Hate Talk

It has always been so: using emotive language to describe those people we detest reduces them to things. Such is the case with people we don’t happen to like — or want to kill in violent confrontations called “war.” Not long ago the Japanese were called “Japs,” and the Germans were called “Krauts.” We devise hateful names to describe those we hate and want to kill in the name of God and all that is good. It seems to work: it reduces human beings, as noted, to things to be dispensed with.

We now find ourselves living in a society in which our feckless leader has labelled his enemies in order to generate hatred of those things or people he has determined are his enemies — and therefore the enemies of us all. Thus are the Democrats now called “the party of crime. . .  too extreme and dangerous to govern” as they are derided as enemies of the Republic for which we stand. And this is only one example of the way this man uses words (often incorrectly) to generate strong emotions in his followers. He loves to hold rallies, as did one of his predecessors who also generated hatred in his followers, in order to feel the glow of admiration and even worship — and convince himself that he is loved and admired. The Germans thought Hitler was the new Messiah; many Americans now think our president is the savior of this country. The parallel is at times quite striking — and alarming.

But, let us take the word “Democrat,” as an example. If we are to save this nation and make “America Great Again,” we need to recall that we have always been a two-party democracy. Granted, there were no formal parties at the outset, but there were those who favored a Republic (like Jefferson) and there were those Federalists who favored a watered-down monarchy (like Hamilton). Folks lined up on either side of what was then a budding two-party system. Eventually those parties took on the names “Republican” and “Democrat.” The former were the remnants of the Federalists preferred by Hamilton and the latter were those who favored a popular government, like Jefferson. In any case, the two parties were seen to be the way the country divided itself and politics became a game of balancing and compromising the differences in order to find a middle ground that all could live with. Compromise was the key word.

The game of politics can become ugly, as we all know. And the rules were frequently rewritten and often even forgotten. But the way it worked was for men and women of differing political views to come together and seek a middle ground. You scratch my back and I will scratch your back. That was then. This is now. Among certain folks in this country at present the word “Democrat,” like the words “socialist,” and “liberal” have become terms of derision, if not of genuine hatred. And the notion that one should compromise with the opposition strikes many as heresy. This is worrisome.

To ague that we are going to make America “Great” again by labelling those who oppose us with hateful names is absurd. To call the Democrats names is insidious and blind to history. And the tendency to point to that party (or any party for that matter) as the cause of all that is wrong is nothing less than an attempt to ignore wrongs that need to be corrected and to point elsewhere for those mistakes we all make. Whether we like them or not, those who disagree with us are the ones we have to live with and while we can agree to disagree we must draw the line at calling them names and dismissing them as enemies of the state, dirt to be swept away. That way lies totalitarianism and it is anathema to everything the Founders hoped would follow from establishing this Republic. Worse yet, it breeds hatred and contempt and when fostered by fear, as we know from the past, it can lead to tragedy on a grand scale.

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Those Predatory Rich (Again)

The term in the title of this piece is from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent book, The Bully Pulpit, about Teddy Roosevelt, William Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism. I have referred to her book previously, but I wanted to return to it and share some of the excellent points Ms Goodwin makes. I have noted the rough parallels between the “robber baron” days and our own — specifically, the widening gap between the rich and the poor and the almighty power of the corporations, or “trusts” as they were called then. A critic might well point out that we have made great strides from the days of child-labor and the 12 hour work day. And this is true. But we still have a pathetically low minimum wage and there are folks out there who would love to reverse those strides and take us back to the “glory days” of laissez-faire economics, free enterprise, as they imagine it to be — free from governmental interference and those pesky agencies that put restraints on the obscene increase in profits.

