Let’s use the Weinstein moment to fight for laws that end wage gap & support health of women & families

If a woman would gladly watch a high-powered Hollywood executive play with himself, give him a massage or do whatever else Harvey Weinstein fantasized about, that would be between them—two consulting adults.

But Harvey Weinstein was not interested in consensual sex, and I doubt he was interested in sex at all. For him, it was all about power over women. He must be one sick pup—just as sick as Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby and Donald Trump. Very insecure men who seem to feel threatened by all women and take every opportunity to use sex as a weapon to assert a superiority in power.

That these men are still allowed to play key management roles in large organizations in the 21st century seems as impossibly fantastic as the idea that enough Americans would vote for an inexperienced, ignorant and unbalanced failed businessman to enable him to win the Electoral College vote. The outing of these famous super-predators, the defeat of an eminently qualified woman in the Electoral College by one of them, and the widespread reports of badly-behaving men and rampant male chauvinism at many young technology companies all remind us that a virulent strain of misogyny still exists in the United States.

But also existing are the laws, and in most places, the corporate policies and procedures to shut down sexual harassment of women. What doesn’t exist all too often is the will. It doesn’t help that, like child molesters, the super-predator has a sixth sense about which potential victims are more vulnerable—the new, the naïve, the ignorant, those with emotional problems. The fact that there are often ready-made victims for sexual harassers makes it even more incumbent on organizations to clearly communicate that harassment of all types is illegal and will not be tolerated, no matter how rich, famous or connected the harasser is.

But in the hubbub about Weinstein’s disgusting behavior and the entertainment industry that enabled it for decades, let’s not forget that women face not just sexual harassment, but economic discrimination in the workplace. Women still make less than men for doing the same job, plus workplace rules often create a “Jim Crow” kind of situation, without the lynching and jailing—a set of laws that tend to favor men over women. For example, employers still are not required to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women who want or have to continue working and there are no national scheduling standards that balance employers’ desire for scheduling flexibility with the need of women (and some men) to be able to plan family necessities.

The issue of employment equality and workplace sexual harassment are related. We won’t solve one until we solve the other. Lower salaries and de facto discriminatory policies and procedures tell men that organizations don’t consider women to be their equal, a subtle but clear signal that women can be treated as objects, insulted or pressed for sexual favors. The lesser, more vulnerable human is always fair game.

My wife alerted me to a great organization, the National Partnership for Women and Families, which lobbies for new laws that expand opportunities for women and improve the well-being and economic security of families. In a March 2017 fact sheet, the National Partnership detailed five proposed laws that would help women achieve equality in the workplace (and I quote): http://www.nationalpartnership.org/research-library/work-family/not-enough-family-friendly-policies.pdf

  • The Paycheck Fairness Act would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and help eliminate the discriminatory pay practices that plague employed women.
  • The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would prevent employers from forcing pregnant women out of the workplace and help ensure that employers provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women who want to continue working.
  • The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act would create a national paid leave insurance program to support workers and businesses when a new child arrives or a serious personal or family medical need arises.
  • The Healthy Families Act would allow workers to earn seven paid sick days to use to recover from illness, access preventive care or care for a sick family member.
  • The Schedules That Work Act would establish national fair scheduling standards that would help provide economic security for working families and enable workers to meet their responsibilities at home and on the job.

I urge readers to contact their Senators and Congressional Representatives and urge them to support these bills. Also get on the National Partnership website and educate yourself about all the issues affecting women in the workplace. You might even want to contribute.

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Trump may be living in the past with his ideas and policies, but they are 100% 21st century GOP

It seems as if the pace of Trump Administration abominations is accelerating. Every day Trump’s soldiers issue another decree that hurts the economy, harms our future potential, endangers our population or curtails the civil rights of a group or all of us. Meanwhile, Trumpty-Dumpty sets verbal dumpster fires all over the place as a distraction: Most recently he has picked fights with the Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, a distinguished if unchangeably rightwing Senator, his own Secretary of State, the trigger-happy dictator of North Korea and the National Football League.

These reality TV shenanigans claim most of the news, while Trump’s troops continue to reset the long-term course of U.S. policy in civil rights, the environment, foreign policy and energy policy. Just take a look at what has happened in the past week or so; I put the harm each action does in italics:

  • Announcing that he will likely decertify the Iran nuclear agreement. Decreases our safety, isolates us from our allies and reverses path to a real peace with Iran
  • Setting terms for putting DACA into law that are harsh, including building a wall and severely limiting immigration. Takes a winning idea and turns it into a lose-lose situation: Deporting 800,000 productive members of society will send us into recession; not getting the additional immigrants we need to fill future U.S. jobs will stunt economic prosperity
  • Letting employers refuse to cover birth control for their female employees on religious grounds. Raises medical costs and abortions, as less access to birth control always leads to more pregnancies (expensive) and abortions (inexpensive, safe but frowned upon by Trumpites)
  • Ending the exemption to the Jones Act, so that only U.S. ships can dock in Puerto Rico once again, driving up the cost of food and other supplies precipitously. A cruel policy in light of the hurricane damage suffered by the island
  • Announcing a tax reform plan that raises taxes slightly on many in the middle class while giving the wealthy and ultra-wealthy an enormous tax break. Will lead to another asset bubble followed by a crash and will increase inequality of wealth and income in the country
  • Telling companies that they can discriminate in employment matters against the transgendered. Do I really have to write why this decision is wrong?
  • Repealing the Clean Power Plan. Doesn’t help anyone since coal is a dead industry but sets back efforts to combat human-induced global warming
  • Making deep cuts to the programs that enroll people for healthcare coverage on the individual health exchanges. Will increase both premiums for the insured and overall medical costs, as fewer people covered leads to higher premiums and more expensive emergency room visits and critical treatments since the uninsured put off seeking medical attention.

It’s a breathtaking display of ignorance and obstinacy. In every area, Trump prefers to believe long disproven myths and his own self-serving ideas than to follow science, empirical observation and the recommendations of experts. In every case, the basis for his views are observations that apply to past decades, myths that have long been proven false or the imaginary creations of the Internet rumor mill. People used to believe that the crime rate was higher among immigrants, but now we know it’s much lower. Same thing with the job-creating impact of lowering taxes on the wealthy. Economic research has proven it doesn’t happen. Extending an unharmonious relationship with Iran only makes sense to someone whose pride is still wounded by the 1979 hostage crisis, which is a far less crime against the amour-propre of a country than overthrowing its democratically elected leader, which is what we did to Iran.

With Trumpian ignorance comes a full dose of venomous small mindedness. He never forgives or forgets a slight or a grudge. Take Trump’s feud with the NFL because its players demonstrated respect for the American way by kneeling during the singing of the national anthem to protest police violence against people of color. While it continues his subtle campaign to demonize people of color, it also enables him to stick it to an old adversary, the NFL. Some history: the U.S. Football League was minting small money as a way to see football during the NFL off season until Trump bought a franchise (probably with OPM) and bullied the other owners into competing directly against the NFL. The USFL soon went bust, losing millions of dollars for all its investors. It’s the perfect Trump move—he comes into something successful and botches it up. Kind of like the casino business and the White House. In any case, his NFL feud plays to his core of racists and jingoists, while allowing him to exact some sick revenge on someone who vanquished him decades ago.

