Category Archives: Random Blogging

Can We Define “Great”?

One of the consequences of the fragmented media environment fostered by the Internet has been the development of alternate realities. Americans increasingly get our “news” from sources carefully chosen to confirm our pre-existing biases.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with the divisions over Donald Trump and his slogan  “Make America Great Again.”

It’s true, as many historians have pointed out, that the people with whom this slogan resonates tend to have a somewhat selective understanding of America’s history–one that omits the nation’s frequent deviation from its cherished principles. But inaccurate/incomplete history isn’t really the problem. The problem is with their definition of “greatness,” which tends to correspond with straight white male Christian dominance.

My own bias is for the vision of American greatness described by soccer star Megan Rapinoe in a recent article in the Guardian.

The US women’s soccer co-captain Megan Rapinoe has delivered an uncompromising message to Donald Trump, amid ongoing controversy over a possible visit to the White House by the World Cup champions.

Asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper what she would like to say to the American leader, Rapinoe said: “Your message is excluding people. You’re excluding me, you’re excluding people that look like me, you’re excluding people of colour, you’re excluding Americans that maybe support you.”

Rapinoe has been outspoken about LGBT rights as well as racial and gender equality. After the US won the World Cup for a record fourth time on Sunday, Rapinoe called for progress on equal pay for the male and female teams.

In a previous interview with CNN, Rapinoe had said that, should the U.S. team win, they would not go to the “fucking” White House. In the Guardian, she expressed regret for her language, but not for her sentiment.

“I would not go, and every teammate that I’ve talked to explicitly about it would not go,” she said.

“I don’t think anyone on the team has any interest in lending the platform that we’ve worked so hard to build, and the things that we fight for, and the way that we live our life … I don’t think that we want that to be co-opted or corrupted by this administration,” Rapinoe told Cooper.

She added that allowing the White House to “put us on display” didn’t “make sense for us at all”, adding: “There are so many other people that I would rather talk to and have meaningful conversations that could really affect change in Washington than going to the White House.”

The sports star added the US needed to have a “reckoning” with the implications of Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan. “You’re harking back to an era that was not great for everyone – it might have been great for a few people, and maybe America is great for a few people right now, but it’s not great for enough Americans in this world.”

Rapinoe’s definition of greatness–a definition with which I concur–is inclusion.

 A great society is one that values all its citizens, a society that rewards people based upon their behavior rather than their identity–a society that encourages and celebrates everyone’s participation and contribution.

Unfortunately, a  growing segment of the Internet is fostering a fear of “replacement” in insecure whites.That fear is based upon a definition of “greatness” that frantically opposes inclusion; “greatness” is a country where “people who look like me” are in control. As the linked article reports,

The far right has set off a vicious circle of disinformation by filling the information and communication gap on topics such as demographic change with emotive, speculative and hysterical content instead of facts.

The next election will be a choice between those who define American greatness as inclusion and civic equality and those who believe that “great” means an America that privileges straight white Christians.

 

 

The Cost Of Convenience

Every once in a while, I grudgingly agree with a curmudgeonly rant from my husband.

This particular rant is about bank-by-mail–our ability to authorize payments online and have the bank write the check and send it to the payee. It’s enormously convenient; no need to address envelopes, buy stamps, find a mailbox…

In fact, if there is a signal aspect to life in our digital world, it is the convenience that comes with our networked existence. Amazon visits my front door far more than the milkman used to–and thanks to the Amazon Key, the delivery person deposits whatever the package is in my front hall. If I don’t have time to go to the grocery, I can shop online and have Instacart or a similar service deliver what I need. If I don’t want to cook, but I’m not in the mood to go out, Clustertruck will bring me dinner from my favorite restaurant.

If I need information of virtually any kind, Doctor Google provides it; if I am curious about the status (or political opinions) of a friend or family member, there’s Facebook to fill me in. When my children or grandchildren are traveling, emails reassure me of their safety.

It’s a brave new world–but the old saying is right: there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Amazon, Facebook and Google have made themselves indispensable to most of us–and in return, we provide them with reams of our personal information. They serve us, and we pay for that service with our privacy. Ditto the other convenient services we use.

It’s slightly different–and much more blatant–with the banks.

When my husband goes online to make a payment, the bank immediately deducts the amount of that payment from his account. The bank then produces and mails a check to the recipient. In the “olden days,” the amount of a check would be deducted from one’s account when it “cleared.” That is, the money would come out of your account when  payees presented the checks and received their money.

Now, in return for the convenience of online bill paying, the bank has the use of the float– the period of time that elapses between your online direction to pay X and the presentation by X of that check.

(This little trick also makes it incredibly difficult to stop payment; since the money has already been deducted from your account, the bank has a convoluted process that wasn’t there before.)

I hear him grouse about this every time my husband pays a bill, and although I’m willing to chalk it up to the cost of convenience, I know he’s right. It’s just one more clever way that one more business has figured out how to “monetize” the processes that have moved online. And I also know that I’m one of the “marks” who enable it all–I am perfectly willing to trade my information for the convenience of shopping from home. I’m addicted to the ease  of accessing any and all information from my laptop.

And I don’t want to hunt for my checkbook and stamps when paying a bill.

I’m the patsy that makes the ripoffs possible.

 

Now Paper Straws Are Liberal?

We can wring our hands about the corruption of the Department of Education, or the placement of ideologues on our federal courts, the encouragement of White nationalism, or the abandonment of democratic norms and the rule of law, but even those abominations pale next to the war being waged by Donald Trump and his GOP cult on science and the environment.

A sufficiently motivated populace can eject Trump from the Oval Office, and elect people who will begin the process of repairing our governing institutions and our civic culture. The  rejection of science and denial of the existential threat posed by climate change, however, is imposing damage we may never be able to reverse.

It isn’t simply downplaying the extent of the threat, or failing to pursue measures to reverse the damage we now recognize. These troglodytes are actively encouraging behaviors harmful to the environment.

President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign store sells “Make America Great Again” hats, T-shirts, cups, towels and even dog leashes. But one of its newest items might be one of the campaign’s biggest attempt to troll the other side: Trump-branded plastic straws.

According to the campaign store, for $15, those interested can purchase a 10-pack of the red straws with Trump’s name “laser engraved” on them. The new campaign merchandise seems to come as a response to increasing concerned about plastic usage and waste. A video that went viral last year of a marine biologist removing a plastic strawfrom a sea turtle’s nose brought attention to the issue and many communities and businesses have begun to banthe use of plastic straws altogether.

The description of the Trump straws is not subtle about the message the merchandise is meant to send. “Liberal paper straws don’t work. Stand with President Trump and buy your pack of recyclable straws today,” it reads.

Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, tweeted about the new straws on Thursday, saying “Make Straws Great Again.”

Scientists tell us that humans dump eight million metric tons of plastic into our planet’s oceans each year.  By 2050, they estimate that plastic will outweigh all of the ocean’s fish. Plastic in the ocean is eventually broken into smaller pieces — known as microplastic — by sun exposure and wave action, and that microplastic can find its way into the food chain.

When plastic does eventually degrade (a process which takes 400 years for most plastic), it releases chemicals that contaminate the sea.

According to Our Last Straw, 

Americans use millions of plastic straws a day. Those straws litter our streets, lands, shorelines, and oceans. Plastic drinking straws are among the top 10 contributors to marine debris pollution. They do not biodegrade but break down into smaller microplastics that have made their way into our food chain and the deepest trenches of our oceans. The research and statistics on the impacts of plastic straws across the globe are alarming. News articles are appearing regularly on what plastics do to our environment, our health, as well as efforts and innovations across the globe to eliminate and ban single-use plastics straws.

What about the Trump campaign’s assertion that their (very expensive) straws can be recycled? I know it will shock readers to discover that the claim is yet another lie. As the Washington Post (and a number of other media outlets) reported:

Recycling is very important: It keeps many of our plastic objects from spending hundreds of years causing trouble. Unfortunately, your straws always end up in a landfill.

“Plastic straws and other items smaller than two by two inches, such as plastic utensils, fall through the machinery that sorts our recycling,” says Jonathan Kuhl of the D.C. Department of Public Works. “Because of this, we ask District residents not to put these small items in their recycling bins.” The same is true in most recycling plants around the country.

Name calling and gleeful ignorance. They’ll sure show us dumb “libs” (defined as people who accept science). Their grandchildren don’t need a habitable planet anyway.

The Ultimate Entitlement

A couple of weeks ago, Michelle Goldberg used her column in the New York Times to focus on the ultimate sense of entitlement displayed by a subset of wealthy white guys–a subset that includes Donald Trump. These men believe they are entitled to take what they want–including but not limited to sexual gratification– without regard for the consequences to others.

The arrogant expression of entitlement has been a prominent feature of accounts relayed by the twenty-two women who have accused Trump of sexual assault and/or rape.

As details emerge about the sordid behavior of Jeffrey Epstein, it is worth pointing out–as Goldberg does–that until a falling-out, Trump and Epstein were buddies.

Epstein, indicted on charges of abusing and trafficking underage girls, was a friend of Trump’s until the two had a falling out, reportedly over a failed business deal. The New York Times reported on a party Trump threw at Mar-a-Lago whose only guests were him, Epstein and around two dozen women “flown in to provide the entertainment.”

It isn’t only Epstein. Goldberg has a list.

There’s Trump’s friend Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, who was recently charged in a prostitution sting.  There’s Steve Bannon, who was once charged with domestic violence, battery and dissuading a witness;  Bill Shine, hired by Trump after he was forced from Fox News during  the Fox sexual harassment scandals; former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who left after both his ex-wives accused him of abuse; speechwriter David Sorensen, who resigned after his ex-wife reported his violence toward her.

And who can forget Elliott Broidy, Trump pal and Republican National Committee deputy finance chairman, who resigned last year after media reports that he’d paid $1.6 million in hush money to a former playboy model who said he’d abused her and paid for her an abortion after he got her pregnant.

The casino mogul Steve Wynn, whom Trump installed as the R.N.C.’s finance chairman, resigned amid accusations that he’d pressured his employees for sex.

In 2017, Trump tapped the former chief executive of AccuWeather, Barry Myers, to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Then The Washington Post discovered a report from a Department of Labor investigationinto Myers’s company, which found a culture of “widespread sexual harassment” that was “severe and pervasive.” The Senate hasn’t yet voted on Myers’s nomination, but the administration hasn’t withdrawn it.

And just this week, a senior military officer came forward to accuse Gen. John Hyten, Trump’s nominee to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of derailing her career when she turned down his sexual advances. “My life was ruined by this,” she told The Associated Press.

As Goldberg notes–and we’ve all seen– Trump’s first instinct these behaviors become public is empathy. For the entitled abuser.

In May, he urged Roy Moore, the theocratic Alabama Senate candidate accused of preying on teenage girls, not to run again because he would lose, but added, “I have NOTHING against Roy Moore, and unlike many other Republican leaders, wanted him to win.” The president has expressed no sympathy for victims in the Epstein case, but has said he felt bad for Acosta.

Epstein is simply the latest specimen to emerge from what Goldberg accurately calls “the depraved milieu from which the president sprang.”

The accusations against Trump–and his “access Hollywood” admissions– have encouraged media attention to the operation and assumptions of that “depraved milieu” –and disclosed the smug entitlement of the men who occupy its bubble of wealth and privilege. In their twisted worldviews, women (and for those like Epstein, female children) exist only to satisfy their urges.  Women who aren’t compliant deserve physical abuse.

This is an entitled worldview that goes well beyond misogyny. It’s horrifying.

The 2020 Election: A Fight For America’s Soul

In the wake of the 2016 election, when well-meaning people were trying to understand voters who opted for Donald Trump, a common explanation was economic: Trump voters were people who were economically fragile, worried about job security, etc.

Subsequent research has pretty conclusively disproved that excuse.

As my youngest son said at the time, there were two–and only two–groups of people who voted for Donald Trump: those who shared and applauded his obvious racism; and those for whom his racism was not disqualifying. 

Over the past months, as Trump’s dog-whistles have morphed into explicitly racist rhetoric, people in the mental health field have suggested that his recent tweets are evidence of his continuing mental decline. Others disagree; in a recent column, Thomas Edsall suggests it is strategic–that Trump is “ramping up” his racist  base.

Democrats heading into the 2020 election need to determine just how monolithically racist  the GOP has become.  Are there still some Republicans who can be persuaded to leave the dark side, or have virtually all voters who still identify as Republican become part of Trump’s White Nationalist cult?

John Kane, a political scientist at N.Y.U. and a co-author of a new paper, “Ingroup Lovers or Outgroup Haters? The Social Roots of Trump Support and Partisan Identity,” is among the activists and scholars examining these challenges. In an email, Kane described Trump’s lock on a key set of voters: “For Republicans that absolutely loathe and detest” such progressive constituencies as minorities, immigrants and members of the LGBT community, Kane wrote, “an appeal from Democratic Party elite is likely to be dismissed out of hand.”

Among Republicans more sympathetic to these liberal groups, Kane continued, “the share that could, under any circumstances, actually vote for a Democrat is quite small, below 10 percent, and this is likely concentrated among those who only weakly identify with or lean toward the Republican Party.”

“Loathing for progressive constituencies” is academic language for hating “those people.”

Edsell quotes another scholar for the proposition that Trump is campaigning “largely on issues of white identity”–issues that include not just racism, but misogyny, anti-Semitism and homophobia. Fear and hatred of “the other.” (And if you aren’t a Christian white guy, you are definitely “other.”)

All of which helps explain Trump’s shift to rolling back gay and lesbian rights, for example, after many decades of supporting just those causes.

In the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump described himself as a “real friend” of the LGBTQ community. Since taking office, however, the Trump administration has argued that the 1964 Civil Rights Act rights law does not protect gay workers from discrimination and that transgender people should be barred from military service.

There is an underlying political logic to the switch from Trump’s campaign stance to his policies once he won the White House. As he heads into the 2020 election, his “base,” the voters essential to his re-election, are hostile not only to gay men and lesbians, but to racial and ethnic minorities as well. (emphasis mine.)

Trump’s political survival now depends on catering to — indeed, inflaming — those hostilities.

The studies that Edsell quotes–studies which join the virtually unanimous conclusions of other researchers–confirm that the president’s supporters are driven by hatred of African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslim-Americans, Jews, and the LGBTQ community.

Clearly, Trump benefits immensely from hostility to African-Americans, to Hispanics and to gay men and lesbians. If he is an expert at anything, it is at exploiting and generating hostility. Trump’s relentless derogation of racial and ethnic minorities, his support for the anti-abortion movement and his right-wing appointments to the judiciary, reflect his political dependence on a key bloc of his loyalists, white born again and evangelical Christians.

These voters, in turn, have demonstrated exceptional determination to use the ballot box to protect their beliefs, values and prejudices from liberal challenge.

The 2020 election is shaping up to be a contest between the party of White Nationalists and the rest of us.

As Max Boot–a former Republican– recently wrote in the Washington Post:

There is nothing — nothing — more important in the United States than racism. Where you stand on that one issue defines who you are as a human being. Silence is complicity. All Republicans who stand mute in the face of Trump’s latest racism are telling you who they really are. It’s an ugly picture of a morally bankrupt party that has now embraced racial prejudice as a platform.

We need to listen to what the research tells us. Democrats are not going to peel off votes from Trump’s Republican base. Those voters are lost to us–and to the America we thought we inhabited.

In order to decisively defeat White Nationalism, we have to mobilize the Americans who didn’t bother to vote in 2016.

The haters will vote. We must outvote them–massively.