Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November 30, 2016--Bereft of Better Angels

From our town in Florida, a close friend called, saying he wanted to talk off the record.

Many of the people we know in Delray are among a dying breed--moderate Republicans. He, on the other hand, is a Democrat and a rather liberal one.

"What's with the off-the-record business?"

"I've been struggling with something that I'm a little embarrassed to talk about. To confess."

"I promise, without your permission, I will not tell anyone what's on your mind."

"Not write about it if I ask you not to?"

"That too. So shoot."

"I've been struggling to understand why this recent election has caused so much anger. How friends and families are being split apart, including any number of people I know who opted not to join their families for Thanksgiving. Something they've never done, including when there have been other divisive elections or during the war in Vietnam which caused great angst and polarization."

"I too know quite a few people who are no longer talking to each other. Including with me!"

"I'm stymied, though I think I'm beginning to figure out some of it."

"I'm listening."

"First, since I know you have been trying to understand the undercurrents that have been affecting so much of our recent politics, I'm curious to hear what you think. Why so many are furious about the results and not willing to talk dispassionately about them. Or, if not moderately, at least civilly."

"I think it's largely because of all the caustic things Trump has said. More than his position on the issues, though some of them are so extreme that many can't force themselves to take them seriously. More, it's because of the horrible, unforgivable things he said about women, Muslims, handicapped people, immigrants, and just yesterday how people who burn the American flag should be jailed for a year and perhaps lose their citizenship. Also . . . "

"These are the obvious reasons," my friend cut me off, "I'm sensing something deeper must be going on to produce so much rage, to propel so many to the point that they won't talk with people with whom they disagree. To end lifelong relationships. Are there examples from history where divisiveness of this kind has been generated?"

"Nothing quite like this," I said, "Though there was the election of Lincoln. Obviously, in the aftermath, the Civil War, things were much more than just divisive. But we're talking slavery. There's nothing thankfully equivalent today. Still, I agree, the level of residual animosity this time is almost unprecedented. So, once more, what do you think is going on that you're embarrassed to even talk privately about?"

"To illustrate, I'll use myself as an example. This, the very confidential part, was triggered by the attack Monday at Ohio State University." He lowered his voice, "How I immediately thought of it as an act of terrorism and suspected before knowing that a Muslim extremist was the perpetrator. And of course that turned out to be true."

"I suspect many, maybe most had similar thoughts. I'll confess that I did and thus wasn't . . ."

"This is just the first layer of what I felt."

"Go on."

"I also thought we should send them all back to where they came from."


"Muslims," he whispered. "I'm ashamed to admit that I felt this way. I like to think about myself as a tolerant person who relishes America's diversity and openness. Look, I myself am the son of immigrants. My parents are from Hungary. They came here as refugees when the Soviet Union had brutal control of their country."

"I know that but I think you're giving yourself too hard a time. In moments of crisis we, all of us, are prone to feel and say things we'd later like to take back."

"Now you're getting to the worst part. I don't want to take these feelings back." He paused to let that sink in, "The crisis such as it was is thankfully over but I still feel the same way. Send them all back."

"I can only imagine how hard it is for you to tell me this."

"What about you? You're OK with our open approach to welcoming refugees, even from countries where large parts of the population may wish us harm?"

It took me a few moments to reply. "If I'm honest in weak moments I have some of the same feelings. I won't call them thoughts. And . . ."

"And that might be among the reasons many are so frustrated and angry. I'm talking now not about the so-called Trump people but liberals like me. . .  and you."

"This feels as if it's heading in an intense direction."

"Well, it is," my friend said, "Because it could be that at least some progressiveness, maybe more than we feel comfortable acknowledging, in their heart-of-hearts agree with some of Trump's most corrosive rhetoric and some of the nasty positions he's staked out, pandering to his base and, worst of all, as I examine my soul, resonating with me and some other seemingly tolerant people as well."

"I haven't thought about this enough," I confessed, "Though some of this rings true. And if it is even only partly true it is very disturbing and something we had better get a handle on. How at least in part most of us share some of these bigoted and nativist feelings. Hum."

"Hum, indeed. And this may explain some of the fierce anger people are feeling about the election. Part of the reason so many are realizing that the differences are irreconcilable is because of how Trump has ripped the scab off of what so many, including some liberals, are feeling deep within themselves--dare I say both of us as well. That they're angry, we're angry in substantial part because of what is being exposed about ourselves to ourselves."

He paused again. "What does feeling this way say about us? Maybe that we're less tolerant than we pride ourselves in being. And this makes us as angry about ourselves as we are with Trump. We are being forced to face the stark reality that we are bereft of better angels."

"Which means," I said, "that many, too many of us have a little bit of Trump hiding inside ourselves." That literally made me nauseous. "If true, though I promised not to tell anyone about this, since I think it's important to grapple with, I want to think about it some more and then maybe write about it."

"Think away, type away," he said. "And be sure to keep your head down."

Ohio State University

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

November 29, 2016--This Is Depressing

In response to one of my blogs, Dr. S, a good friend who is also the best audiologist on the east coast, issued this warning. All in capital letters--


He went on to tell me about his ongoing frustrations with the outcome of the election. How we should not spend too much time beating ourselves up about not doing enough to forestall the outcome or struggle too hard to "understand" Trump voters. We have fallen into times where things are seen in extremes of black and white and right and wrong. He advocated calling Trump supporters out for being racist, sexist, and even worse.

I responded--
We do live on the 14th floor and have a terrace with a low railing so, heeding your warning (thank you) I read this in a room without a window or exterior door. The same place we go to when there's a tornado warning.    
I do get your point.  
It likely is a dangerous time even if Trump is a closet moderate and will find ways to wiggle out of some of his most outrageous positions. Dangerous in my mind since he is wicking out the worst in some people. 
I leave his "some people" for him to deal with. (Speak about reaping the whirlwind.) But I also have been trying to urge the rest of us to recognize that even people who voted for Trump also represent just "some people." 
I can't think of what to say to those who are as you describe them. They are out there and probably not up for grabs. I mean politically. 
So I've chosen to try to find a few ways to be optimistic and to spend most of my time trying not to get crazy while chiding the people with whom I affiliate--mainly progressives--to get up off the mat (or pot), stop feeling powerless and defeated, and get back in the game. But this time being sure to keep it up, not just do some marching for a few days and some annual check writing and then revert to the too frequent--talking, writing, fulminating.  
There's a war going on for the soul of America and too many on our side are not, I feel, behaving accordingly. Including, in my view, taking the full measure of who's on the other side. I see them as a bit more diverse than I am hearing many of my friends describe.  
To me what makes them dangerous is not that they are identifiable alt-right people (many obviously are) but people with genuine frustrations that deserve attention. People who, for example, have been lied to and manipulated by both parties, are working 2-3 jobs and still falling behind, whose kids have $50K or more in college loan debt, and who fear their children will not have good lives or a chance to live the American Dream. 
So I've been reading Kevin Phillips again (mainly American Theocracy) and the new Thomas Frank book (Listen, Liberal). For me they've figured out a lot of what's been gathering the past 30-40 years. And can serve to help explain what we might do to take back our America. 
I'm getting beat up by some friends for my efforts to urge them and myself to get more sustainably activated, but activated with as deep and nuanced an understanding about what happened as possible, to take note of the antecedents in recent and earlier American history, and also to take a hard, critical look at ourselves since I feel it essential right now not just to understand the Trump people. We need to look within. No more jerking ourselves around thinking that because we have the right views that that's enough.  
Clearly it isn't.  
We lost in very disturbing ways (look at all the swing states Trump won--Pennsylvania to me is most disturbing), look at how shallow the Dem's political bench is, look at the PC responses (see what's going on with the American flag at highly-selective Hampshire college as just one recent example), try to hear the pleas behind some of the right-wing bombast.  
Most important, I have been trying to say, it's essential to be honest about what one believes and how, among other things, one may have been a passive beneficiary of some of the right's regressive policies. How, I confess, I have benefited by the Bush tax cuts and am thereby contributing to the inequality I say I abhor. 
I've been trying to do that and am not entirely happy with what I have been discovering about myself. Another example--I find myself more Islamophobic than I'm comfortable admitting. Sadly, I could go on.
But now I'm ranting when I should be thinking about what to do with still-left-over turkey. 
Hang in there. It could get worse. Likely will. So we need to do some struggling. Including among ourselves. Maybe, starting there. 
Cozy up with a six-pack and watch some football. 
Beyond that, keep off rooftop balconies.
His response--
On occasion, especially during moments of weakness, I have found it easier to see things in black and white.  Two beers, a good night sleep, and I am again seeing the gray.   
I was really feeling like it was the end of the world, between the anti-Semitic picks and now the Secretary of Education . . .  
I realize now it’s going to be OK, eventually.  The New Yorker article, “Obama Reckons With a Trump Presidency” by David Remnick also helped.  Liked, “I think nothing is the end of the world until the end of the world.”  
I’ll keep talking and sending checks to the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center.
At Hampshire College

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Monday, November 28, 2016

November 28, 2016--Listen Liberals

Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal is a must read for progressives who are confused, frustrated, or just plain furious about why our preferred candidate is not the president-elect, ensconced up in Chappaqua, assembling her cabinet.

He is the author, recall, of What's the Matter With Kansas? which exposed the truth about how the conservative establishment backed by big-buck contributors such as the Koch Brothers figured out how to hoodwink Kansans among others by promising to make their lives great again--they would deliver on all the social issues that at the time were tormenting traditional-minded voters, from abortion and gay rights to prayer in school but not evolution in school.

If elected, the Republican Party promised it would end affirmative action and the voters would in return agree to tax cuts to benefit only the top five percent.

What of course happened was that the wealthy got their loopholes but average Americans did not have their social issues addressed.

Gays now can marry in all 50 states, evolution is still being taught in most schools, women still have the right to seek an abortion (often sadly having to run the gauntlet to secure one), and prayer in schools continues to be unconstitutional.

So now Frank turns his attention to the collapsed liberal majority. His subtitle says it well--What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?

If you haven't done so, read it and weep.

With a wealth of data and other forms of evidence, sardonically, he lays out how the old Democratic coalition of constituents has slipped further and further behind while progressive leaders offer lip service explanations and support policies that do not even chip away at inequality. In fact, they have voted for policies like the Bush tax cuts that have made things worse while at the same time for the liberal professional elites things have actually gone quite well.

Among liberals, Frank demonstrates, a kind of political ju jitsu is taking place that is spookingly similar to that practiced by Republican conservatives in the heartland of Kansas and the rest of red-county America.

In his words, "A form of corporate and cultural elitism has largely eclipsed the party's old middle-class commitment. For certain favored groups in a handful of cities, this has meant prosperity. But for the nation as a whole, it is a one-way ticket into the abyss of inequality."

And Frank does a good job of vividly describing that abyss--
There was a time when average Americans knew whether we were going up or going down--because when the country prospered, the people prospered, too. But these days things are different. From the middle of the Great Depression [of the 1930s] up to 1980, the lower 90 percent of the population, a group we might call the "American people," took home some 70 percent of the growth in the country's income. 
Look at the same numbers beginning in 1997--from the beginning of the New Economy boom to the present--and you find that this same group, the American people, pocketed none of America's income growth. Their share of the good times was zero. The gains they harvested after all their hard work were nil. The upper 10 percent of the population--the country's financiers, managers, and professionals--ate the whole thing. The privileged are doing better than at any time since economic records began.
The last chapter of Listen, Liberal, rather than the current, "Liberal Gilt," could easily have been, "Why Donald Trump Won the Election." And the chapter after that should be, "It's Time, Liberals, to Fess Up, Organize, and Fight Back."

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Friday, November 25, 2016

November 25, 2016--As Suspected

As suspected, after a delicious and bountiful dinner, I am taking a long weekend off from blogging. But I will for certain return on Monday.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

November 24, 2016--Thanks

Thanks for tuning in. It keeps me going here to know you take a look at this when you can. That is high on my list of things I am thankful for.

And remember--this too shall pass. In fact, on Friday I'll offer some lessons from Franklin Delano Roosevelt that you may find both disturbing and assuring.

Enjoy the holiday.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

November 23, 2016--Trump Tacking

I have many friends who have already given up on the Trump presidency even though there are nearly two whole months to go before he actually becomes president.

I share their concern but haven't as yet given up on him. Like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, I remain skeptical but am attempting to keep an open mind.

I have also tried to persuade these friends to do likewise.

But in general with that I am getting nowhere. They remain furious and even resentful about his election and what they have concluded he is about. Some acknowledge that the situation is literally making them physically sick. I've even had a few share their list of gastric and neurological symptoms.

Trying to be helpful, I've suggested we wait to see what he actually does. Will he choose Rudy or Mitt to be secretary of state? Perhaps that will be a litmus test for where he is and where he is headed.

It is a little strange, I admit, to be hanging my hopes on Mitt Romney. But so it goes.

Here, though, are a few things to keep in mind when deciding if it is or isn't time to give up on Trump.

As I write this--late afternoon Tuesday--this is what was being heard today from Donald Trump and his spokespeople--

He voluntarily acknowledged that his foundation has been involved in "self-dealing," including inappropriately spending foundation money to pay for an enormous portrait of himself. This fessing up likely to effectively end the investigation of the way it operates.

At his meeting with New York Times reporters and executives, Trump acknowledged that he is concluding that humans are contributing to global warming and that he will "take a look" at the Paris climate accords.

He announced that he will not call for further investigations of either Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server or the operations of the Clinton Foundation. "They have gone through enough," he declared. It was also learned that he has spoken further with Barack Obama about transition and policy matters.

And, influenced by his apparent pick to run the Pentagon, General "Mad Dog" Mattis, he expressed doubt about "the value of torturing terrorists."

In a video tape, in which he spoke about his agenda for the first 100 days, Trump did not mention Obamacare, the Wall, or immigration.

And he "disavowed" support from the alt-right white supremacists, expressing regret that he in any way has contributed to their "energizing."

Then, toward the end of the afternoon, before heading to Florida for Thanksgiving, word leaked that Mitt Romany was likely to be his choice for secretary of state.

Considering what else is at issue, this is not enough to change most of my friends' minds. But I would argue that it is a promising start.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

November 22, 2016--Obama's Legacy

Nary a day goes by when there isn't talk about Obama's legacy.

In this weekend's New York Times Sunday Review section for example, in addition to a number of passing references, there is Julian Zelizer's article, "Wrecking Obama's Legacy."


Obama himself is so involved with polishing his historical reputation--not wanting his legacy to be only about his being the first African-American president--that the rest of us should leave it at that.  Leave it to him rather than feel that we progressives have a responsibility to protect his reputation and to resist soon-to-be-seen efforts to chip away at his accomplishments. Obamacare, for example which is slated by Donald Trump to be "repealed and replaced."

Good luck with that.

We can see how well this legacy protection is working. During the recent race for the White House Obama spent a lot of time appearing before black audiences in the Carolinas in an effort to explicitly encourage them to vote for Hillary Clinton in order to protect his legacy.

African-American turnout, as it turned out, was much less than projected. Perhaps because his self-serving appeal turned off even black voters.

When campaigning, he didn't just say that Clinton had many programs that would benefit people of color or that she would do a better job than Trump of keeping America safe. What he in effect said was think of a vote for Hillary as a vote for his legacy. His legacy as an African-American president, as if it were disconnected from concerns about America's future.

Imagine the understandable firestorm if a white president toward the end of his term beseeched supporters to vote for his successor because she is white.

Additionally,  it is not up to the liberal media or the rest of us to focus on what Obama accomplished and to feel compelled to promote it. We should be thinking about what's good for America going forward. Especially how to keep Trump from making things worse. Potentially much worse.

If Obama was so concerned about his legacy perhaps when he had majorities in both houses of Congress he would not have traded away the single-payer health care option without a fight or without getting anything in exchange. Now, because of its inherent flaws (not just because of Trump and Paul Ryan) it is collapsing of its own weight.

If he was so concerned about his legacy perhaps Obama would not have contributed to messes with Russia and in Libya, Egypt, and Syria among other places in the Middle East. Maybe we wouldn't have helped catalyze the rise of ISIS.

These among other things will be at the heart of how history will regard him. Thus I understand why he would be concerned.

This is not to say that there are not real accomplishments to be tallied--Obamacare is in fact a step toward wider coverage; we didn't get suckered into further entanglements in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, or in various direct and surrogate ways with China. Then, he made some significant gains in climate and environment policy as well as with energy diversification and self-sufficiency. And, of course, he did many good things to help stabilize and rebuild the nearly collapsed economy he inherited.

But again, none of us should spend one more minute thinking about much less defending Obama's legacy. He has two months to go and we are facing at least four years of Trump and that deserves his and our full attention.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

November 21, 2016--Transition Tower

Late last week we visited the literal and metaphoric Trump Tower.

It felt touristy and voyeuristic and thus we tried to do it as inconspicuously as possible.

We voted for Hillary, have been disdainful at times of Donald Trump, and are blasé about celebrity sightings--after all, though we do spend more time in a year in rural Maine, we grew up in New York City, first in Brooklyn and now for about 30 years have lived in lower Manhattan where being blasé is as obligatory as black outfits.

You know the joke about New Yorkers--"I'm wearing black because I couldn't find anything darker."

So pretending to ignore Trump's royal presence, sprawled out in his nouveau-riche gilded Las-Vegas-like Trump Tower triplex (one whole floor of which is turned over to his 10-year-old son Barron [Barron!]), though traffic for blocks was snarled, and every 24/7 news report began with reporters camped on Fifth Avenue across from the main entrance to TT, adjacent to Tiffany's (Trump's Marla Maples daughter is named after the store!), try as we might pretend, there is no way to ignore his yuge presence, and, in spite of all of this, we pressed forward to get as palpably close as possible to the Trump Phenomenon.

And so, at about noon on a sun-drenched Thursday, we took the R train up to his lair. Not literally up there, but as near as the police and secret service would allow. Pretty close as it turned out.

Traffic on Fifth Avenue was at a standstill as the NYPD narrowed the southbound lanes from four to two to enlarge the security zone and things were made even worse by the cars and buses that finally made it to 57th Street slowing further so the drivers and passengers could sneak a faux-disinterested closer look. And crowds funneling along the barricaded sidewalks numbered in the thousands, clearly, like us, there not for pre-Thanksgiving shopping at Gucci or a glance at the Tree, not yet adorned and lit.

They and we were there for one clear purpose--to gawk at the spectacle and if possible catch a manic glimpse of Rudy or Ivanka or Jared or . . . him.

Risking claustrophobia, we came to a stop right behind the bank of two dozen TV cameras, reporters, and a cordon of police. A good place to become gridlocked as it turned out, right across from the golden entrance that because of the visual media has achieved icon status.

Most curious was the hush that descended on the streets and gathered crowd. The muted sound of the city reminded me of those rare occasions when New York comes to a halt as the result of a blizzard or  power blackout.

Those few who did speak did so in quiet tones, whispering, as if not wanting to interfere with what was transpiring 60 stories above.

"I wonder what he's up to," someone pressed against me said to her friend.

"Nothing good," he said softly so as not to be overheard.

"Do you think the Japanese prime minister is meeting with him?"

"Could be, though don't you think it's inappropriate to have this kind of meeting before he's inaugurated?"

"Everything he does is different. That's what people voted for. Not to do business the old way."

"Well, good luck to him with that."

Most said nothing, preferring to stare silently into the hazy noontime sun that illuminated the top floors where Trump lives and works.

Though squeezed to my other side, a visitor to the city, said to no one in particular, "I drove all night from Ohio to be here." I looked toward him so he knew I was listening. "Something amazing is going on up there. If you're from the City I assume you will disagree. Probably voted for Clinton." I did not nod though 90 percent in Manhattan did. "Could be like the Wizard of Oz. An amplified voice from behind a screen or facade. But I am thinking . . ." He trailed off.

"But to drive all this way," I said to him, "you must think . . ."

"I do think," he pressed even closer to me and lowered his voice further, "I do think something historic is happening. I believed in 2008 when Obama first ran and then voted for him twice. And I think he did a pretty good job, but this is, may be different. With his election we're hearing from different political voices. I will admit that there is danger in that. But maybe there's more magic than danger. Hope may still be alive. Look around at who's here. Look at the faces. Doesn't it feel reverential?"

I did and said, "It does and that disturbs me. I'm being frank with you. Reverential is not my favorite mode. I prefer skepticism." I felt sorry, after his effort to get there, that I was implying criticism of what he was feeling.

"I'm that way too," he said, returning his full attention to the Tower.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

November 18, 2016--Trump Tower

Return here on Monday to read about our visit on Thursday to Trump Tower.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

November 17, 2016--Don't Turn Off Your TV

Many of my liberal friends have been telling me that the results of the election and the current state of the transition are so upsetting that they've stopped reading newspapers and watching TV.

Having similar inclinations, I understand this.

In spite of this, I also feel we have to resist the impulse and make sure we're watching a lot of network and cable news, that we're reading all the newspapers and magazines we can tolerate, that we are spending time surfing the internet for political stories and insights, and are pushing ourselves to talk with each other about our frustrations and, much more important, what happened and what to do, to actually do, to make a difference, to recapture the agenda.

Republican conservatives have been adept at keeping in touch with who their people are and their issues and for decades have been organizing themselves to shape the discourse and gain power from the local to national levels.

Progressives? Not so much. Especially when it comes time to move beyond check-writing and self-referential smart-talk.

I'll be frank--what I've been hearing from liberal friends is that they are tuning off the news because dealing with it is making them unhappy. To quote many, "When I turn off the TV, I immediately feel better."

In response I have begun to say that, "With all due respect and affection, this sounds indulgent. Being an engaged citizen is not about feeling good. It's often about feeling bad and in spite of that, because of that seeking ways to become productively activated."

It's gotten to the point that some people I've known for many years don't want to talk with me anymore. Or, if we talk, want only to speak about happy, diverting things.

But unless more of us who opted out even before the election, pretty much having become disenchanted with politics, leaving the protection of our rights to governments, unless we reengage and get mobilized what we have seen recently is what we will likely experience for the rest of our lives.

One friend yesterday, finally exasperated by my unwillingness to stop hectoring him, said, "OK. I hear you. But what should we do? What should I do?"

Here's what I told him--
  • Write letters to the editor and op-ed pieces
  • Call in to radio talkshows, especially right-wing ones, and take on their demagoguery
  • Write to Democratic members of the House demanding they vote to replace Nancy Pelosi as minority leader
  • Write to whomever makes the decision about who you prefer to be the next head of the Democratic National Committee
  • Support, volunteer for, send checks to organizations such as the ACLU that are dedicated to promulgating and protecting liberal rights and values
  • Consider running for public office--school board membership is a good place to start
  • Spend vacation time driving the blue highways of America and talk with, listen to people at the lunch counters of local diners
  • Keep the TV on and watch not only PBS but Fox News, especially Fox News
  • Get started fighting back
  • Never give up!
Richard Nixon

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

November 16, 2016--Normalization

Yesterday, the following sub-headline appeared on the first page of the New York Times website--

"Critics lamented what they said was a frightening normalization of the fringe views that Mr. Bannon promoted as chairman of Breitbart News."

The Times went on to say that by president-elect Trump appointing Stephen Bannon chief presidential strategist--responsible for generating ideas that will animate his administration--as one of the founders of the white supremacist alt-right, this designation contributes to legitimatizing racist, homophobic, nationalistic, and anti-Semetic views and behavior. And, of course, will make these kinds of reprehensible thoughts welcome in the White House.

On a very different scale, I have been accused of contributing to the normalization of Donald Trump.

I have been writing here and elsewhere for a year and a half about the unexpected political rise of Donald Trump. And after he won the Republican nomination, in spite of his outrageous words and behavior, I continued to write about him, taking him seriously while most of the others on the left continued to mock and disregard the seriousness and potency of his candidacy.

Almost all of what I wrote through the many months was asserted by me to be an attempt to understand the Trump phenomenon, particularly why he was appealing to so many. Enough eventually to elect him.

My view was and is that we must come to understand why so many white men regardless of educational evil and economic status supported him enthusiastically, why so many Hispanics (close to a third of those who turned out) cast ballots for him, and particularly why more than half of white women (again across the demographic spectrum) chose him to be our next president.

I was criticized widely for not simply condemning Trump's racism and sexism and that, by writing about him and his followers with an dispassionate mind, I was contributing to taking him seriously, rather than treating him as dismissively, and, again, by so doing I helped normalize him.

Perhaps I did not do a good enough job of making the distinction between this effort to understand and what might be viewed as unintended implicit support.  

In other words, I was lectured by many, Trump did not deserve to be taken seriously and by continuing stubbornly to do so I was inadvertently--or perhaps subliminally--endorsing his candidacy.

I can understand the angst and rage and fear that his election is causing many to feel--I as well feel his election has the potential to turn out to be a national tragedy--but I do not understand why simply dismissing him was and is the preferred way to defeat his ideas and reduce his reach.

My view is that just the opposite is true.

We need to gain a nuanced and accurate understanding of Trump's appeal and a clear sense of what is motivating and mobilizing his followers if we are to have a chance to overcome appeals of his kind and the political and culture power that is responsible for the most perversely remarkable presidential election in our history.

Calling that effort normalization misses the point. One has to take the risk of taking Trump seriously (which is different than a show of support) in order to figure out what is seething in the middle of America.

Those who continue to believe that he is evil and that his supporters in one way or another are deplorable, and thereby not worth thinking about seriously, are the ones from the progressive end of the political spectrum who also contributed to his election.

Stephen Bannon

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

November 15, 2016--Preview

The day got away from me but I will return tomorrow with some thoughts about "normalization." The latest buzzword.

Monday, November 14, 2016

November 14, 2016--Election Postmortem

I called an old friend late last week to commiserate about the results of the election.

It was three days after the fact and she was still morose. "I'm too old to move to Canada or Europe. Friends in England called to invite me to stay with them for at least Trump's first six months. They said his first hundred days would be over by then and it would be possible to see how bad things were going to be. They said if by then he overturned most of Obama's major accomplishments, I could apply for asylum in England. But then of course there would be Brexit to deal with."


"Really. I'm thinking about it."

"Do you think things are that bad?"

"Potentially. Did you see who's on Trump's short list of possible cabinet members?"

"There's a lot of speculation but . . ."

"Forget 'but.' How does Sarah Palin as secretary of the interior sound? Say goodbye to our forests. Remember 'drill, baby, drill?' Or how does John Bolton for secretary of state sound? I think his favorite quote is John McCain's 'bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.' McCain was probably making a joke but for John Bolton it could sum up his foreign policy agenda."

"Sounds like a nightmare."

"And worst of all, as a lifelong feminist, I hate what Trump and his even-worse vice president, Mike Pence, say they want to do about women's rights. Say goodbye to Roe v. Wade. That alone is making me sick and depressed."

"I hear you," I said, then, "Therefore this may not be the best time for what I want to say but . . ."

"Say it. There's nothing you could say to make me feel worse."

"I'm not sure about that. But you know on my blog I've been writing critically about progressives who I feel did things to unintentionally help elect Trump."

"Too many didn't turn out to vote."

"That's part of it and related to my critique. For me a big part of the problem was that too many liberals lost touch with what was smoldering in that part of America they don't know because they live in isolated urban coastal enclaves, live comfortably, and look down on people who have different lives and value different things. Also, we have lost touch with people who are finally fed up with the false promises that have been made to them for decades by both Democrats and Republicans. In many ways Trump was like a third-party candidate."

"So far I don't disagree with you. We've grown very complacent."

"Worse, in that complacency and out of feelings of superiority, we've lost the activist spirit. I was looking again at Kevin Phillips' Emerging Republican Majority written way back in 1969 after Nixon in '68 won all but one of the southern states. He lays it all out there and conservatives have been using it successfully as a kind of playbook since then about how to take control of governments at all levels from the local to the state and now the federal. All three branches."

"I remember that. Isn't he now disenchanted with the right wing he helped empower?"

"He is, but it's a little late. Among other things he wrote about how the so-called silent majority should begin the process of dominating all levels of the government by running for school boards and then work their way up the political food chain. They've done this successfully so that now they control 33 of 50 governorships and most state legislatures."

"Fair points," my friend said.

"But here's the even harder part--I know you really well and how you live and what activates you. So let me ask you a tough question."

"Fire away."

"You're very passionate about preserving the reproductive rights of women from being able to get contraception to . . ."

"And Mike Pence," she snarled,"wants to block that."

"Totally terrible," I said, "But people who agree with him about that and who are also obviously anti-abortion, have for decades set up picket lines at abortion clinics, harassing women who are seeking to terminate pregnancies. I've visited and worked in almost all the states and pretty much everywhere I've seen those nasty pickets. But, you know one thing I haven't seen?" I paused but my friend remained silent, "I've never, not once seen a picket line of pro-choice people there to help women enter the clinics." More silence.

"This to me is a terrible and condemning reality. And I'm including myself. I never was out there trying to offer support for those brave but harassed women. And while I'm on a roll, have you ever . . . ?"

"Never," my friend whispered, "I should have but now I'm old. Too old for that".

I let the silence remain uninterrupted between us.

"You could be right," she finally said.

"I think I am," I said, "And if I am, by our inactivity--maybe excluding some check writing to Planned Parenthood--we left this political opening to the more motivated people who are trying to take away rights that we believe are protected by the Constitution."

"My biggest worry is the Supreme Court."

"We should be worried. But here's my bottom line--Progressives are very good at marshaling facts and articulating opinions, but not so good as fessing up to how we've become complacent, waiting for government to take care of and protect us, much less getting mobilized and activated in support of the things we value. And until we do, what happened last Tuesday should not be a surprise. Also, though it may be hard to acknowledge, as I said, through our inactivity we helped bring about the debacle. And worst of all," I concluded, "too many of us secretly agreed with Hillary that Trump's people are deplorable."

Before I finished I heard the sound of my friend hanging up.

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Friday, November 11, 2016

November 11, 2016--Enough

Enough for the week I mean.

I am wanting to write about something other than politics but then all I read and think about involves politics. So I will say nothing more here for this week and see where I'm inclined to pick things up on Monday.

Probably politics!

For example--people for the last two days have been marching in the streets to protest and disavow Trump's election.

Where were they a month ago when things were still up for grabs? I suspect complacent in the belief that Hillary Clinton would win. In the meantime, for the past 50 years those on the right have been relentless in pursuit of their political agenda, winning school board elections, seats in state legislatures, governorships (the GOP picked up 3 more on Tuesday), both houses of Congress, the White House, and perhaps most important, the Supreme Court.

In the meantime, too many progressives have been complacent in our lives. More comfortable being disdainful (and now fearful) than directly engaged. And still unwilling to acknowledge that Trump voters on Tuesday were much more diverse in educational level, income, ethnicity, and even gender that we are comfortable contemplating.

Being angry about the outcome is misdirected. More honest and productive would be to be angry with ourselves.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

November 10, 2016--How He Won

First, how did he win?

I've been hearing all day from friends--all very progressive--that as the result of the election they have lost faith in our country, our democracy. One said, "We set the clocks back an hour last weekend and yesterday we set the country back 100 years."

I said, that the true test of a democracy is how we handle differences--not feeling it is working only when we get the results we prefer. Victory is easy. The real test is how we handle defeat.

Another said, he can't believe we will now being governed by "white, male high school graduates who are racists and misogynists."

I said back to him that Trump's range of supporters was much wider than that and that if we ignore this fact, there will be further dues to pay.

We have to begin by not creating bogeymen or ignoring reality, no matter how upsetting or maddening.

The first spin from the liberal media is that Donald TRUMP was elected because, in the words of the New York Times, the "Working Class Speaks: Blue-Collar Whites Give Stinging Rebuke to Democratic Party."

This is stereotypical and at best partly true.

In the very same edition of the Times, the actual breadth of TRUMP's coalition is apparent--
  • Trump received 45 percent of college graduates' votes and 37 percent of those with graduate degrees. This is surprisingly counterintuitive.
  • He received about 50 percent of voters earning between $50,000 and $250,000. And, again surprisingly, 48 percent of those earning $250,000 or more. So much for blue-collar workers rebuking TRUMP.
  • Then, perhaps most interesting, he did much better among women and Latinos than anyone would have a right to expect. 
  • It was anticipated that he would do very poorly with both groups considering his anti-Hispanic and misogynist behavior. He got 29 percent of the Latino vote and 42 percent of the female vote. 
  • So, it is an exaggeration to say that he was elected primarily by angry white males since he received "only" 53 percent of the male vote and much of it from well educated and affluent men.
In reality, then, he was elected by a wide spectrum of voters, very much including Hispanics and women.

Thus, to understand where we find ourselves as a people it is imperative to look at the facts and from that seek ways to move forward either together or in effective opposition.

Here then is one final anecdote from one of my liberal friends who voted for Hillary--

He said that the transgender toilet flap last fall might be considered a vivid example of the problems pervading our political culture.

"Here we were learning that frustrations with governments and institutions were building among disaffiliated-feeling people who were struggling with systemic issues in their lives while we as a people became obsessed about pressure to set aside designated bathrooms, especially in schools, for transgender children. What an issue, that affected so few, to devote oneself to--tearing people apart--at a time when so many were hurting and fuming about more fundamental concerns."

He continued, sounding rueful, "Progressives especially, if we want to understand and attract the support of those who are felling left behind, need to take a close look at our propensity to engage in identity politics at the expense of not finding ways to reach out to everyone."

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Wednesday, November 09, 2016

November 9, 2016--Need Sleep

Been up all night. Need sleep. Too many things to think about when half crocked. Many lessons to learn.

Those who live in the cocoons of New York and the Beltway need to stop reading and talking about America and get out into America. Visit places that show up red on the electoral maps. Stop making fun of "those people." Disdain and smugness are half of what got us to this point.

I repeat from an earlier blog about how most people at a Manhattan dinner party had been to Paris many times but not Staten Island.

We've brought this down upon ourselves.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2016

November 8, 2016--Ladies of Forest Trace: Election Day

They are no longer with us.

All the Ladies of Forest Trace, my mother and her friends, have moved on. But if there is a way for them to watch from their undisclosed location, through the day today, and especially this evening, they will be tuned in to Anderson Cooper (who they all thought is "adorable") to watch the vote tallies, especially in Florida, because the outcome of the election may again come down to "Florida, Florida, Florida," and some of the Ladies feel they still have some expiating to perform considering it was they as well as many other ladies of South Florida who, in 2000, either mistakenly voted for the anti-Semite Pat Buchanan or hang enough chads on their paper ballots to give the election to George W. Bush.

The rest is history. Sad history.

I know that today, with the opportunity to vote for the first woman to have an excellent chance of becoming our president, that would have been a highlight of all of their very-long lifetimes. My mother would be the oldest of the Ladies--she would be half-a-year more than 108 today--but all of her friends would be old enough to remember vividly when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, August 18, 1920, when my mother was 12 years old. In her day, she and other girls were very much women at 12, in my mother's case having been born in a log cabin in the Polish woodlands.

All of the Ladies were disappointed in 2008 not to have had Hillary Clinton as the nominee, having lost in a bitter primary struggle with Barack Obama, but to a person they all came around to feeling good about voting for him because of his progressive views, his ability to promulgate hope, and not incidentally because he was African American. And most lived long enough to enthusiastically vote for him again four years later.

But today is different, very different.

I know that my mother and most of her friends had some "issues" with Hillary. They may have liked many of Bill Clinton's governing priorities but they thought little about his suitability as a husband. Some of the Ladies had issues with their own long-departed husbands and from that they knew a cad when they saw one.

But sharing this with Hillary they understood the impulse they felt to endure, to put up with what most younger women today would not tolerate. But they all lived long enough to understand the behavior and compromises expected of their generation, Hillary's, and of much younger women, who they over time successfully struggled to feel good about.