Thus in every way, Donald Trump lives in a past comprised of misbegotten ideas, obsolete notions and old grudges.

But he nonetheless represents the party that he leads. Virtually all of the current GOP subscribes to his full range of crackpot ideas, from lowering taxes on the wealthy to building a wall to supporting the religious imperatives of rightwing Christians to hating Iran to turning back the clock on environmental, labor and safety regulations.

The 21st century GOP pursues the selfish economic interests of the ultra- wealthy by pandering in word and deed to the social imperatives of rightwing Christianity and white racists. Virtually all of the GOP platform is based on the same old ideas and disproven myths that animate the Trump program. It takes ignorance to believe much of their economic nonsense, which explains why the wealthy sought allies among the most uneducated and intellectually vulnerable part of the populations—those with irrational beliefs.

These views do not represent the opinions of a majority of Americans, or even a majority of the approximately 50% who choose to vote, much less in off years. But a constitutional bias in favor of rural states and rural areas within states, gerrymandering by the Republicans, a wave of voter suppression laws and a mass media prone to tolerating Republican lies have enabled the minority that do hold these views to predominate.

Yes, the irrational, voluble, mentally unstable, ignorant and self-centered Trump scares me. But the rest of the Republican Party scares me just as much.

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NYC can become an urban paradise if it raises taxes for mass transit & affordable housing

New York City exemplifies the maxim of the great chess theorist Aron Nimzovich that every strength is also a weakness.

In New York’s case, the great strength is the mass transit network, the centerpiece of which is the subway system. Those lucky enough to live near one can pretty much get by without a car in the Big Apple. Moreover, for everyone—residents, commuters and tourists, it provides an inexpensive and theoretically hassle-free way to get to work and to the abundance of museums, performing arts facilities, parks, beaches, wildlife preserves, libraries, universities, research centers, historic buildings, restaurants and interesting neighborhoods within the city limits of what has become the unofficial capital of the 21st century. Augmented by city buses and a regional bus and rail system, the subway makes the joys and wonders of New York City reachable within an hour or less for more than 25 million people—and the 60 million tourists who visit each year.

But years of neglect and the burgeoning population of both the city and the region have led to a precipitous increase in service outages, accidents and overly crowded cars and platforms. During certain times of day, riding the subway can be a nightmare. And the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) can’t respond by adding more trains because the ancient switching system can’t handle the additional load. Plus, many neighborhoods not served by the subway desperately need stations and tracks, especially in Queens and Brooklyn.

Both progressive New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and centrist accommodationist Governor Andrew Cuomo have proposed ideas for financing the multi-billion dollar, multi-year investment that must be made to replace the switching system, build new stations and renovate existing lines and stations.

Cuomo wants to institute peak congestion pricing, which means that the people who drive into the city during rush hours will be assessed a tax and the funds will go to updating the subway system. The inherent problem with this tax is that it will make it more expensive for the middle class and poor to use the roads, which will send many to mass transit alternatives, further crowding the subway, bus and other rail systems. Of course, the additional funds will enable the subway to handle the additional riders, at least in theory. Additionally, the regressive nature of the tax is offset by the fact that reduced traffic is also good for the environment. Cuomo isn’t proposing it, but a graduated tax on peak users based on their income would address the fairness issue, while raising additional funds.

De Blasio is much less willing to compromise with big money interests than Cuomo and so has proposed a tax on the wealthy earmarked for mass transit, just as a tax on high incomes is funding the city-wide public pre-school program that de Blasio has initiated.

The New York Times is pushing a third alternative, which is to reinstitute a .45% tax on the income of the 800,000 suburbanites who descend on New York City—primarily Manhattan—every work day. There is a certain attractiveness about financing transportation improvements on the people who extract their living from the city but don’t live there.

Tax peak congestion drivers? Tax rich people? Tax suburbanites? What to do? What to do?

How about all three? That way MTA can speed up improvements—do more, more quickly. And I would add a special federal gas tax, with proceeds dedicated to mass transit in the United States, starting with building another tunnel underneath the Hudson River for Amtrak and New Jersey transit trains, something that would already be near completion if it weren’t for the veto by one of our epoch’s most obnoxious supporters of the ultra-wealthy and crony capitalism, Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

And while we’re at it, let’s use taxation to solve the other major problem facing New York City–affordable housing. There are many reasons why housing is so expensive in New York City, including the fact that so many people, especially young people, want to live there. But one major factor driving up rents, especially in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, are the large number of people who own apartments but only stay in them for a few days, weeks or months a year. For example, only about 40-50% of the tenants in my apartment building live there full time. The others use it when they’re in New York, sometimes every weekend, sometimes every few months. In some buildings (not mine), owners rent out their apartments to tourists all or most of the time, often in violation of city and state laws. But whether you keep your apartment empty or rent it out to vacationers, the result is the same: another property is off the market, driving up the rents and prices on all other city real estate. I propose a special tax on properties whose owners don’t live full-time in their New York City apartments, with all proceeds used to make housing more affordable elsewhere in the city. The funds could be used to build city-financed housing for the poor and middle class or for rent subsidies for people making less than a certain amount of money. One positive effect of this new tax would be to discourage some part of the population owning but not living to give up their New York apartments, further driving down rents and prices.

Then there’s the taxes we need to raise to make the entire New York City area more able to withstand the more extreme storms that global warming has started to bring us. But imagine of we were able to make all the improvements New York needs. It would become an urban paradise.

New York is in many ways a microcosm of the United States, except it is much further ahead in supplying affordable and reliable mass transit. Every metropolitan area needs to improve its mass transit, and most have to move from buses to rails. Most regions of the country are facing crumbling roads, bridges and sewer systems. Everywhere, but particularly on the coasts and along rivers, communities have to modify infrastructure and housing to address climate change. And we haven’t even gotten to the pressing need to find more funds for traditional public schools and public colleges.

We have reached a major fork in the road as a nation: Will we slip into widespread societal breakdown?

Or…

Will we raise taxes, particular on the wealthy who have enjoyed 30+ years in which continual lowering of their taxes was financed by scrimping on our investments in the future and assuming massive debt?

We know how to solve most of our problems. The plans are out there in detail in government studies, academic papers and engineering plans. We just don’t have the money to pay for it because the ultra-wealthy, whose outsized bank accounts finance politicians and drive our political decisions, decided 40 years ago to withdraw from real civic involvement and selfishly accumulate wealth through lower taxes on their income and assets.

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Walking away from Iran treaty is enormous foreign policy mistake. It only helps Saudis & Benjamin Netanyahu

The sheer stupidity of “decertifying” the nuclear—or should I say “antinuclear”—treaty between the United States, five other nations and Iran beggars the imagination. That an ignorant bully with no experience and a history of failure should propose such an idea is not noteworthy, not if the ignorant bully is Donald Trump. That supposedly patriotic, educated and experienced cabinet officers and advisors are unable to squelch this move in any way possible makes me shudder for the future of this country—and the entire human population.

The decision is bad in every way. It destabilizes the entire world every time another nation gets nuclear weapons, because the entire world would suffer from any nuclear war. The more nations have weapons, the more likely one is going to slip into the hands of a nutcase who might push the big red button. Of course, that seems to have already happened.

The decision also sets back the peace process between Iran and the West, specifically the United States. Why would we want to be enemies with a country with such an educated population and unrivalled natural resources among mid-sized countries and whose thousands of years of history has been one of the major influencers of the European culture upon which America is built? Let’s also remember that Iran wields a lot of influence with insurgent movements around the world. Coming to a lasting, all-inclusive peace with Iran would ease tensions throughout the Muslim world.

Think, too, of the lost opportunity to reduce the need for armed forces. A rapprochement with Iran would enable us to dedicate money a large portion of the billions of dollars now spent on armed forces and counter-terrorism to fixing our infrastructure of mass transit, sewers, roads and bridges and investing in alternative energy.

The key moment in the history of American-Persian relations is a stupid mistake that the United States made in 1953. We were allies and big supporters of Iran in 1953 when the CIA engineered an overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh, who was a secularist who wanted Iran to follow the model of American and European societies. Of course, he did nationalize oil industries, which was the secret reason the United States installed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as Shah of Iran. Yes, that’s right. Shah! King. Royalty. A dictator who rules by divine right. The system we fought a revolution to change. The United States of America overthrew a democracy to install a dictator not to protect our oil supply, but to protect the interests of certain oil companies. We continued to support the Shah of Iran as opposition to his rule grew and grew through the years until his overthrow in 1979 by ultra-right religious fanatics in what was a relatively bloodless revolution. It was in the immediate aftermath of the revolution that Iranian students took 52 Americans hostages and held them for 444 days.

The hostage crisis wounded America’s pride, leading to the current situation—decades of enmity between the two countries, during which we have embraced Saudi Arabia, a kingdom that oppresses its people and is the home to most of the 9/11 hijackers and the mastermind behind 9/11 and Al Qaeda. We’ve essentially taken sides in a regional religious dispute and selected a side less in tune with our values, all because the other side slapped us around a little after we had helped bludgeon it for 26 years.

The absurdity of not taking a road to pace with Iran will come into stark view if we consider that we have now had an adversarial relationship with it for 38 years, which is 10 years longer than Germany was our enemy in the middle of the 20th century. We essentially forgave Germany for all the death and misery it caused and immediate embraced it after WW II. Of course we beat their asses and they were Christians. When we deal with Iran across the peace negotiating table, we have to treat them as equals.

Usually when an Administration does something that hurts most people, the answer as to why can be found by following the money: who benefits. In this case, it’s primarily the Saudi Arabians and whichever governments, insurgent movements, terrorist groups and oil companies it is supporting. Also benefitting is the government of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Note I write the Israeli government, not the Israel people, who stand to benefit more than anyone else from peace with Iran. But Bibby needs another external enemy. We know Trump is buddy-buddy with both the Saudis and Bibby. It wouldn’t be the first time that crony capitalism has led America to make a bad foreign policy decision.

But in the case of Trump, I have to wonder. Media reports suggest that virtually all White House advisors are telling Trump not to do it and that he is digging in his heels. Why? Is he that much in the pockets of the Saudis?

Or could it be that Trump’s main motivation is to destroy everything done by that black man out of a sense of revenge for being the butt of a few jokes? For a while, I’ve heard and scoffed at the utterly Shakespearean theory that Trump’s hatred of Obama overwhelms all other thoughts and emotions when it comes to government. Trump as Iago or Lady Macbeth. An interesting and theatrical idea, but how could it be? Destabilize global politics? Throw 800,000 people with jobs or going to college out of the country? Walk away from our first real shot at addressing human-caused global warming? All because you dislike some uppity guy because he doesn’t know his place (although I imagine that instead of “black man” and “uppity guy,” Trump uses a different word when thinking about President Obama). Impossible, I thought. But maybe not.

Not that it will help, but we should all be jamming the phone lines and Internet bandwidth with pleas to Trump not to walk away from the Iranian deal and demands to our Senators and Congressional representatives that they announce they will support impeachments proceedings if Trump goes ahead with his plan to “decertify.”

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Hugh Hefner was a sexist pig—intellectual, liberal, stylish, all true. But nonetheless—a pig!!!

As part of his glorification and ascent to the Valhalla of dead celebrities, Hugh Hefner has received far too much credit for the positive impact he had on American society and far too little condemnation for the negative.

True, he advocated for abortion and took other liberal and progressive stands, typically from the standpoint of libertarianism, which is not such a good political ideology in many areas. He did popularize a number of important non-mainstream ideas in philosophy, psychology, politics and cultural studies. He did help to loosen up the entertainment mores of the strait-laced post-war mass culture.

And yes, Hefner did popularize important ideas about sexual freedom. But his version of sexual freedom posed the existence of woman as solely for the convenience of men, for their sexual pleasure and as a signifier of male social and financial success. He twisted the sexual revolution into a new version of the same old female subservience to male domination. Feminism would have proceeded without him—birth control pills and college-educated Baby Boom women were going to make sure of that. Hefner wasn’t needed to support the causes for which he is now getting praise.

The basic message of the sexual revolution that Hefner helped to promote was fine: it’s okay for two or more consenting adults to have sex, and anything goes, as long as everyone is fine with it. I might add that there’s no need ever to feel guilty about what you do or did in bed, or with whom you did it. People change, grow, mature, slow down, and so do their sexual needs, desires and feelings. It’s all okay, as long as nobody is hurt. Of course, in Hefner’s version, the man dominated, and coercion and transgression were often subtexts to the action.

There are five ways in which Hefner’s Playboy philosophy and empire of magazines, videos and clubs harmed American society:

  1. The infantilization of men

The playboy remains a feckless boy, immature, irresponsible, narcissistic, as younger men often are. The focus of remaining a child for the playboy is not having any responsibility in relationships with women. Playboy thus marks one of the earliest instances of the mass media attempting to keep adults acting—and thinking—like children.

2. An unattainable and false ideal of sexuality

Playboy photographers and designers used airbrushes, filters and lights to erase the flaws that particularize a woman’s beauty, homogenizing her real flesh into a rarely attainable ideal. Elective plastic surgery and cosmetics further sculpted the reality off Playboy models and bunnies. In Playboy’s universe, all women had large breasts, unreal proportions, flawless skin, no body fat, high cheek bones and eternal youthfulness. Hefner took an extremely narrow band on the very broad spectrum of female beauty—a far narrower band than in Hollywood movies or television—and promoted that as the only ideal of beauty for the successful, accomplished, “cool” man. Heterosexual men who bought into the Playboy ideal had to feel at least some dissatisfaction with their regular sexual partner(s). Of course, dissatisfaction is what advertisers want consumers to feel, because in America, satisfying a need—real or fabricated—involves buying something. Which brings us to…

  1. The commodification of sex

Hefner’s enterprises turned sex and sexual experience into commodities that you buy into a number of ways. First and foremost, Playboy made women into both commodities and a reason to purchase other commodities. The playboy doesn’t pay for sex (although the later, cruder laddie boy will), but he does shell out a lot of money wining, dining, transporting and gifting her as a precondition of sex. But beyond the transactional element implicit in the playboy’s relationship with any woman is the position women hold in his universe, the entirety of which is overrun by gadgets, gee-gaws, fads and new services. The woman is another commodity that can be replaced, not a person demanding interaction.

