Trump’s Bombastic Trumpeting

221686821_b05eb71b96_oIn the last couple of days, the insult “un-American” has been slung at Donald Trump as if xenophobia is atypical in the home of the brave and land of the free, as if historically, the sons and daughters of the nation’s original Anglican immigrants rolled out red carpets of welcome for those hordes of Irish and Italian immigrants who poured into Manhattan back in the day, as if FDR didn’t round up law-abiding Japanese-American citizens and lock them away in internment camps during WW2, as if the Supreme Court didn’t uphold that action as constitutional.   Although I’m opening myself up to the charge of being one of those “hate-America-first” lefties, we should not forget that genocide and enslavement play important roles in the founding of our country. In fact, you could argue – and virtually all the neighbors who flocked to see the Donald at the Yorktown Monday would agree – it’s I-and-I who is un-American for bringing up those offputting historical blights.

In the current Harpers, Lewis H Lapham, this century’s HL Mencken, casts his satirical eye at the United States’ democratic traditions and the current presidential campaign. I encourage you to read the entire piece [found here], but in the tradition of Harper’s itself, I thought I’d share a few of its highlights, to sort of excerpt the article, and then to end with some personal observations on the Donald.

Lewis H Lapham

Lewis H Lapham

Lapham begins the piece by claiming that “throughout most of its history” the US has preferred “concentrated wealth” to “democracy.” He cites Plato’s contention in The Republic that “’noble falsehood’ is the stuff that binds a society together in self-preserving myth.” The myth in this case is that the god who created men “mixed gold into some of them” and that these men “are adequately equipped to rule, because they are the most valuable.” Lapham suggests that the Founding Fathers essentially agreed with Socrates’ elitist vision of leadership and so created “a government in which a privileged few would arrange the distribution of law and property to and for the less fortunate many, an enlightened oligarchy that would nurture both the private and the public good, accommodating both the motions of the heart and the movements of a market.”

These leaders, to quote Madison, possessed the “most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society.” “But not enough virtue and wisdom,” Lapham reminds us, “to free the republic of its slaves.” That task was left to men neither enlightened nor rich giving their ‘last full measure of devotion’ to consecrate ‘the proposition that all men are created equal.” In other words, common men with rifles who fought fiercely at places like Shiloh, Gettysburg, and Spotsylvania accomplished the task of emancipation.

Lapham credits Lincoln with the establishment of the myth of equality but laments  that the myth has lost its power. He argues that now “presidential-election campaigns [are] designed to be seen, not heard, the viewers invited to understand government as representative in the theatrical, not the constitutional, sense of the word.” He goes on to say that “this simplified concept of politics installed Ronald Reagan in the White House in 1981 to represent the country’s preferred image of itself, uproot the democratic style of thought and feeling that underwrote Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, restore America to its rightful place where “someone can always get rich.”

Let’s just say that Lapham is immune to the Gipper’s charms.

The evening [of the welcoming ceremony produced by Frank Sinatra at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, on the night before Reagan’s inauguration] set the tone of the incoming Republican political agenda, promising a happy return to an imaginary American past — to the amber waves of grain from sea to shining sea, the home on the range made safe from Apaches by John Wayne in John Ford’s Stagecoach. The great leap backward was billed as a bright new morning in an America once again cowboy-hatted and standing tall, risen from the ashes of defeat in Vietnam, cleansed of its Watergate impurities, outspending the Russians on weapons of mass destruction. During the whole of his eight years in office Reagan was near perfect in his lines — “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” — sure of hitting his marks on Omaha and Malibu Beach, snapping a sunny salute to a Girl Scout cookie or a nuclear submarine. The president maybe hadn’t read Plato in the ancient Greek, but myth was his métier, and he had the script by heart. Facts didn’t matter because, as he was apt to say, “facts are stupid things.” What mattered was the warmth of Reagan’s bandleader smile, his golden album of red, white, and blue sentiment instilling consumer confidence in the virtuous virtual reality of an America that wasn’t there. The television cameras loved him; so did the voters. To this day he remains up there with Abraham Lincoln in the annual polls asking who was America’s greatest president.

Nor does Lapham have a “man-crush” on Bill Clinton:

The cameras also loved Bill Clinton, who modeled his presidency on The Oprah Winfrey Show rebooted to star himself as both bighearted celebrity host and shamefaced celebrity guest, reaching out at the top of the hour for more love and more cheeseburgers, after the commercial break dealing bravely with the paternity of the stains on Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress. He was admired not only for the ease with which he told smiling and welcome lies but also for his capacity to bear insult and humiliation with the imperturbable calm of a piñata spilling forth presidential largesse as corporate subsidy and tabloid scandal.

Nowadays, “The proposition that all men are created equal no longer wins the hearts and minds of America’s downwardly mobile working classes — employed and unemployed, lower, lower-middle, middle, upper-middle, adjunct, and retired.”

Political campaigns distinguish voters “not by the fact of being American but by the ancillary characteristics that reduce them to a commodity: gun-carrying American, female American, white American, gay American, African American, Hispanic American, Native American, swing-state American, Christian American, alienated American. The subordination of the noun to the adjective makes a mockery of the democratic premise and fosters the bitter separation of private goods, not the binding together of a public good.” A handful of billionaires possess incredible leverage in determining who becomes the nominee, billionaires “said to have earmarked $900 million to be scattered like baubles from a Mardi Gras parade float among Republican hopefuls able to quote from the Constitution as well as from the Bible.”

But, hold on, wait a minute. Enter Donald Trump. He don’t need their filthy lucre:

Trump established the bona fides of his claim to the White House on the simple but all-encompassing and imperishable truth that he was really, really rich, unbought and therefore unbossed, so magnificently rich that he was free to say whatever it came into his head to say, to do whatever it took to root out the corruption and stupidity in Washington, clean up the mess in the Middle East, or wherever else in the world ungrateful foreigners were neglecting their duty to do the bidding of the United States of America, the greatest show on earth, which deserved the helping hand of Trump, the greatest name on earth, to make it worthy of his signature men’s colognes (Empire and Success) and set it free to fulfill the destiny emblazoned on his baseball cap: make America great again

Well, if Ronald Reagan’s and Bill Clinton’s prodigious charm can’t penetrate the force field Lewis H Lapham’s cynicism, how could a Vaudevillian vulgarian like Trump have a chance:

The man [is] a preposterous self-promoting clown, a vulgar lout, an unscripted canary flown from its gilded cage, a braggart in boorish violation of the political-correctness codes, referring to Mexicans (some Mexicans, not all Mexicans) as “criminals” and “rapists,” questioning John McCain’s credentials as a war hero (“I like people who weren’t captured”), telling Megyn Kelly on Fox News that if from time to time he had been heard to describe women he didn’t like as “dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals,” he meant “only Rosie O’Donnell.”

Lapham ends on this melancholy note:

The electorate over the past forty years has been taught to believe that the future can be bought instead of made, and the active presence of the citizen has given way to the passive absence of the consumer. A debased electorate asks of their rulers what the rich ask of their servants — comfort us, tell us what to do. The wish to be cared for replaces the will to act, the spirit of freedom trumped by the faith invested in a dear leader. The camera doesn’t lend itself to democracy, but if it’s blind to muddy boots on common ground, it gazes adoringly at polished boots mounted on horseback.

Lapham wrote this piece before the Paris and San Bernardino attacks and so wasn’t privy to Trump’s incendiary ideas of banning Muslims, statements that aid ISIS in propagandizing the USA as a land of Islam-loathing infidels. Some commentators have jacked up his demagogic profile from being a latter-day self-promoting PT Barnum to a Joe McCarthy and now, most recently, to a Mussolini or Hitler.

trumo as barnumObviously, Trump is an incredibly needy, insecure man who has somehow confused the ability to amass money with wisdom. Back in the summer I found his gargantuan self-aggrandizement amusing –  like a blaring trumpeter who’s so bad, it’s funny.  It’s gone on long enough.  It has become tiresome — if not dangerous.

