The Real Cancel Culture

Former president Donald Trump took his “Pity Me” Tour to Sarasota, Florida this weekend to rant about his “stolen” election, a theme as stale as week-old French bread, but as vital as red meat to his pack of bellyaching wolves. Attending such appearances and supporting the former president may infuse his supporters with a shot of pissed-off bravura but it may also prove bad for their health.

A recent study by Seth Masket of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver show that the correlation between how states voted in the last election and the percentage of their citizens who are vaccinated is nearly exact. So strong is the correlation that Masket says, “Vaccinations are a better predictor of state voting patterns in 2020 than education, racial composition, or almost any other demographic factor.” With the highly contagious and deadly Delta variant spreading across the country, an unvaxed red-state America may be protesting at their own peril. This disconnect is no longer an example of America’s increasingly fractured politics, but its deadly malignancy as well. If you have an “R” next to your name, there is a good chance your insurance premiums will be as high as an admitted smoker.

Decades earlier, American states saw unilateral improvements in life expectancy. MSNBC reported that residents of northeastern and western states (which generally vote Democratic) are living longer and healthier lives while in the GOP-voting South and Appalachia life expectancies have stagnated. In 2017, the gap between Hawaii, the state with the highest life expectancy and Mississippi (which has the lowest) was a whopping seven years. White men in large metropolitan areas have seen some of the biggest gains in life expectancy, while white men in non-metro areas have had far smaller gains. These disparate results are directly correlated to the attention and resources that red and blue states devote to the health of their citizens. Blue state Americans have far greater access to health care. Their political leaders invest more in education, day care, and other safety net programs. They strictly regulate handguns, which means fewer of their residents die from gun violence. Medicaid benefits are generous and are not tied to punitive regulations like work requirements.

Dragging out these facts don’t seem to have much of an impact on voters on the “right” who have already proven their willingness to sacrifice their health to make a political stand. No ones gonna tell me to wear a mask! This political protest should be classified in the same category as the mantra gun advocates often proclaim, I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.”  One would think there is a better option than one’s defiance leading to death.

An example of this collective effort in self sabotage is found in Missouri, where in 2020 voters tried pass a ballot initiative requiring the state to expand Medicaid. But the Republican-dominated state legislature balked at allocating any money for the plan, in effect killing it, in essence, flipping the middle finger to the “left” and aggrandizing over “owning the libs.” Will any one see the cruelty of contributing to the early deaths of your state’s citizens? But in Missouri and 11 other states, it’s a reality — and one that Republican voters continue to endorse at the ballot box, election after election as they march towards collective suicide.

Perhaps we are seeing the ardent right give new meaning to the term “Cancel Culture,” but do they know it is their own they are cancelling.

Matt Gaetz: Paranoia Made Fun

“Throw out what you know is right and give in to your paranoia.” That is the tortured defense/PR strategy third-term congressman, Matt Gaetz, (R-Fl) is employing in response to allegations of sex trafficking and having sex with a minor. The fact that his buddy, former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, is facing 33 federal indictments for the same charges and others has agreed to a plea deal, has Gaetz wiggling on the hook. Gaetz knows that the Justice Department playbook is to squeeze lesser players to give up the goods on bigger fish. Leaked reports say Greenberg’s testimony is “explosive.”

“They are coming to get you and I just am in the way,” Gaetz said recently during a rally at Trump’s Doral Hotel in Miami. Blaming the “lying media” and the “deep state” is his “Trump” card as he and other politicians, mainly Republicans, have learned from the “disrupter-in-chief” when confronted with criticism or a criminal investigation. “They” is growing more inclusive as the the House Ethics Committee has opened an investigation as well. Gaetz, like Trump, is allergic to responsibility as my toddler is to picking up his clothes.

