How do you like America?

Three weeks in; time to take a breath and assess the new administration in Washington, D.C.

Donald Trump asked Americans to trust him to do what’s right for America; 46% of those who bothered to vote (roughly 27% of Americans who were eligible to vote) took him up on his offer, and that was enough to give him the ticket to the Oval Office.  But so far he’s made it plain that he doesn’t respect this country and what it stands for; the only thing he’s interested in is what financially benefits Donald Trump.  This is a partial list of some of the fun so far, just off the top of my pointy head:

  • the new president tries to make good on a campaign promise to keep Muslims from coming into the country, stabbing at the heart of the great American belief in freedom of religion while playing on the irrational fears of many of the people who elected him…
  • and after losing in court, for a second time, his retort is—of course—see you in court
  • he succeeded in placing a racist in charge of enforcing civil rights laws…
  • an effort highlighted by the Senate voting to silence one of its members when she tried to image001read into the record a letter that’s already a public document…
  • before then allowing at least two other members to go unsanctioned for reading that same document into the record
  • a top administration official glibly violates the law but gets just a rap on the knuckles…
  • although that shouldn’t be a surprise since the president is happily making a mockery of government ethics by retaining his business interests and turning a profit…
  • while the First Lady goes to court seeking damages for not being able to monetize her new position
  • the president is still massaging his insatiable ego by repeating the unfounded allegation of a voter fraud that, if true, is so massive as to be unbelievable…
  • and making a promise to have his government investigate said claim, a promise that lays dormant (to put in charitably)
  • he made good on a promise to nominate a Supreme Court justice from his pre-election list of approved candidates…
  • and then by not keeping his Twitter thumb quiet and insulting a judge who had the temerity to disagree with him, Trump forced his high court nominee to blandly chastise his benefactor

Jack Shafer thinks the president of the United States is a child throwing a temper tantrum because he doesn’t get everything he wants; Josh Marshall offers a short list of reminders to help us figure out motivations in the Oval Office; Bill Moyers tries to look past the policies and realize that the chaos which Trump (and President Steve Bannon) are creating is an intentional part of a plan, and Eliot Cohen argues that Trump is behaving exactly as many people (many people) predicted.

Any good news?  Yes, there is:

  • the judicial system is proving it is not afraid of the new president (unlike damn near every Republican in the House and Senate) and is living up to its responsibility of interpreting the law and acting as a check on the executive (and legislative) branches…
  • if new subscription rates are any indication, Americans are being reminded of the value of a free press serving as watchdog and are making their individual contributions to support the effort…
  • we have even been able to take a little joy from watching the president’s childish reaction to being criticized.  0qBLuKbpAny president, or anyone who’s ever performed public service at any level, would know to expect disagreement, but this president has apparently lived in a bubble where people do not criticize him, and he doesn’t get it that the world at large doesn’t accept his every utterance as gospel just because he said it.  He has no sense of humor about himself, it seems, takes the unimportant stuff way too seriously, and can’t seem to stop himself from feebly trying to parry each thrust from outside the bubble—thank you, Twitter.  I giggled when I read that Trump took it out on press secretary Sean Spicer because a woman comedian satirized his briefings on “Saturday Night Live,” so I’m eager to see out how he reacts if it should come to pass that his long-time nemesis Rosie O’Donnell gets a chance to take the role of President Bannon.

What’d I miss?  Oh yeah: a New York congressman has “filed a ‘resolution of inquiry’ that amounts to the first legislative step toward impeachment.”  And there’s much more.  As Crash Davis said to his coach when the coach came to the mound during a game to inquire as to the cause of the delay, “We’re dealing with a lot of shit.”  And as my dad would say from time to time, to reinforce that you really didn’t think about what you were doing or saying just then, “How do you like America?”

Why politics has become so damn annoying

I used to be completely enamored of politics.  I was interested in the government issues that were discussed, and intrigued by how professional politicians figured out how to win support from their colleagues and the voters, and proud to see how the system was used to pass laws meant to support the rights and freedoms upon which our country was established.  But the system has moved away from me over the years.

For me America’s politics has become more and more grating as it’s become less about political issues and more about Christian fundamentalism.  I learned about government and politics in a time and a place where government and politics were not seen as a means to enforce some any religious orthodoxy through law; since the law said everyone had freedom to practice their faith, or not to practice one at all, it didn’t occur to me that religions had anything to worry about.

The veil started lifting from my eyes in the 1980 election campaign.  I was a recent college graduate and news reporter trying to comprehend the strident religious rhetoric from the Rev. Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority: wasn’t it out-of-place for this preacher to be mixing religion and politics?  In time I came to understand that a group interest based on religious belief was as valid as any other group interest in an election, but I was never comfortable with the sub rosa assurances from Falwell and his colleagues that their political position came with a Holy Imprimatur (“I’m God, and I approve this message.”)

Today, I see that a goodly portion of the people whom we politely refer to as social conservatives would more accurately characterized as Christian extremists who would like nothing more than to live in a semi-fundamentalist Christian theocracy, despite their declared love for the United States Constitution which expressly forbids that.  Granted, they have shown some, uh, flexibility in insisting they support the original intent of the document throughout, but cherry-picking those passages that support their position on an issue while ignoring all those which don’t.  But I give them credit: they played within the system, they played by the rules, and they’ve all but taken over the Republican Party.

Today I found this thoughtful video editorial at The Daily Beast: Michelle Goldberg gives some props to the religious right while gently scolding the pouters on the left who say they’ve given up on President Obama and electoral politics because they haven’t gotten everything they wanted since he was elected. 

Maybe it was the Reagan Revolution; maybe it was the Goldwater Generation; but conservatives have made the very vivid point that persistence pays off–there are elements at home today in the GOP’s ever-narrowing tent that neither Reagan nor Goldwater would have ever thought would be accommodated.  It’s an object lesson that the Republican fiscal conservatives, and the moderate-progressive-liberal-independent plurality of American citizens, need to take to heart.

Even Fred Flintstone was down with having a gay old time

Quick follow-up on the New York gay marriage vote, while waiting for a rational explanation from those in the “states’ rights” crowd who support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would prevent states from exerting their rights on this issue:

–hooray for the mayor of New York’s unequivocal support for gay marriage: it’s the right thing to do, opposing it is the same as opposing women’s rights or civil rights or the abolition of slavery, the law won’t require religions to perform or sanction a same sex marriage…and although people are free to belong to any religious group American society as a whole places its faith in the Constitution, not some set of religious laws.

–the Obama Administration isn’t defending the Defense of Marriage Act, and when House Republicans threaten to fight an 81-year-old woman over it even the lawyers bail out.

–the gay marriage issue helped a president win re-election in 2004; now some political pros think the Democrats can use gay marriage to hammer Republicans in 2012 because it could pull traditional Republicans away from the right-wing Christian evangelicals taking over the GOP.

–and looking into the future far beyond 2012, how many of us have even thought about how all this kerfuffle over gay rights will be viewed by our descendants?

Why we are so polarized

A man opens fire on a crowd in front of a grocery store; six are dead and 13 more are wounded.  A quick and easy explanation that somehow blames a political enemy would be nice, right?  Not so fast…

doc4d290f6a042817218110492This discussion got jump-started last week after the Tucson shootings thanks to the rampant news media speculation that accused gunman Jared Loughner was encouraged in this crime by violent rhetoric from the political right.  It turns out, most Americans aren’t buying: in a CBS News poll nearly 60% say there is no connection at all.

But Loughner is mentally disturbed, and according to his friends his view of the world, and his imagined grudge against Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, were influenced by extremist conspiracy theories (read about a couple of them here and here).  And so, some argue, Loughner is responsible for the crime but was influenced by a world in which violent rebellion against those who would hijack “our America” is seen as an heroic act.

…if you decide to go kill a bunch of innocent people, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re not a picture of mental health. But that doesn’t sever the link between you and the people who inspired you, or insulate them from responsibility.

The quote is from Robert Wright’s Opinionator blog entry on Tuesday about the growing demonization of “the other” in our society.  He makes the point that any demagogue can whip up a fear frenzy among the gullible, that today’s technology allows each of us to shield ourselves from any competing point of view if we choose to, and that it’s easy to think the worst of people “you never communicate with, and whose views you never see depicted by anyone other than their adversaries.”

It feels true: most of us rarely discuss political issues with people who hold different views.  There seems to be no common ground from which to start a discussion, no one wants to hear what the other side has to say, and we end up beating each other over the head with talking points rather than exchanging ideas.

Paul Krugman attributes this to a deep divide in American political morality:

When people talk about partisan differences, they often seem to be implying that these differences are petty, matters that could be resolved with a bit of good will. But what we’re talking about here is a fundamental disagreement about the proper role of government.

He does a good job identifying the roots of today’s ballistic political tone, attributing it to a morally-based difference of opinion about what is appropriate, or constitutional, for our government to be doing.  A disagreement stemming from moral belief, as Krugman believes this one is, would be a disagreement not easily reconciled.

That doesn’t give us permission to stop talking to each other, or stop trying to find common ground, or to subtly encourage violent means to win the moral struggle.  Because then nobody wins.