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Happy birthday to me. And to trump

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Today is the monster’s birthday—the catastrophe in the White House. He was born in New York City on Friday, June 14, 1946, which makes him 74 years old. Many other New Yorkers were born on that same day, but one in particular interests me: Me. Yes, Steve Heimoff was born in The Bronx, at 6:10 a.m., on June 14, 1946; trump was born a few hours later, at 10:54 a.m. While trump (I no longer capitalize his name) was born across the East River, in Queens, I think we probably share pretty much the same horoscope.

I am not a believer in astrology. I used to be, back in the day; in fact, when I was an undergraduate at Clark University, in the mid-1960s, I wrote an astrology column for the university paper called Swami Heimy Predicts. But a long time ago I decided that all these pseudo-sciences are ridiculous.

At the same time, I feel I have an insight into trump’s thinking process. I can tell you a few things: Both of us are smart; we think a lot; that’s the nature of Geminis. We both have rather schizoid personalities—Gemini is the sign of the Twins, so we tend to see things from multiple points of view. We both are easily hurt and insulted; we tend to take things personally. We both have an exquisite ability to rationalize, which can make it hard for us to deal with truth. We both tend to be paranoid, tending to divide people into our friends and our enemies. And we both are very good with words.

In my case, my double personality makes me indecisive. I find it hard to take a position: whenever I try, I’m immediately aware of the opposite. This makes life difficult, but I appreciate this tendency, since it keeps me from being a rigid ideologue. In 1968, that year of explosive political developments in America, when the students at Clark University took over the campus (following the lead of the students at Columbia), my best friend and I bought black and white tubes of theatrical paint, colored our faces right down the middle, and tried to tell the students that both sides had facts on their side, and the best way to get through this was to reason together, as the Prophet Isaiah urged.

This dualistic vision has always kept me from being an extremist. While my politics, influenced by my mother, tend towards Democratic liberalism and European-style social justice, I’ve never been an ardent leftist. I’d describe my current politics as Obama-esque.

trump has gone another way. I can feel the inside of his brain. That sounds scary, but it’s useful. I see the Gemini influence in him, but I also see the worst parts. For some reason I can’t explain, trump has decided not to listen to the side of him that seeks balance and equilibrium, the way I do. Not for him “on the one hand…on the other.” Instead, he’s gone full-bore rightwing infantryman. The ideology he has chosen is the neo-fascist, Christian extremist version of authoritarian theocracy. I could never accept a theocracy; it’s too unthinking, too unintellectual, and doesn’t allow for the full expression of human nature. Regarding the tendency towards paranoia, I have it, but at the same time, I understand that not everyone who disagrees with me is against me personally. trump doesn’t have that ability; if you’re not 100% with him, you’re 100% against him, and thus his enemy.

It may be that the main difference between us—besides the economic disparity, of course—is that I’m Jewish. Jews like me were raised to value “Justice rolling down like waters, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” This is why we have always sided with the oppressed minorities, since we, ourselves, were oppressed minorities. Trump, born into a rich, Protestant family, was never oppressed, never a minority. I can’t imagine what that feels like, but I like to think that even if I had been born rich, I would have had a feeling for minorities. JFK was born to an immensely rich family, as was his brother Bobby, but both had extraordinary sympathy for the under-privileged. For whatever reason, trump doesn’t. Maybe it was his father’s Ku Klux Klan membership; maybe trump was fed racist, white supremacist messages since babyhood. I don’t know, but of all presidents in my lifetime—13 and counting—trump is the least caring, the most selfish of the lot.

By the way, as you all know Trump is traveling to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for his first mega-rally of the campaign season, and officials are expecting hundreds of thousands of Republicans to hear him. We can assume that few of them, if any, will be wearing face masks, and obviously, they will not be socially-distancing. Given that Oklahoma is experiencing its highest spike of COVID-19 yet, with cases soaring, one might expect, with a reasonable degree of certainty, that a lot of those Republicans will come down with the disease. I’m not saying that makes me happy, but if they do, they have only themselves to blame.

My mother was born in Oklahoma—her parents settled there before it was a state–and grew up there. I have relatives in Oklahoma. Back in the day, Oklahoma was reliably Democratic. Now it’s one of the reddest, most conservative states in the country, a phenomenon I attribute to a lack of formal education in the part of Oklahomans. Oklahoma has one of the nation’s highest school dropout rates and a correspondingly low rate of college degrees (44th out of 50 states). These statistics are related to the high numbers of born-again Christians in Oklahoma: a full 47% of adult Oklahomans self-identify as evangelicals, making it #3 of the list (after Alabama and Kentucky) of the most evangelical states. Evangelicals, of course, loathe public education, which they think is satanic; they prefer home schooling, based on their Bible. When my mom was a little girl, Oklahoma wasn’t like that; my mom grew up educated and smart and willing to learn, which made her—and me–liberal. Something hideous happened to Oklahoma in the 1960s and 1970s, and one can only assume that the lack of education makes Oklahomans particularly susceptible to the superstitions and bigotries of the Christian-trump cult.

Well, happy birthday, trump. Enjoy it while you can. Your future looks bleak. You’re about to be repudiated by the American people, and when you’re out of office, the lawsuits—civil and criminal—are going to come at you like the lies you tell, bam bam, all the time. We’re going to find out how much money you really have, which you’re going to have to spend on lawyers. You may or may not be able to stay out of bankruptcy and jail. But you’ll be on T.V. a lot; like those documentaries on Hitler’s last days in the bunker, we’ll follow your slow, painful demise.


Jimmy Swaggart lives!

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You know how you sometimes channel surf, flipping the remote through T.V. channels until you find something worth pausing for? I did that the other day, enduring the shopping networks, commercials, cartoons, sports channels and Spanish language shows, until I came across a familiar face hosting a religious show: Jimmy Swaggart.

What? I thought to myself. Is that old bastard still alive? Indeed. At the age of 85, he has something called the Sonlife Broadcasting Network, and there he was in the flesh, withered and halting, his voice creaking, but still discernibly the same Jimmy Swaggart we remember from the 1970s and 1980s, when he was one of the most famous—perhaps the most famous—televangelist in America. And still peddling the same shtick.

Readers of my blog know I have zero patience with evangelicism, that I believe evangelical believers are under-educated bigots, and that as the main part of Trump’s base they pose a clear and present danger to America and to everything America stands for. So I paused to watch the Jimmy Swaggart T.V. show for a while, as a sort of anthropological descent into the jungle lives of these people, so as to try and understand them a little better. Nothing I saw surprised me: the attack on other religions, not just Islam (which is to be expected) but all other forms of Christianity (Roman Catholicism, Mormons, and so on); the extortion of money from Swaggart’s pitiful flock, who probably don’t have much money to begin with; the ruthless peddling of religious tchotkes—junk such as bibles and videotapes; Swaggart’s Madison Avenue-style hucksterism; and, most troubling of all, how this particular subculture has become the nexus of Trumpism and religious fanaticism.

Jimmy Swaggart (whose most famous claim may be that he was Jerry Lee Lewis’s cousin) is indeed a fraud, but a delightful one. It’s fun to watch him do his shtick. After 70 or 80 years practicing it, he’s damned good, and to tell the truth, when he sits down at the piano and accompanies himself to his slow, mournful ballads, he’s pretty entertaining. He’s got a rich basso voice, breaking up in the middle, but tailing off into a remarkably pure vibrato. Remembering the way his mid-career was derailed after he was caught paying a female prostitute made watching him even more enjoyable; like rubber-necking a hideous traffic accident on the freeway, you know you’re not supposed to be fascinated, but you just can’t help yourself.

But then I started paying attention to the audience. Swaggart didn’t have a megachurch like some of the other televangelists. His church seemed fairly small, maybe four hundred people. But just like in any other megachurch, they were transfixed by their pastor’s words. Hands swaying in the air, eyes closed, lips frequently flapping up and down as they spoke in tongues, they were enraptured—there’s no other word—and I had to think to myself, Steve, for all your putdowns of them, they are human beings like you: struggling, frustrated, trying to live decent lives, looking for meaning wherever they can find it. If you lived near them, you might even find yourself liking them.

That was a good thought. It’s healthy to be reminded that, while these people may be objects of scorn, they’re nonetheless my American brothers and sisters. I admit to being of two minds concerning them: I loathe them, on the one hand, for their intense, irrational and hateful homophobia, for their mistrust of scientific fact and mindless belief in ridiculous superstitions, and for the tyrannical way they’re trying to seize power (though Trump) to turn America into a Christian Taliban theocracy. On the other hand, they break my heart, because they’re so close to being good secular humanists (which is what America was founded upon). They could be decent, all-encompassing human beings, welcoming all other human beings into a world-family of acceptance and support, if only they didn’t subscribe to this dreadful cult, which robs them of their common sense and humanity.

Well, I think Democrats are going to win in November, and win big. I think we’ll win not only the presidency but the Senate as well, while holding onto the House. And I think we’ll do well on the State and local levels, winning back statehouses and Mayoralties. When that happens, religious programs like Jimmy Swaggart’s are going to have nervous breakdowns. It’s hard to predict exactly what they’ll urge their followers to do, because that will depend on how their messiah, Trump, reacts; and we don’t know if he’ll resist the outcome of the election, or accept it and go away. But either way, there are tens of millions of these religious extremists in our country, and we’re going to have to try to reach a modus operandi and get along with them.

I blogged the other day that I want vengeance when we take power. But I meant vengeance against the leaders of this religious conspiracy against our democratic government: Trump and his regime, certain religious leaders who dabble more in politics than in philosophy (Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr.), those political leaders (McConnell, Ted Cruz) who enable Trump to get away with treason. There’s no reason to let any of them off the hook. They know full well what they do, and it must have crossed their minds, at some point, that they might someday have to pay for their crimes and misdemeanors.

But I don’t want to extract vengeance on the “little people,” the ones who sway deliriously in Jimmy Swaggart’s church. They’re going to be crushed when Republicans go down in flames, and it will be our duty to reassure them and let them know that, even though their side lost, we still welcome them as our fellow Americans, as long as they’re willing to put aside their hatreds and join the Big Tent of democracy. Of course, we’re going to have to un-do a lot of what Trump, at their prompting, did: his dismantling of LGBT laws, his science denial, his weakening of environmental protections, his undermining of women’s rights, his clampdown on immigration. That will piss off and annoy the evangelicals, especially since they’ll still be glued to their Jimmy Swaggart T.V. shows and to propaganda outlets like Fox “News,” which I’m sure will whip up every conspiracy theory in the book and keep evangelicals angry. But I’m hopeful we, the majority, can behave decently enough to the evangelicals to cause at least some of them to think, “Hey, President Biden’s not that bad. He’s a man of faith.”

There will always be millions of evangelicals with whom we can’t work, because their minds are gone. That’s okay, too. As long as they’re not in a position to cause harm to America, then leave them alone, I say. Eventually, they’ll die off, and we have reason to hope their children will decide to live in the 21st century, with its enlightened values, not the eleventh, with its cult of death.


On those Confederate monuments

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I am of a generation that revered Robert E. Lee. The way we were taught—and this was in liberal, Democratic New York City–he was a patriot, a gentleman, a superb general, and a proud Virginian, who just happened to be on the losing side of history. We were taught that he was personally against the Civil War when it broke out, that he turned down an offer to lead the Union armies in favor of leading the rebel forces, due to his love of his state. We knew that slavery was evil; we knew our country had fought a bloody war over it; we were glad that the North won and that slavery was eliminated. At the same time, we didn’t see anything wrong with honoring Robert E. Lee for his many qualities.

Well, that’s how we thought in the 1950s, at any rate. Now, here we are in 2020, and Confederate monuments, including the Stars and Bars flag, are under attack all over the country. And those of us of a certain age are having to have internal dialogues over what we formerly believed.

My take is simple: if Confederate statues, plaques and place names are so offensive to so many people, at such a fragile time in our nation’s history, then by all means, remove them. I don’t have any problem with that, and I don’t understand why so many people are so upset with it. The fact is, the Civil War was fought over slavery. Slavery may be the most fundamentally evil human crime, next to genocide (and there’s a case to be made that slavery was genocide). Our country was founded on slavery; the South (and a good part of the North) was built on slave labor. Black people are as human as white people. What this country did was atrocious. And just about every Civil War leader who has a monument to him was a slaveowner. So why the defensiveness? Taking down monuments to Southern Civil War “heroes” is simply a physical manifestation of repudiating slavery. Who wouldn’t want to repudiate slavery?

A lot of people, apparently. I have never understood the reluctance of Republicans to denounce slavery. After all, their party was founded on ending slavery. Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president. How did the modern Republican Party stray so far from its roots?

The answer is, because a lot of people never accepted that the South lost the Civil War. They thought they’d been tricked, or that the North had somehow connived to win, or that the war had been a mere tactical loss. Most of these people became Democrats, to the eternal shame of my party. They refused to acknowledge they’d been wrong, and that slavery was evil even by definition of their professed Christian religion. These revanchist Americans swelled in numbers following World War II, and after the events of the 1960s, which so threatened their white patriarchy, their numbers reached epidemic proportions. Which is when the Republican Party re-discovered them, after LBJ’s civil rights laws caused millions of them to desert the Democratic Party.

