Trying to Read the Tea Leaves in the News

It seems that a dramatic, and hopefully not too traumatic, time is approaching. A time where either a greatly anticipated dream or dreaded nightmare will be enacted before us and weave the lives of all of us into its plotline. There is so much going on it is difficult to digest or keep it all together. Here is my attempt to try to understand at least a portion of what is happening so maybe we can bring about more of the anticipated dream and end the nightmare.

 

First, there’s Mueller, an apparently intrepid, moral, hard working person, a military hero, a Republican dedicated to the rule of law and to his responsibility to find the truth, seemingly heading closer and closer to finding that truth and completing his investigation. So many of us hope he will provide the answer we anticipate. But will he?

 

Secondly, there is the evidence provided by the more centrist and progressive news media (media that uses a variety of sources to cross-check the veracity of information they publish), and from Trump himself, of collusion with Russians to interfere in his election. He has, for example, bragged to Russians about firing Comey to ease pressure on the investigation of Michael Flynn. We have multiple campaign and administration figures with ties to Russia that they lied about, at least four (Manafort, Prince, Flynn and Kushner) trying to establish hidden communications with Russian government figures, and some of the same people and others working to acquire and release stolen emails. Yet, Mr. trump says there was no interference or collusion and thus he threatens our democracy. We have Cambridge Analytica, who was hired by the Trump campaign to help with their social media campaign, stealing information from Facebook in order to better spread misleading social media posts. And who knows what the investigations into Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels will yet reveal.

 

We have so many examples of obstruction of justice by this administration, of interfering with and trying to undermine the rule of law and the institutions meant to enforce the law, that our minds are reeling. We have Trump attempting to fire Mueller and succeeding in firing Comey and McCabe, threats against Rosenstein, attacks on Jeff Sessions as Attorney General for not protecting him, and for not prioritizing the President’s well-being over the Attorney General’s sworn duty to the American people.

 

Trump, apparently, not only interfered with the Mueller investigation but put pressure on the DOJ and the Inspector General to create counter-investigations of Hillary, McCabe, Comey and even President Obama. In other words, not only does he lie about what he does, but he famously counter-attacks. He tries not only to dehumanize but actually destroy the lives of those who disagree with or oppose him. Democracy depends on political figures being able to compromise and work with even those they disagree with. Not this administration. As Comey said it: “Americans need to stand up and realize that… We can have ferocious disagreements about all kinds of issues, but we shouldn’t have any disagreement about what is at the core of America, which is a common set of values.”

 

And right-wing media, like Fox News and Breitbart, acts as the voice of the right-wing, supporting and sometimes directing Trump’s mission (he often seems to repeat lines and misinformation supplied by Fox news figures), obscuring and attacking the Mueller investigation. They have claimed all the evidence from the CIA and FBI, not exactly leftist or progressive strongholds, are all faked, and continue to shout “Lock her up” when possibly the most corrupt politician to ever lead this nation struts around the stage of history. According to a report by Politico in January, Russian trolls are taking advantage of this by spreading Fox News stories to derail the Mueller investigation.

 

We have corruption, nepotism, and the President profiting financially from his position to a degree never seen before in this country. The Economist magazine called it “monetizing the Presidency.” He has made millions from GOP, foreign governments, etc. holding meetings and staying at Trump owned properties. He gets money every time he vacations at Mar-A-Lago and his other resorts. And that is just the beginning. Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the bipartisan organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) said Trump’s first year in office “was the least ethical first year of any presidential administration in modern history.”

 

Last week Trump, once again, hired new lawyers, namely Rudy Giuliani, Jane Raskin, and Marty Raskin. Giuliani claims he will negotiate an end to the Mueller investigation in weeks. Trump  must be feeling the heat. However, many Republicans in Congress are still colluding with Trump to undermine the FBI and Mueller—but not all Republicans. A rare few have recently developed a conscience and backbone. There are bipartisan bills in both the House and Senate to protect Mueller. And Tom Steyer is not the only prominent figure calling for impeachment.

 

Yet, even some supposedly liberal media, as well as Democratic politicians like Cory Booker (D-NJ), have been warning Democrats that calling for impeachment, at least before all the “facts are in,” would hurt the party in the next election and cause even more political division. The evidence is not clear. Polls cite, believe it or not, increasing support for Trump. Yet, according to CNN, at least 43 House Republicans have announced retirement, more than in any recent Congress, and Democrats have been winning  a great majority of this year’s special elections. I guess it’s possible to create even more division in this country—but is it true that running on a platform calling for impeachment would undermine the Democrat’s efforts to defeat Republicans? Or is it some sort of spin to stop the Democratic party from getting too progressive?

 

Rosenstein said last week that Trump was not a target of the Mueller investigation (at that point?).  And Comey, a conservative Republican, said that he thinks Trump should be removed from office by the voters, in 2020, not impeached. Comey said in an interview with NBC, that impeaching Trump wouldn’t solve the present crisis. He claims we need a total political “reset.”

 

I realize that impeachment will not only be difficult to accomplish but will elevate the drama. But can we afford to wait to 2020? Can our psyches stand it? Can our democracy, the environment, the economy, and our position in the world endure his actions much longer? By 2020 he might have undermined the democracy so completely, undermined voting and civil rights and the legal system so deeply, given so much money to the super-rich, colluded with Russians so effectively, that we will no longer be even a shadow of a democracy.

 

And how much should the left and center reach out to the right? I think our economic interests, at least, are very similar. But will those who support Trump ever accept the fact of his corruption and possibly traitorous collusion with a Russian dictator? Or should the emphasis for Democrats be on exposing and reversing the policies the super-rich have been using for years, policies like the recent GOP tax cut, to steal wealth from the middle and lower classes to give it to themselves, and thus undermine the quality of life for millions?

 

I can’t read tealeaves and don’t know what will happen. I only know what I want to happen, and even that is filled with holes and contradictions. And I also know what I feel. I know I will have to be more alert, more able to calmly analyze what I hear, and more ready to act than I ever did before the 2016 election.

 

This moment can be seen as a call to courage, not unlike the call to adventure that is so common in literature, mythology, and movies, the moment when a character steps forward into the unknown to meet a challenge and thus grows into a full and mature person. In real life, it is never just one call. And there are so many of us—all the secondary school students opposing gun violence, all the women in the “me-too” movement, all those people who have gone to the streets and the phones. When we get down emotionally, maybe thinking of those others who are with us and need us will be helpful. This moment is a call to all people with a heart, a conscience, and a willingness to see the humanity of others, to act for the common good. To act to protect the Mueller investigation, to get people out to vote in November, and to do what we can to stop this administration’s assault on the lives of a great majority of us.

The Wasteland of Today

“April is the cruelest month, breeding

            Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

            Memory and desire, stirring

            Dull roots with spring rain.

 

So begins The Waste Land, by T. S. Eliot, first published in 1922. It is considered a landmark, one of the most important poems of the twentieth century.  I disagree profoundly with the author’s political and religious beliefs, yet find the imagery truly beautiful and able to reflect today’s world in startling ways.

 

During this hard winter of 2018, I long for spring, but fear it will never come—or, even worse, fear that the meaning of spring will be forever violated. I think of spring as renewal, as a “sea of green” (Beatles) pushing out the “dull roots”(T. S. Eliot). I might be reminded of old memories and longings. But what I see around me, politically and otherwise, is a modern version of the kingdom of the mythical, wounded Fisher King described in Eliot’s poem. ……”

 

This post, originally written in February, was published yesterday by OTV Magazine. To read the whole post, click on this link. Enjoy.

Facing Nightmares and Healing the Wounded World

I am tired of my computer. Like many of you, I go to my email and there are 150 – 250 a day, most asking for money or to save something like, well, the air we breathe or the water we drink, or whales or forests or planned parenthood or NPR or freedom of speech or the right to vote or a public education or our children from gun violence. Nothing important. So I get caught up, reading and checking on what I read, and sign petitions, send emails, or call politicians. And before I know it, two hours have passed. It feels like days have passed.

 

And during all this time, I haven’t talked to or held one physically present human being. Except sometimes, a real person answers a politician’s phone. And we chat, or mostly I chat and say what’s on my mind or ask a question. And if the other person is polite, even if I was angry to begin with, I thank the person and wish him or her a nice day. Because I want a nice day. I want change to happen. But it hasn’t. Not yet.

 

And digital social media can be fun and helpful, but also another tremendous time drain. Several people I know have said they’re taking a temporary or permanent FB sabbatical. I understand. When I’m on social media (which I only do on my desktop, never on my phone—I do have limits), I often notice, like my friends on a sabbatical, a subtle sense of distance from myself. Especially when I look at news shares, I get impatient, and the world can feel like it’s spinning so quickly it’s about to spin out of control.

 

So I ask myself, when I feel an impulse to turn to any social media platform, “Why do I want to do this now? Is it simply habit?” Developing a pause or gap between impulse and response can give us more insight into our behavior and control. How often, once we’re on FB or wherever, do we ask ourselves: “How do I feel now? Do I feel my life has been enhanced, my compassion deepened?” Practicing mindfulness of feelings and thoughts can help reduce both media usage and anxiety, both for adults and children. In fact, without such mindfulness we can contribute to our own oppression, by undermining our ability to think clearly and feel how to create a fulfilling life.

 

But no matter how difficult it is to face, our political world is spinning, and many of us are getting dizzy and angry from it. It is not a delusion or anxiety nightmare. Our civil rights and the remnants of democracy are threatened and are quickly being taken away. The earth itself is wounded and threatened as our water, parks and public lands are sold off for the gain of a few, and the safeguards on public health and safety undermined or violated. The level of corruption and nepotism is beyond anything ever seen before in this country.

 

So, I might complain about all the emails and calls, but what I really want is Trump impeached and his policies stopped. The nightmare is real, but we can’t afford to treat it as only a nightmare. We can’t run or hide or go on a sabbatical from politics. Like the monsters from nighttime nightmares, when they’re faced, political monsters turn into frightened, vulnerable weaklings—although even weaklings can bite. Even though hearing Trump’s or Ryan’s voice might make us feel sick or angry, when we face what’s happening politically, or when we make calls, march, vote, or whatever, we can feel more of a sense of power. We can feel how much the history of the moment flows through us.

 

We can slow the spinning world and turn the nightmare into something we can work on, face, and, with the help of others, alter. The world, even though it’s wounded, can heal. So, let’s work together on healing the world and ending this nightmare.

Madness, Immorality, or Greed? Facing the Hard Truth of Trump’s Presidency

At any moment over the past year and a quarter, you could listen to the news and marvel at or be sickened by the ignorance, immorality, greed, or insanity of the pronouncements of Trump and many of his GOP supporters. And I don’t just mean tweets like “my button is bigger than yours” with the leader of North Korea. I mean his statements on health care, political protests, media coverage, the FBI, Charlottesville, immigration, the Russia investigation, Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, etc. I mean the whole pattern of what is taken for the policies of this administration is based on ignorance of oneself and one’s place in the world.

 

This blog was just published by OTV, Open Thought Vortex literary magazine. To read the whole post, please follow this link.

Compassion Develops the Strength to Reach Even to Our Enemies—Sometimes: Compassion Does Not Rob You of Power But Multiplies It

“…You can’t argue others free from their viewpoints. But if you can find the strength to embrace your own values and humanity and, yet, recognize and feel for the suffering of those others, maybe they will recognize your own. If you can disagree with others without dehumanizing them, maybe they will begin to listen to what you need to say. Maybe. But certainly, you will grow stronger and learn how to speak more clearly from the effort. Compassion does not rob you of power but multiplies it.”

This post was published by the Good Men Project. To read the whole post, click on this link.

The Politics of Gun Violence and Fear

This gun violence must stop. In the past, the gun-reform sentiment only lasted in the media for a few weeks after a violent attack. This time, we must keep up the pressure for change. For what needs changing is not only gun policy.

 

On Tuesday, February 20, on the MSNBC show “The Last Word,” Lawrence O’Donnell said that when teachers go back to school, none of them will know if they will be faced with the possibility of taking a bullet for their students. When they go back, it will be an act of “pure heroism.” The same for students. Going to school, getting an education in this new USA, takes an act of courage. Corporate media and many politicians have been deriding, attacking teachers for years, beginning with President Reagan. But now we see the true grit of educators.

 

But it’s not just teachers and students who are increasingly being forced to eat a diet laced with fear. It’s all of us. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine talks about increased rates of fear and anxiety in our nation. It mentions research by the Southern Poverty Law Center about increased incidents of harassment and intimidation, most commonly in K-12 schools. Others speak of a new disorder: Trump Affective Disorder or Trump Anxiety.

 

A new Quinnipiac poll shows 66% of Americans favor stricter gun laws, 67% favor a ban on assault weapons, 29% oppose it. This sentiment includes some Republicans, even gun owners. According to a poll by Morning Consult and Politico, 88% of Americans back the idea of better background checks. 76% support a waiting period after a firearms purchase and creating a database of gun sales. But some clearly don’t want any regulation. Some clearly do not want the fear and anger that sometimes causes and often follows gun violence to stop.

 

Fear sells guns. Fear sells votes to those willing and craven enough to exploit and create it. Fear creates social breakdown that can be exploited politically.

 

If guns could calm violence and fear, the U. S. would be the safest and calmest nation on earth. We have the highest rate of gun ownership in the world. According to Wikipedia, there are 101 guns per 100 residents. The US is the richest nation in the world. According to NPR, individually, in terms of education and income, we rank number nine. But in terms of deaths due to gun violence, we are number 31. That is eight times higher than Canada, for example. The US makes up 5% of the world’s population, but holds 31% of mass shooters globally. Gun homicide rates are 25.2 times higher in the US than in other high-income nations.

 

If gun ownership promoted peacefulness and a reduction in gun violence, the states that enacted new Stand Your Ground legislation would have fewer incidents of gun violence since the new legislation was passed. But that is not the case. Take Florida, for example, which passed a Stand Your Ground law in 2005. Since then, according to statistics provided by Safehome and crimeadviser.com, there has been a 32% increase in gun-related homicides. “Southern states along the Mississippi River have consistently reported some of the highest rates of firearm deaths.” One thing all of these states share, besides cultural similarities, is that none of them require a license or permit to buy a gun.

 

If gun ownership reduced violence, then passing legislation allowing citizens to carry concealed handguns would lead to a decrease in violent crime. In fact, according to an interview by NPR of Stanford Law Professor and researcher on gun ownership and violence, John Donohue, “the net effect of allowing citizens to carry concealed handguns was an increase in violent crime.”

 

Yet, what does the President and other GOP politicians call for? Arming teachers, bringing more guns to school. That will certainly improve open class discussion. Lawrence O’Donnell says this idea is like a fantasy war game. It is a call for teachers to take on and be trained for an extra job, of a police officer. Trump says maybe 20% (10-40%) of teachers should have guns, which means arming about 700,000 of them (there are about 3.6 million k-12 teachers in the US). That means selling possibly 700,000 guns, plus ammunition⎼and why not body armor? More money for gun manufacturers and the NRA. Just a few weeks ago, he had proposed cutting money for school safety and the education budget and now says he will give a “little bit of a bonus” to teachers who are armed? Where will the money come from? Arts funding (already cut back), maybe school nurses and counselors or after school programs (already cut)—or Medicaid? Social Security? Certainly not from tax cuts to the rich.

 

Fear sells guns. Trump talked of the “American carnage” in his Inaugural address and said the US is in the midst of a crime wave requiring more arrests and harsher penalties, not only for violent, but nonviolent crime (not including white collar or political crimes). This statement runs counter to statistics showing a substantial decline in crime from the early 1990s to 2016. More fear is what T wants.

 

In the past two years, there has been a 7% increase in gun ownership according to the Pew Research Center. According to Fox News, this is most likely an underestimate. In a survey by Zogby Analytics, 35% of gun owners told pollsters that it was none of their business to inquire into gun ownership. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System shows that the number of gun purchases has exploded, almost doubling from 2008 – 2015. Profits for gun sales and the NRA have increased dramatically since Sandy Hook.

 

Fear undermines the politics of mutual concern and replaces it with nativism and hate. Instead of supporting education and science, it supports privatization and militarization. “Beware the military-industrial complex,” said the man who led the US troops in WW II, Dwight D. Eisenhower. I add: Beware those who would turn this nation and its resources over to the overly rich. Beware those who use fear to create political division and polarization.

 

Right wing conspiracy theorists and media have been attacking, sometimes harassing, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for speaking out against gun violence. The students have been accused of being coached, or even of being actors hired by the FBI. This right-wing media is followed by about one third of the population, which will not read what it regards as “fake news” by “liberal” media. According to a new study by Oxford University, the “extreme hard-right” shared more fake news stories than all other groups combined. This fake news aims to fuel not only fear but also hate. For example, when anyone calls for real gun regulation, the NRA and right wing media spread fear, claiming Democrats are trying to end the second amendment, and take away their guns and freedom. This fear of Democrats or “liberal media” serves the overly rich in their drive to exhaust the resources of this nation for personal gain. The GOP tax plan, for example, gives the rich in this country, according to the Tax Policy Center, 83% of its tax cuts. By 2027, 53% of Americans will pay more in taxes than they did in 2016, and none of those people will be a high-income earner. Yet, those overly fearful will never allow themselves to see this information.

 

Gun violence fuels fear, polarization, and militarization. It undermines democratic institutions, clear thinking and empathy. Effective measures not only of gun control, but which promote more economic equity and community cohesion, must be found and utilized to decrease the hold of gun violence and halt the assault on democratic values in this nation. Instead of undermining the work of public school teachers, we need to increase support and recognition for them.

“A government of the people, by the people, [and] for the people…”

Last week, Mother Jones magazine ran an article about how “The GOP’s Biggest Charter School Experiment Just Imploded.” It tells the story of the failure and collapse of a charter school called the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, which recently had a student body of over 13,872 students, the largest public charter school, maybe the largest k-12 school, in the US. You might find it interesting. According to the article, the school provided for many a “sham education” and “functioned more like a profit center than an educational institution.”

 

Related to this, the Tallulah Charter School in New Orleans was closed in December after the Louisiana Department of Education voided 325 scores on the LEAP tests after finding evidence of systemic cheating. An investigation found the school was “administering incorrect accommodations, administering accommodations inappropriately and giving students access to test questions prior to the test.”

 

Charter schools are not subject to the same regulation as public schools, so such abuses as reported above are understandable. As Diane Ravitch argues in her book Reign of Error, they “…are deregulated and free from most state laws….” Unlike public schools, which take any and every student who comes to their door, charter schools can screen for the most advantaged. Despite this screening, they are no more successful than public schools. As educator Steven Singer put it, “school choice is no choice.” The schools chose the students more than the other way around. When adjusted for the economic situation of students, statistics show charters often do worse. Charter and other privately run schools can hire uncertified teachers who are not unionized, not as well trained, and who can be paid less.

 

But despite these problems, Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, says she is in favor of establishing a voucher system, where parents can choose where to send their children for their education. Public funds will be used to pay for students to attend charters, religious, or other private schools instead of public ones.

 

She argues, despite evidence showing otherwise, that “choice” will increase equity among all students by forcing competition in the education market. But her approach treats our children as commodities, sources of money, (as exemplified by speaking of “value added” to students by schools) and conceptualizes the purpose of education as meeting the needs of employers, (or in DeVos’ case, meeting her agenda of Christianizing education: see the NYT article on the subject) not meeting the needs and dreams of students.

 

The push for “choice” developed over many years of attacks on the image and funding of public schools. Diane Ravitch argues that education corporations worked with individual politicians to undermine public schools, teachers, and teacher unions, and have been attacking the very concept that a public institution working for the general good, instead of a for-profit corporation, can successfully manage and direct an educational system.

 

Once public education was forced into this deliberately manufactured crisis, there were increasing calls to create privately run, publicly funded, charter schools, and vouchers for private schools. In 2016-7, there were 3.1 million students enrolled in charter schools, triple the number from 2006-7. With charter schools, public money is transferred from teachers and administrators, who are mostly in the middle or lower class, to corporate investors. In the case of cities like NYC, hedge fund managers, whose primary goal is fast profits, have taken over several charter schools.

 

If our society truly wanted to create an equitable educational system it would begin by investing more money in schools where the need was greatest. It would treat teachers with the respect they deserve and need in order to creatively and compassionately meet the educational needs of students. It would do a better job of treating students as whole people with emotional, social, and health needs as well as intellectual ones. It would do any of these things before it would spend one nickel on vouchers or corporate created charter schools.

 

The call for “choice” is a call for privatization of the whole public sphere. It is part of an across the board effort to undermine all aspects of our democracy and to send taxpayer money to rich investors. It is happening with our water systems. In 2011 three quarters of municipalities had public water systems. But the Trump EPA has steadily worked to undermine the rule of law and cut back on protections for rivers and other water systems, and his calls for infrastructure improvements have been tied to pressure for privatization of municipal water systems.

 

It has been happening with prison systems. In 1983, the first private prisons were opened. By 2015, 126,272 people were imprisoned in private institutions. It has been happening with the military. Since the 1990s, the US and other nations have increased their dependence on private military firms (corporate mercenaries). This was highlighted last year when Betsy DeVos’ brother, Erik Prince, tried to get the Trump administration to privatize the war in Afghanistan and turn it over to Prince.

 

It is happening with health, pension and earned benefits systems. The GOP has repeatedly tried to privatize Social Security and end or undermine Medicare and Medicaid in order to appropriate the benefits earned by workers. Mr. T and other Republican politicians repeatedly attack the FBI and CIA. These efforts are partly to undermine the Mueller investigation. It is also to establish an intelligence and investigation institution that owes allegiance not to the constitution, “the people” or the government as a whole, but to Mr. T, personally, as evidenced by T asking for Comey’s “loyalty” and saying he expected the attorney general to protect him from the Russia investigation.

 

I could go on and on, talking about attempts to end voting rights, economic justice and racial, religious or gender equality, destroy the free press, the postal system, etc. Privatization is a vehicle for undermining democracy and destroying the best hope of this nation. President Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address, called for people to dedicate themselves to “the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far nobly advanced… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this earth.” Maybe I’m going too far here, but it seems to me that ending a government of, by, and for “the people” is exactly what Mr. T is trying to do. Thus, resisting him and the GOP is nothing less than helping to complete the unfinished work President Lincoln called for.

 

**Thank you to Jill Swenson for the heads up about the first two links about charter schools.

Marching

It has been a year. So much is happening this weekend, the Women’s March and government shutdown—so much has been happening all through this year that it’s difficult to feel that it has only been one year. A year of more political chaos, more threats to more aspects of life in this country that it seems our society is becoming a foreign territory.

 

Lies have become so common, so bizarre and distracting, that sometimes it seems Mr. T and his supporters are being paid to supply material to comedians. He provides an endless stream of the ridiculous, the sad and the awful. The Washington Post fact-checkers found 1628 demonstrable lies or misleading claims over the first 298 days of his administration, an average of 5.5 per day. The New York Times found he has lied more times about former President Obama than Obama lied about anything over all eight years of his presidency.

 

On the other hand, every night Americans are presented with Trumpf plays. Late night tv comedians like Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel have become a blessing for many, a way to release with laughter the fear and anxiety from the day so you can be calm enough to go to sleep at night. And how often in history do comics get to influence legislation directly? Jimmy Kimmel helped stop a health care bill, that was supported by maybe 20% of Americans, from becoming law by calling out the lies of the GOP.

 

The media cannot let go of T. Some dress him in royal robes, his favorite kind. Others slash at his skin or try to stop his tsunami of darkness by throwing light in his path. Many times I wish that the news media, and every one of us, would just fight his policies and ignore his tweets, mumblings and curses, and thus condemn him to being left alone in the dark with his screams.

 

Those reporters and media publications that have committed themselves to investigating his administration have done us all a great service. They have faced T’s condemnation, and helped slow down his attempts to destroy democratic institutions and processes. Media companies like CNN and the New York Times, which two years ago were more middle of the road, or to the right of the middle, are now front and center in the fight against a president who can’t tolerate any news or views that go against his own.

 

Other media outlets are too painful to watch. They have become mere mouthpieces of the administration, as sycophantic as the GOP politicians who repeat or support T’s lies like they were pronouncements of a god whose wrath they fear, and they do this despite the fact that the first half of any news report might be contradicted by the second.

 

What I most want to hear is that he and Pence have been impeached, that the evidence we all know or suspect is out there, of collusion, of interfering with investigations, of money-laundering for Russian money and of using the presidency to line his own pockets with gold, is exposed to all. That even to his followers he’s recognized as the traitor to democracy and human decency that he is. There is a reason why Mr. T has done nothing to prevent Russia from hacking the 2018 election as they did in the 2016 election.

 

There have been so many changes in our world that even common greetings have been affected. If you’re one of the majority of Americans who voted against Mr. T, then the ritual greeting of “How are you?’ has become almost too complex to ask. In the past, the greeting was usually just a sign of politeness; no real answer was required. Now the depth of what is not said is just too deep, and shared.

 

Nothing seems secure any longer. Maybe it never was, but now—who knows what will happen on any given day?

 

So, this weekend and in the following weeks, as many of us go to the streets and the phones, and we watch many of our governors forget whose interests they’re supposed to serve and they close their own government, we must remember why we march. This marching, this taking a stand, is to serve all of us and protect our very world. It is to get people committed to vote and oppose the attacks on women, on children, on LGBTQ, the elderly, on immigrants and people of color, on Jews and Muslims, on people who speak out against him as well as those who just want to love and support their families and help out their neighbors.

 

It is to save the very idea of a government that is there not to serve the rich, and not just to save our bodies from attack, but to save our conscience and sense of ourselves from abuse. It is to save the very idea that people can cooperate for the common good. And for these reasons, let us march.

 

**And consider signing petitions to keep open the investigations of Mr. T and his campaign.

**Photo by Linda, my wife, from the demonstration at Seneca Falls, N. Y.

When We Notice A Reality Different From Our Own Reflected in the Eyes of Another, We Can Come Together: A Look at Brooke Gladstone’s “The Trouble With Reality.”

Many books have been published lately shining light on the Trumpf darkness, and bringing rational analysis to seeming confusion. Naomi Klein’s No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, or Luke Harding’s Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win, are two such books. Brooke Gladstone, co-host of NPR’s On The Media, gives us The Trouble With Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time. This is a very short book on a large question, built from her interviews. She ties Mr. T’s political strategy to how we perceive and understand the world, and shows us that to meet the threat of his administration, we, citizens of a democracy, will not only have to grow in our understanding, but in our emotional awareness and capacities.

 

It is too easy to get lost in Mr. T’s manipulations. His attacks on the media, truth, women, etc. are not simply the ravings of a deluded narcissist. His lies serve a purpose. They make it more difficult for many people to see the truth. Gladstone quotes philosopher Hannah Arendt, speaking in a 1974 interview about her own time and the rise of totalitarians: ”…[A] people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. With such a people, you [the demagogue] can do what you please.”

