Ho Hum

It should surprise no one that Donald Trump is doing as well as he is in the three-ring circus that is the Republican presidential primaries. He is, after all, the final phase of Republican evolution that began 60 years ago with Richard Nixon and mutated into the Fox News Tea Party after the 2008 elections.

It began with Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” a plan to wrestle the deep south states from the Democratic party. Traditionally, white southern Democrats were opposed to equal rights for African-Americans, and when Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, they began leaving the Democratic party and aligned with republicans. The Southern Strategy exploited the southern white’s fear and resentment of blacks.

But it did this with subtle innuendo, as opposed to the bombast of George Wallace. The Nixon campaign spoke of “states’ rights” and “law and order,” employing a tactic that would come to be known as “dog-whistle” politics. “States’ rights,” of course, was originally the thin pretense used by southern states as the reason for secession in 1860. Nixon was laying Republican claim to “the angry white male,” which his campaign cynically dubbed “the silent majority.”

Fact: among the eleven states that formed the Confederacy of the Civil War, 77% of their elected representatives and 86% of their elected senators are now republican in 2015. The republican party of today is not the republican party of 150 years ago.

So it would come as no surprise that when Ronald Reagan launched his first presidential campaign in 1979 he chose a county fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where 15 years earlier four civil rights workers from Illinois were found murdered, and that his speech highlighted his commitment to “states’ rights.”

It would also come as no surprise then that Ronald Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal, an impeachable violation of the law, mirrored precisely Nixon’s covert, unauthorized expansion of the Vietnam war into Cambodia. Both men held contempt for the American voting public, Reagan going so far as to state publically that American’s are not capable of understanding how government works.

In order to appeal to the “angry white male” vote, republicans had to simplify their message. And they did this by creating “others” at whom they aimed that growing white male anger. It’s “their” fault you are unhappy/unemployed/uninsured/unhealthy/divorced.

The republican message is vague, hyperbolic and alarmist – the collapse of society, the downfall of America, the end of civilization, specifically western civilization. They express every domestic issue as a choice between two extremes: return to a nostalgic (and paternalistic) way of life last seen sometime in the 1920’s or lose everything to “those people.” They reduce every foreign policy issue to a choice between extremes: establish a U.S. military presence everywhere in the world or face annihilation. Respect for international law, boundaries or treaties is weakness. You are either with us or with…those people. Multilateralism is for pussies.

Republicans identify as Christian (Christian Zionists typically) but quote from the Old Testament. They say they are defending tradition, but won’t say what traditions specifically. They see conspiracies everywhere because it precludes having to deal in facts (“I’m just saying…what if…”). They want their women back in kitchen (preferably pregnant), gays back in the closets, blacks in the back of the bus, Latin Americans back in Latin America and Muslims, well, dead.

They resort to discrediting the messenger, rather than the message. As John Stewart aptly pointed out, when confronted with the indefensibility of their positions, republicans attempt to deny the legitimacy of their questioners. Hence “the liberal media,” “ivory-tower intellectuals,” “liberal elitists” and so on.

Republicans never talk about doing. Only un-doing. Undoing Roe v. Wade. Undoing the Affordable Care Act. Undoing marriage equality. Undoing the Voting Rights Act. Undoing the EPA (a Republican creation, by the way). Undoing Social Security. Because after all, the reasoning goes, these are the reasons why angry white males are so angry. They just didn’t know it until we told them.

To engage in this type of blatant anti-intellectualism one must be incapable of feeling shame; one must be capable of holding to an opinion without lettings facts get in the way, and the more outrageous that opinion, that the president is not an American or that the Affordable Care Act will bankrupt the country, the better. The louder the opinion is shouted, the more it is repeated, the better.

Recently, Carly Fiorina, the woman who wants to become president so she can do to America what she did to Hewlett-Packard, said this of Donald Trump: “It would be nice if occasionally Donald Trump would throw a punch at his good friend Hillary Clinton instead of all the other people in the Republican race.”

Actually, Carly, what would be nice would be to hear some new, fresh ideas come out of your tired old political party, but apparently, stupid is contagious.

It is no wonder that republicans hate Barack Obama as much as they do. He is everything they are not: intellectual, erudite, considered, nuanced, thoughtful, compassionate. He has integrity, and that, too, is seen by republicans as weakness.

And he’s black. Let’s not forget black.

The lesson of the Obama presidency is not in how far we have come. It is in how far we still have to go.

Do We Have to Listen to This Again?

In his critically acclaimed novel The Reader, Bernhard Schlink tells the story of a young German boy who comes of age in the decade after World War II. The horrors of the Nazi atrocities, which German civilians were forced to acknowledge, play a significant role in shaping the consciousness of young Michael Berg. It is a novel that explores what it means for a people to come to terms with the past.

In America, our “holocaust” is the legacy of slavery and here, in the twenty-first century, one hundred and fifty years later, we have not yet come to terms with it.

I am reminded of this, again, by a story in the news. The Supreme Court agreed to hear a case in which a group calling itself Sons of Confederate Veterans is suing the state of Texas over a Texas ban on license plates bearing the Confederate flag.

Do we really have to listen to this again?

The plaintiffs, the “Sons,” claim that the flag is a symbol that celebrates southern heritage.


And the swastika is a symbol that celebrates German nationalism.

Of course, the plaintiffs will argue that the Texas ban is a violation of the first amendment right to free speech.

Of course.

Now, here’s what the first amendment says:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

So, the argument goes, putting a Confederate flag on a license plate is a form of speech. The “speech” being: “I am proud of my southern heritage.” An appeals court that ruled in favor of the “Sons” said that Texas had discriminated against the group’s view that “the Confederate flag is a symbol of sacrifice, independence and Southern heritage.” And a spokesperson for the “Sons” said “It’s a heritage organization. It’s not a bunch of racists. It’s a group that longs for reconciliation and progress, but will not forget the past.”

I mean, certainly the “Sons” are entitled to hold their view as to what they believe the Confederate flag is a symbol of, but, as Mark Twain said, you can put your shoes in the oven but that don’t make ‘em biscuits. And who can actually verify the claim that the group “longs for reconciliation?”

After all, a great first step towards reconciliation would be to ditch the flag thing.

But the real issue here is not “free” speech or the protection of “offensive” speech. For one, no speech is involved. If a member of the “Sons” got up and said “Abolishing slavery was the biggest mistake America ever made,” or “I don’t want to live next door to no niggers,” that would be offensive speech, but something the state of Texas could do nothing about. Even slack-jawed, white-trash rednecks are entitled to their opinion.

What if he hangs a noose from a branch of his tree, or from the branches of tree in his neighbor’s yard, a neighbor who happens to be black? Is that free speech? A noose hanging from a tree is as much of a symbol as the Confederate flag.

Or is it threatening behavior, something that the “state,” the law, has to get involved in?

In Mississippi, Graeme Harris of Georgia was in fact arrested for hanging a noose from a statue on the University of Mississippi campus. He was charged with civil rights violations and “using a threat of force to intimidate black students because of their race.” Along with the noose he also placed an earlier version of a Georgia flag that prominently featured a Confederate flag. The state of Mississippi did not press charges. The U.S. Justice Department had to step in. History repeating itself.

We, that is, the southern states, have been fighting the Civil War for the past one hundred and fifty years, through the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow laws, and now this

But there is something else about this story that is not right. And that is the fact that it is the state of Texas that is waging this battle. Texas has elected more Tea Party candidates at all levels of government than any other state in the Union by a wide margin, and Libertarianism runs strong in that sort of ilk.

(You know what a Libertarian is: someone who is ten degrees to the right of center when times are good and ten degrees to the left of center when it affects them personally.)

Why would the Governor of Texas want to pursue this sort of case? They claim that “the state” should not be forced to endorse an opinion it does not share.

Now, I have never denied being The World’s Most Cynical Man but, c’mon, cut me some slack. Texans are still talking about seceding from the Union (we’re still waiting). They illegally gerrymandered their state’s congressional districts to guarantee a Republican majority and virtually negate the African-American vote.

My guess is that they are hoping the right-wing activists judges on the Supreme Court will uphold their right to threaten and intimidate Americans they don’t like with racist symbols like the Confederate flag. Texas has chosen it’s battle.

Republican Sleight of Hand

A story that appeared in the NY Times this week reminded me of why I don’t trust Republican politicians, at any level of government, but especially at the national level.

In Rock Hill, a city of sixty thousand, in South Carolina, near the borders with Tennessee and North Carolina, nine black men were acquitted of crimes they committed in Rock Hill in 1961 – the crime of sitting at public lunch counter and asking to be served.

They weren’t exactly acquitted. In 1961 they were found guilty of trespassing and disturbing the peace. Eight of the nine served 30 days on a chain gang at hard labor. The ninth paid a fine.

But on January 28, 2015, a judge, John C. Hayes, vacated the charges that had been filed against the nine men, erasing their criminal history. He said to the men that they should never have been charged. The state prosecutor apologized to the men, although Kevin Brackett was not involved in the original prosecution.

Excuse me if I am not impressed.

During the 2014 gubernatorial election in South Carolina, incumbent Republican Nikki Haley, who is often mentioned as future GOP presidential candidate, during a televised debate, defended the displaying of the confederate flag over the state’s capitol building. Her reasoning: that flying the symbol of the confederacy honoring the men who died in a war to preserve slavery, was doing no harm to the state’s economy. She said it was “a sensitive issue.”

This is why I say I don’t trust Republicans. They distract us over here with the pardoning of nine Civil Rights marchers, a largely symbolic gesture given that these men had to live fifty years with a criminal record, while over here they defend the ultimate symbol of the enslavement of black men and women. How sensitive!

(Her comment about the state’s economy is ironic. After all, the South’s war to preserve slavery was about preserving the basis of their agrarian economy.)

In November of 2013, Ron Natinsky told a Dallas, TX group of republicans that the GOP would be better off if voters in the district in which he was running for County judge used election day to “spend their food stamps” than voting. The district is represented in Congress by the first black woman elected from that district and is overwhelmingly non-white. The GOP even posted the video of Natinsky’s comments on a web site, but did not take it down until a report of it reached the media. Natinsky claimed he didn’t remember what he said.

Ronald Reagan replaced the War On Poverty with the War On Drugs and in doing so sent one generation of black men to prison and condemned the next to growing up without a male role model in the home. The conservative-republican hand-picked Supreme Court grabs favorable headlines with their pro-gay-marriage rulings while they eviscerate the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Chief Justice Roberts always checks which way the wind is blowing before voting.

Who can forget the Willie Horton strategy? Al Gore, running against Michael Dukakis for the Democratic nomination, questioned the Massachusetts furlough program that allowed Horton to get out of jail but never mentioned any cases specifically. It was George H.W. Bush during the presidential campaign who put Horton’s face in front of voters. As Lee Atwater said at the time, “By the time we’re finished, they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’ running mate.” Republicans have done well at the polls exploiting the white man’s fear of “darkie.”

And really, was there anything more cynical and condescending to women that selecting Sarah Palin as a candidate – for anything! let alone for Vice-President.

The republican leadership treats women with same dismissiveness they treat people of color. In an attempt to ban abortions after the twentieth week of pregnancy, the red-meat party leaders (all male) added a requirement to the proposed legislation stipulating that, in the case of pregnancy due to rape, a woman must have reported the rape to police.


But it gets worse. When the female members of the party approached majority whip Steven Scalise they were assured their concerns had been heard. But as soon as their backs were turned, the proposed bill proceeded with the language unchanged.

This, by the way, is the same Steve Scalise who spoke at a Ku Klux Klan conference to raise campaign funds. I’m not surprised either.

Susan Douglas, a professor of communications at the University of Michigan, wrote that Republicans “have crafted a political identity that rests on a complete repudiation of the idea that the opposing party and its followers have any legitimacy at all.” Republican are calling for her to be dismissed from her tenured position.

I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I said that the Republican party experienced a significant shift to the right at the same time America elected its first black president.


What is the third act?

When the gun goes off.

That’s a risky statement in these times of rampant gun violence, but I assure you this is not that.

It’s a reference to the great Russian playwright and short-story master Anton Chekhov: “If you display a gun in the first act, it must go off in the third act.”

It’s also a reference to the stages of our lives. It is customary to think of life in four stages like the seasons. And there is some truth in that. But life can be expressed as a trilogy also, and three is a powerful number in nature.

The Third Act is what we do, what we are, near the end of life, after we grow up, after we have careers and families and homes in the suburbs and all that bullshit.

It’s what we do and what we are when we have the time, the wisdom of our mistakes and the resources to do what we know now is what we want to do. Not what we dream of doing, not what we think we are expected to do, but what we want to do.

It really is a great time of life, if you are not one of the faint-of-heart. It is an all-or-nothing time of life. You either fold or you are all in. You have nothing to lose and you are playing with house money.