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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

Monday, May 21, 2018

How politics became gang war

Putting a campaign sign in your yard is like displaying gang colors.   Politics has become more a matter of designating who you hate and battling for turf and power than of offering various solutions to problems and concerns.  In recent years politics has tended more and more to be organized around the principles of street gangs with their racial and bigoted divides.  Political campaigning often displays the aspects of mindless warfare between  gangs, such as the Crips and Bloods in Los Angeles.

The media has created the situation.  It began with Rush Limbaugh's relentless disparaging of liberals.  In doing so, he grossly misrepresented what liberals believe.  Little that Limbaugh claimed was true.  His claims set a record for untruth on the fact checker Politifact.  Limbaugh's response has been to attack all fact-checking.  

One of his most successful ploys was to hold individuals up for disparagement and defamation.  The prime example was his attack on law student Sandra Fluke when she advocated for birth control.  He heaped on the defamations to the glee of his fans and the dismay of people with moral sensibility.

Rush Limbaugh is America's Joseph Goebbels.  He created malice and disrespect among his followers. And that malice and disrespect became an integral part of American politics.   He paved the way for a disreputable person like Donald Trump to become president.

Therein lies a devastating irony. Supporters of Trump whine because they are disrespected by the advocates of decency.  They think it is unfair that people dismiss them as stupidly malevolent because they voted for and support Donald Trump.   Commentators upbraid liberals for contending that people who support Trump have branded themselves as stupid, ignorant, malicious dolts.  They say that  "elite" shouldn't think itself so smart.  

They miss the point.

Those who despise Trump and his supporters don't think they are smarter or better than the Trumpers.  They recognize a hopeless trend in the reversal of the progress America has made in socially and politically bringing the nation into line with the words of its founding:  liberty, equality, and justice for all.  Anyone who has made the most casual acquaintance with the facts of Trump's life and the words he speaks knows that The New York Times summary of his life and character is verifiably true:

Mr. Trump has spent his career in the company of developers and celebrities, and also of grifters, cons, sharks, goons and crooks. He cuts corners, he lies, he cheats, he brags about it, and for the most part, he’s gotten away with it, protected by threats of litigation, hush money and his own bravado.
He is not the subject of investigation because of his political opponents.  He is being investigated because of his vast criminal record, which has been recorded and published over the years.  He rejects the basic virtues that define what America has tried to become.

Thus, when people put a Trump sign in their yard or on their car bumper, they are broadcasting to the world that they approve of America's regression into a third world banana republic.  They declare themselves enemies of liberty, equality, and justice for all.  While they whine and whimper about being disrespected, they cannot grasp that the agenda they support has earned the disrespect.

Many Americans and people throughout the world think the U.S. as the leading proponent of democracy has come to an end.  They do not see Trump as a cause of America's decline but as a symptom of a change in the American people:
Even before Trump was elected, Europeans sensed that Washington’s traditional role as guarantor of the continent’s security and stability was slipping away, and that post-World War II ties were fading along with the generations that forged them.
The divide in America is a deep cultural and social fracture.  Americans are sharply at odds about the basic human decencies necessary for democracy to work.  Under Trump, those decencies have been trampled, but they are the essential values of democracy that have been derided as liberal.

The disrespect heaped upon "liberals" by Limbaugh and his parrots has washed back over them.  But the problem is not one of disrespect.  It is one of dismissal.  Trump opponents do not think it is possible to engage in a respectful dialogue with Trump supporters.  They have nothing to talk about.  Those who endorse the malignant corruption of Trump are to be avoided, not dealt with.  They have declared themselves enemies of the civil decencies.

When people brandish a Trump sign or the campaign sign of a candidate who endorses the Trump agenda, they mark themselves as contaminates of democracy.  Over the recent years,  I have noted accounts of people who have stopped talking to neighbors,  dropped out of social and civic organizations and churches to avoid any contact with those who have so branded themselves.

America's progress in extending civil rights in its quest for liberty, equality, and justice for has hit an obstruction that has stopped and reversed that progress.  The symptoms are not only a person of Trump's nefarious character and agenda occupying the White House; the more oppressing symptoms are the unarmed people shot by the police lying dead in the streets and the  weekly ritual of school shootings that leave promising students dead on classroom and hallway floors.  There was a time when such perverted injustice would have sent the citizens raging in the streets in order to save the country from demented tyranny.  Now, they cower with mindless thoughts and insulting prayers that express how little they value human life. Some say, use the ballot box to regain control.  But when half the country practices disrespect, chooses to believe in lies that support their lethal hatreds, or choose people like Trump to represent them, the political process will not restore the respect for honesty  and decency.  

Political campaigns are only diversions and distractions from the gang wars that are leaving the streets and schools littered with dead innocents.  Those heaps of bodies signal the death of the American promise.  

The question is how to respond to a gang war.  A tactic of passive resistance is to avoid the hostiles, do not engage them, do not patronize their enterprises, and let them isolate themselves.  America is a violent country, however.  It probably cannot be recovered and restored as the preeminent democracy.  The gang war is, in fact, a civil war--actually a war between the civil and uncivil.  If something like America is to survive, the country may have to be demolished, redefined, and rebuilt. 

As elections approach,  it is necessary to understand that we are in a gang war.  We can try to vote like we've never voted before to save some possibility of liberty, equality, and justice for all.  But campaign talk should not let us lose sight of those shot dead in our streets and schools.  Or that what divides the country is beyond reconciliation.  Liberals recognize that reconciliation with the forces that Trump represents will be the death of democracy.  Who can reconcile with malevolence?

When we were previously at this juncture in our history, it was over slavery.  Some thought the country should divide itself between slaveholding states and free states.  Lincoln did not think so.  As long as there were slaveholding states, there were people who would be denied freedom and even the status of being human.  We engaged in a war during which 360,000 Union soldiers and 258,000 Confederates lost their lives.  The result was the elimination of slavery and a long period of struggling through Jim Crow, women's suffrage, and economic inequality that extends up to the present moment when that progress has stalled.

We may like to think that the country may redeem itself in the voting booth.  But our history shows us that our most decisive moments came through war.  We are a violent country.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

“Isn’t it wiser to temporarily part ways with the Trump administration?”

Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord confronts the other parties with decisions that will do damage no matter what is decided.  If, as they have said, the other parties--France, Germany, UK. the European Union, Russia, and China--are determined to make the pact work, they will come into direct conflict with U.S. sanctions.  The U.S. will place sanctions on any company that does business with Iran.  If those companies do as the U.S. wishes, they will lose the investments they made in Iran.  However, if they wish to honor their commitments, their governments will need to intervene.  Because America is a big factor in the economies of its allies, the foreign governments are very cautious about possibly jeopardizing the trade arrangements.  The resentment against American dominance has always existed,  but it has grown into a factor that could motivate countries to reduce their reliance on the a partner.  China and Russia are willing and ready to take up the leadership role that Trump has stepped away from.   European countries are  reassessing the value of the U.S. as an ally. 

European countries are openly recommending that they follow the pattern of Mexico in dealing with the U.S.  Mexico has left a line of communication open but has canceled a number of meetings with U.S. officials.  While the NAFTA talks drag on, Mexico has made arrangements to purchase agricultural goods from Brazil and Argentina that it once got from the U.S.  European officials think their own countries could be best served by realigning their international relationships to greatly reduce the role America plays in their politics and their economies.  That is the reasoning behind a senior European Union adviser  suggesting, “Isn’t it wiser to temporarily part ways with the Trump administration?”  

The U.S. has lost much trust and respect throughout the world.  In the media,  his groundless assertions displace the actual facts about how other countries see us,  and how strongly motivated they are to create alliances and relationships that don't include us.

America is not regarded as a major player in essential world affairs.  That is its choice.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Do we need to do 1968 again?

Grant Park, Chicago, August 1968
Paris, May 1968

1968 was a tumultuous year,   It was the year, after many as a newspaper editor, that  I became a college professor.  Students throughout the world were rioting violently.  May 1968 is noted as the month that changed French culture and society.  That August is when student protesters and Chicago police clashed in Grant Park during the Democratic convention.  The young people of the world were leading a revolution.

Many factors were driving the revolution:  civil rights, LBGT rights, women's equality and liberation, economic inequality, and numerous other social issues.  Nations which claimed to subscribe to democracy and its premises of liberty, equality, and justice for all weren't living up to their pretenses.  Young people thought it was time to correct the fraudulent claims,  even if it meant tearing the countries down.  They had the support and encouragement from many older people, too.

We have come to that point again.  There have been massive demonstrations since Trump's election to express objections to his perfidy and constant lying.  They have been peaceful demonstrations that quickly pass out of mind as the news cycles focus on Trump and his distractions.  

