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With Trump’s voters, nationalism is more important than their own interests



One of the biggest political questions in America is why Trump’s voters stick with him when they know (or should know, and could know, if they bothered to learn) that his policies are hurting them.

The latest example is his executive order on the Affordable Care Act, which “will drastically increase premiums” that will “hurt Trump voters.” Maybe those voters don’t care all that much if they pay another thousand bucks or so for health insurance. Maybe they figure that, if they get better jobs with better pay, they’ll be able to afford higher premiums—and that Trump is the guy who can boost the economy. Which, by the way, is not true. Any way you look at it, the economy and Wall Street, both of which are chugging along, were rapidly improving in Obama’s final years (after his deft management of the Bush Recession), so Donald Trump can hardly take credit (which isn’t stopping him from doing so anyway). Still, the list of ways in which a successful Trump regime will cause inordinate harm to red state, rural districts is long, and includes, not only higher insurance premiums, but environmental degradation, increased risk of war (which always hurts poor people, since it’s their sons and daughters who get killed), alienating our closest allies, the profoundly unfair granting of special tax privileges to the ultra-rich, a deteriorating infrastructure, and, most ominously, the further dividing of a country already badly fractured.

Why do people support politicians whose policies hurt them? This isn’t the first time in history it’s happened. In 1935, there was an election in the Saar, the region in southwestern Germany that was placed under joint British-French control in 1920, as part of the Treaty of Versailles. Saarlanders rightfully resented the occupation, although they had no choice but to go along; so, in that 1935 plebiscite, an overwhelming majority (almost 91%) voted to rejoin Germany. They had been convinced by a coalition of Catholic prelates and Nazis, who used Josef Goebbels’ propaganda effectively.

The Saarlanders who wished to re-incorporate back into Germany “knew what awaited them…: dictatorship, destruction of trade unions, persecution…” AJP Taylor writes (in “The Origins of the Second World War”). Yet, “in an unquestionably free election,” they voted to return to the Reich anyway, and for one reason only: Nationalism. “With this force behind him…Hitler did not worry.” He had the people behind him.

In the event, within ten years Saarlanders had reasons aplenty to regret their decision. The Saar was ravaged in the war, its coal, iron and steel industries destroyed by Allied bombs, its houses smashed, its farmlands gutted and pitted, its government dismembered. The Saarlanders had cast their lot with nationalism“exalting one nation above all others”and turned their backs on all other considerations, even the health and welfare of their families.

Of all the aphorisms about nationalism I’ve seen, I like this one, from Schopenhauer, best: Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and happy to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.”

Ironic, indeed, that Hitler claimed Schopenhauer was one of the German philosophers (along with Nietzsche, Kant and Hegel) who “provided [me] a philosophy which became the granite foundation for all my later acts.”

Mine may be a harsh judgment on America’s white nationalist Republicans, but these miserable fools, rankled by their own inferiority, deserve what they have reaped: this Trump regime. While it robs them of substance, it feeds them with empty rhetoric, provided by, not only Trump, but Bannon, a neo-nazi who once said, “Trump is the product of a seething populism and nationalism that is the driving political force.” Pro-Trump red states and red districts will be the Saarlands of America’s not-too-distant future. Unfortunately, the rest of us will be dragged along with them into the coming maelstrom.


Trump panders to “the street,” in nazi fashion



“Das is für die Gasse.” “That is for the street.” So said Ignaz Seipel, the Chancellor of Austria in the 1920s, about the anti-semitism his Christian Social Party preached. Seipel, a Catholic priest, argued that his objection to Jews was due to their socialist, or “Bolshevist,” inclinations, rather than their religion. But when he spoke of the “decomposing influence” Jews had upon Austrian society, other ears—including Hitler’s, in nearby Munich—heard the dog-whistle of Jew hatred that led directly to the extermination camps.

Why the word “Gasse”? It means, literally, “street,” but even in the 1920s was a slang term connoting the masses, who were generally under-educated and resentful of their déclassé status, much in the same way as today’s Republican white nationalists. “Die Gasse” had been taught to hate Jews for years by radical rightists. Granted that the more intelligent among them understood that antisemitism was mere “socialism for fools,” meaning that it was easy for rightwing politicians to stir up Jew hatred among disaffected bourgeois elements and clericals, in order to be elected to high office. They knew it was hokum; they disseminated the lie anyway.

Conservative demogogues always have resorted to baiting. Without an “enemy,” the right would cease to exist. In today’s Republican Party, the object of scorn is no longer Jews (although, as we witnessed at Charlottesville, the far right still indulges in nazi-style antisemitism). Instead the enemy now is Muslims, Mexicans, Blacks, liberals, the media, gays, Hollywood, “globalists” (and there are many Jews among the latter five groups). When Donald Trump, an educated man (Wharton School of Economics), rails against these, he is of course speaking to his “base,” red state denizens, but, from a politico-historical perspective, they are identical to “die Gasse.” Trump tells them things he, and those around him, knows are lies, but he also knows that “the street” believes him, and so he says them ever more strongly. That this is unscrupulously cynical is beside the point. It works.

Trump is doing something no Western leader has done since Hitler, or has done as well: as the historian A.J.P. Taylor wrote, “The unique quality of Hitler was the gift of translating commonplace thoughts into action.” Where others had spoken of “doing something” about the Jewish problem, Hitler’s “terrifying literalism” actually acted. In Donald Trump’s case, his Republican Party for years has talked about shutting down the Mexican border, of ending the Affordable Care Act, of eliminating Medicare and Medicaid, of lowering taxes on the rich, of outlawing same-sex marriage, of loosening environmental protections, of breaching the separation of church and state, of tightening voting laws, of ending trade deals, of appointing rightwing judges, and so on and so forth. But Republican leaders have done little to follow through on these promises to “die Gasse,” because they understood that the promises were little more than rhetorical devices to get elected, and could not seriously be fulfilled.

Until now. In Trump, we have a president who not only talks to “die Gasse,” he does (or tries to do) what he says—which is exactly what the street likes about him. Not that they are concerned with the particulars. As Taylor points out, “Not many Germans really cared passionately and persistently whether Germany again dominated Europe. But they talked as if they did. Hitler took them at their word.”

In the same way, tea party-Breitbart-Christian conservative Republicans don’t really care about things like Mexican immigration, or food stamps, or carbon emissions, or gay marriage, or NAFTA, or sharia, or nuclear proliferation, or any of the other Republican grievances. They may tell pollsters they do, and they may occasionally think about them and be generally upset by them when they do. But they have no serious understanding of them; and, left alone, they would prefer to live their lives normally, working their jobs, raising their children, associating with their friends, enjoying their sports, going to their churches, sleeping and having sex. But the Republican Party never leaves them alone: its strategy is to constantly provoke and infuriate them, reminding them at every opportunity how justified is their anger, how threatened they are by their enemies, who are trying to take away their happiness and security, and that of their children. Trump takes these people of the street at their word, and they at his. That is the ugly sentiment fueling “die Gasse”; stoking it is the one thing Trump, like Hitler before him, knows how to do better than anyone.

How the 25th Amendment really works



It’s clear that increasing numbers of people in Washington, D.C. are prepared to remove Donald Trump from office. This group includes Republicans as well as Democrats, members of Congress, and Trump’s Cabinet members.

Robert Reich’s interesting tweet the other day is a good example. It suggests the mood in the cloakrooms of Capitol Hill: dark, deeply pessimistic, scared about an unhinged, isolated Trump, “hating everyone in the White House,” “unraveling” before everyone’s eyes. Yet with Impeachment a near-certain impossibility given the tea party dominance in the House of Representatives (where such proceedings Constitutionally must begin), that leaves only one option: the 25th Amendment.

Much is being said about this strange, little-known section of the Constitution, which was adopted in 1967. The Amendment’s key part, as far as removing Trump from office is concerned, is Section 4. It outlines the steps that must be taken. Here is a summary, with the names of the relevant players.

