Trump, Women, and Assertive Men

Trump, Women, and Assertive Men

Trump’s Women

What do we know about Donald Trump’s attitudes and behavior toward women?

  1. We know he favors women’s bodies over their minds.
  2. We know he objectifies women’s body parts. He has even discussed openly the high quality of his daughter’s body parts.
  3. We know he’s in the habit of rating women from 1-10.
  4. We know he is apt to criticize a woman’s face. “Look at that face!” He commented on Carly Fiorina’s. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”
  5. We know that he owned the Miss Universe Contest. We know he took a hands on interest in his pageants and contestants, by, for example, fat shaming Alicia Machado, a Miss Universe winner, for weight gain, and by sneaking into the changing room to view the beauties naked.
  6. We know he likes to insult women by calling them names. For example, he called Machado “Miss Piggy,” and “Miss Housekeeping.” Megan Kelly, of Fox News, noted in a debate that he had called women “fat pigs,” ”dogs,” ”slobs,” and “disgusting animals.” He confirmed that he had called Rosie O’Donnell one of those names. He also called O’Donnell “crude, rude, obnoxious, and dumb.”
  7. We know he bullies women. O’Donnell says she not only was bullied by Trump but mentally “tortured.” Elizabeth Warren, who he calls Pocahontas, called him a bully in return.
  8. We know he is likely to kiss a beautiful woman, and grab her privates. “I’m . . . attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it.” When Billy Bush responds “Whatever you want?” He replies “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
  9. We know that twelve women have come forward to accuse Donald Trump of unwanted sexual advances of the type he bragged of to Billy Bush.

Questions for Trump Voters::

  1. If sexism is ”prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex,” is President-Elect Trump a sexist? Yes_____ No_____.
  2. If misogyny is “dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women,” is President-Elect Trump a misogynist? Yes_____ No_____
  3. If a bully is “a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker,” is President-Elect Trump a bully? Yes_____ No_____
  4. Do you agree that President-Elect Trump by his actions has done considerable harm to the self-images, confidence, and self-concepts of girls and young women? Yes_____ No_____

Comment: Please explain. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Donald Trump’s Hillary Clinton

What do we know of Donald Trump’s attitudes and behavior toward Hillary Clinton?

  1. We know he questioned her ability to participate in a debate without using the bathroom, adding that it is “too disgusting” a topic to talk about.
  2. We know he spread the rumor that Hillary Clinton was ill and “lacks the mental and physical stamina” to be President.
  3. We know he called Secretary Clinton “Crooked Hillary” throughout the campaign and created the impression that she was a criminal.
  4. We know he attacked her as a woman. “If Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote.”
  5. We know he told a Wilmington, North Carolina rally: “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” “Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”
  6. We know that he “hovered behind” and “loomed over” Secretary Clinton in the Second Presidential Debate, in an apparent attempt to intimidate her.
  7. We know that he threatened in the same debate to have “his” Attorney General investigate her “situation” after the election and “put her in jail.”
  8. We know that he used the Republican Party Convention to conduct a criminal trial of Secretary Clinton, under the judgeship of Chris Christie, and repeated the trick, in shortened form, in the debates.
  9. We know that he invoked the mantra “Lock Her Up!” against Secretary Clinton in the convention and throughout the campaign.
  10. We know that he called Secretary Clinton a “nasty woman” in the Third Presidential Debate.
  11. We know he also called Secretary Clinton a brace of other epithets during the campaign: “the devil,” “witch,” “founder of ISIS,” “incompetent,” “shrill,” “criminal,” and “pathetic.” He tolerated his fans calling her a “bitch.”
  12. We know he accused Hillary of enabling her husband’s infidelities.
  13. We know he accused her of attacking women who had claimed liaisons with her husband.
  14. We know he conjectured that Mrs. Clinton had been unable to satisfy her husband’s needs. We know too that he insinuated that she had been unfaithful to her husband.
  15. We know he accused her of rigging the election.

Questions for Trump Voter

Does President-Elect Trump’s conduct toward Secretary Clinton convince you that Mr. Trump is a:

  1. Sexist? Yes_____ No_____
  2. Misogynist? Yes_____ No_____
  3. Bully? Yes_____ No _____
  4. Do you agree that Hillary Clinton did not respond to Mr. Trump in kind by stereotyping and denigrating him as a man and human being? Yes _____ No _____
  5. Do you agree that it would have been an historical event, and a singular encouragement to girls and young women, if a female had been elected President of the United States?
    Yes _____ No _____
  6. If yes, would you agree that the election of Trump is a stunning set-back for women’s equality and standing as human beings?

Comment: Please explain. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Outcome

Hillary Clinton is not a popular politician with all Americans, and particularly with men. She is disliked by most and mistrusted by many. She had a thirty year record in public service available for opposition research, and millions of dollars were spent to “get the goods” on her over decades.

Her husband, Bill Clinton, had been President of the United States for eight years, leaving office with an approval rating of 65% despite having been impeached. Due to the double standards of gender politics, all the weight of his failings was available to be heaped on  Hillary’s shoulders in this campaign, while none of his popularity and success accrued to her merit.

Hillary Clinton had been a hard working and effective Senator for two terms, exiting with an approval rating of 56% from her New York State constituents. She had been a successful Secretary of State in Barack Obama’s first term, leaving with the President’s praise for a job well done, and an approval record of 65% among the public. She had been out of office for four years before running for President a second time in 2016, and didn’t do anything wrong in the interim. She mostly testified to Congress for the offense of seeking the presidency.

Voters should have been able to pull the lever for Clinton with scarcely a qualm. No deep research or rocket science was required. Yet the voters, dumbfounded and outfoxed by disturbing media stories, befuddled themselves. Years of clever skullduggery and horror stories were required to beat her—along with restrictions on the right to vote in fifteen states; many a gerrymandered house district; the electoral college system; sneaky efforts at voter suppression; and 3 billion dollars spent in the campaign. But stop her they did, even when the obvious ethical imperative for a patriotic citizen became to stop Donald Trump at all costs from becoming President. An awesome political achievement for sure, with or without Russian assistance. Sexism, misogyny, bullying, and ageism played their artful, cunning parts, and Donald Trump prevailed.

Assertive Men

I tend to like Presidents best after they have left office. I had unexceptional expectations for Hillary Clinton. Her hawkishness bothered me a lot. Her pro-Israel stance seemed to overlook the dire plight and disappearing rights of Palestinians. Yet, I thought she’d make a good solid President. She was the obvious choice. What other ethical choice was there?

One thing did surprise me, though, which relates to the intuition of a “hidden problem” noted in the entry entitled Trumpeter University Learning Lab. I had met during the campaign only one man who felt as positive about Secretary Clinton as I did. Every other male acquaintance, of whatever political persuasion, spoke of “real” or “deep” or “serious” or “concerning” problems with Clinton, even the ones who said they were going to vote for her. They spoke of “blandness,” and “trust,” and “lies,” and “crimes,” and “deceits,” and “theft,” and “fraud,” and “scandals,” and “treason,” and “ambition,” and “tiredness,” and“stamina,” and “avarice,”and “boring,” and “lack of vision,” and “over the hill,” and “lack of a plan,” and “unwatchable,“ and “uninspiring,” and “arrogance.” Most uttered their defamations with deep feeling, a bit of anger, and definite certainty, the more so as election day drew near. Chris Matthews opined one night that her focus on motherhood and parenting wasn’t an engaging message. Brooks and Shields spoke of her uninspired speeches and her failure to offer a vision of the future for the country. Only President Obama and Tim Kaine—what else would you expect of them—spoke of her extraordinary experience, credentials, competence, work ethic, and steadfastness. On record, Clinton was the best prepared candidate for the presidency in American history, but that was considered insufficient by  discerning men to offset her “deficits.”

In the meantime, the Republican party had unleashed full-scale sexism, misogyny, and bullying in their “lock her up!” “jail her!”cadenced convention, and their candidate, Donald Trump ruthlessly carried on the flaming denigration in his rowdy boy rallies, and in the three debates. Clinton was by then a criminal on the loose protected from arrest by amorphous elites in a rigged system.

No one, excepting a courageous Christian minister, defending her sanctuary, stood up to Trump. No one said: “Stop it.” “Show a little common decency.” “Show some respect.” “Children are watching.” “Address her by her rightful name.” Clinton didn’t even get the basic respect that teachers insist upon for students in their classrooms.

What we were watching, it turned out, was the age old need of men to control and dominate women. Fox-trapped whites had defamed Barack Obama for eight years because of their need to diminish and dominate blacks. Now muscular detritus spewed forth from a new source. Stigmata residual from the racial smear years was to be enhanced with some good old-fashioned woman bashing, a fine inheritance for Clinton to carry into the campaign. Then she was paraded nightly before rally juries to be tried as criminal, murderer, devil, or witch.

