Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day







Friday, August 16, 2019


August 16, 2019
Orwell’s 1984 is a fantasy, but this country under Trump is beginning to have an eerie and worrisome similarity to Oceania under Big Brother.  The novel described the mind set of a citizen:
In the ramifications of Party doctrine she had not the faintest interest.  Whenever he began to talk of the [party line], she became bored and confused and said that she never paid any attention to that kind of thing.  One knew it was all rubbish, so why let oneself be worried by it?  She knew when to cheer and when to boo, and that was all that one needed. [58]
That could fit anyone at a Trump rally; this could describe the Base:
In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it.  They could be made to accept the most flagrant violation of reality, because they. . . were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening.[59]
The parallel is not complete; the political situation in Oceania more nearly resembled that of the USSR under Stalin than of Trump’s America.  Big Brother had control the Donald only can dream of.  However, his faithful do seem to be limited to knowing when to cheer and when to boo.
The Appendix to 1984 describes the principles of Newspeak: “words such as honour, justice, morality, internationalism, democracy, science, and religion had simply ceased to exist. . . .” Without much exaggeration, we can say that they have been suppressed in Trumpland as well, with the exception of “religion,” which has been redefined into a category of politics.  In addition, “all words grouping  themselves round  the  concepts  of  objectivity  and  rationalism  were  contained  in  the  single  word oldthink.”[60]  That certainly fits.  “Ultimately  it  was  hoped  to  make  articulate  speech  issue  from the  larynx  without  involving  the  higher  brain  centres  at all.”[61]  Appled to written speech, that could describe Trump’s tweets.
Why do Trump’s followers swallow his lies?  There are several factors: fear, bias, resentment of the “elitism” of liberals, a sort of class solidarity, but also ignorance about history and political concepts, a failing shared with much of the population.
As to the public’s ignorance, various studies have found the following:
• only 13 percent knew when the U.S. Constitution was ratified, even on a multiple-choice exam, with most thinking it occurred in 1776.
• 60 percent didn’t know which countries the United States fought in World War II.
• 57 percent did not know how many Justices serve on the Supreme Court.
• 37 percent believed that Benjamin Franklin invented the lightbulb.
• 12 percent thought General Dwight Eisenhower led troops in the Civil War; 6 percent thought it was the Vietnam War.[62]
• only half of adults could name the three branches of government. [63]
• more than a third did not know the century in which the American Revolution took place.
• half believed that either the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation or the War of 1812 were before the American Revolution;[64]
• 41 percent could not identify Auschwitz as a Nazi concentration or extermination camp.  As with other surveys, young people were less well informed than their elders: among millennials, 66 percent could not identify Auschwitz.[65]
Does a college education help?  Not much, apparently.
• One-third of college graduates were unaware that FDR introduced the New Deal.
• Nearly half did not know that Teddy Roosevelt played a major role in the construction of the Panama Canal.
• Over one-third could not place the American Civil War in the correct 20-year time-frame.
• Nearly half could not identify correctly the term lengths of U.S. senators and representatives. [66]
There’s more, and it’s all depressing.  How can a democracy function, how can rule by a demagogue be avoided if so many citizens know so little?  The internet can’t be blamed for all of this; the educational system, top to bottom, needs attention.

________________________________ 

58. 1984, Part II, Chapter 5; in the omnibus George Orwell, p. 836
59.
Ibid.
60. Id., at 921
61.
Id,. at 923
62.
https://woodrow.org/news/national-survey-finds-just-1-in-3-americans-would-pass-citizen ship-test/
63.
 https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-much-us-history-do-americans-actually-kn ow-less-you-think-180955431/#Aim8aA7mLsEUFsHX.99
64.
 https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/06/americans-vs-basic-historical-know ledge/340761/
65.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/04/12/two-thirds-of- millen nials-dont-know-what-auschwitz-is-according-to-study-of-fading-holocaust-knowledge/
66.
  https://www.goacta.org/news/the-danger-ignorance-of-history-poses-to-the-future-of-a-free- society

Saturday, August 10, 2019


August 10, 2019
Do climate-change deniers read newspapers?  It’s tempting to think that they don’t or that they believe reports are, to quote our leader, fake news; that could explain their continuing to deny in the face of headlines like “Greenland is on track for a record melt year, having already lost 250 billion tons of ice.”  Wilful ignorance certainly is a factor.
Many who are not outright deniers may be unaware of the scope of the problem because of poor reporting.  I watch NBC news most evenings and, whenever a story about extreme weather is included, I wait for a connection to be made to climate change; it almost never comes.  The headline I quoted is from an August 8 article in The Washington Post , which mentions that glacier melting leads to sea level rise — a reportorial step in the right direction — but does not suggest why that might be a problem for people living in coastal areas.  Yes, it may be necessary to draw pictures; another recent article reported that homes still are being built in flood zones.[50]
On July 30, the New York Times, describing floods along the lower Mississippi, made the point: “Climate change is increasingly turning the extraordinary into the ordinary. Extreme floods and snowfall, at times moving to extreme heat and droughts, are forcing cities and farming communities across the country to grapple with the threat to their homes and livelihoods.”  It quoted an endangered species biologist on the flooding: “This is biblical proportion.”[51] Allowing for forgivable exaggeration, comparing the effects of climate change to the Flood in Genesis is apt: climate change may render the earth uninhabitable.  That, however brings us to another impediment to belief in climate change: religious doctrine.
Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma wrote a book a few years ago entitled The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future .  For him, the Flood, or its aftermath, is an argument against doing anything.[52]  In his book, he dealt with scientific fact by pretending that it didn’t exist and twice cited Genesis chapter 8, verse 22 to prove that climate catastrophe cannot happen.[53]   That verse is part of a description of the aftermath of the Flood which Noah, family and animal pairs survived on the Ark.  Here’s the relevant passage (using the King James version which Inhofe no doubt prefers):       
8:20 And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.

8:21 And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.

8:22 While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.
God promised not to smite every living thing or curse the ground; does that say we can’t ruin everything?  Assuming that verse 22 is part of the “quote” beginning with verse 21, there will be seasons as long as the earth remains; giving that the interpretation most congenial to Inhofe’s theology, it is a divine guaranty that there will be some periodic variation in weather: seasons.  That does not rule out drastic change.  Think of the Ice Ages, although Inhofe may not believe in them either.
Then again, he probably does.  Here’s Inhofe in a speech in 2016: “One of the smartest things the other side did is when they got rid of, they quit talking about, global warming and started talking about climate change. Don’t get caught in that trap. I’ve had to say this on the Senate floor many times: That climate is changing. I mean, look at it archaeologically, spiritually, scientifically. Climate always changes.”[54]  Presumably “archeological change” refers to such periods as ice ages.  Inhofe prefers “global warming” because it allows him to refer to winter weather — see, we aren’t warm! — and to prove there is no warming by bringing a snowball into the Senate.
 
Senator Inhofe isn’t unaware of what, at the simplest level, is occurring; he noted recently that, “Over the past few weeks, Oklahomans around the state faced record rainfall and severe weather, leading to widespread destruction and flooding.”[55]  He just can’t take the next step because he would be forced to face other, unacceptable facts, and rethink his reading of Genesis.
I’m laboring this not because I think that we should make environmental policy based on Biblical exegesis, but to demonstrate that a core argument by a leading denier is nonsense.  He is not the only one who employs a theological approach to politics, nor is this the only subject which receives that treatment. For further clarification, I’m not attacking religion or, specifically Christianity; I’m suggesting that what passes for the latter, in the context of current political discussion, often is a gross distortion.
A story the Senator told on a radio program perfectly encapsulated his mind set and that of other diehard deniers:  “Senator Inhofe told the Eric Metaxas radio show this week that his granddaughter once asked him, ‘Pop I, why is it you don't understand global warming?’ ” His response: “[T]he stuff that they teach our kids nowadays, you have to un-brainwash them when they get out."[56]  Don’t learn, remain dangerously ignorant and pass that on.
The Senator’s rejection of climate change mirrors the attitude of the Trump administration, which also pretends that it doesn’t exist, going so far as to ban use of the term.[57]   Dealing with climate change requires political change, soon.

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50. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/31/climate/climate-change-new-homes- flooding. html

51. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/30/business/mississippi-floods.html

52. For more on the Inhofe philosophy, see my note of December 6, 2014.

53. The Greatest Hoax , pp. 75, 174

54. https://www.desmogblog.com/james-inhofe#s49

55. https://www.inhofe.senate.gov/flood

56. https://www.newsweek.com/inhofe-declares-kids-brainwashed-after-granddaughter-asks- about-climate-change-484651

57. See discussion at: https://www.cjr.org/the_media_today/trump_administration_climate _change.php


Saturday, August 3, 2019


August 2, 2019
Television news is a window into a dismal present, a summary of the characteristics of a culture in crisis. Nightly we see shootings, instances of police brutality, floods and other signs of climate disaster and, to remove all hope for the future, Trump’s latest demented threat to make it all worse.
For entertainment, we can be spectators at the contest between the United States and the United Kingdom for the status of most self-destructive nation.  The elevation of Boris Johnson has allowed the UK to close the gap.  He and Trump are in a competition to determine who can more completely isolate his country from the rest of the world.  Not being at Trump’s level of ignorance and inexperience, Johnson’s bad ideas are more clearly manipulative.  According to a profile in The New York Review of Books, he didn’t make up his mind until the last moment whether to support or oppose the Brexit referendum.  However, even Boris, of Eton and Oxford, has his lapses, apparently believing that, after withdrawing from the EU, the UK still would be a member of its governing council, the sort of delusion one would expect of Trump.[48]  By design or lapse, the Two Stooges are leading their people to the cliff edge.
As different as they are, a description of Johnson’s performance applies as well to Trump’s: “an act, a turn, a traveling show.”  That show is designed to entertain and fire up the base: “In this theater of the absurd, it never matters whether the stories are true; what matters is that they are ludicrous enough to fly under the radar of credibility and hit the sweet spot where preexisting prejudices are confirmed.”[49]
Meanwhile, the Democratic candidates are having such fun tearing each other down, and even trashing the Obama administration, and the House leadership is so determined to oppose impeachment, that the odds of another four years of decline and danger on this side of the Atlantic are increasing.  Actually, “leadership” is the wrong word for Speaker Pelosi.  She appears to waiting for a popular demand for impeachment.

_____________________________

48.
Fintan O’Toole, “The Ham of Fate,” August 15, 2019 Issue

49.
Ibid



Friday, July 26, 2019

July 26, 2019
Donald Trump’s combination of ignorance and authoritarianism is well known, but he apparently felt the need recently to emphasize it by displaying his acquaintance with, and interpretation of, the Constitution.  On June 16, with his focus on the impropriety of the report that supposedly exonerated him, he mumbled this: “. . . look, Article II. I would be allowed to fire Robert Mueller. . . . He wasn't fired. Okay? Number one, very importantly. But more importantly, Article II allows me to do whatever I want. Article II would have allowed me to fire him.”[45]
On July 12, again fretting about the Mueller report, he claimed to have uncovered the forgotten Article II of the Constitution: “And how do you obstruct when there’s no crime? Also, take a look at one other thing.  It’s a thing called Article II.  Nobody ever mentions Article II.  It gives me all of these rights at a level that nobody has ever seen before. We don’t even talk about Article II.” [46]
Speaking to a conservative teen group on July 23, babbling once more about the  investigation, and apparently referring to his alleged ability to shut it down, he asserted: “I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president. But I don’t even talk about that because they did a report and there was no obstruction.”[47]  He doesn’t talk about that, having just talked about it, again. 
Assuming that Trump ever read Article II, or had it read to him, or had it put on flash cards, he wouldn’t have found any such grant of monarchical authority, but no doubt he would have been drawn to Section 2, which provides that “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States . . .” and gives him “Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States . . .”  Threaten war; pardon loyalists who get caught: such a deal.
However, Article II also contains that pesky Section 4: “The President . . . shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”  Arrogating all power to himself would qualify; he’s saved on that count only by ineptness, indecision and some measure of control by aides.  Obstruction of justice is another ground and he continues to practice that by interfering with testimony before Congress. 
Trump virtually is begging to be impeached.  Some think this is not, as it seems, authoritarian stupidity, but a ploy to turn voters against the Democrats, to ensure re-election.  Does Trump sound like a clever plotter?  Hardly, but he may not need to be.  His followers have been fiercely loyal no matter how repulsive he is; Democrats, instead of confronting the menace, fight among themselves.  Once again, Yeats’ famous phrase applies:         
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; 
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. . . ;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst  
Are full of passionate intensity.

____________________________

____________________________

45. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/transcript-abc-news-george-stephanopoulos-exclusive-interview-president/story?id=63749144

46.  https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-marine-one-departure-52/

47.
https://shareblue.com/trump-constitution-gives-me-the-right-to-do-whatever-I-want-as-president/


Friday, July 19, 2019


July 19, 2019

Was Trump’s serial outburst against four minority women a calculated political ploy or just the Donald in typical form?  His history of racist comments suggests the latter.  However, there has been a good deal of speculation that his comments were designed to achieve two ends: fire up his bigoted base and force Democrats to defend “the Squad,” thereby identifying the Party with its extreme wing.   Although I incline to the view that Trump isn’t intelligent enough or disciplined enough to devise and carry out a political plan, he has advisors, and their re-election strategy seems to be based on holding the states that he won in 2016; Trump’s campaign appearances have focused on those states.  Planning for another minority win, depending again on the undemocratic electoral college, nailing down that vote through an appeal to prejudice is pathetic, but then . . . .
Following that plan, Trump, at a rally in North Carolina Wednesday, went on at length about Rep. Ilhan Omar’s actual or imagined statements, with the obvious intent of turning the crowd against her.  Taking their cue from his tweets about Omar and her colleagues, (“you can’t leave fast enough”), and his anti-Hillary slogan (“lock her up”), they chanted — spontaneously? — “send her back!”
However, some Republican members of Congress denounced the chant, and the advisors may be having second thoughts.  At a news conference on Thursday, Trump claimed that he was “not happy” with the chant, and that he had cut it off by “speaking very quickly.”  In fact, as video shows, he was silent for twelve seconds while the chant continued, exhibiting no disapproval, then went on talking about Omar.  Later he tossed out “Pocahontas” just to show how much he disapproves of racial politics.
During the 1984 campaign, some of President Reagan’s advisors thought he had been too carefully managed, and advocated letting Reagan be Reagan.  Trump’s allies may decide that a similar strategy won’t work for as ugly a character as he is.  However, they may not have a choice.  On Friday, Trump returned to form.  The crowd at the rally, presumably including the chanters, are “incredible patriots.”  As to Omar, “She’s lucky to be where she is, let me tell you. And the things that she has said are a disgrace to our country.”  He’s no longer unhappy about the chant: “No, you know what I’m unhappy with — the fact that a congresswoman can hate our country. I’m unhappy with the fact that a congresswoman can say anti-Semitic things.”[44]  Trump will be Trump.