Of course, reviewing the political career of Gaetz, who has an uncanny resemblance to Beavis of “Beavis and Butthead, indicates that his alleged sexual escapades involving prostitutes and minors reveal a narcissistic personality similar to his political hero. (Exhibit 1: A self-styled lady’s man, he caused a stir at a 2018 Republican Party of Florida Lincoln Day dinner in Orlando, by appearing with two dates). Such personality disorders are usually a result of stunted character development in which blaming others is paramount. Anyone who doubts his narcissistic bent has not been watching “The Gaetz Show” unfolding in Congress for the past four years, where the 37-year old has redefined “grandstanding” in a town that gave birth to it. Gaetz chose to shortcut the long and arduous road to political power earned through seniority by blowing enough smoke up Trump’s ass to set off all the fire alarms in neighboring Virginia and Maryland. In line with Political Grifting 101, he has been fundraising off the controversy, in a similar style to Trump and the other purveyor of paranoia, Marjorie Taylor Greene have done when besieged with criticism. People like Trump, Greene, and Gaetz are turning politics into the theater of the absurd.

As an instiitution, Congress has always had its outliers — racists, sexual predators, and larcenist, but always when these perpetrators were exposed they apologized and often resigned. But Gaetz and Trump are a new breed of unrepentants, trading in conspiracy and paranoia to turn reality upside down in order to project liberals as incarnate evil and profit from it politically and financially. The dystopian politics will continue to spread unless the character of more respectable politicians like Senator Mitt Romney and his values are able to triumph. After the January 6 insurrection, Romney denounced on the Senate floor false claims of election fraud and said it was time to tell voters the truth, instead of echoing their innuendo and misinformation, being fed to them by Trump, Gaetz, and the conspiracy contingent. That takes courage and character, qualities Congress needs more than ever.

During the Cold War, Russia was the boogeyman, and in the 1950’s paranoia raced through the U.S. body politic leading to the persecution of anyone even thought to be communist — lives were ruined and careers lost. The same ginned up fear and paranoia manifested itself in the Salem Witch Trials, which led to the burning at the stake of women.

What we fear the most, we project onto others. There will always be those who fear looking underneath their beds and those who are happy to tell them what is there.


Goodbye and Good riddance

Dear Donald,

You almost pulled it off: subverting American democracy and the destruction of its institutions. But for a little luck, another fateful term was in reach of your stubby little digits and with it the certain demise of the American republic. 

All along, you were a conjurer of the first-degree with a deft political sleight-of-hand to make people doubt the truth. You led them into your fun house of lies because you understood that to many people in this country, the truth was irrelevant and what mattered most was preserving their Rockwellian vision of the nation regardless of the facts. Reason and rational thinking are not the primary weapons of your followers’ cognitive arsenal; emotions and anger are.

An opportunist you were, too. In 2016, you looked around and saw an America fraying at the edges and splitting apart at the middle. You said, “This is good.” With the help of advisors who understood that America was ripe for a demagogue, you sold a glorified return to American 1950’s social and political hegemony. Those on the right who felt politically disenfranchised and abandoned by the American dream, drank the cool-aid, after all, entitlement is an equal-opportunity resentment. Empowered by the internet, everyone now had a voice in the cultural free-for-all in which America tumbled downhill. As the nation’s leading troll, you looked around at your burgeoning troop of internet-armed acolytes, and said, “This is good.”

You quickly created an administration built on a foundation of lies, meant to divide the nation, and your followers gladly consumed them like an addict does his/her drug of choice. The result was a country more polarized than a new battery. And to the bitter end you continued to deceive, fleecing them of their money as you raised millions in the name of your spurious law suits contesting the 2020 presidential election, much of which went directly into your pockets. And the disgraceful events of January 6 proved what we knew along, you will destroy that which you cannot control. 

A bit of advice in your new life: may you never be poor. If you were to become an inner-city indigent and display such delusional thinking, you would be placed under heavy medication. But as president with enormous power, you collected sycophants and followers in increasing numbers creating a “Trumpist” movement who proselytized your lies till they became gospel. If enough people believe something, however outrageous, it becomes religion. Your cult proved that.

As the captain of chaos, another four-year term would have cemented you as arsonist and fire department; burglar and police; the denominator of a country ripe for cleaving in order to advance your stranglehold on the constitution and our institutions.

