Best part of inauguration: the sparse crowds. Worst part: Trump’s fascist-inspired speech

There were many moments when I found the imagery and words of the inauguration inspiring, and they were all the same moment: the views of the sparse crowds. The Pence family walking by empty grandstands. The aerial comparisons of the jam-packed mall in 2009 and the deserted mall of 2017. The news that groups rented more buses to bring people to the Saturday anti-Trump march—the Women’s March—than to the inauguration itself. More people will take to the streets in Washington, D.C. and nationwide to protest the policies of the new administration than to celebrate it.

These images warm my heart because they prove that the United States is still a free country.

If we were living in a dictatorship, the streets would have been crowded with cheering admirers. Censorship would have suppressed the reporting of the comparison photographs and factoids. The surveys that show Trump’s unprecedented unpopularity would have been rigged to pretend the man is universally beloved.

The mass revulsion and renewed activism motivated by the Electoral College’s decision to elect this unqualified no-nothing gives me cause for optimism, although I can’t help but wonder how many of the marchers voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or stayed home on Election Day.

Both a friend of mine and I noticed that in most of the video streams and photographs (but not the one gracing the front page of the New York Times), the Trump family looks grim and unhappy. I shrugged it off as the typical awe and trembling that the nouveau riche feel when confronted by century-old traditions which fill them with the anxiety of those who believe in their hearts that they are unworthy. They focus on playing their role to perfection, which gives them a certain stiffness and seriousness of purpose. Contrast with the smiles, kidding and other grace notes that have brightened the inaugural performance of every other president in my lifetime. Of course all of them, even Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, were long-time insiders who participated in transfer of power ceremonies before and knew how government worked.

My friend, a practicing psychotherapist, saw an unhappy family in strife. For unhappy families, milestones and public events often provide a battlefield for playing out their problems. Mentally stable people, no matter how pissed off or disappointed they are at their spouse, child or parent, will hide behind a public mask. We know Hillary Clinton learned to do that during the 1990’s. But the more troubled a family or an individual, the less they can control themselves in public settings. Does family unhappiness explain the first family frowns? Before their grand entrance, did Trumpty-Dumpty berate everyone with commands, chides and insults?

As to Trump’s speech, I think MSNBC’s Chris Matthews put it best. It was Hitlerian.

Not so much specifically Hitlerian, but with many attributes of speeches given by fascists and totalitarians since human history began, including:

  • References to the people as an organic unity that feels, moves, suffers and exults together. “We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny” sent a shudder down my spine because it fit right into a speech by Mussolini or Hitler. Or the ancient Greek tyrant Pisistratus, for that matter.
  • Explicit and implicit linking of the people to the ruler, as if the ruler is the people and the people are the ruler.
  • The big lies, which in the inauguration speech focused on the current state of the country. To the degree that there ever was “American Carnage,” it has ended over the past 25 years, as crime rates, shooting of police by others and terrorism have gone way down. The education system is not flush with cash, as Trump averred. As the unemployment rate and income equality suggest, the problem is not a lack of jobs, but the low wages paid for most jobs nowadays. We have not, as Trump claims, depleted the military.
  • The cry to put the country first, unlike what the old regime did, at least according to the incoming fascist dictator. “America First,” the rallying cry of the virulently anti-Semitic American fascists in the 1930’s and 1940’s, sounds no different from the Nazi proclamation to put “Deutschland űber alles.”
  • The evocation of a special destiny for the country, the idea that the country is better, purer, more advanced. Both times that Trump declared American exceptionalism he implied or stated that it’s god’s will: the first time when he called us a “righteous public,” and more explicitly when he said that “we will be protected by God.”
  • Glorification of a past that never existed. The past to which Trump refers is industrialized America during the twentieth century. Yes, we were an industrial nation, but always because we exported. As Sven Beckert’s magisterial Empire of Cotton demonstrates, the United States built its economy on trade from its very origins. Our manufacturing flourished in the 20th century because we were able to sell our goods everywhere. The other major inaccuracy in discussing our past was the idea that everything was wonderful back then—it was only wonderful for workers once they unionized, and then only for whites.Embedded in the fascist rhetoric that both tore down the current state of the country and glorified the national ideal, were a mere three policy recommendations.

Let’s pretend that we’re living in a logical world and consider those three initiatives the cornerstones of the Trump Administration:

  1. Protectionist trade policies
  2. War against “radical Islamic terrorism”
  3. Investment in rebuilding our infrastructure of roads, bridges and highwaysThat’s a paltry program compared to what Regan, both Bushes, Clinton and Obama laid out in their inaugurations. Paltry, and mostly wrong-headed. Protectionist trade policies have been a contributing factor to most depressions in American history, as trade wars close off markets. Singling out Islam suggests a religious war, not a fight against terrorism. Rebuilding our infrastructure is something I and other left-wingers have been advocating for at least a decade. Too bad Trump didn’t say that he would pay for it by raising taxes on the wealthy, nor note that a national building program gives the country the opportunity to create the infrastructure needed for a post-fossil fuel economy.

But unlike other inaugural addresses, Trump’s remarks seemed less about describing a program and more about reminding people how lousy their lives were and how great they will be now that the big man is in charge.While Trump channeled fascism in his inaugural address, his Administration got started with two symbolic acts that reminded me of Hemingway’s dictum not to confuse motion with action. Trump signed an executive order that allows agencies to dismantle those parts of the Affordable Care Act it is legal for the president to dismantle. No specifics, no commands, no timetables. Thus no real action.

All references to global warming suddenly disappeared from the White House website the moment the transfer of power occurred. But again, the act was symbolic at best, since the White House did not countermand any single regulation or rule.

I recently wondered if the Trump Administration would engage only in symbolic acts of branding and rebranding. I speculated that the kind of gridlock that this approach to running the country both reflects and initiates would be the best-case scenario for a Trump Administration. So far, so good.

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Our best hope for Trump years is that he does nothing but what he does best: Brand & rebrand

I’ve sat in front of a blank screen for the past hour trying to grapple with the enormity of what has happened: An ignorant, autocratic, erratic, irrational, racist, misogynistic narcissist has assumed the presidency of the United States and with it control over a vast rule-making administration.

Erratic though he may seem, Trump’s cabinet speaks to a consistent agenda: lowering taxes on the wealthy and making it easier for a handful of large businesses in a handful of industries to operate while turning the federal government into one giant business-making machine for cronies. Trump’s cabinet promises to take national the disastrous Kansas experiment under Governor Sam Brownback—starving government to the point that it can’t even deliver basic services such as public education. We’ve seen how this approach to governing has failed not only in Kansas, but in states around the world.

Since Trumpty-Dumpty has made the same deal with the devil that other economic rightwingers have made since at least the middle of the 19th century, we will also get a large dose of nativism and racism in how we pursue social and economic policy. Besides the dangers created by cutbacks to funding, the harsh administration of justice and more voter suppression laws, minorities, immigrants and women also face the ire of Trump’s “basket of deplorables.”Reflecting Trump’s own loose-tongue explicitness, this latest generation of hate-mongers seems ready to become more overt in both word and deed under a Trump presidency.

I believe that, despite voter suppression laws and the rise of the militant white power movement (AKA the alt-right), history, demographics and the facts are on the side of social democrats. Eventually the demographic majority in favor of the left’s platform will turn into a voting and electoral advantage on the state and national levels. I am, for example, convinced that even if Trumpty-Dumpty survives the next four years without assassination or impeachment voters will sweep him out of office, perhaps even denying him the Republican nomination.

But unfortunately, Trump, Jeff, Betsy, Paul and their cohorts could do a lot of damage in a very short amount of time.

One of any of a large number of actions that Trump and the GOP-led Congress have threatened to do would be disastrous:

  • Ending the current healthcare system without putting in place either a single-payer system or a system that looks like the current one down to virtually every detail.
  • Lowering taxes on the wealthy, with or without gutting safety net and other government programs.
  • Installing a Supreme Court that will continue to grant rights historically reserved for human beings to corporate entities, while constraining the rights of actual individuals.
  • Replacing our public education system with a voucher-based system good for either assembly-line, for-profit charter Mac-schools or parochial private schools.
  • Turning our back on the Paris Accord and promoting the development and use of fossil fuels instead of moving towards alternative fuels.
  • Walking away from international trade agreements and creating barriers to trade except for those related to the environment, safety and compensation for workers.

Like he does with his bankrupt companies, when Trump leaves office, either in disgrace or in a cloud of gilded faux glory, he will leave it to others to fix what he has broken.

But that’s the way of the world. Who suffered when Athens decided to go to war more than the slaves and hoplites who had to do the fighting? It is the poor and the innocent who suffer in wars, not the rich old men (and now women) who send them to fight or order others to attack and plunder their lands. Who suffers when a Chief Executive Officer, driven by ego and blinded by his (and now sometimes her) ignorance does something stupid like expand too quickly, take on too much debt or borrow money to pay bonuses? The CEO walks away with a golden parachute and the workers lose their jobs and sometimes get shorted on their pension. (Anecdotally, years ago I observed a president of a Fortune 500 company fueled by a cocaine habit drive his company into a chapter 11 bankruptcy and massive layoffs; when he was fired, he walked away with a large severance package).

It’s also not the first time in world history that a large population has fallen under the spell of a mendacious charlatan. Nor the first time that a society has lived by a series of lies or myths. I would assert that since World War II, we in the United States have based our society on a few wrong-headed ideas that turn out to be based more on ideological belief than facts:

  1. All emotions, rituals and human relationships can be reduced to commercial transactions.
  2. The suburban lifestyle built on cars, malls and few public spaces is superior to the urban lifestyle built on diversity, mass transit and lots of public spaces and institutions.
  3. The free market provides better solutions to social needs and challenges than government does.
  4. There is something suspicious, antisocial and/or uncool about intellectualism, intellectual endeavors, learning and science.

Celebrity culture represents the logical endpoint of the confluence of these false beliefs, and Donald Trump represents the apotheosis of celebrity culture a failed businessman who plays a successful one on TV, someone who is famous merely for being famous, gallivants from one expensive place to another acting out his inner demons in front of a national audience. Entertaining to some, but not the way to run either a business or a government.

While ignorant, bullheaded, self-centered, vindictive and crass, Trump also has a genius in one area—branding, which on an operational level consists of making people want something more than they should by attributing to the thing values and meaning that go beyond its use value. “More than they should” is the important concept here, because in the case of an end to the Affordable Care Act or the building of a wall between the United States and Mexico, the average person should not want to see it happen at all. This one skill Trump has may prove to be the salvation of the country during his years in office.

My best case scenario for the Trump rule is that he focuses on branding and nothing else. For example, the entirety of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act could be replaced by itself but with new names—the exchange could be called a “Freedom Market.” The standards that insure that no one will buy a worthless policy could be called the “Patients’ Bill of Rights.” The individual mandate could be relabeled a user fee—those who go to expensive hotels and vacation resorts should be used to user fees for something they don’t use!

In a similar way, the Trump Administration might rightfully conclude that the cost to modernize our stock of nuclear weapons is too expensive and instead institute a program that pretends to modernize but really decommissions hundreds of our unneeded thousands of nuclear warheads. Trump could call it “Peace through Strength.” The Donald could also very easily do nothing to change our immigration intake process and still call it extreme vetting, wait six months and declare victory in the war to protect our borders, using statistics that reflect the Obama years. Same with crime.

Our best hope, then, is that Trump remains true to his inner Barnum and spends his time in office doing nothing but bullshitting people (and engaging in feuds, of course). Maybe his family and friends will cash in, but we survived Jackson’s, Grant’s, Harding’s and Bush II’s gang of thieves. We can survive a little more kleptocracy and an administration full of empty slogans.

Gridlock never looked so good.

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Trump’s reply to John Lewis comment displays usual Trumpian ignorance of facts and symbols

John Lewis said what a lot of us have been thinking: that Trump is not a legitimate president because of voter suppression laws in a handful of states that broke to Trump by micro-thin margins and decided the results of the Electoral College. The Georgia Congressman also implied that Trump delegitimizes himself with his behavior and language towards minorities, immigrants and women. Finally, Lewis rejects Trump’s vision for America as its putative symbolic leader for the next eight, four, two or one year(s) that he’s president.

When not trying to bully women or his campaign adversaries, Trump often takes off on figures with halos over their heads, people who both the religious and non-religious consider saint-like: A Gold Star family. The Pope.

And now John Lewis.

On both the factual and the symbolic level, Trumpty-Dumpty’s recent tweet attacking Lewis was as wrong as wrong can be. After mischaracterizing Lewis’ vibrant and relatively wealthy Congressional district as a crime-infested rat hole, Trump said “All talk, talk, talk—no action or results.”

John Lewis. No action?

On the factual level, the district itself belies Trump’s accusation that Lewis doesn’t spend time helping it.

On the symbolic level, John Lewis epitomizes the man of action. Remember that when police officers and soldiers put themselves in harm’s way, they carry weapons and are willing to use them and, if American, they typically outnumber the other side.

But John Lewis went out to face the enemy with nothing but the courage of his conviction that peaceful disobedience was the most powerful weapon to achieve social, civic and economic justice. When he led the demonstrators across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama that bloody Sunday in 1965, he knew he was going to take a bad beating, and he took it. He took it for Dr. Martin Luther King, who didn’t march that day. And he took it for the civil rights movement. He took it for the entirety of the United States and for everyone who ever believed that the right to participate fully in society belonged to all men and women, regardless of their color, religion or condition in life. I’ve read the Gospels and a lot of history and I’m still not convinced that such a man as Jesus Christ ever existed. I definitely question the concept of a person suffering for the sins of the collective. But if there were ever a Christ-like human being, it was—and is—John Lewis.

The simplified form of the twentieth century philosophy called existentialism is “You are what you do.” By that measure, Lewis is an existentialist’s existentialist, the highest form of the man of action.

While John Lewis has lived his life as the embodiment of true heroism, every public act of Donald Trump’s existence manifests the extreme narcissism and greed of a spoiled but very dull four-year-old. While John Lewis has dedicated himself to the ideals of helping others, Trump and his cabinet of billionaires and multi-millionaires have dedicated their time on earth to selfish ends or to rolling back the gains made by Lewis and others to bring social and economic equity to all.

Some people are bemoaning that Trump is an accidental president, a product of a bizarre series of one-off events. Others blame racism and misogyny for the still hard-to-imagine horror of 60 million people voting for him. Still others say Republicans fixed the Electoral College vote with voter suppression laws. All of these explanations for why this ignorant loutish racist who lost the popular vote by almost three million still ended up president is enough to delegitimize his moral authority for John Lewis. And for tens of millions others, too.

Including me. Donald Trump may assume the office of the presidency in a few days, but he’ll never be my president.

On the other hand…if he would keep and extend Obama’s energy and environmental policies; fund infrastructure improvement with new taxes on the wealthy; veto all legislation that would end the Affordable Care Act or the individual mandate or cut funding to Planned Parenthood; come out in favor of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian mess; embrace the Iraq nuclear deal; advocate raising the minimum wage and lifting the cap on incomes assesses Social Security taxes; nominate Merrick Garland as Supreme Court justice; encourage parents to give their children timely vaccinations, stopped using Twitter to create prosecute personal feuds, stopped dissing our allies while praising Vladimir Putin…

In other words, if Trump acted presidential, I would consider him president.

Fat chance of that.

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When news media changed definition of objectivity, they opened door to ignorance & Trumpism

Once upon a time, the news media defined objectivity as presenting the facts, and just the facts, usually substantiated by at least two reliable sources. Then the right-wing, led by its own sometimes vibrant sometimes moribund cadre of media, hammered mainstream media that its side wasn’t getting a fair hearing.

According to Nicole Hemer’s Messengers of the Right, which covers the development of the right wing media from the end of World War II until the ascent of Rush Limbaugh and his various imitators, the right wing began assaulting the idea that the mainstream news media was objective from the early days of William Buckley’s National Review and Regenery Press, which published right wing screeds about communism and the evils of labor unions and government regulation, usually financed by their trust fund authors or bulk purchases by corporations run by right wingers.  But the real assault on objectivity began in the 1970’s, about the time that the right wing added cultural issues such as abortion to its agenda. In place of objectivity in coverage, the right-wing proposed balance—presenting all sides of the issue.

The right wing never admitted it, nor did anyone notice at the time, but the critique of factuality as the central value of reporting correlated with the general compliant that the mass media were too “liberal,” by which they meant “left-wing” or “collectivist.” The right was subtly admitting that liberal positions were right, because the facts supported them. The news media only print facts. The facts skew liberal.

Thus the right wing pushed the notion that judging by the facts in and of itself didn’t create objectivity.

Their substitute definition of objectivity—balanced reporting—required journalists to quote the one crackpot who doesn’t believe in global warming when they had already talked to two thousand who do. Stories that should have been about how to we are addressing human-caused global warming instead rehashed whether it existed or not. This balanced approach enabled many lies to sneak into news coverage on a wide range of issues, including women’s reproductive rights, immigration, crime, science, education and health care. The biggest band leader for balance was, of course, Fox News, which did not balance its coverage but applied major pressure on other media to balance theirs. That brings us to the current situation in which most Americans have their choice of right-wing news or news that presents both the right and the left without evaluation of the truth, validity or factual basis of either side.

Remer doesn’t speculate on why the mainstream news media responded to the exhortations to replace facts with balance as the guide star of journalistic objectivity and integrity, but I’m pretty sure that two motivations drove the mainstream news media; 1) The inherent controversy in “presenting both sides” is more dramatic than a technical discussion and therefore more like entertainment; 2) Writing he said-she said stories is easier than becoming an expert and developing an in-depth discussion of an issue.

From letting people tell lie in these balanced stories to accepting their lies without question, as the media has done with trump, was a small step. Balanced reporting allowed Trump to flourish because he is a master of phrasing every argument as an “us-versus-them” battle, or, to be more specific, the great Donald versus them.

Remer’s book walks an interesting tightrope. It focuses on the right wing media’s various players, their media mix and marketing techniques, their internal squabbles, especially on whether to cut ties with the proto-alt-right John Birch Society and to support Nixon, their suspicions that the media was too left-wing, and their attempts to influence elections, political parties and mainstream media. But very little is said about the actual positions that the right-wing media held, except that they believed in the ascendancy of individual rights over what’s good for society and they disliked unions. The opposition to the civil rights movement, government regulation and all social welfare programs, including Social Security; the belief that communists had infiltrated the government; the flirtation with racist organizations; the ultra-hawkish militarism; and the belief that an elite of highly educated white men should lead society—none of these planks in the right wing media’s platform in the 1950’s and 1960’s are worthy of discussion in Remer’s telling of the story. It’s a bit like discussing the Donald Trump phenomenon without talking about the lies, lechery and lawsuits.

 

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Trump & GOP behave like children on “Take Your Kid to Work” day, focus on “make-busy” work instead of solving problems

There might be some possibility of convincing Donald Trump and the Republicans not to build a wall along the Mexican border if they sincerely felt threatened by an invasion of undocumented immigrants. Once they learned that more of the undocumented have been leaving the country than entering over the past few years, once they computed the true cost of a new wall, once they saw the Department of Justice estimates of the low number of people a wall would prevent from entering—all of these facts might sway them to change their minds and not pursue this enormously expensive boondoggle.

Unfortunately, Trumpty-Dumpty and his GOP cohorts act not out of a misguided effort to solve a non-existent problem, but for two intertwined cynical reasons. Most GOP members—but perhaps not the unread and inexperienced Trump—know that undocumented immigrants are not a security threat to the United States and that between Presidents Bush II and Obama, we have already pumped up border patrols, rounded up and deported the “bad guys,” and instituted “extreme vetting.” They continue to use the wall as a political catalyst to enrage and frighten voters, and especially those prone to Nativist or racist views. They can’t be convinced the wall is nonsense, because they already know it and don’t care. That’s why the GOP and Trump are proposing an accelerated timetable for starting construction on a wall instead of quietly dropping it as another in many empty campaign promises.

The second reason has to do with money. Trump represents the apotheosis of the post-Reagan Republican Party in many ways, but no more so than in his belief that the real function of government is to collect taxes for use by private industry, one of the pillars of Republicanism since the days of Ronald Reagan. Trump is the ultimate crony capitalist. He has bragged in the past of buying the support of politicians. Many of his developments received governmental aid of one sort or another. Many of his cabinet members, most notably the incoming Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, have dedicated their careers to privatizing essential government functions.

And have no doubt about it, building a wall is the ripest, juiciest, lowest hanging fruit on the tree of government largess to corporations because it doesn’t take much more expertise than knowing how to set rebar and pour concrete to do it. If we were talking about building a fighter jet, the government would have two companies from which to choose. Not many more if we were talking about investing billions of dollars in improving our cybersecurity. But there are dozens of large and small contractors in every state with the experience and capabilities to build Trump’s wall. That means that there are going to be many opportunities for Trump and Republican members of Congress to reward their friends with contracts for building the wall. It’s going to be the biggest swindle of the American people since Bush II’s Iraq War, which was in large part fought by what used to be called mercenaries, i.e., private firms contracted by the Department of Defense to provide key military services that the military once did for itself.

While it provides a lot of government contracts, the new wall between the United States and Mexico will make no one safer nor keep many people out. It’s nothing more than “make-busy” work.

It seems as if Trump and the Republican congress have prioritized this kind of “make-busy” work as the most important platform promises to get started fulfilling. They are behaving as a bunch of ten year olds cutting scrap paper or moving files to help mommy at her job on “Take Your Kid to Work” day. Besides authorizing the funds to begin building a wall, the Republicans are hell-bent in repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which will likely turn out to be another make-busy waste of time.

Here’s why: The problem is that Congress has only three choices in repealing Obamacare:

  1. Take away the health insurance of 20 million Americans, while putting three million people out of work, increasing the cost of health insurance for everyone else and increasing the deficit.

OR

  1. Go to a single payer system (which FYI wouldn’t really hurt insurance companies if we followed the German model, but will have a great financial effect on physicians and hospitals)

OR

  1. Reconstruct a system that looks pretty much like Obamacare: a delicate balance of taxes, incentives, subsidies and important benefits that the American public have quickly come to believe are birthrights, such as accepting people for coverage with pre-existing conditions, not having a lifetime cap on coverage and keeping children on parents’ insurance until age 26. Ending coverage for pre-existing conditions would in and of itself lead to an estimated 53 million people losing their healthcare insurance.

The cynical GOP know the first option will lead to certain defeat at the polls and that the second one looks too much like socialism, so my prediction is that the GOP’s version of healthcare reform will resemble what we currently have, with the possible addition of a very small voucher program to justify the clamor that the healthcare system must operate more on free market principles.

That means that like the wall, the GOP’s healthcare reform process will likely waste a lot of time—and money—in meaningless activity.

Pass the juice box, Paulie. And don’t horde all the paper clips and staples, Donnie.

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Fake news has been around since news has been around. What’s different now is the assertion that alternate truths exist

For a few months in the early 1980’s my job was to rewrite the long stories from the 11:00 pm news of the night before into 30-second and one-minute versions for the morning news for the San Francisco affiliate of a national news network. Virtually every morning I discovered inaccuracies in the reporting of one particular night beat reporter—her versions always exaggerated the blood and guts, the violence and the horror. She often introduced fake elements into the news.

Around that time, Ronald Reagan in campaigning for president often invoked the image of the “welfare queen” and was never questioned by the news media. Virtually all mainstream news media allowed Reagan to make his racially tinged claim that welfare fraud was a huge problem without looking at the evidence, which demonstrated that the biggest fraud problem the federal government had in the 1980’s were false claims by physicians. By publishing a smear that could readily be disproven, the news media allowed the fake claim to disseminate across the country and for racism once again to enter a political decision.

Fast forward to the run-up to the Second Iraq War. All evidence suggests that New York Times reporter Judith Miller knew or at least had deep suspicions that the evidence she was reporting that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was completely fabricated. It was fake news and it helped to get us into the most disastrous war in American history.

In fact, from the Civil War onward, we can find massive evidence in every generation of the news media routinely publishing the lies of government and large corporations without checking the facts, sometimes knowing they were distributing falsehoods and not caring. Sometimes these lies involved the foundational ideology upon which American society operates, such as American exceptionalism, the idea that everyone has an equal shot at success in life and the central importance of the two-parent nuclear family.

Thus, while I am disturbed and shaken by the damage wrought on the American people by fake news in the latest election cycle, I am not convinced that a Rubicon has been crossed. The quantity of false news has grown and the means by which it can be delivered directly to consumers have multiplied, but the problem of mendacious journalism is as old as town criers and public squares.

Through the years, both mainstream and tabloid media have disseminated several types of false news:

  • The out-and-out lie: In the mainstream media, only rogue journalists like Brian Williams tell an out-and-out lie or make up a story. When discovered, the profession usually punishes them harshly.
  • Letting an obvious lie pass: Journalists have always given politicians, business leaders and civic boosters a free pass on their overt lies, for several reasons: 1) Because they agree with what the liar is saying. For example, a basic agreement with the idea of cutting Social Security benefits to fund more tax cuts for the wealthy led many media to conceal the net effects of the recommendations of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility & Reform in 2010. 2) To create or extend a story or a controversy, which explains why the news media didn’t call Trump on his incessant lying until very late in the presidential campaign. It also explains why they continue to publish the views of a handful of pariah scientists, many paid by corporations, who deny human-caused global warming. 3) To support the government and also ensure that they continue to be able to use government sources, as we can see in the run-up to the Iraq War, when the mainstream media published the ridiculously low government projections on the cost of the conflict, while ignoring the more accurate predictions of a variety of foreign policy experts and economists.
  • Selective coverage: Is it false news to publish so much about the fact that Hillary Clinton had a private server, while suppressing the fact that her predecessors also used private servers, that the Bush II administration consciously destroyed three million emails and that the contents of the Clinton emails exonerated her from any suspicious of unethical or illegal actions?
  • Spinning the coverage: Is it false news to focus on the part of a report or study that supports the media’s worldview while ignoring more significant parts that disprove what the media wants us to believe? Some examples: Headlines and reporting on a Pew study this past summer focused on the fact that four-fifths of the nation’s fastest-shrinking religious group, white evangelicals, were backing Trump, while ignoring the fact that the fastest growing religious group and one of the same size as white evangelicals—those who are atheists—favored Clinton by similar margins. Six years ago, the mass media reported that a National Center for Health Statistics study found that people who cohabit are a mere 6% less likely to be together 10 years after marriage than people who don’t live together before getting hitched.  The media either ignored or buried the real significance of the study: that more than 61% of all women now cohabit with someone else sometime in their lives. Is it false news to declare an ignoramus of the right an expert, while ignoring a widely published left winger considered the world’s top scholar in the field? In this regard, I agree with Mark Hertsgaard who in the Nation special issue on the Obama years states the mass media “deserve a special circle in hell for sustaining the lie that climate change is more a matter of political opinion than of scientific fact.”

