Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day







Saturday, September 8, 2018


September 8, 2018
On September 6, The New York Times opinion page carried a column by an  anonymous “senior official in the Trump administration,” which denounces the President as an individual, and bewails his negative effect.  “The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.” His “leadership style . . . is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.”
However, the author and others are ever vigilant: “The erratic behavior would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes in and around the White House. Some of his aides have been cast as villains by the media. But in private, they have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing, though they are clearly not always successful.”
Reactions have included speculation as to the identity of the author; a rush by members of the Trump administration to deny being that person and to denounce such disloyal tactics; discussion of whether the Times editorial page staff should have published the column without demanding that the author identify himself; and speculation as to what the Times news department will do if it discovers his identity. 
The content of the column has received less attention, partly because its comments on Trump’s limited ability and erratic behavior are old news.  The one item attracting comment is its claim that insiders, including the author, have conspired to prevent Trump from making egregious mistakes. 
Many have commented that the author, rather than hiding behind anonymity, should have signed the article and then resigned, either as an admission of guilt or as a protest. However, that would not serve the author’s aims.  The column inadvertently reveals that the senior official is sticking with Trump, despite his incompetence and the danger of disastrous acts, because he can be used.
The most important aspect of the article is the agenda the author wishes to protect and advance.  He wraps it in a few clich├ęs: “We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous.”  He concedes that “the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives: “free minds, free markets and free people,” and Trump is “anti-trade.”  However, there are “bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture: effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.”  To   further such policies, the author will rely on his and others’ skill — and luck —to restrain the idiot. 
If Trump is as much a menace as the author states, and that seems clear, then the proper move is to initiate action under the Twenty-fifth Amendment.  He has rejected that because it would cause a constitutional crisis, as if having as President an unstable adolescent with autocratic tendencies, whose election was supported clandestinely by a foreign power, were not. Very well, resign in protest and go public.  No; tax cuts for the rich, freedom to pollute and throwing more money at the fiscally irresponsible military are too important.
That’s what is wrong about the column and the author’s program: risking disaster to protect a reactionary agenda.  The Times shouldn’t have given that an implied endorsement.

Thursday, August 30, 2018


August 30, 2018
     Donald Trump is a bad joke as a President, which raises a fundamental question: how did we get stuck with him?  He was chosen by our odd, anti-democratic electoral system, having lost the popular vote by over 2.8 million votes.  However, he drew almost 63 million votes, more than any presidential candidate other than Barack Obama.  Much of what is known about him now was known in 2016, so why did so many vote for him?  Looking at it from the other side, why do so many still support him?  
     Let’s deal with the electoral system first.  The Constitution provides for the process in Article II, Section 1.  Each State has “a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of  Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.”  As all but two states [44] award all of their electoral votes to the popular winner in that state, the system is a hybrid of a popular vote within a state and a final, weighted, vote by states, the latter element being a relic of the Eighteenth Century.   Twice in a period of sixteen years we have “elected” the candidate the people rejected.[45]
     The odds of amending the Constitution to eliminate this procedure are slim.  A somewhat better chance is offered by the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement between states to award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.  It has been enacted by states possessing 172 of the necessary 270 electoral votes.[46]
     The popularity question is less easily answered.  The rabid crowds at Trump’s rallies are not a true picture of his supporters, as they certainly are the most disaffected, least informed and most easily misled.  However, we can’t get away from the fact that 80% of Republicans state their approval of him in poll after poll.
     Trump sometimes is described as a populist, an oddity for one who lost the popular vote, and his agenda clearly is tilted toward the wealthy and powerful, so he’s not a populist in terms of policy.  Enthusiastic support is understandable from those benefitted by tax cuts and deregulation, but the reason for support by ordinary folk is less obvious.  One factor is simply party loyalty, a powerful impulse in a time of polarization, but there is more to it: a mood of resentment, rebellion and reaction, one facet of which is white nationalism.  
     Less than six years ago we reelected a black semi-liberal by a margin of almost five million votes; has the electorate changed radically in that time?   About eight million more people voted in 2016 than in 2012, but that is only the sixth-highest increase by percentage between presidential years since 1964, and it isn’t likely that all the new voters were reactionaries. 
     There is an argument, widely accepted, that “Trump Democrats,” those who voted for Obama but switched to Trump, were his key to success.  However, that doesn’t seem to stand up to scrutiny; as Dana Milbank put it in a recent column, “The number of Obama-to-Trump voters turns out to be smaller than thought.  And those Obama voters who did switch to Trump were largely Republican voters to start with. The aberration wasn’t their votes for Trump but their votes for Obama.”[47]
     The  theory that it was the working class that elected Trump founders, at least in part, on the definition of “working class,” those without a college degree; some very wealthy people lack those degrees. Income is a more significant index; “approximately three-quarters of Trump voters were from households earning more than the national median income. . . ." [48]
     There isn’t much doubt that the culture has worsened, so in that sense the people have changed for the worse.  However, the tie between that and voting patterns isn’t clear and, again, Obama was reelected in 2012.     Whatever change there may have been in the voting public since then, the more serious problem is that, in different ways, the parties have changed, not for the better, and those changes have led to the election of, and support for, Trump. 
     Democrats are viewed, with some justice, as wedded to an agenda which is foreign, in a cultural sense, elitist, and more concerned about minorities than the people in general.  Also, while trending to the left culturally, the Party has, in an odd exercise in cognitive confusion, become more conservative economically, becoming so cozy with business and finance as to present little reason to vote for Democrats on pocketbook issues.         
     Republicans have embraced, made peace with, or in some cases unintentionally reenforced the worst attitudes and arguments on the right.  An example of the last is given in a recent book by a Republican campaign strategist:  “After the 2010 elections, we learned to motivate and activate Tea Party voters. . . .”  Unfortunately, they were waiting, not for “a conservative revolution,” but  for ”a strongman, a caudillo, a Saddam.”[49]
     The Party’s unwillingness to oppose Trump encourages his base to believe he is doing the right things.  If Republicans refuse to accept facts, such as the evidence of climate change, and attack the media, it’s not surprising if many people believe nonsense and ignore the evidence of Trump’s unfitness for office.
     Republicans have claimed, for decades, that Democrats aren’t real Americans.  However, now they have help: the proliferation of right-wing television and internet commentary, spreading misinformation, recycling absurd conspiracy theories.  Fox News has been around since the Nineties, but it has become more rigidly biased.  Before “Hannity,” there was, until January, 2009, “Hannity and Colmes,” in which the latter made some attempt to put forth a liberal view.  Now Fox is a Trump echo chamber, and evangelical leaders, abandoning all concern about personal morals, lend support.    
     Although the culture is coarsening and people are less well educated politically, those are long-term trends.  The people haven’t undergone a radical, recent change and there is nothing new about the selfish rich, the bigoted or the foolish.   Properly guided, the majority can act rationally, but those with influence, political and otherwise, have led many of them down the wrong path, or have failed to lead at all.  The result is Trumpism.  The familiar King James version of Proverbs 29:18 tells us: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”  A more apt translation is found in the American Standard Version: “Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint.”
     The bad joke is still President, doing harm while his Party looks the other way and his legions applaud, but some encouragement might be taken from Proverbs 29:16: “When the wicked are in authority, transgression increases, but the righteous will look upon their downfall.”[50]

_________________________

44.
Maine and Nebraska award two electoral votes to the statewide winner, and one to each winner in a congressional district.

45. 
There is a more extended discussion of such elections prior to 2016 in my note of January 14, 2013.

46.
https://www.nationalpopularvote.com/

47.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/theres-no-such-thing-as-a-trump-democrat/2017/08/04/0d5d06bc-7920-11e7-8f39-eeb7d3a2d304_story.html?utm_term=.ab8e5f0d619e

48.
http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/blaming_working_class_for_trump_is_myth_that_
suits _ruling_class_20170707

49.
Rick Wilson, Everything Trump Touches Dies, p. 104

50.
Revised Standard Version; New Revised Standard

Monday, August 13, 2018


August 12, 2018
It’s interesting, although in my case humbling, to run through lists of the hundred greatest novels (or hundred books everyone should read, etc.), and keep score.  I did that earlier this year, and found that the lists do not reveal any criteria for inclusion or any obvious pattern to their choices, except for “BBC's Best Loved Novels of All Time.”  Even it includes many I’ve never heard of.
There is bound to be some variation, as not all of the lists have the same format.  Four of the ten that I found included only novels, and another only British novels.  However, the rest contained mostly novels (with various combinations of classics, plays, essays, children’s books or collections of short stories added), so there is good deal of overlap.
Only one entry made every list; appropriately in an age of doublespeak and perpetual war, it is Orwell’s 1984. Jane Eyre appeared on nine.  Animal Farm, Catch-22, David Copperfield, Lord of the Flies and The Great Gatsby made eight.
Brave New World, Emma, Great Expectations, Lolita, Mrs. Dalloway, Midnight’s Children, One Hundred Years of Solitude, On the Road, Pride and Prejudice, The Catcher in the Rye and Ulysses made seven lists.

Included on six were A Passage to India,  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Anna Karenina, Brideshead Revisited, Crime and Punishment, Heart of Darkness, Madame Bovary, Middlemarch, Moby Dick, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird and Wuthering Heights.
Many of the other choices seem quirky, an impression reenforced by the fact that, of the 486  books which made up the lists, 271 appeared only once.  Of those, I counted 212 novels or novel series.  Several others are novellas or collections of short stories.
The oddest choice by far, appearing once, is Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche’s tale of a wandering guru.  Although I had read some of Nietzsche in college, and some later, I had avoided Zarathustra because of its obvious oddity.  When I discovered it on "99 Classic Books Challenge," I read it in an attempt to determine what could have led to its inclusion.  It certainly isn’t due to literary merit, at least in the translation referred to. Nietzsche wrote it in antique German, which reaches us in a form of English suggesting, in style, a bad first draft of the King James Bible.  (There are more modern translations, entitled Thus Spoke Zarathustra).  As to content, it often is incoherent, and when it makes sense, it is reprehensible.
Although the lists aren’t, or ought not to be taken as, a collection of what one “should” read, they do serve as a reminder that there are good books out there that otherwise are forgotten, overlooked or postponed.  I’ve noted a few.  We’ll see.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

August 1, 2018
Watching crowds at Trump rallies, I can’t help wondering whether Hillary Clinton was right, after all: these people are deplorable.  Certainly there are some such among them, for example racists.  However, many of them may well be good, even sensible people in another context, but politically they are not thinking clearly and are strangely unaware of the character of the man they cheer for.  Trump’s character isn’t a secret, and it hardly deserves approval.  True, some of them are worried about immigration, but can they condone forcibly separating parents and children and deporting the adults while the kids remain in custody? 

Though those at rallies may be the most extreme in their loyalty, polls show that Trump has retained the support of self-identified Republicans, and of independents leaning to the right, at baffling levels.

Why doesn’t his failure to make good on his populist promises convince voters that he’s either a phony or unable to perform, or both?  Why don’t they flee from his support of tax cuts for the rich? Haven’t they noticed that, far from draining any swamps, his administration is waist-deep in conflicts of interest?  His distance from ordinary people was underscored yesterday when, at a rally, he claimed: “You know, if you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card. You need ID.”

Don’t his attacks on our allies clash with making America great?  (Isolation isn’t strength).  Doesn’t his fawning over Putin and denial of Russian interference in the election make us look embarrassingly weak? Don’t his clumsy attempts at obstruction of the investigation reveal a guilty conscience?

Have his supporters not noticed that his own staff consider him to be slow-witted, some referring to him as an idiot?  His briefings must be light on text and feature pictures.  The President of the  European Commission had to use flash cards to explain trade to him.  That wasn’t surprising: his grasp of trade is so tenuous that he could say “trade wars are good and easy to win” before starting and losing them. 

Perhaps his fans watch Fox and swallow Trump’s claim that all other media are traitors.  Perhaps they follow Trump on Twitter, but his tweets should convince them that he is not the assertive leader that he claims to be.  He has a habit of issuing orders by Twitter, suggesting that he is afraid to confront others.  This morning at 6:24 a.m. he launched this: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now . . . .”   Administration by way of the fan base.

Many of his tweets reveal that he’s not playing with a full deck.  The prize may go to this one, which stretched over three segments, on Jan 6, 2018 at 5:30 a.m.:

“Now that Russian collusion, after one year of intense study, has proven to be a total hoax on the American public, the Democrats and their lapdogs, the Fake News Mainstream Media, are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence.....

“Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star....
   
“....to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius....and a very stable genius at that!”

The mere fact that he spends a good part of each day in bed tweeting, ought, in itself, to demonstrate that he is the political equivalent of crazy grandpa who should be put in a home.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018


July 31, 2018
My computer crashed early this month.  I now have a new one, and someday I may learn how to use it.  It has (ugh) Windows 10, and other innovations.  It s amazing that every “improved” software requires not only learning new methods but unlearning the useful old ones.  Continuity is not a priority. 
In contemporary politics, however, continuity definitely is present.  The events of the past few weeks, however stunning, have fit the existing pattern: the rush to turn the country into a backward, isolated autocracy.  Let’s begin with that former bulwark against corruption, the Supreme Court. 
Justice Kennedy announced his retirement.  He has been celebrated as a swing Justice, the implication being that replacement by a conservative would be a disastrous change.  As to some issues, the change indeed may be for the worse, but in general it would be business as usual.
Kennedy’s status as a disinterested jurist disappeared in 2000 with his vote, the crucial fifth, to award the presidency to George W. Bush.  Bush had lost the popular vote, so ensuring that the electoral count was made fairly was critical, and that hinged on the Florida recount.  The Court halted it, giving Florida’s electoral votes, and the Presidency, to Bush. Kennedy’s retirement prior to this year’s election, handing the replacement to Trump and the Republican Senate, confirms his political orientation.  Trump’s nominee to replace Kennedy, Brett Kavanaugh, represented Bush in the Florida case, bringing matters full circle.
Kennedy authored one of the worst opinions since, well, Bush v. Gore, in Citizens United v. FEC.  By any standard — legal reasoning, use of precedent, common-sense logic or real-world implications — the opinion is a travesty of jurisprudence. It is, in short, a surrender to corporations and to the power of money in politics.  Another attack on free, democratic elections came in Shelby County v. Holder, in which the Court gutted the Voting Rights Act.  The majority opinion, in that case written by Roberts, joined by Kennedy, again is one which cannot withstand scrutiny.   He joined the majority in District of Columbia v. Heller which gave Constitutional sanction to a distorted and dangerous view of “gun rights.” 
 And so on.    Kennedy’s replacement might well follow a similar pattern.  
 President Trump went to Helsinki to meet Putin, for reasons known only to them; certainly there was no likely advantage to the country Trump allegedly represents.  In a post-meeting joint press conference, he confirmed, underlined, made embarrassingly clear his regard for and subservience to the Russian dictator.  That, combined with his attacks on NATO, the EU and the G7, make clear that he cannot be trusted with our interests or those of our allies. 
Back home, reading a script, he attempted to explain away one of his pro-Putin, Russia-didn’t-interfere remarks.  It deservedly fell flat, and did nothing to silence criticism.  Revealing again his thin skin, Trump then acted in typically childish fashion by threatening to remove security clearance from his critics.   Putin has invited Trump to another meeting, which no doubt would be another disaster.        
The President and the leader of Iran engaged in a battle of words, Trump’s of course being on Twitter (in all caps, showing that he really, really means it), the principal effect of which was to demonstrate that neither of them should be in charge of policy. 
Many immigrant children and parents remain apart, and some never may be united.   Yes, there is continuity.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

June 29, 2018
            Donald Trump continues to demonstrate his unfitness to hold the office of President, or any other position of responsibility.  In the face of public outcry over child separation, he staged another of his look-I-can-sign-my-name events with an order which does nothing to reunite those already separated and leaves the zero-tolerance policy in place.             
            He is well on his way to destroying our alliances.  One aspect of that is his imposition of tariffs, leading to retaliatory imposts on our exports.  Back in February, 2017, Trump extolled Harley-Davidson as "a true American icon, one of the greats."  He thanked the company for "building things in America."  No doubt he didn’t intend to discourage the company’s producing motorcycles here, but that is what he did, by starting a trade war.  The EU now has imposed tariffs on American-made Harleys, so the company  is planning to avoid them by manufacturing abroad those intended for Europe.  Trump now has attacked the company and threatened to tax its motorcycles imported from overseas plants, apparently unaware that those sold here will be manufactured here.           
            Other industries also are about to feel the backlash from Trump’s trade tirade, in the form of tariffs imposed by the EU, China, Canada or Mexico. America’s largest  manufacturer of nails has laid off employees and may go out of business due to the increased cost of material and its effect on prices.  It will be interesting to see whether the President’s supporters will vote their pocketbooks next time.  
            The child-separation initiative resulted from bias, political calculation — confidence that an anti-immigration stance always would be a winner among the base — and a lack of moral sense great enough to blind him to the likely backlash.  The tariffs seem to have originated in a belief that the world is taking advantage of us; Trump would show the world who’s in charge.  The strategy would be economic warfare, encapsulated in his inane tweet, "trade wars are good, and easy to win." Ignorant may be too mild a term to explain that; delusional would be more apt.     
            Then there is his notion of diplomacy.  After his meeting with Kim, Trump declared "that there “is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.,” and “Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office.  Well, no.  Despite the boasting, Trump sent a report to Congress on June 22 stating: "The existence and risk of proliferation of weapons-usable fissile material on the Korean Peninsula and the actions and policies of the Government of North Korea continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States."  Accordingly, he said, "I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency with respect to North Korea" declared in Executive Orders stretching back to 2010.
            Trump seems unable to resist saying, or tweeting, the first thing that pops into his head, regardless of truth or effect, or even the likelihood of looking foolish.  Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently was asked to leave a restaurant because the owner disapproved of her association with the administration.  Trump responded by calling the restaurant filthy, but it has a far better health record that several of his.  Obviously he never learned about glass houses and stones.
            The immigrant-child issue has caused a decline in Trump’s approval ratings, according to Gallup, from 45 positive (his high) - 50 negative, to 41 positive - 55 negative.  Approval  among Republicans went from 90 to 87.  The Donald has a different view, or views. At a rally on June 25, he offered this analysis, apparently unaware of (or ignoring) the drop announced that day: “We’ve never had higher polls than we have now,” he said. “Even Gallup, who treats me horribly. You know polls are fake news also, you know? What they do, it’s called suppression. They put out these horrible polls, and then they hope that everyone’s going to say ‘Hey, I like Trump, but he’s got no chance of winning.’ Suppression. It should be illegal, actually."  My numbers are great, but if they aren’t, here’s why, and there ought to be a law.
            In truth, those numbers are, even after the decline, bafflingly high considering his record, ability and tendencies.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

June 19, 2018

Along, no doubt, with many others, I have wondered how low the Trump administration can go. The answer has been given, at least until something more despicable comes along: separating children, including infants, from parents. The government has refused to stop this practice despite complaints by loyal supporters such as Franklin Graham, and by three former First Ladies. Trump has added hypocrisy to the mix by pretending to disapprove the practice. He and his Homeland Security Secretary have tried to shift blame to the Democrats for a policy announced by the current, Republican, Attorney General.
Sessions has attempted to justify that practice by citing the Bible, a ploy which presents several aspects. He referred to Romans 13, and paraphrased verse 1: "obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes." There is no law requiring separation, so apparently he means that laws against illegal immigration must be enforced. Some have entered illegally only because our border agents have refused asylum, leaving illegal entry the only option for those afraid to go back. In any case, enforcing immigration law does not require separation; that simply is the chosen, barbaric, way of discouraging entry.
Romans Chapter 13 also was cited in support of slavery — we must uphold laws of slave states and the Fugitive Slave Act— a history which resonates through Sessions’ southern accent. Sessions’ reading probably is not accurate exegesis, but that’s hardly the point. The use of proof texts is bad enough in religious debate; to resort to it in defense of a government policy demonstrates that policy’s lack of merit.
One measure of Trump’s failure to make America great is the condemnation of the policy of separation by the United Nations Commission for Human Rights. In a statement which labors the obvious for an administration unable to see it, a spokeswoman for the Commission said this:
The use of immigration detention and family separation as a deterrent runs counter to human rights standards and principles. The child’s best interest should always come first, including over migration management objectives or other administrative concerns. . . . Detention is never in the best interests of the child and always constitutes a child rights violation. . . . We call on the US authorities to adopt non-custodial alternatives that allow children to remain with their families and fulfil the best interests of the child, their right to liberty and their right to family life.
Does this abandonment of civilized principle, this international embarrassment matter to voters? Trump’s job approval rating is, according to Gallup, at an all-time high.