This is an Andy Rooney moment for me, but did you ever notice how Americans tend to favor either humongous trophy houses (McMansions), or closet-like tiny houses? Did you ever notice how so many Americans tend to be either very fat or super fit? Crusading evangelicals or militant atheists? Faithful believers in creationism or fervid followers of science? Proud “cave man” carnivores or proselytizing vegans? Coffee fiends or caffeine avoiders? Lushes or teetotalers? Materialists and hoarders or declutterers and minimalists?
The list of opposites, of extremes, goes on. Heck, why not include Obama supporters or Trump followers? Obama is urbane, sophisticated, cerebral, “no drama.” A devoted family man with one very successful marriage. The Donald? Well, let’s just say he’s very different than our sitting president. And I’m not talking skin color.
A good friend of mine once complained about his fellow Americans that he didn’t necessarily mind their extremism. What he did mind was their efforts to convert him to whatever extreme causes they believed in. Rodney King famously asked, Can’t we all just get along? My friend’s cry was more plaintive: Can’t you all just leave me alone?
As Trump crawls closer to power, America risks devolving even more into a society where the byword is “My way or the highway.” Where the national motto is no longer “In God we trust” or the older “E pluribus unum” (out of many, one) but instead “America: love it or leave it.”
I once read a great rejoinder to the “America: love it or leave it” sentiment. I first saw it in a bicycle repair book. The author simply added this coda: “Or change it.”
Extremism in the pursuit of your own selfish definition of “liberty” can indeed be a vice, America. We need to reject a black/white, love/hate, on/off, Manichean view of each other and the world. Moderation as a way of pursuing a more inclusive and compassionate world can indeed be a virtue.
That doesn’t mean one submits supinely to injustice. That doesn’t mean one surrenders meekly to tyrants. What it does mean is a rejection of a “shoot first, ask questions later” approach to life and each other. We have enough polarization already in America, and we certainly have enough death.
Superman used to say he fought for truth, justice, and the American way. There was a sense, a few generations ago, that those words were not laughable. That they meant something. We need to get back to those times.
When I was a lieutenant colonel on active duty, I supervised an officer in the U.S. Air Force who was (and is) an Iraqi-American. He came to the U.S. as a boy after President George H.W. Bush’s call to the Shia to revolt against Saddam in the aftermath of Desert Storm, which was ruthlessly suppressed by Saddam as Bush and company did nothing.
As an Iraqi-American in uniform, he served as an interpreter attached to the 101st Airborne in Iraq in 2004, if memory serves–dangerous times indeed for U.S. troops in Iraq.
He wrote to me, rightly outraged, after Ben Carson made his anti-Muslim comments back in September of 2015 during the presidential primary season. It made him so sad, so angry, as a U.S. Air Force veteran and as a Muslim-American to hear such ignorance, such bias, such Islamophobia. And it made me angry as well.
So many Muslim-Americans have served this country with distinction, troops like Navy veteran Nate Terani, who has written an eloquent article at TomDispatch.com on the prejudice he faced as an Iranian-American. Terani is doing his best to fight a new enemy, Islamophobia, the irrational fear of Islam fed by the unhinged rhetoric of candidates like Ben Carson and Donald Trump.
In Iran, theocratic fundmentalists sowed division and hatred of outsiders–of Westerners, Christians, and other religious minorities. Here in America, the right wing seems to have stolen passages directly from their playbook as it spreads hatred of immigrants, particularly Muslim ones. This form of nationalistic bigotry–Islamophobia–threatens the heart of our nation. When I chose to serve in the military, I did so to protect what I viewed as our sacred foundational values of liberty, equality, and democracy. Now, 20 years later, I’ve joined forces with fellow veterans to again fight for those sacred values, this time right here at home.
As America builds walls and weapons and wages war all over the globe, as our leaders look outward for enemies, we’re forgetting the enemy within America, the enemy that is a much more serious threat to our national security. That enemy, which exists right here in America’s heartland, is ignorance, hatred, fear, aggression, compounded by a cowardly desire to “get even” and to “make America great again” by ostracizing other Americans who are considered “different” and “untrustworthy.”
But spreading fear and bigotry is not a way to national security; it’s a way to national insanity. Islamophobia, like all other irrational fears, must be fought and defeated.
My parents taught me a lot of common sense sayings. You’ve probably heard this one: mind your own business, or MYOB. Most people have enough problems of their own; it’s not a good idea to compound one’s problems by messing around with other people’s lives.
What’s common sense for individuals is also common sense for nations. Think of the USA. We’ve got plenty of problems: crumbling infrastructure, inefficient and inadequate health care, too many people in too many prisons, social divides based on race and sex and class, drug and alcohol abuse, not enough decent-paying jobs, huge budgetary deficits, the list goes on. Yet instead of looking inwards to address our problems, too often we look outwards and interfere in the lives of others. How can we solve other people’s problems when we can’t solve our own?
Consider our nation’s foreign policy, which is basically driven by our military. We have a global array of military bases, somewhere around 700. We spend roughly $700 billion a year on national “defense” and wars, ensuring that we have “global reach, global power.” To what end? Our nation’s first president, George Washington, famously warned us to avoid foreign entanglements. The nation’s great experiment in republican democracy, Washington knew, could easily be compromised by unwise alliances and costly wars.
This is not an argument for isolationism. The USA, involved as it is in the global economy, could never be isolationist. With all those military bases, and all those U.S. military units deployed around the world, we could never turn completely inwards, pretending as if the rest of the world didn’t exist.
No – not isolationism. Rather a policy of MYOB. Don’t intervene when it’s not our business. And especially don’t intervene using the U.S. military. Why? Because U.S. troops are not charitable or social workers.
The U.S. military is supposed to be for national defense. It’s not an international charity. Even military aid is somewhat questionable. And if you profit from it, as in weapons sales, it smacks of mercenary motives.
As a good friend of mine put it:
I have become rather isolationist myself in my old age. The way I see it, we have the natural resources and (hopefully) the intellectual capital to be largely self-sufficient. We should enter the international marketplace as a self-reliant vendor of goods and services, ready to trade fairly with those who are of a similar mind. The rest can pound sand (no pun intended). Charity begins at home, and we should know by now that our ideology, while “ideal” for America, is not deployable or even beneficial to other countries steeped in ancient cultures of a different nature.
My friend then added the following caveat:
The remaining challenge is how you protect basic human rights, where you can. That is something I feel we have an obligation to attempt to do, but don’t know how to do so without crossing other lines. Perhaps that is how Mother Teresa became St. Teresa of Calcutta.
That’s an excellent question. Again, my response is that U.S. troops are not social workers. Charity and social work is best left to people like Saint (Mother) Teresa. Soldiers may be necessary to protect aid convoys and the like, but military intervention in the name of humanitarianism often ends in disaster, e.g. Somalia. And of course “humanitarian” motives are often used as a cloak to disguise other, far less noble, designs.
Again, the U.S. military is never going to be a do-nothing, isolationist, military. The USA itself will never return to isolationism. What we need to do is to recognize our limitations, realize that other countries and peoples often don’t want our help, or that they’d be better off without our often heavy-handed approach when we do intervene.
We need, in short, to take care of our own business here in the USA, and to let other peoples and nations take care of theirs. Listen to my parents, America: MYOB.
America. Land of the free, home of the brave. Right? Peter Van Buren, who spent a career at the State Department, has a great new article at TomDispatch.com that highlights the way in which America has changed since the 9/11 attacks. In sum: too many wars, too much security and surveillance, and far too much fear. One passage in Van Buren’s article especially resonated with me:
Her [Van Buren’s daughter] adult life has been marked by constant war, so much so that “defeating the terrorists” is little more than a set phrase she rolls her eyes at. It’s a generational thing that’s too damn normal, like Depression-era kids still saving aluminum foil and paper bags in the basement after decades of prosperity.
Van Buren’s reference to Depression-era kids: Well, that was my dad. Born in 1917, he endured the Great Depression in a fatherless family. He really wasn’t certain where his next meal was coming from. Decades later, he still saved everything: plastic bags, twist ties, newspapers, old vacuums and toasters and other appliances (good for spare parts!), scrap wood, and so on. He wasn’t a hoarder per se; he just couldn’t throw away something that he might need if the times grew grim again.
My Dad would cook and eat broccoli rabe greens, then drink the green juice from the cooking. “Puts lead in your pencil,” he’d say. When he ate corn on the cob, there was nothing left on the cob when he was through. He stripped it bare like those crows I watched as a kid on Saturday morning cartoons.
He came of age in a time of want and later served in an armored division in World War II. My dad’s generation knew, like FDR knew, that the only thing they truly had to fear was fear itself. He became hardened to it, but the Depression indelibly marked him as well.
How is today’s generation being marked? Compared to the Great Depression, these are times of plenty. Few Americans are starving. The new normal for this generation is living in fear. Being surrounded by security guards and surveillance devices. Being immersed in celebrations of “patriotism” that involve steroidal flags and deadly military weaponry. Hearing about distant wars fought largely by the children of the working classes.
Looking overseas, they see an American foreign policy defined by perpetual war and an economy driven by perpetual weapons sales. Domestically, they see penury for social programs and profligacy for the national security state.
Is it any wonder that so many millennials seem detached or disenchanted or even defeated? They sense that America has changed, that the focus has shifted, that the American dream has darkened, that America the home of the brave has become the land of the fearful.
Fear is the mind-killer, to cite Frank Herbert. My father’s generation knew this and overcame it. Yet today our leaders and the media seek to generate and exploit fear. America has turned to the Dark Side, giving in to anger, fear, aggression. Just look at our two major party candidates for the presidency.
As a teenager, I read Joe Haldeman’s book, “The Forever War.” The title intrigued, as did the interstellar setting. Haldeman’s soldiers are caught up in a conflict whose rules keep changing, in part due to time dilation as predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity. But there’s one thing the soldiers know for certain: no matter what year the calendar says it is, there will always be war.
For the United States today, something similar is true. Our government, our leaders, have essentially declared a forever war. Our military leaders have bought into it as well. The master narrative is one of ceaseless war against a shifting array of enemies. One year it’s the Taliban in Afghanistan. The next it’s Al Qaeda. The next it’s Iraq, followed by Libya and ISIS. Echoing the time dilation effects of Haldeman’s book, Russia and China loom as enemies of the American future as well as of the past. One thing is constant: war.
Our government and leaders can no longer imagine a time of peace. For them the whole world has become a zone of conflict, an irredeemable realm of crusaders jumping from place to place, country to country, even time to time. I say “time to time” because I had a student, an Army infantry veteran, who described Afghan villages to me as “primitive” and “like traveling back to Biblical times.” Indeed, U.S. troops are much like Haldeman’s soldiers, jumping in and out of foreign lands, in both “primitive” and modern times, the one constant again being war.
Why the “forever war”? In part because we as a country have allowed war to become too profitable, even as we’ve assigned it too much meaning in our collective lives. The USA is a country whose past is littered with wars, whose present is defined by war and preparations for it, and whose bellicose future is seemingly already determined by those who see generational conflicts ahead of us. In fact, they’re already planning to profit from them.
War, in short, is a peculiar form of American zen, a defining mindset. When we’re not actually fighting wars, we’re contemplating fighting them. Our form of meditation is ceaseless violent action. Wherever the USA goes, there it is, exporting troops and weapons and, if not war itself, the tools and mindset that are conducive to war.
On a snowy evening in January 1965 four friends, including myself, drove across the Hudson River from Tivoli NY, where we were living at the time, to Woodstock. We had heard that the folksinger, Tom Paxton, was singing at the Café Espresso. I had become enamored of Paxton’s music so I was anxious to see and hear him in person. What we didn’t know was that the rising counter-cultural folk star, Bob Dylan, was also going to be there. By the time we arrived I was wondering whether it was good idea to drive the twenty miles for this mini-concert. The roads were treacherous.
As a college student in 1965 I hadn’t heard much about Bob Dylan but I did like some of his music, which my dorm mates at Bard College played constantly. Dylan was sitting at the next table when we entered the cafe. There were only a handful of customers, mostly from the area. As Paxton started singing some of the patrons were still talking. Suddenly, Dylan shouted at them to shut up. Perhaps he was already experiencing his celebrity because his manner was slightly intimidating. Heck, he was just a scrawny, unimpressive kid, about my age—one year older, actually.
During a brief intermission of Paxton’s mini-concert I found myself in a backroom with the two (not too distant) future giants of counter-cultural folk music, the heirs of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Dylan wanted to show Paxton, if memory serves me, some chords on the guitar. There were four of us in the room, including my classmate, Paul, who was the driver of the car to Woodstock. I can’t remember how this little gathering happened, what permission or lack thereof we had to witness this intimate discussion between Dylan and Paxton. I do recall thinking that I should not give up the chance to be as close to Bob Dylan as I could get.
At one point during this strange encounter Dylan looked at me directly with a penetrating stare. I was nervous and amused at the same time. Did he know something about me I didn’t know or did he see me as a kindred spirit? I’ll never know.
Fifty one years later I still listen to the music of the “old Dylan.” I still marvel at the fame he’s achieved since the time I met him in person when we were both barely beyond being “kids”—at least by today’s standard of what it means to be a “kid.” Today, I can appreciate the impact songs such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a’ Changin’” have had on my generation especially.
What I don’t take for granted is that the younger generation, the “kids” I teach today, can appreciate, much less have heard of, the lyrics of those songs. I don’t believe they would find Dylan’s music or even Paxton’s music inspiring. Their clarion call for a change in the status quo wouldn’t seem relevant to them or even “cool.”
Richard Sahn teaches sociology and embodies the mission of Bracing Views. In his own way, he’s as cool as Dylan.
My latest article at TomDispatch.com focuses on the need for military dissent in an age of creeping militarism and perpetual war. In my article, I identify some of the key reasons why such dissent is tightly constrained and often severely limited. This is especially problematic for at least two reasons. The first is that Americans say they trust the military more than any other societal institution. If the military censors itself, it misses an invaluable opportunity to educate an attentive public about the disastrous path of America’s wars.
The second reason is that a democracy’s health depends on dissent. A country in which dissent is suppressed, a country that finds itself engaged in perpetual war, is a country that cannot sustain democratic institutions. We’re already witnessing the withering away of democracy in America. That it’s happening in slow motion doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening.
A Marine Corps sergeant and Vietnam War veteran wrote to me in “salty” language that “his damn war [was] fucked up,” but that while he was still in uniform he “spoke little [against the war] and only then about how it was being run.” We need more honesty from today’s veterans about how America’s damn wars are fucked up. Maybe then we’ll finally get off our duffs and work to put a stop to them.
Here are a few excerpts from my article; I invite you to read all of it at TomDispatch.com.
The Pentagon has, in a very real sense, become America’s national cathedral. If we’re going to continue to worship at it, we should at least ask for some minimal level of honesty from its priests. In militarized America, the question of the moment is how to encourage such honesty.
Call it patriotic dissent. By “dissent” I mean honest talk from those who should know best about the hazards and horrors of perpetual war, about how poorly those conflicts have gone and are going. We desperately need to encourage informed critics and skeptics within the military and the [Military-Industrial] Complex to speak their minds in a way that moves the national needle away from incessant bombing and perpetual war.
Yet to do so, we must first understand the obstacles involved. It’s obvious, for example, that a government which has launched a war against whistleblowers, wielding the World War I-era Espionage Act against them and locking away Chelsea Manning for a veritable lifetime in a maximum security prison, isn’t likely to suddenly encourage more critical thinking and public expression inside the national security state. But much else stands in the way of the rest of us hearing a little critical speech from the “fourth branch” of government …
Leaving military insularity, unit loyalty, and the pressure of combat aside, however, here are seven other factors I’ve witnessed, which combine to inhibit dissent within military circles.
1. Careerism and ambition: The U.S. military no longer has potentially recalcitrant draftees — it has “volunteers.” Yesteryear’s draftees were sometimes skeptics; many just wanted to endure their years in the military and get out. Today’s volunteers are usually believers; most want to excel. Getting a reputation for critical comments or other forms of outspokenness generally means not being rewarded with fast promotions and plum assignments. Career-oriented troops quickly learn that it’s better to fail upwards quietly than to impale yourself on your sword while expressing honest opinions. If you don’t believe me, ask all those overly decorated generals of our failed wars you see on TV.
2. Future careerism and ambition: What to do when you leave the military? Civilian job options are often quite limited. Many troops realize that they will be able to double or triple their pay, however, if they go to work for a defense contractor, serving as a military consultant or adviser overseas. Why endanger lucrative prospects (or even your security clearance, which could be worth tens of thousands of dollars to you and firms looking to hire you) by earning a reputation for being “difficult”?
3. Lack of diversity: The U.S. military is not blue and red and purple America writ small; it’s a selective sampling of the country that has already winnowed out most of the doubters and rebels. This is, of course, by design. After Vietnam, the high command was determined never to have such a wave of dissent within the ranks again and in this (unlike so much else) they succeeded. Think about it: between “warriors” and citizen-soldiers, who is more likely to be tractable and remain silent?
4. A belief that you can effect change by working quietly from within the system: Call it the Harold K. Johnson effect. Johnson was an Army general during the Vietnam War who considered resigning in protest over what he saw as a lost cause. He decided against it, wagering that he could better effect change while still wearing four stars, a decision he later came deeply to regret. The truth is that the system has time-tested ways of neutralizing internal dissent, burying it, or channeling it and so rendering it harmless.
5. The constant valorization of the military: Ever since 9/11, the gushing pro-military rhetoric of presidents and other politicians has undoubtedly served to quiet honest doubts within the military. If the president and Congress think you’re the best military ever, a force for human liberation, America’s greatest national treasure, who are you to disagree, Private Schmuckatelli?
America used to think differently. Our founders considered a standing army to be a pernicious threat to democracy. Until World War II, they generally preferred isolationism to imperialism, though of course many were eager to take land from Native Americans and Mexicans while double-crossing Cubans, Filipinos, and other peoples when it came to their independence. If you doubt that, just read War is a Racket by Smedley Butler, a Marine general in the early decades of the last century and two-time recipient of the Medal of Honor. In the present context, think of it this way: democracies should see a standing military as a necessary evil, and military spending as a regressive tax on civilization — as President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously did when he compared such spending to humanity being crucified on a cross of iron.
Chanting constant hosannas to the troops and telling them they’re the greatest ever — remember the outcry against Muhammad Ali when, with significantly more cause, he boasted that he was the greatest? — may make our military feel good, but it won’t help them see their flaws, nor us as a nation see ours.
6. Loss of the respect of peers: Dissent is lonely. It’s been more than a decade since my retirement and I still hesitate to write articles like this. (It’s never fun getting hate mail from people who think you’re un-American for daring to criticize any aspect of the military.) Small wonder that critics choose to keep their own counsel while they’re in the service.
7. Even when you leave the military, you never truly leave: I haven’t been on a military base in years. I haven’t donned a uniform since my retirement ceremony in 2005. Yet occasionally someone will call me “colonel.” It’s always a reminder that I’m still “in.” I may have left the military behind, but it never left me behind. I can still snap to attention, render a proper salute, recite my officer’s oath from memory.
In short, I’m not a former but a retired officer. My uniform may be gathering dust in the basement, but I haven’t forgotten how it made me feel when I wore it. I don’t think any of us who have served ever do. That strong sense of belonging, that emotional bond, makes you think twice before speaking out. Or at least that’s been my experience. Even as I call for more honesty within our military, more bracing dissent, I have to admit that I still feel a residual sense of hesitation. Make of that what you will.
Bonus Reason: Troops are sometimes reluctant to speak out because they doubt Americans will listen, or if they do, empathize and understand. It’s one thing to vent your frustrations in private among friends on your military base or at the local VFW hall among other veterans. It’s quite another to talk to outsiders. War’s sacrifices and horrors are especially difficult to convey and often traumatic to relive. Nevertheless, as a country, we need to find ways to encourage veterans to speak out and we also need to teach ourselves how to listen — truly listen — no matter the harshness of what they describe or how disturbed what they actually have to say may make us feel …
And I conclude my article in this way:
Some will doubtless claim that encouraging patriotic dissent within the military can only weaken its combat effectiveness, endangering our national security. But when, I wonder, did it become wise for a democracy to emulate Sparta? And when is it ever possible to be perfectly secure?
The U.S. Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights is the foundation of our democracy. If you had to pick a right to celebrate, perhaps even to cherish, which would it be? There are so many important ones, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, our right to privacy (the fourth amendment), and so on. There are other amendments that righted old wrongs, including prohibitions against slavery and the granting of the vote to Blacks and women.
Yet which right/amendment is the best known in U.S. politics today? The second amendment, or the right to bear arms, which Mike Pence referred to yesterday when he noted, “people who cherish the Second Amendment have a very clear choice in this election.”
OK, I’ve owned guns and enjoy shooting, but I hardly “cherish” my right to spend thousands of dollars on lots of guns. I have friends who hunt and friends who collect guns and I wouldn’t deny them their rights to do both, but again why is this the one right that deserves to be singled out as worthy of being “cherished” in a democracy?
I know: the NRA and its followers claim that an armed citizenry is the best guarantor of all the other rights, a position that is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Believe me, your personal collection of guns is not going to stop a trained military using tanks and artillery and all the other heavy weaponry of war. And no: this is not an argument for you to have the right to purchase your very own M-1 Abrams tank!
Look: No political candidate plans to take away anyone’s guns. Nevertheless, the NRA and Trump/Pence persist in scaring gun owners while encouraging a “cherishing” attitude toward guns. And here’s the telling part: Even as the gun cherishers bloviate about the extreme importance of gun rights, they virtually ignore all the other rights that do need protecting in America, especially our rights to speech, assembly, and privacy.
Stop fixating on guns, America, and start cherishing what really matters: your rights as a citizen to have a real say in politics and the running of this country. Those are the rights that truly need protecting.
Here are twelve questions for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, followed by quick answers about where they stand, based on what they’ve done as well as what I’ve heard them say in various speeches and debates. To avoid any confusion with her husband, I refer to Hillary Clinton as “Hillary.”
Which candidate is going to:
End America’s wars?
Hillary will continue them. Trump has questioned whether they’re worth it. Advantage Trump.
Tackle global warming?
Hillary believes in science. Trump apparently doesn’t, though he’s taken steps to safeguard his properties against climate change. Advantage Hillary.
Reverse Citizen’s United and get corporate money out of politics?
Hillary has said she’ll do something; Trump hasn’t. But Hillary is dependent on corporate financing. A wash.
Work to reduce the growing gap between the richest 1% and everyone else?
Hillary talks about fairness, raising the minimum wage, and equal pay for women. Trump wants to restore American jobs through tariffs and trade wars. Whether either candidate really cares about the working classes is debatable. A wash.
Rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure, ensuring safe roads, bridges, and water supplies?
Both candidates talk a good game. The problem is: Where is the money coming from? Trump’s tax breaks that favor the rich may literally bankrupt America; Hillary’s war and social spending will absorb most federal funding. A wash.
Reject trade deals that hurt American workers?
Hillary was for the TPP before she was against it. She and Bill were also for NAFTA. Trump talks about helping workers even as his companies shift jobs overseas to save money. A wash.
Pursue a domestic political agenda that doesn’t vilify minorities and the vulnerable?
Hillary is far better than Trump at promoting a message of inclusion. Advantage Hillary.
Respect the U.S. Constitution and the separation of powers, i.e. reject the “Unitary Executive” model?
Neither candidate promises to rein in executive authority. Both are power-hungry and secretive. A wash.
Rein in the burgeoning national security state and its lockdown mentality?
Trump is seemingly more skeptical about military spending and is less encumbered by neocon conventions. Yet he stokes fear of the outsider, which feeds the lockdown mentality that plagues America. Hillary boasts of strengthening national security and cultivates hawkish elements while rejecting any cuts to war spending. A wash.
Work for quality public education?
Neither candidate has spoken a lot about public education. But Trump has joked that he likes the under-educated since they’re many of his most ardent supporters. Stupid is as stupid does. Advantage Hillary.
Reduce the prison-industrial complex?
Hillary’s husband’s policies are partly responsible for the complex, though now she says she wants to reduce America’s reliance on prisons, which target minorities disproportionately. I haven’t heard Trump articulate a clear vision on this, except to vow “on day one” that he’d restore law and order to America. Slim advantage to Hillary.
Respect the environment, e.g. end fracking?
Hillary promoted fracking while she led the State Department. Trump simply promotes business and making money. I don’t see either as having any deep-rooted respect for nature. A wash.
Score Card: Score 1 for Trump, 4 for Hillary. And 7 for candidate “Wash.”
What if Green Party candidate Jill Stein were included? She might edge Trump and Hillary on all of these questions. I think Bernie Sanders would score 11 out of 12. His one failing during the primary was his reluctance to say he’d rein in the national security state. What a shame Bernie is out, especially since he was beaten neither fairly nor squarely.
What about the Libertarians? I have limited exposure to Gary Johnson, William Weld, and their party, but here’s a quick cut and paste job from CNN:
“First, libertarianism is more than just an economic ideology. It’s a social one. And many Libertarian social positions — an openness to immigration, an embrace of equal rights for gay, lesbian, and transgender persons, a hostility toward the war on drugs and American militarism abroad, and support for women’s reproductive rights — are arguably more progressive than the average Democrat. Libertarians were supporting marriage equality and marijuana legalization, for instance, long before any mainstream politician — Clinton included — would touch those issues.”
“Second, even on strictly economic issues, Libertarians have a lot to say that should appeal to those on the left. Libertarians have long been sharply critical, for instance, of the ways regulations such as occupational licensing requirements are used to protect the economically powerful at the expense of the poor and marginalized. They’ve fought against subsidies, bailouts, and other forms of “crony capitalism” that benefit the few at the expense of the masses. And — contrary to popular perception — Libertarians have often argued in favor of a well-designed social safety net to protect those who fail to benefit from the economic dynamism of a free economy.”
A quick look at my 12 questions coupled with interviews I’ve seen with Gary Johnson suggest that he’d easily score higher than Hillary and Trump but lower than Stein and Sanders.
Here’s the deep irony for America: The most interesting candidates, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, are the ones marginalized by the system. They are not allowed to debate. They are judged “not ready for prime time.” And the weakest candidates, the most deeply compromised, Hillary and The Donald, are the ones who are given the lion’s share of attention and respectability. They are celebrated. They are prime time.
I had begun an article on why Donald Trump can still win when I saw an article by Michael Moore on the same subject. I’m going to post Moore’s article below, and by way of introduction, here’s the gist of what I was going to say:
Trump has advertised himself as the “law and order” candidate, the new sheriff in town, the one who’s going to kick ass and save us all, from the very day he takes the oath of office. It sounds absurd. Laughable. But I’ve seen this script play out before, and the “absurd” won.
I lived in rural Pennsylvania for nine years in a conservative area that went gaga over Sarah Palin’s visit in 2008 (she drew roughly 20 times as many people as Joe Biden). The local election for mayor pitted a moderate Republican, cozy with the establishment (let’s call him “Hillary”) versus a candidate who had a billboard featuring his image and boasting to local criminals that “On Day One, You’re Done,” a candidate who was an outspoken outsider (let’s call him “Trump”).
Guess who won? “Trump” won. People got out and voted for “Trump” because they were tired of establishment politics and broken promises; they wanted the “law and order” guy. Incredibly, the new mayor actually wore a bullet-proof coat when he was sworn in, allegedly because people had made threats against him (his wife, who stood next to him during the mayoral ceremony, had no such protection).
The people voted for the tough-talking “Trump.” The guy who hung gun profiles with bullet holes in the window of his garage. The guy who talked about the past and restoration (not reformation, and certainly not revolution). And that’s what (enough) people wanted. A reactionary. A man in the saddle, a new sheriff, no matter how implausible it sounded. This is the dynamic the real Trump is tapping today.
I’ve lived outside the liberal bubble. I’ve spent 20 years in the military and nine years in rural PA, in flyover country, a place where limousine liberals would never come to, let alone get out of the car. And based upon my many years of bubble-free life, I tell you the real Trump can win.
Now, I’d like to call on Michael Moore to tell you the same thing.
Five Reasons Why Trump Will Win
I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I gave it to you straight last summer when I told you that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee for president. And now I have even more awful, depressing news for you: Donald J. Trump is going to win in November. This wretched, ignorant, dangerous part-time clown and full time sociopath is going to be our next president. President Trump. Go ahead and say the words, ‘cause you’ll be saying them for the next four years: “PRESIDENT TRUMP.”
Never in my life have I wanted to be proven wrong more than I do right now.
I can see what you’re doing right now. You’re shaking your head wildly – “No, Mike, this won’t happen!” Unfortunately, you are living in a bubble that comes with an adjoining echo chamber where you and your friends are convinced the American people are not going to elect an idiot for president. You alternate between being appalled at him and laughing at him because of his latest crazy comment or his embarrassingly narcissistic stance on everything because everything is about him. And then you listen to Hillary and you behold our very first female president, someone the world respects, someone who is whip-smart and cares about kids, who will continue the Obama legacy because that is what the American people clearly want! Yes! Four more years of this!
You need to exit that bubble right now. You need to stop living in denial and face the truth which you know deep down is very, very real. Trying to soothe yourself with the facts – “77% of the electorate are women, people of color, young adults under 35 and Trump can’t win a majority of any of them!” – or logic – “people aren’t going to vote for a buffoon or against their own best interests!” – is your brain’s way of trying to protect you from trauma. Like when you hear a loud noise on the street and you think, “oh, a tire just blew out,” or, “wow, who’s playing with firecrackers?” because you don’t want to think you just heard someone being shot with a gun. It’s the same reason why all the initial news and eyewitness reports on 9/11 said “a small plane accidentally flew into the World Trade Center.” We want to – we need to – hope for the best because, frankly, life is already a shit show and it’s hard enough struggling to get by from paycheck to paycheck. We can’t handle much more bad news. So our mental state goes to default when something scary is actually, truly happening. The first people plowed down by the truck in Nice spent their final moments on earth waving at the driver whom they thought had simply lost control of his truck, trying to tell him that he jumped the curb: “Watch out!,” they shouted. “There are people on the sidewalk!”
Well, folks, this isn’t an accident. It is happening. And if you believe Hillary Clinton is going to beat Trump with facts and smarts and logic, then you obviously missed the past year of 56 primaries and caucuses where 16 Republican candidates tried that and every kitchen sink they could throw at Trump and nothing could stop his juggernaut. As of today, as things stand now, I believe this is going to happen – and in order to deal with it, I need you first to acknowledge it, and then maybe, just maybe, we can find a way out of the mess we’re in.
Don’t get me wrong. I have great hope for the country I live in. Things are better. The left has won the cultural wars. Gays and lesbians can get married. A majority of Americans now take the liberal position on just about every polling question posed to them: Equal pay for women – check. Abortion should be legal – check. Stronger environmental laws – check. More gun control – check. Legalize marijuana – check. A huge shift has taken place – just ask the socialist who won 22 states this year. And there is no doubt in my mind that if people could vote from their couch at home on their X-box or PlayStation, Hillary would win in a landslide.
But that is not how it works in America. People have to leave the house and get in line to vote. And if they live in poor, Black or Hispanic neighborhoods, they not only have a longer line to wait in, everything is being done to literally stop them from casting a ballot. So in most elections it’s hard to get even 50% to turn out to vote. And therein lies the problem for November – who is going to have the most motivated, most inspired voters show up to vote? You know the answer to this question. Who’s the candidate with the most rabid supporters? Whose crazed fans are going to be up at 5 AM on Election Day, kicking ass all day long, all the way until the last polling place has closed, making sure every Tom, Dick and Harry (and Bob and Joe and Billy Bob and Billy Joe and Billy Bob Joe) has cast his ballot? That’s right. That’s the high level of danger we’re in. And don’t fool yourself — no amount of compelling Hillary TV ads, or out-facting him in the debates or Libertarians siphoning votes away from Trump is going to stop his mojo.
Here are the 5 reasons Trump is going to win:
Midwest Math, or Welcome to Our Rust Belt Brexit.
I believe Trump is going to focus much of his attention on the four blue states in the rustbelt of the upper Great Lakes – Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Four traditionally Democratic states – but each of them have elected a Republican governor since 2010 (only Pennsylvania has now finally elected a Democrat). In the Michigan primary in March, more Michiganders came out to vote for the Republicans (1.32 million) that the Democrats (1.19 million). Trump is ahead of Hillary in the latest polls in Pennsylvania and tied with her in Ohio. Tied? How can the race be this close after everything Trump has said and done? Well maybe it’s because he’s said (correctly) that the Clintons’ support of NAFTA helped to destroy the industrial states of the Upper Midwest. Trump is going to hammer Clinton on this and her support of TPP and other trade policies that have royally screwed the people of these four states. When Trump stood in the shadow of a Ford Motor factory during the Michigan primary, he threatened the corporation that if they did indeed go ahead with their planned closure of that factory and move it to Mexico, he would slap a 35% tariff on any Mexican-built cars shipped back to the United States. It was sweet, sweet music to the ears of the working class of Michigan, and when he tossed in his threat to Apple that he would force them to stop making their iPhones in China and build them here in America, well, hearts swooned and Trump walked away with a big victory that should have gone to the governor next-door, John Kasich.
From Green Bay to Pittsburgh, this, my friends, is the middle of England – broken, depressed, struggling, the smokestacks strewn across the countryside with the carcass of what we use to call the Middle Class. Angry, embittered working (and nonworking) people who were lied to by the trickle-down of Reagan and abandoned by Democrats who still try to talk a good line but are really just looking forward to rub one out with a lobbyist from Goldman Sachs who’ll write them nice big check before leaving the room. What happened in the UK with Brexit is going to happen here. Elmer Gantry shows up looking like Boris Johnson and just says whatever shit he can make up to convince the masses that this is their chance! To stick to ALL of them, all who wrecked their American Dream! And now The Outsider, Donald Trump, has arrived to clean house! You don’t have to agree with him! You don’t even have to like him! He is your personal Molotov cocktail to throw right into the center of the bastards who did this to you! SEND A MESSAGE! TRUMP IS YOUR MESSENGER!
And this is where the math comes in. In 2012, Mitt Romney lost by 64 electoral votes. Add up the electoral votes cast by Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It’s 64. All Trump needs to do to win is to carry, as he’s expected to do, the swath of traditional red states from Idaho to Georgia (states that’ll never vote for Hillary Clinton), and then he just needs these four rust belt states. He doesn’t need Florida. He doesn’t need Colorado or Virginia. Just Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And that will put him over the top. This is how it will happen in November.
The Last Stand of the Angry White Man.
Our male-dominated, 240-year run of the USA is coming to an end. A woman is about to take over! How did this happen?! On our watch! There were warning signs, but we ignored them. Nixon, the gender traitor, imposing Title IX on us, the rule that said girls in school should get an equal chance at playing sports. Then they let them fly commercial jets. Before we knew it, Beyoncé stormed on the field at this year’s Super Bowl (our game!) with an army of Black Women, fists raised, declaring that our domination was hereby terminated! Oh, the humanity!
That’s a small peek into the mind of the Endangered White Male. There is a sense that the power has slipped out of their hands, that their way of doing things is no longer how things are done. This monster, the “Feminazi,”the thing that as Trump says, “bleeds through her eyes or wherever she bleeds,” has conquered us — and now, after having had to endure eight years of a black man telling us what to do, we’re supposed to just sit back and take eight years of a woman bossing us around? After that it’ll be eight years of the gays in the White House! Then the transgenders! You can see where this is going. By then animals will have been granted human rights and a fuckin’ hamster is going to be running the country. This has to stop!
The Hillary Problem.
Can we speak honestly, just among ourselves? And before we do, let me state, I actually like Hillary – a lot – and I think she has been given a bad rap she doesn’t deserve. But her vote for the Iraq War made me promise her that I would never vote for her again. To date, I haven’t broken that promise. For the sake of preventing a proto-fascist from becoming our commander-in-chief, I’m breaking that promise. I sadly believe Clinton will find a way to get us in some kind of military action. She’s a hawk, to the right of Obama. But Trump’s psycho finger will be on The Button, and that is that. Done and done.
Let’s face it: Our biggest problem here isn’t Trump – it’s Hillary. She is hugely unpopular — nearly 70% of all voters think she is untrustworthy and dishonest. She represents the old way of politics, not really believing in anything other than what can get you elected. That’s why she fights against gays getting married one moment, and the next she’s officiating a gay marriage. Young women are among her biggest detractors, which has to hurt considering it’s the sacrifices and the battles that Hillary and other women of her generation endured so that this younger generation would never have to be told by the Barbara Bushes of the world that they should just shut up and go bake some cookies. But the kids don’t like her, and not a day goes by that a millennial doesn’t tell me they aren’t voting for her. No Democrat, and certainly no independent, is waking up on November 8th excited to run out and vote for Hillary the way they did the day Obama became president or when Bernie was on the primary ballot. The enthusiasm just isn’t there. And because this election is going to come down to just one thing — who drags the most people out of the house and gets them to the polls — Trump right now is in the catbird seat.
The Depressed Sanders Vote.
Stop fretting about Bernie’s supporters not voting for Clinton – we’re voting for Clinton! The polls already show that more Sanders voters will vote for Hillary this year than the number of Hillary primary voters in ’08 who then voted for Obama. This is not the problem. The fire alarm that should be going off is that while the average Bernie backer will drag him/herself to the polls that day to somewhat reluctantly vote for Hillary, it will be what’s called a “depressed vote” – meaning the voter doesn’t bring five people to vote with her. He doesn’t volunteer 10 hours in the month leading up to the election. She never talks in an excited voice when asked why she’s voting for Hillary. A depressed voter. Because, when you’re young, you have zero tolerance for phonies and BS. Returning to the Clinton/Bush era for them is like suddenly having to pay for music, or using MySpace or carrying around one of those big-ass portable phones. They’re not going to vote for Trump; some will vote third party, but many will just stay home. Hillary Clinton is going to have to do something to give them a reason to support her — and picking a moderate, bland-o, middle of the road old white guy as her running mate is not the kind of edgy move that tells millenials that their vote is important to Hillary. Having two women on the ticket – that was an exciting idea. But then Hillary got scared and has decided to play it safe. This is just one example of how she is killing the youth vote.
The Jesse Ventura Effect.
Finally, do not discount the electorate’s ability to be mischievous or underestimate how any millions fancy themselves as closet anarchists once they draw the curtain and are all alone in the voting booth. It’s one of the few places left in society where there are no security cameras, no listening devices, no spouses, no kids, no boss, no cops, there’s not even a friggin’ time limit. You can take as long as you need in there and no one can make you do anything. You can push the button and vote a straight party line, or you can write in Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. There are no rules. And because of that, and the anger that so many have toward a broken political system, millions are going to vote for Trump not because they agree with him, not because they like his bigotry or ego, but just because they can. Just because it will upset the apple cart and make mommy and daddy mad. And in the same way like when you’re standing on the edge of Niagara Falls and your mind wonders for a moment what would that feel like to go over that thing, a lot of people are going to love being in the position of puppetmaster and plunking down for Trump just to see what that might look like. Remember back in the ‘90s when the people of Minnesota elected a professional wrestler as their governor? They didn’t do this because they’re stupid or thought that Jesse Ventura was some sort of statesman or political intellectual. They did so just because they could. Minnesota is one of the smartest states in the country. It is also filled with people who have a dark sense of humor — and voting for Ventura was their version of a good practical joke on a sick political system. This is going to happen again with Trump.
Coming back to the hotel after appearing on Bill Maher’s Republican Convention special this week on HBO, a man stopped me. “Mike,” he said, “we have to vote for Trump. We HAVE to shake things up.” That was it. That was enough for him. To “shake things up.” President Trump would indeed do just that, and a good chunk of the electorate would like to sit in the bleachers and watch that reality show.
(Next week I will post my thoughts on Trump’s Achilles Heel and how I think he can be beat.)