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Hillary dementia is alive and well in the People’s Republic of Bernistan



I know quite a few Bernie Sanders fans, and I feel sorry for them. They’re having difficulty accepting the role they played in getting Trump elected and so are becoming increasingly irrational and even reactionary in their politics.

What Bernistas have in common are the following behaviors and attitudes:

  1. They were strong Bernie supporters in the primaries.
  2. They hated Hillary Clinton. Maybe “hate” isn’t a strong enough word. We’re talking foam-at-the-mouth loathing, the kind where the mere mention of her name sends them into childish tantrums.
  3. When Trump was elected, Bernie people went into deep denial, insisting that the defection of Bernie supporters like themselves (who either didn’t vote, or voted for a third party candidate) had no impact on the results of the election, even though the rest of us know that it did.
  4. To this day, and with all we know of the catastrophe that is the Trump administration, they continue to loathe Hillary Clinton and deny any responsibility for what happened.

I was for Hillary during the primaries, but, as I constantly pointed out to my Bernie friends, if Bernie had won the nomination, I would have happily supported him. But if Hillary won the nomination, Bernie supporters insisted, they would never support her; they frequently resorted to personal invective (the c-word, b-word, murderer, liar, Wall Street tool, etc.) to underscore their hatred of Hillary.

But why? I always asked. Would you rather see Trump get elected? Yes, they replied. Anybody but Hillary.

None of my Bernie friends was a crazy tea party right winger. As residents of the People’s Republic of Bernistan, they described themselves as leftists, or liberals. They wanted single-payer healthcare, higher taxes on the rich, more environmental protection, breaking up the big banks—the whole gamut of liberal policies. Of course, I wanted those same things, and I tried to convince my friends that Hillary did, too, or could be pushed in those directions. But in their blind fury, they wouldn’t buy it.

Now here we are, in late May, and the weird thing is that my Bernie friends remain stuck in the same psychological space. They still hate Hillary (and they still have difficulty explaining why, beyond parroting Fox News propaganda), and they still insist that they had no responsibility for electing Trump. Well, let me explain why they did.

When it comes to politics, I don’t care what people say, I care about what they do; as the old saying goes, actions have consequences. Bernie supporters can insist that they’re liberals, and that the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton weren’t liberal enough for them. But the end result of what they did—the real-world, actual development—was to elect Trump. Who else elected Trump? The tea party, obviously. So we have two groups—Bernie supporters and the tea party—whose actions both resulted in the same result, a Trump presidency. If a=c and b=c, then a=b. Therefore, when I describe Bernie supporters as being crypto-tea party, I mean that, by their actions, Bernie supporters enabled the tea party’s aims, and helped achieve them. In 12-step theory, Bernie supporters have yet to undergo the searching self-examination that forces them to admit to themselves that they’ve done something terribly wrong. Such an admission can be uncomfortable, even embarrassing, but until they get there, Bernie people will remain caught in cognitive dissonance.

The truth is, the residents of the People’s Republic of Bernistan allowed the perfect to be the enemy of the good. Hillary Clinton may not have given them everything they wanted (although I would argue she gave them much more than they admitted). It was fine for Democrats to have a spirited debate during the primaries, and it was fine for people to support Bernie.  But after the primary season was over, Hillary was the nominee of the Democratic Party, Trump was the Republican nominee, and it was obvious that neither Jill Stein nor Gary Johnson nor Evan McMullin could possibly win. All that the third party candidates could do was to be spoilers—siphoning votes from the two major candidates. And I believe (and I think the evidence supports me) that the third party candidates stole a lot more votes from Hillary than they did from Trump. This is why it’s appropriate to call many Bernie supporters “Trump trolls,” “troll” meaning a person who claims to be one thing but is in fact (and perhaps inadvertently) the opposite.

I’ve pissed off a lot of Bernie supporters by telling them that they were useful idiots for the tea party. They hate hearing that: they go ballistic, and take it as a personal insult to their integrity. But it’s true. You have to stand up and accept the consequences of your actions: that’s the meaning of being a grownup. Sadly, to this day, too many Bernie supporters refuse to do that. They still hate on Hillary, more furiously than ever, they still are in deep denial over what they did in the election, and, more troublingly, they’re now set to do the same dumbass thing heading into the 2018 elections and beyond.

New wine reviews

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Steven Kent 2013 Lineage (Livermore Valley); $155. I’ve long had a fondness for Steven Kent’s Bordeaux-style wines, of which Lineage is the best. (He also makes the Ghielmetti Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.) Lineage is a meritage-style wine; this ’13 is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. It is, in a word, superb. The mélange of flavors fascinates me; there’s fresh fruit (cherries, blackberries, blueberries), dried fruit (currants), liqueur (cassis), sweet dried leather, milk chocolate, smoky oak (cedar, vanilla, toast) and licorice (anise). The texture is mind-blowing: so smooth and velvety, so seamless. For all the richness, there’s a structural control, courtesy of the acid-tannin balance. I don’t know if it will age; it’s pretty soft now, but it’s so balanced, it might. You never know, but then again, it’s so good, so complete and wholesome and delicious, there’s no reason not to drink it now or over the next year or two. The alcohol is 14.4%. Only 275 cases were produced. The wine spent two years in French oak, most of it new. I can’t praise this wine enough. It’s really expensive, but compared to the price of many Napa Cabs, it’s a bargain. Score: 97 points.


Chateau Smith 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (Washington State): $20.This is a succulent, juicy Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s rich in black currants, with firm, rich tannins and the most lively acidity that really gets your mouth watering. It’s from Charles Smith, and I’m not sure if they mean for the “Chateau Smith” to be a different brand, or a proprietary name under Charles Smith. The technical notes state it’s from the Columbia Valley; the label simply says “Washington State.” Why, oh why can’t these wineries get their story straight? Whatever, it’s quite a fine red wine, robust, bone dry and moderate in alcohol, clocking in at 13.5%. It strongly suggests a grilled steak. Score: 91 points.


Steven Kent 2016 LOLA White Wine, Ghielmetti Vineyard (Livermore Valley): $24. A classic blend of 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Semillion, this wine demonstrates why Livermore Valley was famous long ago for white Bordeaux-style blends. It’s really lovely, with citrus, tropical fruit, apricot and fig flavors cut through with a trace of pyrazine-inspired green grass. The finish is dry, although there may be a little residual sugar to give it a round, mellow mouthfeel. Meanwhile, the acidity is racy, and the alcohol is a refreshingly low 13.4%. The wine is entirely unoaked. I might have given it a touch of wood to bring that fancy edge of vanilla smoke, but nonetheless it’s a super-nice wine, at a good price. Score: 91 points.


Charles Smith 2014 The Velvet Devil Merlot (Washington State): $13. This is so good for the price, I’m almost shocked. It’s translucent ruby in color, suggesting a light- or medium-bodied wine, which it is, with only 13.5% alcohol. The aroma is red cherries, red currants and espresso, with a sprinkling of cocoa dust, a suggestion of beet root, and just a whiff of violets and dusty earth. So pretty. In the mouth, it’s entirely dry, but rich and complex. The spicy finish is longer than you’re think in a thirteen dollar wine. And, yes, it does feel velvety in the mouth. This is not an ageable wine, but it is a beauty for drinking now. Although the label doesn’t say so, the grapes are from the Columbia Valley. Buy this one by the case. Score: 91 points.


Trentadue 2015 Estate Bottled La Storia Petite Sirah (Alexander Valley): $TK. Alc. 14.8%. I’ll give this wine kudos for its sheer mass. It’s just what you expect a modern, warm-climate Petite Sirah to be. Dark in color, full-throttle in body, and humungous in flavor. Waves of chocolate, black cherry jam, mocha, anise, white pepper and smoke, wrapped into thick but ultra-soft tannins, and brightened by just-in-time acidity. This is the kind of wine I always call a barbecue wine, meaning its practical usage is limited because of the size. But if you’re grilling up those old babybacks, go ahead and slurp away. Score: 91 points.


Charles Smith 2015 Kung Fu Girl Riesling (Washington State): $13. Such a deal! This is a super price for a Riesling of this purity. I love the apple, orange marmalade, petrol, nectarine and white flower flavors, and the way the acidity makes it all so lively. There’s also a tangy minerality, like cold metal. The alcohol is a refreshingly low 12%, and yet the wine tastes just off-dry (I’m sure it has a little residual sugar to round it out). Really a delight to drink. I would buy this by the case. Score: 91 points.


