Category: Commentary

The Way to Fight in Our Struggle Ahead

Lansing Protest 3

The following is my commentary on means of taking on the new administration, based on bullet-points suggested by Bernice A. King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King.

1. Don’t Use His Name: this is a regime, and he is not acting alone.

Not only does Trump have an administration of like-minded people helping him (and in cases like Steve Bannon, actually helping to shape his own thoughts and actions), but he is also acting in concert with the Republicans in Congress and the Republican administrations of some 33 state governments.  Even before the confirmation of the Secretary of Education (Betsy DeVos), and of the new head of the EPA (Scott Pruitt), Republicans in the House prepared bills to abolish both agencies, in keeping with the Trump campaign promise to eliminate them.  Were a magical force to suddenly lift Trump away today, the intent, force, and mechanism for executing these actions would remain unhindered.  This is not about one man in one office.  This is about a mentality held by an entire political party, and endorsed by a significant minority of Americans, the people who voted for him.  Trump is in many ways more a response to conditions in our political and economic system than a singular phenomenon that he has imposed all by himself upon an entire, 230-year-old, Constitutionally protected political system.  Don’t focus upon the removal of Trump, but for a greater victory in the fight against the ideology of our opponents, and in the fight for the support of those who decided to vote for them.

2. Do not argue with those who support him–it doesn’t work.

There is a core of supporters of the new administration who are, and will always remain, both ideologically attached to their choices and unable to accept arguments that are based on indisputable facts (which they do, in fact, dispute in favor of preferred, unverified, misstatements and untruths).  However, this is a strategy that needs to be used with caution.  There were many people who voted for the Republicans (and for Trump specifically) who have in the past voted Democrat (and for Obama), and who are just finding their way to the dark side in their perception (real or not) of changing realities that inhibit their freedom of action.  The Hillary campaign was often criticized after the electoral defeat for not speaking out to the many former Democratic voters who chose to vote for Trump and other Republicans, and for neither answering their questions nor fighting for their vote.  This is about the hearts and minds of the people, and Trump voters are a strong but rather less cohesive group of the people than we often like to perceive them to be.  We need to talk to the ones who are only just barely Trump voters, who found their way to the Republicans through a path of desperation, rather than strong-hearted enthusiasm, and who do stop when presented with a factual argument to at least consider the other side.  Shutting people like them out of our political conversation and consideration is partly how we got here in the first place.

3. Focus on his policies, not his appearance or mental state.

Since there is a clear lack of maturity and social responsibility on one side, we need to continue to be the adult in the conversation.  Remember your umbrage at Trump’s characterizations during the campaign of opposing candidates based on their appearances?  It is easy to call the other side out for being hypocrites.  It is harder to not be a hypocrite yourself.  If a man or woman should be respected for the work they do and not for their appearance, then that goes both ways: we should deplore the Republicans not for their appearance but for the lack of qualifications of their candidates; for the threats that their policies pose to our democracy, diversity, and national security; for the continued contempt that they heap upon ethics rules to distance politicians from private business and the conflicted interests that ensue from such connections; for their suspicion and hatred for fellow Americans and for those choosing to become fellow Americans.  We must choose to be bigger than that, and not just leftist versions of the “deplorables.”

4. Keep your message positive; they want the country to be angry and fearful because this is the soil from which their darkest policies will grow.

Many people voted Republican last year because they were angry and afraid.  Instead of fighting back with more anger and fear, emotions which distance all sides from using rational arguments and facts, and which enable “us” vs. “them” schema which replace positive policies with blame games and punitive sanctions, we should employ positive messages about how we the people are really going to “make America great again.”  We represent greater numbers, more unified than ever; but we lost massively in the recent elections and we need to win even greater numbers before we can see any measurable degree of victory.  We do that by attracting people to our side, not by repelling people from us or by helping our opponents to solidify as we do so.  Be the reason why others should join us, and not the reason why they do not.

5. No more helpless or hopeless talk.

We can do this.  We do have the numbers, and a more unified force than ever.  However, this is going to be a long war, not a short battle.  This year, there will be local elections throughout the country, for mayors and city council-members, for county administrators, and there will be a few special elections here and there to replace the occasional death, resignation, etc., of local, state, or even national officials.  In 2018, many governors and other state legislators come up for election; as well as all of our US Representatives, and one third of our US Senators (the so-called “Class I” senatorial seats come up for re-election in 2018).  We can start working now to put local, and then state, and finally some national representatives into power who are fighting for us rather than against us.  Before any of that happens, though, we will lose battles.  Despite a seemingly overwhelming outpouring of public outcry after the election, the simple fact is that for now, the Republicans rule the House, the Senate, and the Oval Office.  They will get their nominees through, perhaps all of them, and if not, then virtually all of them.  This does not mean we should not fight tooth and nail for each appointment, make them fight back to win them.  We need to get right in their faces, every single day, and make them fight back for the things they think they can just go ahead and realize without difficulty.  The media has already noted that the administration is having one of the hardest battles getting their appointments through in recent history, requiring for the first time ever a vice-presidential tie-breaking vote in the US Senate to put an appointment through.  That sends the administration, and people on our side, and perhaps most importantly, people torn between the two forces, a strong signal that this administration does not by any means represent the people fully, no matter what the electoral results were.  We need to keep pushing that, every day.  Call your senators, regardless of whether you share their party or views.  Call your representatives.  Make calls as often as possible, every week or even every day if you can.  Be specific, be frequent, and be heard.  Find out what local elections you have coming up in your area, and involve yourself.  Remember that some 90% of American law happens at state and local levels.  These things affect you directly.  Start fighting now to win them back.  Ultimately, we can win some local elections this year; win some state and national seats back in 2018; and start building a greater movement for 2020.  This is doable; but only if we actually set out and do it.  Have faith, have purpose, and fight.

6. Support artists and the arts.

This is one of those areas that Republicans love to target.  Art represents a minuscule proportion of public funds, but they reserve a disproportionate share of their ire towards such things.  Artists are by their nature independent, self-thinking, and often pioneers working outside of established norms.  Republicans hate it when we spend money on cultural venues that are sometimes unfriendly to them (which is really, from their political perspective, just plain common sense).  For all of these reasons, art is a good way to fight back.  In fact, until we actually start winning elections, it is one of our few principle weapons.  We are fighting the cultural battle in comedy, in music, in theater, and in all other cultural venues; pushing our message of diversity and unity forward, convincing the people consuming culture of our righteousness in the battle.  And this has worked strategically for some time.  The progressive move of television and movies toward normalizing multi-cultural families, homosexuality, and other social realities unappreciated by the Republicans, has helped shape younger generations’ acceptance of them as normal.  Cultural warfare does work; and as our principle weapon open to us, must be openly embraced and utilized to its full measure.

7. Be careful not to spread fake news. Check it before you post it!

The information superhighway is often difficult to navigate, giving us access greater than ever imagined to articles, arguments, films and video, etc.  This also, however, has decidedly moved our information sources from those easily subject to vetting and even peer review, to new sources completely unchecked by any standards.  New internet media can “cite” whatever other “sources” they want, propose any theory they want, present any misstatements or untruths they want.  Many Americans who have had little or no actual training in verifying sources simply do not understand what the difference is between a racist hate site that demonstrates how some ethnic group is taking over or unfairly uses the system against us, and a site like the New York Times or CNN or a peer-reviewed scientific or academic journal, when all of these can be easily accessed just by clicking on a link.  All of these seem to be some person expressing some idea; and thereby ends the distinction between “fact” and “opinion,” and between the scientific value of a theory ( a verified explanation of observations, that has passed the test of independent experimentation) and the public’s use of the word “theory” to mean a simple, unverified guess.  To fight against this trend, we have started to employ the expression “fake news.”  This term was used originally to describe certain sites deliberately providing arguments and information they know to be false, on purpose, often as a deliberate parody of extremism.  The term then was generalized to be simply a synonym for propaganda, for biased media that may well be believed by those generating it, and presented not to deceive but to argue a point, but not objectively fair or accurate.  Now the expression has been co-opted by the administration’s information warfare staff as a means of combating against actual, vetted news sources like the Times, Washington Post, and CNN.  While it is true that some of these sources show a liberal bias (the Times being one of the most recognized targets of this accusation), they have also been critical of all parties and all candidates, and they are useful sources of verified information unlike sites like Steve Bannon’s infamous Breitbart News site.  But there are many, many “fake news” and propaganda outlets on the left, as well as on the right.  Beware of what you cite when you make arguments and cite sources.  Beware of what you believe before you pour your outrage all over the internet and invalidate the actual arguments that we on the left can make about the new administration.

8. Take care of yourselves!

Do not let yourself get swallowed by “resistance fatigue.”  As we fight, do make sure that your physical, mental, and social health are not impaired.  Spend time with your family, sharing activities besides fighting.  Pet your cat, take your dog for a nice, long walk.  Swim, run, work out.  Enjoy a nice meal without focusing on whatever the administration did today that angers you so.  Take time away from the fight to make sure you are okay; because we do need you to come back reinvigorated and ready for more.  At night, before you go to sleep, if you are thinking about what is happening politically, remember all that we have going for us, and focus on our positive forces instead of on the negative actions of the other side.  Go to sleep thinking, “We can do this.”

9. Resist!

Call and visit your public officials, both elected and appointed.  Organize – call your friends, ask your family to help, find your allies in your social circle, and move them towards doing more.  Join mass forces in the street as absolutely often as you can.  If you can, donate to groups on our side, fighting the good fight.  Online petitions frankly do little; they are mostly just means of getting you to a donations page.  Click if you like; but “slacktivism” will not accomplish much.  Our government needs to see us out there and fighting en masse; the thing that terrifies them the most is the possibility of losing the next election.  “Clickers” are often not voters; so be a regular and visible threat of actual electoral change.

Headline image, ©2016, Sparkpolitical.

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A Letter to Benjamin Netanyahu

I have written the following letter to the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, who on several occasions has offered praise to Donald J. Trump, in view of the dangers that Trump poses to the Jewish community of the US and to other minorities here, most especially our Muslim brothers and sisters.

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

I am writing to you as an American Jew, about the grave dangers threatening my country, the United States.  As the leader of a consistent ally of the US, you hold great influence with the new leaders of my country, and I urge you to employ that influence effectively to protect fellow Jews and one of Israel’s closest friends among the international community.

The United States is facing a tough struggle for the next four years, and we badly need your help.  The specter of fascism has taken hold, and Jews as well as other minorities in the US are under a grave threat, not dissimilar to the threat posing us in Germany in the 1930s.

Mr. Prime Minister, you have expressed praise for Donald Trump, and previously you spoke unkindly of President Obama during his administration.  Both of these stances, I am sorry to say, have undermined the safety of Jews in the US and elsewhere.  I cannot image that you are unaware of the great support Trump has received from Nazi groups in the US and other nations, from the KKK, and from other antisemitic and fascist groups here and worldwide.  The new president has received “Heil Trump” salutes; and language recalling and celebrating the Nazis of the 1930s has been spray-painted on temples, mosques, churches, and other potential targets.

It would be easy in normal years to dismiss these atrocities, and to presume that these people have misunderstood Trump’s message or that these people do not represent what Trump is attempting to accomplish.  But Trump’s appointment of a leading American white nationalist and anti-Semite, Steve Bannon, to the position of Chief Strategist, signals clearly that the harmony between Trump and the Nazis is neither imagined nor unintended.  In the wake first of the election in November, and more recently of the preparations for and festivities of the inauguration, Jewish communities across the US suffered bomb-threats, swastika paintings, and other acts of intimidation, intended to keep Jews here fearful, obedient, and quiet.

As if that weren’t enough, Steve Bannon has been further elevated by a change to our National Security Council, whereby this white nationalist and anti-Semite has a key role in constructing our country’s security policy – policy which is going to closely affect your nation as well.  This change also included the shocking removal from the council of the Director for National Intelligence and of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Armed Forces.  Our intelligence and military chiefs no longer have a right to sit on the key venue for crafting our country’s security policy; but our country’s leading architect of racist and antisemitic propaganda has a leading voice on that body.  Sir, as a Jew, if that does not chill you to the very bone, then I think you need to re-examine your Jewishness, and to take a closer look at Adolf Hitler’s shifting of Nazi Party members into Germany’s security mechanisms in the early 1930s.

Recently, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the US government under Trump spoke about the “innocent victims,” while failing to mention Jews in any way.  Nazis and other groups applauded this statement loudly, revitalizing their movement to destroy Jews and other minority groups.  On this very same day, Trump proclaimed a ban on Muslim entry into the US from several Muslim states where Trump has no personal business interests (we can presume, so that his personal business interests would be less threatened by the inevitable attacks that such an act will provoke).  Trump’s ban is a clear reminder to many Jews like me of the policies of the US toward Jewish refugees prior to World War II, turning back many seeking refuge from Nazi terror – many of whom were shortly to perish in the camps.  Sir, as Jews, it is fundamentally imperative for us to embrace those seeking refuge from the political and theocratic extremists of the Middle East (such as ISIS, al-Qaeda, and similar groups).  Innocent people need protection just like we did in the 1930s, and which some like me fear even Jews in the US may need over the next few years.