  1. The objectification of women

Perhaps because I’m male, I don’t see anything wrong with thinking about individuals of the sex one desires as sex objects, as long as you treat them as a full human being with equal rights: keep that secret lust to yourself and work as hard and as smart as you can for your female boss. In the Playboy world, however, everything a woman does is an extension or manifestation of her sexuality. For example, whenever referencing a centerfold’s achievements, profession or hobbies, Playboy invariably added a double entendre with a sexual connotation, a sly joke that reminded everyone that her Fulbright grant, award-winning work as a photographer or interest in African art were less than icing on the cake, perhaps akin to the little diamond-studded pin she wears on the dress you take off her—or command her to take off—when you’re getting ready to help her fulfill her true purpose in life, to be a man’s sexual toy.

  1. The domination of men

In Hefner’s world, men dominate women. Women may have access to birth control, abortions and professions, but in Hefner’s fantasyland they still lack control over their lives. Men still set the mores and decide what to value. They still control the relationship.

That’s a lot of harm that Playboy and Hefner have inflicted on American for more than sixty years.

On a personal level, I never had much use for Playboy. I never sought it out, and when I occasionally happened to see a pile of old issues, e.g., while waiting for a friend to get ready, I would flip through the pages for the cartoons and read the page of jokes always on the last page of the centerfold section. Child of the 60’s, the photos never stimulated me: I have always preferred women who don’t look like Barbie dolls and my idea of beauty in a woman encompasses a very wide range of sizes, shapes and colors.

As far as the articles go, by the time I saw Playboy for the first time, I was already a cover-to-cover reader of The New York Review of Books, Nation, Dissent, Harpers and Ramparts. I was not impressed by the “great” articles, as I read so much thought-provocative material in these respected publications of the intelligentsia. Furthermore, I recognized the difference between true intellectualism and an intellectual patina gilding old-fashioned sexism.

Maybe I hang around with the right crowd, but every woman I have ever admired, liked, loved or desired (except for those I’ve just seen passing in the street whose thoughts I can’t read) wouldn’t be caught dead in the Playboy world; even the most tolerant of them would think less of me if she thought I was a regular reader.

That’s okay. I would think less of me, too.

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Moral aspect of tax policy: How much do “deserving” rich really deserve? Not as much as they think

As Donald Trump and Republicans roll out their proposal to provide wealthy people with a massive tax cut while giving everyone else a small break or nothing, they are restating that old lie that reducing taxes will make the economy grow so much that tax revenues will be more than before. It wasn’t true when Arthur Laffer proposed it in the late 1970’s and it’s not true now, as the recent experiences in several states show. Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee and Indiana (no matter how much Republicans and the New York Times try to scrub the numbers) all slashed taxes drastically and ended up with weaker economies and budget shortfalls.

If history is any guide, the Trump-GOP tax cut would be part of a two-part swindle. In the first part, everyone gets their taxes cut—the rich massively so—and in the second part, the poor and middle class get their taxes increased or the benefits they receive from the government cut. The GOP successfully engineered the two-part swindle under a mediocre Hollywood actor. Now they’re trying it again with a reality television star in charge.

All the rightwing arguments in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy are false.They don’t create new jobs. They don’t create much new spending. And, they can lead to a recession if the wealthy put too much of their new largess into bubble-prone assets. As they always do.

But the right wing also has a moral argument in favor of tax cuts and low taxes for the wealthy, which goes something like this: They earned it and they deserve it. The rich certainly don’t deserve to give up their hard-earned money to the undeserving, the lazy and those who didn’t work as hard as they did to get where they are. After all, America is the land of opportunity in which anyone and everyone can climb to the top and make the big bucks. Behind this argument stands a basic tenet of the Protestant ethic: that the good do well and the wicked do poorly. The subtle but subversive power of this argument is that it puts everyone who pays taxes on the side of the wealthy, since all of us deserve to keep as much of our money as possible. We put in the work and we don’t deserve to have our largess stolen by government!!

In the recorded history of self-serving crap, no crap has ever been more self-serving than the idea that the wealthy deserve their wealth because of their talent, education, hard work, drive and general goodness. First of all, much of the success of any given person depends on the economic, physical and social infrastructure that society provides, usually through government spending. The roads, bridges, tunnels, mass transit and airports that a high-tech genius, her employees, vendors and customers use, the public schools that educated her workers, the consistent operation of society which the maintenance of laws and standards of operation, weights, measures and safety ensure, the safety maintained by the police and armed forces, the subsidies to our health care and retirement systems that allow her to pay her employees less. All this and more is what President Obama meant when he inarticulately said, “You didn’t build this.” He really should have said, “Whatever you built would have been impossible without the efforts of the rest of society.”

More significantly, much more of the success of virtually all of us has always resulted from the luck of the draw than from the virtues of the individual. As philosopher Daniel Robinson detailed in Praise and Blame: Moral Realism and Its Applications, luck determines most of our fates, the good and the bad, the successful and the failures.

The factors that affect our fate include:

  • Having a wealthy or prominent family.
  • Marrying into a wealthy or prominent family.
  • Growing up in a family that has not been devastated by poverty, food scarcity, substance abuse, criminality or mental illness.
  • Being born with a special skill or more intelligence than the average person. No matter how hard a 5’9’’ male athlete of average speed and strength works on his game, he’s not going to be able to keep up with the 7-foot Shaquille O’Neal.  No matter how much a person of average intelligence studies, he or she won’t be able to keep up with someone with a photographic memory. Shaq did nothing virtuous to attain his size. The genius was likewise born with the photographic memory.
  • Being in the right place at the right time, which can mean being the assistant of someone who makes a great discovery or taking a job right out of high school at Apple instead of the post office in the early 1980’s.
  • Being born at a time in history when your skill is appreciated or your weakness not a problem. This last point can be illustrated by imagining Willie Mays if he were born into slavery in the first part of the 19th century or Stephen Hawking before the development of motorized and digitized aids for people with physical disabilities.
  • Meeting a mentor or someone with connections who will take a special interest in you.
  • Not having an accident or dying young in a war or epidemic.

These factors determine not only whether people will achieve wide recognition for their life work, but also the fate of the average person. For example, researchers recently tested Indian sugar cane workers before the harvest when they were broke and after the harvest when they had lots of money. The difference in scores amounted to 9 or 10 points on an I.Q. test, which measures certain intellectual capabilities correlated with success in school and in professional employment.  On an I.Q. test, 9 or 10 points means a lot: for example, about 28% of the population scores between 106-115, while only 9% of the population scores between 116-125. Thus, the physician with an I.Q. of 120 from a wealthy family could work 60 hours a week and earns $400,000, while a lab technician with an I.Q. of 110 whose poor family could not afford SAT prep courses and summer enrichment could work the same 60 hours a week and make $65,000. Who is more deserving of the additional money and respect? Who would get to go to school for more years, score higher on tests, achieve more and make more money if the tables were turned?

One thing that the latest studies on wealth and income inequality have shown is that the United States has very little socio-economic mobility, and less today than ever before. The so-called land where anyone can make it big sees fewer people making it big who weren’t already big than most other industrialized nations.

The concept of the deserving rich and the undeserving poor is therefore built on a fraudulent understanding of the way individuals and society interact. Neither rich nor poor deserve their fates. In a land of abundance, isn’t it up to society to balance the scales and assure that all people have at least a minimum standard of living as defined by healthcare, education, retirement and housing? From the moral point of view, instead of lowering taxes on the wealthy, we should be raising them to help level the playing field. Raising taxes on the wealthy not only makes good economic sense, but also gibes with our basic morality. When the rich advocate for lower taxes to be paid for by cutting social programs and infrastructure investment, they are behaving out of pure anti-social selfishness.

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If you want mainstream media to like your book on American decline, blame the 60’s. Fantasyland latest to do so

It seems as if no social critic can get a fair hearing in the mass media unless she-he blames it on the sixties. If you Google the expression “blame it on the sixties,” you summon up references to a wide range of articles and books in which experts and pundits blame a variety of current social and economic problems on changes in the attitudes, customs and mores of the 1960’s. My perusal of the first three pages of search results found the 1960’s and early 1970’s faulted for the rise in child abuse, our economic decline, political correctness, the vote in the Electoral College for Donald Trump, the increase in obesity, crime and growing drug abuse.

You’d think that most of the sixties-haters would be religious and social conservatives, because, say what you will about that decade, it did witness the sexual revolution that led to more open attitudes and greater social acceptance of sexual rights for women and all kinds of sexual experiences between all kinds of people. But as it turns out, a substantial number of sixties critics are self-flagellating liberals, you know, pundits who claim to be liberal but butter their bread by always blaming liberals for their own predicament. For example, after the election, a slew of Democrats blamed Clinton’s loss on the Democrats depending too much on “identity politics,” i.e., caring about civil rights. With friends like that…

The latest liberal self-flagellator to blame the sixties for the deplorable state of the world is novelist and journalist Kurt Andersen, in his glib and often superficial Fantasyland. Anderson’s description of today’s American Fantasyland is attractive and largely accurate. The insidious spread of fake news; the new level of lying by politicians; the basing of social and economic policy on disproven or bad science; the great numbers of Americans who believe in demons, the absolute existence of a god with male features and/or a literal interpretation of the Judeo-Christian genesis myth; the large number of adults whose lives revolve around electronic games, comic book superheroes, cosplay and other escapist fare; the climate change deniers, the evolution deniers, the birthers—these snapshots of the irrational are but a sampling of the evidence that Andersen musters to show that current American society is based on lies and myths, that we surround ourselves with fantasy.

Andersen is also right when he asserts that fantasy has played a major role in American society since the search for the Northwest Passage and the Salem witch trials. His history of irrational thought in America reads like an outline or a greatest hits list: each major figure in an irrational movement or trend gets a paragraph or so. For readers who want to delve into the long history of irrational thought in America, Fantasyland can serve as a syllabus that sends you to the right people and primary sources to read.

But the third part of Andersen’s thesis—that the sixties marked a turning point, after which instead of being a peripheral trend, irrationality took center stage—is dead wrong.

In sixties terminology, Andersen’s mistake is to conflate “do your own thing” with “believe your own thing.” Yes, a lot of people believed in some pretty weird stuff in the 1960’s. Like the First (1730-1740) and Second (1800-1860) Great Awakenings and the Roaring Twenties, the sixties saw an uptick in interest in the occult and the irrational. But lots of the doing of your own thing in the sixties and early seventies involved overthrowing old myths and lies and asserting the truth of empirical science, such as the anti-Vietnam War, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Gay Rights, environmental, anti-nuclear, organic gardening and sustainable living movements. All products of a very rational sixties. And in every case, it was the government or the majority of those with influence who were living in a fantasy.

Andersen takes particular note of the rise of the Pentecostal movement and televangelism in the 1960’s. True enough, but morality is not inherently contra-factual. Morality motivated a lot of the antiwar activists and poverty workers. Remember, too, that a Christian left and right wing have existed in this country since at least the abolitionist movement got its start. Even if we accept the core beliefs of the Christian right wing that have persisted for at least 140 years, a rise in a concern for moral issues doesn’t in and of itself suggest the society is entering a fantasyland. I can be against a woman’s right to control her body for moral reasons and still be living in the real world. I enter Fantasyland only when I believe that an abortion causes future health problems, that life begins at conception or that vaccines cause autism.

All of society bases part of its existence on fantastic notions, typically related to ethnic superiority, national character, religion and the convenience of rich folk. Certainly since Columbus made his voyages, religious and irrational beliefs have harmed the United States. Our economy before the 1860’s was largely based on the myth that Africans were inferior people who needed the white man’s guidance and therefore benefited from slavery. What about the medical, economic and social impact of the myths that led to the anti-marijuana laws of the 1930’s? TR, Henry Cabot Lodge and William Randolph Hearst shoveled a lot of bull hockey at Americans to build support for the Spanish-American War and our later atrocities in the Philippines. I would like to prove that the inflection point at which belief overran rationality was during the Reagan era, when so many edifices of lies were built and then used to justify horrific policies; lies and myths such as welfare queens, supply side economics, the failure of government, the failure of public schools and the benefits of the unimpeded free market. But reading history books like Stephen Kinzer’s The True Flag about the Spanish-American War epoch and Matthew Karp’s This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy about pre-Civil War U.S. foreign policy demonstrates that the Bush II and the current administrations aren’t the first times the United States has been run by a band of reality-denying ignoramuses guided by myths with no basis in reality and representing a sizable minority but not all the people.  

If we, as I do, place primary blame for the growth of the American Fantasyland on the increase of lies and myths knowingly perpetrated by the news media, we can’t really locate in the 1960’s the inflection point after which fantasies begin to dominate the media and, by inference, American society. Since the original scandal sheets and yellow journalism of the Gilded Age, mass media has been growing inexorably, and as it does, so has the ubiquity of advertising, the focus on celebrity and the increase in myths being presented as truth—in commercials, by televangelists, well-funded rightwing think tanks and rightwing television and radio, on alt-right and UFO websites, in social media and fake news. Let’s look at some of major events in the history of media’s creation of Fantasyland: yellow journalism emerged at the end of 19th century, free market commercial radio developed in the 1920’s, the first radio evangelists started broadcasting in the 1930’s and 1940’s, the rise of commercial television and the beginning of the right wing creating alternative distribution channels for their myths occurred in the 1950’s, the federal law that allowed companies to own more TV and radio stations passed in the 1980’s, rightwing radio was born in the 1990’s, the Internet was the 2000’s, the Citizens United decision in 2010. You get the idea.

Why then blame the 1960’s? We would have to read into Kurt Andersen’s heart to know the answer as it pertains to Fantasyland. I am, however, quite confident that the larger phenomenon of blaming the 1960’s (and early 1970’s) for every social and economic ill since then results from the mass media applying a screen: Blame the sixties—we like it; blame another decade—reject the article! For the most part rich folk who like the status quo own the mass media and the companies which support media outlets with advertising. While rich folk include a spectrum of beliefs from left-leaning to ultra-right (there are very few socialists of any ilk among this group), they mostly lean right and mostly want to protect the prerogatives of the wealthy.

And they don’t like the true story of what happened in the sixties: It was the absolute high point for equality of wealth and income in U. S. history and the high point of union power (if not of union membership, which occurred in the 1950’s). While not the inflection point for American irrationality, it certainly was for the movement to provide equal rights in courts, the marketplace and workplace to all Americans—plenty happened afterwards, but the turning point certainly came in the 1960’s with the maturing of the Civil Rights movement and the start of other inclusion movements. The 1960’s thus represent the start of the threat to the special position of white males.

In other words, the real “evil” of the 1960’s is not that it created an American Fantasyland, or that it led to a decline in morals or educational standards or the work ethic. No, what the mass media hates about the 1960’s is that for a few brief years we saw a way to institute a true social democracy in a fairly equitable society with a fairly level playing field, kind of like the model developed in Europe after World War II. The Reaganites saw another way, but to make it work, they had to denigrate the real ideals of the sixties—government spending to solve social problems, a level playing field that did not favor individuals of any group, the importance of ending poverty and giving people a hand up, enlightened stewardship of natural resources, a foreign policy not dependent on America bullying other nations. These core beliefs—all based on facts and science—contradict everything the right stands for. Thus the desire, even today, to blame everything on the 1960’s.

I stopped reading novels about writers or university teachers about 30 years ago. I think it might be time to stop reading books that blame the 60’s.

 

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Kudos to protesting players. Part of being role model is standing up for important causes. Trump doesn’t get it

The hundreds of professional football players who protested during the singing of the national anthem at football games this week were making three messages:

  1. The original meaning of Colin Kaepernick’s lonely protest in favor of social justice: that the flag also stands for the continued oppression of minorities.
  2. In protest against Donald’s Trump’s racist, anti-immigrant, sexist and autocratic statements and actions.
  3. A reminder to the NFL that no team has yet to give Kaeperick a tryout this year.

While all three messages are consistent with American ideals, the later also resonates with the free market ideology that the ruling elite believes and tells us goes hand in hand with democracy and personal freedom. The market is not supposed to discriminate. The market is supposed to reward the best. For all we know, Kaepernick is washed up from all the beatings his injury-prone body has taken. On the other hand, I understand that while on the field last year, the guy threw 16 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Those are great numbers for a starter, and for a back-up, they are incredible. He definitely has the pedigree and recent performance to deserve a try-out.

That’s the level playing field that sports is supposed to be about. Athletes are taught that during the game they are not supposed to care about what happens off the field: your teammate is your teammate and the best guy plays the position. The only thing that matters is who can throw and catch the ball the best, run the best, tackle the best, coordinate with other players the best. Who is the fastest, strongest, quickest, most accurate. The level playing field—a myth in the real world—operates most effectively in the fantasy world that is professional sports. If businesses and executives so often use sports metaphors, it’s because they would like us to think that the virtues of sports—hard work, the level playing field, team spirit and practice—rule in the real world. Of course, the hard-working poor and middle class of the past forty years might disagree. So would the owner of the company that lost that first big contract to the inferior technology Microsoft offered because the loser’s mother wasn’t on the board of IBM.

What’s interesting about the message to Trump is that Trump has taken a traditional management position, but in such an overtly racist way that management can’t agree with him without risking alienating the players. Trump and the other White Housers who have commented essentially are saying that the athletes should shut up and do their job. Yes-suh and No-suh, yes’m and no’m. I don’t agree with that idea. We demand that professional athletes be role models, and part of being a role model is speaking your mind when you see injustice and lending your trusted and recognized voice to important causes. On the other hand, management asking an athlete to remain silent is not inherently racist, only un-American. Trump makes it racist by exclusively going after minority players. He makes it racist by going after a player whose so-called transgression was to protest racism. He makes it racist by his use of language and code words. In the case of the entirely inappropriate “son of a bitch” quote, Trump also demonstrates his total lack of understanding of the sports world. I have heard “son of a bitch” and SOB used by an athlete or coach innumerable times about whites, blacks, Hispanics and even a Chinese left fielder, but only in admiration of an opponent, as in “that sumabitch hit my best fast curve ball.” Management never wants to run its own sons of bitches off the playing field, just the other guy’s!

My own personal view is that the main purpose of singing the “Star Spangled Banner,” a war song from the early 19th century, at sporting events is to give people something to protest. At heart, it is a jingoistic and war-mongering custom meant to brainwash patriotism into us. Until Kaepernick, I had long advocated ending the singing of this musical monstrosity before games. Until 2001, I would sit with my hat on during the pseudo ceremony. Now I just stand there, hands at my side, and look at my feet silently, afraid to enrage another fan. But I’m fantasizing a scenario in which athletes engage in more and more elaborate protests during the singing of the national anthem, dividing the country and affecting attendance. People in the stands start to participate, too, maybe by not singing. Rather than keep the controversy alive, one team will experiment with no having the anthem, maybe replacing it by rotating the singing of uplifting sectarian songs such as “Imagine” and “If I Had a Hammer.” After an initial wave of protest against ending the anthem, maybe things will settle down and more teams will end the practice. The announcer will merely cry out “play ball” and the game will begin…

But the television blare of the national anthem before the Yankee game jerks me awake from my day dream of an anthemless sporting world. Uh, oh. The game is about to start. Where’re my grapes? I suddenly realize that the real function of singing the national anthem is to give the folks at home an extended break to go to the bathroom and get a snack and drink.

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A new Contract with America: economic equity, health care for all, integrated quality public schools, reduced military

During the heat of the 1994 mid-term elections some 23 years ago, Republican Congressional Representatives Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey rolled out their Contract with America, a pledge to pursue a conservative legislative agenda once the Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives. The Contract listed eight reforms the Republicans promised to enact and ten bills they promised to bring to the floor. The proposed legislation was typical conservative claptrap: require balanced budgets; institute harsher criminal sentences; end welfare; cut payments to the United Nations; and, as always, cut taxes on the wealthy. Interestingly enough, social conservatives did not seem to have a hand in the making of the contract, which was free of any anti-choice or other divisive social issues. After the Republicans wiped out the Democrats in November of 1994, they were able to pass some of the Contract’s proposal, but not all of it.

Despite its mixed success, the Contract with America was a significant symbolic victory for conservatives in their thirty-year war to install an economic and political regime that benefits the wealthy. The Contract set the stage for all political discussion until well into the Great Recession. Conservatives still espouse many of its false notions, such as the idea that tax breaks on the wealthy create more jobs. But most importantly, it has served as a proud and palpable symbol of conservative principles. Not so much anymore, but for years, Republicans would pledge to the Contract as a means to demonstrate their sincerity and commitment to the movement. The Contract became conservatism, as Marshall McLuhan predicted might occur when he said in the 1960’s that the medium was the message.

Since the election, I have been thinking a lot about the Contract with America. The Democrats should revive the idea and present a 21st Century Contract. By becoming a touchstone for Democratic candidates, a new Contract could establish the terms of public debate looking forward, especially in light of Trump’s splintering of Republican solidarity and the emergence of economic equity as an issue.

I’ve taken a hand at creating a first draft of a 21st century contract. It aggressively advances the idea of European democratic socialism, but it takes into account the views of all contemporary Democrats, except for those with heavy ties to the financial industry or who have forgotten the central importance of trade unions in creating a fair, just and equitable society. My contract addresses just about every issue facing Americans except the spiraling cost of higher education, although putting this contract into law will mitigate that problem to a large extent.

Here is the contract. I intend to send it to my Senators and Congressional representative and demand they make the pledge. I ask my gentle readers to follow suit.

THE NEW CONTRACT WITH AMERICA

If elected to office, I pledge aggressively to support legislation to:

  • Create a more equitable distribution of wealth and income.
  • Ensure that all Americans have the basics that all humans deserve, including education, health care and a secure retirement.
  • Create real opportunity for all people, regardless of race, religion, sex, beliefs or economic class by creating a level playing field.
  • Protect the environment for our children by mitigating the effects of climate change and transitioning to a sustainable economy and society.

To achieve these objectives, I will support the following specific legislative actions:

  1. Raise the minimum wage to $15/hour and remove all current exemptions, including for farm workers and interns.
  2. Remove the cap on income assessed the Social Security tax.
  3. Reform the federal income tax system to raise more revenue from the wealthy, who have gotten a free ride for three decades, as follows:
  • Increase the number of individual tax brackets and tax the highest bracket—income over $1.0 million—at 70%
  • End the lower capital gains tax except for investment in initial public offerings of stocks.
  • End the carried interest deduction.
  • Increase the federal tax on gasoline by one dollar and earmark 75% of it to the development of rail-based mass transit within and between cities and the rest to maintenance of highways, bridges and sewers.
  1. Replace the exchanges for individual health insurance with Medicare coverage (the so-called public option) for anyone lacking health insurance coverage through work or Medicaid.
  2. Replace district public school funding with statewide funding that provides all public schools with the same amount per student and redistrict schools to promote integration.
  3. Pass a new omnibus Civil Rights law which explicitly protects the rights of LGBTQ people; gives ex-cons the right to vote; ends Jim Crow sentencing laws; directs all states wishing to receive any federal funds to extend voting hours and end voter ID laws; and mandates equal pay for women and minorities for the same job with the same experience.
  4. Outlaw state right-to-work laws and all charter schools run by for-profit organizations or that hire non-union staff when the local public school is unionized.
  5. Give legal citizenship to all “dreamers” immediately and create a path to citizenship that takes no longer than five years to any undocumented immigrant who can prove residency before 2016.
  6. End all federal and state subsidies for oil & gas exploration and production and nuclear electricity generation and redirect the funds to supporting the development of wind and solar energy and technologies for cleaning up the environment.
  7. Cut the military budget to $400 billion a year and end all funds for the development of newer nuclear weapons or automated (robot) weapons.
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Trump acts and talks like a stand-up comic, but the joke is on the American people

At first listen, Donald Trump’s speaking style when he eschews the teleprompter seems chaotically free form, as if he tossed a few dozen tweets and sound bites into one of his “Make America Great Again” caps and picked a few out, one at a time, not bothering to supply connective material or an overarching direction. But there is a method to Trump’s rhetorical madness—a tried and true method that has been around since at least the British music halls of the 19th century.

It’s called stand-up comedy, a style of public speaking with which voters are familiar from late night comedy shows and prime time specials, a style which generally makes its live and broadcast audiences feel good because it makes them laugh, even when the comic is discussing something serious or infuriating. Talking like a stand-up comic may be as significant a part of Trump’s appeal to his core as his nativism, racism, misogyny and isolationism.

Most elected officials and candidates use the same speaking style, which after salutations and a short joke follows a basic three-part structure: 1) Tell them what you’re going to say; 2) Say it; 3) Tell them what you just said. Within that overall framework, the typical political speech will go from issue to issue. In each part of the speech, the speaker will employ a rather limited set of rhetorical devices: using more words than are necessary as opposed to speaking directly; referencing a mix of anecdotes and isolated statistics; and hedging bets with such weaselly phrases as “anticipate” “start to address” and “return to American traditions.” The speaker typically builds tension through repetition, especially of the first few words of a sentence, as exemplified by Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream…” speech. For example, in a speech warning of the danger of electing about Trump that Hillary Clinton made in June 2016, she repeated “He said…” to begin a series of five sentences in a row, and later repeated “It’s no small thing…” to begin three sentences in a row. In a typical stump speech, Bernie Sanders would embed the emphatic rendering of the simple phrase, “we are going to” in four or five sentences in a row.

Except for the use of anecdotes and statistics, both often fabricated, Donald Trump rejects this standard stump speech style in favor of stand-up comedy.

We can identify several characteristics of stand-up comedy that Trump has repurposed for the political arena. First and foremost is the lack of a recognizable formal structure in Trump’s rants. The contemporary comic for the most part doesn’t tell traditional jokes, but rambles from topic to topic, free form and without apparent goal, occasionally telling a story or saying something funny or zinging a sacred cow or well-known human foible. You never have the feeling that the contemporary comic is scripted, but rather speaking a spontaneous stream of consciousness rap. And yet she-he manages always to tell the same jokes and even sling the same insults at audience members in all routines. Doesn’t that sound like Trump? For Trump, the jokes are the insults, the zingers, the boasts, the false facts, the inaccurate characterizations and the unrealistic promises. Instead of starting with the standard “Great to be here,” Trump will often begin in the middle of an anecdote, sometimes even borrowing the “A funny thing happened on my way to the show” joke that begins many classic stand-up comedy routines. For example, the first words of his speech of his victory tour, in North Carolina, were “So the weather was really bad, really bad, and they said, ‘You know these are great people in North Carolina. They won’t mind.’ No, but they said, ‘they won’t mind, sir, if you canceled and made it another time.’ And I said, what?”

The contemporary comic will take a complex social issue, reduce it to one or two points which will be inflammatory but not necessarily salient and then melt away our anxiety with simplistic, often aggressive and senseless exhortations. Lewis Black and Chris Rock both take this approach. Doesn’t it also sound like what Trump has done to many issues, for example, reducing the complexities illegal immigration to building a wall and the fight against terrorism to limiting immigration from Muslim countries?

Stand-up comics frequently find humor in playing on stereotypes or insulting people.

Sarah Silverman, Chris Rock, Ron White, they all reduce people to stereotypes consisting of one or two traits, and then make funny remarks or tell stories that exemplify those traits. It’s what Trump does to issues and to other politicians—“Crooked Hillary,” “Lying Ted, “Little Marco.” While some comedians, such as Don Rickles, Dom Irrera and Lisa Lampanelli, built their routines entirely around insults, most will throw in at least some name-calling, sometimes of the audience, sometimes of well-known people, sometimes of themselves. Insult humor is also a mainstay of situation comedies like “Big Bang Theory,” “Two Broke Girls,” “Everybody Love Raymond” and “Two and a Half Men,” for example.

In stereotyping people, stand-up comics will often briefly leave their own persona by changing their voice and body movements to imitate another person. A wide range of comics will play several parts in their routines, from Bill Cosby to Chris Rock. Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher often breaks into their respective versions of Trump’s voice for a sentence or two. A few extremely gifted mimics like Jonathan Winters and Robin Williams have built their entire routines going from character to character. Some of Trump’s most notorious moments occur when he is briefly playing another person, such as his imitation of a reporter with a physical disability. Trump imitated others in the North Carolina speech referenced above. No other politician of recent vintage would dare take on the voice and gestures of another person.

The contemporary comic is self-referential, either drawing from her or his own life or interrupting a thought process to refer to her or himself—how the performance is going, why something makes the performer angry, the effect of current events on the comic’s personal life or something else just as extraneous to the topic at hand. Those who believe that Trump is unqualified for office because of his instability often cite his extreme narcissism as a character flaw. Many of his lies stem from an irrational desire to self-aggrandize. His early speeches after the inauguration, to the Central Intelligence Agency and members of the military, started with and returned often to his personal issues—poll and voting results and insults he may or may not have hurled. There are many comics who focus on themselves, from Jack Benny to Rodney Dangerfield on to Elaine Boosler, Wendy Liebman, Amy Schumer, Lewis Black and Jeff Foxworthy, among myriad others.

Other than talk-show hosts who pretty much deliver jokes in the tradition of Bob Hope, most contemporary stand-up comedians play a comic character that is a well-known stereotype. There are red-neck comedians like Ron White, Bill Engvall and Jeff Foxworthy. Wendy Liebman and Sarah Silverman are promiscuous Jewish-American princesses. Chris Tucker is an angry black man. Amy Schumer is always a party girl. George Lopez plays a series of Hispanic stereotypes and D. J. Hughley and Eddy Murphy play a series of African-American stereotypes. Playing a role is a cherished tradition of stand-up comedy: Jack Benny was a miser. Red Skelton was a clown. Lenny Bruce was a hipster; Cheech and Chong were dopesters. Irwin Corey was a gasbag.

Trump plays a stereotype character whose roots go back to the Italian commedia dell’arte in the Renaissance. But every comic type with origins of a thousand years will have many manifestations. The left, Democrats, many centrists and the mainstream news media see one version of the classic type upon which Trump has modeled, subconsciously or not, his public person. But Trump supporters saw a different version, comic to be sure, but also heroic.

At essence, Trump is Pantalone—the older, wealthy man, often vain, often a lecher, often a bully, often pompous and ignorant, who usually gets his comeuppance in commedia dell’arte skits, sometimes even wearing the horns of a cuckold. Moliere’s “bourgeois gentleman” is the classic example of this comic type. A friendlier, sunnier and definitely de-sexed precursor to Trump was Ted Baxter of the Mary Tyler Moore show, played by Ted Knight.

Most of the intelligentsia across the political spectrum view Trump as the know-nothing buffoon version of Pantalone, the bourgeois gentleman who thinks he knows more than the dancing, speaking, music and other experts he has hired to aggrandize his reputation, or perhaps a Ted Baxter as a sexual predator.

To New Yorkers, Trump has long been a puffed-up and vain buffoon—a wealthy fool, someone with a lot of money but no taste. Before running for president, the properties he built were garish. His private life exemplified what used to be called the “nouveau riche,” those who have money but spend it tastelessly and foolishly. His “Apprentice” TV show was a parody version of the business world, his gruff and insulting style a parody of a type of executive who is not all that prevalent nowadays, certainly not among public companies responsible to shareholders.

But the rich and pampered oaf is not what his followers saw in Trump. To Trump voters, he was the Rodney Dangerfield and Jackie Mason characters of the two Caddyshack movies of the 1980’s that are still frequently aired on a number of broadcast and cable stations. Both play extremely rich white males who made their money at least partially in real estate development. Their vulgarity, apparent ignorance of social etiquette and kind treatment of the “hired help” turn them into average Joes who are breaking down the barriers of elite institutions. Viewers may laugh at Dangerfield and Mason as they commit social faux pas or make ridiculous statements, but we treat them as heroes who upend the social order for the good of the whole when they insult, trick or defeat pompous and snobby rich folk. There is no difference in what the audience feels for these rich disrupters in the Caddyshack movies from what supporters feel about Donald Trump. In the numerous interviews with core Trump supporters since the election, they forgive his vulgarity and stumbling as part and parcel of his outsider status.

How much has Trump’s stand-up comic style contributed to his success in connecting with enough former Democratic voters to win an electoral majority? Did delivering his nativist, racist, misogynist messages like a comic serve to enhance his dystopic ejaculations? It certainly made them seem “funny” to those who despise so-called “political correctness,” but did his voters respond to the jokes positively, or would Trump have won by a greater margin if he had delivered his material in the traditional style that characterized every other candidate on the campaign trail this year?

The very fact that Trump’s language and rhetoric so little resembles the standard fare certainly contributes to the view that he is a disrupter. That he distills his messages into short statements—be they insults, lies or simplifications—make them easy to remember, transmit on social media and use in television news, which now favors quotes of less than ten seconds. His performance might steal a movie satire of elections. On the other hand, the news media treats his rally speeches and early morning tweet rant as manifestations of instability, inexperience and ignorance.

We can’t really know whether his performance helped him win the election unless a progressive Democrat attempts the same approach. I’m certain that any number of Hollywood and New York comedy writers would love to help a candidate of the left try the stand-up style.

Meanwhile, we can anticipate that Trump is going to ramp up campaign style rallies to rile his base as his ratings continue to tumble and he continues to implement unpopular policies and made racist, sexist and otherwise distasteful statements. Like any stand-up comedian, Trump loves the immediate applause, the laughs and the hoots, the love and attention unmediated by polls, computers, experts or media spins. It’s the love of attention that has Trump now actively seeking deals with the Democrats.

Like any professional comic, Trump’s inventiveness feeds off the audience response. Playing to live audiences will therefore likely incite Trump to make more of the type of embarrassing and ignorant statements that marred his campaign and that he has continued to make in the first year of his administration. In the best case scenarios, Trump or others walk back the assertions he makes via Twitter, news conferences and large rallies by twisting the meaning, denying he said it or quietly restating long-standing American policy. We have already seen this dynamic play out again and again—with North Korea, Charlottesville, transgender military service, Israeli settlements and the one China policy. The worst case scenario, as may happen with DACA, has Trump turn a federal department on its head to implement a legally suspect executive order that hurts individuals and the economy, all so that Trump can say he delivers on a promise he makes in his large tent meetings.

In other words, Trump may talk and and act like a stand-up comedian, but the joke is on the American people and the world.

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