I will give you this, you were a fighter. You never missed an opportunity to go for the knock-out punch with an opponent (subtlety and nuance of verbal sparring were as foreign to you as humility and self-deprecation). No amount of honor, prestige, and reputation were too high for your low blows, even if it was someone who served his or her country admirably and with courage as Senator John McCain and Ambassador Marie Yavanovich. 

Leading up to the January 20 inauguration of president-elect Joseph Biden, many Republicans quoted Abraham Lincoln in a disingenuous appeal for unity (I’m sure they forgot there can be no unity without justice).

But I will bid you good riddance with a more appropriate and enduring bit of wisdom from the 16th President of the United States. “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” 

May your stain be quickly erased from the moral fabric of this good nation.

America

Revolution in Reverse

Watching events in Washington last week was like witnessing a revolution in reverse. Right-wing mobs descended on the Capitol in an attempt to stop the transition of power in the world’s most democratic nation. Motives for their actions lie in the belief that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen from President Trump, despite not a shred of evidence yielded from state investigations and court suits.

The political and social upheaval is not led by the enlightened, but rather the disenfranchised and uninformed, who echo the baseless charges of Trump. In his fascist style, he has sought to discredit facts, experts, and institutional wisdom. Reason and rational thinking are not weapons of Trump nor his followers’ cognitive arsenal. Seeking to subvert the will of the people, they pursue a revolution that undermines the democratic ideals of liberty, egality, and fraternity, the principles of the French Revolution from which democratic societies evolved. At the heart of this unrest are lies propagated by President Trump, who claims the November 4, 2021 election had been stolen from him through fraud perpetrated by the Democratic Party, accusations that appear delusional in the face of all objective examination. Threats of violence from his Far-Right supporters seek to prevent president-elect Joe Biden from taking office on January 21.

In this revolution of regression, football teams that lose the Super Bowl would refuse to leave the field for the trophy presentation and ask that fans come down and assault the officials that oversaw a “rigged” contest; Fired CEOs would remain in there corner suites requiring board of directors to summon the police to evict them. Students would perpetually question the reasoning of their teachers. Tyrants flourish when trust is government is broken and Trump nearly succeeded in destroying that bond between citizens and government. He did it for no other reason that to position himself as dictator and authoritarian gladly encouraging his followers to violently serve as his accomplices. A revolution in reverse.

Fortunately, America has held and repelled its brush with fascism, for now. Its institutions remain intact, its diversity vibrant, and the moral compass of the majority of its people true. But there are more than a few Trump acolytes lying in wait — Ted Cruz, John Hawley, and Jim Jorden all seek to gain his followers. Hopefully, we are little more hip to their tricks and the American democratic experience will continue forward.

Quote of the week: When asked why the president should impeached, Jamie Raskin, (D) from Maryland, answered with this: “The president gave all kinds of aid, comfort and exhortation to the mob. That is intolerable. It takes us in a profoundly dangerous direction as a society. America is a country built on common sense. And we have to use our common sense now to recognize a lethal danger to our people, our Congress, our leaders and the whole nation. This president is a clear and present danger to our country.”

The Art of the Fleece

Society has traditionally set up safeguards to protect the intellectually deficient among its ranks. The main reason is that people with insufficient intellect can be duped easily and become marks for con artists and scammers seeking to rip them off.

The same can be said for a certain population of the Republican Party who believe, despite not one shred of evidence, that President Trump lost reelection because the process was rigged. As President Trump continues to whine that Democrats stole the election, his loyal followers stand in lockstep to echo his sentiments. It is impossible to follow the logic for such a complaint because there is none. Trump has vilified Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and his Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, both Republicans, who stand mortified against charges by Trump that have somehow allowed the vote in their state to be manipulated to favor President-elect, Joe Biden. Let me repeat both Georgia officials are Republican, who to their credit honor the United States voting process.

It’s more than sad that Trump, for whatever his emotional deficiencies, cannot accept defeat — it’s dangerous and reckless. Gabriel Sterling, an official with the Georgia Secretary of State said that during his office’s certification of the election, a number of officials overseeing the state’s recount were harassed and received death threats.

He had strong words for President Trump and other top Republican leaders who continues to attack Georgia’s election system.

