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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.

Red Myths, Rural Realities

Paul Krugman recently looked at the effects of Trump’s policies on rural America, and found–to no sentient person’s surprise–that the effects have been disastrous.

Economists, reports Politico, are fleeing the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service. Six of them resigned on a single day last month. The reason? They are feeling persecuted for publishing reports that shed an unflattering light on Trump policies.

But these reports are just reflecting reality (which has a well-known anti-Trump bias). Rural America is a key part of Donald Trump’s base. In fact, rural areas are the only parts of the countryin which Trump has a net positive approval rating. But they’re also the biggest losers under his policies.

As Krugman points out, whatever Trump’s campaign rhetoric might have promised, his actual policies have been aligned with (okay, dictated by) Congressional Republican priorities–what Krugman calls “G.O.P. standard”: big tax cuts for corporations and rich people, accompanied by cuts to the social safety net.

The only real deviation from GOP orthodoxy has been the tariffs, and Trump’s evident belief that trade wars are “easy to win.” Even the farmers who have been a reliable part of Trump’s base are beginning to recognize that they will bear the brunt of the substantial injuries caused by those wars.

As for the tax and social safety net cuts…

The Trump tax cut largely passes farmers by, because they aren’t corporations and few of them are rich. One of the studies by Agriculture Department economists that raised Trumpian ire showed that to the extent that farmers saw tax reductions, most of the benefits went to the richest 10 percent, while poor farmers actually saw a slight tax increase.

At the same time, the assault on the safety net is especially harmful to rural America, which relies heavily on safety-net programs. Of the 100 counties with the highest percentage of their population receiving food stamps, 85 are rural, and most of the rest are in small metropolitan areas. The expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which Trump keeps trying to kill, had its biggest positive impact on rural areas.

It is fair to suggest that many rural Americans are unaware of the variety of ways in which Medicaid expansion and other social programs support farm country; some of those benefits are indirect (which doesn’t mean they aren’t critically important). The impact of the tariffs, however, is hard to miss.

What about protectionism? The U.S. farm sector is hugely dependent on access to world markets, much more so than the economy as a whole. American soybean growers export half of what they produce; wheat farmers export 46 percent of their crop. China, in particular, has become a key marketfor U.S. farm products. That’s why Trump’s recent rage-tweeting over trade, which raised the prospect of an expanded trade war, sent grain markets to a 42-year low.

If Trump succeeds in plunging us into a full-blown trade war, which certainly seems more likely than not, Krugman says American imports and exports will both shrink — and since farmers rely disproportionately on exporting, they will be the biggest losers.

The harm being done to rural America by Trump leads to that perennial question: why do so many of the people bearing the brunt of his ignorance continue to support him?

Krugman delicately suggests that it has to do with “cultural factors”–by which he means hostility to immigrants and resentment of coastal elites they believe look down on rural America. (What Krugman calls hostility to immigrants is, if the research is to be believed, part of a much larger and more ingrained hostility to non-whites and non-Christians.)

Krugman thinks that rural America’s support for Trump may start to crack as the negative effects of his policies become too obvious to miss. I’m less sanguine.

When we so-called “elitists” talk about “voting ones interests,” we are almost always referring to economic interests. When I listen to Trump supporters–when they post angry diatribes on Facebook or are interviewed for a new program–what I hear is a very different view of what constitutes their interests.

Economic reality be damned. Trump voters are defending their vision of America, and that vision is white, heterosexual, and fundamentalist Christian. So long as they believe Trump is hurting people who fall outside that narrow category, he’s their guy.

 

Funerals

Like many readers of this blog, I’m at “that” age–the age at which you experience what seem like weekly losses of long-time friends, acquaintances and family members.

Last Friday, I went to yet another funeral.

My deceased friend left an accomplished and loving family. He died after a lifetime of service–to his profession, which was (ironically) that of funeral director–and to his various communities: the Indianapolis Jewish community, of which he was a part, the political community (he was a longtime, passionate liberal Democrat), and especially and always the larger human community, for which he demonstrated infinite love and compassion.

It is a tired phrase, but so true of this particular individual: he never met a stranger.

What struck me during the service were the characteristics the clergy focused on (a number of them participated). One after the other, they remarked upon his integrity, praised his compassion, and admired his willingness to stand up for what he believed. They repeatedly noted that he was a man of his word–that no matter how difficult, if he made a commitment, he kept it.

If he gave you his word, you could “take it to the bank.”

To use an old-fashioned but entirely appropriate word, he was righteous. Yes, his smile could light up a room, his personality was warm and his laugh infectious–but he was also righteous. He was incredibly kind. He was unfailingly moral, but never judgmental.

He was righteous.

As I listened to the (entirely accurate) glowing eulogies, all I could think of was that as those in the (jam-packed) room mourned the loss of a good man, we continue to live in a country with a chief executive whose word is worthless, whose commitments are laughable, and who has displayed absolutely no connection to–or comprehension of– integrity or righteousness. At Trump’s funeral, no one will be able to say with a straight face that he was a good or loving– or even nice– person, let alone honorable or righteous.

There is a growing abyss in our country between truly admirable people (of whom there are more than we sometimes realize) and the empty and pitiable “captains of industry,” political posturers, and pious hypocrites who currently occupy positions of authority and power in this country.

My friend saw that abyss, and it troubled him greatly.

There were hundreds of people at my friend’s funeral. They had to put up a tent outside the capacious funeral home to accommodate the large and diverse crowd who were there to pay their respects to a man who exemplified the attributes of human kind we most admire–a man whose smiles and hugs reached into multiple neighborhoods and constituencies.

At the end of the day–and we are all closing in on the end of our days–the genuine affection of our fellow humans, the earned respect of our peers, and the honesty of a celebratory eulogy is all the success that any of us can really hope for. To repeat another hackneyed truth: we can’t take anything else with us.

It’s the memory of a life lived with integrity, love and compassion, not the trappings of power or wealth or celebrity, that ultimately matters. The hundreds of people who came to my friend’s funeral were there to comfort his family and mourn the passing of someone they genuinely cared about. I’ve been to a number of funerals where that wasn’t the case.

In the Jewish tradition, there’s a saying: may his memory be for a blessing.

Leaving a memory that is a blessing is beyond the ability of today’s self-engrossed wanna-be autocrats to achieve.

 

 

 

It’s Only Money…

There have been some truly jaw-dropping revelations coming from recent Congressional hearings–but most have been overshadowed by the continuing dramas of Trump’s refusal to produce documents demanded by Congress and Barr’s evident fabrications about the Mueller Report.

This one is particularly maddening, if only because allowing clueless Betsy DeVos to run anything–let alone the Department of Education–is infuriating.

In this article in Common Dreams, Jeff Bryant offers one particular example of DeVos’ overwhelming incapacity:

During a series of recent congressional hearings in Washington, D.C., U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos had to respond to a recent report finding the U.S. Department of Education has been scammed for hundreds of millions of dollars by fraudulent or mismanaged charter schools. Her responses reveal not only her inability to counter legitimate concerns over the spread of charter schools but also the charter school industry’s resistance to honestly address a chronic problem with its schools.

The report, which I co-authored with Network for Public Education Executive Director Carol Burris, found that up to $1 billion awarded by the federal government’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) went to charter schools that never opened or opened for only brief periods before being shut down for mismanagement, poor performance, lack of enrollment, and fraud. Our calculation was that a least a third of the $4.1 billion spent by the CSP was wasted.

Members of Congress repeatedly referred to these findings when questioning the secretary’s management of charter school grants and her proposal to increase funding for the program to $500 million annually. In response, DeVos first attempted to deny the problem, saying, “You are always going to have schools that don’t make it.”

When her “some schools won’t make it” excuse didn’t seem to convince those doing the questioning, DeVos insisted that the country needs “more charter schools, not less.” And when she was unable to explain her department’s obvious inability to properly monitor the charter grant program, she attacked the authors of the report, claiming that they had a “political agenda.” (She was also unable to provide any evidence that their conclusions were inaccurate.)

Following the hearing at which the monetary losses were explored, the Network for Public Education wrote an open letter to DeVos, in which they pointed out that 250 charter schools in DeVos home state of Michigan had received grant money between 2006 and 2014, and that 109 of those–or 42%–had either closed or never opened, wasting more than $20 million dollars. Despite this abysmal result,  DeVos’ DOE gave Michigan $47,222,222 in 2018 for the express purpose of starting up or expanding charters.

It isn’t only Michigan.

In Ohio, of the roughly 290 charter schools that received federal grants from the CSP during the same time period, 117 schools, 40 percent, also never opened or are now closed. The amount of waste to taxpayers totals $35,926,693.

In Louisiana, 51 of the 110 charter schools, 46 percent, that received funding through the CSP failed.

In California, of the more than 780 charter schools that received grant funds, 297 schools, 38 percent, closed or never opened, resulting in $103,467,332 in wasted education funds.

In Florida, of the some 500 schools getting federal grants, 184 schools, 36 percent, never opened or closed, representing a loss of $34,781,736 in lost federal tax dollars.

It is only fair to point out that this is not evidence that charter schools are all substandard or fraudulent. There are plenty of perfectly good charters, just as there are (propaganda to the contrary) plenty of perfectly good public schools. The data tends to show that overall, charters (which are public schools) perform pretty much the way traditional public schools perform.

Private schools that accept vouchers are another matter.

What this situation does unequivocally demonstrate is that, under Betsy DeVos, the Department of Education has abandoned oversight, thanks largely to her cozy relationship with for-profit “educators” and her fixation on privatizing  public education.

Under DeVos, DOE is wasting billions of dollars that could be used to actually improve public education.

Her protector and fellow ideologue, Mike Pence, must be so proud…..

 

This Is Scary

Speaking of collusion…

CommonDreams recently reported on evidence of “explosive” and “extraordinary” coordination between a controversial Madrid campaign group and far-right parties across Europe.

A controversial Madrid-based campaign group, supported by American and Russian ultra-conservatives, is working across Europe to drive voters towards far-right parties in next month’s European Parliament elections and in Spain’s national elections this Sunday, openDemocracy can reveal today.

Our findings have caused alarm among lawmakers who fear that Trump-linked conservatives are working with European allies to import a controversial US-style ‘Super PAC’ model of political campaigning to Europe – opening the door to large amounts of ‘dark money’ flowing unchecked into elections and referenda.

The Madrid-based campaign group CitizenGo is best known for its online petitions against same-sex marriage, sex educationand abortion– and for driving buses across cities with slogans against LGBT rights and “feminazis”.

But now openDemocracy can reveal new evidence of “extraordinary coordination” between this group and far-right parties across Europe – from Spain to Italy, Germany and Hungary.

Former United States Senator Russ Feingold, who worked with John McCain to reform political finance in the U.S., described the report’s findings as “frightening” and called on European leaders to protect the democratic process.

“Europe has an opportunity to get ahead of this and not make the same mistakes that were made here in the United States.”

During the past few years, there has been explosive growth of far-right–essentially fascist–parties here in the U.S. and in Europe.  Spain is just one example:

The Spanish far-right party Vox has pledged to build walls around Spanish enclaves in North Africa, jail Catalan independence leaders, loosen gun control laws and “make Spain great again”. The party also opposes “political correctness”, marriage equality for gay people and laws against gender-based violence.

Sound familiar?

The cited article goes into considerable detail about the global links among far right groups and the sources of their financing, but what is truly chilling is the extent of this movement and the fears that motivate its supporters.

We’ve been here before. Change can be terrifying to those who believe that their positions are being threatened. And societies today–especially western, democratic societies–are facing enormous changes.

Technology is rapidly transforming economies, and automation is threatening millions of jobs. Previously marginalized populations–women, LGBTQ citizens, African-Americans, immigrants–are demanding an equal place at the civic table. Longstanding traditions are under assault from a variety of directions–from the arts, from globalization, from liberal religions, and from growing secularization.

People–okay, mostly straight white Christian males– fear the loss of their traditional dominance ; they experience these changes as existentially threatening. That isn’t new. What is new is the ability–courtesy of the Internet– to connect with others around the world who share their fears.

Meanwhile, the rhetoric coming from Trump and his white nationalist ilk gives them permission to be far more candid about their bigotries. (You might even say that the bigots are leaving their closets and “coming out.”)

White nationalism appeals to people who are fundamentally insecure–who believe, deep down, that they can’t compete in the world that is dawning, that shorn of their traditional privilege they will be insignificant.

The problem is, that fear is powerfully motivating.

People of good will who are willing–even eager– to live in our evolving world cannot afford complacency. There’s a quote by someone whose name I’ve long forgotten, to the effect that a rattlesnake, if cornered will become so angry it will bite itself. That, of course, is exactly what happens to these people who are consumed with hate and resentment against the Other — they are biting themselves.

But the rest of us are collateral damage.