Steven Kent 2014 BDX Collection Ghielmetti Vineyard Cabernet Franc (Livermore Valley); $48. The first duty of Cabernet Franc is to be different from Cabernet Sauvignon. Otherwise, what’s the point? This small production (249 cases) bottling certainly is. While it has weight, it’s lighter in color and silkier than Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s also redder in fruits: not black currants and cassis, but cherries and kirsch. Thoroughly dry, it exhibits quite a lot of complexity, showing earthy tea notes, dried mushrooms and smoky new oak. User alert: it’s very tannic. We’re talking palate lockdown, although a great steak might prove a worthy opponent. Will it age? I don’t think it will beyond five years. My advice to Steven Kent is to figure out a way to manage those tannins in future vintages. Score: 90 points.


Charles Smith 2015 Boom Boom Syrah (Washington State): $18. Boom Boom is the right terminology. This is a big, rich, dense, robust Syrah. It’s jam-packed with flavor: blackberries, mulberries, shaved dark chocolate, coffee and teriyaki beef, with black pepper accents and a smoky oakiness. The color is inky black, the tannins dense but fine, and there’s a welcoming bite of acidity. With a totally dry finish and an alcohol level of just 13.5%, it’s quite food-friendly. Drink now. Score: 90 points.


Geyser Peak 2015 River Ranches Sauvignon Blanc (Russian River Valley): $22. Aromatically, heaps of lemongrass and freshly-mown hay characterize this bone dry, crisp 100% Sauvignon Blanc. If there’s any oak at all (the tech notes don’t say, unfortunately), it’s not evident. In the mouth, juicier notes of figs and spearmint emerge, but it’s still a rather severe wine, and quite a good one in that style. I think of Chinese food, or shellfish, or feta cheese, or drinking it as a stylish appetizer. The alcohol is a refreshingly low 13.5%, and 1,590 cases were produced. Score: 91 points.


Geyser Peak 2013 Walking Tree Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley): $30. This is a very nice Cabernet, rich and delicious. It has a ripe Cab’s classic flavors of crushed blackberries and mocha, while the addition of 7% Petite Sirah seems to add a peppery mushu plum sauce taste. The tannins are ultra-smooth and the wine is a little on the soft side, suggesting immediate drinkability. Thirty bucks is the suggested retail price, but I’ve seen this wine for $20 or less. If you can get it for that price, it’s a lovely sipper for summer steaks. Score: 90 points.


Miro 2014 Coyote Ridge Vineyard Reserve Petite Sirah (Dry Creek Valley): $TK. This delivers just what you’d expect from a Dry Creek Petite Sirah. It’s dry, heady and incredibly rich in blackberry jam, brown sugar and coffee flavors. The tannins are thick and hard, and there’s a nice burst of acidity. A big, big wine, dark and voluptuous, ideal for barbecue. The official alcohol level is 14.5%. Score: 88 points.


Geyser Peak 2015 Water Bend Chardonnay (Sonoma County): $26. Oaky and superripe, with vanilla, sweet cream and honey-infused tropical fruit and apricot jam flavors. It’s the kind of Chardonnay you either like or don’t. I do. It’s rich, soft, a little sweet and eminently drinkable. The alcohol is 14.5%, and 632 cases were produced. Score: 87 points.


Stanton Vineyards 2014 Petite Sirah (St. Helena); $45. This is textbook Petite Sirah, in the black color, the massive extract and the solid tannins. The flavors are blackberries, ripe and sweet and rather liqueur-like, due to 15.3% alcohol. There’s a milk-chocolate richness, too, but the wine actually is dry. The tannins are evident, but they’re in the modern style: soft and finely-ground. The oak overlay shows up in the form of smoky vanilla. I am bothered by something “off” in the aroma. It could by pyrazine, indicating a celery unripeness; it could be a bit of mold. Score: 87 points.


Parducci 2013 Small Lot Petite Sirah (Mendocino County): $?. This is a decent sipper for stews, barbecue and such. It’s dry, smooth and easy to drink, with blackberry, tea, tobacco, cocoa dust, anise and pepper flavors. The acid-tannin balance is gentle. Try it as an alternative to Zinfandel or Merlot. Score: 87 points.


Zin-Phomaniac 2015 Old Vine Zinfandel (Lodi): $15. The price is the main attraction on this Zinfandel. The connoisseur crowd will object that it’s too ripe and plummy, too chocolatey, too hot, and has some unevenly ripened fruit. That’s all true, but it is a savory mouthful of wine, with a flood of raspberry jam, caramel, vanilla and spicy flavors. I call it a barbecue wine, and for fifteen bucks or less, there’s nothing wrong with that. Score: 86 points.


