The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Donald Trump’

WHO’S REALLY BEEN MEDDLING IN AMERICAN ELECTIONS?

In yesterday’s post, I described writing a senior high school paper on author Sinclair Lewis.  What I didn’t mention was that in addition to being a fairly prolific novel writer he penned a large number of short stories which were primarily published in magazines.  As part of the preparation for writing my paper, I spent many hours in the main branch of the N. Y. Public Library’s periodicals room reading these.  As I recall I made my way through thirty or so of them.

Although I no longer remember the title of this particular story, there was one that dealt with causality.  It described a man who worked for a company that manufactured munitions.  He forgot to set his alarm clock the night before an important meeting and as a result over slept, catching a later train than usual and so was late for the meeting.  This set off a series of five or six different events which ultimately resulted in a revolution occurring in some unnamed South American country and a military takeover of the same.  The story was unusual for Lewis, almost science fiction-like in content.  But it does speak to the current brouhaha over Russian influence in our recent presidential election.

It would be foolish for any rational person not to believe that hostile foreign nations including Russia, North Korea, China and Iran, to name a few, would not engage in activities which they see to be in their best interest to the detriment of the United States or any other country they believe to be their adversary.  After all, wasn’t that why we so staunchly supported and financed the activities of Radio Free Europe during the cold war with the Soviet Union?  What is remarkable is that there seems to be so much surprise on the part of our elected officials that this happens.

As I recall, during the 2012 Presidential Debates, candidate Romney was asked what he considered to be the greatest threat to the security of the United States.  His almost immediate response was, “Russia.”  In his rebuttal, President Obama ridiculed Romney for his answer. So one of two things is true.  Either Romney was correct and Obama had it wrong.  Or, if Russia did not pose that threat in 2012 but now does, then the failure of U. S. foreign policy under the Obama administration has allowed Russia to become that threat.

Those who are arguing that Russia’s influence affected the outcome of the election must hold to the same simple causality that Lewis describes in his short story.  One thing leads to another to another to an unexpected outcome, as surely as night follows day.  That makes for a good story or perhaps an engaging movie – but it is not how things generally work in this world.

There are several issues in this now wide-raging debate that are not in question.

The first is there was an almost cavalier attitude toward cyber-security on the part of both Hillary Clinton and John Podesta which allowed Russia, if in fact they were the ones who actually hacked their emails, to gain entry into their systems.

The second is that no one has alleged that the emails were in any way massaged or altered before their release.  This, of course, begs the question, should the American electorate not have been allowed to see this material so that they could make a more informed decision on the candidate for whom they would vote?

The third is that everyone agrees that neither Russia nor anyone else were able to alter the actual vote totals as they were recorded precinct by precinct.

The fourth is that everyone agrees that whatever influence the alleged Russian hack had on the election results is unquantifiable – just as it would be naïve to attribute the fall of the former Soviet Union solely on the broadcasts of Radio Free Europe.

It doesn’t require a lot of imagination to hypothesize why the election turned out as it did.  Perhaps there were a lot of Clinton supporters in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan who simply were either too sick or to unmotivated to show up at the polls and cast their ballots.

Or perhaps there were some undecided voters who simply concluded that after years of Clinton controversies, whether or not anything had been proven, there just seemed to be far too much smoke so there may well be a fire burning somewhere.

Or perhaps millions of Republican voters in New York or California either never bothered to register or if they were registered didn’t vote, knowing that their vote would essentially be meaningless.  Perhaps the number of GOP voters who sat it out would have been sufficient for Trump to win not only the Electoral College vote but the popular vote as well.

But let’s talk about my adopted state of Nevada for a moment – one of those “swing states” as political pundits like to call it.  What if something specific happened here which had a far more direct impact on the election than Clinton’s emails or Benghazi or the failure of Obamacare?  What if an employer in this state tacitly suggested to its employees how they should vote in the presidential election?  That employer (and perhaps others) is MGM Resorts International.

MGM is an international corporation headquartered in Las Vegas.  It owns and manages properties in Nevada, several other states and internationally, primarily in Macao, China.  The company employs approximately 50,000 people, 35,000 of those being here in the Silver State.

MGM has a very civic corporate conscience.  It has received a number of awards from several “progressive” organizations for their support for the LGBTQ community and for minority groups, primarily Hispanics, many of whom it employs.  And what would being a good citizen be other than to support the most important right which we have – the right to vote?

During early voting here in Nevada, MGM allowed it’s employees time off from work in order to execute their franchise.  In fact, it provided free buses to local temporary polling stations so their employees could vote more easily.  All that is fine.  But MGM took this one step further.

In order to simplify the voting experience, MGM provided its employees who took advantage of their free transportation a sample ballot to take with them into the voting booth.  The problem was that this “sample ballot” contained the note at the top that “MGM recommends a vote for the following candidates and propositions on the November 8th ballot.”  The names of Hillary Clinton for president and Catherine Cortez Masto for U. S. Senate were checked and highlighted in yellow on the pre-printed form.  As it turns out, Clinton carried Nevada by a margin of  27,202 votes and Masto won the Senate seat by 26,915 votes, obviously fewer votes than the number of MGM employees who received their “suggested ballot.”  I only know this because a friend who is an MGM employee and who supported Trump in the election was infuriated about this and gave me the copy she received from her employer.

It is, of course, a moot point as Clinton lost the election.  But Masto, whose background is sketchy at best, is one of our one hundred senators and a protégé of Harry Reid’s.  With a margin in the Senate as tight as it is, her election may well make a difference.  And while I’m not sure whether MGM broke the law in providing this ballot, I believe it would be fair to suggest that if you were employed by a company that handed you a completed “suggested ballot,” you might feel pressured to vote as indicated.

We can only speculate about either Russia’s or MGM’s motivation in involving themselves in our election.  Perhaps MGM’s management simply was expressing their liberal bent.  Or perhaps they are concerned about their property in Macao and the nature of our relationship with China under a Trump administration.  That the President-Elect took a call from the democratically elected President of Taiwan the day after his election must be giving them fits.

One thing that is certain is that the 2016 election will be a boon to the publishing industry.  I suspect enough will be written about it to fill a presidential library.

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THE MOST HATED MAN IN AMERICA

It was two weeks before the end of my junior year of high school when the bomb dropped.  There I was, looking forward to my third summer working for E. F. Hutton in their backroom on Broad Street when my English teacher informed our class that he was giving us a summer project which we needed to complete by the first day of our senior year.

Each of us had a week to select an American author who would become the subject of a paper (at least fifty pages long – double spaced).  We would be required to read at least five works by that author as well as a biography of our subject.  I immediately thought of Nathaniel West who suffered an untimely death in an automobile accident and had only written four books, one of which, Miss Lonelyhearts I had already read.  But I hadn’t really enjoyed that experience and was uncertain that I wanted to subject myself to further literary abuse by that author.

After a great deal of mental mulling I settled on Harry Sinclair Lewis – a far more prolific author and an individual with whose works I was familiar only by name – specifically Main Street and Elmer Gantry.  Somewhere I had heard that he was also the subject of some controversy which only piqued my curiosity about what he had to say.  I remembered reading a review of a biography of Lewis that had been written by Mark Schorer a few years earlier – still the definitive work on his life.

My English teacher approved my choice and after school I headed down to my local bookstore to see which of  Lewis’ works were available in paperback.  As good luck would have it, on the close out table was a copy of the Schorer biography.  Three dollars for a nearly thousand page hardback.  As my Jewish classmates would say, “Such a deal.”  I grabbed a copy together with paperback editions of Main Street and Babbitt and asked the owner to hold them for me until the next day when I would return to pay for them, which she gladly agreed to do.  Conducting business with merchants was so much more civilized and pleasant back in the ’60’s.

As there were three days of school remaining, our final exams in the rear view mirror and nothing much to do other than plan on attending the commencement program, I dove into the Schorer biography to gain a few days on the project even before we were on summer vacation.  I decided that having a bit of history on the author might help me appreciate his work more.  I finished the book early the next week – and if there was one quote I took away from it, it was that Lewis had earned the sobriquet, “The most hated man in America.”  As I began reading his novels, I quickly understand why.

Lewis’ writing was succinct, compelling and fatally cynical.  He described life in small American towns and the people who inhabited them.  To him, they were little more than plastic figures engaged in mundane activities in the pursuit of mediocrity.  Having himself come from just such an environment in Sauk Centre, MN it was hard not to feel that Lewis was implying that he had risen from that bourgeois existence and had achieved a higher plane of understanding, a greater appreciation of aesthetics and, of course, a moral superiority.

When he died suddenly of heart failure in Rome in 1951 the literary world took note of his passing.  After all, he had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his 1925 novel, Arrowsmith, an honor that he refused to accept.  One literary critic headlined his column on Lewis’ demise with the acerbic introduction, “Sinclair Lewis Dead – At Last.”

For sixty-five years there have been few who have challenged Lewis’ title of “The most hated man in America.”  But one might argue that there is finally a new contender for the title, that being one Donald J. Trump, the soon to be 45th President of the United States.

Remarkably, President-Elect Trump’s campaign motto, “Make America Great Again” is in direct contrast to Lewis’ view that America, or at least it’s people, have never been great at all, a view heartily endorsed by the many cacophonous, caterwauling Trump critics. These same naysayers also assume a Lewis-like sense of moral superiority perhaps stemming from their profound adherence to atheism, a religion to which Lewis subscribed.  It is they and they alone who have an understanding of true righteousness, appropriate behavior and the correct manner of thinking, speaking and acting.

I wish I were here sixty-five years from now to see whether Trump’s optimistic view of what America can achieve will prevail.  Or whether those who view themselves as victimized members of the mindless mob will have their way.  But perhaps it will not take that long to see which side has the upper hand.

Irrespective of the facts, the word is that Trump’s opponents are already assembling to hold a regalia in which they will transfer the title from Lewis to our next president.  As I don’t have anything sufficiently festive to wear, should I receive an invitation to attend, I guess I will be forced to decline that honor.

LET HE WHO IS WITHOUT SIN WITHHOLD THE FIRST VOTE

John 8:1-7 (KJV)

1 Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.

2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.

3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,

4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

(Apocryphal addendum)

At this point a rock flew past Jesus’ head and hit the woman squarely in the stomach.

Jesus looked up to see who had cast the rock and said, “Oh, really Mother.”

The question of Mary’s status had been debated by the Doctors of the Church until Pope Pius IX in 1854 issued an encyclical promulgating the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, thus requiring all those in communion with the Roman Catholic Church to accept Mary’s status as a person who was conceived without sin.  Please forgive the somewhat irreverent  conclusion to the well-known story of the woman taken in adultery – but if one accepts Pius’  ex cathedra encyclical, it is theologically sound.

Fortunately for those of us who are not theologians, there has been no debate over the fact that all the rest of us have flaws, are sinful and are redeemed through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross (or so we Christians believe).  That would, of course, include candidates for public office – even for president of the United States.

The two presumptive presidential nominees prove daily in the tabloids and other news media, neither of them is a candidate who any reflective person would support with unbridled, unquestioning enthusiasm.  Perhaps the greatest difference between this and previous election cycles is that the turpitude of the candidates seems to have reached a new apex – or, if you will a new nadir.  Notwithstanding, there are mathematically only those two choices and one will emerge as the leader of what is left of the Free World for at least a four year term.  How did this happen?  Because we as a collective people and nation have chosen to ignore the obvious warning signs of a nation in decline and, rather than attempt to rectify the sins of the past, have chosen a path of apathy until the proverbial wolf comes to our own door.  That time has probably now come.

Seldom in my experience have I ever worked for and voted for a presidential candidate with unbridled enthusiasm – though it has happened.  Like most people, the media find it more titillating to expose the flaws of a prospective office holder and that is the information to which we are primarily exposed.  Negative news stories work to increase circulation and viewer ship.  Positive stories, if they appear at all, are buried deep in the recesses of the paper and have no interest to those who believe social media is a reliable source of information – which they aren’t.

So the alternative in most elections is determining who is the lesser of the two evils, holding one’s nose and ruefully casting a vote for the candidate who is qualified by his or her opponents’ even greater concupissance.  This year promises to exemplify that way of determining my vote – except that this is a year on steroids.

“It is indeed difficult to imagine how men who have entirely renounced the habit of managing their own affairs could be successful in choosing those who ought to lead them. It is impossible to believe that a liberal, energetic, and wise government can ever emerge from the ballots of a nation of servants.”
– Alexis de Tocqueville

Whether we like it or not, politics is at the core of each of our lives.  If we vote for someone who brings about rules and regulations that adversely impact our day-to-day existence, vote for a more enlightened opponent who is defeated or, worst of all, choose to pretend that how we are constrained by government is simply not important and choose to try to validate that opinion by not participating in the political process by not voting, there will be consequences.

In the last two presidential elections, most of us conservatives were presented candidates by the Republican party who in only a limited way appeared to champion our core principles.  Yet, most of us sucked it up and voted for them anyway because the alternative, Barack Obama was so odious.  It truly disturbs me that Gov. Mitt Romney, one of the least conservative people within the GOP is now on what I can only take as a personal vendetta to bring down the presumptive nominee in the general election, Donald Trump not only by withholding his support but by trying to find a candidate who would be the sacrificial lamb spear heading the efforts of a third party run, thus assuring Hillary Clinton’s election.

