How many times have you heard someone pompously state words to the effect that we must always trust in the good sense and wisdom of the American people because in the end they are always right? I have heard words similar to these for decades. It is a part of the mystique and mythology of American culture. But like so much else in this category, it is nonsense. The American people do not have an innate common sense and a true understanding of what is best for America. A frightening percentage would flunk a basic 9th grade civics test and could not name their congressman, senator and in all too many cases the Vice President of the United States. As the world we live in has continued to grow more complex and the problems more intractable we have been asked to make decisions that few of us are equipped for. Yet, we must select those who will confront those problems and issues that will shape our future and the future of the world. After all, our free and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy.
If you believe that, in fact, the American people ultimately make the right decisions, then sleep well in the knowledge that our leaders are the most brilliant, selfless, patriotic, knowledgeable and qualified. However, if you’re like me, your nights have not been quite so peaceful. After all, it was the wisdom of the American people who gave us Nixon in 1968 and 1972. They gave us Reagan in 1980 and 1984. They continued their run with only a brief pause by giving us Bush in 1988 and than the brilliant son in 2000 and 2004. If you detect a prejudicial pattern in my preferences you are correct. I do believe that Democratic Presidents have been much better for America and its true values of equality for all Americans in all aspects of life. We have seen a narrowing of that dream and a reduction of equality and opportunity every time a Republican gets into the White House. And after each and every one of those elections I find myself asking the same question: Why do so many people vote against their own self-interest? Why do they vote for economic policies that are designed to protect the status quo, i.e. keep everyone where they are and make the rich richer? Why do they vote against the expansion of healthcare, education, and regulations for consumer protection? These are just a few of the policy areas that come up for discussion at virtually every election. The fact is that on all of these issues, unless they are in the top rung of the economic ladder, if people vote for the Republican candidate they are voting against their own and their children’s self interest. They did this seven times in recent history, and we all paid the price every time.
It is clear that all too often people really don’t understand the issues and the complexities they are faced with. They listen, at some point in the process, to the voices they trust and without discernment, accept their words as gospel. They don’t for a moment seek objectivity and impartiality. They want someone to tell them what to think and how to vote. Fox, the unofficial propaganda machine of the Republican Party, has somehow assumed that role with a shocking percentage of the American electorate. These people not only vote against their own self-interest, they don’t even get that they are being told to do exactly that. It is only through a herculean effort to bring voters to the polls that Obama was able to win in 2008 and 2012. When a voter turnout of only 65% is categorized as a great turnout the problem becomes apparent. We have in The United States, the birthplace of free and fair elections, an incredibly apathetic and ignorant electorate. The soundbites, cliches and catch phrases are designed to keep it simple and make it easy. They have become the currency of a Presidential campaign in the midst of the Information Age. It is ironic that at a time when more information is available to more people than ever before, people choose the most uninformed manner in which to make such an important decision. While it may be too late for this cycle, we must work to turn that fact around for the next. Our democracy depends on an informed and knowledgeable electorate. We must make sure one exists for the sake of our future and that of our children and grandchildren .
Once again the political world is talking about Donald J. Trump. His decision to not participate in the Republican Debate on Thursday has taken the world by storm and generated reaction from all corners. Some are sure that it is just another Trump ploy to create buzz and increase the audience for the Debate when he does show up. Others see it as an opportunity to deride his behavior as weak and question his ability to deal with the difficult personalities he would confront as President. The establishment candidates are quietly relieved that finally his physical presence will not dominate the debate and they will have some breathing room to present themselves as viable candidates. There are those who believe that his decision shows him to be a strong leader that is not willing to tolerate disrespect from anyone. Finally, there are those observers who are amused by the entire spectacle and just enjoying the discomfort displayed by so many heretofore self-confident and arrogant spokespeople and leaders of the Republican Party. Wherever you place yourself in the current situation there can be no doubt that once again Donald Trump has effectively placed himself on center stage.
It is important to view this situation through the lens of Donald Trump. First and perhaps most important, he created and has controlled the entire disagreement. It was his decision to confront Fox about what he considered to be the inappropriate and unprofessional behavior of their reporter, Megyn Kelly. Roger Ailes didn’t press the issue or confront Trump. Trump pressed the issue and threatened not to show if Kelly was one of the questioners. Ailes defended his journalist and refused to back down. He probably assumed that Trump, as in all of his other threats prior to debates, would not follow through. Feeling confident in his advantage, a member of his staff, presumably with his consent, wrote two taunting tweets about Trump’s threat. This was a bad miscalculation that fed right into Trump’s hands and at that point he announced his final decision to not appear at the debate. Certainly, at anytime Trump could have laughed off the inappropriate behavior of Ailes’ staff, providing Ailes the chance to disavow the actions of the staff member. Trump could have then presented himself as bigger and magnanimous and agree to participate. He was in control. However, had he taken that path the story would have fizzled and it would have just been another debate. Instead, Trump decided to continue to play the game of chicken with Ailes and declare his nonattendance. This has accomplished two things. First, it keeps Trump as the number one political story of the day. And second, he believes, he presents himself as strong, assertive and controlling, while at the same time handing Ailes a defeat that will cost him dearly in audience share. The clear message to all who would dare: “you don’t want to tangle with me I won’t back down and you will lose”.
What does all of this tell us about Donald J. Trump? First and foremost, this is a very dangerous and calculating guy. While others have attempted to manipulate and control the media, Trump has proven that he is remarkably skilled at it. He has utilized the press to his advantage from the first day of his campaign, frustrating his opposition with his ability to dominate the news cycle at will. The second thing for us to understand is that this is not an ideologue. He is a pragmatist who will do what he needs to achieve his goals. Part of that pragmatism requires that he has loyalty to no individual or group. He is a user and will discard people and groups at will as long as it moves him closer to his goals. Finally, he believes first and foremost in himself and the truth of his vision. He believes that he and he alone is the answer to the needs of America and the world. I don’t know about you, but I find him quite disturbing and frightening. Has this decision been self-destructive? I believe quite the opposite, he has proven himself once again to be a master at self-promotion.
For months now we have been talking about, listening to, and writing about the candidacy of Donald J Trump. We have all eaten crow with our predictions of his imminent failure and he has been more than happy to remind us of our folly. I still can’t understand his success, or maybe I just don’t want to acknowledge the truth. We cannot dispute either his ranking in the polls or the size of his crowds wherever he goes. Nor can we deny his crassness, his xenophobia or his incredible intolerance. While we are tired of his unabashed egocentric behavior, obviously his supporters are not. To many of us he presents an aberration in what we thought we knew about political behavior in this country. We don’t even ask how low he can go anymore. He has answered that without hesitation time and time again. However, his most troubling move in recent days is to add Sarah Palin to his campaign.
While we have all hoped that Palin had become a bad memory of irrational and ignorant rhetoric cast upon the irrational and ignorant, we were sorely disappointed last night. There she was once again spewing the nonsense that made her a heroine to the ignorant, uneducated, angry, intolerant, xenophobic masses that populate the underbelly of our civil society. These are people whose only excuse for failure is everyone else’s success. Palin feeds these attitudes and makes them feel like the victims of a government that has been taken over by the “other”. Palin reaches into the cesspool of our society and tells its swimmers that they have every right to be angry. They have a right to feel contemptuous of all who look different, pray differently or love differently. Sarah Palin makes them feel good about themselves again.
As I watched Palin on the stage last night ranting about all of the bad that must be remedied and all of the evil that must be obliterated I watched Trump smiling from ear to ear like a proud papa. It’s as if she was validating all that he had been saying these many months. After all, if Sarah Palin, darling of the extreme right is agreeing with me, then I must be right and I am after all a true conservative. It is obviously his hope that Palin’s alliance would once and for all shut down the questions about his true conservatism. It is first and foremost a strategic move against Cruz. As with everything else that Trump has done during these last several months, this is an alliance of convenience, not necessarily of shared ideology. Palin is a true believer who brings with her a conservative base that Trump needs in Iowa and the South. Trump more than anything is a power hungry egomaniac who will do or say anything necessary to win. His is a candidacy that eschews substance and truth in favor of platitude and superficial solution. The fact is, in Palin he met his soul mate.
Most troubling is what this means for the campaign. Anyone who had hopes that Trump would be forced to respond to questions in a substantive way will be waiting until the cows come home. Palin’s addition to the campaign is a clear signal that substance is a nuisance that they will simply ignore. What is equally troubling is that those who support him are willing to allow this behavior to continue. To those who hope that Trump will end up the nominee because they have little doubt that he will go down in flames in a general election be careful what you hope for. I am not as convinced as many that he will be defeated in a general election. The addition of Palin to the campaign simply means that his campaign will be even more dumbed down than it has been. How big is his audience? How will our electorate really react to a Trump candidacy? I don’t really believe anyone knows or that any prediction at this time is valid. If they tell you they know, they are dumbing down the predictions.
Dictionary.com defines fear as:”a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain etc.,whether the threat is real or imagined”. Looking at the movies and TV shows that are most popular I have to ask if many of us are fear junkies. The most popular movies are about the apocalypse or horror. Many of the most popular TV shows are about crime. Amusement parks work hard every year to come out with the most terrifying rollercoasters. Has the world around us become so unpredictable and ominous that fear has become the new normal? Are the movies, TV shows and amusement park rides a reflection of how we see the world? Are we truly living in a world in which we are simply waiting for the other shoe to drop? Is personal and national safety a thing of the past? Is it a world of black vs. white, them vs. us? Is the enemy anyone who doesn’t look like us, think like us, sound like us or pray like us? Should we provide guns to all who are not “us”? Is the only rational response to the frightening world in which we live to build a protective wall around us and shoot first before they can shoot us? If you are one of the millions supporting the candidacy of Donald Trump or Ted Cruz your answer is yes.
The words of Roosevelt have never been more relevant and the Republican candidates have cynically used them to their full advantage. They have correctly assessed the mood of the country. Rightly or wrongly there is sense that the future is tenuous. There is no doubt that this mood exists, in large part, because of the Republican drumbeat for the past seven plus years. The purveyors of fear have told us that our freedom of religion, our constitutional rights, the institution of marriage, the free market system, our borders, gun ownership, rights of the unborn, Christmas and Western Civilization, are all under siege. They have blamed all of this on the isolation, insulation, impotence and stupidity of Washington leadership. Trump and Cruz, equally dangerous and delusional, believe that they, and only they, can make America great again. The millions who are frightened, because they have been told that they should be frightened, are willing to abide by the solutions they are told will alleviate the causes of their fear. Never mind that the solutions are simple and nonsensical. The millions who are being spoken to are not deep thinkers. They simply want someone who acknowledges their fear and is willing to do what it takes to make them feel unafraid again. The candidates, using the fear that they have created and feed everyday, are suggesting the most extreme and irrational solutions. Whether they truly believe in what they are saying or are simply using their extreme positions as a pathway to power is anybody’s guess. It makes little difference what the answer is. Fear is the tool being used and fear is the enemy of rational and constructive thinking.
What is clear is that fear as a vehicle to attain power is working. That is a fact that WE must be afraid of. In President Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday evening he acknowledged the challenges that face us. But unlike his Republican counterparts, his was a message of optimism and hope. He is trying to nourish the inner optimism and strength of the American people, while the Republicans seek to feed the fear and pervasive pessimism of their supporters. The contrast is stark and telling. The outcome will shape the future. Will fear win out over courage and optimism? We have nothing to fear but fear itself.
In the iconic movie the Wizard Of Oz, Dorothy’s dog Toto famously pulls the curtain aside and exposes the truth about the “great and powerful Oz”. Up to that point no person had displayed the courage to cast aside irrational fear and challenge such omnipotence. It took the sublime innocence of a dog to unwrap the facade and show the truth. We have all experienced fears that when confronted head-on lose their mystique and are suddenly no longer the barrier to progress they once seemed to be. The curtain surrounding the “great and powerful NRA” needs to be pulled aside once and for all.
We have often observed examples of distasteful political behavior. Political pandering has become a way of life for those seeking to make a career in Washington. However, rarely has there been such an overwhelming display of political cowardice by one political party as we have experienced over the past seven years. During the Obama Presidency there have been 13 mass shootings and thousands of innocents killed by those who should rationally not have access to a gun. Those who help to make this possible hang onto erroneous and misleading 2nd Amendment arguments and simply feed on the ignorance of the American people. Most of those who wave placards or yell slogans, supposedly protecting our liberty and our freedoms, have either not ever truly read the 2nd Amendment or don’t have the contextual understanding to interpret it properly. However, that can’t be said of the politicians who perpetuate the myths and untruths bandied about.
The politicians who have taken the reins of the fight against the tightening of gun laws are simply cowards. They are afraid of being called out by their colleagues and most importantly the NRA. The mythology surrounding the power of the NRA has been carefully etched by its leaders into the psyche of the GOP and is backed by the promise of campaign contributions to these spineless and needy politicians. The motives of both the NRA and the GOP are not a mystery. They are the age-old maladies created by greed and the desire for power. The NRA supported by the gun industry prospers as the industry prospers. The more the government restricts sales or requires safety modifications to guns during manufacturing, the lower the profit margin. Keeping the GOP in line is a minor cost against the major profits to be made. Naturally, the GOP rank and file are more than willing to line up at the trough to get their share of slop.
