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Tag Archives: UNITED STATES POLITICS

WHAT HAPPENED IN THIS ELECTION?

 

John Chuckman

 

Brushing away the extreme claims and rhetoric of much election analysis, there are some observations which deserve attention. These unfortunately mostly provide hard lessons and not a lot of encouragement for people who hold to principles of democracy, enlightenment, and progressivity.

The election demonstrated perhaps better than ever, and better than has been generally been recognized, that American is, indeed, a plutocracy. It took a genuine American Oligarch, a multi-billionaire, a man with a lifetime’s economic empire-building, to defeat a family which could provide the very definition of being politically well-connected, a family which had laboriously constructed and carefully maintained a kind of deep well ever-flowing with money for their ambitions.

It was the ever-flowing well of money, drilled by Bill Clinton with help from some extremely shady friends, such as Jeffrey Epstein, that made the Clintons keystone establishment figures in the Democratic Party. It was not personal charm or exceptional political generalship – although Bill, in his heyday, displayed some of both of those – that earned the Clintons their place, it was the money, the “mother’s milk of politics.” In what is euphemistically called “fund raising,” many hundreds of millions of dollars were provided for the party over the last couple of decades by Bill Clinton’s efforts.

Hillary fully appreciated the fact that money buys power and influence. She lacked Bill’s superficial charm, but she certainly more than shared his ambition.  On the charm front, when she was ready to move into running for office, she adopted, perhaps under Bill’s tutelage, a kind of forced clown face with arched eyebrows, bugged-out eyes, and a smile as big as her lips would allow, and these expressions were accompanied by little gestures such as briefly pointing to various on-lookers or waving helter-skelter whenever she campaigned.

Her gestures reminded me of something you might see atop a float in a Christmas Parade or of the late Harpo Marx at his most exuberant. These were not natural for her. They were never in evidence years ago when she spent years as a kind of bizarre executive housewife, both in a governor’s mansion and later in the White House, bizarre because she indulged her husband’s non-stop predatory sexual behavior in exchange for the immense power it conferred on her behind the scenes over her far more out-going and successful politician-husband.

Anyway, Hillary knew that gestures and simulated charm do not get you far in American politics. She determined to build a political war chest long ago, and there are many indications over the years of her working towards this end of making this or that change in expressed view, as when running for the Senate, when sources of big money suggested another view would more acceptable. She was anything but constant in the views she embraced because when she ran for the Senate she spent record amounts of money, embarrassingly large amounts.

In her years of speaking engagements, she aimed at special interests who could supply potentially far more money than just exorbitant speaking fees. Later, in the influential, appointed post of Secretary of State – coming, as it does, into personal contact with every head of government or moneyed, big-time international schemer – she unquestionably played an aggressive “pay for play” with them all. Covering up that embarrassing and illegal fact is what the private servers and unauthorized smart phones were all about.

A second big fact of the election is that both major American political parties are rather sick and fading. The Republican Party has been broken for a very long time. It hobbled along for some decades with the help of various gimmicks, hoping to expand its constituency with rubbish like “family values,” public prayer and catering to the Christian Right, and anti-flag burning Constitutional amendments, and now it is truly out of gas. That is precisely why a political outsider like Oligarch Trump could manage to hi-jack the party.

He was opposed by tired, boring men like Jeb Bush, seeking to secure an almost inherited presidency, and a dark, intensely unlikable, phony Christian fundamentalist like Ted Cruz, and it proved to be no contest. It was a remarkable political achievement, but I think it was only possible given the sorry state of the party.

The Republican Party had been given a breather, some new life, by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. He had an extremely mixed record as President, but he was popular, held in some affection, and did have a clear vision, but his effect on the party was not lasting. Trump could be seen as another Reagan, but I think the comparison is superficial. Trump literally hi-jacked the party, and he was not deliriously crowned by its establishment.

The Republican Party itself was formed not long before Abraham Lincoln’s candidacy out of the remains of worn out and collapsed predecessors, including the Whigs and Free-Soil Democrats. Parties do not last forever, and here was Trump creating something of a minor political revolution inside a tired and fairly directionless old party, a phenomenon which I do not think was sufficiently noticed.

The press was too busy attacking him from the start to take notice or do any intelligent analysis, and he was attacked precisely for the potential damage to the establishment he represented. His most promising quality is his potential for creating a new coalition of interests and one excluding the continuation of the Neocon Wars Hillary vigorously embraced and would expand.

But the Democratic Party is in serious trouble, too. It has a great deal of internal rot, as the Wiki-Leaks material from the DNC clearly shows us. Arrogance, lack of direction, ignorance of the people it has always claimed to serve, bad decision-making, and the absolute prostrate worship of money are the major symptoms.

It would have been impossible for the party to have so made up its mind and committed its resources to Hillary Clinton without serious rot. She has always had strong negatives in polling, always been (rightly) suspected concerning her honesty.

The Wiki-Leaks material tells us about many internal conflicts, including harsh high-level judgments of Hillary’s decision-making, resentment over the back-stabbing character of daughter Chelsea who is said to resemble Hillary in her behavior and attitudes, and the belief of some that Hillary just should not have run. And, frankly, she had become for many a rather tiresome, used-up figure from whom absolutely nothing spectacular in politics or policy could possibly be expected. But they not only blindly supported her, they broke all their own party rules by internally and secretly working to defeat a legitimate and viable contender, Bernie Sanders.

Sanders might well have been able to win the election for the Democrats, but their establishment was blind to the possibility and rejected his candidacy out-of-hand. After all, there were Bill and Hillary beckoning to their running well of money. In hindsight, it might be just as well that Sanders was cheated out of the nomination. He proved a weak individual in the end, giving in to just the forces he had claimed to oppose and leaving his enthusiastic followers completely let down. He may well even have been secretly bribed by money from the Clintons since he bought a fairly expensive property not long afterward. But, in any event, there he was, out on the hustings, supporting everything he ever opposed personified in Hillary Clinton. Men of that nature do not stand up well to Generals and Admirals and the heads of massive corporations, a quality which I do think we have some right to expect Trump to display.

Another important fact about the election is that it was less the triumph of Trump than the avoidance of Hillary that caused the defeat. The numbers are unmistakable. Yes, Trump did well for a political newcomer and a very controversial figure, but Hillary simply did badly, not approaching the support Obama achieved in key states, again something reflecting the documented fact that she is not a well-liked figure and the Party blundered badly in running her. But again, money talks, and the Clintons, particularly Bill, are the biggest fundraisers they have had in our lifetime. No one was ready to say no to the source of all that money.

Now, to many Americans, the election result must seem a bit like having experienced something of a revolution, although a revolution conducted through ballots, any other kind being literally impossible by design in this massive military-security state.  In a way, it does represent something of a revolutionary event, owing to the fact that Trump the Oligarch is in his political views a bit of a revolutionary or at least a dissenter from the prevailing establishment views. And, as in any revolution, even a small one, there are going to be some unpleasant outcomes.

The historical truth of politics is that you never know from just what surprising source change may come. Lyndon Johnson, life-long crooked politician and the main author of the horrifying and pointless Vietnam War, did more for the rights of black Americans than any other modern president. Franklin Roosevelt, son of wealthy establishment figures, provided remarkable leadership in the Great Depression, restoring hopes and dreams for millions. Change, important, change, never comes from establishments or institutions like political parties. It always comes from unusual people who seem to step out of their accustomed roles in life with some good or inspired ideas and have the drive and toughness to make them a reality.

I have some limited but important hopes for Trump. I am not blind or delirious expecting miracles from this unusual person, and after the experience of Obama, who seemed such a promising young figure but fairly quickly proved a crushing, bloody disappointment, I can never build up substantial hopes for any politician. And what was the choice anyway? Hillary Clinton was a bought-and-paid one-way ticket to hell.

Trump offers two areas of some hope, and these both represent real change. The first is in reducing America’s close to out-of-control military aggressiveness abroad. This aggressiveness, reflecting momentum from what can only be called the Cheney-Rumsfeld Presidency, continued and grew under the weak and ineffectual leadership of Obama and was boosted and encouraged by Hillary as Secretary of State. Hillary, the feminists who weep for her should be reminded, did a lot of killing during her tenure. She along with Obama are literally responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of women and their families, many of them literally torn apart by bombs.

The other area of some hope is for the welfare of ordinary American people themselves who have been completely ignored by national leaders for decades. George Bush’s lame reaction to Hurricane Katrina (before he was internationally shamed into some action) has become the normal pattern for America’s national government when it comes to ordinary Americans.

The truth is that the legacy of FDR has withered to nothing and no longer plays any role in the Democratic Party, and of course never did in the Republican Party. By welfare, I do not mean the kind of state assistance that Bill Clinton himself worked to end. Nothing can impress someone not familiar with America’s dark corners more than a visit to places like Detroit or Gary or Chicago’s South Side, parts of New Orleans, or Newark or dozens of other places where Americans live in conditions in every way comparable to Third World hellholes. No, I mean the people’s general well-being. Trump’s approach will be through jobs and creating incentives for jobs. I don’t know whether he can succeed, but, just as he asked people in some of his speeches, “What do you have to lose?” Just having someone in power who pays any attention to the “deplorables” is a small gain.

People should never think of the Clintons as liberal or progressive, and that was just as much true for Bill as it is for Hillary. His record as President – apart from his embarrassing behavior in the Oval Office with a young female intern and his recruitment of Secret Service guards as procurers for women he found attractive on his morning runs – was actually pretty appalling. He, in his own words, “ended welfare as we know it.” He signed legislation which would send large numbers of young black men to prison. He also signed legislation which contributed to the country’s later financial collapse under George Bush. He often would appoint someone decent and then quickly back off, leaving them dangling, when it looked like approval for the appointment would not be coming. His FBI conducted the assault on Waco, killing about eighty people needlessly. A pharmaceutical plant in Sudan was destroyed by cruise missiles for no good reason. There were a number of scandals, including the suicide of Vince Foster and the so-called Travelgate affair, which were never fully explained to the public. It was his Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who answered, unblinkingly, a television interviewer’s question about tens of thousands of Iraqi children who died owing to America’s embargo, “We think it’s worth it.”  He committed the war crime of bombing Belgrade. When news of the horrors of the Rwanda genocide were first detected by his government, the order secretly went out to shut up about it. No effort was made to intervene.

No, any real change in America could never come from people like the Clintons, either one of them.

 

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THE CASE FOR DONALD TRUMP

 

John Chuckman

 

Anyone who knows my writing and background knows I am not a conservative and certainly have little use for the right wing anywhere.

But they will also know that I despise war and that I believe America’s establishment has brought moral degradation to the country’s international affairs. It has also brought degradation to America’s own people, completely ignoring their welfare for decades, regarding them only as a herd from which to solicit votes with television advertising and from whom to collect taxes.

America’s establishment – as, for example, represented by the Senate, its most powerful and anti-democratic tool in government – is almost indistinguishable from members of the old Politburo in the heyday of the USSR. Crinkly faces, heavy-set bodies, more money than they can spend, dripping with special privileges, enjoying limitless terms of office, but enjoying no ability to say anything fresh or interesting or helpful, ever.

So, too, the arrogant, almost unchecked power of America’s massive security and military establishments. Almost the only sounds coming from them, including even retired members looking for fifteen minutes of media fame, are ugly threats about Russia or Syria or Iran or a number of other places in this world. They function like a powerful Mafia with arms and assistance to mercenary trash and fanatics as well as to the privileged trash of absolute monarchies in a dozen different places. And they function as a Murder Incorporated with their organized extrajudicial executions and bombings in many lands.

America’s establishment, either directly using “the boyz” or with proxies, has likely killed two million people in the last fifteen years or so of the Neocon Wars. It has virtually destroyed several states and societies, and it has sent millions running for their lives as refugees, effectively de-stabilizing the foundations of Europe.

There are two major impacts of this dirty work, if you choose to ignore the sheer mass killing and destruction. First, what we call ‘international terror” is in fact the illegitimate child of these efforts. It is a result of many young men with limited means trying to protect, as young men tend to do everywhere and always, their own kind from the horrors being visited upon them. It has nothing to do with the nature of Islam. After all, Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin were all brought up in Christian churches, and millions of Christian young men have gone to fight in bloody, unholy causes in countless places over the centuries.

International terror was also fostered by the government’s own use of such groups in the Neocon Wars. The Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, some of whose members were every bit as bloody and extreme as the Taleban, was used to fight the Taleban, minimizing American casualties. That success gave a model to repeat. America again used and supplied cutthroats in Libya to get rid of a decent and reasonable ruler it did not like. It did the same in the aftermath of the colossal horror its own troops made in the original invasion of Iraq. And it does so today in the beautiful land of Syria. The arrogance, ruthlessness, and immorality of these acts are breathtaking.

Second, these wars have produced the greatest refugee crisis of our time. Waves and waves of desperate people running for their lives have smashed through organized border control in many places. There have been an estimated six million refugees from Syria alone. About three million sit in camps in Turkey, and they could be released gradually by a Turkish government angry over an American-engineered coup if Europe doesn’t pay for their support as promised by Germany’s Mrs. Merkel.  About a million and a half are in poor little Lebanon. Europe has close to de-stabilized itself politically by accepting a million or more. This is completely the doing of America’s vicious policy in Syria, and no European leaders or others have had the courage to speak up about it. It could all have been prevented, but any European speaking out would only have received serious economic or other threats behind the scenes.

The Neocon Wars have been the greatest moral and ethical disaster of the modern era, and they have achieved nothing worth achieving.

Months ago, when Trump started his run for the nomination, a sudden rumbling noise of opposition became apparent. The most vociferous voices and most extreme words suddenly came from the Neocon crowd. People like William Kristol became extremely active. Some other, lesser known figures, in unprecedented and vitriolic language, actually used the word “assassination.” Now, none of these people are known for deep humanitarianism or concern over social issues, as with migration issues, so their intense opposition became a bit of a mystery. It became clear, in view of Trump statements around war, the mess made of the Middle East, Syria, and relations with Russia, that Trump was hated for his views on war by the nation’s most powerful and entrenched war lobby. That fact made me listen to Trump more carefully.

Meanwhile, the people of the United States have been lied to through the entire Neocon War effort, and they have been subjected to many deliberate scares and non-stop press promotion to keep them on edge for what the establishment has been doing. They also have had their privacy secretly destroyed by an arrogant government which never explains anything.

The government doing these things, at the same time, has completely ignored the economic lives of Americans. Real incomes have dropped for decades, cities have rotted into vast slums in some cases, corporate jobs have been transferred offshore on a massive scale, many schools are in poor shape across the nation, and their own government cannot provide a rational healthcare system for them, Obamacare being a poorly designed creation which is already failing. The middle class is in decline by every measure, median family income has fallen steadily, the hopelessly poor are on the increase with an explosion in food stamps, home ownership levels are in decline, student debt has exploded, and labor force participation has only declined.

Lack of adequate government regulation and oversight literally created the 2008 financial disaster – much in the fashion of the hideous George Bush’s response to hurricane Katrina – and this leaves a gigantic threat overhanging the lives of hundreds of millions. Obama has made no effort at repairing the structural and regulatory mess responsible, and all he has done to keep things somewhat steady is to print money – a la Weimar Germany – for eight years, creating yet another threat overhanging the future.

Obama has not only kept the Neocon Wars going, he has expanded them and introduced an entire new establishment for extrajudicial killing, differing in no way other than in its technology from the filthy work of the Argentine military junta of the 1980s. The Pentagon and CIA today receive and consume unholy amounts of resources so that they can kill, plot coups, and de-stabilize others while millions of Americans are not provided with decent schools or the most basic public services such as clean drinking water.

No one can solve all these problems, and I certainly think it would be foolish to expect that Trump can, but I am confident that he can make an important contribution. America’s priorities need re-ordering, and it needs to extricate itself from the bloody lunatic adventures of the Neocon Wars.

And, while I at first expected nothing special from Trump on the domestic front, his recent speech in Michigan ranks as a great one. As a child of the Midwest, I can tell you everything he said to black people was deadly accurate. And courageous. Professional politicians are afraid to speak the truth. If you want to see what he was talking about, look for images of the South Side of Chicago or Detroit, Michigan, or Gary, Indiana, on the Internet. Many Americans never see such places in their own country. There are sights as appalling as one sees from war zones in the news, and no one in government lifts a finger to help. Any effort here would be a blessing, and if Trump could carry it off to any degree, he might well be proved right in his speech’s claim, that in future, he’ll get 95% of black votes and “What in the hell do you have to lose?”

As an old saying goes, you must pick your battles, and nowhere is this truer than in politics. Candidates, in the language of economics, always represent a bundle of goods, not all of which will be attractive to any voter. When you choose a candidate, you always get goods you don’t want along with those you do. It much resembles what happens when you buy an album of music to get certain songs.

Politics, being quite rightly described by Bismarck as “the art of the possible,” is an institution you must not look to solve or correct everything, but if you can get a few important things right, you are doing well. The politicians, supported by manipulative media flacks, try to endear themselves to many kinds of voters with cheap sound bites or suggestive statements, none of which are in any way specific. They are trying to assemble a virtual bundle of goods that will be bought by a majority. If elected, they go on to do as other powerful forces would have them do, never having to deliver on what were mere, fleeting suggestive statements.

It will take a mighty tough and determined leader to achieve any progress with America’s miserable problems. We all see how the man who looked decent and intelligent and caring eight years ago has been totally flattened by the establishment. He resembles Rachel Corrie after being backed over by an Israeli bulldozer. We may just have been deceived by his manner in 2008, not realizing the smile was the smile of a charming psychopath, but I am inclined to think he was simply overwhelmed by the rooms full of arrogant, be-tinseled generals, intelligence executives, fat with privilege and resources, and extremely powerful and arrogant special interests.

