Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Can Americans Handle Their Anger?

This tweet sums up where I usually come down on politics.
As I said in this post from the last election cycle, I rarely vote for anyone; my votes usually are against someone. While live blogging Monday's events at the 2016 Democratic Convention, Harry Enten of the FiveThiryEight blog wrote,
One question I wonder about these days is where have the popular politicians gone? I just spoke about how Michelle Obama isn’t all that popular, and, despite the huge applause in this hall, neither is Elizabeth Warren. While many Americans still don’t have an opinion of Warren, those who do are slightly more likely to have a negative than positive opinion of her. That, combined with Clinton and Trump being two of the most unpopular nominees in recent history, makes you think that Americans are just pissed off at everyone.[Emphasis mine]
Because I am a perpetually angry human, my fellow citizens' being "pissed off at everyone" concerns me. To adapt a line from Dashiell Hammet's The Maltese Falcon, anger is "something you can't do judiciously, unless you keep in practice." Given that looking on the bright side is "a patriotic norm in the United States, a matter of national identity and an sacrosanct mantra of living as a red-blooded American," it's unlikely that most Americans have had enough practice to be judicious in their anger.

A body politic practiced in anger would have created a four-way race between Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Jill Stein, and Gary Johnson. If the binary option is necessary, judiciously angry folk likely would have found far better vessels than Trump or Clinton. They certainly would be able to act with less petulance than the Sanders supporters in Philadelphia or the Trump faithful who booed Ted Cruz's injunction to vote your conscience.

The angry rookies should consider a return to optimism until after this election. Then, they can practice until they can be judicious in their anger. Elections shouldn't be left to novices.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Video Of South Dakota Roll Call Vote AT 2016 DNC

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Oh You Foolish Evangelicals!

Who has bewitched you?

It's a serious question when one considers that nearly 80 percent of white evangelicals plan to vote for Donald Trump. A recent Pew poll reports,
White evangelical Protestants who say they attend religious services regularly are just as strongly supportive of Donald Trump as are evangelicals who attend religious services less often. Fully three-quarters of both groups say they would vote for Trump over Clinton if the election were today, and roughly a third in each group describe themselves as strong Trump supporters.
Perhaps some Christian leaders are sowing confusion. James Dobson said Trump is born again. Then Dobson said he wasn't sure about Trump's conversion experience. Then he endorsed Trump. Dobson is not alone.  "Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, Jack Graham, Ben Carson, James Robison, Jerry Johnson, and many others . . ." serve on Trump's faith advisory committee.

There are, however, many evangelical leaders who do not support Trump. Most prominent among them are Russell Moore and Max Locado. It, therefore, seems unlikely that one can blame inadequate spiritual leadership for this inexplicable devotion.

