Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

American Christianity I

November 14, 2018

I have just read an article by Amanda Marcotte in Salon, titled “White evangelicals will never dump Trump — but those who leave the churches will”.

It brought me back to the mid-1950s, when I was an undergraduate at Caltech. At the time the campus had a facility for listening to classical music, called the Musicale, copmprising a small room with up-to-date (I don’t think “state-of-the-art” was in use yet) hi-fi equipment for playing LP records in stereo (both innovations at the time). There were very few of us who used the facility — typically for eating our bag lunches — and those few became friends.

One member of our group, with whom I became close, was a graduate student in chemistry, who turned out to be an evangelical Christian, affiliated with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He believed in a personal god and a personal devil — beliefs that did not diminish his dedication to science. (He has, I have discovered, remained faithful to both — in his fashion — having written a book criticizing “intelligent design“.)

When the 1956 presidential election came upon us, he surprised me by saying that he would vote for Stevenson. The reason, he said, was that “to vote for Eisenhower is to vote for Nixon, and Nixon is evil.” This was a decade and a half before Watergate.

In don’t know how my friend’s politics have evolved since our student days (he long ago moved to Canada), but it was only a few years later that the “evil” Nixon got the wholehearted support of Billy Graham. And the political evolution of evangelical Christianity in America has followed a straight line from that to its present-day embrace of Donald Trump.

 

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Enemy of the people

November 12, 2018

Illiterate as he is, Donald Trump almost certainly has no idea that the phrase “enemy of the people” which which he likes to label the media strikes most literate people as ironic, since it evokes Ibsen’s play, in which the title character is actually the hero. (This resembles the common pejorative use of “ugly American” which ignores the fact that the title character of the novel so titled is the good guy.)

But, just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, so Donald Trump may accidentally hit on the truth. And in at least one respect the American mainstream media really have been inimical to the interests of the people: by creating the media phenomenon of “Donald Trump” (which is all that he is). The disgraced (for other reasons) former head of CBS, Leslie Moonves, said so explicitly, referring to Trump’s presidential candidacy: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

“The money’s rolling in and this is fun,” Moonves went on. “I’ve never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”1

Other media executives may not have been quite so explicit, but they were all complicit.

Capitals

December 19, 2017

Every so often, some American on the left side of the political spectrum gives Donald Trump grudging credit for something positive. Recent examples include Stephen F. Cohen, in The Nation, acknowledging the Trump administration’s moves toward better relations with Russia, and Daniel Wirls, on The Conversation, writing that “Trump’s right about one thing: The US Senate should end its 60-vote majority.”

When I first heard that Trump announced the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, I had similar feelings. After all, I thought, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel: it’s where all of its government institutions are, and isn’t that what a capital is? I’ve always been bothered by journalists using Tel Aviv as a synecdoche for Israel, especially when the government was meant. And so I thought that Trump’s “recognition of reality” was to the point.

But then I head a second thought. Maybe it’s too much to insist on one city being the capital of a country. Look at the Netherlands: for all practical purposes the capital is the Hague, and yet the constitutional capital is Amsterdam. In fact, Wikipedia has a list of countries with multiple capitals, and while Israel is not on the actual list, its situation is discussed in the section following it.

Since all the foreign embassies to Israel are in or around Tel Aviv, we might call this city the diplomatic capital, and acknowledge Jerusalem as the political capital.

I know, “political capital” has another meaning, but that’s English for you!

 

That damned electoral college, again

November 11, 2016

Sixteen years ago, in the wake of one of the most contested presidential elections in American history (and one in which, as in the recent one, the winner of the popular vote lost the electoral one), I wrote an essay in which, among other things, I analyzed the effect of changing our electoral system without amending the Constitution, by having the electors in each state determined by proportional representation rather than by winner-take-all. The result was that, in that election, Gore and Bush would have received 263 votes each, and Nader 12. Under the Constitution, then, the election would have been decided — even more undemocratically — by the House of Representatives. But of course the different system would probably have produced different results in the vote, and, as I wrote then, “in a system in which ‘third-party’ candidates are potential recipients of electoral votes, the electors might regain some of the discretion that the framers of the Constitution had intended for them to have.” It was perfectly possible, I wrote further, “that the state Green Party organizations would operate on the lesser-evil principle and instruct their electors – ahead of time, of course, so that voters would know – to vote for Gore.”