WE must pull the curtain aside and see this battle for what it is. Let’s cut through the mythology and the manufactured rage and contrived threats to our freedom and liberty and see what is really at the root of this fight. But equally important we must recognize what the opponents of stronger gun laws are not considering. The lives of innocent children and adults have become secondary in the value system of the GOP. Those who rant and rave about the immortality of abortion, calling it the murder of the unborn, seem to have no ability to see the hypocrisy created by their opposition to gun control. Then again, we shouldn’t be surprised as we watch this same group fight for increased military spending while reducing spending for feeding starving children. The contradictions of their actions prove the hollowness of their words.
This morning President Obama, in an emotional and heartfelt statement, laid down the gauntlet yet again at the feet of Congress. It is true that the President can act using Executive Orders, but it is Congress that in the end must fund those Orders. I applaud the President for his actions, and condemn Congress in advance for what is sure to be its inaction and obstruction. In truth, the only way to change things is at the voting booth. It is the way it should be in a democracy. We need to be angry, active and engaged to make a difference. But will we be angry enough, active enough or engaged enough before the next child dies from a senseless shooting? That is truly up to us.
We at Rational Politics want to take this opportunity to wish our friends and readers the world over a healthy , happy and fulfilling year ahead. There is no doubt there will be much to write about during what is sure to be an exciting 2016. Keep reading and commenting and I’ll keep writing.
A few days ago I had the opportunity to visit with my 16-year-old nephew from Kansas City. As we were casually walking and talking he posed the question, ” Why do people always have to shout and argue about politics, why can’t they just talk calmly about it?” As I thought about it I realized just how important that question was. I recognized that while certainly there have been times in our history during which the volume and temperature of political discourse has been turned up, most often the political environment has reflected basic rules of civility. However, during the past several years those rules have been cast aside and political conversation has adopted the rules of a “zero sum game”. You are either with me or against me. If you are against me you are a bad person and are not deserving of my respect, my compassion or my understanding. This is why we have seen a freshmen senator call his Majority Leader a liar. It is why we have seen personal insults thrust like swords about the stage of political debates. Equally troubling, it is why we have seen false, baseless and damaging accusations made about people on the other side of a political issue. What’s more, those attending political rallies feel cheated if they don’t hear this kind of damaging verbiage coming from their favorite candidate, which in turn simply serves to reinforce and validate the behavior and expectations of the lowest common denominator within the electorate.
The lack of civility at every level of our political system has not only corrupted the process but has resulted in laws and actions that do not reflect the wishes of the majority of the body politic. Candidates find themselves boxed into an extreme corner, unable to navigate an exit without appearing weak or indecisive. Imagine a new reality show entitled, Immigration Poker. All four players ante up with the need to tighten the borders. After the cards are dealt each of the players look at the possibilities and request cards to enhance their plans. Player number one starts by betting on a fence. Player number two increases the bet to a barbed-wire fence. Player number three increases the bet to an electrified fence. Player number four increases the bet to a wall, a very high wall. All but player number four fold and and he wins with the very high wall. The crowd cheers and the winning solution to the illegal immigration problem is a wall, a very high wall. The other three players never discuss any kind of fence again because they do not want to appear weak on the illegal immigration issue. The most extreme solution wins and any chance of compromise towards a sane solution is lost in the cheer of the crowd.
Because the rhetoric has become so black and white there is no room for even the mere mention of less extreme solutions. Gray is considered the color of the weak and the word “compromise” has been turned into a “four letter word”. The tragic result is that the most sane, rational and workable solutions are cast aside while the most insane, irrational and unworkable solutions are blindly supported. Even more troubling is the fact that the movement towards these kinds of solutions is being fueled by the most ill-informed, xenophobic, angry and resentful portions of the electorate. Furthermore, it is being funded by the most self-serving, often single-issue oligarchs this country has seen since the days of the “Robber Barons”. These two groups, the ill-informed “true believers” and the selfish, self-serving oligarchs, have come together to form an “unholy alliance” that views compromise as wrong-headedness and extremism as patriotism. The end result is solutions that defy sanity or rationality and the promotion of an attitude that views facts and knowledge as an unnecessary encumbrance.
My hope for the new year is civility and sanity. In the words of Star Wars, “May the Force be with us”. We’ll need it.