Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Problem with Authoritarianism

There are many problems with the terrible idea of Donald Trump as president.  At the heart of his candidacy is the promise of authoritarian rule.  So, what's wrong with authoritarian rule?  (Except, of course the history of the last 100 years with authoritarian examples from Mussolini and Hitler to Stalin and Castro).  The fatal flaw of authoritarianism is that there is no room for love in its world view.  David Brooks, New York Times conservative editorialist, summarized it concisely on his appearance with Mark Shields on the PBS Newshour last Friday:

"The thing about his whole world view is there is no room for love in it. You get a sense of a man who has received no love, so his relationship with women has no love in it - it's trophy.  His relationship toward the world is one of competition and beating - as if he's going to win by competition what other people get by love. So you are really seeing someone with an odd psychology, unleavened by kindness or charity, but where it is all winners and losers, beating and being beaten - and that's part of the authoritarian personality, and it comes out in his attitudes towards women."

I think authoritarianism is at the heart of the Trump appeal.  He is seen as strong by voters who are either authoritarian themselves, or frightened people who want an authoritarian to protect them.

But I don't see Trump as strong. I see him as a pathetic child who is obsessed with promoting himself as strong, successful, as a...Man.  But he's not a man, he's a child. And he knows almost nothing about the country, the government, the law, the world, and especially he knows nothing about dignity or honor or ... love.  

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Nixon's War on Drugs was actually a war on his political opponents - blacks and hippies

John Erlichman, President Richard Nixon's aid who went to prison in the Watetgate scandal, revealed the crass, heartless political motivation for Nixon's War on Drugs.  It was a way to attack his political opponents, hippies and blacks. Here is the stunning quote:

"You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”"

So there you have it - destroy lives to attack your political enemies, to win votes. Nixon's War on Drugs and his Southern Strategy (courting the South by welcoming racists who wanted to abandon LBJ's Democratic Party) has attacked  American blacks. Inner city black and brown neighborhoods are literally war zones where the police are often seen as an occupying military and huge numbers of young blacks are imprisoned. 

The anti-back tactics continue in the Republican South as they continuously find ever more creative and crude ways to restrict black and brown voting.

I know that my black and brown friends will find nothing surprising about this revealing quotation, but I find it deeply shocking and dismaying. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Obama's opening to Cuba

Obama is visiting Cuba.  Good for him.  The problem with Cuba was never Cuba itself.  The problem with Cuba had been the Soviet Union, which is dead.  When the Soviet Union was dedicated to the expansion of its communist empire across the globe, Cuba was a big problem for the United States.  It was a forward outpost of the USSR on America’s doorstep.  It’s not that Cuba was a threat, but rather that the USSR was a threat.

Now, Cuba is just an impoverished communist nation of no real import.  But it is filled with some wonderful baseball players.  Aging Cuban-Americans who have good reason to hate Castro, and good reason to hate Communism, notwithstanding, opening relations with Cuba  is just a fine thing to do, as far as I can tell.

Right wingers still think Cuba is a problem, I guess, but it makes no sense anymore.  Just old ideology that is blind to reality.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Trump calls for riots if the convention doesn’t nominate him

Authoritarian Donald Trump, in the lead for the Republican nomination for president, continues to show how dangerous he is, and how much more dangerous he would be if given governmental power.  He has just called for riots at the convention if he shows up with the most delegate votes but isn’t nominated. 

This shows his ignorance, of course.  The delegates are to vote for who won their allegiance during the primaries – on the first ballot and the first ballot only.  If there is no majority winner on the first ballot then the delegates are free to vote as they see fit.  There have been many conventions in U.S. history where it took many votes for the political party to choose a nominee.

Why?  Why is that the way American democracy is conducted?  I think it is important to remember that the United States is not a direct democracy – thank goodness.  The United States is an elected Republic.  The political parties nominate their candidates.  The use of primary elections to assist the parties in the nomination of their respective candidates is relatively new – JFK used a couple of primary victories to make his case – at the convention – and was nominated.  But the real election of the nominee is on the convention floor.  For about the last half century, the conventions have been just rubber stamps of the primaries - the winner of the majority of delegate votes during the primaries won on the first ballot at the convention. 

OK, so what?  If no one wins the majority of the delegates on the first ballot, they have to win the actual election – the election of the convention floor delegates. 

The parties have every right to do their best to nominate a candidate that they think can win the election, and an even greater duty to nominate a candidate that they think will not destroy their party, and a moral duty to nominate one  that they think will not destroy the country.  Donald Trump is not that candidate.  Donald Trump is rightly perceived by many as a candidate that will destroy the Republican Party if nominated, and God Forbid, would destroy the country and perhaps the world if elected president.

If Trump wins on the first ballot and gets the Republican nomination, we can only pray – and VOTE – that he does not become president. 

If Trump fails on the first ballot, we can only pray that he is defeated on the convention floor.

If he creates riots to force his nomination I would expect that would permanently dismember and destroy the Republican Party.

If he wins the nomination, especially if he does so by riotous force, I would expect a third party Conservative Candidate to run for president so as to give conservatives someone to vote for.  That may happen even if he wins on the first ballot.  He is rightly despised by conservatives (and liberals too, of course)

Donald Trump is on a mission of destruction in the service of his astonishingly grandiose ego. The question is - how far does his destruction reach?  The best answer is that he manages to destroy himself, with a humiliating loss of the nomination, or failing that with a humiliating loss of the election.  The next target of his bile is the Republican Party.  The next level out is the United States.  Then the world. 

He must be stopped.  The ugliness is only getting uglier, and will become ever more so the further he advances in his quest for fame and power.  He is a pathetic man, needing adoration of supporters and fear of all who oppose him.  He promises nothing except bullying violent despotism.  Why does anyone think that is going to benefit them?

