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You’ve Just Crossed Over into the Trump Zone

February 4, 2017

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I’m watching a horde of militant Berkeley students and professional protesters rioting live on CNN, and it’s getting ugly. Alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos had been scheduled to speak on campus, but the crowd would have none of it. Flames erupted, rioters smashed windows, and Milo disappeared into the anonymity of night. He’d live to share his white supremacist fantasies another day, but apparently not at Berkeley.

The Berkeley riot is superficially about the impudent young neo-Nazi who had the temerity to set foot on a hard-core progressive campus. But we know who the rioters are really protesting. One hand-printed sign said it all: THIS IS WAR! You don’t start a war over a campus speaker.

We’re two weeks into the Age of Trump now, and it still seems like a dystopian fantasy: a rogue president, his sinister inner circle and the legions of irate Middle American Trumpophiles, pitted against the pain-stricken coastal elites who utterly despise the new president and half their fellow Americans to boot.

The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling should be standing off to the side, grimly amused, submitting his terse commentary for our approval. Since Mr. Serling has been terminally inconvenienced for the past 42 years, I’ll submit mine.

As one of the last moderates standing, I’ve kept a reasonably cool head through the Trumpquake. I’m not frantic just yet. My eyes haven’t turned into burning coals of hatred. I’ll tell it to you straight: the good, the bad, and the orange.

Consider, if you will, a once-dashing figure of a New York billionaire, now grown paunchy around the belly and puffy about the chin, artificially bronzed and grotesquely coiffed — a man of boundless ego and grandiose ambition, blunt yet devious, smarter than he sounds, more gaudy than graceful, proudly uncouth and possibly unhinged, intellectually lazy but bursting with rude energy, ready to leap tall buildings and establishment politicians in a single bound.

That’s our new president, love him or loathe him. (And with Trump, there’s virtually no middle ground.) According to most of my friends, he’s already displaced George W. Bush as the worst chief executive in American history. I’d say he could be edging perilously close to the lowly ranks of Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Warren G. Harding and the immortal Millard Fillmore.

The difference is that the aforementioned gentlemen were simply passively bad; they lacked the skill and backbone to take command of their high office and make a difference for the better. Trump, on the other hand, is actively bad, and that’s exactly what he seems to want. The man delights in sowing discord, making enemies, taunting the opposition and compromising our national virtue to serve his ambitious ends.

From the left, and even the center, the accusations against Trump read almost like the lengthy list of grievances against King George III in the Declaration of Independence:

  • He has lied repeatedly and foolishly about voter fraud and the size of his inaugural crowd
  • He has stuffed his cabinet with billionaires intent on destroying their own departments
  • He has espoused an “America First” policy, deliberately echoing an infamous historic movement with anti-Semitic undertones
  • He has brazenly deleted all the liberal and humane topics on the WhiteHouse.gov website
  • He has failed to detach himself sufficiently from his multiple business interests
  • He has undermined relations with Mexico by insisting on building his ridiculous border wall and threatening to cripple Mexican trade
  • He has insulted the prime minister of Australia, our longtime ally, during a crackpot phone call
  • He has salivated over the prospect of repealing Obamacare without a replacement plan
  • He has initiated a blatantly anti-environment agenda that will undo half a century of progress in preserving our natural resources and wildlife
  • He has compromised what remains of his dignity by habitually tweeting rebuttals to Hollywood celebrities who insult him
  • He has hired a notorious, disheveled alt-right revolutionary as his most trusted strategic adviser
  • He has placed said disheveled alt-right revolutionary on the National Security Council while dispensing with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • He has carried out a dictatorial purge of senior-level officials in the State Department
  • He has described the press as “the opposition”and waged war against CNN
  • He has maintained a suspiciously cordial relationship with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, raising questions of collusion and/or potential blackmail
  • He has hastily imposed a travel ban on citizens of seven Muslim nations, including desperate Syrian refugees, while conveniently overlooking several other Muslim nations that actually harbor terrorists (and where, by coincidence, he maintains business interests) 
  • He has fired the acting attorney general for attempting to block his travel ban
  • He has obstinately refused to release his taxes after months of prodding
  • He has consolidated excessive power around himself in an attempt to establish autocratic rule

The list of Trumpian offenses grows daily, with no end in sight. And Trump is nothing if not offensive. He’s our third consecutive polarizing president, doubtless the most polarizing of them all. But his opponents are polarizing us, too. Based on the furious anti-Trump memes and comments that choke my Facebook feed every day, you’d think Orangeman was the second coming of Hitler. I understand the sense of alarm and even disgust among Americans who value our liberal heritage, but the steady drizzle of demonization and dire warnings is like Obama Derangement Syndrome on steroids: a hysterical mass movement that has split America into two snarling sub-nations.

At least Trump is no ideologue; he’s a gonzo pragmatist. He might even be a closet centrist. But he could be the most flagrantly immoderate centrist in history. His administration promises a massive upheaval of the status quo, for better or worse — mostly worse, if you value things like social progress, a free press, world peace and Mother Nature.

I see the 45th president not as a second Hitler but as Trumpolini: a strutting, posturing authoritarian potentate with a narcissistic need for power, admiration and ego gratification. Like his Italian predecessor, he’s hellbent on making the trains run on time (figuratively speaking). The guy might look ridiculous, but he doesn’t dither. He might actually restore a few million industrial jobs to these states if he’s good on his word. He might also roll back numerous environmental and civil rights advances that were gained through decades of struggle against stiff opposition. He could even join hands with his beloved Russia to form a latter-day Axis.

But here’s the difference. Unlike Il Duce, Trump is subject to re-election in less than four years. His sinister inner circle can’t suspend the vote. Even with Congress and the Supreme Court in his pocket, our aspiring dictator needs to submit himself to the approval of an increasingly Millennial, left-leaning, racially diverse electorate.

Just over a quarter of eligible Americans voted for Trump last November. If we don’t like what we see over the next few years — if we’re disheartened and exhausted by life in the Trump Zone — we’re free to voice our opinion at the voting booth in 2020 and tell the man, “YOU’RE FIRED!” At the rate he’s alienating members of his own party in Congress and elsewhere, we might not even have to wait that long.

Be sure to keep this point in mind, though: the inevitable rebellion against Trump could be so extreme, and its leaders so inflamed by self-righteous rage, that we could be looking at a future far-left revolt comparable to the French and Russian Revolutions. My advice for concerned Americans: stay alert, stay informed, stay objective, stay sane. We all need to keep our heads, now more than ever.

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate and the author of Lifestyles of the Doomed, available wherever e-books are sold.

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2016 Was a Nasty Year for Moderates (and Nearly Everyone Else)

January 1, 2017

O for an FDR (or at least an Eisenhower) to reunite us, reassure us and revive our fractured national spirit! Obama’s minutely measured rhetoric couldn’t do it, high-minded though it was. Trump’s half-mad Twitterspeak won’t save us, either, although he threatens to blow the lid off the bubbling cauldron of animosity that is latter-day America. Maybe blowing the lid off will prove to be a good thing, although the cynic in me doubts it.

As 2016 rumbles into the far horizon, it leaves behind a smoking ruin of celebrity deaths, political insanity and battling Facebook memes. Any year that propels alt-right (read “neo-Nazi”) provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos to fame and riches while shooing Leonard Cohen, Muhammad Ali, John Glenn and Debbie Reynolds off the stage is a year that has lost my respect. And that’s the least of its evil accomplishments.

I’ve already written too much about Herr Trump in 2016, and you can bet I’ll be writing more about him in the future. For now, let me just observe that he’s squandering a rare chance to emerge as a populist hero. Not that he has the stuff of heroism anywhere in his gold-plated bones, but he might have done a remarkable service to the country by wresting our government from the corporatist establishment and returning it to the common folk who believed his promises. Instead, he’s populating his brain trust (and he could use a few extra brains) with hidebound conservative insiders of extraordinary wealth and questionable intentions. On the plus side, they might help restrain Trump’s inner four-year-old.

Trump is no ideologue, at least, and neither was Hillary: Mrs. Clinton was a lukewarm liberal, and Donald believes only in himself. So why was my Facebook feed littered with the most virulent anti-right and anti-left propaganda all year long? One of my friends actually posted 138 times in a single day (yes, I went to her page and counted) — mostly anti-Trump memes and tirades. (We get it; you hate Trump.) Another friend berated me for proclaiming, on the anniversary of 9/11, that our special-interest identities should finally take a back seat to our identity as Americans.

I have to ask, as I asked that day, whether we’ll ever be united again. Extremist and fake news sites constantly confirm the biases of their fans, inflaming their hatreds and reinforcing tribal solidarity on the right and left. The big losers of 2016 were truth and moderation.

Why are we so divided? Factionalism is probably written into our very genes; it would explain why our species has been warring ever since rival tribes fought over some prime mammoth-hunting turf. Why else would Sunnis and Shiites delight in beheading each other when they believe in the same prophet and the same book? Why else would everyone but New Yorkers hate the Yankees? (Even some New Yorkers hate them.)

We used to be able to subordinate our tribal instincts for decades at a time. Political squabbling in the U.S. is a time-honored tradition dating back to the Revolution, but for most of our history we’ve been able to function as a reasonably united nation.

No longer. Coastal urban America and inland rural America might as well be on different continents. Citified sophisticates now despise their backward bumpkin cousins openly and almost triumphantly; their shared disdain actually unites them as a self-made elite. At the same time, those unfortunate bumpkins seethe with resentment toward the Chardonnay-sippers who would control their beloved semi-automatics and drag them toward an increasingly nonwhite, non-Christian and multisexual future. Their shared resentment unites them, too. (Not everyone is a fan of diversity.)

In 2016, all that resentment finally popped out of hiding and into the open. Tribalism won.

Trump’s candidacy and upset victory have driven us even further apart. The president-elect, while not a raving racist himself, has enabled racism and quasi-fascist fanaticism to assert itself for the first time since the “Big Red Scare” era that followed World War I. Meanwhile, the “Not My President” faction threatens to polarize us even more than the birthers and tea partiers who made life miserable for Obama (and the republic in general).

If most of us have waited for 2016 to wink into history, 2017 promises to make us look back longingly at the year that brought us Trump, Russian hackers, Islamist attacks in Europe and peak misery in Syria. At least we saw the Cubs win their first World Series since Teddy Roosevelt was president and Tsar Nicholas II ruled all the Russias.

As it’s shaping up, 2017 will probably make us long for a reincarnated TR to carry his big stick and seize the presidency. If it gets bad enough, we might even wish that Tsar Nicholas would take the reins. (Wait a minute… the current Russian tsar is already pulling the strings.)

The political and social upheavals that most likely loom ahead are enough to send sensitive moderates into hibernation. Don’t go there, friends! Don’t let the rabble-rousing rhetoric on the right and left convince you that we have no place in American politics and culture. When the extremists are battling for the soul of America, we moderates are more valuable — more essential — than ever.

