Thursday, August 30, 2018

Trump Is Petty, Vindictive, Insecure, Self-Centered, and Utterly Bereft of Dignity, Honor or Grace, Yet 85 Percent of Republicans Support Hime

Another MUST READ,  the Washington Post, Republicans rejected McCain and embraced Trump. What does that say about them?, which states in full:

"I was one of those naive souls who imagined that Donald Trump's presidential campaign was finished on July 18, 2015, when he called Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a 'loser,' denied that he was a war hero and said, 'I like people who weren't captured.' Mocking a man who had spent more than five years in a hellish POW camp, I figured, was the third rail of American politics, particular when the mocker spent his own Vietnam War years partying at nightclubs.

How wrong I was. How little I understood what were then my fellow Republicans. It turns out that, far from being repulsed by Trump's attack on their previous standard-bearer, many Republicans rejoiced in it. They are even happier, these fanatical partisans, now that the president could not bring himself to hide his antipathy toward one of America's greatest heroes even on his deathbed.

Trump expressed the right sentiments but about the wrong people. 'Such respect for a brave man!' he tweeted.

He was talking not about McCain but about the felon Paul Manafort, who displayed his bravery not by resisting torture but by resisting the urge to 'rat' on Trump. The president tweeted that 'I would like to send my warmest regards and respect' not to McCain but to Kim Jong Un, the dictator who presides over the world's worst police state.

It took a popular outcry among veterans to force Trump to lower flags to half-mast in McCain's honor and to issue a minimally laudatory statement. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, Trump rarely does the right thing, and then only after exhausting all the alternatives. By contrast, McCain did the right thing even at considerable cost to his physical and political well-being. Trump talks a lot about American greatness, but he actually represents the worst of America. As he showed again this week, he is petty, vindictive, insecure, self-centered, and utterly bereft of dignity, honor or grace. McCain, by contrast, was a larger-than-life figure, a paragon of integrity who represented the best of America.

I cannot think of a more damning commentary on the state of the Republican Party than the fact that its voters vastly prefer Trump to McCain. Trump's approval rating with the country at large is low - 41.4 percent in the FiveThirtyEight poll of polls - but he has the support of 85 percent of Republicans. McCain, by contrast, was viewed favorably by just 41 percent of Republicans. In Arizona, his approval rating among his own party was a rock-bottom 20 percent.

Little wonder that many Republicans, far from being appalled at Trump's inexcusable mistreatment of Trump, cheer him on. One reader posted this comment on Facebook in response to my tribute to McCain: 'McSTAIN was a thorn in the side of conservatism for over 30 years, a true SWAMP CREATURE, if ever there was one! GOOD RIDDANCE!!!'

What could possibly account for such hatred toward a man who devoted his life to his nation's service? The standard explanation is that McCain was an apostate who deviated from conservative orthodoxy. It's true that he opposed the Bush tax cuts, supported action on climate change, worked to ban torture, tried to craft immigration reform, and just last year, opposed the repeal of Obamacare. Yet he still sided with Republicans on 87 percent of party-line votes during his career. Ronald Reagan said: 'The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally - not a 20 percent traitor.' Republicans now disagree. Someone who agreed with them 87 percent of the time is, it seems, a traitor after all.

Here's the irony: While McCain is written off as a RINO (Republican in Name Only), Republicans embrace a president who is actually, literally, a RINO. McCain was a Republican his entire life, while Trump has changed parties and political views more often than he has changed wives. As recently as 2011, he was an independent.

And now that he is a Republican, Trump has redefined what the party stands for. Republicans used to preach about the importance of character in America's leaders and attack the moral relativism of the Democrats. Now they support a president who paid off a porn star and a Playboy playmate to win the presidency and who denies that America is morally superior to Russia. Republicans also used to support family values, fiscal responsibility, law and order, free trade, immigration, democracy promotion and the Atlantic alliance. Under Trump, all those views are as passe as basic civility and decorum.

The GOP's embrace of Trump and rejection of McCain are emblematic of the atavistic tribalism, ideological extremism and authoritarian cultism that the senator spent his entire life combating. 'We weaken our greatness,' McCain wrote in his farewell statement, 'when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe.' The reaction to McCain's passing in the fever swamps of the right amply vindicates his eloquent warning."

Monday, August 20, 2018

'The Debilitating Infection of Celebrity Culture'

Another MUST READ,  the Washington Post, Our republic will never be the same, which states in full:

From the beginning of the American republic, its founders obsessed about how it all would end. 'Democracy never lasts long,' said John Adams. 'There never was a democracy yet, that did not commit suicide.'

George Washington used his farewell address to warn that partisan “factions” could tear the country apart. The Federalists worried that domestic disunity could be exploited by hostile foreign governments. James Madison in particular feared that liberty might be lost by 'gradual and silent encroachments of those in power.'

Check. Check. Check.

But there is one factor in our politics that the founders could not have predicted: the debilitating infection of celebrity culture.

Were Washington to be resurrected, it would be difficult to explain how history’s most powerful nation, after surviving civil war and global conflict, turned for leadership to a celebrity known for abusing other celebrities on television. It is the single strangest development in American history. And we have only begun to process its consequences.

It is not that American leaders have never been famous. Dwight Eisenhower was one of the most famous men in the world for organizing victory in World War II. Ronald Reagan was famous for his acting career, but also for being governor of California and an articulate conservative.

Fame usually has some rough relationship to accomplishment. Celebrity results from mastering the latest technologies of self-exposure. Ingrid Bergman was famous. Kim Kardashian is a celebrity. Franklin D. Roosevelt was famous. Donald Trump is ... not in the same category.

Within its proper bounds – confined to stunts on a desert island or in a fake boardroom – the ethos of reality television is relatively harmless. Transposed to the highest level of politics, it is deeply damaging.

This is not only a matter of preferring a certain style of politics (though I think we should do better than the discourse of unhinged tweeting). The problem is a defect of spirit. The founders generally believed that the survival and success of a republic required leaders and citizens with certain virtues: moderation, self-restraint and concern for the common good. They were convinced that respect for a moral order made ordered liberty possible.

The culture of celebrity is the complete negation of this approach to politics. It represents a kind of corrupt, decaying capitalism in which wealth is measured in exposure. It elevates appearance over accomplishment. Because rivalries and feuds are essential to the story line, it encourages theatrical bitterness. Instead of pursuing a policy vision, the first calling of the celebrity is to maintain a brand.

Is the skill set of the celebrity suited to the reality of governing? On the evidence, not really. Our celebrity president, as on North Korea, is prone to take credit for non-existent accomplishments. As on the border wall and the travel ban, he deals in absurd symbols rather than realistic policies. As on Russian policy, he is easily manipulated by praise. As on the revoking of former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance, he uses the power of his office to pursue personal vendettas. Instead of yelling at the television when people displease him, he now has the power to hurt them in practical ways.

When a real estate developer attacks an enemy in the tabloids, it is a public relations spectacle. When the president of the United States targets and harms a citizen without due process, it is oppression.

But the broader influence of celebrity culture on politics is to transform citizens into spectators. In his book 'How Democracy Ends,' David Runciman warns of a political system in which 'the people are simply watching a performance in which their role is to give or withhold their applause at the appropriate moments.  In this case, democracy becomes 'an elaborate show, needing ever more characterful performers to hold the public’s attention.' Mr. Madison, meet Omarosa.

Donald Trump is sometimes called a populist. But all this is a far cry from the prairie populism of William Jennings Bryan, who sought to elevate the influence of common people. Instead, we are seeing a drama with one hero, pitted against an array of villains. And those villains are defined as anyone who opposes or obstructs the president, including the press, the courts and federal law enforcement. Trump’s stump speeches are not a call to arms against want; they are a call to oppose his enemies. This is not the agenda of a movement; it is the agenda of a cult.

