Trump Treason?

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Trump gets a soccer ball from Putin.  A win-win?

W.J. Astore

America’s MAGA President, Donald Trump, has generated enormous criticism for his news conference with Vladimir Putin.  Typical of this is James Fallows at The Atlantic, who wrote that “Never before have I seen an American president consistently, repeatedly, publicly, and shockingly advance the interests of another country over those of his own government and people.”  A “national nightmare,” opined The Washington Post.  A “train wreck,” said NBC News, that made Russians “gleeful.”

Is Trump advancing the interests of Russia?  Is this an example of high crimes and misdemeanors, perhaps even rising to treason?

Methinks not.  Trump, if he is advancing Russian interests, is doing so indirectly.  Because only one thing matters to Trump: his own interests.  With Trump, it really is all about him.

Consider the accusations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.  Trump is never going to side with his intelligence agencies on this issue.  He thinks that, by doing so, he’d be admitting that maybe he didn’t win fair and square over “Crooked Hillary.”  He refuses to countenance Russian meddling, not because he’s a Putin stooge, but rather because he’s an egomaniac.  He’ll admit to nothing that diminishes, however slightly, his victory — and his ego.

Russia doesn’t matter to Trump.  Indeed, America doesn’t matter to Trump.  With Trump, it’s really all about him.  Recall how he visited the CIA and boasted about himself while standing before the wall that commemorates fallen CIA officers.  Recall how he declared the military would follow his orders regardless of their legality.  He rashly accuses Democrats of not caring about the troops or border security whenever they oppose his policies.  He does best with foreign leaders, like the Saudis and Israelis, who are at pains to flatter him.  He apparently can’t stand Angela Merkel because she doesn’t play the flattery game.

Trump lives in his own reality, a narcissistic swirl of fabrications, falsehoods, and lies.  He’s happiest when he’s commanding the scene, when people are kowtowing to him, when he can boast about himself and advertise his businesses (during this latest trip, he went to a Trump golf course in Scotland and waxed about its “magical” qualities).

In short, Trump is not treasonous.  He simply has no concept of public service.  He has no capacity to serve any cause other than himself.

Readers, what do you think of the treason accusations against Trump?

The U.S. Postal Service: Ripe for Privatizing?

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W.J. Astore

I got involved in a brief discussion on Facebook about privatizing the U.S. postal service.  Briefly, those in favor of privatization argued that the post office is inefficient and costly, and that exposing it to market forces through privatization will result in much improved efficiency at lower cost to the American taxpayer.

First of all, if you’re looking for a wasteful government agency to privatize, why not start with the department of defense, which spends roughly $750 billion a year, and which has never passed an audit?  Leaving that aside, the privatization enthusiasts assume that “market forces” will necessarily generate improvements in efficiency and improved service.  But what if it just monetizes everything, leading to higher prices and poorer service?

Furthermore, why should “efficiency” be the primary goal for a public service? Many small communities and villages rely heavily on local post offices. Under an “efficient” and private system, these local post offices are likely to be closed or consolidated in the name of efficiency, with prices rising for poor and rural communities. Those steps may be “efficient” to private owners, but they won’t be beneficial to all the people who just want mail and related services (and maybe a place to chat with neighbors).

Service to the public should be the primary goal of a public service, not “efficiency.” Sure, efficiency is a good thing, but so too is affordability, convenience, trustworthiness, courteousness, and so on.  When you elevate efficiency as the goal above all others, and measure that by metrics based on money, you are inevitably going to compromise important aspects of public service.

Consider the state of public education. When you privatize it, new metrics come in, driven by profit.  Private (charter) schools, for example, pursue better students and reject marginal ones as they attempt to maximize test scores so as to justify their approach and ranking.  Public schools have to take all students, the good and the bad, the affluent and the disadvantaged, and thus their ratings are often lower.

There’s a myth afoot in our land that government is always wasteful and inefficient, and that unions are always costly and greedy.  Our postal service employs roughly 213,000 people, fellow Americans who work hard and who, when they retire, have earned a pension and benefits.  Why are so many people so eager to attack public postal workers as well as public schoolteachers?

In my 55 years of living in America, I’ve been well served by a public post office and well educated by public schools. I see no compelling reason to privatize public services just because someone thinks a corporation driven by profit can do it more efficiently.

People think that corporations driven by the profit motive will inevitably produce a better system with improved service.  While profit can be made by providing superior service, it can also be made by providing shoddy service or even no service at all, especially in a market resembling a monopoly, or one where corporations are protected by powerful interests.

To recap: public service and efficiency are not identical. Nor should we think of ourselves merely as consumers of a product, whether that product is mail service or education.  We need to think of ourselves as citizens, and the post office as composed of citizens like us providing a public service for us, a service where “efficiency” is only one driver, and not the most important one.

A final, perhaps obvious, point: often those who argue for privatization are also those with the most to gain, financially, from it.  A lot of people are making money from charter schools, for example.  It’s not “efficiency” that’s the driver here: it’s the chance to make a buck, and despite what Gordon Gekko said, greed isn’t always good and right, especially when public service is involved.

What do you think, readers?

What Would My Parents Think of this Election?

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My parents in the 1970s

W.J. Astore

In 1976, I remember my mom voted for Jimmy Carter for president.  It surprised me because I was a fan of Gerald Ford, the Republican candidate.  Both Carter and Ford were decent men, and their debates were informative and issues-oriented.  Back then, the big scandal was Jimmy Carter’s admission, in an interview for Playboy magazine, that he had lusted in his heart. What innocent times!  Two generations later, we have a Republican candidate, Donald Trump, who by his own words has done far more than lust in his heart.

My mom would have been appalled by Trump (as are many people today).  My dad, I think, would have found Trump objectionable and shallow.  One of my dad’s favorite sayings was “the empty barrel makes the most noise.”  He didn’t respect other men who bragged and bellowed about themselves.  And he didn’t like anyone who was a sore loser, those who, when they lost, resorted to “sour grapes.”  Even before Trump has lost (if he does), he’s already resorted to sour grapes, claiming the election is “rigged” against him.

I know my parents would be against Trump.  Would they be for Hillary?  I don’t know.  I think my mom would have voted for Hillary, respecting her struggles as a woman for equality and fair treatment in a man’s game (and politics in America is still very much a man’s game, despite important strides made by women).  My dad?  When in doubt, he voted for the Democratic Party.  As a firefighter, he was a union man who knew first-hand the hard experience of factory workers and the penury of a hand-to-mouth existence during the Great Depression.

Resuscitating my parents to vote in 2016: yes, it’s fantasy, one that I share with Tom Engelhardt, who wrote this telling article at TomDispatch.com on next week’s election and what his parents would have thought of the whole spectacle.  To me, two aspects of election 2016 are especially telling when compared to 1976:

  1.  On foreign policy and national defense, Hillary Clinton is running to the right, not only of Jimmy Carter, but of Gerald Ford, a moderate Republican.
  2. Donald Trump not only lacks the fundamental decency of Carter and Ford: he lacks any experience in public service.  His entire life has been dedicated to making money. This may qualify him to run a business, but it doesn’t qualify him to run a country and to represent a people.

A few more words on Trump and what his rise represents.  Trump is the candidate of casino capitalism.  He’s the logical terminus of a system that wants to run everything for profit, winner-take-all.  Such public systems and concerns as education, health care, the prison system, even the military, are increasingly run as businesses, often privatized, the operative words being “efficiency” and “productivity” and “growth.”

With so many sectors of American society being privatized and run as for-profit businesses, with corporations being enshrined as superpower citizens with especially deep pockets to influence public elections, with the media also almost completely privatized and also run for-profit, is it any wonder a candidate like Trump has emerged as the business leader to “make America great again”?  Americans used to call men like Trump “robber-barons.”  Now, some Americans treat Trump as a savior.

In America, we seem to measure societal progress strictly in terms of economic growth as measured by GDP and the stock market.  Such measures are indicative not of true progress but of our shallow desires, our preference for glitzy materialism.  Again, isn’t Trump the very embodiment of insatiable appetite, bottomless greed, and casino capitalism?

I know my parents — decent members of the working classes — wouldn’t have voted for him.  Hillary, I think, would have been their (reluctant) choice.  And I think they’d hope for better candidates in 2020, or, at the very least, a political process that takes vitally important issues like climate change seriously.

Seriousness of purpose is what we need in America, along with courage, honesty, and strength of mind. Let’s strive for those in the aftermath of this depressing election season.