Thursday, October 19, 2017

Dirty Hands

In all the outrage over Trump’s behavior, what gets lost is far more significant. Yes, yes, Trump is a crass, boorish schmuck (and likely sexual predator). I get that. But, in substance, his administration isn’t all that different from what came before. There’s overwhelming continuity between his policies and Obama’s and, before him, Dubya’s.

Trump is continuing (and escalating) the bombing of Syria. He’s carrying on the Obama Administration’s military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia (among others) and their support for the Saudis’ war against Yemen. He has maintained Obama and Dubya’s refusal to hold Wall Street accountable for its titanic acts of fraud and malfeasance. Most important of all, despite his many campaign promises to the contrary, he has preserved his predecessors’ slavish devotion to Big Business at the expense of everyone else.

So what’s the big deal? Sure, Trump gets mixed up with unsavory characters like Roy Cohn and Billy Bush. He didn’t even bother to make sure that mic on the bus was turned off before he bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy.” His personal failings are legion and obvious. They’re not well-hidden like JFK’s infidelities, Reagan’s senility or Nixon’s paranoia.

But what does that have to do with the fate of the Free World? In a word, nothing. The discovery of Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky didn’t inspire millions more American men to cheat on their wives, nor did it lead to death and destruction (or at least nothing out of the ordinary). Trump’s personal history of sexual assault isn’t likely to trigger an increase in sexual harassment across the country. But, given the way many people react to Trump, that’s what they seem to believe.

The truth is America’s Business-As-Usual is the real problem. For all the panic over “normalizing” Trump, we forget that our national atrocities were normalized a long time ago. From the genocide of Native Americans to slavery and Jim Crow to the death of over a million people in Iraq alone, the U.S.’s criminal record is long and bloody. Our problems are much older, much more serious and run much deeper than Trump.

So why all the hand-wringing over 45? The difference between Trump and his predecessors is not that he’s a con man and a criminal. He’s a freaking politician, for god’s sake! It’s not like he was running against choirboys and -girls. The difference is Trump is a bad con man and a blatant criminal. He’s not an effective liar. His act is transparent. He offends our sense of propriety because he lacks the subtlety to give a convincing performance. At least Hillary would’ve put some effort into sounding empathetic. Maybe she even feels empathy for her victims, but she still would’ve bombed that airbase in Syria.

Trump has shown us as we truly are: an ugly, violent, rapacious empire. To trot out a tired cliché, Trump isn’t the president we want; he’s the president we deserve. An old, fat, ignorant, belligerent, bigoted, paranoid, entitled, rich, White man who was born into obscene privilege is the perfect symbol of today’s America. He’s got everything, yet he insists that he needs more money and more protection.

We prefer politicians who flatter our vanity. That’s why Obama was the perfect president for our age. He’s a handsome, charismatic, articulate orator whose very appearance (as a Black Person in the White House) confirmed our most deeply-cherished hopes about the continuing viability of the American Dream. We’d rather think of ourselves as the inheritors of MLK’s legacy, glorified by the honeyed words of Obama, borne aloft by his soaring oratory, carried to the Promised Land on rhetorical wings of poetry.

We aren’t people who use smartphones made in Chinese factories so terrible the workers routinely attempt suicide. We aren’t the people whose clothes are made in sweatshops, whose gizmos are made of rare earth minerals mined overseas, poisoning the workers and the surrounding communities with toxic runoff.

We elected a Black man president and nominated a woman for the same job! We didn’t just stand idly by as that Black president deported 3 million people, protected Wall Street from criminal prosecution and continued the wars of his predecessor. We didn’t conveniently ignore that woman’s enthusiasm for “humanitarian” intervention, her lucrative speaking tour of the country’s biggest financial corporations or her careless disregard for national security.

Do you think the Middle Easterners killed by Obama cared that he’s a “woke” African-American who isn’t racist, sexist or Islamophobic? Do you think they passed from this life to the next in peace, content in the knowledge that they had been executed by a sensitive, highly intelligent president? Surely, they must have, for Obama used only the most culturally-sensitive missiles on his drones, the I-Feel-Your-Pain 5000, left over from the Clinton Administration. I’m sure he was kind enough to write their names in Arabic (or Farsi or Somali or…) when he filled out his Kill List.

We all long for the Good Ol’ Days, when our leaders were far more discreet about our mass murders, so we didn’t have to think about ‘em so much. They killed people with class. They didn’t brag about it. They were very dignified. Now we have this ogre who must parade our dirty laundry around like a trophy. He’s made it very difficult to get anything done.

Did Obama ever crow over some drone strike? Certainly not! He understood the importance of maintaining a low profile for that sort of thing. No one likes to think about it, but it must be done if we’re to continue making the world safe for Democracy. It takes a real professional to handle these things with the delicacy and discretion they demand.

Trump is castigated for committing the Elite’s ultimate sin: He’s gotten his hands dirty. In order to be truly presidential, you must have others do your dirty work. Ideally, it would be a nice, clean, surgical drone strike: no muss, no fuss. Only a vulgar oaf would try to draw attention to that unpleasant business.

His personal crimes pale in comparison to any president’s professional crimes. But those crimes have the imprimatur of the state. Those are patriotic crimes done in the name of the Flag, Mom and Apple Pie. Therefore, they’re not crimes.

It’s ironic that the Elite should most loathe Trump, our shallowest president, for it was their shallowness that paved his way. They only wanted to put a happy Black face (and then a woman’s face) on the status quo. They have no interest in fundamental change. They just don’t want to be reminded of the blood on their hands – and ours.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Sports & Patriotism

In his distinctive, scorched-earth style, President Trump is resorting to theatrics to distract from the many miserable failures he’s already piled up since he took up residence in the White House. It’s a dangerous game he’s playing, because, in the process of making a fool of himself, he’s also exposing the propaganda embedded in everyday life.

In this latest controversy, the question seems to be whether professional athletes should be forced to stand during the performance of the national anthem before each game. The fact that this is a controversy at all is highly instructive. Is this not still a free country? Is the First Amendment no longer in effect?

To me, this seems like an open-and-shut case of free expression. But, obviously, to a lot of people this is not about athletes expressing their personal beliefs. Therefore, we’ll have to dig deeper to get to the roots of the issue.

First off the bat is a question I’d like answered: What exactly is the connection between sports and patriotism? As far as I know, no one in the Mainstream Media has even thought to ask. The connection is treated as a given. It seems like we’ve always performed the national anthem before games, so what’s to question?

According to WaPo, the tradition began in the 1918 World Series, a spontaneous musical selection by the military band at Comiskey Park. They were apparently trying to lift the crowd’s spirit, which was dampened by the still-raging World War I. By 1931, when “The Star-Spangled Banner” became the official national anthem, the practice had spread to other sports. Despite a few attempts to abandon it, the custom has held on and become part of the bedrock of American life.

But why? We don’t perform the national anthem before other entertainments, like concerts or plays or movies. Yet every sporting event of any consequence, NFL games, college volleyball games, high school lacrosse games, must be preceded by veneration of the Homeland.

It’s because sports aren’t like other entertainments. Primarily, they’re a celebration of the American and Capitalist value of competition. We send our best out onto what is supposed to be a “level playing field” to determine who’s really the best. It’s a pageant meant to enact the meritocracy that our country is supposed to embody. Even if the victor wins by breaking the rules, we still admire them for their craftiness and especially their monomania to be the best in their chosen field.

Not only must every athletic contest include a de facto loyalty test, but it’s a specific kind of patriotism that is being demanded of all participants and spectators. You must express your support for the police and military of the United States in particular. These are the institutions that “sanctify” the games through their participation in pregame ceremonies. What’s being sanctified is the power of the games to instill in their participants (and spectators) martial virtues, like obedience (a.k.a. “a good attitude”), sacrificing one’s personal well-being for collective glory (“teamwork”) and silent acceptance of physical and emotional pain (“toughness”).

Why only honor the forces of law enforcement at home and abroad? Why not people from the DMV or other civil servants? Because they don’t embody the elite conception of legitimate government. They represent the Dark Side of government: social services for the non-rich provided by taxes on the rich. To the elite, government is only good domestically when it’s enforcing property rights and keeping undesirables in line. Abroad, the military can do pretty much whatever it wants, whether that means killing, torturing, raping, etc.

These are the Heroes, not the weak “peacemakers,” as mentioned by Jesus in one of the wussier parts of the Gospels. And what do the police and military represent? The Power of the United States: Law and Order, strength, obedience, individuals being subsumed into the nation, the euphoria we can tap into by surrendering our personal needs and desires to the will of the national body politic.

This is the idea, as represented by the Flag, to which athletes must pledge allegiance before every game. In exchange for millions of dollars and our adoration, professional athletes must forfeit their First Amendment rights. It seems a small price to pay. After all, this is the greatest country on Earth, the Land of Opportunity. They owe their riches to America, Lady Liberty and the Stars and Stripes.

Never mind that most professional athletes had to overcome poverty, racism and other severe social obstacles to reach the pinnacle of their profession. Many of them are Black, Latino, from poor families and rough neighborhoods, the kinds of people who often can’t avoid run-ins with the Law no matter how carefully they toe the line. They may already have uncomfortably personal relationships with the officers sanctifying their games.

But in their role as athletes, they’re not individuals who overcame extreme hardship to become the best at what they do. They’re ungrateful, spoiled brats who would be nothing without the good ol’ U. S. of A.

Athletes are supposed to put blinders on and focus only on their sport. They can have outside interests as long as it doesn’t interfere with their athletic performance and as long as we don’t have to hear about it. Watching sports is supposed to be escapist entertainment. We don’t want the real world to intrude on the playing field. We have enough problems of our own to worry about. We don’t wanna be lectured about somebody else’s problems by a bunch of millionaires.

Like Roman gladiators, they must pay homage to the Empire before sacrificing themselves for fame and fortune. In the Romans’ day, the price was death and dismemberment. Now it’s concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

It’s not the protesters (or Trump) who politicized football. Sports were already political. They’ve merely made the politics in sports explicit (fittingly for Trump, since he turned politics into pure spectacle). Instead of being “presidential” and letting us have our bread and circus, Trump continues to upset the delicate balance of distraction. Who will still want to defend the Empire when there are no distractions left?

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Selective Outrage

As I mentioned in my last post, I was overcome by depression on Election Night. But my despair lifted after a few days. Then I began to wonder: Why had it been so easy for me to recover from my politically-induced anxiety? I hadn’t made a reasoned argument against fearing for the future of the Republic. Was I simply enjoying my privilege as a member of one of America’s most secure demographics: white, middle-class males?

I had to do some self-analysis and political analysis. I’m not someone who can just feel good and leave it at that. I have to know if I should feel good and, if so, why. (Maybe it’s a Catholic thing.)

It took a while to remember that, to me, all our presidents have been mass murderers (mainly through war or “humanitarian intervention,” but also by way of domestic policies that coddle the rich and throw everyone else under the bus). I forgot because I’ve had to repress my belief that America is an empire to maintain my middle-class lifestyle. The spiritual dissonance of believing that the U.S. is basically a huge Machine of Death, while being a cog in that machine (i.e., working in the corporate world), was too much to bear.

When seen in this light, having a sexual predator in the White House isn’t a big deal. From my perspective (and the perspective of most of the world), every president has a mountain of corpses to his credit. Trump’s sexual harassment and (alleged) assaults are like a bit of rubbish sprinkled on top of his (small, but growing) corpse-mountain. It’s not a good look, but, ultimately, the difference is cosmetic.

I think the main reason for Liberals’ distress is the fact that they’ve bought into the personalization of politics. In recent decades, the Mainstream Media (or “MSM”) have taught us to believe that political candidates should primarily be judged by their personalities rather than their policies. This technique is meant to distract us from real political issues. It’s also an effective way for the MSM to tar-and-feather candidates the Establishment doesn’t like and flatter those they do.

And, boy, do they hate Trump. I doubt any politician in American history has been vilified by the press as thoroughly as he. Granted, he deserves it. He seems to be a despicable human being. But a politician’s personal morality has no bearing on their public policies. Trump can’t wipe out an Afghan wedding party with a vulgar tweet or deny millions of people health insurance by raping a woman. Only government policies can do that.

Considering the many reprehensible people who’ve served in public office throughout American history and escaped serious media scrutiny, it seems unlikely that Trump would’ve attracted this barrage of condemnation if he hadn’t threatened the Establishment through his policy positions. The truth is he actually has taken some meaningfully subversive stands, although you wouldn’t know it from the media coverage.

He repeatedly bashed the decision to invade Iraq. He even criticized Dubya for letting 9/11 happen on his watch, a perfectly reasonable critique that no one in Washington has dared to broach. These positions are so repugnant to the Mainstream that he was booed by the studio audience in televised Republican debates for advancing them. Most important of all, his opposition to “free trade” agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and NAFTA was one of the few consistent stances in his campaign.

These are ideas that threaten the Establishment’s hold on power, because they undermine the geopolitical and economic foundations of the American Empire, and they’re popular. Therefore, the MSM must ignore them and focus on his truly wacky beliefs. His 2012 presidential campaign was built on his membership in the “birther” community, a right-wing cadre of conspiracy theorists who question the validity of Obama’s U.S. citizenship. This and other absurd convictions provide plenty of fodder for mainstream mockery.

