Saturday, July 25, 2020
Even as numerous studies have shown that there is more possibility of upward social mobility in Europe than America, the American dream remains alive - just north of the border in Canada. How did this come to be? Simple, actually. Years of failed Republican policies and an active reverse Robin Hood effort combined with a desire to create a new Gilded Age has taken a severe toll on average Americans. Canada has avoided such policies and also has a far better medical system. It also has had far more responsible political leadership as has been highlighted by the manner in which Canada has handled the Covid-19 pandemic. Canada is far closer to arriving back at normalcy while in America, matters are nothing less than a catastrophe in a number of states, especially states with Republican governors. As a piece in The Atlantic by former Republican David Frum lays out, the biggest difference is that Canada is not burdened with the malignancy America has in the White House. Here are article highlights:
I reached the Canadian border on the Fourth of July. Usually, the Thousand Islands crossing station between New York and Ontario is busy on summer weekends. Not this time. Eight of the nine lanes were closed, and only one car waited ahead of me in the single open queue.
Despite the light traffic, I waited a while for my inspection—and when it was my turn, the car behind me waited a while too. In mask and gloves, an official inspected my Canadian birth certificate, asked whether I was transporting any weapons, then probed my plans for the 14 days of self-isolation required after entering Canada.
What would I do for groceries? How would I walk my two dogs on the trip? Did I understand Ontario’s masking rules? At what phone number could I be reached during my self-isolation?
Over the next two weeks, that number would receive texts, robocalls, and a live call from Canadian health services. The robocalls delivered motivational messages.
Outside of Toronto, businesses are reopening in Ontario. My wife and I celebrated the end of quarantine by going out to dinner at a local restaurant. The tables were spaced more widely than before. Paper menus had vanished, probably never to return. Servers were masked. Otherwise, though, things seemed … almost normal. We asked the chef—an old friend—how things had gone for him and his family during the lockdown. Not too bad, he answered. Aid from the government had supported the business and kept him on the payroll. He was optimistic that school would reopen in September.
The next morning, I had a meeting at the local hotel. A checkpoint had been placed in the parking lot. My temperature was taken before I could enter the building. After my meeting, I ran some of the errands that had accumulated during our 14 days in quarantine. People wore masks in all interior spaces, and often outdoors, too. I asked a clerk at the town supermarket whether the requirement had caused any trouble. She seemed surprised by the question: “It says so right on the door.”
North of the border, the disease is abating. Canada has steadily gained ground against the virus, even as the United States has surrendered to it.
In the first months of the year, the trajectory of the disease in Canada approximately tracked the trajectory in the United States. Then, in early summer, the two countries’ experiences began to radically diverge.
At the end of April, the United States was reporting new cases at a rate—relative to population—approximately double Canada’s. That was only 12 weeks ago. On July 22, the United States reported new cases at a rate 14 times Canada’s.
In raw terms: On July 22, the 37.5 million people of Canada recorded 543 new coronavirus cases and eight fatalities. That same day, the 328 million people of the United States reported a staggering 69,730 new cases and 1,136 deaths.
When you arrive in Canada, you instantly understand the basic cause of the disparity. It’s not the health-care system, exactly—although that has coped better, too. . . . . my two Canadian nephews took the precaution of a COVID-19 test before coming to visit us in the country. They got the test on a walk-in basis. The results arrived a few hours later: all clear.
Outside the hospitals and clinics, people in every walk of life are taking the disease seriously. They wear masks. They stand outside of stores. They don’t complain all the time about trivial inconveniences.
[N]obody has thought to make a political issue out of the science of fighting pandemics. Back in April, the Conservative premier of Ontario denounced people protesting social-distancing rules as “irresponsible, reckless, and selfish.” The Conservative premier of Alberta has distributed 40 million free masks in his 4.4-million-person province. Left, right, and center, Canadians wear coats when it gets cold. Left, right, and center, they wear masks during a pandemic spread by airborne droplets. It’s just not something to argue over.
On July 22, Quebec reported zero deaths from COVID-19. That same day, the state of Arizona, home to 1 million fewer people than the province of Quebec, reported 89 deaths.
Canada is not a star of the COVID-19 class. Per capita, it has suffered three times as many deaths from the disease as Australia and Germany. What the Canadian example does show, however, is what the United States could have looked like if the U.S. effort had not been led by malicious, self-seeking incompetents. Some Americans would still be getting sick; some would be dying. The disease would remain very much a problem to reckon with. But the worst would be over. Reopening schools would be feasible. Transit systems would not threaten the lives of their users. Economic recovery would have begun.
Instead, the Trump administration and Trump-swayed governors have turned a crisis into a catastrophe—a catastrophe that continues to get uniquely worse in the United States even as it ebbs almost everywhere else in the developed world. In retrospect, the most humiliating fact about the coronavirus pandemic was that under responsible leadership and with some moderate amount of social cohesion, it was a highly manageable threat. Within less than six months of the first cases, it became apparent what to do. Almost everybody else in the developed world then did it. Almost everybody else in the developed world is now collecting the benefits of having done it.
Donald Trump, following the imperatives of his own ego, refused to do it. He then imposed that refusal on the federal government, and encouraged it in Republican-led states, as Fox News hosts and Facebook posters applauded.
It could have been otherwise. It still could be. But in July as in January, the biggest difference between the United States and the rest of the developed world is that the U.S. has the misfortune of having Donald Trump in charge.America is exceptional alright, but not in good way.
