Friday, September 22, 2023

September 22, 2023
The house is crumbling
            Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided                     against itself
will stand. . .
            Matthew 12:25

Lincoln used the house-divided metaphor in describing the situation of the United States prior to the Civil War.  It applies as well today.  It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the division is so great today that our society, our culture, our democratic political system are in danger of collapse. There is no consensus on basic facts, let alone policies, and the Republican philosophy (stance, attitude) is one of  opposition based on fantasy.  The resort to fantasy is partly of necessity, as they have few legitimate complaints about the Biden administration, but that has not prevented the move to impeach him.  Having no positive program, they indulge in destructive posturing.  As Speaker McCarthy said of some of his colleagues, they “just want to burn the whole place down.”[37]

Much of the political Right is trapped in a self-imposed flight from reality. a sort of self-imposed insanity. Pretending that there is no climate change or that it has no role in current climate extremes or that the glut of guns is not a major factor in mass shootings is daffy enough.  Opposing Covid vaccines in the face of evidence that they save lives is not only ignorant; it is suicidal.
[38]   What sort of political philosophy leads people to refuse life-saving medical aid?   

A weekly newsletter from Media Matters lists claims by media figures or politicians on the right which are so ludicrous that it seems impossible that they believe what they say. The newsletter includes, appropriately, the categories “This week in stupid”,  “This week in scary” and “Excuse Me?” listing comments especially inane.   A column in The Washington Post
[39] set out many examples from Republicans in the House, some offered during a “hearing” which praised January 6 rioters.

The craziness reaches one of its peaks in talk of separation and even civil war. Much of this is prattle, but it feeds feelings of resentment and oppression, and there are too many people out there who will take such talk seriously.  Another peak is the tendency on the right toward authoritarianism, aided by vote suppression

The Donald, apparently proud of his mug shot, is using it as a fund-raising vehicle. He has posted it on the site mysteriously known as X.  The brief text includes “ELECTION INTERFERENCE,” no doubt intended as a claim that the indictment damages his re-election campaign.  Ironically, it also refers to the charges against him.  Apparently he thinks that the head-lowered, scowling pose portrays strength and determination, the image of a strongman, the leader of the new authoritarian state.  What it really shows is a petulant, defiant child saying “you can’t make me.”  

If enough voters see that, we may not elect him.  However, some of the crazies might take his defeat as the trigger for violent overthrow.  We have a long way to go to rebuild that house.   

37 spending-vote-mccarthy-republicans
38 The same actually could be said of the first two as well.
39. Dana Milbank, “As Trump is arrested, Republicans honor the insurrectionists."

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

August 20, 2023
Is Trump fading? (episode three)

Although Trump continues to dominate the Republican primary field, that is as much due to the lack of serious competition as to his continued appeal.   Despite his attempts to paint the indictments as political revenge, I think that they will have some negative effect on his popularity.  His legal troubles make him even more prone to outbursts, some of which may drive people away.

The news media, for all of their supposed liberal  bias, have not been especially kind to Biden and have  not been optimistic about his chance of reelection.  However, recent polls shows him at least even with Trump, and it seems to me that the trend will be away from the Donald.  He hopes to use the indictments and trials to play the martyr, rallying outraged fans.  Many will so respond, but he may lose others who will finally realize that he is not going to change the world for them..

The rigged-election story is beginning to fade; numerous leading Republicans, including presidential candidates, acknowledge that Trump lost.[34]  A Newsmax host announced this month that “Newsmax has accepted the election results as legal and final.”[35]

The Special Counsel will attempt to show that Trump knew that he lost which, if successful, should further undermine his support as well as aiding the prosecution.  According to testimony to the January 6 Committee, Trump acknowledged to staff that he had lost.  He is quoted as saying, referring to Biden: “can you believe I lost to this effing guy?”[36] There may be more such evidence and the Georgia indictment creates even more peril, legally as well as politically.

I may be too optimistic in predicting a decline in Trump’s support, but it does seem that he is nearing the point at which his image will collapse and at least some of his popularity with it.  

34. politics_am&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_politics
35. network-has-accepted

Thursday, July 20, 2023

July 20, 2023
The Trump enigma

All of the accounts of the decline of the Republican Party and the rise of Trump, enlightening as they are, have left me still wondering how so many people could have supported Trump.  That many still do, even after his post-election behavior and indictment is still more puzzling.

Chris Christie recently offered this description: Trump is “a petulant child when someone disagrees with him.”[25]  His reference was to Trump’s tendency to vilify former aides and supporters, for example saying that his White House chief of staff John Kelly “pretended to be a ‘tough guy,’ but was actually weak and ineffective, born with a VERY small ‘brain’.”[26]  Trump also attacked Bill Barr as a “ ‘disgruntled former employee’ & lazy Attorney General who was weak & totally ineffective,” and a “Gutless Pig.”[27] Barr responded, in terms similar to Christie’s: “[Trump is] like a 9-year old, a defiant 9-year-old kid who’s always pushing the glass towards the edge of the table, defying his parents from stopping him from doing it.” Barr  added that “our country can’t be a therapy session for a troubled man like this.”[28]

Why do people follow someone like that?  There are the insurrectionists, who seem to see Trump as an autocratic leader, but they are (I hope) a small fraction of his followers.  There are many unhappy, resentful people who are uninformed politically and willing to believe that the system is rigged against them —  that no one is on their side[29] — who therefore will follow a demagogue, but the question remains: why would they see Trump as their champion?   According to one pollster, “the fighting back, I found, is what attracts [Trump] to Republican primary voters.”  Again, referring to the contest for the GOP nomination, Trump  has “the edge, because it looks like he’s this tough guy, and the other Republican candidates just don’t have what it takes.”[30]  

It is true that he strikes the pose of a brawler, one who will fight for all those unhappy people but does he really help them?  In no small part it’s simply that he has been willing to play to their fears and resentments, and has some skill in doing so.  The fact that he is, or at least once was, an outsider may appeal to their sense that government is the enemy.

A recent variation on the theme is that he is in legal trouble because he is protecting the people.  His campaign website proclaims: “They’re not after me, they’re after you … I’m just standing in their way!”[31]   In a recent speech he charged: “Every time the radical-left Democrats, Marxist [sic],  communists and fascists indict me, I consider it a great badge of courage. I’m being indicted for you, and I believe the you is  more than 200 million people that love our country.”[32]

One description, if not quite an explanation, is this: “Fervent enthusiasm for Trump has never been about logic, however often Trump and his allies try to backstop his assertions with hastily constructed rhetoric. Trumpism is an emotional movement and that fireproofs it against things like” Barr’s comment  that the documents indictment ‘came about because of reckless conduct of the president.’ ”[33]  It seems that some follow Trump, without in any way admiring him, simply because he has become the symbol of opposition to the liberal establishment they imagine is ruining the country.

The remaining question is why there are so many unhappy, resentful, suspicious, gullible people, so many potential Trump followers.  Explanations usually focus on race, on white fears of loss of status and control.  That is an element, but it doesn’t strike me as an full explanation.  Another reason almost certainly is fear and resentment of cultural change, a belief that society is falling apart. The “woke”nonsense is designed to play on those feelings.

Whatever the explanation, unrest among many ordinary Americans is a political fact, and Democrats must concentrate on persuading voters that they, and the government, are on the people’s side, working for their benefit, making their lives better, along with demonstrating that the Republicans, for all their pretense, are not.  
25. 003ee4fa0f
26. remarks/
28. 5386
29. One writer refers to it as a sense of abandonment:                                                                           
32. utm_campaign=wp_politics_am&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_politics
33. See footnote 3.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

June 11, 2023
How far we have strayed

    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union,
    establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common
    defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty
    to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for
    the United States of America.        

What a quaint idea: domestic tranquility in a perfect union.  Instead we have division, agitation, resentment, suspicion and threats.  

