Trump: an exponent of the Zeitgeist.

Rock sprite

Rock sprite

Sometimes it seems as if there is a universal radio station, some worldwide broadcast working in polyglot fashion to influence the minds of the world’s population.  (Well, the part of the population that has written language and is generally aware of other parts of the planet, that is.)  Lately, this Zeitgeist has been harsh, bullying, xenophobic, and nativist.  Witness the election of Donald Trump and the concurrent rise of autocratic ideologies across the world, from Putin to Marine Le Pen to Xi Jinping.  What we’re seeing is the sanctification of bullying and the denigration of education, with science serving as the public whipping boy.

It’s amusing to look back on the way terminologies were used to denote new and progressive thinking in the 20th Century: just think of the Social Sciences.  Political Science, Economics, and such.  It was as if there were laws of politics out there to be found; laws of behaviors and of monetary policy.  All one needed was enough education, and the answers would be found, leading to universal human happiness.

One might think such a reliance on education and science to be quaint or idiosyncratic. A person who is out of work is rarely interested in anything beyond the immediate answer to his or her own employment dilemma; no political scientist ever came up with a hard and fast Law such as might exist in Newtonian physics. But science is always more concerned with the process than in the destination. It was this reliance on science and education that made a hopeful world, a co-operative and welcoming world.

How utterly different things are now.

China thinks only of China’s welfare; Putin’s concern is Russia, period; Alternative für Deutschland cares only about Germany; Trump wouldn’t care if the rest of the world disappeared, except that he’d like to turn the Great Wall of China into a glitzy, banal hotel.

The Zeitgeist has already gone past the first step in this denial of the modern by creating national leaders who puff up the pride of native-born individuals, as if everyone were superior to the rest of the world because of where they happened to have been born.  American Exceptionalism is ridiculed in Russia, but Russians have a very similar set of beliefs about Mother Russia.  The rejection of immigration and multiculturalism is inevitably a means of strengthening the nativist love of place.  We see this rejection all over the world, with only a few notable exceptions such as Canada and Sweden.  The Zeitgeist will reach those places, too, in time.

The future is not bright.  State-sanctioned bullying is never profitable.  My hope is that Donald Trump self-destructs, taking his entire wing of the party along with him into the abyss of Lethean forgetfulness.  Maybe the world can learn a lesson from us.  Maybe the hunger for tribal behavior and vindictiveness will leave the United States exhausted, bloodied, and incapable of partaking of more.  Then, perhaps, we might educate ourselves out of the darkness.  Until then, keep your mind open, your books at hand, and your love of this entire planet — not just your little piece of it — preciously intact.

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No Trump.

Donald J. Trump has won more electoral votes than Hillary Clinton and so shall occupy the White House on January 20, 2017.

I never thought my country was capable of doing this to itself.  Not after having elected Obama.  Twice.

Apparently, the big issue was the economy. Trade deals, declining Main Streets, underemployment.  A majority of voters think Donald J. Trump can deliver answers on the economy.  A man who has never run a successful business, but whose every idea has ended in bankruptcy and ruin for his employees, though millions in tax write-offs for him, is considered trustworthy to bring jobs back to America’s heartland.

Americans voted for a Republican President, a Republican House, and a Republican Senate.  They have a monopoly on power now.  Those people who think they’re forgotten will find that the man they hoped would magically bring prosperity back to their towns has no plan to do that.  That he has no agenda other than self-aggrandizement.

Will those who voted for him remember his promises and hold him to them?  Will they turn sour on him if there is no border wall built at Mexico’s expense; if there are still gun-free zones around schools; if Muslims continue to enter the country; if the ACA is still functioning after Year 1; if unemployment rises; if ISIS does not disappear; if the deficit rises?

I certainly wouldn’t put my money on it.

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NY 21 CD musings #1

Mike Derrick (D), Elise Stefanik (R), Matt Funiciello (G)

All three say they want to “bring back jobs to the North Country.”

What a load of nonsense.  It’s not nonsense that we need more employment opportunities in northern New York, but it is nonsense to say we’re getting them back.  It’s akin to saying, “Make America Great Again.”  When was it great, and for whom?

Employment in NY 21 was overwhelmingly agricultural at one time, and just about anyone who needed work could find it on a farm or orchard.  Now, the work is either done by machine or by migrants, because local people don’t want to work on farms any more.  (Many local teens with whom I’ve spoken don’t know anyone who’s ever applied for a job in a local orchard.)  These days, we sit around and wait for jobs to fall from the sky and hit us on the head, rather like an apple.

Do we want to do away with road construction equipment and bring back the work gangs?  Do we want our forests cut down and made into paper, firewood, or lumber?  Do we want our rivers filthied by industrial pollution as it was before the Clean Water Act?  I’m sure the answer is no to all these questions.  So then, what jobs would we bring back?

Of course, the best question is: What industries do we think can thrive here?  Will anyone want to invest in a place that treasures its water, its air, its forests?  Do we have the infrastructure to support such investment?  Until we can begin debating these questions and possible answers, we will continue to wonder why our politicians don’t seem to deliver on their promises.

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GOP: the abandoned party

web106The Republican Party is the shame of the Western world.  Not only have they nominated Donald Trump to be their candidate for President, but they have jettisoned any claim they had to the mantle of fiscal conservatism.

America is somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 trillion in debt.  That’s $43,000 per man, woman, and child in the United States.  We can’t simply grow our way out of such a hole.  There has to be a coherent idea promulgated by a respected political party that will champion a program to help us recover from this nightmare.  The nightmare, of course, is the likelihood that at some point in the future, one of America’s bondholders (such as China) will be pinched for cash, necessitating a call on some of the money we’ve been using to prop up our drunken spree.  When this happens, we will have to quickly come up with the money — which will be politically impossible.  If we do, we’ll be broke, and that won’t bode well for the world economy.  If we don’t, we’ll have the same result.

Only an insane person or a fool would believe that we can continue like this indefinitely.  But the GOP, once the standard-bearer of fiscal rectitude, has, over the years, abandoned any pretense to this lofty crown.  Indeed, post-1945 governance reveals the Democrats to be better stewards of the economy than the Republicans.  Compare the spending and taxing habits of Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes to the Democrats who preceded them: you’ll find that the only resemblance they have to a Yankee tightwad is purely rhetorical.  Now, it is nobody’s battle.  America, once again, has been side-tracked by nonsense.  And this year, we’re borrowing many billions every month just to keep what we have, such as the big military machine that never knows peace.  We dance to any tune that drowns out the cacophonous noise of reality.  Wait until we have to pay the piper.

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Normally, I think Republicans are less honest and less intelligent than Democrats. I know; that’s wrong and prejudicial. Nobody has a monopoly on truth-telling and intelligence.

Ah, but then comes 2016. Trump vs. Clinton.

I say it now, fully cognizant of what I say: If you vote for Trump, you are an idiot. You have either a brain tumor or have been raised poorly by parents who didn’t know how to use birth control.

That’s all.

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Humor has certainly changed.

Imagine listening to this 100 year old humor record, for which someone in 1916 paid the equivalent of $30 in today’s money, and finding it funny.

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Raise taxes on the rich?

taxesThis meme has been making the rounds, in various forms, online.  It’s almost credible.

Yes, taxes were so high in the ’50s and ’60s that many reasonable people thought them to be confiscatory.  Yes, America built the interstate highway system — but used eminent domain to do so.  Would you be crowing about this accomplishment if it was your farm that became a freeway?  If it was your neighborhood that became an afterthought to an on-ramp?  If it was your ancestral home for which you were paid pennies on the dollar by an all-powerful government?

Yes, we built the internet.  The original intent was to link the military with certain universities, to keep a multiply-redundant and macho form of civilization going in the event of thermonuclear war.  That was DARPA.  A lower taxed society actually developed the internet as we know it.  For all intents and purposes, the internet came about in 1993, with the invention of the first graphical web browser.  We’re just lucky we never needed to use the DARPA version.

Yes, we sent men to the Moon.  That was another military mission.  A military that had more money than it knew what to do with.  We did it because it was our way of poking the USSR in the eye: “Ha! You sent Yuri Gagarin up into the stratosphere, but we sent men to the Moon!”  Remember, the Moon voyages stopped because average Americans saw no utility in them.  The military had all its spy satellites deployed by then anyway, so they let it drop.

No, we did not defeat Communism.  Communism was an unsustainable economic system that was self-defeating.  We did not defeat authoritarianism, which is rising again in Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Kosovo.  It was the authoritarianism that we wanted to defeat.  Nobody would have had a problem with the Soviet Union if the people freely and regularly chose socialism in fair elections.

(One might make a plausible case for Gerald Ford having had a stronger impact on defeating Communism than anyone else, by the way.  When he signed the Helsinki Accords in 1975, he was excoriated by the right for having given away the store.  In fact, all we did was to grant legal and permanent status to the boundaries of post-war Europe, something the Soviet Union dearly wanted.  We got something much more valuable, though: a Soviet signature on a document that specifically mentioned human rights.  Two years later, a Czechoslovak group called Charter ’77 began using the definitions given in the Helsinki Accords to agitate for political freedom.  According to the accords, the Husak regime could no longer simply imprison dissidents; amazingly, the satellite countries stuck to their side of the bargain.  Nobody actually thought they would, and it took a lot of intelligence — or just faith — on the part of President Ford to sign this historic agreement.  After Charter ’77, similar movements began to organize in Poland, Hungary, even East Germany.) 

Our education system has never been the envy of the world.  This is a myth.  Our universities have been, and still are, justifiably the envy of the world: people from all over the planet want to attend Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and the like.  Taxes don’t support them and never did.  But tell me a time when rich princes and princesses were sent to the United States to attend its fabulous tax-supported elementary schools?

Our middle class has never been thriving.  In fact, the middle class can pretty much be defined as “those people who feel caught between the upper class and the lower class, and who constantly feel as if the floor is rising but the ceiling is not.”  In his book, The Big Change, Frederick Lewis Allen described the early 20th Century as being a time of a rapidly growing divide between the very rich and the rest of society. The consolidation of corporate capitalism in the 1920s brought about a further concentration of wealth.  Allen explained how the middle class was disappearing by the 1940s because of the difficulty in creating new businesses: all the corporations had already cornered the market in just about everything.  There just wasn’t a chance for Joe and Jane Average any more.  If that sounds unlikely, or possibly familiar, don’t be surprised: somebody has been saying virtually the same thing in every election since the dawn of the industrial age.  Every statistic you can find to prove the shrinkage of the middle class can be countered by equally verifiable statistics that prove the opposite.

Our economy was unparalleled.  Yes, it was.  Back in the days of American imperialism.  We wanted colonies, so we started a war with Spain and took Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.  After we established our international credentials in the first World War, our trade increased phenomenally with a broken Europe.  They couldn’t manufacture anything, but they could buy things with money that we lent them.  Then the second World War came around, and we established an empire the likes of which the world had never seen.  The dollar was, and is, the world’s currency.  When the world’s commodity markets are priced in dollars, it is a tremendous advantage for the United States.  When you have an empire, and not only the empire but its enemies have to deal in your currency, you can have an unparalleled advantage in the economies of the world.  Yes, taxes supported that empire.

Do we really want confiscatory taxes again?  It will go, once again, to the military and to the maintenance of empire.

Oh, and one last thing.  The only people who ever really paid the confiscatory taxes were the people who considered themselves middle class.  The rich quickly found ways to exploit deductions, so that while the nominal high rate was 90%, absolutely nobody paid anything close to that amount in taxes.

We don’t need to raise taxes on the rich.  We need to get rid of the American military mindset first.  Otherwise that uniformed leech will syphon off the nation’s wealth, just as they did in the vaunted ’50s and ’60s.  Or don’t you recall VietNam?

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