 

Truth, in a sense, is what we all share. If we lose a sense of what we share, we don’t know how to act. Just think how confusing it can be when everyone around us disagrees with us. Even if we are, or were, sure about something we saw, if everyone around us says they saw something different, we would most likely begin to doubt our perception. So Mr. T aims to undermine our sense of commonality, not only with other humans but with our understanding of what democracy is. A democracy does not require agreement over policies but of how to decide on policies. It requires at least some basic agreement over rights, responsibilities, and laws. Mr. T undermines all such agreements.

 

The existential threat to democracy “is not just the lies but the lying.” In a Gladstone interview with journalist Masha Gessen, Gessen says Putin and Trump might be very different, but “they are kin in the use of the lie:…they lie in the same way and for the same purpose—blatantly, to assert power over truth itself.” Mr. T and Putin want their reality to be THE reality. A demagogue does not just impose laws but dictates reality. In a way, he makes himself his own religion.

 

Many laugh at Mr. T’s tweets, calling them delusional or mad. But linguist George Lakoff says the tweets are often more complex and layered, more manipulative than we might think. According to Lakoff, T uses tweets to:

  1. Frame an issue: dominate discussion by getting his viewpoint out first. For example, “Only reason the hacking of the poorly defended DNC is discussed is that the loss by the Dems was so big…” First, he implies hacking the DNC by Russia, a foreign government, was no big deal. Secondly, his win was “So Big,” Dems loss so huge. Thirdly, the RNC was just better defended, “even though the RNC was also hacked by the Russians (only, they didn’t leak any of that stuff).”
  2. Divert attention: provoke the media’s attention from a more important story, usually by using a cultural issue, e.g. the tweets about the musical Hamilton and the cast’s comments to Mike Pence, appeared on the day it was revealed Mr. T paid out $25 million to settle lawsuits for fraud by Trump University.
  3. Send up a trial balloon: mention a possible policy to test how people would react, e.g. “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability…”
  4. Deflect: He tweets “Lock her up” when he is acting in ways that should get him locked up. He blames the messenger instead of taking responsibility. “The real scandal here [media revelations about Russia] is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy…”

 

And then there are tweets that might frame an issue, but I think mostly frame how vicious or vindictive he can be or how totally lacking he is in understanding an issue. (As in his recent tweet: “In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming….’”) The tweets are ways of shouting at the world and attracting those whose anger echoes his own.*

 

Gladstone says it is important to understand the purpose of his tweets so we can undermine their usefulness to him. If we repost, or allow ourselves to get too upset by them, it only supports his goals and upsets our mind. We need to take meaningful action, make calls, get facts out there, and never give up on the values, the faith in the possibility of public reason that makes democracy possible.

 

The fact that Mr. T largely isolates himself in his own Breitbart or Fox news reality, and uses other news media mostly to fuel his anger, might be what eventually undermines his administration. According to Arendt, what makes a demagogue vulnerable is his own self-deception. “The self-deceived deceiver loses all contact with not only his audience, but the real world, which will catch up with him…”

 

“Not knowing,” says Gladstone, “is much scarier than knowing.” We might not be able to know the world fully, but “we have to live somewhere.” We often think our own facts are true and other people’s “facts” are wrong or incomplete. We need to learn to be more humble with our understanding of reality and what we think is “the” solution. There are always many actions we can take, “but all such efforts are hobbled, inexorably, by rage, bafflement, and despair.” We need to lower our blood pressure (and fear) so we can work and think more clearly. Rage might fuel our willingness to act, but should not decide what we do.

 

We need to understand, even to feel, that we share a great deal with other people, yet the reality reflected in another person’s eyes can be very different from our own. And this is an advantage, not a threat. It is what makes democracy not only possible but desirable. Only by perceiving the value of this difference can we learn from each other. Only by expanding our own capacities can we, those of us who understand the threat, truly work together to oppose Mr. T and create a better, more equitable and just, society.

 

*On January 5th, Politico had an article by Mathew Gertz, from Media Matters, saying that Mr. T is live-tweeting Fox, particularly Fox and Friends. He is not trying to distract us as much as himself. Despite having at his disposal the largest intelligence gathering machine on the earth, he relies on a conservative news organization to shape his views on current events.