Trump has the merit of being a very tough-minded man who has dealt for decades with powerful people to get what he wants, and he has made billions doing it. He is no mere respecter of title or position, but a man who judges by what you actually can do. By comparison, Obama appears a weak figure next to such people, and so he has proved. He leaves office having achieved the status of a smiling mass killer. He has done not a single worthwhile thing for his own people.

And that is the so-called legacy Hillary Clinton is there to preserve and extend. This is a woman who has done little besides take huge amounts of money from many powerful people for years, special interests and ugly foreign governments. It is all packed into a foundation, treated but not functioning as a charity. It happens to function as a giant political slush fund, a money-laundering scheme for questionable funds, and a source of employment for relatives and friends. She starts on day one, as it were, as a completely bought-and-sold figure many times over.

I think no story better sums up these personal qualities of Hillary’s than one found in her recently released tax records. She apparently made “charitable” donations last year of about $1,0040,000, which at first glance sounds vaguely impressive. Then you read that $1,000,000 of that was in donations to her own the Clinton Foundation. It just doesn’t come more corrupt than that.

This also is the woman who, as Secretary of State, ran America’s filthy operation out of Benghazi that collected weapons from prostrated Libya – prostrated by American bombs and American-paid terrorists – plus boatloads of maniac fanatics to send to Turkey for transshipment into Syria. The American ambassador killed at Benghazi was an instance of “blowback” in a covert operation when some of the maniacs decided he made a better target than anything to be found in Syria.

Our last great investigative reporter, Seymour Hersh, has just told us for the first time that the sarin nerve gas, actually used in Syria a few years ago a few times, was transshipped from Libya under her auspices. Hundreds of civilians were hideously killed by America’s proxy fanatics in the clearest of war crimes. It was an effort to create a crossing-a-red-line stunt with which to blame Syria’s beleaguered, elected government so that Obama could send in the jets and bomb the crap out of yet another country. Only Putin’s deft statesmanship prevented that disaster.

The moral and ethical characters of the American leaders involved here – Obama and Hillary plus the generation or two before them – surely rank with some of history’s most hateful figures, and it is time to put a stop to their handiwork. As well, it is time for a government that actually works for the interests of its own people, a simple idea but one which is entirely foreign to contemporary Washington.

I think of the great Franklin Roosevelt, and people who have no history do not realize how intensely hated he was by a major part of the establishment. Apart from constant attacks in the press, his life was threatened. I think also of Abraham Lincoln, and again, people with no history do not realize how hated the man was at first. He was called “an obscene ape” in the newspapers, and he felt the need to travel to Washington for his inauguration in disguise.

I am not comparing Trump, but I am reminding readers of some of the unpleasant details that never appear on the plaques of monuments to such great figures. I do very much believe, despite the sometimes loose and careless words of an inexperienced politician, that there is great promise in this man. He is a doer, not a talker, but his Michigan speech especially had intimations of greatness in it. Just as he said, addressing America’s more than thirty-million black population, “What the hell do you have to lose?”

And just look at the alternative. My God, none are so blind as those who will not see, and anyone who can be enthusiastic for a woman of her bloody and corrupt achievements is indeed willfully and dangerously blind.

Many commentators still miss the most essential truth of this election, and I owe the profound observation to Robert Reich. This election is not about Left versus Right. It is not about Democrat versus Republican. It is about pro- versus anti-establishment, a very bloody, corrupt, and dishonest establishment.

DONALD TRUMP IS ELECTABLE AS PRESIDENT, BUT…

John Chuckman

I think it entirely possible Donald Trump could be elected President. I am not in favor of it – but then neither am I in favor of any of the other candidates on offer – yet I do think his election is increasingly possible. America displays every four years – almost like a temporary clothesline erected on the front lawn of the White House loaded with soiled and tattered undergarments – the sheer poverty of its political system. Every four years, a gang of mediocrities and thugs spend vast amounts of money to say, from coast to coast, nothing worth hearing.

Sometimes I wonder why anyone bothers to run for office in a long, costly, and exhausting contest which if won means four years of taking directions from the Pentagon and seventeen security agencies. America is not a democracy, and the last president who actually tried to exert some significant influence on affairs left much of the right side of his head in the streets of Dallas. But ego is a mighty powerful motivator, and the gang engaged in national American politics has plenty of it, even if few other redeeming qualities.

Trump could make Hillary Clinton regret she ever shared a stage to debate with him, especially a Hillary Clinton whose past has finally begun to catch up with her, now finally wounded by her long record of dark intrigues and vicious lies. Trump is no angel by comparison, but his focus has been on making money and aggrandizing his name, things most Americans respect. He has no political record for which to account or apologize.

He has said many things which make him sound like a juvenile given to insulting people’s appearances, and he has some proposals which would prove impossible for anyone to implement, yet somehow he has hit on some issues which find a welcome hearing by many, especially unsophisticated people who might even once have been Democratic voters. Americans are tired of unresponsive politicians, something of which they have stables full. They are also tired of the bewildering events in a world at the center of which invariably the United States finds itself. Most Americans never voted for such things and have no interest in them. Only dishonest appeals about supporting the troops keep them from rebelling, and their own increasingly difficult economic lives generate a lot of stress. America is full of frustrated and angry people, many of them not even sure what it is they are so angry about and many of whom have no time or patience to understand the world in which they live. Hard-hitting simplicities are music to the ears.

One of the sharpest ironies of Trump is that not all of his views are simplicities. Some are dead-on assessments of things which could have been avoided and leaders who failed the country. So this man comes bundled with a wide-ranging group of political goods, far more so than anyone I can recall in recent times. Just think of the simple-minded recitals of senior American politician after senior American politician. They all sound rather like Sarah Palin reciting her money-generated mantra but with differing levels of sophistication and vocabulary. She is the basic template while other models come with little tweaks and feature, but they all say nothing worth hearing. There is a very real reason for that: under America’s establishment-run, aristocratic political system, there is almost zero latitude for change either in domestic or foreign affairs, except in the field of war where more seems always welcome.

No matter what you think of Trump’s views – and the author should confess he is not an admirer of most of them – many people find it utterly refreshing to hear him touch subjects none of the usual Washington politicians touch. He goes far beyond the pathetic high-school recitation of lines by Sarah Palin. Or, I might add, the paid lies of men like Newt Gingrich and scores of others who will literally speak in absurdities in return for multi-million dollar campaign contributions. I only mention Newt because the last time he tried to campaign, he ran around the country saying there really was no such thing as a Palestinian, his quid pro quo for nearly twenty million dollars in funds from a man with claustrophobic ties to Israel.

Just think of the all the bland, say-nothing-worth-hearing types, epitomized by Jeb Bush who resembles nothing so much as a well-groomed hamster both in the sounds he makes and in his blinking-into-the-camera, insipid-smile looks. And think of all the grotesque liars who run for high office in America never telling people what really motivates or enables them or what special interests pay their way. It all really is a parody of democracy.

You might think a brash and independent-minded guy like Trump is just the answer to changing some of that, and I can well understand the hopes, but there are very powerful barriers in American society as it now has come to be organized against such hopes being realized. The first day of sitting at a huge polished conference table, greatly outnumbered by arrogant country-club security chiefs with secret budgets you cannot imagine and rigid generals whose uniforms glitter almost like Christmas trees, might just test the mettle of a Trump. Add to that the heads of great corporations each worth hundreds of billions of dollars making private appointments. And then the polished heads of mighty special interest lobby groups used to getting their way. And just who are your allies and confidants in opposing some of the things they demand? You have no political background from which you would have built such relations.

It’s a daunting and dreary picture, and you have to remember, these powerful people who compose the formidable American aristocracy are the very ones who allowed and encouraged the ugly situations into which America is straight-jacketed.

Despite Trump’s freshness and energy, a Trump victory could prove a disaster. Not because he would flirt with atomic war, something Obama now already does regularly, or create vast new domestic schemes. Of course, the scheme of building a fence across Mexico and rounding up and returning all illegal migrants is vast indeed – a virtual moon-landing project from scratch – but this author thinks it would fortunately prove impossible. Even if the American aristocracy permitted him to pursue such a Don Quixote project, it would only be in order to gain his compliance in other, far more important and consequential matters such the vast, destabilizing, and murderous wars in the Middle East and the bullying of Russia and China.

On top of all that, Trump has made some deadly serious enemies, and number one on the list is Israel and its supporters who view him as not adequately friendly to Israel’s interests.

When Trump, for example, speaks, entirely sensibly, about leaving Syria for Putin to sort out, he goes dead against a dark and costly scheme which was in part created by Israel. They want Assad dead. They want Syria Balkanized much as Iraq is. And they are enjoying the stolen, discount-priced oil they get indirectly from ISIS through Turkey.

And they don’t want Russia gaining genuine influence in the Mideast, the United States being Israel’s source of seemingly inexhaustible assistance, permission, and protection – the provider of vast subsidies of every kind imaginable. Moreover, Netanyahu and other leaders in Israel have long striven to have Israel assume a geopolitical role in the Mideast as a kind of miniature replica of what the United States is in the world, a bully hegemon. There’s no room in that picture for Russia.

If you read the kind of columnists who regularly serve as apologists for Israel’s brutality – there’s at least one filling that role on the staff of every mainline newspaper – you find a universally negative attitude towards Trump. It has nothing to do with conservatism versus liberalism, and it certainly has nothing to do with human rights. The columnists use words about human rights to make their view more palatable to the general population of readers and to serve as a smokescreen for what it is with which they are really defending.

After all, Israel’s Netanyahu is perhaps the world’s most flagrant violator of human rights, holding about five million people completely against their will with absolutely no rights or freedoms, periodically stealing their homes and land, violating the sanctity of their religious places, and frequently just killing large batches of them – always undoubtedly with an eye to making them so miserable that they will pick up and leave. The people of Gaza are not even allowed to import cement to repair Israel’s recent destruction of their homes and institutions. I simply do not know of crueler circumstances in the world completely tolerated by America’s aristocracy.

There have been several ugly outbursts recently, including one from an executive of Colorado’s American Civil Liberties Union who was yelling about assassinating Trump voters, words I just could not believe when I first read them.

But then in past years we have had extremist defenders of Israel propose many horrible measures including one from an American lawyer who proposed summarily killing the entire families of any Palestinian acting as a “terrorist,” so the raving speech is not without precedent. The executive’s words communicate the intense level of hate which simmers. I am sure this disturbed man – since forced to quit – is not the only one with such thoughts bubbling like sewerage through his mind.

Always admirers of political hamsters and gerbils as candidates with dark eminences behind them doing the necessary filth, the Bush-Cheney model if you will, or indeed the Eisenhower-Dulles or Reagan-Casey one – the Republicans will make every effort to stop Trump with backstage political manipulations, such as a brokered convention, but they may well not succeed, his position being made quite strong by the possibility of his running as a third-party candidate, and one with huge financial resources to boot.

But if they fail, and he wins, look out for the darkest possibilities.

All this is quite terrible, but that is simply what America is today, terrible.

THE ENDURING REALITY OF GOVERNMENT BY WEALTH AND SOME OF ITS CONSEQUENCES

John Chuckman

 

If you really want to understand the world in which we live – its endless wars, coups, interventions, and brutality towards great masses of people – you need to start with a correct understanding of the political machinery at work. Talk of liberal interventions or fighting for rights, Western values, and democracy are hopelessly naïve and mostly deliberately deceptive. America’s record in such matters is one of securing everything from bananas, copper, and crude oil concessions to, at the very least, foreign governments obedient to its mandates after removing a disliked leader, whether elected or not. There is no concern for principles outside of their being featured in blowhard, insincere political speeches. The interests of America’s government do not match the interests of ordinary people, those in America or anywhere else, and, were the informed consent of the governed genuinely involved in launching bloody adventures, they likely never would happen.

The underlying reality of how people in the West are governed now compared to hundreds of years ago is surprisingly unchanged, much the way the rules governing how chemical bonds form have not changed despite a long and great parade of events and discoveries in the visible world. Despite all the revolts, revolutions, congresses, constitutions, and great movements over the centuries, we are in fact governed in the same essential way people people were governed in 1600 or even earlier.

Of course to see this, you have to strip away the forms and rituals we have constructed over the centuries, forms and rituals which create impressive effects much like the green smoke and thunderous voice of the Wizard of Oz, a wizened old man who worked from his curtained control room, pulling levers and hitting buttons to create intimidating effects. Most Americans remain impressed with the smoke and thunder and cheap magic tricks, it requiring some dedicated effort to shake off well-done illusions, and, as I’ve written before, Americans work extremely hard in their jobs or live a kind of marginal life trying to scrape by on low wages or part-time work, either of which situations leaves little time or inclination to question what government is really doing and for whose benefit.

And so long as America remains under the rule of wealth, it is unlikely other states, as in Western Europe, will emerge from it because America’s establishment has such decisive influence – economic, financial, military, and political – over many of them.

What is considered as wealth changes over time and with economic development, and with those changes so do its interests as well as the practices of its power. Great deposits of copper ore or crude oil In the Middle Ages were virtually worthless. Wealth then was land for agriculture, forestry, and hunting, with the family names of owners determined by their estates. The revenue from that natural wealth was converted to great houses and jewels and the implements of war. War, too, was a source of wealth with most wars being little more than adventures for dominance and looting on a grand scale. Again, as in our own day, they were dressed up with slogans about principles or causes which had almost no meaning. The case of the “Christian” Crusades, which continued their pillaging and orgy of killing, on and off, for centuries, springs to mind. Soldiers and sailors, up until modern times, were not motivated by their paltry pay and poor supplies, it being understood as a condition of employment that they would enjoy a share of the bounty looted in any campaign.

Today, the forms wealth are as diverse and complex as is our society, and many of them are not apparent to ordinary people in the way great estates and hunting rights and obligations in war and peace to great lords were apparent in 800. Even as late as, say, 1850, wealth in the form of belching factories employing armies of people was often still quite apparent, but today’s complex banking and securities and financial institutions are not well understood by most people, although they represent immense wealth just as real in its demands and power as estates and obligations of the 9th century. Wealth today also comes from huge global manufacturing concerns of every description often with operations scattered out of sight, great shipping and transportation fleets, or electronic and communications empires. Land itself remains an important form of wealth where it can produce industrial-scale crops or contains deposits of valuable minerals or can generate flows of electricity or has been developed into great cities or resorts. War remains a source of wealth, only on a scale which could not have been imagined a few hundred years ago, but the spoils no longer go to soldiers in professional armies, they go to those responsible for the war, often in forms not easily recognized, as with special rights and concessions and secret arrangements.

As the nature of wealth evolved from the Middle Ages to the Modern Era, outward forms and rituals of government also changed. We have moved from the near-absolute power of kings and autocrats through aristocracies and republics with senates to a great variety of forms, parliaments and congresses, which appear designed to yield, to one degree or another, the consent of the governed.

But appearances, as in the case of the Wizard of Oz, can be deceiving.

Today, a single wealthy individual cannot make the kind of demands upon ordinary people that marked arrangements in the Middle Ages – although that must be qualified as I’m sure anyone who has become involved in a dispute with a wealthy neighbor or a great corporation will be happy to explain – but the class of wealthy people can indeed make just such demands, and they do so all the time. You will be taxed to pay for the schemes that their lobbying establishes, your water and air will contain the pollution of their manufacturing and mining, your children will be sent to kill and die in their wars, the ethics or morals you were taught as a child will be trampled upon, and virtually all important legislation will deal with the rights and interests of wealth, and not those of the broad mass of people.

In America, once in four years you will be asked to choose between two names, both of which have been closely vetted by the powers that be, to elect as head of government. Not only have they been vetted, but the immense costs of their campaigns in reaching you on television, at rallies, and with opinion polls to regularly fine tune their words will be paid almost exclusively by those whose real interests are at stake in every major election, the wealthy and their important serving institutions of government. The end effect is not really all that different than the old single-candidate Soviet elections at which the press trained Americans to sneer.

Many of America’s founding fathers had dark suspicions about the existence of wealth being secure in the presence of democratic government, and that is why they created forms – mostly adapted from Britain, a place no one regarded as a democracy then – to keep wealth safe. Over a couple of centuries, the original arrangements were modified, the country moving from a tiny one percent or so privileged voters – for perspective, that’s roughly the same as the percent of voters in China’s Communist Party deciding who rules the country – to something approaching universal suffrage, but always arrangements were made to safeguard wealth against the assumed predations of democracy.

In elections for the American Senate, the legislative body with real power, authority, and privilege, you again will be asked to choose between two well-vetted and well-connected candidates. Others may run, but they will be rendered helpless by the vetted candidates’ flood of money and resources, you will never hear their voices, and America’s press – itself an empire of wealth serving wealth – will waste no time on their views. In the case of the Senate, you will be asked once in six years to vote, with the elections staggered so that only one-third of that body faces election at any time – a perfectly-conceived formula for keeping the old bunch in charge despite issues which might have generated election discontent. In fact, you can never “throw the bums out” in America. Anyway, there really isn’t much risk for Senators running for re-election, with incumbents winning about 95% of the time. Senate seats are so secure they sometimes become family sinecures, handed down from father to son. After the election, unless you live in a small-population, insignificant state, you will never see or meet your Senator, and you will certainly have no opportunity to lobby. Virtually all seeing, meeting, and lobbying will be done by the wealthy sponsors of the successful candidates or by their hired help.

The average American Senator is said to spend two-thirds of his or her time securing funds for the next election, and such elections have now been bid-up to unbelievable amounts of money. The huge costs serve as what economists call “a barrier to entry,” a kind of high financial wall which keeps others from entering the political market, or, if somehow they do manage to enter, keeps them from effectively competing. Only the other wealth-vetted and connected candidate will have any hope of collecting a big enough pot of money to threaten an incumbent. The belief that people giving millions of dollars to candidates expect nothing in return is not even worth discussing. What they get – apart from goodies like important and prestigious appointments or valuable government contracts – is access, and access is exactly what most people never enjoy. Intimate access to politicians in high office, people always mindful of the necessity for another overflowing campaign war chest, is genuine power.

It is not impossible to have compatibility between democracy and wealth, but it requires a set of laws and regulations concerned with campaign financing, lobbying, and dis-establishing a political duopoly of two privileged parties, laws which simply cannot happen in America over our lifetimes. In America, law makes corporations persons, and the highest court, packed by judges appointed to serve wealth’s interests, has ruled that campaign money is free speech. These are not things easily turned around.

The American system of campaign financing not only assures the secure power of domestic wealth, it assures also the influence of wealthy lobbies serving the interests of foreign states, Israel being the most outstanding example. Other foreign states also exploit this system to varying degrees, but no other state has more than five million American citizens in great part keen to serve its interests. And many of them are successful, affluent, and well-placed people enjoying a connected set of organizations and well-funded lobbies. Other foreign states also do not enjoy having many of their lobbyists in America being dual-citizens, free to move back and forth between the country being lobbied and the country being lobbied for, surely an ethical issue for politics and foreign affairs of the first magnitude. It is a unique situation in many respects, and it has helped create a unique set of problems in the world.

The wealthy interests of America happen to share some important interests with lobbyists for Israel, including securing the Western world’s supply of energy and not permitting the rise of states of any power in the Middle East who disagree with America’s essential views. It is important to keep in mind that “America’s essential views” are not necessarily the views of most of the American people and that many of those “essential views” have never received genuine informed consent. Elections conducted the way America’s high-level elections are conducted are incapable of bestowing meaningful consent, especially in vitally important matters.

The Israeli-American alliance is something of an unholy one because in binding America so closely to Israel, some huge and unresolvable conflicts have been created. Israel is associated with a long series of wars and abuses in the region, and, ipso facto, so is America. Israel, given the nature of its founding, expansion, and practices, is not liked by any neighboring states, although many now cooperate secretly, and sometimes even openly, in areas of mutual interest and have learned to tolerate its existence, the way generally eased by large American bribes or equally large American threats.

Traditionally, states in the Middle East are not democracies. Their often short histories have given limited opportunity for wide-spread development and prosperity creating a strong middle-class, the sine qua non for democracy. With the United States always (insincerely) praising democracy – including Israel’s grotesque contradiction of “democracy for some but not others” – it has been caught in a bind between supporting what it says it opposes and opposing what it says it supports.

Its proposed solution was a huge CIA project, nick-named “the Arab Spring” by America’s wealth-serving and often dishonest press, a set of manufactured uprisings intended to bring a semblance of democracy to the region. It has been largely a failure, ending with some countries trapped in chaos or civil war and others, notably Egypt, briefly gaining a government Israel hated intensely, the truth being that genuine democracy in virtually any of these countries will not be friendly to Israel’s geopolitical ambitions in the region nor to those of its American promoter and protector. While the “Arab Spring” was allowed to proceed in some states, in others, where it was neither intended nor desired, such as Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, spill-over effects were deliberately and violently suppressed with American assistance. So the American-Israeli relationship now still locks the United States effectively in fighting against democracy in some countries and in supporting absolute monarchs and oligarchs in others, while in still others, such as Syria and Iraq, it is involved literally in smashing them as states, in violation of all international law and long-term good sense.

The entire situation is an ongoing disaster and is almost certainly not sustainable over the long term. How do you insist a huge country like Egypt remain a backwater without democratic rights indefinitely? How can you justify the destruction of an ancient and beautiful country like Syria? How can you justify supporting absolute monarchs and keeping their people in total political darkness? How do you continue supporting Israel in its abuse of millions, depriving them of every human right, or in its constant aggression to secure its hegemony? The drive for regional hegemony is all that is behind Israel’s constant hectoring of Iran, and how is that behavior different to the aggressive wars condemned by the Nuremberg Tribunal? It’s not, of course. Further, destructive, deliberately-induced conflicts like that in Syria, by degrading its economic advance, only slow the day for democracy’s having a real chance to emerge.

So here is America, self-proclaimed land of the free, mired in a vast situation where it works to suppress democracy, supports tyrants, and supports aggressive war because its leaders, with no genuine consent of the governed, have put it there, and this is just one of many unhealthy and destructive consequences of wealth’s rule in the United States. Wealth has no inherent interest in democracy, and it is entirely up to a people anywhere to demand respect for democracy through laws.

 

 

 

 

 

 

GEORGE BUSH IN HELL

John Chuckman
Opening Scene: Entrance hall in the Bush mansion in Houston where George and Laura have retired after leaving the White House.

There is grand staircase in the center, an elaborate chandelier hanging down from the ceiling, a half-table with a vase along the wall to the right, and a federal-style entrance door with brass fittings and a fan-window above on the far right.

A clicking noise is heard and the door swings open. The silhouette of George Bush is seen against dim bluish lights from the street. He pauses a few seconds and reaches for a switch on the wall, not finding it easily. When he does, sconces on the same wall as the table and vase come on, casting a warm, soft light on the scene. He awkwardly turns and closes the door quietly.

The figure starts to move forward, and it is immediately apparent from his lurching motion that he is drunk. He moves slowly, trying to prevent any noise or accidents. Nevertheless, after a few steps, he collides with the table, knocking the vase over to smash noisily on the floor.

At the top of the stairs, Laura appears in a rather elegant, flowing nightgown. She places her hands on her hips and glares hard towards George.

GEORGE: “Hi, Honey. Didn’t know ya’d still be up.”

LAURA: “I wasn’t up. You smashing the furniture woke me up.

“And don’t you ‘Honey’ me, you bastard! You’re drunk again.”

GEORGE: Moving awkwardly toward the stairs, “Aw, Laura darlin’, I jus’ had a li’le too much,” making an exaggerated measurement sign towards Laura with his finger and thumb as he speaks.

Laura doesn’t move, just glaring as George works his way slowly up the stairs, huffing and puffing and swaying as he goes.

GEORGE: “See, I’m okay, I’m getting’ up the stairs myself.”

LAURA: “You shit, you promised, not once but dozens of times.”

GEORGE: “Yah, Honey, I know, but I’m tryin’.”

LAURA: “You son of a bitch, you haven’t tried at all. You’ve embarrassed everyone in the family.

GEORGE: “Won’t happen ag’in, Hon, I promise.”

LAURA: “You’re damned right about that. It won’t happen again!” she screams. She suddenly swings her arms out violently, striking George as he nears her, sending him tumbling down the stairs

George’s body comes to a stop at the bottom of the stairs, limp and broken-looking.

Suddenly from the left comes a Secret Service agent, aroused by all the noise. He kneels at the body and checks for vital signs.

SECRET SERVICE AGENT: Looking up towards Laura, “Mrs. Bush, I’m sorry, the President is dead!”

He immediately reaches for his Blackberry and places a call for emergency services. Laura walks offstage in the direction she first came from.

SCENE TWO

We see a striking, elaborate gate, as we might expect to see at the front of a great mansion. Behind the gate is the suggestion of a lush, sunlit garden complete with the beautiful singing of birds. Despite the brilliant sunlight, the floor of the stage is covered with a thick white mist, which represents clouds scudding along. At the gate, a tall dignified figure stands holding a staff in his right hand and a book in his left.

From the right side, the figure of George appears. He isn’t drunk now, but he appears mystified by his location.

GEORGE: As he approaches the gate, “Hi, I got no idea where I am. Maybe y’all kin help?”

ST. PETER: “Yes, Mr. President, I can help you. That’s just what I’m here for.”

GEORGE: “Jeez, ya’ll know me. That’s great. I got no idea what’s goin’ on. I was comin’ home, an’ suddenly I wake up here.

“Hey, an’ I ain’t got no hangover neither.”

ST. PETER: “Mr. President, you’re dead.”

GEORGE: “Dead? How the hell kin that be?”

ST. PETER: “You came home drunk, and Laura was so furious she pushed you down the stairs.”

GEORGE: “I’ll be damned, Laura killed me?”

ST. PETER: “That’s right, Mr. President. She’s now being treated for shock, and you’re here at the gates of Heaven. I’m St. Peter.”

GEORGE: “Well, Pete, open ‘er up. Guess there’s gonna be some good times here. I gotta tell ya, I was gettin’ mighty tired of Laura naggin’ all the time.”

ST. PETER: “We have a little business here, first, Mr. President, before anyone goes anywhere.”

GEORGE: “Y’all know I’m born agi’n. Don’t ‘spect no problem.

“Well, fire away, as I used to say there in the White House. Haw, haw. Jus’ a li’le joke there, Pete. Guess ya know I ain’t one to stand around jawin.’ Let’s get her done.”

ST. PETER: “Mr, President, we’re going to take a short look at some outstanding events of your life, ones that weigh heavily in the balance, so to speak.

St Peter opens his book, and a picture appears, cast like a slide in the white mist. It is of a child whose face is torn, horribly clotted with blood.

ST. PETER: “Do you recognize this child, Mr. President?

