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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Donald Trump's gift to America: a new ugly American

Donald Trump bases his slogan on the premise that America has fallen into a low status and reputation in the rest of the world.  America has always had its detractors.  The Ugly American is a stereotype that came out of the Cold War.  It is the title of a book that portrayed a man in the foreign service whose obtuseness made him a liability in the contest between western democracies and communist dictatorships to win friends throughout the world.  The man was ignorant and dismissive of local languages and culture and customs and refused to integrate with the countries in which he worked.  American foreign policy was failing.  The book produced controversy and a change in American foreign policy and was behind the formation of the Peace Corps.  

After World War II,  the United States became a paragon of democracy.  Its policies of rebuilding the countries it defeated in the war,  its democratic institutions, and the technical advances and prosperity it produced became the envy and model of the world.  Countries strove to adopt its public education system which was regarded as the driving force behind the country's successes.  In the 1960s as a more knowledgeable and effectual diplomatic corps took the field for the U.S.,  its stature and influence became more pronounced.  The dissolution of the Soviet Union was the result of decades of people throughout the world being exposed to and understanding the American presence.  

In response to Donald Trump/s deprecations of the United States,  some Canadian neighbors have organized a campaign to Tell American It's Great.  The fact is that America is held in esteem by much of the rest of the world and, according to a PEW global poll,  trust in President Obama has remained high throughout his term of office.  Much of the world regards Donald Trump as a kind of loathsome absurdity.  While foreign governments are reserved in commenting about Trump so as not to appear to be meddling in American politics, cultural and social leaders throughout the world do comment on how despicable he is. But the the picture of an ugly American,  a different kind of ugly,  is being established throughout the world.  

Donald Trump has put himself on full display as he has sought the candidacy for president of the U.S.  His strongest point cited by his supporters is that he is a business man.  Even in that role,  he possesses all the character traits that are regarded as detestable.  His debates and campaign appearances document a personality of infantile tantrums, obscenely degenerate, and maliciously dishonest.  Fact checkers have repeatedly shown that the majority of things he says are lies.  In a word,  he is utter trash.  And still,  he has a following  of a huge segment of Americans. 

The previous post raises the question of whether Trump has changed America or merely revealed an aspect of American character that already exists, an ugly inclination toward racism, bigotry, stupidity, and destructive meanness.  This kind of ugly American is the gift that Trump has presented to the world.

And, nothing has diminished the reputation of the U.S. as much as the rise of Trump to become the presidential candidate of a major political party.  Even if Trump is defeated,  this characterization of America will dominate the business of the nation,  both inside and outside of its borders.  The new ugly American has asserted himself, and dealing with him may well be the major business of the U.S.  in coming years,  to the detriment of all those aspects of America that a majority of its people and  much of the rest of the world recognized as its greatness.  

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Can America avoid a civil war?

Donald Trump latest rage-rant that the election is rigged has his supporters expressing angry thoughts about a violent revolt.   Sheriff David Clarke in Milwaukee says that if Hillary Clinton is elected, it is time for pitchforks and torches.  After covering a Trump rally in Colorado Springs,  Washington Post writer Dana Milbank warned that a violent uprising could well happen after a Clinton win.  

While we decry the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East,  we ignore our own brand of advocates for violence against fellow citizens.  The political divide has deteriorated from differing perspectives to explosive enmities.  People are expressing a desire to kill those who disagree with or oppose them.  With the civilian armory estimated to be 270 million guns,  the nation is quite ready to go to war.

Most of the attention is given to those who arm against the government,  in case it comes, in their minds, to take their guns or impose some heinous rule on them.  There is another body of gun owners that receives scant notice,  but quietly prepares for having to go to war against their neighbors.  A few years ago when the Colorado legislature enacted some laws restricting the sale of assault-type weapons and large-capacity magazines,  it spurred gun sales in the state.  Dealers were running out of firearms and ammunition.  I recall one dealer interviewed who was asked about the motives of the customers who were rushing to buy firearms and ammunition. [I have not been able  to recover the link to that story and am citing it from memory.]  He said that about half of the buyers seemed to be those who believed they had better stock up on arms before the government tried to suspend the Second Amendment.  The other half, he said, were those who thought they they'd better arm themselves against the first half.  

