Riding the Trump Bull: What Democrats Get Wrong

bullriding
Better believe…

W.J. Astore

Wisdom can be found in many places.  I was watching Professional Bull Riding today, and the announcer (didn’t catch his name) dropped this pearl of wisdom:

Professional bull riding is not a sport based on hope.  It’s a sport based on belief.

I caught his meaning.  When you’re preparing to ride a bull, you can’t “hope” you’re going to stay on its back.  You have to believe you’re going to do it.  And even when you believe, often the bull is still going to win.

What does this have to do with Trump and the Democrats?  Consider Trump as an intemperate bull.  Sure, he’s ageing, but he’s got plenty of kick left.  How do you “ride” this bull and defeat him?  Not by bringing a weak case of impeachment that you know is going to fail in the Senate.  Not by giving Trump several big victories, such as a massive defense budget and a new trade bill, so-called NAFTA 2.0.  Not by offering only the most tepid objections to his warmongering with Iran.

Consider the DNC and its preferred presidential candidate, Joe Biden.  Is a corporate Democrat who’s both compromised and fading really the best candidate to ride Trump out of office?  As Joe Biden himself might say, give me a break.

You can’t hope you’re going to ride Trump out of office in 2020.  You have to believe it.  And you have to give the American people a candidate with some balls, with firm and principled beliefs, a bull rider like Bernie Sanders or Tulsi Gabbard.

Hope may have been important to Barack Obama’s success in 2008, but it’s not going to defeat Trump in 2020.  To ride that bull, you have to believe.

The Senate Trial of Donald Trump

Senate Impeachment Trial Of President Donald Trump Begins
Chief Justice John Roberts.  Ten years ago, he gave us Citizens United.

W.J. Astore

The Senate trial of Donald Trump is a colossal waste of time and energy.  Why?  The result is a foregone conclusion: Trump is not going to be removed from office.  Nevertheless, the mainstream media is obsessed with gavel-to-gavel coverage of what is mostly a non-event.

As my wife said to me yesterday, where is all this energy and outrage from Congress and the media about homeless people living in the streets?  So many of whom are suffering from mental and physical illnesses of various sorts?  Where is the attention to people who can’t afford to pay for their prescription drugs?  What about all the veterans committing suicide?  What about all the corruption that is systemic and endemic across Congress and the Executive branches?  Where’s the attention to that?

The presence of Chief Justice John Roberts in the Senate provides a salutary reminder that a decade ago, the Supreme Court issued its “Citizens United” decision that declared corporations are citizens and that their “speech” in the form of money in politics is protected.

That decision is yet another example of America’s legalized system of political corruption.  Why can’t we get Congress to change that?  Where’s the media coverage of electoral corruption?  The outrage about corporate money in politics?  There isn’t any, since the mainstream media is complicit in the corruption.

To repeat myself: Ten years ago this week, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are citizens.  Except for a few ultra-rich “citizens” like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, that meant corporations had (and have) superhero-like powers, but with none of the humility of Peter Parker (Spiderman), whose gentle Uncle Ben reminded him that, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  Our superhero corporations just want the power, thank you very much, and our government and its three branches willingly bow down and serve them.

Where’s the trial for that offense against the republic?  Bang the gavel, John Roberts.

Bonus Lesson: Democrats!  Want to remove Trump from office?  Nominate a coherent and charismatic candidate for the presidency, have a compelling platform, and inspire people to get off their duffs and vote in November.

The Truth Needs Its Own Channel

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W.J. Astore

Today’s article is a potluck of observations.  Please fire away in the comments section if I stimulate some thoughts!

