October 26, 2017 § Leave a comment
A teenage girl from Central America entered the United States seeking asylum. She was apprehended by customs officials and detained, awaiting a ruling on her right to remain in the United States.
The girl was pregnant when she entered the United States. She concluded, based on her knowledge of her own ability and the circumstances in which she found herself, that it would be unwise for her to assume responsibility for raising a child. So she sought an abortion.
When she asked for the care of a doctor she was confronted with interference by the United States government, prompted and led by Scott Lloyd, appointed by President Trump to oversee the Resettlement of Refugees.
Mr. Lloyd had little or no experience to qualify him for that post but he did have a long record of expressing his Roman Catholic religious opposition to abortion. Based on the beliefs of that religious sect, he unleashed the power of the federal government to impose his zeal on the teenage girl and, heedless of her beliefs, force her to give birth to a child.
She was told she could abandon her right to seek asylum in the U.S. or abandon her right to abort her pregnancy. If she asserted her right to asylum, she would have to give up her right to abort her pregnancy.
The ACLU responded to this assault on the girl’s rights and, not surprisingly, obtained judicial relief for her. She obtained an abortion. This result was achieved, however, only after the girl was forced to watch a movie starring the fetus and enduring a harangue by one or more representatives of religious sects trying to impose their religious beliefs on her and warning her that, by asserting her right to abort her pregnancy, she was committing a sin.
The First Amendment to our Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” I know the key court decision guaranteeing a woman’s right tto abort a pregnancy was based on the “right of privacy” and not on this (to me at least) plain language of our Bill of Rights. The result delights me but the facts of this latest episode express, to me at least, eloquently and precisely why it is so un-American and disgraceful to subject a young woman to religious tests and forced shaming before she is allowed to make a decision about her own body.
To me the “free exercise” of religion means rejecting religion altogether is a right no less valuable than the right to choose adherence to any one of the myriad of religious doctrines commanding the devotion of men and women all over the world. I have no hostility toward religion and I am proud of our Constitution’s protection of its exercise. I do, however, regard forcing one’s religious choices on another person as a vile and evil practice with a history rife with examples of man’s ability and inclination to engage in cruelty and mass murder on a scale that beggars the imagination.
If any of my readers doubt the truth of this last statement, here is citation obtained by a brief Google search: https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/interview-converting-by-the-sword
The Importance of Language
I have so far expressed my outrage at the effort to impose a particular religious idea on a girl seeking an abortion. I now need to respond to those who dissent by expressing care and concern for the fetus who was the subject of the girl’s abortion.
First, I think it is useful to address the meaning of the word “person”. Here is the definition: “[a] noun : human being, individual, man/woman, child, human, being, (living) soul, mortal, creature; personage, character, customer; ,. . . .”
The absurd problem with which our laws now entangle us began with the judicial necromancy that equated the word “person” with a legal device designed to facilitate the organization of investors to pool money in a business enterprise and to limit their potential liability to the value of the device. The device is a corporation. A corporation has no pulse. It cannot be drafted or imprisoned. It can be terminated without judicial intervention. It cannot breathe. It has no pulse. It has no heart. In short it has no resemblance to a human being. Despite these facts, for more than a century, as a result of a feat of verbal gymnastics by the Supreme Court, corporations are deemed to be “persons”.
This kind of redefining words is the type of language abuse foreshadowed in Lewis Caroll’s Humpty Dumpty:
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”
Decades later, George Orwell warned us about allowing government to redefine words in his novel “1984”. He reminded us that our laws and our Constitution protect us only to the extent stated in their words. And when we loose words from their moorings and allow them to be redefined by power-seeking politicians, we endanger our freedom. Here is New York Times 2007 essay expressing this concern, one I fully share:
As a result of the above referenced Supreme Court decision conflating a corporation with the word “person”, when the government of the United States seeks to regulate the activities of a corporation it must do so within the confines of our Bill of Rights. It is my fervent hope that, sooner or later, our Constitution will, be amended to solve this absurdity with an amendment. We regulate the actions of motor vehicles on our roads and I am confident we will be able to regulate the activities of corporations without the pretense based on this nonsense.
One result of this misinterpretation of the word “person” is the Supreme Court decision that enabled corporations to engage in politics and finance candidates for election. In other words, a brainless, conscienceless zombie creation of one or more people has potential influence on the election of government officials equal to an actual human being.
Another pernicious result of this institutionalized ignorance is the notion, enthusiastically embraced by the religious zealots who feel divinely appointed to impose their religious doctrine on expectent mothers, equating a zygote to a “person” entitled to all of the protection of the Bill of Rights. [To appreciate the twisted interpretation of language this idea requires: Here is a definition of a zygote: “A fertilized female egg from which a baby will develop is an example of a zygote.”]
A zygote is not a person. A person is a living breathing animal who has been removed and disconnected from a woman’s womb. Confusing the meaning of words to blur this distinction leads to unnecessary intrusion into the rights of a woman while she cares for and nurtures her unborn child. It does not add protection to the child and it infringes the rights of the mother. Separating the rights of a mother from the rights of her unborn child enables meddling outsiders to interject themselves into what is the most personal and intimate relationship of our species: the relationship of a woman to her own body.
We now have members of various religious sects picketing clinics where abortions are performed; political efforts to make such clinics impractical for low income patients to access by locating them hundreds of miles away from population centers; requiring waiting periods requiring overnight stays, thus increasing the expense and, again, denying access to low income patients – the imagination of those hateful people intent on “protecting the unborn” while harassing expectant mothers is fueled by their self righteous zeal.
I know this effort is an angry one. I am angry. I have daughters, grand daughters and great grand daughters. The possibility that they can be bullied and defamed because of their personal religious ideas or their lack thereof outrages me. I know they, like he rest of us, may be prey from criminals who wish to harm them. That risk is part of living in a world with a diverse population.
That said, however, it makes me angrier that their safety and self respect may be threatened by religious zealots who presume to impose their ideas of morality on my family. I believe morality and religiosity are personal matters so long as they don’t infringe the rights of others. If a person’s religious belief is that abortion is wrong, he or she should discourage his family from engaging in it. If, instead, he or she believes his relationship with the God of his or her understanding empowers him or her to meddle into the beliefs of my family, then he or she loses my tolerance as I would expect him or her to react if I presumed to lecture him or her about my ideas about his or her religion. The idea that religious zeal entitles one to use the force of government to impose religious conformity on others is abhorant to the idea of America.
It is of no concern to me whether my neighbor chooses to worship God through the good offices of a Pope or through his own understanding of the Bible or through some pattern or structure he conceives for himself after solemn thought. I once knew of a man who, after reaching middle age without giving any serious thought to a belief in God, felt the need to add religion to his life. He finally elected to worship a palm tree in the South Texas town where he lived as the object to which he directed his prayers.
I sincerely respect the right of everyone to choose for himself or herself the object of religious devotion. I do not, however, have any tolerance for anyone attempting to recruit me into his or her religious sect by disparaging my conclusions or the conclusions of others about religion. I believe the choice of a religion and the choice of whether or not to give birth to a child are two of the most personal matters best left to the personal judgment and choice of each human being in a free society. Those choices should not be voted on. They should not be publicly shamed or disparaged. They should not be the subject of laws seeking to impose religious tests and doctrines. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave. It is not a laboratory for experimentation and moral dictation by self appointed religious monitors.
October 21, 2017 § 1 Comment
A young Marine, La David Johnson, from Florida, was recently killed in a fire fight in Niger. His body was returned home for burial.
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who had known Johnson and his family for years, accompanied his mother as she was driven to the airport to attend the arrival of her son’s body. During that journey, Ms. Johnson received a tlephone call from President Trump. He expressed his sympathy but included in his remarks that the young Marine ” . . .knew what he signed up for . . . .”, which was interpreted by La David’s mother and by Congresswoman Wilson as an insensitive suggestion that Ms. Johnson should not feel the government should express regret or sympathy for her loss because her son knew what he volunteered for.
Congresswoman Wilson later issued a public statement critical of President Trump’s remark. Trump, true to his well founded reputation for mendacity, first denied having said what he said, but others in the car who heard it because the phone was “on spoeaker” when he spoke to Ms. Johnson, confirmed the accuracy of Congresswoman Wilson’s account.
After this dispute was widely publicized, John Kelly, Chief of Staff for the Trump administration and a retired Marine general, called a press conference and made a lengthy statement which began with an appropriate explanation about the usual practice of making condolence calls to the survivors of men and women killed in a military action.
Then, however, General Kelly launched into a vicious attack directed at Congresswoman Wilson. He did not call her by name but, instead referred to he as “an empty barrel”. He went on to recount his recollection of her remarks at the dedication of a government building in Florida named for two FBI agents killed in the line of duty. He claimed she used the occasion to praise herself for securing the financing of the building. This was not true. The Congresswoman did not become a member of Congress until years after the building was built.
He referred to the Congresswoman’s reference to Trump’s phone call to Ms. Johnson as if it had been a surreptitious effort to listen to a private conversation. He knew full well that the phone call had been heard by all those in the car with Ms. Johnson.
He laced his remarks with his own respect for women and plainly implied that Congresswoman Wilson did not qualify for it. Lest I be accused of misstating General Kelly’s scurrilous language, here is a link to a transcript. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/19/us/politics/statement-kelly-gold-star.html?_r=0
I realize I am spreading this vile statement by citing it but I trust that any intelligent reader with any vestige of a conscience or sense of decency will share my disgust at this rant from a Marine General and member of the President’s cabinet.
I was ten years old when WWII began. During the next five years, like most young Americans, I was fascinated with the exploits of American armed forces. I especially admired Marines because they were all volunteers. They were the first to respond to enemy threats and their bravery was well known and well earned. I learned all the words to the Marines Hymn and was thrilled when I heard it sung. These four lines express my belief in the meaning of being a Marine:”
“First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean;
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine.”
I am now 86 years old and, during that lifetime I have forsaken many illusions about the true quality and integrity of my fellow citizens and, in retrospect, I have accepted my own failings. I have not, however, become a cynic nor have I ignored the ability of people to change and to make amends for their mistakes. Through all these changes I have retained my respect for Marines. I know we now have new heroes: Navy Seals, Army Rangers and other groups of specially trained warriors but I still respect and admire Marines as honorable patriotic Americans.
So, it is especially sad for me when a man with the long career of service as a United States Marine, a warrior as well as a scholar, who has educated himself in our finest universities and numerous military training schools, allows himself to become enthralled and defensive by and on behalf of an empty suit enclosing a narcissistic blundering fool like Donald Trump. There can be no honor there. There is no patriotic splendor there. There is no intellectual depth there. Trump has the attention span of a gnat and the moral integrity of an alley cat.
General Kelly should publicly apologize to Congresswoman Wilson for his false and insulting attack on her.. I don’t want or expect him to change his opinion of her. This country, however, is a constitutional republic. The Constitution was deliberately designed to subordinate military force to the authority of Congress. When General Kelly decided to pursue a military career, he swore allegiance to that Constitution.
He is entitled to his personal opinion of Congresswoman Wilson but he is not free to disrespect the office she holds or to publicly attack her. If he wants to do that, he should resign his commission, his cabinet post and run for office. His press conference rant was a plain violation of these well known rules of propriety and for that violation, he should make a public apology. There is no dishonor in making a mistake but it is dishonorable to refuse to acknowledge a mistake.
Having included a citation to General Kelly’s diatribe against a member of Congress, I will use this post to preserve a citation to a speech by former GOP President George W. Bush. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/10/19/george-w-bushs-anti-trump-manifesto-annotated/?utm_term=.13adebba0c60
I have not been an admirer of President Bush and I agree with Aristotle that “One swallow does not a summer make.” He has, never the less, well expressed ideas that have too long been absent from our public discourse. This, however, does not change my opinion that his presidency did not well serve our country.
October 5, 2017 § Leave a comment
Here is an essay by a blogger, Peter Radford. I recommend it because it is well written but also because it includes some pertinent statistics about our country’s indifference toward gun violence.
from Peter Radford
So we go through it all again. We go through the constant call for payers. The incessant search for reasons; the outpouring of emotion; the interviews; the graphics; the enumeration of mayhem; the grief of families; the interviews with experts; and the silence of the voices lost. There are never, however, efforts to […]
October 5, 2017 § Leave a comment
Last night I posted an item on my blog about the killing in Las Vegas. I misstated the number of people killed. I wrote that over 500 people were killed. That was a mistake. I reacted after listening to an account of the tragedy and I misunderstood the numbers.
58 people were killed and over 500 were injured.
I apologize for the error. I have corrected my post. I know I may have contributed to the misinformation in the internet about a serious matter. I will take care to prevent a repetition of this kind of error.
October 4, 2017 § Leave a comment
A couple of days ago in Las Vegas a man entered a hotel carrying an arsonal of weapons designed for malitary combat. He checked in to a room near the top floor, broke a window offering a view of his target and, when a crowd gathered to enjoy a few hours of music, he opened fire with an automatic weapon equipped with a powerful scope and, from his perch a mile away from his targets, began, with deadly accuracy, indiscriminately killing people. In a few minutes he killed 58 people and wounded hundreds more.
Until he pulled the trigger everything he did (othe than breaking the window) was not only legal but protected by the laws of the United States of America. His right to own unlimited numbers of military weapons designed specifically for that kind of killiing and inappropriate for hunting or any other harmless sport, was a gift from the National Rifle Association and its political supporters.
Given these facts it seems irrelevant to me for the resources of law enforcement to be wasted trying to discover why this murderer did what he did. The guilty perpetrators of this tragic crime are well known and politically powerful: They are those who raise money and organize political supoort for the laws that furnished him with the opportunity to acquire those weapons. They hide behind the 2d Amendment to the Constitution but this is a transparent sham. The “right to bear arms” is, indeed, a Constitutionally protected right but, like all legal rights, it is not immune from reasonable restriction. The Constitution also protects our right to travel from one state to another but that does not mean that traffic laws and safety laws cannot be imposed and enforced.
I do not believe my fellow citizens, if they consider this issue carefully, are generally so bereft of empathy and common sense, that they would allow their elected representatives to permit and protect this kind of horror. I am proud to be an American. Our country has a well earned reputation for justice and fearless willingness to protect the helpless and weak from harm at the hands of murderers and deranged people. I choose to believe we have failed to solve this problem because the NRA has cleverly misrepresented the issue.
I spent my working life arguing in court, in labor arbitrations, political campaigns and other arenas for verbal combat. I found pertinent analogies to be useful as a means of illustrating the nature and consequences of an argument. So, here is my effort to illustrate why our gun laws need to be revised.
For many decades the National Rifle Association was an honored organization, devoted to teaching gun safety to young people and supporting helpful laws related to hunting and target shooting. Some time in 1960’s, the leadership of the organization changed and it began to use fear to stoke fundraising efforts, claiming “they” are coming to take away your guns. They argued that every restriction on gun use or ownership was a “slippery slope” ending in the total disarming of everyone. That dishonest claim destroyed any reasonable regulation of gun ownership. The result killed and maimed inocent people in Las Vegas last week.
Here is an analogy for you to consider:
PETA Unlocks the Zoos
A useful and honorable organization is PETA: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. It supports facilities for homeless pets, laws prohibiting cruel forms of livestock slaughtering, educational projects teaching the proper of treatment of animals. In other words, PETA is like the NRA was before its transformation.
Now suppose a new group gained control of PETA. This group decided to oppose zoos because they lock animals in cages and use other devices to restrict their movement. After many emotional appeals and tales of sad animals helplessly and hopelessly confined, they managed to secure the enactment of laws severely restricting the extent to which animals can be prevented from roaming at will. PETA advocates found “experts” to claim that, if provided with adequate food and shealter, animals would voluntarily remain within reasonable distance from their cages even if the cages were left unlocked.
Because zoos are generally located in urban environments with few lures or enticements for zoo animals, allowing the animals to come and go freely from their cages proved acceptable because the familiarity and safety of the zoo environment and the availability of adequate food served to prevent the animals from straying far from the zoos.
There were, however, periodic problems, especially with lions, tigers and wolves. Occasionally one or more of these predators would venture away from the zoo and attack someone. When this happened, PETA would attribute the attack to some mistake by employees of the zoo where the offending animal was housed. An investigation was always conducted to identify the reason for the unfortunate attack on a child or some unprotected adult. Assurance that the reason for the tragedy had been identified and was being corrected was always presented at a press conference.
On some occasions one or more of these predator animals would attack some gathering, like a birthday party or the parking area surrounding a stadium where some sports event was scheduled. These attacks attracted public attention and there were urgent demands that the animals be put back in their locked cages. PETA would respond with a barrage of TV ads attacking the cruelty of those who called for those restrictions. Each side gradually attracted political support and vigorous fund raising efforts.