He said that about half of his customers were looking for assault-type weapons.   The other half were upgrading sporting-type firearms or were stocking up on the ammunition for them that could be used against tactical weapons.  He said he kept running out of a type of buckshot load for shotguns that could turn them into effective defense weapons.  As he put it,  half of his sales seemed to be made as a defense for the eventuality that some militia-type group might go on a rampage.  

The popular notion seems to be that liberals don't own or use firearms--although in recent years part of the fund-raising for the Brown County Democrats has been the raffling of rifles and shotguns.  Most of the Democrats I know have guns.  They do not, however, think that guns are a necessary part of contemporary life as  are ball point pens, automotive transportation, and toilet paper.  Most people I know understand  that the fear raised about infringing on the Second Amendment has much more to do with the profit motives of gun manufacturers than of any political threat to the Constitution.  But they also understand the psychology of people who create conspiracy theories to rationalize their deep seated racial and social hatreds.  Throughout the presidency of Barack Obama,  racial hatred has received much more open and frequent expression.  With the candidacy of Donald Trump,  it has become a sort of political fashion statement to recite the slogans of racial, ethnic, and religious hatreds.  The country has reverted back to the time of open animosity based upon race, religion, and political differences.  Rush Limbaugh's harangues against liberalism are composed of exactly those elements of false rhetoric that Goebbels contrived against the Jews and other groups to motivate the Holocaust.  Limbaugh is dismissed as an entertainer,  but the entertainment he deals in is the inspiring and exercise of hate,  an appeal to the reptilian cortex that dominates the mental processes of many humans.  He appeals to those whose ultimate entertainment would be a  lynch mob.  It is this segment of humanity to which Donald Trump appeals.   

The divide among Americans is not a mere matter of differing opinions.  It is a matter of enemies preparing for battle.  The Trump supporters have announced that the election of Hillary Clinton to president is not something they will accept.  The violence of some Trump rallies is an indicator of how they are willing to prosecute their beliefs.  Although Trump mouths words about  his ability to heal the divide among Americans,  he has created a divide so onerous that many people simply do not want to close it.  Trump has held up a mirror through which people can see what the country has actually become,  and for many people it is an America for whom many people have mired in ignorance and bigotry.  Those Americans who see Trump as the leader of change are unable to see that he is the enactor of those very things that they think  oppress them.  

Even if he loses, Donald Trump isn’t going away. But the man and the political phenomenon he has unleashed over the past 16 months are already posing a difficult chicken-or-egg question: Has Trump transformed America, or simply revealed it?

Trump's supporters read and hear about his financial finagles,  the improbable promises he makes,  the insidious bigotry he professes,  and they dismiss it all as attacks by  a biased media.   What Trump has done is to reveal to some Americans some very unpleasant facts about what kind of people their neighbors are.  An acquaintance of mine was   alarmed that a Trump sign was put in his neighbor's yard, and he said to me,  "Jesus Christ,  I just found out my neighbors are Nazis and too damned dumb to know it."  He said he found himself avoiding any contact with them.  He represents the attitude that Trump has inspired.  Many people find reconciliation with the values expressed by Trump and his supporters unthinkable.  Trump is a symptom of a very serious moral illness that has infected Americans.  It is an illness that many Americans do not want to be exposed to.  You cannot be reconciled with a disease that might deform or kill you.  

Many  people think America has continued on the path to more perfect freedoms, equality, and justice.  To them,  Trump's slogan of making America great again means a  reversion to racial and social oppression, inequity, and injustice.  

It is hard to imagine Americans relinquishing the advances America has made to Trump and his supporters.  In the meantime,  people buy arms and ammunitions,  not to reconcile, but to prepare for what may be the civil war that ends America as it has developed.  

It is hard to conceive that the differences that have been exposed in America can be arbitrated by leaders.  It is hard to see how what happens in the voting booths will change any minds or attitudes.  The election may well not decide anything.  The dedicated left will never accept Donald Trump's version of America.  The dedicated Trumpists will never accept Hillary.  Iraq's warfare between the Sunnis and Shiites may well be the American future.

