Bob Schwartz

Category: Politics

Who damaged him?: “Trump cites as a negotiating tool his policy of separating immigrant children from their parents.”

It is the kind of question we usually ask about serial killers and genocidal dictators, not about the President of the United States: who damaged Trump so tragically? Was it his parents? Satan? Or did he invent himself in the form of a toxic monster? (My thought, which may be suggested in a future post, is that Trump may be the Antichrist. But that’s for later.)

Washington Post:

President Trump has calculated that he will gain political leverage in congressional negotiations by continuing to enforce a policy he claims to hate — separating immigrant parents from their young children at the southern border, according to White House officials.

On Friday, Trump suggested he would not change the policy unless Democrats agreed to his other immigration demands, which include funding a border wall, tightening the rules for border enforcement and curbing legal entry. He also is intent on pushing members of his party to vote for a compromise measure that would achieve those long-standing priorities.

Trump’s public acknowledgment that he was willing to let the policy continue as he pursued his political goals came as the president once again blamed Democrats for a policy enacted and touted by his own administration.

The real tragedy is not that Trump is trying to reshape America as his personal hell on earth, for his purposes. The tragedy is how many Americans, including so many Republican leaders and people of supposed faith, are willing to join him in that effort and cheer him on.

As with all monsters, political and criminal, the question is not really how they became the monsters they are. The question is what, if anything, we do about it.

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They wanted a postmodern president (though they didn’t know it). They got him.

Postmodernism (aka pomo), a wide-ranging and pervasive intellectual concept and movement, is hard to talk about precisely. Many minds have contributed to its complexity, many others have transformed it into a pop culture referent. Its usage grew vague, as it came to try to mean whatever anyone wants to say it means: everything to everyone, nothing to no one. What’s more confounding is that in many quarters, it has now been left behind as an old-fashioned and uncool intellectual fad, even though it is only a few decades old.

Nevertheless, it may turn out to be a useful analytical tool, as we are increasingly drowning in two questions: Where are we and how did we get here?

One attempt at a succinct definition of postmodernism:

A general and wide-ranging term which is applied to literature, art, philosophy, architecture, fiction, and cultural and literary criticism, among others. Postmodernism is largely a reaction to the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality. In essence, it stems from a recognition that reality is not simply mirrored in human understanding of it, but rather, is constructed as the mind tried to understand its own particular and personal reality. For this reason, postmodernism is highly skeptical of explanations which claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races, and instead focuses on the relative truths of each person. In the postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually. Postmodernism relies on concrete experience over abstract principles, knowing always that the outcome of one’s own experience will necessarily be fallible and relative, rather than certain and universal.

Postmodernism is “post” because it is denies the existence of any ultimate principles, and it lacks the optimism of there being a scientific, philosophical, or religious truth which will explain everything for everybody – a characteristic of the so-called “modern” mind.

From the PBS show Faith & Reason

Did some people “want” a pomo president? In some ways, yes. Let’s assume we can’t stand still, as individuals, as nations, as societies. Which we can’t. Whatever modern moment we reached, it turned out to be unsatisfying for a lot of people, for a lot of different reasons. One reaction is to want to “get back” to an earlier point. But that is impossible; there is never going back. If you can’t go back, and refuse to continue on the current path, why not, essentially, throw it all away—all the “modern” thinking and principles that got you where you didn’t want to be.

And so, pomo Trump. Defying objective truth, defying explanation, defying principles. The intellectuals who gave us postmodernism believed it to be a way of looking at the world. They also knew that, like existentialism, its wholesale adoption as practice rather than theory was problematic. Like a tree without roots, a house without foundation.

In contemplating those questions—where are we and how did we get here—we are through the postmodern looking glass. The other even more important question—how do we get out of here—is the most important question of the age.

Trump’s Ties: The Tragic Comic Idiosyncrasies of Dictators

“The general contemporary rule of thumb is that your tie should fall right at the top of your belt buckle, regardless of tie length, style of the tie, or how tall you are.”

Sometimes, as the Freudian cliche goes, a cigar is just a cigar. And a tie is just a tie.

In the case of Trump’s ludicrously long ties, which point at his crotch, it’s obvious something else is going on.

Dictators are often known for their idiosyncrasies. Sometimes there is a psychological basis. Sometimes it is a signature, part of a brand. Sometimes it is just a personal preference. Fidel Castro, for example, was associated with his cigar, which he obviously liked, which is Cuba’s best-known product, and which, well, is more than a cigar.

Trump is the first president to regularly refer to the size of his “hands”, his “button”, and once in a while, almost directly, his “penis”. The only evidence we have so far about this is from Stormy Daniels, who has only said that Trump is “average.” God willing, that is the only detail we ever have to deal with. But absent evidence, we only have Trump’s word for it. We all know what that’s worth. So most people don’t believe him. Or his ties.

Trump v. Kim: Who’s the Sucker?

Trump has been played by Kim of North Korea. Just as he is being played by Putin of Russia. Just as he is being played by Xi of China. Just as smart authoritarian rulers everywhere are lining up to see how to take advantage of him.

It brings up a proverbial thought: If you look around the poker table, and you can’t tell who the sucker is—it’s you.

Democrats: Micah 2020

Dana Milbank writes in today’s Washington Post:

Hey Democrats! What’s the big idea? No, really. What’s the big idea?

A dozen possible Democratic presidential candidates assembled at a downtown Washington hotel Tuesday for one of the first cattle calls of the 2020 campaign. The good news: There were, on that stage, all of the personal qualities and policy ideas needed to defeat President Trump. The bad news: These qualities and ideas were not in any one person….

For November’s midterm elections, it may be enough for Democrats to say they are against Trump. Congressional Democratic leaders took a stab at a unified agenda for 2018 — “A Better Deal” — and were roundly mocked by progressives.

But to beat Trump, they’ll need more. Trump convinced tens of millions of Americans that they are losing ground because of immigrants, racial and religious minorities, and foreigners. What will Democrats advance to counter that grim message?

Given how lost the Democrats are (and how that might lead to further losing), I suggest that they consider the Bible. Not the weaponized, sectarian and exclusionary interpretation of the Bible that is so popular with selfish and heartless ideologues. But the Bible that demands humane conduct—something that we see slipping away election by election, day by day (and that means you too, Democrats).

The prophet Micah is a great touchstone. The revealed solution for an aggrieved people does not involve greater piety, more sacrifices, or brutal nationalism. All that is required is justice, goodness and humility:

With what shall I approach the Lord,
Do homage to God on high?
Shall I approach Him with burnt offerings,
With calves a year old?

Would the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
With myriads of streams of oil?
Shall I give my first-born for my transgression,
The fruit of my body for my sins?

“He has told you, O man, what is good,
And what the Lord requires of you:
Only to do justice
And to love goodness,
And to walk modestly with your God;
Then will your name achieve wisdom.”

Micah 6:6-9 (NJPS)

Micah is not available to run in an election. But justice, goodness and humility are always available as a platform.

Trump v. Moses: Grievances Win Over Vision

People can be complainers. Grievances can be powerful. Just ask Trump. Or Moses.

Prior freedom and miracles were not enough for the Jews at Mount Sinai. While Moses goes up the mountain, for what turns out to be a monumental visionary moment, the people head in an entirely different direction. They are still chronically unhappy and complaining about their lives and the way things have been going, and so engage in all sorts of crazy behavior. In that story, the vision does end up prevailing, but only after lots more tzuris (troubles) and mishegas (craziness).

The only chance for vision to prevail over grievance is for there to be an actual coherent and enlightened vision, and for there to be widespread confidence among people in that actual vision. Otherwise people, who are just human, will complain—sometimes selfishly and shortsightedly, sometimes justifiably. And they will channel those complaints into strange behaviors and choices.

In America, there are a lot of people with grievances. And there is a vision vacuum, at least among those whose supposed structural mission is to be practical visionaries (for example, Democrats and religious institutions). Even with miracles behind him, Moses had a tough time. Without miracles or vision, in elections and at other times, we may be seeing a lot more golden calves.

 

On Tyranny. Again.

I don’t know the words or the enticements to move people to read the book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. I wrote about it when it was released two months ago. I would write it about it every day. Because American democracy, and the values that support and enable American democracy, are under daily siege—from the highest levels of the republic itself. Using the vast history of tyrannical regimes—tyranny that exists elsewhere right now—we should learn how to respond and act constructively. Rather than running around as if our national hair was on fire or, worse, just giving up and giving in.

1. The book is cheap. Really cheap. $3.99 for the ebook. $6.39 for the paperback.

2. The book is short. Really short. 128 pages.

3. The book is great and essential. Some sample reviews:

“We are rapidly ripening for fascism. This American writer leaves us with no illusions about ourselves.” —Svetlana Alexievich, Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

“Timothy Snyder reasons with unparalleled clarity, throwing the past and future into sharp relief. He has written the rare kind of book that can be read in one sitting but will keep you coming back to help regain your bearings. Put a copy in your pocket and one on your bedside table, and it will help you keep going for the next four years or however long it takes.” —Masha Gessen

“Please read this book. So smart, so timely.” —George Saunders

“Easily the most compelling volume among the early resistance literature. . . . A slim book that fits alongside your pocket Constitution and feels only slightly less vital. . . . Clarifying and unnerving. . . . A memorable work that is grounded in history yet imbued with the fierce urgency of what now.” —Carlos Lozada, The Washington Post

“Snyder knows this subject cold. . . . It is impossible to read aphorisms like ‘post-truth is pre-fascism’ and not feel a small chill about the current state of the Republic. . . . Approach this short book the same you would a medical pamphlet warning about an infectious disease. Read it carefully and be on the lookout for symptoms.” —Daniel W. Drezner, The New York Times Book Review

“As Timothy Snyder explains in his fine and frightening On Tyranny, a minority party now has near-total power and is therefore understandably frightened of awakening the actual will of the people.” —Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker

“Snyder is superbly positioned to bring historical thinking to bear on the current political scene. . . . These unpretentious words remind us that political resistance isn’t a matter of action-movie heroics, but starts from a willingness to break from social expectations.” —Jeet Heer, The New Republic

“The perfect clear-eyed antidote to Trump’s deliberate philistinism. . . . These 128 pages are a brief primer in every important thing we might have learned from the history of the last century, and all that we appear to have forgotten.” —Tim Adams, The Guardian

“On Tyranny demands to be read.” —The Forward

“The manifesto we need. . . . Snyder detects dangerous trends in American politics that may be less visible to most citizens who cannot believe that our country, with its system of checks and balances, could succumb to illiberalism or authoritarianism.” —Darryl Holter, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Bracing. . . . On Tyranny is a call to action. . . . A brisk read packed with lucid prose.” —Vox

4. The book is popular:

#2 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Specific Topics > Civics
#3 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Ideologies & Doctrines > Democracy
#7 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > History > Modern (16th-21st Centuries) > 20th Century
#5 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Specific Topics > Civics & Citizenship
#6 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Ideologies & Doctrines > Democracy

The chapters in On Tyranny:

  1. Do not obey in advance.
  2. Defend institutions.
  3. Beware the one-party state.
  4. Take responsibility for the face of the world.
  5. Remember professional ethics.
  6. Be wary of paramilitaries.
  7. Be reflective if you must be armed.
  8. Stand out.
  9. Be kind to our language.
  10. Believe in truth.
  11. Investigate.
  12. Make eye contact and small talk.
  13. Practice corporeal politics.
  14. Establish a private life.
  15. Contribute to good causes.
  16. Learn from peers in other countries.
  17. Listen for dangerous words.
  18. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.
  19. Be a patriot.
  20. Be as courageous as you can.

Finally, “it can’t happen here” are infamous last words. And as the epigraph to the book says:

In politics, being deceived is no excuse.
—Leszek Kołakowski

“This is the business we’ve chosen.”

I watched a news panel discussing reports that Michael Cohen is distraught for his family and realizes that his business and professional life is over—not to mention the possibility of years in prison.

Some panelists expressed compassion for someone in his position. But another was less sympathetic, saying that this was the life he had chosen.

I can’t be sure, but this may have been meant to echo one of the many famous lines from the Godfather movies. In Godfather II, the dying Hyman Roth explains his attitude towards the killing of Moe Green, the man who invented modern Las Vegas. Roth knows that the Corleone family executed Green, but Roth explains to Michael Corleone why he set that fact aside:

HYMAN ROTH: There was this kid I grew up with; he was younger than me. Sorta looked up to me, you know. We did our first work together, worked our way out of the street. Things were good, we made the most of it. During Prohibition, we ran molasses into Canada… made a fortune, your father, too. As much as anyone, I loved him and trusted him. Later on he had an idea to build a city out of a desert stop-over for GI’s on the way to the West Coast. That kid’s name was Moe Greene, and the city he invented was Las Vegas. This was a great man, a man of vision and guts. And there isn’t even a plaque, or a signpost or a statue of him in that town! Someone put a bullet through his eye. No one knows who gave the order. When I heard it, I wasn’t angry; I knew Moe, I knew he was head-strong, talking loud, saying stupid things. So when he turned up dead, I let it go. And I said to myself, this is the business we’ve chosen; I didn’t ask who gave the order, because it had nothing to do with business!

Trump: King Midas in Reverse Works His Magic on Kanye

He’s King Midas with a curse.
He’s King Midas in reverse.
He’s not the man to hold your trust,
Everything he touches turns to dust in his hands.
King Midas in Reverse, The Hollies

From The Hill:

President Trump on Friday thanked Kanye West during his speech at the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) annual convention, giving the artist credit for his rising popularity in the polls among African Americans.

“And by the way, Kanye West must have some power, because you probably saw, I doubled my African-American support numbers,” the president told those gathered in Dallas, Texas. “I went from 11 to 22 in one week.”

“Thank you Kanye, thank you,” he added….

West has sparked outrage and intense debate among the hip-hop and African-American communities in recent days with tweets in support of Trump, with some celebrities expressing support for West while others, including many of his fans, have expressed disappointment.

“We are both dragon energy. He is my brother,” West tweeted in one of his pro-Trump messages starting April 25….

Trump has previously thanked West for the support on Twitter, tweeting that it was “very cool!”

Kanye is only the latest in a long series of those who have seen their careers or lives turn to “dirt” (to be polite) simply by having anything to do with Trump. Sometimes it happens relatively quickly, as in the case of Dr. Ronny Jackson. Sometimes it happens after years and years, as in the case of Michael Cohen. Besides being an exceptional artist—which he has been—Kanye seems to have a bunch of other problems, not totally related to his Trump thing. But he seems to have been able to overcome some of those difficulties—until this. Being thanked by Trump at the NRA Convention is almost certainly the coup de grace.

The moral of the story: If you think it necessary or advantageous to get in bed with a pathological narcissist, know that you will wake up alone and covered in dirt. Possibly under a bus. Which is never very cool.

Trump After Two Terms as President

Imagine it is 2024. Trump is finishing out his second term as president. Eight years.

In a detailed and complex way, we may wonder what the lives of people in America and the world have been like during those years, day after day, thanks to his presidency. Wondering what we might do, what we might have done, to enjoy a different outcome.

But there is simple wondering too. Even at this point in 2018, it is hard to avoid seeing his face every day. Which led me to wonder: what face will we be looking at every day in 2024?

It turns out that a graphic designer at the Express newspaper in the UK has already helped us imagine that: “The intriguing image [see above] has been meticulously constructed by a professional graphic design artist, who specialises in biometric techniques to age the human face.”