Bob Schwartz

Category: Politics

Shark Jewelry As Protection from Trump (Update)

Updated to include the Discovery Channel response to Trump’s views on sharks.

In Touch Weekly has published an interview with Stormy Daniels about her affair with Trump—while he was married to Melania, starting just after the birth of their son Barron.

It is profoundly sad, dispiriting, and disturbing. But not surprising. Not surprising either is the silence of his Republican henchmen and supporters, who seem to put up with anything, provided they can make more money or keep their jobs and power.

Among the non-sexual tidbits that have caught everyone’s attention is her relating Trump’s obsessive fear and hatred of sharks:

The strangest thing about that night — this was the best thing ever. You could see the television from the little dining room table and he was watching Shark Week and he was watching a special about the U.S.S. something and it sank and it was like the worst shark attack in history. He is obsessed with sharks. Terrified of sharks. He was like, “I donate to all these charities and I would never donate to any charity that helps sharks. I hope all the sharks die.” He was like riveted. He was like obsessed. It’s so strange, I know.

Just as vampires are put off by crosses, it is possible, just possible, that shark jewelry can protect us from Trump. Either figurative sharks or shark’s teeth might work. No guarantees, but it’s worth a try.

Update

From Mashable:

 

Mashable reached out to the Shark Week network after reading a report alleging that Trump once said, “I hope all sharks die.” Its response was measured.

“Shark Week celebrates the wonder of these majestic creatures and their critical importance to the ecosystem,” a Discovery Channel representative told Mashable when asked for comment about the president’s Shark Week viewing habits and fears. “Their safety and conservation is the most important message conveyed throughout the week.”

 

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President Pmurt

Mister Mxyzptlk was an imp from the fifth dimension who was a constant nemesis of Superman in the comics. The only way this villain could be made to disappear was to trick him into saying his own name backwards.

And so, while we wait for something to rid us of our meddlesome president, one suggestion is to trick him into saying (or tweeting) his name backwards: Pmurt (pronounced puhmurt?)

How? Well, if someone were to tweet something critical, including a claim that Trump was a “pmurt”, the president could not resist answering the charge, including in his replies a flat out denial of the fake news that he is a pmurt.

Yup, that should do it.

“Dozens of U.S. Jewish Activists Stage Sit-in on Capitol Hill in Protest of Trump’s Threat to Deport Dreamers”

It was starting to appear that many faith communities might not be taking their place in standing up and resisting the daily assault on the deepest American, Judeo-Christian and human values. In fact, it appeared that some of those communities were not only silent but hypocritically complicit.

This morning’s protest at the Capitol is one of the latest rays of light. From Haaretz:

Dozens of U.S. Jewish Activists Stage Sit-in on Capitol Hill in Protest of Trump’s Threat to Deport Dreamers

‘Let my people go,’ chant a group of Dreamers alongside coalition of Jewish groups and members of Congress

WASHINGTON – Dozens of Jewish American activists demonstrated on Capitol Hill Wednesday calling on Congress to pass legislation in protection of “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who arrived to the United States as children.

A coalition of Jewish groups organized the demonstration, including the Religious Action Center of the Reform movement, Bend the Arc, the Anti-Defamation League and others.

A group of Dreamers also joined the demonstration, chanting “Let my people stay.” Members of Congress Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), who are both Jewish, also arrived at the scene to express their support as activists were arrested….

After handing a petition signed by over 5,000 people thus far to members of Congress, the protesters sat on the floor of the Russel Senate Office Building and chanted “we will not be moved.”

“As Jews, we recognize the dangers of President Trump’s inhumane policies and scapegoating of immigrants,” the petition states. “We’ve seen this before. We stand with our immigrant neighbors on the side of justice, not oppression, of liberation, not deportation.”

A number of protesters, including Reform rabbis, were arrested by Capitol Hill Police officers.

Barbara Weinstein of the Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center told Haaretz that dozens of the protesters were arrested, but that most of them are being released. “It’s long past time for Congress to pass legislation for the Dreamers,” she stated. “We need this bill immediately. We had a lot of members of Congress, from the House and Senate side, who told us they were determined to solve the crisis. It’s important to Democrats and Republicans alike.”

Weinstein added that “welcoming the stranger is an important part of our identity. We are all descendants of immigrants. It’s on all of us to support these Dreamers. They grew up here, this is the only country they’ve ever known, many of them serve in the military, this is their home. We’re going to remain focused on this issue until we see a bill reach the president’s desk and signed by him. This is not over today.”

 

To Understand America 2018, Read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

We had the best education. We went to school every day. I only took the regular course. Reeling and Writhing to begin with. Then the different branches of Arithmetic—Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland now. Again if it’s been a while, and definitely now if for the first time.

Lewis Carroll (born Charles Dodgson, 1832-1898) was famously creative as a mathematician and logician. He wove puzzles and tortured logic all through his book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Puzzles and tortured logic seem likely to be a major component of America in 2018, as they were in 2017.

The leadership and the citizens of Wonderland are variously tyrannical, illogical, stupid, or just plain bizarre. Alice literally does not fit in. While she is only a child, she has more sense than everyone she meets combined.

If I had a news network like CNN, I’d interrupt the futile attempts to understand and explain what’s going on by having different news anchors read aloud one chapter from Alice in Wonderland every day. It would actually be more constructive—and more fun—than just listening to their trying to making sense of the nonsensical.

If Trump’s tweets were taken from Alice in Wonderland, would we know the difference? Would he?

Some Trump/Alice tweets:

We must have a trial. Really this morning I have nothing to do. With no jury or judge I’ll be Judge. I’ll be jury. I’ll try the whole cause and condemn you to death.

We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad. A dog growls when it’s angry and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.

Be what you would seem to be. Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.

You have no right to think. Just about as much right as pigs have to fly. I give you fair warning either you or your head must be off. Take your choice!

We had the best education. We went to school every day. I only took the regular course. Reeling and Writhing to begin with. Then the different branches of Arithmetic—Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.

Umberto Eco: Ur-Fascism

Celebrated Italian author and scholar Umberto Eco (1932-2016)  published an article in 1995 entitled Ur-Fascism .

Eco grew up during the time of Mussolini. In the article, he jumps from memories of that experience to describe some varieties of fascism and other types of totalitarianism. Not all are well-defined fascism, he says, but he does identify the core characteristics of what he calls Ur-Fascism.

I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

Eco goes on to list 14 features of Ur-Fascism. This is the excerpted list; please read the article for an expanded explanation. And as you read it, please consider which of those features you might be seeing now.

1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition….As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning.

2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism….In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.

3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection.

4. No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism.

5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference.

6. Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration. That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.

7. To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism.

8. The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies….Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.

9. For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.

10. Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weak. Ur-Fascism can only advocate a popular elitism.

11. In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a hero. In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm.

12. Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons—doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.

13. Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say. In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view—one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter….Because of its qualitative populism Ur-Fascism must be against “rotten” parliamentary governments.

14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak.

Eco closes with this:

Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier, for us, if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Black Shirts to parade again in the Italian squares.” Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances—every day, in every part of the world.

American Nazi Rally, Madison Square Garden

This post was drafted a month ago, but I decided that maybe I had been mentioning Nazi Germany too frequently. If you’ve read some of those earlier posts (here and here, for example), you see that I have never made an explicit connection between the current situation and that one.

Now President Obama has been bold enough to speak of this expressly:

“We have to tend to this garden of democracy or else things could fall apart quickly.…That’s what happened in Germany in the 1930s, which despite the democracy of the Weimar Republic and centuries of high-level cultural and scientific achievements, Adolph Hitler rose to dominate. Sixty million people died. . . .So, you’ve got to pay attention. And vote.”

Naturally, the reaction has been swift from Trump apologists—who already hate Obama—claiming that it is heinous to compare Trump to Hitler, and no such death of democracy is in the offing. On the contrary, they say, we are finally on our way to reviving our past glory.

The message in a democracy is inarguable: know your history, pay attention, and vote. Part of not knowing and not paying attention is the delusion that “it can’t happen here.”

Above is a picture of the American Nazi Rally at Madison Square Garden on February 20, 1939. It was a full house of 22,000 “patriots”, with a giant god-like image of George Washington on stage, thought of as the father of their White Christian America.

Those who tried to disrupt the Madison Square Garden rally were arrested. Which is worse: being silent knowing that something is horribly wrong, or not being believed—actually being arrested—when you speak up?

 

Roy Moore Blues: Good Morning Little Schoolgirl

Mississippi is on my mind, as it is always in my heart.

There is the controversy surrounding Trump’s visit to the wonderful new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.

Then there is Alabama, the neighbor to the east, suffering through the unending untender political mercies of Roy Moore.

This led to my listening to the blues this morning, and the blues standard Good Morning Little Schoolgirl came on. As cosmically unbluesy as Roy Moore is, this is his song:

Good morning little schoolgirl
Good morning little schoolgirl
Can I come home
Can I come home with you
Tell your mama and your papa
I’m a little schoolboy too

Age of Folly: America Abandons Its Democracy

A frivolous society can acquire dramatic significance only through what its frivolity destroys.
—Edith Wharton

I am tempted to include the entire Preface to Lewis Lapham’s Age of Folly in this post. Instead, I include excerpts and then encourage you to buy the ebook for just $2.99. As with all lucid insights into the current situation, it will not make you happier, but it will provide enlightening perspective.

The book is a collection of Latham’s essays, “essays arranged in order of their composition and stepping off on a march of folly with America’s 1991 invasion of Iraq—a reality TV show armed with self-glorifying high explosives and a nonsensical casus belli—and ending with Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, a self-glorifying photo-op bursting star-spangled bombast in air.”


Preface

A frivolous society can acquire dramatic significance only through what its frivolity destroys.
—Edith Wharton

It’s been six months since Donald Trump moved into the White House with his Twitter account, but I’m still talking to people unable or unwilling to believe he is president of the United States. Eager to bring late-breaking reports of Trump’s uncivil and unconstitutional behavior, they come bearing gifts of high-minded outrage and condescending mockery soon followed by variations on the question, How can such things be?

The short answer is Edith Wharton’s. A longer answer is the one spread across the pages of this book, essays arranged in order of their composition and stepping off on a march of folly with America’s 1991 invasion of Iraq—a reality TV show armed with self-glorifying high explosives and a nonsensical casus belli—and ending with Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, a self-glorifying photo-op bursting star-spangled bombast in air. Over the course of the twenty-five years from point A to point B, a weakened but still operational democracy gives way to a stupefied and dysfunctional plutocracy.

To regard Trump as an amazement beyond belief is to give him credit where none is due. He is undoubtedly a menace, but he isn’t a surprise. Product and mirror of an age distinguished by its extravagant displays of vanity and greed, Trump’s positioning of government as trivial pursuit is the way things are and have been in Washington and Wall Street for the last quarter of a century….

The camera doesn’t do democracy. Democracy is the holding of one’s fellow citizens in respectful regard not because they are beautiful or rich or famous, but because they are one’s fellow citizens and therefore worth the knowing what they say and do. The work is difficult and slow; too many words with too little action doesn’t move the merchandise. The cameras on the road with the biggest name on earth weren’t covering a play of ideas; they were attracted to the splendor and flash of money, to the romance of crime and the sweet decaying smell of overripe celebrity.

Because the camera sees but doesn’t think, it makes no meaningful distinction between a bubble bath in Las Vegas staffed by pretty girls and a bloodbath in Palmyra staffed by headless corpses. The return on both investments is the bankable flow of wish and dream drawn from the bottomless wells of human ignorance and fear, from the always rushing river of mankind’s limitless desire. It didn’t matter what Trump said or didn’t say, whether he was cute and pink or headless.

Trump pitched his campaign on the storyline the movie-going American electorate loves beyond all others—the one about the knight errant up against the system and the odds, the lonesome-pine hero in the trail-weary saddle riding into town to gun down the degenerate sheriff and rescue the God-fearing settlers, to set the crooked straight, restore civic virtue, distribute a fair share of the loot to the schoolteacher, the shepherd, and the store-keep.

It didn’t matter that Trump was a prosperous fool. He sold newspapers, boosted television ratings. He was maybe short on sense and sensibility, but he was long on market share. The infotainment media in all of its factions and instrumentations (CNN and the New York Times as well as Fox News and Rush Limbaugh’s dittoheads) recognized Trump as a preposterous clown and transparent fraud but nevertheless framed him in the gilt-edged cliché of the underdog outlaw—up there in lights with robber barons Rockefeller and Vanderbilt, gunslingers Eastwood and Stallone, Mafia dons Corleone and Soprano. The unifying and all-purpose product placement won the election for Trump, rewarded the media with a Rumpelstiltskin spinning straw into gold. Already in the first months of the primary season the numbers moving up in the opinion poll leaderboards encouraged Leslie Moonves, chief executive officer of CBS, to assure the network’s bankers at JPMorgan Chase that “Trump’s candidacy may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”…

In office as president of the United States, Trump presents himself as signature endorsement of concentrated wealth, a camera-ready product placement promoting money as the hero with a thousand faces, all of them the face of Trump. Trump at the top of every hour on the networks and cable channels, on page one in every morning’s newspaper. Trump overruling the rule of law, under investigation for obstructing justice, withdrawing from the Paris climate accords, firing FBI director James Comey, ordering fifty-seven cruise missiles into Syria, dropping the Mother Of All Bombs on Afghanistan, signing executive orders lifting regulation of the oil, gas, coal, and banking industries. Trump embodying the Time magazine sales promotion of America, dominant power in the world, more dominant than any since Rome, reshaping norms and creating new realities, saying and doing whatever it takes to discredit government by the people, of the people, and for the people—to nullify it in theory and dispose of it in practice.

The self-glorifying opposition to Trump is as foolish as the man itself. The “Resistance” composed of outraged sensibilities unable or unwilling to believe that Trump is president of the United States—Hillary Clinton voters, Democratic Party nomenclatura and crowd-sourced Pussy Hats, NeverTrump reactionaries, Bernie or Bust revolutionaries, sit-down protesters and stand-up comics—devotes its efforts to the project of Trump’s impeachment. Impeachment will be sought on whatever grounds (yet to be discovered or manufactured) can be cultivated to yield political scandal and tabloid entertainment.

Meanwhile in the White House gilded cage the unscripted and overweight canary sings his ferocious songs of sixpence, and on all sides of every story the voices of objection and dissent rise to near hysteria. Trump accuses former President Barack Obama of tapping his telephones, denounces the news media as “the enemy of the people”; the news media liken Trump to the Devil, accuse him of treason, hear in his frivolous noise the sound of Nazi boots marching into Poland.

The consequence is the destruction of a credible political discourse without which democracy cannot exist. James Fenimore Cooper, author of The Last of the Mohicans, made the point in his 1838 political essay, The American Democrat. The vitality of America’s democracy, said Cooper, is the capacity of its citizens to tell the truth, speak and think without cant….

Age of Folly fills in at least some of the backstory behind President Donald Trump’s appearance as Time magazine’s 2016 “Man of the Year.” The essays in Part I proceed in the order of their composition as monthly columns in Harper’s Magazine; the essays in Part II, all but one written to introduce issues of Lapham’s Quarterly, construe history as means rather than end, a hedge against the despairing of the present and a weapon to defend the hope of the future against the inertia of the past. History doesn’t save the day or provide a PowerPoint presentation of a new and better world. It is the fund of energy and mind that makes possible the revolt against what G. K. Chesterton once called “the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who only happen to be walking about.” We have less reason to fear what might happen tomorrow than to beware what happened yesterday.

July 4, 2017

Is Trump Experiencing a Break With Reality?

“Trump suggested to a senator earlier this year that [the “Access Hollywood” tape] was not authentic, and repeated that claim to an adviser more recently.”

The New York Times reports:

But something deeper has been consuming Mr. Trump. He sees the calls for Mr. Moore to step aside as a version of the response to the now-famous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which he boasted about grabbing women’s genitalia, and the flood of groping accusations against him that followed soon after. He suggested to a senator earlier this year that it was not authentic, and repeated that claim to an adviser more recently. (In the hours after it was revealed in October 2016, Mr. Trump acknowledged that the voice was his, and he apologized.)

The least controversial interpretation is that Trump is doing what he frequently does: saying something untrue in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary to escape an inconvenient situation. Or, as even Republicans admit, he lies.

But sometimes you wonder, as when candidate Trump said he saw people cheering the attacks on 9/11:

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump says he saw people cheering the Sept. 11 attacks across the river in New Jersey — a claim officials strongly deny.

Trump first told the story Saturday at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama, as he pressed the need for greater surveillance, including monitoring certain mosques, in the wake of the Paris attacks.

“I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering,” Trump said Saturday at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama.

Trump repeated the assertion Sunday in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week,” as Stephanopoulos explained to Trump that police had refuted any such rumors at the time.

“It did happen. I saw it,” said Trump. “It was on television. I saw it.”

It was simple to dismiss this as political prevarication. But the sincerity with which he said it might indicate he really did see it, or thought he did. In the current revision of history, he says he no longer believes that he spoke the words that appear to be coming out of his mouth—even though he previously acknowledged it.

So maybe Trump really does now believe he never said the words he is shown saying and admits saying. If that is the case, it is evidence that somehow he is experiencing a break with reality. There is no clinical definition of the term “mental breakdown”, but the clinical conditions related to this sort of break can be exacerbated or triggered by extreme stress. However Trump got himself into his current situation, and whether or not he was predisposed to mental problems before he took office, he is now in a situation that offers little opportunity for a clean escape. It would not be surprising if anyone under that kind of pressure might no longer know the difference between the real and unreal, the true and untrue. If the person is president, the stakes are immeasurably high.

Fake News and Enlightenment

An apple is also a banana.

Maybe all things Trump are good for us.

As with all indignities and suffering, we may want our difficulties to have meaning, meaning that is constructive and helpful. That can be hard and even impossible. Considering some current events as a blessing smacks of shaky rationalization.

In the Trump context, we know what fake news means. It means that reports from reliable sources are not to be believed, no matter how well investigated and substantiated. This can be maddening to intelligent and discerning people. It led to the current CNN campaign, showing that you can call an apple anything you want, including a banana, but it is still an apple. The apple is not fake news.

The Buddhist tradition doesn’t say it is not an apple. Of course it is. But beyond that, what we know is the thought of an apple, as is anything and everything the thought of anything and everything.

To put it another way, the apple is real news. And fake news. A conversation about how the apple is a banana sounds like a conversation you might find in a collection of Zen koans.

All is real news and fake news. Having the concept of fake news in our face can be a reminder of that. Even Trump is real news and fake news. Of course he is president and all that comes with it, some of it actually or potentially dire. But he and all that comes with it, including the dire, are thoughts. That doesn’t make the situation less real, but it may help moves us towards an enlightened perspective on things. Including all things Trump.