HOW TO DUMP TRUMP

 

With apologies to Neil Diamond,

Have you heard about the frog who dreamed of being a king,

and then became one?

Well, except for the name and a few other changes,

if you talk about D,

the story’s the same one.

It was hard to picture the frog as being a king, and now that he’s become one it’s even harder. But there you have it. For bad or for worse, the frog-prince is the President of the United States.

I think we can all agree it’s been a practical joke gone terribly wrong. But what do we do now? There are lizard people in the White House. And they’re not even in disguise. How do we get them out?

I say ‘we’ because in the summer of ’39 the Poles had as much reason to want Hitler removed as did the few Germans who were still sane. What’s likely to happen is not much at all. But what could happen is scaring the shit out of a lot of people, myself included. I think the time has come for drastic measures. And I think I have the measure that just might be drastic enough.

I propose that it didn’t happen.

I’m not proposing we pretend it didn’t happen. Children pretend. I’m proposing that we make believe, but not in the sense synonymous with pretending, but rather in the sense of making ourselves believe. If we could make ourselves believe, then we would believe. And what is it to hold any position – from President down to crossing guard and all the way back up to God – other than for others to believe you hold that position?

Suppose we all just ignored the crossing guard. What could he do? Suppose we all ignored God – which, come to think of it, most of us do – what’s He done about it? Has He struck any of us dead with a lightening bolt?

“Ah, but Trump would.”

How? Does he carry lightening bolts in his suit pocket?

“No, but the people he commands do.”

Why would they do what he commands?

“Because he’s the President.”

No he’s not. Haven’t you been listening?

Now that Trump’s not the President, and never was, a number of options present themselves. We could believe that Hillary Clinton is, but I’d strongly advise against that. We could believe Mike Pence is, but his posture in all those photo-ops standing behind his master like an adoring puppy while he signs one arrest warrant after another … No, not Pence. Another election? God forbid No, I think we should just do without one for the next two and half years, and see what happens. I’m guessing not much.

“But decisions have to be made.”

Then make them.

“But I’m not authorized.”

By whom would you like to be?

People who are wont to say, “I was just following orders!” – people like Adolf Eichmann – still have to answer that question, and the answer better not be “I was just following the orders of the people whose orders I like to follow.” If he’d said that at his trial, the so-called Eichmann defense would have been less a defense than a confession. That’s something some of Trump’s functionaries should remember when they’re on trial for crimes not recognized as such by the current Administration.

So the fallback position has to be, “But there has to be due process.”

And indeed there does. But appeals to due process invariably beg the question. What process is the one that should be due? And how do we decide that, if not by the quality of the decisions arising out of that process? It was precisely because of the quality of the decisions arising out of the English monarchy that the Americans decided that a different process might be more to their liking. And so wasn’t it from the quality of the decisions arising out of the White House that we just decided the process that put Trump in power had to be replaced with one that was more acceptable?

So if you want a process that’s due, find one that is.

Is anything like what I’m proposing going to happen? Of course not. I put it out there to remind us of two things. First, that for all its indispensability to the very possibility of civil society, giving uptake remains a discretionary act. As John Locke insisted, under dire enough circumstances we can and should withdraw it. And second, that crimes against humanity transcend criminal codes, and so it puts those who are “just following orders” on notice that they may yet have to answer for the orders they were just following.

The Thousand Year Reich lasted just under twelve. Trump has at most six and a half to go. St. Paul assures us that “Love is patient.” Well, so is justice. So remember that while you’re standing at the border taking names so you can decide who can and cannot be reunited with their children, someone’s taking your name.

 

 

WHAT’S A POLITICIAN’S BASE?

 

Apparently in American presidential politics there’s something called a base. The Democrats have one, the Republics have another, and Donald Trump has his very own.

Voters who don’t belong to a base can drift from one candidate to another, but not if you do belong to one. But if you’re a member of one you can’t move to another. That’s because membership in a base is something you acquire shortly after you’re born, like an infant baptismal certificate, or no longer having a foreskin.

A base is what guarantees a candidate people to thank even if she was ‘disappointed’ by the results that “the CNN decision desk is now ready to declare …” Your base is what told you to run in the first place, and what allows you to think that, though a loser, you’re nonetheless still a player.

Your base is like your mother. You can do no wrong, but others can and do wrong you. And a base neither knows nor cares about what you stand for until after you’ve stood for it. This gives you an enormous amount of latitude in selecting policies that might appeal to those swing voters who are not of your base.

Pundits talk about candidates appealing to their base. This is nonsense. If you have to appeal to them they’re not, nor ever were, your base. So the more you have to fulfill one election promise, or walk another one back, the smaller your base must have been. This is why Trump, like every demagogue before him, has no need to look over his shoulder. The size of his base makes appeasement unnecessary.

Does this mean that, in the same way matter can neither be created nor destroyed, no base can ever grow or shrivel? If so, the obvious question is, how does a base ever enter the world or leave it? To which the obvious answer is: with you. Just as there’s a fact of the matter about how many words you’ll speak before you die – and therefore I advise you to husband them well – there’s a fact of the matter about how big your base will be the moment you declare your candidacy. Who were they beforehand? They were your base-in-waiting.

Trump took a look at his and if anything underestimated it. Clinton took a look at hers and vastly overestimated it. It was Sanders who commanded the Democratic base. Like Trump, he could say the stupidest things – and he did – and they loved him all the more for it. But for all that he couldn’t have won. Too old, too pontifical, and too Jewish.

Unlike in America, we don’t have the cult of personality in Canada, probably because our politicians don’t have any. And that seems to be the way we like it. But we do have our base voters. The NDP premier of the Province of Alberta, Rachel Notley, can betray everything the NDP base stands for, but it doesn’t matter because she’s the NDP premier. If it’s base wasn’t loyal, it wouldn’t be called its base.

Appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, belonging to a base is not a sign of being politically engaged. On the contrary, it’s a way of being relevant to the issues without having to think about them. Not unlike in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, the Party, or the Great Leader, does all that thinking for you. But this is hardly a criticism. Since few of us are in a position to have an informed opinion about these issues anyway, it’s more efficient this way.

My grandmother was a Bolshevik. My father was a Marxist. So I became a socialist – not that I know or need care what that means – about the same time I lost my foreskin. Since in a healthy democracy somebody has to take this side rather than the other, what difference does it make whether he’s thought about it? It’s not like if we all thought about it we’d all end up on the same side. Think of it like Field Day when you were back in grammar school. Does it really matter whether you’re assigned to the Blue team or the Red team?

Well no, unless some of your friends were given their sashes just before you.

But that’s not a healthy thought-experiment. If I console myself by observing that I like the people on my team more than the people on theirs, I can’t help wondering whether I like them because they’re on my team, rather than the other way around.

And what this shows, once again, is that some things just don’t bear thinking about.

 

 

FAKE NEWS

 

What Donald Trump means by fake news is not the reporting of what’s materially false. It’s the reporting as true what only could be true. It could be true – because it would be perfectly understandable if it were – that “the President is becoming increasingly worried that the Mueller probe could lead to his impeachment.” If asked, of course he’d deny it. In fact nothing could falsify the claim that “the President is becoming increasingly worried that the Mueller probe could lead to his impeachment.” So CNN can with impunity report that “the President is becoming increasingly worried about” whatever CNN would like the President to become increasingly worried about. If he denies it, well he would, wouldn’t he?!

It’s the oldest political trick in the book. If a claim can’t be falsified it must be true. Prove that you didn’t have an affair with your secretary. Can’t? Then obviously you did. That’s what Trump means by fake news, and it’s that kind of fake news that we should all become increasingly worried about.

Fake news – what we used to call spin – isn’t harmless. Saddam Hussain could have had weapons of mass destruction. And though weapons of mass destruction is a media term, not a military one, his having them could be very serious. So yes, we do need to invade. All that CNN is proving is that what was fair game for the pro-Bush agenda in 2003 is fair game for the anti-Trump agenda today.

Here’s a related example. There’s been a terrible accident, and all the townspeople are in shock. How does the reporter know this? She can stop a townsperson on the street and ask the leading question, “You must be in shock. Are you?”, which is sure to elicit the desired answer, “Yes.” But were she to ask the non-leading question, “What are you in?”, I’m pretty sure no one is going to answer, “Shock.” Still, she can and will with impunity report that all the townspeople are in shock because it wouldn’t be unreasonable if they were.