The MSM has also latched onto the Russian interference story with a death-grip. Despite a continuing paucity of evidence, each new revelation is treated as the final nail in the coffin of the Trump Administration. They would much rather blame Trump’s election on the Russkies than on the glaring unpopularity of Hillary’s record and platform. (The claim that the 2016 Democratic platform was “the most progressive platform in American history” surely set FDR’s and LBJ’s corpses spinning, never mind McGovern.) Hillary is the living embodiment of the Washington Consensus, and her loss represented a stunning rejection of their agenda.

The MSM are clearly trying to drive Trump from office. This is a noble effort on its face, but their standards for what constitutes “unpresidential” behavior seem shallow and self-serving. They want to paint Trump as a vulgar puppet in a Russian plot, thereby preserving the status quo and providing propaganda support for the continuing US/NATO military buildup along Russia’s western border.

Trump should be toppled, but the best reasons to do so are for his intensifying the policies established by his predecessors and cherished by the Establishment: killing people overseas and oppressing the most vulnerable at home. Of course, removing Trump on that basis would weaken the Powers That Be, and the MSM won’t do that. After all, if they helped overturn the status quo, who would sign their paychecks?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Behind the Curtain

Like most people on the Left, I was despondent on Election Night. Head in hands, I tried to make sense of it all, tried to convince myself that it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. I tried to believe that our country hadn’t been taken over by Fascists. It took a few days, but I eventually snapped out of it.

The weekend after the election I went on Twitter to try and help build a new Democratic Party. I replied to a few Hillary supporters (whom I will hereafter refer to as “Liberals”), saying that we needed a party that actually stood for something and wasn’t just Republican Lite. Their responses were instructive. One said I was “clearly delusional.” Another said my comment was a sign of “latent misogyny.”

So, to recap, my substantive critique of Hillary’s candidacy was brushed aside as either sexist or totally out-to-lunch. I quickly realized what should’ve been obvious beforehand: Social media platforms aren’t the ideal venue for constructive political debate. But, in defense of my opponents, they appeared to be women, and I am a white, middle-class man. They had much more to fear from a Trump presidency than I did.

Trump quickly justified their fears by adopting the misogynist policies of a typical Republican administration, limiting access to abortion at home and abroad and showing zero interest in addressing the gender wage gap. He has even outdone the GOP establishment in terms of racism and xenophobia by issuing a travel ban against seven Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East. Once again, two traditionally marginalized groups, women and people of color (POC), are being sacrificed to “make America great again.”

But the mainstream media’s (MSM) response to this has been far more hostile than their reaction to similar policies instituted by George W. Bush and Barack Obama during their presidencies. And Liberals’ immediate loathing of President Trump outstripped even their disdain of Dubya following the 2000 election debacle. There’s plenty of criticism of his policies, but this is nearly drowned out by the chorus of outrage at his behavior. What really seems to have people up in arms is Trump’s boorishness, which is considered “unbecoming of the Office of the President of the United States of America.”

For this reason, it’s been hard for me to take much of the “Resistance” seriously. The main criticism of Trump is a matter of style, not substance. Beneath the crass surface, there remains significant continuity between the Trump and Obama Administrations (just as there was significant continuity between Obama and his predecessor).

Trump has merely escalated Obama’s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Somalia, most of which he inherited from Dubya and did little to nothing in eight years to end or diminish. Denying entry to the Homeland to dozens or hundreds of people from these countries seems like small potatoes compared to killing thousands of their countrymen and -women each year.

Trump has also continued the tradition of handing control of the economy to the Captains of Wall Street, especially those from Goldman Sachs. We can surely expect a positively Obama-like deference to the High Priests of Finance, whom the previous administration spared from prosecution for the egregious acts of fraud and malfeasance that precipitated the Great Recession.

Given her record, there was every reason to believe that Hillary would sustain these policies. At least with Trump there’s a chance (albeit tiny and shrinking by the day) he’ll chart a different course for the country. Even if you’re a woman or POC, the issues on which mainstream Democrats and Republicans actually differ (abortion, LGBTQ rights) are minor compared to those on which they agree (economics, foreign policy).

As much as the MSM would like us to believe that everything was fine until Trump came along, things haven’t changed that much since he took office. We haven’t been taken over by Fascists. Trump has spouted a lot of vile invective reminiscent of Hitler and Mussolini, but he bears a much closer resemblance to the Wizard of Oz, a seasoned showman who draws our attention away from the real action. If you pull back the curtain, you’ll find the same Wizards of Wall Street who got us into this mess in the first place.