Determining whether or when providing selective information, purposely misinterpreting the facts or communicating the lies of other people (with proper attribution, of course!) constitutes false news involves questions of ethics and epistemology, which is the study of meaning. In passing, let’s note that the United States government has often used false news reports to control or steer events in other countries. We have dropped leaflets full of lies and spread rumors of deaths or impending revolts. Now it appears that the Russians have victimized us with 21st century versions of our own Cold War weapons.

We should also keep in mind that it’s pretty much legal to lie in paid advertising or in an opinion piece that appears under one’s own byline. The mainstream news media while professing to have a firewall between the advertising and editorial departments, have often tended to blur the distinction between news and advertising, and between news and opinion. The Internet has given advertisers greater opportunity to pass off their shill as real news.

It used to be that the mainstream news media represented a consensus of what its owners—the ruling elite—believed. That consensus shaped the news we received, because there were few alternative ways to communicate to people on either the left or the right, and those alternatives—other print media and radio, were expensive and reached relatively small numbers. We could assume that most of the time the mainstream news media didn’t lie, and when they did, we knew what the lies were and why, because except for a brief instant during the late years of the Vietnam War, the mainstream media always supported the government or the collective ideology of the ruling elite. As G. William Domhoff and others have pointed out, that elite was not unified, as not every wealthy family and corporate overlord agreed to the basic compromise with labor made by the wealthy during the Roosevelt years, nor with the later push to give minorities and women equal access to the law and the economy.

To state the obvious, the growth of the Internet, especially social media, has increased the ways that we can inexpensively get both accurate and false information to others. The right-wing in particular has had a great deal of success spreading lies, false news and misleading interpretations directly to their constituencies. If it’s the right wing that has specialized in false news today, it’s mostly because the right is the side fighting reality, in such areas as global warming and the impact of lowering taxes on the wealthy, or using lies to shore up their argument as with voter suppression laws, government privatization and abortion.  With the facts firmly in the hands of those who once would have been called Eisenhower Republicans, the right has faced the choice of retreating or lying to hold back history and the truth.

But false news has turned elections before, most notably the elections of 1824, 1888 and 2000, all of which happen to have ended with the loser in the popular vote installed in the White House. False news has led us into wars and justified horrible acts such as dropping the atom bomb and constructing a global torture gulag.

It would take a massive research project to measure the percentage of news in any given era that involves lies, so we don’t really know whether there is more false news today than there used to be. We do, however, know that:

  • There are more ways to disseminate both false and true news than there used to be.
  • There is less real news being reported than in any decade since World War II, as the organizations that report shrink and those that merely disseminate—with or without spin—have grown.
  • Many fewer people get their news from the mainstream than used to, to the point that we know longer have a consensus as to what constitutes hard news, the news cycle, news authorities and news ethics.
  • 43% of Internet users have passed along false news; 10% have done so knowing what they were forwarding was full of lies.

In Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman presents study after study that demonstrate that people will believe an anecdote that supports their beliefs over a factual study that disproves them. The prevalence of false news, like rumors and urban myths, feed into the deep need of people to assert their perceptions as reality. What’s troubling in this context, is the kind of false news that predominates today.  Birtherism, voter fraud, Clinton illegalities, immigrant hordes—the racist, anti-science and misogynist explicitness of most false news is more troubling than the fact that false news exists.

The real question is whether we have reached a tipping point at which the amount of false new overwhelms truth and leads to a breakdown of the system. If that is what we are seeing, it merely reflects the amount of false information that currently determines government and industrial policy. People thinking that the Chinese invented the idea of global warming to hurt the West is not significant until our government and corporate leaders believe it and act on that false information.

The most alarming part of the rise of false news to my mind is not the increase in false ideas floating in the public sphere, but the growth in the idea that there are multiple truths, an idea first floated by the Bush II administration. I think it was Dick Cheney, but it may have been another Bush II henchperson who said that the administration made its own reality and by the time the world caught up, it would remake reality again.

As long as we agree that truth exists, truth will eventually win out, although often after a lot of pain and suffering by innocent people. But once we assert that truth can be constructed and that two or more truths can exist simultaneously when it comes to anything other than emotions, we are sunk as a society.

 

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Donald Trump: Our accidental president is a national embarrassment & a national tragedy

In imagining presidential candidates at the beginning of 2016, if someone had said to me that an erratic and narcissistic sociopath would garner even a million votes, I would have considered it a national embarrassment, regardless of that candidate’s political stances.

Same feeling if even one million people had voted for a candidate without government experience who failed miserably at his profession of real estate development and casino management, be that candidate of the left or of the right. A national embarrassment that a million people would think such a failure to have presidential timber.

Same feeling of embarrassment if one million people had voted for someone involved in thousands of lawsuits, most involving other people suing him for nonpayment. Or if one million people had voted for a candidate who routinely slurred women, Hispanics and Muslims. Or if one million people had voted for someone who told bald-faced lies about his past and the state of the country in every speech. Or if one million people had voted for someone who used a charitable foundation to make private purchases and bribe government officials.

Or if one million people had voted for someone who admitted to sexual assault on camera and in doing so committed a serious violation of law by creating a hostile work environment for women.

Mainstream news media and Democratic politicians can wring their hands all they want about Russian hacking, FBI manipulation, voter suppression laws, the double standard applied to Hillary, fake news, the Stein effect (which turned Michigan and Wisconsin red), Hillary’s mistakes, the news media’s failure to call Trump on his lies and the unfair skewering of the electoral college in favor of rural states—they can harp about all the many unfortunate happenstances that had to align in some kind of disharmonic convergence for Trump to win the electoral college while losing the popular vote by an unprecedented (not “unpresidented”) 2.8 million votes—moan about it all as much as they like, but it does not change the fact that not one million, not ten million, but almost 63 million people voted for Donald Trump.

That’s a little more than a quarter of all Americans eligible to vote and 46% of actual voters who cast their ballots for someone documented to be an unethical, law-breaking, sociopathic, racist, erratic, misogynistic liar with no government experience. Law-breaking. Erratic. No Experience. Sociopath. Racist. Misogynistic. Lying. Unethical. Any of these eight traits should have disqualified him in the minds of voters.

No one knows the real reason we elected Donald Trump. Was it a “perfect storm” of coincidences, which besides the ones listed above also included the lack of any mainstream Republican candidate and the absence of Republican super delegates? Was it a moment of mass hysteria or mass anger at the establishment? Was it a brilliantly executed strategy that bypassed the news media by relying on revivalist meeting events and social media? Was it because the Democratic Party based too much of its program on identity politics, a popular explanation among self-loathing progressives and their mainstream media enablers? These self-flagellators seem to forget that walking away from asserting the rights of ethnic, racial and sexual minorities involves selling out the American dream and that the very term “identity politics” undercuts the legitimacy of the injustices that women and minorities still endure.

In my view, what elected Donald Trump was the merging of two evils which have poisoned the American body politics since the white rich merchants and slave owners whom we call our founders formed the country more than two centuries ago: racism and greed. Many people voted for Trump out of fear and resentment of blacks, Hispanics and Muslims. Many other people voted for him because they wanted to lower taxes, no matter what. The greedy ones have cynically financed a war against multicultural values and science to pander to the racist (and ultra-religious) ones. Rich folk supporting the beliefs of racist (and culturally conservative) folk in return for support of economic policies that hurt 99% of all Americans has pretty much described the Republican play book since the rise of Ronald Reagan. If the sleep of reason produces monsters, then the reasoning of the Republican Party has produced the monstrous Donald Trump. Or perhaps it’s the reasoning of consumer capitalism.

Let’s not forget, though, that both racism and greed run deep and long in Americwan history. In fact the white rich merchants and slave owners who created the Electoral College did so to keep real control of governance in as small a set of hands as possible. Other aspects of the Constitution in its original form show favoritism to both the propertied and slave owners. From its very inception, we can view most American history through the lens of either racism or the battle to divide the economic pie between the wealthy and everyone else.

No matter the explanation for the election of Donald Trump, we should all feel ashamed and embarrassed. That the ballots of one quarter of the voting population should elect such a dangerously unqualified president reflects poorly on our education system, our political parties, our news media, our system of checks and balances, the motives of the ultra-wealthy and our cultural norms. It is our national shame. And once Trump’s cabinet of crony capitalists, retired generals and ideologues springs into action, it will also be our national tragedy.

The American dream has proved to be weaker than the American original sins of racism and greed.

 

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Adult infantilization may be a byproduct of social evolution, but it could lead to demise of humans

Nowadays adults collect My Little Pony dolls and play with Legos. They read Harry Potter and comic books. They go on sleepovers at museums and down Gummi Bear vitamins.

It’s called adult infantilization, adults maintaining hobbies and interests that are created specifically for children and which are relatively uncomplicated and unsophisticated compared to adult experiences.

I’ve written about the negative impact of infantilization a number of times, including most recently on June 30, 2016, October 27, 2014 and May 10, 2014. My concern with infantilization is that I believe it leaves adults not just acting like children, but thinking like them.

Bad for society, but good for advertisers. Advertisers want adults to behave like children because it makes them better consumers. Children are more self-centered and find it harder to think long-term, so they are more likely to make an impulse purchase for themselves. Children have less sophisticated thought processes and are therefore easier to convince to buy or believe something. Children have not had rigorous training in economics, the scientific method and logic and tend to engage in magical thinking. Children tend to believe anything an authority figures says.

We can see the trend of increased adult infantilization in the pandemic of popular movies focused on adults who behave like children over the past 20 years. A partial list: The “Harold & Kumar” movies,  “Old School,”  “Big,”  “Grandma’s Boy,”  the “Ted” flicks,  “The Wedding Crashers,”  “Billy Madison,”  ”Step Brothers,”  “You, Me and Dupree,”  “Dodgeball,”  “The 40-year-old Virgin,”  “Knocked Up,”  all three “Hangovers,”  the “Jackass” movies, “Bridesmaids,”  “Hall Pass”  and “Identity Thief.”

It’s easy to see why someone selling products and services—especially unneeded junk—might want to deal with children and not adults, or to be more precise, to deal with adults with the thought processes of children. But children make poor citizens and worse voters, as they are more easily swayed by fallacious thinking and more likely to see things in terms of good and bad, us and them, thereby missing nuances that are particularly important in a pluralistic society.

In reading Beyond Words by science popularizer Carl Safina, I’ve discovered that infantilization may be a byproduct of the evolution that humans have gone through since forming sedentary societies. In discussing the domestication of wolves into dogs and a decades-long experiment to domesticate foxes by letting only the less aggressive ones breed, Safina lists a set of physical traits that seem always to be tied to friendliness or a lack of aggression, the traits that humans prefer in dogs: droopy ears, splotchy or mottled coats, wagging tails, shorter legs, shorter faces with smaller teeth. As it turns out, all these physical characteristics are present in the young of the species, who then grow out of them.  As for behavior, to quote Safina, “As adults, the friendly foxes continue to behave like juvenile wolves, acting submissively, whining and giving higher pitched barks.” He and the research he references postulate that “genes resulting in invisible brain changes for friendly behavior also result in highly visible changes in how foxes look.” Safina points out that these changes are virtually the same ones that occurred in wolves as they became dogs. Safina concludes that researchers and farmers who have thought they were selecting for nonaggressive personalities were also selecting for juvenile versions of adults, “perpetual pups” as he writes.

Later in Beyond Words, Safina points out that the extremely social and peaceful bonobos have many physical traits that the highly aggressive and anti-social chimpanzee have as children but lose as adults, including skull shape, flatness of face, smaller teeth and the existence of the labia majora in females. Surprise, surprise, humans share these bonobo traits that adult chimpanzees lose.

Anthropologist Chris Boehm has postulated that over time, groups of humans may have eliminated many of those most prone to aggressive acts, such as rape, murder, cheat and other anti-social behavior because imprisonment, execution, death in war and banishment all impede procreation. What we’re talking about is not any millennium-long program of eugenics, but the adaptive superiority of civilized behavior once humans formed large groups. While blackguards still exist, the theory goes that there are fewer of them because of conscious selections by human beings.

Could it be that the more domesticated humans that populate advanced societies are also more prone to keeping their juvenile predilections? That the less aggressive a population is, the more likely that many of its members will not only maintain the traits of adolescence or childhood, but the mindset as well?

It’s depressing to think that we may be hardwired as a social species to have an overall decline in our ability to think clearly, which is what a wholesale reversion to juvenile thought process would entail. It could lead to more of the short-sighted selfishness that has led to policies that are boiling the oceans, overstuffing the atmosphere and water with carbon dioxide, destroying massive numbers of species and threatening the continued existence of humanity.

Let’s face it; everything we know about the natural history of the world and the physics behind its playing out over time is that the goal of evolution is the destruction of species. According to current evolutionary science, virtually all species that have existed have gone extinct. As levels of carbon monoxide and oxygen have varied through the ages so have the conditions of life, favoring some creatures for a while and then others. Moments of extreme change have produced five mass extinctions and it looks as if we are in the middle of a sixth one, caused primarily by humans. Thus, human self-domestication, which carries so many advantages for humans in society, may also have disadvantages which over time could lead to our demise.

The answer, however, is not to become more aggressive as a species again. Our future depends on greater cooperation, not less, on more peaceful resolution of conflicts, not on warfare.

What we need is an education system that trains children to be free-thinking adults and not good consumers. One example: when I was growing up, there was no such thing as young adult fiction, which is now the hottest fiction category. Children went right from the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew to adult fiction, which could sometimes be sloppy romantic novels, but could also be works of great literature such as most of Mark Twain, some Steinbeck, Gulliver’s Travels, Catcher in the Rye, the books of Sinclair Lewis, A Tale of Two Cities. The list of books with adult complications and psychologies that are appropriate for teenagers goes on and on. Young adult fiction such as the Harry Potter series should not be taught in schools, nor qualify as reading assignments. We should analyze all high school curricula for signs of unconscious infantilization, e.g., talking down and simplifying subjects as if teens were still children or using methodologies meant for elementary school students with high school students. We should also flush the system of the accretion of consumerism that has built up through the years, such as classroom material sponsored by corporations that sell to the public. I also believe that there are certain inherently infantilizing experiences which we should limit (not prohibit) to all children, such as video games, comic books and branded toys. A stuffed dog will help a child mature more than a stuffed animal from a movie. A child makes up her-his own fantasies about a generic Ruff or Ralph. A branded toy has already created the narrative for the child. The branded toy also teaches children to accept the authority of a brand as a value in and of itself instead of evaluating things on their own merit.

I’m also wondering if helicopter parenting is also leading to infantilization. Adults have gotten their fingers into a lot of children’s activities. We should give children of all ages enough free time to play in unorganized settings, free of adult supervision. When all activities are constantly monitored and organized by adults, children are more likely to stay in their role as children. When a child is used to parents’ too active involvement in meeting challenges such as negotiating high school and applying to college, the child may continue to think like a child.

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If lame duck Congress doesn’t pass sentencing reform, thousands with minor offenses will stay in jail

People who complain that there is gridlock in Washington should understand that even with Congress and the President on the same page, the enactment of legislation is always an arduous process:

  • It has to go through committee in one chamber of Congress, which often means lengthy hearings.
  • It is then debated by the chamber, House or Senate.
  • It goes for a vote.
  • The other chamber of Congress sends it to committee, which lead to more hearings.
  • It is debated by the full body of the other chamber.
  • It goes for a vote in the other chamber.
  • A joint committee of both chambers reconciles all the differences between the bill that passed the House and the one that passed the Senate.
  • Both chambers vote separately on the reconciled bill.
  • The president signs it or lets it pass unsigned.
  • If the president vetoes the bill, the House and Senate can try to override the veto.

That’s a lot of process.

And what happens when a new Congress begins?

Every piece of legislation has to start from scratch.

Which brings us to a bill in Congress that is sponsored by 19 Democratic and 20 Republican senators, a bill that has the support of both a number of left-leaning and minority organizations and the Koch brothers and others on the right.

It’s Senate Bill 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. The House has split the contents of the Sentencing Reform Act into two bills, both of which are sponsored by Republicans and co-sponsored by large numbers of Representatives in both parties.

The Sentencing Reform Act is the first step to reversing the pernicious effect that mass incarceration has on our minority communities and our economy. In the 1990s to fight a 30-year crime wave that was already ending, Congress and state legislatures everywhere passed a number of laws that mandated minimum sentences for many crimes, took discretion away from judges and inflicted much harsher punishment for victimless crimes that African-Americans tended to commit, like smoking cocaine, than for victimless crimes that whites tend to commit, like snorting cocaine.

The result: The United States is now the world’s leader when it comes to people in prison—some 2.2 million, five times as many as there were 40 years ago, even though the total population has grown by only about 1.5 times in the same period.

The inherent bias in these new laws has combined with the unfair and uneven application of existing U.S. laws to create a new “Jim Crow”—a set of laws that institutionalized unfair treatment of minorities and represented an explicit double standard under the law. One in three black Americans will serve time in prison at some time in their life. More to the point, blacks serve about the same amount of time for non-violent drug-related offenses as whites do for violent crimes.

Left-wingers and the minority communities see the unfairness of mass incarceration. Rightwingers are concerned about the rising cost of housing so many prisoners. Economic experts across the spectrum of opinion worry about the impact on our coming labor shortage of having so many people in jail for carrying an ounce of weed or puffing on a crack pipe.

The Sentencing Reform Act would:

  • Reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses
  • Reduce mandatory three-strikes-you’re-out life sentences to 25 years
  • Give judges greater discretion in sentencing low-level drug offenders.
  • Apply the Fair Sentencing Act retroactively to people currently serving long prison sentences for hitting the crack pipe; the law was passed in 2010 to reduce the disparity in sentences for possession of crack versus powdered cocaine. The House version allows those still in prison for crack cocaine to apply for a lesser sentence.
  • The Sentencing Reform Act is not a perfect bill and only goes part way towards correcting the inequities in the criminal justice sentence. But it’s a start. A start that’s stalled.

Someone affiliated with the Friends Committee on National Legislation (who provided a lot of the information in this article to me) was told on Capitol Hill that the Senate is waiting until the House moves, because individual Senators don’t want to get burned as they did when they supported immigration reform and were left hanging out to dry when the House politicized the issue. No one seems to know why the House is not advancing the bill, although I suspect that it has something to do with Speaker Paul Ryan’s inability to control the misnamed Freedom Caucus right-wingers. I also wonder whether Senators and Representatives of both parties are afraid of losing the votes of the racists who would just as soon see us lock up more minorities.

Here’s a bill that has widespread bipartisan support, and Congress can’t pass it! That’s my definition of gridlock.

Meanwhile, thousands of people remain in prison for non-violent and victimless crimes instead being productive members of society. And if Congress doesn’t act by the time the current session closes in a few weeks, sentencing reform will have to be reintroduced and go through the whole complicated rigmarole from square one.

I urge all readers to email, call, telegram or send a letter to your Congressional representative and Senators to pass the Sentencing Reform Act before they go home for the holidays. It would be an early holiday present for thousands of prisoners, their families, the American sense of fairness and our economy.

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Ending voter suppression laws enough to overcome innate rural bias of Electoral College

Let’s be quite clear about who won the 2016 presidential election. It was Hillary Clinton, who is currently ahead by about 700,000 popular votes with the counting still underway. More significantly, when all the votes are counted, most estimates have the final total at 1.8 million more votes for Clinton than for Trump. That’s 1.5% of total votes, which while not a landslide, is a greater difference than many elections in which the popular winner also wins the Electoral College. The raw total of 1.8 million is roughly twice the difference between the winners’ and losers’ vote in all four previous elections in which the loser in the popular vote assumed the presidency.

Almost everyone knows that two peculiarities of the American system lead to the loser in the popular vote sometimes assuming control of the White House: 1) Voters vote for electors who then vote for the president and vice president. 2) Electors vote as a block according to state. Without an Electoral College, or with one that voted proportionately, we would have our first woman president embracing the most progressive platform in American history. It’s what the American people clearly wanted, but what we will get instead is a mentally unbalanced know-nothing political novice guided on social issues by the alt-right and on economic issues by the greed of his social class.

The stated reason that the founders of the United States—you know, that handful of rich white male merchants and slave owning gentry—preferred the Electoral College to electing a president via the popular vote was to balance the interests of the states with those of the national government in the same way that the Senate does. I also believe some of them feared the votes of the mob and thought they could manipulate the Electoral College to keep real power in the hands of the few, which worked for maybe two decades.

What the Electoral College really does is put more power in the hands of rural areas because it rations out votes based on geography. Rural areas are less populated than urban areas, so a state with a large rural population has greater influence on elections than one with an urban population. Note that in the entire recorded history of mankind in all parts of the earth, more densely populated areas have always without exception been more diverse, spun off more innovation and have had more rules governing interactions than less populated areas. The urban-rural divide goes back probably to the formation of cities. At the beginning of the 19th century, the U.S. voting population was primarily agrarian and either of Anglo-Saxon or German origins, so the urban-rural divide didn’t matter that much. Since about the 1880s, it has mattered a great deal.

Today’s situation is ridiculous. Let’s do the math: When you divide the number of electoral votes per state by the number of voters, we find that a vote by someone in Vermont, our smallest state in population and also one of our most rural, is worth more than twice as much as a vote by someone in California. (Vermont: 3 divided by 321,000 = .0000093; California: 55 divided by 13,600,000 = .0000040). Now in today’s topsy-turvy world, that’s a lack of taxation because of a lack of representation!

A significant ramification of the Electoral College is to make it seem at least in most instances that the presidential mandate to govern is stronger than it actually is. For example, while Lyndon Baines Johnson got 61.1% of the popular vote, his total in the Electoral College was in excess of 90%! This year while losing the popular vote, Trumpty-Dumpty (no, I will not give him the respect he doesn’t deserve and has not earned!) won the Electoral College with a landslide of 56.9%.

Looking at the other four instances of the loser winning the popular vote for president is very illuminating. Here is a chart with the essentials:

Year Popular Winner/Edge Declared President Electors/House
1824 Andrew Jackson (10.5%) John Q. Adams House
1876 Samuel Tilden (3%) Rutherford B. Hayes Electors*
1888 Grover Cleveland (.8%) Benjamin Harrison Electors
2000 Al Gore (.5%) George W. Bush Electors
2016 Hillary Clinton (1.5-3%) Donald Trump Electors

* After negotiation over disputed electors

In every case, the Republican won, and in all but the selection of the brilliant John Quincy Adams over the ruthless, racist and sometimes lawless Andrew Jackson by the House of Representatives, the decision led to mediocre or disastrous presidencies.  Only the unmitigated disaster—Bush II—was reelected. Every one of these elections had one or more third party candidates who siphoned off at least one percent of the vote and enough votes to turn the tide. In two of the elections, the loser assumed the presidency in the very next election.

The similarity that is most noteworthy for the recent election is the fact that in all the popular-loser-wins elections, disenfranchised voters would have gone heavily for the candidate who won the popular vote but lost the election. Remember that one of the strands of American history is the gradual enfranchisement of voters, from white males with property to white males in general to African-American men in theory to women to African-Americans in practice to expanded voting hours and voting days. This history takes an anti-democratic turn in the 1990s, when one of the major parties implemented a long-term campaign to suppress voting by minorities and the young by purging voter rolls, gerrymandering states to create safe districts for their party, decreasing voting hours and polling places, not allowing ex-felons who have paid their debt to society to vote, passing new laws that mandate voter IDs and using dirty tricks against organizations such as ACORN that work to get out the vote. The largest voter suppression efforts were in the so-called swing states.

Voter suppression paid off in 2000 and again in 2016. While the will of a majority of the states was to elect Donald Trump, the will of the people was to elect Hillary Clinton. The people were thwarted by the Electoral College.

I recently signed a petition that demands that the Electors vote for Hillary instead of Trumpty-Dumpty. I urge all readers to sign it, but only as a protest act. The Electors virtually never vote against the will of the voters in their respective states, even though they could in 24 states.  They are just too interested in maintaining the stability to which I alluded before.

It would be wishful thinking to think we can replace the Electoral College with popular voting in the short term. It would take an amendment to the constitution and those are getting harder to pass with each decade. But first one or both of the two major political parties would have to get behind a move to abolition the Electoral College, and, to quote my father, that ain’t gonna happen!

The reason: stability. Once the election is over, establishing a peaceful transfer of power and communicating the long-term stability of the United States usually becomes the most important goal of the losing party. It’s why Nixon didn’t raise a stink about possible voter fraud in Illinois and elsewhere in 1960, why Gore didn’t protest the Supreme Court decision that gave Bush II the election in 2000, and why Clinton and Obama are striking such conciliatory notes towards the Donald and not encouraging the wave of protest that has broken out all over the country. It’s also why Trump’s accusations that the election was rigged were considered so destabilizing by so many elected officials and political scientists of both parties. By magnifying the victory of the winner, the Electoral College helps to assure stability by giving a false mandate.

The smarter play for the left would be to work at the state level in two ways:

  1. Register voters and get them to the polls. We can’t limit voter registration drives to presidential election years.
  2. Elect state representatives who will repeal the recent wave of voter suppression laws.

The goal should be to control all state legislatures in swing states and as many as possible overall by 2020, when the country next sets Congressional districts.

The left can’t take back this country until we take back the states.

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