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#MeToo

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I was 25 years old when I became aware of the workplace sexual harassment of women and what a terrible problem it was.

I was working as a cook at a Howard Johnson’s restaurant in Brattleboro, Vermont, where a number of women friends of mine were waitresses, both on the floor and at the counter. We used to commute to and from work together. One night, on the drive home, the women were unusually silent. I tried, in my usual clumsy fashion, to lighten the atmosphere with wise cracks. One of my friends then explained to me that another of them had been mercilessly propositioned and insulted by a male customer. On our 30-minute drive home, the women proceeded to enlighten me about the extent of such sexual harassment. All of them were in tears, or close to it, as they told me how much it hurt—how powerless they felt—how there was no way I could understand it unless I’d gone through it myself.

Of course, as a man, I hadn’t. And as a gay man, I’d certainly never approached women sexually. Nor had I even been party to that “locker room talk” (as Trump called his pussy-grabbing braggadocio) that young men are said to engage in. Maybe my chums were raised better than Trump, but I never heard them talk about girls in crude, vulgar ways. So the reports from my women friends shocked me.

A few years later, I had my one and only experience of #MeToo. I’d moved to California and my first job was as a short-order cook in a greasy spoon restaurant. My boss, the owner, was a truly despicable man. About 60 years old, fat, and single, with the worst toupee I’d ever seen. We got paid once a week. Every time, he’d sneak up behind me and slide my paycheck into the breast pocket of my white cook’s blouse, always making sure to touch my nipple with his fat fingers. He asked me out to dinner with him all the time. I always declined, politely. Finally, things came to a head. He demanded I dine with him. I refused. He fired me.

Keep in mind, this was well before there were sexual harassment and anti-retaliation laws against this sort of misconduct. Before I was fired, while the harassment was going on, I used to come home after work and rant to my family about how sick and tired I was of getting felt up. But what could I do? I was broke and powerless. I needed that job. I had no choice but to let the sick situation continue.

My experience was nothing compared to what many women go through. It pissed me off, but I could handle it. But I can completely understand what the women who have been in the news lately are talking about. Whether they were harassed by Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Donald Trump or anyone else, they were treated inhumanely and disgustingly, and the men who so treated them ought not to be allowed to get away with it. Fox News’ rehiring of O’Reilly yesterday is especially egregious; at least the Weinstein Company fired Harvey, but Fox—the Catholic network, the family values network, the network that screams every time a Democrat is caught in scandal—didn’t have the decency to let O’Reilly go. He’s good for the ratings, I suppose, and decency be damned.

I don’t see why we can’t all agree that sexual harassment, particularly in the power-imbalance of the workplace, is wrong, whether it’s performed by Democrats or Republicans. Neither side ought to be finger-pointing since both are culpable. I do think, morally, that Democrats have the stronger argument. When Weinstein broke, the “liberal” media—New York Times, MSNBC—were all over it, and continue to be, with their female reporters in particular damning the practice. But when a Republican is busted for a sex scandal, you hardly even hear about it on Fox News or the Wall Street Journal. So I’m #MeToo, and if you’re a moral, ethical person with any human empathy, you should be too.


War? Some questions

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Do you think we’re going to war soon?

If you do, with whom? North Korea? Iran?

What would be the result?

No country goes to war without the expectation of winning.

What would “winning” look like in either case?

“Winning” in North Korea is easier to define. It would mean totally eliminating their capacity to manufacture and deliver nuclear weapons. It would also mean toppling the Kim regime.

“Winning” in Iran is more difficult to parse. Trump’s ostensible concern is their nuclear capacity, so taking that out would constitute winning. But Trump also has expressed concern over Iran’s destabilizing influence in the Middle East, if not around the world; so “winning” would mean eliminating that, which in turn means eliminating, not only the government, but the Revolutionary Guard. This is easier said than done.

But war isn’t a one-way street. These scenarios don’t take into consideration anything North Korea or Iran could do to us. North Korea apparently has the capability of delivering a nuclear-tipped ICBM to America, probably on the West Coast (which incidentally is where I live). North Korea also has 20,000 artillery tubes aimed at Seoul, where 22 million people, including tens of thousands of Americans, live.

As for Iran, they don’t have nukes, but they are a wealthy country with a lot of oil, and a powerful military that could go underground and wage guerilla war for years—and lest we forget, Iran’s ally is Russia. Therefore, war with Iran could be enormously problematic, and even if we “won,” as we “won” in Iraq, America would face an ongoing insurrection that would keep us pinned down on the group for a very long time. Donald J. Trump would have a lot more phone calls to make to Gold Star parents.

Why would Trump take the enormous risk of going to war with either North Korea or Iran? Because make no mistake, neither of them is going to start a war with us. Trump will be looking for, and might possibly create, a fake provocation, like the Gulf of Tonkin. If he is hell-bend on war, he would prefer for the enemy to start it, so he can call it a defensive war. But obviously, whether war is offensive or defensive, it would be catastrophic, so once again we have to ask why Trump would create a catastrophic war, when diplomacy is clearly a better approach. And no one can honestly say that diplomacy can’t work, for either North Korea or Iran.

Beyond his histrionic tendencies, which are apparent, there’s another reason why Trump is doing this: RussiaGate. If there’s one thing we know that Trump is terrified of, it’s the ticking time bomb of Robert Mueller’s investigation. He himself denies this, every chance he gets, but from all the reports, we know how worried he is. Since he knows he did something wrong, he’s fears that the investigators will find out, with disastrous consequences for him and his family. So terrified is Trump that, from a playwright’s motivational point of view, we can interpret everything Trump says and does as a reaction to the impending threat. He wishes to divert this threat, in two ways: first, from his own consciousness, because it weighs him down, clouds his thinking, probably keeps him up at night, and prevents him from enjoying his job as fully as he expected to and wants. Secondly, he needs to divert American public attention away from the threat. That’s impossible, of course, but what he can do is inoculate his base, so that when a terrible, indictable report comes from Mueller, that base will reject it.

So we begin to see into Trump’s true motive: the Mueller threat is real, in Trump’s mind even more real than the Iran or North Korea threat. He will do whatever he has to do counter it: By any means necessary, as they say. One way is to preside over a gigantic war, the bigger the better, especially if it happens before the midterms: the more casualties, on all sides, the more it redounds to Trump’s benefit. In the event of a major war, the media will become obsessed with the situation on the ground: the artillery, the bombs, the troops, the civilian deaths, the destruction of cities, the activity at the U.N., reaction among our allies. Everything else newsworthy will be left in the dust. Democrats will go mad with criticism, most of it justified; it will not matter. Major war, especially if it goes nuclear, will dwarf everything: wildfires, hurricanes, Mueller reports, Hollywood scandals, healthcare, taxes. Donald Trump will then find himself in a position he’s always wanted to be in: famous, important, powerful, at the center of history, with all eyes turned toward him, and—as Commander-in-Chief—impregnable. He will be beyond criticism, as the forces of patriotism gather around him. Any criticism of the president, even if warranted, will be denounced by Republicans as pro-enemy; and in all likelihood a majority of Americans will agree. Trump will have won. Even if millions of people, including Americans, die, he will have won. Historians far into the future will debate whether or not Trump wagged the dog; it won’t matter. He’ll be long gone, but for the time being, he will be all-powerful, the Leader. He will be the star of the greatest reality show ever. And, given Republican cravenness, there will be no stopping him.


What are we to make of Bannon?

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If there’s one man who’s dominated the political news cycle lately, it’s not Donald J. Trump. It’s his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon.

He’s been all over the place, most recently addressing California Republicans in (appropriately enough, since it’s the home of Disneyland), Anaheim. Bannon pilloried George W. Bush for the latter’s New York speech the other day, in which Bush slammed nationalism distorted into nativism,” in a not-so-subtle swipe at Trump. Bannon’s shot at Bush—“There’s not been a more destructive presidency than George Bush’s”—was simply the latest in his self-declared “season of war” on the Republican Party, a war Bannon might temporarily be winning, given Roy Moore’s Senatorial victory in Alabama.

We know that Bannon is a bomb-thrower, famous (or infamous) for wanting to destroy “the system.” Among his more notable sayings:

Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power.

I’m a Leninist. Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment.

The Tea Party in the United States’ biggest fight is with the Republican establishment, which is really a collection of crony capitalists.

The media has zero integrity, zero intelligence, and no hard work. You’re the opposition party.

The rise of Breitbart is directly tied to being the voice of that center-right opposition. And, quite frankly, we’re winning many, many victories. On the social conservative side, we’re the voice of the anti-abortion movement, the voice of the traditional marriage movement, and I can tell you we’re winning victory after victory after victory.

There is every reason to believe that Bannonism is on the rise in America. Bannon gave form to Trump’s inchoate irritations, helping to shape the message into coherence. Bannon touches on the sore spot in the American psyche: every resentment, every grievance that people feel finds its way onto his radar, thence to his lips. Hitler did the same thing. It’s hard to tell if Bannon himself harbors political aspirations—at least, in the sense of elected office, although more of that in a moment. For the present, it is useful to think of him as a propagandist. In that sense, of all the figures in modern fascist history, he resembles no one so much as Josef Goebbels, whose Orwellian title, Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, was given him by Hitler.

Louis Lochner, the American-born correspondent in Berlin for the Associated Press during the Hitler years, knew Goebbels, whom he described as “one of the most versatile spellbinders Germany has had in generations.” Beyond the “deeply resonant voice” and “fanaticism,” Lochner chose the word “versatile” for a reason: “With Goebbels I had the feeling that he would have defended Communism, monarchy or even democracy with the same pathos and emotion, yes, even the same fanaticism, had his idol, Adolf Hitler, chosen to sponsor any of these.”

In his book The Goebbels Diaries, 1942-1943, Lochner tells the story, related to him by a friend who had been there, of a Goebbels performance—there’s no other word for it—at a party. “Goebbels amused all present by successively delivering a speech on behalf of the restoration of the monarchy, the re-establishment of the Weimar Republic, the introduction of Communism in the German Reich, and, finally, on behalf of National Socialism…At the end of each speech”, Lochner reported the friend as saying, “I was ready to join the particular cause Goebbels had just advocated.”

One has the same feeling about Bannon (and about Trump, for that matter). These are not individuals with fixed beliefs. They are opportunists, out for the main chance. Someone like Barack Obama (or Hillary Clinton) is more or less guided by an overarching liberal vision. Not so Trump, who may be for the Dreamers one day, against them the next, for higher taxes on billionaires, against them five minutes later, for healthcare insurance for everyone, then against it, in favor of working with Democrats one moment, then assailing them the next. Bannon, too, seems guided, not by specific issues so much as leveraging the resentments of the working class to his advantage. It’s easy to slam Wall Street. Everybody does it, including me. It’s also easy to denigrate “the media,” whatever that means. In Bannon’s (and Trump’s) case, it’s any media that disagrees with him. Fox and Friends is “good” insofar as its right wing panel floats right wing views. Critics of Trump are “disloyal,” “wacky,” “traitors.”

Bannon’s favorable references to “Satan” and “destroying the state” are more problematic. Churchill himself famously quipped, “If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons”; but that is a far cry from alleging that Satan is an ideal good. Bannon’s Lenin reference is from the latter’s essay, “The State and Revolution.” Lenin foresees a time when “the oppressed classes, and the proletariat at their head” (i.e., the same classes as today’s red state white males) become aware “of their irreconcilable hostility to the whole of bourgeois society” (today’s version of “bourgeois society” being the media/Hollywood elite Bannon wishes to smash). The resulting revolution, which Lenin led in Russia and Bannon hopes to arouse in America, will concentrate all its forces of destruction against the state power, and to set itself the aim, not of improving the state machine, but of smashing and destroying it.”

Lenin won his battle, but at what cost? His revolution gave the world Stalin and Stalinism, the cynical Nazi-Soviet Pact that brought about World War II and 70 million deaths, and, ultimately, the collapse of the very Soviet Union Lenin helped to found. “Smashing and destroying” may feel good, and make for fine rhetoric, but its outcome is hardly reassuring.

Moreover, does Bannon really believe that the majority of Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton would stand silently by while he and his Charlottesville followers “smash and destroy” the country? That is an idle fantasy. More probably, he thinks—if he actually believes his own speeches—that his side has more guns and muscle than the media-Hollywood elite; and that his side would be joined, in the event of a big fight, by the Pentagon’s armed troops. If worse came to worst, in Bannon’s dream, it might be that ten million soldiers and police would enforce and impose Bannonism upon 100 million Americans who were dead set against it.

That scenario has a name: civil war. Far from the stuff of movies and cheap fiction, it may well be precisely what Bannon foresees, and desires. Bannon is only eight years younger than Trump, but that is two U.S. presidential administrations in length. When Steve Bannon lays his fleshy body down for sleep, the glittering vision on the dark side of his eyelids may be that of President Bannon, presiding over a single-party America, with smoke still rising from the ruins of the democracy he smashed. In this sense, Bannon is not so much the “nationalist” he claims to be, as a nihilist; but he might consider this warning from the Father of Nihilism, Friedrich Nietzsche: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”

 

 


Why aren’t the ex-Presidents taking Trump on?

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George W. Bush’s speech yesterday was pure mush. If he really believes that bigotry and white supremacy are “blasphemy,” he should have placed the blame where everyone knows it belongs: On Trump. Instead, he offered only bland, mealy-mouthed platitudes, with the result that the speech had the impact of a wet noodle. It was a Rashomon-like Rorschach test: both sides interpreted it as favoring them. Democrats saw it as anti-Trump. Republicans saw it as innocuous Sunday-school pablum. Probably Bush didn’t want to rile his Republican friends. But what did he hope to accomplish by this waste of time? All he’s done is to further muddy the waters. He stimulated a 24-hour news cycle that leads precisely nowhere, just more blah-blah-blah added to the already overloaded pot.

What this nation needs now is not ambiguity. Vagueness is not useful for a former President who goes to the extraordinary length of giving a speech that is bound to get national coverage, and be endlessly analyzed. One senses that George W. Bush—raised by decent parents, steeped in a centrist, Christian moral tradition of brotherly love—is appalled by this current regime. One suspects that, around the Bush dinner table, they shake their heads every time Trump utters a blasphemous insult or lie—which is pretty much every day. Probably the elder Bush, George H.W., is outraged; he has seen his Republican Party turn into a cesspool of Nazis and mentally unstable bigots. Barbara Bush has got to be disgusted. Why, then, cannot the son, George W., utter clear, unambiguous words of condemnation of this president, of Breitbart, of the entire cabal? Why can’t he name names? I just don’t understand.

For that matter, where are Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter? All have been reticent, tiptoeing around the 800-pound elephant in the room: Trump. But why? Maybe Carter feels that, at his age, he just wants to work on the occasional habitat for humanity hut and watch T.V. in Plains. Maybe Bill Clinton is afraid of being slimed again: were he to come out swinging, Republicans would resurrect all the old crap: Monica Lewinsky, moral turpitude, Whitewater. And Barack Obama? What is he afraid of? He has nothing to lose. He will never face the electorate again. Were he to come out swinging against Trump, the Republican slime machine, fueled by Koch and Mercer blood-money, would crank up, smearing him and Michelle with more vulgar, baseless insults. But the Obamas have been through that for years. They have thick skins. They can take the heat.

So it really makes one wonder. George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama know exactly what’s going on. They understand, with a precision the rest of us cannot have, the dangers of this current regime. They know how Trump is destroying America, tarnishing the Oval Office, staining their legacies. And yet, they sit idly by, mouths closed, occasionally giving a speech with discrete hints of criticism, but never actually coming out and speaking their hearts and minds. Yes, Obama was out there on the stump yesterday, down in Virginia, but did he mention Trump? Did we hear “the fierce urgency of now”? Did he thunder like an Old Testament prophet and warn America about this current president? Did he say what he really thinks? No. Just more no-drama Obama piety.

Look: if there’s one thing that could jump-start the 25th Amendment removal process, it would be a joint, bipartisan statement by the four ex-Presidents–five, if George H.W. is healthy enough–even better, a joint appearance on live T.V. that explicitly calls Trump out. It would list the “abuses and usurpations” against him, in the same way that the Declaration of Independence outlined the particulars against George III.

If the ex-Presidents were to pool their moral force, it would have a huge impact on the national discussion, perhaps even chipping away at the percentage of independents who stubbornly stand with Trump. It would put the Trump regime on the defensive. Trump himself would be outraged, would fight back with everything he has; but that would only add to the perception of him as an unhinged bully. Just imagine: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, united in patriotic denunciation of Donald Trump.

History would bless them. They should do it, but they won’t. They don’t possess the moral fortitude.


Why I will vote for Kevin DeLeon, not Dianne Feinstein, as the next Democratic Senator from California

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Dianne Feinstein has been a political superstar ever since I moved to California, in 1979. She was my Mayor when I lived in San Francisco, and a very good one, what people call a “pothole politician”: responsive to every voter’s gripes. I was with a public transit lobbying group in those days, and once, when I gathered and sent to her a petition signed by several hundred people demanding better service on our local MUNI line, she had her Public Utilities chief, a man named Richard Sklar, meet with me to discuss the situation. I still have a clutch of letters from Mayor Feinstein in my files. When a group of dissidents sought to have her impeached, I sided with her; and when she was elected Senator, during the “Year of the Woman,” in 1992, I exulted.

I watched “Dianne” (as her constituents fondly called her) as she rose in power, winning election after election, and garnering respect on both sides of the aisle. The media dubbed her “the adult in the room,” a thoughtful Senator who could work with Republicans as well as her fellow Democrats, in contrast to the supposedly “radical” Barbara Boxer. I was happy to vote time and time again for Dianne.

I might have done so again next year, in the Democratic primary, but her remarkably impolitic remark about Trump in August really made me wonder. “He can be a good president,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle.

My first thought was, “No, he can’t. It’s far too late for that. He’s already caused unforgiveable damage—to the Presidency, to America, to the world”. Her statement caused a firestorm. Even I, a staunch Feinstein supporter, started to wonder. But still, I decided then not to make my mind up, but to await events, and see if something would push me in one direction or another.

Well, two things did. First, Kevin De Léon, the California Senate leader, announced that he would take Dianne on in the primary. Then, Trump made one of the ugliest, most vile statements I’ve ever heard from him—which means it was pretty vile, since Trump is the king of vulgar, untrue, nasty smears. He said, If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls.”

He was referring to U.S. Presidents calling the families of slain American military personnel. It was a disgusting, horrendous slur on Obama, and it made me so angry I wanted to cry. And that’s when I thought, “That’s it. No more Dianne.”

We desperately need to get rid of this awful rightwing  regime, and we need to do it now. We need bare-knuckle fighters who will take on Pence and McConnell and Ryan and the tea party and Steve Bannon and the Nazis and white nationalists and the rest of that abominable crew. Dianne Feinstein just doesn’t have the guts to do it. Her age is only part of the problem. Temperamentally, she’s a centrist, a moderate. When she was Mayor, she hated fights. A compromiser, a deal-maker, a pragmatic, pothole politician, cautious to a fault, well-meaning, but with her finger constantly to the wind. Well, it used to work, once upon a time; that’s not what we need now.

The argument for Dianne is her long experience. I’m sure she knows all there is to know about working the levers: the rules of Congress, the law, Senate history, and so on. But I watched her yesterday morning as the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned Sessions, and she seemed tired, listless, asking vague questions which demanded followups she never pursued, even as Sessions avoided answering them. Look, we need someone with energy, drive and passion, who sees this administration for what it is: rogue, a clear and present danger, something that must be resisted with every ounce of strength. Dianne, I’m afraid to say, just doesn’t get it anymore. She’s performed noble, historic service to the people of California and the United States of America, and she will deserve every honor given to her when she finally leaves politics. But she does not deserve to be our Senator again. (By the way, it goes without saying that, if Dianne wins the primary, I will vote for her over any Republican candidate!)


The Wine Country Fires: A Perspective

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For my readers who are unfamiliar with the Wine Country of Northern California that’s been ravaged by these recent wildfires, I want to give a little geography lesson, and tell you why the disaster is so epic, even for a state that’s seen some pretty devastating wildfires.

As many of you know, my career was in the wine industry, with a focus on the wines of California. Living in Oakland, I traveled frequently to the wine regions of Napa Valley and Sonoma County, which were the epicenters of the fires. Both are roughly 40 miles north of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area.

This is the heart of California’s multi-billion dollar wine industry. Its wines made California famous; those from Napa Valley remain the most expensive in America. The area is preternaturally beautiful, as wine country tends to be: rolling hills, forested mountains and, in the verdant valleys, jeweled vineyards, with creeks and rivers splashing through riparian corridors.

