Saturday, May 19, 2018


     In his essay "George Will scorns Pence for the high crime of decency," William Bennett chastised Will for calling Mike Pence "America's most repulsive public figure."  According to Bennett, Will's contempt for Pence comes from the vice president's "heinous crime of being a decent man."  In his own column, Will aptly describes Pence's zealous reverence (In a December cabinet meeting, Pence praised Trump every 12 seconds for three 3 minutes running, Washington Post 5/9/18) for Donald Trump as "toadyism" and "obsequiousness."  For Bennett, Pence is not the least bit obsequious, whereas Will is guilty of a "supercilious verbosity" intended to "validate his own sense of superiority." 

     Before explaining why he thinks Pence is a decent man, Bennett complains about Will's choice of words: "Will summons the depth of his ample thesaurus" to write a column "filled with big words that most Americans never use and can't even define."  This charge has been made against Will over the years, as Will's dexterity with language has earned him both praise and criticism.  Yet, it seems surprising that former education secretary William Bennett, whose own essay displays a knowledge of complex words (e.g., "savoir faire," "sesquipedalian," "obfuscates," "supercilious," "lamentations," "otiosity"), would approve of people being too lazy to look up words they do not know.  Perhaps Bennett believes that most "Americans" should accept their intellectual limitations. 

     Beyond his censure of Will's rhetorical style, Bennett objects to Will depicting Pence as a toadying sycophant.  In Pence's defense, Bennett argues that Will proves only that Pence is "very polite and proper."  As Bennett sees it, someone who is "cordial and mannerly" need not distinguish between decent and indecent individuals.  That is why it's fine for Bennett that Pence felt "honored" to have the lawbreaking goon Joe Arpaio among an audience he addressed in Arizona.   And that is why it's fine for Bennett that the pious Pence, who refuses to be alone with any woman except his wife, bends and truckles to a man who asserts his privilege to grope women.  Unlike Bennett, Will understands a simple truth: Pence lacks the decency and courage to spurn those who are indecent. 

     William Bennett edited The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories, The Moral Compass: Stories for a Life's Journey, and the author of The DEATH OF OUTRAGE: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals.  In the last of these books Bennett assails the pathetic rationale of those who defended Clinton's behavior in the White House.  For instance, he mockingly cites Wendy Kamine's observation that it is "childlike and potentially dangerous" to hold a president to a high moral standard.  He admonishes Billy Graham for Graham's specious excuse that it is not Clinton's fault that he makes "the ladies just go wild."  And he recounts how certain women's groups fought against Clarence Thomas's nomination to the Supreme Court, but remained silent about Clinton because Clinton supported the issues important to them. 

     More than twenty years have passed since Bennett's books published his moral outrage. Maybe such outrage no longer applies in 21st century.  Or maybe such outrage is less important than what Bennett fears most: that criticism like Will's might produce the "ultimate consequence of...a return to power of the liberal establishment."  Terrible as that result might be for Bennett, I should point out his own words to help him reset what surely is his broken moral compass: "In the end, the President's apologists are attempting to redefine the standard of acceptable behavior for a President.  Instead of upholding a high view of the office and the men who occupy it, they radically lower our expectations."

Monday, May 14, 2018

It's Raining Men

     The other day the accounts of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's odious treatment of his "girlfriends" stunned his supporters and colleagues.  Here was a "true fighter" for women's rights, an antitoxin to a toxic president who bragged about sexually assaulting and demeaning women. Suddenly, a stalwart defender of women's rights was unmasked as a sexual sadist, misogynist, and racist.

    While Schneiderman's disgrace distresses everyone who cares about equality and decency, the White House is particularly delighted by the news about the New York Attorney General.  Kellyanne Conway tweeted "Gotcha," burnishing her credentials as a true Trumpian.  Her celebration of a political adversary's downfall is particularly sickening, because it displays her indifference for the victims who suffered Schneiderman's abuse.  Has working for Trump blunted so Conway's moral faculty that she's incapable of caring about women victimized by a violent, sadistic man?  Perhaps her years defending Trump's offensive behavior against the more than dozen women who have accused him of groping and forcibly kissing them has extinguished whatever decency she might have possessed before she joined Trump's campaign.

     When the Me-Too movement dragged the repugnant Harvey Weinstein into the public view, I thought an avalanche of just retribution would smother him.  More importantly, I believed the Weinstein revelations would enlighten men in positions of authority to recognize women's inalienable right to not be abused, groped, or harassed in any way; that men in authority might even began to finally treat women as equals.  But almost weekly revelations of men harassing or abusing women has stripped me of that delusion.

     According to an article in The New York Times, ("After Weinstein," 2/8/18)  71 men have "been fired or forced to resign after accusations of sexual misconduct that ranged from inappropriate comments to rape."  The sheer number of men cited in the Times' piece is staggering.  And how can these men knowingly commit clearly criminal acts?   Maybe some, like Woody Allen, would say, "The heart wants what it wants."  "Or the hands."  "Or the genitals."  But what about what the other human being wants?  What about what the woman wants? 

     In her op-ed essay, "The Problem With 'Feminist' Men,"Jill Filipovic examines the Scheiderman's sinister motives in fighting for women's rights.  She suggests that he used "his role in progressive politics"and his feminist-minded political work to advance his own career, to ingratiate himself with the women he would go on to harm, and to cover up his cruelties."  Her formulation of Scheiderman's "thought process" offers interesting possibilities as to his motives and means, but unless he were to admit his guilt, explain every thought, desire, impulse, feeling and intention behind his actions, we can only conjecture, perhaps accurately, how calculating this man has been.
     Filipovic's essay elicited many comments that criticized her ideas; a number of them viciously assailed her conclusions and the logic she used in reaching them.  Though her assumptions are suppositions and should be honestly critiqued, the grotesque and absurd vitriol hurled at her by some readers is profoundly disturbing.  One man wrote, "Feminist men are the problem.  Period.  No other thoughts necessary.  Feminism is a cancer to both men and women."  Another wrote, "'Donald Trump, who boasted about sexually assaulting and degrading women'...This is falsehood.  Trump suggested that women will LET you...This suggests consent.  Assault is not consensual.  The question is how much damage they do before their demise.  Feminism is just such a movement...Women tend to be more emotional, shortsighted, informed by the concrete.  Men are more rational, farsighted, and comfortable with the abstract."

     The election of Trump has produced two unintended and salutary consequences.  One is the Me-Too movement, which is tearing down the once impregnable walls covering up the offenses perpetrated the likes of the Trumps, Scheidermans and countless other men.  The second consequence springs from the reaction of men who feel threatened by the effect of the Me-Too movement.   In the past, many misogynist men would successfully hide their behavior because women had no recourse open to them.  Today, women feel empowered to speak out against their abusers.  Without meaning to, Trump has instigated a "kind of wild justice," which it is the misogynist's nature to run from, or to spew venom against (as demonstrated by the comments quoted above).  Either way, Me-Too justice will continue to root out sexists and misogynists and move us closer to gender equality.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Much Clamor, Little Consequence

     Michelle Wolf has sinned.  She has sinned against the sanctity of journalism celebrated at The White House Correspondence Association Dinner.  Both liberals and conservatives were aghast at her vulgar and personal insults.  It's no surprise that conservatives would be offended by Wolf's coarse humor and use it to paint liberals as typically tolerant of "obscene language."  After all, it's one more way to blame liberals for the crass culture and disintegration of moral values in American.  However, many liberals also criticized Wolf's performance.  Ashley Feinberg of The Huffington Post has compiled a list of liberals who have (tweeted) criticized Wolf:

Mike Allen:  "Media hands Trump big, embarrassing win." 