Is anything added to our understanding of what’s going on in that town by our believing all its townspeople are in shock? Not a whit. But it elicits our solidarity with these hypothetical people-in-shock, and now our solidarity with them can in turn be reported on. And so on.

Am I saying all this to express my solidarity with poor misunderstood-because-misrepresented Donald Trump? Certainly not. Am I saying all this because I want the news to report the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? A fortiori not. In fact I’m having trouble picturing what that would look like.

“I can’t believe what I’m seeing.”

“Okay, then I’ll interview someone who can. Excuse me sir …”

“I just saw the World Trade Center come down before my very eyes.”

“And tell us, what was that like for you?”

“It was like seeing two very tall buildings come down before my very eyes.”

“Thank you, sir. Now back to you, Anderson.”

So the news isn’t there just to report what’s happening. It’s there to start a conversation about it. And to steer that conversation. To suppose otherwise isn’t naïve. It’s just false.

Few channels, and even fewer websites, take the trouble to announce what kinds of conversation they host. But most of us figure it out pretty quick. Fox News isn’t about balanced reporting, and neither is MSNBC. Birthright isn’t about your right to give birth, it’s about your duty to. False Flag Weekly isn’t a soapbox for your Islamophobia, but InfoWars is. But it’s important to know that neither is the best place to register your sympathy for the parents of the children who may or may not have been killed at Sandy Hook.

So has the media ushered in a new age of fake news? Nonsense. In the sense in which Trump means it, news has always been fake. But because it cannot but be fake, the term will eventually go the way of Liberty fries and every second word being “man”. Every facon de parler has a best-before date. The truly cool dude doesn’t get caught up in these fleeting fads.

 

 

THE NEXT FOURTEEN YEARS

 

In the words of Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony, “The evil that men do live after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.”

Fortunately it’s the opposite with political prognostications. No one remembers if you get it wrong. But if you get it right, you’re forever cited for being incredibly astute. So yes, it’s a cheat. But it’s only cheating if you can get caught. And as just argued, even if you can be, you won’t be. So here’s my risk-free prognostication for the next fourteen years.

Left and right, anti-Trump and pro-, are orthogonal cuts, though clearly there are orders of magnitude more people in the left-anti and right-pro quadrants than in the other two. The doctrinaire libertarians and anti-Trump Republicans, who make up the right-anti, don’t know where to cast their votes. And the doctrinaire socialists and pro-Trump Democrats, occupying the left-pro, find themselves similarly stymied. So both of these constituencies are out of the picture. This leaves the 2020 presidential to hang on three key contingencies:

1) who the Democrats put up against Trump,

2) who wins the media war between right wing pro-Trump Fox News on the one

side, and left wing MSNBC and anti-Trump CNN on the other, and

3) whether Trump will be evil enough, but also savvy enough, to start a winnable

but not-yet-won war.

The Democrats will need a candidate free of the kind of cement footware that sunk Hilary Clinton. Well let’s see. Joe Biden would clearly make the best President, but he’s probably too sensible to make the best candidate in this era of political infotainment. Bernie Sanders is too old, too pontifical, and too Jewish. Elizabeth Warren lacks the presence to command the enthusiasm needed for a Presidential campaign. Even the most misogynist racist can’t help but love Michele, but she’d be rightly seen as just a front for another eight years for her husband. Oprah would have to answer for every line in every book she ever recommended. And progressives would have to hold their noses for California Junior Senator Kamala Harris, whose tenure as Attorney General for that state did not speak well for her civil libertarian credentials.

That leaves Obama-clone Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Kennedy-spawn Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts. I’d put my money on Booker for the nomination, because Kennedy will want to hold back until ‘24. But in the actual election I’d only bet the family farm on Kennedy. Whites won’t come out for Booker, but blacks will for Kennedy.

By holding Trump’s feet to the fire, CNN has only been doing its job. Unfortunately by doing its job in this age of all-news-is-partisan-news, it’s forfeited its former role as the non-partisan voice in America. So it would come down to CNN versus Fox if there was anyone who tunes into both. But there isn’t. Either you watch Fox because you’re with Trump, or you watch CNN because you’re agin’ him. There’s plenty of room for apathy in America, but none at all for fence-sitting.

But it does come down to which of the two can get out the vote by selling the importance of the outcome. Unless, that is, Americans can be offered, quite independently of policy, some one to get excited about. And that’s where a Jack or Robert Kennedy come back from the grave could be the king-maker.

Trump’s trump card, however, would be the same one played by George W. Just start a winnable but not-yet-won war. It wouldn’t have to be North Korea or Iran. There are plenty of provocable easy pickings out there. But I suspect Trump thinks he can win re-election as a shit-disturber, not as a commander-in-chief. Besides, a bomber jacket just isn’t his style.

So here’s my prediction. It’ll be Trump again in 2020 unless a) Kennedy can be inveigled to run four years ahead of schedule, and b) Trump makes the mistake of thinking he can emerge victorious without first having to start a war.

That said, 2024 looks like a shoe-in for the Democrats. This is because Mike Pence has about as much charisma as your tax accountant, and no new Republican face can emerge while Trump remains the face of the party. So it’s precisely as the Republican establishment worried it would be. A Trump presidency would render the party irrelevant while his presidency lasted, and then doom it for eight years thereafter. That’s both the beauty and the beast of American presidential electoral politics. Image matters. Policy? Not so much.

So if I were an American – which thankfully I’m not! – I’d pray for a) a Joe Kennedy challenge in 2020, and if Trump does realize he needs a winnable but not-yet-won war, that b) some saboteur on his staff recommends Denmark.

Anyhow, remember folks: if I’m right – which I probably won’t be – you heard it here first.

TRUMP, VOLTAIRE, AND EDMUND BURKE

In real estate it all comes down to location, location, location. In comedy it’s all about timing. Put the two together and that’s all that can be said about one’s own take on the world. From the here and now, from within this moment in history, it looks to me like fill-in-the-blank.

Well then, from the here and now, and from within this moment in history, it looks to me like we’re in for a bout of fascism. How deeply in depends on where I’m standing and on what day. But there’s certainly something going on, don’t you think? And if it looks like a pig, sounds like a pig, and smells like a pig … well, chances are it just is an oncoming bout of fascism.

To be fair, when two things look alike, there’s no guarantee they are. So that the fence surrounding Gaza, and the shelling of those imprisoned within it, looks an awful lot like the Warsaw Ghetto, could be mere coincidence. The devil is always in the details. On the other hand, “Ah, but that’s different!” is precisely the devil’s stock refrain.

Of course this seeing the mark of Satan behind every Trumpish smirk could all just be awfulizing. Maybe, as that schlocky poem we all have on the fridge assures us, the universe is unfolding as it should. Maybe, as Voltaire counsels, we just need to tend our garden.

But if a bout of fascism is upon us, how long it will last is anyone’s guess. Mussolini held it together for twenty-one years. The Thousand Year Reich lasted twelve. Trump has at most another six and a half to go. Will I live to see it crest and then recede? Probably. But in the interim I needn’t worry too much, because I have a garden.

But a goodly number of the other seven and a half billion people in the world don’t. The gardens they once had are scorched by drought. Or civil war. Or just too many hands pulling at too few stalks from the same vegetable patch.

I’m not a political scientist. I’m not qualified to opine on what’s caused the current drift towards fascism in Europe and America. I know it’s not everywhere, any more than it was everywhere in the 30’s. The worry is not that it’ll spill over to where it’s yet to take hold. The worry is that it will consider itself threatened by where it hasn’t, and that it will take measures to ensure that threat is eliminated. Thus as a Canadian I’m beginning to feel the same vulnerability that must have been experienced by the Poles in 1938 living next door to the National Socialist juggernaut. Hitler was as risible then as Trump is now. But a year later no one was laughing.

So I’m caught between the poem on my fridge and Voltaire on the one side, and my knee-jerk post-Shoah paranoia on the other. My problem is there seems to be no way to calculate the probabilities and bet accordingly. In this it’s exactly parallel to the global warming debate. If I join the Chicken Littles and it turns out Trump and Salvini were just comedic interludes in the otherwise perfectly normal story of human folly and redemption, I’m going to squander a lot of intellectual energy. And what’s worse, I’m going to look silly. But if I heed the poem and Voltaire, and it turns out Edmund Burke was right that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” then I’m going to have been no less complicit than was Pius XII in the evil about to be unleashed on the world.

So in the face of this damned-if-I-do and damned-if-I-don’t, here’s my provisional policy:

The walls of our City have many gates and many towers, each of which has to be manned twenty-four seven. Let the gatekeepers beware of Greeks bearing gifts. My own watch, from nine to five Mondays through Fridays, is on one of the towers. What happens on her watch from her tower falls to her, and on his watch from his tower to him. But what happens on my watch from my tower falls to me.

Her watch looks out onto the Libyan Coast Guard vessel turning away from rather than rescuing the dinghy that’s just capsized. His looks out onto the purging from our public institutions those who would speak truth to power. And mine looks out onto Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

For all our vigilance, at the end of the day the City may fall nonetheless. There’s a distinct possibility Trump will be re-elected, that players who take a knee will be banned from the NFL that the ongoing slaughter of Palestinians will be condemned by the Pope, but not too strongly, since he’ll reason as did Pius XII that he doesn’t have the cura for non-Catholics. And so on. In short it’ll be the Nuremberg Laws light. Maybe some of these things are unlikely, but none is impossible.

Fortunately noxious memes replicate until they kill off their hosts. It’s only a matter of time. I realize that’s small consolation for those who don’t have time. God works through history. Injustice doesn’t. It’s very particular, and very personal. I suspect that’s what Voltaire was trying to tell us. Tend to your garden, because that’s where a Jew may be hiding from the Gestapo, or a Salvadorian from ICE,

DESIDERATA

What Donald Trump has done, both during the campaign and in the year and a half since, is tapped into the backlash against both political correctness and what’s correct politically.

The backlash against political correctness was long overdue. In saying what was on his mind he’s given permission to millions of Americans to say what’s on theirs. None of what’s on either of their minds is all that pretty. But kudos for their saying it, even if not for what they’re saying. Now that we know what these millions of Americans are thinking, we can start working on ways to disabuse them of it.

The backlash against what’s correct politically is a harder nut to crack. It turns out that millions of Americans don’t want cradle to grave health care. Nor, it seems, do they want America to be burdened by the mantle of leadership in creating a better world. What they want, and all they want, is to be free to put their own interests not just first but pretty much full-stop. Trump isn’t looking to be respected abroad, because neither are the people he represents.

This is a world removed from the lofty rhetoric of the Kennedys or Obamas. We’ve entered the age of a littler America. And maybe we’ll all be the better off for it. After all, it was the Kennedys who got Americans into a war they then couldn’t get out of. It was Obama who pledged to close Guantanamo Bay and eight years later never got around to it. So let America shrink back into its isolationism. Power abhors a vacuum. Someone will step in. It should be clear from Vietnam and Afghanistan and now Iraq that America has struck out. Can the next batter up, be it Europe or China, do much worse?

People from the south are invading the north. Walls and naval blockades won’t stop it. Nothing can. Europeans and Americans are going to become a mutt race. What of it? Maybe when the ugly places empty themselves into the beautiful places, they can be recolonized. They’ll have to be. And then maybe they won’t be so ugly anymore.

As that schlocky poem Desiderata says, “The universe is unfolding as it should.” In the meantime tend your garden and be patient with what you perceive as, and in large measure is, idiocy. The Thousand Year Reich lasted less than twelve. Trump has at most another six and half to go. How much damage could he do? More than his predecessors but less than the National Socialists. Germany recovered to become a nation among nations instead of uber them. And so will America.

In the meantime, “you are a child of the universe. You have a right to be here.” There’s no need to shout it from the rooftops. Nor even to quietly proclaim it. Just calmly stand your ground.

THE MIGRANT DILEMMA

By a human right, as distinct from a civil right, is meant, presumably, one one has independently of the polity to which she happens to belong. But a human right does not extend between sovereign jurisdictions. By this I mean that the freedom of religion that I enjoy in Canada, for example, does not entitle me to enter Saudi Arabia to make my Haj, even if Saudi Arabia honors freedom of religion no less than Canada does. Likewise, then, freedom of association does not give me license to travel to another country to associate with one of its nationals, nor does it entitle her to enter Canada to associate with me. So even though human rights, if they exist, are universal, their exercise is confined to within the sovereign jurisdiction that recognizes them.

And it seems strange to me that that doesn’t seem strange to people who are sanguine on human rights. One would think they’d at least lament this, if not protest it.

To be fair there are people who think the existence of borders is incompatible with human rights. They allow that sovereignty is compatible with human rights. That is, they acknowledge that rights require the protection of governments. But, they rightly point out, governments have duties beyond the protection of human rights, duties that entitle and obligate them to exercise sovereignty over these people here but not those over there. But if they can’t control who enters into their jurisdiction, they’re in no position to husband the resources necessary to fulfill those other duties.

Still, counters the open-borders advocate, the right of association does not entail a right to health care or employment or education. So why couldn’t we say that a Somali can associate with whomever wants to associate with her here in Canada, but association is a negative right. No one, including the Canadian government, has a right to interfere with their associating, but the government has no obligation to facilitate that association by providing whatever might prove to be the sine qua non of it, such as English language classes or bus fare.

The difficulty, however, is a practical one. We have good reason to believe that a two-tiered system of entitlements is morally and politically unviable. We simply can’t have millions of people freezing or starving to death for the other 364 days because they want to spend Christmas Day with one of us.

But the problem at the Mexico-US border and in Lampadusa is a very different one. It’s that those human rights to which people are entitled no matter where they live are not being afforded them where they live. What rights are those? In some cases subsistence. But as often as not they’re freedom of expression, of assembly, of religion … the so-called liberty rights. Rights which, unlike subsistence, could be afforded them even if subsistence couldn’t be. So they’ve come to the southern gates of America or Western Europe to access rights that either cannot be, or simply aren’t being, afforded them where they’ve been living.

If the problem is subsistence, the obvious solution is to feed them there so they don’t have to come here. And if the problem is oppression the obvious solution is to forcibly remove whoever’s oppressing them. And if this were what Trump and Salvini are trying to do, we could stand behind them. But it’s not. Instead they’re aiding and abetting the oppression that’s driving these people northward.

Too quick. Liberation invariably morphs into imperialism to cover its own costs. So on second thought we couldn’t stand behind imposing American-style democracy on the rest of the world.

So it’s a case of revealed preferences falsifying declared ones. What’s revealed is that we don’t really believe there are human rights that it’s incumbent upon us to ensure. There are only civil rights. And a civil right is one enjoyed only by members of the polity assigning them those rights. Members of that polity have a right to so remain. But no one has a right to become a member of that polity.

Nor does anyone have the right not to be discriminated against in her application to be a member. Any right not to be discriminated against can only be conferred by the polity to which one is applying for membership. But there’s no call for consistency between those rights and those conferred on its own citizens. So though in Canada I cannot refuse to rent to you because you’re black, my government can refuse to admit you into the country because you’re black.

That, at any rate, is the Trump-Salvini take on the migrant crisis on their respective southern borders. And it’s hard to see where they’re wrong, because, well, they’re not.

So the counterargument has to avoid rights-talk altogether and appeal instead to compassion. There is no right to rescue. But when you see someone drowning you reach over the side and you pull them in. If you don’t you’re not unjust. You’re just, but also ‘just’ a moral monster. Sending them back to Libya is just tossing them back in the water, because that’s where you’ll find them tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. Until what you’re pulling out of the water is a corpse. So what to do?

Trump and Salvini think of America and Europe as lifeboats. Any more taken on board and we capsize. So yes, hard though it may be, we do have to let them drown. It’s a matter of self-preservation.

The counterargument is that they’re cooking these carrying capacities. It’s not that America and Europe couldn’t feed and house and employ another ten or twenty million souls. Nor is the worry that all or any of them are rapists. It’s that they’ll change the smells coming from open windows. Our sons will marry their daughters, and then those smells will be coming from our open windows. Their call to prayers will make our own church bells ring quaint to us, as if they betoken just one invitation to worship among many. We’ll have lost community.

That “Tis always thus!” is no argument that we should let it be. There is no irresistible Marxist historical determinism to be succumbed to here!

But there is. It’s those skeletons in the dessert. It’s those corpses that keep washing up where Italians go to sunbathe. If live bodies won’t change us, dead ones will. It’s moral determinism. It’s not whether we’re going to change. It’s into what.