They’re not sending their best. Neither are we.

I could, I suppose, fall back on my many years of coaching, present myself as some pseudo-expert, and give my profound opinion of moral victories. But you already know what a moral victory is.

It’s a loss.

Amid the knee-jerk responses to Trump’s June 20 executive order rescinding his earlier executive order, let’s not believe for a second that basic American principles rose to the top. That will never happen unless we push them there. “Allowing” families to be imprisoned together forever does not suggest compassion, empathy, charity, or courage. (Trump feigns indignity when people don’t sing the anthem, yet his own cravenness never inspires anyone’s belief that this country remains the home of the brave.) Yes, we can take heart in the “unseparating” of children from their parents, as long as we realize that the action merely redirects the rancor and pettiness of wretches like Trump, Sessions, and Miller.

So don’t pop any champagne, or think that the humanitarian crisis engendered by this triumvirate of turpitude is anywhere near over. Celebrate quietly—a minute or two to gloat—then back on the attack. Keep pounding away and asking the right questions:

  • Was the original plan to separate families forever?
  • What specific plan is in order to reunite separated families?
  • What is the plan for dealing with the legality of permanently imprisoning of immigrants…or anybody…without due process?

And when you’re asking those questions, no matter whom they’re directed to, be sure the word plan is included in each question, because there is none. There never is with Trump. No plan for North Korea, for Puerto Rico, for the Paris Agreement, the Muslim Ban, paying for the wall, providing health care, stewarding the environment. Aside from his new plan to create a Space Force to fight off alien invaders (I thought that’s why we had Sigourney Weaver and Will Smith), with Trump it’s thoughtless bluster followed by chaos.

This time it didn’t work, and that fact is heartening. But we’ve traded one chaotic situation for another. It’s typical Trumpian whack-a-mole, though it was gratifying to pound that mole for a moment or two yesterday. Don’t throw away the mallet.

I don’t have to tell you after one year, 151 days, 22 hours, and 25 minutes of this presidency, it’s all going to get much, much worse, and the press is going to have to redouble its already redoubled efforts if we’re ever going to learn the outcome of this, i.e., how many families have been permanently shattered—how many parents and children will never find each other—how many violations of personal integrity have been and will be committed.

Last night in Minnesota, Trump was at it again, repeating his original mantra about Mexico not sending us their best. Maybe in 2015 we could be offended by his implied racism, but now one year, 151 days, 22 hours, and 25 minutes later, I’m not sure we deserve any country’s best.

On the world stage, and maybe in our own consciences, we may have to earn back that right. And to do so, well if I might reference another movie, we’re gonna need a bigger mallet.


Scheider
In “Jaws,” Brody (Roy Scheider, gets his first real look at the shark.

 

 

The Whitening Power of Trump—Oh, if only this were a detergent commercial

Anyone who still denies the clarion call of racism inherent in “Make America Great Again” can pretty much shut up now. Events of the past week have reiterated that the door to America has been closed to all but the palest-complexioned Europeans. Welcome Nordics. Black and brown (to cite a phrase instituted against Irish immigrants a century ago) need not apply.

And we must give Trump credit: not even his almighty wall would have accomplished what a couple of border patrol lackeys have done. As a punitive measure, a wall has nothing on separating children from their parents. We learned that centuries ago; in fact, of all the heinous aspects of slavery, none was so cruel as the systematic splintering of families. For removing identity and self-worth, nothing even comes close.

Sessions, Nielsen, Sanders, Trump himself can talk about laws—civil and moral—but we all know what this is: it’s the racist’s last stand—the last big push to whiten America the way it was when it was great. Remember then? When it was great?

  • You could make fun of gay people—it was their problem if they wanted to be that way.
  • You could to a little groping with impunity and not have to worry about “harassment.”
  • You could toss trash out the window—maybe somebody would pick it up.
  • You didn’t have to tolerate Spanish on road signs or in product direcciones. Learn English or get the hell out!
  • Black people knew their place. Women too. And Hispanics? well they could arrive in the spring and play baseball, wasn’t that enough?
  • And the hooded men with torches, well they were good people too.
  • Lake Erie burned, deadly smog regularly enveloped L.A, DDT killed birds and poisoned people, rivers were fouled with sewage and waste, and cancer was a death sentence.

This is the America Trump is dragging us back to, one excruciating transgression after another.

And if you voted for him and still think you did the right thing, then this is the America YOU want. You can no longer claim you like his policies but not him. He is his policies, from misogyny to islamophobia with a million iniquities in between. He is the racist antiquarian you yearned for.

But as you grow nearer to the America you want, all I ask is that you shut up about it. Because when America was great, educated people spoke out and the ignorant pulled their red hats down over their eyes and listened—or just made fun of gay people, groped women, tossed trash out the window—that sort of thing.