Who else will be able to understand both sides of an issue, separate truth from fiction, and keep the national fabric from splitting along its seams? Who else will protect the country from the bullying influence of narrow partisan and tribal interests? Not the media… not your neighbors… certainly not the government.

It’s up to us. The moderates. The forgotten ones. Buckle up, friends! Let’s charge into 2017 with our heads up and our eyes alert. We can’t afford to be namby-pamby middle-of-the-roaders. In times like these, we need to be road warriors.

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate and the author of Lifestyles of the Doomed, available wherever e-books are sold.

Brace Yourselves for the Age of Trump

November 22, 2016

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Here in Philadelphia, a sudden cold snap brought an abrupt end to a long and dazzling Indian summer. As the wind skittered across our garden and sent the dead leaves flying, I stepped outside and took a fond last look at the annuals. They were still bursting with blooms, but tonight would bring the first frost. Tomorrow they’d most likely be defunct, and a long winter lay ahead.

I left the flowers to their fate and thought about the despondent mood shared by so many Americans in the wake of Donald Trump’s improbable victory. It’s as if we were on the eve of a killing frost, and those of us who loved the warmth and color of American life had gone into mourning.

He did it. He really did it. The most unconventional, intemperate, uncouth and narcissistic presidential candidate in memory snatched an electoral triumph from the anointed one, the articulate and female one — the well-connected progressive globalist in the smartly tailored pants suit.

Who would have believed it a year ago? Who can believe it now, two weeks after the election? We’ve witnessed one of the most stunning upsets in American political history, and it’s still sinking in.

Sometimes, in my darker moments, I feel as if we’ve drifted into uncharted waters during the Age of Exploration. Many of us are wondering if we’ll soon be sailing over the edge.

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a comfortable margin, so how did she blow the election? Simple: her campaign essentially snubbed the pivotal (and populous) Rust Belt states. Even more disastrously, she snubbed the downwardly mobile, demoralized, mostly white workers who used to constitute the rock-solid core of the Democratic base. Joe Biden never would have made that mistake.

Meanwhile, the Democrats focused on cementing their bond with minorities and the progressive elite — an unlikely urban alliance of the underprivileged and overprivileged: inner-city poor, well-educated people of all colors, student activists and affluent coastal chardonnay-sippers. They encouraged the ironclad grievance narratives of blacks, feminists, gays, transgender people and other self-conscious subsets of American society.

Identity politics surged to the forefront of Democratic discourse. The social justice warriors glowed with righteous (and frequently self-righteous) passion. Solidarity with progressive social causes became almost mandatory for admission to the more desirable social circles. Stepping off the “reservation” on any issue could mean ostracism, an unceremonious unfriending on Facebook and the gnashing of teeth.

Democrats like to style themselves as the party of diversity, and that’s fine. But their brand of diversity hasn’t extended to evangelical Christians, blue-collar workers, old white men, rural Americans, cultural conservatives and other untouchables. On the contrary, the social justice warriors blame these outcasts for most of society’s ills: not only racism, misogyny and homophobia, but gun violence, xenophobia, religious intolerance and stubborn opposition to science.

Many of these accusations are true enough, but they all depend on the kind of sweeping negative stereotypes that good liberals revile when they’re aimed at non-Christians and people of color. It doesn’t seem to matter. In some circles, whiteness itself is to be reviled and white history systematically stripped of honor. Down with Columbus, Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, Woodrow Wilson and even that noble slaveholder George Washington!

Eventually the conservative white outcasts had all they could take. What happened next? They forged their own renegade brand of identity politics. They became conscious of their whiteness and their increasing marginalization by the forces of demographic and cultural change. You could say the Klan went mainstream; call it KKK Lite. It was an understandable reaction to being despised by the Democrats and threatened by the future, but it wasn’t pretty.

Even before Trump’s victory, we saw signs that a white resistance movement was brewing. The far right’s populist Tea Party revolt should have been a tip-off. Ditto for the perverse gun mania that proliferated across the republic, especially after well-publicized mass shootings. Ditto for the Obama Derangement Syndrome that afflicted so many opponents of the 44th president from day one.

Granted, much of the Obamaphobia was based purely on political differences. And yes, Obama could have used his bully pulpit to heal America’s deepening racial rift instead of reflexively siding with every Black Lives Matter grievance. But I still wonder how a thoughtful, mildly liberal biracial president could have provoked such over-the-top hostility from the right. The fact that Obama was smart, dignified, classy and morally above reproach seemed to infuriate his enemies all the more.

Suddenly Trump arrived on the scene as a conduit for their rage, and Trump Nation was born. Trump’s own racist propensities have been greatly exaggerated. He hasn’t maligned blacks, he doesn’t plan to harass Muslim Americans, and his proposed vendetta against illegal immigrants extends mainly to criminals and gang members. At least that’s what he tells us.

Still, it’s no exaggeration to say that Trump liberated a few decades’ worth of pent-up racial and religious animosity within the white outcast class. The orange-faced billionaire hustler from Queens broke the dam that had been holding all that resentment in check. His crass bluntness suddenly made America safe for bigotry.

The stormfront has been blowing in from the right. Exultant Trumpistas have been rampaging across the countryside with random acts of vandalism, fascist graffiti and verbal abuse. Neatly dressed Neo-Nazis have been hailing Trump and calling for the establishment of an Aryan state. This is not a joke, and the civilized world is aghast.

Trump publicly warned these fanatical hatemongers to “just stop it,” but it’s anyone’s guess if they’ll listen — or if he genuinely wants them to. Meanwhile, the president-elect has been filling his inner circle with an assortment of hard-line archconservatives and alt-right provocateurs. There’s not a single Mister Rogers among them. These dudes (and so far they’re all vintage white dudes) mean business.

Now the left is in full panic mode. Salon, Daily Kos, Huffington Post, MSNBC and all the other left-leaning news sources in the Western world are rushing to cite each new nugget of evidence that Trump’s triumph represents the second coming of the Third Reich. Children of illegal immigrants wonder if they’ll be yanked out of school and deported. American Muslims worry about internment camps.

Does The New Moderate insist that “it can’t happen here”? Not exactly. You could lose money betting on the sanity of a president who tweets at 3 a.m. and asks for equal time on Saturday Night Live. But I trust even a conservative Republican Congress to override President Trump if he starts emulating Herr Hitler.

The president-elect might not know his Constitution, but the saner heads in Congress do. Besides, I suspect they wouldn’t mind handing the sceptre of power to a level-headed right-winger like Mike Pence if Trump goes ballistic on the job.

Where do we go from here? Until further notice (or an unprecedented sleight of hand by the Electoral College in December), we have to accept Trump as our president. That’s the nature of a democratic (small d) republic. We can hope he makes good on his promise to revive American manufacturing jobs, restore our crumbling infrastructure and undercut the influence of lobbyists in Washington. As for the rest of his agenda, not so much.

Trump’s relatively magnanimous victory speech, his civil meeting with Obama and his reassuring demeanor on 60 Minutes gave me reason to hope that his ugly campaign was mere vulgar showmanship designed to bedazzle the disaffected masses. He’s been backpedaling on some of his signature wingnut positions: building the Mexican wall, locking up Hillary Clinton, denying manmade global warming. But no, some of his recent antics (e.g., insisting that theaters should be “safe spaces”) have convinced me that Trump will always be Trump.

Yes, I’m concerned about the Trump presidency that looms ahead. Many of us (myself included) feel that we’re entering a bleak dystopian world spun from the imagination of Orwell or Philip K. Dick. I’m not despairing just yet, but I’m keeping my eyes open.

As a diehard moderate, I’m even more concerned about the gaping divide between progressives and conservatives in this country. Their chronic antagonism, a long and venerated American tradition, has deepened into blind hatred. Both sides isolate themselves in their comfy ideological cocoons; they tend to read only the opinions that confirm their biases. And they’ve adopted a zero-tolerance policy toward the opposition.

Reinforced by hysterical fake-news headlines, one-sided Facebook memes and a chorus of like-minded peers in their amen corners, their biases have been growing into strange, malevolent creatures with lives of their own. It’s almost as if the left and right are evolving into separate and incompatible species, and all of us should be alarmed by this trend. We need to merge again, desperately.

Meanwhile, behold the sad ruins of what used to be a lush and vibrant garden. The frost is spreading, and the flowers are dying. Unless all of us can rally around the common ideals that used to make us Americans, I’m afraid we’re headed for a brutal winter.

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.

 

My 2016 Election Nightmare

October 31, 2016

I had the craziest dream — one of those surrealistic nightmares that seem so improbably real while you’re dreaming them. You know the kind: they’re filled with plausible-but-absurd details that alarm and bewilder you — like a tyrannical math teacher demanding that you find the square root of Norway or flunk the course. You shudder and stammer while your brain shuts down. Then you wake up with a start and feel immeasurably relieved. You shake your head and wonder how something so palpably ridiculous could have riddled your mind with terror.

Let me tell you about my nightmare. I dreamed that the two major parties had nominated Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for the presidency. Can you believe it? A corrupt billionaire con-artist battling it out with a corrupt establishment insider — two grasping, ruthless, vindictive souls engaged in mortal combat for the ultimate prize in American politics, an office once held by the likes of Washington, Lincoln and the Roosevelts.

Trump was the ultimate scary clown, a minor-league Mussolini who strutted and scowled with upraised chin while spewing sound bite after sound bite of vitriolic, fact-free promises and threats. His equally scary hard-core fans loved his candor and his comical outrageousness; he provided solid entertainment value in an age that prized entertainment above virtue, intelligence or character. Poor Jeb Bush never stood a chance.

Here’s where it got really frightening, though. Trump would utter the most outlandishly offensive statements… he’d find himself ensnared in one mini-scandal after another… stumbles that would have killed the campaign of any mortal candidate. But Trump became The Thing That Wouldn’t Die. Every time you thought his campaign couldn’t possibly recover from the latest disaster — that surely the accusations of a dozen sexually harassed women would bring him down — he’d raise himself up and keep lumbering toward his goal like some radioactive beast from a 1950s sci-fi film.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton pretended to take the high road. Her bright blue eyes blazing with intelligence and conviction, she insisted she’d fight for the middle class. She’d treat Muslim refugees and undocumented immigrants with classic American generosity of spirit. She’d make us proud to have elected the first woman president.

But here’s the scary part: the noble-browed Democrat secretly seethed with rage. Her temper tantrums were legendary. She comported herself faultlessly in public, yet the unwholesome whiff of chicanery clung to her like stale body odor. The Clinton Foundation and its mysteries. Those too-cozy Wall Street connections. Intimations of meddling to sabotage Bernie Sanders’ campaign. The revelation that she came to the televised debates a little too well-prepared, thanks to having been slipped a few key questions in advance by none other than the chairwoman of the DNC. And of course, those “damn e-mails.”

Hillary Clinton was the premier Jekyll-Hyde personality of American politics — or at least a female Eddie Haskell: gracious and unflappable on the surface, devious and malicious when nobody was looking. One could imagine her cackling like the Wicked Witch of the West in her private chambers.

Election Day was drawing near (we could count the days) and the scandals kept mounting on both sides. Trump was still standing, incredibly. Clinton was bruised but still clinging to a thin lead. And here was the thumping heart of my nightmare: we actually had no choice but to elect one of these reprobates to the highest office in the land.

If Trump won, we’d essentially become a rogue nation, led by a borderline psychopath… a land swarming with angry whites, angry blacks, and angry moderates who couldn’t understand how the “greatest nation in history” could elect such a malevolent clown to office.

If Hillary won, we’d simply continue down the inevitable path to oligarchy — and we’d still be a land swarming with angry whites, angry blacks and terminally frustrated moderates. The terror was starting to grab me and twist me in its grip. Trump? God help us! Hillary? Why not just let Goldman Sachs run the country? What to do… what to do?

I woke up, looked around, and breathed a long sigh of relief. It was 1959, Eisenhower was president, and all was right with the world. I could hear the birds singing outside my window and smell my mother’s brownies baking in the oven. A soft golden light filled the room. I was young and content.

Then the alarm went off and I woke up for real, shortly before the election of 2016. Reality — what a nightmare!

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.

 

Trump and Clinton Duke It Out Onstage: a Moderate’s Post-Mortem

September 28, 2016

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So the first presidential debate is history now, and the republic survived. The verbal slugfest garnered more viewers than any of its predecessors, and it was a remarkable spectacle on several counts:

  • A female contender entered the ring for the first time in U.S. history
  • After a reasonably impressive first round, the male contender punched himself out in response to his opponent’s quick left jabs
  • The female contender looked poised, perky and well-prepared (some say a little too well-prepared, contending that she had been fed the questions a week in advance by partisan network brass)
  • The male contender had an unaccountable case of the sniffles, undermining his perpetual pose of macho bravado
  • The male referee appeared to favor the female contender
  • The female contender forced the male contender to the ropes several times, trapping him into admitting that he paid no federal income tax, discriminated against blacks early in his career, and even (say it ain’t so!) dissed a Latina beauty pageant winner for packing on some extra poundage
  • The male contender landed several punches (trade agreements, ISIS, 30 years of “bad experience”) without staggering his opponent
  • Neither contender delivered a knockout blow, but the female contender earned a decision on points
  • The male contender insisted that he won, then blamed a faulty microphone for his underwhelming performance

Of course, it was only the first debate. Obama slept through his first debate with Mitt Romney and stormed back to win re-election. But Trump will always be Trump, and Mrs. Clinton is just too clever for him.

Unless world-class hacker Julian Assange derails the Clinton Express with a damning election-eve revelation of criminal hijinks, we can probably look forward to inaugurating the first-ever female U.S. president this January. That’s not such a bad thing. Our current male politicians have been, with a few decent exceptions, an embarrassment to the venerable sex that invented philosophy, the electric light bulb and the eight-track tape player.

I respect Mrs. Clinton’s intelligence and preparedness for high office. I even like her compulsively bright-eyed public persona: she’ll always come across as the smartest kid in the class, she knows it, and I admire her unwillingness to hide it. I oppose her positions on numerous policy points, but on the whole I prefer them to her opponent’s irresponsible, scattershot (and frequently scatterbrained) approach to the issues.

So why, I wonder, was a small but obstinate part of my brain rooting for Trump to acquit himself in the first presidential debate? Could I be an irredeemable male chauvinist? Am I a covert member of Trump’s downtrodden white supremacist cheering section? Do I harbor a national death-wish — or at least a desire to see American politics transformed into yet another grotesque reality show? (Too late; it’s already happened.)

Here’s how I’d explain it. In common with so many less-educated Americans, I’m increasingly hostile toward the global elite that pulls the political strings in Washington and elsewhere. This self-appointed ruling class straddles political lines; the Clintons and Bushes alike are members in good standing, along with those pampered denizens of Wall Street, Davos, Bilderberg and other richly carpeted sanctuaries for the top one percent of the one percent.

For all his storied wealth and bluster, Trump is still an outsider. He looks like an outsider; he talks like an outsider; he thinks like an outsider. (Of course, the same could be said of Hitler, so outsiderness alone is no qualification for leadership.) For a purported billionaire, Trump has something approaching a common touch: in his case, the ability to tap into that uniquely American strain of vulgar grandiosity… the driving need to be (as Frank Sinatra once sang) “king of the hill, top of the heap, A-number one.”

Trump is loose; he’s unsubtle; he’s the anti-Hillary. I could imagine him being more at ease than his opponent at a black church gathering or a firehouse dinner. For an autocratic braggart and bully, he can be endearingly self-deprecating. He makes comical rubbery faces to put his fans at ease.

Trump also emits sparks of danger and unpredictability, which appeals to people who like danger and unpredictability. By contrast, Mrs. Clinton is eminently safe and predictable; she’s been given the Goldman Sachs seal of approval.

And what about the nominees’ shared penchant for playing with the truth? Trump is a blatant and perhaps pathological liar; no mystery there. Mrs. Clinton is merely a master of devious behind-the-scenes manipulation. She doesn’t lie so much as create artful deception.

Would I vote for Trump? Not unless he happened to be running against Attila the Hun. But an admittedly primitive, puerile, contrarian part of me was eager to see him rattle the complacent Mrs. Clinton and her sniffish progressive minions. He didn’t. Not yet, anyway.

Of course, anything could happen between now and November. But this much is fairly certain: no matter who emerges on top when the final votes are tallied, America is in trouble.

If Clinton wins, we’ll be looking at four to eight more years of unofficial oligarchy, with an unsettling undercurrent of white anger in addition to all our chronic black anger. If Trump wins, we’ll be looking at four to eight years of… TRUMP.

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.

All material copyright 2016 by Rick Bayan.

He’s Melting… MELTING! The Strange Implosion of Donald Trump

August 4, 2016
By Max Goldberg, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Max Goldberg, via Wikimedia Commons

Did somebody toss a bucket of water at his head? Suddenly Donald Trump is melting before our eyes, like the Wicked Witch of the West. Every day brings fresh news of eye-popping gaffes and head-slapping consternation among the Republican faithful. I can’t remember anything like it in presidential campaign politics. Even Michael Dukakis, the doomed 1988 Democratic nominee, survived respectably until November.

Trump was an unlikely nominee to begin with. He coasted to the Republican convention on sheer chutzpah. He had a genius for winging it, based on his own stratospheric self-confidence and a cheerful disdain for details. A political amateur and an unapologetic vulgarian, he also seemed refreshingly uninhibited, unscripted, un-PC, unafraid to speak his mind.

So what if he was vague (or downright ignorant) on policy issues, or prone to proposing extravagant follies like the Mexican wall, or blisteringly crass in his pronouncements on women, immigrants, journalists and anyone reckless enough to prick his monumental ego? Unlike most politicians, he told it like it is… right?

Here was a maverick billionaire (at least by his own reckoning) who would defy the crony capitalists — the elite global plutocrats who supported the likes of Obama, the Bushes and the Clintons. He’d singlehandedly terminate the stifling reign of political correctness and identity politics, halt the corporate outsourcing of American jobs, manage the deficit, stem the flow of illegal immigrants from Latin America and block those potentially dodgy Muslim refugees from countries that harbor terrorists. As he proclaimed in his acceptance speech, he’d even put an end to crime as soon as he took the oath of office. What’s not to like? (Well, plenty… but more about that later.)

Big man, big promises… big bluffer? I’ve concluded that Trump is more performance artist than politician. He wants to be president more than he wants to serve as president. Remember, he said he’d delegate both foreign and domestic policy to his vice president. Trump would simply be in charge of “making America great again.”

In my more cynical moments, I like to believe that the Clintons, ever-calculating and ravenous for power, persuaded their friend Donald to seek the Republican nomination. A non-ideologue with a flair for showmanship, he’d relish the attention and sow such discord within the GOP that the party would crumble before Hillary’s juggernaut.

I wonder if the Clintons began to squirm as Trump’s candidacy gathered momentum like a runaway truck rolling down a mountain road. By June he was already the presumptive nominee, his brassy brand gleaming more garishly than ever. What if he actually (gulp!) won the election come November? This wasn’t supposed to happen; it smacked of Broadway satire, the way Springtime for Hitler, the surefire dud concocted by the hapless con artists in The Producers, unexpectedly became a monster hit.

Always dogged by his own intemperate sound bites, usually taken out of context or willfully distorted by the pro-Hillary media, Trump started to implode during the Democratic convention. The trigger came without warning, but it was classic karma.

Trump had bragged about the sacrifices he’d made as a mega-rich businessman — even claimed that his risky youthful sexual adventures were his “Vietnam.” So what better way to needle the cocksure, Islamophobic chicken-hawk than to trot out the parents of a heroic Muslim-American soldier who gave his life in Iraq?

The dead soldier’s father, the dignified and articulate Khizr Khan, used his pulpit to lambaste Trump for his warped definition of “sacrifice,” not to mention his ignorance of the U.S. Constitution. It was strong stuff, and Trump took the bait. His retort was mild compared to the provocation; he simply wondered aloud if Khan’s wife declined to speak because she was required by her religion to be submissively silent.

Of course, Trump shouldn’t have taken the bait at all. Professional politicians learn to grow thick skins, and Trump’s is paper-thin. Immediately the chattering class pounced on him for insulting a patriotic Gold Star family. Then the deluge began: the accusations against Trump began to resemble the list of grievances leveled against King George III in the Declaration of Independence:

  • He referred to Hillary Clinton as “the devil” (He actually said that Bernie Sanders “made a deal with the devil” by endorsing her)
  • He invited Vladimir Putin to hack Democratic e-mails (a sarcastic comment referring to the DNC’s alleged plot to assure the nomination for Clinton)
  • He didn’t know that Russia had already swiped Ukrainian territory (OK, geopolitics isn’t his strong suit)
  • He declined to disclose his tax returns (Is he in debt to Russia, as some rumors have it? I’ll reserve judgment until the facts are in)
  • He accepted a Purple Heart medal from a grateful veteran and quipped that this was the easiest way to get one (He was joking)
  • He refused to endorse war hero and fellow-Republican John McCain in his re-election bid (McCain had criticized him)
  • He balked at endorsing House Speaker and fellow-Republican Paul Ryan (the way Ryan balked at endorsing Trump)
  • He further risked his Republican street cred by slamming the Koch brothers as donors to “political puppets” (Bully for him!)
  • Last but not least, the insensitive brute ordered a crying baby out of his rally! (He handled it with humor, folks… you had to see the video)

I don’t mean to make excuses for Trump. He deserves much of the scorn and criticism heaped upon his famous thatched head. He’s rude, crude, narcissistic, demagogic and willfully ignorant. No matter how slight the slight against him, he must retaliate. His mannerisms during his acceptance speech eerily recalled the puffed-up posturing of Mussolini. He’s been luring white supremacists out of the woodwork. And yet…

He’s a victim, too. Now that Trump has secured the nomination (at least partly a result of generous coverage in the media), the media have been pouncing on him at every opportunity. They magnified the Khan flap until it overshadowed everything else about his campaign, yet they essentially ignored Hillary’s alleged brush-off of Pat Smith, mother of Benghazi victim Sean Smith. (Mrs. Smith returned the favor, calling Clinton “a liar” at the Republican convention.)

For that matter, the media have largely airbrushed the deeper implications of the news that DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schulz, a former Hillary Clinton aide, effectively sabotaged Bernie Sanders’ campaign. Did she undermine Sanders with Hillary’s blessing? Did Clinton actually instruct her to spread damaging rumors about Sanders throughout the South? We’ll never know — unless Putin hacks those missing e-mails, of course.

Trump could have attacked Hillary Clinton’s vulnerable underside (an unfortunate image, but I can’t think of a better one)… yet instead of scoring valuable campaign points at her expense, he continued to wrestle verbally with his detractors. It was all about him and his image, as it always is. And he said a mouthful.

Merely to quote Trump’s words verbatim is to miss the often jocular nature of his loopy pronouncements… but of course politicians need to realize that their words will find their way into print or online, raw and unvarnished, without the video emoji of a wink or a smirk. Words can precipitate scandals, and scandals will kill a campaign.

Exasperated by Trump’s sillier and more damaging remarks, the Republican faithful are starting to jump ship. Bad enough that both Presidents Bush refused to attend Trump’s coronation, or that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, also a Republican,  endorsed Clinton at the Democratic convention. The exodus continues as more Republicans throw up their hands and head down the gangplank.

Rumors surfaced earlier this week that RNC Chair Reince Priebus, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and ex-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich were actually planning to stage an “intervention” — a desperate attempt to talk sense with their foundering nominee. There was even talk of a contingency plan in case Trump dropped out of the race. Notable figures (including Obama, naturally) have warned us that Trump is temperamentally and intellectually unfit to be president.

Mother of Mercy, is this the end of The Donald?

What’s saddest about Trump’s unraveling campaign is that he had a chance to give a legitimate voice to that most despised and neglected American caste: poor, working-class and downwardly mobile white Americans. These earnest, Bible-believing provincials are the last demographic we still feel free to taunt with impunity. We call them rednecks, hillbillies, white trash — as if they have no value as fellow humans. They’ve had to watch helplessly as their jobs departed for Asia or Mexico… as liberal urban sophisticates mocked their religion or substandard spelling… as the LGBT community challenged their age-old morality… as the Ivy-educated children of black doctors and lawyers lectured them about white privilege. And they weren’t allowed to talk back.

Because lower-status whites didn’t have a voice, their bitterness seethed inwardly for years until it finally burst forth, with Obama’s ascendancy, in a half-demented eruption of race-hatred, gun-worship, religious fanaticism, Confederate flags and anti-government paranoia. The talk turned combustible, and Trump helped fan the flames.

A better, more sensitive man might have guided that talk so that it stopped short of racism or xenophobia… so that underprivileged whites and underprivileged blacks might have come to understand each other’s grievances and appreciate their common bonds. He might have calmed his constituency’s not-unreasonable fears of a Mexican Reconquista or an Islamist insurgency without demonizing innocent Mexicans and Muslims.

But Trump was only Trump: the brash, buoyant salesman with the insatiable ego and an arguable deficit of human empathy. Once the blinding flash of his primary campaign had faded, even his fellow Republicans began to feel the sting of buyer’s remorse.

At this point, the only person who can save Trump is Trump. And that might not be enough.

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.

Copyright 2016 by Rick Bayan.

July 2016: It’s Not the Apocalypse, but It’s Close Enough

July 21, 2016

Hieronymus-Bosch-A-Violent-Forcing-Of-The-Frog

It’s not the steamy weather that alarms me, although I’m increasingly inclined to wait until sunset for my daily walks. It’s not even the rapidly melting glaciers, the plight of African elephants or the prospect of a costly sewer line repair outside our house, although all those things are alarming, too.

No, what really alarms me this summer is that our world is starting to resemble one of those dystopian tales on the order of 1984, Fahrenheit 451 or Soylent Green. Nearly every day now, the news drops some fresh horror onto our battered heads — and we’re not even engaged in a major war. We’re simply looking at everyday life during the past month of a bad year in a mostly-disastrous century.

  • As a relatively mild preface to this month’s horror show, the United Kingdom voted (narrowly) to exit the European Union. The “Brexit” caused panic and discord in Europe, a temporary stock market swoon, and disgruntled rumblings among the liberal-leaning elite that such vital matters shouldn’t be entrusted to ignorant voters. (In other words, democracy has its limits!)
  • On Bastille Day, a radicalized Tunisian-born French Muslim drove a truck more than a mile through a crowd that had gathered to enjoy the fireworks along a waterfront promenade in Nice. The 31-year-old terrorist managed to obliterate 84 innocent humans (including at least ten children) and injure scores more before he was mercifully euthanized by the police.
  • A 17-year-old Afghan refugee armed with an axe and a knife terrorized a train near Wurzburg, Germany, slashing at least five passengers before police took him down. The teen had pledged to kill infidels and was heard to exclaim “Allahu Akbar!” before entering that peculiar paradise reserved for dead Islamic terrorists.
  • In Turkey, an attempted military coup ended in disaster as President-and-Aspiring-Dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan quashed the revolt with a little help from his police. Nearly 300 died during the upheaval, and angry mobs demanded the death penalty for some six thousand rebels. A vast purge is now underway: Erdogan has fired 45,000 military and public officials along with 15,000 educators (including all university deans). Their professional futures don’t look especially bright at the moment. Meanwhile, Erdogan blamed a 77-year-old Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania’s Poconos for instigating the coup and demanded his extradition. (As Dave Barry used to write, I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP.)
  • The much-anticipated Rio Summer Olympics could sputter out in a miasma of polluted water, Zika infections, rampant crime, decimated attendance, political instability and the possible expulsion of the entire Russian team due to performance-enhancing drugs. What if they threw an Olympics and nobody came?
  • Puffy North Korean chieftain Kim Jung Un launched three ballistic missiles into the sea as a test designed to simulate a pre-emptive nuclear attack on South Korean ports and airfields. As South Korea’s primary ally, the U.S. is committed to respond if the North ever attacks the South. Calling Dr. Strangelove.

Of course, the United States hasn’t been immune to the July madness. Two more black men — Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota — were executed by police during what should have been routine stops. It’s almost always the same story: nervous confrontations, misunderstandings, threats, hair-trigger reactions, sudden death, grief and anger. Those two men should still be alive, but there’s no going back.

Because the victims were black men shot by police, their tragedies made national headlines. (We almost never hear about the white men fatally shot by police, even though — surprise! — they outnumber black victims by a ratio of roughly two-to-one. Are white shooting victims less newsworthy? Would they muddy the narrative? Maybe they’d help focus the narrative more on overuse of lethal force and less on race.)

The Black Lives Matter people staged reasonably peaceful protests in response to the two executions, and they were entitled to do so. Even though their fears and resentments are based on a distorted narrative fed to them by the media, those fears and resentments are genuinely felt. They wonder why their people seem to be disproportionately targeted by the authorities, and naturally they worry that any encounter with the local police could quickly turn fatal.

Then the unthinkable happened: five cops assassinated by a militant black sniper in Dallas, and another three methodically gunned down in Baton Rouge, scene of Alton Sterling’s death. The latter assassin, also a black militant, traveled nearly 800 miles from Kansas City to carry out his revenge.

The two black assassins saw their victims as symbols rather than individuals with distinct personalities, families, hobbies and personal histories. The cops became interchangeable representatives of a hated group. The Baton Rouge shooter might have been unaware that one of the assassinated officers, Montrell Jackson, was a black man beloved for his kindness and decency and, ultimately, for a heartbreakingly sympathetic Facebook message that stands as a testament to his character. In the end, all that mattered to his murderer was that he wore blue.

That’s what terrorists do: they reduce three-dimensional humans to flat cartoon figures who conveniently represent The Enemy. Shorn of individual traits, virtues and quirks, they’re easier to view as targets.

Extremist ideologues do the same thing, without going as far as to commit literal murder. Their ideological opponents become caricatures, drawn broadly and grotesquely for the purpose of ridicule and political annihilation. Reduced to easy targets, they never gain consideration as individual human beings. They’re identical ducks in a shooting gallery. Progressives see conservatives as dangerously ignorant xenophobic yahoos with a gun fetish; conservatives view liberals as effete anti-Christian snobs who shield Islamists and advocate all manner of gender-bending depravity. As for whites and blacks, those labels alone imply that they’re opposites predestined to eternal conflict.

The United States is increasingly vulnerable to random acts of terrorism. Just as disturbingly, our republic has become fertile ground for the kind of intellectual terrorism that reduces fellow citizens to two-dimensional targets. On the left, “white male” is now a virtual epithet accompanied by vocabulary garnered from collegiate Grievance Studies seminars: patriarchy, hegemony, structural racism and the like. On the right, all forms of “otherness” are generally suspect.

Am I caricaturing the caricaturists? Perhaps. But I need to point out that such divisive attitudes are dangerous. They might not propel us toward a literal civil war (although I wouldn’t rule it out), but they’ve already launched a rhetorical one.

Extremist rhetoric is magnetic: it tends to pull unaffiliated souls toward the poles and away from the center. The ranks of moderates are dwindling while the extremists are gaining ground at our expense. The result: more anger, less tolerance, and the kind of July madness that we’ve been witnessing.

Our overheated July is coming to a head with the two national conventions. As I write this, the Republicans are going at it in Cleveland. No orgies of madness to report so far, other than the ominous cries of “Lock her up!” whenever a speaker utters Hillary Clinton’s name. The gun rhetoric has been less militant than I expected, even from the Duck Dynasty scion who spoke the first night and the NRA spokesman who followed him. Melania Trump’s surprisingly effective speech was immediately undermined by revelations of plagiarism — most likely not her fault, although extracting a confession from the Trump organization was like pulling half a dozen teeth. I’ve smiled quizzically at the D-list show biz celebrities called upon to address the assembled crowd. (Yes, it must be tough to come out as Republican in Hollywood.) I wondered why that crowd was booing the speech by Senator Ted Cruz, until I realized that he had no intention of endorsing Trump for the presidency. Trump’s grown children seem like models of filial loyalty, clean-cut attractiveness and good citizenship — hardly the spawn of Satan. (The man himself speaks tonight.)

On the whole, the Republican convention hasn’t looked much like the apocalypse. I suspect that the upcoming Democratic convention here in Philadelphia will follow suit. But the ground continues to rumble and simmer beneath the surface — here in the U.S. and around the world. The pressure builds, and the summer is only half over.

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.

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