The recent walkouts by teachers have reminded us of the hard facts of making voices heard:  peaceful demonstrations are ineffective.  When teachers ask for better pay,  they are met with the usual dismissals of working nine months a year, getting paid better than stable hands,  etc.  But when the teachers walked out, they disrupted communities in ways that affected families and officials and demanded that they be taken seriously.  Over the years, a significant number of teachers have left the profession for better pay, while schools districts struggle to fill vacant teaching positions.  The walkouts have been effective because parents had to find ways to deal with their children when schools were not in session.  It gave them a taste of what life would be like if there was nobody to teach and tend to their kids during the day.  And the teachers were organized and held firm rather than accept compromises.  That made officials realize that they were no longer dealing with groups which could be cowed by the usual dismissive and insulting rhetoric.

The determination of teachers is an indication of the growing dissatisfaction and exasperation with the current status quo within the general population.  So far, police have managed to keep protesters and anti-protesters apart to keep matters peaceful for the most part, but they know that with the size of some protests, they would be overwhelmed if the participants decided to get violent.  Being nice and calm is not accomplishing anything and people are asking,  "What's the point?"

While Trump has a base of supporters that give him a sense of legitimacy,  the polls indicate that a plurality thinks that Trump contradicts the basic premises that define America and meets none of those defining  moral and intellectual qualities.  Trump to them is anti-America.  When joined with documented incidents of unarmed men being gunned down and police being called on people of color for no good reasons, there is a deadly aspect of the divide in America that is goes far beyond differences of political opinion.

The malice in Trump's tweeted statements reflects the malice with which factions within the U.S. regard each other.  They declare themselves to be enemies.  And the presence of arms and hatred and mass shootings sets up the volatile conditions of war.  Propaganda and rhetorical analysts  warn that we have reached the exploding point.  The nation is primed for riot.  Some event or word will convince people that the nation must be torn down. It looks as if we'll have a vert hot summer.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

How Facebook changed my circle of friends

Seven-month-old grandson in Denver
keeping in touch by Facebook

I am on Facebook because my spouse put me on,  mostly so I can keep up with family matters.  I can keep close to my daughter, her husband, and my grandchildren in Denver, for example. Leslie posts photos from her mobile phone on what the family is doing, and it's like dropping in for a visit and an update.  

My spouse sends the same kind of messages from our neck of the woods, and they keep the family current and in touch with each other.  

It is also nice to learn what friends are doing.  For the most part.  The lesser part, however, is another matter.  Sometimes  I learn things I'd just as soon not know.

Some people post their every activity, as if their lives are so vital and compelling that they they are role models for the world.  Sometimes they are interesting.  Other times they are presumptuous.  The old social rule is that it is unseemly to talk about yourself all the time, and some folks do find themselves the most and, often, the only interesting things in the world.  They seem not to understand that not everyone shares their glowing admiration for themselves.  It is good to learn of achievements and things that happen to friends, but when their reports surge into self-aggrandizement and become exhibitionism, we see defects of character that we'd prefer not to deal with.

On the other hand, some of my fiends undertake arduous and interesting projects, and it is engaging and informing to track their progress, their frustration, their exchange of experience, and their successes.  Their stories become that part of human experience we call knowledge.

I have many long-time acquaintances whom I have admired and been happy to know.  They are accomplished and noteworthy in many ways.  But some have taken on a form of Donald Trump-like exhibitionism that undercuts their credibility. One example is a couple who advertise their social and cultural activities with an eye toward snobbery which features photos of themselves mugging with an ostentatious cuteness.  A mutual friend asked me recently if I'd noticed their spate of "juvenile showing off" on Facebook.  I had, and it is something I would never have expected of them.  The friend asked if I knew of anything bad that happened in their lives for which they were compensating or covering up.  I didn't,  but the thought occurred to me.  In my eyes and that of the mutual friend,  they are no longer the people we knew, or thought we did.  Their Facebook antics  make us wary.  They project that smell-me attitude.  That causes me to hold my breath.  It is as if someone we knew well passed away or underwent a drastic personality change.

In other cases people post things that reveal themselves in ways that diminish them.    I often come across postings or repostings that betray racist attitudes.  That is disappointing.  Some Facebook friends post memes that are repeatedly proven to be untrue.  In doing so, they show that they like to believe in malevolent lies.    It is hard to be friendly with people who show a malicious ignorance.  Those who endorse lies and misinformation are the ones who have reduced the USA to the status of a banana republic.  They do not merely  have differing opinions.  They are the purveyors of falsehoods intended to do harm.  People who respect truth and honesty disassociate themselves from them.  And so, relationships are fractured.

I edge away from those whose posts reveal traces of bad character that show an underlying malice.   My circle of friends has narrowed.  Facebook reveals some of those things we'd prefer not to know and forces us to make choices about with whom we relate.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States