GEORGE: “Hell no – oops, sorry there! No, I never seen him, Pete, honest.”

ST. PETER: “That is correct, Mr. President, you never saw him, but nevertheless you did this to him, and many thousands of others in the bombing of Iraq.”

GEORGE: “I’m tellin’ ya, Pete, I di’n’t know. I’d never do somethin’ like that.”

Another picture appears, this one of a woman’s body smashed into the ground.

ST. PETER: “What about this one, Mr. President?”

GEORGE: “Promise I never saw nothin’ like that. God dang, who’d go ‘n’ do somethin’ like that?”

ST. PETER: “You would, Mr. President. This woman lived in Baghdad.”

GEORGE: “Well, I gotta say, I don’t think it’s fair bringin’ up this kinda ol’ stuff, Pete.”

ST. PETER: “What about this one?”

Another picture appears. It’s Laura with a black eye and a swollen lip.

GEORGE: “God darn if I wasn’t drunk that night. Didn’t mean it at all.”
SCENE THREE

George finds himself in a dark, gloomy place, with only hints of its being a room. He suddenly becomes aware of a series of sounds, a mixture of singing and shouting and George starts walking towards them. The sounds become louder. Soon we realize that they are people talking and shouting and singing, many of them, all at once. George tries covering his ears, the sound becomes so loud and unpleasant.

Finally, a figure appears in the gloom. It’s a tremendously fat Jerry Falwell looking for all the world like Jabba the Hutt waddling.
JERRY: “Well, now I kin hardly believe my eyes, welcome home, Mr. President!”

GEORGE: “Jeez, gotta say this place don’t look much like what I figured.”

JERRY: “Hell ain’t such a bad place. Ya pretty much get to do what ya always liked doin’ forever.”

GEORGE: “Hell? Whoa there, now, what’s goin’ on? I ain’t sposed to be in no Hell!

“I was jus’ talkin’ to Pete couple a minute ago, remindin’ him how I was saved an’ all.”

JERRY: “Well, I’m right sorry to disappoint you, Mr. President, ‘cause ya’ll was always a favorite.

“But we all knew you was on your way here, an’, like I was sayin’, it ain’t such a bad place an’ all.

“Ya’ll get to do pretty much what ya always did. Ya kin sure see I’m enjoyin’ the brunches, all laid out real nice, any time night or day, jus’ like a big cruise ship.

“An’ jus’ listen to that singin’ ! It don’t never stop. Gospel selections for the next trillion years!

“Some nice ol’ friends down here too, Mr. President. I reckon ya’ll know half of ‘em. Dick an’ Lynn. Your Pappy’s here, an’ your Grandpappy.”

GEORGE: “Ain’t ya sufferin’ with everlastin’ fires or nothin’ like that?”

JERRY: “Shucks, no, Mr. President. That jus’ ain’t the way it is.

“I know, I know, I was preachin’ kind of regular ‘bout that kinda stuff, but ya gotta figure, I was earnin’ a livin’ an’ all, an’ there jus’ ain’t no topic better ‘an damnation for gettin’ that there offerin’ plate full to overflowin’.”

GEORGE: “Well, I’ll be damned.”

JERRY: “Ya’ll are, Mr. President, that’s for sure.

“They got a copy of your ol’ office all set up for ya. Ya’ll gonna be able to go on bein’ President for millions an’ millions of years.

With a wink and a chuckle, “Snort a little coke now an’ then. All the damn mint juleps ya’ll can swaller. Go huntin’ with Dick.

“Give your Ol’ Man a good right now an’ then…as many times as ya’d like. An’ if that li’l’ woman of yours – jus’ sose ya know, she’ll be joinin’ up with ya before too long – goes mouthin’ off any, jus’ give her a smack in the gob the way ya’ll used to. Ain’t no cops here for her to call, embarrassin’ ya an’ all.

“Ya’ll be runnin’ that there war forever, seein’ every damned heathen an’ troublemaker blowed up jus’ like ya was there.”

GEORGE: “Well I gotta say that don’t sound none too bad. Ever get any vacation?”

JERRY: “Well, I gotta tell ya honest-like now, Mr. President, ya don’t get no vacation ‘roun’ here.

“Ya gonna do all them things ya always liked doin’, but ya gotta keep doin’ ‘em over and over, forever.”

“It might get a li’l’ tiresome-like after a while, but I sure ‘nough ain’t found that to be the case yet.”

GEORGE: “Ya, I kin see that right ‘nough. If ya’ll can’t stop packin’ down all the grub, ya gonna have a mighty sorry time draggin’ that fat gut of yours aroun’.

“Ya already startin’ to look like one them damned ol’ frogs I useta stuff with firecrackers. Damned, if I didn’t enjoy watchin’ ‘em gettin’ blowed up!

“Maybe ya’ll gonna blow up someday without any damned firecrackers in your mouth!”
George bends over, cracked up with uncontrollable laughter, tears running down his cheeks.

JERRY: Chuckling heartily, “Ah shucks, Mr. President, mighty nice to hear ya ain’t lost your ol’ boyish charm an’ sense of humor. Ya’ll gonna fit in jus’ fine here.”

George and Jerry, chuckling and laughing, walk slowly off into the gloom towards ear-splitting sounds of laughs and screams and screeching gospel music.

A GEORGE WILL FOLLIES REVIEW

John Chuckman

I used to read George Will occasionally just to see how strange words bent to political purpose could become. No political commentator in America is better able to use large words to say something at times indescribably odd. I don’t ask you to take this from me on faith. I offer examples, although none is recent since my tolerance for this sort of stuff has worn thin.

By outward appearance, George is the eternal American schoolboy. I imagine George’s conception of himself and the career he would follow may have been fixed when, as a reticent, dour twelve-year old with cowlick and glasses, he achieved an early social success blurting out a big word he had read, startling his teacher and breaking up his class. He has been repeating the same trick for decades to the applause of intense, pimply-faced boys in starched white shirts with dog-eared copies of Ayn Rand tucked under their arms.

America’s plutocrat-Junkers do have courtiers serving them just as the great princes of antiquity had. However, the pop-culture tastes of these modern great eminences do not employ the likes of Walter Raleigh or Francis Bacon. Instead we have Rush Limbaugh as one of the court jesters, still doing frat-boy jokes about physical differences between men and women forty years after college, and we have George as one of the sages, who appears from all the sage-like figures of history and literature to have selected Polonius as his model for style.

A few years ago, George nearly choked over plans to move a statue of some women to the Capitol Rotunda in Washington. He was upset about an expense, as he gracefully put it, to “improve the representation of X chromosomes.” The statue is of suffragists. George couldn’t resist passing along a demeaning nickname, “The Ladies in the Bathtub,” he picked up somewhere, perhaps at one of Trent Lott’s good-ol’-boy get-togethers down on his plantation.

George tried to make the nickname an issue of artistic merit. Artistic merit? The sculpture of the Capitol Rotunda is as uninspired a collection of stolid, state-commissioned hulks as ever graced a giant marble room. Aesthetics have never played a role.

George said he’d “stipulate” the women were great Americans – an interesting choice of words, “stipulate,” the arid language of lawyers allowing one to proceed in court or settle a contract without further discussion of some (usually minor) point. He then observed “the supply of alleged greatness long ago exceeded the supply of space for statues in the Rotunda.”

Well, clearly, choices do have to be made. And could it be news to anyone, apart from survivalists, huddled in abandoned missile silos, savoring George by candlelight as they bolt down freeze-dried snacks, that politics play a role in every choice in Washington? My God, members of the U.S. Congress, overwhelmingly male, actually have the flag that flies over the Capitol changed about every thirty seconds to provide a steady supply of authentic relics for interested, influential constituents, almost the way tens of thousands of true splinters of the Cross were fashioned as princely gifts in the Middle Ages. American presidents sign laws with fists full of pens, one for each loop of the signature and as gift for each key supporter. Politics just doesn’t get more ridiculous anywhere.

What’s annoying about a statue to the movement that gave (slightly more than) half the nation’s people the right to vote? The importance of what it symbolizes equals any democratic advance in the nation’s history. Why should a symbol for this achievement be the target of scorn?

The Rotunda collection already had highly ambiguous symbols that never upset George. Garfield was an undistinguished Civil War general and an undistinguished politician, ennobled only by a frustrated office-seeker assassinating him. Grant, despite his importance in the Civil War, was one of the most dangerously incompetent presidents before Bush. Jackson was a violent backwoods madman and unrepentant slave-holder, colorful and interesting at a safe distance, but America would have been a far better place without most of his presidential accomplishments. Hamilton, a truly great figure in American history, was nevertheless a man who had absolutely no faith in democracy.

It would be unfair to draw conclusions about George’s prejudice only from his opposition to the statue, but in writing about it, he managed, over and over, to use words of scorn and derision.

How do you explain a squib that the possible removal of a reproduction of Magna Carta in favor of the statue “might displease a woman” (Queen Elizabeth II, whose gift it was)? Wouldn’t you say it might displease the British people whose representative the Queen is? What explains his calling the statue one “less to past heroines than to present fixations”? Why his belittling description of the campaign for the statue as “entitlement mentality”?