I’ve followed American history for a long time, and I’ve never heard a coherent explanation how the party of Lincoln could embrace everything he was against. Today’s Republicans in fact are embarrassed by Lincoln: you hear them praise Reagan all the time, but they don’t have a word to say about the Great Emancipator. How weird that the Republican Party would make Abraham Lincoln a non-person. Weirder still that they would make Donald J. Trump their hero. No wonder he’s so against removing the statues, or renaming the bases named after Southern slaveowners. Now, he’s about to travel to Tulsa to give a speech in which he’ll pretend to care about Black lives. It’s a farce, of course; Donald Trump, like his father, Fred, before him, is a racist through and through (Fred belonged to the Ku Klux Klan). But that won’t stop Trump’s enablers from hailing him as unifying the country. Can you believe it? Trump as unifier? Take it from me, the only thing he’s going to unify is the anti-Trump vote, which will sweep America on Election Day in a landslide so broad, you’ll hardly believe it.

Have a wonderful weekend! Keep it peaceful. And wear your mask!


Those House hearings on cops

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It wasn’t clear what House Republicans were going to say at yesterday’s hearing on police reform and racial profiling. They were in a tough place. The Republican Party has obviously built its modern power on racism—the resentment of people of color by whites. That has been a central platform of the GOP at least since Nixon’s “Southern strategy” in 1968, which brought him to the White House. Ronald Reagan soon followed suit, launching his 1980 presidential campaign near the site where Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were murdered in 1964. Every Republican presidential aspirant since has depended on appeals to bigots—sometimes subtle appeals, sometimes blatant—but none of them has ever dared to be as overtly racist as the current occupant of the White House.

So I expected some kind of appeal to racism by the Republicans on the committee (none of whom worse face masks, by the way, whereas all the Democrats did). At the same time, Republicans know well that the issues connected with George Floyd’s murder have profoundly shaken the American people. As individuals, Republican congressmen may not give a damn about George Floyd, or any other Black victims of violence; many of them may secretly like it when cops bash Black men. But that’s buried in their hearts. Externally, the Republicans know that Trump, by his callousness, has painted them into a corner: they can’t actually appear to be as racist as they are, so they have to make sounds that at least sound sympathetic to Black causes. And that was the juggling act they had to accomplish: balancing their inherent racism and need to appeal to their racist base, and yet not turn off huge numbers of Americans—Republicans, Democrats and Independents—who are worried about police injustice and systemic racism.

So how did they do? Their main line of attack, predictably, was to criticize the violence and looting that has sadly accompanied so many of the protests. That’s a good line: no one, except for a very few far Leftists, can possibly defend those destructive acts, which actually hurt people of color more than they hurt anyone else. Angela Underwood-Jacobs, whose security-guard brother was slaughtered by a cop hater right here in Oakland, gave an articulate, intelligent statement. So that was to be expected. But Republicans needed to do much more—not just criticize, but constructively propose, and coherently recognize the very real problems of policing. And that’s where they utterly failed.

The committee’s ranking Republican, Jim Jordan, signaled his attack line prior to the hearings through his twitter feed. His message, repeated in each of his tweets, was DEFUNDING THE POLICE IS INSANITY. This is, as I’ve written many times, an effective line of attack, if by “defunding” its supporters mean the total end of police departments. I don’t think it’s what most of them mean, of course—what they really mean is re-allocating funding to ancillary services, like EMT and drug counseling–but so far (and it’s only been a few weeks), they’ve failed to articulate what they really mean. In the absence of such clarity, “defund the police” sounds, to most Americans, like “End police departments totally.” This is a problem for Democrats and for Joe Biden; if they can’t figure out how to finesse this interpretation, and so far they haven’t been able to, it will hurt Biden. Rev. Darrell Scott, a conservative Black minister, pronounced the Republican position very clearly, warning plausibly of a horrible rise in crime if police departments are disbanded.

Then there’s the arch-reactionary, the racist Matt Gaetz. He spouted his usual hatred. It was hilarious to hear diehard rightwing white supremacists like Sensenbrenner pretend to be against bad cops; Republicans never were before, but suddenly, in the spotlight, they discover that police brutality has to be denounced. And Gohmert, possibly the worst of the Republican lot, similarly pretended to be sad at George Floyd’s death, although we all know that the reason he’s sad is because the entire incident reflects badly on Republicans. It was sickening, absolutely disgusting to hear Gohmert drone on and on, lying about what a great hero he is for civil rights. Another Republican, Chabot, waxed eloquently about the right of Black people to be safe from criminal cops—eloquently, but unconvincingly. Lesko, a far right Republican from Arizona, played the fear card by selectively quoting from tweets her staff dug up against cops, but not a word about the posts every day in toilets like Breitbart that call for the disenfranchisement, and occasionally the murder, of gays, people of color, immigrants.

Then, finally, Jordan had his turn to pretend to care about anything besides gay bashing, cutting taxes for billionaires, protecting his Fuehrer, Trump, and showing off his sixpack abs. He started by citing the Declaration of Independence—always a portentous sign from a Republican. He pandered to the neo-nazi talk show host, Bongino, who makes Breitbart look like the Girl Scouts. And then he railed on and on about “life is precious,” a specious reference to abortion but, in his case, fear-mongering of the highest order: re-allocating police resources, he said, would result in mass murder.

Horrid people, these Republicans. Does anyone believe there’s a single one who care about civil rights, unless it’s the rights of so-called “Christian” businessmen to refuse services to gay people? Can anyone cite a single prior instance where Republicans even gave lip service to the legitimate justice demands of Black people? Just one? Today, of course, Trump—his polls tanking—goes to Dallas to talk in a megachurch (where else?) about how much “civil rights” means to him. This is Trump as standup comic, spewing shtick that will only drive his disapproval ratings higher.


Defunding the police

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They’ve become, after “Black Lives Matter,” the three most repeated words in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder: DEFUND THE POLICE. You see them everywhere, as graffiti defacing public spaces, on home-made signs carried by protesters, in newspaper articles and T.V. discussions.

When I first noticed “defund the police” gaining traction as a meme, I worried. It was so obvious and easy to see what Trump’s reaction would be. WHEN YOU DEFUND THE POLICE, THE CRIMINALS WIN. Barr speaks of “vigilantism,” as in the old west, when law enforcement was left to unorganized crowds of peacekeepers. Trump would play to every fear of every suburban voter: “they” will now invade our leafy neighborhoods, pillaging and looting if not worse, and there won’t be any police to call to protect us, because they’ve all been “defunded.”

I shared that concern. As the resident of an inner city known for crime, I’ve come to depend on the cops to protect my life and limb. True, in the 33 years I’ve lived here, I’ve never actually had to call the police, but just knowing they were a 9-1-1- phone call away was reassuring. It’s why, for many years, when I pass a cop on the street, I say “thank you.”

So that was my worry: Leave it to Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory! I was sure that Trump would be defeated in November, sure Democrats would retake the Senate. Nothing could stop the march of history from trampling Trump underfoot and, just possibly, ending the tyranny of the Republican Party. Until, that is, “defund the police” began to resound across the country. The blowback, I feared, would return Trump to the presidency.

Then, yesterday, I saw a guy on T.V. who is supposedly an expert in criminal law, and he explained what, in his opinion, “defund the police” means. Here’s what I heard. It doesn’t mean “no police at all.” It means limiting the number of cops to a cadre of highly-trained, sensitive men and women who will only be called upon when criminals are violent and dangerous. Most current police activity, this man explained, is for incidents such as domestic violence, or attending to a sick person (chest pains, auto accidents, falls), or drug overdoses, or to investigate suspicious activity; according to one study, half of all 9-1-1- calls are “bogus” or “inappropriate.”

The man further explained that, in most instances, an agency other than the police would be the more appropriate responder: child protective services, EMTs, drug counselors or other professionals who understand the nature of the emergency. Sending armed men and women to a domestic dispute, for example, is not only a waste of time and money, it does very little to resolve the situation, since cops are not trained in that way. Defunding the police, the man said, actually means transferring some current police funding to other agencies that will be more effective and responsible for solving problems.

Looked at that way, the argument makes sense, even to a guy like me, who was raised to respect “the thin blue line.” But this raises another, serious question. In our 24-hour news cycle, words have impact; to describe re-allocating police funding by the phrase “defund the police” is seriously misleading. To the average person who doesn’t have the time or inclination to investigate these things in depth, “defund the police” sounds like “End police departments.” Trump and Barr know this, which is why they instantly seized upon that mischaracterization to stoke fear. This is why the advocates of re-allocating police funding are going to have to come up with a different, less scary phrase to describe their plan than “defund the police.”

I don’t know what that alternative phrase is. But I do think that if “defund the police” becomes a real “thing” in America (and so far, it’s more of a three-day brouhaha), it could be the one issue that kills Democratic chances of defeating the monster. “Law and order” works all the time: Goering knew it in Nazi Germany; Richard Nixon understood it in 1968; and Trump and Barr know it now. There is an argument to be made for a serious re-allocation of police funding, but it has to be coherent and make sense, it has to be based on reality, and it has to take into account—not dismiss—the ordinary citizen’s fear of being victimized and having no one to come to the rescue.


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