Diversion by Aspersion: Trump’s Latest Tweet

Trump tweet
Donald Trump’s twitter image

W,J. Astore

Give the hobgoblin with the bad comb-over his due: He knows how to divide and distract, to divert attention by casting aspersions on others.

The latest Trump tweet that showcased this tactic came today at the G-20 Summit when Trump tweeted the following:

“Everyone here is talking about why John Podesta refused to give the DNC server to the FBI and the CIA. Disgraceful!”

The Washington Post analyzes why this tweet is so wrongheaded and misleading, but a factual analysis won’t matter to Trump’s legion of followers.

There’s a method to Trump’s madness.  By continuing to vilify Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and smaller fish like John Podesta, he’s distracting Americans from his own problems with the FBI.  He’s saying the real crooks, the true inept leaders, are Democrats. Somehow, he thinks this “look over there!” misdirection ploy will work.  And he may well be right.  Trump learned a lot from “reality” TV and wrestling shows, including how to entertain people even as he exploits them.

When I think about Trump, I come back to one of my father’s favorite sayings: the empty barrel makes the most noise.  Trump always makes a lot of noise, but there’s nothing there.  There’s no substance.  The noise, because it’s so loud and annoying, briefly grabs your attention, then it’s gone.

Yet the damage it does isn’t gone.  Even as we become accustomed to the thunder of Trump’s tweet storms, we’re slowly losing our hearing.  By hearing, I mean our ability to discern truth, or at least to block out the thunderous distraction of big lies.

When the president is a walking (or golf cart-riding), tweeting, fabricating, drum-beating clown, democracy can’t help but suffer.

More and more under Trump, discourse in America is being degraded. But the bigger problem may be that so few Americans seem to care.

Remembering the Quiet, Unsung Heroes

W.J. Astore

Six years ago, I posted this article for Memorial Day 2011.

This Memorial Day, let’s remember and learn from our heroes who are gone from us. For me, my heroes are my parents, both of whom grew up in single-parent families during the Great Depression. Let’s start with my Mom. Our concept of “hero” today often works against moms; our culture tends to glorify our troops and other people of action: police, firefighters, and other risk-takers who help others. But to me my Mom was a hero. As a young woman, she worked long hours in a factory to help support her mother. She married at twenty-seven and quickly had four children in five years (I came along a few years later, the beneficiary of the “rhythm method” of Catholic birth control). As a full-time homemaker, she raised five children in a working-class neighborhood while struggling with intense family issues (an older son, my brother, struggled with schizophrenia, a mental disease little understood in the early 1970s).

honeymoon
My parents on their honeymoon

Despite these burdens and more, my Mom was always upbeat and giving: traits that didn’t change even when she was diagnosed with cancer. She struggled against the ravages of that disease for five long years before succumbing to it in 1980. Cancer took her life but not her spirit. I never heard her once complain about the painful chemotherapy and cobalt treatments she endured.

My father too had a difficult life. He had to quit high school after the tenth grade and find a paying job to support the family. At the age of eighteen, he entered the Civilian Conservation Corps and fought forest fires in Oregon; factory work followed (where he met my Mom) until that was interrupted by the draft and service in the Army during World War II. After more factory work in the latter half of the 1940s, my Dad got on the local firefighting force, serving with distinction for more than thirty years until his retirement. He died in 2003 after a heart attack and surgery, from which he never fully recovered.

America’s heroes are women and men like my Mom and Dad: the factory workers, the homemakers, the blue-collar doers and givers. And as I think about my Mom and Dad, I recall both their loving natures and their toughness. They had few illusions, and they knew how to get a tough job done, without complaint.

There’s so much we can learn from women and men like them. Personally, I’m so sick of our media and our government telling us how scared we should be — whether of violent crime or violent tornadoes or bogeyman terrorists overseas. My parents recognized the hard-won wisdom of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

But today our government prefers to abridge our rights (see the latest extension of the so-called Patriot Act) in the name of keeping us safe and less fearful, a bargain for those who exercise power, but not for tough-minded people working hard to scrape a living for their children (thanks again, Mom and Dad).

My parents weren’t worried about threats emerging from left field. They had real — and much more immediate — challenges to deal with right at home. In this spirit, I still recall my Dad talking somewhat heretically about the Cold War and the Soviet threat. His opinion: if the Americans and Soviets are stupid enough to nuke one another, a billion Chinese will pick up the slack of human civilization. No bomb shelters or ducking and covering for him. It was back to work to support the family by putting out fires in our neck of the woods.

willy
An old polaroid of me and my dad, circa 1980

And that’s what we need to do today as a country. We need to put fear aside and band together to put out fires in our neck of the woods. Together we can make a better country. In so doing, we’ll honor the heroic sacrifices of our families and ancestors: people like my Mom and Dad.

God bless you, Mom, Dad, and all the other quiet and unsung heroes of America.

Donald Trump and America’s Confused Values

Better days are here, for some of us.

W.J. Astore

Joe Bageant was a remarkable writer, the author of “Deer Hunting with Jesus” as well as “Rainbow Pie.”  A self-confessed “redneck,” he worked his way into the middle class as an editor, but he never forgot his roots in Appalachia and the subsistence farming of his Scots-Irish family. Bageant had a brutally honest and unadorned way of speaking and writing, and also a great affection and deep respect for traditional communal values in America.

bageant

The other day, I was reading an old essay Bageant wrote, “Live from Planet Norte” (June 2010), long before Donald Trump was even remotely considered to be presidential material.  As usual, Joe nailed it:

[I]n the process of building our own gilded rat-cage, we have proven that old saw about democracy eventually leading to mediocrity to be true. Especially if you keep dumbing down all the rats. After all, Dan Quayle, Donald Trump and George W. Bush hold advanced degrees from top universities in law, finance and business.

The head rats, our “leaders” (if it is even possible to lead anybody anywhere inside a cage), have proven to be as mediocre and clueless as anyone else. Which is sort of proof we are a democracy, if we want to look at it that way. While it is a myth that virtually anybody can grow up to be president, we have demonstrated that nitwits have more than a fighting chance. During my 40 years writing media ass-wipe for the public, I have interviewed many of “the best of my generation,” and, believe me, most of them were not much.

Naturally, they believe they are far superior by virtue of having made it to an elevated point in the gilded cage, closer to the feed, water and sex. Because they believe it, and the media–sycophants waiting for quotes–echoes their belief, discussing their every brain fart, we tend to believe it, too. Nothing shakes our belief, not even staring directly into the face of a congenital liar and nitwit like Sarah Palin, or a careening set of brainless balls like Donald Trump or a retarded jackal like George W. Bush.

Americans are unable to explain why such people “rise to the top” in our country. We just accept that they do, and assume that America’s process of natural selection – the survival of the wealthiest – is at work. These people are rich; therefore, they should run the country. God said so. It’s a uniquely American principal of governance, which in itself, makes the case for our stupidity.

Donald Trump is best at selling a certain image of himself: the self-made billionaire, the savvy deal-maker, the populist patriot who sides with the little guy.  But Joe Bageant had him pegged: a careening set of brainless balls is maybe the best, and certainly the most colorful, descriptor I’ve come across for Trump.

Bageant’s larger question is clear: How did Americans come to value such nitwits, halfwits, and dimwits? Just because they have money? Just because they have a veneer of “success” about them, when this “success” is evidenced by nothing more than money or fame and the sly charm of grifters?

Americans, who worship at the altar of success as measured by the almighty dollar, are kneeling to pray before the empty suits of men like Donald Trump.  Bageant knew better than to join that mindless cult; so should we all.

Noise, Noise, Noise!

United_States_Declaration_of_Independence
Words can be explosive too

W.J. Astore

People who don’t like noise get a bad rap in America. We once had neighbors in Colorado who used to ride off-road dirt bikes up and down the street. Someone complained about the noise and their response was, “Don’t like it? Move. This is America. We have freedom to make all the noise we want.”

Yesterday, my barber was talking about television. He was watching an “entertainment” show in which people were screaming, amplified by explosions, and he just couldn’t abide the noise. But he’s an old fuddy-duddy, like me, right?

When I watch baseball on TV, I keep the “mute” button very close by for the commercials. But even the commentators are getting noisy. Baseball used to be a fairly quiet game with two commentators in the booth, a play-by-play guy and a “color” guy (usually an ex-ballplayer).  Now there are often three people in the booth, with another one (or even two) on the sidelines. They all need to speak, of course, so baseball on TV has become a constant contest of endless chatter featuring mindless statistics.  There’s so much chatter that it’s difficult to hear the crack of a bat or the sound of a fastball smacking a catcher’s mitt.  Then there are the stadiums that feature lots of rock music, sound effects (like smashing glass for a foul ball), horns and pyrotechnics that go off when a player hits a home run, and all those video boards that order the fans to “Make Some Noise!”.

I know — I sound like an old fuddy-duddy again — sort of like the Grinch who stole Christmas because he was tired of all the noise, noise, noise of the Whos in Whoville.  And if the Grinch was bothered by Christmas festivities, just think of how he’d react to July 4th, America’s most pyrotechnic holiday. Prepare for bombs bursting in air, jets screaming overhead, and loud music everywhere.

Just so you know, I’ve been known to pump up the volume on my favorite songs; I’ve thrilled to fireworks exploding in the sky; I’ve watched my share of air shows; I’ve even been at the very front of rock concerts as “security” (I fondly recall a Warren Zevon concert at which I had to arrange the return of a leather coat loaned by a fan to Zevon, who donned it on stage to the delight of the fan).

But you might say those noise events were matters of personal choice.  Lately, noise in America seems pervasive, ubiquitous, almost unavoidable.  And noise isn’t simply about volume: it’s about persistence.  It’s about invasiveness.  Think of people who chatter away on Smart phones even as they’re out for a quiet walk along the beach or in the woods. How can you hear the waves or the birds if you’re screaming into a phone? Bits and pieces of conversations I’ve overheard are not about emergencies or even pressing matters; it’s more like, “Guess where I am?  I’m at the beach/concert/top of the mountain!”  Followed by selfies and postings and more calls or texts.

With all these forms of noise, it’s difficult to be in the moment.  It’s even difficult to find a moment.  Also, even in quiet times, people feel pressured to fill the silence with, well, something.  So unaccustomed to quiet are they that they reach for their Smart phones (perhaps to play a noisy video game), or they turn on the TV, or they chatter away even when they have nothing to say. Must avoid “uncomfortable” silences, so we’ve been told.

Part of this is cultural.  Today’s Americans are not about reflection; we’re about action. We’re not thinkers; we’re doers.  If I rest I rust is our motto.  Together with, Don’t just stand there — do something!  Preferably, something loud, splashy, noisy.

July 4th is a great holiday, but along with the fireworks and noise, perhaps we should celebrate the reflective thinkers of America, people like Thomas Jefferson who put the words to the noise of the American revolution in the Declaration of Independence. The quiet sound of a quill pen dipping in ink and scratching across parchment made a very big noise indeed in U.S. and World history.

Trump Fourth of July

This weekend, it wouldn’t hurt to put down or turn off the mowers, blowers, fireworks, Smart phones, TVs, and all the rest of our noisemakers and listen to the birds and waves while reading a few passages from that Declaration of Independence.  For the right words can be explosive too.

Guns and Grievances

The Matrix _DivX_ 311_0003
Guns look way too cool in our movies

W.J. Astore

The news out of Orlando is shocking.  Another mass shooting in America.  Another 50+ people dead with an additional 50+ wounded.  And then I saw this headline:

“America has 4.4% of the world’s population, but almost 50% of the civilian-owned guns around the world”

The ready availability of guns in America, to include military-style assault weapons with 30-round clips, makes it far easier for shooters bent on murder to kill large numbers of people.  It doesn’t matter what you call these shooters, whether you label them terrorists or lone wolves or crazed lunatics or whatever.  Apparently the latest shooter bought his guns legally, had a grievance against gay people, expressed some last-minute allegiance to ISIS, and then started blasting away at innocent people in a club that was friendly to gays.

Sure, guns alone are not to blame.  The primary person to blame is the shooter/murderer himself.  But (to repeat myself) the guns sure make it a lot easier to kill, and in large numbers.

We live in a sick society, often a very violent one, certainly a disturbed one, one that places enormous stress on people.  Another exceptional headline that I first heard on Bill Maher is that America, again with 4.4% of the world’s population, takes 75% of the world’s prescription drugs.

Guns and drugs – the two don’t mix, even when they’re legal.   Americans are over-armed and over-medicated.  Add to that mix the fact that Americans are under-educated, at least compared to our peers in the developed world, and you truly have a toxic brew.

Over-armed, over-medicated, and under-educated: surely this is not what our leaders have in mind when they call us the exceptional nation, the indispensable one, the greatest on earth.  Is it?

 

 

America’s Original Sin

Hans Baldung Grien, "Eve, Serpent and Death"
Hans Baldung Grien, “Eve, Serpent and Death”

W.J. Astore

I’m a Catholic, so of course I know all about Original Sin.  For disobeying God and tasting the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden.  Eve would suffer the pains of childbirth, and both she and Adam would age and die, their earthly bodies returning to the dust from which they came.

I always thought Eve got a bad rap in that story.  She was, after all, tempted by Lucifer, a fallen angel in the shape of a serpent.  Whereas Adam simply gave in to a mild suggestion by Eve to join her.  Eve was tricked by the Master of Deceit, but Adam just joined in for the heck of it, and she shoulders the blame?

Of course, one might see Original Sin as part of God’s master plan.  For without that sin, there would be no need for God to send his only begotten son to redeem mankind.  No Original Sin, no New Testament.  No Beatitudes.  No Roman Catholic Church.  No Christianity.

And without Christianity and its evangelizing zeal, America would doubtless be a far different land.   Assuming Europeans still came to the New World in roughly 1500, would subsequent history be less bloody in the absence of Christianity?  Or would naked conquest have been unrestrained by any moral code of restraint and compassion?

The United States has an original sin as well.  It is the impiety of considering our country as being uniquely favored by God.  American history shows how we’ve killed, enslaved, and otherwise violated God’s great commandment of loving thy neighbor, even as we continue loudly to shout how God uniquely showers His praises on us.  God Bless America!

Is America’s original sin part of some master plan?  How will we redeem ourselves from its awful legacies?  My dad once joked that in school he almost solved an unsolvable equation; I confess I have no solution to such questions.

Readers, have at it in the comments section below.  Is the very idea of Original Sin mysterious and magisterial, or mischievous and misleading?  Have humans evolved beyond the need for God and gods?  Is “sin” a misleading term to apply to America’s past, too metaphysical, too imprecise?  Are there simply too many “chosen people” in this world, too many people who elevate themselves above others just because they believe they share a favored relationship to God?

It’s a grey and rainy day here — a good day for thinking.  Join in.

Hillary Clinton’s Email Fiasco

Trust me!
Trust me!

W.J. Astore

Once again, Hillary Clinton is in the news for the wrong reason.  She used a private email account while she was Secretary of State, rather than an official government email account.  As a result, not all of her (unclassified) emails are part of the public record. Many may be “lost,” consigned to the dustbin of history, whether by accident or design is hard to say.  In the press conference she then gave to explain herself, she was less than forthcoming.  And it now appears that her email server wasn’t even encrypted for the first three months she served as Secretary of State, meaning her official emails were eminently hackable and readable by foreign governments.

Just another meaningless scandal, right?  No — what this reveals is the arrogance of power. Official rules may apply to “little people” like you and me, but to the Clintons, those rules can be ignored.  They think they can do whatever they want.  It’s a clear double standard, and it’s just one more reason why the prospect of Hillary Clinton as president disturbs me.

I remember when Hillary Clinton served as First Lady and worked on health care reform in the early 1990s.  Her right-hand man was Ira Magaziner.  I’d heard of Magaziner since he had served as an outside consultant to my hometown. According to Wikipedia:

“After Oxford, Magaziner and a group of former Brown students attempted to implement social democratic reforms in the city of Brockton, Massachusetts. These reforms included starting an agricultural cooperative, supporting liberal candidates for city council, strengthening the union movement, and printing a progressive town newspaper. Magaziner soon abandoned the project, after the group recognized that the effects of foreign business competition on the local manufacturing base would undercut their efforts.”

Not as I heard it.  Magaziner thought he could come to Brockton and serve as its “instant expert,” remaking the city in his image without paying much attention to the desires of the locals.  Brockton is working-class, fairly conservative, and tough-minded, proud of its championship boxers (Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler).  The people of Brockton were less than enamored with Magaziner and his fellow “experts” telling them what to do and how to do it.  So Magaziner withdrew, mission unaccomplished.

Magaziner then took his know-it-all approach and applied it to health care reform, working hand-in-hand with Hillary Clinton and her team.  They concocted a massive reform of the health care system with no buy-in from major stakeholders.  Arrogant policy wonks, they believed their ideas and reforms were so brilliant and compelling they’d easily win assent from Congress.  Instead, they fell flat on their faces.

Nobody likes being dictated to.  And nobody likes people who make their own rules while dancing on the heads of the little people. Hillary’s latest fiasco once again reminds us of her imperious nature, her arrogance, her lack of political deftness.

She’d make a formidable empress.  But a president?  No thanks.