Roosevelt himself was very much aware of the mentality of the “predatory rich” (Goodwin’s words) and that is what most interests me, because while many things have changed I don’t think that mind-set has changed much at all. We can see examples of it all around us as the number of homeless and disenfranchised grow, the middle class shrinks, and the corporations and folks like the Koch brothers continue to amass fortunes. It is most interesting to note that Teddy Roosevelt was himself a wealthy Republican and staunch supporter of capitalism who grew to see more and more clearly the moral depravity that is bred by an unfettered economy when the government looks the other way and a small group of men are allowed to take the reins in their own hands and focus exclusively on accumulating piles of gold. He was, of course, a “progressive” Republican, a reformer who saw the need to put restraints on the greed of those who see nothing but profits and losses, whose world has shrunk to the size of a gnat’s testicle and who seem to have no conscience whatever. Describing his notion of the balance that is needed, Roosevelt noted in a speech to the Union League Club:

“Neither this people not any other free people will permanently tolerate the use of vast power conferred by vast wealth, and especially by wealth in its corporate form, without lodging somewhere in the government the still higher power of seeing that this power, in addition to being used in the interest of the individual or the individuals possessing it, is also used for and not against the interests of the people as a whole.”

One would hope, wouldn’t one? In any event, after McKinley was shot and Roosevelt became president — much to the chagrin of the Republican bosses who tried to bury him in the Vice-Presidency to get him out of the governorship of New York where he was a pain in their collective ass, — he faced one of his major challenges. The miners in Pennsylvania went on strike; as the strike grew in size and violence and as Winter approached and coal became increasingly scarce, he wondered what the Constitution allowed him to do. He was in sympathy with the miners as he was with those poor folks in crowded New York tenements whom he visited, living together, five in the same room where they rolled cigars in sweat-shop conditions struggling to eek out a living. He knew the miners worked 10 hour days from the age of ten until they died at an early age from black lung disease, seldom seeing the light of day. And he knew that the owners were bound and determined to see that their plight did not improve at the owners’ expense.

One of the things that outraged him, as it did so many others, was the arrogance of the owners who had banded together and refused to listen to the legitimate grievances of the miners until they went dutifully back to work. The owners had already turned down an agreed-upon raise of 5% that would have cost them a mere $3 million dollars a year against their estimated profits of $75 million. Their attitude was clearly expressed in an open letter published by mine-owner George Baer which included the following paragraph:

“I beg of you not to be discouraged. The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for — not by the labor agitators, but by the Christian men to whom God in His infinite wisdom has given the control of the property interests of the country, and upon the successful management of which so much depends.”

Needless to say, these words threw gas on the fire. They aroused the anger of thousands of people around the country, including the president. And they drew dozens of angry responses from newspaper editors around the country. Eventually Roosevelt was able to work a compromise by some brilliant machinations which drove the Republican bosses mad while reducing his chances of gaining the Republican nomination he so dearly sought. But he knew what was right and he knew he had to act accordingly. And he knew how to use the power of the press against those who ruled the Republican party. And that knowledge proved pivotal.

But what I want to focus attention on is the attitude reflected in those extraordinary words written by George Baer. As one editor noted, it smacks of the notion of divine rights of kings, except the sentiment here, strongly felt no doubt by his fellow fat-cats, is that property owners have a divine right to their property and to what is done with it — regardless of costs in human lives. Indeed, it is doubtful if men like Baer had any idea about the moral costs of their stunted perspective. In this comment he seems to be lost in his own convictions about Christian his right to lord it over others, if you can imagine such a thing.

It is one thing to insist that folks have a right to determine what happens with their property, but even John Locke, who was one of the first to defend free-enterprise capitalism, realized that there must be moral restraints on the amassing of great wealth. He insisted that one had a right to amass wealth only to the point where it interferes with the possibility of others amassing wealth as well. Adam Smith, who wrote the Bible on free-enterprise capitalism, agreed. They both simply assumed that human sympathy, fellow-feeling, would enter in and make the rich realize that there are limits to how much wealth they can collect without making life miserable for others. How naive! On the contrary, Baer’s letter reveals an attitude which we can see to this day among the predatory rich, which rests on the unquestioned assumption (on their part) that they have a right to as much money as they want and any interference with the steps they might take to gain that money are to be squashed, whatever the cost. I give you the predatory rich. You can have them.

The Welfare State

When President Franklyn Roosevelt initiated steps to thwart the depression his country was deep in, he cautioned against the real possibility that citizens would become dependent on the hand-outs the Federal Government was taking steps to provide. As he said at the time:

“Continued dependence upon relief indicates a spiritual and moral degeneration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit.”

The possibility that Roosevelt alluded to had been noted years before by such intellectual giants as Nietzsche and Dostoevsky who both saw “socialism” as a step toward the destruction of human freedom. Indeed, Dostoevsky thought socialism was the bastard offspring of the Church which, by making moral decisions for mankind, had robbed them of their humanity. If the Church or the State take care of people they will stop taking care of themselves. And taking care of themselves involves a struggle and, at times, suffering; these are the things that make us fully human. It is a dilemma: on the one hand there are folks who desperately need help and all who are able have a duty to care for them. On the other hand, this care can become a habit and rob those folks of the very freedom that makes them human.

Robert Kennedy in a speech in 1966 echoed Roosevelt’s warning, adding that “higher welfare payments . . .often lead to lifelong dependency.” The problem is how to find a balance between meeting genuine human needs and creating a situation in which those who receive assistance become dependent on it and find themselves unable to take care of themselves. The obvious solution takes the form of assistance with strings tied to it, assistance that demands that those who receive it do so for a limited amount of time and then fend for themselves, frequently referred to as “workfare.” Presumably this is what welfare reform is all about.

It’s not a Republican/Democrat sort of problem either, though there are Democrats who support all forms of welfare and there are Republicans who oppose all forms of welfare, which they see as hand-outs to lazy ne’er-do-wells. In a country that ponders the possibility of spending billions of dollars building walls to keep “terrorists” out and spends more billions to build planes and ships that can travel the world with nuclear weapons tucked away in their bellies, the notion that spending millions to help those in needs wastes our hard-earned money is truly ironic. And the notion that those in need are lazy is incredibly insensitive and wrong-headed. It is not the fact that millions are being spent on those in need that bothers so many people, however, it is the fact that they see those millions as being better spent on building higher walls. Or they point to anecdotes about abuse of the system, those who take without needing. In a word, we have a serious problem with perception and a loss of a sense of balance between what is being done and what should be done. And this in a nation that prides itself on its Judeo-Christian heritage!

Clearly, a wealthy nation such as the United States can afford to take care of those in need — whose numbers grow daily. The money that is spent elsewhere could be reshuffled easily to cover all costs. But the real problem is that those who receive this aid, regardless of how much money it turns out to be, must be enabled to take care of themselves. Many who receive welfare admit this and insist that their own self-respect depends on their eventually earning a living, taking care of themselves and their families– even if the income they earn turns out to be less than the money they are receiving on welfare!  The notion that these people are all lazy ne’er-do-wells is twisted and distorted — and self-serving. These are folks like you and like me who have come on hard times. The issue is not whether we spend some of our tax dollars to take care of those who desperately need it; the question is how we do this while still making possible the retention of self-respect and a degree of human freedom that they require to go on with their lives and become healthy, productive citizens.

Euphoria

 

We live in the declining years of what is still the biggest economy in the world, where a looter elite has fastened itself upon the decaying carcass of the empire. It is intent on speedily and relentlessly extracting the maximum wealth from that carcass, impoverishing our former working middle class.” E. Callenbach, 2012

The Republicans at the moment are experiencing euphoria. They act like it: positively giddy with power. After all, they now control the House and the Senate and have a president they think they can control (!). Accordingly, they are trying to manipulate the situation in order to have Trump’s incompetent cabinet recommendations approved as quickly as possible. They also plan to jettison the Affordable Care Act — despite the fact that they have nothing whatever to replace what they derisively call “Obamacare.” In addition, of course, they plan to scuttle the E.P.A. and any other regulating agencies that stand in the way of what they regard as “progress.” And all before the electorate catches its collective breath.