A more apt description of our present state was set out in 1907 by Henry Adams: “Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.”[20]   Until recently, I would not have thought that to be a fair description, but now it fits, at least when applied to the Right.  The Left has contributed to  the polarization of our politics through controversial policies and attitudes.  Whatever their merit, the Right has used them in stirring up resentment of liberals, of elites (carefully selected), of government, of  “the system,”  descending into that systematic organization of hatreds.

A politics of hatred leads to insurrection and violence, as we discovered on January 6.   Leaders of the mob believed they were commencing a revolution, reflected in slogans like  “1776,”  or “Winter Palace,” the latter referring to the storming, in 1917,  of the seat of the provisional government of Russia by the Bolsheviks.[21]  

Political violence is encouraged by casual, irresponsible references to firearms, such as the assault-rifle pins worn by some Republicans or the proposal by Republican Representatives that the AR-15 be designated the national gun.[22]  

An irony of our present situation is that conservatives want control but have little in the way of a program, and that little largely is hidden, as it favors the wealthy.  Lacking a constructive agenda, they have substituted opposition, obstruction and inane “investigations” feeding fuel, however artificial, to the blaze of hatreds.  This is not a new development; as one recent author put it, referring to the Clinton years, “With a Democrat in the White House, congressional Republicans adopted a politics of destruction, concerned less with legislation than with investigation and obstruction.”[23]

Public knowledge and understanding of politics and government have declined, partly a result of the attacks on government, partly an educational failure.  This is a potentially fatal trend; a democracy requires informed citizens. It depends on voters operating with a common set of facts, but the  tribal attitude on the right, and the tendency to find conspiracies to explain events, have polluted the political atmosphere to the degree that a majority of Republicans believe, on no evidence, that Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 election.   

We must somehow find our way back.

20.  Henry Adams; Oxford Dictionary of Thenmatic Quotations, p.296
21.  The January 6th Report, pp. 512, 511
22. make-ar-15-the-national-gun/?sh=448db8006432
23. Hemmer, Partisans, p. 8 (2022)
24. evidence-of-election-fraud-but-most-still-think-2020-election-was-stolen-anyway-poll-finds/?sh=68fd965028ec

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

May 10, 2023
Steps toward and away from the brink

    In mid-April, I referred to several shooting incidents which seemed to represent the ultimate in our firearm insanity.  Almost immediately it became clear that it could, and did, get worse.     
    There were more mass shootings in public places.  They happen so often that any list of them is almost immediately out of date.  According to The Gun Violence Archive, there have been 208 this year.  This must stop. As an email from Gabby Giffords put it, “Americans should not have to live in fear of a mass shooting when they are going about their Saturdays, shopping, running errands, and living their lives.”
    Other incidents were, in a way, even more indicative of social breakdown because they were impulsive reactions to perceived  intrusions onto the shooter’s property, yet another extreme in firearm madness. Stand-your-ground statutes and similar laws, NRA propaganda, repeated claims that criminals are all about us, and a general tendency to divide into hostile camps all help to plant the notion that one must have a gun; in short: we live in a dangerous society.  That the glut of guns is a large factor in creating the danger doesn’t seem to penetrate, nor does the fact that many who own guns obviously are not competent to have them.
    We cannot continue down this path.
    Small steps from the brink have been taken. In Washington Governor Inslee has signed HB 1240, which generally prohibits “the manufacture, importation, distribution, selling, and offering for sale of assault weapons,” although it will not prohibit possession by those who already have such guns, and House Bill 1143 “requiring a permit to purchase firearms, firearms safety training, and a 10-day waiting period, prohibiting firearms transfers prior to completion of a background check, and updating and creating consistency in firearms transfer and background check procedures.”
    In Michigan, the Governor signed bills that will “create universal background checks for all firearms and mandate safe storage requirements around children.”
    In Colorado, two “new laws will raise the age to buy any firearm from 18 to 21 and install a three-day waiting period between the purchase and receipt of a gun. A third will strengthen the state’s red flag law . . . .”
    This state-by-state movement is important, but we need legislation at the federal level.
Following the most recent mass shooting, in Allen, Texas, President Biden made the case:
    Too many families have empty chairs at their dinner tables. Republican Members of Congress cannot continue to meet this epidemic with a shrug. Tweeted thoughts and prayers are not enough.
    Once again I ask Congress to send me a bill banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Enacting universal background checks. Requiring safe storage. Ending immunity for gun manufacturers. I will sign it immediately. We need nothing less to keep our streets safe.

17. michigan/index.html
18. 644bf673e4b03c1b88cd0d3c
statem ent-from-president-joe-biden-on-the-shooting-in-allen-texas/

Saturday, April 15, 2023

April 15, 2023
The brink of collapse

    There are clear signs that American society is in danger of a fall from which it will not recover.  One indicator is the continuing cost of our love affair with firearms.
    Another school shooting occurred on March 27 in Nashville.  There the attacker fired 152 rounds, killing three 9-year-old students and three adults.  The awfulness of that incident was enhanced by the fact that it is only one in an endless series.  Before we could absorb the horror of that event, another mass shooting occurred on April 10, this time in Louisville, where five people were killed at a bank where the shooter worked.   According the The Gun Violence Archive, there have been 155 mass shootings in the U.S. this year.[13]
      Perhaps the ultimate demonstration of the gun menace occurred in Newport News, Virginia on January 6, where  a six year old child brought a gun from his home to school and shot his teacher.
    In a rational world, such events would cause us to conclude that, since we cannot remain peaceful and safe with so many guns in private hands, we should start limiting that number and restricting their use and availability. However, the Republican response to these shootings has been, for the most part, indifference or active worsening,
    Taking another step toward the edge, Governor DeSantis of Florida signed a bill on April 3 which allows carrying a concealed gun without a permit.[14]  Again, this development is made worse by its not being original.  Florida becomes the twenty-sixth state to allow that.  In Kentucky. a bill to make that state a “Second Amendment sanctuary” has been enacted; it prohibits state and local law enforcement agencies from enforcing “any federal laws or regulations enacted on guns, ammunition and accessories since Jan. 1, 2021.”[15] 
    Right on cue, the NRA convention opened, with potential Republican presidential candidates in attendance.


15. law/

Monday, April 3, 2023

April 2, 2023

    The constant use of “woke” by the right as a way of describing the evils of liberalism is an indication of their lack of real ideas and of desperation.  However, it’s also a sad reminder of how debased our political discourse has become.
    Although “woke” is tossed around so casually as to become meaningless, it has been defined.  When I first came across it in 2018,
[10] I found that The Urban Dictionary advised us that “Being Woke means being aware. . . Knowing what[‘]s going on in the community.”  More recently. Merriam Webster offered this definition:  “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” However, its current use has less to do with definition than with political warfare; it is used merely as an all-purpose insult and declaration of virtue.
    A thoughtful recent article by Solomon D. Stevens
[11] noted that “woke” is used to refer to a baffling  range of perceived social or political sins. Because of that muddle, “[t]he word ‘woke’ has no clear meaning, but to those who use it to condemn others, that doesn’t matter because the word is just a way of announcing one’s membership in a kind of club or gang.  It is a culture war badge.”
    Stevens refers to George Orwell’s 1945 essay “Politics and the English Language.” 

    Orwell points out that when we use sloppy, imprecise language, our thinking becomes sloppy and imprecise. In that respect, he says, our words can be both a cause and an effect. Our language “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” And that is the problem with using the word “woke.”
     Orwell noted that much writing in his day was characterized by “staleness of imagery” and “lack of precision.”  One falling into such habits may be “almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not.”[12]  So with the use of “woke.”  As Stevens puts it, “It is “employed to vilify others; ‘they’ are not simply wrong, they are enemies of civilization. Those who are ‘woke’ are portrayed as a threat to everything decent and good.”   It is a variation on the old theme on the right that liberals are not real Americans.


10. See my note of October 6, 2018
12. “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell: Essays, Everyman’s Library (2002), p.956

Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day