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What is this election about?

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Trump, in full alliterative mode, has declared this “the election of Kavanaugh and caravans.”

If it is, he’s in bad shape. Only 25% of Americans—far fewer even than the one-third that comprises his base—believe Kavanaugh told the truth in his Senate confirmation hearings. That means three-quarters of us don’t believe him—believe that Kavanaugh is, in fact, a liar. Whatever credibility the Republican-led Supreme Court had following the 2000 election (and it wasn’t very much) has now been reduced to near-zero, as SCOTUS becomes an outpost of the RNC/Fox “News”/Trump cult.

Well, okay, Mister President, if you want this election to be about Kavanaugh, bring it on! We’ll take the women’s vote and you can have the rapists.

But wait, there’s more to the Trump campaign pitch: that Caravan, winding its way northward somewhere in southern Mexico. The footage has been alarming: thousands of destitute Hondurans jammed onto that border bridge, while Mexican police tear gassed them and Trump, a bully who loves to shove his considerable weight around, threatens to shut down the southern border.

This dispute about illegal immigrants always teeter-totters between two polar opposites: Democrats tend to view undocumented immigrants compassionately, especially when they are provably trying to escape from rape, gang violence, penury and murder (as in the case of the Hondurans). Republicans tend towards strict law-and-order, insisting upon proper, legal entry into this country.

The problem with the Republican point of view is that they cannot shake the perception that their attitude is stained with xenophobia—an intense hatred of foreigners with darker skin color (would they be as upset if Swedes were trying to get in?). Where does this perception of Republican xenophobia come from? Democrats didn’t invent it; Republicans earned it. Nor is it anything recent. There’s always been a “know-nothing”strain in American politics, actively hostile to immigration even though every single American who ever lived was an immigrant or the descendent of immigrants (except for Native Americans). Sometimes this strain infects Democrats (as it did throughout much of the 20th century). More recently it has migrated into the Republican Party and morphed into a much more virulent strain.

There’s an eerie similarity between two conservative fictions that are current among American Republicans. One, stemming from the Christian wing of that party, says “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” The other, from the party’s law-and-order wing, says “We have nothing against people of color, only people of color who break the law.” The reason I call both “fictions” is because they’re both based on unsupportable principles. When a Catholic or evangelical, speaking of (say) a gay man, says “Hate the sin, love the sinner,” he conveniently forgets to explain how “hating the sin” resulted in killing the sinner over the 2,000-year span of the Christian church. How many gays were burnt at the stake, tortured, had their genitals cut off in Christ’s name? (Christ, who for all we know was gay.) Perhaps the Church no longer officially sanctions such abominations, but in keeping homophobia alive (which they do every chance they get), they nurture the hatred that, at any time, can and does re-erupt into physical violence against homosexuals. It is patently absurd to speak of “hating the sin but loving the sinner.” The “sin” (a stupid word) is the sinner: you cannot separate a man from what he does and believes. That Platonic or Thomistic system, which creates a false dichotomy between “mind” and “body,” has now been debunked in favor of a more holistic way of looking at human existence—a way that is more in conformity with the way humans actually live and perceive themselves: as integrated wholes.

The other fiction, that Republicans resent people of color only when they break the law, rests on the assumption that most law-breaking is by people of color. In certain areas of that country that may be true; in others, it isn’t. Oakland has a lot of Black crime, but Red states such as Alabama (highest opioid rate of addiction in the country), North Dakota (where opioid-related deaths are soaring) and West Virginia (the country’s highest drug-overdose rate) prove that conservative Christian Caucasians also break an awful lot of laws—not only drug laws, but also the associated felonies of theft, domestic violence, impaired driving, criminal assault, wire fraud, and on and on.

I, personally, have no problem with a few thousand Honduran immigrants coming into this country. I would like to see the process organized and orderly; there’s no reason it can’t be, except for the xenophobia of Republicans and the pandering to it by their president. And I believe most Americans agree with me. The number of Americans who support legal immigration is on the rise, while the number who want to decrease it is falling.

Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that legal immigration is whatever the government says it is. When a conservative, xenophobic regime is in power, it restricts the numbers of ways immigrants can enter legally. But any regime can change the rules anytime it wishes to. In the case of the Hondurans, why not examine them case by case? Why not let them in, if they haven’t committed violent felonies? Why not absorb a population that—as far as we can tell—is entirely peaceful, wants only to work (at the kinds of jobs Americans won’t: gardeners, hotel maids, field hands, housekeepers) and in their own ways are devout and spiritual?