Steven Kent 2014 Ghielmetti Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Livermore Valley); $65. I find this 100% Cabernet too brawny for my tastes. If you’re a fan of fruit, you’ll like the blackberry jam, chocolate macaroon, spice and toasty oak flavors. The tannins are very fine and smoothly-ground, and there’s a nice bite of acidity. The year 2014 was of course a drought year, and while the official alcohol here is a modest 13.9%, I also detect overripe prune notes. Don’t bother aging it. Score: 86 points.


Charles Smith 2014 Eve Chardonnay (Washington State): $13. The winery says this Chard has no new oak and was aged in barrel for only five months, but it tastes oaky to me. Either that, or it’s tired, with the fruit dropping out and the oak sticking out. The tropical fruits are turning apricotty. It’s okay, but I can’t really say I like it, even at this price. Score: 84 points.


Tie Dye 2014 Red Wine (North Coast); $15. This is a pretty bland wine. Comprised of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Grenache, it’s soft, dry and dull, with vegetal overtones. You’ll find enough flavor to make it acceptable for drinking with simple fare. Score: 82 points.

A letter to a tea party Republican who thinks I’m an “elitist”



“Cockney patriotism,” they used to call it back in the 1890s and early 1900s in Britain: conservative, uneducated working class men, a lumpen proletariat of dispossessed souls, mostly failures in their own lives, whose injured pride sustained itself through identifying with England’s position as the world’s great colonial power. “Hooligan imperialism” they also called it: the yahoo-jingoistic patriotism of slum-dwelling Londoners who flew the Union Jack and roared for more colonies in India, South Africa, Afghanistan, Iran, Egypt, Ceylon, West Africa—wherever British military power had pounded subject peoples into submission.

Why the cockneys—the poor denizens of East London’s slums—should have supported the imperialist efforts of the landed aristocracy that exploited and despised them has never been satisfactorily explained, but we can look to our own modern example of “cockney patriotism” in the tea party and its affiliated side-groupings. Here, too, we see uneducated, laboring people expressing a jingoistic patriotism that loves to watch Donald Trump drop the Mother of All Bombs on foreign countries where dark-skinned “terrorists” threaten American values; laboring people who clamor for tax cuts for the tax-dodging plutocrats who cheat them every day of their lives; white hooligans whose angry and often violent lives can find no greater cause than to celebrate that notorious working-class hero, Donald J. Trump.

Who are these people? One commented to a post of mine yesterday on my Facebook feed, where I’d put up a map of red and blue counties in the 2016 election and pointed out the scary reality that many of those red districts are populated by furious white men with guns. My interlocutor, whom I’ll call Jocko, wrote: Hopefully you will wake up at some point. The people on the red parts of your map do not enjoy the elitist lifestyle of a wine critic. They are struggling to put food on their table and support their families. Trump offered to help them, Clinton called them deplorables. You keep that dialog going with your hateful posts and elitist bias. The Democratic Party needs to address the economic needs of these people or continue to lose easy to work elections. The Jobs That Weren’t Saved – TIME

Let me address Jocko, who is the millennial son of two old friends of mine. What exactly is the “elitist lifestyle” you refer to? You’ve stolen that maligning phrase from Rush Limbaugh (is he a favorite of yours?), but you right wingers never quite define what or whom you’re referring to—it’s just a stupid buzz word for “People I hate.” What is so objectionable about my “lifestyle,” Jocko? Am I an elitist because I live in the Bay Area? There are about 7 million of us in and around San Francisco. Are we all “elite”? Do you know anything about my “lifestyle”? I suspect it’s not much different than yours. I wake up in the morning, take a leak, brew some coffee, chow down some breakfast, brush my teeth, feed my dog, walk him, and get on with my day. But wait, you offer a clue to your resentment with your nasty smear that I am a “wine critic.” Aha! Now we’re getting someplace. I suppose if I were a brick layer, or a plumber, or even a beer critic, you would show me a little love. But a “wine critic”!!! I must be effete. I must consider myself “better” than others. I must be swirling and sniffing with my elite, effete, intellectual pals, sipping Chardonnay and nibbling on brie, while you workers suffer at your pitiful jobs and struggle to underwrite your miserable little existences. I and my elite friends sit around laughing at you slobs, with your lunch buckets and and snotty little children.

Is that what you think? That’s in your head, Jocko. Since when did you and your tea party become the god-given champions of “poor people struggling to put food on their tables”? Who the hell gave America social security, unions, unemployment insurance, Medicare, pensions, healthcare for all, the 40-hour work week, child labor protection laws, the minimum wage, anti-discrimination laws, gay marriage? The Democratic Party you insult, Jocko; you Republicans did all you could to oppose the slightest break for working people. It’s Democrats who help working people survive a system that is by, for and of the rich—the billionaire class your president is hell-bent on making even richer. Do you really think Rex Tillerson and Betsy DeVos are on your side, or on the side of working people? Do you really think Trump is? I have news for you: Donald Trump wouldn’t let you anywhere near Mar-a-Lago, with your calloused hands, unkempt fingernails and scruffy sneakers. Donald Trump’s numerous wives and mistresses—who knows how many he’s had and discarded?—were spoiled gold diggers who gladly took his money for designer clothes and lavish parties—parties to which you’ll never be invited, unless it’s as a serving boy.

My ”elite” friends are skateboard kids, tattoo people, surfers, Uber drivers, waiters, personal trainers, retired people living on pensions, commuters, school teachers, comedians, nurses, winemakers, secretaries, musicians. I don’t hang around with Eric Trump, going on African safaris to kill innocent beasts. I don’t party on Mykonos with Jared and Ivanka. I don’t belong to a Trump golf club where the Goldman Sachs crowd trades insider secrets while plotting out ways to fuck people like you. That’s Donald Trump and his family you’re thinking of, and the Republican party hacks like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, contriving to take away your grandma’s diabetes coverage while they con you into thinking they’re on your side (knowing that you’re gullible enough to believe them). Be angry with Republicans, Jocko, not with me and my friends, because we’re just like you.

How did they get to you, Jocko? I mean, the right wing. You’ve heard them denounce Hillary Clinton all your life and now you hate her too. What a coincidence! How did these Republicans infiltrate your mind and make you so angry and resentful? I knew your parents. They were loving people, hippies who believed in justice, peace, compassion and fairness. Now here you are, talking about physically assaulting people on the left. Perhaps we’ll see you in Berkeley, wearing your little MAGA cap, with brass knuckles and a chain, bashing liberal heads during the next Ann Coulter rally. That’s why you people are deplorable: not because you’re poor, but because you run on one gear: Hate of “the other.”

When did you turn into such a piece of work? You are America’s own “cockney patriot,” Jocko, a worker who props up his self-worth by identifying with a bully and sexual predator who makes more in one day than you’ll earn in your entire life—and doesn’t give a crap about you. Is Trump really what you admire? Would you leave your daughter alone with him? Does he really exemplify the values your wonderful parents instilled in you?

You tell me I hate “trailer trash.” No, Jocko, I don’t hate people who live in trailers. I hate people who are bigots, homophobes, xenophobes, people who countenance sexual assault, people who try to impose their religion on everybody else, people who bash Mexicans and Muslims, white people who think they’re God’s gift to the world just because they’re white, people who are so stupid that they vote for politicians who want to destroy them.

OMG. Talk about waking up, Jocko, my little Cockney patriot. #Sad.

Hello Mueller: thoughts on the Special Counsel



So Democrats got what they wanted: a special counsel.

It happened sooner than I expected; I think probably no one expected it this fast. But after the Comey diary was revealed, Republicans apparently realized they can either hop on the train, or get run over by it. They chose to hop on. The administration, said to be frustrated and angry, broke under the strain. Enter, Robert Mueller.

And now what? One immediate result, it seems to me, is a certain slowing down of the breaking news. Nothing is likely to happen now concerning RussiaGate for a long time. Many months, at least; possibly years. There’s just so much stuff for Mueller to look into. I think Democrats were hoping to be rid of Trump sooner rather than later; I personally thought he’d be gone by late summer. Now, that doesn’t appear likely. The push to impeach him obviously will stall; Republicans can say, “Let’s let the special counsel do his job.” And there is some sense to that. It’s too bad, because I do believe Trump is an imminent danger to this country and the world, and a moral offense to all of us; the sooner we can get rid of him, the better. So maybe this development is good news for him. If he can get a little breathing room, and stop with the insane tweets, maybe he’ll be able to knuckle down and actually get to play president.

What can we expect, when Mueller issues his report? Some people are likely to be charged with crimes. Who knows who they’ll be? Flynn, probably (for lying to the FBI). But we really don’t know if other crimes have been committed. Perhaps this has just been a series of really stupid, inappropriate, unprofessional—but non-criminal—behaviors by Trump’s men. We just don’t know yet. Is Trump himself in danger? We don’t know that either. Democrats should be prepared for Mueller to find him blameless. It could well turn out that he did nothing wrong, nothing illegal. He might have been a useful idiot for Putin, and shown incredibly bad judgment, but that’s not against the law. So it will be very important for Democrats to oppose Trump on policy matters and not just sit back and hope he’s indicted. Democrats simply cannot assume Mueller will break their way, so let’s not get triumphalist quite yet. But we can continue to oppose Trump for his moral failings and lack of character. One of these days, Christians are going to have to decide how much longer they care to support such a reprehensible person.

It will be very nice if Mueller is able to see Trump’s taxes, which he seems to have the power to demand regardless of how much Trump wants to conceal them. That doesn’t mean Mueller is obligated to let the rest of us see them. As part of the taxes, of course, Mueller will want to be aware of every single business tie Trump has with Russia and anyone remotely connected to Russia. That’s a good thing. Why would Trump be fighting so hard to keep his financial dealiings secret, if he wasn’t afraid of something he doesn’t want the public, or the Justice Department, to know? We, the American people, need to know if he or his family or associates have sold out our country for profit.

Democrats and liberals—those who become part of The Resistance—ought to be very proud of this development. It would never have happened without us. It has been my privilege to have worked with The Resistance since early last September, when I changed the topic of my blog from wine to politics with the specific aim in mind of opposing Trump. We have done well, my fellow Resisters. Now, it’s on to the 2018 off-year elections. Be well, of good cheer, and never flag.

An open letter to Republican Congressman Zeldin



I saw Republican congressman Lee Zeldin (from the 1st district in New York, which is eastern Long Island) interviewed yesterday on television about Trump, and in particular Trump’s leak of classified information to the Russians. The question the reporter repeatedly asked (I paraphrase) was the same question I, and many others, have been asking for months: What will it take for congressional Republicans to finally be done with this catastrophic president?

One hopes against hope to find a Republican who will voice what most of us are feeling: alarm and disgust. The closest we seem to get is people like Lindsay Graham and John McCain, who tease us with occasional expressions of discomfort, but then reliably retreat back into their comfort zone of partisan politics, standing by their man even though they want us to understand (wink, wink) that they know he’s insane. So I listened closely to Rep. Zeldin. With an open, candid and likeable face—and he’s not from some super-red yahoo district, but the Hamptons, for gosh sakes—Zeldin had the opportunity to reassure anxious Americans that he, at least, is one Republican who’s starting to have major worries.

Unfortunately, Zeldin blew the opportunity. Instead, he professed his love of Trump’s policies. He issued the standard “slight misgivings” about some of the antics in the White House, but—again, I paraphrase—the substance of his remarks was, “As long as Trump helps the conservative cause, I’ll let him get away with all the stupid stuff.”

Alright, Congressman Zeldin, from one fellow New Yorker—me—to another–you.  We’re not that different, you know. We’re both Jewish. We both love our country and have a sense of history. I have a sense you were raised with the same moral values as I was, imbued in you by your parents, grandparents and Jewish mentors. What are these Jewish values? There are 613 commandments in the Old Testament, but we can boil down the essence of Jewish law to one utmost, absolute expression of the law: Justice. “Let justice roll on like a river,”  thundered the prophet Amos.

What is “justice”? It is what San Francisco Rabbi Michael Lerner describes as an economic system, an education system, a legal system, a political system, a world based on love, kindness, generosity, justice and peace.” But, Rep. Zeldin, in your president Trump, we have a man who seems to stand for the opposite of these values: anger, grievance, greed, hostility, resentment, falsehoods. Do you find “love” in Donald J. Trump? Do you detect it in his tweets?

