Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

December 4, 2018
 George H.W. Bush died on Friday.  His passing reminds us that there was a time when a Republican President was a decent man, knowledgeable about and experienced in government, and when the United States was not an object of puzzlement and derision.  His note to Bill Clinton, after losing the 1992 election to him — “Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you” — epitomizes his distance from the current incumbent, who can’t stop trashing Hillary. 
 He served his country in many ways.  Sadly, his party has ceased to serve — or, at times, even recognize — the country’s interests.  Its  support for the buffoon who is degrading the office Bush held is not entirely surprising, as the degenerate condition of the Republican Party made a Trump presidency possible. 
 A number of conservative commentators have rebelled against Trump and what the Party has become.  One is Jennifer Rubin, the prolific columnist for The Washington Post:
Trump’s performance also revealed the degree to which the right has become intellectually corrupt but also bereft of anything resembling traditional values or simple decency. . . . In sum, Trump represents a party that now embraces (or is resigned to) intellectual rot and moral nihilism.[60]
Again: “After one has tried for a decent interval to admonish and reform the GOP, isn’t the only course, if one wishes to preserve one’s own sense of decency and honor, to resign from and disassociate oneself from the GOP?”[61]
Another new critic is Max Boot, who has, indeed, abandoned the Republican Party, which he  describes as having fallen into the hands of “neocons.”  He redefines that term as “neo-Confederates:”
It is hard to remember that Republicans were once the Party of Lincoln. . . . [L]eaders such as George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney had been trying to appeal to minority and moderate voters. But with his pandering to white grievances, Trump has abetted the rise of the neo-Confederates.[62]
Perhaps some day Trump will go so far down the road to inept authoritarianism, or his misdeeds will become so obvious, that Republicans in Congress will desert him and move in a new direction.  A slightly positive sign is the preliminary vote in the Senate to withdraw support for Saudi Arabia’s attacks on Yemen, partly a reaction to Trump’s support of the Crown Prince even after the Khashoggi murder.
President Bush said in his speech accepting the nomination in 1988, “I want a kinder and gentler nation.”  In his inaugural address, Bush spoke of “a thousand points of light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good.” Trump mocked both expressions, a perfect reflection of the distance between the two occupants of the Oval Office, and the distance the presidency, the GOP and the country have fallen.



61. wpmm=1

62. .5d5f72fe4aa2

Saturday, November 10, 2018

November 9, 2018
Bob Woodward’s latest book, Fear, essentially is a history of the late stages of the Trump campaign and the first year or so of his administration.  It is packed with quotes, suggesting considerable access to the players, but its narrative is so unstructured that, as I read it, it seemed not to have any overriding theme.  However, the author had suggested two. 
One, set forth in the Prologue, is this: “The . . . United States in 2017 was tethered to the words and actions of an emotionally overwrought, mercurial and unpredictable leader.  Members of the staff had joined to purposefully block some of what they believed were the president’s most dangerous impulses. It was a nervous breakdown of the executive power of the most powerful country in the world.”[56]  The story supports that summary; among other protective acts, aides surreptitiously removed papers from Trump’s desk to prevent his signing them.  I suppose that I didn’t recognize that as a significant thread because the portraits of Trump, and to some degree of the chaos in the White House, were familiar. 
The other theme, reflected in the title, appears on another introductory page.  It is a comment by Trump in an interview with the author in March, 2016: “Real power is — I don’t even want to use the word — fear.”[57]  No context is given.
Possibly Trump avoids the phrase, but the author did not.  In a passage referring to “private advice to a friend who had acknowledged some bad behavior toward women,”  Trump is quoted:  “You’ve got to deny, deny, deny and push back on these women. If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you’re dead. . . .  You showed weakness, You’ve got to be strong. You’ve got to be aggressive. You’ve got to deny anything that’s said about you.”[58]3  Woodward prefaced that quote with this anticipatory restatement: “Real power is fear. It’s all about strength.  Never show weakness. You’ve always got to be strong. Don’t be bullied.” Presumably he was summarizing Trump’s attitude, but the reference to fear doesn’t fit.  The quote is clear enough; the gloss wasn’t necessary, except to fit the story into the second theme.
That passage is part of a short, separate section which begins with a discussion of the relationship between Trump and his wife, and which is sandwiched between discussions of the Mueller investigation and tariffs.  That is typical of the episodic nature of the narrative.
Mr. Woodward inserted “Real power is fear” at two later points, one referring to Trump’s  threats, in business deals, to walk away, but applying it to NAFTA negotiations, the other concerning relations with North Korea.[59]  As with the reference to fear above, these are the author’s comments, not statements by Trump.  Again, they don’t quite fit the context, so they seemed to me to be an overreach. 
However, Trump’s behavior during the runup to the midterms demonstrates that Fear is Power indeed is his guiding motto.  Facing a possible blue wave, he resorted to fearmongering about immigrants, hoping to frighten undecided voters into opting for safety. 
In the process, he may have convinced the faithful that his bluster is a mark of strength, but the Trump quote in the “private advice” passage reveals that he is a weak man trying to look strong.  Although on television he could shout “you’re fired,” he often cannot fire real people face to face. He scatters insults constantly, but whines about ill-treatment if criticized.   
Rather than making America great again, in his meeting with Putin Trump was weak and made the country look weak.  Most recently he has done both by appearing to be so frightened of a distant caravan of refugees that the Army must be called out.
Fear is an appropriate title in another way.  From the beginning, Trump has been afraid of disclosure.   That has become worse with the election of a Democratic House.  Firing Jeff Sessions and replacing him with an apparently more pliable acting AG is a result of Trump’s fear of the Mueller investigation.  Probably there will be more such signs.

<br>56. p. xxii

57. p. xiii per the index, actually unnumbered

58. p. 175

pp.274-75, 300

Sunday, October 28, 2018

October 27, 2018
There is a long tradition of  endorsement of candidates by newspapers; The Seattle  Times is no exception.  It is, perhaps, a bit more smug about its wisdom in such matters than some. The Times editorial page advised us on October 21 that it is time to vote, and “The editorial board is here to help.”  The implication is that the board sees political issues more clearly than most voters.  One of the endorsements puts that in doubt: the choice of Dino Rossi, Republican, over Kim Schrier, Democrat, for Congress in the Eighth District.
This is not an ordinary election; the country is in danger from an incompetent, unstable President, who is aided and abetted by the Republican Congress.  The Times is not entirely unaware of the problem. “We have frequently expressed grave concerns in editorials about President Donald Trump’s divisiveness and policies on everything from immigration to tariffs to environmental rollbacks.”  That’s too mild a critique, but it shows some perception.  However, the board then negated its insight: “But Congress needs more people like Rossi, a pragmatic lawmaker with a demonstrated record of working across the aisle with Democrats for solutions that work for the greater good.” 
Even assuming the description of Rossi’s record to be accurate, their choice makes no sense.  What is needed is a Democratic House which will exercise some control over the resentful, vindictive adolescent in the White House.  The editorial board is dimly aware of that as well — “Schrier embodies the national effort to take back Congress from the Republicans as a check on the president” —  but isn’t able to see the logic in that position.
In defending its choice, the Times resorts to the everyone’s-to-blame excuse: “Yes, Trump needs to be checked. But the fighting and the divisiveness has led to a hopelessly dysfunctional Congress, where people fight over issues, not push for solutions.”  It takes a remarkable level of self-deception to suggest that resisting bad policies is divisiveness, that issues don’t matter, that somehow the GOP Congress would be reasonable if only asked nicely, that voting for a Republican is going to lead to checking Trump.
Voting a straight— Democratic — ticket may seem unsophisticated, but this is a year when it is the only responsible choice.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

October 23, 2018
     The Kavanaugh hearings provided another illustration, as if one were needed, of the  fact that one-party, authoritarian rule need not be conducted by smart, clever people.  The hearings demonstrated Kavanaugh’s emotional unfitness and political bias and raised serious questions about prior behavior, but lost him no Republican votes.  The FBI investigation was a farce, too brief to be helpful; many records regarding his government service were withheld.   He was going to be confirmed no matter how bad he or the process looked.  None of that took much intelligence.
     Senator Grassley, in complaining that not everyone agreed with the Party’s choice, revealed that he isn’t altogether sure what is meant by the expression “the fix is in.”  Referring to Democrats’ opposition to Kavanaugh, he  declared that “the fix was in from the beginning.” Apparently he meant that their opposition had formed early.  Resisting a nomination hardly is “fixing” it. 
     However, the restructuring of the Court was, indeed, fixed.  Republicans were determined to have a reactionary Justice; to that end they refused to consider Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia, and rushed to confirm Kavanaugh.  The fix definitely was in, and confused rhetoric by one of the fixers won’t change that.  Semantic diversion wasn’t the most notable aspect of the performance by Senate Republicans regarding the nomination.  Consider the hypocrisy.  After declining even to hold hearings on Merrick Garland in 2016, and after serious questions were raised regarding Kavanaugh’s suitability, they pretended shock at the opposition by Democrats and women’s groups, accusing the latter of being paid performers.  They even had the wimpish gall to complain of being harassed.
     Donald Trump, the leader of a Party increasingly trending in the direction of authoritarianism is, to put it kindly, not very intelligent.  In more normal times, that would be a disadvantage.  Nor so now.  “In the right-wing bubble, where ignorance in service of tribalism is no sin, Trump faces no ridicule or serious opposition.”[55]1 
     The tendency of Republicans to stretch the truth in aid of their agenda is based on the assumption that the voters are ignorant.  That explains Mitch McConnell’s claim that the cure for the budget deficit is “entitlement reform, and we’re talking about Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid;” he assumes that no one will remember the massive tax cut. 
     That tendency is exacerbated by the example of their leader.  Trump has left behind mere disregard for facts, such as evidence of human sources of global warming.  Recently he’s gone into all-out fantasy mode, accusing Democrats of planning to give cars to illegal immigrants, claiming that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners” have joined the refugee caravan in Mexico, and citing non-existent riots in sanctuary cities.
     Trump clearly has neither shame nor any principle other than self-aggrandizement.  It’s sad, to say nothing of dangerous, that a grand old party has adopted the same character.  

55. ignorance-and-reveals-his-cowardice/?utm_term=.277cf6b551dd

Sunday, October 7, 2018

October 6, 2018

        Oh, why can't the English learn to —
        set a good example to people whose
        English is painful to your ears?
        The Scots and the Irish leave you close to tears.
        There even are places where English completely disappears.
        — In America, they haven't used it for years! [51]
    If he were among us today, Henry Higgins would be even more appalled at the state of American English.  Slang always has been used, but once it knew its place and wasn’t the standard language of people who should speak and write well, such as journalists and authors.  
    The internet, not surprisingly, is a major source of the decline.  Now on many web sites a failure is a fail, an indication is a tell, a question is an ask, an appearance or situation is a look.   The Daily Beast informed us that “CIA Analyst Turned Candidate Fears She’ll Get Doxxed Next.”  That word refers, apparently, to “the practice of revealing another person’s personal information on the Internet.” [52]  “Monica Lewinsky to Talk Bill Clinton Affair in New Series.” Presumably she will talk about it.  The New York Times was doubly in the new style with this announcement: “New read: This October, learn how to talk money.”
    “Narc” no longer is merely a noun referring to a drug-enforcement officer; now it’s a verb, as in “a hotline with which to narc on their neighbors.”  The new definition: “The act of turning someone into law enforcement or authority figures” not, apparently, limited to drug issues.
    Publications, like the Times, which should know better are not immune; the New York Review of Books listed an article entitled “The Priesthood of the Big Crazy” and, on NYR Daily, one captioned “The Flynn Tapes: a New Tell.”
    One of the benefits, if it can be so termed, of making up words is that they are undefined, so may be used in different and contradictory senses.  Take “woke” as an example.  The Washington Post headlined a story about Colin Kaepernick and shoes thus: “Nike isn’t trying to be ‘woke.’ It’s trying to sell shoes,” and in the body of the article observed, “But my sneakers, ultimately, cannot be woke. They’re just fabric.”  The Urban Dictionary tells us: “Being Woke means being aware. . . Knowing what[‘]s going on in the community.”  However, the word may be used derisively, as we’ll see below. 
    Crude language is more common; here’s an example from a political campaign email: “Mike DeWine[‘s] lying about Rich’s record of standing up for women really pisses me off.”  (The bad word there didn’t pass my spell-checker; it’s so behind the times).
    Creators of crossword puzzles use slang, or attempt to be clever in clues and answers such as:
        clue                                   answer [53]
        swell                                       fab
        many a time suck                app
        lay about? no, u-turn          act
        gimme a break                      yeesh
    A recent book, which is a strong critique of Trump and contemporary Republicans — and contains a few insightful criticisms of Democrats — is, unfortunately, also an extended display of the decline of language.  Everything Trump Touches Dies, by Rick Wilson, is subtitled A Republican Strategist Gets Real About the Worst President Ever.  That discloses the viewpoint, which is distinctive and significant: the author is a committed conservative who has helped to elect Republicans, so his opinion of Trump is free of any liberal bias.  I found the book interesting and useful but annoying to read.
    The basic style is breezy and slangy; some of the slang seems made up on the spot, but some mirrors the internet style.  Few things merely are stated; they are dressed up in rhetorical flourishes which become tiresome.  Here’s an illustrative sentence: “From Masters of the Trump Universe to disgraced, unemployed, and unemployable laughingstock is a bad look on anyone, but the personnel meat-grinder of this White House has those of us on the outside looking at them with a weapons-grade case of schadenfreude.” “Look” is used there in the internet mode, and again here:  “It turned out that Kelly’s account was itself a lie. It wasn’t a good look.”
    Wilson also follows the trend in the use of “tell”:  “It should have been a tell that some of the values our military holds dear today. . . . got lost somewhere along the way in the belly of the Trump beast.”     
    Inventive grammar abounds.  Regarding the Trump base: “it’s almost a moral imperative to slap the stupid out of them.” An adjective masquerades as a noun.  Regarding political attacks: “the Clintons . . . are a magnet for this kind of cray”  Apparently cray means crazy; an invented adjective is used as a noun.  Wandering parts of speech is another internet-English characteristic.
    We return to “woke”: “Hannity’s populist woke workin’ man shtick rings a bit hollow. . . .;”  Of the various definitions of “woke,” this appears to fit: “A person who pretends to be of greater intelligence than he or she in fact is.”  
    Here’s a mystery: “Breitbart had long relied on  . . sweet, sweet chunks of quan from Robert Mercer . . .” I couldn’t get a clue from the Urban Dictionary; none of its definitions of “quan” make any sense here.
    Although it would be difficult to stand out in this medley, one theme does: the repeated use of crude language. “His first budget was received even by many of Trump’s fans in Congress with the same delight as one might experience on finding a turd in a punchbowl.”  “It was an early tell for Washington observers that the Trump White House was going to turn into a five-alarm shitshow. . . .”  Sexual innuendo is one of Wilson’s favorite attack modes.  I won’t give any examples as they all refer to known individuals who, whatever their demerits, don’t deserve repetition of his comments.
    Oddly, the author offers, with no sense of irony, comments on others’ diction and grammar:  “Trumpism exists in the shallow end of the rhetorical pool.”  ”Trump’s raging, vulgarian, insult-comic shtick wore thin. . . .”  “The Word-Finder Republicans aren’t making arguments; they’re just venting, pecking like chickens for tiny fragments of snark, hoping to sound witty without possessing even he slightest wit.”
    True, Mr. Wilson does not rely exclusively on slang and faux-words.  Every now and then, he offers an elegant, sometimes obscure, word or foreign phrase, such as risible, semiotics, Sisyphean, ichor, Ancien Régime, mirabile dictu and sine qua non.  He refers to Hobbes and quotes Kant.  Most of the book, though, features the cutely coarse style, which he employs even in describing himself: “Hell, if you’ve ever seen me on television, you know that I’m an equal opportunity asshole who doesn’t mind mixing it up.”  That stance, he seems to think, is the way politics always has been.  “This tradition of hot rhetoric in politics stretches back to the founding Fathers, who could name-call, smear, and drop ye olde oppo like champions.” [54]  (“Oppo” here may mean opposition research). 
    Politics is combative, and rough language isn’t anything new, but this goes a bit far.  A reader might be excused for dismissing this book as not worthy of notice as commentary.  It is notable, though, as a 311-page contribution to the debasement of political discourse and of language in general.


51. My Fair Lady, “Why Can’t the English”

52. All definitions here of pseudo-speech are from the Urban Dictionary,                                           

53. From The Seattle Times

54. p.91

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 clichés: “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]


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

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



suits _ruling_class_20170707

Rick Wilson, Everything Trump Touches Dies, p. 104

Revised Standard Version; New Revised Standard