As near as I can tell (and it will be some time before the facts can be determined), the series of fires appear to have started in a single location: near the northern Napa Valley town of Calistoga. This is a village of great rustic charm, a tourist draw with its charming little wineries, mud baths, spas and restaurants. Apparently, the fire then went in two directions: South, towards the city of Napa, some 30 miles away, and west, to the even larger city of Santa Rosa, the county seat of Sonoma County, which is twenty miles away. There was vast destruction all along the way. The worst, as has been widely reported, was in Santa Rosa, where homes by the thousands were torched, but there also was extensive ruin around the city of Napa.

To appreciate the scale of the fire, though, you have to realize that, in spreading westward from Napa to Sonoma, the fire found, not one, but at least two separate routes. One route led directly west from Calistoga, across the Mayacamas Mountains separating Napa and Sonoma counties (the mountains themselves rise to 4,700 feet), and thence directly into the Santa Rosa region. But another route found its way, 30 miles to the south, from the city of Napa across the region known as Carneros, which runs along San Francisco/San Pablo Bay, spanning both counties; and from there, it hit the town of Sonoma, and poked its way northwest into the Sonoma Valley, also known as the Valley of the Moon, where it caused extensive damage in the charming towns of Kenwood and Glen Ellen, on the way to Santa Rosa.

This is a geographic scale that is unimaginable. The entire area contained within it didn’t go up in flames, of course, but for such a huge expanse to have burned is mind-boggling. The total fire acreage was in the hundreds of thousands. Of course, there have been other large-acreage fires in California, but they’re almost always in wilderness and mountainous regions. Napa-Sonoma by contrast is thick in houses, buildings and people.

By contrast, one of the worst fires in California history prior to the Wine Country Fires was right here in Oakland, which by contrast burned only 1,520 acres in the Oakland Hills Firestorm of 1991 (although the total number of homes destroyed then was approximately 3,000, close to the total number of burned homes, about 5,000, in the Wine Country Fires. But the Oakland neighborhood that went up in flames was densely packed with houses).

In wine country and California history lore, the burned areas are famous names: Napa, Calistoga, Oakville, Carneros, Sonoma Town, Glen Ellen, Santa Rosa. It’s impossible to describe the emotional impact to outsiders. To come up with a silly but illustrative example, it’s as if a wildfire had destroyed the Manhattan neighborhoods of Chelsea, Times Square, the Upper West Side, Harlem and the Financial District. Had that happened, of course, the world’s media would have gone into hyperdrive. In the case of the Wine Country Fires, the media of course took notice, but the feeling here in Northern California is widespread that the national media, including television and print, under-reported the extent of the disaster, focusing instead on Trump-related issues.

The same thing happened in 1991 after the Oakland Hills Firestorm. I remember writing letters of complaint for the media’s failure to report in sufficient alarm its hugeness. It had been, after all, the worst fire in American history, as measured by several parameters: the greatest destruction in real estate/insurance value (with the possible exception of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire), and the worst urban-wildland interface fire in U.S. history. Now, here we are again, with the Wine Country Fires establishing new records.

The talk in wine country now is of recovery and rebuilding. I, personally, doubt that there will be much impact on the wine market, although I could be wrong: as I keep saying, we still don’t know how many vineyards were destroyed, how many wine storage facilities, how many winemaking production and distribution centers, or, for that matter, how many winery workers lost their homes or died. Nor do we know what the effects will be of smoke taint. Economically, the cities and towns—Napa and Santa Rosa above all—will take a very long time to rebuild, and one weeps for the tens of thousands of people who lived there who lost all.

Emotionally, for all of us with ties to wine country, the impact will be lifelong. It’s such a shock. It’s so hard to wrap one’s head around the scope of destruction. We who have driven those roads—Highway 29, the Silverado Trail, Route 128 over the Mayacamas, the Oakville Grade Road, Highway 12 in Sonoma, the 101 Freeway through Santa Rosa—and we who have enjoyed the amenities that burned down (I stayed at the Fountaingrove Inn, with Gus, many times)—we still cannot fathom how vast this monster was. The fire was, as Governor Brown stated, the worst in California in his 79 years on Earth, and when all the numbers are in, it will certainly be officially declared the worst in California’s history. The dates Oct. 16-19, 2017, for many of us, will be one of those, like Nov. 22, 1963, that is seared into our memories for the rest of our lives.

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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