This Is Why We Have The Right-Wing Government We Have

While it is absolutely proper to focus on the disintegration of our democracy, in terms of how Tr-mp and his defenders aided and abetted (and still are) Russia’s attack on our electoral process and Putin’s poisoning the well of trust in the mainstream press, I think I should point out something happening here in my own state. We have our own version of Tr-mp and Tr-mpism. Our governor is a mini-Tr-mp. Our legislature is a mini-House Freedom Caucus. Reactionary forces dominate our state as if, as I have said before, we were Louisiana.

The Kansas City Star published a story this morning (“Thousands of Missourians are about to be cut from prescription drug program“) that is breathtakingly sad for a couple of reasons. Here is how the story began:

More than 60,000 elderly Missourians got a letter from the state last month informing them they were about to be cut off from a program that had helped them pay for prescription drugs.

Marjorie Prunty, 74, of Platte County, remembers what she thought when her letter arrived.

“I’m going to die.”

Now, think about that. An elderly citizen, a citizen of our state, a citizen of the wealthiest and most powerful nation on the face of the earth, fears for her life. And she fears for her life because of this:

In May, state lawmakers voted to save $15 million in the state’s $27 billion budget by cutting a state program called MORx.

Those earning between 85 percent and 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or up to about $22,000 a year for an individual, had previously qualified for MORx, which covered 50 percent of out-of-pocket prescription drug costs.

Now those 63,000 people — including more than 6,000 in Jackson County alone — are no longer eligible.

Way back in 2006, when MORx was created as a “wrap-around” benefit to George W. Bush’s Medicare Part D prescription drug entitlement program, our Republican governor, Matt Blunt, said:

We are pleased to help low-income seniors and those with disabilities continue to receive their needed medications.

Here in 2017, Republicans are no longer pleased to help low-income seniors and disabled Missourians. That’s how far we have fallen as a state, how far the GOP has fallen as a political party. And Marjorie Prunty, 74, of Platte County, now thinks, “I’m going to die.” That is pathetic. It is sad. But what is more pathetic, what is sadder than that, is how the Star story ended:

Prunty says she’s been reaching out to her representative and the governor’s office to share her story. She doesn’t believe she has much hope, but has no ill-will towards politicians in Jefferson City.

“I voted for these people. I’m not mad at them,” she said. “They just don’t understand. They don’t know what it’s like to be poor. They can’t identify with us.”

What do you say to someone who thinks that way? She fears for her life. She knows why she fears for her life. But apparently because she “voted for these people,” she isn’t “mad at them.” This isn’t a case of a low-information or stupid voter not knowing what is going on. This woman, Marjorie Prunty, knows what is going on. And despite her fear she will die, despite knowing who is causing her fear that she will die, I can just about guarantee you that when it comes time to vote next year, she’ll vote for the same people who threaten her life with their right-wing cruelty.

Whatever it is that makes Marjorie Prunty think the way she does explains why we have not only a cruel right-wing state legislature, but a cruel Republican-led national one—and why we have Tr-mp-Pence-Putin in the White’s House.

I have no words to explain this reality. I can only just walk away, head down.

Will Pat Robertson Pray Away Tr-mp’s Hurricane? Tune In Tomorrow!

“God is using the president to do great things.”

—Televangelist Pat Robertson, March 23, 2017

What is the last refuge of a scoundrel? Why, it’s the 700 Club! Naturally.

As Tr-mp apparently contemplates (okay, that’s too strong a word for him) how to get his family right with God, if not the law, he has turned to Pat Robertson, the faith healer who has grown wealthy off the trade. If there is anyone who knows how to heal a grifter, it is a fellow grifter. Tr-mp sat down for an “interview” today with Robertson, because, well, God and stuff. No, not really. When he’s in trouble, Tr-mp always goes to “the evangelicals” because, as a con man, he knows how gullible is the conservative variety of Bible-toters. Robertson himself, now 87 years old, proves that fact—Beliefnet pegs his net worth at $100 million, but it could be much, much more due to his complicated relationship with his businesses and his “non-profit” “ministry.”

Full (embarrassing) disclosure: When I was an evangelical zealot in the 1980s, I gave money, often monthly, to Robertson’s “ministry.” I faithfully watched the 700 Club. Believe it or not, I teared up reading Pat’s autobiography, Shout It From the Housetops! By the time his conspiracy book, The New World Order, came out in 1991, I was getting very suspicious of either his intellect or his motives or both. Like a lot of grifting “prophets” in the evangelical world, Pat foretold how life as we knew it would end (spoiler: the Satan-directed Illuminati would establish a one-world government in order “to destroy the family, to destroy the state, to destroy capitalism and to destroy the church”).

You can go on Amazon.com and read a relatively recent review of The New World Order written by an unfortunate soul named Melinda, from Santa Cruz. On March 8, 2016, she wrote:

Amazing that it was published in 1991 and so pertinent to what is happening today. Anyone reading this book will vote for Tr-mp because he or she will see that everyone else is connected to the NWO through Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street entities.

I know, I know. It is sad. These folks vote. They vote! But it is kind of a funny thing that Pat Robertson is a Tr-mp supporter and it is a funnier thing that Tr-mp is a Goldman Sachs-Wall Street dream-come-true and, thus, by definition is part of Pat’s faith-destroying New World Order! Don’t ya think that’s hilarious?

In any case, before or after the “interview,” Pat will no doubt lay his miracle-working (and fabulously wealthy) hands on Tr-mp, either on camera or off, and try to impart a little more of God’s anointing on this obviously God-touched “leader.” A snippet released today of what the Christian Broadcasting Network will air tomorrow features Robertson asking Tr-mp if we can “trust” Putin. Now, first, if you don’t know by now that Putin is unworthy of anyone’s trust, your ignorance is unhealable, even by God. And, second, if you don’t know by now that exactly the wrong guy to ask about “trust” is a pathological liar, then your cultish affection for Tr-mp is, to use a biblical term, idolatrous.

But Robertson, an evangelical con artist, is precisely the guy who Tr-mp wanted to see for his first “interview” in a couple of months. Why? I bet you think it’s because Tr-mp thought he would find it friendly territory, right? Well, yes, that’s right. Robertson pretty much invented Bullshit News, which spawned today’s right-wing media complex that is seriously dumbing down the country. But there’s really more to it than that. You see, the Washington Post published a story this morning with this headline:

‘Category 5 hurricane’: White House under siege by Trump Jr.’s Russia revelations

The lede:

The White House has been thrust into chaos after days of ever-worsening revelations about a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a lawyer characterized as representing the Russian government, as the president fumes against his enemies and senior aides circle one another with suspicion, according to top White House officials and outside advisers.

The “Category 5 hurricane” reference in the headline was provided by an “outside ally” of Tr-mp. And I am purely speculating here, but I think that same ally suggested to Tr-mp that he go to Robertson to fix his hurricane problem. In case you don’t know or forgot what an expert Robertson is on fixing hurricanes, here ya go—and, you’re welcome:

The Decline Of American Leadership Explained In Two Stunning Minutes

The words of Chris Uhlmann, commenting for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, speak for themselves. There’s nothing I can think of right now that I could say to improve upon his analysis of our current decline:

 

The G20 became the G19 as it ended. On the Paris climate accords the United States was left isolated and friendless.

It is, apparently, where this US President wants to be as he seeks to turn his nation inward.

Donald Tr-mp has a particular, and limited, skill-set. He has correctly identified an illness at the heart of the Western democracy. But he has no cure for it and seems to just want to exploit it.

He is a character drawn from America’s wild west, a travelling medicine showman selling moonshine remedies that will kill the patient.

And this week he underlined he has neither the desire nor the capacity to lead the world.

Given the US was always going to be one out on climate change, a deft American President would have found an issue around which he could rally most of the leaders.

He had the perfect vehicle — North Korea’s missile tests.

So, where was the G20 statement condemning North Korea? That would have put pressure on China and Russia? Other leaders expected it and they were prepared to back it but it never came.

There is a tendency among some hopeful souls to confuse the speeches written for Mr Tr-mp with the thoughts of the man himself.

He did make some interesting, scripted, observations in Poland about defending the values of the West.

And Mr Tr-mp is in a unique position — he is the one man who has the power to do something about it.

But it is the unscripted Mr Tr-mp that is real. A man who barks out bile in 140 characters, who wastes his precious days as President at war with the West’s institutions — like the judiciary, independent government agencies and the free press.

He was an uneasy, awkward figure at this gathering and you got the strong sense some other leaders were trying to find the best way to work around him.

Mr Tr-mp is a man who craves power because it burnishes his celebrity. To be constantly talking and talked about is all that really matters. And there is no value placed on the meaning of words. So what is said one day can be discarded the next.

So, what did we learn this week?

We learned Mr Tr-mp has pressed fast forward on the decline of the US as a global leader. He managed to diminish his nation and to confuse and alienate his allies.

He will cede that power to China and Russia — two authoritarian states that will forge a very different set of rules for the 21st century.

Some will cheer the decline of America, but I think we’ll miss it when it is gone.

And that is the biggest threat to the values of the West which he claims to hold so dear.

Our Sybil War

Published on July 4, 2017

Malcolm Gladwell, the popular Canadian writer, appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press last Sunday. He was on the program, as Chuck Todd noted, as an outsider who could offer “some insight into who we are as Americans and how we approach our problems.”

Gladwell did offer some insight, take it or leave it:

As the outsider, the thing about American society that has always baffled me is that Americans love nothing more than accentuating their differences. Whereas I come from a culture, Canada, where all we do is celebrate what we have in common, even when we don’t have anything in common, you know? We love talking about how we’re Canadians, we’re in this together, we’re all the same in the end. You know, Americans are all the same in the end, but you guys like to pretend that you’re not. And you know, I don’t think it’s that hard to get back to that position of understanding how similar you all are.

Well, there is some truth to what Gladwell says. We do have many similarities as Americans. And we all may be “in this together.” But he’s wrong to claim that “Americans are all the same in the end.” I’m going to attempt to explain why he’s wrong by using two examples.

The first one comes from a scientist named Riccardo Sabatini, who seemed to prove what Malcolm Gladwell was saying, that basically we human beings are all the same. Sabatini, famously, printed out the genome of a famous friend of his. In case you don’t know what a genome is, here is a handy definition:

A genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes. Each genome contains all of the information needed to build and maintain that organism. In humans, a copy of the entire genome—more than 3 billion DNA base pairs—is contained in all cells that have a nucleus.

It turns out, as Sabatini proved, that if you print out a human genome, it fills some 175 books, comprising 262,000 densely printed pages, about a thousand pounds of instructions that, essentially, make you who you are, or aren’t. The amazing thing, the human genomething Sabatini highlighted, is that 174 1/2 of those 175 books contain genetic instructions that are identical to your neighbor’s. Yes, that’s right. Genetically speaking, the tall guy living behind my house, my neighbor, is almost identical to me. Only about 500 pages of the 262,000 pages of instructions make us different. We are 99.998% the same. And one would think that such a sober, Gladwellian truth would tend to make us all, Canadians or Americans—or even the Russians!—believe that, heck, we really are “the same in the end.”

Except, obviously, we’re not.

The neighbor I mentioned, the one who is nearly identical to me—remember that our genetic code is only .002 different—not only put up a TR-MP-PENCE sign in his front yard, he put one up in his back yard. He did that for me—and only me—to see (because I park in the back). Why did he do that? Well, since his sign appeared a day or two after I put up my HILLARY sign (in my front yard only), I guess he did it because he wanted to send me a message: he was a Tr-mp guy.

Now, is there something in that .002 genetic difference that made my neighbor a Tr-mp guy? Beats me. I suppose it’s possible that in those 175 volumes of genetic code—which, according to Riccardo Sabatini, “we just know probably two percent: four books of more than 175”—there is an “I prefer buffoons for president” gene. But I doubt it. More likely, something in my neighbor’s background has made him a Tr-mper. Some experience or experiences affected his brain chemistry enough that Tr-mp’s vulgarity and ignorance, toxically mixed with his insecurity-masking machismo, seems not only attractive, but subversively attractive. And something in my background has made me a fierce anti-Tr-mper, a counter-subversive. And no amount of Gladwellian talk about our similarities, no perfectly rational presentation of our genetic sameness, will bridge the enormous gulf between me and my neighbor. The differences between someone who thinks Tr-mp is the answer and someone who thinks he is dangerously unfit for the presidency are unbridgeable. We’re not “all the same in the end.”

In fact, it’s very much the opposite. In the end, for whatever reason, we are very, very different. Northerners and southerners were unbridgeably different in 1861—and even after four years of a bloody civil war, after hundreds of thousands of dead Americans, the differences remained. And in some important ways, many of those differences are still with us today, along with many others.

That brings me to my second example of why Gladwell was wrong and to the baffling title of this essay.

Shirley Ardell Mason was a mentally troubled artist who was born in 1923. If you are like me, you know who she was because of the two-part TV film, Sybil, broadcast in 1976. That film, based on a 1973 book written by journalist Flora Schreiber, starred Sally Field and Joanne Woodward (another Sybil movie came out in 2007). Field played Sybil Dorsett, which was the pseudonym chosen for Shirley Mason. Sybil, allegedly, suffered from what was then called “multiple personality disorder”—now called “dissociative identity disorder” (DID). She supposedly had 16 distinct personalities or “selves.”

I will tell you now there has been a lot of controversy surrounding “Sybil,” her psychiatrist, Dr. Connie Wilbur, and the diagnostic legitimacy of multiple personality disorder. Some have claimed the whole thing was a fraud, perpetrated for notoriety and money. Others have claimed that Dr. Wilbur induced Sybil’s alleged multiple personalities through her therapeutic suggestions. There’s no need for me to go into all the details of that controversy. Suffice it to know that in 1994, according to Psychology Today, “multiple personality disorder” was changed to “dissociative identity disorder.” The reason:

to reflect a better understanding of the condition—namely, that it is characterized by a fragmentation, or splintering, of identity rather than by a proliferation, or growth, of separate identities.

My point of bringing this up is that I would attribute America’s obviously severe political and cultural divide to something like a national dissociative identity disorder, “characterized by a fragmentation, or splintering, of identity.” I think this problem with national identity has been with us from our beginning as a nation, largely because of the sin of slavery, which was first coded in our collective DNA in 1619, when the first African “servants” arrived in Jamestown, Virginia.

When Thomas Jefferson gave us “All men are created equal” in 1776, it served at the time as a cry for revolution and seemed like a unifying declaration. Eleven years later, our Constitution promised to “establish Justice” for “We the People.” America appeared to be a nation with one identity—E pluribus unum. But, of course, most of the pluribus were not part of the unum. There was a civil war to come to partially settle that for African-Americans, and it would still be another 55 years after the shooting part of that war ended before women were allowed to vote, in 1920. And to this day we live with the anti-democratic Electoral College, which “amplifies the votes of white people and reduces the voice of minorities.” (And, thus, gave us George W. Bush and Donald Tr-mp.)

Psychology Today points out that dissociative identity disorder “reflects a failure to integrate various aspects of identity, memory, and consciousness into a single multidimensional self.” If that doesn’t describe our history, and our contemporary situation, then I don’t know what does. Think about some of our differences:

♦ People who believe in the fact of evolution versus people who believe in a six-day creation by God.

♦ People who believe in the fact of climate change versus those who think it is a hoax.

♦ People who believe in sensible gun control versus those who reject almost all restrictions on guns, and who think guns belong in schools and bars and even churches.

♦ People who believe women should be able to control their own reproductive health versus those who think aborting a zygote is tantamount to murder.

♦ People who believe access to affordable health care is a right versus those who don’t think so, or who think a more important right is that fabulously wealthy people have lower tax rates.

♦ People who live in more culturally diverse urban areas, who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats, versus people who live in less culturally diverse rural areas, who overwhelmingly vote for Republicans.

♦ People who think thugs like Vladimir Putin should be condemned versus those who openly admire him because he “is a God-and-country Russian patriot” who “stands against the Western progressive vision of what mankind’s future ought to be.”

♦ People who believe the press is essential to the health of our democracy versus those who think it is “the enemy of the people.”

♦ People who believe Tr-mp is a sick and vulgar grifter who dirties the presidency versus those who embrace and celebrate his behavior.

I ask: How do you make a nation whole—the alleged therapeutic result in the Sybil story—when there are differences as stark and as wide as these? How do you integrate the “various aspects of identity, memory, and consciousness” into a single multidimensional national self? I don’t know. It looks impossible to me. But let’s go on.

Psychology Today lists the essential criteria that must be met to make a diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder. I will slightly modify these criteria to reflect how they might apply to our ailing nation:

  • The [nation] experiences two or more distinct identities or personality states (each with its own enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self). Some cultures describe this as an experience of possession.
  • The disruption in [national] identity involves a change in sense of self, sense of agency, and changes in behavior, consciousness, memory, perception, cognition, and motor function.
  • Frequent gaps are found in memories of [national] history, including people, places, and events, for both the distant and recent past. These recurrent gaps are not consistent with ordinary forgetting.
  • These symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

You, of course, can be the judge of whether I’m way off or have at least suggested something that requires further thought. I would add, however, that there is treatment available for individuals with this disorder that perhaps can be applied to a nation:

The primary treatment for DID is long-term psychotherapy with the goal of deconstructing the different personalities and uniting them into one. Other treatments include cognitive and creative therapies.

In other words, there is no magic pill, no full-proof cure. As a nation, we can try to deconstruct our differences and make an attempt to unite them into one, making E pluribus unum a reality rather than a mythical motto. I have my doubts about that long-term social psychotherapy. Someone will have to come up with a form of cognitive or creative therapy that I cannot now possibly imagine. Or—perhaps we do have something of a cure available: the idea of America.

On this, our first Tr-mp-plagued July 4, perhaps we can take a fresh look at how we might learn to live with our pluribus selves in something resembling unum. I will draw (at length) upon the words of Minnesota Senator Al Franken, from his latest book, a book full of humor and optimism.

Franken noted that just before the end of the 2016 election, Tr-mp made “his first public appearance in our state just in time to spread his trademark blend of hate, fear, and ignorance—this time targeting our Somali-Minnesotan community.” These Somalis were mostly refugees who had escaped a horrific civil war in their country. Some fifty thousand of them settled in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, Franken noted, “but not all. Many smaller cities and communities around the state have signficant Somali populations.”

Earlier in 2016, Franken attended a high school graduation in a town in Kandiyohi County, “the largest turkey-producing county in the largest turkey-producing state in the nation.” He was at Willmar Senior High to introduce the student speaker elected by the graduating class, a Muslim girl named Muna Abdulahi.

Now, as Franken estimated, that high school in Willmar comprised 60 percent “garden-variety Scandinavian/German white Minnesotans, about 25 percent were Hispanic, and about 15 percent were Somali, with a few Asian Americans tossed in.”  Franken wrote:

When it came time to hand out diplomas, the crowd was told to hold their applause until the end. But they couldn’t help themselves. The moment Muna’s name was called, everyone erupted. Clapping, shouting, stomping on the bleachers—and it continued like that through each one of the 236 graduates. These kids loved each other.

The two hours I spent at that high school commencement were a tonic for the year of trash I’d been hearing about our country.

The previous year, I’d been in Willmar to help respond to an avian flu crisis that threatened the turkey industry that employs so many in Kandiyohi County. A number of producers were worried that they might lose their entire operations. But we were able to get some emergency funding to help keep them on their feet.

Were these turkey producers Democrats? Were they Republicans? No idea. Didn’t care. Don’t care. Will never care. Do they care that they have Somali refugees in their community? Yes, they do care. They want them. They need them. They need people like Muna’s dad, who works in IT at the Jennie-O Turkey store.

Perhaps Donald Tr-mp confused Minnesota with somewhere else. About a week after the election, I spoke to Gérard Araud, the French ambassador to the United States. He told me that in France, a Frenchman is someone who can tell you what village his family is from going back centuries. Immigrants never really get to become Frenchmen. It made me think back to the hideous massacre in Paris the year before.

Here in America, of course, we’re all immigrants. Except, of course, for Native Americans against whom we committed genocide. I’m a Jew, but I’m also an American. Muna is Somali, but she’s also an American. On election day, I ran into her on campus at the University of Minnesota, where I was getting out the vote for Hillary. She told me that her sister, Anisa, had been voted homecoming queen.

That’s who we are. In places like France, they isolate their refugees and immigrants. In America, we elect them homecoming queen.

Yes, that echoes what Ronald Reagan famously said in 1988, “Anybody from any corner of the world can come to America to live and become an American.” Yes, it is a romantic and perhaps overoptimistic view of our country. But it is essential that we hold fast to it. It is vital that we defend it even in the face of an ugly Tr-mpism. Otherwise, we fail as a democracy, at least as a democracy of decency. It simply has to be the case that Tr-mp does not represent who we are as Americans.

It is true our differences divide us in dangerous ways. But it is also true that if we can figure out how to live with those differences—by defending and strengthening those institutions that “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”—we can turn the present gloom into at least a glimmer of progress.

Oh. I almost forgot. Whenever my Tr-mp-supporting neighbor sees me, he offers a genuinely friendly wave. He really does. And on my good days, on my better days as an American, I actually wave back.

 

%d bloggers like this: