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Category: Politics

President Moron
Yes, moron. I’m not saying that, mind you. I’m merely quoting Rex Tillerson, our current Secretary of State. Just to be clear, I am reporting that Donald Trump is a moron…according to the Secretary.

By some accounts, Rex even added the modifier “fucking.” That would get us to “Donald Trump is a fucking moron.” To many of us, this is not news. I just wanted to be absolutely sure that everyone knows the President is a “fucking moron” based on the opinion of someone who works closely with him.

“Moron” is a word that can get in the way of sober discourse. Name-calling doesn’t really help us find the common ground and mutual understanding we need to solve problems. In fact, it can often lead in the opposite direction. It is usually the last resort of someone for whom common sense and rationality are no longer working. Their frustration and anger spills out into the open. “Donald Trump is a fucking moron” would seem to be an example of just such a loss of control. It is certainly a chancy thing to say out loud about your boss.

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee made a series of unusual proclamations of his own last week. First, he warned that our country was on the brink of chaos. Later, he said that the White House was being run “like an adult daycare center.” Though he did not say so directly, he seemed to be suggesting that the President is a spoiled-rotten toddler. That’s not quite the same thing as a “fucking moron,” but the two types do share some personality traits. Corker also said that the President is leading the United States “on a path to World War III.”

Drump is not Corker’s boss, but he is the head of the Republican Party. You don’t often hear a sitting President insulted by a respected member of his own party, especially from within the establishment wing of the G.O.P. Like the Tillerson diss, this one was high profile and very direct.

Recently, I’ve been asking people for a prediction: can you give me the exact date when the President will leave the White House, never to return? I’ve gotten a wide array of answers, ranging from this December to the end of his current term. For the record, my personal pick is February 22, 2018.

It’s hard not to let your hopes cloud your judgment here, isn’t it? I will say that the first and most popular answer I receive is “immediately.” I’ll admit I haven’t talked to too many Trump voters about this, but I’ll bet that at least a few of them are hoping for an early exit as well. Even if we screen out our personal pipe dreams, however, it’s not too hard to see that Drump’s political life expectancy is shrinking.

The comments of Tillerson and Corker are so stark, so unprecedented, that I am tempted to see them as bellwethers of a larger trend. Is it possible that more Republicans will find the nerve to challenge their leader? It would definitely take guts. After all, his base is their base, and if they stand up now they might take the fall later. I don’t know. Drump’s undoing has been projected so many times already, and all of those projections have been wrong.

Still, I get this feeling that things are moving. I know, I know…it’s probably just wishful thinking. But if the Rs in Congress finish the year with no legislation to show for it, then something will have to give. They don’t like President Moron any more than we do, and he is certainly doing everything he can to make a mutiny easier.

I’m sticking with February 22.
Dotard
I’ve got to hand it to Kim Jong Un. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t hand anything to the North Korean leader. That’s too much crazy for me to get close to. But he should be credited for a particularly good zinger he got off as part of his pissing match with the Drumpster.

Like most people, I had to run to the dictionary to look up “dotard.” That’s pronounced DOUGH-turd. A dotard is a “weak-minded old person.”

As a weak-minded old person, I should probably take offense at this insult, but I do not. It was too nicely done. For one thing, it presented a mystery, which is always fun. I liked being forced to crack open Webster’s to solve it. More importantly, the term is devastatingly accurate. Drump, to my eye, is in the middle of a rapid mental decline.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Last May, there was a spate of professional opinion noting a dramatic decay in his vocabulary and command of syntax. Although those experts didn’t exactly say that his brain was turning to mush, I am a pundit and I can say anything. He’s losing it. Most of what he says is patently untrue, and the rest is gibberish. In fact, I see a man a step or two away from outright vegetable status. He’s a head of cabbage, almost, or a decomposing pumpkin who can still string a few words together.

Now, it should be noted that ordinary aging can bring with it a certain degree of decrepitude, both of mind and body. Words do not come to the lips in time to finish a sentence. Forgetfulness bedevils us at every turn. Mustard is harder to cut. None of us, it is clear, is getting any younger. There are, however, some strategies that can help. Taking on unfamiliar challenges, for example, can keep us sharp well into our 90s, or even beyond.

Drump is dealing with lots of problems he’s never dealt with before. That should be a hopeful sign. Such new situations require agile thinking and the need to stretch ones preconceptions — all of which is said to be helpful in fighting off brain rot. The problem is, he doesn’t seem to be very interested in unfamiliar thinking patterns. He’s so focussed on himself that nothing else can get through.

In fact, narcissism may be at the root of his rot. Raw animal cunning — coupled with an utter lack of compassion — is adequate when making a lot of money in real estate or conducting large scale frauds like Trump University. But that kind of “thinking” isn’t much help to your brain health. Drump is too self-absorbed to take part in multi-leveled thought processes or to entertain nuance. Furthermore, he doesn’t do crossword puzzles, try to learn a new language, or work on his fine motor skills. All he’s got are survival instincts honed by a lifetime of scamming, and that limited mindset is only exacerbating his deterioration.

And now, a group of prominent psychiatrists and psychologists has published a book that directly addresses Drump’s “malignant narcissism.” The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump projects some ugly, menacing outcomes for our President’s mental incapacity. He’s not just a dotard, but an isolated, uncaring paranoid being slowly eaten alive by his own egomania — a self-inflating balloon that will eventually explode and destroy itself and everything around it.

Kim Jong Un may have missed that last part. It’s easy to understand why he might be blind to the whole idea of malignant narcissism. Still, he got the dotard part right. And I am willing to hand that to him. From a distance, of course, in case he explodes.
Fantasy TV
I have a confession to make. I never watched The Apprentice. It’s a shame, really, because someday the show will be taught in history courses. And to think I had a chance to witness first hand a new style of governing as it was being created.

As I understand the nature of the show, it shared many of the same elements that are common to other so-called reality TV programs: backbiting, plotting, rampant personal animus, and the slavish currying of favor with some all-powerful, capricious person who can decide the contestants’ fate at will.

These shows, I am told, are wildly popular, though no one has told me why. There seems to be an unquenchable appetite these days for unpleasantness. I don’t have to actually watch shows with names like Survivor, Big Brother, Fear Factor, or Hell’s Kitchen to know that the participants will be treating each other badly. The entertainment, apparently, is found in the ugliness of the human soul laid bare.

Though we might be tempted to see the internal strife in the current White House as an extension of The Apprentice, I think the show title that best captures its essence is Naked and Afraid. No one seems to be enjoying himself at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, including the all-powerful, capricious person in charge. He, like everyone there, is being stripped naked before our eyes, and they all have good reason to be afraid as the multiple investigations continue to swirl around them. Worse yet for Drump, the promise of absolute power has proven to be illusory. Fear and loathing might make for good ratings, but they don’t seem to be much use in governance. This sort of reality TV, it is clear, is not getting the job done in the world of actual reality.

Which leads me to a question. Does this failure mean that we have to abandon the governing model of reality TV game shows? What if there is another, similar form that might succeed in real reality where fear and loathing do not? Instead of the win-at-all-costs style of American bloodsport TV, how about a show in which the contestants are all nice? And even though they are competing against one another, what if the players wished each other well and were genuinely concerned with each others’ welfare? And so, here is my proposal: why not follow the lead of the English producers who have given us The Great British Baking Show?

Everyone on that show is sweet as can be. Even though it is a reality show, the brand of entertainment it provides has more of an adorably goofy flavor — not the bitter taste of human misery. The tone of this gentile “competition” is set by its host, the ever-chipper Mary Berry. Ms. Berry clearly relishes her role as the “doyenne of baking” — as well as the opportunity to consume large quantities of high-end baked goods (even though, miraculously, she has managed to to remain rail thin into her late 70s). Unlike her merciless American counterparts, she has nothing but kind words and camaraderie to offer her contestants.

The whole enterprise takes place, not in a soulless skyscraper or an impersonal sound studio, but under a large, graceful tent somewhere in the English countryside. I could live happily in a country that existed in a meadow inside a big tent. It would be no more real than Celebrity Apprentice or Naked and Afraid, but at least I would remain fully clothed (which I prefer) and have free access to all the scones, fougasse, and dampfnudel I could eat.

Our Constitution, of course, prohibits Mary Berry from being elected President. Sadly, we will never know what life could be like under her gentle hosting. We can assume, though, that we wouldn’t all be engulfed by dread upon waking each morning. We would more likely awaken wrapped in a light, fluffy nougat or perhaps a puff pastry. Though that might prove to be inconvenient, at least it would be a predicament we could cope with — as long as we limited ourselves to a small salad for dinner that night.
Us vs. Me
I saw a pair of opinion pieces in the San Francisco Chronicle a while back that talked about the national response to the right-wing marchers in Charlottesville. Some of those marchers have been singled out for firing by their corporate employers and many have been banned from social media sites. The issue: were these responses just?

Ted Rall, my political cartooning colleague and a well-known pissant when it comes to the inviolability of the First Amendment, took the side of unfettered free speech. “I wish I had a dollar,” he wrote, “for every time I’ve read some variation of ‘You have the right to be a fascist/racist/sexist/jerk/ communist, but XYZ Corp. has the right to fire you too.’”

I can’t promise Ted a dollar here, but let me suggest that there could be a time when even an otherwise fascistic corporate power structure would be a welcome ally to free expression.

Here is my proposition: while we might think of free speech and the constellation of other freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights as fundamental to our free society, there is a level of rights even more basic than those. Our Constitution and all the laws and court decisions layered on top of it rest on a broad, unwritten social compact. That agreement features one simple component: equality. Under this principle we are all in the same boat, and in a truly free society we must all have free access to every part of the boat. Unless we fail to perform our side of the the compact in some way, we are entitled to stay on the boat and enjoy the full benefits of that access in equal measure to all the other passengers. The Bill of Rights and all our freedoms rest on this unspoken agreement.

But what if some of our fellow passengers seek to undermine the social compact? What if they campaign against a subset of other passengers because of their skin color or ethnicity or religious convictions and seek to limit their access or even evict us from the boat? What if their efforts violate no written laws and there is no codified remedy for this threat to our rights?

Kathy Lipscomb, a San Francisco social activist, wrote the counterpoint to Rall’s piece, emphasizing the need to control hate speech. I see the issue as broader than that. Organized hatred is a potent force, one we should not shrug off so easily — even if the expressions of that hatred are protected speech. Doesn’t the essence of the social compact give a free society the right to use whatever legal means it can find to fight off a threat to its own existence?

The Bill of Rights is a protection of individual rights. We have the use of our system of laws and courts to enforce those rights. Our social compact guarantees something different. It promises our joint right as a people to the benefits of freedom — including all the precious, fragile individual rights that flow from that original, tacit agreement. It is as if our society is a single organism, and as such it is entitled to fight off any affliction that jeopardizes its existence.

Normally, equality and individual rights are not in conflict, but when we see torch-bearing white supremacists, fully armed and duly permitted by the state, marching in the street and chanting hatred, we should be alarmed. History tells us that such demonstrations of strength can presage a menace to free societies. And when our President gives cover and even encouragement to such organized hatred, why shouldn’t society as a whole rise up take action to cancel the threat?

I’ll admit that such judgments can be tricky. Unlike written agreements, the social compact does not provide any clear guidance as to exactly when a violation occurs, no black-and-white test of when a threat is real. Nor does it give us the kinds of remedies for such wrongs that the written law does. We are left to decide these things for ourselves as a society. Corporate firings either will or will not receive public approval. I don’t see Ted’s communists, jerks, and garden variety sexists, racists and fascists as challenging the promise of equality in the same way these emboldened supremacists do. As a people, we have a right to defend ourselves against such movements.

I suppose it’s possible that the organism of our culture might make a mistake. We might succumb to societal paranoia and deprive individuals of their rights without good reason. Still, if it comes to a clear choice between the health of our free society and my own personal freedoms — a conflict between Us and Me — I’d like to think that I would choose the common good. A society truly founded on equality will restore what I may have lost.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee