Saturday, February 25, 2017

Trump cannot stifle the free press

The White House has just taken the outrageous step of banning several news outlets from press conferences. Among them are the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Politico, CNN, and the BBC. These are all liberal to centrist news sources. The New York Times in particular, which I read every morning, has been exceptionally critical of Trump, unfailingly reporting on the nefarious goings-on of his Hitlerian and kleptocratic administration, prominently featuring anti-Trump columnists, and - perhaps most importantly - clearly calling Trump officials out whenever they say something that is false.

These rays of light and truth onto the darkness of the right-wing regime evidently made the latter very nervous. So they did this - and it is scary. This is one of the steps to authoritarianism. First you call facts into question, making the general public doubt what's real and what's not (the distribution of fake news and crazy Alex Jones conspiracy theories is one way to do this). Then you (try to) silence brave people and groups that speak out for what is right and correct - both in the moral and purely factual senses of the words. Then..."re-education facilities" for dissidents? People think of Nazi Germany for an example of this, but it's hardly so dramatic as that; during the Troubles in the North of Ireland, the British rolled out internment camps for Irish civilians who were suspected of disloyalty to the Crown. Outside of the Irish-American community and serious historians, very few Americans know about this. It's not inconceivable that if this country continues down its current path, the Trump administration could take steps to repress disagreement among ordinary citizens.

(I know I sound vaguely like Alex Jones ranting about FEMA camps. The difference is that there was absolutely nothing to indicate that FEMA was an authoritarian organization plotting a New World Order to enslave all Americans. In fact, there's absolutely nothing to indicate that any of Alex Jones's mentally challenged garbage has any truth to it.)

Anyway, back to the free press. What these most recent developments mean is that we, the American people, have to stand up for our press. I get a print subscription to the New York Times, as well as full online access. I also have a digital subscription to the Washington Post. I'm putting my money where my mouth is to support reputable news sources.

Will you?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Pope Francis supports the American Resistance

For those of us who are part of America's progressive majority, these are some very hard times to live through. Everything that we stand for is in question; the Executive Branch, Congress, most likely the Supreme Court after Gorsuch goes through, and at least half of the states are determined to consign our humanitarian values to the garbage. And that's the least of our problems; we are being gaslit by the White House, which now resembles "Big Brother" from 1984 more than a normal American government. At the risk of sounding like the odious right-winger Alex Jones, our brains are under attack as the disseminators of information try to make us doubt what is real. (Of course, Alex "There's A War On For Your Mind" Jones is one of the principal attackers!) Facts no longer mean anything to some people. Armies of pro-Trump trolls on the Internet further this atmosphere by sowing doubt as to whether Trump is any different than what has come before; they may even try to make us think that the Democrats are no better, or worse, than he. It is exhausting. A year ago at this time, even while I passionately supported Bernie Sanders while other Democrats were "Ready for Hillary," I felt reasonably assured that whatever happened, I would continue to peacefully live a New York Times-reading, bike-riding, latte-drinking life (or tea, in my case) in my ultra-liberal corner of America. Now the very survival of our republic is in doubt.

Which is why I was so heartened to read, this morning, that Pope Francis has spoken out in support of us. He wrote a letter that was read on February 16 at the World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, California. I was already in a good mood in the past several days due to a statement the Holy Father made at the Indigenous Peoples Forum in Rome, on the 15th, in which he made a thinly veiled criticism of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Now, in his latest message, he has offered his voice in support of the defenders of democracy and truth.

From the Washington Post:

Pope Francis isn't taking the Trump party line.
Just days before the election, he cautioned against “social walls” and “false prophets” fueling fear and intolerance in politics. “No tyranny finds support without tapping into our fears,” Francis said. “This is key. Hence, all tyranny is terrorist.”
On the day of the inauguration, Francis warned against the rise of populist leaders like Adolf Hitler. “Crises provoke fear, alarm. In my opinion, the most obvious example of European populism is Germany in 1933,” the pope said. “A people that was immersed in a crisis, that looked for its identity until this charismatic leader came and promised to give their identity back, and he gave them a distorted identity, and we all know what happened.”In the past couple of weeks, he has stood with indigenous people, arguing that they have a “right to prior and informed consent” about what happens to their land and that their position “should always prevail.” It seemed to read like a rallying cry for supporters of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's fight against the Dakota Access pipeline. He has suggested that leaders should create “bridges,” not walls, and shouldn’t ask others to pay for them. In a fairly pointed prayer intention, he criticized people who “throw up skyscrapers” and “strike big real estate deals” but ignore those on society's margins.
And in a new letter, Francis offered his full-throated support to activists and organizers fighting for social justice. He also reaffirmed their choice to fight tyranny amid a “gutting of democracies.”
“As Christians and all people of good will, it is for us to live and act at this moment,” he said, as reported by the Guardian. “It is a grave responsibility, since certain present realities, unless effectively dealt with, are capable of setting off processes of dehumanization which would then be hard to reverse.”
The draft was read this week at the opening of the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif. The pope did not reference President Trump directly, but parts of his message seemed tailor-made for this particular moment. “The direction taken beyond this historic turning point — the ways in which this worsening crisis gets resolved — will depend on people’s involvement and participation and, largely, on yourselves, the popular movements,” Francis said.
He also condemned the growth of populist and xenophobic movements, calling them a “grave danger for humanity.” And he criticized leaders who rely on “fear, insecurity, quarrels, and even people’s justified indignation, in order to shift the responsibility for all these ills on to a ‘non-neighbor.’ ”
None of these statements are particularly shocking. But what's notable is the frequency with which the pope is speaking out. Francis has become one of the world's staunchest defenders of immigrants, Muslims and liberal democracy itself.

Pope Francis is an incredibly comforting presence for me. I hear his soft voice and, no matter what else is going on in the world, I feel reassured that everything's going to be OK.

And I'm not particularly religious. I just really love this Pope.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Attention, Donald: Nobody is talking about Hillary Clinton except you

Yesterday, our Dear Leader held a press conference, and it was just about as cringeworthy and terrifying as you might expect. He seemed to have no idea how nuclear weapons worked (a chilling prospect for someone who has total command over the arsenal) and refused to admit he had been wrong about supposedly having the greatest Electoral College win since Reagan. (In fact, President Obama won by a larger margin at least once.)

He also used Hillary Clinton, and her "losing" campaign, to deflect from his problems. To which I have to say: Attention, Donald! Nobody is still talking about Hillary Clinton except you!!

I was a Bernie Bro. I never cared for Hillary Clinton. I think she was far too centrist, far too cozy with the corporate establishment, far too hawkish, and far too focused on reciting a laundry list of "marginalized identities" at the expense of building a broader progressive coalition. I think Bernie Sanders would have been a much stronger Democratic candidate - indeed, polls showed long before the parties' national conventions that he could beat Trump handily. However, my party chose Hillary Clinton as its nominee, and I voted for her. Not because I particularly liked her, and not because I believed in maintaining the Party über Alles, but because I wanted to block Trump from the White House. In this I failed.

Now that we are in the Trump Era, Hillary Clinton is irrelevant. People in the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party have already moved on to articulating an agenda for progressive resistance to Trump. To them - people like me - Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are our resistance leaders; Hillary is an antiquated irrelevancy. People who were Clinton supporters have generally put aside the veneration of St. Hillary to focus on broader movements, such as the Women's Marches. In all the lead-up to the Women's March on D.C. on January 21, I (thankfully) heard almost nothing about that individual woman. Hillary herself seems to have disappeared (respect to her; I love hiking in the woods as much as anybody!). So Hillary Clinton is, in February 2017, irrelevant. The only person still yammering on about her is Donald Trump.

If Trump is still talking about Hillary Clinton, that means he needs a smokescreen to cover the fact that his presidency is the worst in U.S. history. At this point, whatever you think of the Clintons, you can't deny that they're done in American politics. Hillary Clinton did not win the White House. That renders her irrelevant when discussing the Trump administration.

Donald Trump is President right now. His policies, and insanities, matter right now. I wouldn't mind if I never heard Hillary Clinton's name again. To me, she is just another old woman in Chappaqua. There are better, more progressive people to lead Americans of good conscience in battle against Trump.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Donald Trump is not a populist

High on the list of things that truly drive me crazy is hearing that Donald Trump is "anti-establishment." I heard it throughout the entire election cycle - that his victory would be a blow to the establishment. I heard that he was a populist. I heard that he was standing up to be the voice of the "forgotten man," the "common man," the good ol' salt-of-the-earth American. I was forced to listen to pundits setting up Trump and the establishment as polar opposites. Now that we are several weeks into his presidency, I really hope that not many people still seriously believe that. Because it's complete and utter bilge.

This administration, now approaching its fourth week, is a complete ethical disaster and redefines the boundaries of lying. Trump ran on a platform that promised to upend the political establishment and "drain the swamp." He has done anything but. How could he ever follow through on these promises when he is a billionaire through and through? The man lives on a golden throne atop his own personal tower. He is not a populist. At most, when it comes to ordinary Americans, he is a massive con artist. (Hint: we did have an actual populist in the race! He ran for the Democratic nomination. His name was Bernie Sanders and he actually planned to make America a more "just and generous nation," in Lincoln's words.)

Rather than draining the swamp, Trump has made Washington into certainly the most establishment-run, corrupt, swampy place that I have ever seen it. The Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was the CEO of Exxon for decades. Of course, he is a climate change denier, because wrecking the planet profited his business. Now he is running the show with foreign policy. Somehow I think Exxon is probably going to get a lot of good deals cut in other countries - or at least Russia. And Tillerson certainly won't be working with the Europeans to combat climate change.

Then we have Betsy DeVos, a woman so patently stupid that she is not qualified to be a substitute first-grade homeroom teacher, much less the Secretary of Education. Indeed, on her watch, the Department of Education has made two tweets with atrocious misspellings (including spelling the name of W.E.B. DuBois as "DeBois"; as a history aficionado, an admirer of DuBois and a Francophile, that was painful for me to see). So what is she doing in D.C.? At her confirmation hearing last month, Bernie Sanders hit the nail on the head. Ms. DeVos comes from a dynasty of wealthy Republicans back in Michigan. She is worth about $5 billion and has spent much of that money on funds for "school choice" campaigns (which seek to deplete the American public schools of which she is now in charge!!!!!!) and union-busters. Bernie confronted her on the floor of the Senate and asked her, to her face, "If you were not a multibillionaire...would you be sitting here today?" She didn't have a good answer. Yet, of course, the rich Republicans in the Senate confirmed her anyway. Because a backbone is something they do not seem to have.

Trump has taken to Twitter to shill for his daughter's clothing brand. He has assembled a cabinet for billionaires. He is a billionaire - in fact, he is by far the wealthiest President in U.S. history!!! It is possible for a wealthy President to do good things for ordinary Americans. That is the story of the Franklin Roosevelt presidency. Yet Trump is doing nothing of the sort!

He has done nothing that will redound to the benefit of ordinary American people. His poor and working-class supporters are the victims of a massive scam. The man who posed as their savior has turned out to be perhaps the most Establishment President of all. If we are honest with ourselves, was it not always so? He has a long record of treating workers appallingly.

Trump's presidency is not in the interests of ordinary Americans. He is no Bernie Sanders. In fact, he is the embodiment of everything that Bernie fought and is fighting against.