Trump’s Garden of Heroes

Statues
Silent teachers in stone and metal: U.S. Capitol

W.J. Astore

While castigating the “radical left” in his latest vitriolic speech before Mount Rushmore, Trump proposed a new garden of heroes to celebrate meaningful Americans.  Naturally, that list has generated controversy.  As others have noted, Native Americans are absent from the list; so too are Hispanics; and so too are Democratic presidents.

Here’s a look at Trump’s “heroes”:

John Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Daniel Boone, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Henry Clay, Davy Crockett, Frederick Douglass, Amelia Earhart, Benjamin Franklin, Billy Graham, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, Dolley Madison, James Madison, Christa McAuliffe, Audie Murphy, George S. Patton, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Jackie Robinson, Betsy Ross, Antonin Scalia, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, George Washington, Orville and Wilbur Wright.

It’s easy to pick apart any list.  Why this person and not that one?  Or why not this person and that one?  For example, why not MLK Jr. and Malcolm X?  Why not Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali?  Is it because MLK Jr. and Jackie are considered safer, or less controversial, or more American because they were “less angry”?

Among other absences, there’s another I’d like to highlight: Any person dedicated to the cause of peace.*

Again, looking at Trump’s list, what struck me was the predictable worship of military men, not just Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain from the Civil War or Audie Murphy from World War II but the usual generals Trump professes to love, Patton and MacArthur.  Two vainglorious wannabe Caesars, the very opposite of America’s citizen-soldier ideal, are Trump’s idea of America’s noblest generals.  Not George C. Marshall and Omar Bradley, also of World War II fame, and both more deserving of acclaim, and more suited to America’s military traditions.  Or how about General Smedley Butler, twice awarded the Medal of Honor, who became an outspoken critic of war after his retirement?

What also struck me was the presence of “the usual suspects” in the list.  Do we really need yet another statue to George Washington?  Abraham Lincoln?  Benjamin Franklin?  Can’t we come up with some lesser known heroes worthy of acclaim, perhaps someone like Prudence Crandall, a schoolteacher who established the first school for African-American girls in New England, and who faced mob violence as she fought to keep her school open.  Or how about Elihu Burritt, the Learned Blacksmith, who fought so hard in antebellum America against war.  America has a wealth of unsung heroes; why not take this chance to celebrate “ordinary” Americans doing extraordinary things?

Notice, naturally, the deep bow to conservative icons such as Billy Graham, Ronald Reagan, and Antonin Scalia.  An evangelist, a president, and a Supreme Court Justice, respectively.  So how about Dorothy Day, Jimmy Carter, and Harry Blackmun to balance the partisan ledger?

Some science might be injected with Carl Sagan or James Watson.  Some environmentalism with Rachel Carson.  During a pandemic, why not Jonas Salk?  And why is America’s greatest inventor, Thomas Edison, not on this list?  Of course, you could go on almost endlessly here.

Perhaps what amused me most was the stipulation the statues have to be lifelike or realistic, not abstract or modernist representations.  They are to be “silent teachers in solid form of stone and metal,” per Trump’s executive order.  This rejection of abstract or modernist representation put me to mind of Nazi Germany’s rejection of so-called degenerate art.  The Nazis preferred art that celebrated uncontroversially the heroism of Germans and the human form: art that was open only to the most obvious interpretation.  As a good friend put it, “Combine Trump’s classical garden of heroes with his edict that public buildings be made ‘beautiful again’ in a neoclassical style and all he’s missing is a catchy antisemitic drinking song.”

In other words, Trump wants a garden of heroes in which we’re expected to bow our heads in awe, rather than hold our heads in thought.  Awe is befitting to a dictatorship, but thought is becoming to a democracy.

* I’ve applauded MLK Jr.’s efforts to end the Vietnam War; he deserves to be recognized as a peace activist, but of course he’s on Trump’s list for his civil rights record, not his critique of America as the world’s greatest purveyor of violence.  One name I’d love to see added to the list is Daniel Ellsberg, who risked everything to expose American lies with the release of the Pentagon Papers.

Trump’s Culture War

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Shameless, thy name be Trump

W.J. Astore

President Trump’s strategy for winning in 2020 is to fan the flames of culture war, including blatant references to white power.  Even some Republicans seem embarrassed, though not enough to make any difference in Trump’s reprehensible tactics.  Trump’s emptiness is incalculable — this and his cult-like “base” make him a dangerous man indeed.  He needs to be denounced and voted out of office; how disappointing is it that the Democratic alternative is Joe Biden, a man with his own record of lies, a man with little going for him except that he’s not Donald Trump.

Along with culture war, Republicans are also doing their best to discourage voting.  The tactics here are many: fewer polling stations, meaning longer lines and wait times; voter ID laws to counter non-existent voter fraud; disenfranchisement of voters through purges of rolls; opposition to mail-in ballots and other efforts to make voting easier and safer in the age of Covid-19; the presence of “monitors” at polling sites as a form of intimidation.

Rally the base while suppressing the overall vote: this, apparently, is what Trump is counting on this November.

Why?  Because Trump has nothing real to run on.  His biggest “accomplishment” was a tax break for corporations and for the richest Americans.  When asked by Fox News about what he wanted to accomplish in his second term, Trump had nothing specific to say.  No policy goals.  Nothing.  The one thing he seems determined to do, besides building his wall, is eliminating Obamacare, which would throw tens of millions off their health care plans during a pandemic.

If cynicism has a bottom, Trump hasn’t found it yet, though not for want of trying.

Of course, Trump’s culture war is as ugly as it is racist.  It’s also a distraction from rampant and blatant kleptocracy.  For example, the latest “defense” budget calls for $740 billion in spending, yet the key issue for Trump is to defend military posts that are named for Confederate officers.  Trump, a New York City trust fund baby, as Yankee as a Yankee can be, poses as a principled defender of Confederate leaders and the Confederate battle flag, in the name of “respecting our past.”  Consider him the quintessential con man as cultural carpetbagger, cynically adopting any position that he can use to inflame his base and drive them to the polls this November.

Truly, these are bizarre times.  Trump, the Vietnam draft dodger, the man of heel spurs infamy, celebrates Generals George Patton and Douglas MacArthur as his ideals.  As military leaders, both were deeply flawed; both were vainglorious; both were over-celebrated and overrated.  Small wonder that Trump sees something in them that he sees in himself: overweening egotism, the quest for victory at any cost, including the deaths of their own troops.

Trump wants America to turn on itself, to consume itself, and as long as he wins another term, he couldn’t care less about the cost.  Why?  Because he doesn’t see us as his fellow citizens — he sees us as his subjects.  And even if you count yourself in his “base,” he likely sees you as nothing more than a patsy.  A sucker.  And, based on his total lack of leadership when it comes to Covid-19, he literally doesn’t care if you live or die.

Trump is a wannabe king, and he will say or do most anything to keep his grip on power.  Having just marked another July 4th celebration of America’s independence from a capricious monarch, King George III, it doesn’t make any sense to re-empower another mad king.

Don’t be distracted by Trump’s culture wars and his incessant divisiveness, America.  Remember its intent: to divide is the way to conquer.  Trump doesn’t want “to keep America great.”  He wants to keep it servile to him.  He wants you under his spell, shouting his name, laughing at his cruel jokes.

Is that what you want for yourself and for our country?

Frederick Douglass on Patriotism and Taking A Knee

Today, the 4th of July, reminds us of our independence but not of its universality or equity. Frederick Douglass famously called attention to America’s hypocrisy in his 4th of July speech in 1852. Recently, his descendants read portions of his speech, which you can see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBe5qbnkqoM

As Davout says in his powerful article, Douglass called for a better America, one that would move beyond empty patriotic gestures. It’s a message that’s even more urgently needed today.

Bracing Views

taking a knee Colin Kaepernick (#7) takes a knee

M. Davout

A week after Super Bowl Sunday, I was reading Frederick Douglass’s “Fourth of July Address,” given by the intrepid abolitionist and eminent public intellectual on July 5, 1852 to several hundred spectators in Rochester, New York. It struck me then how contemporary Douglass’s antebellum insights into the nature of patriotism in America seemed, especially in the wake of an NFL season steeped in controversy over football players (mostly African-American) taking a knee during the national anthem.  Their symbolic protest, dismissed by some, notably including a tweeting president, as unpatriotic, was intended to highlight how police encounters with people of color in this country all too often and disproportionately end in unjustified uses of deadly force.