For this discussion let's not argue about whether Trump is a Nazi or a fascist or whether those discussions are prompted by Satan. Instead, let's test the spirits a bit. First Damon LinkerPascal-Emmanuel Gobry, and Peter Wehner all make a convincing case that Trump is a Nietzschean in word and deed even if he may never have a read a word of the philosopher's works. Wehner sums up Nietzsche's philosophy:
To better understand Mr. Trump’s approach to life, ethics and politics, we should not look to Christ but to Friedrich Nietzsche, who was repulsed by Christianity and Christ. “What is good?” Nietzsche asks in “The Anti-Christ”: “Whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man. What is evil? Whatever springs from weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power increases – that resistance is overcome.” 
Whether or not he has read a word of Nietzsche (I’m guessing not), Mr. Trump embodies a Nietzschean morality rather than a Christian one. It is characterized by indifference to objective truth (there are no facts, only interpretations), the repudiation of Christian concern for the poor and the weak, and disdain for the powerless. It celebrates the “√úbermensch,” or Superman, who rejects Christian morality in favor of his own. For Nietzsche, strength was intrinsically good and weakness was intrinsically bad. So, too, for Donald Trump. 
To be fair, Richard Schacht, a writer, professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Illinois (Urbana) and past executive director of the North American Nietzsche Society claims "Wehner’s summary of “Nietzschean morality” is a simplistic caricature." Schacht contends Nietzsche does not issue a "blanket endorsement of all expressions of the basic disposition he calls 'will to power.'” Schacht contends that Nietzsche has more empathy than Trump.
Power for Nietzsche is the name of the game, but what is at stake in it is something more: the fragile possibility of a “higher” humanity. 
Nietzsche’s moral vision revolves around the idea of realizing this possibility, upgrading rather than degrading power relations in human affairs. Mr. Trump’s, to put it mildly, does not.
If Trump does not to adhere Nietzsche's thought, perhaps his confidence and obsession with power come from a more benign source. Writing in First Things, Matthew Schmitz argues that Trump draws his inspiration from Norman Vincent Peale, "a decent man of sincere if not quite orthodox Christian faith" who preached about the power of positive thinking. It's clear that Trump, like Peale, believes “attitudes are more important than facts.” Schmitz likens Peale's outlook to the Beach Boys' Endless Summer album:
Like one of Job’s comforters, he told the suffering that they simply needed to look on the bright side. Where the Bible urges man to search his heart and know his faults, Peale encourages him to “make a true estimate of your own ability, then raise it ten percent.” For Jeremiah the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, but for Peale its dark recesses are bathed in California sunshine.
There is one small rub; Schmitz concludes that in Trump's hands, Peale's unorthodox theology has become something darker:
Trump feels no such restraint, and so has taken Peale’s teaching to its logical conclusion. He has called the widow whose house he tried to take a “terrible human being” whose lawyer is a “loser.” He has mocked a reporter for having a disfigured hand. He has demeaned a contestant on one of his reality shows by suggesting how she’d look in a pornographic scenario. And he has applauded Planned Parenthood for doing “very good work.” 
Peale is now largely forgotten, and his bestseller languishes in used book stores. This is a shame, for it has led us to underestimate the influence and power of the self-sufficient faith that he promoted, and that he imparted to his greatest student. Peale meant to preach a gentle creed, one that made hellfire and terror into mere afterthoughts. In Trump it has curdled into pagan disdain. Both forms of this philosophy have captured the public imagination, and both stand at odds with the faith taught by Christ. 
Christianity is a religion of losers. To the weak and humble, it offers a stripped and humiliated Lord. To those without reason for optimism, it holds up the cross as a sign of hope. To anyone who does not win at life, it promises that whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake shall find it. At its center stands a truth that we are prone to forget. There are people who cannot be made into winners, no matter how positive their thinking. They need something more paradoxical and cruciform.
Even if one grants that Trump is not a Nazi, a fascist, or a power worshiping Nietzschean, Trump's "pagan disdain" for basic Christian tenants and attitudes should dissuade evangelicals from supporting him. In this election cycle, however, evangelicals appear deeply fearful that the Presidential race is not merely about flesh and blood but rather a struggle with first fallen angel. Speaking at the 2016 Republican Convention Ben Carson said,
"Now, one of the things that I have learned about Hillary Clinton is that one of her heroes, her mentors was Saul Alinsky. And her senior thesis was about Saul Alinsky. This was someone she greatly admired and let me tell you something about Saul Alinsky," . . . 
"He wrote a book called Rules for Radicals. It acknowledges Lucifer, the original radical who gained his own kingdom. Now think about that. This is our nation where our founding document, the Declaration of Independence talks about certain inalienable rights that come from our creator, a nation where our Pledge of Allegiance says we are ‘One nation under God.’ This is a nation where every coin in our pockets and every bill in our wallet says, ‘In God We Trust.’ So are we willing to elect someone as president who has as their role model somebody who acknowledges Lucifer? Think about that."
Having misplaced my copy of Rules for Radicals,  I will trust this Politifact article quoted Alinsky properly: "the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer." Whatever Alinsky's statement may owe to the Bible, it likely owes as much, if not more, to John Milton's Paradise Lost, an epic poem that has Lucifer say,
.. Farewell, happy fields,
Where joy for ever dwells! Hail, horrors! hail,
Infernal world! and thou, profoundest Hell,
Receive thy new possessor—one who brings
A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less than he
Whom thunder hath made greater?
For those who hold Carson's view, it worth being reminded that it's not enough to hate evil, one must also cling to the good. There's no discernible good in Trump's politics.

Finally, if the political, theological, and philosophical musings are not convincing arguments that this overwhelming support for Trump will bear no fruit, consider Christianity's source material. Jeremiah warns,
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who draws strength from mere flesh
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
    they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
    in a salt land where no one lives.
The Psalmist says,
Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Evangelicals became a political force after the Roe v Wade decision. Despite their support for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, that decision stands. Evangelicals also see the more recent Obergefell v. Hodges decision was a significant defeat in the culture wars. Their support for Trump will not alter the marriage debate.

Many may believe they stand at Armageddon. That fear may or may not be well founded, but no one should ever confuse campaigning for Donald Trump with battling for the Lord. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Trump Speech Reaction

I think he cribbed this Star Trek trailer, but he went off script too often.

What Cruz's Convention Speech Says About Trump

If one reads certain reports and reactions of Senator Ted Cruz's address to the 2016 Republican Convention, he figuratively defecated on the carpet in Mr. Trump's living room. Others seem to believe Mr. Cruz deserves two chapters in an updated version of Profiles in Courage.

While many are trying to analyze, defend, or vilify Cruz, the fact that he spoke without endorsing Donald Trump may reveal more about Mr. Trump than it does Senator Cruz.

Mr. Trump's political success seems predicated in no small part on the belief that Trump says what he means and means what he says. 