The Bible tells me so. Hey, it’s Biblical!

I doubt if too many of us are familiar with the Curse of Ham. I am, but only by chance: forty years ago I taught a course called Black Literature, where I learned among other things, that Frederick Douglass was dead. Yes, Mr. Trump, dead. You can stop hearing good things about him.

The Curse of Ham refers to Noah’s curse of Canaan, Ham’s son. Aside from an ark builder, Noah apparently cursed people too—it’s good to have a hobby—and this attack on Canaan was once interpreted by Christians (sorry, Christians) as the explanation for black skin, for slavery, for any degrading of the rights of dark-skinned people.

Now even a cursory reading of Genesis shows clearly that this is not the case, never was. But to racists down through the years, the Bible has been their bulwark against the equal treatment of non-whites.

The Bible can be used to defend almost anything—we all know that—and yet every once in a while, the way it’s done can shock us out of complacency. Enter Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her defense of removing young immigrant children from their mothers: “It is very biblical to enforce the law, that is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible”

Now first off, something is biblical or it isn’t. It can’t be very biblical any more than something can be very maternal or very broken. But Sanders can be very something—let’s use her own description of Samantha Bee on Ms. Sanders: vile and vicious, neither of which requires a very but isn’t constricted by it. 

Has any individual lost more credibility in one simple statement than she did yesterday when she chose—and she had a choice—to adopt Trump’s virulent lack of empathy and pass it off as her own beliefs? And to repeat the same tired accusations that this is the Democrats’ fault when the Republicans control every facet of government, makes her sound not only callous but stupid.

I don’t doubt that FDR’s press secretary defended the internment of Japanese Americans, and that LBJ’s defended the police tactics in Chicago. America, like every country, has endured shameful episodes and come out the other side better for it. Maybe the ignominy of having imprisoned children will engender a better country, one in which people can at least simulate empathy and treat kids, if not each other, a little better.

How Trump and Sanders come out the other side has already been decided: fools in the eyes of the world who, when the light of day illuminates their inanity, don’t even have the good sense to move into the shadows.

Summertime…and the juxtaposing is easy

With apologies to Gershwin, I’m not sure about the fish and the cotton, but you don’t have to sing along…nor will you want to.

One

Yesterday Attorney General Jeff Sessions prepared us all for the next Samantha Bee outburst by making it all but impossible for asylum seekers to gain entry into the United States even if they cited fears of domestic abuse or gang violence in their native country.

He reversed an immigration appeals court ruling that granted asylum to a Salvadoran woman who said she had been sexually, emotionally, and physically abused by her husband.

Sessions claimed that too many Central Americans are claiming “private violence” as rationale for being admitted to this country. As usual, he’s wrong. In truth, for every asylum seeker admitted, ten more are rejected, but it is true that the process can take months or years, and tens of thousands of people remain free here while their cases are adjudicated.

President Trump has long insisted that these become the violent gang members who are “pouring into the United States,” traveling by caravan from Central America. The data again says no, but Sessions, adhering to the fear mongering of his leader, will not succumb to data.

Two

North America has bid to host the 2026 World Cup—it would be a joint effort with Canada and Mexico (if either of those countries is still speaking to us). But Morocco (not a misprint) has raised a serious host challenge of its own and awarding the bid to the U.S. is no longer a slam dunk.

Compounding the problem is the fact that a lot of these soccer players from foreign countries are foreigners, a group of people the president doesn’t like. These foreigners and the governments of the countries in which they dwell are eminently familiar with phrases like “travel ban” and “muslim extremism,” and “shithole countries.” Some of them live there.

On March 12, a promise came from former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “to issue visas, subject to eligibility under U.S. law, without regard to race, skin color, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, disability, wealth, birth or any other status, or sexual orientation.”

America—a welcoming and nurturing country for athletes with great footwork and indefatigable energy and fans who will stay in hotels and dine in restaurants and boost the economy.

But for women and children fleeing abuse, Trump says nyet.

Happy juxtaposing!

Vile and vicious worked last week. What’s to be said of De Niro?

How about that Trump and his vile and vicious attack on Justin Trudeau?

Or his new BLF (best lackey forever) John Bolton’s vile and vicious echoing of Trump’s attack on Justin Trudeau?

Or economic advisor Larry Kudlow’s vile and vicious assertion that Justin Trudeau had stabbed us in the back?

Vile and vicious.

Which, by the way, was Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s assessment of Samantha Bee’s little tirade a few weeks ago when Bee had seen enough of ICE’s stormtrooper tactics at the border, tactics undertaken with Trump’s imprimatur.