“Someone’s going to get hurt, someone’s going to get shot, someone’s going to get killed,” he said. “It’s not right.”

Back to the those being duped: As the putative leader of his country, the president has a responsibility to guide his people with sound judgment and temperament. Among his moral obligations is to make sure that he protects the best interest of those who have difficulty connecting the dots and not rile them up with baseless conspiracy theories. And if you don’t think these same folks are not being fleeced, then look no further than President Trump’s fundraising to finance his failed legal efforts to overturn the November 3, election in states that he lost. He has raised over $250 million as of December 1, from his constituency but many do not know that only 40 percent goes to pay for his court battles, the rest goes to his political PAC, which he can use without discretion including paying legal fees for the many lawsuits that await him after he leaves office.

Trump’s tactic’s are not much different than being pickpocketed which requires a distraction to be successful. Trump knows he has only a small window to use his protestations over the election to con his followers. You would think that after four years they would now know how the flim-flam works.

But some people cannot connect the dots no matter how obvious.

The Incredibly Shrinking President

Some people, through their accomplishments, strike a larger than life persona. The magnanimity of their deeds seem to rise above others. We stand in awe of those men and women.

In contrast there are some people, who through the depth of their pettiness appear so small that they look like someone screaming at the bottom of a canyon whose voice is only faintly heard.

As Trump continues to protest the 2020 presidential election with the claim he was the victim of massive vote fraud — without a shred of evidence —he increasingly marginalizes himself until he becomes as trivialized as the doomsday prophet carrying a sign who has jumped into the street stopping traffic. Fortunately, after January 22, he will no longer be a roadblock to democracy.

In a recent press conference, he said: “If the media were honest and big tech was fair this wouldn’t even be a contest and I would have won by a tremendous amount. And I did win by a tremendous amount, but it hasn’t been reported yet.”

How do you ignore a paranoid president who believes the country has conspired against him to deprive him of a second term. What you can’t ignore is the fact that his public tantrum displaying his inability to handle defeat singularly proves that he is not fit for another four years.

With his focus on frivolous court cases during the worst pandemic in the country’s history while a growing number of the jobless are begging for funds on GoFundMe, he more than ever demonstrates that he has skin as thin as cellophane and a soul of noxious gas. The hot air of his exhales alone are enough to match the methane produced by cows.

Rumors are that after he finally concedes, he will start or team up with a far-right media company to continue serving up conspiracy theories to his following. Think of its platform as a mix between The Twilight Zone meets real-life sanitarium.

It should be easy for him to assume this role as the person who could best be described as his predecessor, Alex Jones, has been removed from his platform for fraud.

Of course, Trump may not be available as well, as there are number of civil and criminal suits awaiting him after he leaves office, which could result in him serving time.

The only remnants of his failed presidency will be found in his presidential library, which for all his letters and accomplishments, will more than likely be housed in a “Pods” storage unit. And half of that space will be taken up by his golf clubs.

Hope Vs. Misery

Misery loves company and now misery is gone.

The most miserable U.S. President ever, if not human being, has been thrown out of office by the people of that country hungry for hope, replacing him with former Vice President and Democratic candidate, Joe Biden.

President Trump marked his tenure with vitriol and belittlement towards anyone who disagreed with him, and traded in fear and division to maintain power. He painted a landscape of despair with his two favorite hues, disparagement and doubt.

Trump’s success, if you could call it that, had been his ability to create a narrative that bent reality to his thinking. If pundits were critical of him for policy failures he simply determined them to be prevaricators and purveyors of fake news. Science became anathema to him and venerated scientists enemies to be discredited. Astoundingly, his followers went along with this alternative universe. It is not coincidence that his chief advisor, Kelly Ann Conway, early in his tenure coined the term, “alternative facts” when disputing the truth. These governing traits are hallmarks of dictators, tyrants, and cult leaders. Trump claimed all three titles.

If Trump were an inner-city indigent and displayed such aberrant psychology, he would be under heavy medication, But as president with enormous power, he collected sycophants and followers in increasing numbers creating a “Trumpist” movement who proselytized his lies till they became gospel. If enough people believe something, however outrageous, it becomes religion.

A fair presidential election supervised by state election officials representing both Democrats and Republicans certified Biden’s victory. But in line with Trump’s narcissist and paranoid profile, he labeled the election stolen to make it square with his inability to ever be wrong or rejected. And on cue, his followers and sycophants cry foul.

What else did we expect from the most miserable president in U.S. history. Because of an overwhelming majority, misery is gone and his company will have to carry on without him. In the meantime we now have a president who does not require medication and whose message is hope.

Ironic moment: Trump claimed he would fire Dr. Anthony Fauci, but Fauci and his followers fired him.

The United States of Schadenfreude

The greatest clue for me to understand the phenomenon of Donald Trump begins in the city of my birth, New Orleans, during the decades of the 50s and 60’s. At that time New Orleans, one of the nation’s most provincial cities, had been inhabited primarily by a comfortable white middle class. Making $10,000.00 annually put you in good stead, allowing you to have a home, car, and raise a family. The wealthy, ensconced in mansions along St. Charles Avenue and along the lake front were not regarded as elite, but simply scions of old money handed down from oil fortunes or shipping. An unspoken egality existed among the middle class and most were content. In 1956, The Supreme Court handed down Brown vs. Board of Education mandating school integration and, thus, the middle class felt the first blow to its homeostasis. White parents yanked their kids from public schools to put them in private schools that popped up throughout the city like strip clubs on Bourbon Street. As a third grader attending one of those private schools, the unspoken message among children came across clearly: whites deserved better than Negroes. In addition, resentment towards Blacks grew among whites for upending the city’s insulated public schools and, forcing families to the suburbs, where the resentment grew into “us vs. them.” Blacks became the target for blame for institutional failure as well as personal failure.

The cozy insulation of New Orleans’ culture and low cost of living provided little motivation for most high-school graduates to leave New Orleans. Many that stayed and received their college education at Loyola or University of New Orleans never escaped the barriers of New Orleans deep-seated racial attitudes. Those that left to go to other schools rarely came home, intrigued by new ways of thought, lifestyles, and cultures.

As a member of the latter, I lived in other cities, worked in foreign countries, gradually distancing myself from the parochial thinking of my New Orleans suburban neighborhoods. My education allowed me to earn a comfortable living, make culturally diverse friends and be open to alternative lifestyles.

To my many friends and relatives in New Orleans, I am a liberal elite. I eschew guns, am always on guard for the residue of racism ingrained within me at an early age, and fear for the climate and for our democracy. Most of all I represent change.

For many of my New Orleans peers, change is anathema; an encroaching threat to a way-of-life that came under siege with integration and the civil rights movement followed by laws and cultural changes that undermined the status quo in which they had a measure of control. Liberals and elites were the easiest to blame. The resentment grew along with the need to blame one’s effeteness on others. Until Trump, no one spoke up for the forgotten. Republicans and Democrats paid lip service to the dwindling middle class. And while Trump hasn’t exactly been the strategic and policy advocate they have been waiting for, he has given them permission to give the middle finger to many of the country’s liberally run institutions, media and “politically correct” establishment. And this has led to the unleashing of the “Right’s” worst impulses, leading to displays of civil disobedience by right-wing militia groups. This is different from the mostly peaceful protests against politics brutality towards black evinced by the Black Lives Matter movement. Of course, this unrest is what feeds the beast. And in turn, Trump provides more red meat.

Intrusions into the parochial thinking of my conservative New Orleans peers are met with one-lined responses and labels of “socialist” or “tree hugger. When offered examples of socialism in the U.S. such as farm subsidies, social security, public beaches, Amtrak and so on, their eyes glaze over due to the cognitive dissonance.

At the root of these responses is the fear of being humiliated and a loss of dignity by someone who has felt abandoned by the American dream; some one who covertly believes this country’s best days are behind them. They see Trump as their champion. As Thomas Friedman recently wrote in the New York Times, “It has been obvious ever since Trump first ran for president that many of his core supporters actually hate the people who hate Trump, more than they care about Trump or any particular action he takes, no matter how awful…because many Trump supporters are not attracted to his policies. They’re attracted to his attitude — his willingness and evident delight in skewering the people they hate and who they feel look down on them.”

Trump has created a nation of schadenfreudes and the best way to eliminate that lack of empathy is for one to feel better about him or her self. But for now we have a president who’d rather model misery.

The Ugly American

When two extremes pull against the other, the middle splits into two. So has America. It was inevitable given that president Trump provides the knife at every turn to sheer the fabric of America. His tactics are textbook tyranny — foment unrest and then call for “law and order,” thus becoming the strongman that fearful people seek for protection. This ugly tactic was on full display during last week’s RNC convention when Trump and his two angry mice of sons inveighed a siege mentality, seeing menace everywhere and foretelling of calamity. This apocalyptic theme was reinforced by the third member of Trump’s angry mice, Representative Matt Goetz, who assured listeners the Democrats want to “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door.” (I’m a Democrat and do not know at MS-13 members and frankly, am more fearful of Trump and his strongmen.”

It used to be that all Americans had more or less the same vision for their country — liberty, prosperity and peace — ideals everyone held high. But something happened, a few people wanted more prosperity than others and rigged the politics and laws to shift the wealth of this country into the hands of the few, rendering liberty and peace unequal parts of the equation. When many people began to feel shorted the powers-to-be- began to tell us the economy was a zero sum game, and that the dwindling middle-class income was being siphoned off by society’s freeloaders and immigrant interlopers. Thus, began the culture wars which is now stirred by trump and his ilk who seek to turn all politics into a “us vs. them.”

As the captain of chaos, Trump wants to be the arsonist and the fire department; the burglar and the police; and the denominator to a country ripe for cleaving to advance his stranglehold on the country ands its institutions.

Trumpian chaos is designed to rip the country apart. As New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote, “(His) chaos justifies and magnifies the woke mobs on the left. Woke mobs magnify and justify Trumpian authoritarianism on the right. The upshot of this mean world war is the obliteration of normal politics, the hollowing out of the center and the degradation of public morality.”

Yes, it’s very ugly and orchestrated by a very ugly American.

This Is Not Good

In 2016, Trump looked around and saw an America fraying at the edges and splitting apart at the middle. He said, “This is good.” With the help of advisors who understood that America was ripe for a demagogue, he sold a glorified return to American 1950’s social and political hegemony. Those on the right who felt politically disenfranchised and abandoned by the American dream, drank the cool-aid, after all, entitlement is an equal-opportunity resentment. Empowered by the internet, everyone now had a voice in the cultural free-for-all in which America now tumbles downhill. Trump, the nation’s leading troll, looked around at his burgeoning troop of acolytes, and said, “This is good.”

As America fell into a collective swoon of victimization, it gave rise to charlatans ready to place the blame elsewhere and, to their delight, profit from it. Some have even received national accolades, traditionally reserved for cultural leaders and American heroes.

American institutions are not immune to the assault. One of the nation’s most revered services, the USPS, formulated by the framers of the constitution as a vehicle to strengthen ties between the states, has been undermined by Trump as he seeks to tilt the election in his favor. A Trump shill ordered work hours cut and automation diminished so that mail delivery slowed in advance of the November election. In addition, the once-proud internationally revered C.D.C. sought to formulate a defense to the rapidly spreading Covid-19 pandemic only to have its message muddied by the White House, even as the death toll passed 150,000 lives. Trump looked around and said, “This is good.”

During the past four years of his administration, Trump has continually denied collusion with the Russians in the run up to the 2016 presidential election. Recently, a G.O.P.-led Senate panel detailed Russian involvement in that election and delivered a bipartisan Senate imprimatur for an extraordinary set of facts: The Russian government disrupted an American election to help Mr. Trump become president, Russian intelligence services viewed members of the Trump campaign as easily manipulated, and some of Mr. Trump’s advisers were eager for the help from an American adversary. Such sordid goings-on when presented to him four years ago pleased him to which he said, “This is good.”

This is in Bas-Relief to the conviction and execution of Americans Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for Russian spying in 1950s. The United States maintained such high ideals then.

What happened?

Trump happened.

It’s time to look around and see this is not good.