Peter Baker:  "Unfortunately, I don't think we advance the cause of journalism tonight."

Maria Bartiromo:  "The resist movement decided its [sic] cool to go against the leader of the free world. Inappropriate, mean, stupid."     

Maggie Haberman:  "That Press Sec sat and absorbed intense criticism of her physical appearance, her job performance, and so forth, instead of walking out, on national television, was impressive."

Jonathan Karl:  "The monologue at last night's WHCA crossed the line."

Andrea Mitchell:  "Apology is owed to Press Sec and others grossly insulted by Michelle Wolf at White House Correspondence Assoc. Dinner."

     Fineberg's full title of her piece is ""A Running List Of Cowards, Strivers, and Suck-Ups. Democracy dies in the Washington Hilton."  Fineberg is rather incensed that these journalists have chosen to join conservatives in condemning Wolf.  However, the complaints Fineberg cites from respectable media figures should surprise no one, since Wolf's monologue mauled several in the Trump administration with caustic and coarse personal ridicule.  To expect the media to defend Wolf would be more than improbable.  The men and women in media are conventional to the point of being Victorian (At least in public; behind closed doors, some of them behave far worse than Wolf's words.)  

     As I watched Wolf's performance and I sometimes winced along with the wincing faces in the audience.  Her bawdiness is not to my taste.  More than anything else, her remarks about Sarah Sanders' eye make-up, which seemed tame compared to her much of what she said, instigated the most severe criticism of her routine.  She aroused such strong female solidarity that journalists who ordinarily censure Sanders for her elasticity with the truth, crowded to her defense.  Mikia Brzezinski tweeted, " Watching a wife and mother be humiliated on national television for her looks is deplorable.  I have experienced insults about my appearance from the President.  All women have a duty to unite when these attacks happen and the WHCA owes Sarah an apology."  That Press. Sec. sat and absorbed intense criticism of her physical appearance, her job performance, and so forth, instead of walking out, on national television, was impressive."

Not everyone has found fault with Wolf's humor. As I noted above, Fineberg has compiled her own Librorum Prohibitorum of those heretical individuals who have attacked Wolf's performance. Arwa Mahdawi, in this week's Guardian, argues that those "urging" Wolf to apologize for her "uncontroversial joke" about Sanders' make-up send "an incredibly dangerous message." Mahdawi believes that the journalists who have criticized Wolf are in fact suggesting "that it's not okay to criticize the president and his people. And it lends credence to Trump's repeated claim that the mainstream media is out to get him."

Calling on Wolf to apologized strikes me as unnecessary. Mahdawi is right; Wolf's jokes about Sanders were certainly benign. She might have expressed some of her jokes with less vulgarity, but her repertoire is well known, so no one should have been shocked by her comic mode. The stream of outrage appears to be more synthetic than genuine.

Nevertheless, Feinberg and Mahdawi overstate the damage and danger of journalists upbraiding Wolf for her monologue. Within days of the correspondence dinner, the journalists were toiling away, reporting the latest lies and chaos convulsing the White House. Maggie Haberman and the rest of the media are back at work, detailing the administration's misdeeds, lies and chaos. (See "On Attack for Trump, Giuliani May Aggravate Legal and Political Perils." 5/4/18) Fox continues to defend Trump and redirect public attention to Hilary Clinton. (See Hannity interview on Fox News with Giuliani) The balance of the universe remains intact; the wheels of justice continue to roll, however slowly. Mueller will inculpate or exculpate Trump of collusion or other crimes. If exonerated, we'll have to wait till 2020, vote Trump out of office, fumigate 1600 Pennsylvania ave, and try to forget the four years of churlish vulgarity we had been subjected to.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Macron and Trump

     These are times which try men and women's souls.  Each day, tweets from the White House and statements by President Trump to the media parade an ignorance in the language one would expect from a fourth grader. (Nina Burleigh in Newsweek, "Trump Speaks At Fourth-Grade Level" 1/18/18, reported that Trump speaks at the lowest level of the last 15 presidents.)  His most recent exhibition came during his joint news conference (Friday, 5/27/18) with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.  During the conference, when a reporter asked about Ronny Jackson's decision to withdraw as nominee for Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Trump attempted to defend his choice by repeating that Washington is a "very mean place, a nasty place," that Jackson is a great man, that Jackson's son is at the Navel Academy, that Senator John Tester would pay for bringing forward the allegations that induced Jackson to resign, that the allegations are completely false, etc.  But would Dr. Jackson have withdrawn if he were innocent and as wonderful as Trump claimed? 

     The past week offered at least a partial reprieve from the daily deluge of Trump's banality, vulgarity, and mendacity.  After spending a day with Trump and enjoying a lavish state dinner, French President Emmanuel Macron in a speech he made to Congress, rebuffed several of Trump political positions.  Among them were Trump's nationalism and his environmental policy.  Macron's speech  was a pleasure to listen to as he eloquently explained why the president is wrong on these issues.  His speech lasted an hour, far too long for Trump's attention span; but even if Macron's speech were distilled down to a few sentences, it still couldn't penetrate Trump's obdurate and obtuse mind. 

    Macron's comments about isolation and nationalism provided an intelligent and thoughtful response to Trump's bromidic "America First."  What might seem a simple, though shallow, statement of patriotism, "America First" expresses more than the worthy goal of protecting America and Americans.  Its additional unspoken though unambiguous message is one of bigotry and chauvinism, designed to stir up the ugliest form of nationalism.  Macron's vision of America and its role in the world transcends this simplistic, retrograde policy Trump has offered:

"Therefore, let me say we have two ways ahead. We can choose isolationism, withdrawal, and nationalism. This is an option. It can be tempting to us as temporary relief to our fears. But closing  the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world. It will not douse but inflame the fears of our citizens. We have to keep our eyes wide open to the new risks right in front of us.  I'm convinced that if we decide to open our eyes wider, we will be stronger. We will overcome the dangers. We will not let the rampaging work of extreme nationalism shake a world full of hopes for greater prosperity."

     Macron's words slice through Trump's America First agenda; his words recognize what Trump fails to: that erecting trade tariffs, stoking xenophobic fear and anger and pitting white majorities against black and brown minorities won't reverse the changes taking place in America and around the globe. Trump's policies and tweets only exacerbate the fear and anger such momentous changes brings and  as Macron points out, "Anger only freezes and weakens us."

     On the environment, Macron is equally incisive.  He grasps the consequences of Trump's destructive environmental policies, while understanding the hardships faced by those working in  industries that must be phased out to help ease the human causes of global climate change:

"Some people think that securing current industries and their jobs is more urgent that transforming our economies to meet the global challenge of climate change.  I hear these concerns.  But we must find a smooth transition to a low-carbon economy.  Because what is the meaning of our life, really, if we work and live destroying the planet, while sacrificing the the future of our children.  What is the meaning of our decision is to reduce the properties for our children or grandchildren? By polluting the oceans, not mitigating fuel emission, and destroying our biodiversity, we're killing our planet. Let face it; there is no planet B."

Macron also cleverly turned Trump's "Let's make America great again" into "Let us work together in order to make our planet great again." 

     Macron has returned to France.  Three days have passed since his persuasive oration.  His advice regarding Trump's policies didn't fade; we still hear it.  But they never came anywhere near Trump's brain.  And how could they?  This is a man who cannot read memos.  According to Patrick Radden Keefe, in The New Yorker, when Trump first received memos from the National Security Council, staffers who wrote the memos were told to "Thin" them "out."  The staffers slimmed the documents down to a single page, but were told they were still too long.  One of Trump's aides informed the "staffers that the President is a 'visual person,' and asked them to express points 'pictorially.'"  Memos were reduced to cards, "with the syntactical complexity of 'See Jane run.'" 

     I wish Macron could have stayed longer.  Or I wish someone with his intelligence could be president.  Obama always demonstrated intelligence and a mature command of English.  Whether one agreed with his views or not, he articulated his policies and positions without bluster or threats.  He examined issues deeply and formulated policy after listening carefully to his advisers.  The rest of the world must still be wondering how someone so strangely impulsive, so astonishing unqualified could become president of the United States.  Mark Twain explains: "It is strange the way the ignorant and inexperienced so often and so undeservedly succeed when the informed and the experienced fail." 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Perception of Black Lives Matters

     During summers, when I was a young boy my two younger brothers and I would skip across the street to the elementary school where for hours we would play catch and hit baseballs.  I remember how those days were all blue skies and sunshine and how we would imagine ourselves to be "real" baseball stars.  Back then, our heroes were the sad New York Yankees of the early 1970's, so our ambitions as ball players remained rather modest.  

     During one of these outings, our summer joy was ruptured by twenty black boys and girls who rode their bicycles onto the field like descending Valkyries.  Several of the boys dismounted their bikes and one began accusing me of calling his mother a "bitch."  Through my chattering teeth I told him that I didn't know his mother, but my protests didn't lessen his rage and after repeating himself a few more times, he jammed his right fist into my brother's stomach (I had had the sense to fold my arms in front of my body defensively,)  As my brother slunk to the ground the assailant and his comrades jumped on their bikes and rode away.  

     For several years after that episode, I struggled not to fear and resent blacks.  Luckily, the home I grew up in discouraged racial prejudice and bigotry.  Shortly after I began college, Ronald Reagan was elected president; his race baiting politics and policies together with the liberal education I received at college also helped me uproot the weeds of racism seeded in my youth.  I would love to say that I am no longer capable of any prejudice, but I know too well that no one can be completely immune to tendencies of racial bias.  Yet, I hear people regularly claim, (and read about so many others who also claim, e.g., Donald Trump) that they have no racial bias in them whatsoever.  They often add that blacks have the opportunities as any other white Americans, if they would only take advantage of the economic possibilities this country offers.  
     Many whites are quick to point out that today blacks, as well as other minorities, have made great progress since the 1960's.  They have jobs in professions once closed to them.  They hold seats in Congress, state legislatures, one on the Supreme Court; why, one was even elected president.  Blacks also dominate several sports, making millions of dollars in the process.  It all sounds quite good.  But is it what it seems?

     I have lived on Long Island, just east of New York City, my whole life.  Over the years, people have spread east across the Island as the population has risen significantly.   Town and villages have matured into fashionable communities with fashionable restaurants and chic coffee houses.  Among this rising middle class, are successful young black men and woman, sprinkled here and there among their upscale, white neighbors.  It seems the once deeply racist white residents of the past have move aside for a more enlightened generation.   One might say that the Island has matured beyond racism.  But that would misstate the true situation.  

     The obvious truth is that blacks are generally segregated from whites.  Any survey of the Island's population will reveal that blacks are clustered in areas separate and distinct from white neighborhoods.  Is this segregation intentional or not? Do whites prefer to keep blacks out of their neighborhoods (or therefore, public schools?)  My liberal friends are quick to tell me they are not in the least prejudice.  Maybe they aren't.  But it's impossible to tell, since they live their lives apart from blacks.  They are genuinely upset when the police shoot down an unarmed young black man; they expressed horror when they watched the video of Eric Garner being subdued, then killed by the police.  Yet, when their child or friend's child has been denied admission to an Ivy league university, and they subsequently learn that a minority has been admitted, they are quick to deprecate Affirmative Action or Diversity in Admissions for admitting the boy or girl whose "skin color" scuttled their child's chances.  

     But was it someone's skin color that thwarted their child's dream of Ivy?  Try to convince them there might have been some other factor, and you'll find yourself persona non grata. To them, the perception is fact, though they have not a whit of concrete evidence to support it.  It reminds me of what I mentioned above, a perception held by many whites that blacks can enjoy as much progress as whites, if they would only take advantage of the opportunities available to them.  

     An essay by Tracy Jan, The Washington Post, September 18, 2017, cites a recent Yale study that calculated the perceptions whites (and blacks) have regarding the economic progress of blacks.  In the Yale study, the researchers' work "showed that African Americans were the only racial group still making less than they did in 2000."  The study, conducted Jennifer Richeson and Michael Kraus, indicated that "both black and white Americans of all income levels remain profoundly unaware of the economic inequality between the two groups...participants overestimated progress toward black-white economic equality, with average estimates exceeding reality by about 25 percent."  This overly optimistic view about racial equality can be attributed, in part, to wishful thinking, because the majority of whites want blacks to succeed.  The one group that the Yale study singled out as having the most troubling perception of racial progress was wealthy whites:  "Most delusional are wealthy whites, the only group that was overly optimistic about racial economic equality even before the civil rights movement." (Italics mine)

     Norman Podhoretz, in his 1963 essay "My Negro Problem-And Ours," frankly chronicles the twisted feelings he experienced as a result of his many encounters with blacks while he was a boy growing up in Brooklyn.  By the end of his essay, he bluntly acknowledges his racist attitudes and confesses how difficult it has been, and continues to be, to free himself of his bigotry: "The hatred I still feel for Negroes is the hardest of all the old feelings to face or admit, and it is the most hidden and the most over-larded  by the conscious attitudes into which I have succeeded in willing myself."  

     Perhaps some of Podhoretz's points in his essay seem a little dated, but his most instructive insight, the difficulty of facing one's own racism, no matter how small that racism might seem to be, addresses one of the points the Yale study crystallizes: our perceptions of race, of blacks, are always skewed, regardless of how firmly our liberal and enlightened minds try to persuade us otherwise.  Has America become a more tolerant country?  Less discriminatory?  The answer to both is, of course, yes.  But has the country, and all of us, shed every vestige of prejudice?  Just ask the two young, black men who were arrested for not drinking coffee at a table in Starbucks in Philadelphia.  

Friday, April 20, 2018

The President and his Fool

     In Shakespeare's King Lear, the fool and Lear exchange some the most humorous and honest dialogue.  The Fool, for all his discursive ramblings, imparts warnings and wisdom to the King who, of course, takes only his own counsel.  By the third act of the play the Fool vanishes, leaving Lear raging against the wicked duplicity of Regan and Goneril.  Mad though he is, our sympathy for the arrogant king must be unrelenting.  His decision to leave the kingdom to his daughters so he may romp freely through the land, unburdened by the demands of ruling, is his colossal and arrogant blunder, but is nevertheless forgivable.   Because Lear sees only the antecedent world he ruled, he believes he will always command the fealty he took for granted as King.  His Fool (and others) knows better.

     Today we have our own mad leader, Donald Trump, who spouts his rage on Twitter against all the reporters who refuse him the fealty he demands of them.  But there is one media personality who genuflects nightly to him; who praises everything Trump says or does; and who serves as one of Trump's most valued advisers.  He is Sean Hannity.  Over the course of the 2016 campaign and during Trump's presidency, Hannity morphed into the role of a medieval fool.  Unlike Lear's honest Fool, Hannity has never offered Trump honest or remotely accurate facts.  If he had, he wouldn't remained Trump's most trusted friend in radio and on television.  As everyone knows, advisers who state facts candidly find themselves dismissed summarily from Trump's retinue. 

     Just as Lear and the Fool make a perfect contrapuntal pair, Trump and Hannity form a perfectly synergistic one.   Both men pathologically hate the media; this hatred often curdles their speech with invective and coarseness.  Both men have also never met a conspiracy about their opponents that they didn't delight in promoting.  Trump and Hannity promoted the smear that President Obama was not born in the United States.  In fact, after Obama had released his birth certificate, Hannity continued to push the conspiracy and in October, 2016 offered to buy Obama and his family a ticket to leave the country.

     As with Trump, Hannity enjoys also smearing conservatives with insinuations that have no basis in fact.  While interviewing Trump during the primaries, Hannity permitted Trump to advance the conspiracy that Ted Cruz's father was involved in the assassination of JFK.  Even conservative publications, such as National Review, have chided Hannity for his spreading conspiracy theories.  One particular egregious example was when Hannity zealously hyped the conspiracy that Hilary Clinton and the DNC had Seth Rich murdered. 

     Of course, a favorite conspiracy of Trump and Hannity is the "Deep State" and the evil FBI.  According to Hannity, the "Deep State" consists of secret operatives within the government, usually Obama appointees, who are scheming to  destroy Trump's presidency.  Hannity's suspicion of the covert state with the state sounds vaguely familiar.  Could it be that Hannity has watched "Three Days of The Condor" and fancies himself a contemporary coiffed and severely lacquered Robert Redford?  Hannity has attributed the Russian hacking of the 2016 election to this "Deep State."  He alleges the CIA possibly hacked the election and made it appear as if the Russians did it.  He purports that Mueller is working with Comey and the Clintons and all of them, as members of the "Deep State," are colluding to bring down Trump's presidency.

     Some might dismiss Hannity's dissemination of conspiracy theories as just more rantings of another right wing quack.  Unfortunately, millions of Americans believe his lies.   And Hannity's influence extends beyond the average citizens who listen to his radio program and watch his Fox broadcast.  President Trump watches Hannity's television program regularly and frequently calls Hannity for advice and talking points.  After listening to Hannity alternately sing praises of Trump or rail against the president's critics,  Trump reciprocates, by exclaiming how great Hannity is personally and offering endorsements of Hannity's show. 

     The President and his Fool share more than just mutual admiration.  They belong to an unmistakable fraternity of misogynous men who pretend to respect women, but really regard them as simply subordinate to men.   When people point out this obvious sexism, they attack them, calling them agents of the politically correct thought police.  We all have  heard the repeated stories of Trump's salacious exploitation of women.  And what of Hannity?  No stories have surfaced about Hannity abusing or taking advantage of women; but there is plenty of evidence of his sexist personality.  But he certainly revealed his sexist mentality when he commented that Hilary Clinton came across as a grandmother more qualified to change diapers than be President of the United States.  Here is an insult about a woman who has been a lawyer, senator and Secretary of State; Hannity's experience has been that of a dishonest, pontificating knave. 

     Hannity's comment about Hilary Clinton is just a small extract of the extent of his sexist attitude  toward women.  To take full measure of the menace of his misogyny consider his attempt to defend Trump after the Access Hollywood tape revealed Trump's assertion that he could sexually assault women with impunity; or his support of serial sexual harassers Roger Ailes and Bill O'Reilly; or his initial defense of the degenerate predator Roy Moore.  Trump and his Fool may profess their belief in the equality of women and men, but no one is fooled by their false words.

     Lear's Fool loves his King, and though his ironic discourse never punctures Lear's illusions, his wit never strays from truth.  The  Fool lays before Lear facts that Lear listens to but never hears.  Thus the tragedy rolls inexorably through the play's bloodletting and deaths.  Trump's Fool, on the other hand, hears distinctly all his master says and faithfully recycles conspiracies and lies the President tells or needs to be told to uphold the unethical and sordid farce unfolding day after day in Washington and Mar-a-Largo.  In Hannity, Trump has his devoted Fool; in Trump, Hannity his glorious leader.  Now the rest of us have to endure two insufferable fools until election or impeachment or indictment thankfully removes one of them. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

What's a Constitution For?

       During the dark hours of night, missiles blasted Syria’s chemical weapons’ sites and President Trump exalted the success of the strikes on Twitter: “A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!”  The goal of the United States and its allies is to deter Assad from using more chemical weapons on Syrians.  Last year, Assad used chemical weapons and Trump responded with a missile attack.  It took a year for him to use them again, but use them again, he did.  What will be different this time?

Regardless of how good this response might make some feel, the terrible reality is nothing in Syria will change; Assad will go on brutalizing his people, maiming and killing with impunity those who oppose his rule.  Short of full military intervention, the United States can do nothing to stop the slaughter this tyrant enjoys perpetrating.  And, who knows, if we were to oust or kill Assad, would the violence and killing there stop?  Remember Iraq, anyone?  Assad will continue slaughtering Syrians and after enough time passes, he’ll use chemical weapons again.  So, what do all these fireworks actually accomplish?

For Donald Trump, we don’t have to search for the answer.  This opportunity to strike at Assad enables him to play the compassionate, decisive leader.  Now he can flit repeatedly over twitter self-aggrandizing pronouncements that he hopes will dominate the immediate news cycle and drown all the talk James Comey’s new book is generating.  Unfortunately for Trump, Comey’s book is the slightest of Trump’s problems.  The two investigations, the one in Washington and the recent one in New York involving Michael Cohen, are weaving a net so finely wrought that not even the slippery Trump will be able to slither out of.

Beyond the drama of Trump’s presidency persists a problem even more troubling.  Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the standard rationale for deploying U.S. forces, drones and missiles has been that these military actions are conducted to protect our “freedom and way of life.”  Of course, our freedom and way of life have never been threatened; our safety and peace of  mind, on the other hand have been understandably frightened and potentially endangered by a terrorist detonating a bomb or spraying a crowd with an automatic weapon.  But does the deployment of troops to 149 countries around the world really reduce the possibility of of terrorist attacks?  It’s possible, though I doubt it.  More importantly, has the question of deploying all these troops been seriously examined and debated according to the principles mandated in the Constitution and the War Powers Act?

The Constitution gives only Congress the authority to declare war and the War Powers Act requires the president to inform Congress within 48 hours of of committing military force and limits that use of force to 60 days.  Except for George W. Bush, who sought and received congressional approval for both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars,  presidents before and after him have repeatedly acted without congressional authorization.  Even President Obama violated the Constitution and War Powers Act when he claimed that he needed no congressional authorization for continuing the air campaign in Libya in 2011, for which he received a rebuke from the House of Representatives.  Interestingly, when Obama did seek congressional approval for intervention in Syria, he was maligned by his foes and friends.

Trump has found cover (temporarily) for his troubles.  But the clock ticks and the minutes and hours slide inexorably toward his undoing.  Up to the final moment he falls, I expect he’ll wrap himself in a patriotic charade of more missiles or a military parade.  As he does, maybe the Congress and the people of this country will wake up and finally realize the shameful way we have permitted too many presidents to enlarge their Constitutional authority over the use of the military.  Congress could begin be asserting the authority with which the Constitution has empowered them, and find the courage to constrain what many of the fathers most feared: autocratic presidents.

      And we the people could begin by pressuring congress to stop sending troops into conflicts irrelevant to the United States.  To do that, we must be willing to challenge men such as  General John Kelly and expose what Phil Klay aptly calls “patriotic correctness,” in his excellent opinion piece in The New York Times.  When Americans are repeatedly told to see all U.S. military engagements as hallowed and all those who serve in the armed forces as heroes, questioning and challenging any U.S. military action becomes identified as a desecration of our “pious” patriotism and a blasphemy against the men and women who must be viewed as “sacred.”  The men and women in the armed forces deserve not our adulation, but our support; and the best support we could give them is to keep out of the wars that endanger their lives, but pose no threat to the national security of America.

Link to Phil Klay essay: