…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Yesterday Ireland repealed its abortion ban.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some of the testimonials, most of them from wingnuts whose rights to publish their bilious tripe on Facebook have been rescinded by the Zuckerberg police.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.

The disinhibition of the extremist in the new America

If you haven’t seen this video (specifically the first forty-or-so seconds), then you’ve been cave-dwelling since mid-week—for which I envy you. The rest of us have been exposed to it numerous times, and in truth we don’t need to see it again—except we do.

We need to see a man in a Trump hat showing up at the scene of the massacre at Santa Fe High School with a sidearm on his hip and a five-foot flagstaff resting on his shoulder—the new America of Old Glory and guns—and we need to see it until it looks normal; because if it ever does, then we have to repeat over and over, this is not normal.

This man, this attitude, this pseudo-patriotism—this is not normal.

After Newtown, Parkland, and all the others, we may be forgiven for wanting to concede. Remember the president’s meeting with the Parkland survivors and family members of the dead? Remember his excoriation of Congress for being fearful of the NRA? Then fast forward to May 4 and the president’s pep talk to that same organization, a speech filled with lies and half-truths, but whose gist (if there ever is such a thing when this automaton speaks) can best be epitomized by this: “Your Second Amendment rights are under siege, but they will never, ever be under siege as long as I’m your president.” (Ten days later, after the shooting at Santa Fe High School this past week, Trump said we all have to work together to ensure student safety. Yeah, “all” except the NRA.)

It’s interesting that Trump used the phrase “under siege” to describe gun activity in America. After all, a siege is a military operation in which an enemy surrounds a town or building or fortress with the aim of starving the people inside and forcing a surrender. This is far from what is happening to gun owners, but very much like what has happened in our schools, our workplaces, our nightclubs, and our churches.

But back to the man with the sidearm and the Trump hat. Whether he’s shell-shocked by the morning’s events, tone-deaf to the recent history of the country, or simply out of his mind, there in quintessence is the answer to the questions of how did we get here? Who voted for Trump? Who continues to support him?

On Bill Maher’s weekly Real Time this past Friday, one of his guests, journalist and activist Dan Savage, used a word I hadn’t heard before: disinhibit. He was describing the new boldness of the radical right: the racism of the white supremacists, the misogyny of the Incel movement, the xenophobia of the Nativists. These people, he said, once found lurking in the shadows or hidden in seamy chatrooms, have been disinhibited by a president who dog-whistles their repugnant beliefs. And often lives them.

Unfortunately, we hear the sounds too, and though we’d like to ignore them, we can’t afford to. Our silence would only serve to disinhibit them further; and when the next mass shooting occurs and another lunatic jingoist appears wrapped in a flag and toting an AR-15, will we even take notice?

In what might normally be considered the coup de grâce, Trump has “re-activated” his gun safety commission and is expected to meet with members next week. But “normally” no longer prevails: there is no final blow, no last straw for Trump. Every misstep, every folly, every indignity is mere prologue.

We can’t be silent.

This is not normal.

 

 

Robert Jeffress: Our Man in Jerusalem

Let’s take a break from sanity today, and look at some of Robert Jeffress’s greatest hits.

Jeffress is, you may know, the pastor of a Southern Baptist Mega-Church in Dallas; and through the years he has expounded on topics far and wide, and done so in ways that would embarrass most administrations. Not the current one, of course, and so when the controversial opening of the new American Embassy in Jerusalem was filling out its speakers list, Jeffress was a natural—what with Stalin, Pol Pot, and Idi Amin no longer with us. (Did Assad turn it down?)

Jeffress speaks for one of the many fringe elements in American society that have acquired a corruption of credibility with the coming of Trump. White supremacists, Klansmen, nativists—all have found a new freedom of expression. But for Jeffress, hiding behind religion lends him credibility that many others lack.

Even so, he has always been a controversial figure; and I wondered which of his many public statements finally led the Trump team to say “He’s our man!”

Was it this one?

“Islam is wrong. It is a heresy from the pit of hell. Mormonism is wrong. It is a heresy from the pit of hell.”

Not very imaginative. Was it this?

Judaism — you can’t be saved being a Jew. You know who said that, by the way? The three greatest Jews in the New Testament: Peter, Paul and Jesus Christ. They all said Judaism won’t do it. It’s faith in Jesus Christ.”

