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

Thursday, March 8, 2018

A pit viper president

Donald Trump is detestable.  He is an ignorant, stupid, and malevolent creature.  That is why so many people support him.   Having those qualities in a president seems to vindicate their own ignorance, stupidity, and malice.  Many people have noted that he is as detestable as it is possible for a human being to be.  Trump shows every day that he cannot do things that define the human species.  He cannot process facts.  He can only respond by lashing out.  There is a reason.  His brain functions only on the reptilian level.

Brain science posits that the human brain developed three layers during the evolutionary process.   The basic most primitive part of the brain is what we share with the lower orders of the animal kingdom, the reptilian cortex.  That is the part of the brain that controls basic things like breathing but also those primitive behaviors such as aggression, dominance, territoriality, and ritual displays.  When people behave with mindless aggression, their reptilian brains have taken over from the higher parts of their brains, if they have any.  

Trump's behavior is typical of a person who has or chooses to use only a reptilian brain. His tweets are major evidence.  When he feels threatened, he shows no ability to assess whether there is an actual threat or if what stirs his alarm is a benign presence.  He assumes that other humans are driven by the kind of malign motives that drive him.  He strikes out at them like a rattle snake defending its territory.  

When people around him in the White House describe his "narcissism," his inability to act with informed and analyzed communication, his fearful and defensive mental state, his malice, his chaotic isolation, his inability to form trusting relationships, they are describing a creature that is not operating with a human brain.  He can only breathe, eat. sleep, do what seems necessary for his survival, and strike out at those around him. He is the quintessential pit viper. 

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has captured his reptilian nature in one of her recent columns, "This Snake Can’t Shed His Skin."

He is our president.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Legislative vandals want to trash South Dakota higher education

I came to Northern State in August 1979,  which was the first year for the state's colleges and universities to operate under a collective bargaining agreement.   I took the job late in the summer during a time when higher education was in a period of retrenchment and faculty jobs, particularly tenure track, were scarce.   The time was short and I had to leave Illinois in a hurry, leaving a spouse behind to sell a house.  At the time I was wrapping up some work with some other professors throughout Illinois in updating and refining matters of the state's history dealing with native Americans.  This involved much relaying of messages by telephone--there was no Internet yet.  It was relayed to me that a much-respected professor from the University of Illinois asked if Newquist knew what the hell he had done by taking a job in Aberdeen, South Dakota. I asked  my informants what he meant, and they said that he was referring to the fact that Northern State College was under censure by the American Association  of University Professors.  In addition to being a distinguished scholar of American history with a special interest in higher education, the professor was an active leader in the AAUP,   and, it turned out, was from Aberdeen.

I was referred to a report from AAUP that had placed Northern State College on its censured list and to the accounts of the efforts to lift the sanction.  The Illinois professor was on the investigative committee that recommended the censure.   I was a member of the AAUP.  The previous college I worked at did not have a faculty union, but the administration encouraged faculty to join AAUP as the professional association that had established the standards of the profession and the governance of higher education.   The college had a very effective faculty senate which conducted itself by the principles and processes laid out by the AAUP.  A censure by the AAUP is issued when personnel are treated in such a way as to threaten academic freedom and compromise the integrity of the teaching and the research of the institution.  It is a notice to members of the profession that the place is not a good place to work, and by implication that it is not a good place to send students.

In the rush to get things done after receiving an invitation for an interview at Northern,  I had not checked into whether it had any censures or demerits against it.  The information that Northern was censured came during my first weeks at Northern, and it came with other information that was unsettling.  A number of younger Ph.D.s had left the department I was hired to teach in for many reasons, but it was clear that there was some turmoil in it.  I was covering classes that three previous professors had taught.  I found out that the department had recommended another professor to be hired, but the college president overruled their choice and chose me.  The main reason was that  the previous year had been disastrous for the student-run media.  The student radio station had been closed down  and its transmission equipment sold off.  The newspaper and yearbook had staffing problems, and, therefore, production problems.  The president chose me because  I had 8 years experience as adviser to student publications,  and substantial experience as a working journalist.  

When I came on campus, both publications had students appointed as editors, but no staffs.  The fact was that student journalism had little interest on campus.   I was experiencing genuine culture shock on many fronts.  I had been working at a college where the average ACT score of entering students was 26 out 36 possible points.  At Northern, the average was 17.  At my previous institution,  I did not have to worry about recruiting students to work on publications.  The biggest task there was to find ways to employ the talents and meet the interests of the many students who wanted to write, photograph, and produce the publications.  If an editorial position became vacant,  there would be a long line of people wanting to fill it.

At Northern, the task was the opposite.  Few students or faculty and staff, for that matter,  had any interest in campus publications.  And many who expressed some interest lacked the requisite skills of literacy.  The college president thought that a campus without a vibrant student medium of discourse was at a disadvantage.  He made clear that restoring a vital student publications program was a priority with him.

So, my early years at Northern were occupied with trying to generate interest in journalistic projects and recruit students who could and would do the work.  Part of the problem is that Northern was a suitcase campus.  Most students kept their clothes packed so they could go home at every opportunity.  On weekends, the campus was almost student-free.  Students were not interested in getting much involved in campus activities.  The publications were not the only campus activity that had little participation.  

 Women, many with children, saved the student publications.  They outnumbered men on the staffs by 10 to 1.  Many were non-traditional, meaning not in the 18-22 age group, who wanted to acquire knowledge and skills in the communication arts.  They were accommodated by encouraging them to bring their children with them when they worked on the publications.  My office in the student union publications suite looked like a day care at times, but it enabled the women to do something they could not do otherwise.  

But while this was going on,  there was the matter of the AAUP censure.  During my first week on campus,  I learned that the faculty was in its first year operating under a collective bargaining agreement and was asked to join the faculty union.  I had retained my membership in the AAUP,  and the South Dakota faculty union, the Council on Higher Education (COHE), is an affiliate of the South Dakota Education Association and the NEA.  I joined COHE and soon found myself involved in matters of governance.   I urged faculty and administration to work on getting the censure removed, and AAUP sent a professor from a Minnesota university to visit the campus and coordinate an effort for the institution to put in place policies and make restitution that would correct the deficiencies .  He stayed at my house during his visit, and we along with other professors came up with a comprehensive review  of how Northern had rectified the matters at issue.  The professor reported this to AAUP.  The  one obstacle involved reparation for the faculty member who was denied due process so many years before,  That was something only the Regents could solve, and they took a dismissive attitude toward the matter.  The AAUP realized that the collective bargaining agreement was put in place,  and mandatory procedures for due process and the protection of academic freedom were operative,  so it removed the censure from the individual institutions and placed it on the Board of Regents,  which effectively put the entire South Dakota system of higher education under the censure,  However,  over time when the Regents realized that the censure was having a deleterious effect on the recruitment of faculty and students,  they took actions which enabled the removal of the censure. "Censure was lifted in 1991 when the regents adopted policies on tenure and dismissal in agreement with the Council of Higher Education (COHE), the union representing university faculty." [Associated  Press. The Rapid City Journal, 27 July 2010]

Although the censure was removed from Northern, it had brought attention to the campus from professional organizations.  A disciplinary group I belonged to which listed job openings throughout the U.S. characterized Northern as "an undesirable place to work with limited opportunities for professional achievement and growth."  The statement reflected the manner in which the  BOR and Northern administration regarded and treated its faculty.  One of COHE's major tasks was to address the status of the faculty and establish professional standards commensurate with the profession throughout the nation.

During the current legislative session, Rep. G. Mark Mickelson, Republican Speaker of the House from Sioux Falls,  introduced a bill which would have banned unions and collective bargaining in higher education.  Mickelson's own education includes Brookings High School. the University of South Dakota, and Harvard Law School.  Harvard, which is a private institution which operates under different labor laws than public ones, does not have a faculty union, although its support employees are covered by nine different unions.  When asked for his reasons for wanting to ban unions, he was reported as saying "professors weren’t willing enough to teach courses on weekends or weeknights due to terms of their contracts, prompting his frustration.“Something needs to change, these people need to be shaken up a little bit."

There is nothing in the faculty contract that addresses teaching nights or weekends.  The contract or the policies on each campus do not address when classes may be scheduled.  They do address how many classes: "Faculty unit members whose primary responsibilities are instructional will be expected to undertake an effort equivalent to that needed to deliver thirty credit hours of undergraduate instruction per academic year."  Faculty are generally willing to teach nights and weekends if the arrangements are reasonable.   Sometimes they will even do it on overload to earn more money, although we found overload is difficult to manage and affects the preparation and delivery of instruction.  Mickelson's reasoning sounds ill-informed and notional.  More likely, as Cory Heidelberger points out, it stems from the anti-worker prejudice, as applied in Wisconsin, that employees should be disenfrached from having any voice in their employment and be reduced to serf status. That is the prevailing attitude and political belief in South Dakota.

The anti-union bill was killed in the South Dakota Senate by a two vote margin of 18 to 16.  As suppressing workers is a major objective of the conservative agenda,  one can be fairly certain that the anti-worker forces will be back to try again next year.  As a former staff member of the Board of Regents told me many years ago, the South Dakota ideal for economic development and labor law would be the repeal of the 13th Amendment and the Emancipation Proclamation.

The university faculty in the state's public institutions seem unaware of the circumstances that motivated the faculty to unionize.  During my first years at Northern, more than 80 percent of the faculty were dues-paying members of the union. Nearly all the members of the Faculty Senate were union members. As attrition affected the faculty and new members were added, union membership declined.  South Dakota faculty were the lowest paid in the nation and many were frustrated that the union could not improve the economic status of the professors more markedly.  As the legislature controls the money available for paying state employees, the contract negotiations with the BOR were limited by the budget set by the governor and the legislature.  Rather than increase their activity on behalf of the union,  many faculty searched for jobs in other places and many dropped out of the union.  I am among those who quit, even though  i was a long-time officer, including state president.  When my wife, who was a radio reporter, had her hours cut as a money-saving measure, and we were both working multiple jobs, we hit a financial crisis where we had to eliminate all expenses that did not directly contribute to housing and caring for our children.  I was by no means the only faculty member who experienced this struggle.  And the problem was that as union membership declined, the dues increased for those of us who remained.  I still believed strongly in the faculty union, but had to deal with some devastating financial realities.  At the time the public school teachers in South Dakota, who were the lowest paid in the nation, were making more than many of us professors.

At the time I retired, only about 10 percent of the faculty at Northern were union members.  Still, the rest of the faculty and staff, about 13,000 in the state, are covered by a contract that protects them from arbitrary and unfair decisions and employment practices and gives them a voice in the conditions of and compensation for their profession--if they want to use it.

The Associated Press reports:

Alan Aldrich [SDSU] is state president of the Council of Higher Education, the faculty labor union. He says there's a "clear message" that if faculty want the rights to continue, they must be more active with union membership and participation.
The South Dakota university system has come a long way since it was nationally cited for a censure and professional academic associations listed it as an "undesirable place to work."  That collective bargaining agreement is what stands between the faculty and a return to ignominy.  The faculty needs to be reminded and to get to work on protecting its professional status.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sacrificial beheading is all the rage in America

In the constant revelations of men who have sexually harassed and abused women, some have flummoxed me and other people I know.  One is the matter of Bill Cosby.  What he has allegedly done to women is totally contradictory to the values and character he has portrayed in his entertainment.  Another is the matter of the Olympic gymnast physician, Dr. Lawrence Nassar, who sexually violated hundreds of young female gymnasts for which he has been sentenced to multiple lifetimes in jail.  

The Nassar case was particularly bothersome because he was on the faculty of  Michigan State  University, where I have spent much time and worked with some impeccable, talented people.  The Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature, of which I am a member and a former officer, is headquartered there.  As a result of the Nassar revelations and trials, a number of Michigan State officials, including the university president, have been forced to resign.

The revelations of sexual misconduct  of all degrees produce a hysteria in which resignations or firings are demanded.  In many cases, probably most, they are likely justified.  But a lot of people with talent and expertise who were not directly involved in the incidents are sent into oblivion, their talents and accomplishments banished along with them, and we never know what actually happened or what can be done to prevent such things from happening again.  In the case of  the MSU president, the chair of the Board of Trustees said,“President Simon has served with distinction as MSU’s President for 13 years and has been a constant presence at the university for more than 40 years. She literally has devoted her entire professional life to this institution, and more than anyone else has helped make MSU a national and international leader in higher education.”  So, figuratively speaking, she was beheaded anyway.