I subjected the recent election to a similar analysis, and found an equivalent result: 265 for Clinton, 259 for Trump, 12 for Johnson, and one each for Stein and McMullen. If the scenario I just imagined were to occur, what would Johnson’s electors do?

I have always thought of self-styled Libertarians as Republicans who liked to smoke pot, and I believe that their electors would choose Trump over Clinton.

This is exactly what would happen in the impossible case of replacing the electoral college with direct elections. Neither major candidate having received a majority of the popular vote, a runoff would be required, and I suspect that most of the Johnson vote would go to Trump (he is, after all, if not exactly a libertarian, at least a libertine), giving him the victory.

Now all we need is for all fifty states to adopt the principle of proportional representation for presidential electors.

Charisma on the left

November 11, 2016

Let me quote from an article, purportedly written by a German journalist after John F. Kennedy’s Berlin speech in 1963.

[T]here is another term with which American journalists describe John F. Kennedy, and his speech justified the description. The term is charismatic.

We are used to thinking of charisma in Max Weber’s terms: as “an individual’s quality regarded as beyond the everyday (originally… as magically induced), by virtue of which he or she is treated as someone with powers or qualities that are supernatural or superhuman, or at least beyond the everyday and not accessible to just anyone, or as God-sent or as exemplary, and therefore as a ‘leader.’”

In politics, this is the form of charisma that we have seen in dictators. But we see a reflex of it in certain democratically elected leaders as well, leaders whom the people treat with a trust and a deference bordering on awe: Churchill, Eisenhower, De Gaulle, Adenauer. Note that these leaders were all in their sixties when they first attained their positions of power. Their charisma is that of what Freud called a “father figure.” Note also that all these figures are all, politically, on the right.

John F. Kennedy’s charisma is different; Freud might have called it that of a “brother figure.” It power resides in making the people believe that he is one of them, not above them à la Weber. And Kennedy’s German phrase, with the emphasis – perhaps unintentional – on ein, embodies that power.

I posit that it is this kind of charisma, which is already coming to be known as Kennedyesque (the President is said to share it with his younger brother, the Justice Minister Robert F. Kennedy), that is necessary for political victory by a leader on the left.

In a democratic state, a vote is an act that is directed toward the future, and the way one votes expresses the way one feels about the future.

And what are our feelings about the future? Typically, a mixture of fear and hope. If the predominant feeling is fear, then one’s vote represents a desire for the fear to be quelled, and it will go to the party that promises security and stability. That, normally, is a party of the right, whether it calls itself conservative, Christian, or a people’s party.

But if the predominant feeling is hope, then the vote will go to whoever can kindle hope with a promise of progress, and such a vote will typically go to the left. In the United States, this is the role of the Democratic Party, as typified by the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The difference is this: for the promise of stability, charisma is not necessary, except perhaps at times of crisis; an appearance of competence is normally sufficient. But to kindle hope one needs that special something that I call charisma on the left. It was possessed by Roosevelt and by Louis St. Laurent (whom the press called ‘Uncle Louis’), and it is what we find in John F. Kennedy, the embodiment of hope in present-day politics.

And who among us has, on the left, the ability to kindle hope? The man with the greatest potential, despite his loss two years ago (though with greatly improved results for his party), is still Willy Brandt, Kennedy’s friend, who stood with him in front of the Schöneberg City Hall during the speech. Those who wish the SPD well can only hope that it stays with Brandt until such time as hope wins out over fear in the hearts of West Germans.

But as a Hamburger – a relatively new one, but one baptized by last year’s storm tide – I would like to add that our own Helmut Schmidt is another man with the potential of inspiring hope, as he demonstrated by the way he led us out of that disaster.

The reason I wrote “purportedly” is that the German journalist is actually a fictional character in a novel of mine, written in 2009.  It was of course written in hindsight, with the knowledge that Brandt, and Schmidt after him, would be elected (and in Schmidt’s case reelected) as Chancellor. And now I can extend the list of politically successful left-of-center leaders who possessed that kind of charisma: Olof Palme; François Mitterrand; Felipe González; Tony Blair; Bill Clinton; Lula da Silva; Trudeau père (and potentially fils as well); Barack Obama.

The statement I put in boldface has to be qualified by recognizing that occasionally non-charismatic leaders on the left of center do make it to the top, but it’s almost always due to peculiar circumstances, as in the cases of Lyndon B. Johnson (the Kennedy assassination), Jimmy Carter (the scandals of the Nixon administration), José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (the Madrid bombings), Gordon Brown (Blair’s resignation), and most recently François Hollande (the unpopularity of Sarkozy). Johnson and Zapatero, somehow, managed to get reelected because of genuine accomplishments, but not Carter and Brown, and probably not Hollande.

Hillary Clinton, for all her virtues, is not charismatic. The 2016 US presidential election seemed to have provided one of those peculiar circumstances  — the candidacy of Donald Trump — that might have allowed her to win anyway. But Trump, apparently, projected enough of  that “appearance of competence” to enough people to give him the usual fear-driven right-wing victory.

For the Democratic Party to win in 2020, one of two things is necessary: a disastrous Trump administration, or a candidate endowed with charisma, Kennedyesque or otherwise (such as that shown by Bernie Sanders). Otherwise the party is doomed yet again.

 

Birtherism reborn?

January 6, 2016

For some time now I have wondered why the “birthers” of recent years — those who questioned Barack Obama’s birth in the United States and hence his eligibility for the presidency — did not apply the same criterion to Ted Cruz, about whose birth in Canada there is no doubt. Cruz’s status as a “natural-born citizen of the United States” is based on the American citizenship of his mother. But then, to my knowledge, no one ever questioned the citizenship of Ann Dunham, Obama’s mother, so that, by the standard applied to Cruz, Obama’s hypothetical birth in Kenya should be irrelevant.

Well, leave it to Donald Trump. According to a headline in the Washington Post, “Trump says Cruz’s Canadian birth could be ‘very precarious’ for GOP.” In his usual weaselly way, “Trump said he was providing a candid assessment of his leading opponent rather than initiating a personal attack and reviving the ‘birther’ debate that he once led against President Obama. He repeatedly said he is hearing chatter on the topic among voices on the right. ‘People are bringing it up,’ he said.”

We’ll see where this goes.

A few questions

August 18, 2015

I have a few questions for Donald Trump.

  1. Has he ever seen the Sesame Street episode about Ronald Grump? (It was made in 1994, when his son Eric was 10 and might have watched the show.)
  2. Has he read the New Yorker article about the cross-border tunnels dug by the Mexican cartels? (Surely they would make his vaunted wall a monument to futility.)
  3. Has he ever taken a survey of how many of the service employees in the hotels bearing his name (whether or not they are actually his) might be illegal immigrants? Do they earn the kind of wages that might attract American workers?

I expect no answers, of course.

On second thought, these and similar questions about Trump can be subsumed under one: Does Donald Trump know anything?

His political rise may well signal the second coming of the Know-Nothing Party.

Giant-ego men vs. competent women who happen to be beautiful

August 15, 2015

Take your pick.

Donald Trump vs. Megyn Kelly

THE CELEBRITY APPRENTICE -- Episode 912 -- Pictured: Donald Trump -- Photo by: Ali Goldstein/NBCmegynkelly

José Mourinho vs. Eva Carneiro:

 

Jose-Mourinho--chelsea n_chelsea_fc_eva_carneiro-4998475

In both cases, a very successful man with an oversized ego angrily attacked a competent professional woman, who happens to be quite beautiful, for doing her job.

I happen to be a fan of Eva Carneiro; I watch Chelsea matches for two reasons: to see the lovely Dr. Eva and to see (hopefully) Chelsea lose. I am not a fan of Megyn Kelly, but I respect her. And I despise both men.

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