Dive deeper with me, Rep. Zeldin, into a Jewish understanding of justice. Justice encompasses specific recommendations for right behavior:

  • Love they neighbor.
  • Do not hate.
  • Do not gossip (lashon hara), for speaking badly of others helps destroy the world.
  • Do not take revenge or bear a grudge.
  • Judge others fairly.
  • Distance yourself from falsehood.
  • Do not steal.
  • Do not covet or desire what is not yours. (This includes women’s pussies.)
  • Pay your bills on time (this is the Talmudic concept of “bal tolin,” “do not delay.” It means to pay your financial obligations in a timely manner.)

Rep. Zeldin, please consider each item on the above list. In your heart, ask yourself, Does Donald Trump love his neighbor? Does he hate? Does he speak badly of others? Does he bear grudges? Is he a fair judge of others, particularly those many he calls his enemies? Has he distanced himself from falsehoods? Does he pay his bills on time? Does he covet what is not his? Is he a vengeful man?

Congressman, you know that Donald Trump is not a good man. Not that it’s necessary for American presidents to be saints, but we should at the very least demand they conform to the basics of moral behavior. You know that this president does not rise even to that elemental level of decency.

Congressman, it is always hard for us mere humans when we have to decide between a moral position and a pragmatic one, when the two are in conflict, as they so often are. Making the right choice is never easy—and is harder in the case of a politician, such as yourself, who has to answer to his constituents. But let me point something out to you: Even if you moved against Trump, as you should, and even if a large part of your party also moved against him, so that he was forced to resign, or be impeached, the Republican agenda would be safe. You’d still have Pence. The GOP platform would be in reliable hands. So asking you to move against Trump isn’t like asking Abraham to kill his son. It’s not that heavy a sacrifice. It would be, in Jewish law, a mitzvah: not simply a commandment, but a good deed, for America, for your constituents, for the Jewish people, and—perhaps most importantly—for your own soul.

P.S. It would also save you a lot of tsuris!

The anti-anti-Trump movement gathers steam



Two reports from yesterday suggest things are actually worse in this country than I’d thought. One traced the “anti-anti-Trump” movement. The other showed a group of (mostly white male) protesters at a rally chanting “Russia is our friend.”

The “anti-anti-Trump” movement consists of individuals who feel that Trump must be doing something right every time he gets liberals mad at him.” They display a combination of “the tribal instinct to circle the wagons around President Trump and the sheer glee that comes from seeing how angry he makes liberals.”

Perfectly understandable, I suppose, from the point of view of:

  1. Right wingers who hate “coastal elites” and everything they stand for
  2. Religious extremists who don’t care about the character of their leader as long as the content of his policies comports with their views
  3. White males whose anger at seeing the country become increasingly diversified is inclining them to violence.

The term “sheer glee” points to the game-like quality that motivates these extreme Trump supporters. They see this as some sort of Hunger Games, a dystopian combat in which they get to dress up in military gear, open-carry their assault guns, and in general borrow from the congenial street spirit of Hitler’s Sturmabteilung (S.A.), the brown-shirted paramilitary fighters of the early Nazi regime. These were men who fought for their Nazi ideas (to the extent they had any) but also for the joy of fighting: drawing and shedding blood, and sometimes murdering, gave their otherwise meaningless lives meaning.

The anti-anti Trump movement’s base continues to be talk radio. Their ideological fathers are Pat Buchanan, Joseph McCarthy and George Wallace; their guiding ideology is that “America’s cosmopolitan, deracinated ruling elite ha[s] betrayed the white Christians to whom the country truly belonged.”

Who are the anti-anti-Trumpists, in particular? They are the “self-described supporters of white culture” who gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. Here’s a map of red and blue counties in the 2016 election; we must assume that all that red stuff is populated by anti-anti-Trumpists.

The Charlottesville demonstrators were the alt.right; they lit torches, Nuremberg-style, for their nighttime parade and repeatedly chanted “Russia is our friend.” What is shocking about this, of course, is that if anyone else was president now—Democrat or Republican—this mob of America Firsters would be denouncing communist Russia, as the right has for the last 70 years. But part of being anti-anti-Trump is that anything his opponents dislike must, by definition, be something they like. This suggests, naturally, that their mental processes are warped: reality has turned upside-down in their minds, something George Orwell anticipated at the end of Animal Farm, when the animals realize “they can no longer distinguish which of the cardplayers are pigs and which are human beings.” The anti-anti-Trumpists similarly no longer care what is good for America and what is bad; all they care about is the “sheer glee” of being perverse.

