Propaganda

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Probably just about everyone bends the truth a little, but some people feel justified in just making things up if it will, in their opinion, advance their cause. Some of this is hard to detect, but some is absurdly easy, with a little thought.

One example is that of George Soros. That’s not his real name, as he freely admits. He was born György Schwartz, in Budapest in 1930. No doubt he changed his name for a sinister reason? Yes, he changed it because he was Jewish. What was happening to Jews in Europe in the 1940s?

Some claim he joined the Hitler Youth (and greatly enjoyed it), that he collaborated with Nazis, that he was a protege of Hitler. He was 14 at the end of World War II, barely old enough to join, and he DID pose as Christian with a Hungarian official who himself had a Jewish wife in hiding. You or I might have done the same had we been Jewish in that time and place. This sort of “passing” had previously caused great paranoia in Spain hundreds of years earlier when Jewish families had ostensibly converted to Christianity and married into the nobility, while continuing to practice the Jewish religion in their homes. That became a matter for the Spanish Inquisition. One might have thought people would have been somewhat less paranoid in the 20th century. Soros said later that he enjoyed 1944, when the Nazis took over Hungary, because he got to see his father’s heroism in saving a lot of Jewish people from the Holocaust.

Did he collaborate with Nazis? He accompanied the Hungarian official (something someone else would probably have done if he hadn’t), posing as his godson, as the official inventoried a Jewish property Nazis had taken over. He also took summonses to Jewish people, and warned that if they answered them they would be deported.

After the war he moved to England and attended the London School of Economics. After graduating, he moved to America and managed hedge funds, which made him very rich. Does this make him a Communist, as several have accused him of being? If he were, would he have contributed to setting up democratic institutions in eastern European countries after the fall of Communism?

But being Jewish, surely that means he’s a Zionist. Except that he has contributed to Palestinian causes and criticized the Israeli government, much to its irritation.

The Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court was based on the idea that contribution of money counts as free speech, something conservatives applaud–as long as it’s CONSERVATIVE speech. It’s perfectly okay for billionaires to spend huge amounts on CONSERVATIVE causes. Apparently it’s heresy when they contribute to liberal causes. That’s Soros’s sin–that and (arguably) being Jewish.

Another example is the anxiety over Sharia law. This is customary law associated with Islam, and many people are anxious about Islam, especially since 9/11. Yes, there was a terrorist attack that killed 3,000 or so people then, and there have been a few other attacks in the USA that have been fairly horrible, but not on the same scale. Considering the amount of anxiety, it’s a bit surprising there have been so few. Especially when you consider that American retaliatory wars on Afghanistan and Iraq have killed at least hundreds of thousands and destabilized the whole Middle East. Muslims, especially of that region, have some reason to believe their countries have been targeted because (at least in part) of their religion, and have little reason to sympathize with our anxiety about them.

The anxiety has gone to the extent of state legislatures in this country outlawing Sharia law. Why would this be necessary? One commentator pointed out that Sharia law is already practiced in the USA–among Muslims. Nobody else is subjected to it. We have our own legal tradition, whatever its faults, and for Sharia to be applied to everyone, it would have to be imposed. Three to five million Muslim American citizens aren’t in a position to do that, even if they wanted to–and I suspect many of them don’t. Many probably came here for economic opportunities or to escape Middle Eastern violence. As long as they’re allowed to follow their own customs, I doubt they want to impose anything on anybody. The idea that Sharia would destroy the United States seems obviously false.

Even more recent has been the response of some conservatives to the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida shootings in the high school: that the students criticizing politicians for not passing legislation that might have kept them safe are actors, and that the shootings never happened. The same thing has been said about the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut; the difference in Florida is that the students in Parkland are old and articulate enough to speak for themselves. The students in Connecticut were too young. Conservatives see any attempt to take guns from the hands of the irresponsible as a threat to their own right to weapons.

This is another instance of paranoia. Taking guns away from anyone is worse than taking lives, even the lives of children. The position guns rights people are taking is that guns are necessary for self-defense. In some cases this is true–mainly in the case of soldiers and police–but even in these categories questionable shootings happen.

And gun rights seem to apply only to certain segments of society. When the Black Panther party asserted their rights to carry guns and defend their neighborhoods some fifty years ago their actions instigated a gun control initiative by then- governor Ronald Reagan. While black criminals use guns (Chicago is frequently cited in this connection), there really aren’t many mass shootings by blacks. I can only remember one in Texas a few years ago. Mass shootings are almost exclusively committed by white males. Very few have been committed by Muslims, blacks, or Hispanics. And I just read today that most such shooters have been home schooled by religiously conservative parents. If true, that’s quite interesting. Why would that population be so angry?