Many humans are intellectually and socially primitive.  They need ritual killings.  To maintain their delusions of moral self-esteem and superiority, they need scapegoats and sacrificial lambs.   People, including in America, used to pack picnic baskets and attend hangings and beheadings in throngs, as if the occasions were celebrations.  In Orwell's 1984,  children berate their parents because they won't take them to one of the periodic mass hangings held in  Oceania.  Seeing people humiliated and killed in public is essential to their feelings of self-worthiness.  Such sacrificial atrocities purged any sense of guilt or blame they might harbor about the injustices other people experience.  A popular piece taught in freshman literature courses is Shirley Jackson's short story  "The Lottery,"    In the story, everybody in the community gathers at an annual event at which each person draws a slip of paper.  One slip has a black circle on it which designates who is to be stoned to death by the rest of the community that year.  Many people take offense at the story because it presents such a bleak portrayal of human nature.  It addresses the social psychology that society clings to which requires people to be sacrificed in public to satisfy the group's sense of self-esteem and righteousness.

The #MeToo movement has taken up an injustice inflicted upon women through sexual harassment and assault.  It is an advance toward a just and equitable society.  Women's complaints about sexual harassment and assault were often ignored or dismissed.  The #MeToo movement has brought into general recognition the prevalence of sexual aggression and the torment that women face.  

The forms the aggression takes ranges from spousal abuse, sexual assault and molestation, and sexual harassment from verbal abuse to suggestive double entendre.  The accepted solution for all degrees of sexual misconduct is to fire the accused miscreants or those associated with them and to publish the allegations.  No matter  what level of misbehavior is alleged, from physical assault to verbal suggestiveness, the required punishment is firing the accused from their jobs--in other words end their ability to make a living.  Figurative death, beheading.

In the case of Dr. Nassar,  people who had oversight over him, such as President Simon, are said to have received complaints of his molestation and abuse of girls.  Nasser was investigated but no substantive charges were forthcoming until he was fired in September 2016.  The state attorney general was asked to investigate how the university handled the  complaints,  but no report from MSU was ever submitted. At one point, when Nasser was investigated after some complaints, he was cleared by the university, but instructed to follow a protocol which required another person to be present when examining and treating patients.

Administrators at  Michigan State could have been more thorough in their responses to reports of Nassar's transgressions, perhaps,  but those who demand vengeance for his actions by beheading anyone associated with him ignore the complicated and conflicting circumstances in which they were operating.  Nasser was considered to be a medical star.   One of the women he treated but did not molest said. He was great. I loved him. I looked up to him.”  He performed some of his acts with the girls' mothers in the room, and they thought he was administering treatments, not performing acts of molestation.   Some of the young women did not realize they had been sexually violated until the accounts of other women were published in the media.  Nassar developed such a reputation for being an outstanding physician that it earned him a role with the US Olympic Womens Gymnastic Team.  A coach for the men's team remarked, Everybody knew who Larry Nassar was — he was the renowned gymnastics doctor on the women’s side."

In addition, Nasser was know as an active, benign member of the community in which he lived.  A neighbor woman said, “I really cannot say enough good about Larry because he is just a wonderful man. He will do anything in the world for anybody. We all love Larry. We really, really love Larry.”

The question raised about Nasser is, how did he manage to engage in his molestation so long and nobody did anything about it?  The answer is complex.  The stories of the victims indicate that their own parents were not aware of his actions or did not understand reports from the children.  And the reports to officials at MSU apparently did not provide the evidence to support the allegations.  Those who are applying due process are bound to test accusations according to the evidence provided and to guard against specious or malicious claims.   Such claims are a frequent presence in the academic world and are the resort of vengeful students unhappy with a grade and, unfortunately, of faculty as they compete for promotion or tenure.  As a result,  academics are likely to treat accusations of sexual misbehavior with a measure of doubt.  And they are wary of the  threat of severe legal consequences if they raise an accusation that is not true.

Academic officials treat their  "stars," such as Nasser had become, with deference, especially if they contribute to  the university's reputation for innovation and excellence.  Nasser operated under the cover of that kind of reputation and being a person much liked and respected in his community.

Instead of President Simon convening her faculty and examining what circumstances allowed Nasser to operate as he did and formulate procedures and policies that would prevent it,  she was fired, along with others who could provide information and perspectives on the issue that are necessary in devising solutions to such problems.  Instead,  these people are thrown on the discard pile,  making them as much victims of Nassar's deceit as the young women he touched with his hands.    Heads had to roll.

For many people,  the only reaction they can conceive of for a wrong is acts of harsh vengeance and public humiliation, even if they are inflicted on people who were not involved in the offending incidents.  They have no interest in addressing the circumstances surrounding the incidents or finding ways to repair and compensate for the damage done;  they just need to see someone suffer.  And so,  they compound the damage.  And they absolve themselves of any culpability for matters that go wrong in society.

Another tactic for dealing with accused offenders is borrowed from George Orwell's 1984.  One day you come to work and find that the work desk of a fellow is gone.  Every trace or memory-producing evidence of the fellow is gone.  He has been vaporized for some reason by the powers that be.

 Minnesota Public Radio vaporized Garrison Keillor--or tried to. Someone accused Keillor of making lustful advances to a woman.  The head of Minnesota  Public Radio declared them an unforgivable offense and true.  As a result MPR ended all its contracts with Keillor and his companies, stopped broadcasting his syndicated show The Writer's Almanac, stopped rebroadcasting highlights from A Prairie Home Companion, and separated from an online catalogue and website associated with Keillor.  The Washington Post for whom Keillor wrote columns ended their relationship. Then the University of Minnesota removed a plague which honored Keillor for his contribution to the state's culture.  Keillor was vaporized.  Precisetly for what was never explained, but one day he found himself holding that slip of paper with the black circle on it in his hand.  Zap.

Al Franken who was accused of sexual misconduct wanted the  U.S. Senate Ethics Committee to hold an investigation and a hearing,  but his colleagues chose  beheading instead.  It made the senators feel responsive and righteous, even though Franken's staff members, both from the Senate and Saturday Night Live, came out in public support of him.  The guillotine is better than due process because it makes everyone feel better.

Franken and Keillor were put in the same category as Cosby and Nasser,  and they had to go.  And the powers took out a university president while they were at it.The collective demise made a lot of people feel good.  We need to reinstitute public mass hangings or stonings so we can feel great about ourselves again.    We could watch the heads of a whole bunch of university presidents roll, and we could really rock.


    *Forty-one  "unionists" hung in Gainesville, Texas, in 1862.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The BS detectors blare whenever Trump speaks

Every national  major news organization had a team of journalists fact check Trump's State of the Union speech.  And these fact checks were not simply a matter of reviewing notable claims made in the speech for accuracy, as has been the practice in years past.  They were word-by-words examinations of how what Trump said matched with the facts.

Here are some of the major fact checks:

Associated Press
CBS News
USA Today
New York Times
Washington Post

Donald Trump is a symptom.  No one with a minimal degree of moral and mental sentience can deny what a profoundly defective, corrupt person  he is.  He has a documented record of fraud,  swindling, lying, associations with organized crime in the  U.S. and abroad,  and failure.  Those who support him support corruption as a part of government.  There is a substantial portion of the electorate which subscribes to the idea that success is anything you can get away with.  They are the people who celebrate organized crime as portrayed in The Godfather and The Sopranos as the ultimate realization of the American Dream.  His election to president is a symptom of the massive intellectual and moral failure of American democracy.  As with the so-called banana republics,  corruption has won over integrity and competence.  

The big question is how did America, home of the Greatest Generation, become so stupid and jaded that this could happen.  George Orwell offers an analysis in his depiction of a populace that is constantly beleaguered by propaganda through the media.  They are so inured to the ceaseless stream of advertising and promotion directed at them that they have lost interest and the ability to separate fact-based declarations from unsupported and groundless assertions.  They do not respond to language,  but merely endure it as a factor of their environment,  like an ever-present fog.   To about half the people, words do not convey information.  They are simply the stimulus signals like the bell that makes Pavlov's dog salivate:  they react in the ways they have been conditioned to as repressed, obedient organisms.  Like those products of ISIS who willingly strap on suicide vests to kill innocents, many Americans willingly react without mind to what their leaders prompt them to do.  They are zombies subject to the control of people they regard as their masters.  

Their linguistic currency is bullshit.  The English language has no non-defecatory synonym for bullshit.  The dictionaries define it as nonsense, lies, exaggeration, and foolish insolent talk.  But the colloquial term is the most evocative in its reference to revulsive animal waste. And so, when Donald Trump speaks, the press employs its bullshit detectors and identifies every word he says in terms of nonsense, lies, exaggeration, and foolish insolence.  The significance of Trump's speech is not in any factual information it conveys, but in the kind of bullshit it invokes.

But there is a linguistic anomaly in Trump's speech that explains why everything he says is nonsense.  Words have meaning because they name natural facts.  Language emanates from the natural universe.  They name objects, relationships, and processes that are observable to all.  Facts are something that has actual existence  or are actual occurrences.  We understand what words mean because we can observe and experience what they refer to.   However, when the words a person uses do not refer to anything factual that can be verified, they are nonsense.  Bullshit.  Most of what Trump says proves to be fabricated nonsense.  

An example is his campaign slogan, Make America Great Again.  The slogan is based on the premise that America has lost its claim to greatness.   The election of Barack Obama as president was seen throughout the world as a sign that America was advancing in its quest for equality.  That is, except to those people who harbored and clung to old racial prejudices, who prefer to believe that minorities are inferior to whites.  "Make America Great Again" appealed to these people because the election of a black president was a refutation of the white supremacy that they prefer as a national state of affairs.  The fall from greatness stated by the slogan was not a factual case.  Under Obama, the U.S. assumed a status of world leadership that was lauded throughout the world.  Under Trump and Rex Tillerson, the U.S. hs relinguished that role and has turned leadership over to China, the European Union, and other nations that are stepping up to the fill the void Trump created.  And under Trump,  many of the advances in civil rights and equality have been either halted or reversed.

Trump claims, such as the cheering of Muslims during the 9/11 attacks and the wire-tapping of Trump Towers by Obama, have been proven to be total fabrications.  But that segment of the population that clings to its Nazi-like malice rejoices in Trump's false claims. It is all made up bullshit.  

It is difficult to find any statements made by Trump that have a basis in actuality.  His tweets and other public statements are expressions of his depraved attitudes and motives, not anything that can be proven as fact.  He depends almost totally on the kind of power that CEOs exercise over employees or contractors who fear for their job and lives.  The sycophants and corporate sucks who serve CEOs learn quickly to adopt the attitudes and endorse the utterances of their bosses,  no matter how bigoted. malicious, or false.  Trump's White House and GOP sucks play that game.  The so-called Nunes memo is an exercise in detaching words from the facts they purport to report.  It follows Trump's employment of Doublespeak in the havoc it wreaks on language.  Doublespeak, as a concept developed by George Orwell, is a language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words.  The Tump administration and his dedicated GOP sucks are prodigious fabricators of such language.  Doublespeak clouds actuality with a dense fog of depravity and malice.

If there is hope that the promises of democracy for liberty, equality, and justice may prevail somewhere, somehow, it lies with people who are smart enough and educated enough to maintain stewardship over the integrity of the language.  It is not a matter of partisanship,  but of a respectful appreciation of the tool fostered by mankind that is the basis for our life-sustaining achievements.  The attempts to subvert science and language should alarm the nation that all the benefits of democracy are under siege.  But that understanding is unlikely in a nation that elected Donald Trump president.

Those with enough mental acumen to understand how lethal bullshit can be will be the ones we depend upon to conserve our language and the human enterprise it makes possible.  As the U.S. developed, one of the first things that aspiring communities established was schools that educated children in the use of language.  Over time,  the study of language arts and critical thinking skills has been systematically undermined in our schools and further degraded by the constant noise of BS in the media.  People who retain some respect and understanding of fact-based language are the ones who can restore it to usefulness.  But it may be too late for that to happen in the U.S., which is rapidly establishing itself as a nation of organized crime.   They may have to think about where they can recolonize.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

What Americans don't understand about Russia is that democracy failed there, but capitalism didn't

When the Soviet Union fell, Americans thought democracy prevailed:

In December of 1991, as the world watched in amazement, the Soviet Union disintegrated into fifteen separate countries. Its collapse was hailed by the west as a victory for freedom, a triumph of democracy over totalitarianism, and evidence of the superiority of capitalism over socialism. 
Now, as Russia emerges as a disrupter of democracy not only in the U.S., but throughout the world, it seems to have reverted to its role as a Cold War enemy.   As a Cold War enemy,  Americans thought its threat was because it was a communist, a Marxist country.  That aspect of Russia is no longer the driving ideology in Russia.  What happened in Russia was that good, old capitalism, which Marxists detested, stepped in and took control of the country.

Boris Yeltsin as a leader in the Russian parliament renounced his membership in the Communist Party.  He then ran for president of Russia and won.  As president, he instituted many democratic policies, a freer press, the privatization of government-owned businesses, and fewer restrictions on public expressions.  Many business operations that were owned and controlled by the Kremlin, such as the oil and gas industry,  were put on the market.  The industries were snapped up by close associates and relatives of government officials who oversaw the transition to the free market.   These people, who are often referred to as the Russian oligarchs, became phenomenally wealthy and powerful.  

When Yeltsin resigned, he designated Vladimir Putin to succeed him.  Many refer to Putin's history as a Soviet KGB officer as the influence on his agenda.  His real source of power is the alliances he has made with the oligarchs and criminal bosses who control business in  Russia.   The threat that Russia now has for the free world is corruption, not communism.

There are Russians who long for the old Soviet days.  Novelist Martin Cruz Smith reflects that nostalgia in his works, such as Stalin's Ghost.  A recent New York Times article reports how a family in Kazakhstan feels about the takeover by the oligarchs:
“These new people count every penny,” his wife complained, waxing nostalgic for Soviet days when, she said, nobody on the state farm paid much attention to who was doing what with whose money.
Putin, like Trump, is interested in the power that wealth creates, not any particular ideology.  He has found that power can be gained and maintained most effectively through ruthless and shameless capitalism, and he seems to have dismissed any Marxist concerns about what it it means for the workers.   If there is any kinship between Tump and Putin, it is as fellow oligarchs.  They will embrace whatever politics facilitates their access to wealth and power.  They live with feudal mindsets which aspire only to be lords of castles, and their only regard for people is to have someone to be lord over.  It's precisely the mindset that democracy strives to overcome.

Putin brings KGB tactics into play when he deals with dissenters.  Trump brings his penchant for fraud, mendacity, and bilking contractors to bear when confronted with opposition.  About 40 percent of his business ventures have failed, some because of his ineptitude, some because they were outright fraud.  His power and wealth have been acquired by duping people who worship wealth,  even if it is fraudulently obtained.  Anyone else caught at the shenanigans that Trump has would have spent a lot of time in jail.  There is a plethora of documented evidence that Trump is a crook.  And there is his lying. Since taking office, Trump has documented more than 2,000 lies.  He is simply a wretched person with no redeeming qualities.

Given Russia's history,  people tend to think that the probe into its role in the 2016 election is looking for some kind of political intrigue.  However, money and the power it buys, not politics,  is Trump's consuming obsession.  Much is already known about his financial dalliance with Russian oligarchs and members of its mafia.  Special Counsel Mueller's investigation has focused sharply on Trump's financial ties even though Trump says his personal business is off limits.   But in numerous ways, Trump has made clear that he considers the United States just another subsidiary of the Trump Organization.

Putin has joined forces with the oligarchs, and those who oppose him receive KGB-like persecution.  Trump has his team of oligarchs and the oligarch-wannabes of the Republican Party who protect him and carry out his schemes.  It has always been an assumption in America that any president would separate his personal business interests from his job of presiding over the nation.  Trump has flouted that custom and has merged his financial operations with the presidential office.  The GOP has totally rolled over on his conflicts of interest.  

The nation has made The Godfather and The Sopranos stories of organized crime bosses national favorites.  It treats those fictional mafia bosses as if they are national heroes.  It seems that much of the nation was ready to be led by a corrupt oligarch.

Trump has clearly violated the office of president as it was conceived and conducted by his predecessors,  except perhaps for Nixon.  The Russia probe will most likely reveal Trump's activities as a corrupt oligarch in concert with fellows throughout the world.  But much of the nation finds corruption as an acceptable means to "sucess."

The only thing we may get out of the Mueller probe is an understanding of what happened to America.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States