The first thing that has to happen is that “the Vice President” (Michael Pence) “and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide” must “transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate” (currently Orrin Hatch) “their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Upon that occurrence, “the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

Lots to break down in this rather sweeping statement. Note that the participation of the Vice President is mandatory: he must initiate the removal process. But he cannot do it alone: he has choices as to the others he needs for the process to go forward. One possibility is the acquiescence of “a majority of the principal officers of the executive departments.” That would be the Cabinet. There are currently 15 such executive departments. In other words, if eight Cabinet secretaries joined forces with the Vice President, that would be enough to sign the “written declaration” to Orrin Hatch, which statutorily would result in the “immediate” removal of the President.

Are there eight Cabinet secretaries who would play along? We can only speculate, of course. If things continue to deteriorate in the White House—Trump’s mental state, his alarming tweets, his inconstancy and impulsiveness, the threat of World War III, his insults to them—the following Secretaries may be the most likely to support Pence’s invocation of the 25th: Tillerson (State), Mnuchin (Treasury), Mattis (Defense), Perry (Energy), Ross (Commerce), Acosta (Labor), McMaster (NSA) and Chao (Transportation). That’s eight. I think that the most far-right deplorables in the Cabinet, such as Ben Carson and Betsy DeVos, would never oust their leader; but their approval would not be necessary. All it would take is Pence plus The Eight, and Trump is out of a job.

But, as I pointed out above, Pence (remember, he has to initiate the process) has another choice, besides the Cabinet: if he thought he couldn’t round up eight Secretaries, he could turn to “Congress” instead. But who in Congress does the Constitution empower with such an awesome duty? After all, there are 535 members. In this respect, Section 4 is unclear. The way the words read, it sounds like “a majority of…the principal officers of…Congress” could do it. Who are the “principal officers” of the Congress? This is not spelled out. However, they presumably include, at the very least, the Speaker of the House (Paul Ryan), the House Majority Leader (Kevin McCarthy), the House Minority Leader (Nancy Pelosi), the Senate Majority Leader (Mitch McConnell), the Senate Minority Leader (Chuck Schumer) and good old pro tempore Orrin Hatch.

Reading that list, it’s not hard to imagine a majority of them, perhaps all of them, siding with Pence, were Pence to invoke the 25th, which he wouldn’t do unless he had a good idea, before-hand, that he could get away with it. The problem is the vagueness of Section 4’s wording. Recalcitrant Republicans, particularly tea party House members (especially the Freedom Caucus) might challenge the “principal officers” and argue that they (the principal officers) do not fairly represent the sentiment in Congress, and perhaps Whips, committee heads and others ought to be included. They could make a lot of noise and create a lot of obstructionism, and then we’d be in uncharted waters.

There’s a further complication: Clause 2 of Section 4 gives the President a right of appeal: Although he had been “immediately” removed from office upon the transmission to Hatch of the necessary paperwork, that does not mean he must go quietly into the night. He, too, may “transmit to the President pro tempore…his written declaration that no inability exists.” In that case, amazingly, “he shall resume the powers and duties of his office.” Following that, Section 4 spells out various deadlines for various steps to be enacted; the bottom line is that “Congress shall [eventually] decide the issue.” That is all 535 members; a vote to remove would require “two-thirds…of both Houses” (i.e. House of Representatives and Senate). If things get this far, it’s completely unknowable if two-thirds of the House would vote to remove Trump from office (although I think two-thirds of the Senate might).

Would Trump appeal? Without doubt. He then would re-assume his “powers and duties” pending the final Congressional vote. Can you imagine Trump’s state of mind if things go that far? His paranoia would be greater than ever, his hatreds more powerful, his grievances heightened, his resentments boundless. And he would still have his small hands on the nuclear football. That scenario is almost impossible to fathom, and yet, we could find ourselves there pretty fast.

Have a lovely weekend! And to my friends in the fire zones, we are there for you. Be safe.