In fact, I’m getting a little bit scared – not that he’ll be elected President but that his super nationalistic rantings have generated such a following. Check out the screaming woman in the picture below. Is she a protestor who has somehow made her way to the front of the crowd or someone bellowing to keep the damn Muslims out?  She certainly doesn’t look like a likely Trump supporter.  Nor does the Whitman-looking fellow three people back on the left.  Is this a picture of un-American Americans or merely a portrait of likely South Carolina primary voters?

 

08-trump-yorktown3.w529.h352

 

A Review of Punditry re. the Republican Debate

Jimmy Carter, one of the Right’s favorite punching bags, commented recently that the United States was no longer a democracy but an oligarchy. Although perhaps hyperbolic, Carter’s comments do highlight some uncomfortable facts. For example, according to the New York Times, “fewer than four hundred families are responsible for almost half the money raised in the 2016 presidential campaign, a concentration of political donors that is unprecedented in the modern era.”

Not surprisingly, one of the most pressing issues for these donor families is the abolition of estate taxes.   How many family estates pay taxes, you might wonder? In 2015, 1.2% of the population paid “death taxes” as the Koch brothers call them, or the “Paris Hilton tax” as EJ Dionne of the Washington Post labels them.

Of course, loopholes large enough for not only camels, but also elephants and asteroids to pass through are there for the exploitation, so when you get down to it, the effective tax rate for the estates of this 1.2% of the population boils down to a paltry 16.6% on average. And get this, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, only “20 [that’s 4 x 5 = 20] small business and farm estates nationwide owed any estate taxes in 2013.”

So does repealing the estate tax make any sense for a government that spends in excess of 600 billion dollars a year on defense alone?

You betcha, if you’re one the Koch brothers or the other 400 families who have raised half of the money flowing into these so-called super PACs.

Next question. How many of the Republican presidential candidates are for the abolishment of estate taxes?

[cue sarcastic laughter]

Which brings me to last Thursday’s presidential debate, which I sort of watched while checking out tweets. (Given my delicate sensibility, my enduring such a grotesque circus is tantamount to drinking that rancid pre-colonoscopy concoction).

More to my taste is reading the pundits’ “takeaways.” Who were the winners and losers?

Well, here’s Hoodoo’s run-down of the conventional wisdom.

The BIG WINNERS according to the pundits:

Carly Fiorina

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 18:  Carly Fiorina, former CEO of the Hewlett-Packard Company, speaks at the Heritage Foundation December 18, 2014 in Washington, DC. Fiorina joined a panel discussion on the topic of

As far as biography goes, Ms Fiorina, the daughter of a law school professor, dean, and federal judge father and a portrait/abstract artist mother has the advantage of growing up in relative poverty, despite the fact that her parents gave her a grand piano as a wedding gift. She touts her career arc as rising “from secretary to CEO,” and it’s no lie.

During summers while attending Stanford, she worked at Kelley services, and after dropping out of UCLA’s School of Law, she served time as a receptionist at the real estate firm Marcus and Millichap. Later, she earned an MBA from Maryland and a Masters in Management from the Sloan School of Management at MIT.

Obviously, she ain’t no dummy, and besides that, she’s articulate and quick on her feet, attributes she displayed Thursday night and a rare commodity among most of the other “contestants” on the stage of what seemed more like a gameshow than a debate.

So I agree with the CW on Fiorina. Don’t be surprised if she ends up being a vice presidential choice, despite her first ex-husband Todd Bartlem’s accusation that during their marriage she had an affair with her soon-to-be second and later ex-husband, Frank Fiorina, a senior executive at ATT. Obviously bitter, Bartlem told that paragon of journalistic excellence the Daily Mail that Fiorina “los[t] her humanity” in a “pathological” pursuit of power.