Choose your candidate.  And then choose your weapon.  Or  choose a different country.  

It is hard to see any peaceful solution to  this conflict.  What would Jesus or Lincoln do?

Further reading:  click here.

Monday, October 17, 2016

A little grope here, a little grope there, just business as usual

 A part of the story being missed about Donald Trump's sexual predations against women is that it is part of the privilege assumed by many executives in the corporate world.  But the denigrations and humiliations are not just directed toward women in a sexual context.  Both men and women are subjected to degrading and disdainful treatment.  Organizations that openly acknowledge the rule of the alpha male are organized like dog packs.  They expect the underdogs to be submissive and accept whatever it is the upper dogs wish to do to them.  They consider themselves royalty and the rest of us their vassals.

Not all organizations are run that way,  but as corporations became global,  their cultures resolved into the kind that govern dog packs.  They are the opposite of what democracies aspire to.  And many democracies fail because their constituents use the freedoms only to obtain alpha positions,  and soon establish stringent class rules in order to impose their wills on others in the form of  dictatorships and oligarchies.  

During my undergraduate years, we did not have college loans available.  Many of us had to   go to college part time or drop out to work in order to accumulate some money for another semester.  For a time I worked in an advertising agency as a copywriter trainee and a gofer and took classes at night. That was more than 60 years ago.  Many of the executives expected us vassals to roll over on our backs and wag our tails at any treatment extended us.

As the Trump episodes with women have been revealed,  I recall a young woman at the ad agency who was a receptionist and a librarian for the media library.  The  library is where every kind of ad ever produced by the agency--newspaper and magazine,  radio, and television--was cataloged and stored for reference along with other resource materials.   It contained a big table where the gofers worked at projects assigned to them.  The librarian, Laura, was expected to wear sexy clothes to make an impression on any clients or potential clients who were brought in to look at or listen to ads.  One day while a group of us was sitting around the table,  gathering ad proofs to take to clients for approval, Laura, wearing a sleeveless, spring-time dress, was up on a ladder reshelving stuff in the library.  Barry B., an account executive, came in looking for something,  spotted Laura on the ladder, and reached his hand up under her skirt and grabbed her crotch.  As he walked out, he said to those of us working at the table,  "I'm the chief twat tweaker here."  Laura was devastated.  I can still see her stricken face, as she ran from the room.

One of the secretaries later asked me what happened, and when I told her she looked disgusted, but shrugged.  Anyone complaining about one of the executives would most likely be out of a job.  So, nothing was ever said.  We vassals understood that we were expendable.  We were constantly reminded by the insulting and abusive attitudes with which we were treated and ordered to do abasing personal tasks for some of the executives.  We grumbled among ourselves,  but never confronted management about being required to endure demeaning treatment or being subjected to inappropriate behavior.  

It was an attitude I encountered later in the corporate world,  although I don't recall ever seeing such a brazen assault again. 

When I was released from active military duty,  I went to work for what at the time was the largest international manufacturer of farm equipment.  There was not much in the way of sexual harassment in the plant at which I worked because it was a closed-shop plant,  meaning anyone not designated an executive was automatically a union member.  Both management and union members looked out for any kind of hanky panky,  which would result in a grievance or  disciplinary action.  The problems were when executives from the head office came to town.

One of the vice presidents was notorious for his treatment of women.  While in the plant he restricted his behavior to leering at some of the younger women, but when he went out at nights he pawed and otherwise harassed women he encountered,  including the wives of junior executives. His attitude was that the people he chose to spend his evenings with were obligated to indulge his behavior.  One young executive seemed to think that for his sake,  his wife should happily "entertain" the vice president.  One day after the couple had spent an evening with him,  the young executive came home to find that his wife had left him in disgust.  She made sure that people in the company knew why.

A few years later I was editor of the farm and business sections of a newspaper.  I hated the business part.  Corporate public relations people and executives were repugnant to deal with.  I stress that this was not true for all companies,  but many pursued the line that they brought money  into a community and provided jobs, and the community should therefore defer to their wishes.  That attitude was that the news media was dependent on them and damn well better do as they pleased.  The attitude extended to the treatment of women.  The problem I encountered was that the newspaper I worked for had a policy that prohibited the editors from printing anything they knew to be untrue.  And we were expected to check any facts contained in news releases or otherwise conveyed to us.  I often found myself embroiled in angry exchanges with corporate executives for double-checking the accuracy of information or declining to print some gratuitous statement a company had sent out.  They really got angry and hostile when some negative information about a company was printed.  They preferred that such information be withheld.  They made clear that we in the media were mere vassals and that we had best do what our overlords determined was best.  It is in this context of being the superiors to the rest of society that they regarded women.  

If women expected to get entrance into the corporate power structure,  they had better submit to the compliant role that was an unwritten part of the job description.  If some executive wanted to caress a breast or  fondle a crotch,  that was an executive privilege.  Many young executives adopted this attitude because they thought it showed their alpha male status.  They considered it part of the  executive persona.  

Donald Trump's reported transgressions against women are not peculiar to him  They are part of the culture of a segment of the corporate world.  As a presidential candidate,  he has put this attitude of dominance and willful disrespect on display,  and his public behavior in regard to women has moved some to report what has happened.  When the incidents occurred,  the women thought,  like the people at the ad agency I worked at,  that the rich and powerful would only further oppress them if they reported the incidents or complained.  Women have decided that they can now be believed and listened to.  But they are not the only ones who see the realization of real equality and respect in exposing Trump's actions and those like his.  All who have been treated like omega dogs and vassals see the possibility of having their dignity acknowledged with respect.

Perhaps, something good can come out of Trump  

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Can the nation hold together even if Trump loses?

"But oh,  the ugliness still ahead."

Campaign signs have assumed a different message since the advent of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate.  For people of some intelligence and decency,  a Trump campaign sign does not merely advocate for a candidate;  it tells them that the people who live where the sign is placed are enemies of what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.  Trump opposes the basis of democracy and as an individual does and says things that refute all the norms of human decency.  

In the latest affront to cultural progress and comity,  that 11-year-old video tape in which Trump invokes the P-word,  Trump states a social principle that guides the thinking and moral sense of the many Americans who support him:  if you are rich and famous,  you can do anything with impunity.  Trump embodies the one percent.  His supporters grovel before their master.  

Trump is the quintessence of the values that many Americans hold dear.  In their minds, he has realized the American "dream" and gives it definition.  He has gotten rich and powerful and that gives him the right to screw over other people as he pleases.  He is a winner.  All those other people are losers.  That is how he defines society, an application of the either/or fallacy. To him and his kind, humanity is divided into only two groups, winners and losers,   and his many supporters like to think they are allied with the winners.  Those supporters may invoke the nation's founding documents in their attacks against losers,  but Trump's attitude and actions regarding the founding principles--freedom,  equality, justice--demonstrate a fundamental contempt for them.  

What his slogan, "Make America Great Again," and the hectoring about what a deplorable state the nation is in are declarations that Trump and his followers do not like America and what it has become.  They don't like immigrants,  although most of them descended from immigrants.  They have been in a rage about a black president, and their racist denigrations of him and the African American people in general have opened up the  malignancy that has festered in some quarters since slavery.  They deny and reject the progress made in civil rights, in providing voice and equity to working people, in acknowledging what public education has done to enable democracy.  The fact is that the America they want to make great is an America that wants to return to Old World feudalism,  racial oppression, and an injustice system presided over by CEOs, the current versions of lords of the manors.  They long for the Third Reich in America. As New York Times writer Roger Cohen observes,  Trump " has demonstrated beyond doubt that the human inclination to bow to an all-powerful master endures."

One theory of those people Hillary Clinton called deplorables is that they are so fed up with dysfunction in Washington, D.C., that in supporting Trump,  they are giving the "elite" the finger.  In supporting what must be the lowest wretch to every become a candidate for high office,  they think they are demanding change.  But their frustration and rage is so mindless,  they cannot conceive of the kind of change Trump has signaled,  a total deconstruction of those rules of equality, freedom, and justice that America has striven to define for its people.  Certainly, part of their rage for change is the fact that America reached the point where it could elect a black president.  That, to them, is intolerable.  And Trump's birther accusation, which he has never recanted, was designed to appeal to racist resentment and aggravate it into open rage.  A Trump sign in the front yard is very much like a swatika flag flying from the front porch. It broadcasts a renunciation of the patriotic and humane virtues that are defined by America's founding documents.

That raises the question of whether it is possible or even desirable that America become united.  Was it possible for anti-Nazi Germans to unite with those who endorsed and participated in the Holocaust.  Is it possible for Americans to have a neighborly friendship with people who endorse Trump's racism, misogyny, and malevolence toward other people.  A Trump sign is a quarantine sign.  It signals where people live who children are best kept away from, people who have declared an allegiance  to malicious indecency.  Can people of good will and good purpose find any grounds of conciliation with them?  Is this a situation where compromise is the death of the nation?  The only way to deal with the Trump believers is to avoid them.  

But they will remain a factor in public life.  The Economist notes that the divide is not one that will go away after the election:  "Whoever wins the 2016 election, half the country will think them a disgrace on Day One. This is a drama with no neat ending."

The problem facing the nation is not the degenerate person of Donald Trump,  but the forces that created him and made his candidacy possible.  Those forces are embodied in the Republican party.  

When Barack Obama was elected president the GOP,  congressional leaders gathered before he was inaugurated to plot the obstruction.  Time reports on:

the Republican plot to obstruct President Obama before he even took office, including secret meetings led by House GOP whip Eric Cantor (in December 2008) and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (in early January 2009) in which they laid out their daring (though cynical and political) no-honeymoon strategy of all-out resistance to a popular President-elect during an economic emergency. “If he was for it,” former Ohio Senator George Voinovich explained, “we had to be against it.”
Sen. McConnell announced that "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."  He announced the concerted dysfunction that Trump supporters say is the reason they will vote for him.  Even the Republicans who now repudiate Trump were involved in making him happen. He has given voice to the attitudes and motives of the Republican Party.

A victory by Hillary Clinton will not change the values that about 49 percent of the electorate professes in its support of Trump.  Just as the election of Barack Obama ignited the smoldering  Jim Crow attitudes within the nation into open flame,  the election of a woman liberal will aggravate those who long to live in a feudal estate into acting out.  Republicans in Congress can commit themselves to a new program of obstruction and refusal to do the work of the nation.  

The GOP can be depended upon to make sure that we will walk in ugliness in our future.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Who leaked Trump's tax returns?

The story about how Donald Trump's tax returns were leaked is as big news as the returns themselves.  Photo copies of them were mailed to New York Times reporter Susanne Craig anonymously.  The envelope had a return address for the Trump Organization.

The incident raises memories of when I participated in investigative reporting and what kind of leaked information forms the basis for major stories.   Copies of documents slipped to investigative teams,  usually through the mail,  received the most serious attention.  Documents usually record some official action.  As in the case of the New York Times with Trump's tax returns,  the reporters have to verify that the documents are authentic and have not been tampered with.  But with documents,  it is not essential to identify the source of information as it is with verbally transmitted information.  The documents are the source.  And generally,  there are many people who have access to documents so that the person who leaked them cannot be readily identified and made the victim of retaliation.

People are not reliable.  I have been given tips over the telephone,  in letters,  and sometimes in person.  Sometimes you can develop a source, such as Watergate's  Deep Throat, who give you accurate, reliable information.  But many people who give secret tips are those on missions of vengeance,  or are trying to instigate some kind of reaction,  or are conspiracy nuts.  One of my best sources was a man who had been a successful investment broker working for a firm from which another person was embezzling.  When the man got wind of what was going on and brought it up to the management,  he got fired. He reported what he knew to the state's attorney and the company was shut down,  people were brought to court,  and a lot of investors lost money.  The problem for the whistelblower was that no other companies would hire him.  He ended up taking a job on the cleaning crew for an office building in which there were investment firms and law offices.  On his own time,  he nurtured his own investments,  but as someone who kept his eyes and ears open and emptied waste paper baskets in key offices,  he recognized when financial companies were going shady.  He tipped off me and my reporting colleagues about business scams he became aware of with the agreement that we would never reveal the source of our information.   Vengeance was certainly part of  his motive,  but he was also driven by a strong belief that integrity should be a part of business.  After many years doing janitorial work,  a large corporation hired him because of his investment acumen,  where he  moved up to become a vice president,  and he retired to the Keys where he roamed in a yacht he had designed himself.

However,  for an investigative journalist,  informants are a burden.  You have to spend much time and energy determining if a source is reliable.  That is on top of the other procedures of verification.  Reputable journalists do not publish information  just on the word of a source.  When a person gave information on the condition that the he or she remain anonymous,  most newspapers required that the information be verified by at least two other sources or with documented verification.  The newspaper I worked for made the first priority an effort to find someone who could be identified as verifying the information.  If a story was important enough to publish with an undisclosed source,  it had to be approved by a phalanx of editors and publishers.  This procedure is demonstrated by the film "All the President's Men," the story in both book and film versions of how Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein went through the verification process to uncover the Watergate story.

The criteria for using undisclosed sources has changed with the dominance of cable news and Internet sites.  A lot of stuff gets published that would never have been considered to meet the standards of the past.  I had worked on many stories that did not get published because the did not meet the level of verification required at the time.  

Donald Trump's tax returns went through a verification process that met those kind of standards.  A team of investigative journalists,  including some Pulitzer recipients, tracked down the tax accountant who prepared the returns and he verified their authenticity and accuracy.  

But who leaked them is still not known.  It was somebody, like Deep Throat, who was knowledgeable enough to include three versions that had been submitted to different agencies that had required the information. That person has some motive for revealing the real operations of Trump and his organization.  Documents have a veracity and a power that personal testimony does not have.

That is why South Dakota has so many rules that make it possible to hide documents or simply not create them in the first place.  

Sunday, October 2, 2016

How "1984" sneaked up on us

At its best,  journalism is a literary enterprise.  It utilizes all the arts of story-telling to give us knowledge and insight.   For those of us to whom any support for a low-life wretch like Donald Trump is incomprehensible,  Washington Post writer  Stephanie McCrummen gives a penetrating but empathetic account of a woman who is a Trump supporter, who sees him as a messianic figure.  The story is headlined 
‘Finally. Someone who thinks like me.’

The woman has experienced harassment and misfortune,  and what she has fallen back on for some sense of survival is media fare at its worst with its often racist conspiracy theories.  

"Like millions of others, she believed that President Obama was a Muslim. And like so many she had gotten to know online through social media, she also believed that he was likely gay, that Michelle Obama could be a man, and that the Obama children were possibly kidnapped from a family now searching for them."
 George Orwell's 1984  is often invoked to describe aspects of our current political situation. However, during the Cold War, the novel was  largely regarded as a warning about the ambitions of Soviet Union Communism to take over the world.   Once the Soviet Union was dissolved,  people largely thought that the danger had passed.

But an important thesis of the novel that was either glossed over  or ignored completely by teachers and commentators on it is how the electronic media can be used to spy upon and condition citizens.   Our streets and gathering places are watched over by surveillance cameras.  Videos from those cameras are largely responsible for solving some terrorist crimes such as the Boston Marathon bombings and the recent Chelsea bombing in New York City.  Our economic decisions are tracked and tallied and given credit scores,  which are readily available to government agencies and any business.  Our online searches and readings are tracked and summarized.  Our telephone and social media communications are tracked and recorded.   We live under a level of scrutiny that surpasses anything imagined in 1984.  Our own government is involved in some of this surveillance,  but foreign governments also have access.   And people tend not to consider that the biggest threat to our privacy and our well-being is in the surveillance of huge, global corporations,  which often exercise more power over us than any government.  

For many people,  the media conditions and shapes them, and in many ways controls them.  It, in fact,  as in the case of  the woman portrayed in the McCrummen story,  preys upon people experiencing stress and oppression and supplies them the information and mental processes with which they try to survive.  One can disprove an disapprove of everything the woman thinks,  but one can also understand how she came to think it.

It is no mere conspiracy theory that there are forces out there vying to take over our minds and our lives.  Given the realities of our time,  1984 lis almost utopian.  For a truly informing reading experience,  click the headline above and see a case history in what is happening.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States