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The Resistance: Our next step

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Trump is said to be emboldened. Rasmussen has his approvals ticking upwards (although Gallup doesn’t). After all the firings, he’s said to finally be feeling comfortable with his team, because they kiss the ring instead of speaking truth to power. He has a few victories in his pocket, including Gorsuch and the tax cuts, and a few impending, including what could be a very big story: a deal with Kim to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, which would put Trump into the history books.

Meanwhile, the Mueller probe hasn’t touched him, yet. That Dutch lawyer, van der Zwaan, just got thirty days in jail, and while Trump will scream “So what? No collusion! No obstruction!” this looks like Mueller’s test case for what is sentenceable. Van der Zwaan is small fry; Manafort et. al are the big fish leading to you-know-who. Still, Fox “News” will argue that van der Zwaan has nothing to do with Trump, and the red state simpletons will agree.

Yes, every once in a while there’s another mass shooting—yesterday’s, at YouTube, wasn’t far from where I live. But Trump doesn’t give a damn about them because he’s a sociopath, and his NRA fans don’t give a damn about them. So what if people are shot? Second Amendment! Second Amendment!

So Trump is feeling his oats. He’s been president now for going on fifteen months; he’s learning the ropes. He’s a natural optimist anyway: when things aren’t going well, he fights, but he always believes things will work out for him, because they always have. Donald J. Trump, in his own mind, is not a loser.

How do we deal with an authoritarian narcissist? One answer: The Resistance must continue. It’s not always easy. We’re in the same boat as those wonderful Parkland schoolkids. I just hope they have the stamina to outlast the relentless bullshit the rightwing is throwing at them. I think they do, and will. For the rest of us, being part of The Resistance has become part of our everyday lives. We do what we can. Contribute money, talk to our neighbors, stay active on social media. Trump’s strategy is to plow right through us. We can’t let him.

Why is it so important? Take it from me, an almost 72-year old man–born the same day and year as Trump–who’s seen a lot of U.S. history. We have a very good country, but it occasionally makes mistakes. Interning the West Coast Japanese during World War II was big mistake. Slavery and Jim Crow were insane. The institutional homophobia supported by both parties was wrong. The Iraq War weakened us in ways we can’t even fathom. The glorious thing about America is that, eventually, we see our errors, and do our best to correct them. I’m proud of that progress we’ve made in women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights, environmental rights, workplace safety and at least trying to provide healthcare to all Americans through the Affordable Care Act.

But now we have this thing in the White House seeking to undo all that. There’s no way around the fact that he’s a nasty, deplorable human being. If you’re reading this, you know that. Paul Ryan knows it. Mitch McConnell knows it. Every single Republican in the U.S. Congress knows it. Their complicity is criminal, and one can only hope to see them someday sitting in the docket, before the judgment of History.

It is important to resist. Trump will have big moments when he and his crowd can crow about how great he is. But don’t take your eyes off the prize. The man is a danger, an embarrassment, the worst president in history. His moral failures, which Republicans give him a pass on, are indefensible. Spiritually, he is a catastrophe. Most of us wake up every day and try to be better human beings. Trump seems to wake up every day—if he even sleeps—determined to find new ways to insult, degrade and bully. You wouldn’t want him in your family (although you might want his money in your family!). You wouldn’t leave your teenaged daughter alone with him. You know he’s depraved.

This is America! It’s the only country we have. America is the light of the world, the city on a hill, the hope and prayer of humanity—or used to be, before the Trump era smeared it with wickedness. We can rescue our country, but only if we energize ourselves, and refuse to give in. This is an important moment. It’s a time to renew your commitment to fight this rogue regime and everything it stands for. Perhaps more importantly in the immediate future, it’s important for us to signal to Mueller that we, the American people, have his back.

More tomorrow.


Christianity saved Medieval England. It’s ruining modern America

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In the chapter called “English Monasticism,” in her little book, “England Before Elizabeth,” the Harvard and Cambridge scholar, Helen Cam, celebrates the “renaissance…of arts and letters” the Christian monasteries brought to Dark Ages Britain, starting with the Roman monks who came to Kent in 597, and culminating in the 12th century, when “the monastic impulse reached a force never known before or since.”

Prior to the coming of Christianity and the monks, the scattered kingdoms of the British island—Northumberland, Kent, Wessex, Mercia, Wales, Anglia—were more or less continually at war; as pagans, they had inherited the fading remnants of the Roman occupation, which ended in 407, when Constantine III removed his garrisons forever and returned to the Continent. Without Roman protection from “barbarians” such as the Danes and Swedes, villages and towns became fortified enclaves, isolated from one another behind walls and moats. Christianity was slowly spreading, but in arts and letters, the British isles remained laggards, compared with their distant relatives in Normandy, Italy and Spain.

The monks lit up the British skies with an amazing burst of creativity. “In the pagan and barbarous England…[monasteries] became…centres of learning, art and culture.” This period—from the seventh century onward—saw the rise of Gregorian chants, Christian poetry, the Lindisfarne Gospels (715-720, among the greatest illuminated manuscripts),

the gold and silver crafts of the monks of Ely, and of course the beginnings of the great cathedrals. “The story of monasticism in medieval England is one of high achievement,” Cam concludes.

How fortunate Europe was to have communities of Benedictines, Cistercians, Carthusians, Dominicans and other orders, who, while conservative in their Catholic beliefs, liberalized learning throughout the isles. Contrast that with today’s evangelical Christians in America (and abroad). From them, we see no advances in art, in music, in literature, in architecture, or in any other creative, humanistic endeavor. We see, instead, the opposite: a shutting down of learning. The medieval monks always were eager to expand their knowledge. Modern evangelicals are eager to censor knowledge, preferring instead to use the straitjacket of religious ideology to misinterpret the world.

It’s sad, very sad, how a religion as progressive, creative and extraordinary as Medieval Christianity has degenerated. Perhaps it’s inevitable: all things follow an arc of birth, ascendancy and decline. Christianity, of course, went on, in the Renaissance, to contribute some of the greatest artistic creations the world has ever known: the Sistine Chapel, the music of Bach, the paintings of Leonardo and Raphael. This was still a living, breathing, vibrant Christianity, one that yearned to express God’s mystical love through the physicality of beauty.

Alas, modern Christianity, at least in its evangelical form, has thrown all that away. Could anyone seriously describe evangelicism’s role in America as fostering “a renaissance in arts and letters”? What is the opposite of “a renaissance”? A “dark age,” I suppose, which is what fundamentalist Christianity is seeking to impose on our once thriving liberal democracy.

Religions, let us remember, do indeed die: gone for the most part are the beliefs of the Egyptians, Sumerians, Romans, Greeks, Celts, Aztecs and Incas. Gone, too, is the People’s Temple, Jim Jones’ disastrous cult in the jungle. American evangelical leaders understand that their movement is on its last legs; religions of superstition cannot survive in nations of education, prosperity and creative culture. This is why the evangelicals are turning to new founts of ignorance and poverty, particularly in Central Africa, to keep their cult alive. Only where the people are deprived of knowledge can demonstrably false beliefs be propagated.

Christianity will not fade away anytime soon; even the Catholic faith may experience a burst of growth, under the remarkable leadership of Pope Francis. But American evangelicism seems doomed, despite its last flickerings in the trailer parks and mega-churches of red states. Our arts and letters will continue to come from liberal, fair-thinking creators who—let’s face it—tend to be Democrats.


Trump and “Manliness”: A toxic brew

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“[A] startling masculine eruption in the White House” is how the Wall Street Journal editorialist, Tunku Varadarajan, describes the Trumpian testosterone that’s sloshing around the Oval Office.

Varadarajan, reviewing Harvey Mansfield’s book, “Maniliness,” argues that hyper-masculinity, of the sort he professes Trump to embody, is a good thing. No more “politically correct” Obama, as Varadarajan repeatedly called him. Finally, a tough, red-blooded, bare-knuckled American man in the White House!

At the same time, he, and Mansfield, are forced to acknowledge that there’s a powerful reaction against “the male patriarchy” in this country, a reaction that was already underway before Trump installed his version of masculinity to the presidency.

So Mansfield asks, “Is manliness [now] taboo?” His answer—and Varadarajan’s—is, “Yes, and more’s the pity.”

There’s background to this. The revolution in our culture since the liberation movements of the 1960s—women, gay, Black, Native American—has indeed harmed traditional male values, if by “harm” we mean “forcibly changed” and by “male values” we mean what even Mansfield calls the “rough and gross and discourteous” behavior of the kind Trump exhibits every day, and which his base adores.

But are we really supposed to mourn the downfall of “gross discourtesy,” of “baseness” and “belittling” behavior (both are Mansfield’s words) as illustrated by Trump’s juvenile insults (Little Marco, Lyin’ Ted, Low Energy Jeb, Crooked Hillary)? Are we to shrug off Trump’s “lamentable sexual reputation” (again, from Mansfield)? I don’t think so. I would argue that America is better off without these displays of “toxic masculinity” (Mansfield), which gets off by bullying women, gays, minorities, non-jocks, artistic types, intellectuals and foreigners, and now has finally achieved its apotheosis in Trump’s elevation.

As a gay man who came of age during the in-the-closet era, I can assure Varadarajan and Mansfield that America is far better off now that “toxic masculinity” has been summoned into the defendant’s docket. I’m not a big believer in bashing straight white males, most of whom are just poor schleps trying to get through this world unmauled. But there is a certain justification in the calls to “smash the patriarchy,” by which I mean an end to what Gloria Steinem calls “supremacy crimes” that run the gamut from a man beating his wife, to the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, to the schmuck who attacked a Muslim woman in an emergency room for wearing a headscarf, to the glass ceiling that even now prevents women in Silicon Valley from achieving pay parity with males.

For sure, straight white men are feeling the heat. They invented “History,” dominating the world for millennia, only to see their top-dog role eroding. Increasingly, they’re no longer allowed to be bullies, to prop themselves up by putting others down, to achieve through repression and violence what they cannot through persuasion. “Political correctness,” which the right hates, in this case means that the dominant class finally must assume a share of meekness of the sort they have historically demanded of their “inferiors.” Turnabout is fair play.

The end of bullying, the termination of “gross discourtesy” are developments to be celebrated. It is a puzzle to me that Mansfield laments the passing of “toxic masculinity.” It is with even vaster disgust that I see Varadarajan worshipping the crude, bullying vulgarity of Trump and his ilk. Does Varadarajan really believe that America would be better off if more men were chest-beating, assaultive thugs? Is there really something awful about a new type of man who is considerate, respectful, compassionate, liberal, thoughtful and tolerant? (If Barack Obama comes to mind, there’s a reason—the same reason Trumpists hate him.)

Apparently Varadarajan and Mansfield do believe that America would be a better country if all men were like Trump. But then, consider whom Tunku Varadarajan is. He works at The Hoover Institution, the West Coast’s premier bastion of rightwing, conservative ideology. Although his is a politer form of conservatism than, say, Breitbart’s or Hannity’s, it is no less cringe-worthy. Varadarajan, who was born in India, began his career at—where else?—the Wall Street Journal, the print equivalent of Rupert Murdoch’s rabidly reactionary Fox News. He does not seem to have started out as a doctrinaire tea party conservative. But, perhaps because of the rightwing circles in which he runs, or out of deference to the men who pay his salary, he has becoming increasingly illiberal.

He was heavily criticized for coining the phrase “going Muslim” (a play on “going postal”) after the Fort Hood shooting; some called his remarks “normalizing hate speech.” Varadarajan also dodges the legitimate question of whether Trump himself is an unrestrained bigot, or if, as seems obvious, the president stokes racism and xenophobia in his rural, poorly educated, white followers. In another op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal, Varadarajan wrote, “I don’t propose to examine whether Mr. Trump’s America is more racist than the America that preceded it.” This surely is a dereliction of journalistic duty that suggests Varadarajan is afraid of what he would find were he truly to examine the question objectively. Of course Trump has unleashed bigotry in America. Charlottesville, where his supporters propounded the most awful anti-semitic, racist and xenophobic views, will eternally redound to Trump’s shame.

Trump’s elevation has empowered “toxic masculinity” in all the wrong people: the kind who used to lynch Blacks in the South, who refused to integrate Boston’s public schools, who murdered Matthew Shepard, who posted cartoons of the Obamas as monkeys, who put Hillary Clinton’s face on a gun target. Donald Trump may not have performed those misdeeds himself, but he egged on the people who did, who feel empowered by his tacit (and sometimes overt) encouragement. These people are “rough, gross and discourteous.” Far from being admirable, as Mansfield and Varadarajan allege, they are canker sores on the American body politic, and Donald Trump is the virus that caused them.


Republicans and “the deep state”: What they really want

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The term “deep state” is the perfect image for a manipulative, secret and all-controlling bureaucratic-dictatorial government-within-a-government that might come straight out of an episode of “Homeland.”

The term is said to derive from the Turkish “derin devlet,” a “secretive…network…founded in 1923…with the purpose of undertaking clandestine acts to preserve the current governmental structure.” Its American version includes intelligence agencies, such as the C.I.A., F.B.I. and Homeland Security, and other governmental entities, such as the Cabinet and its various departments and bureaucracies; it, “controls state policy behind the scenes, while the democratically-elected process and elected officials are merely figureheads.”

Such a notion fits in well with the conspiratorial paranoia that lards through rightwing America, as evidenced on Breitbart, Fox News and the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. It’s nonsense, of course: since the beginning of history, people have complained about “Government” being unaccountable to The People (indeed, that was the Jews’ complaint against Rome in the time of Jesus). Indeed, every revolution and civil war, including our own, made such claims. Republicans in particular say they loathe Big Government, except, of course, when it’s on their side. Twentieth century American politics can largely be explained as the struggle between a Democratic Party pledged to help the poor, the working class and minorities, and a Republican Party hopelessly in thrall to the billionaire class. Let’s not forget that it was Ronald Reagan—the Right’s modern god—who famously declared, “Government isn’t the solution, government is the problem.”

As I said, for Republicans, government isn’t a problem when it seeks to outlaw abortion, stomp on gay and minority rights, demolish unions, stop minimum wage laws, support polluting industries, lower taxes on the superrich, crush campaign finance laws, repress voter turnout, and allow Christian conservatives to run things, in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. These are the acts of government Republicans love; whenever they have the power, they enact laws that enable those ends. Still, the GOP can conveniently pretend that it is against “Government” and thus appeal to their muddle-headed, low-information supporters in red districts, whose resentments find a ready outlet in denunciations of government.

Any Republican with substantial experience in governance—Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are perfect examples—knows that “the deep state” is a cynical fiction. Yet it is a useful fiction. Political issues are complicated; tariff policy, for instance, takes experts to understand, and the last thing Republican voters are known for is their interest, much less expertise, in the wonky aspects of issues. Thus, “the deep state” is a convenient hot button for Republican propagandists: it stokes their voters’ pent-up anger and jealousy, and doesn’t ask them to understand anything: just to hate. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page is a classic example of this sleight-of-hand. Its editors are educated enough to understand the details on most issues, but their job isn’t to explain things to readers, it’s to drum up support for Republican politicians and preserve their—and Rupert Murdoch’s–hold on power.

So here comes the latest example of how the Wall Street Journal promotes a Breitbart lie about “the deep state.” From yesterday’s paper, it accuses “the bureaucracy” of being “unchecked,” and urges Trump to get rid of government employees who don’t care about “constitutional and limited government” and replace them “people [the administration] can trust.” It also calls for “term limits” on “electorally immune…bureaucrats.”

Can we call this what it really is, a rightwing purge? I mean, Trump should fire all government employees he doesn’t “trust” and replace them with devoted loyalists? Wow. Perhaps Trump can orchestrate his own Night of the Long Knives.

The op-ed’s author, J.T. Young, was a hack who worked for George W. Bush at O.M.B. and now writes for The Daily Caller, a rightwing online publication; in a recent piece, he bashes, Breitbart-like, the notion of “diversity,” suggesting that those who are concerned about the equitable representation of genders, sexual orientations and ethnicities in America are guilty of “absence of thought”!! In another screed, Young tows the predictable rightwing line by excoriating Obamacare (which has given more people health insurance than any modern insurance program in U.S. history), calling it “abysmal” and accusing “the media” (another rightwing target) of being “a relentless apologist” for reporting on the Affordable Care Act’s success.

It’s always amusing when a media writer like Young bashes “the media,” but let’s put that irony aside and get back to “the deep state.” There is none. Many government workers may indeed dislike and fear Trump, but what’s wrong with that? Government employees, like the rest of us Americans, are free to have whatever political views they want. Republican complaints about a “deep state” are in actuality attempts to disenfranchise government employees who happen to lean Democratic.

There are millions of federal, state, and local government employees, and they are your mom, your dad, your brother, your sister, your friends, possibly you. These people are not mindless, faceless bureaucrats, organized by Hillary Clinton to communize America and drive God from our shores. They are working-class folks; the government is us, and We are the government.

Surely part of the Congress’s job is to make government more efficient and effective. But to tell lies about a “deep state” to unstable people who already have trouble thinking rationally is merely to stoke the simmering embers of Red State America and fan them into a wildfire. Perhaps that’s what the Far Right and its heavily-armed N.R.A. members really want. The question is, Why?

 


Thank you March For Our Lives kids for giving America hope!

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I love this slide show from the N.Y. Times of March For Our Lives demonstrations from around the U.S. These millions of idealistic, mainly young people marched in cities large and small: from New York to tiny little Pacifica, on the coast south of San Francisco, where my friend Marilyn lives. Included in the roster of cities is my own town, Oakland.

Much commentary has focused on the similarities between Saturday’s marchers and the anti-Viet Nam demonstrators of the late 1960s-early 1970s. Certainly the two groups have much in common, but there are profound differences. For one thing, the legal voting age in America was not lowered from 21 to 18 until July, 1971, meaning that, until that November’s elections, young people between 18-21 years of age were denied the franchise. That is no longer the case; we can expect voters in that age bracket to turn out by the millions this November—and my bet is that they will be overwhelmingly Democratic.

For another thing, back at the height of Vietnam there was no social media: young voters had very little opportunity of speaking to their peers who lived in isolated, remote rural communities, who were more impacted by what the adults around them said. That is no longer true. A kid in Sartell, Minnesota (pop. 17,147) is just as tuned into what his age group is thinking as one in midtown Manhattan.

And what the kids are thinking is bad news for Trump and the Republican Party. These kids don’t like guns. They recognize that the Second Amendment exists, and that it probably protects handguns, but they also know that there’s no place in civil society for machine guns whose sole purpose is to slaughter large numbers of humans. And it’s not just guns the kids care about. They all have friends and relatives who are gay, or bi, or even transgender. They simply do not understand hating on somebody just because of their private sexual preference. They want (for the most part) to preserve a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion, and they want (for the most part) to protect the natural environment so that Earth will remain a pleasant place to live for their own children and grandchildren. The kids want, also, to live in a country that is free from religious domination, especially the irrational, hateful type of religion exemplified by evangelicalism. Finally, the kids—in their spirit of inclusion and compassion—welcome immigrants into their communities.

All of these concerns put the kids at odds with the Republican Party. Indeed, it would be hard to invent a political party more out of step with the younger generation than the Republicans. Kids take note of what goes on around them; Republicans wish they remained ignorant and unaware, but that’s not going to happen. Just the reverse. With every hideous act Republican politicians craft, with every disgusting remark, the party alienates more and more young people. And their leader, Donald Trump, in the eyes of young people is the most egregious of all. He’s just an overweight, amoral, nasty, bullying, sexually abusive old white guy who reminds them of every crappy adult they ever hated or were afraid of.

The March For Our Lives kids are an outgrowth of the Occupy movement that swept the nation in 2011-2013, but with a huge difference. Occupy thrilled me: even though it arose before the current era of Trumpism, it was in opposition to the nascent forces of reaction and fascism that gave birth to Trump. I welcomed it mightily, particularly since the West Coast version of Occupy was centered in Oakland, just blocks from my house. Unfortunately, what began with the most hopeful and optimistic of visions ended in self-inflicted tragedy: Occupy allowed itself to be overrun by a violent element of anarchists and refused to do anything to purge them. It quickly ran out of steam, as the vast majority of middle-of-the-road Americans, including me, grew appalled by its hateful, destructive behavior.

These March For Our Lives kids aren’t making the same mistake. In all of the hundreds of demonstrations last Saturday, there was not a single report of violence or vandalism. The March For Our Lives kids have leavened their movement with Love, adapting the peaceful techniques Gandhi and Dr. King preached. This is something the Republican Party scarcely comprehends, much less is prepared to grapple with. Republicans are being swept away by History; like yesterday’s trash, they are useless for solving today’s problems, and worse: they contribute to the problems with incredibly stupid, obstinate, exclusionary political positions dictated by the N.R.A., Christian fanatics like Franklin Graham, and the white supremacist-nationalists at Breitbart.

Thank heavens young people are getting their brooms out and sweeping away the riff-raff! It’s a wonderful moment to be alive.

 


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