As this issue developed, both sides began to raise substantial aounts of money and to support candidates for public office with large financial contributions. Emotional appeals, based on exaggerated claoms of cruelty and abuse associated with locked-cage zoos proved to be very effective bases for fund raising.
Now, before I leave this essay: My short account of PETA v. Zoos is a FANTASY. There is no possibility of PETA becoming an advocate for free-ranging lions.
I do claim this fanciful description of PETA being responsible for unlocked zoo cages is analagous to the NRA being responsible for dangerous and even mentally deranged individuals having access to military style weapons. No wolf, tiger or lion would have been capable of the mahem in Las Vegas. It has often been said that the most potentially dangerous and vicious animal is homo sapiens. Centuries of history surely erase all doubt of that statement.
It is way past time for an awakening. We can no longer afford to be governed by people who lack the courage and conscience to say “No” to the NRA.
August 22, 2017 § Leave a comment
In an essay entitled Common Sense I have proposed the creation of a complex of public fora where issues significant to American values and constitutional governmnent can be presented. Here are some issues which have been ignored, misrepresented or replaced with unjust ideas. They need to be revived and given their rightful place in our publc square.
Racial and Ethnic Jusice
Establishing sane and just relationships between black, hispanic and white people sharing our country has a five century history. Black people, kidnapped and brought here from Africa, endured centuries of brutal slavery before a horrific war freed them. Then, after a brief period of legally protected freedom, effective protection was withdrawn as part of dispicable political deal which bartared their rights away, leaving those living in the South at the mercy of cowardly masked thugs and exploitive politicians. This injustice persisted for decades as a shameful marriage of racist Democratic Party politicians and liberal Democratic Party leaders in the North. Finally, following WWII and some useful Supreme Court decisions, (e.g. Brown v. Board of Education and others ending discriminatory primary election rules), the walls of hate began to crumble. The laws prohibiting employment discrimination were enacted in the 1960’s, but lacked the enforcement power accorded organized labor in the 1930’s. Despite this flaw, progress toward justice slowly continued. Recent generations have benefitted from interracial marriage and social interaction. Our racist criminal justice system persists as an open wound.
This history needs to be taught, exposed and maintained as part of our public discourse
Ethnic injustice toward Hispanic Americans persists, though not as brutally as racial injustice. The plantation of oppression of Mexican American workers in South Texas was moderated when that community’s veterans returned from service in WWII. The political system was changed, but was replaced by a caste system based on the power of new political machine politics. Cesar Chavez led brave battles against the exploitation of farm workers by corporate farm owners. Some moderation has been achieved but more needs to be done. The treatment of immigrants from Mexico and South and Central America is abomnible and President Trump viciously uses fear to encourage their ill treatment, regardless of whether they are children and, in many cases, regardless of how long they have been residing in our country.
This history and the issues it raises needs to be presented to the present generation of Americans in the kind of public meetings I have proposed.
I believe the most important social, economic and legal development of the past hundred and seventeen years was the Wagner Act which enabled, through collective bargaining, the attainment of economic justice in the workplace for millions of Amrican men and women. The creation of the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) during the New Deal, in the 30’s, established a new set of standards for working class men and women.
The AFL, consisting primarily of the building trades, had existed since the formation of the nation. It borrowed its ideas from Britain. Crafts, like brick laying, painting, metal and leather working, et al. were taught by fathers to sons. The techniques were closely held in the heads and hands of the workers, so they could contine to be necessary for building and maintenance tasks. It was contrary to these strategies to openly share these skills with everyone. Pay was based on the worker’s skill and experience.
The CIO was based on radically different principles. It was designed for workers in coal mines, factories and refineries. It also attracted industry-wide support work like telephone workers and needle trade workers. Workers were trained on the job by other workers. Pay was based on the degree of danger, the comfort level of the workplace, workplace conditions like heat or cold. CIO unions were in favor of equality for different races and for men and women. However, during the first few decades of its existence, CIO contracts did not comply with its leadership’s ideas about these issues. Contracts typically were discrimnatory against blacks and women. That did not change until forced by legislation enacted in the 60’s.
Sometime in the 60’s, the AFLand the CIO merged, a development that increeased thier bargaining power but adversely affected progress the goals of equality
August 6, 2017 § 2 Comments
Recently the media has noted a declining percentage of our neighbors who cling to their faith in the rectitude and promise of President Trump. The number is estimated to be 35%. I derive no comfort from these revelations for two reasons: First, an even lower percntage of our neighbors express faith in the government of our country, the only institution with the power to limit the authority of the President to continue his discredited policies. Second, in a population estimated to be 326,000,000, that means that 141,100,000 of our neighbors cling to their enthusiasm for President Trump.
These facts, to me, describe a country adrift, without effective guidance, in a perilous world. Multinational corporations and the United States military complex seem to be the only sources of effective power, a circumstance I regard with anxiety. It describes Germany in the 1930’s. It describes Egypt and Turkey, both of which are sinking into the hands of military-backed totalitarian governments.
Even our Supreme Court, the institution charged with the preservation of our Constitutional republic, appears to be in the hands of a majority who seek the ressurection of legal principles which opposed Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Justices like McReynolds and Field, in the 1920’s and ’30’s, sought to superimpose on the Constitution the limitations of what they referred to as “Natural Law” which, in practice always coincided with and favored the interests of business corporations and thwarted the collective efforts of the people, acting through their government
The Nature of Mass Delusions
Dangerous nonsense thrives when one or more of the following is true:
First, there is widespread disparity of access to accurate and pertinent information. For the first few centuries of life in our country, this disparity prevailed between the majority of our citizens who lived in generally isolated small villages and settlements and a minority who lived and did business in cities. Our literature and folk lore is replete with stories of the “rube” from the country who is the victim of manipulation by a “city sliker”. This phenomenon prevailed until the 1920’s when the automobile and the radio significantly erased this isolation.
Second, there is general access to many sources of information but no filter to insure its reliability. Britebart and numerous similar sources offer carefully crafted misleading and false information equally accessible with CNN, CBS, NBC and BBC. The Internet and the ubiquity of smart phones leave individuals no way to distinguish lies and baloney from truthful information.
Third, significant disparity of knowledge between the originator of information and its consumer and target. “Insider trading” and commercial advertising are examples of this kind of trolling for suckers.
Fourth, the educational background and store of knowledge of the consumer of information determines his or her ability to evaluate and choose sources of information.
To summarize: Our technology, a potential asset for the dissemination of knowledge, has, instead become a treacherous vehicle for demagogues to peddle their messages of hate, division and chaos and to undermine the fail-safe protections of our Constitution.
The Intellectual Ancestors of Trump
The self-absorbed buffoon, supremely oblivious of his own stupidity and groossly unsuited for the task he has chosen, is a character famously protrayed by talented writers and playrights.
The first great novel, Don Quixote de La Mancha, Cervantes’ two volume masterpiece, featured a hero who, after reading tales of dashing knights, fair maidens and thrilling exploits, failing to understand they were fictional, embarked on his own quest for fame and fortune. His efforts were, like our similarly self deluded President, fraught with a series of pratfalls and misadventures.
A few decades earlier, Shakespeare enlivened four of his plays with the antics and absurd exagerations of John Falstaff, who, like Trump, shamelessly misrepresented his accomplishments, ignored his critics and never acknowledged his errors, regardless of how plainly they were perceived by others.
Our own Nobel Prize winning novelist, Sinclair Lewis, immortalized a religious huckster who, again like Trump, transfixed large crowds with emotional performances, promising salvation and happiness to his listeners while offering them protection from threatened harm from their enemies, the devil, in Gantry’s tents personified as Democrats in Trump’s.
For a few decades, beginning in the 1920’s, a couple of cartoonists, Gene Ahem and Bill Freyse, entertained readers of the funny papers with the puffery and exaggerated exploits of Major Hoople in a comic strip named Our Boarding House. The Major, who was a sargent in the Civil War, promoted himself with endless bragging about his bravery, just as Trump never tires of regaling listeners with accounts of his financial successes, artfully omitting mention of his bankruptcies and the legal settlements of suits brought by victims of his tortious misconduct and desperately refusing disclosure of his income tax returns.
Another example of an earlier model of the Trump was Huey Long, the rags to riches Louisiana politician who epitomized Edgar Lee Masters’ warning through one of his characters in Spoon River Anthology: “Beware of the man who rises to power on one suspender.” Long was a demogogue who, like Trump, built an empire with extravagant construction projects. Less fortunate than Trump, Huey’s governorship was cut short by assassination. Also, unlike Huey, Trump had a handsome inheritence, not one suspender, to assist his rise to power. A novel about a character like Huey Long, also the basis for a movie, is All The Kings Men by Robert Penn Warren. Despite the similarities, Warren has stoutly denied his novel was a roman à clef .
Extraordinary Popular Illisions and the Madness of Crowds
Just as the Trump character has several fictional and real identifiable ancetors, his ability to mesmerize large numbers of people with his outsized promises of prosperity has similar historical examples. Several of these have been described in a fascinating book by Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Illusions and the Madness of Crowds. The book can be read online as a PDF file at https://vantagepointtrading.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Charles_Mackay-Extraordinary_Popular_Delusions_and_the_Madness_of_Crowds.pdf
[Incidentally, according to Wikipedia, Bernard Baruch said that what he learned from reading this book,, prompted him to sell all his stock before the crash of 1929.]
The book invites skipping around among chapters listed in the table of contents. Unfortunately I was unable to find any way to skip directly to a particular chapter, so scrolling is required.
This book was published in 1841. I contains a well written account of about a dozen instances when greed motivated crowds of otherwise sane and sensible people to hand over their money to promoters of schemes so bizarre as to challenge the imagination. The events occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries when education levels varied significantly according to class and communication technology was primitive by our standards, thus leaving ordinary people without any means of checking the accuracy of tales of foreign lands or in places inaccessible to the public, like laboratories, mines and business offices.
The circumstances were, as a result, ripe for promoting promises of wealth based on incomplete and sometimes deliberately false information.
Here are a couple of examples: Tulipmania: descibes the obsession of British citizens with tulip bulbs from Holland and the amazing marketing of different colors of tulips, leading speculators buy and sell popular species at inflated prices until the market collapsed, leaving a wreakage of lost fortunes.
The South Sea Bubble is a more famous example. Tales of gold located in Peru and Mexico served as a basis for a partnership between the British government and some private investors in ventures promising great profits from access to those mines. Shares were marketed in the project and crowds of English men and women risked fortunes competing for those shares, whose value inflated significantly until the scheme collapsed, leaving prominent members of Parliament and countles private citizens victimized and impoverished. This occurred before limited liability laws protected investors to the extent they do now. The consequences were, therefore, more catstrophic than they would be today..
The South Sea Bubble, like public confidence in the financial prowess of Trump, is an amazing exemple of publc gullibility because: (a) At the time of the Bubble, Peru and Mexico were part of the empire of Spain and, hence, not available for exploitation by the British. and (b) Trump’s claims of financial prowess depend entirely on the claims by him and his family, all made while vigorously opposing efforts to enable public access to his income tax returns.
This morning I watched Fareed Zakaria’s program on CNN. He is, for me, close to Paul Krugman as a source of intelligent information about what is happening. During his opening remarks he spoke of a new book by Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics. I have ordered a copy.
Lilla’s message is, according to Zakaria: The Democratic Party needs to broaden its appeal beyond the issues of race, ethnicity and abortion. He does not argue that these issues should be abandoned, but those who disagree, for example, with abortion rights should not be excluded from the appeal of the Party. Lilla is a Catholic and is not a supporter of abortion rights but he regards himself as a liberal .
I am not making any judgment, obviously, because I haven’t read the book. I have, however, expressed before my frustration about the Democratic Party’s indifference to the rights of unions.
In that way, I feel like Lilla: I find no comfortable place in political efforts which, in my opinion, fail because they treat the working class as in need of education, deserving rebuke for their lack of enthusiasm for racial justice, and as a group having limited relevance in this age of technological sophistication. I attribute the loss of the recent election to these policies and to the fact that neither the Clinton nor the Obama administration paid any attention to the rights of working people.
Welfare programs and training school scholarship programs do not empower the beneficiaries. We are suffering because the only empowered force is corporate wealth. Hiring more experts in money raising and TV ad design is not going to solve our problem.Empowering the working class is the only weapon that will change the political dialogue. That will take years and it’s way past time for the Democratic Party to awaken and begin the process.
In the meantime, I have enjoyed a few hours of placing our present embarrassment in the White House in some kind of historical and sociological context.