If I Were King

Now this is just a harmless exercise.  I am a thoroughgoing believer in democracy.  As has been said (endlessly), it’s the worst form of government, except for all the others, but…admit it.  I bet you have thought at times how much better the country would be if you were, even for a short time, the omnipotent monarch.  Not some so-called king or queen like the ones in Britain or Spain. The real thing, attempting to show wisdom while ruling over a country.  What would I do?  Glad you asked. Here are a few things I would enact and change.

In government, I would maintain most of the current structures.  Congress would continue as a deliberative body.  Voting law would be uniform in all 50 states, though.  Registration would be in person with some proof of age and residence, and there would be a national registry of voters–any move by a voter to a different place (locality or state) would be a mere change of address.   Uniform regulations in all jurisdictions would be brought into being.  Why should voting in Vermont carry different qualifications than voting in Mississippi?  A national registry would also eliminate concerns of registry in multiple states and most any other fraud concerns.

There would be term limits.  Why should some 80-year old dementia sufferer just keep holding a seat in Congress?  And please don’t tell me that because Congressman X “helped my uncle get his social security,” Congressman X is deserving of 20 terms.  All those problems are farmed out to some staffer, anyway.  So, my thought would be that no person could be elected to more than 10 terms, or 20 years.  And each of them would be entitled to an “ombudsman” who would deal with constituent complaints.  And maybe one other staffer for legislative affairs.  Other employees?  OK, as long as you pay them.

Similarly, Senators would get a maximum of three terms: 18 years.  Just because.  And under the same staffing limits as Congressmen.  And donations to a political candidate would be severely restricted, replaced by air time on local TV and radio, which would be a condition of stations’ licensure.

I would have line-item veto authority over all budget matters.  No more would one state, by virtue of a long-term representative in Congress, get preferential treatment in matters of large federal expenditures, such as military bases or call centers.  Government expenditures are all “pork” according to some, except when that “pork” goes to their own districts, when it becomes “long overdue economic stimuli.”  I can’t give you a set formula that would govern my actions here.  You’ll just have to trust me.

Health care: big problem, but not insoluble.  I would set a timetable for long-term overhaul–say, 10 years.  And I would listen to the concerns of all who are involved.  Congress, of course, must represent the will of the people.  Pharmaceutical companies, the American Medical Association, and the insurance industry, too.  I would start with the premise that we all need to recognize that there is truly no such thing as a free lunch–someone, in the end, pays the freight for everything.  And most people just nod at that notion and accept that the costs are out of line, and that it is all too big for us to solve.

Here’s the thing: it’s not really that way.  I’d start with some assumptions that are not widely considered.  “The cost of medical care” includes much that is not salaries or bandages or saline solution, etc.  A primary care physician may pay thousands of dollars in malpractice insurance, for example.  Why? Just think about that robocall you got today advising you that if you or a loved one has suffered from side effects from XYZ drug, you may be entitled (emphasis mine) to compensation, etc., etc.  Drug companies spend millions to develop chemicals that will have this or that effect on humans.  Then, once the drugs are approved for human use, the companies spend millions more to advertise them!  The costs of all this development and branding, of course, are paid by the consumer…well…in reality, by his insurance, assuming he has insurance.

The insurance industry is, like all industries, out to make a buck.  There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that, but, unlike some guy who works in a hardware store or a woman who runs a beauty salon, an insurance company, if it has to pay out a multi-million dollar claim, can pass on the cost of that payment to its consumers in the form of higher rates.  And they all get hit with this sort of catastrophic cost at times, and all pass on the costs.  Who pays the increased costs?  Doctors, nurses, and other people involved in the delivery of health care.  How do they pay?  Through cost of services that builds in money for that insurance.  And who pays that?  You and I do, in premiums.

Who benefits from this spiral of costs and benefits?  Lawyers (Why do you think they make those robocalls?) and some winners of lawsuits.  If our hypothetical hardware store employee dies from some negligence or malpractice, his wife and his kids should be entitled to have his insurance make up for the loss of his earning power.  But why, if he makes $25,000 a year, should that compensation soar into the tens of millions?  Two words: “pain” and “suffering.” Remember, I said ten years to settle health care?  Huge rewards are at the root of high insurance rates, both for participants in health care delivery and for those who are its consumers.  There has to be reform of that system, and that means that ambulance-chasing lawyers will have to settle for less, and so will survivors. There should be a common-sense solution, but the current system has huge rewards, and the lawyers will howl.  We’ll get it worked out–within a few years.  The long-term final result is single-payer health care, just as it is in every other first-world country in the world.  It’s inevitable.

Church and state are separate in US law and practice, right?  Then why does the state permit any organization that meets certain minimum standards (really minimum) to evade many of the taxes that a flower shop or bakery would pay? This has had the effect of permitting some organizations to operate tax-free or at least at a reduced tax rate.  I would abolish this early on.  To the idea that some would no longer be able to operate, I can only shrug.  The state has no interest in fostering religion, or it must impartially foster all religions.  I opt for none.  Franklin Graham, Joel Osteen,  Jerry Falwell, Jr., will not starve. They are in reality TV personalities or corporate pitchmen anyway.

Infrastructure?  We really need it.  Trillions of dollars’ worth.  Decaying roads, bridges, water lines, and more must be rebuilt, and this is not open to debate.  Financing it all is a major problem, but not one that can’t be solved.  Institute, if need be, a 50-state lottery.  Or some combination of that and a spree of closing tax loopholes.  Or a temporary raise in gas taxes–a 25-cent levy on each gallon of gas sold in the US would raise billions, and it could be sunsetted, made to expire after 5 or 10 years.  Remember, in the runup to the election of 2008, we were paying nearly $4.00 a gallon, nationwide.  Now with gasoline at about $2.50, we’re driving more but enjoying it less.  Fix those roads!  And every road that gets repaved, every bridge that gets rebuilt, all create jobs that can’t be outsourced to China or Bangladesh.

There is a lot more that could be done, even without a king.  Will it?  I don’t know.  Will we sink into the crowd of second-tier nations?  We could; some would say we already have.  Let’s dream bigger.

President Pence

In yesterday’s post, I laid out the grim circumstances vis-à-vis a possible impeachment of President Trump.  I take no joy from such guesswork, but I think that even if you are a blind Trump worshipper, the possibility has to impinge on your thought processes by now that the man is a walking disaster as President of the United States; whether he is temperamentally unsuited to the job, mentally not quite up to it, or just too devil-may-care for the awesome responsibilities, he is not a good president.  What’s more, I sense no desire in the man to “grow into” the job.  For all of you who think that being the head honcho of a family business enterprise is a good way to prepare to be President of the United States (and leader of the Free World), I beg you to look at the results.

Today’s news brings even more reason to suppose that the Trump/Russia/Comey saga will turn out to be even more of a whack-a-mole game wherein each time Trump tries to bash some emerging scandal, another just crops up.  One consequence of advancing age is that “everything old is new again,” and I am eerily reminded of something from a time when I had much more hair and much less worldly experience—a steady drip-drip of scandal that came to be called Watergate and came to cost Richard Nixon the White House.  All the same, I do not see Trump being impeached by the current Congress, as I explained yesterday.  I would not be surprised, though, by Trump’s resignation at some point (or removal via the 25th Amendment), which leads to the same end: Mike Pence is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States.

Who is Mike Pence?  You probably know he was the Governor of Indiana, but before that, did you follow his career at all?  I will present no brilliant insight here, only a boring list of the things he did or signed into law as the chief executive of that state.  It’s all a matter of public record.  You can even find it through Wikipedia.  But once I had read through it all, I had the sinking feeling of knowing that a Pence presidency will not end the country’s struggles, and it may make the whole things worse.

In capsule form, then:

Mike Pence, the grandson of Irish immigrants, was, in his earlier life, a Democrat and a Roman Catholic.  He graduated from the University of Indiana’s law school in 1986.  During his college years at Hanover he converted to evangelical Christianity and to Reagan-inspired “conservatism.”  He was in private legal practice for two  years before deciding to run for Congress in 1988 at age 29.  He lost.  Two years later, he ran again, and lost again.  He spent 1991-93 as president of an Indiana “think tank” closely linked to the Heritage Foundation, that well-known reactionary, oops, “conservative” national think tank that loves to hinder the power of government at every level to work for things like a higher minimum wage and regulation of pollution, etc., that it regards as necessary byproducts of modern society.  Lower corporate taxes are another of its favorite causes.

Pence left that position to go full-time into “conservative” talk radio as host of his own show, where he billed himself as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf.”  He continued his radio gigs until 1999.  At some point in the 1990’s (I don’t care enough to find the particular dates) it became known that Pence, during his Congressional campaigns, had used donated campaign funds to pay for a host of personal expenses.  Such diversion of campaign donations was found not to be in violation of the law at the time, though it did damage his campaign and his reputation,  In 2000, after Indiana had undergone redistricting, and the boundaries and numeration of its Congressional districts were different from those of his earlier runs, he ran again, and this time, he won.

Pence served in Congress from 2001 to 2013, and in 2006, associated himself with the “Tea Party” faction of the Republican Party.  In that year, he ran against John Boehner for leadership of the Republican caucus and was soundly defeated.  In his dozen years in Congress, he introduced 90 bills and resolutions.  None became law.  In 2010, he was the top choice for President by the Values Voters Summit, that collection of voters who seek commitment by political figures to stop social change through government action on matters such as drug legalization, LGBT issues, and abortion.

2012 saw Pence declare for the Republican nomination for Governor of Indiana.  He won the republican nomination, and then went on to win the General Election with 49.1 % of the vote in a reliably “red” state.

So Pence’s term as Governor ran from 2013 to 2017.  The list of accomplishments of that term include the following:

Reducing college and university funding in Indiana.

Reducing funding for Family and Social Services.

Reducing funding for the Department of Corrections.

Overseeing a job growth rate in Indiana that lagged the national rate.

Killing Indiana’s inheritance tax.

Cutting business taxes in several categories, a favorite Heritage Foundation position which supposedly improves business climate in a state and leads businesses from other states to relocate.  Job creation did not respond, and Carrier Corp. resisted Pence’s entreaties to maintain its manufacturing in the state.  Later, Trump joined in this effort, and let him and Pence argue that they had “saved” Carrier jobs in Indiana.  Nonetheless, many Carrier jobs were lost, along with several million tax dollars in “incentives” given to Carrier in the deal.

Sought increased funding for charter schools and voucher programs.

Declared Indiana to be a “pro-coal state” and resisted the “overreach” of EPA clean air standards.

Defunded Planned Parenthood clinics, even those that did not furnish abortion services.

Signed and defended a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which critics said was designed to let businesses and private individuals discriminate legally against LGBT persons.  Later, faced with the possible loss of millions of dollars in convention business and business expansion, he backed down and signed a revised law.

Signed a controversial abortion restriction measure which would have required, among other things, burial or cremation for any “remains” after an abortion procedure.  It was struck down soon thereafter.

Attempted to ban resettlement of refugees from Syria within Indiana.

There’s more, but if by now (or maybe a while ago) you got the idea that Pence is one more reactionary who talks calmly and works for an agenda of restrictions on personal liberty, lack of restrictions and low taxes on corporations, I’m with you.  I do not want to see President Pence, but I’m afraid that’s where we’re headed.

Some thoughts: Our Now and Future Political Crisis

If you have read from this blog before, you know that I write about U.S. political affairs often, not because I necessarily want to, but because the spectacle that is the current U. S. administration fairly cries out for attention.  And I, as many other Americans, keep on looking on with the horror akin to witnessing a train wreck.  As the carnage mounts, I recall having predicted in this space, on Election Day Eve, 2016, that Donald Trump will serve at most one four-year term, and likely not that much.  Today, I stand by that prediction as much as ever.  In this post, I will comment on some of what reinforces my initial thought.  A follow-up post in a day or two will lay out why I think Trump’s removal from office would not end the crisis; it might, in fact, make it worse.

A president’s term in office may come to a premature end in three Constitutional ways: his own death, impeachment and removal by congress, and resignation.  In my own lifetime, unbelievable as it is, I have seen one president die in office (Kennedy); one be impeached though not removed from office (Clinton), and one who watched an inexorable march begin toward impeachment and resigned from office before it could come to fruition (Nixon).  From 1789 to 1998, only one President (Andrew Johnson) was impeached and was not removed from office.  Impeachment was, is, and was meant to be, a serious thing, not lightly undertaken by any present or future Congress.  A President’s removal by impeachment is extremely difficult, requiring the votes of two-thirds of the Senate.  It is difficult to imagine two-thirds of the current Senate agreeing to anything, since the two parties view nearly everything in terms of their own re-election.

Edit: A good friend from my days with State reminded me that there is another way a president may be removed from office–via the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which deals with the inability of the President to carry out his duties.  It is complex and allows the Vice President to assume the duties of the President as the “Acting President.”  This would be a can of worms on a scale never before seen, (if it became more than some brief period) but is also an interesting possibility as a way of taking power from the Donald should his mental state at some point be adjudged as not up to the challenge.  End note.  Thanks, Dave!

In the case of Trump, there is plentiful speculation as to his eventual impeachment.  Much of it has solid legal grounding, but he will not be impeached unless, by a curious convergence of events, Democrats, either with the help of some disgusted Republicans, or with a newly-elected majority in the House of Representatives after the 2018 elections, manage to get Articles of Impeachment through the House.  Republican Senators would have to be haunted by the prospect of their own electoral underperformance to a degree that they decide to attempt to influence Trump to resign and disappear from the public eye.  Given Trump’s egotistical and narcissistic tendencies, his agreement would be hard to envision.  But I could easily see a long series of delaying tactics by the Senate (Mitch McConnell could drag this out for a long, long time…) with the endgame of having some more conventional Republican challenge Trump in the Primaries for the 2020 campaign.  One can only imagine the turmoil of a weakened Trump fighting the party who urged the electorate to accept and embrace him.  Third-party bids?  Maybe.  At any rate, 2020 appears, at least so far, to have the potential for heavy-duty political turmoil.

We are in the midst of an odd political moment when impeachment is so unlikely as to be of negligible consideration.  But wait–I mentioned above that the solid legal means for impeachment already exists, and I do believe it.  The so-called “emoluments clause” of the Constitution is generally understood to prohibit the President to make money off the office above and beyond the salary to which he is entitled from that office.  In brief, the argument that Trump is profiting off the office of President is based on a couple of facts: he has a long-term lease on a property in Washington, D. C., upon which one of Trump’s companies built a hotel (plastered, of course, with his name).  The hotel is often occupied by persons with business before the government of the U. S. (and thus before Trump), and so such persons might think that they curry favor with the President by staying in the hotel or eating in its restaurant.  Far-fetched?  Not at all.  A similar situation applies in the case of “Mar-a-Lago,” the resort property Trump owns and uses for his weekends.  In a recent meeting Trump had with the Chinese president, can you imagine how much money flowed to the Trump property by numbers of Chinese government employees who stayed at the property?  But never mind.  He will never be called upon to defend himself from charges of “government for profit.”