Is all the paranoia on the rightwing side? Or all the propaganda? No, propaganda is practiced by anyone involved in politics on any level, and propaganda is designed to make people FEEL paranoid. That’s a very old trick. Divide and conquer doesn’t apply to just one political group. A bumper sticker on a nearby street proclaims that the car’s owner doesn’t believe the liberal media. Fair enough. I don’t believe the conservative media. But I DO believe in the First Amendment, which means I have to tolerate what conservatives (or others) have to say, whether I agree or not (and I often don’t). And they have to tolerate what I say.

But that’s one of the primary things that makes this country worth living in: we’re allowed to say what we believe. When we express our beliefs we may discover that some of them are stupid. I think that applies to everyone, not just conservatives or liberals. In the eyes of God most of us are probably not too bright.

And one of the things that makes us not too bright is taking our own beliefs without any grains of salt. Like most people, I like being confirmed in my own opinion. That doesn’t mean my opinion is right, so I have to be watchful that I’m not making stupid assumptions. It’s an easy thing to do, and I can be caught saying and thinking foolish things as easily as anyone else.

Many people are unaware of the history of religious wars in Europe. The Thirty Years War in the 17th century is considered to be the most destructive in history until the World Wars of the 20th century, and that’s one reason why our Founding Fathers decided religion had to be separate from government. Different denominations had used government to punish people they felt believed the wrong things. This had obviously caused resentment, and persecuted denominations took opportunities  for revenge. The obvious way to avoid such conflicts was to not allow ANY religious group to dominate any governmental institutions. Let them have their churches, mosques, synagogues, and private schools. Let them all be equal in the eyes of the law.

But there are always groups who want to tell others what to do. It’s popular now to chant the mindless motto, “Government is the problem.” The idea that human society can survive any time at all without being governed has been disproven over and over again. A society without regulation may create a powerful economy, but some of the activity instigated will be criminal, and some will be powerful people rushing in to fill a power vacuum. Criminals don’t want laws, and when people propose deregulation I think we should take a close look at how they plan to benefit. Allowing wealthy people to control political discourse means the wealthy will get what they want, often at the expense of the less powerful and wealthy, No wonder there’s a narrative that poor people are to blame for their poverty, and that they’re takers rather than makers. Believing that’s always true gives wealthy people the excuse to arrange things the way they want them, and mistreat poor people. There’s plenty of history to confirm that opinion: we can begin with the reasons for our Revolutionary War.

I think the most dangerous thing about propaganda is that it promotes the idea that people we agree with are good and those we disagree with are evil. That’s way too simple, and it’s an idea that can be manipulated way too easily. Propaganda is designed to make us frightened and angry and to persuade us of things that are against our interests. It’s easy to dismiss all conservatives or all liberals as propagandists; it’s much harder to listen to different voices dispassionately, and decide things on the merits of each case, rather than on the basis of our emotions. Conservatives often say liberals want to feel good. Of course that’s true. I just think it applies to conservatives too.

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Religion vs Humility

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Modern times have been characterized by a collision between religion and science. Not because what science said (at least at first) was necessarily so controversial, but because it was contradicting the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. That the planets revolved around the sun instead of the other way around was less a strange thing to say than a challenge to orthodoxy (literally “right belief”), a challenge that continues to reverberate more than four hundred years later. That’s because the Church was in the business of defining reality, and derived a lot of its power that way. When other voices were allowed to be heard, religious power was diminished.

A lot of people have believed this was terrible, especially after the concept of evolution became known, as if humans could define the tools God (or His representatives) were allowed to use. What it really represents, though, was the overreach of religious authority, which claimed to know things it didn’t. That’s the reason for so many scientists having become atheists, I think: they’re repulsed at the power grab–which doesn’t stop some of them from trying to grab power themselves.

That’s at least part of what’s behind climate change denial, for instance: a backlash against science, partly by religious people who believe they ought to have more power and influence, and partly by the wealthy who derive THEIR power from the coal and oil industries, and are threatened by the possibility of green energy.

At about the same time that the Church was having its issue with Galileo, the Thirty Years War was demonstrating just how destructive religions could be when going to war, an example the American founders took seriously when separating church and state. The American Revolution was occurring about the same time Fundamentalism became important in both Protestantism and Catholicism as a reaction against new perspectives and as a sign of great insecurity. If one’s faith can move mountains, why should it be bothered with the idea of evolution?

Scientific analysis didn’t end with astronomical observations. It was applied to study of the Bible too, and the analysts discovered that the supposed Word of God was extremely inconsistent. Bart Ehrman, who has made a career of studying the history of the Bible, and who personally went from being a conservative evangelical to being an agnostic, points out that (for one thing) the book of Genesis has two different creation stories that disagree with each other, and the New Testament is possibly even less consistent. In one Gospel Herod murders all boys in his kingdom beneath the age of two, forcing Jesus’s parents to take him to Egypt. No other Gospel mentions this, as if they either hadn’t noticed, or had forgotten. And there’s no historic record of any such thing. That’s only one inconsistency. There are many more. Ehrman’s point is that writers of the New Testament weren’t concerned with historical accuracy (history as a discipline had only barely begun, and probably no more than ten per cent of the Roman Empire was literate), but with making a theological point. What a lot of that point was becomes clear with the Gospel of John, in which Jesus declares, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no man comes to the Father except through me.” Only Christians are henceforth going to be allowed power.

