Nel's New Day

June 16, 2016

Trump, the Virus Infecting the United States

Today, Bill Moyers published a brilliant essay titled “Trump, His Virus and the Dark Age of Unreason.” The piece, below, was written by Moyers and Michael Winship.

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There’s a virus infecting our politics and right now it’s flourishing with a scarlet heat. It feeds on fear, paranoia and bigotry. All that was required for it to spread was a timely opportunity—and an opportunist with no scruples.

There have been stretches of history when this virus lay dormant. Sometimes it would flare up here and there, then fade away after a brief but fierce burst of fever. At other moments, it has spread with the speed of a firestorm, a pandemic consuming everything in its path, sucking away the oxygen of democracy and freedom.

Today its carrier is Donald Trump, but others came before him: narcissistic demagogues who lie and distort in pursuit of power and self-promotion. Bullies all, swaggering across the landscape with fistfuls of false promises, smears, innuendo and hatred for others, spite and spittle for anyone of a different race, faith, gender or nationality.

In America, the virus has taken many forms: “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, the South Carolina governor and senator who led vigilante terror attacks with a gang called the Red Shirts and praised the efficiency of lynch mobs; radio’s charismatic Father Charles Coughlin, the anti-Semitic, pro-Fascist Catholic priest who reached an audience of up to 30 million with his attacks on Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal; Mississippi’s Theodore Bilbo, a member of the Ku Klux Klan who vilified ethnic minorities and deplored the “mongrelization” of the white race; Louisiana’s corrupt and dictatorial Huey Long, who promised to make “Every Man a King.” And of course, George Wallace, the governor of Alabama and four-time presidential candidate who vowed, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Note that many of these men leavened their gospel of hate and their lust for power with populism—giving the people hospitals, schools and highways. Father Coughlin spoke up for organized labor. Both he and Huey Long campaigned for the redistribution of wealth. Tillman even sponsored the first national campaign-finance reform law, the Tillman Act, in 1907, banning corporate contributions to federal candidates.

But their populism was tinged with poison—a pernicious nativism that called for building walls to keep out people and ideas they didn’t like.

Which brings us back to Trump and the hotheaded, ego-swollen provocateur he most resembles: Joseph McCarthy, US senator from Wisconsin—until now perhaps our most destructive demagogue. In the 1950s, this madman terrorized and divided the nation with false or grossly exaggerated tales of treason and subversion—stirring the witches’ brew of anti-Communist hysteria with lies and manufactured accusations that ruined innocent people and their families. “I have here in my hand a list,” he would claim—a list of supposed Reds in the State Department or the military. No one knew whose names were there, nor would he say, but it was enough to shatter lives and careers.

In the end, McCarthy was brought down. A brave journalist called him out on the same television airwaves that helped the senator become a powerful, national sensation. It was Edward R. Murrow, and at the end of an episode exposing McCarthy on his CBS series See It Now, Murrow said:

“It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one, and the junior senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between the internal and the external threats of Communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.”

There also was the brave and moral lawyer Joseph Welch, acting as chief counsel to the US Army after it was targeted for one of McCarthy’s inquisitions. When McCarthy smeared one of his young associates, Welch responded in full view of the TV and newsreel cameras during hearings in the Senate.

“You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?… If there is a God in heaven, it will do neither you nor your cause any good. I will not discuss it further.”

It was a devastating moment. Finally, McCarthy’s fellow senators—including a handful of brave Republicans—turned on him, putting an end to the reign of terror. It was 1954. A motion to censure McCarthy passed 67-22, and the junior senator from Wisconsin was finished. He soon disappeared from the front pages, and three years later was dead.

Here’s something McCarthy said that could have come straight out of the Trump playbook: “McCarthyism is Americanism with its sleeves rolled.” Sounds just like The Donald, right? Interestingly, you can draw a direct line from McCarthy to Trump—two degrees of separation. In a Venn diagram of this pair, the place where the two circles overlap, the person they share in common is a fellow named Roy Cohn.

Cohn was chief counsel to McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, the same one Welch went up against. Cohn was McCarthy’s henchman, a master of dark deeds and dirty tricks. When McCarthy fell, Cohn bounced back to his hometown of New York and became a prominent Manhattan wheeler-dealer, a fixer representing real estate moguls and mob bosses—anyone with the bankroll to afford him. He worked for Trump’s father, Fred, beating back federal prosecution of the property developer, and several years later would do the same for Donald. “If you need someone to get vicious toward an opponent,” Trump told a magazine reporter in 1979, “you get Roy.” To another writer he said, “Roy was brutal but he was a very loyal guy.”

Cohn introduced Trump to his McCarthy-like methods of strong-arm manipulation and to the political sleazemeister Roger Stone, another dirty trickster and unofficial adviser to Trump who just this week suggested that Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin was a disloyal American who may be a spy for Saudi Arabia, a “terrorist agent.”

Cohn also introduced Trump to the man who is now his campaign chair, Paul Manafort, the political consultant and lobbyist who without a moral qualm in the world has made a fortune representing dictators—even when their interests flew in the face of human rights or official US policy.

So the ghost of Joseph McCarthy lives on in Donald Trump as he accuses President Obama of treason, slanders women, mocks people with disabilities, and impugns every politician or journalist who dares call him out for the liar and bamboozler he is. The ghosts of all the past American demagogues live on in him as well, although none of them have ever been so dangerous—none have come as close to the grand prize of the White House.

Because even a pathological liar occasionally speaks the truth, Trump has given voice to many who feel they’ve gotten a raw deal from establishment politics, who see both parties as corporate pawns, who believe they have been cheated by a system that produces enormous profits from the labor of working men and women that are gobbled up by the 1 percent at the top. But again, Trump’s brand of populism comes with venomous race-baiting that spews forth the red-hot lies of a forked and wicked tongue.

We can hope for journalists with the courage and integrity of an Edward R. Murrow to challenge this would-be tyrant, to put the truth to every lie and publicly shame the devil for his outrages. We can hope for the likes of Joseph Welch, who demanded to know whether McCarthy had any sense of decency. Think of Gonzalo Curiel, the jurist Trump accused of persecuting him because of the judge’s Mexican heritage. Curiel has revealed the soulless little man behind the curtain of Trump’s alleged empire, the avaricious money-grubber who conned hard-working Americans out of their hard-won cash to attend his so-called “university.”

And we can hope there still remain in the Republican Party at least a few brave politicians who will stand up to Trump, as some did McCarthy. This might be a little harder. For every Mitt Romney and Lindsey Graham who have announced their opposition to Trump, there is a weaselly Paul Ryan, a cynical Mitch McConnell, and a passel of fellow travelers up and down the ballot who claim not to like Trump and who may not wholeheartedly endorse him but will vote for him in the name of party unity.

As this headline in The Huffington Post aptly put it, “Republicans Are Twisting Themselves Into Pretzels To Defend Donald Trump.” Ten GOP senators were interviewed about Trump and his attack on Judge Curiel’s Mexican heritage. Most hemmed and hawed about their presumptive nominee. As Trump “gets to reality on things he’ll change his point of view and be, you know, more responsible.” That was Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. Trump’s comments were “racially toxic” but “don’t give me any pause.” That was Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Republican African-American in the Senate. And Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas? He said Trump’s words were “unfortunate.” Asked if he was offended, Jennifer Bendery writes, the senator “put his fingers to his lips, gestured that he was buttoning them shut, and shuffled away.”

No profiles in courage there.  But why should we expect otherwise? Their acquiescence, their years of kowtowing to extremism in the appeasement of their base, have allowed Trump and his nightmarish sideshow to steal into the tent and take over the circus. Alexander Pope once said that party spirit is at best the madness of the many for the gain of a few. A kind of infection, if you will — a virus that spreads through the body politic, contaminating all. Trump and his ilk would sweep the promise of America into the dustbin of history unless they are exposed now to the disinfectant of sunlight, the cleansing torch of truth. Nothing else can save us from the dark age of unreason that would arrive with the triumph of Donald Trump.

June 21, 2012

Nuns Tour to Help Poor

The nuns are still on their tour although people who read only the mainstream media wouldn’t know it. There’s much more coverage on the bishops’ protesting birth control than the nuns’ protesting economic injustice for the poor. If nuns were men ….

The best coverage for the nuns’ activity on Tuesday, the second day of the tour, comes from Barbara Miner’s blog View from the Heartland, called “The Nuns Are Here! The Nuns Are Here!” She tops the story with a photo of 81-year-old Sister Diane Donoghue, as she snaps a photograph from a freeway pedestrian overpass in Milwaukee’s central city. Each week a group of people use well-lit placards to send messages to freeway travelers. Last night Overpass Light Brigade’s message was “Question Authority,” and the nuns marched with Overpass Light Brigade.

The energy of these women is phenemonal! Their walk across the overpass to highlight the anti-poor essence of the Ryan budget proposal culminated a 14-hour day. To quote Miner, “The nuns began with a 9 a.m. press conference at a food pantry in Iowa, got on the bus to Wisconsin, visited Ryan’s office in Janesville to deliver their budget critique, headed up to Milwaukee where they ate dinner at the St. Ben’s meal program in downtown, followed by a “Friend Raiser” at St. John’s on the Lake.” (I was tired by the time that they got to dinner!)

The Nuns on the Bus tour is organized by Network, a social justice lobby in Washington, D.C., that was founded more than 40 years ago by group of Catholic nuns inspired by the Vatican II reforms and religious involvement in civil rights, antiwar and feminist movements.

Some of the Catholic men in the United States are irritated by nuns believing in their support of the poor rather than the male opposition to birth control. In the New York Times, Bill Keller quoted Bob Donohue, president of Catholic League, as saying that Catholics who don’t want to follow the current Vatican should “shut up or go.”

Instead of helping the poor, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, now president of the U.S. bishops organization that opposes the nuns, established a policy almost ten years ago to pay off pedophile priests to that they would go away and not be an embarrassment to the Catholic Church. The initial payoff was a $20,000 bonus followed by a $1,250 month pension and, until they found a job, health insurance. That may be why men in the Catholic Church don’t worry about the Ryan budget: pedophiles are rewarded with $15,000 a year plus health insurance. That’s more than 50 percent above the poverty level and more than 25 percent of the people with a job make annually in this country.

The nuns know about the need for a safety network in this country to keep people from being “food insecure,” but the Senate refused to keep an amendment that would keep $4.5 billion in food stamps funding. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NW) proposed that the money for food stamps would come from trimming the guaranteed profit for crop insurance companies from 14 to 12 percent and by lowering payments for crop insurers from $1.3 billion to $825 million. The Senate vote down the amendment by 66-33. The loss of this $4.5 billion for people in poverty means families will each get $90 less per month, about one-fourth of its food budget.

According to Gillibrand, “Half of the food stamp beneficiaries are children, 17 percent are seniors, and unfortunately now 1.5 million households are veteran households.” About 26 million people in the United States received this aid in 2007, while more than 44 million got it last year, at a total cost of $76 billion. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that demand will continue to grow through 2014 because of the recession. At least the Senate doesn’t go as far as the House; their budget calls for $134 billion in cuts over 10 years.

Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson said it was critical that Congress pass a farm bill soon “to provide certainty for farmers and ranchers.” There doesn’t seems to be a concern about “certainty” for people who cannot afford to buy food.

Bill Moyers is one journalist who is following the nuns’ tour. His website has  videos and a great interactive map of their 15-day journey. Thus far the bus has stopped at the state offices of Reps. Steve King (R-IA), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Joe Walsh (R-IL), all who voted for Ryan’s budget and none of whom were available. Tomorrow they’re scheduled for Reps. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) and Justin Amash (R-MI), both of whom voted against Ryan’s budget.

Monday they head to the office of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who supported the Ryan budget. In just Ohio, the Ryan budget would eliminate $72.6 million from the Head Start budget, more than $110.8 million in special education spending which affects nearly 63,937 students, and 177 million meals for families needing food stamps as well as ending a tax credit that would help 107,210 Ohio small businesses provide insurance to their employees.

Tony Vanacoro, a commenter on an article from Think Progress, said it best: “I am a complete and avowed atheist, but even I know it’s bad karma to piss off Nuns!”

January 21, 2012

Citizens United Second Anniversary

Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruling that provides unlimited money for candidate advertising, turned two years old today. After it was presented as a narrow case, the court expanded it to allow political ads, usually negative, in the 60 days before an election and stopped the requirement that the sponsors identify themselves. Eighteen months later, the court protected wealthy candidates in Buckley v. Valeo by ruling that money is a constitutionally protected free speech and then struck down a matching funds’ formula in Arizona that provided more money to a publicly financed candidate if a rival spent over a specified amount.

Despite Mitt Romney’s claim that “corporations are people,” not everyone is happy about the end of democracy because billionaires can easily buy politicians. More than one million people have signed online petitions against the ruling, and measures in at least 23 states demand a constitutional amendment to reverse this ill-conceived decision. On the other hand, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Republican National Committee seem perfectly happy with the ruling, especially because the conservatives will benefit from over 80 percent of the candidates’ financial help. Newt Gingrich was highly disturbed with the super-PACs  supporting Mitt Romney in Iowa but got over it when super-PACs supported him in South Carolina.

Jeffrey Clements, in Corporations Are Not People: Why They Have More Rights Than You Do and What You Can Do About It, provides a review of the Supreme Court’s increasing rulings on corporations’ money protected as political speech while diminishing individual rights. “Rarely have so few imposed so much damage on so many,” the venerable journalist Bill Moyers wrote in the book’s foreward. He compares Citizens United to the 1857 Dred Scott ruling “that opened the unsettled territories of theUnited States to slavery whether future inhabitants wanted it or not.” According to Moyers, “It took a civil war and another hundred years of enforced segregation and deprivation before the effects of that ruling were finally exorcised from our laws.”

Congress has introduced at least 10 proposals to fix the problem, including one that would revoke the “personhood” status of corporations, thus rolling back over a century of Supreme Court rulings. These all come from the “liberal” side and are unlikely to be taken seriously for a long time.

According to Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of University of  California Irvine School of Law and a respected constitutional scholar, individual states could control the runaway spending. One way is to require shareholders to approve corporate political expenditures just as unions have to get approval from their members. Other legislation could prevent a state contractor from spending money for partisan election activities, just as the federal Hatch Act of 1939 did when it limited federal employees from some partisan activities. Montana’s Supreme Court’s has ruled that the state has a compelling interest to regulate how corporations can raise and spend money in elections. The New York state legislature also plans to adopt a public financing regime.

Yesterday’s victory in California supports Chererinsky’s ideas: a U.S. District Court upheld a citywide ban on corporate campaign donations to candidates in San Diego. Judge Irma E. Gonzales said that FEC v Beaumont directed her ruling instead of Citizens United because the earlier case addressed anti-corruption issues.

“According to the Supreme Court, the prohibition on direct corporate contributions was justified by the ‘special characteristics of the corporate structure’ that threaten the integrity of the political process,” according to Gonzales’ decision. It was necessary to “prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption,” Judge Gonzales wrote, explaining the ruling. “Moreover it was necessary to prevent the use of corporations “as conduits for the circumvention of valid contribution limits.”

Polls show that the nation’s populace disagrees with conservative “leadership.” Last Tuesday a Pew Research Center poll showed that 65 percent of voters from both parties familiar with the Citizens United decision consider it a negative impact on politics. The next day a poll from Main Street Alliance, the American Sustainable Business Council, and Small Business Majority revealed that, in a margin of 7 to 1, 66 percent of small business owners believe Citizens United decision has been bad for small businesses, compared to only 9 percent who think it’s positive.

According to one blog, the radical right might be the biggest loser because their super-PACs don’t have the money that “moderate” Romney does. If enough conservatives think that this is a possibility, Congress might work toward erasing this dangerous threat to democracy.

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