Another facet of the “for personal gain” way of thinking is Trump’s refusal to put any of his considerable assets into any sort of trust.  Several presidents have been wealthy men in their own right; it has been the normal procedure in these cases (until now) that the president transfer his assets into the care of a “trustee” who keeps the asset in a “blind” trust while the president is in office.  Theoretically, at least, the president is kept from manipulating the interests of the people’s business in line with his own business’ interests.  It has never been a perfect system for insulating one from the other, but Trump has essentially thumbed his nose at the whole concept by placing his assets in the control of relatives.  This isolates him, he insists. It doesn’t, insist hordes of experts.  Again. it really doesn’t matter.  The Republican majority in Congress will never hold him to account.

And now, we see the spectacle of the President’s firing of the FBI director  he lauded during the campaign for digging into his opponent’s e-mails.  Now, six  months post-election, he cited this treatment of Hillary Clinton as grounds for Comey’s removal.  At least he did at first, though he later blithely admitted that he had decided to fire Comey before he asked his Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (who tasked the memo out to his Assistant Attorney General). to write a justification for the firing.  Floating the airy statement that Comey “was not doing a good job,” he later said the ongoing probe by the FBI of Russian influencing of the 2016 election was part and parcel of the whole sordid episode.  And if this investigation turns out to engulf more of the Trump organization and the Trump campaign, the phrase “obstruction of justice” will be on the lips of all official Washington.  Impeachable offense?  Yes.  Will he he be called to account?  Again, I doubt it.

So what if Trump, by some miracle, is impeached?  Or suppose Trump tires of being questioned and just decides he’ rather sit on his gold-throne toilet in Manhattan?  What happens?  Mike Pence is what happens.  And that is not an outcome to be desired.  More in the next post.

Who’s up for some “Reform?”

What does the word reform mean?  As with many other words, it tends to mean different things to different people.  And when it comes into the political arena, it means not only different things to different people, but in the mouth of a politician, its meaning may shift with the wind, so that what you hear may not be what was meant.  Or what was meant was not supposed to come through clearly, or maybe it was just the thing to say at the time at some rally, and meant just about nothing.

Since we are in the first year of a new presidential administration in Washington, the air is thick with talk of reform.  What can we take from this talk?  Well…the Merriam-Webster Dictionary online lists as its first definition “to put or change into an improved form or condition.”  Good!  I think of reform pretty much like that.  If I speak of reforming bad habits, and if I am sincere about the whole thing, I should be a better man thereafter.  If a company spokesman talks about reforming its customer service procedures, that should result in service that is better, and which more people will find pleasing.  So the idea of change for the sake of improvement is pretty well baked into the shared public perception of “reform.”

What the western world knows as the Reformation caused such a rift between Martin Luther on one side and Pope Leo X, and their respective followers, that Luther’s attempt to reform the church from within, followed by Leo’s negative reaction and attempts to get Luther to back down, resulted in a rift that is now nearly 500 years old.  Such is the way of reform; while everyone seems to think it’s a good thing, any two advocates will have a hard time defining what is true reform.

And, with all that as prologue, I will settle on two themes that advocates frequently cite as being in need of reform: the US tax code and the US system of legal immigration.  Both have been used as debate points by many politicians over numerous campaigns, with little change resultant.  If everyone would like to see these areas reformed, why is there never a real and lasting effort to push forward consensus legislation and then implement such legislation?

I have written about immigration once before, and I really don’t want to belabor this one issue, but it bears repeating that this becomes a “front and center” issue only in federal election years.  Of course, it is an item of federal jurisdiction and federal jurisdiction alone, so there is some logic to the cyclical importance.  On the other hand, if it is as important as it is made to seem during each presidential cycle, shouldn’t work continue in the off years to solve this issue?  In reality, immigration is used by opposing sides only as a club to beat other political candidates as being either “soft on immigration” or as “heartless” toward the huddled masses.  Old familiar slogans get repeated (“We are all immigrants” on one side, and “let’s take care of our own first,” for example).

The Trump campaign made all sorts of hay out of a gross distortion of the truth in the 2016 campaign, namely that huge numbers of illegal immigrants were “pouring across our southern border.”  Of course, Trump himself profited by citing a few cases of crimes committed by these illegals to whip up fear that some dark-complexioned foreigner was waiting behind each tree to either steal your job, your spouse, or maybe murder you.  In truth, our southern border, in recent years, has been more of an exit for illegals (or undocumented immigrants, if that falls more easily on your ears) than an entry point.  11,000,000 is the widely accepted estimate of people present in the US (and not all from south of the Rio Grande, either) now present in some violation of visa law, and it is gradually declining as people from points south return home at a greater rate then they enter.  And those who do enter illegally or stay beyond their legal visa status do not commit serious crime more frequently than the native-born American population.

What is meant by Trumpists, then, when they speak of immigration reform?  Beefed-up enforcement and throw the bums out, of course.  This is consistent with their “America first” rhetoric.

On the other side are many of Trump’s own business colleagues, who benefit from any depressing effect on wages that results from a shadowy, fearful labor force.  They are joined by people whose humanitarian instincts cause them to sympathize with those who seek to answer the call of the Statue of Liberty: Give me your tired, your poor…”  At some point in any discussion of the issue, someone is bound to assert that “We are all immigrants!”

If Trumpists get their way, legal immigration will decrease in absolute terms, but you can bet the supply of cheap immigrant labor in New York, California, Florida, Texas, and a handful of other locations will continue.  I will add one pure opinion of mine on the issue of legalization of the many who live and work here without the inherent legal right to do so (the so-called “undocumented immigrants”): Here’s as offer.  Come out of the shadows. Present yourself along with proof of your stay and your employment (or some other reason why the American public should want you to remain).  I would reward such people with documentation that would let them remain as long as they are not convicted of any crime (I mean crime, not infractions like speeding or bouncing a check), in a provisional status for a long period of time–say, 10 years.  No mass legalization into full status as happened under Ronald Reagan’s “legalization.”  Large numbers of Americans are sympathetic enough–many because they know someone in questionable status–to agree to some remedy.  What they do not want is for “scofflaws” to be rewarded by becoming eligible for the same benefits as people who enter legally, and at the same rate.  Compromise?  Sure, that’s what you call anything that leaves both sides equally unhappy.

Tax reform?  No reform in the sense of improving the current state of things is going to happen.  Period.  Full stop.  Republicans may have enough strength in the current House of Representatives to  force through one or more of their fantasy measures (and I’ve talked about this before, as well) such as an outright repeal of the estate tax, which would stop any tax on estates of over about 5 million dollars.  Stop the excruciating levy on the Paris Hiltons (oh, and the Ivanka Trumps, coincidentally) of the world.

Democrats do not capitalize on arithmetic.  Stuck as their rhetoric is on talk of “a gift for the one per cent,” this fails to convert to anything that will  make anyone think in concrete terms.  One per cent is one person per hundred, ten people in a thousand, 100 people in ten thousand, 1,000 people in 100,000, and 10,000 people in a million.  I will never sniff being one of the top one per cent in income, and chances are, you never will either.  Your taxes and mine are not likely to be reduced by any “reform” that comes to pass in the Trump years.   The idea will be to try to buy us off with five dollars here and there so we will not notice Wall Street celebrities socking away more millions that they might heretofore have paid taxes on.  And the talk of eliminating the deduction of state and real estate taxes might even lose us that five dollars.

WAKE UP, America!  Do you really think Donald Trump is a “little guy’s advocate”?  If so, just wait.  Bernie Madoff will be out of prison some day.

Why Do Only 2% of Trump Voters Have Remorse?

It has now been more than five months since the voters of the United States of America took a leap of something–faith (?) and sort of, voted Donald Trump into the seat once occupied by men like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt (either one).  Actually, no: on November 8, 2016, the US electorate voted for Trump’s opponent by a margin of nearly 3,000,000.  Those voters, though, whether they realized it or not, just were clumped together in states with large populations, which meant that Trump, by carrying numbers of small states plus two or three populous ones, was able to put together enough votes from the Electoral College to win the real election with 306 of 538 Electoral College votes.

Now, I am not going to sing a chorus of “Abolish the Electoral College” as many have.  Actually, maybe I will one day, but not for now.  You see, I have never been able to make any sense out of holding onto a system devised to lure states with fewer voters (at the time the Constitution was written) disproportionate representation in election years, to “protect their interests” in the new federal system.  (And for most of these “small states,” the interest they were protecting was the right to keep slavery legal and profitable.)  The Electoral College allows each state a number of electors equal to the number of U.S. Senators plus the number of Congressmen it sends to Washington.  Thus, in 2016, Wyoming, with a population of 568,300, gets three votes (two Senators, one Congressman) in the Electoral College.  California, population 37,342,000, if it were granted representation proportionate to Wyoming’s, would get…wait for it…66 times (since its population is 65.74 times that of Wyoming) as many Electoral College votes, or, 198!  What does it get in actuality?  A very large vote, at 55 electors, but…well, that’s not proportional.  One California Elector represents 678,045 constituents, while one from Wyoming represents only  189,433.  “One man (or woman!), one vote?”  Not so much!  But that’s a digression from my topic just now.

Every election produces a few mind-numbing trends and statistics, and every aftermath, that is, a new presidential term, may equal the election itself in terms of such surprises and riddles.  At the moment, the current administration is off to a lackluster start that features ethical lapses, brazen nepotism (Ivanka and Jared as Federal employees with West Wing offices?!?), no real legislative achievements, hints of campaign collusion with Vladimir Putin’s Russia…shall I go on?  You know the story.  I would have expected that a great many voters, including an appreciable number of Trump voters would by now be scratching their heads and asking themselves how in the world they convinced themselves that a vote for this was the right way, and continues, under current evaluation, to be the right way to have spent their ballots.  But a recent national poll shows that only 2% of Trump supporters are now experiencing “buyer’s remorse.”  One, two.  That’s one out of every fifty.  Let that sink in for a second or two.

Okay.  Now let’s examine the regular list of reasons why maybe, just maybe, people who supported the current occupant of the White House still feel fine with their choice.  The most obvious one, tried and true, is that under our current two-party system, each candidate, whatever his/her warts might be, will get, at the least, 35% of the electorate.  These 35 percenters remain true to their man (or woman) whatever comes to pass during the subsequent administration, so write these folks off.  Period.  If Trump plunges the country into Depression and war, these people will not waver, usually announcing loudly that “He is the President of all Americans, and he deserves the support of all Americans!”  I get that.  I really do.  Of course, at the same time, such voters’ loyalty only extends to Presidents of the party to which these voters are unstintingly loyal.  And just to be clear, I did say each of the two major parties has a core of such loyalists.

So, given that Trump won only 46% of the popular vote, and 35% of the total electorate demonstrates such fervent party loyalty, that leaves only 11% of his total who might be thinking they may have made a mistake, and we only need to look at that 11% to understand why so few are in the “wavering” category.

There must absolutely be some among them who are shaking their heads at the unfairness of judging Trump so soon into his mandate.  These folks may be thinking back and remembering that Bill Clinton came back from a nosedive in popularity in his early days in office–who among us over 40 can not recall Clinton’s being roasted in the cable news shows and editorial columns as his haircut in Air Force One clogged the runway at Los Angeles, the indignant comments about such vanity and the nerve of delaying so many good folks over something like that?  Or the Paula Jones fiasco?  His presidency survived those shocks and more, and he left office only after two full terms.  So let’s arbitrarily assign a figure, say, of 6% as a possible figure to quantify those who think in that way.

Another couple of percentage points can be assigned to people who are thinking (and saying) “Hey, the guy is a successful businessman and that’s what we need right now!  Just wait, he will straighten out the illegal immigration problem and slap down that runt in North Korea!  I don’t care if he doesn’t act like a normal politician. These are not normal times.”  I have heard all of this, and I know you have, too.  It is probably a genuine thought process, even if I don’t think it excuses much of what I have seen in the first 100 days.

But all of that taken together still does not explain away the extraordinarily low figure of repentant Trump voters.  And I puzzled over this, unable to think of a reason why, if I had been a Trump voter, I would not now be face-palming and saying “Never again.”  And then it hit me.

You may be altogether different from me.  You may live in another area than I do.  Unless you are over 65, male, Caucasian, and live in a semi-rural area, you may think much as I do, but, belonging to that demographic, I hear people express certain thoughts that you may not hear.  And I have heard a lot of those thoughts.  In fairness, I have criticized such as George W. Bush, who I thought often spoke and behaved as a rude, less than brilliant man.  And I still think history will judge him as a pawn to the neoconservatives in his party during his first term and half of his second term, especially of their chief practitioner, Dick Cheney. But I never sank to the level of some of the criticism, often baseless except for sheer prejudice, that I have heard thrown at President Obama and then at Hilary Clinton.

I have heard poorly-spoken people refer to Obama as “stupid” (in fact, Trump himself has been guilty of this), a “goddamned foreigner”, “dirty Muslim” and yes, more than once, the dreaded N-word itself.  The 2016 campaign was not kinder to Hilary Clinton; words such as “bitch” as well as the C-word that is not used in polite society.  For those who think in this way, it is all too natural to denigrate anyone who does not fit their picture of an ideal president, that is, Caucasian and male.  For them, Trump represents “getting their country back.”  I associate these people and their way of thinking with such political figures as Mitch McConnell, who famously violated all precedent and then dissembled about it all as he not only stopped Obama from filling a Supreme Court vacancy but bragged that there would not even be any Senate hearings for Obama’s proposed new Associate Justice.  McConnell also, rather than pledging to find any areas of common interest on which to work with Obama, nakedly said he would make a priority of making sure Barack Obama was a one-term president.  Or think Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, a cheerfully unrepentant racist who now serves at Trump’s pleasure as the Attorney General of the United States.  Voter rights?  Not while he’s around.  He has pledged to go after “voter fraud,” the same “issue” that troubles reactionaries his age all over the country.

Change their minds?  I doubt it. These people think they’ve “gotten their country back.”   Well, I hope it isn’t too badly broken and warped when someday they have to hand it over.

Commercialism: You Don’t Need to Actually PRODUCE Anything…

Warning: you are about to encounter a near-rant, and it may get uncomfortable…

Philosophy,  political science, psychology, and religion are full of –isms.  In this particular usage, and for the duration of this (near) rant, I will use –ism, and commercialism in particular, in the general sense of “a distinctive doctrine, cause, or theory,” as taken from Merriam Webster, as opposed to a particular belief or prejudicial manner of thinking.  So, to be clear, commercialism, as I will use it here, refers to the distinctive cause of packaging absolutely anything, any occasion, or any idea as a possible commodity: something that can be sold to other human beings at a profit to the packager.

I am not some doctrinaire socialist or moralizer fastened on the idea that the word profit is an obscenity or that all corporations are evil in all they do and all they propose to do.  Working for a living and profiting from one’s labor are cornerstones of our (American) system of free enterprise, after all, and many other countries operate similar economies, at least in those aspects.  What I like less and less as time goes by is the largely unspoken, though increasingly powerful and omnipresent idea that, if a buck can be made from something, it must be exploited, and those bucks must be extracted from other members of society.  A corollary effect is that once such exploitation has started, those who are unwilling or unable to pay for the thing someone has successfully made into a commodity are frozen out, prevented from enjoying something they might previously have had at lesser expense.

Even more egregious is the idea of making oneself into a distributor or controller of the product of another’s labor, knowledge, or goodwill; the more this sort of thing gets added into the ultimate cost to the ultimate consumer, the more expensive it becomes.

One of the worst examples of this magnification of costs is our American nonsystem of health care delivery.  Health certainly is a basic human need–if you get appendicitis, and it is not taken care of, a ruptured appendix is the likely result, followed by peritonitis and death.  The good news is that a relatively simple surgical procedure and postoperative medication will likely avoid all that.  Are there costs?  Of course.  The surgeon is entitled to be compensated for his skills, any assistants likewise, and the antibiotics the patient consumes after the surgery are not free of cost.  And the hospital that houses all this has an attendant cost, too.

Sound complicated? Of course.  But let’s examine what has evolved in this country in response to such a need.  Some people will never need such medical care and will go to their graves with their appendices intact.  Others will be less fortunate and will need numerous medical interventions during their lives.  As a society, we like to see ourselves as compassionate.  We don’t want to see an inflammation of the appendix become a death sentence.  Barring some system of charity health care or government administration (shudder!) that is exactly what would happen, though.  So the solution here has been the industry of health insurance–more accurately called hospitalization insurance, but I digress.  Each surgical invention results in a bill which is submitted to the patient’s insurance company, which may employ claim adjustors and adjudicators, all to ensure that “the company’s” money is not paid out in spurious or inflated claims, administrative personnel, etc., etc., and a highly-compensated CEO, all of whom are entitled to be compensated for their work, as well.  Costs are spread over a spectrum of users.

Are these intermediaries immoral, thieving wretches?  Of course not.  They are all striving to excel inside the system they were born into.  But consider Canada, our neighbor to the north.  Canadians enjoy a standard of living similar to ours, and their health care is good.  Their life expectancy is better than ours–a recent study (2015) by the World Health Organization puts their life expectancy, on average at 82.2 years, while we Americans are at 79.9.  They have a health care system that covers them all through a government program that pays all medical costs.  Of course, ultimately they all pay for their own health care through taxation or other government funding methods, but still…it works.  Just as an aside, I read an article recently about the auto industry.  It contained an interesting little tidbit: with the US dollar and its Canadian counterpart at par, Ford or GM or Chrysler produce the average car meant for the US market at a cost of $1500 less in Ontario than in Michigan.  Why? Well, you must have guessed.  The US autoworker working under his negotiated contract bargained for (largely) company-paid health insurance, while his counterpart to the north is covered by his national health care plan.

Need another example?  Look at the music industry.  Take a new, young artist who has come up with a style that someone in the established industry finds exciting enough to offer the artist a contract, typically involving the artist’s producing x amount of music in y length of time.  The recording label pays the artist a fixed sum, with (maybe) a fixed commission determined by the sales of the artist’s music.  There is a story about the band Van Halen (which, unfortunately, I can’t confirm, but still…) wherein Eddie Van Halen, the lead guitarist, claimed they recorded one album that sold 2,000,000 copies, and after they had toured in support of that album, were informed by the record label that the band still owed several million dollars to the label.  Incredulous, Eddie said he hoped the album would not sell 2,000,000 more copies or the band would owe twice as much money.  Was the label entitled to recoup its costs for promotion and distribution?  Of course.  How were those costs figured?  Hmmm…

More recently, Taylor Swift had a dispute with Spotify, the popular file-sharing service that lets consumers download and listen to music.  Swift, one of the most popular contemporary artists in the world, was getting less than one cent per play from Spotify, which led her to pull much of her music from the service altogether.  Most of such a service is, of course, automated, with selections made through the consumer’s computer, so there would appear to be little justification for charges by the company of much over one cent!

And finally…this is going to irritate some people, but it is what got me thinking along these lines in the first place.  Today is the eve of Easter, the Christian feast which observes the Resurrection of Christ.  I will not preach to anyone what he or she should believe or practice.  I will admit to being troubled at the number of people who huckster in the name of religion, and I am not, in this instance, talking about those who solicit in the name of a legitimate charity.  Jesus, in His time on Earth, after all, did advise that, to follow him, one should feed the hungry, house the homeless, etc.  He did not advise that one should subsidize TV preachers or the proprietors of distant megachurches.  If you want to do that, I have no business telling you not to.  I will say that these people seem like little more than self-appointed intermediaries–commercial enterprises of something that had no commercial aspect in the beginning.  And it’s available at some location near you at little cost–even if you are a shut-in.

Whatever your beliefs, I wish you Happy Easter, Passover Blessings, or, Eid Mubarak.

A Glossary of Terms and Phrases: 2017

Just in case anyone missed me, I’m sorry–even a retired guy has certain things he (A) needs to do, and others that he (B) wants to do.  So, for the last month, I’ve been busier than usual with things like (from category A) painting the house and repairing various and sundry things around the homestead, and (from Category B) visiting with family and taking a trip or two.  But I’m back.  And I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at some of the language that gets thrown at John Q. Public (you and me) by politicians, the media, and commercial spokespeople in the United States.  The term or phrase will be followed in each case by its real meaning, in some cases the one accepted by the rest of the world.

“Pro-life.”  This term came into common usage, according to the online Merriam Webster Dictionary, only in 1971.  Its definition, according to the same source: “Opposed to abortion.”  That seems so simple I am tempted to leave it there, but as I have mentioned in other places, people who proudly call themselves “pro-life” are often opposed to any public expenditure on health or welfare, enthusiastically support the death penalty, and only too happy to send thousands of young people off to war.  They may not even see the irony.  Recently I saw another writer refer to pro-lifers as “pro-birth.”   However you look at it, this illustrates something politicians have known for a long time: if you are first to use a term and then use it over and over, you’ve won a large battle in the public sphere.  Words or phrases will come to mean (to the public) exactly what you want them to mean–no more and no less.

“Political parties”: This term commonly refers to Democrats and Republicans, and rather expansively, to several other, smaller groupings.  In general, Democrats adhere to some basic tenets, or at least pay lip service to them; these usually include basic human rights, the universal right to vote, the freedom from governmental interference in one’s belief system and/or one’s bedroom, and some form of progressive system of taxation to support infrastructure, education, and other basic universal needs, including aiding the poor to get health care and aiding those same poor to at least a poverty-level wage.  The party also includes numbers of hypocrites, thieves, and self-interested scoundrels, but many Democrats frown on the latter categories.

Again, in general, Republicans adhere, as well,  to a small group of basic tenets.  Among these are that absolutely everything is a commodity to be bought and sold (for example, health, education, water, public safety).  There are still a few who believe that these are basic rights that should not be available only to those who can pay, but these Republicans are now a shrinking minority and will likely soon be extinct.  Another basic belief of the 2017 Republican is that we as a nation should be armed to the teeth, both individually and as a nation, just in case…well, just in case something.  Also, anyone who is not a Republican is probably a secret subversive.  Foreigners are bad, and must be watched at all times.  A dollar spent on the military is by definition. never wasted.

There are other “political parties,” but of little consequence, and whatever they profess to believe, what they really believe is that the two major parties are REALLY BAD and if “we” ever get the power, things are gonna change!

“The Left”: A mostly meaningless term in today’s US usage.  Most US political thought branded as from “the left” is pretty bland stuff on a world scale.  For example, the US lurched to a small FIRST STEP toward expanding availability of health care seven years ago, and this is still being condemned by Republicans and others as “a government takeover of health care.”  Senator Bernie Sanders won a couple of Democratic primaries last year, and Donald Trump rushed to say that he never thought he would see a “Communist” in such position.  Sanders describes himself as a “European-style socialist” and wants to see state-financed higher education, universal health care, and restrictions on certain banking practices.  Oh, the horror…  There is simply no genuine, viable “leftist” movement in the United States.

“The right” or, sometimes “right-wing”: The way-out, neo-fascist, often racialist, often religious supremacist groupings that have come to the fore in the 1990’s and since.  They are enjoying unprecedented prominence since one of their own, Steve Bannon, sits at the right hand of the current president.  They often work to abolish certain rights for whole classes of people–non-whites, non-heterosexuals, and the underprivileged.  This work may be overt or covert, as when they try to orchestrate some rightward drift in legal terms; such proposals are clothed in high-sounding legal concepts.  Thus, keeping minorities from voting is presented as the prevention of “voter fraud,” a problem which has been shown to be almost non-existent.  (You see, minorities and such are much too likely to vote the wrong way, and this had to be handled delicately, as it was in several southern states, which closed many offices which issued government ID cards of various types, IF those offices were located in jurisdictions with high concentrations of minorities.  Problem solved!)

The right is also philosophically opposed to government-imposed minimum wages,  marriage between homosexuals, and almost any form of taxation, except of course, the wages of those in the bottom 90% of the economic spectrum.  In another example of winning the semantic war, they began to use the term “death tax” in reference to a federal estate tax.  Most people are not aware that the estate tax applies only to those who leave behind estates worth a rather high figure; in a recent year, that figure was over $5,000,000.  Thus, the fight is over making the world safe for Paris Hilton and her peers.

The media: this is the PLURAL form of “medium.” Some method of conveying news or opinion to others is a medium.  More than one medium, then, become media–e.g., newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, and yes, the internet.  “Media,” then, in political talk, is a group of lying, scheming evildoers–if they report something bad (even if it’s 100% true) about you or your side in a political discussion.  There is no common term for media who report such news favorably.  Those media are never mentioned, except to praise them for “doing their job.”  “The right” (see above)  is especially fond of condemning the media, with the notable exception of Fox News (“We report, you decide…”) which is praised by “the right” for being apologists for figures on the right, recently and notably trying to defend, for example, the thoroughly-debunked Trump claim that President Obama wire-tapped Trump during the 2016 election campaign.

“Freedom of religion”  This is one of “the right’s” favorite phrases to justify otherwise unlawful discrimination.  Numerous examples exist currently, but the one that drew the most national and international attention was the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to non-heterosexuals recently.  She was defended by many on the right, and vociferously by both Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz (then both Republican Presidential candidates) as they tried to gain followers among like-minded voters. They held her up as  a courageous defender of freedom of religion for refusing to do her job if she found the people who wanted her services to be less “Christian” than she.  I wonder, did it ever occur to anyone to say that if the law required her to do something that was odious to her, she should just have resigned?

“Liberal”: In 2017 parlance,  a person of dubious patriotism and morals.  It once meant broadly a person who believed that government power could be used for the common good.

“Conservative”: In 2017-speak, the opposite of a liberal.  Usually, a pro-life, hawkish, hater of taxation and lover of religious freedom, as those terms are defined above.

What am I?  Liberal?  Conservative?  I really don’t know.  I pick my positions as items come up for discussion.  Good night!

 

Opinions from Some Retired Guy (me) with No Politics!

Now that I’m retired and in the “Golden Years” I can have opinions (and express them) about a lot of things.  You’re welcome.

  1. I Love Lucy was not that funny.  I watched those old shows in the 50’s, when I was a kid (really young kid) and I have watched them more recently.  I thought they were contrived even before I knew that word, and I still do.  I thought maybe my perception would change with age.  It didn’t.  And just in case you thought that I did not like female comics, I give you Carol Burnett.  Now there was a funny lady.
  2. The Three Stooges were funny.  That should not need any defense, but I know they have their detractors, so listen carefully–the visual schtick was played for humor, and so was the cartoonish violence.
  3. Television today typically consists of some 200-400 channels per household.  Before cable, each household got 3 or 5 channels, maybe 10 or 12 if it was in an urban area.  BUT…many of those 200-400 channels today are showing old shows from the earlier era.  There has to be some humor in there somewhere…
  4. I have a Facebook account.   I share certain things on it from time to time.  Since I have a variety of Facebook friends from different countries, I am used to seeing posts on my page in a couple of foreign languages, and I can read them.  I am also used to seeing posts from younger (these days, most people are younger than I am) people, Americans, in such debased English that they are more difficult to decipher than the foreign ones.
  5. Further to #4 above, it appears that quite a few people rush into writing words/expressions either before having ever seen them in print, or without regard to English spelling or usage.  Gems like “Your a jerk” and “You was to late” are just a couple that I’ve seen lately.  OK, OK, I know, don’t criticize.  But why not?
  6. Golf is the most frustrating, boring sport there is.
  7. Tee time at 8:30?  Sure, I’ll be there.  Can’t wait to try this new driver!
  8. Modern cars are so technically superior to their counterparts from a few decades ago that any comparison is plain silly.  When I traded my last car, a 2013 model Ford, on a 2016 model, I had driven it 40,000 miles.  I had spent nothing at all on repairs for it, and though it was a “midsize” SUV (an Edge) it often got 30 MPG with the cruise control set on 65 and the A/C on full.  My 2016 Edge  is a little better on gas at 32 MPG on a trip.  A car of comparable size and capacity in 1980 would have been a marvel if it got 24.  And it would have had to have frequent replacements of parts.
  9. TV fathers have gone from the 50’s model (Jim Anderson of  Father Knows Best or Ward Cleaver of Leave it to Beaver): the taciturn but wise and gentle type, through the “Dad is a dummy” phase (Al Bundy on Married with Children) to a broad caricature of how dads really think.  Think Red Forman (That 70’s Show) or Murray Goldberg (The Goldbergs) or even Jay Pritchett (Modern Family).  Isn’t it fitting, by the way, that Ed O’Neill got to play one of the dunce variety and one of the modern, wisecracking types?  “OK, we’re done here.”
  10. PS: Kevin James, also a TV dad (Kevin Can Wait) who has now played two chunky, clueless oafs married to women too attractive and smart to give him the time of day in reality, was not funny in the first one and is equally unfunny in the new one.
  11. A second view department: when I was young, I really did not care about Westerns, either on TV or at the movies.  Recently, I saw about 20 episodes of Have Gun, Will Travel with Richard Boone as the cultured gunslinger based in San Francisco, post-Civil War.  I was off base.  This was great TV, with a tense morality play in each 26 minutes.  I may have to look at some others again.
  12. A second view department, part II: Clint Eastwood movies.  Though I did like those spaghetti westerns when they showed on the old drive-in screens in the 60’s, it was an immature admiration for a hero with an exaggerated alpha male persona.  Now I watch them and marvel at the subtleties apparent in Eastwood’s squinty, hard-bitten portrayals (often almost without dialogue) of men in the days of the (romanticized) Old West.  This turns out to be a man wounded by life and determined to wound life in return.  And the Dirty Harry series deserves to be revisited, too.
  13. 20 years ago, I couldn’t stand either hip-hip or country music.  Now I…nah, I still can’t stand either one.
  14. 39 years ago, I went to see a movie that promised to be a bit of entertaining what we called “space opera.”  (I was a reader of serious science fiction, after all, thank you very much.)  Two hours later, at the end of the very first Star Wars film, I was part of a whole theater audience who stood and cheered as the Death Star exploded.  Who would have thought it would grow into one of the biggest movie franchises ever?
  15. I love Canada.  I have heard from some sage that Canadians are less like us (Americans), and like us less, than we might suppose.  Having lived for a time in Canada and visited many times, I would guess that the saying is true (to a degree) but for reasons many Americans will not embrace: Canada as a country is not afraid of self-criticism, and not afraid of self-correction if that self-criticism shows a flaw.  They have the best of the North American experience without much of the worst.  Of course, it’s still too cold, for the most part.  Nowhere is perfect.
  16. I was somewhat in dread of retirement before I transitioned into it, not least because so many told me so many times that I would be bored without a job to go to each day, and I would have nothing important or interesting to do, and the time would just drag on and on.  Four years in, I have to say: ha ha ha.  I do not miss work, though I do miss the travel that resulted from it.  Playing golf a couple of times a week, tending to some fruit trees, and undertaking an occasional wood working project will not change the world, but as I recall, I did not have much success at changing the world from work, either.
  17. There is something transcendent about watching the sun set into the sea.  It seemingly grows bigger and redder until it just disappears.  People tend to forget that Florida has a West Coast–you don’t have to be in California to observe this wonder of nature.  And sitting next to the shore with one arm around your wife (or husband, if that’s the case) is the best way to do it.
  18. I hate cell phones.  Really hate them.  No, that’s all.  I really hate cell phones.  I’m ready to concede, they can save lives, but…no, still find them a bother.
  19. Being this age (talking to all you millennials out there) means I got to see all the good bands in their heyday, some of them live.  I still remember seeing the Who in performance in 1979.  Keith Moon, to my immense regret, was already gone, but the show was still unbelievable.
  20. And finally, one bit of advice: if you are making no progress with someone you are trying to convince, move on.  There are others.  Oh, wait…that’s in the New Testament.  Jesus Himself advised the apostles to “Shake the dust from your Feet.”  Good advice then, and just as good now.

It’s About Who’s the Boss

No, I’m not going to talk about a sitcom from a couple of decades ago.

I have to talk about US politics again.  I really do have to; it’s not a desire.  I’m relentlessly drawn to the topic because it is so fascinating–in a morbid sort of way, of course, somewhat like the witness who is asked over and over again to describe the Hindenburg disaster or a 25-car pile-up on an interstate highway.

Hundreds of professional journalists as well as editorialists, spinmeisters, and comedians are busy in this 24/7 “news” cycle describing the latest mental and verbal gyrations from the White House.  President Trump one day issues an impossibly broad and vague Executive Order, and the nation watches, fascinated, as chaos ensues.  Within a day or so, a federal judge stays the Executive Order.  Trump then issues a “tweet” on his Twitter account in which he demeans the judge, a respected jurist who had been confirmed by the Senate a few years before in a 98-0 vote, as a “so-called judge,” says the decision will be overturned and promises to see the judge “in court.”  (Where else?  In the judge’s living room?)

Or the National Security Advisor, retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, who needed no confirmation from any other part of the government, and thus began in his new position at the beginning of the Trump administration, found himself out of that job within three weeks, after having had contact with the Russian embassy early and often, both during the campaign and during the transition from the Obama administration to that of Trump, then lying about it, including to the Vice-President, then claiming he had less-than-perfect recall of the contact, and then…well, who knows.  First, he was said to have been forced to resign.  Then Trump said that his lying to the Vice-President was the last straw.  Then Trump (sort of) praised Flynn after the fact.

There are a lot of other examples, but it all adds up to one thing: chaos.  It’s not exactly the “inmates running the asylum” scenario, but one could be pardoned for wondering exactly who is in charge here.  It does seem evident that Trump himself is not, except in a figurehead sort of way; this is not a surprise, since he had no government experience before January 20, 2017.  And despite the opinion of many in the public that “government should be run like a business,” that’s way too simplistic.

Business has one overriding responsibility–to make profits, and its shareholders are its constituency.  Those who administer businesses rise or fall based on how well they comply with that responsibility.  Besides, Trump’s experience is not even mostly along the lines of that business model.  He has mainly been in charge of enterprises with his name splashed all over them, privately held, and with no oversight but his.  So it should not come as a surprise to see the new president flail, at least at first.

The US Federal Government has a plethora of responsibilities: national defense, collection and disbursement of funds to various programs meant to encourage economic growth or public health or diplomatic readiness, etc, etc., etc.  And none of it designed to make a profit.  The average Joe despairs at times to describe or even understand what the Government does.  He notices, though, if Social Security is disrupted, or if tainted food products slip by the FDA, or if a military officer’s (or the civilian overseer of that officer’s) poor judgment results in the loss of life.

BUT…all of this is not why Trump ran for president and not at all why he was elected.  And here is where the morbid fascination comes in.  The true Trump supporter did not have any of the ordinary workings of government in mind when voting for the Donald, as it becomes increasingly evident each day.  In fact, I would be willing to wager that, even, as many of the executive departments of the Federal Government become dysfunctional to the point of failure, Trump voters will not waver in their continuing support.

Look at the posts of your friends on their Facebook pages.  If you have no or not many Trump supporters among your friends, then look at the letters to the editor page in any small-town newspaper, and even in some papers from  larger cities.  Trump is doing a great job, these folks are saying.  If they are not saying it themselves, they are copying or parroting copy from such sources as Breitbart or Conservative Tribune or dozens of others, all of which are steady in blaming all the country’s ills on “libtards” or “the left.”  These raw emotional outbursts are just what many Trump supporters want to hear.

Lately those who identify themselves as “conservatives” have been on a kick where they insist that most or all of the people who show up at Congressional Town Halls to protest current doings in Washington are “paid agitators” or “professional protestors.”  I have seen (as I assume you have) wild-eyed stories asserting that the crowds who dare confront their Congressmen are all being paid on the order of $70,000 yearly to protest, all, of course, by some shadowy leftist conspiracy to bring down the current president.  The NRA’s CEO, Wayne LaPierre,  recently denounced such dissent as the work of “..anarchists, Marxists, Communists…” who “…”hate everything America stands for.”  This at CPAC, the gathering of “conservative” activists just outside Washington.

So don’t expect Trump supporters to turn on their hero anytime soon.  The love they profess for him is not for him at all–it is for this worldview that things were just great in the USA until these troublemakers were let get too strong.  Many of these same people were shocked to the core of their being in 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president, and one Donald J. Trump was in the forefront of this wave, insisting that Obama was not American at all–his birth certificate was a fraud, according to a trusted (but anonymous) source.  And when Obama released his long-form birth certificate, Trump said that wasn’t enough: Trump had to see Obama’s college transcripts.

Obama bailed out GM and Chrysler.  Never mind the Federal Government eventually sold off its share of both companies at a profit, which went right back into the Treasury.  He didn’t wear a flag pin in his lapel!  His transgressions were legion, in these eyes.

“Libtards,” “leftists,”  even atheists and Muslims were emboldened to speak their minds.  Gays asked for (and got) the right to marry each other.  “True Americans” like Wayne LaPierre could not be expected to stand for these abominations!  So, in mid 2016, when it was apparent that Trump would be the Republican nominee for president, but was running behind that dreaded socialist/libtard bitch Hilary Clinton, Steve Bannon, James Comey, and Vladimir Putin all got behind the Donald.  The media (the same media DJT now demeans as “fake news”), in their true capitalist motivation to sell TV ads and newspapers, fixated on Trump 24/7, and let him say absolutely anything he wanted without fear of contradiction.  And he said, over, and over, that Hilary was a crook, that she should be in jail, blah, blah, etc., and I’m the law and order candidate, and our military will be yuuuuge…

And evangelicals were persuaded that Trump would be better than that Godless Methodist, and the job was done.  A few thousand in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania were persuaded to switch in the hopes of returning to a more black and white time.

People do not give up their hopes easily.  They are holding out, waiting for Trump to bring back their manufacturing jobs.  They are listening to corporate CEO’s who say that regulations that stopped the corporations from polluting air and water are what killed jobs in West Virginia and Kentucky.  Others are sure that Trump will restore prayer in the public schools, and everything will just get better after that.  Or that gays will get back into the closet.

So this is what brought us Trump.  He is going to be the boss that will put everything “right.”  Only when nothing is “left” will all be right.  The Trump/Bannon reign will not last forever.  It only feels like it.

What Is Truth and How Do We Know?

Did that get your attention?  Better yet, did it make you ponder either part of the two-part question?

If you are like me, and have been on Earth several decades, you have seen the world change in ways that would have been unthinkable in the mid-to-late 20th century.  Withdraw money from your bank account in another city with just a plastic card?  Get an accredited college degree without setting foot in a classroom?  Book a flight, pay for the ticket and check in for the flight without ever leaving your desk or talking with another human being?  Well, things change.  And not always for the best.

Of course, the age of the computer ushered in the changes that touch all of us, as in the three examples in the last paragraph.  The computer age means that information is available at the touch of a keyboard–available to anyone with access to a computer which in turn has access to the internet.  We all became very accustomed to that years, even decades ago.  But some things do not change.  It was once said that a lie could run around the world before the truth could lace up its shoes.  That old saying has never been more relevant, because of the same internet.  I have said many times in the last 20 years that with the internet, millions with nothing of value to say now have a platform to say it all, and to a worldwide audience.  We are all left to hope that internet consumers are a discerning group, able to tell fact from fiction.  Alas, we are all to be disappointed.  Many readers are the willing consumers of the most vile falsehoods, and they take in these falsehoods uncritically and repeat them, thus spreading them, and becoming part of the problem. often while congratulating themselves on being “in the know,” and not being “taken in by the mainstream media,” they do the work of propagandists.

Now it is true that misinformation has always spread not only by means of people with an interest in spreading it, for whatever reason, but also by means of people who spread it without knowingly meaning to spread falsehood; they may, as they always have, ask someone, “Did you hear that…” or “Did you know that…”  These people are not part of some grand conspiracy, but they are useful to that conspiracy when they propagate something untrue, even if they do not know it.

Today, such misinformation is so rife, so widespread, that much is “common knowledge” without being true.  And I do not mean shading of facts.  I am talking of outright falsehood, placed in the internet stream initially by someone with an interest in shaping public opinion toward some end.  When this method of spreading false information is successful, it can become almost impossible to eradicate it from the public mind.  I have heard or read several such items in recent months, such as…

Kids are not allowed to pray in school.”  This is similar to the truth–just similar enough to cause even some well-meaning people to be taken in by it.  There was a lot of commotion over lawsuits brought by atheists over compulsory prayers in public schools when I was in public school.  The rub was the “establishment of religion” clause of the Constitution.  Some did not want their children to be required to utter prayers chosen for them by school boards.  A 1962 Supreme Court decision held that such a requirement violated the establishment clause.  However, other decisions have permitted prayer groups, etc., on school grounds, provided there is no coercion of students to participate.  (These decisions are available through Google, quoted verbatim.  And yes, I accept Google information as to historical fact.)

I taught in a public secondary school from the mid-70’s to the late 80’s.  During some discussion of the history of the English language, I often passed out a version of the Lord’s Prayer in Modern English alongside an Old English version, to illustrate the changes in diction and word order over 1200 years of history, without incident.  I did so because most kids would have been familiar with the words in Modern English.  I could not, did not, and did not want to, command them that they had to pray it.  And finally, on test days, I witnessed many instances of students praying silently, crossing themselves, or showing in other ways that they were praying.  But no one did it out loud and no one compelled anyone else to take part.  And anyway, if there were to be prayer involving every student, whose prayer would it be?  Non-denominational?  Please.  There is something in every prayer that would not accord with someone’s belief system.

“Right now, in  (city), (state), Sharia law has been established!”  This one made the rounds a few years ago, and has started to gain strength once again recently.  The cited city is usually Dearborn, Michigan, probably because of the size of the Arab immigrant population.  This has been debunked before, and surprisingly easily, because the hysterics have one source: an online satire/humor site called the National Report, which includes the following disclaimer:

National Report is a news and political satire web publication, which may or may not use real names, often in semi-real or mostly fictitious ways. All news articles contained within National Report are fiction, and presumably fake news. Any resemblance to the truth is purely coincidental.

The above paragraph is available through Google at Snopes’ webpage.

In late 2013, the National Report ran a fake news story to the effect that Dearborn City Council had established Sharia Law by a 4-3 vote.  Predictably, a lot of gullible people and those who prey on them (for votes, fund-raising, etc.) latched onto it as an alarming sign of the approaching apocalypse or something, and it acquired a life of its own.  And yes, I have been in Dearborn, and it looks a lot like the rest of semi-urban Michigan except with better Arab restaurants.  Shawarma, anyone?

Students no longer recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, because SOME PEOPLE would be offended by it.”

Again, this claim somewhat alludes to something like the truth, and thus encourages those inclined to hyperventilate to start on cue.  It may come as a surprise to learn that a Federal Court decision in 1943, yes, 1943, held that no school could force a student to recite the pledge or even to stand for it.  (A Jehovah’s Witness had sued: in that sect, no one is supposed to pledge allegiance to anyone or anything but God.)  There have been suits in many Courts of Appeal since then, most centered on the phrase “under God,” which was not part of the original pledge; it was added in 1954.  Nonetheless, the pledge continues to be recited in classrooms at the beginning of the school day just about from coast to coast.  Students may be informed of a right to abstain from pledging or even standing either verbally, or in a student handbook, or in any other suitable method.  It is a quirk of this whole ordeal that the exemption itself allows an individual student with religious objections to opt out and thus preserves the possibility of participation by the others.

“Schools prohibit students from saying ‘Merry Christmas’ to each other.  They are required to say “Happy Holidays’ or some other secular greeting.”

I will include a quote from Valerie Straus in the Washington Post of December 24, 2016:

As for celebrating Christmas, students are free to say “Merry Christmas,” give Christmas messages to others, and organize Christmas devotionals in student Christian clubs.

It’s true that some public school officials still misunderstand (or ignore) the First Amendment by censoring student religious expression that is protected under current law. But when challenged in court, they invariably lose.”

The claim is undoubtedly part of a “War on Christmas” narrative often used (you guessed it) for fundraising or for political rallying purposes.

There are dozens more provably false claims made every day to whip up one constituency or another.  The current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, is particularly fond of using claims like these.  One reason for his proclivity in these affairs may be that they are commonly used in “alt-right” “news” sources, of which he would seem to be an admirer.  The claim that the murder rate in the US is its highest in 45 years may be such an example, or it may be just a symptom of someone with a notoriously short attention span.  Again, from Snopes:

 According to the most recent FBI data available, an estimated 15,696 murders occurred in the United States in 2015, or 4.9 murders per 100,000 people. And while this was the highest murder rate in six years (compared to a range of 4.4 to 4.8 murders per 100,000 each year since 2009, when the figure was 5 per 100,000), it’s less than half the historical high of 10.2 in 1980.

Sigh. Yes, I know he has the most responsible job in the world.  But voters have a pretty responsible job, too, that is, to be on the alert for people who preach fear when asking for their votes–or their money.  This administration has been shown to operate in a realm of their own facts, and to double down on them when confronted.  If anything is ever retracted, it’s by a lower-level official, rather than by the President or by such notorious alt-fact purveyors as Kellyanne Conway, whose word I would not take if she said, “It’s a nice day out.”

The internet has a lot of good information.  It just takes a little searching and a bit of confirmation.  We used to say, in my youth, in the New Stone Age, that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t.  The reverse also holds–if it seems too bad or evil to be true, do some verification–it may not be true, either.