Friday, March 2, 2018

Holding Steady in the Storm

Like many of you, I am sure, I am finding it very hard going to be a thinking, feeling, conscious person in this era of the Trump Dynasty. Just watching the news each day is exhausting. So much chaos...so much cruelty...so much stupidity and short-sightedness.... so much pettiness,  spitefulness, vindictiveness...Many qualified, experienced people quitting government service while unqualified flunkies devoted to the Donald flood the ranks of government, some soon having to leave because they are so obviously ethically compromised... And at the top of this parody of government, what do we find?... A spoiled child-emperor, a would-be caudillo dictator thrashing around incoherently, stuffing himself with cheeseburgers and yelling abuse through Twitter... An intellectually stunted bully unable to think more sophisticated thoughts than the angry, simplistic, hate-stirring, people-slurring slogans of his reality TV-styled presidential campaign: "Build the wall!" (even though immigration from Mexico and Latin America is down, not up, and far from our biggest problem); "Bring back coal!" (even though most of the carbon-fuel companies now prefer fracked gas and are also investing in renewable energy technologies for the day when they have to switch over); "End immigration!" (even though our country is built on immigration, and his own hotels and casinos rely on low-cost immigrant labor); and all manner of threat, insult and insinuation against minorities from Muslims to Mexicans to Salvadorans to Haitians...and now this idiotic announcement of trade war against half the world, with the reassuring statement, "Trade wars are good and easy to win!" Sure, that's what made the 1930s such a jolly old time. It was indeed a good period for Fascism, so maybe that is what our leader is going for:  maximum ethnic nationalism and militarism, minimum internationalism, diversity and compassion.

I really wish the Robert Mueller investigation into Russian involvement in the election would hurry up and bring this thing to a head, as the president is clearly flipping out under the pressure of having whatever ties or obligations he has to Russia exposed. My guess is that Trump has received a lot of Russian financing over the years, since his business empire has always required outside financing to keep from going under, considering how many times he has had to resort to bankruptcy, and that this web of murky financial relations is what keeps him subservient to Putin and his oligarchs. It is also exactly in accord with how Putin has built up his power since the 1990s, through corrupt (and corrupting) business deals underwritten with the threat of violence and the occasional assassination of this or that politician or journalist. See Masha Gessen's book The Man Without a Face for an analysis of Putin's gangster path to power, and then try to stay calm when you realize that Donald Trump may be just another greedy businessman ensnared in a KGB style "kompromat" scheme.

Worse of all is stopping to consider the reality that the American people voluntarily elected Emperor Cheeseburger. I think it is very likely that Russian propaganda and misinformation fed into social media helped seal the deal, but the whole thing cannot be put down to Russian plotting or the electoral college system. Russian methods may have helped tip the scale, and the electoral college certainly helped Trump by giving greater representation to rural areas, but the fact is, a lot of our countrymen and women were really and truly very happy to vote for this uneducated, unqualified, uncouth and uncaring idiot. Worse still, the simple fact that well-educated, well-informed, intellectual types like the author of this blog hated Donald and all he stood for may be more than half the reason why they love him. "If those over-educated liberals support Hillary and reject Trump, then Trump must be our guy." When you have a population that doesn't like to read or think, a skilled manipulator of rage and resentment like Trump has a distinct advantage over a more cerebral politician like Clinton, especially since many of those who voted for Trump had been trained to respond with rage against liberals, immigrants, feminists, activists and intellectuals by media outlets like FOX News and right-wing talk radio. Sadly, this divide-and-conquer, burn-it-all-down style of politics is catching on in other regions too, and the USA can no longer serve as a counterweight to authoritarian trends in other countries, because the U.S. president is now the world's foremost supporter of authoritarianism and autocracy.

How can we fight back against this? Should we just throw in the towel and consider ourselves in the position of Jews or liberals in the Third Reich circa 1934, unable to oppose the coming storm and just hoping to somehow weather it by keeping a low profile? I can see a certain logic to that position, but I do not want to live my life cowering in the corner and trying to survive by escaping notice. I think we do have to fight back, and fortunately, we are seeing signs of more and more people willing to stand up and do just that.  The  #MeToo movement and the gun control advocacy efforts of the students who survived the Parkland, Florida shooting are signs that the human desire for a better, fairer, and more humane society, not a more brutal and fear-driven one,  has not been totally vanquished just yet.

Of course, to successfully wage a battle, you have to know what you are fighting for, and who and what you are fighting against. In this age of divide-and-conquer social media disinformation campaigns, this is not easy, because the media landscape we live in now is designed for ultimate distraction and division. Google, Facebook and other such digital leviathans get more hits and thus earn more millions through hate and anger, and falsehood than by sharing accurate information and thoughtful analysis or long-term solutions. It's all about the quick emotional reaction. A lot of the anti-Hillary media was irrational and demented, but it was all carefully designed to make people keep clicking and chuckling, and continual exposure to such garbage gradually colors how a person feels, and finally, how s/he thinks, and how s/he votes, including not voting at all, which redounds to the benefit of whichever candidate has a more energized following, not who has the better-informed followers. Advantage, Trump.

So we have to stand up, hold steady, and be ready for a shit storm of abuse and irrational anger to come down on us for speaking out against the Emperor of Anger and his thuggish, resentful followers, who feel that no one cares about them except their reality-TV messiah. We have to be beacons of rationality and positive purpose for those who will tire of King Chaos and start to yearn for something different. Against those who sneer and jeer at the Other, whose voices are growing hoarse from yelling "Build the Wall!" and "Lock Her Up!", we have to tell them that there is a more humane vision that will work out much better for all of us, including them, in the long run. We have to promote good ideas for expanded public services paid for by higher taxes on the wealthy, even when the first reaction of the Trump-believers is to think that government is evil except for the military and the police. We have to keep hammering on that income gap issue, because they know it is real even if they have temporarily signed up for the sad illusion that beating up on the poor and cozying up to the rich will make them rich too. Keep reminding people that other countries have lower cost education and health care, less violence and poverty, and that this can be done here too, and that this need not mean Soviet Communism, but maybe just Swedish or German-style Social Democracy. They may not know what that is, so you will have to explain it.  When they talk about not wanting to see their tax dollars wasted, remind them how much it costs to incarcerate non-violent offenders and to keep undocumented immigrant workers in detention facilities. Remind them of how much we have spent on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and how little benefit we have received, least of all any greater sense of safety. Instead of numbly thanking veterans for their service, start a conversation about how much good those soldiers could have done inside the USA if we had put them to work building bridges, road and schools here instead of raining down destruction on other countries. Ask them if they really and truly want to live in a more polluted environment and see more people sicken and die from respiratory ailments and cancer. Find out the pollution hot spots in your local area, and ask them if they want more of this or less. Ask them if  they know anyone suffering from asthma or other respiratory or cardiopulmonary ailments. Show compassion and then tell them that to reduce such illnesses we have to reduce pollution. I think very few people can not agree with that to at least some extent.

Above all, point out to your conservative friends and neighbors how Trump is not keeping his promises, but instead putting in place policies that are creating further problems. Did he really "drain the swamp" and stop government corruption, or just bring in a whole new group of cronies to fatten themselves at the public trough while seeking to slash budgets for programs that help the poor and middle class? Did he really stop the wars that he claimed were stupid, or did he send more troops and expand our involvement in military quagmires?  Can his Korea policy, bringing us closer and closer to nuclear war, really be counted as a success?  And for those who like the modest tax cuts they have received, point out that the wealthy are getting much bigger cuts, that the tax cuts that they have received are temporary, and that the effect of the cuts is to greatly increase our national debt and to greatly reduce the ability of the government to provide services or maintain infrastructure. For those who are gun enthusiasts, and there are many in the rural areas, ask them if they really need an assault rifle to go hunting or target shooting, and ask them if they wouldn't sleep better knowing that fewer people had access to such highly dangerous weapons. Tell them you are all in favor of responsible gun use, just not turning the whole country into an unregulated shooting range with mass shootings on a regular basis.

This is hard work and many people are not comfortable speaking out on these issues. But if you do not rise to the occasion and speak out, you only have yourself to blame for the continuation of Trumpism. Trump is supported by an empire of words, a fog of angry, hateful, misdirecting words that cause people to hate government, hate immigrants, hate other races, and to see a mean-spirited, white supremacist charlatan as their messiah if not their fuhrer.  You have to fight back with words that express an alternate vision. So please, please, PLEASE start talking and don't stop. Speak out every time and every place you can. If you cannot convince some hard-core Trumpians, at least let them know that right in their neighborhood, there are people who  think otherwise. Don't let them believe that only Trumpians have a voice or a presence or the courage to advocate their views. Remember, many people today live in a FOX news cocoon, and  they may literally not realize how many people do not.  Let them know there is opposition and resistance, but do this with kindness if you can, offering positive alternatives whenever possible. Suggest the advantages of green energy jobs over  coal mining or fracking jobs, for example.  If they get this message often enough, they might start considering other ideas. This is what we must hope for. This really is a war of words and ideas. Silence and keeping quiet will NOT work.

Stand up, stand tall, speak up, speak out! That is the way forward.

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