All posts by Sheila

Trump–Frankenstein’s monster

Regular readers of this blog–for that matter, even occasional readers–could hardly avoid noticing that I’m no fan of Donald Trump. When I read through the comments, it’s pretty obvious that most of my readers are equally repelled.

Sometimes, however, it is hard to put into words the (numerous) reasons so many usually civil and thoughtful people become tongue-tied and sputter when asked to identify the characteristics that most appall them–which is why I’m sharing one of the best descriptions I’ve encountered.  (If I did embroidery, I’d make it into a wall hanging….)

It’s from an Englishman, and the British do have a way with words.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

The writer goes on to say that Trump is not merely a spoiled child of wealth, but “A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.” There’s an image I won’t soon forget!

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:

Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.
You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.

In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

I have taken the liberty of quoting most of the post, because it is so perfect–it captures virtually everything I find despicable about Trump and incomprehensible about the people who–despite it all–support him.

Some even, apparently, like him.

That’s the worst part of all of this–the fact that so many Americans can look at the damage being done, not just to this country’s policies, norms and institutions, but to the very ideal of decency, by this fatuous, empty, self-absorbed facsimile of a human, and not recoil in disgust.

I want to ask them: are you raising your children to behave like this?

For that matter, if you were drinking in a bar, and someone at the other end of that bar was bragging ungrammatically and embarrasingly like Trump, wouldn’t you assume there was something really, really wrong with the guy, and edge away?

The last poll I saw gave him a 38% approval rating. It’s shaken my faith in my fellow-humans.

Sad But True

Vox recently had an article detailing the environmental efforts of “subnational” units of government.

The actions being taken by a number of states and cities to curb greenhouse gases and slow climate change are impressive, and we should all be grateful that the anti-science, anti-humanity policies of our federal government are being countered, at least to some extent, by state and local units of government.

The article began, however, with a coy promise: to reveal the “very simple” political trick that cities and states can employ to pass sound environmental policies. It even titled the article “This one weird trick can help any state or city pass clean energy policy.”

Federal climate politics in the US remains as gridlocked as ever, but the past few years have seen a remarkable flourishing of climate and clean energy policy at the subnational level, in states and cities across the country.

This has given rise to all sorts of deep analysis — about the potential and limitations of states as laboratories of democracy, about the role of cities in the 21st century, about the ability of subnational actors to offset federal inaction — but, oddly, the simplest lesson of all often goes unstated.

In point of fact, all these subnational jurisdictions, for all their differences, used the same simple trick to achieve policy success.

What is that trick? Well, it’d be no fun if I just told you!

Instead, let’s run through a quick review of recent subnational policy progress on climate and clean energy. Perhaps, by the end of this list, if you squint just right, you’ll see the trick for yourself.

The article then proceeded to identify a number of places doing the heavy lifting: Washington state, where Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, working for the first time with solid Democratic majorities in both houses of the state legislature, passed a suite of ambitious bills; Nevada, where newly elected Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, working with Democratic majorities in both houses of the state legislature, committed the state to 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030 and 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050;
Colorado, where newly elected Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, together with Democratic majorities in that state’s legislature, has passed what the article called “an astonishing suite of climate and clean energy bills.”

The article also noted progress in New Mexico, New Jersey and California, and listed encouraging deliberations in New York, Massachusetts and Maine.

And it wasn’t just states. As the article reported, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the city’s Democratic city council unveiled “LA’s Green New Deal.” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city’s Democratic council passed a sweeping set of climate bills, which would, among other things, target emissions from existing buildings. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his Democratic city council passed a bill committing the city to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

The article detailed similar successes in Boise, Idaho, Missoula, Montana, Cincinnati, Ohio and Washington, D.C.

So what do all these jurisdictions have in common? What “trick” enabled these state governments to address the threat of climate change so aggressively?

The trick is: elect Democrats.

There are many differences among these jurisdictions in size, ambition, and policy details, but one thing they all have in common is that Democrats have the power to pass policy despite Republican opposition. It’s not that no Republicans voted for any of these measures — there were R votes here and there, so some could charitably be called “bipartisan” — but that Republicans were not in a position to block any of them.

Last year, Nevada had a Republican governor; he vetoed a clean energy mandate. This year it has a Democratic governor; he signed it.

That’s how it works, in practice. When Democrats take control, in numbers that preclude Republican veto power, they pass thoughtful, ambitious policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the clean energy transition. Where Republicans have the power to block such policies, they do. There are exceptions — all hail Illinois— but they are comparatively rare.

Perhaps climate and clean energy shouldn’t be partisan. But at the present moment, purely as a descriptive matter, they are partisan.

If you care about the environment,  the simplest and most reliable way to support sane environmental policies is to vote Democratic.

Of course, that’s also the “trick” if you care about civil rights, the Constitution, the rule of law…

 

Sending A (Hateful) Message

The New York Times recently reported on yet another outrage perpetrated by our persistently outrageous administration; the refusal to sign on to a global “call to action” addressing online hate. The call to action came in the aftermath of the horrific slaughter of worshippers in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The White House on Wednesday announced it would not sign the Christchurch call to action, an informal international pact among France’s and New Zealand’s leaders and social media platforms to combat online extremism.

The call to actionis a broad statement of intent, rather than a detailed policy proposal. It urges nations and private tech companies to address terrorist content online. Specifically it urges signers to “ensure its efficient and fast removal and to prevent the use of live-streaming as a tool for broadcasting terrorist attack.” The White House refused to sign the accord on the ground that it violated constitutional free-speech protections.

Anyone who believes that this administration gives a rat’s patootie about freedom of speech should check into a mental hospital without delay.

Of course, in its announcement that the U.S. would not be signing on, the nature of those Free Speech “concerns” was not addressed. Nor could they be, since the “Call” wasn’t a legal decree. It was and is merely a non-binding pledge, lacking any provisions for enforcement or even suggestions for regulations. It was– and is–simply an official acknowledgment of a growing problem that has been exacerbated by the total lack of internet regulation. As the Times article pointed out,

Without legally binding mechanisms or strict policy enforcements, the stakes of signing are low. So the act of not signing sends a strong message and cheapens the free-speech protections the administration claims to hold dear, using the First Amendment as a political tool and an excuse for inaction.

Trump’s sudden solicitude for the First Amendment reminded me of Nat Hentoff’s 1992 book, “Free Speech for Me but Not for Thee.”

The administration’s trepidation at intervening in the content moderation processes of social media platforms is also wildly inconsistent with the president’s own behavior on tech-platform oversight. For months, Mr. Trump has used his Twitter feed to rail against perceived social media censorship of conservatives and threatened to intervene.

Last August, he accused Googleof “suppressing” conservative voices and “hiding information and news that is good” about him after seeing an infographic on cable news from a “not scientific” study. In April, the president met with Twitter’s C.E.O., Jack Dorsey, where he derailed a conversation on public health to complain about losing followers of his personal Twitter account. Mr. Trump hinted at intervening in tech-platform moderation as recently as this month after Facebook banned a number of pro-Trump media figures for “extremism.” His response on Twitter: “We are monitoring and watching, closely!!”

As if to make its priorities regarding online freedom even clearer, just hours after declining to sign the Christchurch call, the White House announced an online tool for reporting tech-platform bias. “No matter your views, if you suspect political bias caused such an action to be taken against you, share your story with President Trump,” it said.

Trump’a free-speech solicitude is limited to right-wingers and racists.

If there was ever any doubt that Trump’s appeal has always been grounded in bigotry, misogyny and white nationalism, we can add his refusal to sign the “Call” to the mountain of evidence that already exists.

There is a reason David Duke and his ilk claim Trump as one of their own.  For confirmation, you need only read the report in the most recent issue of the Atlantic: “An oral history of Donald Trump’s Bigotry.” It’s a devastating”in his own words” documentation of the life-long bigotry of a man whose only claim to superiority is dependent upon inherited money and skin color.

Thanks to our antiquated and undemocratic Electoral College, we are saddled with a President who repeatedly tells the world that America is now on the side of hatred and white nationalism. Trump’s “Muslim ban,” his ridiculous “wall,” his administration’s appallingly inhumane treatment of would-be refugees at our southern (but not our northern) border, his defense of the “very fine” people among the Charlottesville neo-Nazis, his disdain for “shithole” countries, his move to deny transgender individuals the right to serve in the armed forces….the examples go on and on.

In 2020, if the electorate doesn’t massively repudiate this repulsive, reptilian man and his nest of vipers and idiots, we are no longer the (imperfect but aspirational)  America so many of us thought we were.

The 2020 election will also send a message–it will tell us just what percentage of our neighbors share Trump’s ignorant and hateful attitudes– just how many are willing to vote for a sub-human incompetent because he hates and fears the same people they do.

 

The Hypocrisy Hall Of Fame

Recently, Max Boot–formerly of the GOP and now a self-described “man without a party”–authored a scathing column in the Washington Post. The introductory paragraphs give a hint of the points made in the remainder of the essay.

“In scandals such as this, it is always members of the president’s party who have particular leverage, and therefore who have a particular responsibility, to hold the president accountable for his actions.”

So wrote noted Republican moralist Bill Bennett in his 1998 book, “The Death of Outrage.” Bennett went on to excoriate Democrats who were “troubled by the credible allegations of ethical and criminal wrongdoing” and who saw “the harm that is being inflicted on America” but failed to say so “forcefully, unambiguously, publicly.” “No Democrat went to the president of the United States and insisted, emphatically, that he do what is right, none insisted that he fully answer questions, stop stonewalling, and come out, immediately, with all of the facts, wherever they might lead,” he wrote. “This is shameful.”

Agreed, it’s shameful when members of a President’s party see the harm being inflicted on America and fail to speak out.

Some of us think that personal corruption, incessant undermining of the Constitution and rule of law, encouragement of white nationalism, and refusal to admit economic reality in order to start a trade war likely to devastate the nation’s farmers (among others) might–just might–inflict a greater harm to the body politic than discovering that a President had received a blow job in the Oval Office.

As Boot notes, Republicans have remained deathly quiet, although Mueller’s report documented conduct by Trump that “beyond a shadow of a doubt” is both criminal and impeachable. Over 800 former federal prosecutors signed a letter saying that Trump would have been indicted for obstruction of justice if he wasn’t president.

Trump is committing further “high crimes and misdemeanors” by vowing not to comply with “all” House subpoenas. The House Judiciary Committee has just votedto hold his attorney general, William P. Barr, in contempt for refusing to provide the unredacted Mueller report to Congress. His treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, risks similar sanctions for refusing to provide Trump’s taxes to the House Ways and Means Committee. Yet no Republicans are speaking out to condemn Trump for his lawlessness or urge him to comply with congressional subpoenas. This stands in stark contrast to the way that Republicans rained rhetorical fire and fury on Democratic presidents who stonewalled Congress.

Boot calls out several Senators by name: for example, he quotes Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s criticism of then-Attorney General Eric Holder for failing to provide some of the requested documents during a House probe of a gun-running sting. Rubio’s language was scorching:

“I think that it is outrageous that any attorney general — Republican or Democrat — refuses to comply with Congress’s constitutional right to hold them accountable and the Justice Department accountable. I would say that if that if this was a Republican just like I do now because it’s a Democrat. Not only that, I think this has gone on so long and the stonewalling by the attorney general has been so egregious, that I think he has to resign.”

Now there’s a Republican administration, and Rubio isn’t calling for Barr to resign for his stonewalling.

Then, of course, there’s Lindsey Graham, whose performance as a slavering Trump sycophant must be making John McCain roll over in his grave.

Rubio is joined in the hypocrisy hall of fame by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) who, as a House member in 1998, demandedthat President Bill Clinton be impeached for, inter alia, refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas: “The day Richard Nixon failed to answer that subpoena was the day he was subject to impeachment, because he took the power from Congress over the impeachment process away from Congress and he became the judge and jury.”

Well, Clinton was a Democrat.

Boot gives other examples, and concludes that “Republicans believe in presidential power only when the president is a Republican. When it’s a Democrat, they suddenly discover the importance of congressional oversight”.

There is no disinterested principle that could possibly explain or excuse Republican conduct. Their only principle is blind partisanship. We are in a “constitutional crisis,” as Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) says, and Republicans are siding with their party over the Constitution.

I remember when many more Republicans were like Max Boot–when, as honorable public servants, they would have been appalled by Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham and all the other Republican office-holders who are so eager to place partisanship above patriotism, and who fear Trump’s rabid and ignorant base far more than they love their country.

History will place them all in the hypocrisy hall of fame.

A Broken Record: Socialism and Capitalism

As I often tell my students, we Americans tend to be bipolar in our approach to the world. Events, policies and people are either all good or all bad, other nations are either “evil-doers” (in George W. Bush’s awkward formulation) or “good guys,” regulation is either killing jobs or protecting children.

Everything is either/or.

Unfortunately for our ability to communicate with each other,  life and reality aren’t so neatly divided.

The recurrent hysteria (on the Right) over “socialism” and the ferocious attacks (from the Left) on capitalism are part and parcel of that unrealistic (albeit comfortingly simple) dichotomy. In the messy real world, the pertinent questions are very different–even when the people making the arguments actually are able to define their terms, which they so often can’t.

Much of the current hostility to capitalism, for example, mistakes America’s current economic reality for capitalism. In some localities, it still may be, but nationally– thanks to money in politics, lobbying by powerful interests, outright corruption and a number of other unfortunate systemic fails– what we have is mostly corporatismor crony capitalism, not the idealized market system to which conservatives and ad agencies genuflect.

Genuine market competition has considerable merits: it encourages innovation and tends to keep consumer prices affordable. If I make a better mousetrap for a better price, my business grows, I hire more workers, and consumers catch more mice for the same money.

Similarly, “socialism” isn’t a dirty word, nor does it imply totalitarian communism. It is simply the communal delivery of services. We socialize police and fire protection, public schools, parks and highways and garbage collection, among other things, because it makes practical and economic sense to provide those things communally.

The question isn’t “should we have socialism or capitalism?” The question is: what sorts of things should a society provide communally–i.e., what services should be socialized–and what goods and services should be provided by the private market?

The question also isn’t: regulation versus no regulation. The question is: what regulations?

We want rules that ensure a level playing field–that prevent a manufacturer from dumping his waste in our rivers in order to keep his costs below those of his competitors, or that prevent a group of businesses from colluding to keep prices artificially high. We don’t want rules that are poorly conceived or unnecessarily onerous–but determining which rules are appropriate and which ones aren’t requires knowing something about the activities being regulated, and making informed judgments.

It requires the sort of expertise that Trump types sneer at as “elitist.”

Too many Americans want bumper-sticker solutions to complicated problems that don’t lend themselves to simplistic approaches. They want black-and-white answers to issues that require recognizing and working within several shades of gray. Too many of America’s loudest voices use terms they can’t define (or often, spell) and fling them as epithets rather than employing them to communicate.

We may disagree about the proper way to deliver certain services–whether we should “socialize” this or that economic or social activity or leave a particular service or function to a properly and deliberately regulated market. Those debates can be productive.

Labelling everything that offends us as “socialism” or “capitalism”–depending upon which intemperate and uninformed end of the political fringe you inhabit– gets us exactly nowhere. It may make the labeler feel superior and self-satisfied, but it doesn’t help solve our complicated problems, and it pisses off the folks at the other end of the ideological spectrum.