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A good moment for Democrats, and for America

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I hope my Republican friends (yes, I have a few) will forgive me if I take a few minutes to rub it in. They really shouldn’t blame us Democrats for savoring this moment. After all, they’ve rubbed their victories in plenty of times.

Doug Jones won Alabama.

I’m just letting that sink in. It feels good. I didn’t think he would. I figured Alabamians are so beyond the fringe with evangelical craziness and just plain orneriness that they’d gladly send Moore to the Senate, even after everything we know about him. It’s not just the sexual molestation of children—as if that’s not bad enough. It’s also his negativity and disrespect for the Constitution. The negativity revealed itself particularly in his awful, disgusting insults of gay people, like when the guy said that legalizing gay marriage was “even worse” than slavery.

Well, what else would you expect from someone who’s angry the South lost the Civil War? Moore, an unreconstructed Confederate rebel, would prefer that 40 million African-Americans be slaves on plantations, rather than—God forbid—two men be allowed to marry. I mean, that towering level of animosity toward millions upon millions of Americans is so shocking, it makes me wonder if Moore isn’t afraid of “the gay” in himself. Moore is proof—if more were needed—that his brand of “Christianity” is a sickness, not a religion.

As for disrespect for our country’s Constitution, Moore basically shat on that precious document, which bears the names of Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, James Madison and other revered founders of America. First, when he put up a Ten Commandments plaque outside the Alabama state court building, then refused to take it down under a federal order, and second, when he refused to comply with the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court—the Supreme Court, mind you, with a Republican majority!–to allow same-sex marriages. Moore’s contempt showed that he values the bible over the Constitution, which is why he’s a charter member of the Basket of Deplorables.

But he lost, even in Alabama, one of the most conservative states in the country. The take home lesson, for which Americans should be enormously grateful, is that even in this modern Republican Party—a cesspool of nastiness—it’s possible for a candidate to be too extreme.

So let us bask in the pleasure of Doug Jones’ amazing victory. We did it. The Democrat won in the Deep South. We did it with Black voters, who turned out in Obama-esque numbers. We did it with women. We did it with college graduates. We did it with Jews. We did it with rank-and-file Democrats, and we did it with Independents. If that’s not a winning coalition, I never heard of one.

We Democrats also are entitled to gloat because Jones’ win is an enormous slap in the face to two individuals who really deserve it: Donald Trump and Steven Bannon. Nobody forced them to put all their chips on Moore. If they’d been smart, if they’d been moral, they would have turned from him the way Mitch McConnell and Richard Shelby did. But they supported Moore, and they lost bigtime. Not only did they lose, they’ve been humiliated. Politicians hate and fear public shaming almost worse than anything else, except defeat in an election. Being perceived as a Big Loser must hurt a lot for egomaniacs like Trump and Bannon. Both now are in a world of pain.

After huge Republican defeats last Election Day, Trump already had the stench of a loser about him, and Bannon almost as much. Now, post-Alabama, they’re both gigantic, major, historic losers: They have been handed abject, public rejection. I expect their losing streak will continue right through Election Day, 2018.

So, fellow Dems and members of The Resistance, celebrate! Feel good. Give yourselves a pat on the back—but don’t get complacent! We’re only as good as the next battle—and there are plenty of battles to come.


Those Republican smears of the FBI? Don’t make me laugh

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In the entire 128-year existence of the Wall Street Journal, they have never criticized the Federal Bureau of Investigation for anything. Indeed, Rupert Murdoch’s flagship rightwing newspaper has been a strong proponent of the law-and-order state, and of all law enforcement agencies in America—in the world—the Wall Street Journal admired none so much as J. Edgar Hoover’s F.B.I.

Until, that is, the probable crimes and misdemeanors committed by Donald Trump and his entourage began falling under the F.B.I.’s investigative scrutiny. Now that Special Counsel Mueller is moving ever closer to the Oval Office, the Wall Street Journal has decided that the F.B.I. isn’t such a good law enforcement agency after all.

What Murdoch’s minions find to complain about in the F.B.I. is laughable. Consider their lead editorial from Monday, “Christopher Wray’s FBI Stonewall.” Wray is, of course, the agency’s new director, whom Trump called a “man of impeccable credentials” when he appointed him last June.

Wray “will serve his country as a fierce guardian of the law and [a] model of integrity”, Trump said in his announcement speech. But now that Wray is taking his job seriously, refusing to corral Mueller or impede the Congressionally-mandated investigation in any way, Wrap is suddenly  Public Enemy No. 1.

How’s that? The Wall Street Journal has come up with a number of reasons to hate on him, all of them ridiculous. For starters, the Journal accuses, Wrap is refusing to reveal “the role that the Steele dossier played in the FBI”s decision to investigate the Trump presidential campaign.”

Really? That one’s easy to demolish. The F.B.I. hasn’t been shy whatsoever about revealing “the role that the Steele dossier played.” It’s all been open and aboveboard: The F.B.I. has been investigating the dossier’s allegations for a year, as well they ought to. The dossier is evidence in a criminal investigation. Who thinks that evidence of a potentially serious crime should be ignored, or shared in its entirety with a newspaper, before the investigation has even been completed? The Wall Street Journal, that’s who. So this charge is completely bogus. What ticks the Wall Street Journal off isn’t that they don’t know what role the dossier is playing in the investigation–we all know precisely. It’s that they’re scared to death that its allegations—including the ones concerning sexual perversions—are true.

But wait, there’s more! What else is the Journal complaining about? Why, they want “answers about reports” that Mueller demoted F.B.I. investigator, Peter Strzok, for exchanging “anti-Trump texts with his mistress.”

That is just grasping at straws. They have all the answers they need. The F.B.I. demoted Strzok! He did something inappropriate by disparaging Trump; he should no longer be connected to the case. And guess what? He’s not. The F.B.I. did exactly the right thing. But think about this: How many Trump administration officials have made anti-Hillary or anti-Obama remarks? If every one of them were demoted, Jeff Sessions, Michael Pence and Donald Trump himself would be out of their jobs, and Michael Flynn would never have had one. Trash-talkers only suffer consequences, it seems, when they’re Democrats.

Everybody knows that the White House and their apologists, including the Wall Street Journal, want the Mueller (and House and Senate) investigations derailed because they pose a clear danger to Donald J. Trump. Everybody knows, or should know, that these Republican demands for an investigation of the Justice Department are ludicrous. They’re meant for one reason, and one reason only: to throw doubt upon the Trump investigations. They’re smokescreens, red herrings. It’s easy to see right through them. It is the height of lunacy to question Wray’s integrity. Was Donald Trump incorrect only six months ago when he showered praise on Wray? If he was, then what else is Donald Trump incorrect about? In what other areas has his judgment proved faulty? Those are questions the Wall Street Journal should be asking.

Late news: Doug Jones has pulled off a Hanukah miracle win in Alabama. THANK GOD ALMIGHTY. On to the next election!


Vedanta, Evangelical Christians, and Faith: A Review

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Around 1960, the English novelist and critic, Christopher Isherwood, wrote a little essay about his conversion to the Hindu philosophy of Vedanta. In “Hypothesis and Belief,” he attempts to explain the nature of his belief in it, despite its non-rational aspects.

Isherwood argues on behalf of the misunderstood convert, like himself, who comes in “for a good deal of criticism from his unconverted and more skeptical friends,” who tend to be “scientists” inclined toward “the cause of reason.”

He analyzes his own attitude about Vendanta and distinguishes between two poles: “belief” and “hypothesis.” Belief rests on “revealed truth,” which Isherwood concedes he does not possess. Hypothesis means “you are not quite sure” that your belief is absolutely true, but you accept it because of the “personal integrity and…authenticity” of the person who pronounced the truth, whether it be Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, or the author/s of the Vedas.

Isherwood has harsh things to say about the extremes on both sides: the religious believer who depends upon “blind faith”, which can lead to “superstition… ignorance [and] dogma,” and the scientist who believes in mere “mechanistic materialism,” which can make of him a “pedant…some sort of non-human creature.” Isherwood strives to find a middle ground, a comfort zone between absolute science and absolute religion; he wishes to avoid “deadlock” between the two world views. “There is no conflict between true Religion and true Science,” he avers, and then proceeds to try to explain what he means.

Alas, for all his heroic efforts, he does not succeed. Isherwood knows that a religious dogma—let us say, creationism, or the Virgin birth, or Christ walking on water—might well fall apart under “the microscope” of scientific testing. A true scientist would “remain completely unconvinced” by the hypothesis of the Virgin birth, because it violates all we know of physical reality. But, Isherwood suggests, there’s a way to have your cake and eat it too: what if the scientist were open to “emotion and intuition as well as reason”? Might he not conclude that the person telling him about the Virgin birth is a “man [with] some authority for his words”? Here, Isherwood introduces, into the tension between Religion and Science, the concept of “the credibility of the witness.”

In his particular case, Isherwood, who had been a rational, scientifically-oriented man all his life (he describes himself in the 1930s as “an atheist, a liberal”), was introduced to Vedanta near the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1939, he traveled to Los Angeles to study with the Hindu Swami, Prabhavananda. In the following years, he found himself the recipient of “satirical, suspicious, or quite frankly hostile and dismayed” remarks from his more rational friends, who told him that concepts such as “soul,” “reincarnation,” and “God,” being utterly unprovable, should not be subscribed to by rational beings. His little essay should be seen as his attempt to rationalize the irrational: to prove (to his friends, ostensibly, but also to himself) why he is able to accept a belief system, so many of whose parts are patently impossible of existence.

In the end, all Isherwood can offer is that “credibility of the witness” argument. Since he has placed all his faith in Prabhavananda, he must convince himself that his Swami is not “a charlatan,” is “sane,” not “mad,” and moreover a man whose “life bears out the truth of what [he] preaches.” Isherwood is intelligent enough to know that he may be auto-hypnotising himself. Perhaps the Swami is mad; perhaps his love for his Swami has blinded him to the latter’s faults. But Isherwood has so much invested in Prabhavananda that he has “to try” to believe in him and his teachings. “I will put myself into his hands,” he writes, “and trust him for at least as far as I would trust my doctor.” 

One senses Isherwood’s essential humanity here—the fact that he is a good man, seeking truth, and yet one who struggles in his own mind. He cannot quite take the leap away from Science into pure Religion, or vice versa. Torn between the two, he remains with Prabhavananda as long as possible. Until he sees that his association with Vedanta has produced “no results whatsoever,” he will maintain his trust in his guru.

Isherwood’s useful little essay makes us sympathetic to the author; it also raises pertinent questions about evangelicals in America. Unlike Isherwood, who strove to keep his balance, they have moved away from science and reason into the realm of dogma and irrational belief. Unlike Isherwood, who never could entirely jettison his rational mind, evangelicals have destroyed the logical, questioning part of their thinking; indeed, they believe that reason is the work of the Devil. Where one feels enormous empathy with Isherwood, one does not with evangelicals. They have no doubt, no second thoughts, only blind faith in their superstitious, unreasoned dogmas. They place themselves in the hands of priests and trust them despite all the evidence of charlatanism and madness; their priests’ lives seldom “bear out the truth of what they teach.” Evangelicals are unable to learn from experience. Isherwood, for all his faults, evolved intellectually until his dying day.

I wish an evangelical would come out and say, “I may be wrong; I freely admit it; I know my beliefs are absurd, and unprovable. I’m open to being shown how ridiculous Creationism, say, is, or the Virgin birth. Until then, though, I will believe in my Christian religion” But no evangelical would ever say that. They do not possess Isherwood’s even temperament, his intellectual fairness, his ability to see both sides of the story. The evangelical must be right, in his own mind: to admit even the possibility of error is to risk his entire world view crumbling, along with the mind that holds it. Isherwood delighted in being able to thrive in ambiguity.

Evangelicals have thrown away that ability, which evolution has struggled so hard and so long to instill in us, to–as Isaiah said–“reason together.” They have thus become like the “absolute materialist” Isherwood criticized—the scientist who cannot accept even the possibility that he is misguided. In a supreme irony, evangelicals are “creatures completely lacking the human faculty” of which they accuse liberals and scientists. Their “world-picture,” in Isherwood’s words, has become “too terrible for even the boldest heart to contemplate,” because it is “pedantic” and “non-human.”

 

 


Why Democrats lose

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There’s a meme out there that goes, “How come the Democrats can’t win when the Republicans are so crazy?”

It’s a stupid question; to ask it is a waste of time. The truth is, Democrats can’t win precisely because the Republicans are so crazy.

That Republicans are crazy is beyond debate. They’ve lost their minds, their rationality, their morality, their humanity. They’re about as “Christian” as a doorknob. There’s no reason for Democrats to psychoanalyze ourselves. “What’s wrong with the Party?” we ask. “What’s wrong with me? We should be able to beat these bozos with one hand tied behind our back. If we can’t, it must be because there’s something the matter with us.”

Bull. That kind of thinking leads nowhere, except into a mental swamp of self-doubt and defeatism. At some point, you have to stop beating yourself up and decide what you stand for.

There’s nothing wrong with the Democratic Party. Oh, sure, it may be a little too leftish for some, a little too rightish for others. But that’s true of every political party. That’s the definition of a Big Tent: a party that gives everybody enough of a reason to stay inside, and not bolt.

Democrats stand for all the things America believes in: We’re a party of fairness. We believe in equal rights and equal opportunities for everyone. We believe rich people should share their bounty with those who helped them get there. We may or may not be religious, but we don’t want any one religion to dominate America. We believe in science, not superstition; evolution, not creationism. We believe in a politics of inclusion: we are respectful of others, as we would have others respect us.

Democrats are the Party of the Golden Rule.

So no Democrat should ever question himself about his legitimacy or moral standing. Democrats are moral. We are ethical. There is an unbroken line from the secular idealism of the Founding Fathers to today’s Democratic values.

And yet, we lose election after election. I expect Roy Moore to win in Alabama tomorrow. When and if he does, that will lead to a new round of self-questioning among Democrats. “We’ve lost again. What the hell is wrong with us?”

No, no, no, a thousand times no! There is nothing wrong with you! If Roy Moore wins—whenever a Republican wins, anywhere—it’s not because there’s something wrong with the Democratic Party. It’s literally because Republicans are crazy.

Have you ever worked in a mental institution? I have, back in the Seventies, when I was an educator at Munson State Hospital, in Massachusetts. We don’t use the word “crazy” anymore, and I wouldn’t have used it then, but the resident patients I worked with were certainly very disturbed. Their diagnoses varied, but all were mentally incapacitated, unable to make rational decisions. Left to their own devices, they would have suffered, possibly died, and the hospital would have collapsed. It would have made no sense to try to reason with any of them. Ronald M., one of my charges, was schizophrenic. Were I to provide him with logical arguments why he should brush his teeth, not paw women, not pee his pants, he would not and could not have understood.

The modern Republican Party is like Ronald M. There is something wrong with them. The people who will vote for Roy Moore on Tuesday, and for Donald J. Trump again in 2020 if he’s on the ticket, are mentally deranged. There is no way to get through to them. They’re going to vote Republican because they can’t think straight, in the same way a drug addict can’t think straight. The Democratic Party hasn’t let them, or anyone else, down. Instead, Republicans have lost their minds.

This is the way we should see them, because it’s the way they are. Republicans really belong in Munson State Hospital, or some facility for the criminally insane. The reasons why Republican mental illness is so widespread in America are complicated. Rightwing Christian nonsense is a big part, but not the only one. Limited natural intelligence also plays a part.

Democrats may be on the losing end for quite some time. It’s all right. We should stick to our guns, and understand that we’re right and Republicans are dead wrong. Henry Clay’s remark, “I’d rather be right than President,” is one we should keep in mind. Winning isn’t everything, and we needn’t compromise on our values just to win elections.

It all comes down to how you see History. I believe in what Dr. King said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The operative word is “long.” Democrats may not recover this country for a long time, maybe not in my lifetime. The crazies are gathering strength, getting ready for a big fight, and they’re not going away. But we are moral; we are rational; we are right. We lose elections because Republicans don’t believe in morality or rationality or doing what is right. There’s something seriously wrong with them. Let us never, ever forget that, and let us never doubt why we are Democrats, or apologize for being so.


Concerning the matter of Donald Trump Jr.

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That snot-nosed little pissant, Donald Trump Jr., is showing his contempt for America by refusing to testify before the House Intelligence Committee.

Doesn’t he remind you of every bully you ever knew in school? He’s the mean kid who insulted black people and teased effeminate kids, who punched smaller boys in the nose, who bragged about his daddy’s money. He’s the arrogant son-of-a-bitch nobody liked. He’s why so many Americans resent wealth, especially when it’s inherited and used greedily. This lucky sperm punk has never made a legitimate dime of his own. He was (to use the late, great Ann Richards’ classic line) born on third base, and thinks he hit a triple.