___________________________

44. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/a-day-after-distancing-himself-from-hostile- chant-trump-criticizes-media-for-its-coverage-of-his-rally/2019/07/19/9c094c16-aa12-11e9-9214-246e594de5d5_story.html?_view=prod&utm_term=.a1d82f49a693&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

July 16, 2019
 
Donald Trump faced a Democratic Party in disarray. One of the fractures was between Speaker Pelosi and four leftist minority women, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar. Very stable genius that he is, Trump attacked those women in a manner so offensive that Pelosi and the rest of the Party rallied around, achieving — at least temporarily — the unity they had disdained. On July 14 he tweeted (beginning at 5:27 AM):
So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly......
....and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how....
....it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!
After an outcry, rather than defusing the situation, he doubled down on his insults, but claimed that many people agree with him, thus sending a message to the bigoted base to rally around. Among his outbursts was an accusation that the four are pro-terrorist.
Would Republicans finally decide that too much is too much? Here’s Lindsey Graham: “We all know that AOC and this crowd are a bunch of communists. They hate Israel, they hate our own country . . .” Communists? Lindsey, Lindsey, at least find a contemporary insult. (Trump also listed hatred of Israel among their sins). House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was less out of date but equally wedded to cliché: defending Trump from charges of racism, he pronounced that the Leader’s dispute with the women was “about ideology. It’s about socialism versus freedom.” Four brave Republicans did vote for a House resolution which “strongly condemns Donald Trump’s racist comments.”
Those comments have persuaded one House Democrat to file articles of impeachment. This episode is the wrong focus for that move, but the House leadership and many members have been so cautious that it may never have happened otherwise. It will be interesting to see whether the impeachment issue will return the Democrats to their normal position of dithering, bickering ineffectualness.
Let’s hope that some segment of the base expresses reservations about Trump’s success in making America great again — perhaps on the effects of tariffs— something that will, however slightly, imply that he isn’t a visionary leader, bruising his tender ego. If he were to respond in characteristic fashion, he might drive enough away to make 2020 a happy time.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

July 11, 2019

The California legislature has passed a bill, expected to be signed by the governor, which is intended to impose a stricter standard for the justifiable use of deadly force by police. Although the bill is not as strong as one of its sponsors claims,[40] any step toward better control is welcome. There have been too many shootings, many fatal, by police officers.[41] A disproportionate number of those victims have been black. [42]

Any number of factors may be at work in producing the number of fatal shootings; here are my non-expert thoughts: The statistics make clear that racial bias is a significant element. Training may be another, if it makes shooting the default reaction. Militarization of police departments contributes to the problem; too many situations involve heavily armed forces and confusion. Fear is a factor, in turn probably driven in part by the glut of guns, leading cops to assume everyone is armed and dangerous.

Data on non-fatal shootings by police are hard to come by, but it is likely that there are many such incidents and that racial distribution is similar to that for fatal encounters.[43]

Police have a difficult, inherently dangerous, necessary role, and blanket condemnation is neither fair nor useful, but there have been too many instances of bad behavior to ignore or explain away. Rooting out reactionary attitudes, including racism, would be a great step forward, and addressing the problem of too many guns would serve both the police and the rest of us, but what are the odds in the age of Trump?


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40. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/california-bill-police-use-deadly-force_n_ 5cf02f23e4b0e346ce7b0bc8
41. Nearly 1000 fatal shootings per year: https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/four-years-in-a-row-police-nationwide-fatally-shoot-nearly-1000-people/2019/02/07/0cb3b098-020f-11e9-9122-82e98f91ee6f_story.html?utm_term=.bbefee87974a
42. https://www.vox.com/identities/2016/8/13/17938186/police-shootings-killings-racism- racial-disparities