And where are we to go if the US treks its current path toward fascism ever further?  As long as Israel promotes the settlement of areas of the West Bank and the Golan Heights, we can’t look to your state, either, if it destabilizes regional security with policies such as this.  As an American Jew, I live in a nation built on an idea – attacked as it is by Trump and those supporting him – that all peoples can live together and build a greater community.  That idea has worked for almost 250 years, even if now it seems shaken by those who want to erase the progress of history.  Israel, too, to be a democratic state, must embrace and empower both the minorities within your borders, and the Palestinians seeking to build their own nation-state in the West Bank.  A two-state solution is necessary to the security of Jews in Israel (and may even become necessary to the Jews of the US if we need to seek a haven from American fascism).

Sir, I urge you strenuously, with both the knowledge of history, and the close reading of the events of the past few years, to cease advocating or expressing support for Trump, and to act like a leader of Jews, concerned about the lives of Jews abroad.  The US has not yet become the Third Reich; but we have taken, and are continuing to take, ever more rapidly, the first steps down that road.  We need leaders like you, who have power and influence and who know how to wield them, to help stand in the way and to provide a guiding light for a better way, a way of embracing fellow communities, before that light is extinguished by the darkness of Trump, his Nazi supporters, and those like them.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Paul Rincon

Spark’s Subtitled and Annotated Edition of Trump’s Inaugural Address

Image result for trump inauguration speech

So you “missed” the speech on, as our new Dear Leader calls it, our National Day of Patriotic Devotion.  Or, you just need a friendly reminder of the unifying ideals expressed by the new leader of the “free world.”  To help fill that gap, Spark! presents an annotated guide to Trump’s day in the rain. You’re welcome.

Trump Inaugural Address, January 20, 2017

Chief Justice Roberts, President Carter, President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama, fellow Americans and people of the world, thank you.

[“By ‘fellow Americans,’ obviously I’m not including President Obama, because my guy in Hawaii is still out there waiting to reveal those things I’ve kept secret all these years for some reason.  And by ‘people of the world,’ I mean the people who have unfairly been keeping our precious American oil underneath their sands. But we’ll change that.”]

We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and restore its promise for all of our people.

[But not for American Indians at Standing Rock, whose lands Trump is about to commit to corporate exploitation, because screwing over the original Americans never gets old.  And not for women, who are experiencing increasing attacks under the emboldened Trumpist cultural warfare ravaging across our landscape.  And not for Jews, who have since the election seen a stark rise in attacks.  And not for working people, since Trump has nominated a labor secretary who wants to eliminate workers so that management and shareholders can make and keep more money to themselves.  But to all corporations who, thanks to the US Supreme Court, are now “people,” “You’re welcome.”]

Together we will determine the course of America and the world for many, many years to come.

[“Because my SCOTUS bench fillers are going to derail decades of political progress and civil rights victories for an entire generation.”  And by “together,” Trump means, “the minority of Americans who voted for him,” and “the small cabal of personal advisers who operate more secretly now that Trump has muzzled our executive agencies and kept them from communicating with us and with Congress.”]

We will face challenges. We will confront hardships [ever more so, in fact, as we invoke a new age of protectionism with its long history of economic failure in an inept way to stop globalization, a force far beyond the understanding of the petty children we have now elevated to power], but we will get the job done. Every four years we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power and we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent. Thank you.

[“I’m told that I can’t say what I actually think, because there’s some semblance of civility that is required.” And truth be told, the Obamas were just as civil in not simply exploding in disgust or requesting our armed services to save the nation with a last-minute coup d’etat.]

Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning because, today, we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.

[See previous note about “the people” being corporations and Trump’s personal board of dismantlers, particularly as in “draining the swamp,” Trump is now appointing Wall Street in charge not only of the financial and treasury aspects of federal government, but over education, foreign policy, and all aspects of American governance. We the People are now, “We the People, Inc.”]

For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have born the cost.

[“Those rewards will now be reaped by a small group of the struggling superwealthy in New York instead.  The people, of course, will continue to bear the costs, especially my ‘poorly educated’ who will be ever more unsuited to a 21st century economy.”]

Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs and, while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.

[“Not that that stopped me from exploiting struggling families, who ultimately had to sue me a few weeks ago for a $25 million settlement for my ‘Trump University,’ and not that that stopped me from screwing over those little girls who sang for me during the campaign, workers building my properties, blacks, etc.  Screw those people.”]

That all changes starting right here and right now because this moment is your moment. It belongs to you. It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America. This is your day. This is your celebration, and this, the United States of America, is your country.

[“It isn’t the country any more of those dark-skinned people, those people who speak with suspicious accents or have virtually identical religious practices but under a different name.  It isn’t the country any more of the educated, the knowledgeable, those who use facts to make arguments and know what words mean. Again, screw those people. Am I right?”]

What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.

Everyone is listening to you now. You came by the tens of millions to become part of an historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before.

[Well, a minority of embittered white people in full control of virtually every venue for power thinking that a minority has somehow kept them from their fully deserved place in the sun, and using a weakness in the system of selecting a chief executive to take further power and retract all progress made toward making the nation more fair and productive, does have a precedent or two.  For example, we have the 1930s.]

At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction that a nation exists to serve its citizens. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public, but for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists.

[“And you can thank the party now in power, and people like me, for constructing that reality in the first place.” So, thanks, Republicans, for dismantling our public education system. Thanks, Betsy DeVos and your family for converting public education in Michigan into a source of profit for billionaires while student progress plummets ever further. Thanks, Republicans, for writing into law provisions not only making this possible but favoring for-profit corporations in dismantling the school system. Thanks Republicans, for cutting pensions, pay, and even jobs for the police protecting our neighborhoods; all the time while obstructing the passage of laws that keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people; and for refusing to protect our schools from gun violence.  Thanks, Republicans, and Trump specifically, for opposing the auto industry bail-out, which protected an entire industry and tens of thousands of American jobs, and which was paid back with interest to the taxpayer.]

Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

[See previous notes on the causes of this “carnage,” and on Trump’s exploitation of the people impacted by it.  This carnage also underscores eight years of virtually continuous job growth from the dismal performance of the last time Republicans managed the economy; as well as the historically low levels of violent crime, which has been steadily dropping for the last two decades.]

We are one nation and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home and one glorious destiny. The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans. For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidized the armies of other countries, while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military.

[Trump never learned not to use pronouns without the use of an antecedent. Who are “we,” and who are “they”?  Trump is separating America into “us” and “them,” the rich and empowered, and the poor and disenfranchised.  He calls hypocritically for a sudden reunification of those whom he exploited, with those doing the exploiting.  He also criticizes moderate reductions of the rate of military spending growths as “the very sad depletion of our military,” the largest military force in the entire world.  Trump completely ignores the our nation’s uncontested military supremacy, and the fact that there is no nation on earth whose military comes close in either size, training budget, technological sophistication, or experience in modern joint operations.  Trump also moves straight from the “dreams,” “success,” and “destiny” of the people to military force.  His view of “greatness” is clearly not a reflection of civil rights, or equality and justice, or even providing good jobs and working conditions; but is solely a measure of how many bombs the US can drop and how many people it can kill.  “Sad!”]

We’ve defended other nations’ borders, while refusing to defend our own, and spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas, while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon. One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world.

[Which leads one to ask why Trump has nominated a labor secretary who wants to automate more jobs and reduce job opportunities even further. While his words here castigate this tendency, his actions past and present celebrate the dissipation of American jobs.  And why has Trump himself been a leading mover of jobs overseas? If he cared at all about this, how come he never acted on matters that have been entirely under his control? He could have been an innovator and employer of new factories in the US if he cared at all for these shuttered factories and workers “left behind.” Where was he? Playing the rich playboy, playing golf, screwing over the poor students of “Trump University,” and making and keeping wealth for himself at the expense of the very people he here pretends to care about.]

But, that is the past and now we are looking only to the future. We assembled here today, are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families.

[Not the first time that isolationism has been suggested; but in that case why do we need to spend even more on an already incontestably powerful military? Also, how are we defining “American workers and American families”? Trump’s tweets about his “enemies,” and his ceaseless attack on Americans not firmly behind him make it plain that he does not mean “all Americans.” His hypocrisy and his ceaseless efforts to screw over the very kind of people who voted for him suggest that even they may not be included into the “all Americans” category. Who he is talking about here are the top 1%, pure and simple. The “workers” he looks after are those who wear expensive suits and ties and are driven around in big, black cars by others.]

We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body and I will never, ever let you down.

[Protectionism has, of course, had a sad record of closing off trade and shuttering factories even further. As the world has grown wealthier, the US has not only lost jobs but has also become more dependent for the ones we’ve kept on being able to trade across borders, and those borders he is now suggesting we close. Chinese and Indian consumers from an exploding middle class eager for sophisticated products and services will just get them from other markets (each other, Brazil, Russia, Europe, etc.).  As far as “letting us down,” wait until you hear about Trump’s use of private email servers, or his multitude of “imperial presidency” executive orders, or closing off our contact with our own government agencies, or his diversion of attention away from Russian hacking to the ridiculous notion of “millions of illegal immigrants voting.”]

America will start winning again. Winning like never before. We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. [Where did our borders go? Last time I looked, they were still there.]  We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams. We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor. We will follow two simple rules: buy American and hire American. We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.

[Trump, of course, has no conception of how to handle the greater loss of jobs to automation and virtual economy and to the Walmartization of our economy. The “winning” was not just a matter of one nation wins and another loses; but we have instead chosen to shop at places and in ways that eliminate jobs and workers from the purchases that we make, helping to concentrate wealth into the hands of ever fewer Trumps. Trump’s words, “ideas,” and plans include no measures to restore small business and Main Street storefronts from these losses.

By “seek[ing] friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world,” Trump must be referring to his good-natured attacks on our ally and leading trade partner Germany, his criticism of NATO. Or maybe he is just hinting at the closer relationship with Putin that will do our nation little good.]

We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow. We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth. At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America and, through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.

[“Of course, radical Christian terrorism, like that of Dylann Roof and Charles Dear and so many others, will continue to go unchallenged, because Jesus.”  And in telling his American-flag flying deplorables, the very ones who fly their Confederate Battle Flag alongside our stars and stripes, the ones who fly our flag while shouting “Heil Trump!” and performing the Nazi salute, those entitled white people who “don’t see color,” will refuse to see the prejudice that remains. Prejudice entrenches itself further as we dismantle all of the protections that weakened it. Flying the flag does not stop it. We have to fight for the things symbolized by that flag, for patriotism to mean anything.]

The bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when god’s people live together in unity. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable. There should be no fear. We are protected and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement and most importantly, we will be protected by God. [“Because, Jesus.”]

Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger. In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving. We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action constantly complaining, but never doing anything about it. The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action. Do not allow anyone to tell you that it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America. We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again.

We stand at the birth of a new millennium ready to unlock the histories of space, to free the earth from the miseries of disease and to harness the energies, industries, and technologies of tomorrow.

[“Of course, all of this requires a Congress willing to spend your tax dollars, and executive agencies able to converse with the public, with Congress, with other nations and private enterprise. We need an EPA protecting our environment, a CDC unrestrained from studying the things ailing our nation like gun violence, and departments like the Department of Energy to be led by innovative people with sophisticated knowledge. Since I’ve appointed complete quacks to lead my government, and am about to shut that all down anyway, I wouldn’t hold my breath on any of the above.”]

A new national pride will lift our sights and heal our divisions. It’s time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget, that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots. We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American flag.

 

And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky. They fill their heart with the same dreams and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty creator. So, to all Americans in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, from ocean to ocean, hear these words: You will never be ignored again. Your voice, your hopes and your dreams will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way.

Together we will make America strong again. We will make America wealthy again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. And, yes, together, we will make America great again. Thank you. God bless you and god bless America. Thank you. God bless America.

[We are, of course, already strong, more so than any other nation on earth. We have more wealth than any other nation on earth – we just let it get concentrated at the very top by undermining unions and middle-class workers, by freeing the top 1% from their tax burden, by selling off all of the public good to private corporations.  We are as “safe” as we have ever been, more so than in many times in our history.  And “greatness”? Trump is calling for a new Roman Empire, a militarization to replace a working economy, a chorus of “hell yeah” as we drop bombs and kill people to distract the poor from the corporate hand taking ever more of their power away. God does not bless such an America, trust me. If we are to be blessed, we must make those blessings happen by doing good, by distributing Trump’s wealth and that of his Wall Street cabal, by welcoming in refugees and immigrants and servants and slaves, the very people who have always built this nation and made it strong in the first place. That is the only kind of America that any kind of God could bless.]

See also NPR’s annotated guide to the diatribe speech.

Headline image, of Donald Trump during the inaugural address of January 20, 2017, via LA Times.

A Personal Note to My Readers

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Some of you who have followed Spark! may have noticed a lapse in my writing, for which I blame a combination of personal inertia and a variety of summertime tasks otherwise consuming my time.  However, over the past month, I have pursued an opportunity to work for the Clinton campaign in my home state, and I have accepted an offer from the campaign.  The demands of the position are very great, and sadly I will probably be unable to make further contributions until after the election in November.  I therefore would like to thank those of you who have followed, “liked,” or commented on my posts; and I hope that you will continue to do so when I return to my writing after the election.

For those of you who are also used to my presence in reading and liking and commenting on your own blogs as well, please do not feel offended by my disappearance from your blogs.  I simply will not have the time to appreciate your offerings until November, but I eagerly look forward to returning with a vengeance after that point.

Please, everybody:  Remember to cast your vote in November.  As I disappear into the ranks of Clinton’s campaign organization, let me make a last plea for that vote to be for the candidate I feel is the best able to steer the helm of our ship of state to the correct course: the Democratic Party nominee, Hillary Clinton.  It is also every bit as vital that you all vote in your local and state elections, and for your congressional representation in Washington, to take back our rights from the entrenched conservative political machine.

Thanks for your support, everybody.  Good luck to all of you, and I hope to see you all (on the internet, at least) in November!

Headline photo, Representative Dan Kildee (D-MI) and myself earlier this year at the Flint, MI campaign office, before Michigan’s primary in March. © 2016, Sparkpolitical.

Trump and the “Second Amendment People”

A campaign that has effectively made it a policy to shock the American people on a daily basis made what some critics might call a “gaff” this past Tuesday, when he seemed to imply the use of force by private citizens in case Hillary Clinton is elected in November.

“Hillary wants to abolish — essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know,” Trump muttered in his standard stream of unconsciousness that has become his trademark oratorical style.

Was Trump really implying that people take matters into their own hands when Clinton starts to put her judges on the bench (either to assassinate the president, or her judges)?  Obviously the campaign says that it was “sarcastic,” “a joke.”  This sarcastic joke emanated from a campaign whose key link to the people has been the idea that Trump “speaks his mind,” and “says what he means.”  Well, once again we have to ask:  does he or doesn’t he?

In fact, Trump never used the actual words, never included a verb; not unusual for a man whose “speeches” rarely involve sentences that any English teacher would let by without a generous use of the infamous red pen.  Instead, he said something without saying anything; and his campaign has implied that perhaps Trump was talking about the “second amendment people” uniting politically to pressure the government not to name or confirm certain judges not passing the right’s own tests for political correctness.  But we also have to realize that Trump has raised a violent force, a party not unlike the brown-shirts of Hitler’s Sturmabteilung, willing and able to follow the leader’s exhortations to violence.  Certainly such “implications” were followed by conservative followers in the past, as when after Sarah Palin put Rep. Gabby Giffords’s name on a “target list,” Giffords was, in fact, shot.  And if the college-educated reporters and leaders of the nation can see the threat of violence in the ambiguity of the words, what must the people whom Trump has congratulated for being “poorly educated” read into those words?  Trump can pretend a “plausible deniability” when someone takes a potshot at either Clinton or a justice whom she appoints; but that will not separate him from the blame behind such an act if it occurs.

Another, darker problem lurks behind the “gaff.”  Trump claims, and his followers accept unquestionably, two problematic axioms:  first, that Hillary Clinton is opposed to the Second Amendment; and second, that he himself will support and somehow strengthen the Second Amendment (as shaky and weak as he implies it is, what with mass shootings and demonstrations of open carrying of military-style weapons being merely a daily occurrence).  Both contentions are, of course, ridiculous.  Clinton has never opposed the Second Amendment, or the implied right to own firearms; and in fact she has on numerous occasions said the opposite.  Obviously Trump’s opponents do not so much care about Clinton’s words, as they do not trust anything that she says anyway.  Equally ridiculous is the notion that a candidate without a shade of understanding of basic constitutional principles, and who as a businessman has made much of his wealth by breaking contracts, could be trusted to preserve what many consider to be a basic constitutional right.  Again, however, the shakiness of such a notion is missed by the masses who care nothing of Trump’s record of failure and unreliability.  The dog whistle sounds the alarm of the Second Amendment, and the dogs then howl as required.

Another problem, one often ignored even by politicians like President Obama and Secretary Clinton, is the actual right provided by the Second Amendment – or more accurately, the right not so provided.  The words of the Amendment, words that have troubled scholars to elucidate for others, are as follows:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

What most readers miss is the fact that no rights of the individual are recognized or provided by this amendment.  The gun-owner clings to his gun on the basis of “the right of the people”; but in the Constitution and in the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments), as well as in the Federalist Papers, written by three of the framers of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the rights of “the people” are not the same rights as those for the individual.  The framers referred to “the people” as the embodiment of popular power; be that the elected governments of the several states, or other corporate bodies of popular power.  Whenever the framers wished to make abundantly clear to the reader that a right was for individuals, they named individuals, or left vague references to “the people” out entirely.  The right to protection against quartering is secured for “the Owner [of a house]”; trial rights are secured for “the accused”; other rights are promised to “persons” (individuals).  The right to freedom from government interference in speech and religion simply denies the government a right to make laws at all, without referencing either individuals or “the people.”  Nowhere in the Second Amendment do the framers actually suggest that individuals themselves have any specified rights under that act.  The right of the people to keep and bear arms is the right of the states, separate from the federal authority of the US Government.  The Second Amendment promised the states that they could and should maintain “well-regulated militia” for their own security, both from foreign invasion as well as from each other’s militia and from federal measures of force in their territories.

All references by the framers to “the people” were to corporate entities, not individuals.  In fact, that reference created animosity by such leaders as Patrick Henry who saw in the very preamble of the Constitution that the words “We the People” were written by delegates to the Constitutional Convention as selected by the states’ governments, and were not in fact representatives of the people themselves, let alone free individuals speaking solely for themselves.  “We the People” were the states.  The rights of “the people” were the rights of the states, not the rights of the individual inhabitants of the states.  It is also true that at the time, most states had militia based on private owners of their own weapons (in addition to every state maintaining central arsenals of both artillery and extra infantry weapons, the latter for those soldiers who had none of their own or lost theirs in combat).  Private ownership of weapons was preferred by the states as a means of reducing the cost of maintaining public arsenals.  But the Second Amendment does not specify that private ownership itself is either sufficient or necessary to the defense of a state.  Instead, the presence of a state-run and well-regulated militia is needed for state defense.  The states insisted on their rights to protect themselves from each other (at a time when state animosities toward each other was quite high, and many border and trade issues unresolved), and from a larger federal military (which the framers argued in the Federalist Papers to be more conducive to a credible deterrence of external aggression, but which could also be used by a tyrannical central authority to force undesired measures upon the states).

However, the Constitution is not merely a historical document, but a living contract subject to interpretation by the US Supreme Court.  What the Court ultimately says about the Constitution, and about how the rights therein are to be protected or interpreted, determines what the Constitution is for those to whom the Court’s musings apply.  In Heller v District of Columbia, in 2003, the Court finally decided that the Amendment does indeed guarantee the individual a right to own a firearm, separate from any need of state or federal regulation of militia, and separate from the use of such firearms for the security of the states.  For now, regardless of what our framers meant by “the people,” “the people” are indeed the individual citizens of the nation.  And both the militia clause and the security clause are considered inoperative and irrelevant to the rights of the individual.  The Court has overturned its own decisions before; and therefore at some point a future Court may well decide either to reattach the militia and/or security clauses to the right, and/or to define that right as not individual but corporate.  However, that is for the future.

