News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Debate? It was a spectacle of decomposition.



Those rituals that are called presidential debates are nothing resembling an actual debate.  In an actual debate,  a person presents a proposition,  the opposing side critiques it with citations of fact and tests of logic, the sides engage in reasoned argument, and the person who makes the most compelling points is deemed a winner.

The ritual that is called candidate debates is more a declamation contest which violates the rules of rhetoric.  Often they deteriorate into exchanges of ad hominem insults and accusations.   That gives all the uneducated,  mentally underpowered dolts out there in constituency land a chance to say their favored contender won the debate.  It's all an ink blot exercise:  people see in it a map of their own minds,  not any objective examination of issues.

One thing was clear in the first Clinton-Trump debate.  Hillary Clinton came prepared with some  facts and some reasons.  Trump did not.  

A man decomposing

There is an aspect to Trump that has been evident during his entire performance as a candidate.  He is a vile person.  He is that quality with which he condemns people he does not like:  horrible.   But beyond his personal egregiousness is a consistent aspect that attests to the quality of his  mentality.  He cannot compose or utter a coherent sentence or, beyond that,  a paragraph,  except when they are memorized slogans.  When he was asked to explain how he would put money into the pockets of American workers as an opening statement,  he said:


Our jobs are fleeing the country. They’re going to Mexico. They’re going to many other countries. You look at what China is doing to our country in terms of making our product. They’re devaluing their currency, and there’s nobody in our government to fight them. And we have a very good fight. And we have a winning fight. Because they’re using our country as a piggy bank to rebuild China, and many other countries are doing the same thing.
As some commentators call it,  it is Trump's stream-of-consciousness kind of communication effort.  He doesn't outline the actual facts;  he simply makes claims for which he provides no specific referents and offers no articulated plan.  He says "we have a winning fight,"  which sounds positive until one asks exactly what a winning fight is.  


Many commentators said that Trump was strong for the first 15 or 20 minutes, and his critique of NAFTA was particularly effective.   However, his most declarative sentence about NAFTA,  most closely resembling a thesis, was that  it is  "the single worst trade deal ever approved in this country."  In an actual debate,  supporting data and information would be introduced to develop that point.  But as has been the case with the entire Trump campaign,  he just makes such denunciations without ever being required to support them with accurate evidence.  He is strident,  but never cogent.  When his bluster is most strident is when the commentators give him credit for putting on a strong debate performance.  

Trump's claim is that the country needs a business person to lead the country,  not a longtime politician.  Liberals generally distrust business,  particularly the corporate culture that is endorsed by the GOP and cited as the engine of inequality by people like Berni Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.  Business, from the Trump perspective,  is not an enterprise that fills a genuine need or convenience with quality products and services and honesty.  In the corporate view,  which cites business decisions as something akin to a divine command,  workers are dumped and abandoned and the earth is exploited and left destitute because doing so is business.  Profit is the ultimate measure of a successful business, and if that includes bilking and fleecing people,  ravaging the land,  and holding people in a state of imminent poverty,  that is the mark of a good business.  

Hardly anyone noticed,  but Trump endorsed those predatory traits during the so-called debate.  


Hillary Clinton pointed out that the only time that Trump released his income tax records was "when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax."

Trump's response:  "That makes me smart."

Like most corporate CEOs,  he flouts the idea of a corporate citizen making fair contributions to the nation.  That is not smart business.


And then Hillary brings up the role Trump and his kind paid in triggering the Great Recession:  "In fact, Donald was one of the people who rooted for the housing crisis. He said, back in 2006, “Gee, I hope it does collapse, because then I can go in and buy some and make some money.” Well, it did collapse."


Trump's response: That’s called business, by the way.

Trump has never been a person who could compose coherent and cogent messages.  He can only bluster with unsupported claims and attack with insult and abuse.  Rather than being a person of composure,  he is a spectacle of decomposition.  And as he decomposed at the so-called debate,  he exposed some of the rotten and malignant principles that drive him and his kind.  

He showed what rules apply when the nation is run like a business.  He showed what is driving the inequality that pervades the nation.  


Saturday, September 17, 2016

Holding untruths that are self-evident

I once worked under a college president who was much like Donald Trump.  He was a colossal liar.  You couldn't trust a thing he said.  He lied even about petty and inconsequential things.  The faculty decided he did this so he wouldn't have to remember the lies he told.  Everything he said was a lie.  The more perspicacious  faculty dismissed everything he said and avoided contact with him.  The more gullible faculty lived in confusion and turmoil.  That was the strategy.  Keep the masses in a state of uncertainty and disorder and they will curry favor and attach their survival to those who hold  power over their lives.  He divided the faculty so that issues of academic integrity and honesty were regarded by outsiders as factional disputes.  

Within days after arriving on campus,  this president began firing people.  He got rid of those administrators who had, over the years, developed reputations for independent authority.  He replaced them with sucks who would never challenge his authority.  When some administrator disagreed with him,  he simply excluded and cut off the administrator from the administrative process.  Those administrators quickly resigned and moved on.  And when it came time for promotion and tenure decisions,  he carefully bestowed advancement only  on those faculty who demonstrated obedience and devotion to him.  He himself understood and practiced the art of sucking, which held him in good stead with regents,  who place sucking as a priority qualification for a college president.  

An insight into his mode of operation was his often repeated assertion that you are what you appear to be.  Once after some exaggerated and false claims had been made about the college,  some faculty at a meeting questioned them.  He said,  well we are what we appear to be to the public.  One of the senior history professors said,  "And we appear to be a bunch of liars."  That professor made the president's black list.  

Under this president's rule,  the college underwent serious deterioration academically.  After almost 30 years,  it still has not fully recovered.  What made it possible for the college to survive was tenured professors who exercised their freedom to study and teach without the interference of the administration.  They supplied academic integrity and continuity that made it possible for the college to operate. 

Donald Trump is a devout practitioner of this kind of dishonesty and misrule.   He practices levels of defamation and mendacity that exceed anything George Orwell portrayed in 1984. A example of this is in the matter of his use of the birther conspiracy,  the falsehood that Pres. Obama was not born in America.

Trump used this accusation to launch himself into a bid for the presidency.  Only people who  desperately searched for a reason to denigrate Obama--they did not want to a admit that they resented someone of his skin color holding the top office in the land--chose to believe the falsehood about his birth.  But then when Trump decided to state that Obama was, in fact, born in the U.S., he falsely blamed Hillary Clinton as the source of the rumor.  

When he performed this preposterous feat of depravity,  he was backed by a bunch of retired military officers wearing their medals around their necks.  
Honoring the commission of malicious lies is the depth of dishonor.  These men have the right to their political preferences,    but they have dishonored and cheapened what their medals represent in endorsing such acts of depraved dishonesty.

Trump has already brought about change in America.  Dishonesty and intellectual corruption was something that America fought against.  Now among many,  it is something they fight for.   The untruths are self-evident,  and these one-time soldiers have participated in a denial of all the principles delineated in the Declaration of Independence.   Like that college president,   Trump deteriorates everything he touches.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A lovely bunch of deplorables: a nation in the process of falling

No doubt, the United States has a huge political divide.  People on the left and right don't simply disagree on some matters of the role of government;  they hate each other for the values they espouse.  Rush Limbaugh and his imitators have bombarded the nation with insulting and abusive tirades about liberals,  most of which are untrue defamation.  He unleashed a degree of enmity rooted deeply in ignorance and stupidity and malignant deformities of character and paved the way for Donald Trump to publicly revile women, blacks, Mexicans, Muslims, union members, immigrants, people with disabilities, veterans, and anyone he fancies to denigrate when the urge strikes him.  

Masses of people stood up and cheered Trump's denunciations of people.  More than that,  a major political party elected him candidate for the U.S. presidency.  When a candidate for president openly and brazenly promises discrimination and oppression against large groups of people, sucks up to an ex-KGB agent who invades neighboring countries and employs totalitarianism as a demonstration of strength,  and vows to blow other nations to smithereens, he reverses the quest for freedom, equality, and justice that has defined American progress.  Donald Trump is a declared enemy of the traits that have defined American character.  And half of America, give or take a few points, supports him.


Trump vows to make America one, one people under one flag.  When half of the people repudiate him, not merely disagree with him,  but reject everything he stands for as  anathemas to all that America aspires to,   how does he propose to unite its divided people?      By eliminating dissent and disagreement in the way of his idol  Putin?  The divide between Americans is not one that political conciliation can remedy.  The divide is one that can be bridged only by a change in the demonstrated values with which people treat each other.  


In the context of racial executions of unarmed and innocent black Americans by police officers,  of 20 million Americans living in extreme poverty,  of hate rallies being held against immigrants and refugees,  athletes,  led in example by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick,are refusing to honor the flag because the country it represents is not living up to its promise of freedom, equality, and justice.  Many people are incensed that these athletes choose not to honor the flag, but cannot seem to grasp how the nation has failed to honor the lives of so many people.  A year ago when students at the University of Missouri demanded that the university president resign because he failed to respond sufficiently to racial oppression,   the football team threatened to boycott its games.  The university president resigned.  Professional athletes are now responding to the same problem on the national level.  The police have threatened to withhold their security services from the football games at which players demonstrate their protest--rather than acknowledge the problem and try to solve it.  And the divide between Americans widens.

The rise of  Trump confounded many people.  That so many people could support a man as deplorable and despicable as he seemed incomprehensible.  So,  social scientists began to poll and study them.  They produced explanations which show that America has lost its luster as a shining beacon of good will and humane decency.  To Trump and his supporters, making America great again means returning it to the mindsets of Jim Crow and robber barons. 

The rise of someone like Trump has been in preparation for a long time.  Limbaugh is the tip of a berg of rotten ice that pervades talk radio and surfaces on the Internet.  During the Clinton administration,  the airwaves were teeming with night talk of Clinton mounting hit squads to exterminate political opponents.  Every night Coast To Coast AM broadcasts over 600 stations to 3 million listeners with talk of ghosts, space aliens,  monsters prowling the land, all thrown in with anti-Obama tales.   Serving the deranged has become a staple of the broadcast industry.  These listeners might not be able to think with any clarity,  but they can vote.  The election of our first black president so enraged many people that they could no longer suppress their racial, white supremacist inclinations,  and Trump is their megaphone.

The problem with this poster is that it fails to
acknowledge that many Germans were in full
complicity with the Nazis.

America is at the point experienced by Germany of the 1930s when Jews, rather than Muslims, were targeted for violence and extermination.  The GOP governor of Kentucky stoked the rage when he predicted that America would become a "bloodbath" if Hillary Clinton is elected president.  Trump's rallies have given us previews of what it will be like.  The American Kristallnacht is in the making.  

From the standpoint of political strategy,  it was probably a mistake for Hillary Clinton to make the "basket of deplorables" remark.   But her remarks are unfortunately factual and accurate.   The data from poll-takers support them.  

There has always been in America a significant group of people who have little interest in freedom, equality, and justice,  except for themselves personally.  The struggle to realize the promises of our founding documents has seen gradual realization over the country's history,  but has always been in jeopardy.  And when just a few votes become the difference between electing a president who advocates and has worked for those values and one who flouts them,  there is always the possibility that a majority of the people will choose to regress the nation into just another place where oppression and resentment rule.  

The recent gains in racial equality, as in electing our first black president, and in sexual equality, as in same-sex marriage,  have only enraged those who wish to subjugate other people on some basis.  Conservative tampering with our education system has produced ignorance and an inability of many people to apprehend facts over malevolent prejudices conditioned in them by the right-wing media.  The idea of reconciling the knowledgeable with the ignorant is absurd.  It puts one in the position of compromising facts to appease the rancor of the maliciously prejudiced.  

Hillary Clinton's remarks contained something that the media, in its rage to foment conflict, has largely ignored.  She tried to get at some reasons that Trump has gained support.  She tried to deal with why.  Trump is only interested in agitating the disaffections of people into further rage, not in solving the problems and circumstances that cause their rage.  

As Lincoln reminded us, "A house divided against itself cannot stand."  But he did not think what divided the house at the time, slavery, would cause it to fall.  He contended that "It will become all one thing or all the other. "  While the governor of Kentucky has predicted that the election of Hillary Clinton as president will cause a bloody clash in the streets, few people have ventured what the consequence will be if Trump is president.  

To many of us who look at the history of other nations which have reached their tipping point,  Trump''s rise to prominence is a sign that the country has already taken a major step in its fall.  In any case,  half of the nation, give or take a percentage or two,  will never submit to his rule.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

And where are the pheasants?



Bob Mercer noted in a recent post that this year's pheasant population in South Dakota is down about 20 percent.  He points out that wildlife biologists attribute the decline to fewer acres in the Conservation Reserve Program.  However, he also points out that over the years, pheasant populations have fluctuated, and he questions whether reduced habitat is the only factor.

I recently noted that this year there is a notable absence of water fowl on my 18-mile drive between Aberdeen and Tacoma Park, where I have a work studio. In the past year or so,  I have also  remarked on the drastically changing landscape on that drive.   It is not only wildlife that is scarce; so is human life and domestic animals.  Wetlands have been filled in and plowed over, and what was once dedicated pasture land has also been planted over.  Industrial agriculture has thrown a blanket of corn and soybeans over the land that seems to have smothered all other forms of life.

But that drive I make many times a week into the South Dakota countryside is not the only place I observe this transformation of the land.  My brother in Illinois died in March, which has necessitated many trips back and forth between Illinois and South Dakota to take care of matters of his estate.  That blanket of soybeans and corn covers the 650 miles along that drive, too.  And as I drive through South Dakota into Iowa,  I find few wheat fields.  For a time, as one would drive south through South Dakota from Aberdeen,  there would be fields lit up this time of year with sunflowers.  Somebody must be growing wheat and sunflowers,  but not in the country I have travelled recently.   

As for pheasants,  they are among  the missing, too, along my drive between Aberdeen and Tacoma Park.  In the late spring and early summer, , it is common during the drive to slow down or stop the car to allow a hen pheasant to cross the road with her brood.  There were always pheasants in the field across the road from my place, and at the edge of Tacoma Park property,  there was a shelter belt where one could hear the squawkings pheasants in what was prime habitat for them.  The trees in that shelter belt are all dead now, after some recent years of successive flooding.  And  although the field is in the Conservation Reserve Program,  I have seen  nor heard no pheasants.  

The county has a  law against knowing the ditches along the right of way until after July 4,  so that the young pheasants can mature somewhat before the habitat is disturbed.  But this year,  I have seen no pheasants in the roadsides or in the fields.  In fact,  bird life of any kind has become somewhat rare.  

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are the force that is changing the landscape.  While there is much discussion over GMO labeling of foods and whether they should be of concern for human consumption,  biologists and environmental scientists are concerned about the effects that the industrial farming they  enable has on the biosphere.  The fact is that the rural landscape has changed drastically.  Biological diversity, which contributes to the a stable and sustaining biosphere, is being eliminated.

The changes in agriculture have largely  eliminated rural communities.  And the elimination of those communities, human and natural, have an effect on the ecosystem.  As one drives through South Dakota,  one finds a landscape dotted with abandoned farm buildings and towns with main streets of boarded up windows.  When the last school in a community is closed through consolidation,  the purpose of the community is gone.  The usual last gasp of a community is the establishment of a senior center in one of those empty buildings on main street.  The integration of farms into a  huge industrialized landscape eliminated the need for towns,  has absorbed the grasslands and wetlands,  and has covered over the wildlife communities.  

The media has not done its job in reporting these changes in the landscape or their significance.  If the pheasants, the ducks, and the domestic animals are gone,  that means they have no place to live.  Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever may have to change the focus of their efforts from the natural habitat to confinement operations.  

As I make my 18-mile drive,  I see no pheasants, no ducks,  no horses, sheep, or cattle in pastures.  Because I see  no habitat for them.  

The landscape has changed,  and so few people--aside from scientists--have really noticed. Or understood why.  





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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States

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