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Posts Tagged ‘Opinion’



Interviewer: My feeling from talking to readers and friends is that many people are beginning to despair. Do you think that we’ve lost reason to hope?

Kurt Vonnegut: I myself feel that our country, for whose Constitution I fought in a just war, might as well have been invaded by Martians and body snatchers. Sometimes I wish it had been. What has happened, though, is that it has been taken over by means of the sleaziest, low-comedy, Keystone Cops-style coup d’etat imaginable. And those now in charge of the federal government are upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, aka “Christians,” and plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, or “PPs.”

To say somebody is a PP is to make a perfectly respectable medical diagnosis, like saying he or she has appendicitis or athlete’s foot. The classic medical text on PPs is “The Mask of Sanity” by Dr. Hervey Cleckley. Read it! PPs are presentable, they know full well the suffering their actions may cause others, but they do not care. They cannot care because they are nuts. They have a screw loose!

And what syndrome better describes so many executives at Enron and WorldCom and on and on, who have enriched themselves while ruining their employees and investors and country, and who still feel as pure as the driven snow, no matter what anybody may say to or about them? And so many of these heartless PPs now hold big jobs in our federal government, as though they were leaders instead of sick.

What has allowed so many PPs to rise so high in corporations, and now in government, is that they are so decisive. Unlike normal people, they are never filled with doubts, for the simple reason that they cannot care what happens next. Simply can’t. Do this! Do that! Mobilize the reserves! Privatize the public schools! Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Tap everybody’s telephone! Cut taxes on the rich! Build a trillion-dollar missile shield! Fuck habeas corpus and the Sierra Club and In These Times, and kiss my ass!

— Interview with Kurt Vonnegut , In These Times Magazine, February 2003



I recently came across this short interview with the late Kurt Vonnegut from early 2003. He was describing a different set of people in a different circumstance and time but the underlying motivation and methodology of those people in charge remains the same. There is a direct line from those people to the current group of people in power– actually, some are the same folks– who are staging, as Vonnegut puts it, a Keystone Cops-style coup d’etat

We saw that yesterday in perhaps the most insane press conference since, well, the Four Season Total Landscaping affair. The time gap between displays of sheer insanity is getting shorter and shorter. But yesterday was as nuts as it gets with Rudy Giuliani, with his clown makeup running in streams down either side of his face, spewing incoherent nonsense that sought to subvert the will of the American electorate. Talking about Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013, interfering in our election among a litany of other absurdities.

I’m no doctor but I believe Giuliani would no doubt fall into the “PP” category referenced above.

The whole thing was comical in its absurdity and ineptness.

For right now. For the moment.

But it sets a dangerous precedent that will linger and no doubt come back to bite us at a point further down the road. It lowers the bar for the next “PP” who is most certainly biding their time in the wings. They will come along with their air of certainty and self-assuredness that appeals to our peasant nature, that part that resides in many of us that deeply desires that someone tell us what to do and what to think. We want to be led and will willingly follow most anyone who confidently moves to the head of the pack.

And sometimes those confident folks turn out to be psychopaths.

What is happening, this Keystone Cops-style coup d’etat, is not an anomaly, not something that we simply get past. We think its just about this one man, Donald Trump. Yeah, I wrote it. But this is about an arc of action that has been forty years or more in the making. And its arc is far from complete, may not have even reached its apex. In fact, we may only be witnessing a preview of what could be on our doorsteps at some point in the near future. 

We now have a large group of folks in our society who have a massive distrust of experts, scientists, and the media and are prone to avidly listening to and following any sure-speaking conman spouting conspiracies and accusations that prop up their own prejudices and worldview. They will create strawmen to sell to their eager followers, foils to blame and knock down even as the facts don’t add up in any way.

There is a whole class of folks like that now. Some of them might have seen the Giuliani dog and pony show yesterday as a prime example of pure truth-telling. Sure, it’s crazy and doesn’t really make any sense at all, falling apart under close examination. But these folks aren’t looking to dispel falsehoods. They aren’t willing to look closer and will take it at face value. After all, it was said with such confidence that it must be true.

That is going to be a problem for a long time to come and how it manifests itself should be of concern to us all. I’ve been worried about this time for decades now. The arc was evident even back in the late 70’s and early 80’s and has been accelerating more visibly for the past 25 years.

Vonnegut could see it as could many others. It’s easy to see but hard to avert or combat. The damage is done to our foundations now and there will be more if we fail to shore them up. Whether we can repair our foundation is in question.

Answers?

You got me there. Just keep grinding, I guess. Keep slogging forward and try to do good things and set good examples. Try not to hate.

It’s all I know to do. 

Have a good day and do something good.

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“Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’… must someday lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing – each act is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join you in resisting somehow.

You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves, when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things your father could never have imagined.”

Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955)

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Yesterday, like the day before that and the day before that and like nearly every one of the 1001 days since Trump– yeah, I wrote that freaking name– took over our government, was a day filled with outrages.

It was a day that saw Trump crowing ( in his typical word salad comprised of baldfaced lies, the bombast of an ultra spoiled eleven year old and a level of stupidity that so far exceeds any other world leader that it borders on being a form of art) about a faux ceasefire that gives Turkish president Erdogan everything he wanted with absolutely no ramifications and was a final and absolute betrayal of the Kurdish people.

It all but assures an ethnic cleansing of some degree.

It was an Orwellian performance, one where the words are so far removed from the reality of the situation that one is left to wonder if they have somehow stumbled on a new dimension in time and space, some new place that they do not know from any of the life they have led to that date. It was also a remarkable display of profound weakness and defeat on his part even though he tried to sell it as a victory.

If that had been all for the day, it would have been momentous but it was only one small part of the day. There were several other instances in the day, all so outrageous that would have set any other presidency on fire in a way from which they could never recover.

But here , it was another Thursday.

It reminded me of the evolution of the evil that overtook the German people in the 1930’s, culminating in the atrocities of the Nazis during WW II. We in the present tend to think that that thing they became was there in that same form from the very beginning. But it wasn’t. It started in an innocuous, political way. It came in small, subtle changes that involved the normalization of behaviors and thought processes that would have been unthinkable in the not so far past.

Journalist Milton Mayer went to Germany after the war and interviewed a large number of ordinary Germans who lived under the Third Reich. It resulted in the book, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, published in 1955. The small excerpt at the top captures the spirit of the book, describing an environment in which each day pushed a bit further towards the evil end but in such small, baby steps that one didn’t even notice the changes taking place, both in the country and in themselves.

This situation is often described by a frog being put in a pot of warm water on a stove. It is comfortable at first and nothing seems out of the ordinary as the temperature of the water slowly increases. It swims as it always did and adjusts easily to the temperature increases, so gradual are they, until it is too late and it finds itself being cooked alive.

It feels like the water in our pot is nearing a boiling pot.

I am not alone in believing this. I urge you to read the op-ed, Our Republic Is Under Attack From The President, in yesterday’s New York Times from Admiral William McRaven, the former Commander of the United States Special Operation Command and the architect of the Osama Bin Laden raid. He tells of many senior military leaders as well as regular troops who are alarmed at what they are seeing from this president, witnessing as they are the betrayal of our allies and our long stated national mission. They see Trump’s actions as an attack on our republic, feeling that they are under fire from within.

This is not a partisan political attack from a liberal pundit. This is a man, battle tested and committed to serving this nation, who can see the clear and present danger. It is a stunning statement from a lifelong soldier committed throughout his career to being apolitical.

He can feel that the water is boiling in the pot in which we swim.

And we’re nearly cooked because it’s boiling right now. Not weeks or months or years down the road.

Now.

We must get out of that pot.

Now.

Please read the Admiral McRaven editorial. I also urge you to read a larger excerpt from Milton Mayer’s book which can be seen here.

 

 

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We are coming up on the final weekend of what promises to be a pivotal election in the history of our country. It is ugly right now with a president* spinning out of control, spewing a constant and wide river of lies, fear mongering and racial slurs, both of the dog-whistle and overt variety. It is a campaign based only on fear, division, and threats, one that needs to create enemies to fear and despise. Instead of of offering a unifying vision, one party looks to aggressively suppress the vote. There is not a positive vision or an iota of hope involved. It is a tremendously dangerous onslaught and it is positively un-American and un-democratic.

It made me think about my own beliefs and how I was viewing this election. I found that while there is fear and anger driving my response to this election cycle, it is my liberal beliefs that still inform my actions. They are overwhelmingly positive positions that aim for greater equality and an even playing field for all people in this country. They are positions that are looking ahead to a better country and a better world for everyone, not just the wealthiest and the privileged.

Positions that say how we treat the least among us says the most about us.

It reminded me of a post from back around this time in 2012. It lists how liberal thought has created most of the benefits of modern life that many of us now take for granted. These are things that were accomplished through brutal, and sometimes lethal, battles fought by those with progressive ideals.

This country’s greatness is based on the idea of the idea of America and that is a product of progressive thought.

You must vote in this election. To not be involved is to cede your future to others who may have a darker future in mind. I can’t tell you how to vote. You vote for the future you want. I will tell you that I am voting for a more hopeful and inclusive future. Progressive and looking forward.

Here’s my post from 2012:

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Republicans have been accused of abandoning the poor. It’s the other way around. They never vote for us.

–Dan Quayle

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I don’t know why I used the quote above from Dan Quayle except that it made me laugh when I stumbled across it. This has been a particularly long and tough political season and Quayle’s clueless words made me step back from it a bit to give a chuckle. As though the poor owed the GOP something!

Though I consider myself an independent, I am definitely liberal in my political leanings and always have been. There have been points in my life, especially now in the time of the ideologues, when liberalism has been portrayed as some sort of anarchistic/atheistic/communistic movement with the word liberal being thrown about  as an insult. That bothers me because I have always been proud of the accomplishments of those people who came before me who carried the banner of progressive thought with honor.

Early Suffrage Poster

They were extraordinarily brave people who spoke out against the outrages of the day that stood in direct contradiction to the liberal belief in equality and liberty for all. They were the abolitionists of the 1800’s fighting the heavily moneyed institution of slavery. They were the suffragettes  who fought so that women might have voting equality and the union organizers of the early 1900’s who fought for safer working conditions and fair pay and  against child labor. They were the people, the anti-Fascists, who stood against the authoritarian movements of Europe in  the 1930’s and 1940’s. They were the civil rights activists who marched and died so that civil rights were for everyone. They were the environmentalists who brought back the clean water and air we now enjoy. There was a time not too long ago when clean water and air was not a sure thing.

They were the people who sought to clean the stains of these inequalities from our flag and in every case they came up against conservative opposition. There was always a group who tried to maintain the status quo, to protect against what they felt was an attack on their America, even though their America was one based on injustice and inequality. Can you imagine an America without these ideals that Liberalism has championed, a world where the conservative thought of the day had somehow persevered? Sure, it’s easy to say that slavery would have ended or that women would have received the vote anyhow on their own but there was no guarantee. Just the fact that it took until the 1960’s that a hard won Civil Rights Act was enacted is proof of that.

Think how your own life might be different without liberal thought and action. I can guarantee you that it would not be a better life or a better world.

Damn right, I’m a Liberal.

Vote for a positive future. Vote Progress.

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