Which is why a lot of Fundamentalists feel so injured: their power has been taken away by defining their perspective as nonsensical. They naturally dislike this.

But wasn’t humility supposed to be a large part of the Christian message? No, humility wasn’t a virtue many religious leaders aspired to when Christianity became the state religion of ancient Rome, nor do many of the most vocal aspire to it now. Political and religious leaders often share a trait: they like to tell other people how to behave and what they’re allowed to believe. Denial of the human part in climate change (for instance) becomes part of religion, just as do religious prohibitions of homosexuality (I think it’s worth noting that Jesus never commented on this) and other things religious people don’t like. Scientists at least aspire to be impartial, though they don’t always achieve it; a lot of religious leaders don’t even aspire to it.

The lesson I derive from this is that humans tend to be power-hungry. Even Christianity, supposed from the beginning to be a religion of love, also became very early a religion that believed no one else had the truth. They may have possessed a truth that few or none other had, but their declaration of this had an ugly side: anti-Semitism has already begun by the time the New Testament is complete.

And anti-Semitism and related bigotries continue today. Those are things extremists like, and we happen to have an extremist president who stirs up and reflects a lot of our country’s baser passions. There are people on both ends of the political and religious spectrum who would gladly start another Inquisition if it would enhance their power. The president represents part of this tendency, as can be seen when he denounces “fake news” or anthropogenic climate change. He’s using the same weapon science has used against religion: discrediting the point of view of anyone you disagree with, though I suspect that initially there was less malice on the part of science. That sort of behavior should have nothing to do with either religion or science, and does only because of the shadow side of human nature. We don’t like being humble.

There’s a saying that science doesn’t care what you believe. That’s science as it ought to be, but isn’t always. Nature, on the other hand, REALLY doesn’t care what you believe. If we are believing the wrong things, especially about our duty to the natural world, nature is very likely to let us know. If the climate scientists are right, there is likely to be a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth at that time.

 

A Very Strange Dilemma

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Author James Baldwin asked, “Why does white America need niggers?”

The first obvious reason has always been cheap labor. Black labor played a large part in the development of America, especially in the South (for which they received few benefits). But it seems as if there’s always been more to it than that.

The slave trade in North America really took off in the 18th century, if not the 17th. Was it really necessary? Weren’t there enough white people to provide labor in the colonies? In retrospect it doesn’t seem to have been very efficient to go all the way to Africa to get slaves and have many of them die on the return voyage. But the slave trade continued right up to the beginning of the Civil War.

And that’s in spite of the fear and resentment whites felt towards blacks. Part of the fear was because slave owners used their slaves sexually (probably not all owners), as can readily be seen by the range of skin colors in the black community even today. Southern whites in particular were afraid of black men doing the same to white women, and lynched a number of those they even suspected of the desire.

Another part of the fear was because on large plantations especially whites were badly outnumbered by blacks. They used brutality to intimidate blacks, and consequently feared what blacks might do in return.

One result of slavery in the Unites States was identification of it with black skin and further resentment of blacks after the Civil War supposedly fought to free them. In the Old World slaves could be of any nationality or skin color, and could fairly readily become free, even powerful. Identification of slavery with black skin necessitated the rationalization that blacks were inferior, and that having been brought to this country was somehow in their interest. But how could it be beneficial to have their own cultures erased and to be made to feel inferior because of their skin color, the different texture of their hair, their culture, etc?

The oddity of the relationship between white and black is underscored by the fashion for minstrels in about the 1850s, in which white musicians used makeup to look black when performing. What was THAT about? Was it done just to make fun of blacks, or was there something about the culture whites wanted to emulate? If so, what might it have been?

Could it have been an emotional and/or sexual freedom blacks possessed and whites usually didn’t? Knowing little about the era, I can only guess, and not with much confidence. Whites were later more willing to make use of black influence, if not to credit them or reward them financially. Jazz became the first purely American musical art form, but it was white musicians who more readily profited from it.

Whites came to resent blacks for their presence in the country they never should have been brought to. Perhaps the rational thing would have been to apologize and start over again, but whites were generally unwilling to admit their mistake, didn’t want integration, and sending blacks back to Africa, however desirable, wasn’t practical. Nor did all blacks want to go.

But a look at history reveals that blacks in general are perfectly capable of succeeding in America–when they’re allowed to. In each generation there were a few who became doctors, lawyers, or teachers in spite of the odds against them. In the 20th century particularly blacks were successful in music (though often taken advantage of by record companies and having their music copied by whites) and athletics. In the second half of the century they became successful in politics too. If not for segregation in most parts of the country, a form of white affirmative action which prevented competition no matter the rationalized reason, they would most likely have been successful in a wide variety of other fields too.

As it is, the resentment continues. James Baldwin’s question could be extended: why did Europeans need Jews? A recent article in The Atlantic focuses on the late 1930s when Nazi persecution of the Jews reached a higher gear, but before the Holocaust began, when Jewish professionals were forced to clean streets with toothbrushes. The article points out that they were treated this way not because they were subhuman, but because they were obviously human, to humiliate them. But for most of 2,000 years they had been Europe’s favorite group to persecute. Why was that? And why did blacks get awarded that position in the New World?

It seems to me the institution of slavery need not have taken the direction it did in the Americas. It would probably have been a corrupt institution anyway as power imbalances usually are, but it didn’t have to become identified with dark skin, nor did it have to be so cruel.

Why DID we need niggers? What does that say about us?

“I Am Not Your Negro”

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Author James Baldwin undertook a project in 1979, to tell about the lives of three of his friends who had been assassinated in the 1960s: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King. He had only written thirty pages of notes by the time he died eight years later of stomach cancer.

Raoul Peck, Haitian film-maker put together the movie I Am Not Your Negro using Baldwin’s own words (sometimes from TV talk shows, sometimes read by Samuel L. Jackson) to express what he felt about race in America. The result is powerful.

Early in the movie there is footage shot in the South in the early sixties of hate-filled white people carrying signs. One says, Miscegnation is Communism. Another says it is the Antichrist. It’s dolefully ironic that miscegnation (sexual relations between black and white) was initiated by white slaveowners who then blamed black men for wanting to rape white women, thus turning the dynamic inside-out. Black men are still blamed for their sexuality, though, just as women are blamed for tempting Adam to eat the apple. A good myth is hard to give up.

Also early in the film is a black girl walking alone to go to a white high school surrounded by whites carrying signs saying they don’t want to go to school with blacks. They’re jeering and spiting at her too. Baldwin speaks, saying that he saw this footage in France, where he was then living, and besides being enraged was filled with shame, adding, “One of us should have been there with her. ”

It’s hardly surprising he died of cancer. Cancer and heart disease are in part caused by stress, and he had the stress of being both black and gay. A recent article says it’s a shame the movie didn’t address his being gay too, because Baldwin did in his writing. The three of his novels I remember best spoke of homosexuality as well as race. Actually, I don’t think Giovanni’s Room talked about race. So sexuality was very important to Baldwin too. He comments in this movie that black men aren’t allowed to show their sexuality (that may be less true now), and that movie star John Wayne, who spent most of his time on screen admonishing Indians, had permission, because of his whiteness, not to grow up. It was okay for him to kill Indians. He didn’t have to learn to negotiate with them as equals.

Baldwin met Medgar Evers early in the 1960s and traveled with him as Evers attempted to gather evidence about voting suppression. The sixties weren’t far advanced when he was murdered himself. Baldwin says he was extremely frightened traveling through Mississippi, but also felt he needed to do that as a witness, and that he needed to travel widely as a witness. Eventually he also traveled to Georgia and Alabama where some of the famous Civil Rights protests had been. More footage of police beating defenseless men and women.

Baldwin says he watched Malcolm X and Martin Luther King come from very different positions to eventually drift into almost exactly the same position. Footage is shown of Malcolm X criticizing King for not wanting blacks to fight back when abused by whites. However understandable his feeling, it’s also obvious that taking on whites in a race war in which they would be vastly outnumbered and outgunned would be a self-defeating strategy. King replies to Malcolm X by saying that he sees love as being a powerful force rather than a cowardly surrender. Did Malcolm X come to appreciate that position before he died? Baldwin says he was in London with a friend taking a day off when he learned of Malcolm X’s assassination.

Baldwin came home from France in the later sixties. He said he missed very little about America, but missed his brother, sister, their children, and his mother. He was visiting them in 1968 when his sister was called away from the table. When she returned she said nothing, but he felt something was wrong. Then she said, “Martin Luther King was just killed. Reporters are coming to get your reaction.”

He attended the funeral, and said he tried not to cry, felt that many others were trying not to cry too, and for the same reason: they didn’t know if they could stop.

He felt he had to visit the widows and children of those leaders, also not easy. Perhaps especially because none of the three lived to be as old as forty.

I was vaguely aware of the strife of the sixties, but didn’t really feel it. I had problems of my own taking up my attention. But the sixties shaped my political views. In the 1950s we had had a comic book portraying Rosa Parks taking a white person’s seat in the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and refusing to get up. That’s where I first heard of Dr. King.

