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In 2020, liberals have to be grownups

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This “split” in the Democratic Party, of which the current symbol is Howard Schultz, increasingly reminds me of the run-up to 2016. You’ll recall that that was about the “moderate-centrist,” Hillary Clinton, and the “progressive” Bernie Sanders, a divide that splintered Democratic and liberal voters, and essentially handed the election to Trump.

Hillary was painted by the far left as this hopelessly corrupt grifter, indebted to Wall Street, hawkishly inclined toward more wars, and secretly funneling money from the Clinton Foundation to her personal welfare. All that was nonsense, of course. The Clinton Foundation faux-scandal was an invention of Fox “News” and Breitbart. The ties to Wall Street do contain some reality, but what does that mean? “Wall Street” is an all-encompassing term for Big Money, and Hillary Clinton (and Bill too) certainly have always had ties to big money. But that doesn’t bother me. As the late, great California politician, Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh, once said, “If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women and then vote against them, you’ve got no business being up here,” meaning in the top levels of government.

I subscribe to that sentiment 100%. It doesn’t bother me in the least if Hillary Clinton raked in beaucoup bucks from billionaire donors and corporate contributions. I’ve never seen any evidence to suggest she sold favors to them. As for the “hawkish warmonger” that some people still paint her to be, we have a legitimate debate in this country concerning when, how and if we use our power abroad. That debate is as old as the nation itself. I don’t like super-hawks, like the neocons, who seem ready to invade foreign countries at the drop of a hat, but neither do I like the extreme lefties who demand “peace” all the time, regardless of the circumstances. My study of American history, which is pretty extensive, tells me that America can’t avoid foreign entanglements. We just have to be very smart about which ones to get involved in, and how deeply. Hillary Clinton, it seems to me, took a very smart approach to these issues.

At any rate, here we go again. Schultz’s throwing his hat into the ring, potentially, has alarmed many Democrats, including me. (I tweeted him to let him know of my discontent.) The truest thing that can now be said about 2020 is that any third party candidate, as Schultz purports to be considering, will hurt the Democrat and help the Republican, who will probably be the incumbent Trump—if he’s still in office.

And then there’s Kamala Harris, already perceived as insufficiently progressive. What a steaming load of horse manure that charge is! We have a string on nextdoor.com here in Oakland about Kamala, and the anti-cop lefties are crawling out of the woodwork, attacking her for “throwing poor people of color into prison” because she’s a former District Attorney (San Francisco) and Attorney General (California). I live in an extremely leftwing city; Oakland was the home of Occupy, and anti-police graffiti and posters can be found everyday, urging that the Oakland Police Department be defunded, its cops thrown in jail, etc. etc. This kind of stupidity is not helpful to our society. Any fool should know that we need cops to protect us from the bad guys, of which there are many. To be anti-cop across the board is just lazy thinking. It wouldn’t be so bad to have lazy thinkers around except that such thinking isn’t just lazy, it’s dangerous.

That’s the split that seems to be emerging among Democrats. Most of us are saying a very clear, simple thing: We don’t care whom the candidate is, we want the person most capable of beating Trump, or Pence, or whomever else the Republican nominee is going to be. That is the uppermost, overriding strategic goal: to beat Trump. It was the same goal as in 2016, but too many Democrats and Independents chose to vote their resentment, instead of their common sense; and we got the catastrophe of Trump.

It’s certainly not too late to nip these separatist tendencies in the bud, but the longer we refrain from stopping it, the stronger the centrifugal forces will tend to rip the Democratic Party apart. That would be a historic disaster of the first magnitude: to lose to the Republican in 2020 will be unforgivable by the moral underwriters who write the history books.

Here are some people who, if they’re thinking of running for president in 2020, ought to decide against it: Howard Schultz, Bernie Sanders, and a woman I’d barely heard of before a few days ago, Tulsi Gabbard, a Representative from Hawaii (whose campaign is supposed to be in disarray). None of these individuals has the slightest chance of getting elected. All of them pose the clear and present danger of being spoilers who will siphon off just enough votes from the left to elect a Republican.

