Monday, January 16, 2017

On Legitimacy

Democratic Congressman John Lewis of Georgia stirred things up last week by saying of Donald Trump, “I don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president.”

This was during an NBC interview broadcast on January 13. By early the next morning Trump was attacking Congressman Lewis in, of course, a series of tweets:

Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to......

mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk - no action or results. Sad!

My immediate response to these tweets was, “How do you ‘falsely complain’ about something?”

Furthermore, most people know that Congressman Lewis struggled heroically on behalf of civil rights in the 1960s, during which time he was clubbed almost to death by conservative southerners. So, I wondered why Trump would describe him as “All talk, talk, talk – no action or results?” Really, all talk and no action is the opposite of Mr. Lewis.

But Congressman Lewis's heroism aside, it’s worth considering the question his comment raises: Will Donald Trump be a legitimate president? My answer is a decisive Yes. And No.

You may be unimpressed by my bold stand on this issue, but wait -- let me explain. The American presidency rests atop two structures, one legal, the other moral. These two systems don’t always correspond in our society or in many others. For example, in The Sound of Music, when a group of nuns stole a distributor cap to disable a Nazi vehicle, thus allowing the Von Trapp family to escape to freedom, nobody faulted them for the theft – though it was an illegal act.

Well, maybe David Duke, American Nazi icon and Donald Trump fan may have faulted the nuns, but ordinary people would not, because, though their action broke the law, it reflected a higher order, a moral order. Any decent person would want the Von Trapps to escape the Nazis, even if the legal system had to be violated to make their getaway possible. What is legal is not always what is moral, and vice versa.

That’s Donald Trump’s problem. Or one of them. He is the “legitimate” president because he got enough votes to slip into the White House with a boost from our quirky Electoral College. By law (i.e., legitimately) he is about to become president.

But the American presidency is different from the offices of many other world leaders in that the occupant of the White House is not only a powerful politician, but is also a representative of the American people. In this role, a president is expected to occupy an elevated moral plane, much as a constitutional monarch (ideally) would.

Queen Elizabeth, as a monarch, is the representative of the British people. She fulfills this office with dignity, even though there are those who don’t believe that the UK should have a monarch. If she had Trump’s personality, she might well tweet something like this to those Brits who harbor anti-monarchist, pro-republic sentiments:

One day the throne will be Williams and then Georges, so whiffle-piffle on you so-called “patriots.” It’s a right gaggle of losers you all are!


Tho tis true everyone’s seen Harry’s private parts, this doesn’t mean he couldn’t be King in an emergency. Long live the Royal Family and its proud members!

But no, the queen doesn’t send out crude, petulant tweets every time someone attacks the Royal Family. If she did, she would lose her legitimacy as the representative of the nation.

This is one reason why Trump is not legitimate in a moral sense. He is not a reasonable representative of the American people. He doesn’t present to the world an image that says, “This is who we Americans are.”

Instead, his persona says, “I’m a grossly unethical, corrupt, and narcissistic vulgarian, and, I only care about myself.”

At his core, where most people harbor a basic sense of decency, Trump nurses a deep self-loathing shrouded with a crude, ill-humored hyper-sensitivity.

Is this the kind of person that we, as Americans, want representing us? Most would say, No, a point that was officially (and legitimately) revealed in a Gallup poll taken earlier this month. According to this poll 51% of Americans expressed disapproval of Donald Trump. The same poll had shown that in 2009 83% approved of Barack Obama during his transition and in 2001 61% approved of George W. Bush.

So my view is that in Trump we have someone who can legally occupy the White House by virtue of the Electoral College. What we lack is a legitimate representative of us and our ideals.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Like It Is - blackish Style

Black-ish had a great episode this week. The issue at hand was, How could the Johnson family handle the upset victory of Trump in last November’s election? Naturally, lots of anti-Trump sentiments came out. Daphne Lido (Wanda Sykes) had the best line: “That idiot goes bankrupt like Khloe Kardashian changes black dudes.”

Even Dre Johnson’s Republican boss turned away from Trump. He offered some respectable, Mitt Romneyish reasons for doing so, but then Daphne chimed in again, pointing out that his business interests were threatened by Trump’s anti-immigrant posture since the boss man depended on “absurdly underpaid” Mexican workers to jack up his profits.

Pro-Trump opinions also got an airing from a white woman who admitted to her coworkers that she voted for Trump (even though she had voted twice for Obama) because her family and the small town where she grew up had been hurting for years and Hillary just offered more of the same.
Finally, Dre blurts out that the election of Trump was driving him crazy. But then he goes on to say:

“I know how hard it is to deal with the gut punch that we are all feeling right now. It sucks. Now all I'm trying to say is that maybe instead of letting this destroy us, we take the feeling you guys felt the day after the election and say that morning we all woke up knowing what it felt like to be black.”

This exact same sentiment was reflected a few weeks ago in a clever post-election SNL skit in which two black guys (Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock) watch the election returns with their liberal white friends. When the friends start wailing with despair as Trump’s victory becomes inevitable, the black guys say, in effect, “Damn, don’t you people know that this is how we’ve been feeling all along in this country?”

The entire episode was outstanding, bringing out, with humor, both black and white views about what was happening in light of the election, and throwing light on some little known, and not at all edifying lyrics in the Star Spangled Banner as well as the searing words in the heart of Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech. Words like, “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright days of justice emerge.”

What kind of a country do we, and Dre Johnson’s family have to deal with now? A troubled one, for sure. But, as Dre encouragingly adds, “Can it be better? I hope so.”

Well done, Black-ish, and by the way, congratulations to Tracy Ellis Ross (who plays Dre’s wife, Rainbow) for her Golden Globe Award.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Happy New Year. Yeah, Sure.

A couple weeks ago I implied that Donald Trump might well be a psychopath. Since then a friend of mine who spent much of her life dealing with (and trying to protect herself from) psychopaths, told me that she doesn’t believe Trump is actually a psychopath. She allowed, however, that Trump’s buddy Putin might well be one.

He may not be a full-blown psychopath, but Trump is clearly damaged goods, psychologically speaking. His emptiness-at-the-core problem, his unquenchable yearning for approval is, in a way, analogous to a Ponzi scheme - like that of Bernie Madoff, for example. Just as Madoff’s Ponzi operation used money to attract more money, all of it ultimately being sucked into the black hole that was his own personal bank account, Trump’s operation uses fame to garner more fame. His interest is only secondarily money.

As a number of people - including, for example, Warren Buffett - have remarked, Trump is not a very good businessman. What he is good at is media manipulation. He uses his fame to attract more fame, and he has now done the ultimate by converting his extraordinary renown into votes that leveraged him into the presidency.

Trump’s habit of trading on his fame seems to have started when he had to face the investors who lost money by buying into his casinos – which he ran into the ground while paying himself a handsome income. He told his investors that if they would work with him, he could use his fame to get some of their money back, but if they drove him into the ground by demanding immediate payoffs, they would hardly get a dime. The bankers went along with Trump’s scheme, and so the Donald began developing his skill as the man who could get ever more famous, not for his business skill, but for his skill at making himself famous. This trick of using his reputation to suck in ever more attention for himself reminds me of the scene in Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise in which people flock to see “the most photographed barn in America” - and then take a picture of it.

Trump is not only a lousy businessman, he is also a conman. That’s why he had to pay 25 million dollars for defrauding the students who bought into the Trump University scam. And that’s why so many of the subcontractors who provided services to him have been stiffed by him, some to the point of bankruptcy.  

And, let's not forget, his presidential campaign started with a con, the birther scam. Here we see Trump at his most sleazy and dishonest. Remember that Trump claimed (falsely) that he had sent people to Hawaii to investigate President Obama’s birth certificate and that “they cannot believe what they’re finding.” Of course, “they” were finding nothing, assuming that there was a “they” there, which almost certainly there was not. The whole thing was a shameless Trumpian lie, but it was a lie that boosted Trump’s fame and launched him into the 2016 campaign.

And still today the bogus bullshit continues. Yesterday, the GOP leadership in the House of Representatives moved to defang the Office of Congressional Ethics, an office established by Democrats to be an independent ethical watchdog. The Democrats screamed bloody murder and tried to stir up opposition to the GOP move – and did so with no help from the Trump team. In fact, Kellyanne Conway, in support of the GOP maneuver, argued that the House would still have a (Republican-controlled) Office of Complaint Review. And so, she argued, “It’s not like we’re taking away everything.”

Then, thanks largely to the outcry from Democrats and liberals, the public began to respond, telephoning members of Congress to demand restoration of the powers of the Office of Congressional Ethics. Seeing the public outcry, the Trump team reversed itself and joined the attack on the House GOP members.

But that’s not all – and here’s where Trump’s genius for self-promoting bullshit comes to the fore – he grabbed credit for the GOP’s having backed down on their planned gutting of the Ethics Committee.

Disregarding the crucial role played by Democratic opposition, and pretending that he had been against it all along, Trump tweeted:

“With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it is”

Media reports quickly focused on Trump’s tweets as though they were the instigating force that kept the Ethics Committee alive.

Score another one for Trump the Media Genius. And minus ten for the media that he finds so easy to bamboozle.

This, then, is what we have to look forward to, once the Narcissist in Chief occupies the White House. At least, that is, until the phony house of cards that is his reputation, and the emotional black hole that drives him, finally lead us to our first Trump catastrophe.

Happy New Year.