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.

The 40-Year-Old Issue That Won’t Go Away

I have thought for many years about trying to set forth a logical, dispassionate analysis about the one issue in U. S. public debate that has refused to yield to any such discussion in any forum.  I don’t think I can do it. I am not sure anyone can do it.  Any mention of the topic brings forth the crowds of marchers, both those passionately committed to unyielding opposition and those equally committed to stopping those opposed from toppling the uneasy, fragile status quo.  No end is in sight to the squabbling; nor is there evident a long-term peaceful co-existence between the two factions.  The issue?  Legal therapeutic abortion.

After hours of thinking, writing, amending, and restarting, I will tell you at the start that if you’re expecting a smashing conclusion, don’t, because there really isn’t one.  I also admit in the very beginning that I feel somewhat like a trespasser even discussing this issue, since, as a man, I will never face the decision whether to undergo such a procedure.  Nonetheless. state or federal legislators who regularly propose laws regulating or attempting to outlaw abortion, as well as judges who must weigh the legalities of such regulation are, in the majority, men, and they exhibit little or no hesitancy to advocate one position or another.  What results is the incongruity of one half of Americans deciding what, if any, limits must be placed on the other half as to the immorality, criminality, or lack of either inherent in the act of abortion.  Also, an ugly, unspoken truth is that men sometimes force such a decision on women by backing out of promised emotional and financial support.

Former President Bill Clinton, as you may remember, offered his opinion that  population will assert that the very act is so abhorrent that it should be absolutely and always illegal.  For this group no consideration of patient safety is necessary, with a zero occurrence rate the ultimate goal.  I don’t think, however, that most Americans are quite so dogmatic.  A more common current of thought seems to be that Clinton’s formula should add “with some restrictions.”  More on that a bit below.

The opponents of abortion in any and all instances and situations, it seems, fall into two broad categories (and a number of small ones).  The first of these categories are those who object on moral grounds: a prohibition on the taking of (human) life, to these people, is or should be absolute, extending even into the womb to cover embryos and fetuses with the protection from harm by the state that the state offers to all of its citizens from birth.  This is a rather appealing stance for anyone who likes his/her positions to reflect certainty, with an internal logical consistency–there is no gray, only black or white, and all questioning is eliminated.

Another segment of the “total prohibition” part of the population arises from religious belief and practice.  The Roman Catholic Church, through its supreme spokesman, the Pope, has been consistent in its condemnation of willful abortion at any stage of embryonic or fetal development (the dictionary distinction between “fetus” and “embryo,” has the latter meaning very early stages of development, and the former referring to later stages, where a form resembling   human has begun to be apparent), without exception that I can recall.  Other Christian confessions, as well as Jews, Muslims, and other groups,  range in their official positions from a near-total condemnation (with most carving out an exception for cases where continuing a pregnancy would endanger the life of the pregnant woman) to general disapproval, but including the proviso that a decision in any case of a potential abortion should be made primarily by the woman usually after prayers and examination of one’s motives.  Some Christian and other sects differentiate between cases of earlier or later development of the fetus.

In truth, keeping in mind that I lack standing (in legal terms) to weigh in on any individual decision, I think that the moral absolutists need to take a step back and allow all, including themselves, to weigh more than just an abstract position in the debate.  The old hypothetical question of what a husband would do if advised that his helpless, voiceless wife or an equally helpless and voiceless unborn child could survive some calamity, but not both, is illustrative.  To say that he would have to let his wife die in favor of the unborn is not realistic.  (Of course, neither is such a scenario, but still…)

The religious guidance can be binding only on the adherents of that particular religion, unless the law of the land is in harmony with whatever it states. This is part of the American DNA.  No believer of any stripe can force anyone else to observe what his own religion dictates–and no religion can force a legislative branch to adopt its own teachings as law simply based on its belief.  The law may be similar or even identical to a sectarian belief, but that is basically coincidence.

I mentioned a third tendency toward prohibition above when I said “…a number of small ones…” and this is where reasoning becomes a minefield.  There is, among Americans, a substantial group which appears to believe that babies are the logical consequence of engaging in a proscribed act–that is, premarital or extramarital sex or even rape.  Those who take this point of view will almost always divert all discussions of the availability of therapeutic abortion into some blind alley by saying some variation on the theme that “…well, they should have thought of that before they decided to lie around and …”  You finish the sentence; the gist of it is that (1) any type of sex may result in pregnancy;  (2) that such pregnancies are the penalty that is brought on by the act; and (3) crudely stated, those who engage in the act are revealed to society be the resultant pregnancy, either as a warning to others or as an example to all.  Some or all of the foregoing is probably implied rather than fully stated, but that is the thrust of it.

Reasoning with a person who embraces this “just desserts” theory is likely futile.  Like the parishioners in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, they seek reminders each day that some others are less morally evolved than they are.  Why employ such pejorative terms as “bastard” or “baby daddy” except to debase those to whom such language is applied?

With all this as background, we see constant efforts by absolutists to reinstate the total ban many think existed in the US before 1973 and Roe v. Wade.  In reality, states had different regulations before then and after; some prohibited the procedure altogether, and some restricted it according to one standard or another.  What Roe did was to attempt to standardize this patchwork to some extent, essentially by laying out a right to privacy that supposedly let a woman make the decision to terminate a pregnancy or continue it to term in consultation with her doctor.  Religious considerations were left to her; nonbelievers and believers alike set the standards in their own cases.

The law of unintended consequences set in.  At some point, those who were strictly anti- on the issue began to refer to themselves as “pro-life.”  Those who thought the issue settled gradually became known as “pro-choice.” Neither title tells us much about the group it is applied to.  Today, some 44 years after Roe, the pro-life faction is often aligned as well with those in favor of such government actions as elimination of welfare benefits and broad application of the death penalty in criminal cases, leading wags to call them “pro-birth.”  The “pro-choice” title seems to imply that choice is all its adherents favor, even though many who would be labeled as such favor restrictions such as a time/developmental limitation during which a pregnant woman could seek an abortion.  Similarly, most who speak publicly do not advocate this as a form of birth control.

In recent years, the issue has been further exploited for political gain.  The “pro-life” faction is one of the largest groups of so-called “single-issue” voters, i. e.. people who will reliably vote in favor of a candidate who takes the same stand as they do on this single issue, regardless of where he/she stands on any other issue.  Some states have imposed new requirements meant to restrict the availability of abortion, and many private, loosely organized groups have resorted to violence up to and including killing doctors who perform abortions.  There is considerable overlap of the “pro-lifers” with groups who advocate omission of contraceptives from health insurance plans–which would lead to more unplanned pregnancies, which probably would lead to more women seeking abortions…

The issue gives no indication of yielding to civility or logic.  The state impositions I mention above have included, among others, a requirement that those women who seek abortion be advised that there exists a link between abortion and breast cancer, even though medical experts have debunked this and other bits of magical thinking.

One positive fact is that statistics on abortion in the US appear to indicate that, after a peak in the early 1980’s, their numbers have declined (with a slight hiccup or two) almost yearly.  I believe this is due to the gradual spread of contraceptive information and means rather than to sanctions revived in some localities.

Will this be less of an issue with time?  Maybe.  I would like to think so. But it may require a cooling off on all sides, and there is very little “cool” in US politics today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inauguration Day. Please Do Not Ask Me to “Get Over It.”

This morning, with absolutely no enthusiasm, I watched Donald Trump take the oath of office as the new President of the United States.  In the run-up to this occasion, from last Election Day until today, I have read all sorts of Facebook posts and seen all sorts of talking heads on TV who keep telling me (and more than 60,000,000 other Americans) that we should just “get over it” and that we now owe our support to President Trump.  I think that is oversimplified (like one of DJT’s speeches) and of little use to anyone.  I intend to tell you, in just a few words, why that is the case.

First off, this is, as they say, not my first rodeo.  I have closely followed elections since 1960, when I was 12 years old.  Though all my 12-year-old mind really understood about that contest was that I found Kennedy rather uplifting, inspiring, and vigorous, all qualities I admired, and that Nixon struck me as someone who was deeply uncomfortable in his psyche–too fidgety, too nervous, and above all, too evasive.  I will not defend or attack any of that more than 50 years after the fact; I only offer it as an indication of how I have always taken all this to a very personal level.  This person who wants support, if he is elected, will then claim he has it from all Americans, whatever he does.  In retrospect, it seems to me that all those youthful thoughts were somewhat on the mark, but Kennedy was not an unmixed blessing in the White House.  The Bay of Pigs fiasco set us on a course for more than half a century of antagonism with Cuba, a small, poor island nation off our southern flank, and helped drive it into a Soviet orbit for a long time.

On the other hand, Kennedy’s surprising devotion to civil rights was a higher calling that did lift millions out of a twilight status they had been in since the Lincoln administration.  His legacy in this area will shine for a long time to come.

1964: Johnson-Goldwater was an uninspiring choice, though I was still not old enough to vote.

1968 brought back Nixon, like some Frankenstein’s monster, with Hubert Humphrey as his opposition.  Still only 20 (the voting age then was 21), I watched in horror as Nixon was elected narrowly.  All my initial impressions about Nixon were confirmed over the course of the next five or so years.  He was a petty, vindictive,  “little” man, given to the lust for power for its own sake.  He did create the EPA, which meant that there was now some check on those who thought polluted air and water were a price all of us should pay so that they could profit.  He was re-elected in 1972 over the doomed George McGovern, for whom I did vote in my first-ever ballot.  Nixon’s campaign did its best to make us all feel un-American if we did not support the President.

1976 meant Ford and Carter, the accidental President and the peanut farmer.  Another yawn-inducing choice.  Both were fundamentally decent men.  Neither was particularly inspiring.  Ford suffered for his quick blanket pardon of Nixon, his disgraced predecessor.  Carter served four undistinguished years, marred by sniping inside his own party from Senator Edward Kennedy, the younger brother of the assassinated President from that earlier time.  I voted for Carter, but was a bit tormented by it in later years–though not too badly, since I had no better choice.