Liberals and Democrats should try hard to realize that politics is all about compromise. No voter gets 100% of what she wants in an elected leader. It’s dumb to be so stubbornly idealistic that you turn your back on pragmatism. We have a superb pack of potential and announced Democratic candidates. Surely we should all be able to agree on one of them, eventually, and equally surely, we must not harbor animosity or resentment if our preferred candidate doesn’t get the nomination. It’s called being a grownup.


When will Trump’s walls of support come down?

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Donald Trump has two demographic walls currently in his favor: About one-third of voters insist they’ll never stop supporting him, no matter what. These diehards are represented symbolically by Roger Stone

The second wall going for Trump is that more than 50 percent of the public at this time does not support impeachment.

Together, these two bulwarks account for Trump’s brazenness, and that of his allies, in the face of mounting evidence that he and his family engaged in a conspiracy with the Russians to steal the 2016 election, in exchange for the dropping of U.S. sanctions.

The first wall—the always-Trumpers-no-matter-what—does appear solid. These people are so around-the-bend that they might not desert Trump even if he gave up his wall (despite Ann Coulter’s claim that that would be the straw that breaks the camel’s back). But the second wall—impeachment–is considerably more apt to be breached. How and when? A look back in history yields suggestions.

We’ve had political walls that came tumbling down before. Perhaps the most famous of modern times was the isolationism that permeated American politics in the 1930s and, until the day of Pearl Harbor, the early 1940s. Lots of people don’t realize it, but Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected on an isolationist platform; and until the bombs fell on U.S. battleships on Dec. 7, 1941, a majority of Americans were insistent that no U.S. troops ever engage in a foreign war.

That was a wall, a huge, formidable, insurmountable one. By late 1939, at the latest, F.D.R. had changed his mind and wanted to get in to the European war, to help Great Britain but more generally to protect the U.S. and the greater Latin American continent from German penetration. But as astute and powerful a president as was F.D.R., then well into his third term, he couldn’t figure out a way over that wall, until the Japanese did it for him. The wall of isolationism came crashing down overnight; the next day, Dec. 8, 1941, the U.S. declared war on Japan, and American isolationism was dead.

There was a second great wall, not as looming as the first but big enough to have permanent impacts on America; and that was, of course, concerning the Vietnam War. At first (which is to say from the early 1960s until the late 1960s), a solid majority of Americans were in support. The Cold War was at its height; Lyndon B. Johnson still maintained the power and prestige of the American presidency, and Americans remained as afraid of Communism as ever.

By the 1968 presidential election, however, the tide of opinion had turned against the war enough for Richard M. Nixon, the ultimate Cold Warrior, to run on a “peace with honor” platform. This was capitulation to the dynamics of public opinion, although of course, it was a lie on Nixon’s part: after he was elected, the war went on for another 5-1/2 years, and more American soldiers, flyers and Marines died in Vietnam after Nixon was sworn in than in all the years before. All that is tragedy, but the fact is that the pro-Vietnam wall that had allowed Johnson to escalate the war for so many years had all but crumbled by 1969.

Why did that wall fall? The short answer is because the American people, one by one, realized that the Vietnam War was folly. The “domino theory” was a lie; Vietnam threatened no American interests. What began as a youth movement spread to adults, to the suburbs, to African-Americans and farmers and factory workers, to everyone but the most diehard anti-Communists.

So there were the two Great Walls of modern history that fell: isolationism, and the Vietnam War. What both have in common, on the surface, is the simple truth that even Great Walls of public opinion can fall. It can be done. That is one thing to keep in mind when looking at the Trump situation. It’s true that he has these two bastions behind which he may protect himself. But it’s also true, as history proves, that bastions can fall, and sometimes, overnight.