That’s better. At least he quotes sources, though it’s mostly secondhand information (unless Jeffress is really really old). Even worse, when most of us hear Peter and Paul together, we think of Mounds. So maybe this one tipped the scales:

There are a disproportionate amount of assaults against children by homosexuals than by heterosexuals, you can’t deny that. And the reason is very clear: homosexuality is perverse.

Actually I can deny that, and so can law enforcement, so I hold with this as the statement that settled the matter:

I am not saying that President Obama is the Antichrist… But what I am saying is this: the course he is choosing to lead our nation is paving the way for the future reign of the Antichrist.

That’s it: the perfect combination of dissing the devil and Obama all at once. The Trumpian quinella.

Thank you Robert Jeffress for portraying America like the ignorant bastion of racism and bigotry that it’s becoming


ps: In case the rest of you were unable to attend, hobnob with Jared and Ivanka, and get a commemorative program, you should know that the closing prayer was delivered by Pastor Robert Hagee. You may remember him as the “luminary” who called Hurricane Katrina the “judgment of God against the city of New Orleans,” mainly because there was to be a a homosexual parade there on the Monday that Katrina came.” So far, incredibly, no major meteorological services have sought his services.

 

Three rescued North Korean prisoners do not atone for millions of disenfranchised American citizens

I’ll admit it: I hate the fact that Trump was able to procure the release of three American prisoners of North Korea. I hate the fact that he received credit for doing anything noteworthy.

But while I’m being honest, let’s put that prisoner release in perspective—weigh it against the other so-called achievements of his presidency (let alone against the fact that about a half dozen Americans remain interned in Iran, whose leaders have little use for America these days).

For instance, how does it match up when we juxtapose it with the number of women who will die a painful death from cervical cancer because of the Trump administration’s attack on Planned Parenthood? How many unwanted children will be born to parents excluded from access to contraceptives or deprived of access to abortion? And how many birth defects will accrue as more women find their health care restricted by quasi-religious considerations?

How does the prisoner release match up with the number of children who will suffer physical and mental impediments at the hands of Trump’s EPA, hell-bent on deregulating every environmental advance America has made in the past fifty years? Lead in drinking water, coal dust in rivers, poisonous pesticides on crops, more auto pollution in our atmosphere—an entire generation of American children face greater disease risks, decreased mental capacity, and believe or not in 2018, shorter life spans!

How does it match up with the draconian immigration policies of the current administration and a confederacy of I.C.E. stormtroopers who look upon the fracturing of families as collateral damage—if they look upon it at all? And what of those whose everyday lives are dominated by fear of arrest and deportation, who can no longer report criminal activity to the police for fear that their very existence will trigger some untoward response?

How does it match up with our lickspittle president’s embrace of the NRA and the gun deaths that have accrued during his presidency, and which will no doubt continue to increase as military-style weapons remain available? Or his dog-whistle appeals to white supremacists and other hate groups that exacerbate our racial divisions? Or his signature tax law which excludes an entire generation from upward mobility and decimates what little remains of the middle class? Or his dismantling of the Affordable Care Act and the concomitant benefits it was providing to Americans for whom health insurance had been an impossible luxury and who, again without it, will get sick and die? Or his denial of climate change and its concomitant rise in sea levels and the coming inundation of large parts of Florida and Louisiana—of the coastlines of Oregon and Massachusetts?

Three men are enjoying newfound freedom with their families today. Good for them. But tens of thousands, maybe millions more will go on about their lives, stagnant, trapped, watching from behind barriers as the American Dream slowly, but inexorably, awakens to a Trumpian slough of corruption, mismanagement, and stupidity.

Buffoonery on the surface is hiding a disaster below it.

With the mental acuity of a two-year old and the logic of a fence post, Donald Trump has waded boldly into the weapons policies of two of our closest allies, the United Kingdom and France.

In a weekend speech to the NRA, Mr. Trump—never one to let his brain run ahead of his mouth—used his hands in a gun gesture and mimicked the shooting at Paris’ Bataclan concert hall where 90 victims died. For good measure he included commentary: “They [the terrorists] took their time and gunned them down one by one. Boom! Come over here. Boom! Come over here. Boom!”

If you haven’t seen the video (and I confess, whenever he appears on my TV or laptop, I don’t look), it’s a minute worth spending. You can always rinse out your eyes afterward. Or shower. Or both.

In the video our supercilious president lays out exactly what all NRA zealots want to hear: things would have been different if even one concertgoer had a gun. By extension we are to infer that one victim in Las Vegas would have turned the tide, or one student in Parkland, or one teacher in Sandy Hook, or one patron in Orlando. The simple mind makes all things simple.

Still, I understand the premise, and I don’t doubt that in a one-on-one situation, like a home invasion in an isolated area, the property owner with a gun may very well fend off the intruder.

But Las Vegas, Parkland, Sandy Hook, and Orlando were far from one-on-one situations, far from normal or standard. Once you put a semi-automatic weapon into the hands of a lunatic or a terrorist or someone having a bad day, hypotheticals lose their significance.

The basis for Trump’s denunciation of our allies, it appears, arose from a statement last month from English trauma surgeon Martin Griffiths, who told the BBC some of his colleagues had likened the Royal London Hospital in east London, where knife wounds were increasing in frequency, to the former British military base Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. Trump drew from this a hospital overwhelmed by bloody corridors and mounting fatalities. Neither is true.

In fact, after Trump’s suggestion that Britons arm themselves, a fellow trauma surgeon stated that gunshot wounds are at least twice as lethal as knife injuries and more difficult to repair. We all received a graphic lesson in that when we heard details of the Parkland shooting and the ammunition that twisted its way through the bodies of the victims.

Incidentally, and tellingly, Britain’s strict governmental policy on handgun ownership in England, Scotland and Wales evolved from a school shooting in 1996. Three years before Columbine; fourteen before Sandy Hook, and on, and on.

But this essay isn’t about guns. Not this time. It’s about us and how we’ve become inured to the degeneracy and corruption, to a president exploiting the deaths of 90 Paris concertgoers and using their families as political pawns. We all remember Trump’s sleazy rebuke of John McCain in the summer of 2015. That, in retrospect, was our new leader pointing out that decorum was dead, that courtesy and consideration were impediments, and that the only difference between truth and lies was in the spelling. America was entering a new pathway to greatness, unencumbered by democracy or propriety, understanding or empathy. We’re still on it.

We’re coming up on three years since Trump, his bone spurs having safely insulated him from danger, reviled an American war hero; and two since he reviled the family of another. Each new day brings a fresh assault on every facet of life that once defined America, while just below the surface the real damage keeps mounting: the environment, education, health care, the legal system, race relations, human rights, housing, consumer protection, and more. The attacks are ubiquitous. And we are not even halfway through his term.

Yes, let’s all look forward to November, but let’s also tabulate the damage being done along the way, and recognize that the president’s approval ratings, while still abysmal, are rising. To explain that last fact, we better take a look at ourselves.

Rudy Giuliani: wallowing in the depths with his new master

If you ever needed proof that anyone can lead in a crisis, hark back to 9/11 and the then omnipresent Rudy Giuliani.

For the days following that attack, Giuliani was everywhere—on every news broadcast, in every newspaper, on every radio call-in show. The fact that he failed to dominate Facebook and Twitter owes only to the fact that those two media had not yet come along.

He was the rock. The guiding force. He would bring his city—and by extension—our country back from the depths.

Seventeen years later the city has come back. The country has also. But Rudy Giuliani remains in the depths, always burrowing lower.

Admittedly, watching one’s power and influence fade is never easy, and politicians don’t handle the decline any better or worse than others. We’ve all heard the “In my day…” speeches and commentary from people whose fame has slipped; but we’ve also witnessed the accomplishments of someone like Jimmy Carter, whose presidency may have been lackluster at best, but whose lifetime of charitable work afterwards will ensure his place in the hearts of those he helped.

And then there’s Rudy Giuliani, whose only claim to fame was being mayor of New York City on Sept 11, 2001—the same Rudy Giuliani who, in 2016 while campaigning for Donald Trump, said “Under those eight years, before Obama came along, we didn’t have any successful radical Islamic terrorist attack inside the United States.”

Yes, he forgot 9/11. Or he considered NYC separate from the USA. And actually he forgot two if you count the terrorist attack at LAX.

Of course his supporters assert that his stop-and-frisk policies dramatically reduced the murder rate in New York City, but even here the facts do not bear it out; in fact, they imply the opposite. Still, that policy pinpoints the beginning of Rudy Giuliani as Mr. Tough Guy whose concern for human rights equals that of his new best pal Donald Trump.

Now that Giuliani is the president’s lawyer, he’ll be heard from again with greater frequency; and really, that’s all he wants. He has nothing worthwhile to offer anymore, and his credibility among anyone outside (maybe) his immediate family and the hardest-line Trump supporters is nil. But don’t underestimate his ability to be exploited. His claim Wednesday about the Trump payoff of Stormy Daniels was not a gaffe but a plea bargain. As Trump said today in a tweet: “Money from the campaign, or campaign contributions, played no roll in this transaction.” How do we know? One of his lapdogs told us.

So there in the muck of yet another Trumpian swamp, the two of them can be found, rollicking together, obfuscating all the way. Giuliani, the no longer credible and often pathetic former everything, has few other options available. But if he can further the success of a man as contemptible as he, that ought to buy him a slightly larger photo in a history book.

Or maybe, if there is some divine order, a catalogue of the infamous.

One hate group, two massacres in Canada, twenty-four dead

The Ruger Mini-14, for the initiated is a semi automatic rifle that compares favorably, if that word applies in this context, to the AR-15. In short, it’s used to kill people.

No, this is not another screed about guns. Not just guns anyway.

On December 6, 1989, a young man named Marc Lépine, brandishing that type of rifle, burst into a college classroom at École Polytechnique in Montreal, Canada, ordered the men from the room, screamed complaints about feminism, then systematically killed the women present. Six died instantly. Lépine then continued to move through the corridors, his Ruger leaving behind proof of its deadly power. By the time he turned the gun on himself, the death toll had reached fourteen, all of the victims female. Ten more were injured. Four men were hurt accidentally in the crossfire.

Lépine was characterized as a madman—even a victim of a “merciless society.” Yes, a victim. His suicide note told a different story:

“The lack of time (because I started too late) has allowed these radical feminists to survive.”

In fairness to law enforcement, a fear that copycat killers would arise kept the whole truth secret. Still, Canadians have never forgotten the massacre: in that country December 6 is a Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women.

But the horror of Lépine’s act surfaced again this past week when another hate-filled and deranged misogynist turned his rented van into a murder weapon, systematically mowing down pedestrians on a Toronto, Canada, street. Eight of the ten victims were women.

Sicker still, if such a comparison is even possible, is the revelation that a group exists whose raison d’être is punishing women—all women—whom they deem responsible for denying them sex. Incel—the involuntarily celibate—carry out such attacks to support their bleak perverted worldview: that women need to be taught a lesson by being tricked, spurned, humiliated, and if necessary, killed. Their fantasies are filled with events like those in Toronto and Montreal in which women fear them and, of course, notice them. Before his murderous assault, the van driver, Alek Minassian, posted a call for an incel rebellion on Facebook. With ten counts of murder facing him, he’ll be leading that rebellion from prison.

Of note: one of Minassian’s heroes is Elliot Rodger, the Isla Vista killer who, before murdering six people in 2014, uploaded a video to YouTube about his “retribution” against attractive women who wouldn’t sleep with him . Rodgers has been referred to as the first alt-right terrorist. It’s excessively sanguine to believe he’ll be the last, not when Elliot Rodgers t-shirts are available and the day of his own massacre is revered as a holiday by the incels.

With an American president whose own thinly veiled misogyny is well known, and whose alt-right support stems from his further disdain for custom and propriety, we can no longer expect America as a nation to lead the way against hate groups like incel. That responsibility lies with right-thinking individuals from both parties, all age groups, all races, and all genders…and to a greater degree, with families. Recent commentary about the parenting of American boys—of providing them with moral guidelines and clear behavioral examples—should be taken to heart. Groups like incel and weapons like the the Ruger Mini-14 lie waiting for the young men who slip through the cracks.

 

Another mass shooting where “the gun wasn’t the problem”

The nearest Waffle House is about three hours from my house. The chances that I’ll be dining at one of them anytime soon are pretty small.

Still, the tradition of places like that is deeply ingrained in the American psyche. Around here it’s Denny’s or any number of diners, places boringly typical during daylight hours, but which spring to new life after midnight when they fill up with workers leaving their second shift jobs, party-goers for whom the canapés didn’t quite do it, prom-goers not nearly ready to call it a night, truckers, cops, emergency workers—the clientele is as variable as the pages-long menus most of these places provide.

There’s something uniquely American about them, and although the quadruple murder in the Nashville Waffle House last Sunday morning doesn’t rise to the level of other mass shootings over the past twenty years, it gives yet another lie to the premise that guns are not the problem, especially in Tennessee.