In her memoir Tough Choices, she describes the marriage’s dissolution this way: “While we were married, we weren’t peers.”

Ouch!

Marco Rubio

rubio_perplexed_master_0Like Carly Fiona, Rubio was also lucky enough not to be a beneficiary of great wealth. (Some people have all the luck; sorry, Jeb). In fact, Rubio’s father worked as a bartender, as Marco likes to boast.

CW went gaga over Rubio’s performance. He took on Hillary’s claim of “living from paycheck to paycheck” to great applause and spoke of the 100K of student loans he racked up and repaid in full, though he wisely didn’t mention the $80,000 boat he purchased while paying off his loans, his liquidating a $68,000 retirement account, nor did he mention his failure to make mortgage payments on his home for five months, nor the fact that he had a lease of $50,000 on a 2015 Audi Q7.

Now that’s what I call living from paycheck to paycheck in style!

I disagree with the CW that Rubio was a big winner because of his statement that he doesn’t believe in abortions even if the mother’s life is at stake.

Not to mention rape and incest.

I can see the Hillary commercial now. Female voiceover, pregnant mother with damaged fetus that threatens her life makes the excruciating decision to abort. Cut to subsequently born happy white children skipping towards a swing set to be pushed by surviving, smiling mother.

Or, how about a couple of shots of the baby in David Lynch’s Eraser Head?

John Kasich

pic_related_111014_SM_John-KasichOnce again Kasich is fortunate to come from modest means; his father was a mail carrier.

During the debate, I agree he was very effective. His response to why he had expanded Medicaid was superb, essentially, “duh,” who in her right mind wouldn’t?

Though the pundits universally adored it, I was less impressed with his non-answer on how he would explain to his hypothetically gay daughter why he doesn’t support marriage equality. Rather than saying, “because the Bible tells me so” or “I believe that sexual orientation is a choice,” he dodged the question and boasted that he had recently attended a gay wedding and added, “If one of my daughters were that, of course, I would love them.” (my italics)

Well, duh, who in his right mind wouldn’t?

Still, if you’re a rational Republican willing to compromise on your contempt for the poor, Kasich strikes me as eminently electable.

THE SO-SO WATER TREADERS

Jeb Bush

I actually think Jeb was a loser and agree with Frank Rich’s assessment that Bush speaks “with all the conviction of a robo-call.” He needed to create some sparks and didn’t.

Plus the poor bastard is a scion of one of the 1.2% of the families who will have to pay some estate taxes when #41 passes from, in Richard Wilbur’s words, “this rotten/Taxable world to a higher standard of living.”

Scott Walker

walker super durpThe conventional wisdom — too scripted — which maybe was a good thing. I can’t find to share the mean-spirited image flashing its way through cyberspace the night of the debate, a motion gif that makes Dukakis in that iconic attack ad featuring him in a tank look like Sean Connery’s James Bond in comparison.

So the picture above will have to do.

Mike Huckabee

An articulate spokesman for the 5th Century BCE, but will his message appeal to 21st Century voters?

Chris Christie, Rick Perry, et al

 Yawn.

BIG LOSERS

Rand Paul

Rand Paul

Though some have touted him a winner, most see Rand Paul as a loser, and I agree with the latter. To break out of this pack, you need charisma, and in Paul’s case, a new hairdresser.

And last but not least

Donald Trump.

ptbOh, where is HL Mencken when we need him?

Dead and gone to hell, according to all these men and woman of faith.

I so wish someone had asked Trump about his metaphysical beliefs. Perhaps he would have identified himself as the Messiah.

I would, though, if I were Fox News, not be so gung-ho in expelling him from Republic contention. As my favorite saint, Teresa of Avila, famously put it, “More tears have been shed over answered prayers than unanswered prayers.”

A Trump independent candidacy would doom the Republicans.

Bottom line: All these candidates seem to care about are rich folk and fetuses.

That may be enough if you have the 1.2% shoveling unlimited money your way. For as PT Barnum said and Donald Trump’s ascendency proves, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”