Tag Archives: Obama

The Anti-Mensch

When I read that Trump had abrogated the Iran deal, I felt a familiar pain in the pit of my stomach. These bouts of indigestion and nausea have increased since November of 2016, as have my concerns over the world my grandchildren will inherit, and the role models they will choose to emulate.

Trump’s Presidency has been a consistent perversion of a value structure to which most Americans have long given lip service (if not always fidelity). Even if the country and the world emerge more or less intact from this dangerous, surreal period, how much permanent damage will have been done to our concept of civilized, moral, adult behavior?

When my children were very young, I used to tell them I wanted them each to grow up to be a mensch. Mensch is a yiddish word meaning “a real human being–a person of integrity and honor.”

What are the sorts of behaviors that characterize a mensch?

  • There’s civility, of course. Respect for other people. Courteous behavior in even trying situations. An absence of name-calling or other efforts to demean people with whom one  disagrees.
  • A rejection of bigotries both overt and latent. Refusing to judge one’s fellow human beings on the basis of such things as skin color, religion, gender or sexual orientation. A recognition that other people are entitled to the same rights and respect we claim for ourselves.
  • A healthy modesty–by which I mean recognition that none of us has all the answers, that other perspectives deserve consideration, that there is always more to learn, that it is always possible that one may turn out to be wrong.  A healthy modesty also implies respect for expertise, for the counsel of those with specialized or superior knowledge. A mensch has sufficient self-worth and self-confidence to give credit where it is due, and will instinctively recoil from bragging or grandstanding.
  • Maturity. Adults have a capacity for self-restraint, an ability to defer gratification when necessary to the pursuit of longterm goals. A mensch demonstrates maturity by admitting when he is wrong, and apologizing when something he has said or done makes such an apology appropriate. A mensch doesn’t engage in childish tantrums or schoolyard bullying conduct like publicly berating or humiliating others.
  • Respect for authority–as distinct from obsequiousness. A mensch balances his obligations to the rules and to those in charge against his duty to confront injustice, even when such confrontation entails a personal cost.
  • Personal Integrity. A mensch keeps his word, honors his commitments, pays his bills.  (As my father used to say, he “walks the talk.”) His behaviors are consistent with his pronouncements. Persons of integrity do not knowingly lie or mislead.
  • A good heart. A mensch genuinely cares about others in his family, his community and his country. He supports efforts to ameliorate poverty and injustice. He participates in activities intended to make the world a better place.

None of these ideal behaviors require riches or even intelligence, although like most parents I hoped my children would do well financially and would have the self-awareness that is one of the many benefits of an inquiring and lively intellect.

When I compare the behaviors and values that most parents try to instill in their children to Donald Trump’s daily, embarrassing eruptions, I cringe. President Obama was–and remains– a mensch; post-Presidency, even George W. Bush has been one.

Trump is the anti-mensch.

How do parents raise thoughtful, compassionate, responsible children when the media constantly reports the activities of a President who violates and scorns–on a daily basis– every behavioral norm they are trying to inculcate?

I’m keeping Tums in business.

 

Trashing The Country

I see that Scott Pruitt intends to roll back the Clean Power Plan put in place during the Obama administration.  Pruitt’s devotion to fossil fuel interests and his determination to eviscerate the agency he heads is, if anything, stronger than ever. To hell with clean air and water, or for that matter, the future of the planet.

The Guardian recently looked at another of the Obama-era regulations that Trump and Pruitt reversed.

A ban on bottled water in 23 national parks prevented up to 2m plastic bottles from being used and discarded every year, a US national park service study found. That is equivalent to up to 326 barrels of oil worth of emissions, 419 cubic yards of landfill space and 111,743lb of plastic, according to the May study.

Despite that, the Trump administration reversed the bottled water ban just three months later, a decision that horrified conservationists and pleased the bottled water industry.

Donald Trump’s primary policy motivation has been clear from the moment he assumed office: the erasure of Barack Obama’s legacy, no matter what the policy, no matter how good for America, no matter how good endorsing it would be politically for Trump himself. If Obama did it, Trump is determined to undo it.

For whatever reason–Obama’s skin color (Trump’s racism is no longer in question), his devastating take-down of Trump at that correspondent’s dinner, or some other motivation lurking in Trump’s clearly disordered mind–the only consistent thread in the disaster that is this administration is the determined and vicious assault on Obama’s legacy.

