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Category: Politics

Low Card Wins
My last Deep Cover was a sin against my own principles. This Eaganblog compounds that sin by giving even more attention to someone I had vowed to ignore. He was, I had thought, desperately seeking attention without really deserving it. Yes, I’m writing about Donald Trump — even though I promised myself that I never would.

It makes me sick to say so, but Trump himself has forced my hand. He is right in the middle of the 2016 presidential campaign, and he is not only making headlines, he is forcing the real politicians to dance to his tune. His fellow Republicans are squirming pathetically so as not to alienate that large sector of the Republican base who are now drawn to the real estate mogul. John McCain called those supporters “the crazies.” When Trump turned his bile on McCain for that comment, the other candidates fell all over themselves to cry foul, even though Trump’s charge that Mexicans were a race of rapists and drug peddlers hardly caused a ripple among them.

All this makes him genuine news. I have to pay attention, even if it’s distasteful. I am compelled to try to understand him and his campaign. I know that whatever conclusion I come to will be meaningless in and of itself, because his campaign is doomed to fail. But I need to know; it’s my job.

For my own sanity, however, I have decided that I will not make fun of Trump or critique his seat-of-the-pants policy pronouncements. Instead, I intend to treat him as if he were a natural phenomenon, like El Niño or plantar warts. I’m not a fan (as he might say) of his line of ties or his choice of hairstyles, but I won’t hate on him for that. I will reserve my energies for a detached analysis of his possible motivations and the effects of his presence on the Presidential race.

Donald Trump will never be President. He will not get the Republican nomination. Too many people actually do hate him for that to happen. He will become more famous, though, and my current working theory rests on that fact: he just wants more fame, simply for its own sake. Even though I subscribe to this view, however, I still don’t really grasp the rationale. What exactly is the allure of fame, anyway? What good it it? Since I do not know, I am open to alternate theories.

One of those theories suggests that it is not fame he is seeking, but rather to entertain us by making a mockery of politics. Under this view, he is a Jonathan Swift or a Stephen Colbert or any political cartoonist. He is not just a provocateur, but my brother satirist. If true, this would be yet another reason not to make fun of Donald Trump. Not only would it be too easy, it would be silly. It would be like mocking Daffy Duck. What would the point of that be?

It is also possible, I suppose, that he is only seeking to entertain himself with this run. His “campaign,” in this case, would be nothing more than public masturbation — exposing himself to the rest of us as a way of getting off. That’s one more reason to maintain as much detachment (and distance) as possible.

Or…it’s for the money. Under this theory, he will lose money in the short run, but as long as he doesn’t falter and abandon his ego, he will earn that money back tenfold in the future just on name recognition alone. Call it fame-chasing with a business plan.

Another one: it’s all about ego, and nothing else. I do like the charming simplicity of this explanation.

Yet another theory: it’s not the ego, but the id. He says and does whatever he wants, without a filter, and he never apologizes. Instead of tough policy stances, he deals in vitriol and personal attacks. That would make Trump the id of the Republican Party and a conduit for their baser nature. Debra Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle calls him their Lord Voldemort. She and other conservative pundits want their party to ignore Trump as a way of making him go away. Good luck; that would be like trying to ignore El Niño.

Those are the possible motivations I see so far. I could say that his run is based a little bit on all of them, but I can’t stand that kind of wishy-washy answer. Until I do figure him out, I will treat him simply as an avatar for all the mean-spiritedness on the right — the dark side of conservatism come to life, so to speak. His competitors and the rest of their party created the Trump monster by looking the other way for a decade while mindless viciousness and the glorification of ignorance grew ever larger on the right. They wanted those votes then, but now the monster has turned to pursue them. He’s not Lord Voldemort; he’s Frankenstein.

As to the effect of his presence, I’ll admit that thus far he has stripped bare the cravenness of the Republican field in a very entertaining way. If that was his intention, then he has certainly delivered for me.

It may be a sin, but I can’t wait for the debates.
The Supremes
It’s been a real roller coaster ride for the right this week at the Supreme Court. First came the bad news: guaranteed health insurance for the sick and the poor was upheld. This decision, as you know, violated our sacred freedom not to have such protections (although, in a maddeningly perverse way, it sustained our most basic Christian calling to care for the sick and the poor).

Then came an assault on those same beliefs in the form of the decision legalizing gay marriage. Despite our certainty that this ruling will lead to religious persecution and the end of civilization, we are now forced to explain exactly what it is that makes us so certain. If that’s not unconstitutional, I don’t know what is.

But then came the good news: when administering capital punishment, it’s okay to torture people to death. And if that wasn’t enough to cheer us up, the Court decided that stupid Obama can’t stop power plants from spewing poison into the air.

Morality may in jeopardy, but we can still take a deep breath of freedom, citizens!
Right, and Wrong
I feel badly for people on the right side of the political spectrum. Let’s call them conservatives. Conservatives get a lot of bad publicity, and the press can be so cruel.

It seems that every week, for instance, there’s some new study in the news examining the differences between the liberal and the conservative brain. The studies all sound very objective, but in every case it’s the conservative brain that comes out looking like a loser. You can bet that every one of those studies was conducted by some snotty liberal “scientist.” It’s unfair, if you ask me.

Worse yet, these stories uniformly play into the stereotypes of conservatives as uncaring, simplistic, rigid, suspicious, violent, and incapable of independent thought. My advice for the good people on the right is to take control of their own narrative by doing some serious rebranding.

For starters, if people insist on clinging to stereotypes about you, why not supply them with a nice, flattering stereotype? Let’s start with your core beliefs. Liberal know-it-alls use them to paint you as backward and delusional; why don’t you take the same ideas as proof of your boundless optimism? If your beliefs are lemons, in other words, just make lemonade! Here’s how it would work:

• Cutting taxes will actually raise tax revenues. You know, because those cuts will unleash the American entrepreneurial spirit that has been hogtied until now. And just think of the money we’d bring in if all taxes were eliminated. You’ve got to believe!

• Besides, those huge tax cuts for the rich will trickle down to you eventually. We may still may be waiting for the seepage from Ronald Reagan’s cuts, but don’t you worry. It’s coming!

• The globe isn’t warming because God loves us and wouldn’t do that to us. (Even though I don’t believe in God, I find this appealing. Who wants to be on the hook for that responsibility?)

• Scientists who say the world is warming are just in it for the money. Why run a hedge fund when the big bucks are in measuring glaciers? Just smile and soak up the rays, I say!

• Americans are the most generous people on Earth, so who needs all these government programs for the sick and the poor? Churches and charities can take care of all that… just like in the Middle Ages!

• Free markets can solve any problem, no matter how huge and complex — one way or the other, that is. The best idea is not to have problems in the first place…and the markets would be happy to make damn sure you don’t.

• War is the simplest, cheapest solution to international disagreements. (Plus, who wouldn’t greet us as liberators?)

Wow, I’m getting an optimism high just writing about this stuff! How about you? Good! Your rebranding is now officially underway. All we have to do is cement the PR gains you’ve made by taking some courageous action as a token of good faith.

Fortunately, this part should be easy. All you have to do is disavow some of the people you vote with. You know…the racists, the militias, the birthers, the religious charlatans, the political mass murderers, the bankers who wrecked the economy, and the politicians who pander to those people just to cling to power.

There, you’re done!
Liar, Liar
Everybody lies. Not all the time, maybe, but we all do it. Sometimes, it’s even the right thing to do in order to shield others from unnecessary pain. I’ll admit that those situations are rare, though; almost all lying is not about others but about ourselves — either for direct gain or to pump up our ego.

In either case, we want the lie to be a secret, because when people discover that you are lying, they tend to react badly. They will hold you up as an object of shame and say you are not to be trusted. It’s so unfair. If you are unlucky enough to have your dishonesty reported on the nightly news, then the shame is greatly multiplied. If you are a person who is in the news business itself, well, then you have a big ol’ figurative turd sitting on your head for all to see.

There are two such figurative turds now resting on two prominent heads in the information industry. Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly now wear that aromatic headgear, one out of sight, the other in full view. The two are a study in contrasts.

I don’t know whether Brian feels shame. His employer, NBC News, has suspended him for six months, and that acts as a kind of pro forma shaming that may or may not actually be experienced by the ex-anchor. I will dare to say that Bill is a bit of a stranger to shame. To my knowledge, he has never admitted a mistake, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to cop to the several whoppers he’s told about his heroic exploits. Fox News is taking a similar stance, and has even been touting his continued high ratings. Another study in contrasts.

The two men also have different job descriptions. Although both trade in the news as the common currency of their work, Williams’ job was to provide reliable information. O’Reilly’s was to provide analysis — along with high moral dudgeon and molten outrage. In these different capacities, the lies of each man reflect differently on his work.

As I noted, the two men have reacted differently to the discovery that their pants were on fire. Williams copped to it, took a leave, then got suspended. O’Reilly fulminated and threatened. As well he might; he seems to have the most to lose.

For Williams, only his credibility as a source of information is affected. If he lies about his own personal story, we might wonder, does he lie about the news, too? NBC apparently thinks so. When O’Reilly lies about his history, however, the lies go to the heart of his supposed identity: I’ve walked through Hell, I’ve stared Death in the face, my anger is righteous and pure! That character is what he’s selling, and it’s fundamental to his success. If he turns out to be a phony, we don’t just distrust him as a news source, we doubt his whole character. He becomes just another blowhard selling spin — the very commodity his on-air persona so vehemently disdains. If he’s a phony, then his nightly assurance that he’s “looking out for you” — that there is, indeed, a deep personal relationship with you — is patently fraudulent. His whole sad charade collapses, and his career is over.

Or so logic might suggest. It is more likely, I’m afraid, that O’Reilly will sail on, while Brian Williams finishes his career on “Dancing With the Stars” or “Celebrity Apprentice.” People went to Williams for facts; they go to O’Reilly because they’re anger addicts in need of a fix. When all you’re looking for is a mouthpiece for your impotent rage, who cares if he’s fraud? Truth and logic play no part in your choice. If you need that rage enough, cognitive dissonance won’t stand in your way. So his pants are on fire! Aren’t everybody’s?

As I said at the outset, yes they are. We all lie. The difference is, we don’t make a living out of it.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon