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The fish rots from the head down: Trump and his voters

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A Mr. Jack Hamilton, from Silverdale, Washington, wrote a letter to The Wall Street Journal the other day that is so miasmic, so lacking in self-understanding, that I just have to reply.

Hamilton’s letter is about a column by the redoubtable Peggy Noonan—a sarcastic right winger who worked for Reagan and the first Bush—who now writes for the Journal. Noonan’s piece, entitled What to Tell Your Children About Trump,” blamed “mainstream, legacy media” for the disharmony between red and blue voters following the Nov. 8 election. In short, she accuses the media of inexcusable hostility to Trump. (Of course, Noonan would never include the W.S.J., her employer, as part of that “mainstream, legacy media.”)

Hamilton chose to differ from Noonan’s analysis. Here’s his letter in full:

Peggy Noonan asks a good question but identifies the wrong villain. If a five- or six-year old is fearful and crying over a Trump presidency, look to the parents and teachers who told him or her the stories about the “evil person.” Last time I checked, little children weren’t reading newspapers or watching CNN or MSNBC to keep current with world events. Those who stand so firmly on safe space and microaggression avoidance apparently didn’t consider the unintended consequences of spreading the lies to their children. Perhaps the progressive “village” raising the kids didn’t so such a good job. Let those who created the problem take the first steps to fix it.

Before I proceed to demolish this allegation, let me first point out Hamilton’s bitchy, misogynistic reference to Hillary Clinton’s book, It Takes a Village.” Let no occasion pass in which Hillary shall not be insulted, seems to be the right’s motto. Anyhow, onward with our semiotics!

That “five- and six-year olds” are fearful of Trump has been widely and accurately reported. Hamilton is probably correct when he blames their “parents and teachers” for this phenomenon, although not for the reasons he thinks. After all, we expect parents and teachers to instruct little children in the ways of the world. Why Hamilton should suddenly have a problem with adult guidance of children is curious. But in his muddled way, he then forgets “parents and teachers” and goes on to attack “CNN and MSNBC” !! Who is it Hamilton has a problem with, anyhow? Democratic parents and teachers, or CNN and MSNBC? Apparently he has problems with everyone and everything except Trump, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.

But you, smart reader, have by now probably discerned Hamilton’s biggest, most egregious falsehood, and it does indeed have to do with precisely those media outlets—Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the tea party cabal—from which Hamilton appears to get all his information.

Hamilton, you blame CNN, MSNBC and unnamed “parents and teachers” for frightening little kids by telling them about things Trump has actually said and threatened to do. And yet you seem unconscious of the fears, lies, resentments and murderous impulses your rightwing media has stoked against Democrats for decades, among credulous white people like you.

These rightwing media decided in the early 1990s to destroy the Clintons. Upon the rise of Barack Obama they conspired to destroy him, too. They have characterized liberals as terrorists, as fools, as unpatriotic, as elitist, as dismissive of the working class, as a hate group, as atheists, as everything hateful. These lies, as well as those of Trump himself—endlessly repeated in Republican households where little children heard and believed them—have been attested to countless times, for instance here, in my blog, where I list dozens of Trump’s falsehoods. (And here’s another link, to the New York Times, listing others.)

Little children—the same five- and six-year olds you claim to be so concerned about, Hamilton—have heard their parents, their teachers and, yes, their preachers say Hillary Clinton is evil, a cheater, “crooked,” a bitch, the incarnation of evil, not a true Christian, who should be thrown in jail and possibly killed. They have heard that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim, that he is not an American, that he “pals around with terrorists,” that he wants to let Muslim killers into our neighborhoods, that he loves letting “Mexican rapists and criminals” swarm into America, that he has sold out America to Iran, that he is the worst President ever. I could go on and on and on, but surely, Hamilton, somewhere down inside you, buried beneath all your resentments, there lies the knowledge that your side—the right—is at least as propagandistic as you accuse the left of being.

Which is why I say your letter is so lacking in self-understanding. The thing that Democrats really resent about this election isn’t that Trump won, it’s how he won: through the dirtiest, most mendacious campaign in the history of the United States. It was based on his complete disregard of the truth—knowing full well that people like you, Hamilton, don’t care about truth, only about getting somebody as angry and boorish as you into the White House. So when you talk about “spreading the lies to children,” take out the beam from thine own eye, Hamilton, and tell me if you ever repeated any of these falsehoods to your own children or grandchildren (assuming you have any). Did you tell them “thousands of Muslims cheered in New Jersey following the Sept. 11 attacks”? Did you tell them “thousands of Americans have been killed by illegal immigrants”? Did you tell them that Trump never sexually harassed women and that allegations that he did are lies spread by Democrats? Did you tell them that Hillary Clinton arranged to have Vince Foster killed? Did you tell them that “millions” of people who voted in the recent election were illegals? In short, did you ever inject that venom into your kids’ mental bloodstream? If you did, then you’ve done exactly the very thing you’re accusing “liberals” of doing.

You see, Hamilton, your letter is so feloniously dishonest that you must be either disingenuous or deliberately lying. Giving you the benefit of the doubt, I will assume the former: that you are simply incapable of being objectively fair even when the truth is smacking you in the face.


What Fred Trump taught his son, Donald, about real estate

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[The following is based on a true story]

[Flashback: Winter 1963. The Wilshire Apartments, Queens New York. The apartment building’s owner, Fred Trump, is meeting with his rental agent, Stanley Leibowitz. Accompanying them is Fred’s 17-year old son, Donald.]

FT: So how are we doing on rentals, Stan?

SL:  Pretty good, Mr. Trump. We’re up to 87 percent. We just had another application this morning.

FT: Oh, really? From who?

SL: A nice lady. A Miss Brown.

FT: Brown?

SL: Yes, sir. That’s her name.

FT: Is she a colored?

SL: Yes, she is, Mr. Trump. But very well-behaved. Good credit, pays her bills, has a good job as a secretary.

FT: Stan, I want you to take that application, put it in your desk drawer, and forget you ever saw it.

SL: You sure, Mr. Trump?

FT: Look, Stan, I can’t be having these coloreds in my buildings. You know what happens? Property values go down. Whites look elsewhere. Stan, I’m trying to get this Coney Island deal approved—23 stories, Trump Village—and if people hear that Trump properties are turning into slums, it’ll be a huuuge problem. So lose that application, Stan.

[Later, Fred is with Donald having lunch in a Queens deli.]

DT: Pops, what was up with that application—you know, the one you told Stan to lose?

FT: Listen up, son. If you’re gonna learn the ropes in this real estate business, you gotta know shit from shinola. It ain’t a racial thing, Donny, it’s just common sense.

DT: How’s that, pops?

FT: Look, when these blacks move into a neighborhood, things start to go downhill. Look at Harlem! Remember what I was telling you when we drove up to 125th Street that time?

DT: To look at that row of apartments?

FT: Yeah. You saw the filth, the garbage, the junkies, the whores, the pickaninnies running around like little animals. You want that in the Wilshire Apartments?

DT: No, pops.

FT: You want that in Trump Village?

DT: No, pops.

FT: Of course you don’t. You wouldn’t be my son if you did! So you gotta be tough, Donny. Can’t let ‘em in. Have to draw the line. Only thing is, you gotta be—how can I say it?—discrete. You don’t want one of these colored papers, like the Amsterdam News, saying you discriminate. Then some son-of-a-bitch Negro congressman like Adam Clayton Powell comes down on your ass and complains to the Justice Department that you’re a bigot.

DT: How do you avoid that, pops?

FT: I’ll tell ya, son. Listen up. You deny, deny, deny, you lie, lie, lie, and you insult your accusers. And if worse comes to worst, you sue. They got their lawyers; we got ours. It’s a pissing match, Donny, and we can piss longer and harder than the government can.

DT: Gee, dad, that’s smart.

FT: [smiles]

DT: I mean, really smart.

FT: Did you learn something today, son?

DT: I sure did, pops. I learned that the blacks are bad for business. I learned how to keep them out of our buildings.

FT: What else, son?

DT: [thinks] And I learned how to win.

FT: You sure did, son! And don’t you forget it!

[Fast forward to today. Donald Trump is in Trump Tower with his own sons, Eric and Donald, Jr.]

DT: And that was the first real estate lesson your Grandpa Fred ever taught me, boys. And I’m passing it along to you.

ET and DTJr., together: Gee, dad. Wish Grandpa hadn’t died so young. He sounds like he was a hella smart guy.

DT: [wistfully] He was, boys. He was. Taught me everything I know.

ft-dtFred and Donald, Trump Village


An open letter from me to gun freaks

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Some of us got into a bit of a kerfluffle at a Facebook page I won’t identify, to protect the owner’s privacy. S/he had written approvingly about the new “smart gun” technology that the New York Times recently editorialized about, urging that they at least be given a chance, if for no other reason than “protecting children with smart-gun barriers.” I, myself, don’t claim that this has been high up on my radar of major issues, but really, you can count me among the 55% of Americans who “want laws covering the sale of firearms to be stricter than they are now,” according to the Gallup Poll, which added that it is “independents and Democrats who are fueling the trend for stricter gun control laws.”

Well, on that Facebook page, the pro-gun fanatics came out, with one in particular taking an extremist and offensive stance. This person let his rage dictate his punctuation, using CAPS as if he were shouting, and resorting to insulting ad hominem attacks on people (“your twisted, alternative reality liberal world”) who disagreed with him. But his most illogical tendency was to use his personal experiences (growing up in “a very bad neighborhood,” “strolling in a dangerous hood like Newark at 2AM”) from which he generalized about gun policy.

Well, I’d like to address this pro-gun person, and all people like him. Look: I have no problem with the Second Amendment. Nobody I know does. Democrats don’t. Hillary Clinton doesn’t. You have your right to own a gun, provided that you do so according to the law, and nobody is proposing to take that right away from you, despite the lies told by the National Rifle Association, which preys upon the fears of credulous individuals.

I also want to say to this person: I know who you are. Oh, I don’t mean you, personally. We’ve never met and probably never will. But I know your kind. You’re the kid who bullied me when I was little and scrawny. You’re the one who teased the queer kids, the nerds, and probably the colored kids as well. You’re the one who shot slingshots at birds and cats, who muscled his way to the front of the line, who stole lunch cookies from those smaller and weaker than you. And you’re also probably the kind that’s screaming bloody murder about Mexican rapists and Syrian terrorists coming in droves into this country illegally. You’re probably in favor of more drilling for oil, and no doubt you don’t believe a word about climate change, including that it is manmade.

You’re probably the kind of person who snickers at Trans people, who thinks that the Dakota Pipeline protesters should be thrown in jail, who gets into arguments in bars when you’re drunk. And you are, by definition, the classic N.R.A. stooge. You don’t want any restrictions at all on weapon ownership. Even this Smart Gun technology—which people would be free to buy or not—offends your Second Amendment sensibilities. I don’t know how far you’re analyzed your position, but if pressed, you’d probably say that people should be allowed to stockpile rocket-propelled grenade launchers. And I have no doubt at all that you voted happily for Donald Trump.

So I just wanted to make myself clear, Mr. Pro-Gun fanatic. And even if you’re not all of the things I listed above, you choose to associate yourself with people who are. I don’t consider you a very good citizen of the U.S.A. I think you’re angry, and mean, and you masquerade your personality defects under the guise of Patriotism. You’re no patriot, sir. If you can’t even support Smart Guns, you don’t give a damn about Americans getting shot to death by gun freaks.


What happens when the President is a pathological liar?

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Donald Trump’s addiction to lying is well-known to most Americans, so his recent assertion that “millions of people voted illegally” in the election will come as no surprise. After all, this is the person who said that “thousands and thousands” of Muslims cheered in New Jersey after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The real question is how his most ardent supporters will react to this latest falsehood.

Put yourself in their shoes. Deep down inside, you know the guy is unhinged, perhaps even suffering from some personality disorder. You managed to persuade yourself during the campaign that it didn’t matter. You hated Hillary Clinton so much, and you were so angry at whatever it was you fancied was wrong with America, that even the thought of a mentally ill President did not concern you. In fact, on some level (that of a mischievous child, who puts a banana peel on the sidewalk in the path of a blind man), you took a sick kind of delight in cheering on a bully.

That was then; this is now. Now, we have the President-elect of the United States saying something so blatantly false, so easily disproved, that you really have to come to a reckoning with yourself. “Millions of people voted illegally” is what he tweeted, in one of those (possibly drug-fueled) Twitter storms he has become infamous for. We know that is not true. We know it’s not even close to the truth. Not a single Secretary of State in any of the fifty states, including red ones, has come forward with the slightest suggestion of voter fraud. (American state Secretaries of State are responsible for the oversight of elections.) Every third-party organization that studies elections has insisted there was no fraud. This most recent mendacity by Trump is embarrassing to Republicans, if, in fact, they’re even capable anymore of being embarrassed; the Wall Street Journal yesterday carefully omitted mention of it in their editorial pages, even as they slammed the Clinton campaign for calling for a recount in Wisconsin.

But what could the Wall Street Journal say, anyway? Could they come right out and accuse their man of being a pathological liar, or a paranoid fantasist, or a Goebbelsian propagandist of gigantic dishonesty? They could, in theory, but—like Republican politicians in general—they are afraid of Trump, afraid of being cut off from the White House, of not being invited to intimate briefings by Trump officials, afraid of being at the disfavor of the POTUS. The word from Murdoch on down to his minions is: Sit tight. Play nice. Don’t cross the son-of-a-bitch. We need him more than he needs us. For now.

Still, it must be very difficult for Republicans who still possess a shred of decency to have to sit quietly while their man lies with such insouciance. An intervention is needed in the Republican Party: an adult needs to step up and talk honestly. The truth is never easy to hear when you’re the addict in denial, but that’s exactly the situation in which today’s Republican Party finds itself.

Mitt Romney was a plausible interventionist when he tried to point out to his colleagues that Donald Trump was “a phony, a fraud.” But his party wouldn’t listen to him (which makes his recent public ass-kiss of Trump, in the hope of becoming Secretary of State, all the more disgusting). The Party now is in the very difficult situation of being led by a President-elect who got more than two million votes fewer than Hillary Clinton and is widely reviled and feared and suspected of being a madman. Such adults as remain in the GOP must be shaking their heads at the dysfunction closing in on them. (Wouldn’t it be fun to be a fly on the wall in Ryan’s office?) These Republican leaders are going to have to do something before Trump’s recklessness does real and lasting damage to America. (The 25th amendment to the Constitution actually provides a road map for such action.) Yet, as historians of the rise of Nazi Germany well understand, it can be dangerous to speak truth to a demagogue at the height of his power. One can remind these Republicans that silence is not an option, that it is their patriotic duty to speak up sooner rather than later. One suspects, however, that such warnings are likely to fall futilely upon deaf ears.


Thanksgiving’s over. Trump isn’t…yet

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Happy Nov. 28! What’s your favorite part of the Thanksgiving holiday, Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday, or Black Friday? They’re all such fun days to spend money. I’d be hard-pressed to pick just one, but I’d have to say that, for me, personally, it’s Black Friday! The crowds, the traffic, the lines–it’s all so cheery, and gets me right in the mood for Christmas. We went down to the mall, spent 45 minutes circling the parking lot to find a parking space, and then my cousin Orwell got into a big fight with some schmuck who beat him to the one spot  left, and who, as it turned out, was a Trump supporter! We knew that because the guy was wearing a “Make America Great Again” T-shirt. Things got ugly, what with the name-calling, but what do you expect from a Trump supporter? Bad manners, is what.

And by the way, how come there’s not a special shopping day for Sunday? It could be Yard Sale Sunday. A lot of people have yard sales on that day, especially here in California, where the weather’s usually nice, and everybody has some old treadmill or pepper grinder they’d like to make a few bucks on.

Anyhow, when we finally got to our family’s big Thanksgiving dinner, needless to say the conversation turned to the recent election. My family, kina hora, are all liberal humanists, so there wasn’t much argumentation. Everybody was and remains appalled and disgusted. We here on the far left coast of the bluest state in the union wonder what could those red state voters have been thinking? We expect they’ll have buyer’s remorse sooner or later; the question is when, and what will the new President do to cause his supporters to realize what a catastrophic mistake they made. Of course, his choices are manifold: his campaign was based on so many lies that almost anything could cause him to slip up, but in my family’s opinion, the number one thing that’s likely to bring him down is his business practices, which always have been shady and unscrupulous and seem even more so now that he refuses to place them into a blind trust. Over the weekend it turned out that Trump owns a chunk of the Dakota Access pipeline, up there in North Dakota. No wonder he’s so in favor of fracking and drilling: he stands to make money! Can you imagine if Obama had such a big conflict of interest? McConnell and Ryan would be introducing motions of impeachment. They’re curiously silent in Trump’s case, though. Well, my take is that a lot of Republicans would like to see Trump fail, but right now they have to button up their lips because they don’t want to piss him off, lest he prove to be an authoritarian, vengeful autocrat. Some of my family hope Trump will be impeached, but then someone reminded us to be careful of what we wish for, because if Trump goes down (which would be great fun to watch), we’ll have—ta da!—President Pence, who is a creationist homophobe and possibly worse even than Trump.

(I just want to add that never in my lifetime did I expect to see creationists running the government. That’s how far America has fallen. Thomas Jefferson is rolling in his grave.)

Anyhow, at some point we all got tired of this constant yammering about politics and got into the real heart of the issue: Food and drink! But my family agreed on one thing, and bless them for that: Remain involved! Don’t be discouraged! Fight this hideous new administration and all it stands for! Even the most conservative of my cousins vowed to take it to the streets if need be. We also spoke, as befits Thanksgiving, of our family members who are no longer with us, and I remembered my mother, who died eleven years ago, at the age of ninety. She was a huge Democrat—volunteered for her local Democratic county headquarters almost to the end. She would have been so thrilled that Hillary Clinton was running and would have been so proud to vote for her. Hillary’s loss would have devastated her, but my mother would have redoubled her efforts to get a Democrat elected next time. Here’s one of the last photos I ever took of her—she’s wearing her little Kerry-Edwards button.

gertrudeGertrude Heimoff, 1915-2005


Thanksgiving

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This isn’t a very thankful time for many of us. Our side lost. I, personally, believe the country as a whole lost, and furthermore I believe that History will agree. A friend of mine, a peaceful man of Latino heritage, told me today he’s thinking of buying a gun, for the first time in his life. He used the words “civil war” to describe his fear. I told him that, while I don’t think civil war is in the cards, I cannot dissuade him from his feelings. He may be righter than I am.

Still, one must persevere in hopefulness. I travel to Southern California for Thanksgiving, to be with family and old friends. Many of my family who used to be with us, no longer are. Now the family includes babies and young children I barely know. It’s a reminder that life goes on.

So let me wish you all the happiest, safest and most meaningful of Thanksgivings! I’ll be back here on Monday morning.

P.S. Today (as I write, yesterday as you read) is the 53rd anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He was my first political hero. I think he would be shocked and appalled by the direction this country has taken. Thank you, JFK, for inspiring a generation, and continuing to inspire us. Your legacy will survive even this.


On the American obsession with wealth and the Trump phenomenon

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Don’t get me started on the irony—or hypocrisy—of the Wall Street Journal, which has a weekend section called “Mansions” that’s an eat-your-heart-out, too-bad you-can’t have it ode to pool houses, chandeliers and thread counts. Then, yesterday, they had a front-page article, “Advertisers Search for Middle America,” explaining how Americans are revolting against “aspirational images of upscale urban living.”

Talk about mixed messages!

The Wall Street Journal has a lot of deplorable things about it, especially the editorial pages, but none is as disgusting as “Mansions,” which celebrates envy of the rich as America’s secular religion. The Murdoch family (like the Trumps) is fabulously wealthy; they seem to think that everybody wants nothing more than to have a mansion, a $150,000 car, and wear Christian Louboutin.

I read the Journal just to see what they’re up to, but I throw “Mansions” away without opening it. Throwing it away is better than throwing up. I can’t stand the way “Mansions” force-feeds us on gaudy crap nobody needs, which is a way—when you think about it—of telling those of us who don’t have a mansion that it’s our fault because we’re too damned lazy to afford one (and that, my friends, is basically the Republican Party’s governing philosophy. Paging Gov. Romney! The 47% is calling!).

Apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way. The Journal’s story, “Advertisers Search for Middle America,” not only contained the quote about Americans fed up with “aspirational images of upscale urban living,” it went on to associate this mood with Trump’s victory. He was elected by “the same…rural, economically frustrated, elite-distrusting, anti-globalization voters” who do not “desire to be like coastal elites.”

Count me among them. But before I going any further, let me clear something up: this smear about “coastal elites,” which is a driving meme of the tea party (as if the tea partiers don’t consider themselves elite). I do think we on the East and West Coasts of America are special. After all, we’re Blue, while the non-coastal states are Red. That, in my opinion, makes us smarter and more decent human beings. (Did I really say that? Yes, I said it. So sue me.)  But it doesn’t mean that all of us coastal types aspire to be portrayed in “Mansions.” I share the disgust of red state people who view this obsession with wealth, amounting to idolatry, as amoral. It is, and while I live on a coast and voted for Hillary Clinton and think Trump is a dangerous sociopath, it doesn’t mean I’m a vacuous, Kardashian-worshipping climber. I’m just a blue collar guy whose values happen to be progressive and humanistic, rather than fascistic and authoritarian.

But I digress. What disgruntled Democrats and Republicans have in common is a had-it-up-to-here disgust with the endless pursuit of wealth as the goal of life. This concept trickles through our entire society like a virus in the bloodstream. I happen to subscribe to Vanity Fair, which epitomizes this trait (and I’m not going to renew my subscription). They can put Bruce Springsteen, the all-American working class hero, on the cover, but the advertisements are about the pursuit of money and image: Ralph Lauren, Prada, Gucci, Dior, Armani. (It’s so funny that the fashion models they hire to be in the ads probably can’t afford to buy the clothes they’re pitching.)

Most Americans don’t want to wear Gucci. They’re happy in bluejeans and T-shirts. If they have to dress up, they go to outlet malls or Men’s Wearhouse. They don’t shop at Cartier, don’t know anyone who does, and they suspect that they don’t want to know anyone who shops at Cartier.

You know who shops at Cartier? The elite—and they can be Republicans or Democrats. And, yes, I have had it up to here with them. I’ve had it with “Mansions,” Vanity Fair, and even the supposedly liberal (but Hearst-owned) San Francisco Chronicle, whose Sunday “Style” section is an ass-kissing pucker-up of the city’s socialites. It shoves wealth and privilege, and the vulgar pursuit of it, down our throats, totally misreading the Bay Area’s mood (which is one reason why the Chronicle is losing readers). In this, I feel I have everything in common with the people who voted for Trump.

Except for one thing: I use my cerebrum when I decide whom and what to vote for, not my reptilian brain. I don’t vote on resentment, fear and hatred, the way the tea party does. I don’t vote according to superstitious religious nonsense, the way evangelicals do. I vote with my head. If everybody did, no Republican would ever again even get elected dogcatcher.

Well, maybe I’m being too harsh on my Republican friends. Apparently they like the fact that Melania Trump and those delightful Trump spawn will now be the fashion icons gracing the pages of “Mansions” and Vanity Fair. I’m sure all those unemployed Rust Belt factory workers can’t wait for that.


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