Enough

Joe Holley is a writer here in Texas with a background in newspapers and magazines right up to his own books.  He writes the feature column Native Texan in the Houston Chronicle about Texas places and people and history, and today he started off referring to “The Captured,” a history of frontier Texas telling the story of Anglo children captured by Indians in the late 19th century.  He uses it to touch on the harshness of life on the Texas frontier in those days, facing not only the Natives but the constant threat of disease, and outlaws, you name it.  And yet, Holley says,

…it’s only today’s Texas, our Texas, that experiences mass shootings in a suburban high school, in churches, a Walmart, an Army base, the streets of Midland-Odessa, a Luby’s Cafeteria and a small-town elementary school. Our frontier forebears, whatever their own travails, would have been aghast, unbelieving.

I’m wondering, why aren’t all of us today just as aghast and unbelieving?  Sure, with each new horror we mumble some hopefully appropriate words to express shock and disbelief, but are we really so surprised?  I mean, it just keeps happening, over and over again; can we really still be shocked, and really feel the emptiness in the pits of our stomachs that we ought to feel when innocent children are massacred with weapons meant for war on the battlefield?  This time, in Uvalde, it was fourth graders…nine and ten year olds; it was six-and-seven-year olds in Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn. ten years ago.  The Washington Post chose the almost arbitrary starting point of the Columbine shootings in 1999 and calculates that more than 311,000 American children, at 331 schools, have been exposed to gun violence at school in those years.  All the students in that time, right up through today’s college graduates, have normalized the grotesque concept of the active shooter drill as just a part of life.

Why would a person take a gun to a school and open fire at…some kids, ones they often don’t even know?  Why did I take a magnifying glass to school in the fourth grade and focus sunlight to burn holes in a classmate’s sweater I found hanging on a fence at recess?  Same response to both questions: who knows?  Short of finding that answer, we should be doing something to try to reduce the chances of our schools become killing grounds, and of our own children and those of our friends and neighbors becoming one of those small images in a large collection of class photos that identify the dead.

Holley recalls the 1937 natural gas explosion that killed some 300 students and teachers in New London, Texas, and that the Texas Legislature and then Congress responded to that by requiring the “odorization” of natural gas so future leaks could be detected before they became catastrophes.  What can we, through our elected representatives, do now to make a meaningful change in the normal course of business that will better protect our children’s lives when they simply go to school?

Among the common sense suggestions I’ve read since last week – and not that it hasn’t been suggested before – is that we stop letting children buy these guns legally.  Our laws prohibit those under age 21 from buying alcoholic beverages; why not guns, too?  Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, who’s been working on gun restriction legislation since he represented Newtown in the House of Representatives, argues that “most of these killers tend to be 18, 19 years old.” and PolitiFact has rated that claim as Mostly True: “That’s largely accurate when looking at school shootings alone, according to a Washington Post database of school shootings since 1999. The database did include shootings that did not result in a death, and the share of teenagers committing mass shootings overall is smaller.”

Also judged to be Mostly True is the assertion last week by Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, that “90% of Americans, regardless of political party, want universal background checks.”  PolitiFact finds that “For years, polls have shown a majority of Americans support gun background checks for all buyers. Some polls show overall support in the ballpark of 90%. Support is lower among Republicans (emphasis added), but polls still indicate majority backing” for a review designed to make sure that guns are not being sold to people who are not permitted under law to possess guns, people who have been “convicted of a serious crime or committed to a mental institution.”

No right guaranteed under the United States Constitution is absolute.  The law recognizes, even when some Americans don’t or won’t, that rights come with some limitations.  Even your right to life is not absolute, not if you are convicted of committing a crime for which the approved punishment is the loss of your life.  Your right to be free of government censorship of your expression of your thoughts and feelings doesn’t mean your speech can endanger the health and safety of others with impunity.  And none of us has an unrestricted right to gun ownership.

Please, let’s get creative.  Adding mercaptan to AR-15s won’t stop school shootings, but expanding background checks and limiting gun ownership by minors will help.  We’ve got to find something else that will make a difference.  We can’t just accept that this is the way things have to be, and there’s nothing we can do.  I don’t want to settle for the situation Holley found himself in as he finished up his phone call with the Uvalde County Judge, Bill Mitchell:

When it came time to hang up, I tried to tell him how sorry I was. My voice broke. So did his. Perhaps for both of us, the faces of those little kids swam into view.

We were two men of a certain age. We’ve seen much over the years. Words failed us.

Diagnosing Baby Donald

Franklin Roosevelt took office during the Great Depression eager to try out potential remedies for the economic crisis, so he set an arbitrary mark of the first 100 days in office as a goal for measuring progress.  Ever since, journalists looking for a ready-made story have used the excuse of a new president’s first 100 days to issue a report card on his or her progress in enacting campaign promises into law.  This week President Bannon and his team started off downplaying the significance of the silly benchmark, calling it “an artificial barrier” and a “ridiculous standard” that’s “not very meaningful.”  And then spent the rest of the week in “a flurry of action on health care, taxes and the border wall to show just how much he has done in the first 100 days—amplified by a White House program of first-100-days briefings, first-100-days receptions, a first-100-days website and a first-100-days rally.”

“As with so much else, [Donald] Trump is a study in inconsistency,” said Robert Dallek, the presidential historian. “One minute he says his 100 days have been the best of any president, and the next minute he decries the idea of measuring a president by the 100 days.”

What do others say?  While some think this president has done some good things, I haven’t found anyone outside of the White House who would completely agree with the administration’s estimate of its own effectiveness.

The president stated flatly to an audience in Kenosha that “No administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days;” PolitiFact responds: “Trump has had some achievements in office, but at the very least, they are much less numerous and far-reaching than those of Roosevelt, the standard against whom all presidents are measured. In more recent years, other presidents, including Obama, have accomplished more in their first 100 days than Trump has, historians say. We rate the claim False.”

Vox.com is willing to give the new president credit for his success—at making money for himself, his family, and his businesses while “serving” the American people.

“Trump isn’t failing. He and his family appear to be making money hand over fist. It’s a spectacle the likes of which we’ve never seen in the United States, and while it may end in disaster for the Trumps someday, for now it shows no real sign of failure,” reports Vox, reminding the reader that Trump is still able to personally access profits from his businesses and that his actions as president are actually leading to government expenditures that go straight into his own pocket; for example:

Like many previous presidents, he golfs. And like all presidents who golf, when he hits the green, he is accompanied by Secret Service agents. The agents use golf carts to get around the courses. And to get their hands on the golf carts, they need to rent them from the golf courses at which the president plays. All of this is fundamentally normal — except for the fact that Trump golfs at courses he owns. So when the Secret Service spends $35,000 on Mar-a-Lago golf cart rentals, it’s not just a normal security expense — Trump is personally profiting from his own protection.

Grading a president on how many of his policies have been enacted into law puts his 100-days rating at the mercy of the Congress which must pass those bills.  Although his ability to work with the legislative branch, rather than to try to dictate to it, is a valuable guide to a president’s effectiveness, maybe that isn’t the most straightforward way to tell if he’s doing a good job.

And let’s not indulge the argument here that all of the things Trump said that he wanted to do are bad things; William Saletan argues in Slate that the better way to judge is to consider if he’s done what he said he would do:

You can be sick of low wages and lost jobs, disgusted with the Clintons, angry about Obamacare, and wary of open borders without being a monster. My argument to you isn’t that Trump is bad because he addresses these concerns. My argument is that he addresses them badly. If you want better jobs, better health care, better border security, a stronger America, less corruption, and less debt, Trump is taking you in the wrong direction. And he’ll keep making things worse until you stop him.

Saletan finds that in Trump’s first 100 days  he has failed in his promises to fight for the working man, to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better, to strengthen our borders, to reduce the national debt (he’s increased it!), to drain the swamp, or to honor the military.

What we’ve learned in Trump’s first 100 days, in short, is that he’s bad at the job. Maybe last fall you decided to give him a chance. Or maybe you felt you had to choose between two bad candidates, and you could only stop one of them. So you voted against Hillary, and you got this instead.

You don’t have to stand for it. Call your senators and your member of Congress. Demand better health care and a fairer tax system. Go to their town halls. Tell them to oppose Trump when he doesn’t do what’s right for the country. If they don’t listen to you, organize and vote them out next year. Trump’s first 100 days have been bad. We don’t need another four years like them.

(Even Trump is surprised at how he’s done so far: “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”)

There’s little reason for us to believe things are going to get better, or normal-er, more like what we’ve been used to with every previous president, all on their own.  Not when you consider that the erratic, impulsive, self-promoting behavior we’ve all been witness to is at such a degree that a group of mental health professionals has felt the need to ignore a portion of the American Psychiatric Association’s code of ethics to issue a warning about the president’s mental health and to offer suggestions for how we all deal with the fallout.

Let us stipulate that it is not known for a fact that Trump has any kind of psychiatric diagnosis. Let us also stipulate that, to many observers, the most powerful man in the world displays many of the definitional traits of one disorder in particular: Narcissistic Personality Disorder, characterized by behavior that is impulsive, dramatic and erratic. According to the Mayo Clinic, people with NPD “come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious,” require “constant admiration” and belittle people they “perceive as inferior.” This grandiose, bullying shell hides profound insecurity, so “anything that may be perceived as criticism” can provoke “rage or contempt.”

Baby Donald is a child of privilege who’s always been able to buy whatever he wanted, whether a new toy or a new person in his orbit (or a new wife) or a way out of trouble.  He’s been surrounded by yes-men-and-women who rely on him for their livelihoods, so he has precious little experience of having to deal with a differing opinion.  When he opens his mouth his instinct is to educate the listener about his own extraordinary self, and to state as incontrovertible that which he wishes in that moment to be true, without regard for whether the statement is consistent with previous ones or with any known facts.

In reality, it’s not just Congress or world leaders or White House staffers who are in Trump’s orbit and at the whim of his personality traits. We all are. [New Jersey therapist and author] Wendy Behary says that when dealing with such a person, the best defense is to read deeply about psychopathology. Ultimately, she says, understanding the dynamics of personality disorders will help make what seems unpredictable predictable. The more people know, the less they will wonder, “How could he do that?” and come to understand, “How could he not?”