Did Obama want clean water and breathable air? Then those things aren’t important. Did he want to protect our national parks from pollution and despoiling? “Freedom” means letting plastic bottles proliferate!

The plan to curb pollution in America’s most famous wilderness areas was spurred when arguably its most famous park, the Grand Canyon, banned the sale of plastic water bottles in its gift shops, according to the report. Approximately 331 million people visit US national parks each year.

The program was meant to support a “life cycle” approach to plastic, which activists say is the largest global threat to the environment behind climate change. One million plastic bottles are sold per minute, according to a Guardian analysis. The top six drink companies in the world use an average of just 6.6% recycled plastic.

At the same time, new research has shown that plastics which find their way into the sea have entered the food supply. Scientists have found plastic particles in sea salt, honey, fish, beer and tap water.

When the parks began banning bottled drinking water in 2011, they installed hydration stations with free water. But that didn’t stop the bottled water industry from accusing the government of “infringing the freedom of families to decide for themselves how to hydrate.”

Think I’m kidding?

“It should be up to our visitors to decide how best to keep themselves and their families hydrated during a visit to a national park, particularly during hot summer visitation periods,” said the acting service director, Michael Reynolds.

You can’t make this shit up.

 

Missing the Point

In the wake of Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accords, apologists have gone into overdrive. Even those who recognize that climate change is real have pooh poohed the significance of our withdrawal; after all, the goals were voluntary and weak, and anyway, America’s cities and states are stepping up to the plate, so we’ll probably make our goals even without participating in a formal agreement.

A recent article in Time is typical of the many arguments that what looks like a sow’s ear might really be a silk purse in disguise:

Trump knew his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the climate agreement would provoke global outrage, and it did. For Trump, the economy is the priority. But Trump’s promise to revive the coal industry isn’t going to happen; instead, the opposite will occur. And it’s safe to say that by 2020 — the earliest date that the U.S. can technically withdraw from the climate pact — Trump could point to his decision even as he points at all the shuttered coal plants, and say: “See, I told you we didn’t need the Paris deal. America’s emissions went down regardless, and our economy became stronger without it.”

Let’s parse that paragraph. If Trump knew the decision would provoke outrage, he should have recognized that such outrage would make it more difficult to achieve other goals, both domestic and international, so why do it? As even the apologists have conceded, the targets we had endorsed were entirely voluntary; the administration could simply have ignored any that they felt were bad for the American economy.

What we’ve seen of this deeply disturbed man suggests that he withdrew because it would provoke outrage. Trump likes to stir the pot, and he desperately needs to be the center of attention. Achieving his goals quietly (assuming he has goals unconnected to his ego), without fanfare, doesn’t feed his narcissism.

And what about that statement that the economy is his priority? Where’s the evidence that Trump has even the slightest understanding of economic policy? His insistence that he will bring back a coal industry that even coal company CEOs admit is no longer viable should have been a clue to his cluelessness.

And arguing that we will meet our emissions goals without being party to the Paris Accords misses the point. The point is: symbolism matters, and it matters a lot.

When President Obama led the negotiations that produced the Paris Accords, he was signaling that the United States remained the world’s leader. He was demonstrating this nation’s willingness to work with countries around the globe to address common challenges, and our willingness to do the hard work of analyzing relevant science and working through thorny political barriers in order to hammer out an agreement.

Obama’s commitment to the process sent a message to the rest of the world, and it was a message that enhanced American stature and our ability to exercise global “soft power.”

The message sent by Donald Trump’s exit from that hard-won agreement was exactly the opposite: America is no longer a steadfast global presence, no longer a source of reassuring leadership in a dangerous world.

Under a volatile, unpredictable, and profoundly ignorant President and his cabinet of intellectual and moral pygmies, America is withdrawing from global leadership. (As Angela Merkel put it, in her typically understated way, America is “no longer a reliable ally.”)

Whatever the practical effect of withdrawal on our ability to fight climate change, the symbolism was devastating. Far from making America “great,” it diminished us and significantly weakened our influence around the world.

It was yet another unforced error by a man who tweets them daily.

 

Thanks, Obama!

Yesterday, I got another one of those emails explaining why President Obama has been the worst President in all of human history.

For people who have managed to retain a sense of humor during the seven-plus years of the Obama Administration, there has been plenty of similar material to keep them chuckling. (Now, granted, my own reaction to some of the crazy has been to beat my head against the nearest wall, but people more stable than I am just laugh a lot. And have fewer headaches….)