800px-Frederick_Douglass_by_Samuel_J_Miller,_1847-52 Frederick Douglass near the time of the Rochester Speech, given on the 5th of July 1852

At the time of his Fourth of July Address…

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Of Trump, Obama, and Brand Name Presidents

st-galileo19
Mister Spock learns the burdens of command

W.J. Astore

Trump isn’t a politician — he’s a brand.  What he wants more than anything is brand loyalty.  So he plays to his base as much as possible, maintaining their loyalty by hitting “hot button” issues like immigration, abortion, white power, guns, Confederate generals, standing for the flag and the national anthem, the bible (while gassing peaceful protesters), and so on.

Obama was also a brand — but he arguably gave his most fervent supporters much less than Trump.  What I mean is this: Obama posed as a progressive but ruled mostly as a corporate Republican-lite, taking his base for granted, figuring quite rightly they had nowhere else to go.  What that meant in practice was a feckless administration that led to disillusion, setting the stage for another, much less moderate, brand name: Trump.

Early in 2010, I was flummoxed by Obama and his feckless leadership.  Tapping into my affection for science fiction and “Star Trek,” I wrote the article below on how Obama had to “Learn from Mr. Spock” and take bigger chances.  Of course, Obama had no interest in going big — he much preferred to cash in and go home.  And so he has.

Trump and Obama: well-known brand names, but one has served his base more loyally than the other.  Guess which one?  Hint: It’s the one who overacts, much like William Shatner playing Captain Kirk.

President Obama: Learn from Mr. Spock! (Posted 1/27/2010)

President Obama’s cool, cerebral, logical style has drawn comparisons to Mr. Spock of Star Trek, as played by Leonard Nimoy in the original series from the 1960s.  Like that half-Vulcan, half-human Spock, Obama is a man of two worlds, of White America and Black America, of Kansas and Kenya.  Like Spock, he’s a careful thinker, a man who measures his words with precision, a man who seems to pride himself in being in control of his emotions.

Yet perhaps the most telling similarity between fictional Spock and factual Obama is their lack of command experience.  Spock was Captain Kirk’s loyal first officer.  An expert in science, he had no desire to gain the captain’s chair.  Before he gained the Oval Office, Obama was a community organizer, a law professor, a state senator, and a U.S. senator.  Respectable positions, but not ones requiring a command presence.

Both lack Kirk-like swagger, yet each had to take command.  In Spock’s case, it came in the Star Trek episode, “The Galileo Seven.”  His decisions, the criticisms he faces, even his mistakes are uncannily like those of Obama in his first year of office.

To set the scene: Spock leads six crewmembers in a shuttlecraft that crashes on a dangerous planet.  As Spock and crew race against time to repair their disabled craft, they are attacked by a primitive race of large, hairy humanoids.  While facing down an enemy he barely understands, Spock simultaneously has to win the trust of a crew that thinks he’s a heartless machine, and perhaps even a malfunctioning one at that.  He succeeds, but only after experiencing a most unSpock-like inspiration.

Along the way, Spock makes several questionable decisions.  He seeks both to understand the hostile primitives and to intimidate them.  Rather than hitting them hard, he directs fire away from them, concluding “logically” that they’ll run away and stay away after seeing “phaser” fire.  Meanwhile, he posts a guard in a vulnerable position.  The result: the primitives return, the guard is killed, and a vacillating Spock is barely able to keep control over an increasingly insolent crew.

What went wrong?  Spock doesn’t know.  Logically, the primitives should have respected the superior technology of the marooned crew.  But as the thoroughly human Dr. McCoy points out, the primitives were just as likely to act irrationally as rationally.  Facing dangerous intruders in their midst, they didn’t run and hide; they attacked with unappeasable anger.

While under attack, Spock even experiences a moment of “analysis paralysis” as he thinks out loud about his failings.  A crewmember cuttingly remarks, “We could use a little inspiration.”  Even the good doctor calls for less analysis and more action.

Now, let’s turn to Obama.  Consider the Republicans as stand-ins for the hairy primitives (resemblances, if any, are purely coincidental).  Throughout his first year of office, Obama acted as if he could both reason with them – creating an amicable modus vivendi – and intimidate them if the occasion demanded.