Republican criticism of Weinstein? Bull. Here’s a partial list of Repubs caught in sex scandals



The Harvey Weinstein sexual predation scandal is giving the white nationalists at Breitbart plenty of opportunity to condemn the Democratic Party. Here are some comments from the men and the women who remained utterly silent when Trump bragged about grabbing pussy, but who are now up in arms accusing Dems of hypocrisy–and, of course, they can’t stop cursing their bete noirs, Hillary and Obama.

Birds of a feather, flock together. And everyone says they didn’t know, including Hillary and the Obamas.

Hypocrites all of Hollywood, Clinton, obamas. All of them.

You guys don’t care about anybody’s right just your millionaire salaries. You don’t respect us the so called deplorables , the working class!

This is a progressive scandal.

Celebritard are all to blame

Can’t be a person of Hillary or Obama’s political stature and not know about something as devious as this.

It’s sickening for me, readers, to have to go through this sewage of hatred, but it’s important to know the mentality that fuels Breitbart, Bannon, Trump and the rest of the Republican Party.

Who the hell are these Republicans kidding? Theirs is the party of Larry “Wide Stance” Craig, caught cruising in a men’s room; Tim Murphy, the bluenose, anti-abortion congressman who just had to resign over urging his mistress to have an abortion; Newt Gingrich—how many extra-marital affairs has he had?; Mike Duvall, the California assemblyman who had to resign after bragging about his sexual exploits; Mark Sanford, the South Carolina governor whose “hiking the Appalachian Trail” was an excuse for his affair with another woman; David Vitter, the Bible-pounding Louisiana Senator whose phone number turned up in the D.C. Madam’s logbook; Bob Allen, the Florida Republican, who was arrested for soliciting oral sex in a public park; Mark Foley, the Republican congressman whose gay sexting to teenaged boys forced him to resign; Rudi Giuliani, the ex-New York Mayor, whose numerous sexual indiscretions were the talk of the town; Bob Livingston, the former Speaker of the House, who had to quit after revelations of his illicit sexual affairs; Republican Congressman Jon Hinson, caught soliciting sexual favors in a House men’s room; Robert Bauman, a GOP conservative whose political career went up in flames after he sought sex with a 16-year old boy; Charlie Crist, the Florida governor and now congressman, who allegedly paid hush money to two men to cover up his gay liaisons; Dennis Hastert, another Republican Speaker of the House, who went to jail for homosexual affairs with young boys.

Have I omitted any other Republican sexual freaks? Yes, dozens upon dozens, too many to mention. And don’t even get me started on homophobic, “pro-family” evangelical and Catholic priests routinely busted for having sex with children and prostitutes—not to mention senior employees at Fox News (O’Reilly, Ailes) caught up in their own sexual embarrassments. This is your modern Republican Party: covering up and apologizing for its sexual predators, then going into full-scale, Trump-style attack mode when a Democrat, Harvey Weinstein, borrows from the Donald Trump playbook of using money and star power to coerce women into granting him sexual license.

So give me a break. The public isn’t buying this crap from Republicans anyway. People understand that the Republican Party is the party of sexual hypocrisy. It’s not that Democrats are purer or any less lecherous, it’s that Democrats don’t pound Bibles and sanctimoniously lecture people about heterosexual marital fidelity the way adulterous, closeted Republicans do. The only Americans credulous and stupid enough to believe this nonsense are the wife-beater T-shirt crowd and knuckle-draggers at Breitbart, many (most?) of whom no doubt have their own down-low secrets, whose private lives despite their Sunday church appearance would explode if exposed to public scrutiny.



About that “Make America Great Again” thing…

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My main argument with the Trump-Bannon-tea party brand of white nationalism, beyond its racism, homophobia and other unsavory features, is its phony contention that America somehow has lost its “greatness” and must restore it, by any means necessary.

