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Could ElectionGate be Trump’s undoing?

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Many of us expected Trump to fail sooner rather than later. His lies and incompetence, his sheer cynicism, the banality of his thinking, his vengeance, the way he’s already selling out his supporters, stacking his administration with billionaire bankers, and—last but not least—the fact that a hell of a lot more people voted for Hillary Trump than for him: there have got to be karmic paybacks.

But who knew it would happen this soon?

ElectionGate may be the straw that breaks Trump’s back. We knew that a lot of Congressional Republicans didn’t like him. Ditto for Governors and other GOPers down to the precinct levels. His election caught them by surprise, as it did us Democrats, and many of them already had earned his resentment by not supporting him during the campaign. In my lifetime, I’ve never seen a President-elect whom so many people, including those from his own party, were waiting to fail.

For a while, Trump looked like Teflon. The insults and fabrications he threw out by the score after announcing his candidacy did him no harm. In fact, some people said they were exactly why his supporters loved him. After his election, his continued lies, like “I won in an electoral landslide” and “I won the popular vote if you subtract the millions who voted illegally,” also did little to shake the confidence of his true believers. One had to suspect, however, that Republican elected officials who weren’t entirely insane were shaking their heads at the prospect of such a mentally unbalanced individual becoming President; but they were afraid to say anything publicly.

What’s changing now is, of course, this unprecedented situation Trump’s gotten himself into with ElectionGate. He loses on every front: he looks like he’s sucking up to Putin and Russia, possibly for his own personal enrichment; he’s insulted his own national security apparatus via his attacks on the Central Intelligence Agency; and he’s enabled Republican Senators, including Lindsay Graham, Mitch McConnell and John McCain, to publicly break with him on the topic of hearings.

What could be motivating Trump? After all, this is pretty extreme stuff, even for him. We know he likes the publicity that attaches to controversy, but Trump is taking risks here that seem highly dangerous to him. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, starting with Putin. Trump’s made no secret of his inclination to re-jigger America’s relationship with Russia. I think a lot of Americans wonder why the U.S.-Russia relationship seems to be in tatters. Honestly, who cares about Crimea? Then too, Russia seems to be against ISIS in a major way. We say we are, too, so why can’t the two of us team up? And when it comes to Bashir Assad, isn’t he better than ISIS to lead Syria?

I wonder about these things. As a World War II history buff, I’m well aware that the U.S. allied with Russia to defeat Nazi Germany, Italy and Japan, even though politically we differed with them. Why can’t we do that now? Trump is raising an interesting question.

Still, for him to take on the CIA and the Republican establishment is a huge roll of the dice. Yesterday, McConnell announced he was onboard with a Congressional investigation into ElectionGate. House Republicans so far haven’t been as restive as their Senate colleagues, but that could change over the next few days, as the media seriously begins digging into this mess, and the public, when not preoccupied by the holidays, starts to take notice.

Incidentally, another Trump lie. This is from his twitter feed yesterday: Unless you catch ‘hackers’ in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking. Why wasn’t this brought up before election?” This is so mendacious, I don’t even know where to begin. It’s a massive lie to say that nobody brought up the Russian connection to the emails before the election. It was all over the news throughout October; even I blogged about it on Oct, 18, and by Oct. 30, I’d learned enough from the mainstream media about Russia’s involvement to blog about it again, writing that “Putin…wants Trump to be President.”

But I’ve given up on Trump’s voters feeling indignation about his lies. They’re so lost in LaLa Land that, as he once boasted, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” You can’t fix stupid. But Congressional Republicans are different. A lot of them are stupid, but a lot aren’t. The question they face now with ElectionGate is whether to follow their consciences, or to follow Trump into the Land of Partisan Lies. Usually Republicans do the latter; they crossed the Rubicon into immorality years ago when they embraced the sick corpses of evangelicism and the alt.right. But sometimes, even a Republican can surprise you. Maybe McCain, Graham, McConnell and a few others actually remember a time when they were ethical. Maybe they miss those days, and long for a return to them. Well, ElectionGate is giving them the excuse they’ve been looking for. We’ll see if they have the cojones to take down this pathological liar.