Why not? Because of Republican xenophobia. They want to make America a white, gated community: foreigners need not apply! (Or gays or non-Christians, for that matter.) We saw, in Germany in the 1930s, how white, so-called “Christian” people turned their country into a gigantic concentration camp, and suffered the disastrous result of their bad choices: the complete destruction of Germany. Is the same thing happening to America?


Warning to Democrats: Go easy on taxes!

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Nancy Pelosi didn’t do herself, or Democrats, any favors with her remark (reported in Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle) that “We have to put our hands into the pockets of the people who have [money].”

She was referring to Proposition C, which is on the city’s November ballot. It would tax San Francisco’s biggest companies 0.5% on revenues above $50 million annually, bringing in an extra $250 million a year to fund homeless programs. That’s on top of the corporate taxes these companies already pay, and would double the city’s annual expenditures on homeless programs to half-a-billion dollars with–let’s be truthful–little to show for it.

Pelosi, you’ll recall, was called a “Communist” during Saturday’s far right-inspired melée, organized by the Florida Republican Party and instigated by The Proud Boys, that bizarre mélange of fat, under-educated, rural white crackers who look like they have some familiarity with the inside of a prison cell and the acrid smell of meth. When Republicans call someone a “Communist,” I doubt if they have any conception what Communism really is, except for one thing: taxes. In Republican minds, “Communist” = “high taxes,” and that’s why Pelosi’s comment was so stupid.

Break it down. “We have to put our hands into the pockets of the people who have money.” Who is the “We” she refers to? Obviously, it’s government. Who are the “people who have money”? In this case, it’s corporations, but taxing corporations doesn’t really harm them. They neutralize higher taxes with a variety of means: fewer raises and benefits for their workers—passing their increased costs on to consumers for their products and services—or leaving town for lower-taxing cities.

And this metaphor of “putting our hands into the pockets”? Troubling. Reminds me of the famous Willie Sutton remark: Asked why he robbed banks, he replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” Nobody has a right to put their hands into your pocket except you, right? You wouldn’t want someone trying to get in there. They’re called “pickpockets” and they deserve your opprobrium for a good reason: they’re trying to steal your money, that you made; and while their motives may be honorable, even admirable, you have the right to resent it, because it’s being done without your permission.

Doesn’t Pelosi see that this kind of language plays into the hands of Republicans? Obviously she’s not a “Communist.” But the rightwingers are correct to question our system of taxation, including the absence of accountability concerning how these funds are spent.

For example, in 2014, my county of Alameda placed on the ballot Measure BB, which proposed to raise $8 billion over 30 years to, among other things, repave our dreadful streets, which were massively plagued by potholes. The measure easily passed. Now, four years later, the streets remain as pothole-dotted as ever, maybe worse. Just three days ago, the Chronicle reported on a new nationwide study that concluded that San Francisco and Oakland have “the worst roads” in America. So what happened to Measure BB money? Nobody knows. There’s no transparency, no accountability—and still our local cities and counties ask voters for more and more money to fund schemes that nobody understands and that result in solutions no one can see.

Related to this is another proposition on the November ballot here in Oakland, Measure AA. This would levy an additional parcel tax on homeowners of $198 per year, making it one of the most punitive and regressive parcel taxes in the city’s history. Its supporters claim that the lion’s share of money will be used for “early education” and something called “The Oakland Promise Fund.” Both of those things sound very nebulous to me. I used to be a reporter for the Oakland Tribune, and investigated some of these local non-profit organizations that are given money by the City for high-sounding goals, but that too often turn into un-transparent “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” schemes that are a complete waste of time and border on fraud. The oversight of how Measure AA’s funds are spent would be entrusted to a Citizens’ Oversight Commission” that, I guarantee you, will be hand-picked by AA’s backers and comprised of sympathetic auditors who would be loath to find anything wrong with AA’s functioning.

I realize that I’ve become something of an anti-taxer, which may be surprising in view of my disgust with the Republican Party and its current fuhrer. But really, even a broken clock is right twice a day. Too often, Democrats and liberals see hard-working people like myself as a piggy bank for every scheme they can devise to extort money for a pet project. But I think people are wising up. The Chronicle recently reported that the city’s voters are in favor of helping the homeless “until they see the cost of Proposition C.” Then support starts plummeting. It used to be that San Francisco was the most liberal city in America and that taxing big corporations was a shoo-in among voters. But the city’s demographics are changing. Asians aren’t terribly enamored of corporate taxes, which they see as inflationary and job-threatening, nor are they fond of parcel taxes, which hit them disproportionately since so many Asians are homeowners. Then, too, Millennials working in tech are justifiably horrified by the thought that (for instance) Jack Dorsey would even float the idea of taking Twitter and Square out of San Francisco if Prop C passes (which is why the city’s Mayor, London Breed, is against Prop C).

These are legitimate concerns. Government cannot go on sticking its fingers into people’s pockets forever and not have there be dire consequences and political backlashes. Nancy Pelosi may have inadvertently let the cat out of the bag with her ill-timed and imprudent remark. Her handlers need to rein her in, but more importantly, Democrats need to get a grip on their obsession with raising taxes before they drive moderates like me right out of the Democratic Party.


Putting Kashoggi into perspective

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To some extent I sympathize with Trump in this MBS-Kashoggi incident. His attitude—portrayed as loathsome by critics including some Republicans—is that America shouldn’t let “mere” moral considerations interfere with our global, strategic interests. Saudi Arabia wants to invest hundreds of millions of dollars here, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. The Saudis also side with us (and we with them) in their proxy war with Iran; we need them (or so it’s said) in the fight against terrorism. Why let a messy extra-judicial killing screw up a beautiful friendship?

This country always has made truck with nasty foreign leaders. The list of countries we protected and supported—countries that harassed, or imprisoned, or murdered their internal opponents—is vast, stretching from the Iran of the Shah to the dictators of Central and South America we shielded and did business with for decades during the Cold War. Always, we did so (and so justified it to ourselves) because it was “good for America.” And maybe it was.

I suppose, if you’re a president of the United States, you have to do some pretty squeamish things. Trump once told a reporter (I can’t find the precise quote but you probably remember) “What, you don’t think we kill people too?” He didn’t go into specifics but he confirmed what, I think, all of us know: occasionally a U.S. president gives a kill order against a specific individual. Osama bin Laden is the textbook example, but there have been many others: commanders from al Qaeda, al-Shabaab, ISIS, you name it, or, in the old days, various Nazis and Communists. It goes with the territory.

So, from that point of view, there’s nothing especially shocking about another country doing it. In this case, MBS rightly or wrongly determined that Kashoggi was an enemy of the Saudi state, and had to be eliminated. Is that any different from Obama or Trump ordering a drone strike against Islamic militants in Nangarhar district? It isn’t really, if you think about it. The Saudi torture and beheading of Kashoggi, in their own embassy in Istanbul, obviously is more shockingly dramatic and gruesome, but the end result is the same: somebody’s husband, son, father is killed violently, on the order of a national leader, who did it for reasons of national security.

This incident, though, does raise larger questions. What is the moral price we pay as a people to achieve economic security? We all want cheap gasoline, we all want our workers to have good jobs. Is the death of one man too high a price to pay for those worthy ends? Put another way, would you give up your job if you were assured it would save the life of a person halfway around the world whom you never knew and never will? You probably would not. Would you do it to save, say, a thousand lives? You might have to think about it a little harder. Maybe you would, because (you tell yourself) you can always get another job.

What if you knew you couldn’t get another job? Your savings would soon run out. Your family would be hungry; you couldn’t pay your rent or mortgage. Those are important things. A thousand lives also are important things. You put one on one side of the scale, another on the other side, and weigh the balance. It’s very difficult.

Citizens routinely shut their—our–eyes to certain things that governments do, and the bigger and more powerful the country, the tighter we all have to close those eyelids. I think most of us can live with the thought that some foul deeds are committed in our names by our leaders, Democratic or Republican. This emphatically doesn’t mean we, the American people, should do nothing. We make ourselves feel better protesting, tweeting, writing letters to the editor, all to cloak ourselves in moral outrage. But in the end, what good does it do?

The governments that kill their political enemies always hope, of course, that these murders don’t come to public light. Kashoggi’s did. That forces everybody to go into CYA-mode. Trump, who probably knew about the murder in advance (and signed off on it), now has to pretend to be “concerned” and perhaps even considering “severe” punishment for the Saudis. He has to make suitable noises about punishing them. But he knows this incident will subside, to be replaced by the next incident, and the one after that, and it will be business as usual, only with this difference: leaders will instruct their henchmen—the ones who actually carry out the killings—to be more discrete, less sloppy about them. “We don’t want another Kashoggi!” they’ll instruct their intelligence chiefs. The word “to Kashoggi” will go down alongside “to Bork” as a surname-become-verb, in this case, to murder a political opponent and have it be discovered through the incompetence of the killers. The word already has gone out from Trump’s Oval Office: “I don’t want any Kashoggis.” Extra veils of secrecy will now mask America’s political assassinations. You, and I, will be happier for not knowing what our government does in our name.

Have a lovely weekend!

 


Of horses, pigs and presidents

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I don’t think Stormy Daniels has a horse face, do you? Actually, I think she’s quite pretty.

Trump went beyond his usual misogyny when he called her a “horseface.” In fact, he insulted his own taste in women, since he had an adulterous sexual affair with her. So the question is, “Mister President, why did you have sex with a woman who is a horseface?”

I don’t expect that the White House press corps will ask Trump that! They’re too afraid of getting their credentials yanked by a vindictive president. But while we’re on the subject of comparing human faces with animals, how about the following two pictures?

Trump

Pig

Even a die-hard Trump supporter would have to admit the porcine features of the current occupant of the White House: the nasty, small, snorting mouth, the piggy nose, the squinty, feral eyes, the fat cheeks. This animal-man should be in a muddy sty, not the Oval Office.

The sons, too, are piggy. The first time I saw that awful photo of Donald Jr. holding the elephant’s tail he had hacked off a beast he had just slaughtered,

Junior

I thought he looked like Professor Pyg, from Gotham, but without the charm.

Pyg

Eric, who is far less in the public eye than his older brother, inherited his father’s unfortunate traits: the bulbous pig nose, the mouth that looks like it was created to root out grubs, the greedy, slotted eyes.

Eric

I don’t mean to pick on the Trump men for their genetic inheritance; I, myself, am hardly an Adonis. But I don’t go around insulting women (or men) the way these Trumps do. And what goes around comes around, as the newly minted rapist Justice on the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh, reminded us, when he promised vengeance—not justice—for Democrats.

And then there’s this MBS business, about which I blogged yesterday. Since I wrote the post, Trump’s credibility has all but collapsed. Everybody knows that MBS ordered Kashoggi’s murder and dismemberment. The truth doesn’t matter to Trump, because he doesn’t mind violence in the name of money, and he’s gotten away with more lies (more than 4,000, as of last August) than anyone since Baron Munchhausen, His moronic followers, of course, don’t give a damn. If they weren’t bothered by his earlier lies–and they weren’t–they certainly don’t care if some rughead (sorry for the slur, it’s how Republicans see Middle Easterners) met his doom in some sleazy Muslim consulate in some terroristic Islamic country, like Turkey. One less Arab, goes the Republican mantra. Just a billion to go.

But maybe, just maybe this MBS scandal will scrape off enough Republican support to hand the House over to Democrats, and, as unlikely as it now seems, perhaps the Senate, as well. You never know! I, personally, have pretty much stopped looking at the polls. After the 2016 election, they seem irrelevant and distracting. If and when Democrats do retake the House, here are some things I think they should do, right away:

  • Reopen the Intelligence Committee hearing into Trump-RussiaGate, the one that Nunes purposely sabotaged.
  • Open an investigation into Nunes himself. What information did he leak to Trump during the hearings? Did he break House rules? Should he be censored by the full House? Expelled?
  • Launch an investigation into Trump’s taxes. Subpoena them. Subpoena also all records from the Trump Organization for evidence he’s violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. If Trump resists these subpoenas, file charges of obstruction.
  • Investigate Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s conflicts of interest.
  • Look into Betsy DeVos’s conflicts of interest. How much money is she making from her actions as Education Secretary?
  • Open investigations into Republican efforts to block voter registration and prevent minorities and young people from voting. Bring charges, as warranted.

Well, those are just a start, and we don’t want to overload the House with too many investigations! There will be plenty of time for others over the years.

Oh, one more thing: By the time the new House members are sworn in, in January, 2019, Robert Mueller should have issued his report. I fully expect it to charge Trump with obstruction of justice and possibly other crimes, including collusion with the Russians. So one more thing the House can do early next year is to initiate impeachment hearings. They would be in the House Judiciary Committee, where Democrats have some exceptionally well-qualified members, including John Conyers, Jerry Nadler, Zoe Lofgren and Sheila Jackson Lee. They will be interested in knowing what the president knew, when he knew it, and what he did to keep the truth from coming out.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Leaked! A transcript of that notorious phone call between Trump and MBS

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[Trump called Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) on Tuesday to inquire about the disappearance of Jamal Kashoggi, the journalist who was videotaped entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and never seen again.]

Trump: How ya doing, Prince?

MBS: Doing well, Donald. We’re going to have to talk again about that Trump Tower in Riyadh as soon as I get my fighter jets, tanks, ships and anti-missile defenses from you.

Trump: We’re working on it, Prince. A fantastic deal for you. You know, if we sold those things to Russia it would be more like $200 billion, not the $110 we’re charging you.

MBS: And for that the entire Kingdom is grateful to you personally, Donald. In return, we will endeavor to keep the price of oil below $60 a barrel. Now, what is the purpose of this call?

Trump: Well, Prince, to be perfectly frank, I’m under a lot of pressure here to get tough with you on this Kashoggi thing.

MBS: We know how to deal with pressure in the Kingdom, Donald. Off with their heads! [giggles]

Trump: [laughs] Yeah, I know, Prince, but unfortunately, I can’t do that here—yet. Give me a year or two!

MBS: I trust you, Mister President.

Trump: It’s not just the flakey Democrats who are on my ass, it’s some Republicans too. There’s a lot of anger here over your killing Kashoggi.

MBS: I beg your pardon, Donald! Are you saying I personally killed that dung beetle?

Trump: No, no, no, Prince. But you ordered it.

MBS: I strongly deny that, Donald. Strongly!

Trump: Well, okay, you didn’t do it. But can I ask a favor? Can I borrow your men who did kill him? I have a little problem over here with certain journalists of my own. That Rachel Maddow, for instance. I wouldn’t mind her disappearing.

MBS: Don’t you have such men of your own?

Trump: Well, the CIA and all that, but they’re so damned squeamish. I told them to make Mueller disappear and they refused to do it!

MBS: All right, Donald, we’ll see what we can do.

Trump: Thank you, Prince. This will be my story: “He strongly denies it.” You know, that worked with Putin. He strongly denied to me Russia meddled in our election and that’s what I told the American people and everybody believed it except those damned Democrats.

MBS: Vladimir told me how much he appreciated your parroting his line.

Trump: He’s a great guy, Prince. A strong man, like you. Well, that’s all I got. So long, Prince. Don’t let the sand bugs bite!

MBS: Before you go, Donald, there is one more thing I want to ask. When you talk about this incident, please state that “rogue elements,” quote unquote, were behind it.

Trump: “Rogue elements”…?

MBS: Yes. In our embassy in Istanbul. Whoever killed Mr. Kashoggi was not an official of the Saudi government. Please repeat that.

Trump: “The Crown Prince strongly told me that whoever killed Mr. Kashoggi was not an official of the Saudi government.”

MBS: It could have been Al Qaeda; could have been the Israelis; could have been the Turks. Could have been aliens, or even Kashoggi’s wife: I understand things were not good between them. Who knows?

Trump: The more I think about it, Prince, the more I like it. It’s such a plausible lie, like my “400 pound guy in his bedroom” thing. But I gotta tell you, Prince, I’ll take some heat over this. Even Fox News is going to be all over me. Sometimes, I swear that Shepard Smith is a liberal.

MBS: Well, you’ll handle it. You always do. The point is, “rogue elements” casts just enough confusion to muddy the situation and buy us time until this blows over.

Trump: Sounds like you’ve been talking with Bannon again.

MBS: Our mutual friend is very wise in the ways of the world, Donald. He has been useful to us here in the Kingdom.

Trump: I love it! Okay, so when those snowflake reporters ask me, I’ll mention “rogue elements.”

MBS: Perfect. You can add that we, in the Kingdom, are determined to get to the bottom of this and discover the true killer or killers and bring him, her or them to justice!

Trump: Haha, Prince. That reminds me of my promise to hire the best investigators to prove that Obama wasn’t a U.S. citizen.

MBS: How did that turn out for you, Donald?

Trump: Who cares? All in the past.

MBS: By the way, Donald, I’m thinking of having a little féte here for the world’s dictators. Putin, President Xi, Kim Jong-un, Maduro, Assad, President Kagame, Duterte, Erdogan, and—even though he’s no longer a sitting president–Mugabe.

