Category Archives: Current Events

The Crippling of Donald Trump

Factor 1: More than anything else in the world, more than having a happy marriage, more than raising healthy, well adjusted children, more than God, Mom, or Apple Pie, Donald J. Trump wants to be a WINNER.

Trump has always been hell bent on publicly proclaiming himself a winner. And for him, being a winner means not just being successful, but being the best.  Better than anyone and everything at whatever he does.

It’s not enough to be rich; he has to claim he has more money than he actually does (I’ve actually heard first hand stories about this from a former Forbes journalist).  It’s not enough to screw starlets and gold diggers; he has to “anonymously” phone the press so that everyone can know about it.  It’s not enough to host a long running, highly rated tv show; he has to claim its failure to win an emmy damaged the emmys’ credibility.  It’s not enough to win the presidency; he has to claim he won the popular vote because millions of people supposedly voted illegally, even though they didn’t.  It’s not enough to take the oath of office in front of the entire world; he has to claim more supporters showed up at his inauguration than for any other president, despite the all the aerial photographs revealing him to be a infantile liar.

He can’t help himself.  He must lie and lie and lie, exaggerating every legitimate success and adamantly denying anything remotely smelling of failure.

No wonder then that of all the many insults that Trump lobs like handfuls rice at a wedding, in his mind the biggest, baddest epithet he can hurl at someone is “Loser!”  Because losing is sad.

🙁 Continue reading The Crippling of Donald Trump

Shut Up, It’s the Flag!

I remember my 6th grade English teacher, Mrs. Newman.

Not Ms., but Mrs.  Why?  Because things change.

Mrs. Newman was aware that things change, but she wasn’t always happy about it.  Take the National Anthem, for example.

One day she told us that she was raised to behave in a respectful manner when the National Anthem was played.  That meant, after it finished, you remained silent for a moment.

You most certainly did not yell and applaud as do modern sports fans at today’s arenas and stadiums.

That habit, of loudly celebrating the anthem after its completion, had already taken hold when Mrs. Newman schooled us on patriotic etiquette in 1980.  Such antics, she told us, were vulgar. Continue reading Shut Up, It’s the Flag!

Charlottesville, Heather Heyer, and America’s Quest for White Martyrs of Racial Violence

It began with Emmett Till.

He was a fourteen year old black boy from Chicago visiting relatives in Mississippi in 1954 when two white men lynched him to death for whistling at a white woman.  That in itself, sadly, wasn’t so unusual.  Thousands of African Americans were lynched to death during the first half of the 20th century.  What was different about this particular lynching was his mother’s response.

Till’s mother demanded her son’s body be returned to Chicago instead of getting a quick burial in Mississippi. She then insisted upon an open-casket funeral so the world could see what they had done to her boy.  The black press covered the funeral as upwards of 50,000 mourners passed by the coffinJet magazine and The Chicago Defender newspaper published photos of his body, mutilated almost beyond recognition.  Afterwards, mainstream (white) national publications also ran the pictures and covered the story in depth, and Emmett Till entered the larger white consciousness as a martyr of racial violence.

Needless to say, there have been countless black (and Latinx and Indigenous and Asian) victims of racial violence in America over the last four centuries.  How many black people have been killed or maimed by whites for, essentially, being black? The number is impossible to know.  As an American historian, I suspect that tens of thousands would be an underestimate.  When considering the ravages of slavery and decades of subsequent lynch violence, the number could easily be in the hundreds of thousands.

Yet prior to Emmett Till, almost none of them ever entered white consciousness as martyrs.  Till became the first, the token black, the only one from among the countless thousands who most white people ever learned about in school or could cite by name.  That Slavery and Jim Crow repression wrought horrible violence was no secret.  But upon whom, specifically?

In the 1960s, Till was joined in this sad canon only by Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers (briefly), and Malcolm X (but only to a minority of whites).  However, with the death of King in 1968, white consciousness considered the civil rights era over, largely went into hiding on the issue of race, and stopped acknowledging new black martyrs of white racial violence.

Why? Continue reading Charlottesville, Heather Heyer, and America’s Quest for White Martyrs of Racial Violence

Man-Child Author of the Google Memo

I finally got around to actually reading the now-infamous internal Google memo about women in the workplace.  The first thing that strikes me is that The Atlantic is absolutely correct: The press coverage has largely been atrocious.  In fact, it’s the kind of thing that really gives the press a bad name.
 
In short, the memo is decidedly NOT an attack on diversity as so many outlets have erroneously reported.  Quite to the contrary, the memo’s author goes out of his way to say that he supports diversity in the work place and wants there to be more of it.  Shit, he even offers up a bunch of solutions to “reduce the gender gap” at Google.  Just read this quote from the memo and tell me it’s a “screed against diversity” like so many articles have claimed.
I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad, that Google or society is 100% fair, that we shouldn’t try to correct for existing biases, or that minorities have the same experience of those in the majority.

But why let that stand in the way of lazy reporting and inflammatory headlines?

So what exactly is the problem with this this memo [full text here]?

The author, former Google Senior Software Engineer James Damore (he’s since been fired), goes off the rails with his explanations for why there isn’t enough gender diversity at Google specifically and in the computer world more generally.

He makes a series of sexist claims about how women are different from men, and in the process spouts a bunch of pseudo-scientific gibberish about biological determinism of the sexes.  Among other things, Damore states that women relative to men supposedly:

Continue reading Man-Child Author of the Google Memo

Interesting Times

I was wrong about Donald Trump winning the presidency.  Hell, I was one of those dopes who thought he wouldn’t even be able to get through the GOP primaries.  But at least one of my predictions did come true.

From day one, I told anyone who asked that a Trump presidency would be far more interesting than any other 2016 electoral scenario.  Indeed, a Trump presidency would be one of the most interesting political developments of the last hundred years, maybe of the next hundred.  And I’m afraid I was right.

After all, these are, if nothing else, interesting times.

There are many reasons to be deeply interested in the festering, moldy pyrotechnics of Trump’s amateur hour presidency.  There’s the sheer comedic value of watching him fumble and roar.  There’s the absolutely stunning, slow motion reshuffling of America’s role on the global stage.  There are the painful undulations and muted screams of a Republican Party unexpectedly confronting its own impotence in the hour of its great victory.  And there are all the things you were absolutely certain would happen that will not.

All of these funny, alarming, surreal shocks and many more cry out for explanation.  Anyone who’s paying attention desperately wants to understand just what the hell happening. Continue reading Interesting Times

This Populist Moment

Last week, Barack Obama got beaten up on social media and called out by the press for accepting a $400,000 speaking fee from a Wall Street firm Cantor and Fitzgerald.  It was the day’s major kerfuffle, the non-Trump story of the week, and reactions to it by many of my smart, well reasoned friends surprised me somewhat.

They began with the stance that it simply wasn’t an issue.  Obama’s a private citizen now, so who cares? But lots of people did care.  When the story picked up steam despite their protestations, my friends then blamed the loony left for fabricating the issue, launching a general assault on fringe elements of the Democratic party and a firm defense of sensible liberal or centrist (depending on the friend) outlooks.  But of course it wasn’t just the left.  The right predictably piled on as well, without any prompting from the left.  The story also transcended the partisan divide as the centrist press ran with it.  Christ, even the BBC, the vanilla pudding of international news, covered it.

In the end, the defense of Obama that gained the most traction among my friends, and to some degree in the national media, was a racial analysis.  Some claimed that this brouhaha was another example of white people shaming a black man for earning a paycheck, the imposition of a racial double standard since white politicians and ex-politicians do this kind of thing all time.

This needs to be reckoned with.  Obama was always held to a higher standard, precisely because he was black.  He was always subjected to intense racism.  And the racist backlash to his presidency, as much as anything else, helps explain Trump’s victory.  So was this just another example of that racial double standard?  It’s an important question to ask.

In the end, I don’t think it was.  Which is not to say that Obama is no longer subject to racism and double standards; he obviously is.  And those issues are still at play here, but I don’t believe they’re the driving force.  Because to mark race as the reason for a vast public outcry against his acceptance of money is to ignore the most salient point: where the money came from.

People are not upset that he made money.  Private citizen Obama collecting a $400,000 speaking fee doesn’t violate anyone’s principles, even racist assholes’.  Rather, the problem is that he very specifically took money from Wall Street.  The proof is clear: There wasn’t nearly as much griping when he signed a $20,000,000 book deal last month.

Why did that eight-figure windfall spark nowhere near the outrage this five-figure fee did?  Because no one’s worried that publishing money has corrupted Washington.  No one’s bitter about the book industry crippling the U.S. economy ten years ago, only to reap a massive bailout from taxpayers, and now running amok again.  And thus, virtually no criticism of twenty-million to publish what will probably be the kind of bland, self-serving memoir that every ex-president of late has authored.  But $400,000 from Wall Street is different, if for no other reason than the general public now views Wall Street differently than it used to.

Why did Obama take the speaking fee?  Should he have?  Should people be upset about it?  None of those questions interest me.   Rather, I believe the issue worth considering is: Why exactly did so many people get upset about it?

That question speaks to the current political moment, which Obama seems to have misread, much as the Democratic Party mainstream he represents has been doing for over a year now. Continue reading This Populist Moment

April Fools

Donald Trump’s first hundred days as president are nearly tallied.  Enough time has passed that we can now divide people who voted for him into two groups:

1. Those who: never liked Trump (but made a calculated decision to vote for him); have more  recently developed doubts; or will soon become disillusioned when Trump not only fails to deliver on his promises but actually does the opposite in many respects (eg., loses good paying blue collar jobs instead of creating them; contributes to a national healthcare scenario that’s worse than ObamaCare; doesn’t build a wall or at least doesn’t get Mexico to pay for it, etc.)

2. Suckers

Ahh, the sucker.

Most of us like to pretend we’re immune to crass charlatanism.  I’m not that gullible, you tell yourself, refusing to believe you could be seriously suckered.  Surely, someone as smart as you sees through the vulgar farces dangling before us.

The embarrassing truth, however, is that we all get taken for the proverbial ride now and again.  Continue reading April Fools

Coal Mining or Arby’s?

There’s a Washington Post article making the rounds on social media.  The shocking headline blares:

The Entire Coal Industry Employs Fewer People than Arby’s

People see that and think, Gosh, what’s all the fuss about then?

Obviously this is a dying industry that has already lost tens of thousands of jobs, which are not coming back because of market forces (fracking and OPEC oil dumps) and mechanization (strip mining).

As the article points out, even the head of the nation’s largest private coal company says Trump can’t bring these jobs back.  And anyway, that’s probably a good thing since coal is such a dirty energy source.

It’s all true, of course.  But that line of thinking, devoid of any larger context, overlooks an important point.

Once upon a time, miners fought and died to unionize, transforming themselves from debt peons paid in company scrip to middle class wages earners.

Meanwhile, most of today’s Arby’s workers are essentially modern wage peons.

Continue reading Coal Mining or Arby’s?

God Bless the #Millennials

According to a new poll, Donald Trump’s approval rating among voters age 18-30 is a measly 22%.

For those of you who really dig fractions, that’s less than a quarter.  Barely a fifth.

But wait.  It gets better.

A clear majority of these voters (57%) don’t just disapprove of the orange hair pie; they think his presidency is downright illegitimate.

Plain old disapproval?  That would be the 70% who don’t like his demeanor, and the whopping 80% who disapprove of his policies.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: God Bless the Millennials.

I don’t care if they can’t tie their own shoes.  Lord knows they’re the only thing standing between us and Ronald McDonald totalitarianism (that last line works on a couple of levels; think about it). Continue reading God Bless the #Millennials

American Regicide

Donald Trump is going down.   His house of cards will collapse at some point.   The leaks will keep flowing and eventually his position will become untenable.   Conflicts of interest.   Connections to Russia.   All of it will become too great a weight to carry, especially since The Donald has very few genuine allies in Washington.

The Democrats want him gone.  So too do most of the Republicans.  Hell, they never wanted him to begin with.  The GOP did everything it could to derail his candidacy, and only climbed aboard after Trump’s runaway train was the last red line careening towards the White House.  So for now they’re playing nice with the former Democrat who eschews Conservative dogma in a variety of ways and is loyal to absolutely no one save himself.  But when the moment comes, they’ll gladly trade Trump in for Mike Pence, a Conservative’s wet dream.

For all of these reasons, Trump may not make it to the finish line.  But there’s at least one more factor to consider: the precedent of regicide.  And to understand that, we should begin by briefly recounting the demise of the Ottoman sultan Osman II.

Young Osman II ascended the Ottoman throne in 1618 at the tender age of 14.  Wishing to assert himself, in 1621 he personally led an invasion of Poland, which ended with a failed siege of Chota (aka Khotyn, now in western Ukraine).  In a rather unwise move, Osman blamed the defeat on his elite fighting force, the Janissaries.  Afterwards, he ordered the shuttering of Janissary coffee shops, which he saw as a hotbed of conspiracies against him.  The Janissaries responded with a palace uprising.  In 1622 they imprisoned the 17 year old monarch and soon after killed him.  Because it was strictly forbidden to spill royal blood, they strangled him to death. Continue reading American Regicide