Things have come to a pretty pass with these related developments. I must assume that the 35%-40% of Trump’s support that continues to remain steady consists of these anti-anti-Trumpists. That’s an awful lot of Americans who may be suffering from some form of mental illness. Given their immunity to reality, there’s probably nothing Trump could do that would cause them to turn against him. Knowing that emboldens Trump; he already shows authoritarian, if not dictatorial, instincts. A more assured Trump may make moves towards dissolving the free press, and indeed he is likely to move against any person or institution he sees as his enemy—which is a lot of people and institutions. And given the willful impotence of Republicans in Congress, there may be nothing to stand between the continued existence of our liberal democracy and a Trump triumph that could destroy it.

So take another look at the county map I posted above. Trump is said to keep a copy of it on his Oval Office desk, to remind him that no matter how much the “media elites” attack him, he’s still beloved by “the people.” All that red represents a lot of pissed off white Americans; they have guns, and they should scare the hell out of you.


The appalling blindness of evangelicals: “In the lake that burns”



Trump spoke at Liberty “University” over the weekend. I put the word “university” in quotes because this Jerry Falwell-founded project isn’t a real institution of higher learning so much as a Christian madrasa, designed to brainwash students in religious hogwash.

“Evangelism and Christian Life” and “The Person and Work of Christ” are some of the more popular courses. Yes, you can study “IT Structure” and “Nursing Management” but Liberty’s real purpose, according to their mission statement, is to graduate “Christ-centered men and women…to impact the world.” And by “impact,” of course, they mean “convert” the heathens. Naturally, Trump was received with rapturous (you’ll forgive the pun) applause from these people, who seem to conveniently forget (if they ever knew) that he is an unChristian, amoral man who sexually assaults women without their permission, doesn’t pay his bills (and probably not his taxes), lies repeatedly, insults everybody, probably has sold out America’s interests to the Russians, trashes the Constitution, and in general gives the middle finger to everything that Christians profess to believe in.

Very Christ-like!

But Republicans continue to stand by their man. As John Dean, on MSNBC Saturday, noted, “As long as [Trump]’s got support from his base, Republicans aren’t going to touch him.”

What the heck do they teach those students at Liberty anyway? I wonder if the faculty laughs up their sleeves in the Master of Theology in Homiletics class when they instruct budding preachers how to deliver sermons on such Jesus sayings as “For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?” If there were honest conversations at Liberty “University,” they’d go like this:

Student: “Do you think Donald Trump, who has gained the world, possesses a soul?”

Teacher: “No. I think he sold his soul to the devil. I wouldn’t let my daughter near him.  But as long as he’s in favor of lowering taxes, increasing military spending, charter schools, building that Mexican wall, ending gay marriage, shutting down the Environmental Protection Agency, mining coal, sticking it to the Hollywood elite, and stopping abortion, I’m for him.”

As we know from the New Testament, Jesus often preached about deporting illegal immigrants, lowering taxes, and the advantages of coal. But seriously, what Jesus did say about politics can be summed up in “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Unfortunately, at Liberty, and indeed throughout the evangelical community, the true meaning of Jesus’s words is twisted into advancing the political goals of the far right wing of the Republican Party. They have mutated Jesus’s homily to “Render unto Trump everything, and as for God, may he forgive us for enabling The Beast.”

I’ve been around for a long time and have studied the demographic groups within America, including my own, trying to fathom what makes them tick. What are their ideals, their dreams? What do they hope to accomplish? Upon what assumptions do they base their beliefs? What groups advance our American ideals, and what groups threaten them? And time and time again, I conclude that the most dangerous group in America is evangelicals. I despair of their inability to think critically. I wince at their smugness. I cringe at the abandon with which they throw away their God-given reasoning skills and substitute an evidence-free belief in superstition and myth. I take grave offense at the ease with which they consign whole swaths of humankind to the fires of hell, while they believe themselves—with their many sins—guaranteed entry into heaven. I denounce their intrusion into politics, and their wanton lust to turn America into a Christian theocracy, if necessary, by force. Most of all, I hate their sucking up to this sick, morally unfit, crass, vulgar and mendacious president. Liberty “University” students and faculty and administrators, look in the mirror and see what you have become: useful idiots to the Republican Party, conservative stooges who conceal your distemper behind a fake veneer of love. Your President Trump is Christian in name only. He is the opposite of Christian: in your embrace of him, you have brought paganism into your inner sanctum and elevated idols unto godlike status. From the Book of Revelations: But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

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