In the meantime, we have a problem of who exactly the “second amendment people” are, the people vaguely referenced to in Trump’s distorted mutterings.  Are they gun owners, or the NRA (who consider themselves to be a constitutional rights advocate), or the gun industry (notwithstanding the NRA’s role as the industry’s chief corporate lobbyist)?  Who are these people to whom Trump held his hand to say, “maybe there is,… I don’t know”?  He himself obviously would have a difficult time answering that question, although the ease with which he can accept endorsements and donations from the gun lobby is unquestionable.  Trump’s failure to know what even he is saying as he may, or not, be saying it, is frightening in what those who follow him may decide that he was saying (such as the followers who easily obeyed Palin’s later denied exhortations to shoot people like Gabby Giffords).  But Trump’s failure to know what even he means is even more frightening as we envision a nation presided by a man exhibiting clear symptoms of dementia and who (unlike Pence, who some have hinted might be more responsible for certain governing roles), would actually have control of our nuclear codes.  If the missile hatches are ever opened, we need a leader to know what she says, what she means, what she expects from her supporters and from the nation, and what the nation that elected her stands for and expects from her.  Trump is unquestionably not that leader.

The Third-Party Option is Not a “Conscience Vote”

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Throwing away your vote on a message no one will hear, and which will change no outcome, is sometimes presented as ‘voting your conscience’, but that’s got it exactly backwards; your conscience is what keeps you from doing things that feel good to you but hurt other people. Citizens who vote for third-party candidates, write-in candidates, or nobody aren’t voting their conscience, they are voting their ego, unable to accept that a system they find personally disheartening actually applies to them.

blogger Clay Shirky

Blogger Clay Shirky (not connected to WordPress) makes an effective argument for why voting for third parties in the US, or simply not voting, are not effective uses of the “protest vote.”  The voters may not like living in a two-party system; but pretending that they do not is unrealistic and ineffective.  It also reinforces the precise electoral system that they might hope to change through their “protest.”  See Clay Shirky’s argument in more detail here.

Headline image from the BBC News.

one August day, 1945

With the anniversary of the atom bomb attacks of 1945 having just passed, it is worth taking a moment to see them from the innocents who suffered from them.

What does nelkumi think?

A siren pierces my ears. Planes zip above my head.

I run, zigzagging, hiding behind trees.

A loud explosion stops me. I turn around and see a bright ray penetrate the sky.

Then, I hear the sound of rumble. Houses, buildings, and poles crumble down onto earth, leaving me in darkness.

Without being able to see, I start to hear voices. Cries and whimpers. “Help me.” “It hurts.”

People begin to emerge from behind the thick curtain of dust and smoke. Some have pieces of glass stuck in them, bleeding. Others have their torn and blood-red flesh hanging from their bodies.

Many lie asking for water. Once they finish gulping water, they expire.

Hospitals and infrastructure are gone, and deceased and injured converge. I cannot even recognize some, and numbness takes over.

When dusk comes on, I see the town drowned in red flame, which wouldn’t cease for nights and…

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How It Happens

In the 1800s, political combat in Germany helped form conflicting political ideologies, including modern liberalism, Marxist communism, Nietzchian conservatism, and the seeds of Nazism.  A century of national and international struggle, within Germany and without, put Hitler into the chancellery in 1933.  Today, it is all too easy to see Hitler as inevitable for 1930s Germany, and to forget the liberal German philosophies opposed to Nazism and the constitutional strengths of both imperial Germany and the Weimar republic.

The United States now finds itself in a situation in many ways resembling Germany in 1933, with the fascists now effectively in control of a major political party, and that party ignoring or even celebrating their links to avowed racists, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and religious fascists.  The Democrats are attempting to rally the forces of American democracy against the new specter of fascism; but right now the polls indicate that the US lies on a precipice overlooking an unprecedented national catastrophe.

Is this an exaggeration of our national situation?  Would Donald Trump, if elected president, really present a threat to our republic?  The Republican Party itself has long predicted disaster that would emanate from Democratic presidencies, particularly the apocalyptic warnings that those like Trump made about President Obama and now about Hillary Clinton.  Are we on the Left overreacting and simply repeating the GOP’s own ridiculous exaggerations, allowing the last adult in the conversation to reduce himself to the uneducated mutterings of the other children?  Can we perhaps relax and presume that while Trump would steer the nation away from our record of progress and success, the republic is strong enough to survive him?

These same questions were asked by Germans on the eve of, and just after, Hitler’s ascendance to the chancellery.  A nation which had long inspired the world with its liberal visions, and had also infused politics with more radical philosophies like socialism and communism, saw Hitler’s power as a survivable necessity, something that would be a defeat for the forces against him but which could nonetheless experience some measure of success and which certainly would soon see other, more reasonable forces back in power.  But unlike the failure of American Democrats to live up to Trump’s and other Republicans’ warnings, Hitler and his movement showed German liberals and moderates and even conservatives what comes from underestimating a demagogue with a strong, populist backing.  Those liberal, moderate, and conservative voices quickly found themselves in “protective custody” in Dachau and elsewhere.

Germany’s Weimar government did not provide for the powers of a führer, and the powers of Chancellor were in fact quite limited.  These limitations on power did not stop a man “speaking plainly,” or his followers, from using legitimate powers of government to expand Hitler’s political authority until there was nothing left of the Weimar constitution.  This is the danger we must be wary of with Trump.  The US Constitution limits and checks the powers of the presidency; but Trump now has a viable path from these limitations and checks to the unlimited powers of dictatorship.  This is not a threat to be taken lightly.

The threat posed by Trump consists first of the nature of his rise to power, and second of the weaknesses our system has for preventing a dictator from gaining power through the electoral process.  First, Trump himself has not shied away from evoking an image of himself as führer, from the Nazi-style salute used at his rallies, or his deleted tweet of German SS re-enactors paired with his face on the American flag, to his calls for violence to be part of the political process (promising to pay the legal fees of supporters employing violence at his rallies, saying he would himself like to punch the detractors, etc.).  But Trump’s Hitlerian vision go far beyond enjoying displays of Nazi rally techniques.  Trump seeks to control the press, a control at times resisted and later succumbed to by the chief conservative agitprop outlet, Fox News.  Trump gained popularity among his fascist base not only by attacking fellow conservative TV personality Megyn Kelly with grotesquely misogynist reductions but also through his degrading mockery of a disabled journalist, Serge Kovaleski.  Trump showed other journalists that he would accept no one falling outside his own eugenically limited definition of humanity, and he seeks to limit thereby the presence of nonconformist and non-fascist media.  He continues to try to control the press through a multitude of actions, like lawsuits, blacklists, and insults; and he seeks to reduce reporters’ First Amendments rights to free speech and freedom of the press.

Trump’s nomination also saw Hitlerian and unconstitutional calls (championed by Governor Chris Christie) to jail their political opposition.  Christie’s own experience as a prosecutor ought to have dissuaded a less opportunistic and cynical jurist from a mob-justice, call-and-response conviction based solely on fact-free expressions of wrath toward a woman daring to enter the male-dominated field of politics.  Jailing leaders of the opposition on propped-up charges, or on no charges at all, was a chief, early tactic of the Nazis, even before they gained full control of the government.  Were Trump to gain the presidency, his “law and order candidacy” suggests that not just Clinton, but all vocal opposition would soon find themselves in jail, regardless of the nation’s established justice procedures.

Trump has called for mass deportations of undocumented workers, and for a registry of American Muslims, both of which evoke early Nazi moves toward “purifying” the nation’s racial profile.  The uncontested popularity of these suggestions with white supremacists and with ultranationalists both in the US and overseas, shows the frightening sync between Trump’s new order of fascism and Hitler’s old scheme.  The unconstitutionality of his suggestions bother neither himself, his advisors, the GOP now that he has been nominated (disregarding some bickering and whining before they knelt before him to crown him as their führer), or the extremist fascists who form his base.  Trump’s racist proposals, and his violently racist followers, show clearly the nature of the neo-racist state that they hope to build across the nation in our hallowed halls of federal, state, and local government, and disregarding all parts of the Constitution with the exception (for the moment, at least) of the Second Amendment.  The fascism of Trump and his supporters is frightening and indisputable, presenting a nauseatingly long list of offenses committed openly and on purpose, to expand the envelope of publicly allowable violence and hatred perpetrated against fellow Americans.

With a republic over 240 years old, and with multiple checks and balances acting on the federal presidency, how could Trump possibly warp the powers of the presidency into a dictatorship?  The same process that Hitler used would serve Trump or any other demagogue to bypass the Constitution.

First, now that he is the official nominee, Trump is also the new leader of the Republican Party.  He can now begin reforming the party, executing at will his own “Night of the Long Knives” to ensure Republican compliance.  Certain political measures might wait until after the election, to encourage moderate independents to vote for him in November.  After the election, however, Trump can begin pruning moderates and conservatives from the party, completing its transformation into an extremist party more in line with his hunger for power.

Second, the next president has an immediate vacancy to fill on the Supreme Court, due to Scalia’s death and to the GOP’s unprecedented obstruction of the constitutionally mandated processes of government.  Trump, if elected, would fill that slot as one of his first presidential acts, putting on the bench someone he knows would support his unconstitutional approaches to government.  In addition, leading liberal justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83, and centrist justice Anthony Kennedy is 80.  They are the next likely justices to retire or die on the bench, and their seats may both potentially need filling during the next term of president.  Putting three “trumpets” on the bench to ensure that no challenges to Trump’s contempt for constitutional law survive, Trump can effectively operate without fear of a SCOTUS overturn; and he can also stamp the next 20-30 years of American jurisprudence with his sad little brand and his extremist vision.

Third, having greater control of a more conformist and extremist Congress (through greater control of the Republican Party), and a more conformist and extremist Supreme Court, Trump can also solidify extremist control of state and federal district gerrymandering to further their gains, to cement their control of districts, and to divide opposition communities from within and keep them electing conformist, extremist Republicans.  SCOTUS will continue to strip voting protections from minorities and from women, and will solidify extremist voting results.  No Republican would dare stand in the way of such an onslaught; fearing if not for their lives than at least for their careers and political relevance.  And whenever Trump chooses, he can simply ignore whatever provisions of the Constitution he wishes, with neither his puppet Congress or his puppet Court opposing him.

Finally, if these measures do not appeal enough to his entitled yearning for adulation and obedience, then there is always the Reichstag fire.  Trump continues to fan the flames of hatred; and he continues to urge greater veneration of gun ownership and public carrying.  These two weaknesses together guarantee a growth of domestic lawlessness and terror under a Trump regime.  It will be easy either to engineer a staged incident or to encourage or exploit a real one, and then to call for “emergency measures” that, as in Germany, only “temporarily” suspend the Constitution.  With his opponents in jail, with Congress and the Court dominated by his puppets, no one would be left with the power and will to keep such “measures” from happening, or to ensure that they are “temporary.”  The “emergency” will be the duration of Trump’s regime; a duration that then can also be maintained for as long as Trump sees fit to remain in power.

Is this an extreme view of Trump’s vision and the threat posed by him to our republic?  It is intended to be.  Have other, reasonable politicians been accused by Republicans in Godwinite exaggerations of being “Hitler,” with no validity?  They have, indeed.  But Republicans do not get a “nominate Hitler for free” card by painting Hitler mustaches on President Obama’s likeness, or by confusing the provision of health care with the Holocaust or with slavery.  Such extremist ridiculousness does not mean that when a real wolf finally shows up, we have to let the sheep keep sleeping.  When the boy cries, “Wolf!”, we have to at least stop to consider whether a wolf is in fact present.  Trump has angered people of all “races” (including “white”), all genders and identities (including male and straight), all religions (including Christian), and all political thoughts (including conservatives and Republicans) with his extremist voice, and with that of his followers; and with his extremist approach to law and to contracts; and with his extremist style of “debating” and campaigning.  Godwin has left the building; and Hitler is threatening to break out of Trump’s ridiculous hairdo.  Trump may have no intention of going anywhere as far as I have suggested; but he can, and can we afford to risk that?  Should we risk that?  There may not be an apocalypse around the corner.  But as the missiles are armed and the launch hatches opened, should we not consider the possibility that this just might be our last real election if we do not stop this idiocy right this very moment?

Headline image from Huffington Post blog, “Donald Trump: The Man, the Candidate, the President,” 2/15/16.

 

 

Vetting Donald Trump

The full contempt that Trump has for the United States is difficult to encapsulate; but Rick Cooley takes an impressive shot at it:

Rcooley123's Blog

The Republican National Convention has come and gone (thankfully). Donald Trump is now the official Republican nominee for the position of next President of the USA, his trusted running mate, soon to be former Governor Mike Pence of Indiana by his side. The rough and tumble days of the primary campaign behind him, Trump promises to bring his mudslinging talents to unprecedented heights against his main general election contender, Hillary Clinton (pending, of course, her nearly certain nomination at the upcoming Democratic National Convention).

Aside from his acerbic manner and penchant for flinging biting insults at anyone and everything that he perceives as standing between himself and his current goals, Trump has earned his Party’s nomination by gathering a following among disenchanted voters ignored too long by GOP establishment politicians. Stoking populist sentiments by vilifying members of just about every interest group other than white males, Trump has been promising…

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A Vacation, a Reflection, and a Choice

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And Spark! returns!

Over the past two weeks, my wife and I celebrated our nation’s 240th birthday by touring New England, with visits to Boston (where we observed the city’s July 4th fireworks show from the Charles River), Salem and its witch museum, and Rhode Island.  In Boston, we also walked the Freedom Trail, seeing Paul Revere’s house and the Old North Church (notice the plaque in the headline image).  We visited a replica tea ship, of the type also visited in the Boston Tea Party, and we stood beneath the balcony at which Bostonians first learned of the Declaration of Independence signed in Philadelphia.

On our way back home to Michigan, we stopped in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to tour the battlefield for several days, paying respect to another national birthday that occurred some four score and seven years later.  While our vacation was an immersion into the past, we have resurfaced to link that past to our nation’s present and future.

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Immersing ourselves especially into two tumultuous events of American history, the Revolution and the Civil War, it was easy to be torn emotionally between the passion and vision of the former, and the bloodshed and controversy of the latter.  With these two events solidly in our minds, we perceived the great promise of America: that all people are created equal, and that we are endowed with certain inalienable rights.  We also perceived that, 87 years after those words were written down, one of our nation’s bloodiest battles was fought between Americans holding two uniquely distinct translations of those words.  While our Gettysburg experience did not touch deeply on the Reconstruction, its failure to change the South, or another revolution a century later whose results even today are contested in our legislatures and courts, we do know that the blood spilled on the soils around Gettysburg, soils walked by our own feet these past two weeks, has yet to be redeemed by a nation struggling still with its racial identity.

These two monumental events, the Revolution and the Civil War, show a nation with both a great promise and a great reluctance to live up to that promise.  Indeed, on and around July 4, there was much flag-waving, much hurrahing, much fanfare over the “greatness” of our nation, but little public forum on the qualities that define that greatness, or the characteristics that argue its veracity.  We Americans love to fly our flag, to put our hand on heart and look optimistically forward.  We love to cite our rich, white, male founding fathers and their utopian vision of something called “equality.”  But blood was spilled over the meaning of those very words, in 1776, and into the 1780s; in the 1850s, 1860s, and 1870s; and in the 1960s.  Blood is still being spilled, between police officers and the communities they “serve and protect,” and at Trump rallies calling for another quality called “greatness.”

Our trip to Salem also illustrated our nation’s capacity for self-fear, self-loathing, and witch hunts (both metaphorical and real).  We love to point fingers, assign blame, to stick our nose in others’ affairs.  Persecution, witch hunts, suspicion, and xenophobia are every bit as much American as our inspirational founding phrases; and they are, to many of us, a great deal more real than are those idealistic words written down by a privileged few.

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The witch trials, the Revolution, and the Civil War all show Americans as an emotional people, who at key moments in our history march forward with pitchforks, muskets, cannon, and rifles, and fight out our differences, spilling blood and ending lives rather more effectively than we decide the debates that trigger such bloodshed.  This emotionalism also surrounds other acts, like John Winthrop’s proclamation of our liberal imperative to build the “shining City on a Hill.”  This emotionalism has gathered new forces of hatred and ignorance in today’s politics, shaped by a conservative media machine feeding factually deprived constructions of current and past events to an audience ever more hungry for factless validation.  Even the Left has been tainted by such unnerving and baseless propaganda, with an entire #NeverHillary force built up on unfounded conservative rhetoric fed to new voters unmotivated to investigate affairs for themselves, and hungry for information that requires no personal efforts at vetting, objectivity, or reason.

Now, with America’s failed foreign policies of oil-based imperialism to blame for the construction of new forces of terror, with a populace living in an historically low-crime era but increasingly frightened by the conservative media and the NRA into needing ever more destructive private arsenals, with the police militarizing and displaying an overtly racial application of “community policing,” our nation has become frightened, angry, resentful, suspicious.  While polls indicate that the voters continue to understand the dangers of having too many guns available in a culture unwilling to fund schools and work programs, a divide separates that population from the “representative government” of a Republican Party whose campaigns are funded by the makers of those guns.  Fear, anger, resentment, and suspicion do not mix well with large, military-style arsenals, whether owned privately or by the police.  Our nation’s emotionalism would not carry quite the danger of continued bloodshed if our society were not so dangerously over-armed.

Our nation is now, once again, at a cusp.  We face changes in our party structure just as we did on the eve of the Civil War, in the two major parties that have dominated political issues since that war.  We face a Democratic Party struggling for legitimacy among an ever more restless youth (with ever bleaker economic prospects), and struggling to retain its traditional strength among women and minorities (racial, religious, and identity-based).  We face a Republican Party struggling for relevance as new demographics shift presidential elections away from an increasingly white-men-only party, but which continues to dominate, through gerrymandering and corporate campaign financing, congressional elections.  We face a populace tired of both parties, tired of choices that seem like the “lesser of two evils.”  And at the end of the 2016 primary season, we face a critical choice between two different parties, two very different candidates, and two fundamentally different visions of America.

Notwithstanding the always intriguing prospect of a third party (easily dismissed due to the failure of our smaller parties to build local and state-level constituencies, a historically necessary first step in new party formation before jumping to the presidential run), Americans have a choice between two candidates hated by the other side, and also distrusted by many independents.  But having two flawed candidates is not the same as not having a clear or valid choice.  Candidates are human beings, as much as we try to elevate them to messianic or satanic purity in trying times like today.  Voters can, must, and do accept candidates with flaws in order to find the best of the necessarily imperfect choices for the job.  In 2016 that choice is a clear one.  On the one hand, the Democrats have selected a lawyer who has helped poor and minority families, who has consistently pushed the nation toward a greater commitment to health care, who has helped build partnerships with foreign governments and with fighters for democracy like Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi.  Clinton’s record is not perfectly consistent (any more than is Senator Sanders’s, or Trump’s); and the conservative propaganda-and-government complex has invested millions of dollars, both public and private, to heap distrust and contempt upon a candidate whom they fear may be able to get results and turn the helm to the left.  On the other hand, America can elevate an inherited billionaire who has never earned the public’s trust, who has never held a public position, elected or appointed, who has failed in venture after venture after venture (only saved from financial ruin by his family’s deep treasure of stored wealth), who has shifted the very jobs of those shouting his name to China and claims now that he will somehow get them back (without bothering to elucidate on the details), who attacks Americans and foreigners alike, who defecates upon our nation’s most treasured values and our long history of depending on immigrants and refugees to build our nation.  We can elect a candidate embraced by the many peoples of our land; or we can wish vainly and with no prospect of success to make America white and patriarchal and frightened and suspicious again.

In the end, however, our choice is not just between two candidates.  Our choice, like those faced in 1776 and 1860 and 1964 and in so many other moments of our history, is between succumbing to fear and hatred, distrust and violence, on the one hand; or embracing the promise of our nation, the liberal imperative toward the City on a Hill, accepting the challenges bravely and together, as a nation of many peoples.  We the People can form a more perfect Union; or we can succumb to our fears, breaking ourselves morally, economically, and politically in trying to replicate a Roman Empire by propping up a corroding and bankrupt Pax Americana.

All images © Sparkpolitical, 2016.