The Founding Fathers wanted no established church and a clear separation of church and state being mindful of the wars of religion that had wracked Europe and witnessed the abuses of the Church of England which was the established church in much of colonial America. Their concept has been perverted over the years and the Trump/Pence regime and a recent ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court have made the situation even worse as bigoted and discriminatory denominations have sought to gorge themselves at the trough of taxpayer funds. Indeed, churches, including the immensely wealthy Catholic Church, received PPP loan funds - an example of how far we are from the Founder's intent. Another area where taxpayer funds are wrongfully given to discriminatory religious institutions is the federal funding of sectarian colleges and universities which gobble up taxpayer money even as they discriminate against members of society. The test should be simple: discriminate and you receive zero taxpayer funds. Such a rule in no way restricts institutions' ability to practice their so-called religion yet doesn't make the public underwrite their bigotry financially. A situation involving a Southern Baptist - a denomination founded on racism and bigotry - college underscores why such institutions should not receive a penny in taxpayer funds. A piece in the Charlotte Observer looks at the expulsion of a gay student by Union University in Tennessee for the mere fact that he is gay. Here are highlights:
Alex Duron was slated to attend a master’s program in nurse anesthesia this fall at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, about midway between Memphis and Nashville.
But days before classes started, the private Christian college sent him a letter rescinding his acceptance.
“Your request for graduate housing and your social media profile, including your intent to live with your partner, indicates your unwillingness to abide by the commitment you made in signing (the university’s community values statements),” the letter states.
Those community values include a reference to “sexually impure relationships” and the acknowledgment that God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman, according to the student life handbook.
“The promotion, advocacy, defense or ongoing practice of a homosexual lifestyle (including same-sex dating behaviors) is also contrary to our community values,” the value statements read. “Homosexual behaviors, even in the context of a marriage, remain outside Union’s community values.”
Duron — who is gay — shared the letter in a Facebook post Tuesday, telling Union “that bigotry masked as religion is not Christian at all.”
In a statement to McClatchy News, spokesperson Tim Ellsworth said “as a Christian institution,” Union has certain “standards of behavior for its faculty, staff, and students”
Union University — which touts itself as “the oldest institution affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention” — is home to roughly 3,100 undergraduate and graduate students, according to its website. Tuition and fees for the average undergraduate total close to $45,000 a year.
To help students offset that cost, the university receives federal funding from the U.S. government.
According to the Treasury Department’s data lab, which tracks federal spending, Union received more than $40 million from the government in 2018. The vast majority went toward student aid with a small chunk — about $90,000 — allocated for nursing and health professional grants.
As a recipient of federal funds, Union is subject to Title IX regulations, which bar K-12 schools and institutions of higher education that receive federal funds from discriminating on the basis of sex — including sexual orientation.
But there’s a catch: They can claim a religious exemption.
Union University President Dub Oliver applied for such an exemption in 2015, citing the university’s oversight by the Southern Baptist Convention and beliefs against homosexuality and abortion, according to letters filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
It was accepted that year.
The Title IX religious exemption has long been used to protect colleges and universities from complying with federal discrimination laws that go against their beliefs, though it can be hard to keep track of which institutions have sought one, Teen Vogue reported in 2018.
Campus Pride, a nonprofit advocating for the rights of LGBT+ students, keeps an updated list of colleges and universities that have sought a Title IX exemption or otherwise discriminated against LGBT+ students.
It’s called the “Shame List.”
Union University is one of more than 100 campuses across the U.S. on the list.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled businesses can’t discriminate against employees who identify as LGBTQ+, and a lawsuit filed in California last year challenges religious exemptions to Title IX.
Two former students at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena have accused the evangelical seminary of unlawfully discriminating against them in violation of Title IX after they were expelled for being apart of same-sex marriages, media outlets report. Christianity Today reported the lawsuit “is believed to be the first of its kind.”
Hate and bigotry masked as religion remains one of the great evils in the world. Such religious exemptions from non-discrimination laws need to be eliminated. If these bigoted institutions cannot survive without taxpayer funds, then good riddance. Taxpayers should not be indirectly support hateful institutions.
Friday, July 24, 2020
The myth of American exceptionalism drives me to distraction. Almost every nation sees itself as exceptional in some ways and history is littered with former empires and so-called great powers that disappeared or seen their glory days fade away. Now, in the age of a worldwide pandemic, America has shown itself to be exceptional in the worse way possible: the pandemic is out of control in many states and Americans are banned from traveling to most parts of the world. Europe, Canada, Mexico, most of the Caribbean region, including the Bahamas, will not allow Americans to visit. America finds itself somewhere between a laughing stock and an object of pity. How did this happen? One word - actually, one name - explains it all: Trump. A column in the New York Times compares the US response to that of Italy, a country often viewed by many as dysfunctional, especially its bureaucracy, and the comparison is damning. Of course, besides Trump, America has another huge negative working against it: the fake news outlets of the far right and "conservatives" who reject science and knowledge and blindly support the con-artist in the White House. Here are column highlights:
A few days ago The Times published a long, damning article about how the Trump administration managed to fail so completely in responding to the coronavirus. Much of the content confirmed what anyone following the debacle suspected. One thing I didn’t see coming, however, was the apparently central role played by Italy’s experience.
Italy, you see, was the first Western nation to experience a major wave of infections. Hospitals were overwhelmed; partly as a result, the initial death toll was terrible. Yet cases peaked after a few weeks and began a steep decline. And White House officials were seemingly confident that America would follow a similar track.
We didn’t. U.S. cases plateaued for a couple of months, then began rising rapidly. Death rates followed with a lag. At this point we can only look longingly at Italy’s success in containing the coronavirus: Restaurants and cafes are open, albeit with restrictions, much of normal life has resumed, yet Italy’s current death rate is less than a 10th of America’s.
Donald Trump keeps boasting that we’ve had the best coronavirus response in the world, and some credulous supporters may actually believe him, my guess is that many people are aware that our handling of the virus has fallen tragically short compared with, say, that of Germany. It may not seem surprising, however, that German discipline and competence have paid off (although we used to think that we were better prepared than anyone else to deal with a pandemic). But how can America be doing so much worse than Italy?
For all its problems, Italy is a serious and sophisticated country, not a comic-opera stage set. Still, Italy entered this pandemic with major disadvantages compared with the United States.
Unfavorable demography and economic troubles are also major Italian disadvantages. The ratio of seniors to working-age adults is the highest in the Western world. Italy’s growth record is deeply disappointing: Per capita G.D.P. has stagnated for two decades.
When it came to dealing with Covid-19, however, all these Italian disadvantages were outweighed by one huge advantage: Italy wasn’t burdened with America’s disastrous leadership.
Italy quickly moved to do what was necessary to deal with the coronavirus. It instituted a very severe lockdown, and kept to it. Government aid helped sustain workers and businesses through the lockdown. The safety net had holes in it, but top officials tried to make it work; in a supreme case of non-Trumpism, the prime minister even apologized for delays in aid.
And, crucially, Italy crushed the curve: It kept the lockdown in place until cases were relatively few, and it was cautious about reopening.
America could have followed the same path. . . . But the Trump administration and its allies pushed for rapid reopening, ignoring warnings from epidemiologists. Because we didn’t do what Italy did, we didn’t crush the curve; quite the opposite. Matters were made worse by pathological opposition to things like wearing masks, the way even obvious precautions became battlegrounds in the culture wars.
So cases and then deaths surged. Even the promised economic payoff from rapid, what-me-worry reopening was a mirage
Incredibly, Trump and his allies seem to have given no thought at all about what to do if the overwhelming view of experts was right, and their gamble on ignoring the coronavirus didn’t pan out. A miraculous boom was Plan A; there was no Plan B.
[T]ens of millions of workers are about to lose crucial unemployment benefits, and Republicans haven’t even settled on a bad response. On Wednesday Senate Republicans floated the idea of reducing supplemental benefits from $600 a week to just $100, which would spell disaster for many families.
For someone like Trump, all this must be humiliating — or would be if anyone dared tell him about it. After three and a half years of Making America Great Again, we’ve become a pathetic figure on the world stage, a cautionary tale about pride going before a fall.
These days Americans can only envy Italy’s success in weathering the coronavirus, its rapid return to a kind of normalcy that is a distant dream in a nation that used to congratulate itself for its can-do culture. Italy is often referred to as “the sick man of Europe”; what does that make us?
Thursday, July 23, 2020
Max Boot, a former Republican himself, has a great piece on the Lincoln Project in the Washington Post. He notes that the Lincoln Project founders - and I suspect many who have made donations to the project - still hold deeply held beliefs about character, personal responsibility, foreign policy, and the national debt while the bulk of the GOP has shown all it ever has cared about is power and that it will prostitute itself to any lengths in order to retain power. The Projects ultimate goal? To destroy the Republican Party that is now the party of Trump, white supremacists and "Christian" extremists in the hope that a new center right party can emerge that actually values what most Republicans only pretend to care about. Hence the targeting of Republican senators who have sold their souls to Trump and sold out average Americans in the process. Here are highlights that give deserved kudos to the Lincoln Project:
“The once-mocked ‘Never Trump’ movement becomes a sudden campaign force” — Post headline, July 11
If you want any more evidence of the validity of that conclusion, look no further than the frenzied attacks on the Lincoln Project, a political action committee formed last year by four Republicans (George T. Conway III, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver and Rick Wilson) disenchanted with President Trump. With its razor-sharp videos, the Lincoln Project has drawn blood — and counterattacks mainly from the Trumpified right but also, surprisingly, from a section of the self-defeating left.
The most common charge is that, as Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel put it, the organization has a “record of grift” and “profiting off attacking President Trump.” This charge has been faithfully repeated with no evidence by the lap dog conservative press, e.g., the National Review and Ben Shapiro.
This is pretty rich coming from Trump’s acolytes, since there is no more glaring example of grift in our politics than the Trump campaign and the Trump White House. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Trump campaign and affiliated committees have spent $22 million at Trump properties since he entered politics in 2015.
Now that’s corruption. What the Lincoln Project is doing is simply politics as usual. There is no reason to believe, the Daily Beast writes, that “Lincoln Project executives are simply pocketing the money that’s channeled through their political consulting firms.” If those working on the Lincoln Project are compensated, well, they deserve it. They’re turning out brilliant videos at a relentless pace that puts most political organizations to shame.
The attacks on the Lincoln Project’s finances are a thinly disguised attack on its tactics — which are to attack Trump and the GOP from a perspective likely to appeal to middle-of-the-road voters. Right-wingers are especially perturbed that the group has targeted vulnerable Republican senators. . . . This would seem to refute a charge heard from the far left — namely that the group is a bunch of unrepentant warmongers who haven’t really broken with the GOP.
In fact, the Lincoln Project’s founders have impeccable Republican credentials, but they are thoroughly disenchanted with the Party of Trump. One of the consultants affiliated with the Lincoln Project — Stuart Stevens — has written a forthcoming book called “It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump” that explains in coruscating and compelling terms why he is done with a party he has served his whole life.
He calls the GOP “a white grievance party,” and writes that “there is an ugly history of code words and dog whistles in the party.” The rest of the Republican platform he dismisses as a convenient fiction: “How do you abandon deeply held beliefs about character, personal responsibility, foreign policy, and the national debt in a matter of months? You don’t. The obvious answer is those beliefs weren’t deeply held.… [I]t had always been about power. The rest? The principles? The values? It was all a lie.”
Stevens is particularly scathing about all the Republican politicians — many of them his clients — who have made common cause with Trump. “The most distinguishing characteristic of the current national Republican Party is cowardice,” he writes.
If you accept Stevens’s searing critique of the Republican Party — and I do — then it is incumbent on the Lincoln Project to target not just Trump but also his enablers. That’s just what it has done with commercials such as this one urging the defeat of Republican senators.
Does that mean the Lincoln Project favors a Democratic takeover of the Senate? Yup. But that doesn’t mean, as Trumpites blare, that it’s gone over to the far left. Its members have stayed on the center right while the Republican Party has been taken over, as Stevens writes, by “paranoids, kooks, know-nothings, and bigots.”
If we are ever again to have a sane and sober center-right party in America — something we desperately need — then the Trumpified GOP must first be demolished. That is what the Lincoln Project is trying to accomplish, and more power to it. By leading the charge against the Republican Party, its founders have shown greater fealty to conservative principles than 99 percent of elected Republicans.
The Roman Catholic Church continues to demonize normal, well adjusted gays while still struggling to face the truth that the institution's priesthood was a hiding place for pedophiles and sexual predators - something I continue to blame on the Church's 12th century views on sex and sexuality that generated so many warped individuals. Worse, yet, the problem reached to high levels within the Church and for decades - likely centuries - the Vatican turned a blind eye to what was right before it had anyone bothered to look and/or put the lives of children and youths ahead of protecting the Church's image. The latest bombshell is a story reported by New York Daily News that reports on a new lawsuit filed in New Jersey. I remain amazed that anyone can remain Catholic given the Church leaderships stunning moral bankruptcy (my entire family has left it). Here are story highlights:
Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick allegedly ran a depraved sex ring of underage boys at a beach house on the Jersey Shore, a disturbing new lawsuit claims.
The suit, filed by a man using the pseudonym Doe 14, claims that in 1982 and 1983, when he was as young as 14 years old, he and other victims were taken on weekend overnight trips to a Sea Girt beach house.
“McCarrick assigned sleeping arrangements, choosing his victims from the boys, seminarians and clerics present at the beach house,” according to the suit filed in state court under New Jersey’s Child Victims Act.
“On these occasions, minor boys were assigned to different rooms and paired with adult clerics.”
The victim claims that he fell into McCarrick’s clutches in 1982 through Brother Andrew Hewitt, who was then principal at Essex Catholic Boy’s High School. Hewitt allegedly abused Doe. He also introduced McCarrick to Doe as someone who could help pay the boy’s school tuition, the suit claims.
At the time, McCarrick was Bishop of the Archdiocese of Metuchen. He became a cardinal in February 2001. Hewitt died in 2002.
The suit names other members of the Catholic Church who also allegedly abused Doe. It alleges that McCarrick steadily climbed the hierarchy of the church despite being dogged by accusations of abuse for decades.
McCarrick, 90, in 2018 became the first cardinal in nearly a century to resign from his position following his suspension for a credible sexual abuse allegation involving an altar boy in New York. He’s denied wrongdoing.
The Daily News has previously reported on creepy postcards McCarrick sent to boys that experts say had the hallmarks of grooming.
The new suit is not the first to reference the beach house.
Being a "conservative" nowadays is something far different than twenty or thirty years ago when the Republican Party clearly stood for Democracy. Now, in order to retain power, the Party will resort to all kinds of efforts to undermine democracy rather than change its agenda. Worse yet, its current leader clearly wants to be an autocrat or monarch. Adding in all of this is the aversion to objective facts and modern knowledge that studies indicate is a characteristic of the conservative mindset. In contrast, the same studies show that liberals are open to new ideas and willing to change opinions based on facts and happenings. The division within America isn't only political but also in the very way facts and information is processed which leaves so-called conservatives far more likely to fall victims to true fake news, con-artists and conspiracy theories. One might say that conservatism is a mental condition, not just a political outlook. A column in the New York Times looks at the closed nature of the conservative mind. Here are excerpts:
In the continuing debate over whether liberals or conservatives are more open minded, whether those on the left or the right are more rigid in their thinking, a team of four Canadian psychologists studied patterns of “cognitive reflection” among Americans.
They found that a willingness to change one’s convictions in the face of new evidence was robustly associated with political liberalism, the rejection of traditional moral values, the acceptance of science, and skepticism about religious, paranormal, and conspiratorial claims.
Conversely, the authors — Gordon Pennycook of the University of Regina, and James Allan Cheyne, Derek J. Koehler and Jonathan A. Fugelsang of the University of Waterloo — found that an aversion to altering one’s belief on the basis of evidence was more common among conservatives and that this correlated “with beliefs about topics ranging from extrasensory perception, to respect for tradition, to abortion, to God.”
In their forthcoming paper, “On the belief that beliefs should change according to evidence,” the authors develop an eight-item “Actively Open-minded Thinking about Evidence Scale.” People taking the test are asked their level of agreement or disagreement with a series of statements.
Pennycook and his co-authors concluded: People who reported believing that beliefs and opinions should change according to evidence were less likely to be religious, less likely to hold paranormal and conspiratorial beliefs, more likely to believe in a variety of scientific claims, and were more politically liberal in terms of overall ideology, partisan affiliation, moral values, and a variety of specific political opinions.
In other words, there is one more item to add to the constantly growing list of factors driving polarization in America: Those on the left and right appear to use substantially different cognitive processes to interpret events in the world around them, large and small.
[I]n “Combating Fake News: An Agenda for Research and Action,” a research report released in May 2017 by Harvard’s Kennedy School and Northeastern University: “While any group can come to believe false information, misinformation is currently predominantly a pathology of the right.” Some conservative voters “are even suspicious of fact-checking sites,” the report continued, leaving them “them particularly susceptible to misinformation.”
Liberals, they write, “perform better than conservatives on objective tests of cognitive ability and intelligence” while conservatives “score higher than liberals on measures of self-deception” and “are more likely than liberals to spread ‘fake news,’ political misinformation, and conspiracy theories throughout their online social networks.”
Separate studies of the language used by presidents — both “The Readability and Simplicity of Donald Trump’s Language,” and an analysis of the language used by the last 15 presidents on the blog Factbase — concluded that President Trump speaks at the lowest level of all those studied, . . . .
Stenner makes the case that the authoritarian revolution began in the 1960s: “Once the principle of equal treatment under the law was instituted and entrenched by means of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act,” traditional conservatism — “fidelity to the laws of the land and defense of legitimate institutions” — took a back seat to authoritarianism “as a factor driving expressions of racial, moral and political intolerance.”
Trump is determined to use authoritarian means to restore race to the core of his campaign.
Last week, Trump sent dozens of armed federal forces in camouflage to quell Black Lives Matter protests in Portland.
On July 19, Trump responded to a direct question from Chris Wallace of Fox News about whether he would “accept the election” win or lose. Trump answered: “I have to see. Look, you — I have to see. No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no.”
And on July 20, Trump threatened to send more armed troops to New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland to quell dissent, noting that these cities’ mayors were all “liberal Democrats.”
Put another way, Trump plans to echo George Wallace and take his stand in the schoolhouse door or, even more ominously, to use urban America as his Alamo.
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
Many of us realized that Donald Trump's election posed a grave threat to American democracy and moral decency. Since his inauguration, Trump has shown that he will lie, slander others, put children in cages and now make illegal use of federal agents against citizens to try to prop up his sinking poll numbers. His tactics are akin to those of Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad who would destroy their nations before they would relinquish power. Frighteningly, Congressional Republicans are deliberately looking the other way as Trump engages in illegal and dangerous conduct. Meanwhile, those of us who pay attention find ourselves wonder if this is how decent moral Germans felt as they saw Hitler turned Germany into a police state. Make no mistake, Trump cares nothing about the damage he does to the rule of law and the harm inflicted on citizens. As always, with Trump, it is only about himself and his malignant ego. A column in the New York Times looks at the parallels between Trump's current actions and those of cruel dictators. Here are highlights, including what liberals and progressives need to do to blunt Trump's tactics:
Some presidents, when they get into trouble before an election, try to “wag the dog” by starting a war abroad. Donald Trump seems ready to wag the dog by starting a war at home. Be afraid — he just might get his wish.
“As the virus spread, and businesses had to shut down again and schools and universities were paralyzed as to whether to open or stay closed in the fall, Trump’s poll numbers nose-dived. Joe Biden opened up a 15-point lead in a national head-to-head survey.
“So, in a desperate effort to salvage his campaign, Trump turned to the Middle East Dictator’s Official Handbook and found just what he was looking for, the chapter titled, ‘What to Do When Your People Turn Against You?'
“Answer: Turn them against each other and then present yourself as the only source of law and order.”
America blessedly is not Syria, yet, but Trump is adopting the same broad approach that Bashar al-Assad did back in 2011, when peaceful protests broke out in the southern Syrian town of Dara’a, calling for democratic reforms; the protests then spread throughout the country.
But al-Assad did not want to share power, and so he made sure that the protests were not peaceful. He had his soldiers open fire on and arrest nonviolent demonstrators, many of them Sunni Muslims. Over time, the peaceful, secular elements of the Syrian democracy movement were sidelined, as hardened Islamists began to spearhead the fight against al-Assad. In the process, the uprising was transformed into a naked, rule-or-die sectarian civil war between al-Assad’s Alawite Shiite forces and various Sunni jihadist groups.
In the end, his country was destroyed and hundreds of thousands of Syrians were killed or forced to flee. But al-Assad stayed in power. Today, he’s the top dog on a pile of rubble.
[W]hen I heard Trump suggest, as he did in the Oval Office on Monday, that he was going to send federal forces into U.S. cities, where the local mayors have not invited him, the first word that popped into my head was “Syria.”
Listen to how Trump put it: “I’m going to do something — that, I can tell you. Because we’re not going to let New York and Chicago and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore and all of these — Oakland is a mess. We’re not going to let this happen in our country.”
This is coming so straight from the Middle East Dictator’s Handbook, it’s chilling. In Syria, al-Assad used plainclothes, pro-regime thugs, known as the shabiha (“the apparitions”) to make protesters disappear. In Portland, Ore., we saw militarized federal forces wearing battle fatigues, but no identifiable markings, arresting people and putting them into unmarked vans. How can this happen in America?
Illiberal populists — whether Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland, or al-Assad — “win by dividing the people and presenting themselves as the savior of the good and ordinary citizens against the undeserving agents of subversion and ‘cultural pollution,’” explained Stanford’s Larry Diamond, author of “Ill Winds: Saving Democracy From Russian Rage, Chinese Ambition, and American Complacency.”
In the face of such a threat, the left needs to be smart. Stop calling for “defunding the police” and then saying that “defunding” doesn’t mean disbanding. If it doesn’t mean that then say what it means: “reform.”
All of this street violence and defund-the-police rhetoric plays into the only effective Trump ad that I’ve seen on television. It goes like this: A phone rings and a recording begins: “You have reached the 911 police emergency line. Due to defunding of the police department, we’re sorry but no one is here to take your call. If you’re calling to report a rape, please press 1. To report a murder, press 2. To report a home invasion, press 3. For all other crimes, leave your name and number and someone will get back to you. Our estimated wait time is currently five days. Goodbye.”
Today’s protesters need to trump Trump by taking a page from another foreign leader — a liberal — Ekrem Imamoglu, who managed to win the 2019 election to become the mayor of Istanbul, despite the illiberal Erdogan using every dirty trick possible to steal the election. Imamoglu’s campaign strategy was called “radical love.”
As a recent essay on Imamoglu’s strategy in The Journal of Democracy noted, he overcame Erdogan with a “message of inclusiveness, an attitude of respect toward [Erdogan] supporters, and a focus on bread-and-butter issues that could unite voters across opposing political camps. On June 23, Imamoglu was again elected mayor of Istanbul, but this time with more than 54 percent of the vote — the largest mandate obtained by an Istanbul mayor since 1984 — against 45 percent for his opponent.”
I bet that could work in America, too. It’s the perfect answer to Trump’s politics of division — and it’s the one strategy he’ll never imitate.
A lengthy piece in The Atlantic looks at the post-Civil War efforts and failures at bringing equality to black Americans. The first Reconstruction more or less collapsed in the late 1870's and Jim Crow laws became the law of the South and even many non-Southern states had bans on interracial marriage, among other things. What some call the second Reconstruction - the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's - while more promising, never fully delivered on equality and in many ways fizzled as the Vietnam War came to dominate politics and social issues. Now, with an open racist in the White House and renewed focus on racial inequality, perhaps America can complete the work it has never completed as many whites find themselves forced to look at the ugly reality of the nation's history.. Here are long article excerpts:
Along the unbroken chain of racism that links America’s past to its present, there have been two points when the federal government—otherwise complicit or complacent—saw the mistreatment of African Americans as intolerable. During these periods, the country had a response: Reconstruction. The Reconstruction efforts were not without their flaws but, without them, the U.S. would not have made what racial progress it has. Today, another Reconstruction is needed to avoid wasting the promise of its predecessors.
The first Reconstruction came in the Civil War’s aftermath. But the concept of reconstruction—that is, what a postwar, reunified America would look like—was being discussed even before the opening shots were fired at Fort Sumter. “If another Union is formed,” one newspaper wrote in 1861, “the slave States can have no part in it except on the principles of entire and perfect equality.”
Not surprisingly, the emphasis of that first Reconstruction was on the South. Ratified shortly after the war, the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, thereby ridding the South of its “slave bonus” in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College. Then, in fairly quick succession, the Fourteenth Amendment bestowed citizenship on the newly freed and Congress forced the South to enfranchise African American men, before the Fifteenth Amendment extended the franchise to men nationwide. The scale of progress ushered in over a decade was so consequential that historians have termed the era “America’s second founding.”
And yet, Reconstruction was an abysmal failure, subverted by policy makers whose acts and omissions made clear that America was giving up on Black people. First off, financial investment in the project was grossly inadequate, all but guaranteeing that formerly enslaved people would remain at the mercy of erstwhile petty tyrants. The Compromise of 1877, moreover, led the federal government to withdraw troops from the South prematurely, which emboldened regional actors to perpetrate campaigns of violence, intimidation, and political domination against African Americans. And the Supreme Court, hellbent on eviscerating the Reconstruction Amendments in the name of states’ rights and constitutional color blindness, issued a series of opinions that failed to vindicate Black liberty. Any aspirations of “entire and perfect equality” were relegated to a footnote in history, and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, dead letters.
Jim Crow had taken a sledgehammer to the edifice of a multiracial society and, for decades, the nation stood idle to the destruction—and even wallowed in the detritus.
The sorely needed Second Reconstruction came in the middle of the next century, though its timing is less neatly bounded. Some historians trace its origins to 1948, when President Harry Truman issued the executive order desegregating the military. Others suggest that it began when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. Most place its start between those two events, at the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education. But all agree that the Second Reconstruction was erected on the foundation of the first. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments were lifted from abeyance, and soon became the basis for much of the federal government’s equality agenda.
The successes of the Second Reconstruction proved that lawmakers had learned some lessons from the failures of the first. To start, the vote was expanded dramatically—even nationally. Federal measures, most notably the 1965 Voting Rights Act, put the U.S. on a path toward becoming a true democracy. “What occurred in the course of a decade was not only the reenfranchisement of African Americans but the abolition of nearly all remaining limits on the right to vote,” the Harvard historian Alexander Keyssar wrote.
Another distinction between the post–Civil War Reconstruction and that of the mid-20th century is that the latter’s civil-rights agenda was coupled with an economic agenda. To be sure, the Johnson-era domestic policies, known as the Great Society, were not uniquely targeted to Black Americans. But unlike many programs of its forerunner, FDR’s New Deal, the Great Society’s health-care, education, housing, and economic-development initiatives envisioned Black participation.
Finally, in this Second Reconstruction, unlike in the first, the Supreme Court moved alongside advocates for progress—and sometimes ahead. The Warren Court did its share to sustain the momentum of the Second Reconstruction by ruling on the side of equality and upholding federal measures designed to further it. The Court took the lead by outlawing discrimination in schools and transportation hubs, as well as political machinations aimed at submerging Black votes. When pressed by the civil-rights movement, the executive branch racked up some crucial wins in Congress, most notably the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. And the Court affirmed them.
Even so, the Second Reconstruction soon came to an end. Whereas the Compromise of 1877 marked the swift and dramatic demise of the First Reconstruction, the Second faded away slowly and quietly. Johnson’s War on Poverty morphed into Nixon’s War on Drugs. Federal programs were defunded and disbanded as cities deindustrialized. And color blindness came back with a vengeance, with claims of “reverse discrimination” in the fields of education and employment.
Dog-whistle politics also came to prominence. Because a certain word was not longer acceptable to utter, the mastermind of the “southern strategy” instructed conservatives to code switch. “So you say stuff like, uh, ‘forced busing,’ ‘states’ rights,’” Lee Atwater, a top Reagan and George H. W. Bush adviser, later admitted. “Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and a by-product of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites.” This approach had its intended effect: Because racism stopped rearing its ugliest faces—the George Wallaces and Bull Connors, and even police dogs—white Americans could psychologically and legally detach themselves from the nation’s racist underpinnings. With no Klan-initiated lynchings to point to, Black people could be hung out to dry.
As the rightward shift in policy continued to clip the wings of the Second Reconstruction, racial inequality soared. Circumstances in the 1990s and the 2000s began to make this painfully clear . . . . The need for Reconstruction pressed upon the country once again.
Then came a herald: President Barack Obama. Obama’s election was both problematic and promising. It was problematic because it allowed the country to applaud itself for being “post-racial” . . . . that opportunity was squandered with the election of Donald Trump, who governs as though we’re in the nadir of a Second Redemption.
This long legacy of racism has salience during the current COVID-19 pandemic: Black Americans have unequal access to health care and housing, while being overrepresented in low-paid, “essential” employment—factors that contribute to their suffering from the virus disproportionately. America’s sharp racial fault lines have proved an all-too-convenient path for the disease to follow. Even after the pandemic subsides, that trail will be littered with signs of the coronavirus’s wreckage. And yet, these dismal times, as the virus rages and historic protests continue in the wake of George Floyd’s slaying, can be the springboard for a Third Reconstruction.
So what is needed for a successful Third Reconstruction? Perhaps it begins with sweeping criminal-justice and voting reforms that could transform the United States from the world’s leading carceral state into a truly multiracial democracy. It might also entail direct investments in Black communities to guarantee stable housing, universal health care, and high-quality education, necessities for achieving a more inclusive economy and greater wealth parity. But whatever its shape, a Third Reconstruction must rekindle the aspiration of a nation molded in the ideal of perfect equality, understanding that thinking big—and going big, too—is the surest way toward “a more perfect Union.” Success also demands that national leaders heed some lessons.
The next period of Reconstruction must contend with the effects of the prior era’s deconstruction. . . . . . In addition, a Third Reconstruction will require many things, three of them vital: truth, reconciliation, and recompense. At no point in American history has there been a major national effort toward achieving any of these things separately, much less collectively. But we have no shortage of models for doing so. Many governments and universities have inquired into their ties to mass atrocities. The United States, too, should establish formal means to unearth and understand the enormity of state-sanctioned repression, dispossession, exploitation, and violence toward Black Americans, as well as the extent to which the remnants of those ills persists in our economic, political, and legal systems today.
Viruses may not discriminate but, unfortunately, U.S. policy does. The destruction from COVID-19, as Martin Luther King Jr. might have said, “is exposing evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.” It has been said that life has no do-overs. When it comes to reconstruction, we can only hope that’s wrong. And if it is, we will have to undertake deep self-examination, be prepared to confront some hard truths, and remain open to substantial remedial action. The country cannot afford to lose a third chance to get things right.
Monday, July 20, 2020
Events unfolding in Portland and other cities have put on display troubling efforts by the Trump/Pence regime to incite confrontations with otherwise protesters to generate visuals that Trump can use to try to frighten white/elderly voters into overlooking the threat that his field pandemic response poses to their very lives. For Virginians a name that is showing up in coverage should generate concern and/or nausea is that of Ken Cuccinelli - a far right extremist who Virginians soundly rejected when he ran for governor of Virginia - who seemingly is all onboard with creating conflict where none would otherwise exist. It's telling that Cuccinelli holds and "acting" position since he was too extreme to garner Senate approval even with racists and extremists like Mitch McConnell wielding the gavel in the Senate. Frighteningly, the scenes from Portland - Trump now says he is sending goons to Chicago - are like something out of Hitler's brown shirt operations as Hitler sough to overthrow Germany's democratic government. A piece in Salon looks at the disturbing happenings. Here are highlights:
Let's have the decency not to pretend we weren't warned about this, shall we? Since virtually the day Donald Trump was elected, if not before that, people like journalist Masha Gessen and historian Timothy Snyder have told us that his presidency would be a sustained assault on democracy, and that America stood at a historical fork in the road, with at least one of the paths leading into darkness. We began to talk about "fascism" and "authoritarianism," and maybe those terms seemed metaphorical or melodramatic, for a while. Do they seem that way now?
It didn't feel like the end of democracy, did it? To use Gessen's language, did it feel like the dangerous moment between the "autocratic attempt" and the "autocratic breakthrough"? Not the way that alarming news reports from Hungary and Russia and Turkey and the Philippines do. The problem is, as history informs us, that we're not likely to notice such dangerous moments while they're happening. So the insults and outrages piled up and the news cycle grew ever more discordant and surreal, but there was still takeout and Netflix and Amazon. . . . . There was no Reichstag fire. There were no troops in the street. Not until now.
We can argue about whether Trump is simply the vector through which the authoritarian current flows — the Forrest Gump of fascism — or is, after his stupid-brilliant fashion, a very small Great Man of History. Both things can be true, which is effectively what Gessen argues in her new book "Surviving Autocracy." We can argue that this is all part of a larger global pattern of democratic crisis, which is clearly true, and that the United States had already become a degraded and dysfunctional pseudo-democracy in 2016, because only such a society could have allowed Trump to rise to power.
[A]ll of us — should be called to account for how we got here. Because whatever we believe we did or didn't do, it wasn't enough, and here we are: Fourteen weeks before a presidential election, there are troops in the streets.
OK, we're not supposed to call them "troops." They're not members of the military. I don't think that improves matters. For the last week, armed men in camouflage uniforms marked as "POLICE," who do not seem to have recognizable insignias or badges, and do not have names on their uniforms, have been battling Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland, Oregon. But even the language we use to describe these events grows slippery — another consequence of encroaching authoritarianism, which drains the meaning out of ordinary words. These police are not real police, and the protesters in Portland (and many other places) have moved past the Black Lives Matter agenda to something much larger and more difficult to define. They are standing up against autocracy, I think we can say, while these so-called police are trying to enforce it.
These federal paramilitaries or pseudo-cops have reportedly been seeking or inflaming confrontations with Portland protesters since at least July 14, using tear gas or pepper spray and what are described, in Orwellian cop-speak, as "less-than-lethal munitions." One protester suffered a fractured skull after being shot in the head with one of these not-quite-bullets. These federal forces have also been driving around downtown Portland in unmarked vans, according to multiple reports, sometimes pulling suspected protesters off the street for questioning without making formal arrests.
Customs and Border Protection, one of the alphabet-soup agencies apparently supplying troops or officers or whatever we choose to call them to this effort, explained one such incident to the New York Times by claiming that "agents who made an arrest had information that indicated a suspect had assaulted federal authorities or damaged property and that they moved him to a safer location for questioning." CBP would not identify the agents in question or the suspect, and did not explain what its forces are doing in an American city 375 miles from the nearest international border.
Describing all this, Mary McCord, a Georgetown Law professor and former Department of Justice official — in other words, probably not a raging Marxist — told the Times, "This is the kind of thing we see in authoritarian regimes."
Indeed it is, which might raise the question of what kind of country this is in the summer of 2020. Let's give the big dogs of the mainstream press some credit here — after three-plus years of ceding rhetorical and political ground to the Trump regime, they have seized on the Portland story with evident alarm.
Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have made clear that these shadowy federal forces are on the streets of Portland under dubious legal authority, and against the objections of Mayor Ted Wheeler, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and both of the state's U.S. senators, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden.
All those officials are Democrats, of course, which makes them illegitimate in the eyes of the Trump regime's toadies and defenders. . . . . Brown has repeatedly argued that "the presence of federal officers has inflamed the streets" rather than calming the situation, and says she told acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to withdraw the troops: "I said it's like adding gasoline to a fire."
Wolf refused, and has issued statements that sound as if they were dictated by his boss in the White House, claiming that Portland "has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob," and that "each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property." Brown's conclusion, as she told the Washington Post, is that federal forces are deliberately provoking confrontation, "purely for political purposes."
Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman of the Post took this a step further in an opinion article published Friday, observing "that the bigger picture is that it's plainly obvious that the government is trying to inflame the situation": We know Trump wants these scenes to be playing out on people's televisions in faraway states, such as — to select a few at random — Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Florida.
It's entirely sensible to perceive nearly everything Trump does as cynical showmanship calculated (whether rightly or wrongly) to improve his dwindling chances of re-election. But it may not be sufficient. The president and his sniveling retinue of "acting" factotums up and down the national security chain may not have a coherent master plan to rip out the rest of American democracy by the roots and replace it with something more to their liking. But that is unquestionably what their collective hive-mind desires, and there are people behind them, just out of view, who are willing and able to articulate such an agenda clearly.
Is it an irrelevant side note to mention how many key posts in the Trump administration are held by acting officials? I don't think so: That speaks to the feudal or monarchic or fascistic character of the Trump regime, and no president in recent history has conducted his affairs in remotely similar fashion. Wolf, the acting DHS secretary, has not been confirmed by the Senate; neither has his acting deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, who is also the acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services. Neither has Mark Morgan, the acting director of CBP. Neither has Matthew Albence, the acting head of ICE, or his acting deputy, Derek Benner. (Albence's chief of staff does not require congressional approval, but for some reason he's "acting" too.)
What exactly are all these wormy white men in temporary posts under a cratering presidency up to? It isn't something good. What's happening in Portland is distinctive in various ways — a small city, far from the media capitals, known, with some justification, as a hotbed of anarchist activism — but not isolated. We first saw these ambiguous "federal police," seemingly operating under the direct authority of Attorney General Bill Barr, on the streets of Washington in early June, before and after President Trump's famous photo-op sojourn across Lafayette Park.
There are numerous reports that these goons, drawn from a laundry list of federal law enforcement agencies most of us had never previously heard of, have been seen on the ground in other cities, including Buffalo, Las Vegas, San Diego and Seattle. Less clear accounts suggest they have been used in numerous other places as well: For instance, the New York Times mentioned on Friday, almost in passing, that CBP "drones, helicopters and planes" have been used to conduct surveillance of BLM protesters in at least 15 cities.
Wolf and Cuccinelli and Morgan and their underlings have eagerly dialed up the rhetoric, vowing not just to crush the Portland protests but to bring down the hammer of so-called federal authority with even more enthusiasm in more places. That too is part of the beta test: Trump needs them to play Mouth of Sauron, both because he lacks the courage or conviction to say those things flat out, and because he requires the latitude to throw those guys overboard if this flirty little coup-experiment blows up in his face.
What's the endgame strategy here? Is all of this "purely political," as Kate Brown said, aimed at terrifying a few white suburbanites in "battleground states" into believing that only Trump can save them from rampaging antifa hordes who want to steal their homes for government-funded Black Marxist communes? Or is this an ingenious backdoor attempt at imposing martial law, Keystone Kops-style (since the actual military wouldn't do it), with a hopeful eye toward canceling or nullifying the election and declaring democracy on hold?
[W]hen it comes to Donald Trump and the dangerous currents that flow through him, both things can be true. Either way, there are "paramilitary squads," in Sen. Ron Wyden's words, on the streets of an American city. History will judge us for how we respond.
Trump needs to be defeated in November, put on trial, convicted and, if it were up to me, dealt an extremely and permanent punishment. The man - and those like Cuccinelli - is pure evil.