He has been caught in so many lies in the Trump-Russia matter, it’s pathetic. I think by this time everybody knows exactly what happened. Russia had dirt on Hillary. A deal was struck directly between the Trump family (Donald Jr. and Jared) and representatives of Putin: if you promise to lift the sanctions when and if Trump is elected, we’ll give you the emails. Plus, we’ll throw in a little extra: our agents will infiltrate Facebook, Twitter and other social media to spread lies that damage Hillary and the Democrats, and you—the Trump campaign—will help us help you by telling us what kinds of stories to invent, how to frame them, and where to run them.

That, in a nutshell, is the situation, and it means that Trump Jr. colluded and collaborated with an enemy state, Russia, to throw the 2018 election. And for sure, his daddy knew all about it, and directed it. You know it’s true, I know it’s true, every Republican knows it’s true, Steve Bannon knows it’s true, Sean Hannity knows it’s true, Donald J. Trump knows it’s true. The Republicans won’t admit it, of course, which is why they’re complicit in treason. But they’ll have to admit it later, when the evidence is overwhelming, and public opinion turns decisively against Trump.

Meanwhile, here’s the little shit, Donald Jr., the Great White Hunter who paid stalkers to drive an elephant to him in Africa, where he murdered it, then sliced off its tail and posed with it, grinning for the camera. Brave guy. Courageous guy. Macho guy. Just like his father.

Trump surrogates are trying to defend Junior by claiming that he’s some kind of moron, too dumb to pick up pencils, much less collude in a high-stakes game with the Russians. Well, sorry, that won’t fly. He may be a moron, but ignorance of the law is no excuse. If he lied under oath, if he obstructed justice, if he violated campaign finance laws, if he collaborated with a foreign power against the United States, he’s committed felonies. Whether he intended to, or knew that he was, is irrelevant.

Well, it’s only early December. The clock is ticking away: Mueller continues his investigation, so do the House and Senate committees, and time is running out on Trump, Donald Jr., Jared and their nefarious cabal. As the case against Trump Sr. mounts in fury, his defenders—dwindling, more desperate than ever—revert to ever more bizarre, unconvincing tactics. Denial no longer works, although they’ll keep on denying. Distraction works to some degree, so they throw out red herrings and smokescreens—Hillary, Al Franken, Jerusalem, Comey, the FBI, Kate Steinle, national monuments, whatever. That’s not very effective anymore, either; it makes Trump’s white supremacist base happy, but their numbers are going down fast.

And Trump, the father? Increasingly fried and frazzled, just as Nixon was in his last days, bereft, confused, drinking heavily, talking to paintings on the White House walls. Do I know for sure Trump is drinking? No, I don’t. But I always felt he was “on” something, maybe some sort of stimulant like cocaine, for his weird, middle-of-the-night tweet storms; and his slurred speech the other day is more evidence that the guy is taking something, to ease his pain and blot out reality.

Won’t work. Nothing will work. Trump did what he did and he can never undo it. The long arm of the law is reaching for him and will catch him. It will catch Donald Jr. too, and Jared, maybe even Pence and Sessions, just as it’s already caught Flynn, Manafort and the others. The dominoes are falling. I believe and hope that there are still enough sane Republicans in the Congress, even in the reactionary, insane House, to ultimately stand up for justice when Trump’s house of cards comes tumbling down, and he’s called to answer for his high crimes and misdemeanors.

Have a lovely weekend. To my friends in Southern California, be brave; we stand with you. Our firefighters are the best in the world.


Trump’s move on Jerusalem is his latest shot at Obama

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I guess it’s only natural for non-Jews to think all Jews are the same. Many non-Muslims think all Muslims are the same, even though we know that Shiites hate Sunnis and vice versa; and some Jews even think that all Christians are the same, which, of course, they’re not: there’s a huge difference between evangelicals who believe Adam and Eve played with dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden versus more enlightened Episcopalians, Lutherans and Unitarians.

But all Jews aren’t the same. The distinctions between us can be quite profound. In general, I’d divide Jews into two broad categories: the Orthodox and all the rest. The Orthodox, and especially that sub-group known as Ultra-Orthodox, are our version of the Taliban. They are extremists. They believe in the literal truth of the Bible (in this case, the Old Testament), just as the more irrational evangelicals believe in the literal truth of the entire Bible (Old and New Testaments). Even among Ultra-Orthodox Jews, there are further nuances. Probably the most extreme of the Ultra-Orthodox Jews are the Hasids, or Hasidic Jews. These groupings were formed in the shtetls and ghettoes of Eastern Europe and Russia in the 1600s and 1700s, when the Renaissance was happening in Western Europe; but they tend to live lives that are more medieval and Dark Ages than modern era. These are the men who always wear black suits and wide-brimmed caps. They usually have beards and always have long earlocks, because the Book of Leviticus tells Jewish men not to shave them. And you very seldom see Hasidic women around town, because they’re pretty much kept at home, raising the kids, cleaning the house, and cooking for their large families. (A similarity between Hasids and Islamic people is that men and women are segregated in mosques and synagogues.)

Hasidic Jews are by far a minority in the world, even in Israel, but they have an outsized voice in Israeli politics. There, the governing Likud Party—the party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—is quite conservative, but has not been able to secure a solid majority in order to rule the Knesset, or Parliament. Thus, they’ve had to ally with other parties, and in Likud’s case, they’re partnered with very conservative parties, such as Yisrael Beitanu, which stands for extreme Zionism and right wing populism, including keeping Israel a Jewish state and making Jerusalem the capital of Israel.

It wouldn’t be true to say that there are no “liberals” in Israel. Probably the majority of the population is “liberal” in the sense that they’re secular rather than orthodox; they want a peace treaty with the Palestinians, they think Israel should give back the Occupied Territories and stop building settlements, and they certainly don’t think Jerusalem—a divided city—should be declared the capital.

But the Ultra-Orthodox Jews have much more influence in Israeli politics than their small numbers deserve. It’s as if the wing of the Republican Party that favors Roy Moore were to be able to dictate policies here in America. (They can’t, quite yet, although we have to be on our guard.) With his alliance with Israeli’s Ultra-Orthodox, Netayahu has proven to be an extremely right wing, conservative leader, which is why America’s extremely right wing, conservative leader, Donald Trump, likes him so much.

But there’s another reason why Trump and Netanyahu are political bedfellows. That’s because Trump could not have been elected without the strong support of the wacko wing of Republican Christians, the ones who believe in things like The Rapture and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. These people are among the most pro-Israeli in America, not because they have any particular love for the Jews—they’d convert us in an eyeblink if they could—but because they believe that Jesus can’t return to Earth until certain conditions in Israel are met, among the most important of which is—you guessed it—making Jerusalem Israel’s capital. Thus, the radically conservative American Christians (Franklin Graham, chief among them) are strong supporters, not only of America’s security commitment to Israel, but of making Jerusalem the capital. (And, of course, these Christians also are the most rabidly anti-Muslim people in America.)

Trump needs to keep these right wing American Christians happy, and one way to do that is to give in to their demand that Jerusalem be declared the capital of Israel. Indeed, this is the only way to understand why Trump has just taken the first step towards recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city, by declaring his intention to move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv.

American Jews do not support this move. It is provocative—Arab nations will be up in arms, and the safety of all Americans will be endangered. It is stupid—no other country in the world thinks Jerusalem should be Israel’s capital, it will never actually happen, and it will only further isolate us from our friends and allies, mainly the Europeans. And it is so unnecessary. Nobody believes that Trump’s move will move the Middle East closer to peace; indeed, exactly the opposite.

There’s one more way to understand Trump’s dumb move: Obama was dead-set against it. With each passing day of this regime, Trump’s main agenda as President becomes clearer: to un-do anything and everything Obama did. His vengeance toward and hatred of his predecessor seem unbounded. Maybe it dates to 2011, when Obama let Trump have it over his birtherism at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and an embarrassed Trump could be seen steaming and furious. Whatever its origin, Trump as President is driven, not so much by policy or even ideology, but by a mad, sociopathic obsession with getting even with and humiliating Barack Obama. It won’t work, of course: personally, Obama is too secure and serene in his own mind to let anything Donald Trump does get to him. And policy-wise, Trump’s stupid anti-Obama moves will easily be undone, once he’s removed from office. The important thing to realize now, concerning this Jerusalem-as-capital move, is that it will never happen, and is merely one more egregious thing attempted by this worst President ever, as he lashes out on his way toward impeachment.


What J.D. Vance should tell his hillbilly friends (but won’t)

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I finally finished reading “Hillbilly Elegy,” J.D. Vance’s memoir of growing up in a hillbilly culture in Kentucky. It’s not the sort of book I usually spend time on, but I really want to understand, as much as I can, what makes these poor, white, rural, Christian, under-educated people tick. From the inter-mountain West through the Bible Belt of the Midwest, the Rust Belt of the Ohio Valley, the hollers and tiny towns of Appalachia to the Deep South and even the Central Valley farm communities of California, these hillbillies elected Donald J. Trump as President of the United States of America a year ago last November, so as much as I might want to dismiss them from my thoughts (and there are no hillbillies in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live), they are impacting my life in profoundly bad ways. Which makes learning about them as mandatory as learning about the foods I need to eat (and not eat) in order to control my cholesterol.

It’s an instructive book, and Vance, a Yale-educated lawyer, tells his tale with considerable insight. He also loves the people he describes: his grandparents, his parents, his cousins, siblings and childhood friends, many of them trapped into lives of drug addiction, alcoholism, violence, anger, out-of-wedlock children, obesity, disease and hopelessness–a life from which he miraculously escaped. But at the end of the book, I wanted to track Vance down and throttle him.

He did his best—in his own mind—to be fair; I’ll grant him that. He assigns considerable blame to the hillbillies for creating their own problems. He tells them bluntly they can’t blame Bush, or Obama, or some giant corporation for their failures: they should look in the mirror and see their own limitations, which are usually self-imposed. He understands that no government anti-poverty program, no matter how well-funded, can lift people up, if they refuse to be uplifted. He knows how destructive their hillbilly culture is, both to themselves and to America.

Yet he can’t quite bring himself to condemn them. Even as he wags one finger at them, with the other hand he’s giving them signals that they’re really okay—that while their behavior may be atrocious, it’s understandable in terms of the way they grew up, and so they don’t really have to come to grips with themselves. They can kinda, sorta admit that they’ve blown their own lives up into pieces, but they can also kinda, sorta continue to believe that it’s someone else’s fault (and that someone else is usually a Democrat).

Well, it’s understandable that J.D. Vance doesn’t want to give really tough love to his own people. But what’s the point of writing a best-selling book that purports to describe Trump voters when, in the end, the author doesn’t have the cojones to tell them the truth? Here’s what J.D. should have written.

Dear hillbilly friends and family, especially those who voted for Trump: You people are really, truly fucked up. I can’t even begin to put into words what massive failures you are, or how much you piss me off. You’ve been given every opportunity, in the greatest country in the world, to climb out of your hillbilly gutter, and yet you refuse to do so. You continue to believe in an evangelical form of a religion, Christianity, that anyone with an I.Q. above 50 knows is bullshit, with its “creationism” and denial of science in general. You let these preachers con you out of what little money you have so they can bring prostitutes to motels. You birth kids out of wedlock, whom you can’t afford to raise, thereby guaranteeing that they’ll be as screwed up as you—and then you have the nerve to criticize Democrats like Bill Clinton for having a consensual affair with an adult. And you insult a good, fine man, Barack Obama, who has more decency in his little finger than generations of your own family ever had.

You let hypocritical politicians tell blatant lies to your face and then you forgive them because Sean Hannity, a cynical multi-millionaire who’s gotten filthy rich from pandering to your ignorance, tells you to. You vote for a Roy Moore, knowing full well in your heart that he’s guilty as hell, because another adulterer and sexual predator, Donald J. Trump, tells you that electing a God-fearing, faithful man who happens to be a Democrat is worse than electing a child abuser. You celebrate being ignorant; you accuse men who do well in school of being fags, and then resent them when they are successful in life in ways you never will be because of your own willful stubbornness. You say that radical Islamic terrorists pose a danger to America, but, my friends, the greatest danger to our great country is you and people like you. George Washington, Ben Franklin, Tom Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers must wish they’d never founded the United States of America when they see you.

But J.D. Vance will never speak these words of truth to his people. Despite everything he’s seen and knows, he remains a conservative Republican, a Bible-thumping Christian, an anti-government zealot. Some part of him—the part that was smart enough to get into Yale Law School—surely knows better. But another part of him—the hillbilly who can’t think clearly, who makes apologies for the complete failure of his culture, who’s still too angry to be rational—eventually trumps his native intelligence. Look: there’s no way to legitimize this hillbilly culture, no way to romanticize it, as Vance tries to. It’s toxic. It’s killing America, and its most virulent symptom is Trump. It needs to be confronted, not consoled, and then excised. Unfortunately, J.D. Vance is not up to the task.


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