a slender thread connecting dreams and reality.

The only thing that bothers me about this scenario is whether a Congress, be it Democratic or Republican, would actually put their collective careers on the line for radical change. It is likely that the majority of the Congress any new president would have to work with would still be beholden to the corporations. The wealthy support politicians on both sides of the aisle, just in case. Bernie may succeed in his attempt to free himself of all corporate ties, and might even gain a majority in the Congress, but it is unlikely that those in Congress could get elected — or if elected remain in office — without corporate support. That’s Bernie’s largest battle. It’s not about getting elected. It’s about beating the corporations in order to be an effective president.

Nevertheless, it is a hopeful sign that there is someone in the political arena who has the courage to say the right things, even though they are not the things the wealthy want to hear (because they are not those things?). As I read recently, Hillary Clinton is the person running for president who could work most effectively in the present political arena. Bernie is the one who wants to change the game entirely and play it more or less the way the founders wanted it played at the outset, reversing the current trend toward oligarchy. You have to admire his vision and his courage. Whether he will win the battles ahead remains to be seen.

Hoist By His Own Petard

In a most interesting article on “Alternet” by Sean Illing the author refers to Charles Koch’s frustration over the lack of civility in today’s politics — as reported in an interview in the Wall Street Journal. Illing is delighted by the irony he sees in the Tea Party founder’s frustration over the Frankenstein he has created and now cannot control. As the story relates, in part:

The “lack of substance and civility” about which Charles complains began in earnest with the rise of the Tea Party between 2009 and 2010. To the extent that the Tea Party is a centralized movement, it is so because it has been mobilized by the groups Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works, both of which are Koch-financed. As it happens, these groups were formerly a single organization, called Citizens for a Sound Economy, which was founded in 1984 by, you guessed it, the Koch Brothers.

The Tea Party, from the very beginning, was designed for disruption, and it was a pet project of the Koch brothers (they actually created the first national website for the movement). Charles Koch says he’s interested only in advancing “free-market, small-government ideals,” but what he’s done is manufacture a faux-populist movement that has whipped the conservative base into an anti-government frenzy.

In the process of serving his narrow and self-interested ideological ends, he allowed the worst elements of the conservative movement – the xenophobes, the nationalists, and the theocrats – to hijack the Republican Party. Initially this worked, because it sent obstructionists to Congress whose only mission was to shut the government down. But, over time, it’s created a political climate in which it’s nearly impossible to govern. And it’s prepared the way for someone like Donald Trump (whose campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, is a product of Americans for Prosperity), who exists only because he’s been able to tap into the sentiments let loose by the Tea Party movement.

As the article suggests, the problem goes much deeper than mere lack of “civility,” though that is certainly something to deeply regret. The problem goes to the very core of a democratic system which demands an enlightened electorate, open discussion, civil disagreement, and willingness to compromise. The Koch brothers and their ilk have turned over some rocks and the like-minded vermin that have crawled out have taken over the system and are determined to break it down completely — in the name of lower taxes and “free-market, small government” ideals. Their goals are absurd, of course, since the agencies they target are the warp and woof of our political system — not to mention the fact that this country has never experienced a “free-market” economy. There have always been economic restraints built in by various state and federal agencies.

Democracy requires a government committed to the common good, not huge profits for some. But this is the goal of the obscenely wealthy who can spend millions of dollars in order to turn our democracy into an oligarchy, which is precisely what is happening before our very eyes. The Koch brothers spent over $400 million on the last election and plan to spend $750 million on this one. And their goal is not to merely control the Presidency and the U.S. Congress, but also numerous key legislatures around the country. Their scope is large, indeed. Charles may have regrets, but it certainly hasn’t altered his goals at all.

Indeed, there is irony here. But there is also a terrible sadness due to the fact that the monster let loose by the greed of a few is threatening to destroy one of the greatest political experiments since the Roman Republic.

A Rich Country

In one of his travel notes written in 1788, Thomas Jefferson wrote “What a cruel reflection, that a rich country cannot long be a free one.” He was even then concerned about America’s preoccupation with the accumulation of wealth as an end in itself. The reason wealth interferes with freedom is to be found in the captive nature of avarice as Jefferson saw it. In fact, Aristotle had the same thought a thousand years before Jefferson when he attributed the breakdown of aristocracies to the accumulation of wealth; the aristocracy degenerated into an oligarchy, rule by the rich. The problem, as Aristotle saw it was that the rulers lose sight of the common good out of a growing concern with their own self-interest.

There are lessons here for us to learn, of course, as there are when reading the words of any great mind. And Aristotle and Jefferson were two of the greatest minds that ever lived. We like to think we live in a Democracy, even though the founders saw it as a “Republic” governed by representatives, not the people themselves. The people were not thought to be wise enough to govern themselves, though through education they would at least come to recognize those around them who were worthy of elected office. And some would become well enough educated to lead the others. This is why Jefferson established the University of Virginia: he saw education as essential even in a Republic, because those who remained in school long enough would be recognized as able and elected to office. The cream would rise to the top. Jefferson envisioned a “natural aristocracy” governed by the brightest and best minds the country could produce. Madison tended to agree with him — as he did on so many other issues. The idea is originally Platonic.

But it is clear that, as Aristotle foresaw, our “natural aristocracy” has degenerated into an oligarchy. It has been called a corporate oligarchy (“corporatocracy”) given the fact that those with great wealth are the ones, in fact, who choose those who govern and later tell them how to govern. And the wealthy are clearly preoccupied with their own self-interest in the form of maximum profits. So Aristotle was correct in his notion of what factors lead to the degeneration of an aristocracy, even though he saw an aristocracy in a different light than Jefferson did. And Jefferson was also correct in saying that a rich nation could not long remain a free one. Let me explain.

By world standards ours is a rich country, though it is the top 1% who have the bulk of the wealth. But our conviction that we are one of the freest nations on earth is based on the misperception of what freedom is: that it is a function of the number of choices we have rather than our ability to decide for ourselves what is worth choosing. As long as the wealthy continue to control the governing body, not to mention the media, whereby they divert attention with entertainment and games, we will continue to maintain the illusion that we are free when, in fact, we are not. So Jefferson was indeed correct.

It is not likely that the wealthy will give up their wealth. Thus, if the nation is to regain any semblance of its freedom the only hope is education whereby citizens come to know what freedom is and realize that it does not come down to the number of loaves of bread on the shelves at the local box store, or the number of cars at the dealership. Freedom is a function of knowing which bread is healthy and which cars are the lemons: it is a function of knowledge and the capacity to think about what we know. Job training won’t get us there, though it is what the corporations want us to buy into: it is only through education properly conceived that we can realize this capacity. That is why a liberal education is vital to our political system as originally conceived: it sets us free and keeps us free.