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People dislike Trump for the same reason they dislike advertisements

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“People hate ads.”

That’s the message from the New York Times. In an article about the advertising industry, the Times reports that unless it can confront “an existential need for change,” it risks “falling further into irrelevance.” The more pressure the advertising industry feels in terms of declining revenues and soaring marketing costs, the more it resorts to frequent, heavy-handed and obnoxious ads, which further turn off consumers, especially Millennials and Gen Z. “[M]any of those consumers, especially the affluent young people prized by advertisers, hate ads so much that they are paying to avoid them” through the use of ad blockers.

I play a little game with myself when watching television. As soon as the program I’m watching switches to a commercial, I press the “mute” button or change the channel, to see if I can remain unaware of who the commercial’s sponsor is. If the commercial doesn’t mention the sponsor in the first second or so, I usually win my little game. When I lose, it’s because the advertisers know that they’d better get their company name out immediately, before viewers can mute or change the channel. That’s good marketing, I guess, but it also makes me resent those companies even more, because I’m aware of how desperately they’re trying to manipulate me.

We all know that T.V. commercials generally are louder, sometimes much louder, than the programming they interrupt. This, too, is an example of how advertisers are trying to seize our attention. Car ads blare loud, nerve-jangling music; insurance companies have jingles you can’t get out of your head; drug companies list disgusting symptoms and side effects along with diagrams of stomachs and bowels; appliances make ridiculous claims about ease of use, while cosmetic manufacturers continue the lie that nobody will like you unless you use their products.

It’s all so insulting to our intelligence, but it’s also mind-numbing. We’re supposed to pretend that a T.V. pitch man, screaming at the top of his lungs about APR financing for a car, is not a vulgar interruption of our peace and quiet. Besides, the inference that our lives are incomplete unless we purchase product “x” or service “y” is insulting. Americans don’t need more stuff, we need more peace in our lives; all this commotion and noise affects our psyches, making us jumpy and grouchy, and making us feel that suffering loud, stupid commercials is simply part of life.

It is this psychological negativity that Donald J. Trump knows how to manipulate. His years as a successful, high-ratings television producer and star have taught him how to use the media in all its obnoxious glory. First, craft a message. It need not be true; but it has to be attention-grabbing. Then repeat your message over and over and over; it may piss people off, but at least they’ll be listening (or, in the old Madison Avenue adage, bad publicity is better than no publicity at all). Above all, appeal to emotion. Jealousy, envy, anger, revenge, aspiration, hatred, curiosity, resentment, sex—if you can kindle these feelings in viewers, you’ve gotten inside their heads. From there, you can switch to reason: convince them they need your product or service, even if the facts you offer to prove it are fake. There’s essentially no difference between “fake” facts and “real” facts when it comes to advertising. A cream that makes the wrinkles under your eyes disappear may or may not work; even it it works, its effects may not last for more than an hour; and even if it lasts all day, there’s no proof that the world will love you any better, or treat you more humanely. There is thus no “truth” at stake here, only the advertiser’s ability to sell product. If the product “moves,” it means the ad worked, whether or not it was accurate.

This is the essence of Trump’s self-marketing. Of course, this kind of word play can only work with a certain type of consumer, namely, one who is credulous. The better educated people are, the less susceptible they are to the lies of commercials. Conversely, low-information consumers are more likely to be convinced by commercials. Trump knows that, too, which is why his base is dominated by low-information voters; conversely, again, his opponents tend to be the most highly-educated people in the country.

One explanation for the Resistance to Trump is because educated people understand how perverse is his use of the bully pulpit. Educated people tend to assign a high moral value to truth and fact-based reasoning. We’ve seen the historic results of ignorance and superstition: inquisitions, pogroms, mass death, civil disintegration, dictatorship, dark ages, the repression of minorities. We believe that “the truth shall set you free”—literally. We cringe when we have to see an ad or commercial that is misleading, and that seeks to take advantage of people’s credulity. It’s the same cringe-worthy reaction that makes it so distasteful to see T.V. televangelists huckster their elderly, poor followers out of their hard-earned money. That is not an honest, truthful way to make a living; it’s grifting on a grand scale.

Donald J. Trump grifts on a grand scale. He has taken everything disreputable about advertising and incorporated it into himself, so that there is no longer a difference between Donald J. Trump, the living, breathing human being, and Donald J. Trump, the product he self-peddles with the same vulgarity as a screaming car salesman. People hate ads, yes. And people hate Trump, although whether or not that’s a strong enough reason for voters to eject him next year remains to be seen.


While Republicans protect the rich, Democrats always have stood with the common people

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Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858) was a United States Senator from the State of Missouri. One of the founders of the Democratic Party (along with his patron, the 7th president, Andrew Jackson), Benton, like Jackson a westerner, mistrusted easterners. He accused them of siphoning off the wealth of the west, to add to their own coffers—of being elitists—which led western farmers and settlers into bankruptcy and ruin. This led to his steadfast opposition to the Bank of the United States (the nation’s first national bank, chartered by Congress in 1791, under George Washington). In Benton’s view, the Bank existed simply to “abduct” the gold and silver so desperately needed by westerners; that specie ended up in the pockets of wealthy easterners, while the Bank issued worthless paper money to westerners.

When the Bank of the United States’ charter was up for renewal, in 1831, during Jackson’s first term, Benton spoke heatedly against it on the floor of the Senate. His fulmination against eastern money and the establishment of privilege that had coalesced around it, in the form of the Republican Party, could just as easily come today from the lips of Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders: If the Bank of the United States were renewed, and the eastern elite allowed to accumulate even more wealth, Benton warned, in this “may be laid the foundation for the titles and estates of our future nobility—Duke of Cincinnati! Earl of Lexington! Marquis of Nashville! Count of St. Louis! Prince of New Orelans! Such may be the titles of the bank nobility…”. As for the charter renewal itself, Benton said, he would vote against “a bill for the establishment of lords and commons in this America, and for the eventual establishment of a King; for when the lords and commons are established, the King will come of himself!”

Americans had fought the Revolution to be freed from the tyranny of one King; Benton and Democrats did not want another Royal Court and King established, on the basis of wealth rather than blood. We hear distinct echoes of this fear in the modern Democratic Party; even after nearly two hundred years, one of the party’s bedrock principles is to discourage great concentrations of wealth. Instead of “the Count of St. Louis” and “the Duke of Cincinnati,” we might speak today of the Earl of Las Vegas (Sheldon Adelson), the Prince of Silicon Valley (Mark Zuckerberg), the Baron of Wichita ((Charles Koch), the Empress of Michigan (Betsy DeVos) and the rest of the Royal Court, most of whom are Republicans.

But think about Benton’s final warning: ”when the lords and commons are established, the King will come of himself!” What does this mean? The “lords” whose establishment Benton feared are upon us already; they always have been. America has always permitted the accumulation of vast wealth (which is one of the main reasons why the Republican Party has always resisted taxation), and the gap between the ultra-wealthy and everybody else has never been greater than it is today.

And who are the “commons”? You and me: the little people, the lower classes…the 99%, if you will. Who can doubt that Benton’s fear has come true: America is now comprised of a 1% class of “lords” and a 99% class of “commons.” These lords will not give up their power and money without a fight: indeed, we have lately seen them lining up to resist Warren and Sanders with all their collective might. Their “Resistance”, if we can call it that, even crosses party lines: even billionaire Democrats like Michael Bloomberg are sounding the alarm against higher taxes on their class.

And in 2016, Benton’s most alarming and dire warning came true: the King came “of himself.” The lords selected one of their own, Donald J. Trump, to be their ruler, and elevated him (with help from the Russians) to be their president. His job: to protect their interests. To cut their taxes even more than they had been reduced under Republican presidents, and to make sure that no future taxes would ever be levied upon them. To protect and strengthen their banks and corporations. And to do all the other things that Kings do, which is why the Founders rose up against King George III in the first place: to punish his “repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.” (The Declaration of Independence spells out these “injuries and usurpations” in great detail.)

So we see History repeating itself. In one sense, therefore, the modern Republican Party—as rightwing, Orwellian and plutocratic as any party has ever been—is nothing but a more egregious rehash of the Republican Party’s historical conservatism. But in another, far more sinister sense, the accompanying rise of a “King”, in the form of Donald J. Trump, has confronted this nation with its most dangerous challenge since the Civil War. For, let us remember, by definition the King is above the law…and can do whatever he wants, with no repercussions.

Oh, that Bank of the United States charter renewal? President Jackson, an ardent Democrat, vetoed it. In words, once again, that could come from any Democrat today, he explained:

“It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes…When the laws undertake…to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society…have a right to complain of the injustices to their Government.”


Trump defense collapses at Thursday’s Impeachment hearing

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Yesterday’s testimony from Fiona Hill and David Holmes was really the clincher for the case against Trump. Both witnesses gave their stories in prosaic, almost homely ways, compared to the equivocating sniveling of Sondland, who struck me as a rather sordid character.

But Hill and Holmes were anything but sordid. Holmes, who went first, told the tale of Trump’s criminal interference in Ukraine in a straight-forward way. The details were compelling, the narrative easy to follow, Trump’s crime impossible to overlook. Then came Hill, whose poise and articulateness—not to mention her public scolding of Republicans on the committee who, consciously or not, are peddling the Putin line—made her an ideal witness. Together, the two entirely confirmed what the other witnesses said—what we all know to be the facts: Trump, in an effort to hurt Joe Biden (who he thought was his likely, and most powerful, opponent in 2020), bribed, or attempted to bribe, Zelensky into announcing a fake investigation into the Bidens. In so doing, Trump not only broke the law, he entirely subverted longstanding American policy with respect to Ukraine, our ally, and endangered our national security.

That’s the story, pure and simple—and it was fun watching the Republicans on the committee and their lawyers squirm to rebut it. They tried to smear both witnesses as well as former witnesses (like Vinman). They tried to change the topic: Hillary, the Steel dossier, Sweden!!! They tried to protest the structure of the hearings, or the processes by which Democrats launched them, or the timelines. The peddled, again, the thoroughly discredited fable—manufactured by Russian security–that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in our 2016 election. They even descended to the absurdity of grilling Holmes about the distance between Sondland’s ear and his cell phone. They grabbed at any straw they could, to convince themselves and Trump’s base that the story of Trump’s High Crimes and Misdemeanors could not possibly be true.

But of course it is. And everybody knows it.

I feel no sorrow for these Republicans. In attempting to defend the indefensible, they obviously have bitten off more than they can chew. But more than that, they have shown themselves before the Bar of History to be contemptible fools. At the very least, they have destroyed their own personal reputations. At the most, they have come dangerously close themselves to being part of a criminal conspiracy. And, as if all that isn’t bad enough, they’ve created a system of lies and truth-denying that threatens the very fabric of our society. That is Hitlerian.

Since there’s zero chance the traitors in the Republican Senate will vote to convict despite the mountain of evidence, it all comes down to the 2020 elections. It’s conventional wisdom to say that every election is the most important in our history, but in the case of 2020, I really believe it. I take heart in recent elections (Kentucky and Louisiana governerships, Virginia legislature) that went, improbably, for Democrats. But some polls (for instance, this one showing Trump winning in Wisconsin) give me pause. There is still a possibility, even after all we know about this unnatural inhabitant of the Oval Office, that enough people remain stupid enough, or credulous enough, or hateful enough, or stubborn enough–whatever–to cast a vote for the most stupendously incompetent man ever to be president. Add to that, we now know Russia—yes, the Russia with which Trump colluded in 2016–is working furiously on Trump’s behalf to do it again in 2020. Putin clearly has something on Trump; the two once again will conspire to subvert our election. If Trump is re-elected, America’s troubles will reach the boiling point.

Have a lovely weekend.


Inside the mind of a House Republican

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Every one of those damned Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee Impeachment hearings knows exactly what Trump did. Every damned one of them. They know he attempted to bribe, or extort, Zelensky: “You’ll get your money and your White House meeting when you publicly announce Ukraine is investigating Joe and Hunter Biden.” And they know that Trump and his co-conspirators—Mulvaney, Giuliani and the whole damned bunch of them—are engaged in a massive coverup and campaign of intimidation to keep the American people from finding out the truth.