Predictably, many of these actions will take more time than planned, but, however long it takes, it is virtually certain that there will be some dreadful mistakes because of the political games that are being played and the haste with which these men and women want to take advantage of their advantage, as it were. These professional politicians are astute enough — or their advisors are — to know that they will not have Trump long in the White House. He won’t be able to work with them nor they with him. He has already insisted that he will not divest his businesses. At some point they will want to remove him, one way or the other, because they see Mike Pence as someone they can work with — he’s one of them, after all, equally nutty but not some brazen, outspoken, loose cannon who is bound to get them and their country into a mess if he remains in office for very long.

The whole scenario leaves us breathless. One worries that, based on history, actions taken in haste are usually regretted at leisure. (Think: Iraq.) Once the dust has settled and the economy is in serious trouble and the planet under even more relentless attack, there will be a good deal of hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth. Many who supported this car full of clowns will have regrets and those who supported a con-artist will begin to grasp the fact that they have been duped.

Once Trump’s nominees are approved, and most, if not all, will be (predictably) the Republicans will look to Trump to return the favor — after all this is high stakes politics: you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours — and Trump will wonder what the hell they are talking about. After all, this is a man who is not used to returning the favor; he is used to having others do him favors. His is a business world where money talks and, since he has a great deal of money, people listen. He is used to being heard and having people bend to his will — from all reports. When the professional politicians he will be surrounded by in Washington come to him to demand that he now help them get what they want since they delivered to him the cluster of incompetent people he wanted to surround himself with, he will balk. Surely. And, I predict, this will be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. This is when (if it doesn’t happen before) the Congress will take measures to remove Trump from office, either by resignation or impeachment.

The rest of us, of course, will be left holding the bag, as it were. We should at that point — though judging form past experience we will not — replace the entire elected body with another group that might approximate a reliable coterie of men and women who will actually represent the will of the voters and not the corporations. This is one feature of the British Parliament system the founders did not choose to incorporate into our Constitution, sadly: the ability of the government to dissolve itself due to inability to work together and initiate new elections to make possible the replacement of one set of clowns with another. The only way the voters can do this in our system is to wait for the elections to roll around, and the founders were convinced this is how it would work; but we have shown ourselves unable to do this in the past as we keep re-electing the same group of clowns. Until they step on our toes.

 

Ignoring History

As Santayana famously said, “those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.” But I would add that those who ignore history will find themselves lost in an increasiomghly confusing world. For all we know many of them would vote for a megalomaniac demagogue for president! Can you imagine??!!

I have referred in the past to the excellent group in Washington, D.C. — The American Council of Trustees and Alumni — that is acting as a watchdog over American higher education, drawing attention to the fact that the colleges and universities in this country (including most of the so-called “prestige” colleges) are failing their students. One of their favorite topics is the astonishing ignorance of American college students, across the country, regarding the history of their own country.

As we know, high schools no longer require a civics course, which would attack the problem a bit. But many do not require history either and the colleges that used to fill in those gaps are increasingly inclined to simply teach what the students want to learn rather than what they ought to learn. Call this a lack of confidence on the part of college faculties who lack conviction about what it is students ought to know. Or call it simply a lack of courage. But whatever we call it, it demonstrates why there is such wide-spread ignorance on the part of an electorale that has elevated a moron (and, some have said, a sociopath) to the position of one of the major candidates for president of this country — though one must note the exception of the students at Harvard in the Republican Club who recently voted (for the first time in Harvard’s history) not to endorse the Republican candidate for president! However, I stand by my generalization: this exception proves the rule, as they say.

In a recent publication by the A.C.T.A. we read about the depth of ignorance of which I speak:

“In surveys commissioned by the ACTA less than 20% of respondents could identify — in a multiple-choice survey — the effect of the Emancipation Proclamation. Little more than half could identify the purpose of the Federalist Papers. Only 23% could pick James Madison as the Father of the Constitution.

“American colleges and universities are failing their students. . .only 18% [ of those institutions] require students to take even one course in U.S. history or government. . . .

“Despite the colleges’ purported commitment to the noble ambition of training graduates ‘to be responsible and active participants in civic life’ or ‘civic leaders for our society,’ American history has disappeared not only from the schools’ general education curricula, but also from the requirements for history majors.”

The report goes on at some length. But you get the idea. People from other countries who must take citizenship tests to become citizens in this country and earn the right to vote are asked to know more than those born in this country who are simply assumed to know enough to pull the right handle in political elections, or color in the correct box. It is appalling. But it certainly helps to explain why there are so many in this country who are prepared  to vote for Donald Trump and who hate Hillary Clinton because they have been told by those sitting on the political right that she is the devil incarnate. Without thinking they believe what they hear.

In a word, the failure of educators to take their responsibility seriously in helping students gain control of their own minds is at least partially responsible for the wide-spread ignorance in this country that has become gallingly apparent in recent months. But parents must also take responsibility for not demanding that the schools teach their kids what they need to know in order to become informed citizens of our democracy, and for insisting that their college-age kids avoid the Humanities and Arts (where they might learn to think). There’s plenty of blame to go around. But in the meantime, we are faced with a close presidential race when it ought to be a blowout!

Gridlock

It is common knowledge that the Republicans in the Senate have vowed not to allow President Obama’s nominee for the vacancy in the Supreme Court ever see the light of day. It is also common knowledge that those same Republicans are deep into the pocket of the NRA and recently voted as a group not to pass any laws restricting the use of AK-15s and other weapons of mass destruction. They have bought into the dream of the gun manufacturers, who support the NRA, that every man, woman, and child in this country should be armed against….every other man, woman, and child.

Furthermore, it is widely known that the core of the Republicans in Congress met soon after Barack Obama’s election and vowed not to pass on any legislation the man favored, to adopt what has been called a “scorched-earth” policy of no compromise. But, as has recently been pointed out, this policy goes back further than Obama and those who chalk it up to the determination of a group of racists not to cooperate with a black president may have to rethink their position. It appears it is not racism; it is simply twisted political thinking. As a recent article points out:

The link between the design failures of the presidential system itself and these failures is clear enough. The worse things go for the president, the better the chances for the opposition party to regain power. Cooperating would merely give the president bipartisan cover, making him more popular and benefiting his party as well. Republican leaders have openly acknowledged these incentives. In the Obama era, this has forced the Republican leadership to mount a scorched-earth opposition, demonizing the president as an alien socialist who threatens America’s way of life.
This Republican belief that compromise always helps the White House, at least when it comes to electoral politics, goes back further than the Obama years. It started in force with Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole and the Republican reaction to Bill Clinton’s election in 1993, and what they did in the year that followed was a model for how Republicans acted in 2009. The GOP’s midterm victories in 1994, 2010 and 2014 seemed to validate it.

What this means is that the commonsense notion that politics is all about compromise, reaching the decision that works best for everyone — even though it may not be the decision that each individual wants — has been displaced in our era by a group of small-minded men and women whose only goal is to oppose the opposition, to see to it that their party is strengthened and the opposition party rendered weak and helpless. The central notion of the “Common Good” that goes back at least as far as St. Thomas Aquinas, has been preempted in our era by “what’s good for the party is good for me.” The idea is that the political party that one belongs to demands complete loyalty because it is that party — and the money that goes into that party’s coffers — that will determine whether or not I keep my high-paying job. And please note: this is not about party loyalty. It’s about self-interest.

If the Supreme Court must limp along with only eight members for a while, or if more and more people must be killed by weapons designed for modern warfare (and not for killing deer) so be it. What matters now is ME. If I am an elected official my only goal is to remain in office and do whatever it takes to remain there. What is good for my constituency matters not a whit. What matters is what is good for me and for my ability to remain in public office.

The two main players in this sick drama are, of course, the PACs and the lack of term limits in public office. The entire situation could be remedied if the Congress were to address these two issues. But they will not because those two factors are what keep them in office. And professional politicians, which is what we are surrounded by today, know what side their bread is buttered on — if they know nothing else.

Noam Chomsky’s Prediction

I have decided to borrow the following article from a site called “Salon” despite the fact that Chomsky worries about the rise of an “honest” charismatic character and what we have is a dishonest charismatic character in Donald Trump (who, admittedly appears to be honest to the blind mice who follow him). But the prediction is remarkable and worth pondering. Can anyone still have doubts about this nation being a de facto oligarchy?

