The cult of toxic personality

Last week we elected a Democratic governor in Connecticut, a decent guy whose vision for the future is either muddled or non-existent. He defeated another decent guy, whose vision for the state, he said, would be different from the first guy’s. I’m not sure how we would ever know. It was all very confusing and silly.

The winner, Ned Lamont, asked for unity. The loser, Bob Stefanowski should have asked himself why in the world he ever attached his name to anything Trump. Even though Connecticut is a blue state, we were ripe for the reddening, especially since our current governor had been masquerading as the invisible man for the entire election—his policies indefensible even by the Democrats. But once Stefanowski aligned himself with the president—referring to Trump’s financial genius—he dug the first spadeful of dirt from his grave.

Somehow Stefanowski forgot the president’s catalog of bankruptcies, desperate searches for financial assistance, and his refusal to reveal his tax returns which, according to most observers, will expose the sources of that assistance to have come from Russia.

But that last piece is conjecture: In this state Trump himself was the poison, and as we get further from last Tuesday’s elections, we’re beginning to understand the scope of the Trumpian disaster for Republicans nationwide. On that first night we thought it was a wash: one party for the Senate, one for the House. But down-ticket winners are everywhere. Seven governorships flipped to the Democrats, and state legislatures will have a decidedly blue (or at least purple) tinge for the next two years. Sinema’s win in Arizona is huge.

Face it: Trump is poison. All things being equal in Connecticut, Bob Stefanowski should have won. But even though the candidate openly disavowed almost every facet of the president’s persona and his personal foibles, it was too late.

Now the political conversation is turning to whom the Democrats will put up for the presidency in 2020. Let everyone take a lesson from Connecticut: Trump’s role in the race may be more significant than his opponent’s résumé.

So stop watching those Trump rallies and marveling at the man’s popularity. It’s an illusion. The noise, the placards, the idolatry, the race-baiting, the condescension, and the idiocy disguised as enthusiasm sometimes lead us to believe that his cult represents a huge cross-section of Americans.It doesn’t.  Last Tuesday in Connecticut—and in virtually every other state—we learned that. It’s a lesson worth hanging onto.

Tweeting ignorance: it’s an art the president has mastered.

I don’t subscribe to the president’s Twitter feed for the same reason I don’t record the observations of infants at day care centers. They might murmur something cute once in a while, but most of it is indecipherable and not noteworthy.

So it is with the president.

But every once in a while he, unlike the infants, says something so abysmally stupid that everybody hears about it, and because he is both ignorant and unrepentant, it stays in circulation.

Last Friday before he left for Paris to further contest Green Day for the copyright on American Idiot, he commented on the fires in California:

Trump tweet

I have often referred to the president as tone-deaf. It’s not exactly complimentary, but it does relieve him of some responsibility for what otherwise might be considered meanness and vindictiveness.

I was too kind. We all were. There is a streak, a very wide streak of meanness and vindictiveness—of general malevolence—that not only surrounds him but actually defines him. That anyone could witness the devastation of those fires, the tens of thousands of homes destroyed, the hundreds of thousands of lives shattered, and the death toll that rises hourly (now approaching 30, with hundreds unaccounted for—that anyone could witness all that and blame the victims signifies a mind not merely warped but manifestly deranged.

One can easily imagine the president blaming Katrina victims for living in low-lying areas and 9/11 casualties for working in buildings that were too tall. He has already blamed shooting victims for not being armed and returning fire. His facile view of life’s complexities is usually laughable,  but today it’s detestable.

In another less inflammatory tweet the president said “Our hearts are with those fighting the fires … The destruction is catastrophic. God Bless them all.”

Yes, God bless these courageous men and women. But again, no words for the victims. A tweet like that would require empathy: no disrespect to infants, but you’re as likely to find empathy among the babies in the day care center as you are in the White House.

Early observations from the lookout tower—Wednesday, November 7, 2018

It’s 10:59 a.m on the day after and, so far, no Democrat mobs have been rampaging through the streets.

It could be the worst of them are hungover from a night of celebrating the annoying of the president, or maybe they’re just gathering their sticks and torches for a concerted effort later.

Or maybe the president was lying to us when he warned that a Democrat House victory meant rioting, immigrant incursions, a market collapse, and an alien invasion when the Space Force is nowhere near ready!

But as of now, things are pretty quiet.

lookout tower
When the Democrat mobs show up, I’ll know before anybody else.

In truth, not much has changed since yesterday other than the fact that those of us crying out in the darkness have been endowed with lights; and our anger and frustration—which usually get no further than a blog or a tweet—will reach the House of Representatives where others will repeat and echo them. We’ll be, if nothing else, less alone.

But our despicable president will remain in power and continue to nettle us and embarrass us with his relentless mendacity. And remember, he’s no farther away from the nuclear football than he was yesterday. But at least there’ll be some restraints, and the spineless legislators who have turned a blind eye to every malfeasant act for the past two years will at least know that someone is not merely blogging or tweeting…but watching.

And, of course, we live in the same America.

This America:

In Chapmanville, W.Va., a hardware store worker, Chance Bradley, said he was voting Republican because Mr. Trump had made him “feel like an American again.” But Carl Blevins, a retired coal miner, voted Democratic and said he didn’t understand how anybody could support Mr. Trump “or, for that matter, the Republican candidate for Senate there, Patrick Morrisey, who went on to lose to Senator Joe Manchin.

“I think they put something in the water,” Blevins said.

Yes, that America. 

So there’s a lot to be done, but if we can keep the Democrat mobs from torching our villages and pillaging our crops, we just might make it work.

“That’s why I voted for Trump” and other sad truths from the other side

While waiting for an oil change yesterday, I was privy to a conversation, one that occurred between people who aren’t, shall we say, part of my political spectrum. I really didn’t pay any particular attention until, at the end of a stream of disjointed and unproven observations, one participant said “That’s why I voted for Trump.”

He was a middle-aged black man, and I never learned whether he was a customer or a worker. I do know that in Trump’s world he would have been, by virtue of his skin color, unqualified to run for office (e.g. Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum), and yet….

Today he will vote for Bob Stefanowski, a Trump acolyte.

This middle-aged black man, who seemed apolitical and genuinely concerned about his civic duty, provided another wake-up call: Trump’s message, and on a local level Bob Stefanowski’s message, are getting through. The other man in the conversation, white and probably about the same age, cited job growth and Connecticut’s taxes. He did not say he was voting for Stefanowski, but he will. And if he didn’t vote for Trump two years ago, I’d be shocked.

For both of them the messages got through because they were clear and simple: Trump has created jobs; Stefanowski will cut taxes.

There’s no denying that Trump’s imagined immigrant crisis is having its effect, nor would it make sense to discount the efforts and enthusiasm of the pro-life contingent; but the simplest issues resonate. Neither man seemed interested in the proliferation of greenhouse gases or the Saudi genocide in Yemen. They may not have liked the separation of immigrant children from their mothers, but they wouldn’t be thinking about that in the voting booth. 

Coincidentally, the TV was on at the time, and shortly after the conversation ended, a Bob Stefanowski ad played—the one where he promises to cut taxes and bring back jobs. Anyone can say that: the trick is doing so without eviscerating the services that provide a decent quality of life for the greatest number of people. Beyond the soundbites, government is difficult. Unfortunately, we live in a sphere of soundbites.

“Make America Great Again.” Simple. Easy to remember. Abbreviate it and it fits on a hat. Say it often enough and people begin to believe it. Just don’t mention that the “great” America of Trump’s recollection was straight and white, church-going and English speaking. We don’t live in that country anymore, and neither do the 42 million black citizens, the 119 million Hispanics, the 250 million who don’t attend church regularly, and the some 15 million who identify as LGBTQ. Still, it’s mindlessly optimistic to believe that many of those millions will not vote for the Trump candidate today.

Yes the Democrats are emphasizing health care, a noble and vital cause, but “When You Have Your Health You Have Everything” doesn’t fit on a hat. Nor does WYHYHYHE resonate (though we may hear a sound like that from many Democrats if today goes sideways).

I was slightly more optimistic about the elections before that chance encounter. I still have hope of course, but even in this state where we progressives are usually blasé about voting because we always win, there’s a very good chance that the simplicity of the opposing message, and voters’ unwillingness or inability to parse it, may defeat us: the complexity of the issues may do us in, regardless of race, creed, or anything else.

We can slow down the crazy train on Tuesday, or continue off the rails. Your call.

Let’s realize something: from 2009 to 2016 people like me lived in our own little sphere. After all, we’d elected the president we wanted and watched that 2008 love fest in Grant Park when we, once and for all, squelched the idea that a black man could not be president and that there was even a scintilla of racism left in the country. All was pretty much right with the world.

But long about 2010 with the growth of the Tea Party, we began to sense there was another side to the issue—that the “bad people” didn’t like Obama. The bad people weren’t all racists, though there was a well-defined racial and concomitant economic factor to the hatred. Still, we didn’t care. And when Obama was reelected 2012, we cared even less.

It took the bad people eight years actually to get rid of their nemesis, but remember, it took only two years to cripple him. That’s worth remembering.

We’re not going to get rid of Donald Trump next Tuesday—or for many Tuesdays after that—but we can cripple him the way the Tea Party diminished the governing abilities of President Obama. We can help create some oversight to keep Trump and his toadies from running roughshod over our basic human rights and the laws of the land. We can put the brakes on, and though we may not stop this off-the-rails crazy train, we can slow it down.

We can defend Roe v. Wade and women’s reproductive rights, retard the rush toward more carbon and methane pollution, save a few coral reefs and a national park or two, make life tenable for the LGBTQ community, reunite immigrant children with their parents, relegate white supremacists to the fringes from which they came, and even secure voting rights for the millions Trump wants to disenfranchise.

That can all be done on Tuesday.

Of course when we wake up next Wednesday morning, Trump will still be in the White House tweeting, and he’ll be infuriating us with some asininity about the election. It won’t be over by a long shot. But letting him know that we’re still actively involved in the governing of this nation will at least remind him of the root of the word democracy, and of the fact that the cult of personality does not extend to people who can see through it.

My wife and I have this election-day tradition—we vote early, then go out for breakfast. It isn’t very complex. In 2016 we followed the plan and wound up in a very nice place in a neighboring town. That evening the results came in: we haven’t been back since. Not to worry, the breakfast joint is doing fine without us, and will again this Tuesday when we’re eating somewhere else. We just can’t risk it again.

How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in ’t!

I doubt that Shakespeare, when he penned those words in The Tempest, was anticipating that one day there’d be an Internet platform called GAB, whose basic operating principle would be this: Free speech means you can offend, criticize, and make memes about any race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Sick and tired of the double standards for “acceptable speech” and “protected classes” on both the left and the right.

The boldface lettering is mine.

There is a huge difference, and one worth noting, between criticizing the acts of others and offending people you don’t like. Offense for the sake of offense should be considered unconscionable, though it passes for criticism in the age of Trump.

And “protected classes” is so loud a dogwhistle that even the dogs are blocking their ears. Who are those protected classes, after all, except every religious, ethnic, racial, and gender minority who continue to endure persecution, not only from rabid white supremacists, but also from garden-variety bigots like the president.

Donald Trump didn’t shoot anybody last Saturday, but he provided the consent, the license, his trademarked thumbs-up—provided the oxygen for Robert Bowers to gather his weapons and take them to a Pittsburgh synagogue on October 27, 2018.

In the three days since, Trump has continued his own personal attack on the protected classes—this time the caravan of displaced and impoverished Hondurans seeking asylum. As per Trump’s misuse of the military, 5200 soldiers will stop them. With guns, I presume.

Robert Bowers will never see the light of a free day again, but it would be foolish to think that there aren’t more like him, quietly taking their marching orders, not unlike those soldiers, from the leader of the free world.



Endorsing Oz Griebel: It makes sense, but is it wise?

I was more than a little surprised that the Courant has endorsed Oz Griebel for governor, though with the current field of candidates, I probably should not have been. He’s the only one with policies that don’t sound like political ads:

—like Ned Lamont is for no Trump, which sounds a little like a bid in bridge, but doesn’t say very much about what he’s actually for—except saving the state. He won’t.

And Bob Stefanowski’s plan to cut taxes is a lot like most people’s plans to lose weight: no specifics—it’ll just happen—while he’s saving the state. It won’t.

So there is something appealing about a candidate beholden to neither political machine, especially when the machine is so rusted and in such disrepair that it needs replacement. But Griebel, though he checks all the progressive boxes including a woman’s right to choose, is still a Republican. Moderate yes, and not tethered to Trump or Graham or McConnell, but this is the wrong election cycle to convince me to vote for any Republican, even at the state level.

Since Trump doesn’t care about Connecticut, electing another Democratic governor won’t send a message to Washington. It’s unlikely the Republican leadership has even a tangential idea of whose running here. But Stefanowski has expressed an affection for Trump (though in truth he has made a clear distinction between the president’s economic principles from his moral lack of same) and has refused to talk about any issues and any strategies. With Bob, things will just fall into place and we won’t have to pay for it. Until you do.

Furthermore, NPR’s Colin McEnroe made an interesting point last week: senators and representatives slowly work their way up the ladder in Congress, gaining more and more traction with time; governors, however, are at full speed from day one. Only Lamont’s running mate, Susan Bysiewicz, actually knows people at the Capitol. Most of Lamont or Stefanowki’s terms will be used up making introductions—Hi, you don’t know me, but I’m the governor.

Of course no candidate has called me yet, breathlessly awaiting my endorsement. Suffice to say this is the wrong year to ask me if I might vote for a Republican—any Republican. Oz Griebel may be a good choice, and he may make a fine governor, but (1) he’s not going to win, and (2) Democrats have always suffered when a third party has drained votes. 

Living in a blue state is one of those few political joys we can still share: I hate to give it up. Now if Oz Griebel wants to pull a last minute JFK and declare Ich bin (ein) Democrat, I might reconsider. In fact, if neither of the other two gets serious in the next seven days, I may bite the bullet anyway and vote for the guy anyway.

“Come to think of it, who gets attacked more than me?”

Since you recently conflated a pipe bomb attack with media criticism, Mr. President, let’s have a go at answering that:

—How about thousands of immigrant children separated from their parents at the border or otherwise detained, confined, or caged…in your country;

—Or thousands, if not tens of thousands, of voters whom your party attempts every day to disenfranchise;

—Or tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, in the LGBTQ community who face further abrogation of basic human rights with the Kavanaugh Court…yes, your Kavanaugh;

—Or hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of American women—citizens, by the way—whose reproductive rights are under attack by a right-wing cadre of religious zealots…in red hats;

—Or millions, if not tens of millions, of black Americans, Latino Americans, Muslim Americans, and other minorities—citizens, by the way— who awaken each morning knowing not only that they live in a racist country, but that the leader of that country is an avowed racist himself, and has been throughout his life;

—Or tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of human beings across the globe—from Florida to the Maldives, whose very way of life will suffer and sometimes end from the impact of your fondness for coal, your attachment to oil, and your fatuous, lame-brained, and moronic insistence that the science of climate change is a hoax.

That’s who gets attacked more than you. Kind of puts your puny existence in perspective, doesn’t it?

And I didn’t even mention—until now—all the hard-line, nit-picking grammarians out here who know that ...attacked more than me should be …attacked more than I. Then again, rhetorical questions like yours don’t require answers, so we’ll call that one a draw.

But all the rest is on you.

“I know words, I have the best words.” We’re still waiting to hear them, Mr. President.

Every day I find a word-for-the-day in my email box. Sometimes I know it; often I don’t. Once in a while it elicits a blank stare.

Today was a blank stare kind of morning—my reaction to prosopopeia.

Even the definition was abstruse: a figure of speech in which an imaginary or absent person is represented as speaking or acting. It’s a little like personification if that helps.

I was just about ready to add prosopopeia to my “never use” list when I remembered that (1) Trump is still president, (2) he once said he had “the best words,” (3) he actually has the worst words, (4) words are powerful, and (5) knowing prosopopeia makes me more powerful than the man whose dictionary traverses the language from “beautiful” to “sad” with very few stops in between.

Maybe that part about being powerful is a bit of a stretch.

But prosopopeia is relevant today, especially as we embark on the second half of Trump Term One and continue to fret over where our country is headed. There has been, over the past two years, a good deal of invocation of the Founding Fathers—attempts to deduce what they would say and how they would respond to a tyrant in their midst. 

They had their own. A king. As we apparently do.

Now you can claim that an external threat differed from our internal one, but don’t forget Russia, and there’s the fact that even during the revolutionary period Americans were divided: there may have been no red baseball caps, but there were Redcoat-sympathizers, Loyalists. Tories.

And on the right side of history were Jefferson, Adams, Paine—if we invoke prosopopeia, what do these thinkers say in the face of the current crisis? 

One thing is certain: they don’t throw their hands up in despair, nor do they look the other way and hope everything resolves itself. Instead they look the rest of us squarely in the eye and paraphrase Benjamin Franklin who, at the end of the Constitutional Convention was asked if we had a Republic or a Monarchy and responded, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Two and one-half centuries later, that’s where we are. Can we keep what we have?

Foreign intervention and domestic malfeasance now threaten that republic; stupidity and ignorance threaten its democracy. These are the times…well, you know the rest.

We don’t need big words, but we need strong ones, not only from the Democrats but from the Republicans who have maintained or regained perspective. The issues are out there, and they don’t involve DNA tests or former candidates. Instead they involve our health, our safety, our liberty.

Prosopopeia is not the answer: voting is.

(Even so, prosopopeia is better than bigly.)