They also saw Hillary's flaws in her various official roles as First Lady, senator, and secretary of state.  Most were alive for all of that and had the experience and enough accrued wisdom not to deceive themselves because of her gender or feminism. But they saw the same falabilities, or worse, among Hillary's contemporaries and colleagues. These Ladies were not about gilding lilies or for that matter anything. They may not have had the exact words to express this but they were individually and personally viable in the world of very realpolitik.

And so through the day today, one by one they would have stood in line bent over their walkers, declining the offered wheelchairs or help to shuffle to the head of the line.

They had waited more than 80 years for this.

They had stood on many lines over the many decades--at dockside in Bremen, Germany to board the ship that would transport them to America, on lines at Ellis Island, on lines to file citizenship papers, on other lines when food was scarce during the Depression or rationed during the War, on lines while waiting at their children's schools, on lines at heath clinics, on lines in some cases to secure applications for scarce jobs or to apply for subsidized housing, on lines too many to count that led them to pay respects at the caskets of too-many-to-count friends and family members.

So, I know they would have thought today--"This is one final line I want to stand on because I've been waiting all my life to stand on a line to a polling booth where I can vote to make a woman president of the United States."

Then, after lingering with the ballot on which Hilary Clinton's name appears, with tears and pride, they would cast that magical vote and head home to Forest Trace for a nap so they could stay awake late enough tonight to see Florida, Florida, Florida seal the victory for Hillary.

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Monday, November 07, 2016

November 7, 2016--Post-Fact America

I know at least ten people who report they have lost close friends this election cycle. In every case because their political differences were so unbridgeable and their disagreements so visceral and nasty that they have stopped talking to each other and believe they will never reconcile.

Particularly disturbing, they claim they couldn't agree about any facts. In spite of quoting Daniel Patrick Moynahan's oft-quoted axiom about how we're entitled to our own opinions but not our own facts.

Many I've spoken with still insist that their former friends insist on having their own facts. This in spite of fact-checked evidence that some things are truer than others and sometimes what are asserted to be facts are essentially made-up. Still, most continue to cling to and cite these untruths as facts.

And on the other side, my friends' side, those with a confessional inclination reveal that they too are not exempt from not always distinguishing fiction from fact. That they as well have their own facts and don't care that much if they are true or not. They're so angry about the issues, the candidates, the campaigns, and their friends' smug obtuseness that they care only about winning and dominating anyone who disagrees. Even life-long pals.

I should also confess to at times feeling frustrated in pretty much the same way and have been prone to spin what I know to be a half or untruth. I'm not proud of this, but there you go.

What's going on?

Insight comes from Farhad Manjoo's excellent book, True Enough: Living in a Post-Fact Society. A column referring to it by Manjoo can be found in his recent New York Times "State of the Art" column.

He speaks about how with the advent of the internet it was anticipated that there would be an easily accessible proliferation of mainstream and independent reporting so that anyone interested could be unfettered in the pursuit of factual information and ultimately the truth. This would not of course preclude disagreement, even of a fundamental sort, but it would assure that the facts would get out and perhaps be agreed about.

Manjoo writes--
The internet is distorting our collective grasp on the truth. Polls show that many of us have burrowed into our own echo chambers of information. In a recent Pew Research Center survey, 81 percent of respondents said that partisans not only differed about policies, but also about "basic facts." 
For years, technologists and other utopians have argued that online news would be a boon to democracy. That has not been the case. . . . 
If you study the dynamics of how information moves online today, pretty much everything conspires against truth.
More interesting and confounding, he also suggests that it may be human nature itself that is the problem--that even those who consider themselves rational and independent-minded often seek the intellectual shelter of what I have here at times labeled "confirmation bias"--our inclination to filter out information, facts, that contradict our already-secure beliefs. Beliefs, not facts.

Again from Manjoo--
A wider variety of news sources was supposed to be the bulwark of a rational age--"the marketplace of ideas," the boosters called it. 
But that's not how any of this works. Psychologists and other social scientists have repeatedly shown that when confronted with diverse information choices, people rarely act [in rational, civic-minded ways]. Instead, we are roiled by preconceptions and biases, and we usually do what feels easiest--we gorge on information that confirms our ideas, and we shun what does not. 
This dynamic becomes especially problematic in a news landscape of near-infinite choice. Whether navigating Facebook, Google, or The New York Time's smartphone app, you are given ultimate control--if you see something you don't like, you can easily tap away to something more pleasing. Then we all share what we have found with our like-minded social networks, creating closed-off, shoulder-patting circles online. 
If true, and it sounds to be so to me, how do we proceed?

We can dig deeper into our intellectual and ideological foxholes, seeking the security of "certainty" or we can take a more uncomfortable and challenging step and do some self-examining in the hope that we can figure out how to get comfortable with ambiguity and even contrary ideas and opinions.

After this ugly election season, where too many on both sides did not distinguish themselves, to begin the understanding and healing process is essential.

I especially call on my fellow progressives to take the lead in this. We pride ourselves as being rational, evidence-based thinkers and actors. Liberal minded liberals. It is time to put that on display by stepping up to the challenge. It may not work--to our long-term peril--but it is time to stop pointing disdainful fingers.

Hillary Clinton will be elected tomorrow. By a wide margin.

For more than 30 years she has at times been viscously assailed. Thus, she is the perfect person to put aside her understandable suspicions and anger and transcendently fess up to her own biases and by example, and through the bully pulpit, begin this needed national process and thereby make America great again.

Because we were and are great when we are open-minded, inclusive, and generous.

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Friday, November 04, 2016

November 4, 2016--Closing Thoughts

I will return on Monday with some closing thoughts about, what else, the election.

In the meantime, today, keep an eye on WikiLeaks. If they have something especially damaging, this would be the time for them to reveal it.


Thursday, November 03, 2016

November 3, 2016--Endorsement for President

It has not been my tradition here to endorse candidates, but this time I am moved to make an exception--

I am endorsing No-One for president.

I have been voting since 1960 and was excited to pull the lever for John F. Kennedy. Then, in 1964 I felt good enough about the Lyndon Johnson of the Civil Rights Acts and Great Society to vote for him. Next, I believed that Hubert Humphrey would finally bring an end to the war in Vietnam and I picked him over Nixon, who won and when he ran for reelection I thought that George McGovern would prove to be a credible alternative.

Next came Carter versus Ford--two good men--and subsequently Ronald Reagan, who ran first against Carter and then the acceptable Fritz Mondale. Reagan was not someone I wanted to vote for but compared to Carter, who was a failure, Reagan had a few good qualities and proved to be a transformative president. How many would like to have him to vote for this year?

George H.W. Bush was credible as was his opponent, Michael Dukakis. So I was able to feel decent about the choices and did not have a problem voting.

Then came Bill Clinton who had well-qualified opponents in both Bush and then Dole. After Clinton there was George W. Bush and his attractive opponents, Al Gore and John Kerry. Both times I voted with a measure of enthusiasm and belief though my candidates lost.

Finally there was the hopeful Barack Obama and his two well-regarded opponents, John McCain and Mitt Romney.

And now we have Hillary Clinton and, god-help-us, Donald Trump. Two of the worst aspirants to the presidency ever.

Hillary is a deeply compromised candidate from a family of grifters that includes her and in 30+ years of various forms of public service has done a lot but accomplished little. Actually, her record is mainly made up of failed efforts during her tenure as secretary of state. Think Russia, Egypt, Libya, Syria. She promises to be a business-as-usual president at a time when the system needs a good shaking up.

Then there is the much worse Donald Trump, a charlatan whose greatest accomplishments were hosting a successful reality TV show and branding for cash his name globally. This alone should disqualify him but then there is the misogyny, racism, Islamophobia, and . . .

Both candidates inspire little hope, in fact both are divisive, surrounded by haters of two unique types, and could easily wind up indicted, impeached, and jailed before the end of a first term.

The only thing I care about that distinguishes them can be summed up in two words--"Supreme" and "Court."

For that reason, though I am endorsing no-one, I will force myself to vote for Clinton.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2016

November 2, 2016--Just Think . . .

Just think--next week at this time we'll have a president-elect. It remains obvious to me who that will be.

And at long last our national nightmare will be over.

Or switching to a new mode.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

November 1, 2016--Ode to J. Edgar

With the current flap about FBI director James Comey making an even bigger mess of the already-messiest presidential election in history, reading recently about the reign of J. Edgar Hoover, during this politically perverse year I've been asking where is J. Edgar when we need him?

Hoover was all the terrible things you know about him and then some. And I'm not talking about his penchant for black sheath dresses and extra-high heels. By today's standards that makes him more interesting and even amusing.

What I am missing in Hoover is his ability to get things done and to keep certain kinds of high-level matters where they belong--under control and out of the public eye.

For example, he had the goods on John F. Kennedy both before and after he assumed the presidency. He told brother Bobby, who was JFK's Attorney General, that he, Hoover, would keep the lid on Kennedy's womanizing (now there's a word for you), philandering that makes Bill Clinton seem celibate, as long as Kennedy let him remain FBI director and cooled his fooling around with Mafia mistresses. In other words, Hoover was devoted to his own prerogatives and to keeping things running on a version of even keel.

Comey, in contrast, whatever the email denouement, is nothing if not totally disruptive.

When in July he issued his report on the first swatch of Hillary emails, finding that she had been "extremely careless" but not indictable, Democrats raced to praise him while Republicans saw a pro-Hillary conspiracy involving Comey, attorney general Roberta Lynch, and Bill Clinton who, now famously, had a tarmac tete-a-tete with Lynch during which he allegedly promised her that she could continue as AG after Hillary is elected if she squelched the FBI probe.

And now, when on Friday Comey sent his incoherent letter to the congressional committee investigating Clinton's emails, just 10 days before Election Day, Democrats are excoriating him (Harry Reid says he may have committed a crime) for supposedly sandbagging Hillary.

And though Comey is a registered Republican and was an appointee of George W. Bush's, the same Republicans (i.e. Donald Trump) who lambasted him for his initial findings, this time around are praising him for going rogue with the now renewed investigation.

About this resumed scrutiny, here is one paranoid scenario about what is unfolding.

(Note--during this literally psychotic election season nothing one might imagine happening is paranoid since the craziest behaviors have become the norm--at least once of day in Trump's case.)

Though he is a Republican, Comey is of the old school of Republicans--a rare moderate--and thus he despises Donald Trump and wants to see him soundly defeated.

So he issues this seemingly inappropriate letter even before anyone in his office has looked at any of the emails recently found on Anthony Weiner's laptop (talk about psychotic) and then, after being massacred in the mainstream media, appears to backpedal, saying that FBI agents will fast track an analysis of these emails and report to the public perhaps even before Election Day if there are (or aren't) any emails that haven't been seen before that might convince him that Clinton is indictable.

The fact that nothing remotely like this has ever happened in all of American history aside, we are where are and, for sanity's sake, here's what might really be going on--
  • Agents using metadata search methods will quickly review the Weiner emails and Comey will report by the end of this week, three days before the election, that there is nothing new and Hillary is finally and fully in the clear.
  • The voting public goes crazy. 
  • The Trump people cry foul and claim this shows once again that the election is rigged.
  • The Hillary people are ecstatic and rush to the polls in record numbers.
  • She wins in both a popular vote and Electoral vote landslide--52-45% in the vote count and 450-90 in Electoral votes.
  • Comey sees the results he wants and goes down as a footnote to history.
  • Two years from now, when his FBI job ends, Comey secures a $5.0 million advance to write his memoirs. He makes the rounds of all the talkshows. This is the last time he is ever heard from.
  • Hillary doesn't take Huma Abedin with her to the White House. She hires a replacement "body woman." So Huma, after finally dumping Weiner, joins CNN as a political commentator. On the side, she resumes her no-show job at the Clinton Foundation.
  • Anthony Weiner is convicted of sexting a minor and gets 3-5 in the slammer.
  • And, yes, the Trump disaffiliates do not march on Washington with pitchforks and torches. They retreat to their finished basements more devoted than ever to six-packs of Bud.

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