In an interview with Chris Hedges in 2010, Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned linguist and dissident intellectual, remarked that he has “never seen anything like this.”
By this, he meant the state of American society, relative to the time in which he was raised — the Depression years — and to the tumultuous state of Europe during that same period.
“It is very similar to late Weimar Germany,” Chomsky said. “The parallels are striking. There was also tremendous disillusionment with the parliamentary system. The most striking fact about Weimar was not that the Nazis managed to destroy the Social Democrats and the Communists but that the traditional parties, the Conservative and Liberal parties, were hated and disappeared. It left a vacuum which the Nazis very cleverly and intelligently managed to take over.”
For decades, Chomsky has warned of the right turn of the Democratic Party, which has, in an effort to win elections, adopted large swaths of the Republican platform and abandoned the form of liberalism that gave us the New Deal and, later, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.
“Trump has been viewed with bewilderment by politicians who have divorced themselves from the needs of the people and who have sold them false goods to get ahead. But Trump, as Chomsky’s prescient interview demonstrates, was inevitable.”
This new approach was canonized by Bill Clinton, who triumphantly declared that the “era of big government is over.”
With this declaration, Clinton ushered in a new era of the Democratic Party (the so-called New Democrats), which left behind the working class and cultivated amiable relationships with corporate executives and Wall Street financiers; many of them would eventually occupy key positions in Clinton’s government, and many of them emerged once more during the presidency of Barack Obama.
The philosophical bent of the New Democrats was best summarized by Charles Peters in “A Neoliberal Manifesto,” in which he defines neoliberalism as an ideology perfect for those who “no longer automatically favor unions and big government or oppose the military and big business.” Democrats, since Peters penned his manifesto, have far exceeded the bounds of this seemingly neutral stance.
Bill Clinton, for his part, destroyed welfare, deregulated Wall Street, worsened the growing mass incarceration crisis, and signed into law the North American Free Trade Agreement, a sweeping deal that harmed millions of workers, in the United States, Mexico, and elsewhere.
Today, President Obama, in partnership with congressional Republicans, is lobbying aggressively for the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has been deemed by critics “NAFTA on steroids.” The agreement, if made the law of the land, will encompass 40% of global GDP and will grant massive companies unprecedented power.
Despite President Obama’s promises of transparency, the public has been forced to rely on leaked information to glean any specifics about the deal — and, based on the information we have, the agreement is a disaster for workers and the environment and, unsurprisingly, a boon for multinational corporations.
Democrats, in short, have left the working class in the dust, often using “the excuse,” as a recent New York Times editorial put it, “that they need big-money backers to succeed.”
Republicans, meanwhile, as Chomsky has observed, are “dedicated with utter servility” to the interests of the wealthy, and their party, with its longing for war and denial of climate science, “is a danger to the human species.”
So we are faced with a political system largely devoted to the needs of organized wealth, which leaves working people anxious, worried about the future, and, as we have seen, very angry. In essence, political elites — on both sides — have created a vacuum into which a charismatic and loudmouthed demagogue can emerge.
As Chomsky noted in his interview with Hedges, “The United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen. Every charismatic figure is such an obvious crook that he destroys himself, like McCarthy or Nixon or the evangelist preachers. If somebody comes along who is charismatic and honest this country is in real trouble because of the frustration, disillusionment, the justified anger and the absence of any coherent response.”

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.

 

 

Declaring War?

You have probably noted the latest outburst from the cluster of clowns running for the Republican presidential nomination insisting that we declare war on IS. This in response to the shootings in San Bernardino by two people who were apparently supported by money from an unknown source, presumably IS — and in response to President Obama’s perceived soft response to those killings. Folks like Jeb Bush insist that IS has already declared war on the United States. Another idiot suggested that we are already involved in World War Three. Whether these things true or not matters little. What matters is that saying such things will bring the votes to Jeb Bush or one of his ilk when November rolls around.

There are so many things wrong with this knee-jerk response one scarcely knows where to start. For one thing, it is clear that as long as the American people are kept fearful and full of hatred they will be more likely to vote for a “strong” candidate as their leader next November. So the tactic is to keep the flames burning as fiercely as possible. Convince the voters that the Democrats, who seek to maintain some semblance of sanity in what appears to have been an insane act by two people in California, are too soft to lead the country in time of “crisis.” This is standard practice, politics as usual. The end justifies the means and grabbing the office of President of the United States is the prize.

But any talk of a declaration of war against a terrorist group that is apparently growing exponentially will assuredly simply give impetus to that group to continue to grow even more rapidly. We should have learned by now that such a war cannot be won. Hate-mongering might make some people feel better, but it is precisely the sort of thing groups like IS will use to convince like-minded people in the Middle East that they must take up arms against those insane Americans across the Atlantic. It pours gasoline on the flames — as does absurd talk about refusing admission to this country by anyone who happens to be a Muslim.

I applaud Obama, as I have said previously, for trying to sooth jangled nerves. Hillary Clinton has also attempted to restore some sort of reasonable balance to the discussion, to keep things in perspective. As F.D.R. said long ago we have nothing to fear but fear itself. But fear is the order of the day and those who would declare wholesale war on terrorist groups have their heads in the sand and are concerned only about gaining political office and not in the least about doing the right thing — or even the sane thing, which is to keep our cool and deal with these problems as they arise in a way that assures everyone that this sort of aberrant behavior will not be tolerated.

If we assume that Jeb Bush is correct and that IS has indeed declared war on this country (which is debatable), then as a nation we need to pull together, not in several different directions. A frantic, passionate response to the actions of zealots can only lead to chaos and if these men running for President were truly patriots concerned about the safety and security of their country they would not attack the sitting President of this country and stir up fear and hatred among its citizens in times of crisis. What is required are cool heads and reasonable suggestions. But, then, these men have their eye on the prize and winning that prize is the only thing that matters. Cool and reasonable are not their strong suit.

Crippled Government

From the day Barack Obama was elected, the opposition party pledged themselves to thwart his every step. And given that Obama has proven to be a rather ineffective president, it could be said that the pledge worked like a charm. But what the division has brought about is a government that simply cannot get it done and on the international front it must make this country look like living proof that democracy won’t work.

The upcoming international meeting on climate change in Paris is an interesting case in point. Take the following snippet from a recent opinion piece on the internet:

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is trying to negotiate a legacy-making climate change pact this coming week in Paris with one hand tied behind his back. Congress can’t even agree whether global warming is real.

Scientists point to the global agreement, years in the making, as the last, best hope for averting the worst effects of global warming. Obama has spent months prodding other countries to make ambitious carbon-cutting pledges to the agreement, which he hopes will become the framework for countries to tackle the climate issue long beyond the end of his presidency in early 2017.

But Republicans have tried to undermine the president by sowing uncertainty about whether the U.S. will make good on its promises. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other GOP leaders have warned other countries not to trust any deal Obama may strike; other GOP allies are working to nullify Obama’s emissions-cutting steps at home.

What this means is that while the rest of the world knows that climate change is caused in large part by human activity and that this activity must be changed soon or the planet faces irreversible damage, the Republicans in Congress are tied to their pledge to oppose every step the president takes and, tied as they are to Big Business and Big Oil, are determined to scuttle any possible agreement the meetings might produce. America will be seen by the rest of the world as a chicken without its head, fluttering about aimlessly and blind to the obvious facts that everyone else has come to accept. And this fluttering chicken threatens us all.  The bottom line is the Republicans don’t want to take any steps that might “cost jobs” in spite of the fat that global warming could be reduced simply by committing this country to alternative, clean energy — which would produce thousands of jobs and save the planet at the same time.

Sitting on the sidelines as we do, it is clear that the machine of government is horribly broken. If Obama were a stronger president who knew how to wield the power his office potentially holds, perhaps this would not be the case. But faced with the fact that a weak president is opposed by stupid, small-minded men and women in Congress who are pledged to undermine his every step, we may be forced to admit we live in a country that, alone, stands in the way of a workable plan to save this planet from devastation.