ElectionGate: the Putin-Assange-Comey-Trump conspiracy

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I hate to play the “I told you so” game, but as far back as Oct. 30, I describeda conspiracy…hatched in darkness and anonymity, [whose] leaders are the foursome of Donald Trump, Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, Vladimir Putin and James Comey,” the latter being, of course, the discredited head of the FBI.

Their little plot was designed—by whom? When? We already know why: to defeat Hillary Clinton. It worked: Trump was indeed elected President, at least by the Electoral College, if not by the American people, who preferred Hillary Clinton by a wider margin—approaching 3 million votes—than ever before given to a losing Presidential candidate. (And by the way, another Trump lie: as recently as yesterday, he still was insisting that his victory was “an electoral landslide” when, in fact, his 302-232 margin ranked 46th out of 58 U.S. presidential elections.)

At any rate, over the weekend this thing has erupted. What shall we call it? #ElectionGate? At first, my worry was that the media was barely taking notice. But on Friday the HUUUGE news broke: “Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House,” the Washington Post reported. That same day, the New York Times put it in equally stark terms: “Russian Hackers Acted to Aid Trump in Election, U.S. Says.” The article explains: American intelligence agencies have concluded with ‘high confidence’ that Russia acted covertly in the latter stages of the presidential campaign to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances and promote Donald J. Trump…”.

Once upon a time, Russian meddling in an American Presidential election would have been considered a casus belli by Republicans and Democrats alike, back in the days of “Politics stops at the water’s edge” when patriotism, not politics, motivated Republicans. As this story unfolded in October and November, initial Republican tactics were their usual brew of obstruction and denial. GOP leaders have refused to support efforts by Democrats to investigate any possible Trump-Russia connections.”

But what a wild ride it’s been since last week. It started when the Washington Post reported that “Republicans [are] ready to launch wide-ranging probe of Russia, despite Trump’s stance.” What was that stance? “Trump mock[ed] American intelligence assessments that Russia interfered with the election on his behalf.” Now, as the war between Trump and the Central Intelligence Agency escalates, senior Republicans finally are getting nervous. Senator John McCain, the party’s 2008 nominee, “called for forming a select [Senate] committee…to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election.” This is interesting. Some of us have been waiting for disgruntled Republican “moderates,” i.e. the non-Tea Party, less insane wing of the GOP, to strike back at Trump, whom they loathe and fear; but we knew it would take something extraordinary. #ElectionGate could be it. The President-elect, meanwhile, is doubling down on his mockery, telling Fox “News” yesterday the CIA’s finding was “ridiculous” and repeatedly insulting the agency. Now, we need to revert to the FBI’s head, the unfortunate James Comey, against this background: the FBI has always been a Republican-leaning outfit, ever since the conservative (and closeted) J. Edgar Hoover started it, in 1935.

That Comey illegally interfered with the election, there can be no doubt; as I pointed out on Nov. 2., Comey violated the Hatch Act law by “interfering with or affecting the result of an election,” a crime punishable by “remov[al] from his position.” Now, whether you think the U.S. should or should not shift its focus towards Russia and become friendlier—which is a political question about which reasonable people can disagree—you should nonetheless be concerned when a country of the size, power and ideological persuasion of Russia hacks into the emails of both political parties, conceals those of Republicans, forwards the Democrats’ to the Republican Julian Assange, who then sends them, albeit indirectly, on to the Republican James Comey, who then announces, a mere 10 days before the election, that his agency was re-opening its investigation of Hillary Clinton, a bulletin that he knew, and Assange knew, and Putin knew, and Trump knew, would destroy Hillary’s chances of getting elected.