I do like the Facebook entries making fun of this tsunami of blame: “On this date in [whatever year], the Titanic sank [Or the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Or insert your preferred historical calamity here]. People died. Thanks, Obama.”

The Rightwing crazies have blamed everything from Kim Kardashian to El Nino on our first black President. ( I’m sure the fact that he is the first black President is entirely co-incidental. Also, if you are interested, I have some swampland in Florida for sale….)

At the bottom of all of the Obama blaming is an irony that has evidently escaped most of our President’s determined critics: on the one hand, we are constantly harangued from the Right with accusations about Obama’s deficiencies: what he doesn’t understand, hasn’t accomplished, doesn’t have sufficient experience to appreciate….in other words, we are constantly told how utterly feckless he is.

At the very same time, we are treated to constant admonitions about this President’s absolutely amazing prowess: he has singlehandedly lost wars, destroyed economies, created racial tensions in hitherto loving and peaceful neighborhoods, interfered with your gallstones….I mean, you name it, this dude’s super-powers are up to the task.

I thought about this disconnect (okay, haters gotta hate) when I read about an O’Reilly accusation over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars:

Did you know that it’s Obama’s fault that people use hard drugs? I didn’t either. And do you know why it’s his fault? Because he apparently knows what words mean.

Here’s the quote from O’Reilly in support of this….um ….interesting thesis..

President Obama’s leading the way on this, classifying drug dealing, hard drug dealing, as a, quote, “nonviolent crime.” That sends a signal to the country that, you know what, it may be illegal to sell drugs, but it’s not all that bad. And the left is generally supporting the madness.

As Ed Brayton notes, classifying a transaction as “non-violent” (assuming no violence occurred) is generally seen as–what’s that called?– using words to convey information.

 If I sell you a bag of dope and you pay for it and we both drive away without any physical confrontation, then that transaction was — by definition — non-violent. Still illegal. Still might be very bad for the person who takes the drugs, depending on the drug. But it isn’t violent. Thus ends our lesson in using a dictionary.

What Ed has obviously missed is the central lesson of the past seven years: everything bad is Obama’s fault.

Come to think of it, just where were the Obamas when Prince died…??

The Question Is: Now What?

Will Saletan has a must-read essay at Slate. 

Saletan is responding to a bizarre accusation making the rounds on the Right to the effect that President Obama is really the reason for the rise of Donald Trump. (I notice that I use the word “bizarre” more frequently these days.) The American public, according to this “analysis,” is rejecting the extreme leftism of the Obama presidency.

As Saletan notes, this is bunk. In saner times, President Obama would have been a liberal Republican or, at most, a moderate Democrat. Saletan ticks off the policies of this administration and the place of those policies on the political spectrum, and forcefully rejects the thesis.

No, Obama didn’t cause Trump. What caused Trump was the GOP’s decision to negate Obama in every way, and thereby become the party of Trump….

If Obama had been a leftist, the GOP’s policy of negating him on every issue might have positioned Republicans in the mainstream. Instead, because Obama was a moderate, the GOP’s negation strategy pushed it toward the fringe. Obama was for fiscal responsibility and compromise, so Republicans were for absolutism and drama, risking a federal shutdown and a credit default. Obama was for respecting the Supreme Court, so the GOP was for defying judicial orders. Obama was for using sanctions to pressure Iran into a nuclear deal, so Republicans were for scrapping the deal and daring Iran to provoke a war. Obama, like Bush, was for drawing a clear distinction between terrorists and Muslims. So Republicans were for blurring that distinction.

In Trump, Republican voters have found their anti-Obama. Trump spurns not just political correctness, but correctness of any kind. He lies about Muslims and 9/11, insults women and people with disabilities, accuses a judge of bias for being Hispanic, and hurls profanities. Trump validates the maxim that in presidential primaries, the opposition party tends to choose a candidate who differs temperamentally from the incumbent. Obama is an adult. Therefore, Republicans are nominating a child.

You really should click through and read the entire thing–these few extracts don’t do it justice.

Here’s the conclusion:

So, yes, Obama led to Trump. But that’s only because the Republican Party decided to be what Obama wasn’t. And what Obama wasn’t—insecure, bitter, vindictive, xenophobic, sectarian—is what the GOP, in the era of Trump, has become.