This “red state” and NRA stronghold (stranglehold?) adheres to some of the most permissive firearms provisions in the country. You can easily find  statutes on line, but I’ll save you the trouble:

•No permit needed to purchase a long gun
•No registration of firearms
•No assault weapon law
•No magazine capacity restriction
•No owner license required
•No background checks for private sales

and of course,

•Open-Carry is permitted. Open-Carry as it relates to a loaded long gun is “generally prohibited.” (No, really—generally)

The shooter in Nashville murder, 29-year-old Travis Reinking, apparently knew none of the victims, and though he was white and the victims were all black or Hispanic, there is no early indication of this being a hate crime. That may change as more evidence becomes known. There is also no indication that Mr. Reinking was not completely out of his mind, and that his fixation on Taylor Swift was the least of his problems.

It’s true that Reinking’s father enabled his son by returning guns that were supposed to be kept from him, but Ms. Swift may be the wildcard here. I expect that the NRA will soon be issuing a statement claiming that guns are once again not the issue, but that Taylor Swift is; and that instead of trying to remove the Second Amendment rights from the mentally imbalanced, more federal funds should be earmarked for treating Taylor Swift devotees. Outlandish? Don’t forget, some of their membership blamed the Parkland students for Nikolas Cruz’s anger. Is blaming Ms. Swift really that big a leap?

I don’t mean to make light of this: four Americans lost their lives last Sunday in a vulgar and twisted display of Second Amendment rights carried out by a vulgar and twisted young man. In a larger sense what happened in Nashville last weekend demonstrated the clashing of two American traditions—the late-night run for home fries and waffles, and the slaughtering of innocents with military weapons. One of these could be legislated away by a Congress not bought and paid for, but since that isn’t the case in 2018 America, expect a Republican resolution soon to make America great again by banning either 24-hour restaurants or Taylor Swift.

Such political chicanery and unalloyed foolishness will keep us occupied until the next time a semi-automatic weapon becomes the blameless participant in another mass murder, or until November when we will finally have the responsibility to change things. Shame on us if we don’t.

We have part of the aircraft missing….

One good thing about flying is that it gets us somewhere faster, and much more safely.

Okay, the only good thing about flying is that it gets us somewhere faster, and much more safely.

That’s probably why we’re shocked when something goes wrong with a flight, at least a flight involving a U.S. carrier. We should be shocked: until this past Tuesday there hadn’t been a fatality since 2009, the night a commuter turboprop crashed near Buffalo, N.Y., killing 44 passengers and five crew members. That plane was piloted by an exhausted flight crew, both of whom made errors in judgment that even a neophyte home simulator pilot would know enough to avoid, dooming the DHC-8-400 and everyone aboard it.

Between then and this past Tuesday when that Southwest plane blew an engine, American carriers had been unblemished. Part of that record results from the FAA and tight government regulations on passengers and crew; part of it is the planes themselves. (It is ironic that a few months back President Trump took credit for said safety record when (1) seven of those years comprised the Obama administration and (2) he has a knee-jerk opposition to government regulatory procedures.)

Tuesday’s incident cost the life of Jennifer Riordan, an Arizona mother of two. There is no sugar-coating of the tragedy, and no denying that her family is viewing this incident through a much different prism. (I added the photo because we should remember she is not just a name.)

image
Jennifer Riordan (seen here in a family photo) was the only fatality from Southwest Flight 1380 earlier this week.

But the fact that there was one death and not 147 more underscores the other factor in America’s safety record: the skill of our pilots. Tuesday it was Tammie-Jo Shults who calmly guided a crippled plane down from 30,000 feet to a landing that most passengers described as ordinary. (It’s interesting to note that most of the survivors of the “Miracle on the Hudson” in 2009 had the same response to their river landing. Even that day, floating down the Hudson, some thought thy had arrived at an airport.

I’ve always been an aviation geek—still watch every plane approaching BDL—but even I weren’t, I’d find the chatter between the pilot and the air traffic controller fascinating. She could have been ordering pizza and the tower could have been asking “pickup or delivery?”—it was that calm. But it was also focused and cooperative: two professionals who most certainly had never met and under most circumstances never would, combining to save a planeload of people to whom they understood a shared responsibility.

There is little that makes us feel good these days, from the Starbucks debacle, to the police shooting of Stephon Clark, to the ongoing embarrassment of the Trump swamp: but when something positive does happen, even when the ending is far from perfect, we can exult a bit, knowing that, soon enough, the rest of TrumpAmerica will return us to the imbalance and chaos to which we have reluctantly grown accustomed.