Will the republic survive all this? Of course it will. But it won’t be the same.

The celebrity culture has corrupted more than politics.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

"Trump is the president the Founding Fathers feared"

MUST READ,  the Washington Post, Trump is the president the Founding Fathers feared, which states in full:

"Has there ever been a president as obscene as Donald Trump -- a president as obtuse, as ignorant, as base, as dishonest, as indifferent to precedent, as contemptuous of civil liberties, as critical of his own government and officials, as brutish, as cold to consequences, as hostile to the media, as casually racist and as self-centered? The answer is no. For comparisons, you have to look abroad.

Ah, but no. We are admonished from doing that. This is America, and it is special, and it does not swoon for demagogues. It has gone through hard times, sure -- the Civil War and the Great Depression and the Red Scare following World War I and the Russian Revolution, and the McCarthy period following the onset of the Cold War. It has done terrible things to the Indians, enslaved blacks and thereafter remained exuberantly racist both in custom and law. It incarcerated Japanese-Americans and for a time was so deeply anti-Semitic that it turned its back on frantic Jews fleeing extermination. But overall -- and especially when compared to lots of other countries -- we have been downright marvelous. And so we insist.

But did you see Trump at his rallies in Tampa, Florida and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania? The usual litany of lies and invective and the standard slander of the press were upped a notch. This time it was more personal. 'Horrible, horrendous people,' he said of reporters in Pennsylvania. 'Fake, fake, disgusting news,' he said of their product. CNN’s Jim Acosta was menaced by the crowd in Tampa. It stood behind him chanting 'CNN sucks' and the president not only did not call for order -- did not, in other words, act presidential -- but later when his son Eric tweeted a picture of it all, Trump retweeted his approval.

There has never been anything like this in America. We have suffered the occasional regional or third-party fool running for president -- the racists Strom Thurmond and George C. Wallace come to mind. But American presidents were there to thwart them, to bottle them up. No president has ever held the rallies Trump has. The outpouring of venom, the toying with violence gives them an old newsreel cast. We have seen such faces here, contorted in the ecstasy of hate. Yes, in 1957 when nine black kids enrolled in Little Rock’s Central High School. Yes, nine years later when Martin Luther King Jr. took his movement to Chicago. It has taken Trump to revive the face of American hate.

The president’s party has fallen into line. His press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to say if she agrees that the media is 'the enemy of the people' -- Trump’s term of deep totalitarian provenance. But from much of the GOP came cowed silence. Trump has transformed the GOP into an updated Know-Nothing Party -- anti-immigrant, for sure, but anti-science as well. Few dare criticize him. Those who do face defeat in primaries, and those who don’t, vie for his endorsement. Northern liberals once trafficked with Southern segregationists, but this is different. This is now.

Look at Trump’s comments on the prosecution of Paul Manafort. He has tweeted that 'Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now.' It is the Trumpian version of Henry II’s 'who will rid me of this troublesome priest' which led to the murder of Thomas Becket. Who will be surprised if Trump pardons Manafort? No one can stop him. Paul Ryan would make a face and Mitch McConnell would mildly denounce it, but the rest of the GOP would roll over, puppy-like, so Trump could scratch its stomach.

Trump has debased the presidency. He has removed America from its moral and practical leadership role in world affairs. Like a bratty kid, he has spit-balled foreign leaders -- Angela Merkel, Theresa May, Justin Trudeau, Emmanuel Macron -- mocking them for their principles. Yet, he has nothing bad to say about Vladimir Putin, the neo-Romanov ruler of Russia and soon, maybe, of the so-called 'Little Russians' as well. Ukraine, beware.

He has resumed the exploitation of the wilderness and the pollution of the environment. Above all, he has polluted our politics. The swamp he vowed to drain is now fetid with even more lobbyists and rancid with his lies. He said he would make America great again, but he has reduced it in influence and conducted his presidency in a manner we have never seen before. Donald J. Trump is a new kind of American president, the sort the Founding Fathers feared. America once again has a mad king."