Wednesday, August 17, 2016

News From The National Desk, Mid-August 2016

In no particular order:
1) Readers of this space are well aware of the limitless contempt that I have for the former mayor of New York City and all-around failed human being, Rudolph Guiliani. I was ecstatic when I found out that Donald Trump was going to use Rudy as a campaign speaker on his behalf; I figured it was even money or better that Rudy would say something so profoundly ill-considered that he would end up doing more harm to Trump's cause than good. But even I was stunned by the magnitude of the hypocrisy and bullshit that America's leading Fascist wannabe came out with the other day. Guiliani actually said, in a speech, that there were no instances of Islamic terrorism against the United States of America until Obama became President. Simply astonishing.
For one, Rudy's only claim to any sort of national visibility and credibility was because he was the mayor of New York on 9/11. Which, to refresh everyone's memory, took place in 2001. George W. Bush was in the middle of the first of his eight long years as President. Guiliani has shown all the deft touch of Andre the Giant attempting reattachment surgery in his own political career, so I am inclined to believe that it was a deliberate statement, that he knew full well that the bullshit coming from his mouth was false. Rudy has never showed the slightest bit of respect for the intellectual acuity of the electorate; his mayoral campaigns were largely based on appeals to naked racism and fearmongering regarding Law and Order. I think he believes that there is a certain percentage of people hearing these remarks are going to believe what he said, because they are incapable of processing and retaining information beyond what the last person they heard told them.
But I think it's more proof that there is a dangerous element of actual Fascism in the modern Republican Party. Bush's people were relatively open about "creating their own truth," but in their case, they were rather cynical about what they were doing, and their motivations for doing it--looting the country at home, and fighting wars abroad. The element that is at the fore now is not doing so for financial gain or alleged security concerns. They are espousing rhetoric designed to gain them themselves power for its own sake, and for those of us that actually were given an education in world history when we were younger, the Big Lie was an essential part of the Fascist/Nazi strategy for gaining power in the 1920's and 1930's. As Joseph Goebbels famously said, if a lie is repeated enough, a certain element thinks it's true.
I think in this country, at this time, there are a minority of people that will buy into this sort of crap, and thus deny the neo-Fascists power on a national scale. But the number that do believe it is distressingly large. Anyone in their twenties is old enough to remember 9/11 in all its gory details, and knows full well who was responsible and who was mayor of New York at the time, and I can't believe that this monumental insult to our collective intelligence didn't garner more attention than it did.
On the other hand, maybe it's a sign that Trump is already done, that his minions aren't being taken seriously. Or perhaps it's a sign that at 73, Guiliani is ready for the nursing home's dementia unit. And some have opined that Guiliani unwittingly gave an indication that the conspiracy theorists are right, and that 9/11 was an "inside job," not the result of terrorism (for the record, that gives too much credit to Rudy). But whatever the reasons, this was as naked an appeal to prejudice, and as big a practice of deceit, as I have ever seen in American politics. Absolutely breathtaking.
2) And the lead political news today is that the floundering Trump campaign has ditched his campaign manager and brought on board someone well-known for attack politics, someone who is going to "let Trump be Trump." This comes on the heels of Trump hiring newly-disgraced Roger Ailes, he who lost his job as head of Fox News because of serial sexual harassment, as his consultant for the debates ahead. Again, this isn't necessarily worrisome. It's an indication of the growing desperation in Trump's campaign that he is resorting to not only these kind of tactics (after all, being his asshole self did get him the Republican nomination), but that he is turning to people that are openly jerks to help him. Birds of a feather do flock together, it seems.
I do  not think that it is going to help Trump in the long run. The big problem Trump faces is that the American people almost never vote for someone they don't like in numbers sufficient to elect him. In my lifetime, Obama was much more likable than McCain. Bush in 2004 successfully painted Kerry as an out-of-touch elitist, and in 2000, his own defects of personality were masked and he was running against Al Frigging Gore--and for all that, there are legitimate questions about whether he actually won both elections. Clinton was famously easier to like than any of his opponents. Bush I had the fortune to run against a singularly wooden man in Dukakis, and Bush's main problem in that campaign was, some of us recall, seeming tough enough, because the prevailing wisdom was that he was wimpy, genteel, and essentially a gentleman. Reagan was famously affable and likable. Carter's flinty side was not apparent in 1976, and yet he almost lost an election that should have been a slam dunk because everyone liked Ford. You can make a case that Nixon in 1972 was an exception--but McGovern didn't even have the support of his own party, and Nixon was the incumbent who spent 1972 pulling off one wondrous foreign-policy coup after another. Nixon in 1968 went to great pains to present himself as "the new Nixon," and Hubert Humphrey was, in Hunter S. Thompson's immortal phrase, "a worthless dingbat." In 1964, Johnson was much more friendly-seeming than Goldwater. Kennedy won election only because he seemed like more likable than Nixon. Eisenhower was everyone's friendly uncle. Truman beat Dewey in large part because people could relate to Truman and Dewey was the original prototype for Dukakis. And FDR, going back that far, was famously genial and avuncular.
The lesson is that the American people generally will not vote for someone they do not like. And although there is a segment of the population that has a visceral hatred of Hillary Clinton, the vast majority of those that vote are not all that interested in politics, and Hillary is more like everyone's grandmother, at this stage in her life, than the hyper-bitch she presented herself as a quarter-century ago. If Clinton keeps her cool, and I think after all this time it's a foregone conclusion that she will, she will win the election.
The next few months are going to be like getting a particularly nasty raccoon out of your basement. It's trapped, it's nasty, it's angry--and ultimately it is no real threat to house and home. It's just going to be unpleasant waiting for it to fall asleep, or in trying to coax it into the net or trap.
3) One issue that I thought Trump would be making more of a big deal about is Obamacare. After being up and running for a few years, a few insurers are backing out, and more are talking about it. But even this exposes the legislation for what it actually was--a sop to the insurance industry, to allow them to continue to try to make money before the public option became recognized, by a vast majority, as a necessity. And the item in the news today, that Aetna and three other companies are taking themselves out of the exchanges in several states, has a backstory which is buried deep in the articles and which exposes the action for what it truly is.
Three of the four companies that are pulling out of the exchanges have had prospective mergers blocked by the Obama administration because the potential to gouge customers was too apparent. It's at least 75% political posturing and revenge, especially since the CEO of one of the companies went on the record less than two months ago as saying their participation in the exchanges was actually profitable. With so many people getting newly insured through Obamacare, it's really not possible to repeal it all. I think that Medicaid for everybody is going to be the law of the land in ten years.
And lastly 4) Sometimes the masks come down. When my generation was in high school, we were taught about the early years of the republic, and the rivalry between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson that had deep roots, but was brought to the surface by what our response to the French Revolution should be. When Adams was President, in 1798, two laws were passed, the Alien and Sedition Acts, which essentially rendered the First Amendment null and void. The acts were (rightly) held up as an example of a dangerous path ultimately not taken toward repression and autocracy, and although I think a lot less of Jefferson than most Americans do (he was a devious, petty little shit that was one of the biggest hypocrites and cowards to ever grace the American political scene), it is to his credit that he allowed the acts to expire and decriminalized political dissent.
So what turns up on Fox News the other day? Some windbag talking about Trump's ideas, and somewhere into his peroration, he held up the Alien and Sedition Acts as shining examples of what American governments have always done in times of national security crises... Leaving aside the fact that there is no "crisis" at hand today (the one in 1798 was bogus, too), what has made American society "free" has been the ability to express our opinions, gather without surveillance, and practice whatever faith or spiritual journey we wish to. And what is becoming increasingly clear is that in the Republican (whether they be of Trump's, Cruz', Ailes', Rudy's, or any other leading scion of the GOP as presently constituted) vision of American, this characteristic of "freedom" is viewed as a problem, not a virtue.
So vote accordingly.

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