Therein lies the commotion of this past weekend. Look: We, the American people, Republican and Democrat alike, have got to get to the bottom of this Putin-Assange-Comey-Trump conspiracy. Something horrible has happened that’s far beyond mere dirty politics. This has been an assault on our Constitution, our elections, our freedoms, our democracy, on America itself. If Hillary Clinton had been implicated in such a scheme, Republicans would be demanding her head on a pike. Are Republicans like McCain merely feigning outrage and hoping this storm blows over, as most storms do in our twitterized news cycle? Or are they serious about standing up to their President-elect and getting to the bottom of this? We’re about to find out.


The radical anti-gay right and Donald Trump

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Some years ago I got my name on an electronic mailing list from an organization that calls itself “Public Advocate of the United States.” Despite its official-sounding name and logo,

logo

it has nothing to do with the U.S. government but is in fact a rabidly right wing hate group whose primary obsession is promoting an anti-gay agenda. For instance, here’s the beginning of an email they sent me yesterday:

The radical Homosexual Lobby’s champion — President Barrack Obama — is counting down his final days in office.

That’s why they’re wasting no time on a plan to ambush Congress during the lame duck session.

You see, the Homosexual Lobby is using everything in their arsenal to ram their radical Gay Bill of Special Right’s (H.R. 3185) through Congress and onto Obama’s desk.

Why would I want to receive such nonsense? To be honest, because it makes me giggle! Public Advocate’s “president” is a chap named Eugene Delgaudio, a longtime conservative Republican activist, who has actually been elected to local office in his home town of Sterling, Virginia, a part of Loudoun County that, oddly enough, voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump by a sizable majority. I enjoy replying to Eugene’s emails, which come about once every two weeks, and my replies don’t bounce back. Generally, I’ll write something amusingly provocative—at least, I think my replies are funny. Possibly Eugene–if he reads them—doesn’t. He’s never bothered to write me back, to my regret.

So far-out is Degaudio that on Public Advocate’s website two of his highest-visibilty links are called “Ask Congress To Impeach Hillary Clinton” and “Paul Ryan Silent About Horse-Man Marriage Too.” This latter statement is reminiscent, of course, of Rick Santorum’s infamous 2003 comment comparing gay sex to “man on dog,” proving once again that these right wingers have some weird fixation on bestiality that—so far as I know, and this is pretty familiar territory to me—is non-existent in the gay community. In fact, when we think of bestiality, we have images of rural Appalachian farmers, the kind who probably voted for Trump if they bothered to vote at all, doing things with their cows and sheep.

So what is this HR 3185 Eugene is getting so frothy about? Dubbed by its sponsor “The Equality Act,” it was introduced into the 114th Congress last year by a Democratic congressman from Rhode Island, David Cicillne, and would extend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity among the prohibited categories of discrimination or segregation in places of public accommodation.” While almost the entire House Democratic Caucus co-sponsored it, it was snuffed out by Paul Ryan’s Republican majority, and while it’s still technically alive, PredictGov.com, which provides real-time predictions of pending Congressional bills, gives it a “1% chance of being enacted.”

Delgaudio’s homophobia has expressed itself through some real howlers. When the Transportation Security Administration proposed full-body airport scans, Delgaudio declared it part of the “homosexual agenda,” adding, “It’s the federal employee’s version of the Gay Bill of Special Rights… That means the next TSA official that gives you an ‘enhanced pat down’ could be a practicing homosexual secretly getting pleasure from your submission.” Lord knows, these TSA queens are everywhere. I hate when they touch my junk.

Then, a few years ago, Eugene attacked a “pirate festival” held annually for the last century in Tampa, Florida, which he accused of being infiltrated by “radical homosexuals” seeking to exploit unsuspecting college students. “When the young men are sufficiently intoxicated, homosexuals dressed as pirates whisk them away to God knows where to take advantage of them sexually.” I confess to having done that myself. Arggh! Me keester got meself a right fine collidge boy down attha festival, me heartie! Ass rye!

What is it about gay rights that makes people like Eugene crazy, anyway? And I do mean crazy, as in “as a loon.” And guess what? Anti-LGBT nutbags now have their toes into the White House. “Every one of Donald Trump’s Cabinet Picks So Far Opposes Gay Rights,” New York Magazine reports.

That’s scary, but the fact that The Donald’s hunky eldest son, Donald, Jr., has a long history in New York’s drag community, where he used to be known as Lady Tramp, may give us some reassurance.

donaldjrDonald, Jr., after big game hunting orgy. Note phallic symbol of severed elephant tail–note also curious placement of knife at Lady Tramp’s junk. Castration fantasy?


Cold weather, Charlotte’s web, and, yes, Trump

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It’s been cold in Oakland lately—cold by our standards, anyway, if not by those of the upper midwest. I heard an interview today on NPR with Thomas Friedman, who referred to his fellow Minnesotans as the “frozen chosen,” an apt description, I suppose, when the temperature is fourteen degrees below zero, as it will be in Friedman’s home town of Minneapolis next week. (All hail our modern day Oracle of Delphi, Google, which informeth us of all things!) Clearly it won’t be below zero anytime soon here in Oakland, where the all-time coldest temperature ever recorded (thank Google again) was 24 degrees, balmy by Minnesota standards, in 1949, although I lived here during the infamous “Hundred Year Freeze” in December, 1990, when I swear I recall the temperature falling to 17 degrees, and many of the flowering trees in my neighborhood were killed overnight. I can find no record of that through Friend Google, though, another blow to the Accuracy of Memory we like to think we possess but which is, apparently and increasingly, as fragile as a spider’s web, a simile I use because I have just discovered that my cleaning ladies destroyed Charlotte’s home, on my balcony, where that lovely spider had encamped for the better part of four months, hanging her silken web between a cactus plant and some sort of succulent, a volunteer, that landed in a flowerpot two years ago and now has grown to three feet in height. I had asked the cleaning ladies to please spare Charlotte and her web—their English isn’t so good, but my Spanish is worse, and so possibly they thought I was directing them to get rid of the damned bug. At any case, the vagaries of Babel aside, Charlotte’s web is, alas, no more, and I confess to a bit of sadness about that. Where has she gone? Was she wounded during the roust? More importantly, will she return? She seemed so happy. It amazed me how she could adjust her web in all sorts of ways, depending on the weather. When it was warm and sunny, in October and much of November, the web rode high, where it caught the sunshine, glinting silvery-gold in the light, and bobbed easily in the pleasant breeze. When the first of the season’s storms hit, Charlotte moved her web further downward, the way a snowbird might drive his RV to Florida. Clever little spider, I thought over the months, as I watched and got to know this Arachnid. I learn—Google again!—there are more than 100 species of that family, but I couldn’t tell you which one Charlotte claimed as her tribe. She was big, perhaps half an inch in circumference, and interestingly colored; depending on the light, I saw red, splotchy brown, black. I don’t think she was a Black Widow, but I wouldn’t have stuck a finger in her face. At any rate, Charlotte also seemed a very abstemious spider when it came to food. I never saw any insect entombed within her web, and wondered constantly what she lived on. Perhaps spiders need little in the way of sustenance, unlike me, for example, who needs to eat every two hours, or my body chemistry goes awry.

But back to Thomas Friedman. He used the phrase “sugar high” repeatedly, a little too much—it’s a powerful metaphor whose use ought to be sparing lest it sound calculated—but I knew what he meant when, by it, he referred to Trump’s recent cavorting into economic matters: the implicit threats to China, the explicit threat to Boeing, the Carrier deal in Indiana. By “sugar rush” Friedman meant that these things feel good—very good—to Trump’s ardent fans, who believe he will apply his businessman’s negotiating skills to saving and restoring millions of manufacturing jobs to America. But Friedman’s argument was that, while these activities may feel good in the short term, they are very bad, economically, in the long term. I can’t remember exactly why, although I know he explained it; just that “bad in the long term” is his take on Trump. I agree, as my readers know by now, or ought to; but I also know—this is the former wine critic speaking—that predictions are fraught with peril, including those about the ageability of wine, especially when said predictions are Parkeresque in duration (“drink between 2028-2045,” he might have written, of a 2005 Bordeaux, in 2008). Parker will be dead by 2045; so will most of his current readers; and such as remain of our own species, so Arachnoid in many respects, who are even aware that one Robert Parker predicted in 2005 that a wine would be “peaking” thirty years later will have no one to complain to, much less sue, if the prediction turns out to be rubbish. So Friedman is entitled to be dubious about Trump, even as Trump is entitled to be boastful about himself. I still think he (Trump) is a demagogue, a narcissist, a sociopath, a fraud, a liar, and a terrible danger. Someday, when I have joined my forbears in that place in the sky (or, as some believe, in the opposite direction) where wine critics go when they die, somebody can Google my quotes and dig that one up. (“Heimoff said in 2016 Trump was a demagogue,” etc., “but historians now rank him among the greatest Presidents ever, just after Millard Fillmore.”)

I have just heard, on the television, a Trump surrogate defend Trump’s environmental vision. “Two of his sons, Eric and Donald, Jr., are avid hunters, so they understand the environment.” I give up. Wherever Charlotte is in hiding, I just may join her.


No matter what happens with the Dakota Pipeline, Trump is a loser

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The Dakota Access oil pipeline is another of those issues I haven’t taken a solid stand on, until now, due to my philosophy: I’m not going to have a position on a complicated topic I haven’t studied and don’t understand. It seems to me that too many people on both sides, red and blue, make up their minds based on kneejerk reactions. I don’t want to join that parade.

My problem with deciding about the pipeline was the same old one my Gemini mind often has, an “on the one hand, on the other” choice wherein I can see the issue—as Joni Mitchell once sang–from both sides. I understand we need oil in this country. I own a car; I need to drive; it would be very inconvenient for me not to have gas, or to have to pay two or three times what I pay now. That’s an argument for the pipeline.

On the other hand, I also understand the need to get away from fossil fuels. We’re not going to do that overnight, but this drill, baby, drill mindset doesn’t seem to be getting us any closer to a future of renewable energy. And I also understand the sensitivities of our Native American people, with whom we (America) have broken so many treaties. So those are arguments against the pipeline. And, I have to add, the fact that the most rightwing elements in this country are always in favor of more oil and against alternative energy also makes me suspicious of the pipeline. The right isn’t always wrong, but they usually are.

So I’ve avoided taking a firm position—until now. This is my coming-out party: I’m against it.

My decision takes place against the backdrop of the Army Corps of Engineer’s decision the other day to deny a permit to the pipeline’s builder, Energy Transfer Partners, which is being portrayed in the media as a huge victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who initiated the protests against the pipeline’s planned route near their water supply. As the Sioux were supported by thousands and thousands of others, including U.S. veterans, my sympathies began to shift towards them, but it wasn’t until yesterday, when I read an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, that I decided to come down on the no-pipeline side. Here’s why, and it has to do with what I said above—that the far right seems to favor the pipeline in a way that’s rigidly ideological and short-sighted, as the right so often is.

To begin with, the editorial’s headline was “Obama’s Last Stand.” That should tell you something: this isn’t objective reporting, it’s another hit piece on the President from a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, a rightwing billionaire who’s been trying to bring Obama down for years. The editorial is filled with snarky phrases: “the environmental left” is one (why is being for the environment a left or right issue? It’s a human issue). The Corps is engaging in “political obstruction.” How does the Journal know? Have they done their due diligence and studied every aspect of this issue, the way the Army Corps of Engineers has? Besides, who’s the Wall Street Journal to talk about political obstruction? The Journal—no stranger to smears, any less than Murdoch’s rancid Fox News—alleges the Corps has “jeopardized its integrity.” Really? According to whom, the Wall Street Journal? I suspect that tens of millions of Americans believe the Corps’ integrity has been enhanced. Finally, the Journal insults everyone who was against the pipeline by calling them “no-fossil-fuel greens who have turned the [pipeline] into a Battle of the Alamo.” You know, the right hates it when people caricature them as wingnuts. But apparently the Wall Street Journal can disparage their political enemies at will.

Trump has insisted he’s in favor of the pipeline, even as reports circulate that he owns part of it. And that’s what has brought me to my better-late-than-never opposition to it. This is about more than a mere pipeline. Much more. It’s about more than the Sioux, or their water rights, or the price of gas. The rising up of the Standing Rock Sioux will, I believe, eventually be seen to be the beginning of a determined opposition to Republicans, to Trumpism, and to the narrow, parochial interests of the tea party. Americans who have been opposed to Trump and everything he stands for have been looking for something to rally around since the election. Now we’re found it. I really, really hope Trump, after he’s sworn in, decides to reverse the Corps of Engineers and re-approve the pipeline, because if he does, we’re going to have a showdown up there in North Dakota, and throughout the U.S. for that matter. People will flock to the streets, and we will be on the winning side.

Because this is an easy issue to wrap your head around. Even the vets, who supposedly favored Trump, get it. Bismarck, North Dakota’s capital city, somehow managed to get the pipeline routed away from itself and onto Indian lands.

Why? How did that happen? Even if we’ll never know the real story, it’s unfair on the face of it. Put a white city at risk? No way, man. Let’s dump it on the Indians. But then, that’s the Republican Party for you. As I pointed out in my post yesterday, this is a party that has declared war on empathy, on fairness, on even trying to understand the feelings and thoughts of people who aren’t white, Christian conservatives. Theirs is a political philosophy (if you can call it that) that is odious to me. We all have to stand against allowing such a nasty attitude get any farther than it already has. And that’s what the pipeline represents to me: a symbol. “This far, and no farther. Over our dead bodies.”

So, Trump, you can’t win this one. Swallow this defeat gracefully and move on, although that’ll entail pissing off your people—or show your usual vengeance and try to ram the pipeline through and stir up a hornet’s nest coast to coast. Either way, you lose.


Republicans have a new thing to declare war on

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Three days in the life of the developing necrosis of this incoming administration hardly leave one knowing where to start in writing about the Almanack de Gotha of horrors daily emanating from Trump Tower, or should I say, from the man himself, who to be precise occasionally ventures beyond the escalator of his gleaming tower in midtown Manhattan to friendlier climes in the Rust Belt, to whose sad, angry white people he made promises he will never keep, nor intended to, since he knew they didn’t really expect him to anyway.

However, three days it has been since I last posted about politics: the weekend has come and gone, and yesterday’s brief interlude into wine reviewing extended the sabbatical. So where to pick up the narrative? One might begin with Trump’s Taiwan-China fiasco, or the bizarre soap opera over who will be Secretary of State (imagine Mitt Romney’s embarrassment over the use of his posterior for Trump’s public pleasure), or perhaps the recent nomination of Dr. Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development—the same good doctor who said “I do believe in the six-day creation” and noted that Darwin’s theory of evolution was “encouraged” by Satan. Nothing like evangelical fundamentalism at the helm of the Free World’s rudder!  Or perhaps I could start with the President-elect’s failure—deliberate?–to offer condolences to the City of Oakland—my city–for the recent fire, the deadliest in the history of California. Then again, knowing that he is about as popular in Oakland as psoriasis, possibly Drumpf’s attitude is, To hell with those crispy hippies, they didn’t vote for me anyway.

So, as I say, three days offers lots of choices of stuff to write about. But I choose to devote this post to a column in yesterday’s—where else?—Wall Street Journal, called “The Empathy Trap,” by a Yale professor of psychology by the name of Paul Bloom, who was therein flacking his new book, called, appropriately, Against Empathy.

Did you ever begin to read something that, by the second paragraph, made you feel so dirty that you wanted to take a hot shower? “The Empathy Trap” did that for me. Normally, I would move on, but something—curiosity? masochism? rubbernecking a particularly grisly roadside accident?—made me continue to read. Dr. Bloom takes aim at empathy, and particularly “what [we] psychologists call emotional empathy,” of the sort—this is me, Steve, offering this example—I and my fellow Oaklanders are feeling now for the victims of the Oakland Fire and their friends and families. Now, you might think that feeling empathy for our fellow humans devastated by catastrophe is a good, natural, even religious thing, but you’d be wrong. At least, from the point of view of Dr. Bloom, who calls feeling empathy “a shame…a moral train wreck. It makes the world worse.” Prescriptively, for those seeking a solution to their better angels, he offers this: “When we have the good sense to set [empathy] aside, we are better people and make better policy.”

See what I mean about feeling dirty? What are we to make of this—I don’t even know what to call it—casting away of everything we were taught constitutes decency and human-kindness? Probably it’s only to be expected in the Age of Trump, a narcissist and sociopath who does not appear to be able to feel empathy, or much of anything at all except resentment, for anyone else. One is reminded, of course, of that Saint Joan of the neocons, Ayn Rand, and her books, whose heroes, John Galt and Howard Roark, rejected feelings of empathy or compassion as the products of weak, non-productive and inferior beings (think Elsworth Toohey). After all, Rand approvingly said of Howard Roark (with whom she was, bizarrely, in love, despite his fictitious existence), “He was born without the ability to consider others.”

Bloom cannot completely flush empathy down the toilet. To do so would make him appear to be a monster. He allows it some relevance—“distant compassion” is his phrase, something one may see from far off but shouldn’t get too close to, lest one become infected. But Bloom’s real love, the idée fixe for which he saves his highest admiration, is “careful reasoning,” a sort of emotionless analysis of facts (one thinks of Mentats in Frank Herbert’s book, Dune, and perhaps of Dr. Spock, although Spock, despite his cool analytical powers, certainly had the stirrings of a warm heart). There is, in other words, in the red-clawed world according to Bloom, a competition between empathy and “careful reasoning” that makes for a zero-sum game: you can have one, but not the other. “Careful reasoning…makes the world a better place.” Empathy—well, as I quoted, “makes the world worse.”

Most people, I think, would reject this Manichaean dualism. Most of us understand that you can feel empathy for the poor, the sick, the downtrodden, the displaced, the victims of fires, the suffering, and at the same time make wise policy decisions. In fact I would guess that most of us feel you can’t make good policy decisions without feeling empathy—the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. One way in which the Trump phenomenon is so aberrant, from the point of view of America’s historical legacy, is that it really does assault feelings of empathy for the many groups it perceives as its enemies: people of color, the GLBT community, immigrants, Muslims, intellectuals, coastal dwellers, liberals, environmentalists, scientists, women, indigenous peoples, non-Christians—have I forgotten anyone? Surely if you add up the total of all these in the general population you would arrive at a number greater than the number of people who voted for Donald Trump. But, wait a minute, that reminds me, Hillary at the last count had more than 2.5 million votes more than the man with the orange hair.

But I digress. Bloom is not alone among his tea party brethren (and cistern?) in his disdain of empathy. Gary Bauer—yes, that one—noted that “It is not government’s role to be the primary dispenser of empathy.” (Hatred and discrimination, yes. Compassion, verboten!) And no less than “The Architect” himself, Karl Rove, calls empathy “the latest code word for liberal activism, for treating the Constitution as malleable clay to be kneaded…”. In addition to their so very many wars on so very many fronts, Republicans also have launched a war on empathy, and Dr. Paul Bloom, of Yale University, is their latest Reichsmarschall.


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