Very ugly. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

If you make a deal with the devil, you don't get the deal, but you do get the devil

I was listening to the evangelical conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt talking with conservative editorialist George Will.  Hewitt said that he would support Trump if he was the Republican nominee because Hewitt so wants a Republican president to put Christian conservatives on the Supreme Court.  Will said he would not even consider supporting Trump.  

My message to Hewitt, and all the poor lost conservative souls who are watching the Trump tornado with hopeless despair, is that if you make a deal with the devil, you don't get the deal, you get the devil.  Hewitt himself had interviewed Trump some time back and got a pledge from Trump that he would release his tax returns.  Gee, what a surprise, but when Hewitt put that same question to Trump in the last debate, not only did Trump refuse to release his tax returns, but he insulted Hewitt for having a small audience that nobody pays any attention to - normal Trump method - if someone asks a tough question, or says something critical about him, he attacks and insults them, on the level of the third grade bully.

So, why on earth would Hewitt, or any conservative, believe that they can count on Trump delivering Supreme Court nominees that he has mentioned on the campaign trail once in office.  Do they think a president Trump is going to be more dignified, more dependable, operate with more integrity than campaigner Trump?  Are they crazy?

I think New Jersey governor Chris Christie has just learned that lesson in a very deep and humiliating way.  Trump had a bad debate, and Rubio had attacked and mocked him quite successfully.  Trump's rejoinders were pathetic.  The next day Rubio was doubling down and gaining ground, but Christie rode in to the rescue and stole the headlines with an endorsement of Trump. It was an astonishing act of ambition.  He had obviously decided that Trump would win if Christie helped him at that critical moment, and he may have been right.  Trump went on to dominate the Super Tuesday primaries.

But what did Christie get?  He was humiliated and diminished by Trump.  It was painful watching Christie try to sound enthusiastic as he introduced Trump for the victory speech after the Super Tuesday results had come in.  And it was even more painful to watch Christie's face and eyes as he was forced to stand behind Trump and listen to Trump's narcissistic ramblings.  "What on earth have I done?" was written all over him.

So, whatever deal Christie thought he was getting from the devil, it won't be happening, he won't get the deal but he will get the devil. And believe me, Trump is as close to the devil as I ever want to see running for president (Cruz might be worse, but let's slay one dragon at a time)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Is America in the Process of Losing its Innocence?

It looks like Trump has won enough in yesterday’s Super Tuesday primaries that he is the likely Republican candidate.  I think this is a sad day for the Republican Party, and an even sadder day for America and the world.  Trump’s rise is a sign that America is in danger of losing its status as an exceptional country, and is becoming just another country in a big world filled with problems.  It is in danger of electing an authoritarian despot, just like so many other countries have all too sadly done.

There are many reasons I am appalled by Trump.  He is remarkably wrong in many, many ways to be president of the United States.  But let me just write about one issue – authoritarianism.  Trump is, or is pretending to be, an authoritarian.  America has been very, very lucky so far.  We have not been guilty of electing monsters to be our leaders. There have been many presidents that have engendered a lot of opposition, but none have been actual monsters.

Other countries have to live with a past that includes monsters.  Italy had Mussolini (whom Trump consciously or unconsciously mimics in his face and body language); Italy also had Caesar; Russia had Stalin, (and Lenin, and Peter the Great, and now Putin), China has Mao Tse Tung (and a few thousand years of brutal rulers); Japan had crazed generals; and of course Germany had Hitler.  These countries all lost their innocence long ago.  They were seduced by authoritarian leaders who became monstrous despots and war mongers. 

I don’t know if Trump is capable of sinking to those depths, I certainly hope that he is all show and little reality, but this is a man who is overtly campaigning on the promise to be a war criminal, to end first amendment protection of a critical press, and who refuses to disavow the KKK with anything other than annoyance and impatience that he is being asked to do so.  If Donald Trump is real, he should be terrifying. 

Why?  Why are Republicans voting for Trump?  People say old white people are angry at government.  Sure, that’s true.  People say people who believe in conspiracy theories are drawn to Trump.  OK, that’s probably true.  But, is that what is happening?

I think that the explanation of Trump can be found in a brilliant book written after WWII by psychologist Erich Fromme “Escape from Freedom.”  Fromme’s thesis was that authoritarian people were drawn to Hitler and Stalin and empowered them.  They wanted an authoritarian personality like themselves to rule brutally, like they would if they had the power.  They got Hitler.  They got Stalin.  It was not good  - for anyone, not even for them.

I believe the one trait of Trump supporters is that they are authoritarian personalities, and have a will to dominate, and see brutal domination as what is needed in a dangerous world, and in a government that refuses to do exactly what they want.

Just a final thought – blacks and Native Americans are under no illusion about the brutal nature of America’s past, so maybe my analysis is flawed.  But America is perhaps best explained by English Historian Paul Johnson made the point in “A History of the American People” that the United States has always had two parallel energies in operation – idealism and greed.  The slaughter of the indigenous peoples and the enslavement of Africans should disabuse us all of the notion that brutality and domination are not part of the American character.  But, so far in our history our despotism has not gone beyond our own shores the way some of our older, sadder neighboring countries have done (early 20th century empire building as an exception).

I hope I paint too dark a picture of a reality show personality that has figured out how to get TV ratings and win votes.  I hope that when you scratch beneath the surface of Donald Trump all you find is a shallow, vain narcissist who only wants to be worshiped.  I just don’t know how far he will go to make people kiss his ring.  Looking at Chris Christie who was forced by Trump to stand behind him while he gave his acceptance speech, looking like he was a captured hostage with a knife to his throat, is not a good sign about what Trump will make people do to kiss his… ring.