Thursday, November 17, 2016

Trump Isn't Hitler

Today's column from New York Times' op-ed contributor Nicholas Kristof presents a 12-step program for those of us struggling to deal with Donald Trump.

Step 3 of Kristof's pseudo-pledge includes this line: "I will avoid Hitler metaphors, recognizing that they stop conversations and rarely persuade."

Ok, so….

Let's put aside the fact that one of the most eye-opening pieces I came across during the entire campaign was The New York Times' review of Michiko Kakutani's book "Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939" and the way that review artfully laid bare the many parallels between the rise of Hitler and the rise of Trump.   

Let's put aside the fact that Trump himself has uttered what I consider to be many, many conversation stoppers from the very first day of his campaign to the last, yet we were all forced to continue the conversation regardless.

And let's put aside the fact that if we choose to focus on what actually persuades people rather than on what we honestly think the truth is, we'll probably end up creating dozens of fake news sites and sliming Trump with an unending series of outrageous falsehoods until the public finally agrees with our very low opinion of the man (albeit for very different reasons).

The simple fact is, Trump is *not* Hitler and acting as if the two were one and the same might blind others and ourselves to the fact that Trump might actually end up being much worse.


----- Hitler didn't have nuclear weapons.  Trump will soon be in control of some 4500 warheads, each of which has more firepower than was expended in all of World War II.

-----  Hitler didn't have the ability to attack every country on the planet or to kill virtually anybody anywhere.  Thanks to ICBMs, cruise missiles, drones, aircraft carriers, and all the other elements that make today's US military the most powerful in world history, Trump will. 
-----  Hitler served in the military during wartime and obtained at least some knowledge about what war is really like.  Trump evaded the draft in a highly questionable way, never served in the military, and will enter the White House as commander-in-chief with perhaps less knowledge about military affairs than the average Army cook.

 -----  Hitler didn't have a private, multi-billion-dollar fortune to use to support his mad plans.  Trump has untold billions upon billions of dollars and other assets all around the world that he can use virtually any way he wants with very little oversight.  

-----  Hitler doesn't seem to have been driven by insatiable greed.  Trump and his family seem to have done everything they can to obtain as much wealth as they can, the law be damned (or at least those laws against fraud pertaining to such entities as Trump University and the Trump Foundation).  As president, Trump will have innumerable opportunities to enrich himself and his family in ways we might never discover no matter how illegal or reprehensible they may be.    

-----  Hitler didn't have the assistance of any adult children.  Trump has the assistance of several, any one of whom could end up serving as the second link in a Trump dynasty.  

-----  Hitler didn't have access to modern technology or the many ways it can be used to create and sustain a totalitarian state.  Trump will have access to and control over the ultra-sophisticated databases and data gathering capabilities of the Pentagon, the NSA, the CIA, the FBI and other federal agencies.  

-----  Hitler didn't threaten the global environment.  Trump's denial of global warming and the policies that flow from that denial might lead to the extinction of countless species, destroy countless seacoast cities as ocean levels rise, play havoc with our food supply, and leave future generations living in a world that's much, much worse than the one we know today.  

-----  Hitler wasn't a sexual predator.  Trump seems to have had a life-long preoccupation with sex and has apparently used his power to repeatedly insult, degrade, demean, and assault women without ever seeming to realize the immorality of what he was doing or the severe, long-lasting consequences of his behavior on others.      

-----  Hitler recognized the danger of Russia and leaders like Putin.  Trump seems dangerously na├»ve and extremely short-sighted in comparison, with not even obvious evidence of Russian hacking and meddling in the most important of US institutions seeming to ring any alarm bells for him. 

So, yeah – let's remember that Trump isn't Hitler.

But let's also remember that the just-elected Hitler of 1933 wasn't the Hitler of 1945, either….

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Art As Opium

This piece from editorial cartoonist Jeff Koterba appeared in the Nov 11, 2016 edition of the Omaha World-Herald: 

A friend reposted it in his blog, otherwise I probably would have never seen it.  

I guess my friend liked it, but I can't be sure.  He reposted it without comment.  I don't think he's ever shared a cartoon he didn't like, but all I know for sure is this: I don't like it.

It conveys the impression that the recent election was just another election, that the candidates were more or less equal, that one clearly won, and that there will be other elections in the future.

I strongly disagree with all of these things.

To me, this election was like the 1933 election in Germany that elevated Hitler to power.  

Our candidates weren't as similar as Tweedledum and Tweedledee but as different as day and night on all the qualities that matter – morality, intelligence, and temperament.  Anything that obscures this and promotes a false equivalency is savagely distorting reality. 

The fact that the better candidate won the popular vote but still lost the election is not something to be shrugged off or glossed over just because doing so may make us feel good and/or promotes the illusion of social peace – it's something we should constantly remember and protest until justice is done and the will of the majority is recognized.  

At this point, the idea that future elections are a sure thing seems highly questionable, even dangerous.  As was the case in Germany, we might be a single trumped-up crisis like the Reichstag fire from outright totalitarianism.  Even without a crisis, there is no good reason to be optimistc.  Those who "won" the White House and Congress with a diabolical combination of gerrymandering,  voter suppression, outrageous lies, and the constant appeal to the basest instincts and fears of the voters seem certain to do all they can to further erode our democratic processes and ideals – and now they have more economic and political power than ever before to do so.  

Koterba's cartoon seems to ignore all these harsh realities in order to promote calmness and comfort.  

Those harsh realties demand just the opposite.  They demand cartoons and speeches and marches and much else that help keep the focus on the truth and what's really going on.  

What's needed is a call to battle – not a sedative.    

Adding Xanax to the water supply of German Jews 83 years ago would have been exactly the wrong thing to do.

Koterba's cartoon is exactly the wrong approach to take now.

We need to adopt a policy of eternal vigilance and action – not of forgive and forget.  

This may be more painful in the short run, but it might be the only thing that ends up saving us in the long run.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Poisonous Snake And The Sated Tiger

I've now watched Lesley Stahl's interview of Donald Trump and his family.

It ran on last night's installment of 60 Minutes but I waited and watched it later online.

A huge part of me didn't want to watch it at all.  Since learning the election results early Wednesday morning, I've gone out of my way to avoid seeing or hearing Mr. Trump.  I've seen and heard enough of him in the last 18 months to last a lifetime.  At this point, the sight and the sound of the man can trigger what amounts to a severe allergic reaction in me.

I decided to watch anyway.

Why?  Because once you've seen a poisonous snake slither into your house, closing your eyes and hoping for the best is no longer much of an option.

The interview (like so many recent events) wasn't what I expected.  Mr. Trump seemed calm, collected, and almost humble.

In other words, Trump the president-elect apparently has almost nothing in common with Trump the candidate.

At times it even almost seemed as if he had read my last entry and was responding appropriately.

He actually looked into the camera and told those supporters of his who are engaging in hate crimes to stop.

He came close to apologizing for the nastiness of the campaign.

He even expressed his disapproval of the Electoral College system despite the fact that it's responsible for his victory.  If he had his way, he told viewers, the popular vote would determine the winner.  No, he didn't say "Therefore, I hope those electors pledged to me will vote for Hillary instead," but he came much closer than I would have predicted.

Now, needless to say, he wasn't perfect.  Far from it.  If you listen closely, you can hear bits and pieces of madness popping out with some regularity.

Could he really and truly be as unaware of the protests across the country as he claimed to be?  Such protests over an election haven't erupted in the US since Lincoln's victory in 1860.  Ignorance of these events and their historical significance is in some ways far more troubling than harsh denunciation would be.

Did he really say that Bill and Hillary Clinton were good people whom he didn't want to hurt?  Seriously?  After months and months of "Lock her up!" chants and after bringing the women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault to the debate, and after all the rest?

There was policy madness, too.  He said gay marriage was a matter of settled law because the Supreme Court had ruled it ok while also saying that he would overturn Roe vs Wade (also a matter of settled law) by appointing only judges who would act accordingly to the Supreme Court.  He said he would get rid of Obamacare but keep at least two of its popular provisions (those dealing with pre-existing conditions and allowing adult children to remain covered by their parents's health care plans) without apparently realizing that it's the unpopular parts that pay for those.  He promised to create jobs by cutting taxes even though decades of study and experience show that cutting taxes is a pretty unreliable and ineffective way to create jobs.  He again promised to destroy ISIS while refusing to give any clue whatsoever as to how.  (He wouldn't even acknowledge Lesley Stahl's point about the right of the American people to know what he and their military might do in their name.)

I could go on and on about the many shallow, inane, and logically inconsistent proposals he made or alluded to.  In the end, though, it was once again his tone and manner that left the deepest and most disturbing impression.

I've struggled a bit to figure out why this was so.  After all, isn't a calm and collected Interview Trump better than Wild Campaign Trump?  Sure, there's an utterly unbridgeable gap between the two – a gap so huge that I have to wonder if he suffers from Multiple Personalities Syndrome – but this might in fact merely be Hypocritical Politician Syndrome writ large.

And then it came to me:  This is the manner of a tiger that has just devoured a kill.  The inner beast has been sated.  The raging appetites of the Id have been satisfied.  The angry volcano gods have received their virgin and been appeased.

For now.

Tomorrow?  Well, tomorrow is anybody's guess.  All we can be sure of is that someday the tiger will get hungry and kill again.

It's a pattern I remember only too well as an emotionally abused child.

My abuser often felt wonderful after the abuse and could go on as if nothing bad had ever happened.  They just couldn't understand why I wasn't as happy as they were, why I didn't want to be around them, why I couldn't trust them, why I couldn't simply forgive and forget – at least until next time.  How dare I threaten to ruin *their* good mood by sulking!  What a mean-spirited bastard *I* was for insisting on holding a grudge!         

Yes, it all comes back to me now.  It's a sick pattern of behavior that one never entirely forgets once one has been exposed to it.

A pattern that watching Trump last night has now brought back into crystal-clear focus.

I must not lose focus again.