Trump: My kind of people, Prince!

MBS: Maybe sometime after the New Year, when the weather in Riyadh is delightful. We’ll do it the old-fashioned way: slave girl dancers, beheadings, a banquet—

Trump: Did you say “slave girl dancers,” Prince?

MBS: I did indeed, Donald. Just your type! You can grab them wherever you want.

Trump: No wives, right?

MBS: Of course not, Donald. There are still some values we respect here in the Kingdom, despite the incursions of modernization.

Trump: Count me in, Prince! Can I bring Jared?

MBS: We would be dishonored were you not to do so, Donald. And your boys, Donald Jr. and Eric. Such fine, upstanding young men.

Trump: Thank you, Prince. Are there any endangered species in Arabia they can shoot?

MBS: A few Jews, perhaps. [Both laugh]

 


That painting? OMG, burn it!

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Back in the 1970s there was a (mercifully) brief movement in American “art,” the so-called “Velvet Painting” style. It was characterized by scenes, painted onto black velvet, that were kitchy and cheap. These paintings were favored by poor, country people, who lived in what we now call red counties (Wikipedia says they were “widely sold in rural America”). Of course, the purchasers didn’t buy originals, but poster reproductions, which they would hang in their livingrooms, to give a feeling of “culture.”

The most popular themes were dogs (often playing poker), although other elements of the American cultural armada also appeared: Elvis, Jesus, circus clowns, Spock from Star Trek. Velvet paintings were wildly, scathingly loathed by professional art critics and knowledgeable fans of art. A college professor was quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education as calling them all that is tacky, tasteless, earnest, sentimental, worthless, simplistic, poorly crafted, unoriginal, frivolous, redundant, and common.”

Donald J. Trump’s latest contribution to the art collection of the White House is a painting. It’s not on velvet, although it might well be, for in tackiness and cheap sentimentality, it outdoes anything ever to emerge from the Velvet Painting school. I refer, of course, to the ridiculous and vain painting of Republican presidents, among whom (and clearly given the star seat) is none other than Trump himself.

In the old days, Popes and Kings commissioned vanity portraits that portrayed them heroically. Donald Trump, who fancies himself a figure of world history (much as Hitler did), has done likewise. Notice how the artist has made Trump the only figure in the painting to engage directly in eye contact with the viewer. Note, too, the brightness of his white shirt, glowing angelically amidst the somber browns, blues and blacks of the other presidents (except for Ike’s golf shirt, a sickly mustard-yellow). Even Lincoln is dark, shadowed and shown from behind, gazing at Trump with what can only be Pence-like admiration.

What are we to make of such grossness?

Of course, it’s in keeping with Trump’s self-aggrandizing style. This is a man who already has declared himself “the greatest president God ever created” and “the greatest president in the history of the United States,” and who was described by one of his shills in the Senate, the rightwing Mormon Orrin Hatch, as “the greatest president in American history.”

Move over, George Washington! Get outtahere, Abe Lincoln! Drop dead, FDR!

Imagine how embarrassing it must be for a world figure visiting the White House to be given a tour by the president himself. Stopping before his new painting, Trump beams with pride.

“Isn’t that something?” he says.

The visitor—perhaps president of another country—tries not to be rude. “Yes, quite unusual,” he mutters.

“I had it commissioned by a very great American artist. I think he really captured my personality. Don’t you?”

“Undoubtedly,” the foreign president replies. “Quite so.” The visitor can’t wait to tell his friends how weird the moment was. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says later, laughing with them over drinks. “He was so pompous, so serious. It was all I could do not to burst out laughing. He really believes he’s in the same league as Lincoln!”

“Incredible,” his friends nod. “Such a foolish man.” “So deluded,” adds one of them. “Dangerous.”

Well, here we are, a demagogue in the Oval Office, conceited, megalomaniacal, delusional. Other presidents, no matter how great they thought themselves to be in their private moments, at least had the gracious modesty to not brag and boast. Not Trump. “Modesty” as a virtue comes nowhere near him. Nor does it come close to those around him. The impudent sons, Eric and Donald Junior. The arrogant son-in-law, Jared. The vapid daughter, Ivanka. The trophy wife, whining about how “bullied” she is, this pampered plaything of a cheating plutocrat. A modest billionaire would not have bought Mar-a-Lago, as vulgar a monument to self-glorification as exists in America. Who would buy Mar-a-Lago? Someone of means, obviously, but also someone with very low self-esteem, the kind of person who thinks that people will be impressed by the size of his possessions and not the content of his character.

Donald J. Trump has no character. He is indecent; even Republicans know it. The first thing a Democratic president should do, when she steps into the White House, is order that awful painting burned to ashes. Unless, that is, Trump takes it with him when he’s thrown out of office. He can always hang it in some dreadful room in Mar-a-Lago and reminisce about his glory years, while the rest of the country does its best to forget he ever existed.

 


Christian evangelicals deserve what they get

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You heard over the last few days about that American pastor, Andrew Brunson, who had been held in jail in Turkey but was freed and then flown back to the U.S., where he held a highly-publicized prayer meeting with Trump in the Oval Office. Trump of course had made getting Brunson out of jail a high priority.

Brunson was an evangelical preaching Christianity in a country that clearly didn’t want him there. Brunson, sadly, chose to ignore the warnings he had gotten. He went to Turkey, a Muslim country, and preached the gospel of his religion. Turkish justice is infamous (remember Midnight Express?) He should have known what was in store for him.

Trump, who before he ran for president had no known religious beliefs, suddenly discovered the Christian right in America when he realized (or had explained to him) that his future success in politics could not be achieved without evangelical support. We may surmise that, until he was in his late 60s, Trump had little use or respect for evangelicals like Brunson, who in many respects is his opposite: where Trump was urban, educated and secular, they were bumpkins and badly-educated rubes; he most probably held them and their huckster-preachers in contempt.

To get an evangelical out of Turkey, then, was pure political payback: the evangelicals supported Trump, and he in turn used the considerable powers of his office to give them back one of their own.

But what the hell was Brunson doing in Turkey, anyway? He knew full well his presence was not wanted. He had to have known not to go or, if he insisted on going anyway, he had to have been warned not to openly evangelize. He went anyway. He poked a stick in the authorities’ eyes. What were the authorities supposed to do?

Years ago, on his remarkable album John Wesley Harding, Bob Dylan had a searing song, The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest, that concluded with these ominous lyrics:

The moral of the story
The moral of this song,
Is simply that one should never be
Where one does not belong.

The admonition implicit in Nobel Prize-winning Dylan’s words is that people are mostly aware of places and situations in which they do not belong, and should avoid going to those places. The implication is that, if a person goes somewhere he does not belong, he will suffer, and will have brought that suffering upon himself. It is one example of Karma, or the Law of Unintended Consequences. For evangelical Christians, I suppose, the risk of being arrested and jailed overseas in a hostile country is far outweighed by what they believe is their duty to evangelize, to “spread the word of God among the pagans.” They don’t care much for this world anyway: theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Well, they’re entitled to their beliefs, but can we describe these missionaries as what they really are? Smug, entitled, arrogant, holier-than-thou, meddlesome assholes, rude to other countries’ cultures and values, insulting to foreign people whom they implicitly accuse of being too stupid to determine their own religious beliefs, provocative to foreign governments who practically plead with them to stay away. They’re the modern-day descendants of the white Catholic missionaries who wiped out Native Americans in our country. They are bothersome, irksome people: I have no sympathy for somebody like Brunson, and neither should anyone else.

AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT, HERE’S MELANIA

Melanie Trump has rightly been mocked for her whiney complaint that she is “the most bullied person on [sic] the world.”

Melania, you fail to understand the difference between being “bullied” and simply being disliked. Nobody is bullying you. It’s your husband who’s the big bully, and you know it, or should. People don’t like you, personally, for understandable reasons: you were a gold digger on the hunt to marry a rich man and you got Trump as your trophy (and he got you as his). If you had any dignity or honor, you would have left your husband years ago; he continually degrades and embarrasses you by cheating on you (with porn stars and strippers) and then bragging about it in public. That’s another reason people don’t like you: you don’t have the self-respect to walk out on the cad. People also dislike you because they sense that you’re a shallow, vain woman (mother of shallow, vain children) whose only interests are fashion, mansions and lunching with your rich lady friends. Such “causes” as you claim as First Lady are public relations stunts, concocted by White House spinmeisters like Kellyanne Conway. Nobody believes for a second that you care about young people getting bullied. So that’s another reason people don’t like you. You’re a phony.

So quit your whining, Melania. You want to be respected? Hold a press conference, announce you’re leaving the cheating schmuck, join the #MeToo movement, and work on behalf of battered women.


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