What he failed to realize (the “irrational” or “illogical” element) was that Republicans could neither be convinced by sweet talk nor intimidated by warning shots.  Implacable opposition and anger were their preferred options.  By misinterpreting his opponents, Spock lost a crewmember; Obama (perhaps) a legacy.

How does Spock recover and save the day?  By gambling.  As the repaired shuttlecraft crawls into orbit, Spock jettisons what little fuel remains and ignites it.  Like sending up a flare, the redoubtable Mr. Scott, the chief engineer, notes ruefully, as the shuttle starts to burn up on reentry.  But the desperate gamble works.  Kirk, showing his usual command resourcefulness, had stretched his orders just enough to stay within scanning range of the planet.  Seeing the flare, he beams Spock and the other survivors on board the Enterprise a split-second before the shuttle disintegrates.

The lesson?  Sometimes a commander has to grab the reins of command and act. Sometimes, he even has to gamble at frightfully long odds.  Earlier, Spock had said he neither enjoyed command nor was he frightened by it.  He had to learn to enjoy it – and to be frightened by it.  In the process, he learned that cool logic and rational analysis are not enough: not when facing determined opponents and seemingly lost causes.

So, President Obama, what can you learn from Spock’s first command?  That we could use a little inspiration.  That we want less analysis and more action.  That we may even need a game-changing gamble.

C’mon, Mr. President: Jettison the fuel and ignite it.  Maybe, just maybe, the path you blaze will lead us home again.

Postscript (7/1/20): Obama never took command.  He never took risks on behalf of progressive principles.  (Perhaps he just didn’t have any.)  The emptiness of his brand enabled Trump.  Will Trump’s emptiness enable more fecklessness in the name of Joe Biden?

A Thought Experiment for America’s Afghan War

Obama
President Obama with his chosen “surge” commander, General Stanley McChrystal

W.J. Astore

The Afghan War is back in the news, mainly because of allegations that Russian entities offered a bounty to the Taliban to kill U.S. troops.  Pulling no punches, Alternet used this headline: “The Pentagon leaks an explosive story of Trump’s dereliction of duty — widening the rift between the military and the White House.”

The U.S. military has been fighting the Taliban ever since 2001, so why the latter now needs bounties to motivate them is unclear.  Indeed, the original “bounty” story at the New York Times was thinly and anonymously sourced and has been denied by Russia and the Taliban.  Of course, in the past U.S. officials had their own bounties on various “terrorists,” and who can forget President George W. Bush’s appeal to Old West lore when he echoed those “Wanted: Dead or Alive” posters in the search for Osama bin Laden?

President Trump has said he wants to end the Afghan War by November, but he is surprisingly weak in reining in the Pentagon.  At some level, Trump knows the Afghan War is unwinnable; it always has been.  It’s unjust as well, though Trump never uses that kind of language.  He sees it mainly as a business proposition that’s losing money bigtime.  Yet despite all his fawning words for the military, he can’t impose his will on the Pentagon.

Back in 2010, I tried to point out the folly of America’s war in the following article.  At the time, President Obama was implementing a “surge” of troops that proved both unsustainable and unwise.  So I put together this thought experiment, putting my gun-toting neighbors and friends in the rugged hills of rural Pennsylvania in the role of an American Taliban responding to an invasive force.  A decade ago, I had no doubt who would prevail, whether in reality or in my experiment.

As the Afghan War approaches two decades, how will we ever end our folly when even so-called liberal media sources are waving red shirts and inflaming passions with talk of Russian bounties? (6/28/2020)

A Thought Experiment for Our Afghan Surge

(Written in January 2010)

Consider the following thought experiment. Give the Afghan Taliban our technology and money, and have them journey thousands of miles to the densely forested hills and mountains of rural Pennsylvania, close to where I currently live. Who’s going to prevail? The Afghans fighting a high-tech counterinsurgency campaign, or the PA locals fighting a low-tech campaign to defend their homes and way of life?

My money would be on my “hillbilly” (a term I use affectionately) neighbors who love to hunt, who know the terrain, and who are committed to liberty. My students, male and female, are generally tough, resourceful, love the outdoors, make their own beef jerky, cut and split their own wood, have plenty of guns and ammo and bows and knives and, well, you get the idea. Even in my classes, they’re wearing camouflage pants, vests, and hats. They could go from college student to people’s warrior before you could say Mao Zedong. And I doubt they’d spare much love for foreign fighters on their turf.

Now, consider an Afghan intelligence officer trying to understand rural PA culture, to blend in with the locals, to win hearts and minds. What are the chances this intelligence operative would be successful? If he speaks English, it’s in a broken, heavily accented form, insensitive to local and regional variations. If he can’t bargain with words, he might be able to bribe a few locals into helping him, but their allegiance will wane as the money runs out.

As this imaginary Afghan force seeks to gain control over the countryside, its members find themselves being picked off like so many whitetail deer. Using their drones and Hellfire missiles, they strike back at the PA rebels, only to mistake a raucous yet innocent biker rally for a conglomeration of insurgents. Among the dead bodies and twisted Harleys, a new spirit of resistance is born.

Now, if you’ve followed me in this thought experiment, why don’t we get it? Why can’t we see that the odds are stacked against us in Afghanistan? Why are we surprised that, by our own assessment, our intelligence in Afghanistan is still “clueless” after eight years and “ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced … and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers”?

And why would we think that a surge of more “clueless” operatives would reverse the tide?

Would more Taliban forces deployed to the hills and valleys of PA win the hearts and minds of the locals?

I know the answer to that hypothetical: as the PA rebels might say, no friggin’ way.

Black, Irish, White: A Case Study of Policing

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“Paddy Wagon” — generally considered a derogatory term against the Irish

M. Davout

The police killing of a subdued and helpless George Floyd and the worldwide demonstrations against systematic police brutality against Black Americans it provoked have rightly put a spotlight on policing in the US.  Floyd’s senseless killing and the populist pushback have also raised the question of the extent to which the institution of policing in this country originated and evolved as an instrument of group domination by self-identified whites.

Policing has never been my academic research specialty but I did once have a close-up encounter with reams of data that appertained to the question of how policing has worked in this country. Many decades ago, over several weeks of a hot Boston summer, I was employed by a sociology PhD student to code data from arrest records contained in old ledgers piled in a dusty basement of the Suffolk County Courthouse.  I remember going through dozens of ledgers from years that spanned the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century and recording surnames of individuals who had been arrested by Boston police officers, as well as the crimes they were charged with.

While the specialized legal abbreviations and idiosyncrasies of penmanship of those long dead clerks took a while to decipher, it wasn’t long before I was making quick progress through years of arrest records. And, almost immediately, a pattern was evident. The overwhelming majority of the defendant names were Irish, while the infractions charged were relatively few: public drunkenness, disorderly conduct, with, perhaps, some counts of resisting arrest thrown in. As it turned out, the PhD student was writing a dissertation about the relationship of Boston’s Irish population to the local police. And from the data I was coding, it looked to my unscholarly eyes that that relationship had been a contentious one, with Irish-surnamed folk filling Boston’s jails for decades at least. Needless to say, the court records did not indicate how many of those charges of public drunkenness or disorderly conduct were trumped up.

Growing up in southeastern Massachusetts in the 1970s, I experienced people with Irish-sounding surnames as figures of authority and accomplishment: grade schoolteachers, parish priests, local and state politicians, and, of course, the Kennedy clan. It was a far cry from that earlier time when Irish-Americans were a despised and impoverished immigrant group (“Irish Need Not Apply”) and were the targets of popular discrimination and systematic harassment and repression by many Protestant establishment political elites who controlled public institutions in the Bay State.

no-irish-need-apply-the-new-york-times-10-may-1859

Purely by coincidence during that same summer of research in the basement of the Suffolk County Courthouse, I was reading J. Anthony Lukas’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the contentious history of school busing, Common Ground, and came across a passage describing the Massachusetts State legislature’s confiscation of control of the Boston police force from city hall in 1895. Just ten years earlier, the city elected its first Irish-born mayor, which “launch[ed] an era of Irish-American dominance of Boston City Hall.”

It seems that even when the Boston Irish had made progress through the ballot box, their newfound control over the city’s main instrument of coercion could be stripped away by their long-time political nemesis acting at the state level. In the end, it may have been only after Irish-Americans, who had long been considered a race apart from Protestant America, could move across what W.E.B. Dubois called America’s “Color Line” and become “White” that they could escape the worst effects of policing. The same path, needless to say, has not been available to Black Americans.

M. Davout is the pen name for a political science professor who teaches in the Deep South.

Wear the Mask! Wear the Mask!

 

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Why was this so much easier in 1918? (Georgia Tech game, 1918, courtesy of Andy McNeil)

W.J. Astore

I keep seeing headlines like this one from Alternet today: Trump ‘patriots’ ready to die for freedom shout down county commissioners because they don’t want to wear face masks.

How do you convince such “patriots” that wearing a face mask is not an assault on their freedom?

Perhaps by telling them that the Covid virus is much like those bad people invading us from the south.  You know: those “rapists” and “killers” and other viral elements poring through our border, as Trump warned us about in his first speech as a candidate in 2015.  A “threat” we can stop with a chant: “Build the wall!  Build the wall!”

Think of all those Covid viral droplets as unwanted and dangerous invaders — but we can stop them before they ruin America.  How?  Wear the mask!  Wear the mask!

Just think of the mask as a wall between you and the bad people out to ruin America.  There — don’t you feel like a patriot now, wearing your “wall” mask?  You can even get masks with American flags on them.  Wear with pride!

Corporations Are Citizens — What Are We?

citizen
I sure wish this image reflected reality

W.J. Astore

Back in January 2010, I wrote the following article for Truthout in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision.  Despite recent mass protests driven by murders of blacks such as George Floyd, not much has changed.  Police reforms are stalled at the federal level, and a racist president continues to inflame even as he seeks greater power.  Americans are told change will come via the ballot box, but when politicians are essentially owned by citizen-corporations, changing a few faces in Congress or even the Oval Office will change little.  As George Carlin explained to a skeptical audience: “You have owners.  They own you.”  And so we are reduced to certain roles in society, mainly as consumers but also as warriors and prisoners – or so I argued in 2010:

Corporations Are Citizens — What Are We?

This week’s Supreme Court ruling [Citizens United] that corporations are protected by “free speech” rights and can contribute enormous sums of money to influence elections is a de jure endorsement of the de facto dominance of corporations over our lives. Indeed, corporations are the new citizens of this country, and ordinary Americans, who used to be known as “citizens,” now fall into three categories: consumers, warriors and prisoners.

Think about it. Perhaps you’ve noticed, as a friend of mine has, that the term “citizen” has largely disappeared from our public and political discourse. And what term has taken its place? Consumer. That’s our new role: not to exercise our rights as citizens (perish the thought, that’s for corporations to do!), but to exercise our credit cards as consumers. Here one might recall President George W. Bush’s inspiring words to Americans after 9-11 to “go shopping” and to visit Disney.

Think again of our regulatory agencies like the FDA or SEC. They no longer take action to protect us as “citizens.” Rather, they act to safeguard the confidence of “consumers.” And apparently the only news that’s worthy of note is that which affects us as consumers.

As one-dimensional “consumers,” we’ve been reduced to obedient eunuchs in thrall to the economy. Our sole purpose is to keep buying and spending. Corporations, meanwhile, are the citizen-activists in our politics, with the voting and speech rights to match their status.

At the same time we’ve reduced citizens to consumers, we’ve reduced citizen-soldiers to “warriors” or “warfighters.” The citizen-soldier of World War II did his duty in the military, but his main goal was to come home, regain his civilian job, and enjoy the freedoms and rights of American citizenship. Today, our military encourages a “warrior” mentality: a narrow-minded professionalism that emphasizes warfighting skills over citizenship and civic duty.

And if that’s not disturbing enough, think of our military’s ever-increasing reliance on private military contractors or mercenaries.

The final category of American is all-too-obvious: prisoner. No country in the modern industrialized world incarcerates more of its citizens than the United States. More than 7.3 million Americans currently languish somewhere in our prison system [awaiting trial, on parole, or in jail]. Our only hope, apparently, for a decline in prison population is the sheer expense to states of caring and feeding all these “offenders.”

There you have it. Corporations are our new citizens. And you? If you’re lucky, you get to make a choice: consumer, warrior or prisoner. Which will it be?

Guns — Lots of Guns

neo
Keanu Reeves as Neo

W.J. Astore

In The Matrix, Neo (played memorably by Keanu Reeves) saves Morpheus by breaking into a heavily fortified facility guarded by special agents.  When asked what he’ll need to pull off this longshot rescue, Neo says, simply: “Guns — lots of guns.”  It could serve as America’s new national motto.  In God we trust?  No — guns.  And lots of them.  Somewhere north of 300 million guns are currently in private hands, enough to arm each and every American, the tall and the small, with at least one firearm.

So it’s not surprising when Donald Trump references Second Amendment rights.  (It seems the only amendment he knows.)  He likes to assert these “rights” are in danger of being curtailed, but gun sales are still booming and there are no serious efforts at gun control.

As one of my friends whose barbed humor I enjoy put it: “There is only one amendment — the second amendment.”  Mull that conundrum for a moment.

Back in World War II, America was known as the arsenal of democracy for all the weapons we supplied to allies like Britain and the Soviet Union.  Now it’s just an arsenal.

The brutal truth is we’re stuck with all these guns.  There is no political will to buy them back, even military-style assault weapons, and indeed what will there is centers on selling more of them.  Back in 2017, several articles appeared noting how black women were buying guns in increasing numbers.  Last week, NBC Washington ran a report on women of color becoming licensed gun owners in increasing numbers, partly as a response to police violence.  “Peace of mind” is bought with a gun.  Talk about racial and gender progress!

Speaking of the police, small wonder that America’s cops are edgy.  When we talk about police violence, which is all-too-real and all-too-deadly, a factor we should consider is the reality that America is awash in guns, making every police call a potentially deadly one.

So, as much as Trump tweets about “LAW&ORDER,” what really rules America is money — the money to be made by selling lots of guns and ammo, as well as the cultural ammo you can always count on when hippy-dippy liberals like me start rattling rhetorical sabers about gun control.

The pen may be mightier than the sword, but an AR-15 trumps both in this man’s America.

I’ve owned guns myself and have shot everything from a pellet pistol to a .44 magnum, but I’ve defunded my modest gun collection, so to speak.  I decided happiness is not a warm gun and that there are amendments other than the 2nd one.

For once you start shooting bullets, there’s no way to recall them.  And, as far as I know, the only guy able to dodge bullets is Keanu Reeves as Neo.

John Bolton’s “Revelations”

bolton

W.J. Astore

Former National Security Advisor John Bolton, the Walrus Man, is back with “revelations” about Donald Trump.  Yet, unless you’ve been a MAGA man or under a rock for the last four years, these are hardly as revelatory as media mouthpieces are making them out to be.  Some examples:

Trump cares most of all about getting reelected in 2020.  To this end, he’ll make deals with China to shore up his domestic support.

Trump sympathizes with authoritarian dictators and promises to intercede on their behalf in various investigations.

Trump is ignorant of the most basic facts, e.g. he didn’t know the UK has nuclear weapons; he didn’t know Finland was not part of Russia; etc.

Trump is mocked behind his back by some of his most ardent supporters, e.g. Mike Pompeo.

Trump said Venezuela is “really part of the United States.”

And so on.  That last one is especially funny.  Trump must mean their oil, for he hasn’t exactly been clamoring for more people south of the border to be put on a path to U.S. citizenship.

Earlier today, Bolton gave an interview in which he said Trump is unfit to be president.  Surprise!  I was saying that in March of 2016, and I was hardly the only one.

Look: I’m no Trump fan, but none of this is news.  As a narcissist and egotist, of course Trump places his reelection above all else.  As an authoritarian ruler (at least in a wannabe sense), of course Trump relishes striking deals with other dictator-types.  Clearly, Trump doesn’t have a democratic bone in his body.  He’s incurious and apparently doesn’t read (not even the Bible, it seems), so he doesn’t know some of the most basic facts about geography and foreign policy.  Indeed, in this sense he’s the prototypical American.  We only learn geography after we invade a country.

It’s not hard to predict the reaction of Trump’s base to these “revelations”: they couldn’t care less.  But, hey, if it helps Bolton to sell books, then he’s taken a page from Trump’s own playbook.  Lots of hype, “alternative facts,” and controversy are good ways to move copy; don’t some people say there’s no such thing as bad publicity?

Meanwhile, Trump’s true feelings for his base are revealed in his decision to press ahead with a mass rally in an indoor arena this weekend.  Never mind the deadly danger of Covid-19: Trump says its fading away.

Now there’s a true “alternative fact” that may prove a killer for far too many, true believers and otherwise.