This notion is implicit in Trump’s MAGA slogan. It lies behind the Charlottesville marchers’ denunciation of those whom they perceive as the enemy: Jews, non-whites, Muslims, homosexuals, liberals. The romantic concept of “greatness” which has been lost, or stolen, is very Prusso-Germanic. Historians associate it most closely, of course, with Germany’s post-Versailles experience, which gave us Hitler’s pan-Germanism and World War II. “All Germans, including Hitler,” explains A.J.P. Taylor, in “The Origins of the Second World War” (1961), “assumed that Germany would become…dominant…once she had undone her defeat.” German nationalists in the years after World War I harped incessantly on this topic; Germany had been “stabbed in the back” by her enemies—who were remarkably similar to the enemies of the Charlottesville white nationalists. Germany had to regain her history, her honor and power: she had to un-do her defeat and become “great” again.

That nations achieve, and then lose, greatness is an historical fact, if “greatness” is defined in economic, cultural and military terms. Egypt, Babylonia, Greece, Rome, Persia, Spain, Italy, even to some extent Great Britain stand as examples of once-upon-a-time empires whose day in the sun became eclipsed. Since the 1800s America has been the dominant empire in the world. Our victory in World War I, and mounting power as World War II approached, prompted Henry Luce, in 1941, to refer to “the American Century,” marked by the most exciting flag of all the world and of all history [in] the triumphal purpose of freedom.” These are the kinds of glowing terms the right now uses to support their white nationalism.

One thing nations that have lost their greatness have in common is that they feel it wasn’t their fault. This explains their aggrieved sense of betrayal. It was always due to somebody else’s treachery, whether internal or external or both. We saw this in Germany’s radical right in the late 1920s and 1930s, and we see it again in America’s radical right. Both cliques believed their nation had been endowed with predestined greatness, whether from God or superior racial stock. Either way, history, honor and dignity demanded that greatness be restored.

In America’s case, the radical right makes the fundamental mistake of believing that what once was, can be again—a misunderstanding of how history works. Lots of ethnicities, religions and races believe, consciously or otherwise, that they are superior to all others—that seems to be an inimitable part of human nature—but Germans, or Anglo-Saxons, or Aryans, or Indo-Europeans—call them what you will–have perhaps been excessive in this regard. We shouldn’t forget how “German” America really is. Americans of German extraction made up a large part of the population at the time of the Revolution. In some states, such as Pennsylvania, they accounted for nearly 50% of residents. Even in 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that German Americans are the largest of the ancestry groups” in the country. Judging from the physical appearance of the Charlottesville nationalists, many if not most were Aryan/Anglo-Saxon/Indo-European in ancestry.

Perhaps there’s something in the DNA of these people that makes them feel intellectually, morally and physically superior. Certainly, history has proven that Germans who feel entitled to dominance have never hesitated to turn to the sword to prove their point, especially when they believe they’ve been cheated of their birthright. The dangers of such a militarist approach are evident: not only does Aryan nationalism run the risk of plunging the world into war (Sen. Corker’s warning yesterday of World War III is apt), it isn’t even feasible anymore. America is now a rainbow flag of races, religions, ethnicities, and that is not going to change, regardless of how strongly some people want to establish an Aryan nation on this continent. There can be only one way for everyone to get along, and that is for everyone to get along. Difficult as that may be, it is possible, and necessary. White nationalists stubbornly, or stupidly, ignore this point. And Trump, their current leader—whose father was an anti-semite and a member of the KKK–chooses to egg them on. If they have their way—and it’s up to the rest of us to stop them–there can be only one outcome, and it is not pleasant.

The Napa-Sonoma Fires

Those of us who have worked in these areas for years, and made many friends among the owners, winemakers, restaurateurs, winery employees and other locals, are having a hard time wrapping our heads around this catastrophe. From Mendocino in the far north, from Calistoga to Atlas Peak, across Napa Valley and Carneros to Sonoma Valley and Santa Rosa: the scope is just too improbable for the mind to accept. As I write this on Monday night, the full extent of the destruction isn’t yet known; many of the fires are still zero percent contained, and evacuated areas remain beyond communication. Tuesday morning, we should have more understanding. I fear the situation will be worse than we thought: one of the worst wildfires in California’s or America’s history. My personal wishes mean little in the face of the massive, historic losses that wine country people have experienced; but they are all I have. I wish you recovery and peace.

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