But today, in light of the president’s recent excursion off the rails in Quebec, and Putin’s subsequent praise of his fellow autocrat’s position, I might ask Ms. Sanders to put her judgment in context. And for those who disagreed with my defense of Ms. Bee’s comments a while back, I urge you to read the op-ed piece by Virginia Heffernan in today’s L.A. Times.

Samantha Bee subsequently issued a half-hearted but pointed apology. She shouldn’t have. Trump would have doubled down, repeated the charge, and dared us to do something about it. We, the so-called opposition, keep bringing knives to a gunfight, and though I admire Bee’s candor and incisiveness, she should not have given an inch. (And if you’re offended by my use of guns in an analogy, well then….)

And this gunfight we’re losing? It’s not a question of simple affronts to our sensibilities. Instead, we’re talking about the future of our country, our alliances, and our world. The more emboldened Trump feels, the more he can renounce our friends and coddle our enemies. Vladimir Putin praised Trump’s behavior at the G-7, and why wouldn’t he? The destruction of European alliances will give Russia inroads they could not possibly gain otherwise. Russia is weak militarily and economically: sure they were able to overwhelm and annex Crimea, but they still aren’t able to compete in Western Europe…unless some sympathetic comrade greases the skids.

(And incidentally—but not insignificantly—who in Trump’s universe is to blame for the Crimean annexation? Obama, not Putin.)

This is the vile and vicious world Trump inhabits—the world where one shakes hands with his ally to the north, and then eviscerates him with a tweet within the hour. At least people are catching on and giving like for like. As Roland Paris, a former foreign affairs adviser to Mr. Trudeau, tweeted about Trump after his departure from the G-7: “Big tough guy once he’s back on his airplane…Can’t do it in person, and knows it, which makes him feel weak. So he projects these feelings onto Trudeau and then lashes out at him. You don’t need to be Freud. [Trump is] a pathetic little man-child.”

Which is basically what Robert De Niro said at the Tony’s last night.

Now De Niro could have been more subtle—that may also be true of Bee, Kathy Griffin, and others. But subtlety and decorum in a country that elected Trump president may be qualities we’ll have to lose first in order to win back later.

To borrow from Franklin: a democracy if we can keep it.

At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a woman approached Benjamin Franklin and asked if we had a republic or a monarchy.

“A Republic, if you can keep it,” Franklin said.

These days it’s a democracy…again…if we can keep it.

Simply being a democracy does not make us anything special. There are over 120 democracies, hybrid governments, or autocracies that hide behind that term, among them Switzerland, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, and Togo.

Togo has been in the news of late for human rights abuse and torture by its ruling family, to wit, this headline in the L.A. Times

‘It’s just barbarity’: Togo’s political prisoners describe torture in police custody

Togo: democracy. Low on the index (3.05 out of 10) but higher than some.

On the same index the U.S. sits at 7.98, behind Malta, Canada, and New Zealand. Norway leads with 9.87.

I don’t mean to single out poor Togo for its human rights violations, but Togo has a ruling family, a situation with which we can identify.

The fact is not so much that we aren’t the bastion of democracy that we claim to be, but that we’re willing to give up the designation without a fight.

When a president posits the right to pardon himself for as yet unlisted and unproven crimes, and his supporters unanimously defend him, we have taken a major step toward abandoning our democracy.

When a president sidles up to the autocrats of the world and publicly touts their accomplishments while ostracizing our closest neighbors and allies, he has traded democratic principles for authoritarian mandates.

When a president utilizes his official powers to suppress bona fide opposition, then he might as well be ruling Togo, or any other country where legal opposition is met with gunfire and torture.

In the end, all that separates us from the third-world nations is not some talismanic word like democracy, but a very simple principle: the rule of law. When we lose that, the name we give ourselves will no longer matter. Trump’s attacks on the Department of Justice and the FBI are the first salvos in his war against the nation’s laws—just a step on the way to his declaration that he is the law.

When Nixon attempted the same thing nearly fifty years ago, we balked. But Trump is not Nixon, and our respect for institutions has wavered during the interim. And what if Trump does fire Rod Rosenstein, and Jeff Sessions, and Robert Mueller, and what if—as many politicians claim—this causes a Constitutional crisis? Who is there to rectify it?

With a craven Congress and an ossified Supreme Court, the system of checks and balances has dissolved into a president who never engages with us commoners, Congressional sheep who fear only being shorn in their re-election bids, and a Supreme Court packed and ready to defend the indefensible for the foreseeable future.

Luckily, we’re a democracy.

Like Togo.

Finding the road back becomes more difficult every day

Last night marked another one of those times when I harked back to a comment a friend made the day after the 2016 election: he said he had awakened that morning with a feeling that he was living in a different country. Of course, for most of us at that point, the election result evoked a sense of profound disappointment: our political system—yes the one we had mocked and criticized and lamented all our lives but which had somehow served us despite its shortcomings—that system had been exploded, and we faced an uncertain future maneuvering through the detritus left behind.

We’ve been living in that new country for nearly two years now: if only it had all turned out to be merely problematic and not the full-scale horror with which we are now confronted daily, its specifics ubiquitous and inescapable.

•We see it in the heartless and sadistic separation of immigrant children from their parents.

•We see it in the tacit acceptance and normalization of bigotry, racism, and intolerance.

•We see it in the daily attacks on the laws of our land by those who have sworn to uphold them.

•We see it in the willing authorization of illegal and immoral behavior by the erstwhile leader of the free world and the slavish officials who do his bidding.

The extent of the damage at so many levels exceeds our ability to keep up, the actions so insidious they beggar belief. On any given day we can pick up a newspaper and find more concrete evidence that our country is being remade into something unrecognizable. To wit:

A loophole for dirty diesel trucks: Yet another attack on science by Trump’s EPA

In the America of 2016 an act that would turn back the clock on pollution standards and imperil the lives of thousands would have incurred nothing but scorn, but in our new country scorn serves as the barometer of effectiveness: the louder reasonable people cry foul, the more certain the president is that he’s following his mandate.

In the America of 2018 we are indeed living in a new country, something foreign and discomfiting; and every day this new autocracy takes hold under Trump’s egomaniacal control, the road back—already strewn with debris and overgrown with invasive weeds—becomes more difficult to navigate…or even locate. It’s just a matter of time before we forget there was ever a road at all.

 

 

 

…maybe something with raspberries and watermelon….

For the last two years my morning regimen had changed very little: up around six, write for a few hours, forty-five minutes on the treadmill, etc.

That time on the treadmill had been very important: it was time I spent reading the New York Times or some other paper I can squint from my iPad.

But lately, my habits have been changing: I find myself reading more apolitical articles and avoiding any story with Trump mentioned in the headline or the lede. It’s my new ostrich approach to the news, and though it may not be particularly courageous or even very novel, I find myself enjoying it more and more.

For instance, in the past two weeks I’ve learned quite a bit about Meghan Markle—she married into British royalty, did you know?

And there was a school shooting in Houston—were you aware that the possession of assault rifles and the ownership of guns by lunatics still prevail?

Also, Starbucks is planning to close all 8000 stores tomorrow afternoon to provide racial-bias training to its 175,000 employees. I assume it’s avoiding rather than teaching racial bias, but either way, did you even realize racism was still prevalent? After the Civil War? After the sixties’ marches? After Obama? Wow.

And Philip Roth died! Remember that novel he wrote, The Plot Against America? It’s based on Charles Lindbergh winning the 1940 presidential election and spreading his own brand of nativism, isolationism, and antisemitism across America. That Roth sure had some wild imagination, eh?

Yesterday Ireland repealed its abortion ban. Really, be honest, did you know there was one? An abortion ban I mean, not an Ireland. If I weren’t off politics I’d say that this is a remarkable step to the left on a continent (or a hundred miles from a continent) that’s riding a runaway train to the right. I’d even say it’s a hopeful sign if I hadn’t stopped looking for one.

And how about MeWe, the new social networking website marketing itself as a safe alternative to Facebook? I checked out some of the testimonials, most of them from wingnuts whose rights to publish their bilious tripe on Facebook have been rescinded by the Zuckerberg police. To paraphrase an unknown wag, MeWe will probably fill a much-needed void.

So then, two weeks older and infinitely wiser. Honestly folks, a world without Trump is a pretty good world. The downside, of course, is that if enough of us stop paying attention, the world without Trump will become Trump without end.

Maybe I should reassess—but not until I learn a little more about the best summertime desserts.

Yum.
The Plot Against America is a novel by Philip Roth published in 2004. It is an alternative history in which Franklin D. Roosevelt is defeated in the presidential election of 1940 by Charles Lindbergh. The novel follows the fortunes of the Roth family during the Lindbergh presidency, as antisemitism becomes more accepted in American life and Jewish-American families like the Roths are persecuted on various levels. The narrator and central character in the novel is the young Philip, and the care with which his confusion and terror are rendered makes the novel as much about the mysteries of growing up as about American politics. Roth based his novel on the isolationist ideas espoused by Lindbergh in real life as a spokesman for the America First Committee, and on his own experiences growing up in Newark, New Jersey. The novel depicts the Weequahic section of Newark which includes Weequahic High School from which Roth graduated.