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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The Grand Delusion

In a most interesting editorial from Der Spiegel passed along by that consummate blogger, Jill Dennison, we read how some of the folks across the pond view this political race — and especially Donald Trump. The editorial is unsettling to say the least. After talking about the man, it mentions the grave danger to the world if Donald Trump were to hold the nuclear codes; then the writer goes on to attempt to understand why Trump has garnered such a loud and large following:

But Trump’s supporters hardly misunderstand: Crushed by generational, technological and demographic changes and abandoned by a broken political system, they’ve been boiling from suppressed, not-so-secretly yearned-for violence for a while. They were just waiting for their leader.

They aren’t bothered by the fact that he lies pathologically and has no clue about world politics, domestic and economic policy or the intricacies of diplomacy. For too long, they’ve been living in an alternate universe where reality and delusion blur, where truth and lies are inverted. Trump has legitimized them and their worldview.

This is well put. The author measures the frustration experienced by those people who feel disconnected from a political process that has clearly broken down. They see Trump as a knight on a white charger, coming to the rescue. What the editorial does not mention is how deluded this view is. Trump is anything but a knight and there is simply no way he can fix the broken political machine — as he avows. That’s not how it works (when it does work).

We have seen how ineffective a president can be when he has to deal with a majority in the Congress from the other party (who have vowed not to cooperate with the man whatever he might want to do). If Donald Trump were to become president (God forbid) he would be totally ineffective, because he has zero credibility among the professional politicians whom he wants to coerce. Even a well-meaning man like Bernie Sanders would be ineffective in a system that ties the hands of the executive. It’s that way by design. The founders did not trust power and they wanted no part of a powerful president that would be king.

But that is precisely what Trump does want — to be king. He talks as though when he becomes president he will simply snap his fingers and there will be instant change. We know he is stupid, but the extent of the stupidity among his mindless minions who believe this nonsense beggars belief. They simply do not know anything about the political system they are a part of, except that has broken down and they cannot get whatever it is they want. Even under the best of circumstances — a bright and civic-minded president working hand-in-hand with a cooperative Congress — the president can only do so much. And given the fact that the corporations and special interest groups hold the strings that direct the actions of so many in Congress, even under the best of circumstances it is doubtful that much would get done to repair the broken machinery. Just imagine, for example, such a harmonious political executive and legislative body attempting to institute measures that would control the sale of weapons in this country. Is anyone naive enough to think that a president, any president, could take on such a powerful group as the N.R.A. and win the day? Surely not.

But if Trump were president (again, God forbid) there would be no harmony and the machine would work even less effectively than it does at present. He would get nothing accomplished and piss off a great many people in the process. Imagine how his frustration would mount and how that frustration might express itself! There is simply no reason whatever to vote for this man — and a great many reasons not to do so.

Buying Elections

As the dust begins to settle on the failed attempts by the Democrats to recall Scott Walker in Wisconsin, it behooves any blogger worth his salt to utter an opinion or two. So here goes. I was asked by a friend if I was surprised by Walker’s win and had to answer that I honestly was not. In many ways it was predictable.

The Republicans are still crowing — if you’re quiet you can hear them. And the Democrats are acting a bit like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis [thank you, Tom Lehrer]. But the fact remains that the Republicans outspent the Democrats 8 to 1 with the Koch machine cranking out most of an estimated $45 million to keep Walker in office and send a message to the Democrats that America really does love its pocketbook above all else. The Hell with teachers and nurses!

The Koch brothers are a big part of what is wrong with this country. Rumors have it that they plan to spend $400 million of their hard-earned money to get Obama out of the White House and keep control of the Congress. They might succeed, of course, because as we all know money talks and after the Citizens United decision the amount of money that will be spent on the upcoming elections could buy a small country — or a large one that’s deep in debt. After all, the family oil business the Koch brothers own rakes in an estimated $100 billion a year! The sky’s the limit!

But note the irony in the fact that people like the Koch brothers will spend millions of dollars to buy politicians who will guarantee that they get to keep most if not all of their wealth in the future. I dare say they see it as an investment. Some of the wealthy 1%, I understand, even buy politicians on both sides of the political aisle. That way they can’t lose.

The interesting question is what on earth the founders would say about the turn of events. So let’s speculate. There are a number of myths rising from the “spiritually certain” about the religious preferences of the founders, insisting that they were all devout Christians. In fact there were some Christians within the group, but most were deists who didn’t attend church or believe in the efficacy of prayer. And they certainly did not want the church (any church) interfering in politics. They knew and hated England which had a state church and they saw the same sort of influence in France and Italy where the Catholic Church was all-powerful. They knew they didn’t want any of that. The recent tie-in between the political right-wing and the spiritually certain would have been bothersome to the founders.

But they were also suspicious of capitalism in its raw forms. A number of the Colonies had restrictions on the unfettered growth of capitalism, such as laws against primogeniture, the passing on of wealth to the first-born son. They saw that as a sure way to aristocracy which they distrusted almost as much as they did the King. Many were still wedded to the comfortable notion of mercantilism, which favored the involvement of the government in the financial affairs of its citizens. These were wise men who, for the most part, knew that humans left to their own wiles would get into a dog-eat-dog fight over wealth and they didn’t want to see that either. People like Jefferson saw the future of this country in terms of an agrarian ideal in which people would remain close to the earth and earn enough money to be content and have whatever they required to live a good life, but no more. “More” was not necessary and it could lead to moral blindness. Initially the founders, especially the Southerners, didn’t even want a Federal bank, though Alexander Hamilton finally persuaded them to go in that direction — as a matter of necessity. And many of the wealthy citizens helped support the young nation (and the revolution) with money out of their own pockets.

The attitude toward money in this country in the eighteenth century was quite different from ours now. For the most part money was seen as a means to an end, simply. There were remnants of a deep-seated medieval distrust of money and what it did to people — ultimately stemming from Christ’s admonitions in the New Testament. Just read Dante’s Inferno and try to figure out how many of those in Hell are there because of their relentless greed. That attitude took centuries to die out, but it is pretty much a thing of the past as, thanks to people like John Calvin, we now think that wealth is a sign of talent, ability and even, perhaps, God’s favor. You cannot have too much. If you do, you can always go out and buy yourself a country — like the Koch brothers.