It is at the least ironic that Mr. Romney who withheld his tax returns until Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) got up on the Senate floor, lied and said that “he had information that Romney hadn’t paid a cent in taxes for years” only then put out his own returns and is now squawking so loudly about Trump’s returns .  (Frankly, I think this is a red herring issue – but, of course, the media loves it).  What a hypocrite.  Romney would better serve the Republican party and, more importantly the county, by insisting that the Clinton Foundation explain publicly the changes they made to their returns which, after scrutiny from outside organizations, forced them to amend and refile multiple years.

I’m not sure that Mr. Romney ever heard the old adage about people living in glass houses – but if he missed it, he might consider my version, the title of this piece:

LET HE WHO IS WITHOUT SIN WITHHOLD THE FIRST VOTE

ONE NO TRUMP

As much as I’ve always enjoyed games of almost any variety, including card games, for some reason I never had any exposure to bridge when I was young.  That was rectified my first year at the University of Chicago when I encountered another freshman, Alvin Rosenblatt, a young Canadian student with a passion for bridge.

Now if you’ve never met anyone who is fanatic about bridge, you’ve truly escaped one of life’s great horrors.  Little did I know how deeply committed people become to the game until I allowed Alvin to convince me to teach me how to play.  I actually had less interest in the game than befriending Alvin whose manner was so abrasive and generally offensive that he might have caused Bernadette of Lourdes to begin swearing.  I felt sorry for him – and since I was generally pretty good at card games, I thought this would be a natural addition to my repertoire.

Well, it didn’t take a lot of time to round up two other students who played bridge and wanted to escape reading any more of the subtleties of John Locke or were tired of doing calculus so it wasn’t long before I played my first game with Alvin as my partner.  I could tell from almost the first moment of play that I had better do my best or my beloved partner would let me know that I had screwed up.  I think that outburst occurred in the fourth or fifth hand.

Now in bridge, partners play a “system.”  Perhaps the one that most beginners start with was developed by Charles Goren, the man who may have done more to popularize bridge than any other.  It’s probably the easiest for the novice to memorize.  But that basic system was far too simple for Alvin.  He played the Kaplan-Sheinwold system – which to me sounded more like a medical syndrome that had devastating implications for the gall bladder than it was a bidding system.  But I was a tyro – so what did I know.

Bridge comes in two very distinct varieties.  The first, the game that I began playing and which is usually played socially is contract bridge.  There is a fair element of luck in this game since being dealt extremely strong or weak hands greatly affects the game, far more than the skill of the player holding those hands.  The second version is duplicate bridge.  This is truly a game of skill because each pair of partners plays all the same hands as all the other pairs and depending on how well or poorly they play their hands is measured by a points system, ranking them accurately against all the other players.  My harrowing introduction to bridge, and my next several sessions, were of the contract variety.

I was already beginning to think that my compassion for Alvin and my attempt to befriend this young man were misguided.  Alvin never failed to let me know when I had erred but ignored offering any compliments when I had done something quasi-brilliant.  Of course, that second situation only occurred rarely.  I began thinking to myself, “Who needs this abuse?  I could just go to class and have one of the tenured professors insult me.”  But I confess that the game began interesting me so I suffered the slings and arrows with which Alvin’s quiver was overwhelmingly filled.

Things went along more or less in the same way through eight or ten sessions in our dorm’s rec room when Alvin pronounced that, “While I was still an incompetent ‘bumble butt’  I had advanced sufficiently that it was time for me to graduate to the far more sophisticated and challenging game of duplicate bridge.”  There was a duplicate bridge club that had a weekly session at the university’s International House and he expected me to attend with him the following Thursday evening at 7:00 p.m. promptly.  I acquiesced to his request and actually looked forward to the challenge, expecting to be competing against twenty other players or thereabouts.

When we arrived at the building we easily found the signs directing us to the appropriate room – which, as it turned out, was the largest meeting room in the building.  And it was filled to the gills with nearly two hundred bridge players.  Suddenly, remembering Alvin’s previous outbursts in our little social game, it occurred to me that I was likely to be embarrassed before several hundred people.  And that is exactly what happened – about one half hour into our play.  Which caused me to stand up from the table, direct an extremely crude expletive statement at Alvin and walk home.  And that was the last time I played bridge.

Well, speaking of bridge and bridge terminology, this past week, Donald Trump, a man whose ego makes Barack Obama’s look like one belonging to a mendicant friar, announced that he is entering the Republican race for President of the United States.  The speech proclaiming his bid reminded me both of Alvin and a papal encyclical – but without humility.  But I was particularly struck by his intent to bring Mexico to its knees and force them to pay for the construction of a wall which will keep unwanted foreigners from invading our country.  That would have to be one heck of a wall.

There are approximately 540 million people who live in Mexico, Central America and South America.  Granted, not all of them want to move here.  But still, that’s a lot of humanity, not to mention those who are participants in ISIS and might take the trip across the Rio Grande via Mexico.  And I thought, how likely is this wall to succeed in keeping them folks back where they belong.  I thought about this in the context of the Clinton Correctional facility in Dannemora, NY, a maximum security prison, from which two escapees made a getaway a little over two weeks ago and are still on the loose.

Now Dannemora typically houses between 2800 to 3000 prisoners.  Yet, with a little bit of help from their friends, two of these truly evil felons are roaming around free, at least for the moment.  So if we can’t keep people whom we’ve already captured under lock and key, what is the likelihood that we will effectively keep a swarming mass of humanity out?

As to the answer to that question, I bid, “One No Trump.”

COMMON GROUND

Every so often a thought occurs to me that, well modesty prevents me from calling it “brilliant”, but which I believe could fairly be categorized as “insightful”.  Just such an experience occurred the other day – and I’ve been mulling it around so that I could entertain you with it in this post.

I am disturbed that so much of the focus of this election seems to be centered around the skin color of the two candidates for President.  There is no doubt that many people who are black will vote for Obama for that reason alone.  It is equally true that there are people who are white who will not vote for him because he is a black man.  While I consider people in either camp to be racial bigots, their bigotry is not the common ground which is the subject for this post.

I make no qualms about the fact that one of the few gifts that I possess is a keen ability to do math and calculations.  It may be one of my few redeeming qualities.  And so I started to look at the President and his genetic background from the standpoint of pure mathematics.

Now the nice thing about math, unlike political races, is that it is one of those absolute sciences on which we can rely for truth.  In our base ten math system, the correct answer to 2 x 2 will be 4 whether you are an American, a Chinese, a resident of Mali or a charter member of Al Qaeda.  I hope we are all in agreement so far.  I’m further hoping that even recent graduates of our public school systems have mastered this basic bit of multiplication.

But then we turn to the more difficult and challenging question of percentages.  (Please don’t hit the “X” button at the top of the page quite yet because I know even those who struggled with fractions will find this easy).

Moving right along, it is the consensus of belief and without dispute even from Donald Trump that President Obama’s father was a black citizen of Kenya and his mother was a white citizen of the United States.  That would make the President 50% black and 50% white.  Are you with me so far?  After all, this is just really, really basic math.

My question – and I would love to hear from anyone who can explain this to me – is why is it that we consider President Obama to be a “black” man rather than a “white” man since he has equal parts of his genetic material from each of his parents?  Are we saying (much to the consternation of women everywhere) that the male’s sperm contributes more than just its fair share to the fertilization process than does the female’s ovum?  If we make that argument it’s a good thing that Betty Friedan has passed on as it would undoubtedly require her to write yet another book.

And so we find our basis for the common ground between your run-of-the-mill-black bigot who will vote for the President because he is black and your run-of-the-mill white member of the Aryan Nation who will not vote for him because he is black.  We have found a point on which these two groups are in agreement, that the President is a black man.

I hope that members of both extremes will have the opportunity to read this post.  I am certain that knowing that they have found some commonality will allow them to sleep comfortably – although the realization of their agreeing on anything may cause them to endure a horrible nightmare.

As for me, I am going to take the alternate position and, supported by the mathematical analysis I provided, I am going to insist that President Obama is indeed a “white man”.  This simplifies my life and my voting decision since I no longer have even to consider the matter of race as a potential issue.  Hopefully, this might simplify your life too.

So what it all comes down to for me is the President’s track record and the campaign promises on which we relied in 2008.  One of those statements in particular keeps ringing through my mind.  That was, “If I can’t cut the deficit in half in my first four years, I would not deserve to be re-elected.”  Rather than a fifty percent reduction we’ve seen a sixty percent increase.

Relying on the President’s own words, I’m compelled to vote for “the other White Meat”.

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