In a more detailed sense, the fall of the two Great Walls was due to the American people having access to more information than they had previously received. In the case of isolationism, the new information came suddenly: via radio and newspapers, the public learned that America’s Pacific Fleet had been decimated in a surprise attack by Japan. In the case of the Vietnam War, the information filtered in much more slowly, but it did filter in. The irony was that Johnson’s policy in Vietnam had been to win the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people. In the end, the anti-Vietnam peace activists won the hearts and minds of the American people.

My point concerning Trump is that this country is now in a situation more closely resembling that of Vietnam than that of isolationism. We need more information before public opinion can be decisively swayed. I believe that information is out there and will be forthcoming. Mueller has more indictments up his sleeve. The Big Ones are yet to arrive: Jared Kushner and Donald Trump, Jr., as well as overt conspiracy indictments for Roger Stone and perhaps others. I have no way of knowing if Mueller or anyone else will indict Trump, but I absolutely believe that the Mueller Report—which will be issued to the public; House Democrats will make sure of it—will outline in shocking, precise detail the range of crimes committed by Trump. That’s when the Trump Walls will come tumbling down.


Why don’t more Americans support impeachment?

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For those of us who are determined to get rid of the catastrophe of Trump by any means, the latest Washington Post-ABC poll is troubling. The poll’s key finding is shocking: “The trend on impeachment has moved in Trump’s direction…despite [Tom] Steyer’s multimillion-dollar campaign. Last August, the result was a 49/46 plurality in support of impeachment proceedings beginning in the House. In just five months, that has flipped 18 points in the gap in this series.”

Even among Democrats, support for impeachment is falling, down from 75% to 64% since last August.

These numbers are all the more surprising given that large majorities of Americans don’t like Trump. The same Washington Post-ABC poll shows that 65% of Americans have no confidence in his ability to make the right decisions for America. Nearly as many (64%) don’t trust him. Just 33% believe he’s handled the deficit competently. Nearly two-thirds (65%) don’t think Trump understands their problems; nearly as many (61%) find him dishonest.

What are we to make of these conflicting numbers? Assuming they’re accurate (and as we all know, different polls can find different things), my take is this: Americans know that Donald J. Trump, the man, is thoroughly disreputable. Even Republican religionists, like Franklin Graham, concede Trump’s fundamental amorality.

I doubt if there’s a Republican in the Congress who would praise Trump’s ethics. Whether they admit it or not, even the knuckle-draggers at Breitbart know what an unpleasant, unscrupulous person he is. As for Democrats, they’ve been united on Trump’s personal unfitness from the beginning of his regime.

So why don’t more people support impeachment? And why is the number falling?

This is a tough question for people like me to answer. We’ve been calling for Trump’s ouster for years. We have a lot riding on seeing him fall. We believe, with all our hearts and minds, that we’re right: Trump is a disaster for the country, the worst president ever, and anyone who doesn’t agree is wrong. And yet, evidently, when it comes to impeachment, we’re in the minority.

I take heart in this: we’re in the majority as far as recognizing Trump’s horrible qualities. From the pussy-grabbing to the pathological lying, from not paying vendors to hiring illegal aliens at his golf clubs, from the adultery to stoking neo-nazi racism and white supremacy, from his authoritarianism to the insults of Democrats and threats against a free press, Trump has assured himself a negative reputation in the history books of the future. So when we say he’s a bad man, we’re in the solid majority.

But when it comes to impeachment, most Americans apparently have great hesitance taking that step. It is, admittedly, a drastic move; but it is entirely Constitutional (Article 1, Section 3 and Article II, Section 4), so it wouldn’t be an extra-legal affair, like a coup d’état. Perhaps many Americans remember the impeachment of Bill Clinton, 20 years ago, and how that ended up going precisely nowhere; the House did impeach him but the Senate refused to convict. Perhaps Americans just don’t want to go through all that angst again.

