Donald Trump and his pals Newt Gingrich and Steve Mnuchin have proven themselves masters of diversion over the past weekend --- as well as showing that they are, indeed, “color blind” (because they can only see white). It started with Trump’s Friday night stemwinding speech in Alabama, where he said NFL players who take a knee during the National Anthem should be fired for disrespecting our flag. Newt Gingrich, for his part, said: 'Arrogant Young Millionaires' who feel oppressed 'Need a Therapist, Not a Publicity Stunt.” He also said it was "frustrating" that "millionaires who say they are underprivileged are able to go about disrespecting our country and its veterans.” Mnuchin, of course, chipped in with his brilliant comment: “It’s not about free speech. They can do free speech on their own time. This is about respect for the military, and the first responders, and the country.” Wrong, wrong, wrong.
By shifting the narrative --- from Colin Kapaernick’s protest against police brutality & social injustice to “respecting” the military & first responders, Trump, Gingrich, and Mnuchin are being grotesquely cynical, at best, or grossly and embarrassingly ignorant. My money’s on the former.
Given Trump’s history on race, it is not surprising the “President” would dog whistle his base on Friday night by diverting attention from his failures (health care, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, the UN speech) and attacking NFL players who take a knee during the National Anthem. Typically ignoring facts, Trump did not at all acknowledge that the protests began after a series of police killings of Black men but somehow made the protest about “disrespecting our culture and heritage.” Trump’s low-information base, which agrees with him that all our woes in the U.S. have been brought on by immigrants & entitlements to “those people,” jump on this bandwagon, cheering their White Knight. Gingrich’s comments are fabulously stupid, of course, because he assumes that if people have money (and lots of money) they are somehow immune from discrimination, declaring the protesters are claiming they are “underprivileged” (never the case). Mr. Gingrich has apparently not noticed that people of color, despite their socio-economic status, are not treated equally in this society. We have seen incredibly wealthy Black celebrities (Michael Jordan, pre-rape charges Bill Cosby) lose family members to racial violence. Money does not affect melanin. Trump and Gingrich are simply shifting the narrative to suit their own political ends and to muddy the waters of the original protest.
Mnuchin may be a multi-millionaire but has clearly spent too much time hanging out with equally wealthy assholes, only conversing with people in L.A. and New York. His movie producer, Goldman Sachs worldview certainly makes him an authority on the First Amendment, doesn’t it? The frightening thing is that he probably does believe that people should only “do free speech on their own time.” Speaking as a true Trump type CEO, Mnuchin believes his workers are his property. And isn’t that what Trump is saying when he tells NFL owners to “fire” the players who take a knee? Welcome to Trumpland, where the old plantation mentality is rampant and owners are in charge.
That this controversy has now spilled into the NBA, with Steph Curry and LeBron James getting on board, the brouhaha promises to continue through at least a few more days of the 24/7cycles --- until Trump comes up with some other diversion. While the talking heads on Cable tv are perseverating over this latest outrage, what, exactly, is happening regarding North Korea? Will the “President” begin to take any action to help the citizens of Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands? Is the Zombie Health Care Bill going to die before the week is out? And what about that entire Facebook “fakes news” situation?
Since January 20, 2017 the United States has truly become a rambling reality television program with an unreliable narrator driving the stories from day to day. Is there any way for us to change the channel? Not until 2020, probably, but in the meantime we need to stand and defend basic values like the First Amendment --- and the right of others (everyone --- even those you disagree with) --- to exercise their free speech as well.
“Get That S.O.B.
Off the Field”
It probably wasn’t a mystery as to where Donald Trump stood regarding professional athletes not standing for the National Anthem, right? In case we weren’t sure, though, the “President” made it crystal clear Friday night at a political rally in support of Alabama senatorial candidate Luther Strange. As is Trump’s wont, of course, the event became a campaign rally in which the Narcissist-in-Chief decided to take on the NFL and, later, U.S. professional sports altogether --- particularly the Black athletes in those sports. In an apparent attempt at rallying his NFL donor/owner base (six NFL owners donated $1 million to the Trump campaign --- and the Jets Woody Johnson is now our Ambassador to England as a result), Trump told the Alabama crowd:
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!! You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country.” (The Guardian, Sept. 23, 2017)
As in the Charlottesville controversy, Trump noted: "Total disrespect of our heritage, a total disrespect of everything that we stand for.” (bold, italics mine) You don’t need a Ph.D. to understand what "our" heritage and who “we” are in that statement to get Trump’s point. He has once again made it clear that he sees the United States as “us” and “them,” with “us” being White people. It’s disgraceful, of course, but no longer shocking or surprising.
Rather than belabor commenting on Trump’s behavior let’s turn to the controversy itself revolving around the National Anthem. Let’s remember that there have been National Anthem protests before --- in 1968 at the Mexico City Olympics and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (aka Chris Jackson) in the NBA in 1995-96 (essentially leading to his banishment from the NBA). By 1972, in his autobiography, Jackie Robinson, a WW II veteran, wrote: "I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world." But a larger question, raised briefly this morning on A.M. Joy on MSNBC by the great sportswriter William Rhoden, is why do we even play the National Anthem at sporting events?
Essays have been written about this topic, of course, and you can Google the question and read those. They range from questioning why we stand for a song that praises war (and some pretty brutal actions) to the behavior of people at the ballpark during the playing of the anthem (often quite disrespectful). My favorite question about the playing of the anthem was raised on a sports website (Odyssey) by an undergraduate writer named Kevin Cance:
When watching a sports event on television, how many of you stand up to “honor America with the singing of our national anthem?” If you are like me, the answer is not only have I never done it when sitting at home on the couch, but I have also never seen anyone else do it.
If the Anthem were so revered why don’t we stand up at home when it’s played? The YES network, which carries my home team Yankee games, seldom, if ever, broadcasts the Anthem being played. We get the game intro, go to commercial break (when the Anthem is played) and come back for “Play Ball.” If you’re at the ballpark (or in the stadium or arena) you know the crowd starts jostling and yelling long before the song is finished. Respect?
So, where did it all start? “In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that "The Star-Spangled Banner" be played at military and other appropriate occasions.” (Wikipedia) In 1931 an official bill was passed to make The Star-Spangled Banner the National Anthem of the United States. As regards the playing of the Anthem at ball games, it started in the World Series of 1918.
As legend has it, singing the national anthem at sporting events began during the 1918 World Series, when the nation was at war. As recounted by the New York Times of Sept. 6, 1918, it was the seventh-inning stretch of the first game between the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox.
“As the crowd of 10,274 spectators — the smallest that has witnessed the diamond classic in many years — stood up to take their afternoon yawn, that has been the privilege and custom of baseball fans for many generations, the band broke forth to the strains of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’
“The yawn was checked and heads were bared as the ball players turned quickly about and faced the music. Jackie Fred Thomas of the U.S. Navy was at attention, as he stood erect, with his eyes set on the flag fluttering at the top of the lofty pole in right field. First the song was taken up by a few, then others joined, and when the final notes came, a great volume of melody rolled across the field. It was at the very end that the onlookers exploded into thunderous applause and rent the air with a cheer that marked the highest point of the day’s enthusiasm.” Washington Post, August 30, 2016 - Fred Barbash & Travis M. Andrews
So, that’s how it started. It eventually moved from the 7th inning stretch to become a pregame ritual. And rituals are difficult to change.
Much the same way, since 9/11, 2001, we now are asked to “stand and honor America” during the 7th inning stretch --- usually for some rendition of “God Bless America,” layering on another coat of patriotic paint. In the immediate aftermath of the September 11th tragedy, I could understand this ceremony. But it was quickly appropriated by the Bush Administration (the Department of Defense pays to have military personnel “honored” at these events, or to do jet flyovers, etc.) to support jingoistic, imperialist adventures --- marching out veterans and demanding our “support” for wars and policies we may not at all agree with!
I remain at a loss when looking for a connection between sports and patriotism but it is now ingrained in our culture so it’s not going away (although I'll freely admit I head for the men's room in the 7th inning if I'm at the game). We have to be clear, however, that the First Amendment is equally ingrained and should be exercised in ways that inform our government of where we stand in relation to policies and issues that effect all of us on a daily basis. Colin Kaepernick may not always be the most articulate messenger but he did start what will now, thanks to our bumbling “President,” become a growing protest movement not only in our professional sports leagues but across the nation.
Take a knee.
Narcissists to the LEFT of me,
Narcissists to the Right
Anyone who doubts the Bernie Sanders is as big a narcissist as Donald Trump need only look at CNN’s announcement of Monday night’s “debate” between Sanders and Cassidy/Graham. While I hope the debate will draw little or no audience (against Monday Night Football – a literally mind-numbing broadcast), Sanders is, nonetheless, giving CPR to the Graham-Cassidy bill and, quite possibly, propelling its passage by Saturday night. Those who “feel the Bern,” of course, see it, once again as their white (haired) Knight taking the case to the “evil-doers” but, as we saw in the Democratic primaries, Bernie is primarily interested in himself, as any good narcissist is. As reported in today’s Washington Post:
The news also prompted fresh panic from Senate aides — most of them anonymous — asking whether Sanders had walked into a trap. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who launched his bill with Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) the same day that Sanders launched his universal Medicare for All bill, has frequently (and sarcastically) thanked the Vermont senator for giving him a contrast — repeal of the ACA, or inevitable health care “socialism.”
Just as in the Primaries, Bernie knows single payer will never happen in the United States yet his need to be in the spotlight (like our “President”) supersedes good political sense. According to Sanders’s spokesman Josh Miller-Lewis (in the Waashington Post): “Bernie’s been saying for months that he knows single-payer isn’t going to pass next week. This is about making the argument to save the ACA.” Nonetheless, Bernie is willing to help the Republicans set up another false equivalency (as they did throughout the election campaign against Clinton) about “single-payer” vs. Graham-Cassidy just before the crucial Senate vote.
Why would we expect anything less from Bernie? He is intoxicated with his own popularity and his narcissism, like Trump’s, knows no bounds. Back in April, 2016, before The Blast existed, I wrote an essay about Bernie that seems relevant to this latest grandstanding move by the Independent/Socialist (not Democrat) from Vermont. Here it is --- please note the date.
April 4, 2016
Enough already with the Bernie Sanders love fest that the media, young voters and Susan Sarandon can’t get too much of. Recognizing that I will be labeled an old crank, a voice for the “Democratic establishment” (despite being a registered Independent), and another one of those Clinton baby-boomers, I believe it is time to put Emperor Sanders fully on display, sans clothes.
While the estimable Susan Sarandon (personal worth: $50 Million) hopes that Bernie’s or Trump’s election will bring a “political revolution,” let’s be grown-ups when we assess the political landscape. Republicans control the House and Senate and Democrats can only hope that somehow Trump’s candidacy will bring enough of their party into the Senate to regain the majority there. Even with that, there is no looming “revolution.” Not that such a thing would be necessarily bad, but let’s talk about how one governs this beast of a system effectively, given the realities. “Political revolution” is not in the cards and, even though I know young people will not like to hear this, the ‘60’s (when Baby-Boomers grew up) was far closer to some kind of genuine revolution than today’s Tea Party-Trump world (even white college students got shot back then!). The “Establishment’s” ability to quash civil rights, the Black Panthers, the anti-war movement, and make women’s and gay rights a 40-year battle is testimony to the blunt power of those in charge. Bernie calls for a “political revolution” without really explaining how that is going to happen beyond his quixotic calls for some grassroots takeover. It is wonderful to sloganeer but is he really providing any more substance than Trump’s delusional proposals?
Bernie’s one note samba attack on Clinton’s taking money from Wall Street is also disingenuous. As much as I love the European socialist model Bernie espouses, how, exactly will that happen in the United States? You have Republicans winning office because they’ve convinced voters that Medicare and Social Security are needless entitlements!(September 22, 2017 bold) While Clinton’s connection to Wall Street may be unseemly, it is what politicians do. Can Sanders make any clear connection between Clinton’s Wall Street speaking fees and actual favors she has given those capitalists? And just what will replace the massive capitalist machinery Bernie hopes to displace? Like his “free college” (backtracked on) there are practical realities that will require compromise with capitalists.
Finally, why is it we have only come to know Bernie Sanders since 2015? My awareness of him, prior to this election, was like many others: “Oh, yeah, that cranky old socialist guy from Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats.” While we all know of bills like Dodd-Frank and McCain-Feingold, why are we not aware of any Sanders- (House member’s name here) or (Senator’s name here)-Sanders bills in his 30 years in the Congress? Of course, he did vote against the Iraq War, and castigates Clinton for her vote incessantly, but why didn't he begin his “revolution” then and there, with a genuine issue at the forefront? Why didn’t that become a rallying point for his 2004 or 2008 bid for the Democratic nomination? He suddenly woke up some time in 2015 and decided the United States is ready for Bernie Sanders? Looking at the evidence, the United States is as ready for Bernie Sanders as it is for Donald Trump. The pundits point out that their supporters exhibit the same “anger” with the Establishment and their “business as usual.” Why, then, as a member of that Establishment, hasn’t Bernie been upsetting the apple cart for the past 30 years? Why is he so late to this party? He is more Rip Van Sanders than Robin Hood and voters, young and old, need to see idealistic rhetoric for what it is: lovely in intent but grossly impractical in reality.
Like Donald Trump,
Are Lying Sacks of Sh*t
Speaking of a Zombie Apocalypse, the Republicans have miraculously resurrected their “repeal and replace” Mantra once again, this time in the form of the Graham-Cassidy health care bill. This one is almost like the earlier bills that died, only worse. According to the Des Moines Register, Chuck Grassley stated:
“You know, I could maybe give you 10 reasons why this bill shouldn’t be considered. But Republicans campaigned on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign. That’s pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill.”
In fact, that’s the only reason these irresponsible “representatives of the people” are supporting this flaming bag of feces that Graham and Cassidy are trying to push through the Senate.
According to the Sept. 20th Vox:
The bill includes other drastic changes that appeared in some previous bills. Insurers in the private marketplace would be allowed to discriminate against people with preexisting conditions, for example. And it would eliminate the individual mandate as other bills would have, but this time there is no replacement. Most analysts agree that would inject chaos into the individual market. (bold, mine) Robert Laszewski, a health consultant who is generally critical of the Affordable Care Act, says that “passage of this bill would create enormous market uncertainty.”
In other words, this bill would, in fact, “repeal” Obamacare but it would not “replace” it on any possible level! There is not enough time for the Congressional Budget Office to score the bill --- thereby informing everyone what the costs, benefits, and losses would be in dollars and cents terms --- because the Republicans are desperately trying to pass this bill before September 30th, when “reconciliation” expires and bills would require 60 votes for passage. As it stands, the Republicans are hoping against hope that “Maverick McCain” does not dramatically “thumbs down” them again (Rand Paul & Susan Collins seem to be solid “no” votes, meaning one more Republican defection kills this bill, too).
This is shameful behavior but what’s worse is what this bill will eliminate for citizens across the nation. If you saw The Daily Show with Trevor Noah last night there was a graphic list displayed, showing all of the following --- required items under the Affordable Care Act --- which would be eliminated by Graham-Cassidy.
Drug and Mental Health treatment
Medicaid expansion would also be eliminated and the claim Graham-Cassidy asserts is that taking the money that is currently dispersed by the federal government (for Medicaid, to 31 States) would be re-allocated to all 50 states --- each of which could do what they choose with the money. Here’s the problem with this “solution:” states opted not to expand Medicaid so, the 19 states (all Red) which chose not to expand will now receive Federal funds and those which chose to expand Medicaid will have their funds reduced ---thereby taking health insurance/care away from thousands and thousands of people in those states.
Not only is that “solution” unfair, part two of it --- simply giving the federal money to States --- is far from a guarantee that the Federal money will ever reach anyone in the states who might need health care funds. Let’s keep in mind how, what Lindsay Graham claims is “Federalism,” can work in actuality. In 1954, after the Supreme Court ruled that schools must be desegregated “with all deliberate speed,” leaving it up to the states to implement desegregation, it took almost 20 years for many Southern states to finally comply with the Federal law.
It is not a stretch to imagine many (red) states selectively dispensing federal funds in ways that deny monies to clinics for poor people, abortion facilities, hospitals and emergency facilities in “certain” neighborhoods. Bill Cassidy blatantly lied on National Television to Jimmy Kimmel, claiming he would not support any bill that denied pre-existing conditions. Graham-Cassidy does, in fact, guarantee pre-existing conditions will return to the “high risk,” high expense insurance markets. Just another example that the Republicans have reached the point (again?) where their political interests are more important than the lives of American citizens.
And Trump, who reads nothing, is sitting & waiting, "pen in hand," willing to sign anything in order to stick another Obama “feather in his cap.” The man who told John Dickerson “I don’t stand by anything” (discussing his claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower) is proving, time and again, that, in fact, he stands for nothing and is willing to put his own interests (and the Republican Party’s interest) ahead of the welfare of the American people.
One last note: lest we get too depressed by all this, another segment of last night's Daily Show was Lewis Black's "commentary" on Graham-Cassidy --- enjoy.
Hot Tub Time Machine
Watching Ken Burns’s latest epic, The Vietnam War, on PBS this week reminded me of teaching U.S. History to high school students and getting them to see the parallels between Vietnam and the American Revolution. You do not need to be an Ivy League history professor to note the obvious connections between the two wars. An imperial power occupies a “colonial” territory thousands of miles away from home and is drawn into a never-ending war of attrition until the expense and internecine turmoil within the Empire lead to the independence of the “upstart rebels.” That we, in the U.S., referred to Ho Chi Minh, the North Vietnamese leader, as “the George Washington of VN” should have tipped us off as to where the war was going but “fighting communism” and “saving face” trumped common sense, and historical awareness. I bring this up because Donald Trump’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Monday only reinforced, once again, how staggeringly ignorant our “President” is and how little he knows or understands about United States history. He also revealed again that he is a Grade-A, Size-Large hypocrite, unrivaled among international leaders.
As regards Trump’s historic ignorance: it’s as if he never heard of the League of Nations and how the lack of participation by the United States, in no small part, contributed to the inevitability of World War II. In pursuing isolationism in the 1920’s and early 1930’s the United States allowed for the rise of Fascism in Europe. Trump’s speech, with its emphasis on sovereignty --- and its accompanying claim that sovereign self-interest is the best course for all --- was essentially a call for the dissolution of the United Nations. Beyond his embarrassing demand that other nations “pay up,” Trump stated:
In foreign affairs, we are renewing this founding principle of sovereignty. Our government's first duty is to its people, to our citizens -- to serve their needs, to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights, and to defend their values.
As President of the United States, I will always put America first
While citing the U.S. involvement in the creation of the U.N. and its implementation of the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, it is clear he can read about U.S. history off a teleprompter without truly understanding anything he’s talking about.
By the end of his speech Trump had, in essence, given the finger to the U.N.
As far as hypocrisy goes, let’s consider the following. Here’s a statement Trump made at the U.N:
Rogue regimes represented in this body not only support terrorists but threaten other nations and their own people with the most destructive weapons known to humanity.
Given the actions of the “good people” in Charlottesville who killed Heather Heyer and were not rebuked by Trump (terrorists), along with this statement:
The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing and able
I believe the United States, led by Donald Trump, qualifies as a “Rogue regime.”
In the same fashion, Trump said “Authority and authoritarian powers seek to collapse the values, the systems, and alliances that prevented conflict and tilted the world toward freedom since World War II.” Looking at his Bannon-led move to “deconstruct the administrative state” at home and his clear “America First” positions on the Paris Accord, NAFTA, the Iran Accord, and castigation of the United Nations, what we see, in Trump, is one who is seeking “to collapse the values, the systems, and alliances that prevented conflict and tilted the world toward freedom since World War II,” don’t we?
Donald Trump would like us all to join him in his Hot Tub Time Machine and travel back to a time when White men ruled not only America, but all of Western Europe, too. His rejection of the U.N. (just as we once rejected the League of Nations) and his isolationist impulses (a la Lindbergh in the ‘30’s), along with his white supremacist, misogynistic, anti-immigrant domestic policies create a portrait of a man who wants a rapidly changing world to cataclysmically reverse itself. Buffeted by hurricanes, his EPA still denies climate change science. His unfathomable distress over the U.S. having had a Black President demands we not only un-do all of Obama’s legacy but also spin the U.S. back decades and decades to fit his “Playboy philosophy” world and “restore order.”
Donald Trump not only embarrassed the United States on the world stage this week, he did serious damage to our nation’s place in the world as a moral, political, and cultural force, much less a “leader.” As we move forward in a more dangerous and uncertain world, where Nature itself is attacking us in unrelenting waves, Trump is leading from the rear, trying to convince us that retreating to some mythical past is actually the only sensible thing to do. He has demonstrated not only that he is unsuited to lead our nation but that he is, in fact, a danger to the America people.
The Blast Needs Your Help!
If you are a regular reader of The Blast your loyalty is appreciated. Having now "published" for over a year, I have decided it is time to create a Blast anthology --- a book. Attached below is a rudimentary "book proposal" and what I need from regular readers are recommendations: let me know what your favorite/most interesting/best Blast's are. (There's a Blast archive, which has Blasts #1-152, with an accompanying directory --- all along the tabs above). I also could use help with a) the book proposal (for those with experience, revisions, additions, edits?) and b) finding a literary agent (again, those with experience, please help!). If you don't leave a comment here, you can "message" me on FB or send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.
If, of course, you think this is a crazy, stupid idea --- a pipe dream, as it were --- feel free to say that, too. So, that's today's Blast.
A Book Proposal?
BoomeRant is a collection of essays that began appearing as blog posts starting in August of 2016. The initial idea was to produce a blog entitled The Daily Blast, but I quickly discovered that creating a daily 1.000-word essay requires more time, concentration, and energy than I might have every day. So, the blog morphed into The Blast and is now approaching 300 posts. They span a variety of subjects: politics, the arts, culture, education, sports, poetry, and so on, and are presented from a distinct point of view (mine).
As an inveterate New Yorker, a retired teacher with 42 years in a variety of educational settings, and, most significantly, a Baby Boomer, I believe/hope these pieces will resonate with a wide variety of readers. Whether progressive or conservative, old or young, male or female, person of color or white, the hope is that everyone can find something in this collection which has meaning, or humor, or insight --- something that speaks to each reader.
Needless to say, politics and “the Year of Trump” tend to get a great deal of attention, but there is also commentary about social media, as well as film and television reviews; there are random (self-made) political/social cartoons and poetry and songs. In all, the hope is that the essence of the past year (since August 16, 2016) is captured with a unique voice and point of view --- but one that is interesting and enjoyable to a wide variety of readers.
September 19, 2016
A Sunday Lament
How Did We Get Here?
(Some Historical Perspective?)
I can’t deny the reality, try as I might. Donald Trump is the President of the United States. It is 2017 and we have an erratic, politically & historically ignorant demagogue in the White House. Hillary Clinton’s campaign memoir‘s title basically sums it: What Happened? While it would be easy to write this off as some kind of historical anomaly, an aberration, a moment of widespread national dementia, I’ll contend that this wave has been swelling up for a half a century and Trump is simply the crash on the beach, the logical conclusion to the accelerating fear of white males that began with Nixon. Some may have seen this coming but it has been subtle growth over time and the body politic, like a cancer patient who ignored his/her doctor, didn’t catch on until it was too late.
We know that Nixon’s appeal to “The Silent Majority” was a less than subtle acknowledgement that the Republican Party was going to corral all those Southern “Dixiecrats” who would not countenance Lyndon Johnson’s “betrayal” of their (white supremacist/racist) ideology. The “Silent Majority” net also pulled in all those “hard-hats” (or those who identified with hard-hats, particularly after an NYC rally when construction workers left their jobs to attack Vietnam protesters in the street). The counter-cultural rift that had emerged in the 1960s is still at the heart of the political divisions in the United States. Nixon and the Republicans put a simple dichotomy in high relief: you are either with us --- for “law and order,” patriotically supporting the war, hard-working Americans --- or you are with “them” --- unpatriotic protesting and supporting (gay, women’s, Black) “liberation” while promoting rock music, free love, abortion-on-demand, affirmative action and what would later be criticized as “politically correct” positions. The elephant in the room, of course, was the fear that white men would lose their grip on controlling this country.
Watergate, of course, sowed the seeds of distrusting the government but, after Jimmy Carter’s ineffectual, “malaise” Presidency, Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural address, in which he stated “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem,” set the stage for increasing division along old, old political lines: the federal government vs. “states’ rights.” Coupled with Reagan’s dismantling of social safety nets while criminalizing large swaths of the population through the “War on Drugs” and cozying up to the “Religious Right,” Reagan’s “morning in America” was a sun that only rose in a white, male dominated world.
George H.W. Bush’s “read my lips, no new taxes” quote dissembled his Presidency, of course, but it also contributed to the notion that you simply can’t trust any politicians. Bush’s defeat at the hands of “Slick Willy” Clinton who, amid one scandal after another (some real, some not), moved the Democratic Party so close to the “center” that it might be labeled “Republican Lite.” It was during Clinton’s administration, of course, that Newt Gingrich created his “Contract with America” which might be viewed as the first step toward the extreme polarization we now see in the Federal Government, as well as many state houses. By the election of 2000 (in which, of course, Bush, the popular vote loser, was given the Presidency by a Republican-majority Supreme Court, 5-4) the political schism was wide and clear. In broad terms, the “Left” (liberals, Democrats) stood for “political correctness:” a woman’s right to choose, gun control, equal political & economic rights for minorities and women, universal health care, saving the environment & fighting against climate change. The “Right,” of course, supported tax cuts for the wealthy, increased defense spending, letting the private sector & local government handle health care and they were “pro-life” anti-gay, anti-affirmative action & for gun rights. Not very different from today, really.
The Obama Presidency really brought the white supremacist worm out of the woodwork, What we have discovered is that beyond the ideological differences between America’s “Left” and “Right” is a powerful cultural force that is rooted in white supremacy. Yesterday’s Blast highlighted Te-Nehisi Coates’s arguments about how the Trump Presidency’s ideology is white supremacy and I believe he is right. One of the most compelling points Coates makes is that we keep hearing about the “plight” of the “white-working class” --- as if there is no Black or Latino working class. More significantly, it is presented as if this is some “unnatural” plight --- that, somehow, white people shouldn’t suffer (the way Blacks, Native Americans, & other people of color have, historically). The cards are now on the table.
You can talk all you want about health care, taxes, defense spending, climate change, or whatever other issue you’d like: at the heart of America’s politics in 2017 is a President who represents what we can only hope is the last gasp of white supremacy’s grip on the throat of the United States. What drives Trump and his supporters is a belief in innate white (male) superiority and much of their focus is simply undoing anything and everything Barack Obama did --- whether what he did was good or bad for Americans. The premise is this: if the Black President did it, we must un-do it!
The Russian investigation may short-circuit all of this, of course, and it’s hard to believe that some conflict-of-interest or crazed Tweet won’t, at some point, bring this Presidency down. But strange things have happened throughout American history and we may look back in 2030 and simply say: “What the f*&k were people thinking?”
I Defer to Ta-Nehisi Coates
(Here are the Links!)
I have written about (and quoted) Ta-Nehisi Coates numerous times in past, particularly after reading Between the World and Me, his brilliant "letter" to his son. (Blast #81 - November 24, 2016 - go to http://www.biljohnson.com/the-blast-archive.html and scroll down). The current issue of The Atlantic features an excerpt of Coates's new book We Were Eight Years in Power (a quote from Reconstruction South Carolina --- essays about "the Obama Era"). Entitled The First White President, I was originally going to write about it but think it's far better for people to simply read this essay because it is brilliant, insightful, and beautifully written. I defer to Coates's artistic skill and political insight.
Here's the link you can cut and paste into your browser:
The New Yorker's George Packer, a Coates target in the essay, has written a terrific thought piece taking issue with some of Coates's ideas and you may also want to read that. Here's that (cut and paste) link:
Finally, Coates was on All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC Friday night and that interview is worth watching, too.
1. Is this what a “pivot” looks like?
A) DACA & the Wall
In the last day the “President” has seemed to “pivot” on a couple of positions. In moves that defy basic physics, our Chief Executive seems to be able to occupy two positions in the same space at the same time! Can someone explain where we stand, exactly, on DACA and “border security?” After Wednesday night’s Chinese dinner with Chuck and Nancy, the Toddler-in-Chief announced that there was a “deal” on DACA which included increased border security and no funding of his wall. He had earlier Tweeted: “No deal was made last night on DACA” but then, later in the day, said something was “in the works.” Pelosi and Schumer issued a joint statement claiming “no final deal” was reached but “Trump broadly agreed to DACA protections and negotiations on border security.” According to Schumer: “We have reached an understanding on this issue.” Trump had also said “The wall will come later” but then Tweeted “The WALL, which is already under construction in the form of new renovation of old and existing fences and walls, will continue to be built.” While claiming he was not creating a path to citizenship or offering “amnesty” (despite Brietbart calling him Amnesty Don) he also Tweeted: “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military. Really!” As noted in the NY Daily News (09/15) “Even Trump aides appeared confused by the back and forth.” And, while we’re talking “back and forth . . . “
B) Charlottesville, redux
Just when we thought the Charlottesville “both sides” brouhaha had been put to rest --- even after the Congress passed a nonbinding resolution (that Trump signed) condemning groups like the KKK and Neo-Nazi’s --- the “President” just couldn’t choke back his white supremacist impulses. After meeting with the only Black Republican Senator, Tim Scott (SC) for a half hour on Thursday morning, the Short-Bus-Rider-in-Chief said:
I think especially in light of the advent of Antifa, if you look at what's going on there. You have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also, and essentially that's what I said. Now, because of what's happened since then with Antifa — you look at really what's happened since Charlottesville, a lot of people are saying and people have actually written, 'Gee, Trump might have a point.' I said, 'You've got some very bad people on the other side also,' which is true.
Once again, contrary to any facts, Trump simply makes things up. As usual, “a lot of people are saying and people have actually written . . . “ Really? Does he mean Brietbart, FoxNews, Alex Jones --- or actual, credible sources? To equate the Anti-Fascist movement with the KKK and Neo-Nazi’s is absurd --- and Tim Scott told Trump exactly that. In Senator Scott’s own words:
“I shared my thoughts of the last three centuries of challenges from white supremacists, white nationalists, KKK, Nazis. So there’s no way to find an equilibrium when you have three centuries of history versus the situation that is occurring today.”
While Dumb-and-Dumber-in-Chief said, “That makes sense,” at the time, it did not stop him from going after AnitFa later the same day, talking to reporters on Air Force One.
2) We’re not just “leaving the light on.”
You may be familiar with Tom Bodett’s voice on those Motel 6 commercials, assuring you “we’ll leave the light on for you.” The ads have been running since 1986. You might be surprised to find out, however, that in Arizona, the land of “Sherriff Joe” Arpaio, Motel 6 employees did far more than “leave the light on.”
As reported in today’s NY Times, “Employees at Motel 6 locations in Arizona regularly handed over to the government information that led to its hotel guests being detained and deported, the company had acknowledged.” A spokesperson for the Texas-based company (a subsidiary of Trump supporter Steven Schwartzman’s Blackstone private equity firm) noted that these actions were “implemented at the local level without the knowledge of senior management.” Immigration lawyers associated with the case claim “the practice was widespread, and not limited to one state.” It seems that if you have an “Hispanic” surname and check into a Motel 6, your name, etc. is forwarded to ICE. While there was some claim that this was being done by individuals who worked at Motel 6, the fact that it also occurred in Washington State certainly raises questions about “company policy” --- and the ACLU is on the case!
3) A bad day for Mob movies
If you aren’t a big fan of Mob movies (and tv shows, like The Sopranos) and you don’t religiously read the obituary page of the NY Times, you may have missed the passing of Frank Vincent (80) and Gastone Moschin (88). Moschin was primarily an actor in Italian films but played the “dapper crime boss gunned down by Vito Corleone” in Francis Coppola’s The Godfather, Part Two. Though the part of “Don Fanucci” is small, Moschin made it quite memorable and it’s an integral part of the Corleone mythology. Frank Vincent (Gattuso) was best known as Billy Batts in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas and his quote (to Joe Pesci) “Now go home and get your fuckin’ shine box” shortly before Pesci’s character is unceremoniously whacked was even printed on tee-shirts. Vincent appeared on The Sopranos as crime boss “Phil Leonardo” where, after “30 episodes (he) ultimately (met) a gruesome end.” Both of these gentlemen were great character actors who, if you saw them on screen, were quite recognizable, even if you didn’t know their names. So, it’s ciao and godspeed to two great “bad guys.”
So Many Stories,
So Little Time
Well, Congress is back in session, “President” Trump keeps having dinner with Democrats, and by the second week in September, stories are breaking out all over the place! Let’s take a look.
The baseless online conspiracy theory in question, spread by supporters of President-elect Donald Trump, holds that the pizza shop, Comet Ping Pong, is actually a front for a child sex ring led by Clinton, the Democratic nominee.
Labeled #Pizzagate, Mr. Alefantis and his business were not only harassed but a North Carolina man named Edgar Maddison actually “entered the restaurant, D.C. police said, to “self-investigate 'Pizza Gate' (a fictitious online conspiracy theory)." After firing his gun inside the establishment, he was arrested and charged with assault with a dangerous weapon. No one was injured.” (Politico) And this is where the brilliant Flynn, Jr. enters the picture. Shortly after the shooting incident:
Michael Flynn Jr., tweeted, “Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it'll remain a story. The left seems to forget #PodestaEmails and the many ‘coincidences’ tied to it.”
We know Dad Flynn led a “lock her up” chant at the Republican National Convention, reinforcing the notion that the Clinton emails revealed illegality and crimes on Clinton’s part. It might be fun watching Hillary, on her book tour, leading some “Lock Him Up!” chants, eh?
2. ESPN & Jemele Hill
You may have noticed that ESPN’s Sportscenter anchor, Jemele Hill (who happens to be both Black and female), was reprimanded by the sports network for a tweet she wrote. As noted in Sports Illustrated online:
On Monday night Hill tweeted that Trump was “unqualified and unfit to be President” and “a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.”
ESPN reprimanded Hill for the tweet but Sarah (Chucklehead) Sanders, at the Press Secretary podium yesterday, when asked if the “President” had seen the tweet, said:
I’m not sure he’s aware but I think that’s one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make and certainly something that I think is a fireable offense by ESPN.
As usual, the Trump Administration is more than willing to advocate limiting free speech, particularly from the press. It might be interesting to note NBC was never asked to fire the host of The Apprentice when he was disparaging the 44th President, claiming he was not born in America. The hypocrisy from this crew is palpable.
3. Kris Kobach
If you are not familiar with the Secretary of State from the state of Kansas, you need to be. The leading advocate of anti-immigration policies in the nation, Kobach spent years crafting state legislation to circumvent Federal authority over immigration laws (which is Constitutionally based). Kobach was a member of John Ashcroft’s Justice Department after 9/11 and developed a racial profiling procedure for citizens of 25 Arab states after the attack. He is now the Vice Chairman of the Trump/Sessions “Voter Fraud Commission.” The only fraud going on here is the Commission itself. Read Charlie Pierce’s brilliant piece from Esquire (thanks & a “Hatlo Hat Tip” to Steve Jones for passing this along) to see what Kobach is up to now.
4. Chris Hayes – What are you thinking?
If you don’t happen to watch All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC (8 pm weeknights), you are missing the biggest news nerd on television! Hayes is an incisive reporter and dogged interviewer but he is prone to forget that his audience (including me, for sure) may not be at the same vocabulary level as he. Last night, in the last five minutes of his broadcast he used the terms “hegemonic” and “frisson.” Really, Chris? Even if you do know what those words mean, how often have you heard any news show anchor use them?
I’m just sayin’.