Clinton, judged by only the facts, should have won in a landslide, just as President Obama should have received more abundant appreciation for his achievements and service as President. But by then—this year, this fall—voters, particularly male voters, had worked themselves so deeply into cognitive circuitry mashings that any male candidate, even Donald Trump, seemed preferable to wicked, crooked Hillary. Trump was better! Being a woman had nothing at all to do with it. But it did.

That turned out to be the answer to the mathematical conundrum discussed at length and highlighted in the first Trumpster Learning Lab.

Question: How could it possibly be that the number of Trump’s disqualifications for the office of President could be increased from 69 to infinity without mass defections of patriotic citizens to Clinton?

Answer: the basic need of men to retain dominance over women is still that powerful in the male psyche.

Men weren’t ready for a woman president.

The rally stalwarts who Clinton found so deplorable led the way in the demonization of Clinton. But their misogyny was well known by the end of the primaries, and was of no great surprise after that, accompanied as it was by equally hateful attitudes of other sorts: racism, nativism, Islamophobia, Muslimophobia, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

The larger mass of males, hiding behind their sober, sensible “reasoning,” “research,” “independence,” “indecision,” and “Bernie voter” status, some of whom voted for Clinton nonetheless, regularly asserted their “concerns” when asked. Many took their “never Hillary” (not yet a woman) attitude into the voting booth.

If I were to fashion “markers” to “distinguish” the men I’m talking about, I would call out:

  • men who had a woman boss problem somewhere in the past;.
  • super-competitors who like to listen to sports jock radio;
  • men who like to trash talk;
  • men who like to control the conversation;
  • men who think of themselves as ladies men;
  • guys who think of themselves as top guns and alpha men;
  • and, men who need to stand out at a party.

But I could be wrong. From a self-directed learning perspective, it doesn’t really matter. The Hillary bashers and the men who didn’t want a woman President know who they are. The question is what they will do with this self knowledge. Donald Trump will be in the White House to remind them of the importance of the question.

So why do men want to quickly get over this election, stiffen up, and move on? Because we men pulled it off, and relatively easily, all things considered, and the women haven’t bashed us yet. We think we got away with it. Let’s move on before the women notice and come after us.

This is the fourth in a series on the 2016 Presidential election.

Will Callender, Jr. ©

December 22, 2016

Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good

Trumpster University Learning Lab 2

Trumpster University Learning Lab 2

In Trumpster University Learning Lab 1, ten days ago, we found that no amount of disqualifications could be amassed sufficient to dissuade followers from voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election.

Today’s report on Trumpster University Lab 2 builds upon the first. It convened a select group of Trump voters dedicated to critical thinking and self-directed learning. As explained in the last blog, self-directed learning is a sound philosophy and method to employ in approaching matters of personal change and growth through learning. The adult citizen directs and conducts his own learning as a facilitator presents “situations” to reflect upon and address.

While people may not think of themselves in this way, every person has multiple selves, at least two, usually three, sometimes a virtual choir, all in the one person that bears his name. You’ll find these selves distinct enough in the silent talks you have with yourself (there are three selves engaged: the one that speaks, the one that hears, and the one that reacts and responds.) “I” act, “I” observe, “I” evaluate, “I” judge, “I” decide, “I” change. There are abundant selves interacting in the stages of any one thoughtful act. They provide enough self-reflection for the light to come in and change a mind. That’s all that’s needed: thinking, openness, honesty, light, insight, and the courage to change one’s mind.

It cannot be said that Trumpster University Lab 2 was a great success, such was the contention and contumely unleashed among the impassioned participants. Nevertheless, random results of some interest were produced, and they are reported here for the education and edification of the public. Questions for further study follow each summary for the self-directed learner.

Activity 1. – Trump Character Profile
It seemed likely that a ‘conversion’ or ‘compacting’ of Trump’s multifarious disqualifications for office into a personal characterization of the candidate could sharpen the issue and focus the voter’s decision making. Therefore, the following instructions were issued:

“Review the disqualifications for office of Donald J. Trump cited on Will’s list of 69 and on Keith Olbermann’s list of 176; then summarize Donald Trump’s character by applying fitting appellations and adjectives.”