And maybe it’s because, so far at least, Mueller hasn’t been able publicly to connect the dots that lead to the conclusion that Trump really did engage in a conspiracy with the Russians. It’s true that many of his senior campaign and White House staff have now been arrested, indicted, convicted or pleaded guilty; but their crimes all seem peculiar to the men themselves—lying, perjury, wire fraud and so on—and do not yet involve Trump. The American people, it turns out, are fundamentally fair. While they know Trump is a rapacious scumbag, they don’t want to indict him until the evidence is solid. In this, the American public is functioning rather like a Grand Jury.

What happens when the evidence for conspiracy reaches a tipping point? Then, I’m confident the impeachment poll numbers will flip. But what happens if the evidence, in the end, simply isn’t there? We know Trump and his family actively solicited Russia to release (through Wikileaks) the stolen emails. We know Trump and his family lied about the Trump Tower meeting, which, far from being about adoption, was about trading the hacked emails for ending sanctions on Russia. We know how the Russians interfered in the election through social media, and we think we know they were aided in that effort by Trump supporters, who supplied key polling data and talking points for all the fake posts. We know, in other words, the broad outlines of the conspiracy.

But maybe none of it was illegal. Unethical yes. Fraudulent, yes. Deeply offensive to fairness, and deeply dishonest. But illegal?

Well, I don’t know, and neither do you. Only Mueller knows what he’s found, and he isn’t talking. But I have to believe that ultimately the percentage of Americans who support impeachment will rise, hitting 50% sometime this Spring, then continuing to go up. Am I wrong? God, I hope not. If Trump isn’t impeached, and survives this scandal, he’ll be out of control.


Kamala comes to Oakland

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Kamala Harris was in my home town yesterday for the formal kickoff of her presidential campaign. She is of course the junior Senator from California; before that she was District Attorney of San Francisco and then California’s Attorney-General. But what a lot of people didn’t know is that she’s an Oakland girl, which is why she paid us the honor of launching her campaign here.

Kamala’s politics are more or less solidly Blue. She’s getting a little early flack from the Right for her record as D.A. when she refused to ask for the death penalty for a cop killer. On the other hand, some in the media are portraying her as insufficiently Left to satisfy the hardest core of the Democratic base. So she’s getting it from both ends. But Kamala is inoculated from both extremes. She’s easily sufficiently liberal enough to appeal to the vast majority of Democrats, even Bernie supporters, and if she gains traction over the next year, even those currently dubious will rally to her side. And Black women, in particular, will turn out for her in huge numbers. At the same time, any Republican attacks can be refuted precisely because of her strong law enforcement background. So I’m not worried at all about Kamala’s record. If both the extreme Right and extreme Left don’t like her, they cancel each other out, leaving the middle way wide open.

Kamala’s Sunday rally, by the way, was at Frank Ogawa Plaza, a large, open space in front of City Hall, in the heart of downtown. That’s where Pan Theater is, the home of my improv troupe, where we perform every Friday night. The Plaza also was where Occupy Oakland began. I remember, in the Fall of 2011, all the tents, the people who camped there or visited, and the air of fevered historicity. Occupy Oakland came to an abrupt end when the group’s leaders (and it did have leaders despite claiming it didn’t) refused to repudiate Occupy’s own extremists: the young hoodlums who donned black masks and vandalized downtown, every chance they could.

The Right will try to link Kamala Harris with those Occupy types, but they won’t succeed. That’s just not who she is. In fact, the dead-enders of Occupy Oakland, which still exists (barely), have denounced her and called for active resistance to her campaign, on the allegation that she’s insufficiently progressive. This is nonsense, of course. These fringe groups like Occupy have very little power in Democratic politics; everybody saw how they helped destroy Hillary’s chances in 2016. We’re looking now for someone who can win, not for some idealized version of ideological purity. Besides, all the Democratic candidates are more or less in agreement on all the issues. We just have to find the best person.

It could be Kamala Harris. She looks like Oakland, which I believe is the most racially and ethnically diverse city in America. She has an Indian (subcontinent) mother and a Black father. She’s a woman. Check those boxes off! Her reputation in the Bay Area has always been as a very strong, articulate woman, but she doesn’t have that hard edge, the way Elizabeth Warren does and (to some extent) Hillary Clinton. She also blazes—yes, that’s the word I picked—with intelligence. She’s ambitious, but so is anyone who runs for President.

There was a story a couple years ago that Kamala, when she was Attorney-General, struck a deal with Gavin Newsom, when he was Lieutenant-Governor, that she would run for Senator when Barbara Boxer quit, in 2016, and Gavin would wait until 2018 to run for Governor, the post he won last November. The story was widely believed, and might even be true. I asked Gov. Newsom, before the recent election, if it was, and he said No, it wasn’t. At any rate, Gavin Newsom is much more comfortable in an executive position than in a legislative one, and his own future on the national stage could be bright and shining, depending on how things work out.

California has been very fortunate to have leaders such as Harris and Newsom, not to mention Speaker Pelosi and our senior Senator, Dianne Feinstein. All hail from, or were closely associated with, San Francisco, a city Republicans love to bash, with their predictable venom of homophobia, racism and xenophobia. If you want to know what San Francisco values are, and Oakland values, too, just look at the four individuals I just named. They are great Americans. Their values are the values of most liberal Americans, “liberal” in the sense of supporting civil rights, democracy, secularism, equality, internationalism, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of and from religion, and free markets. Who could be against any of that?

I’ll be watching the Democratic race carefully. Over the last two years the Democratic Party has managed to avoid the internecine fights that occurred in 2007-2008 and again in 2015-2016, in the runups to the Presidential elections. It’s Republicans who are at war with each other this time, not Democrats. I hope it stays that way. I’m not ready to come out for any particular candidate yet. But Kamala Harris is looking good.


AOC is right: Raise taxes on billionaires! By a lot!

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I couldn’t agree more with Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s plan to impose a 70% marginal tax rate on the richest Americans. In fact, the rate can go even higher, as far as I’m concerned. In a marvelous moment of serendipity, AOC’s suggestion occurs at exactly the same time the news hit that a hedge fund billionaire, Ken Griffin, just bought “the highest-priced home ever sold in the U.S.,” a Manhattan penthouse, for $238 million.

We’re only a a year out from Trump’s big tax cut,  which clawed $1.5 trillion (with a “t”) back from government coffers—money that could have gone for infrastructure, or housing, or environmental protection–and handed most of it back to individuals like Mr. Griffin, who calls himself “a Reagan Republican” and in 2015 endorsed Marco Rubio for president. Maybe it’s not fair to single Mr. Griffin out for his extravagance, but it is helpful, in political debates, to have poster children, and Mr. Griffin will suffice nicely. His new pad “spans roughly 24,000 square feet,” making it 40 times bigger than my condo. His new building, still under construction on Manhattan’s tony Central Park South, includes “private dining rooms, an athletic club, a juice bar, a library, a basketball court, a golf simulator and a children’s play area.” Nor is it the only home where Mr. Griffin may lay his weary head after a day of taking profits. He also owns “several floors of a Chicago condominium [he bought] for $58.75 million [and] a penthouse in Miami Beach’s Faena House in 2015 for $60 million, setting the record for a Miami condo.” But wait, there’s more. “Since 2012, Mr. Griffin has spent close to $250 million assembling land to build a mansion in Palm Beach, Fla…And earlier this month, he acquired a London home for about $122 million in one of the priciest deals ever done in that city…”.

And there may be more homes we don’t even know about. Does anyone seriously believe that Mr. Griffin needs or deserves all that living space? Does anyone? How many mansions can one family inhabit at any given time? How many art masterpieces does one billionaire need? How can this vulgar consumption conceivably be justified when so many Americans are struggling to get by, especially in the Trump government shutdown?

And yet here’s the Republican Party demanding more tax cuts for Mr. Griffin! Just two days ago, it was reported, Republicans “are now angling for an additional tax cut.” The plutocratic wing of the party, including the Koch Brothers, the American Conservative Union and Grover Norquist, is demanding that Trump radically lower the capital gains tax rate. That would hugely help the richest Americans, who obviously make more profit by selling things like mansions and stocks than do average Americans. As the Los Angeles Times noted, “Capital gains taxpayers already receive huge tax breaks compared with ordinary working stiffs.”

Yet somehow, it’s never enough for the billionaires. They want more and more and more; they resent every nickel they have to share with “ordinary working stiffs.”

So what’s wrong with AOC’s idea? It represents fairness. It would ask the richest Americans to part with just a little of their fabulous wealth: perhaps a smaller penthouse for Mr. Griffin; or maybe he could get by with minor de Koonings and Pollocks, instead of the ones he bought last year for $500 million.

I’ve known billionaires, in some cases quite well, through my former profession in the wine business, where billionaires are quite common. As individuals, most are fine, decent people. They help their employees when they’re in need. They contribute to charity. They provide jobs for “ordinary working stiffs.” These things are to be celebrated.

But billionaires also have far too much money, and at some point, we have to ask why. Why have generations of U.S. Congresses and administrations of both parties allowed this inequality to mount? How have we come to this? The answer seems clear: the billionaires own and control the Congress. They buy presidents, who—at their prompting—nominate judges who will rule that increasing taxes is unconstitutional.

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez sees this. She was born and raised in The Bronx, as was I. The Bronx is pretty poor; from its southwestern shore you can see the towers of Manhattan, just across the Harlem River, including, presumably, the high rise at 220 Central Park South, where Mr. Griffin will be ensconced when construction on this temple of greed is complete. Bronxites like AOC and me know how lopsided things are in this new Gilded Age. We know how hard most of us work and slave to pay our rents and mortgages and put food on the table for our families and feed gas into our aging cars. And then we read about someone like Mr. Griffin—or Mr. Trump—and who can blame us for being resentful? The odd thing, which for the life of me I cannot understand, is why the millions of poor, downtrodden Repubicans who support Trump don’t similarly feel resentment. Their president tells them he’s on their side, and yet he gives Mr. Griffin a massive tax cut and does nothing for “ordinary working stiffs.”

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez gets it. She and Beto O’Rourke are the two most exciting things happening today in American politics. And now, it’s on to 2020!


The Putin plan is to destroy America. Trump is helping him.

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If Putin’s strategic plan is to destabilize America so severely that we’re forced, or choose, to drop out of international affairs, leaving the field clear for Russia to dominate, it’s because he—Putin—knows that’s exactly what happened to Russia following their two 1917 Revolutions.

Russia had been a Great Power in Europe. Along with Germany, Austria-Hungary, France, Spain, the Ottoman Empire and Great Britain (maybe Italy, too), the Russian Empire of the Tzars had helped determine the balance of power on the Continent for centuries. But that all ended when the imperial government fell (March 1917) and the Bolsheviks (Communists) took power (November 1917).

Once that occurred, Russia turned inward, to resolve her own severe internal affairs. For a generation, she simply ceased to be a factor, not only in Europe, but internationally. The Revolutions that brought her to such sudden weakness were not planned by her “frenemies” in the West; but they might as well have been, so effective were they in eliminating Russia from European involvement. It can even be argued that Russia’s disappearance from the European scene contributed to the rise of the Nazis and hence to the catastrophe of World War II.

The conventional wisdom in America, for the last several years, is that Russia’s meddling in our 2016 election was simply the visible tip of the iceberg—the most flamboyant example of Putin’s secret campaign to sow divisions in America to such an extent that our institutions crack and eventually crumble. Russia has always resented the West as being arrogant plutocrats, and ever since the Cold War, in Russian eyes America has represented the apex of this plutocratic monolith. Russia, stymied on every side, has perceived American meddling as the reason why she had not been permitted to again rise to the level of a Great Power after World War II, in which Russia contributed more to victory than any other country. Instead, Russians since 1947 saw America become the world’s strongest, richest and most influential country, while she herself flagged economically, diplomatically and militarily. There could be only one explanation for this disaster: America.