In 1980 and 1984, I was in a minority that did not see Ronald Reagan as some national savior, and I began to see a drift on the part of the Republican party to a louder and more vocal advocate of what is known today as white privilege, sometimes dressed up as “states’ rights” or some other formulation.  I think his presidency was destructive of labor rights, incomes of working people, and government advocacy of equal rights for all.  Many of his policies were slanted in favor of the wealthy, and his administration started the slide to “trickle-down” theories in economics.

Bush, Sr., was probably the last Republican President I have seen who was squarely in the old guard Republican tradition, with actual principles. I thought Bush was principled in the first Gulf war, and supported that.  Clinton succeeded Bush for two terms.  Twelve years, no real enthusiasm–and Clinton, I thought, had begun to show a tendency to pander for votes at the expense of formulating principled policy and then running on it.

I liked Obama.  I voted for him twice.   I used to have some admiration for his first opponent, John McCain.  It went away when he foisted Sarah Palin (Caribou Barbie) on the American public.  Obama was far from a perfect President, but his tendencies were mostly, I thought, on the money.  I did not and do not agree with those who see any rapprochement with countries like Iran and Cuba as some sort of betrayal of American values.  Hostility is not a value.  I like his metaphor of the open hand of friendship extended that could become a closed fist if rebuffed.

And so came 2016.  As I have explained many times, I was again unenthusiastic about both candidates.  Really unenthusiastic.  But Trump was such a turn-off that I voted for Ms. Clinton.

I have observed a pattern over the years: if someone looks dangerous or unbalanced or unprepared, I go with my instincts; they’re usually good.  I could not vote for Trump, and that doesn’t make me a “libtard” or even a firm Democrat.  I see four years ahead of steadfastness in favor of fancy.  Trump doesn’t like climate change, so he can ignore the scientific consensus in its favor.  He says companies should not move jobs overseas, so he can stop them from doing so with a firm upraised hand.  He loves “winning,” so we are all going to get a lot of winning.  Whatever that is.  Putin/Russia are admirable to him, so we should all like them.

Anyone who disagrees with him–on anything–is a “loser,” “sad,” or an “enemy” or maybe all of the above.  The Affordable Care Act will be replaced with “something wonderful” with lower premiums, no requests for specifics, please.

I listened to the inaugural speech with hopes that there would be some note of reconciliation, of trying to do an ingathering of the people.  No such luck.  What we got was the same campaign speech written in an eighth-grade vocabulary.  No call to a higher vision, only a smear of everyone in Washington, and a vague promise that “the American people” would have their voices heard starting tomorrow.

Yet, during this whole transition, none other than Mitch McConnell has constantly and consistently harangued us to “grow up; you lost.”  After eight years of naked opposition to anything Obama proposed, and after an unprecedented refusal (because he could, as Majority leader of the Senate) to hear anything about any proposal to fill a Supreme Court vacancy until after Barack Obama was out of office, Mitch wants us to grow up.  Well, it’s not as if I never saw a hypocrite before; I just never saw the hypocrisy on a scale comparable to this before.

So, if his Trumpness was speaking truth at points during the campaign (I know, a highly debatable condition), Trump himself and Congress will swiftly act to repeal the ACA and throw 20 to 30 million Americans off their current health care insurance; de-emphasize NATO; return to a policy that says Benjamin Netanyahu is always right, and can never be contradicted; and install cabinet secretaries who a) cozy up to Russia, no matter that they hack into our election campaigns, b) insist that climate change is a hoax, c) want guns in schools, just to ward off attacks by grizzly bears, d) advocate to abolish the minimum wage, and e) profit off a foreclosure crisis to a degree never before seen.  Do I need to go on?  There is always the national security adviser who has been associated with so many right-wing conspiracy theories that he reminds me of the guy in the 1950’s Steve Allen TV sketch, who, being informed that Genghis Khan is dead, exclaims, “You mean the commies got him, too!?”

Yes, he is now the President of all Americans, rich, poor, majority, minority, straight, gay, whatever.  If we go to war at some point, he is the commander-in-chief, for better or worse.  That makes him my president.  But just because he beat the other party’s candidate (and don’t say “my” candidate) doesn’t mean I need to be happy about it.  By a long shot, it doesn’t mean I think the country at large will be a better place.  I do think the regular crowd of wealthy donors will do very well.  That’s just too small a percentage of the population to be a good thing.  His lack of understanding of government (note to DJT: it won’t be like running a Manhattan real estate and hotel empire.  You’re welcome.) and his obstinate refusal to perceive the tiniest fault or simple error of thought in himself do not bode well.  And it’s not for myself I fear.  More of my days are behind me than ahead, after all.  It’s for the current younger generation I fear.  If he proves to be as bad in office as I fear he could be, those are the people who will pay for decades to come.  Grow up, indeed.  Get over it, but then, maybe, but then…there is much water to go under the bridge.  Prayers, yes.  Wishes, yes.  Support?  Earn it first, and I will.