Cruz's speech gives the lie to that assumption. If Trump truly says what he means and means what he says, Cruz would not have spoken at all.  According to a June 27, New York Times report, Trump categorically declared that no one who had not endorsed him, including Senator Cruz, would be allowed to speak at the convention.
“If there’s no endorsement, then I would not invite them to speak,” Mr. Trump said in an interview, adding that former rivals like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio should not expect to address the convention if they continue to withhold their support.
Cruz offered no endorsement prior to his speech ,during his speech, or after his speech. Trump knew he would not.
The man constantly referred to from the podium as the world’s greatest negotiator went along with giving his last and strongest rival for the nomination a prime-time speaking gig knowing that Ted Cruz would not endorse him.
Those given a copy of the prepared speech indicated that Cruz would mention Trump's name only once. Further, the "vote your conscience" line that caused so much consternation was in the prepared remarks.
With no endorsement prior to the convention or in Cruz's prepared remarks, even the truest Trump believers will have difficulty that he said what he meant or meant what he said in this instance. Even a single failure is damning when a campaign is based on the cult of personality rather than issues. Perhaps that's why the true believers in the convention hall were doing their best to appropriate the Sam "Say It" Kinison and have Cruz take the Rodney Dangerfield from Back to School.



Monday, June 6, 2016

Trump: Fascist Moderate or Moderate Fascist, Part 2

A simple Google search of  the words "Trump" and "fascist" yields 6,900,000 results. I haven't heard an adjective applied to a person's name that frequently since Dan Aykroyd spent the entire film Dragnet protecting "the virgin Connie Swails."

To call Trump a fascist implies he has a coherent political philosophy. It's not clear that Trump has any philosophy other than a belief that he should selfishly satisfy his ego, bask in puffery, and frequently issue 140 character insults. These qualities indicate he is a truculent demagogue, but while nearly every fascist leader is a truculent demagogue not all truculent demagogues are fascists.

The most obvious illustration of Trump's lack of philosophical integrity is his complete refusal to follow Machiavelli's advice. In The Prince, Machiavelli urges leaders to avoid virtue when necessary but always to appear to have virtues:


Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.

Trump seemingly doesn't care if anyone views him as faithful or upright or merciful. In fact, he appears to relish being the most vile politician to seek the Presidency since George Wallace sought the office to continue legal racial segregation in the South.

Contending that Trump is not a fascist does not mean one should doubt he would be a dangerous President. His truculence indicates he will brook no challenge to his efforts to enact whatever ill-considered whim strikes his fancy. Further, no one should doubt that a President Trump would use the power of his office to curtail civil liberties. Chris Christie, his first major endorser, has not, to the best of my knowledge, encountered a civil liberty he did not want to quash. Trump's entire campaign seems predicated on similar views. Although that fact makes him a threat, his distaste for civil liberties means a Trump administration would differ from the Obama and George W. Bush administrations in degree not in kind.

Quite frankly, calling Trump a fascist lends his campaign gravitas it doesn't merit. Trump is a fascist in the same way goose-stepping professional wrestler Baron von Raschke was a Nazi Now that I think about it, Trump has other things in common with von Raschke.  Both are brilliant entertainers. Both are bombastic. When questioned both conclude "Dat is all da people need to know." Both combine weird facial expressions with bizarre gesticulations.

Baron von Raschke illustrating his Claw finishing move

Donald Trump illustrating that he's Donald Trump

Von Raschke and Trump share one other similarity: both are equally qualified to be President. That fact alone, not assertions that he holds a dangerous political philosophy, should dissuade everyone from voting for Trump.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Trump: Fascist Moderate or Moderate Fascist, Part 1

Donald Trump, according to Dakota Free Press posts and comments, harbors fascist tendencies. Meanwhile, Troy Jones has opined in a Dakota War College comment that Trump is the most moderate Republican candidate since Wendell Wilkie. Both of these claims cannot be true. Let's tackle Trump's alleged moderation first. I'll try to deal with the alleged fascism in an another post

As a nominee Trump is heir to a tradition that boasts great Presidents including Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Reagan. Trump, therefore, should have moderate positions or principles that fit in that tradition.

In his first inaugural, Lincoln reminded Americans to be governed by "the better angels of our nature," arguably the greatest urging toward moderation in any recorded political speech. Trump, on the other hand, gives a segment of America license to vent their anger although he doesn't seem to add the Christian injunction "in your anger sin not." In fact, Trump's entire campaign seems predicated on the rather immoderate principle to submit to one's most angry "lesser imps and demons" if not our personal version of the angry "great Satan hisself" (My apologies to the Coen brothers for taking lines from O Brother Where Art Thou? out of context.)

Theodore Roosevelt and Trump share a New York brashness. Trump has certainly predicated his campaign on the premise that "we stand at Armageddon." Further, he promises to use a "big stick" to force Mexico to pay for a wall across the United States's southern border. Unlike Roosevelt, Trump has never promised to "battle for the Lord" at Armageddon. He seems more likely to battle only for Trump. More importantly, no one has recorded an incidence of Trump speaking his "big stick" threats softly.

Dwight Eisenhower organized the logistics behind the United States's World War II victory. As President he was the guiding force behind the nation's interstate highway system. Trump can claim Trump University, Trump Steaks, and several bankruptcies.

Finally, Ronald Reagan claimed that the 11th commandment is "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican." Trump has yet to find a Republican of whom he will not speak ill.

In short, Trump's rhetoric is far from moderate. Further, the only policy he has consistently enunciated involves expanding the federal government's power to allow for the deportation of 11 million undocumented residents, hardly an action borne from a moderate principle.