George attacks one national symbol but is especially protective of others. He is especially protective of the reputation of the Sage of Monticello, patron saint to America’s militia and survivalist crowd. Thomas Jefferson, much to the surprise of people who know him only as a giant, worthy head on Mount Rushmore, provided the prototype for two centuries of American shadow-fascism: use fine words about freedom in your correspondence while living off the sweat of a couple of hundred slaves; a man who never hesitated to stretch presidential authority to its very limits, always seeking to extend American empire. Jefferson was a secretive, suspicious, and vindictive man. He was not a friend to the spirit of Enlightenment.

Conor Cruise O’Brien, Irish scholar, published a biographical study called “The Long Affair,” in 1996, about Thomas Jefferson and his peculiar admiration for the bloody excesses of the French Revolution. Well, the Sage for Archer Daniels Midland went into a word-strewn fit over the book.

Perhaps, the single thing about the book that most upset George was O’Brien’s comparison of a statement of Jefferson’s to something Pol Pot might have said. Jefferson wrote in 1793, at the height of the Terror, “…but rather than it [the French Revolution] should have failed, I would have seen half the earth desolated. Were there but an Adam and Eve left in every country, and left free, it would be better than as it now is.” George wrote off Jefferson’s brutal statement as “epistolary extravagance,” and attacked O’Brien for using slim evidence for an extreme conclusion about an American “hero.”

George went so far as favorably to compare the work of Ken Burns with that of O’Brien, calling Burns “an irrigator of our capacity for political admiration,” as compared to one who “panders” to “leave our national memory parched.” Whew! See what I mean about words?

I mean no disparagement of Ken Burns, but he produces the television equivalent of coffee-table books. O’Brien is a scholar, the author of many serious books. The very comparison, even without the odd language, tells us something about George.

But language, too, is important. The irony is that George’s own words, “irrigator of our capacity for political admiration,” sound frighteningly like what we’d expect to hear from the Ministry of Culture in some ghastly place (dare I write it?) such as Pol Pot’s Cambodia.

But George should have known better. This letter of Jefferson’s is utterly characteristic of views he expressed many different ways. Jefferson quite blithely wrote that America’s Constitution would not be adequate to defend what he called liberty, that there would have to be a new revolution every 15 or 20 years, and that the tree of liberty needed to be nourished regularly with a fresh supply of patriot blood.

Jefferson’s well-known sentimental view of the merits of sturdy yeomen farmers as citizens of a republic and his intense dislike for industry and urbanization bear an uncanny resemblance to Pol Pot’s beliefs. Throwing people out of cities to become honorable peasants back on the land, even those who never saw a farm, was precisely how Pol Pot managed to kill at least a million people in Cambodia.

Jefferson is not now revered for his understanding of the economics of his day. He truly had none, a fact which enabled the brilliant Alexander Hamilton to best him at every turn. However this is not a mistake Jefferson’s intellectual heirs make, since money and power no longer come from plantations and slaves. They understand money and pursue the principles of economics narrowly often to the exclusion of other important goals in society. Jefferson is only of value to them because of the powerfully-expressed words he left behind belittling the importance of government, the only possible counterbalancing force to the excesses that always arise from great economic growth.

What is it about many of those on the right relishing the deaths of others in the name of ideology? You see, much like the “chickenhawks” now running Washington, sending others off to die, Jefferson never lifted a musket during the Revolution. While serving as governor of Virginia, he set a pathetic example of supporting the war’s desperate material needs. He also gave us a comic-opera episode of dropping everything and running feverishly away from approaching British troops in Virginia (there was an official inquiry over the episode). Jefferson turned down his first diplomatic appointment to Europe by the new government out of fear of being captured by British warships, a fear that influenced neither Benjamin Franklin nor John Adams.

But real heroes aren’t always, or even usually, soldiers. Jefferson, despite a long and successful career and a legacy of fine words (expressing thoughts largely cribbed from European writers), cannot be credited with any significant personal sacrifice over matters of principle during his life. He wouldn’t give up luxury despite his words about slavery. He never risked a serious clash with the Virginia Establishment over slave laws during his rise in state politics. And in his draft of the Declaration of Independence, he lamely and at length blamed the king of England for the slave trade, yet, when he wrote the words, it was actually in his interest to slow the trade and protect the value of his existing human holdings.

Unlike Mr. Lincoln later, who had none of his advantages of education and good social contacts, Jefferson did not do well as a lawyer. He never earned enough to pay his own way, his thirst for luxury far outstripping even the capacity of his many high government positions and large number of slaves to generate wealth. Again, unlike Mr. Lincoln, Jefferson was not especially conscientious about owing people money, and he frequently continued buying luxuries like silver buckles and fine carriages while he still owed substantial sums.

Jefferson spent most of his productive years in government service, yet he never stopped railing against the evils of government. There’s more than a passing resemblance here to the empty slogans of government-service lifers like Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich who enjoy their government pensions and benefits even as they still complain about government. Jefferson’s most famous quote praises the least possible government, yet, as President, he brought a virtual reign of terror to New England with his attempts to enforce an embargo against England (the “Anglomen” as this very prejudiced man typically called the English).

Jefferson, besides having some truly ridiculous beliefs, like those about the evils of central banks or the health efficacy of soaking your feet in ice water every morning, definitely had a very dark side. Any of his political opponents would readily have testified to this. Jefferson was the American Machiavelli.

It was this side of him that put Philip Freneau on the federal payroll in order to subsidize the man’s libelous newspaper attacks on Washington’s government – this while Jefferson served in that very government. At another point, Jefferson hired James Callender to dig up and write filth about political opponents, an effort which backfired when Callender turned on Jefferson for not fulfilling promises. Callender famously dug out and publicized the story about Sally Hemings, Jefferson’s slave-mistress, his late wife’s illegitimate half-sister (slavery made for some amazing family relationships), a story we now know almost certainly to be true (by the way, dates point to Sally’s beginning to serve Jefferson in this capacity at 13 or 14 years old). It was this dark side of Jefferson that resulted in a ruthless, years-long vendetta against Aaron Burr for the sin of appearing to challenge Jefferson’s election to the presidency.

George charged O’Brien with wronging Jefferson on his racial views by quoting from Jefferson’s youth and ignoring a different statement years later. But history really doesn’t support George. Jefferson was challenged by others over the years on this issue, and, rather than argue a point on which he knew he was vulnerable, he tended to keep quiet, but there is no good evidence he ever changed his views, despite bits of writing, twinges of his own conscience undoubtedly, that sound sympathetic about how blacks might have arrived at their then piteous state.

Jefferson expressed himself in embarrassingly clear terms about his belief in black inferiority. And it is important to note that in doing so, he violated one of his basic principles of remaining skeptical and not accepting what was not proved, so this, clearly, was something he believed deeply. There is also reliable evidence that on one occasion he was observed by a visitor beating a slave, quite contradicting Jefferson’s public-relations pretensions to saintly paternalism.

When Napoleon sent an army attempting to subdue the slaves who had revolted and formed a republic on what is now Haiti, President Jefferson gave his full consent and support to the bloody (and unsuccessful) effort.

Hero? I have no idea how George defines the word, but by any meaningful standard, Jefferson utterly fails.

In another flight of fancy some years ago, George equated honest efforts to limit campaign contributions to attacks on the First Amendment, about as silly an idea as claiming the Second (well-ordered-militia) Amendment defends the right of every household to own tanks and missile-launchers.

America restricts many forms of commercial expression deemed destructive or dangerous. Liquor advertising on television, certain forms of cigarette advertising, pornography, and racist propaganda are among these. Are these attacks on the First Amendment? Well, if they are, concerns for the Amendment are trumped by concerns for protecting children from noxious substances.

I’m not sure I can think of a more noxious thing than the complete twisting and distorting of democracy by money in Washington. Restrictions on things like liquor advertising testify that people recognize the suggestive, manipulative nature of advertising, yet America’s national elections have pretty well been reduced to meaningless advertising free-for-alls between two vast pools of money.

No one objects to informative discussions of liquor, cigarettes, or racism on television, yet any thoughtful person knows that advertising for the same products or ideas is something else altogether. Do the most fundamental issues of a nation deserve the debased treatment they receive in election advertising campaigns? The Lincoln-Douglas Debates cost little but supplied voters with real information, something that cannot be said for any money-drenched campaign of the 20th Century.

When a particular aspect of free speech, as the right to give and spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, undermines democracy itself, it is not just one Amendment at stake, it is the whole evolution and meaning of the American Constitutional system.

Further, large amounts of campaign money, in economic terms, represent barriers to entry against newcomers, outside the two money-laden, quasi-monopoly parties. Try marketing a new product against a firm with the market position of a Microsoft or a Coke without tens of millions to spend, no matter how good your product, and you’ll see what I mean by barriers to entry. This is something many find instinctively repellent and unfair in their most ordinary, everyday shopping and business dealings. How much more so where it directly affects the entry of candidates and new ideas into government?

Apart from the sheer ugliness of watching members of Congress grovel for money, we have many examples of money’s pernicious influence on elections. The CIA has spent God knows how many millions of dollars influencing elections in other countries, yet observe America’s great touchiness a few years back over even a hint that China may have played the same trick. This only shows how well Americans understand what money does to politics, yet whenever someone tries to do something to improve a rotten situation, George and other courtiers switch on their word processors and start felling trees.

My last citation from George concerns his regret over the coarseness and lack of civility in America, what George called “Dennis Rodman’s America,” or in another place, “a coarse and slatternly society” jeopardizing “all respect….”

Unfortunately, George’s historical errors gave him a false basis for measuring moral decline. He wrote that the youthful George Washington was required to read “110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior.” The fact is the highly ambitious Washington chose the small book and forced himself to copy out the rules in longhand so that he might become more acceptable for advancement in British colonial society.

Young Washington was heavily influenced by associating with families from the cream of British colonial society, people not at all characteristic of average colonial Americans. Most of America then was a rude, rough place. Newspapers regularly libeled and abused with a ferocity we can scarcely imagine today. Drunkenness and brawling were common. Fights often included such grotesque practices as gouging out eyes. And, of course, the filthy brutality of slavery was normal, on exhibit in many streets.

It is simply wrong to say that American behavior has gone downhill from a golden age. Europeans in the 19th century noted with horror the way Americans spit tobacco juice everywhere – even on the floors and carpets of the most elegant hotels. Visitors to the White House used to clomp around in muddy boots, pawing and even walking on furnishings, cutting souvenir swatches from the drapes and carpets and grabbing anything small enough to stuff under a coat – often leaving the place a shambles after a large public gathering.

At times there have been rules or practices that might now be cited as exemplifying a lost age of gentility, but citing these in isolation misrepresents the general tone of the past. While George cited the clean language used in movies under the Production Code in the 1940s, he neglected to mention that, while Hollywood worried about sexual innuendo in scripts, in any American city a policeman might freely and openly address a black citizen as “niggah.” And while Hollywood fussed over suggestive words in “Casablanca,” it was still possible in some parts of the country to lynch a black man and suffer no penalty.

But George is more concerned about sexual coarseness than violence. This happens to be a characteristic America’s Puritans. It has also been characteristic of tyrant-temperaments. Hitler did not permit off-color or suggestive stories told in his presence. Lincoln, on the other hand loved a good off-color joke.

Now, again consider George’s words about “a coarse and slatternly society” jeopardizing “all respect….” Slattern? Just what century does he think it is?

In fact, it is easily observed that people who use foul language are expressing anger and frustration, and there are lots of angry people in America: the pressures of the society do that to you. Trying to get at the cause of the anger would raise a discussion of civility to something worthwhile, but George seemed simply to want to “tut tut!” a bit like some marquis in the late 18th Century worrying about the niceties just before the deluge.

AMERICA’S PATHETIC LIBERALS

John Chuckman

You might think from the way the progressive press laments Al Gore’s decision not to run for President again that there had been a genuine loss to liberalism in America.

But that’s not quite the way I see it. Although few candidates ever came better groomed for high office than Mr. Gore, it is his performance in the 2000 presidential election that must be lamented.

Yes, he won the popular vote – teaching a new generation of Americans that being elected is no guarantee of winning under the arcane and anti-democratic provisions of America’s 18th-century Constitution. But with an opponent like George Bush, Mr. Gore should have won that vote by a large enough margin to make the entire business of Florida and the Supreme Court irrelevant. He should have, as they used to say, “mopped the floor with” an opponent as inarticulate, unimaginative, and with such a questionable background as Mr. Bush. But he didn’t.

I remember, once or twice, hearing some tough words from Mr. Gore and thinking perhaps he had found his voice, only to be quickly disillusioned over the next day or two. Well, what could you expect from someone who chose to open his campaign by speaking about family values?

My God, we’d had an earful of that tired, insincere, and exploitative theme from Republicans over the previous couple of decades. You might say Mr. Clinton’s impeachment was the family-values impeachment, spearheaded, as it was, by a Republican leader who was sleeping with a staff member and a gross, pompous old phony who used to go nightclubbing with someone else’s wife.

I know some will say the impeachment was about honesty, but, please, where is there recorded a single honest word from Mssrs Gingrich, Hyde, Thurmond, Helms, Armey, DeLay, or Gramm?

Of course, apart from being the phony family-values impeachment, it was an embarrassing demonstration of incompetence. All that massive effort and expense without so much as having taken a head-count on the likelihood of success?

Mr. Gore’s ineffectual campaign never touched this clap-trap and hypocrisy. He was afraid to do so, even though he had a record as one of the straightest arrows in Washington. He simply ignored a massive, steaming heap of garbage that had been left on America’s front lawn in Washington. Yet, he managed to blame Mr. Clinton for his loss.

It is with no regret whatever that I wave good-bye to Mr. Gore, not that I believe there is another at-all-likely candidate of any real merit waiting for his or her chance. (Note: I include her despite knowing that over vast stretches of America this is as grievous an error as denying the self-evident truth that all women should wear frilly aprons and bake cookies, a la Tipper. She won’t be missed either. Is there not something hopeless in that ridiculous nickname for a middle-aged person?)

Now we have Mr. Lott’s remarks about Strom Thurmond. Suddenly, there is a deluge of articles and comments about how terrible his words were, about how Republicans are in bed with racists. Well, Mr. Lott has a very long record, and Mr. Thurmond has an even longer one. The greatest disgrace concerning these men is that a large body of Americans has voted repeatedly over decades to keep them in high office. Perhaps, most ridiculous of all, American liberals seem to forget that Mr. Thurmond started as a Southern Democrat.

In the 1930s, Eleanor Roosevelt prodded the great Franklin to speak against the horrible lynchings of black people in the South, but the President felt that politics would not permit this. Southern Democrats were a key part of his political coalition, and Southern Democrats were segregationists, and far worse in a number of cases. So Franklin kept quiet on lynching, and, in some Southern states, lynchings continued to be occasions for family picnics. I can’t resist pointing out the historic family-values connection here.

The evolution of the contemporary “Southern strategy” in American presidential elections is based on little more than the fact that the same people who used to be Southern Democrats (the Republican party having become anathema in the South for more than a century after Mr. Lincoln’s “evil” Civil War) switched to being Republicans after the Civil Rights movement and Mr. Johnson’s “evil” voting-rights legislation of the 1960s. Such is the slow path of progress.

Poor Trent forgot himself and will now likely pay the price. Neanderthal Republican hacks like columnist Jeff Jacoby already have the kettle to the boil for rendering Lott’s hide, a fact which should alert us that some deeper political reason lies behind these rare Republican chest-thumping displays over principles of decency. Again, I will wave good-bye with not a twinge of regret, although sure in the knowledge that no better person waits to take his place. I can’t help feeling scorn over American liberals’ satisfaction at Lott’s pathetic statement – pathetic, that is, when weighed in a balance against a lifetime’s work in the cause of backwardness and stupidity.

Of course, thanks in part to Mr. Gore, we now have a President for whom competence is not even an issue. He is the first Disneyworld-diorama president, capable only of looking as though his plastic-coated, mechanical jaw actually makes the sounds coming from his computer chips. He has earned a place in history though, having demonstrated that the presidency itself is now a Constitutional institution of questionable relevance. The druid-priests to imperial plutocracy who scurry around the White House keeping his servomotors running and downloading new sound-bites onto his chips – the creatures actually now running America – could do just as well or badly if the Bush display were packed up and stored away in the Smithsonian’s basement.

Perhaps most pathetic is American liberals’ constant looking to the Democratic party as savior. Many progressive sites on the Internet display counters with the number of days remaining in Bush’s term. “Ex-cuse me!” as many Americans annoyingly say when making a rude point, but are we talking about the same Democratic party that has not said a word about mistreatment of prisoners, torture, and murder since 9/11?

Mr. Clinton’s foreign policy, while lacking the Appalachian-throwback character of Mr. Bush’s, was often belligerent, often badly conceived, and largely reflected the same set of interests. Dare I also mention Mr. Johnson launching into what was to become the holocaust of Vietnam? Or the charming Mr. Kennedy trying repeatedly to assassinate Mr. Castro, beginning the flow of troops to Vietnam, creating the corps of professional thugs called the Green Berets, and nearly engulfing the world in nuclear war? Or Mr. Truman’s dangerous fiasco in Korea? The same jingoistic, imperialist impulse remains dominant.

But I suppose there is relief in longing for a friendlier face like Mr. Clinton’s. That way you can feel a whole lot better about what is going on. And it still will go on, no matter whether Bush remains or not.

From the world’s point of view, there is actually some painful merit in Bush’s holding office. I believe already, without the President’s crowd fully realizing what they’ve done, forces have been set in motion for historic realignments in international affairs. Bush’s Texas-barbecue-and-lethal-injection crowd is driving all civilized nations on the planet to reconsider aspects of their relationship with the United States, something that likely will have profound consequences over the next few decades.