Any Republican on that committee who claims he or she doesn’t know these things is a damned liar. They have their orders: Say anything you have to say to protect Trump. Lie, insinuate, distract—anything. If you don’t, well, you’re going to be in trouble.

Do you remember when Jim Comey compared Trump to a mafia boss? He meant that when the boss “suggests” you do something for him, it’s not a mere suggestion, it’s an order. By “suggesting” instead of ordering, perjury can be circumvented: if a prosecutor asks you if the boss “ordered” you to do something, you can truthfully answer “No.” But when the boss tells you, “Gee, I really wish so-and-so would go away and not come back,” you—the subordinate—understand his meaning: Kill him. And so you do.

Henry II: “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” That’s how it works.

Zelensky understood that Trump’s “favor” was an order. Trump is far more powerful than any mafia boss who ever lived; Zelensky, a new president (a former comedian!) knew that he had no choice whatsoever but to obey the president of the United States.

These Republicans on the Judiciary Committee likewise understand that they have no choice but to lie, insinuate and distract, even though they know exactly what Trump did. If they don’t—if they refuse to toe the Republican line—they not only lose all power in the Republican caucus, they’d be shunned by the entire caucus, and eventually forced to leave the Congress. Or they’d be primaried out of office. Once returned back to civilian status, they’d never be able to get decent jobs at any law firm, think tank or corporation with Republican ties—which is pretty much every law firm, think tank and corporation in America. That’s a pretty heavy price to pay for conscience. And so they flush conscience down the toilet.

A common meme these days, especially among Democrats, is that someday History will catch up with these Republicans. They’ll be embarrassed and shamed; their grandchildren will turn on them; their neighbors will shun them; they’ll go to their graves regretting their cravenness.

But these Republicans don’t see it that way. They figure that they may have to take a little heat in the short term, but over the long haul, people will forget this unpleasant episode, and it will be business as usual. Some of these Republican backbenchers may even be rewarded for their protection of the criminal president. If they get to a position of leadership in the House, or get elected to the Senate, their lies, insinuations and distractions will be long past. Nobody, in five years time, will ask them about it; nobody will care; the whole sordid thing will be forgotten, buried by an avalanche of subsequent history. They may feel a little guilty now for what they’re doing—no one but a sociopath wouldn’t. But they know how human nature, or at least their nature, works. Time heals all wounds. Five years down the road, ten years, fifteen, their personal shame will largely be healed over, like a wound that scabs. Sure, it may leave a little scar. But no one else will be able to see the scar.

And so they do the dirty deed. They lie, insinuate and distract, and the fact that their fellow Republicans are lying, insinuating and distracting is a great balm. They look at their Republican colleagues, who to a man and a woman also are lying, insinuating and distracting, and they think, “Gee, maybe what I’m doing isn’t so bad. All my friends are doing the same thing.” And then they remember the good times they have in the caucus—the card games, the beer-and-football games, the restaurant dinners with their wives and Republican pals. They know, on some primitive level, that what they’re doing sucks. But the perks of the job! The power tripping! The respect they get back home in the district! It’s ridiculous for anyone to expect them to chuck all that away. Easier to live with a little shame, for a little while. It will end someday…won’t it…???


AN ENDORSEMENT: MAYOR PETE FOR PRESIDENT

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I’ve refrained from endorsing any of the Democratic candidates so far, although I did take The Pledge, at the very beginning of the race, to support whomever the eventual nominee is. And I stand by that promise. But I’m now prepared to endorse Pete Buttigieg for President in 2020.

My reasons are simple. For starters, I believe Mayor Pete can win. Perhaps any of the other Democrats can, since Trump is loathed by a majority of the American people. But Mayor Pete has that mysterious aura of “winner” shining over him.

Another reason Buttigieg has earned my support is his temperament. I like the cut of the man’s jib, as they say. His coolness, his blasé demeanor, his detached intellectualism testify to a first-rate intellect, which America is going to need as we recover from the catastrophic damage the Trump cult has inflicted upon us. At the same time, for all his welcome gravitas, Mayor Pete possesses an amused irony I find refreshing. In so many ways, he reminds me of John F. Kennedy. JFK, let’s remember, was another man whom the pundits said could never be elected. I remember the history well: Kennedy, it was said, couldn’t win because he was Catholic. Now, some people are saying Mayor Pete can’t win because he’s gay. JFK proved the skeptics wrong. I think Mayor Pete will, too.

Electability and temperament aside, I also like Mayor Pete’s positions on the issues, although I acknowledge they’re still evolving. That’s okay; he’s not going to arrive at final conclusions on issues until he’s analyzed them fully and figured out ways of achieving his goals, and I like that pragmatic approach to problem-solving. As for those issues on which he’s taken positions, I like his formula for “Medicare for all who want it.” This basically expands the Affordable Care Act to its maximum extent without replacing it with Warren-style universal healthcare. I don’t think the country is ready for a government-run healthcare program; polls prove that it frightens the middle class (they worry about not being able to choose their own providers). The devil is in the details, but “Medicare for all who want it” seems to strike the sweet spot in the debate over healthcare insurance.

His economic plan focuses on “working and middle class families.” It has all the standard Democratic talking points: lower housing and childcare costs, affordable college tuition, reducing the cost of prescription drugs, a $15 an hour minimum wage, comprehensive sick leave and family leave, higher teacher salaries, clean energy, protection for unions and so on. This is all a bit anodyne to be sure, but then, I haven’t seen a presidential candidate in my life whose campaign promises weren’t. (Candidates campaign in poetry, and govern in prose.) On the all-important matter of taxes, Buttigieg has three major proposals:

  1. Tax cuts for the middle class, and
  2. A capital gains tax on the top 1% of earners, and
  3. Eliminating the Trump tax cuts that benefited the rich and corporations.

Granted, this doesn’t go as far as the confiscatory taxes on billionaires that Warren and Sanders call for. But it also doesn’t raise the fear factor that a Buttigieg presidency will raise taxes on working people. This is preventive warfare on Mayor Pete’s part: Republicans will attack him with all the savagery of which they’re so capable, but accusations of “He’ll raise your taxes!” won’t carry water.

All this is to suggest that, in our over-simplified political parlance, Mayor Pete is a “moderate.” All the evidence suggests that the American people are not in a mood for radical changes; President Obama’s recent warning to the party to beware of “revolutionary Democrats” seems spot-on to me. The last two elected Democratic presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, both were “moderates,” with Clinton proclaiming his “third way” and Obama attempting, without much success, to reach out to Republicans and work with them in a bipartisan manner. That Obama’s fair approach didn’t work wasn’t his fault, but the fault of an ideologically rigid, religion-crazed and intolerant bloc of Republicans, whose “my way or the highway” style culminated with the election of Trump.

I don’t mind having a conversation about “how far left is too far left?” over the next ten months. It’s a good conversation for Democrats to have. The party needs to rejigger its default settings if it hopes to regain the White House, and anyway, any Democratic policy is going to steer America in the right direction. Democrats broadly agree on most things; and I think most of us are smart enough to realize there aren’t quick fixes or silver bullets to solve anything, but only the slow, painstaking progress of incremental change. Pete Buttigieg appreciates this truth, and with his enormous intellectual capacity, he is fully capable of presiding over a period of reconstruction and progress.

There’s a final reason for my endorsement, beyond Mayor Pete’s awesome and inspirational resumé. He is a decent man. After the indecency of this current administration, I yearn for a well-behaved president, one with manners and politeness, free of rancor, open-hearted and open-minded, a man (or woman) of integrity and, yes, love. Donald J. Trump is the opposite of all these values. Mayor Peter embodies them. That is why, I believe, he’s soared to the top of the polls in Iowa; the good people of the Hawkeye State recognize a gentleman when they see one (which is one reason why they choose Barack Obama in their 2008 caucus).

Don’t we all miss President Obama? No scandals, a gentleman, a lovely family (compared to the nasty spawn of the current president), a man (and a First Lady) to admire and look up to, rather than be embarrassed by. Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, similarly are admirable people. They will re-moralize the White House and restore grace and dignity to the presidency.

For all these reasons, I endorse Pete Buttigieg for President of the United States of America.


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