In 1963 I was with my grandmother while she watched coverage of the March on Washington, and got to see in real time Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech. Hairs stood up on the back of my neck. What the Civil Rights movement was protesting was so obviously unfair that I didn’t see any alternative to being a liberal. It seemed that all conservatives were racists, a term that has since been used too lightly for too many frivolous reasons. No one in the Civil Rights movement has had the kind of gravitas Dr, King had, which is a shame. He and the other two were murdered because they held up a mirror to show us all what we were, causing panic fear. People comfortable with segregation felt their world was coming apart, and had no answer but violence. After King was killed, many others felt THEIR world was coming apart too. If my heart was in the right place in feeling sympathy for the movement (which is debatable), I did nothing about it, to my shame.

Baldwin didn’t only report his feelings about the movement and the death of his friends (as well as many other more anonymous people), but looked at the larger picture of America, its racism and other forms of injustice. He saw white America being as entangled and imprisoned by racism as black America, and striking out in violent resentment of it. Black Americans never wanted to come here, but neither did whites, he says. Using blacks as slaves made them prisoners too.

The fact is that the American way of life hasn’t made many people happy. Satiated, in some cases, but not happy. That many of us have secure lives that most people in the world can’t even imagine, and yet are fearful of people unlike ourselves is ironic, if not paradoxical. Look at some of the things we lead the world in: numbers of prisoners, people killed by police, consumption of illegal (and legal) drugs. Those things don’t indicate a happy culture. More people have a higher standard of living than any time previous in the world, but they aren’t happy, and their standard of living comes at the price of devastation of other peoples and the waste of natural resources. They, who are WE, prefer fantasy to reality, because experiencing the reality of what WE are complicit in would mean we must experience overpowering guilt and responsibility. Nobody wants that. So we’ll have to pay in another way.

The climactic scene of the movie is footage from the Dick Cavett show. A new guest enters and says he disagrees with what he’s heard Baldwin say, and asks if there isn’t any other way for him to connect than through race? Surely he must feel more connection with a white author than with an illiterate black.

Baldwin answers that the man is invoking an idealistic vision that he has seen no evidence of. Is he to trust not only himself, but his relatives and children to an idea which he’s never seen manifest in real life? The other seems to have nothing to say–or maybe it’s just that I can’t imagine him saying anything to refute Baldwin.

The idea that racism was once a problem, but is no longer, is popular in some circles. When people complain about it, or even try to talk about it, they’re said to be “race-baiting”. I don’t suppose people with this view are even insincere–that they’re aware of. One such person friended me on Facebook during the past year or so, complimenting me on the posts I’d written on this blog, and trying to persuade me of his views. He was nice to me, never being rude when I stated my own views (which he probably saw as liberal cliches), and even defending me from some of his friends. But I couldn’t agree that racism was no longer a problem, nor could I support his candidate for president. I’m not sure if this movie would mean much to him. I’d like to think it could open his eyes, but that might be too much to expect. There are quite a few people who seem pretty sincere in their disagreement with what I believe. And I certainly am not always right.

The movie Raoul Peck has made isn’t perfect. As one writer complained in a recent article, he didn’t address Baldwin’s homosexuality, even though Baldwin wasn’t shy about that. If he had, the movie would probably have been longer, and even more powerful. As the writer pointed out, Baldwin was criminalized in two ways: not only as a black man, but as a gay man. He was doubly an outsider in ways most whites don’t experience, unless they really want to. Most of us want to be accepted, so don’t confront the injustices we see. That’s what is known as white privilege, a term some people are impatient with. They don’t see themselves as privileged. They also don’t think to ask how a black person might see them.

The movie quickly surveys several movies with themes of black vs white. One is the movie in which Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier are handcuffed together after escaping from prison. At the end of the movie they’ve managed to get rid of the cuffs and are running to catch a train and ride in the box car. Poitier climbs onto the train, Curtis clutches at his hand, but can’t hold on, and falls down the hill. Poitier jumps back off the train. This, Baldwin says, is to reassure a white audience that black people still love them, in spite of the way whites have abused blacks. But, says Baldwin, the black audience had a completely different reaction: they said, “Fool, get back on the train!”

Do we want to know how the people we live with, who had a major role in building this country, but got very little out of it, actually feel, or do we prefer a fantasy? The answer to that question may go a long way to determining our future, as Baldwin says.

An Interesting Time

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We live in a fractured nation, and some of us hardly even know it because we’ve imposed a de facto segregation  on ourselves, and often hear few opinions we disagree with, except on TV.

But there is disagreement, and it’s virulent. Conservatives think conservatism is the natural way to be, and think liberals are hypocritical and malicious. Liberals feel the same way about conservatives. Neither lives up to their best ideals; both feel the other wants to impose their views on a whole range of issues. Not just abortion, but in religion, schools, etc. Part of the problem is economic: an expanding economy and good pay makes up for a multitude of sins, but a lot has to do with cherished beliefs too. A Dominionist Christian is quoted as saying other denominations should have their religious liberties taken away. This is extreme, but isn’t different from past Christian attitudes. It’s contrary to the vision our Founding Fathers had, though.

The Founding Fathers weren’t, in many cases, conventionally religious. They amended the Constitution to include religious liberty because of the still remembered (by some) religious wars of the 17th century. One way to avoid these was to allow every religion to practice, but none to impose its views on any other. The monotheistic religions tend to produce fanatics, and fanatics like to impose their own beliefs. Perhaps we periodically need to be reminded how well that works.

Daryl Davis attended Howard University intending to become a spy or a diplomat. He became a musician instead. He also acquired an unusual hobby: he began talking to members of the Ku Klux Klan.

This may have begun accidentally. He talked to someone after a performance who appreciated how he played piano. That person was a Klan member, and maybe other contacts followed from that one. Davis’s attitude towards him and other Klan members wasn’t accidental, though. He said his question was, How can you hate me when you don’t even know me? It turned out not many could. All many of them wanted was to be listened to. After he listened to them, many began feeling different, and got out of the Klan. Those leaving no longer had any use for their robes, and gave them to him. In the PBS program about him he estimates he has twenty-five or six such robes.

That part is inspiring. He has justified his faith that people can change. What is sad is when he talks to three activists in Baltimore who don’t believe white supremacists CAN change. I couldn’t really blame them: nothing in their experience leads them to believe that, and they feel Davis is a traitor.

They’re not the only people who feel others are traitors, or are angry for other reasons. According to Sidney Blumenthal, our 45th president has always pined for the love of New York City, which has resolutely withheld it from him. This may account for the resentment he displays, and also for his ability to engage the resentment of others, which enabled him to win his campaign. It’s possible we will suffer because New York City didn’t love Donald Trump enough, but many people feel unloved. Christianity told us to love one another, but didn’t teach us how to do that. Consequently, we have done a miserable job of it.

In Mary Renault’s novel about ancient Greece, The Last of the Wine, one character quotes Socrates as saying, “Be what you wish to seem.” This expresses much of the exasperation various groups in America feel about each other: not necessarily their views, but that they don’t behave according to those views. Shaming opponents for believing differently doesn’t change their minds, it causes resentment.

It’s not hard to understand why many people oppose abortion. At least until they know someone who wants to get one because of, for example, rape or incest.

Homosexuality is a similarly hot-button issue. Sexuality is a difficult issue for almost everyone, and the idea of not only having sex outside of marriage but with one’s own gender seems alien to most. Some can be persuaded that it’s not so evil when they know someone who is gay, but not all can. Some parents reject their children when they discover they have AIDS. They seem to believe their children have chosen a life of evil, but aren’t objective enough to ask why they would choose an orientation that so many people detest. When asked that question, they take it very personally, as an attack on their faith, as in some ways it is. Faith in the literal truth of the Bible is a kind of anchor for many who find any analysis of its text to be personally threatening. That’s much of the quarrel of a certain kind of conservative with liberals: liberals make them think unwanted thoughts. That some of these thoughts may embody the sort of compassion Jesus Christ taught doesn’t improve matters. We all prefer the religion that confirms our preexisting beliefs.

When such a resentment is present, it’s not hard to play on it and encourage hatred of others. How did Daryl Davis persuade white supremacists that their views were mistaken? He didn’t judge them. He listened to them and, he says, they persuaded themselves.

Not all will be persuaded, though. The 45th president may or may not emulate Hitler in every way, but there’s a family resemblance in their resentment. Hitler’s father abused him. The president’s father may not have, but the president does seem to feel unloved. Whether it’s New York City he feels rejected by, or whether the rejection comes from elsewhere, it seems likely many of us are going to be punished for it because many others share the feeling. Liberals are an enemy many can agree on, so liberals will be punished. Ordinary people may find that as liberals get punished, so do they, and regret their vote, but by then it will be too late.

Perhaps less justly, Muslims and Hispanics will be punished too. They too seem alien to a lot of people, so are easy to stereotype. It’s not hard for people who don’t know any Muslims to believe they all are terrorists. That few of the Muslims in this country are, that few are likely to get here, and that we have terrorists of our own seems harder to process, especially if one sympathizes in some respects with the white terrorists. Fear of immigrants is easy to take advantage of. The mechanism seems to be that many fear new immigrants will do to us what our ancestors did to Native Americans and imported black slaves. We all know we haven’t treated minorities well, which gives us good reason to fear them. Because of our fears, we mistreat them again, which won’t resolve our difficulties.

Anger can be a potent fuel, but it doesn’t help us harmonize with our neighbors. Unfortunately, the time seems ripe for a holy war. War certainly releases tensions, though it would be nice if we could release them in a more productive fashion. But that’s a matter of individual decision. Perhaps enough individuals will find a better way to behave than they are being encouraged to. This is an interesting time, in the Chinese sense.

Collisions

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We’re told that Congress is preparing to repeal the Affordable Care Act as soon as possible, and that substantial changes to Social Security and Medicare are to follow. According to one narrative, the action with regard to the ACA is because it’s a terrible failure. According to another, it’s because it was enacted by President Obama, which is reason enough in itself. The latter rationale fails to recognize that the Act was based on a Republican plan enacted in Massachusetts by then governor Mitt Romney, and that it insured 20-30 MILLION citizens who hadn’t previously been able to afford health insurance. Figures on the possible consequences of the repeal suggest that 43 million or more people will lose their health insurance, and that something like three million jobs in conjunction with the Act are likely to be lost.

Does this make sense?

There is one advantage to the repeal: wealthy tax-payers, who are specifically targeted to fund the ACA would gain substantial amounts of money (seven million per person?) when those taxes are repealed, and this demographic is, of course, one of the main Republican constituencies. They have others, less wealthy, but seem not to be overly concerned about them.

Disadvantages, besides the loss of health insurance for many people, include damage to the economy through loss of jobs. Do Republicans (at one time considered the fiscally responsible party) care about this? Or does the advantage to the wealthy through tax repeal make up for any disadvantage?

Republicans assure us that there will be a replacement for the ACA, but I have yet to hear what that might be. One of my friends told me she had faith there would be no repeal without an adequate replacement. I told her I wasn’t as optimistic. After all, Republicans have been talking about repeal ever since the ACA was enacted. Why haven’t they been able to agree on what ought to replace it?

One hypothesis is that they don’t WANT to replace it. That’s the extreme view, the one which believes that resistance to the ACA wasn’t just partisan, but also racist, and part of the class war which few people want to acknowledge, especially Republicans, who are currently winning it.

Class war suggests that the vast majority of those opposing Republican initiatives (not including elites of the Democratic party, whose views are not so very different from Republican elites) are not wealthy, and therefore deserve to be scorned and mistreated. Is that too radical a view? I suggest that repealing the ACA, to say nothing of defunding Social Security and Medicare, are actions radical in the extreme, and will not be approved by very many of America’s citizens. If Republicans actually intend these actions, I think they either believe their point of view is more popular than it is (dubious, considering their enthusiasm for suppressing votes by those they consider unlikely to vote for them), or they don’t care if it’s popular or not. That suggests they’re willing to use violence to enforce their desires.

If that’s the case, they no longer believe in democracy, nor do they wish to any longer protect the democratic republic that elected them to high office.

If the above is true, Republicans are unlikely to admit it, even if that’s what they consciously believe. And of course there are rationales for not continuing to maintain a truly democratic (small d) system.

One party is largely composed of the poor and middle class, who aren’t as responsible as the wealthy. If they were responsible, they’d be wealthy themselves. It’s the wealthy who really have “skin in the game”, which is what really encourages responsibility. If you don’t have substantial amounts of property, you can’t be considered a serious citizen. The Founding Fathers believed that, and the expansion of the franchise since is a perversion of their vision. The wealthy show their responsibility by demanding bailouts when their ventures fail, which is certainly an interesting manifestation.

The Founding Fathers also made provision for the institution of slavery, which means that slavery, or its equivalent, is quite acceptable. In turn, this means that if you’re unable to avoid the equivalent of slavery, you’re irresponsible and ought not to have a vote on any issue that affects the whole nation.

Another reason is that democracy, and particularly the version practiced in the USA may be considered inefficient. That is, it’s extremely difficult to get anything done. That the Founding Fathers designed the system to function in this way is beside the point, and need not interfere with the sanctification of the American way of legislation. It should be noted, though, that the Founders did this because they didn’t want it to be possible to pass legislation too easily. From that could come tyranny. Unfortunately, we’ve discovered that tyranny of sorts can come from blocking the legislation process too.

A third reason is that the capitalist economic system is often seen as equivalent to democracy, though it differs in some important respects. One such is that it doesn’t prohibit taxation without representation, one of the main reasons for the American revolution. Capitalism is largely manifested through large corporations (now legally defined as persons) which are responsible only to their shareholders, and no one else. Anyone objecting to that particular definition of democracy runs the risk of being considered a socialist, which is possibly the most dangerous form of treason, although socialism in the form of the aforementioned bailouts seems to be quite acceptable.

As things are presently constituted, the logical end of the proposed changes is the death of many unnecessary people. One may be defined as unnecessary if one doesn’t fill some important function which also pays extremely well. Such functions are now less common than they used to be, since many industrial jobs have now been automated, and only require programmers in order to produce.

Such workers are most desirable, since they don’t require wages, and never get tired. A certain amount of maintenance is sufficient. This makes it possible for wealthy Americans to castigate the poorer ones for laziness without providing them jobs with which they can actually support their families. The days of self-sufficiency pretty much ended with the steep decline in family farms, partly assisted by legislation that made illegal some of the ways they survived, as well as the advent of factory farms, with which smaller organizations couldn’t compete.

Now nearly everyone is dependent on what the large economic players do, and they are very willing to take advantage of that dependence.

Wendell Berry, the writer who is also a farmer, compares the migration of farmers to the cities in America, which began in the 19th century and continued into the 20th, to the migrations in Stalin’s Soviet Union. The difference, he says, is that in the USA the compulsion was economic, while in Russia it was naked violence.

Considering the alienation of the political class from ordinary Americans, violence of one sort or another is by no means impossible in the near future. Republicans are very comfortable with fulfilling the wishes of wealthy elites at the expense of their other constituents. Democrats may be less comfortable, but don’t object to that role.

The stage seems to be set for a variety of collisions. Let’s hope they don’t damage the country and its citizens too much.

The Next President

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After reviewing Donald Trump’s history, it seems obvious that public service isn’t a major motivator for him. He’s always been ambitious, and has evidently been thinking of running for president as long ago as the late eighties. Not seriously at that time, it seems, since he confined his efforts to commenting on the UN and other issues. At least until Barack Obama became president.

The birther controversy was probably initiated by someone else, but Mr. Trump put his face on it. No doubt Mr. Obama was somewhat annoyed about that, because he struck back. When Trump had scheduled a press conference to talk about it, Obama scheduled one at the same time to show documentation for his place of birth. Footage in the documentary on his life shows the TV crew disappearing and Mr. Trump walking away alone.

Obama didn’t stop there. At a function attended by Trump he joked about the birther controversy at length, and Trump had no choice but to laugh along with the rest of the audience. As the narrator of the documentary commented, what Trump hates most is humiliation. Obama had found a chink in Trump’s armor. But Trump had, the narrator suggested, at that moment decided to run for president himself.

His plan went nowhere in 2012, but we know what happened in 2016.

The documentary showed Trump speaking at what was supposedly his first campaign speech. He practically sniffed the air, tuned into what his audience was feeling, and put that into words. When he got a response he knew where to go from there. One of his advantages was in not appearing scripted–because he wasn’t, most of the time. Another was his ability to move an audience. President Obama has that ability too, but his style is much different: cool and rational vs hot and emotional. But hot and emotional was the winning combination this past year.

A lot of people were angry, and willing to vote for someone who promised change, even if it was questionable change. They weren’t interested in voting for experts telling them things they didn’t want to hear. Telling them she wasn’t Trump wasn’t a good strategy for Hillary Clinton. Especially since a lot of people were skeptical of her, whether they should have been or not.

Narrowly he won. President Obama has been walking a line with him since. On the one hand, vowing to make the transition of power as efficient as possible; on the other, stating that had he been at liberty to run, he believes he could have won the presidency again. That’s not an opinion Mr. Trump can be happy hearing, though I’m not aware of his having responded. But it seems clear (after seeing the documentary about him) that Trump saw his candidacy for president as a direct competition with Barack Obama even more than with Hillary Clinton. He won that competition; now he has to win the competition with the view of Obama as a great president. That will probably bedevil him for years to come. He may or may not win applause from Republicans. Winning it from Democrats will be more difficult, and he may settle for making Democrats and liberals (there may be no difference in his mind) as angry as possible. That would play into the desires of his most fervent supporters.

He will say he wants the country to heal, but that’s probably just what he thinks he SHOULD say. He wants applause, but how will he go about getting it? From his nominations for cabinet positions, it appears it’s hard-core Republicans he wants to please. His nominations are people who will likely destroy the departments he wants them to run: a man who favors selling public lands to run the Department of the Interior, a woman with no experience in public education and a record of hostility toward it to run the Department of Education.

If the Republican Congress manages to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and radically cuts both Social Security and Medicare, he will be able to please Republican elites by signing those bills. If he does, though, he will be very publicly breaking a campaign promise, which I doubt will make even his supporters happy.

He wants attention always, and would prefer positive attention, but has also shown a taste for negative attention too, if it upsets people he doesn’t like. On the other hand, he’s thin-skinned, and easily upset by criticism, which he’s going to be getting a lot of. That’s another reason the presidency doesn’t seem to be a good fit for him.

It will be very tempting for a lot of people to try to upset him, since it’s so easy to do. Given his desire for revenge, this may not be the best tactic, though. What may work better is praising him if and when he does anything praiseworthy, on the theory that he may then do more of it. But that doesn’t mean we should let him get away with breaking his promises either, or allowing him to make the presidency into a money-making machine for himself and his family (to say nothing of his cabinet members).

It’s pretty clear we’ve never had a president quite like him. The next four years will be interesting. Let’s hope they’re not also disastrous.