Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day







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.