Lessons in the Age of Trump: The Sick Kite

Image provided by FreeImages.com

Image provided by FreeImages.com

Trump, being a symptom of a larger sickness in our land, proves to me that if there were a public wisdom, that light has been exhausted. We’ve forgotten those lessons of the past and are eager to fail in brave old ways once again. Which is to say, Trump is hardly Trump’s fault. He’s the fault of those who voted for him and for all of us who have passively let our culture slip to such a state that he seems like a reasonable answer to a very serious question: how do we set right the many problems facing modern America?

I don’t pretend to know that answer, but I do know one thing: it wouldn’t hurt to start teaching some of the old things that worked so well to impart a kind of baseline cultural wisdom for so many generations. Things like Aesop’s Fables.

Most of you will remember Aesop’s Fables; they are very short stories told with the goal of imparting some moral, life less, or political understanding to the listener. Indeed, television shows like Leave it to Beaver and the Andy Griffith Show were similar: short, simple stories that could make you laugh and think, but that always had a moral to impart. What I’m going to do is work to find a series of things, like those fables, that can help us understand the world around us and make better decisions.

Fables, of course, won’t save us from the rise of Trumps now or in the future, but maybe they’ll help us understand that rise.

First up is one of Aesop’s Fables (and my apologies for the small changes I’ve made in the language– they don’t change the lessons to be learned). This one is, in particular, for the Trump voters (and Trump) who took so much pleasure in abusing opponents during his rise and now complain that those voters aren’t supporting him in the general election.

The Sick Kite

A kite, sick and dying, said to his mother: “Mother, don’t mourn me, but pray to the gods that my life might be saved!”

She replied, “Alas, my son, which of the gods do you think will pity you? Is there one who you haven’t angered by stealing offerings from their altars?”

Make friends in prosperity if you would have friends in adversity.

We Tell Jokes (But We Can’t Find it In Us to Laugh)

Here’s the joke:

This year, we will elect a candidate to be President of the United States of America either from the Republican or Democrat parties. The presumptive nominees from both parties (according to the most recent, published favorables) is disliked by the majority of Americans. While Trump’s numbers are a bit worse than Clinton’s, neither of them breaks 40% on the favorable side and both of them break 50% on the unfavorable side.

America simply doesn’t like these candidates and feel increasingly abused by their own parties.

Now, this is the good bit. Here’s the punchline:

America will still vote for one of those candidates. America is convinced that the President has to have an R or a D next to their name and would rather despise the person in the White House than to look around for a better, more trustworthy, more qualified option outside of the orthodoxy.

Hah hah hah.

That’s a good one.

Yuuuge Loser

“Donald Trump Fails and Fails Often.”

Enjoy.

Jeb Doesn’t Get It

Jeb addresses his Bush issue and, of course, gets it all wrong.

Jeb Bush said on Saturday that people who have a problem voting for him because of his last name “need to get therapy.”

The former Florida governor has struggled to gain traction in the Republican presidential race in part because many voters are leery of electing three presidents from the same family.

“The Bush thing, people are just going to have to get over it, alright?” a defiant Bush said at a townhall gathering at the McKelvie Intermediate School gym here ahead of tonight’s GOP debate.

“Everybody knows I’m in the Establishment, because my brother was a president and my dad was a president,” Bush said, raising his fingers to make air quotes as he said the word “Establishment” mockingly.

Anyone who knows and understands the history of the United States of America will understand our citizens’ discomfort with dynastic politics. Sure, serial governors and senators and representatives aren’t so surprising, the idea that one family should own the highest office in the country for 3 of the last 5 presidencies makes folks queasy. And it should: most folks don’t consider politics to be a legitimate family business. Sure, a handful of families have made it their business– and made a whole hell of a lot of money in the business– this was just too much. And Jeb’s seeming sense of entitlement just makes it worse.

But it doesn’t stop there, the idea that “people are just going to have to get over it” is arrogant in the extreme. No, Jeb, I don’t have to get over it; no, Jeb, you aren’t the only option on this menu. Indeed, your insistence that people should get over it is part of the problem: your job was to convince us to get around your name issue, not to merely insist on our compliance.

And he simply hasn’t convinced people that he’s the best option in the field.

As I said in a series of Tweets earlier this week:

That Jeb remains in the race is a testimony to something nasty in his personality (vindictiveness? a sense of entitlement?). Realizing this, if Jeb truly wanted to advocate for policies or ideas, he should do so by supporting others not further splintering the GOP. Jeb doesn’t seem to get that Americans don’t want such a bluntly dynastic flavor at the presidential level. He can’t win.

I happily stand by that. The more most of us see of Jeb, the less we want to see of him. The more he insists that we fall in line, the more I know I’ll fight to see someone else in that office.

Read the Article

Dark Days for Conservatives

This National Review piece paints as bleak a picture as you’re likely to find about the future of conservatives and the Republican party.

There’s no shortage of reasons for the fact that the Right is at war over whether or not to take a flier on Trump. All of the various establishments and the counter-establishments overpromised and underdelivered in recent years. Congressional leaders talked a big game while campaigning but played small ball once reelected. Cruz and his supporters accused his fellow politicians of being corrupt sellouts, and so many people believed him, they’d now rather take a gamble on Trump than back Cruz, a mere politician.

What it doesn’t mention is that the distrust has been leveraged by a bunch of white nationalists who hope to burn down the GOP and rebuild the party in their image. This isn’t simply conservative vs. conservative, this is a free fire zone where many of the participants have no desire to save the Republican party.

I don’t doubt Limbaugh’s good will, for example, or many of the people who I know who have ended up supporting Trump. I know that they want to save the country and they believe that an old fashioned strong man is the type to do the job. I don’t question their motives, but I do question their judgement.

That doesn’t leave me blind to this stuff, though:

Question their motives? Why, yes, I do.

Read the Original

Some Days I Wonder…

…if any adults are left in this country. Because this is just stupid.

For more than two years, the Navy’s intelligence chief has been stuck with a major handicap: He’s not allowed to know any secrets.

Vice Adm. Ted “Twig” Branch has been barred from reading, seeing or hearing classified information since November 2013, when the Navy learned from the Justice Department that his name had surfaced in a giant corruption investigation involving a foreign defense contractor and scores of Navy personnel.

Worried that Branch was on the verge of being indicted, Navy leaders suspended his access to classified materials. They did the same to one of his deputies, Rear Adm. Bruce F. Loveless, the Navy’s director of intelligence operations.

More than 800 days later, neither Branch nor Loveless has been charged. But neither has been cleared, either. Their access to classified information remains blocked.

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Read the Original

Also…

…I’m kind of digging the new X Files. It’s hitting just the right nostalgic note for me.

My Crumbling Republican Home

I am a conservative and it looks like I have no home (politically speaking).

The Republican party is in the process of being overrun by a mad mix of altconservatives, Neoreactionaries, “race realists,” white nationalists, and angry Republicans who feel so disenfranchised by the “establishment” GOP that they are willing to support a man like Donald Trump for the highest, most consequential political office in the nation. After years of complaining about the cult of personality that lead to the blind embrace of a man like Obama, these folks are willing to blindly (more on that later) embrace a volatile, divisive figure like Trump, willing to put the fate of our nation in the hands of a man whose policy knowledge is shallow and whose policy prescriptions are almost whimsically foolish.

And I cannot follow down that path.

One of the worst aspects of this mindless rage for the outsider is that no one can say with certainty what a Donald Trump presidency would look like or what a President Trump would stand for; I’d suggest that even Trump doesn’t know the answers to those questions in any meaningful way. His answer would almost undoubtedly revolve around “making America great again” and “winning so much that we’d get tired of winning”– and that’s just meaningless marketing talk. No candidate is running on the idea that they want to make America less great or that they wanted to win only enough that it wasn’t unseemly. His candidacy is based on a fragile frame of meaningless prattle, and his believers are blindly supposing that he will be our national salvation.

What we know of his political beliefs, assuming that he has anything resembling a coherent ideology, is that he has leaned strongly to the left for a good portion of his life in both cultural and economic terms. For folks who claim to be conservatives, this should be a red flag; but a good chunk of his support is coming from those groups who have no claim to be conservatives. These are folks who want to blow up the GOP and American conservatism to replace it with white nationalism, so Trump’s support of non-conservative ideas is no strong roadblock to support. The fact that Trumps strongest policy stand revolves around keeping foreigners out of the US and having Mexico build us a wall on the southern border, it’s not surprising that the “race realists” have rallied to his cause.

The GOP is running one of the most ideologically diverse groups in my lifetime. Kasich and Bush are the Rockefeller Republicans; Rand Paul represents the libertarian-conservative strand that grew over the last few decades and has distinct foreign policy and social ideas; Carly and Rubio represent a sort of Reagan fusionism; Cruz and Christie represent Republican populism at, respectively, the more conservative and more liberal ends of the Republican spectrum; there’s a mess of other candidates who sort of fill the spaces in between; and then, alone at the top, stands Trump, who isn’t any kind of a traditional Republican or conservative and who represents only one thing: destruction of the establishment.

And that destruction is seen as being a good thing.

I get the anger and even the sense of betrayal. Some of that is well-earned on behalf of Republicans who haven’t done the job we wanted them to do, but some of it is also based on some juvenile view of politics as being something where extreme changes can be wrought almost single-handedly by having a simple majority in the House and Senate. That’s foolish, of course, and some of those biggest changes are things that require years or strategy and work, not a handful of junior Representatives with loud voices.

Just as I look at Obama and see doubling down on the worst of both the Bush II and Clinton presidencies (over-reliance on executive action, an unfocused foreign policy that has made bad situations worse, wildly divisive in dealings with the opposition, and a belief that more government, more regulations, and more taxation are the solutions to our problems), I look to Trump and I see someone who will carry those beliefs even further and in the service of no discernible policy beliefs (again, outside of the promised closing of borders). How is that a good thing? One of the things that I want from a candidate in this cycle is someone willing to walk away from the blunt weapon that Obama has used in his flurry of executive orders and a return to doing things the old fashioned way: with dialog, leadership, persuasion, and, where necessary, compromise.

That, in and of itself, would begin to build bridges to span those divisions that have been widening over nearly two decades.

Is that the picture of a Trump presidency? Or would Trump be more likely to continue dividing the electorate, issuing executive orders to achieve his goals, and further alienating his political opponents? Would Trump make America great again or would he just further the rot?

Yes, I get the anger, but Trump is not the answer. Trump, like Occupy Wall Street and the inexplicable idea that Bernie Sanders is gaining in popularity, is just another symptom of a broken, angry nation that is struggling to find its way.

And if Trump is the answer for where the GOP is heading, then I have no home in the GOP.

Diablo, A Review

Diablo, a new movie starring Clint Eastwood’s son, Scott, is a throwback Western that embraces the tone and some of the visual nature of Clint’s earlier spaghetti Westerns. Not as gritty or mean as Leone’s movies, it still has a nasty, bloody side that follows the same path. But it doesn’t pull off the trick quite as well as those earlier movies.

Chalk that up to Scott Eastwood. Clint’s casual, flinty nature came across in every scene throughout those movies; he was the gravity that held the center with a believable effortlessness. His son, who can look uncannily like his father, suffers by comparison. He has many of the same manners, as if he had studied the looks, the squints, the movies of his dad, and was doing his best to channel the elder actor. He simply can’t manage the trick, though.

Luckily, Walter Goggins, of Justified and Hateful 8 fame, manages to inject life and menace into the flick. He has a knack for bad guys and he plays this role perfectly. Unfortunately, he has limited screen time to work his magic and what time there is doesn’t quite manage to redeem the movie.

The rest of the cast is solid as is the soundtrack and the cinematography. Of course, it helps to have the beauty of Alberta is your landscape for a movie like this; while the action is supposed to take place in Colorado, the gorgeous landscape makes a dandy stand-in.

The story of a man searching for his wife’s kidnappers meanders slowly– a pace that makes it’s relatively short running time feel quite longer– toward a twist that will leave most viewers entirely unsurprised. The writers telegraph that punch way too early and then fail to capitalize on the story’s abrupt left turn.

Which is a long way of saying that the movie just isn’t that good. It is, however, good enough to fill almost two hours on Netflix on a late, Saturday night if only to get that really strange sense of watching Scott Eastwood channel Clint’s old movies.

Score: 5/10 and just barely worth your time.

Mobs and the Age of Outrage

This, Palin Broke His Heart, would be an interesting read no matter what, but I think it touches on something that it fails to expand upon: that the mob is becoming central to contemporary political and cultural expression.

One of the shibboleths of American politics that is getting eviscerated this election cycle is that The People Are Always Right. It was never true for anybody; certainly any conservative knows, or should know, that a crowd can easily turn into a mob, and a mob is always a destructive force. We may be seeing this year the political equivalent of a mob.

But mobs don’t come from nowhere. It’s very easy to look at Trump voters and dismiss them as thoughtless vulgarians who vote their prejudices, and who therefore can be dismissed as too morally compromised to take seriously: in other words, not just wrong, but bad. I would ask you, though: is this the way the media and others regarded the mob of Ferguson rioters? No: we had a long, loooooong national conversation on the roots of Ferguson’s rage. And we ought to have had that conversation, however ideologically constrained it may have been.

If we see the Trump moment as not just a populist movement, but as more of an uprising and a mob of angry voters supporting the most visceral and outrageous candidate available, then the mob is becoming the preferred bludgeon for political advancement in the U.S. That fits in with the outraged mobs that flock to and fro on social media, crucifying anyone who dares disagree with their deeply held beliefs. This fits in with the idea that we no longer seem to believe that private opinions and political acts, which cause no direct harm to anyone, are reasons to disqualify a person from a job or a business from operating.

5 Facts of the Age of Outrage

  1. Everything is political. Everything. The things you buy, whether you let your kids walk home from school alone, the movies you watch, and the car you drive, the way you do (or don’t) worship, the microagressions you suddenly notice in movies that you used to love as a kid…you get the picture. Everything in America is seen through the lens of political preference.
  2. Everything is judged. Everything. See above and understand that since everything around you and everything you do is a political statement (even if it is an accidental political statement), that everything is being judged by the hunkering masses on social media and around you with their smart phones and instantly available cameras.
  3. And everything is seen. No transgressions seem to go unnoticed: no accidents or bad days or bad moods or bad moments can excuse away your social and political sins. Someone will post the video or the picture or the scan of the credit card receipt and the outrage machine will grind into motion. And while your family might work to protect you, don’t expect your friends to save you.  While some may remain true, may stay in your corner, I’ve also seen folks who have known each other for years turn on each other and unleash crazed mobs.
  4. The mob is power. Unleash the mob, watch the opposition crumble, and know this truth: the mob is political and social power. While it’s easy to see this as a tool of the so-called “social justice warrior,” the truth is that it is everywhere. It is the Trump voters demanding political change and reveling in the overthrow of contemporary conservatism. It is Occupy Wall Street in all its incoherent, shitting on cop cars rage. It is the black lives matter folks shutting down highways, disrupting libraries, and “taking back” Martin Luther King Day. It is every upheaval on Twitter when someone does something stupid, catching the baleful eye of the monster, finding targets in the  young, old, and middle aged, rich, poor, and middle class, right, left, and somewhere in between. The mob is dumb, dangerous, raging, and unpredictable.
  5. The only safe place is in the mob. And that’s why so many people find a safe place in the mob. If they just follow along, then the eye of the beast isn’t on them. The rage isn’t targeting them. The jobs lost, the reputations ruined, the people hurt– well, if you’re in the mob, it’s not your damage.

This, of course, is unsustainable. We cannot continue as a country, working side by side, raising kids, going to church, seeing movies, paying taxes, dealing with every day life if we grow so fearful that we cannot speak and so hateful of our countrymen that we stop caring for their well being.

This, of course, is unsustainable.

But how much damage will we endure and how will we find a way to heal the divisions? It’s time for a new social contract and new social standards to help us curtail the worst of our own natures, but where is the leader who will show us the path? There are very real problems facing our country and we’ve chosen this moment to magnify them with a social movement based almost purely on the politics of destruction. We better start remembering what is important or we will lose this nation and all the good that its future could hold.