Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Trump : Iranians : : Holden Caulfield : Ancient Egyptians

Wouldn’t it be cool if our president weren’t an idiot? Of course, even if he weren’t intellectually challenged, he would still be a pathologically dishonest narcissist, so there’s that.

But still, you could argue that Nixon was not as horrible a president as Trump is because at least Nixon was not stupid.

What started me thinking about this was a comment by my keen-eyed spouse when she pointed out the similarity between Trump’s language and that of Holden Caulfield, adolescent protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye. Her comment was provoked by a New Year's Eve tweet from the Doofus in Chief.

More on that tweet later, but right now I’d like to make a point about Trump and Iran that seems to have escaped his notice: He is neither admired nor respected by most of the people of Iran. His anti-Muslim bigotry is well known, and his UN speech last September was widely scorned by the Iranian people as insulting to them.

Besides this is the obvious contrast between the clownishly belligerent Trump and the intelligent and open-minded Obama. One thing I learned on my 2015 trip to Iran is that Obama is widely liked and admired there. Since Trump took over, the Iranians don’t feel they have a friend in the White House, and they certainly don’t see in Trump a leader who respects them.

It is true that the Iranian government is authoritarian and it is particularly unpopular among Iranian liberals, but right now President Donald Trump is equally unpopular. His “words of encouragement” are not helpful to freedom-loving Iranians.

And now, back to those words: here is what Trump tweeted on New Year’s Day:

Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration. The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!”

The simplicity of the language and the utter ignorance it expresses are what call to mind Holden Caulfield's pathetic “Egyptian” essay. Here, as a sample, is a passage from The Catcher in the Rye about the conversation poor Holden has with “Old Spencer,” his disappointed history teacher:

“We studied the Egyptians from November 4th to December 2nd,” [Old Spencer] said. “You chose to write about them for the optional essay question. Would you care to hear what you had to say?”

“No, sir, not very much,” I said.

He read it anyway, though. You can't stop a teacher when they want to do something. They just do it.

‘The Egyptians were an ancient race of Caucasians residing in one of the northern sections of Africa. The latter as we all know is the largest continent in the Eastern Hemisphere.’

I had to sit there and listen to that crap. It certainly was a dirty trick.

‘The Egyptians are extremely interesting to us today for various reasons. Modern science would still like to know what the secret ingredients were that the Egyptians used when they wrapped up dead people so that their faces would not rot for innumerable centuries. This interesting riddle is still quite a challenge to modern science in the twentieth century.’

He stopped reading and put my paper down. I was beginning to sort of hate him.

“Your essay, shall we say, ends there,” he said in this very sarcastic voice.

If Holden were a real person I would feel obligated to apologize to him for having compared him to Donald Trump. After all, Holden is at heart a decent guy. But still, Trump’s level of thought about the Iranians, and his clumsy and misguided way of talking about them are uncannily similar to Holden’s take on the Egyptians.

I should add here that I have a special place in my heart for the people of Iran, since I was the Iranian students’ club adviser in a university where I once taught out west. Also, on my 2015 trip to that country, with my buddy, Professor Li Wei, I learned that there was (at that time) a great deal of good will toward the United States among most Iranians. We have a lot to offer each other, we Americans and our soul sisters and brothers in Iran, if only we didn’t have a crude, anti-Muslim blowhard occupying the White House and standing between us.

             Iranian Protestors Taking It To The Streets
                  (From the Washington Post)

Friday, December 22, 2017

Crisis in the Offing

The stink bomb that is the Trump presidency should have as its motto “Thanks for the votes, suckers!”

“Aha!” you say, “because of the tax cut for billionaires!” Yes, but for so many other reasons as well. Anyway, let’s start today’s tour de farce with a glance at that tax bill. This bill is one of those Congressional actions that makes ordinarily cynical people say, “Good God, I haven’t been nearly cynical enough!” Or, as the venerable Onion put it, “GOP Leaders Celebrate Decisive Win Over Americans.”

If Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell were normal human beings with normal standards of honesty they would have put forward their tax plan with these words: “We want to cut taxes for corporations and rich people because they pay for our campaigns. We will throw a few temporary cuts to some middle-class Americans hoping they will let us get away with this, even though they and their children will have to pay for the 1.5 trillion dollars we are borrowing to fund our bribes to our wealthy donors. Of course, middle-class insurance premiums will go up, but maybe voters will forget that our tax plan caused that. Now, if our rich corporate friends will only give us a boost here by suddenly showering their employees with hundreds of dollars (from the billions the taxpayers are giving them), that would help us cover up our scam. In the meantime, thanks for the votes, suckers!”

But such honesty is alien to the likes of Ryan and McConnell. However, Dear Reader, please don’t refer to Washington as a Swamp, because any ordinary, self-respecting swamp would recoil in horror and disgust at the rank and slithery morass that is today’s Republican Congress. But I digress.

The other gross blunder committed by Trump and his enablers last week was the follow-up to a previous gross blunder: the promise to move America’s Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This incredibly stupid and provocative gesture resulted in a UN vote of condemnation that was supported by almost all of America’s erstwhile allies – including Britain, Germany, Japan, and France.

The Trump administration should have accepted that the UN vote was a rational reaction its own blunder - a blunder which, by the way, further undermined America’s already shrinking influence in the world. But instead of quietly accepting the vote of condemnation, the Trump administration reacted with the belligerent anger of a common street thug. America's UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley, promised that she was taking the names of those countries that hurt Trump’s feelings by criticizing him, and that they would pay.

Even worse than the tax cuts for the rich and Nikki Haley’s thuggishness were the attacks that various Republicans have begun to level at the FBI. Orchestrated by the Stink Bomb White House and in close coordination with propagandists at Fox News, Congressmen like Devin Nunes (R - CA) and Jim Jordan (R - Ohio) are trying to make Americans distrust the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Obviously, what they want to do is weaken Robert Mueller so that Trump will be able to eliminate him and wipe out the Russia investigation. Trump wants to eliminate Mueller because the special counsel is all but certain to reveal very damaging information about the corrupt behavior of Donald Trump and/or his family.

Here’s what Republican Congressman Jim Jordan said about the FBI last week: “Everything points to the fact that there was an orchestrated plan to try to prevent Donald Trump from being the next president of the United States.”

Yes, Jordan actually claims that the FBI, under the direction of James Comey, was trying to get Hillary Clinton elected. Can you get your head around that? Probably not, if you’re a normal American patriot. Well, MSNBC host and normal, patriotic American Nicolle Wallace can’t. Here’s what she had to say about her fellow Republicans:

“I can’t get my brain around the insurrection in the Republican Party against Republican-led law enforcement agencies. I can’t shove the round pegs into the square boxes. It’s making me crazy.”

It’s making a lot of us crazy, Ms. Wallace, and it’s going to make the entire country crazy next year if Trump orders Mueller fired and Congressional Republicans support him. There will be crowds in the streets, lots of them and for a long time, I guarantee you.

I believe Trump will have Mueller fired because that’s the kind of person Trump is: crude, bullying, and unconcerned with anything but his own sorry hide. If we had enough decent, patriotic Republicans in Congress to stop Trump from doing this or, at least to replace Mueller with an equally dedicated and competent investigator once he is fired, the country would be fine. But look at the recent behavior of GOP politicians. What do you think?
                           (Photo from Salon)

Monday, November 20, 2017

Sweet Home Alabama

Savannah Guthrie interviewed Leigh Corfman on NBC’s Today Show this morning. Corfman is the Alabamian who was the first to speak out about Roy Moore’s victimization of her during her teenage years. Since then, of course, eight other women have told similar stories about Moore, and a few people have referred to his being banned from the Gadsden Mall for his inappropriate interest in adolescent girls.

Here are what I consider Ms. Corfman’s most memorable lines:

“It took away a lot of the specialness out of interactions with men. it took some trust away. It took years for me to regain a sense of confidence in myself, and I felt guilty. I felt like I was the one that was to blame. It was decades before I was able to let that go.”

After being shown a picture of herself at 14, Corfman reflected on her teenage self: “She sure did have a lot of promise ahead of her, and she didn’t deserve to have a 32-year-old man prey upon her.”

                                        -    -     -

I’m sure I’m not the first one to say this, but I believe you can judge a society’s moral standing by the opportunities it gives children to find happiness. There are a number of ways in which we Americans can be said to “need improvement” in this area, but certainly one that the Roy Moore case emphasizes is our failure to protect children from sexual predators. This failure speaks poignantly to us from Ms. Corfman’s words and demeanor. The interview can be seen in its entirety here.

The other side of the Roy Moore story is the political drama that now surrounds it. Ms. Corfman, like most white Alabamians, is a Republican, but I gather she won’t be voting for him in his run for the Senate against his Democratic opponent. In fact, Moore’s shocking behavior may keep Moore from winning the election in this usually reliably Republican state.

No surprise there. The surprise is that he has a chance of winning at all; yet the polls are showing a “too close to call” contest at this point.
Most people would say that pedophilia is a disqualifier from public office. But some Alabamians have decided not to believe the nine women who have spoken up about their victimization by Moore even though their accounts have been corroborated by dozens of others who were told about the incidents when they occurred.

It's hard to believe anyone could fail to believe these women who, after all, have paid a price by stepping forward. But too often people choose to believe that which confirms their prejudices, even when what they choose to believe is thoroughly refuted by harshly compelling facts. As Simon and Garfunkle once sang, “…a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

We’ve come to a point in our partisan landscape where confessions of the heart that ring painfully true may be disregarded if they run up against tribal political interests. These poor women who have suffered once, may find themselves suffering again if Moore actually wins the December 12 election. Such an outcome would be a validation of his behavior and a rebuke to their courage. Heaven help us all if our blind partisanship winds up thrusting us down into that circle of hell.

Ms. Corfman - Courage
(NBC News)