  1. My wife today noticed how the weather is now militarized.  An “arctic invasion” of cold air is coming our way, or so the Weather Channel warned.  Do we need a new “Weather Force” to meet this “invasion”?
  2. The other day at the gym, I was watching the impeachment drama on two TVs tuned to Fox News and MSNBC.  For Fox News and its parade of Republican guests, the impeachment was a “hoax.”  For MSNBC, it was a foregone conclusion Trump is as guilty as sin.  I mentioned this to my wife and she had the perfect comment: “The truth needs its own channel.”
  3. A reader wrote to me about a piece I wrote in 2008 about all the “warrior” and “warfighter” talk used by the U.S. military today.  It got me to thinking yet again about the rhetoric of war.  Back in World War II, when we fought real wars and won them, we had a Department of War to which citizen-soldiers were drafted.  After World War II, we renamed it the Department of Defense, and after Vietnam we eliminated the draft, after which you began to hear much talk of warriors and warfighters.  In the 75 years since 1945, America has fought many wars, none of them formally declared by Congress, and none of them “defensive” in any way.  The longest of those wars (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq) have been utter disasters.  Which is not surprising, since wars based on lies and fought for non-compelling reasons usually are losers.  So, how do you buck up the morale of all those volunteer troops while encouraging them not to think about the losing causes they’re engaged in?  Get them to focus on their warfighter identities, their warrior “cred,” as if it’s a great thing for democracies to fight constant wars.
  4. The New York Times endorsed Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar today as the Democrats best prepared to serve as president.  Looks like Jimmy Dore is right: establishment Democrats would rather lose to Trump than win with a true progressive like Bernie Sanders.
  5. The other day, I went to my local post office and saw the POW/MIA flag flying.  It got me to thinking: Who are the POWs/MIAs we need to remember today?  Don’t get me wrong.  As a retired military officer, I think we should remember America’s POWs and MIAs.  But I see no reason to fly flags everywhere to remind us of those veterans who were prisoners of war or missing in action.  Sadly, the POW/MIA flag is associated with conservative activism and reactionary views; it also can serve as a distraction from the enormous damage inflicted overseas by the U.S. military.  As Americans, we are constantly told by our leaders to focus on American victims of war; rarely if ever are we encouraged to think of war itself as a disaster, or to think of the victims on the receiving end of American firepower.

More on the POW/MIA issue: In the early 1990s, when I was a young captain, there were persistent rumors of American POWs who’d been deliberately left behind by our government.  These rumors were strong, so strong that the George H.W. Bush administration had to issue denials.

What are we to make of this?  One thing strikes me immediately: an often profound mistrust of our government exists within the military.  Our government has lied to us so often that some of my fellow officers believed it was lying again when it said there were no POWs remaining in Southeast Asia.  We just assumed our government was so wretched and dishonest that it would abandon our troops to their fate.

This is nearly 30 years ago but it’s stayed in my memory — the suspicion back then that those commie bastards still held U.S. troops and our own government was part of the cover-up.  (All those Chuck Norris and Rambo movies didn’t help matters.)

For more on this: The POW/MIA issue is still very much alive and is discussed by H. Bruce Franklin in his article,  “Missing in Action in the 21st Century,” available at hbrucefranklin.com.  As Franklin noted recently to me, “What we now think of as the Trump base was organized originally in this [POW/MIA] movement.”  Now that’s a fascinating comment.

What say you, readers?

The Democratic Debate, Part 7

debate

W.J. Astore

I watched the Democratic Debate last night from Iowa featuring the top six candidates.  Here’s my take on the candidates and their prospects:

Joe Biden: It’s bizarre that Biden, still ahead in most polls, is hailed as doing well in these debates as long as he shows up and avoids making major gaffes.  To use a sports analogy, it’s as if you put your ace pitcher into the game and applaud him for giving up only ten runs while walking five and throwing three wild pitches.  At least he competed, right?  Biden didn’t do poorly last night, but he didn’t shine either.  Mr. Excitement he’s not, and that doesn’t bode well if he’s the Democratic candidate for president against Trump.

Pete Buttigieg: Mayor Pete has one talent: he knows how to please older people with vapid talk that seems sincere and serious.  He has almost zero support among African-Americans and very little support among people his own age and younger.  What is his path to victory?

Amy Klobuchar:  Klobuchar poses as the adult in the room, a moderate who rejects the “crazier” notions of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.  Clearly, she’s against progressive politics, but what does she stand for?

Bernie Sanders: Sanders is the one true progressive on the stage.  The man is a model of consistency and heart, and he has the strongest movement behind him.  He has the best chance of defeating Trump, but his dedication to people over corporations and profits makes him an anathema to establishment Democrats.

Tom Steyer: Steyer, a billionaire, has embraced climate change as his issue of choice.  At least he puts his money where his mouth is, but he has virtually no chance to gain the nomination.

Elizabeth Warren: Warren’s campaign concocted a phony controversy in an attempt to gain traction as the Iowa caucuses loom.  Basically, the Warren campaign claims Bernie Sanders said a woman can’t win the presidency.  It’s total nonsense.  Sanders denied it, and there are multiple video clips of Bernie advocating for a woman as president.  After Sanders issued his denial, Warren refused to address it.  She also appeared to refuse to shake his hand after the debate.  Apparently, Warren thinks the best way to distinguish herself from Bernie is to play the gender card, just as Hillary Clinton attacked Bernie in 2016 for the alleged misogyny of the so-called Bernie Bros.

As the debate dragged on, I thought carefully about which one of these candidates truly has a chance to defeat Trump in November.  Who has passion, vision, heart, and the ability to take on Trump and to call him out on all his lies and misdeeds?  I see only one candidate who can do this and win: Bernie Sanders.

Trump’s Wall and Its Meaning

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They’re so proud of Trump’s wall, though new sections proved surprisingly easy to cut through

W.J. Astore

I caught this snippet via the New York Times today:

Border wall funding: President Trump plans to divert $7.2 billion from the military for the construction of a wall on the southern border, two people familiar with the plans told The Times. Congress set aside $1.375 billion for it last month.”

Diverting money that’s been appropriated by Congress is an impeachable offense, but the Democrats will do little since they know Trump will spin their opposition as being pro-immigrant and anti-American, irrespective of the lies contained in that spin.

Trump was elected in part through his fear-mongering about immigrants (he spoke of murderers, rapists, gang members, even Muslim terrorists hidden within the “caravans” approaching America’s southern border).  “Build the wall” is a popular chant at his rallies, and Trump knows the issue still stirs up his base.

What’s it all about?  Recently I was reading “Shadow of the Silk Road,” by Colin Thubron.  This is what Thubron had to say about the Great Wall of China:

As a true bulwark the Wall was senseless.  Huns, Mongols, Manchus overswept it almost at will.  The Sinologist Owen Lattimore proposed that it was built to keep the Chinese in rather than the nomads out.  Perhaps, unwittingly, it was less a physical defence than a monstrous definition.  It separated civilisation from barbarism, light from darkness.  It was an act of shuddering denial: over there is not what we are.  And it was steeped in fear. [Emphasis in original.]

“Over there is not what we are”: Trump recognizes how “his” wall serves as a dividing line between the “good” people (Americans) versus the “bad hombres” (his term) seeking to “invade” America.  And it is, as Thubron says, both a monstrous definition and an act of shuddering denial.

Of course, the wall already exists, as Greg Grandin notes in his book, “The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America.”  Trump merely wants to lengthen it, mostly in areas where a wall is redundant due to already forbidding terrain.

But the wall is not about protecting America from “hordes” of “invaders.”  It’s about defining America in retrograde ways, contrasting the alleged barbarism of brown-skinned people with the civilization of (mostly) White America.

Walls demarcate and divide.  They are also a denial of common humanity.  They pit us against them in battles over turf.  In short, they’re a perfect symbol for Trump’s vision of greatness.

The Welfare Myth: Confessions of a Former Caseworker

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Richard Sahn

“They drive to the supermarket in their Cadillacs and buy steak, lobster, and cartons of cigarettes.” How many times have I heard that description of welfare recipients? And it’s always a Cadillac, by the way. I inform welfare haters that I used to be a caseworker in New York City and that I and my caseworker colleagues in the unit I was assigned to never came across a serious case of cheating in two years. In fact, I became convinced that welfare recipients rarely cheat. If anything, I sometimes had to persuade my clients to pursue their rights within the system, which typically meant an increase in their benefits.

In the late 1960s, a massive state-sponsored study of the then new “Declaration System” of the New York City Department of Social Services produced startling results. Welfare applicants were not investigated to determine their financial needs. They were approved for assistance based on their word, their declaration. Researchers found very few false statements on thousands of applications.

So why does the myth of the welfare cheater continue? Whenever I bring up the welfare issue in my sociology classes students who are usually quiet invariably seize the opportunity to denounce the very idea of welfare. They try to convince me that all welfare recipients “cheat” and that nobody really needs welfare.  They assert “welfare people” are just too lazy to work and are not victims of the economic system, despite what bleeding-heart liberals, sociologists, and Marxist economists have to say.

The work ethic and the American dream are so ingrained in our culture that cognitive dissonance is produced by the very thought some people need continuous financial assistance. A more friendly position toward welfare is seeing it, not as a permanent way of life but as a temporary fix to allow an individual or family to “get back on its feet.”  But is every American equally qualified to recover from hard times, and equally able to get off public assistance?  Empirical evidence suggests not, but the myth of everyone having equal opportunity to compete and excel in America’s dog-eat-dog version of capitalism still drives national, state, and local welfare laws.

Why So Many Americans Hate Welfare

Ordinary Americans are usually anti-welfare, almost as if it is un-American to support the idea of public assistance. Even some former welfare clients I’ve encountered tend to be opposed to the idea of welfare. They may even feel guilty for accepting help from the state in the first place.

There appear to be several reasons for this opposition to welfare:

  1. Rugged individualism (from the frontier era): The belief Americans are equally able through hard work to take care of their economic needs without government assistance.
  2. The idea welfare recipients are big contributors to the national debt.
  3. The idea people on welfare don’t really need the money; that they are simply greedy and lazy. Related to this is the idea welfare recipients are all able-bodied and not impacted by mental health and related issues.
  4. The idea welfare mothers (“queens”) have children out of wedlock to get on the rolls or have their allowance increased.

When I was a welfare caseworker it took me a while, coming from a white middle-class family, to understand not only the humanitarian necessity of welfare but also the advantages to society of a generous welfare system.  For instance, making it more difficult if not impossible to obtain welfare causes needless suffering and even premature death.

Parenthood as a Full-Time Job

Aside from literally saving lives—as if that weren’t enough in itself–welfare allows parents, usually single mothers with young children, to spend more time with their children.  Isn’t motherhood, or fatherhood in some cases, a full-time job?  While a caseworker in New York City I began to realize that raising children as a single parent—most of my clients were single parents—entails hard work that is generally unrewarded by society. In answer to the question, “What do you do?” I could say I worked as a civil servant.  Welfare mothers, even as they worked hard to raise their children, had no culturally and socially respectable answer to the question, “What do you do?”

The Societal Benefits of Welfare

In my two years working for the Department of Social Services I had two epiphanies. One was that being employed, or starting one’s own business, is simply not what every adult can do. The other epiphany was that society may be better off if many jobs did not exist in the first place (such as manufacturing assault rifles for the masses). Are we not sometimes better off with people not working but living on welfare?  Welfare recipients are free to do other things with their lives which may contribute more to society rather than “work.” My reclusive friend in California who has been on SSI most of his life not only has time to converse with people in person, on the phone, or via Facebook but has also written three books and numerous articles on literary and political criticism.

Politics and Ideology

Republicans on every level of government consistently vow to drastically reduce or eliminate various social safety net programs. In the extreme this includes social security, even for the disabled. More tax breaks (mainly for the rich) can be achieved if we just didn’t give tax money away to people who didn’t deserve it, or so these Republicans claim.  Social Darwinist ideologues see economic handouts as conflicting with the laws of nature.

Even liberal Democrats rarely say they will work to improve the plight of the poor or make it easier to get on the welfare rolls. After all, the poor (underclass) don’t vote as frequently as the higher income populations. (Voter suppression is one reason.)  Welfare will continue to be a dirty word until it becomes respectable to say, “I’m on welfare. What do you do for a living?”

Richard Sahn is a retired professor of sociology and a former welfare caseworker in the Big Apple.

Trump Wishes Peace to Iran while Accusing Democrats of Enabling Attacks on U.S. Troops

Trump US Iran, Washington, USA - 08 Jan 2020
Trump boasting of big missiles while denouncing Democrats

W.J. Astore

I watched Trump’s speech today to the nation on Iran.  It had the usual boasts about the U.S. military and its “big” and “lethal” missiles, the usual bombast, the usual lies.  But this passage of his speech truly struck me as beyond the pale:

Iran’s hostilities substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2013, and they were given 150 billion dollars, not to mention 1.8 billion dollars in cash. Instead of saying thank you to the United States, they chanted Death to America.

In fact, they chanted Death to America the day the agreement was signed. Then Iran went on a terrorist spree funded by the money from the deal and created hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration.

That’s right: the missiles used against U.S. forces last night we’re paid for by the Obama administration.  Not only that: Iran went on a “terrorist spree” funded by the “foolish” Iran nuclear treaty, spreading “hell” throughout Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  I’m sure glad Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United States, and other military actors in the region never spread any “hell,” despite all those Hellfire missiles launched from American drones.

So here’s a new claim for you.  If the U.S. military is losing in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, the culprit is clear: the Obama administration and by extension the Democrats, the appeasers who funded Iran and made possible all of its “terrorist” activities.

Best of all, Trump wished peace and prosperity to the Iranian people, but you heard nothing about working peacefully and in prosperous ways with the Democrats.

Clearly, Trump sees the real enemy of America: Obama and the Democrats.