Putin, the former intelligence chief, saw this clearly: if Russia was to resume her rightful place in world importance, America would have to be deprived of hers, in the zero-sum game of global politics. This explains the interference in our social media; it explains why Russian trolls were able to identify the fault lines in American culture and politics to exploit them and cause the divisions we now experience. Whether or not Trump was involved, consciously or as an unwitting agent, becomes almost irrelevant. America is cracking up, coming unglued, thereby proving that Putin was right, not only in his analysis but in actual practice.

We see evidence for this all around us, and not only in terms of our domestic infighting. American withdrawal from the Paris Climate agreement, American quarrels with allies from Canada and Australia to France and Great Britain, the threat of leaving NATO, the pullout from Syria and, possibly, Afghanistan, Trump’s trade and tariff wars, the “Wall” fight. All these are indicative of a new era of American isolationism, a trend which, if allowed to ripen, would create a vacuum at the heart of international activities, a void Russia would love to fill. An isolated, weakened America would not solve all of Russia’s current problems (including an under-educated workforce, shortened life spans, a faltering economy and a brain drain abroad), but it would represent a major strategic success in Putin’s long range plan to reassert Russian influence in global affairs.

Should the ordinary American care? Certainly the 30 percent who constitute Trump’s most loyal base do not. Even assuming they’re aware of the stakes (an assumption that may be overly generous), they may well feel that an isolated America would benefit them. Why waste all that money on foreign aid (which they believe amounts to far more that it actually does)? Why send American youth off to foreign wars, to die because of quarrels between people about whom we neither know nor care? Why allow World Government to tell America what to do? Besides (goes the thinking in Trump Land), Russia might not be so bad. After all, the Russians are white, Christian and conservative; they don’t like gay people any more than Trump supporters do. And everybody knows that Communism, as it’s commonly understood, disappeared long ago, and that Russia is now as capitalist (or plutocratic) as America. So Russia is nothing for American conservatives to fear.

And the rest of us, the 70% who are not Trumpists? It’s safe to say we’re confused by all the twists and turns. It’s also safe to say that confusion is exactly the state of mind Putin wants us to be in. A confused nation is a muddled, perfunctory nation; such a nation cannot make up its mind, or wastes precious time on stupid debates about what to do. “While the cat’s away, the mice will play” goes the old saying. America, the cat, is in the corner, placidly licking its paws, unaware that the mice are all around, sharpening their claws.

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe the Trumpists are onto something. America’s involvement in world affairs since 1947 seems to have reached a tipping point: if it helped to make us the richest country in the world for two generations, it now seems a pointless exercise in futility and danger. Maybe isolationism would be better for us, at least for a generation—to try it out and see how it does.

Yet I just can’t bring myself to that conclusion. I can’t help but think that America needs the rest of the world, and that they need us. I can’t help but doubt that a weakened America would result in anything good happening here. I can’t help but think that if Putin succeeds in stirring up our divisions to the point where we do break, it will be bad news. And I can’t help but think that Putin really does have something on Trump, who, darkly and evilly, is helping him destabilize America.


Trump’s agenda of hate continues with the Supreme Court’s shocking upholding of his ban on trans people in the military

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Today’s news that the Republican, Catholic-dominated Supreme Court allowed Trump’s transgender military ban to go into effect has had a shattering effect on the LGBTQ community.

The online news site, LGBTQ Nation, published an article justly comparing the ban to Hitler’s anti-semitic campaign in Germany in the 1930s, which was designed “to frighten and turn the so-called ‘Aryan’ German population even further against their Jewish neighbors.”

In their brief to the Supreme Court to allow the ban to go forward, the Trump regime put forward the absurd claim that America’s “national security [and] national defense” were at risk, if transgendered people were allowed to serve.

Trump’s Solicitor General, Noel Francisco (remember that name) told the Court that “It is with great reluctance” that the regime sought “such emergency relief in this court.” But if there was really any regret, it was hard to discern; instead, there was generalized glee on the Right that yet more insults and hardship had been thrown at a segment of the population loathed by Trump Republicans.

At the rightwing online site, Breitbart, where they never miss an opportunity to hate, readers were dancing in the aisles. “They are mentally ill,” one person wrote of transgendered folks. Said another, “Remember when all of those transgenders stormed Normandy beach? They had to endure broken high heels, stop to reapply makeup, and sew tears in their dresses while dodging German fire.” And another: “I honor any Man or Woman for defending our country. But you first have to be one or the other because there are only two sexes.” And another: “If you cannot figure out your sexuality. You cannot figure out your enemies.” And another: “Eradicate lefties from this earth. Sick in the head, cannot be rehabilitated.”

I apologize for exposing you to this raw sewage. But it’s important to know the nature of the enemy, if you wish to defeat him.

Look, I can understand the attitude on the part of some military professionals who say that bringing trans people into barracks would be disruptive to some soldiers. I can also understand the Pentagon’s reluctance to possibly have to foot the medical and psychological bills for trans soldiers. The “disruptive to morale” argument, however, falls apart when you consider that the military claimed the same thing on two prior occasions: when Truman desegregated the military, and later when gays were allowed to serve. In both those cases, the naysayers were proven to be utterly wrong; and in fact, our military was made infinitely stronger by including Black people and gay people.

As for the “medical and psychological bills” part, yes, that is a problem. Conversion therapy can be enormously expensive. But would the Pentagon have to foot the bill? I don’t see why the Congress could not pass, and the president sign, a law limiting the amount that would have to be spent. The lesson of prisons is applicable. Wisconsin, for example, passed a law, so far unchallenged, that prohibits prisons from paying the medical costs for gender dysphoria.

Besides, most imprisoned transgendered people’s medical expenses are paid for by Medicare; and private health insurance in many cases also pays for gender dysphoria treatment. So there are approaches that could be taken that would not require the Pentagon to pay for these very costly services.

In the end, there’s no rational basis for the Trump regime’s war on trans people, except for the dreary, predictable rage on the Right, upon which Trump depends to keep his base supportive. They require their daily dose of raw meat; trans people are cheap, easy raw meat for this vile president to throw to the “Christians” who manage to find, in their Bibles, justification for whatever bigotry they feel like committing.

I hope that someday we can have an honest conversation in this country about religious conservatives. These people are not friends of democracy. They do not love America, in the sense in which America is the final bastion of freedom for the world’s despised peoples. Nor do these people—the evangelicals, Pentecostals, Mormons and extreme Catholics—even wish to live in a Constitutional democracy. Not for them the free, unfettered vote of a free people! No, they yearn for what the Taliban hopes to achieve in Afghanistan: rule by the mullahs, the law according to Shariah, stolid, solemn obedience to medieval vengeance inflicted by insane clerics.

The good news, insofar as there is any for trans people and those of us who sympathize with them, is that there remain several lower court cases challenging the trans ban—which, by the way, Obama ended, only to have Trump resurrect it. The ban thus may eventually be entirely overturned. But considering the rightward lurch the Supreme Court has taken—a pathology that may be exacerbated if something happens to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, God forbid—it’s likely that the Catholics on the High Court will ultimately prevent trans people from serving their country. The friends of democracy, liberty and freedom can take comfort only in the certainty that History ultimately will condemn the haters—Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, John Roberts—just as History has condemned the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford decision, which ruled that African-Americans could not be considered American citizens. We can only hope that some of the Hateful Five are still alive when this verdict is finalized, so that they can appreciate how thoroughly they have been repudiated.


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