The responses, in alphabetical order, were:

abuser of women, alpha male, angry, anti-immigrant, anti-democratic, anti-Mexican, bad loser, bad winner, bully, con man, climate change denier, conspiracy theorist, counter-puncher, corporate wheeler-dealer, dictatorial, dominator, erratic, fast talker, fabricator, fear pervader, humorless, ignorant, insecure, intemperate, liar, loner, likely white supremacist, mean, midnight tweeter, misogynist, narcissist, nasty, nativist, non-reader, possible fascist, power grabber, pugilist, Putinist, racist, rumormonger, self-absorbed, sexist, statist, strongman, thin-skinned, xenophobe, unknowledgeable, unpredictable, vengeful, victim, and whiner.

Questions for Further Consideration

  1. It is difficult to believe that any person whose character actually fit this profile could attract votes for the office of President of the United States? Is there a mistake? Is the list accurate? Is something missing? What should be added or subtracted?
  2. Indeed, if the portrait is accurate, wouldn’t it be our patriotic duty as citizens to insure by our votes that Mr. Trump never became president? Shouldn’t that have been the paramount issue of the campaign?

Activity 2. – Individual Voter Profile.
If each Trump voter inspected the Trump profile, fashioned a comparable profile of himself, and placed the two in mirrored opposition, a strong intuition of likeness or difference should arise, and he’d know why he had chosen to vote for or against the candidate. Therefore, the following instructions were issued:

“Construct a character profile of yourself and compare it with the one constructed for Mr. Trump. Then ask, If I voted for the Donald Trump portrayed above, do these labels apply also to me?”

Most participants were unable to construct a personal character profile of themselves. No one who completed the work was willing to share his product. The discussion soon turned heated. No precise correspondence exists between Mr. Trump and themselves, his voters assert; few of his qualities, if any, apply to them and their votes. “He’s one type of person; I’m another,” said one person. It was unfair, they protested, to hold up Trump’s profile as a mirror for their self-reflection.

Some voters said they disliked Mr. Trump intensely, but voted for him anyway, because “Hillary was worse.” Others said: “Supreme Court appointments were critical;” “Obamacare must be overturned;” “Christian values must be upheld,” “Liberals deserve defeat;” “Respect abroad has to be reestablished;” etc. “You don’t have to like him to vote for him,”one person explained.

In particular, Trump voters want it understood that they are not racist, bigoted, stupid, or anti-democratic. Neglected and overlooked? Yes. But not racist, not deplorable. Liam intoned: “You’re kidding me! Of course you’re racist. Every American is racist!” Bad moment there.

There was one shared ‘aha’ of some importance. It dawned on everybody that their life was nothing like Donald Trump’s, and vice-versa, his life was nothing like theirs, or, for that matter, like anybody else they knew! He was a world-class businessman and global billionaire who lived in a tower and owned his own planes. The love of golf was one thing some professed to share with him.

Questions for Further Consideration

  1. The voters make a valid and important point. A candidate need not live as you or I do to earn our vote. Is perhaps the link between the celebrity candidate and the disparate voter one of shared concern for the same issues?
  2. On the other hand, mustn’t there be some degree of overlap in character profiles and attitudes between the candidate and his voters? Is agreement on issues enough of a bond?
  3. Wouldn’t a reasonable person surmise that considerable anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, pro-Christian, misogynist, lock-em-up policing, white supremacist, and racist sentiments are common among Trump and his voters?
  4. Wouldn’t a reasonable person also surmise that a spirit of anger, fear, neglect, victimization, resentment, and retribution is shared by Trump and his enthusiasts?
  5. Is it credible that a celebrity who lives a life totally unlike and foreign to most Americans can realistically claim to be their representative, voice, and champion? Are his biographers wrong in reporting that Mr. Trump is self-absorbed and uninterested in the lives of others? Could it be that Mr. Trump has taken advantage of his voters sensitivities?

Activity 3. – Reasons for Voting for Trump.
Instruction to participants who voted for Mr. Trump:

“Explain in your own words why you voted for Donald Trump.”

The answers were: “Hillary’s worse” (4 times); “Time for change;” “Shake things up;” “Straight-shooter;” “No bull;” “Love to hear him tell off the politicians;” “Give hell to the Beltway guys;” “He’ll drain the swamp;“ “No political correctness;” “He’ll drive the bleeding heart liberals nuts;” “He understands what people like me are going through;” “Got to do something about ISIS and terrorism;” “He’ll rebuild our military;” “To do something for the rust belt;” “To get some respect back for the nation;” “Stop illegal immigrants;” “Do something about radical Islam;” “Help the rural areas;” “He’ll help the veterans;” “We need someone strong and tough;” “He will end Obamacare;” “He’ll stand up to China and get our jobs back;” “He will negotiate better trade deals;” “He’s not a politician;” “He’ll save us money;” ”you can’t buy him;” “He’s beholden to no one;” and “He says what he thinks.”

Questions for Further Consideration

  1. “Reasons,” as embedded in these answers, have several surprising characteristics. They are clipped, clever, vague, opaque, and exceedingly general. Most are catchphrases. They sound like slogans. They also sound familiar. Have we heard them before?
  2. Could it be that a cache of reasons for voting for a candidate— in this case for Mr. Trump—is a culturally acquired vocabulary initiated by a campaign, constructed in the course of the events of the campaign, and ritualized into catchphrases by repeated media use?
  3. Could it be that millions of people are drawn by electronic messaging to accept the same reasons to vote? Do we receive them by sight or ear, find them credible, and come eventually to feel them deeply and passionately as our own? Are reasons marketed like commodities for use by partisans in the voting booth?
  4. Isn’t it also clear that overarching reasons, like the ones attributed by the Trump voter for his vote, are endpoints of a storytelling process? Are they not conclusions at the end of a narration?. Don’t they sound like titles of missing stories? The auditor has no information at all about the circumstances, events, and reasoning that has brought the voter to his conclusion and decision. The story— its architecture, its staging, its sections, its paragraphs, and its sentences—are absent, missing, and unavailable.

Activities 4. and 5. –  Logical and moral reasoning. These activities, frankly, didn’t come off at all. The discussion broke down shortly, then completely, and the workshop ended. For the record, though, here are the original questions. I’ll try too to explain what happened.

Activity 4. –  Logical Argument:

In the interests of understanding the background story that led to your decision to vote for Mr. Trump, please translate the summary reason cited for your vote into a set of logical propositions: A, B, C, D, . . . to Z, where “A” begins: “I was very concerned about issues affecting me, my family, and community,” and “Z” equals “therefore, I voted for Trump,” with B,C,D,E,F,.…Y filling in the intermediate arguments in a causal chain telling the story logically from A to Z.

Activity 5. – Ethical Justification:

Does the reasoning you’ve provided about your vote include an ethical justification for voting for Trump despite his many disqualifications for the office? Yes _____ No _____ If “yes,” what is the justification? If “no,” how did you justify setting aside the myriad of disqualifications documented in the media? ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

What Happened?

Trump voters insisted they had already given their full reasons for voting for Mr. Trump, and that nothing more need be added. That is essentially what happened. There is no long string of logical reasoning behind their votes. There is no extensive moral reasoning either. One person spoke for many in saying: “You like him, you vote for him! No big deal.” Another person, who hadn’t previously spoken, said “I hate the guy, and Hillary too, but I voted for him because he’s Republican, as am I.” Others jumped in: “Right,” it’s “the court picks;” “Obamacare;” “religious freedom;” “the Iran treaty,” “respect for America around the world,” “runaway immigration;” “broken borders;” and “law and order.” Another person reported that he “just wanted to shake things up and see what happened.” There was nothing more to talk about than that!

Questions for Further Consideration

  1. If a voter’s decision doesn’t include a full and truthful account of how he arrived at his vote, is he not diminished as a storyteller? Is not his story lost? Isn’t the power of history to teach likewise diminished?
  2. If a voter’s decision is unsupported by a logical account of the facts, values, and circumstances that led up to it, does he not curtail and sacrifice his abilities and influence as a rational person and convincing speaker? If his reasoning isn’t available and understood, couldn’t his vote be seen as irrational?
  3. If a voter’s decision fails to include an ethical account of how a candidate’s deficits and disqualifications are offset by other circumstances, and by higher and more important principles, is he unethical? Does he not diminish his standing as an ethical person and good citizen?
  4. If it is true that the only explanation a person can give to himself for his vote is a  catchphrase—such as I voted “for change,” or “against Clinton,” or “I voted Republican,” or “to make America Great”—wouldn’t the person be exhibiting a Swiss-cheese kind of mind full of disconnected thoughts? Is this not mental vacuity?
  5. If such a fright or specter of vacuousness and banality is suspected, isn’t that conclusion confirmed the moment a person argues in serious that no factual basis, logical reasoning, or ethical principles lie behind the generalization he has given for his vote?
  6. If one’s reasons for voting are general, acquired, and vague, and also unsupported by facts, evidence, logic, and ethical principles, does the voter really know what he is talking about? Does he actually know what he means? Do not vocabularies of reasons for voting, once regurgitated by partisans for months, take on the character of nonsense and craziness?
  7. Does not craziness and irrationality become particularly evident in elections such as this one, when issues are bypassed in favor of character embellishment and assassination? Suddenly matters of hair style, weight, age, sex, fatigue, toilet use, walking, and bearing become super-important, and pro and con reasons emerge to enforce firm judgment. Body stigmata are read. Such stigmata might be part of the reason trust and comfort issues became so critical, and why disqualifications for the office could be overlooked and disregarded?
  8. Might not millions of voters have no real idea of why they voted as they did? If this were not so, why do millions of voters consistently vote against their own self-interests?
  9. If, as some voters have said, Donald Trump is nothing like them, but they voted for him for their own good reasons nonetheless, have they not made themselves victims of arrogance, negligence, and fantasy? Do they really believe that the nightmares Trump’s character flaws foretell can be prevented and avoided while their personal wishes are fulfilled and their dreams come true?
  10. Can a voter legitimately claim a “good” and “ethical” reason for voting for Mr. Trump and thereby avoid accountability for whatever wrongs and illegalities he may perpetuate once in office? Can a Trump voter be innocent of future wrongs committed on Trump’s watch and in his name? Is it true that the voter couldn’t have known better?
  11. Isn’t it obvious that “resentment” is the most powerful fragrance Trump voters share with Mr. Trump?  If so, why the resentment? What’s it about? Does the Trump voter have cause? Are there clear injuries to redress? Who are the people who victimized you, the voter?
  12. Shouldn’t Donald Trump ask himself, above all else: why am I so unhappy and resentful after all of my wealth, success, fame, and God given blessings? Why is there no laughter, humor, happiness, empathy, and joy in me? What has gone  wrong with my life?

Conclusion

I have been unable to find even one good reason to vote for Donald Trump. I can certainly understand why people whose profile of attitudes and sentiments overlaps his did vote for him. But those would be voters who voted for bad reasons. If Mr. Trump’s ascension is truly a populist movement, that movement is fundamentally fearful, resentful, misogynist, bigoted, racist, and white supremacist. Much has been made of the rural, rust-belt voter overlooked by politicians, elites, and government. I have great sympathy for them, and would welcome a rural renewal act and an infrastructure jobs bill in the next Congress. But rural areas have been in decline for decades, including the years when my family lived in Washington County, Maine. More to the point, the complaints of rural people in this election were mostly about “other people,” people they for whatever reason resent and fear. It wasn’t so much about their own pocketbook issues.

Nothing is as nonsensical as the “vocabulary of reasons” the campaign generated for voting for Trump and against Clinton. As indicated, these “reasons” tended to be isolated, sing-song, catchphrases that embodied more than a little craziness, weirdness, and banality. It was like a cockfight out there, with fans on both sides of the ring casting hurtful word slugs at one another. It is terrifying to conclude that millions of voters may not even have known what they meant by the reasons they cited for their votes. Their overarching “reasons” lacked a discernible storyline and trail in logic and and ethical reasoning.

Nothing is more fundamental to democracy than the right to vote. Of the various possibilities for the 15th Amendment in 1869, I would have preferred a fourth more liberal version that included women. It would have read:

Section 1. Citizens of the United States have the right to vote when they attain the age of eighteen.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

All adult citizen should have the right to vote. No competency test short of total mental incapacitation should be allowed. The citizen might be ignorant, illiterate, uneducated, simple-minded, incoherent, inconsistent, newly arrived in town and state, naturalized yesterday, and in jail, and still possess, in my opinion, an inalienable right to vote. Such a right, and the responsibility that goes with it, is entirely the voter’s, a matter of civic pride and self-respect. No external agent should try to force civic duty. The obligation is personal and private, some would say sacred. As to my efforts and questions about your vote, let’s be clear, it’s none of my business. Tell me to keep my adult education ideas to myself if I bother you too much. It’s your right, and lots of good and brave people sacrificed their life for it.

But that said, I think the 62 million or so people who voted for Donald Trump made a mistake and let the country and themselves down. I hope over the coming years each of them questions himself honestly and ruthlessly in the inner sanctum of his mind to clarify his thinking and, most important, do better next time.

The election is over and the circus animals are out of their cages, loose in the world. Any observer can see from his cabinet picks that rural America and American workers are the farthest concerns from Mr. Trump’s mind. Citizen participation and future elections are what counts now. All the open minds and good voices out there in the nation will be needed to protect the Constitution and preserve democracy from the storms that President Trump will soon unloose upon us to roil and rumble across the land.

This is the third in a series on the 2016 Presidential election.

Will Callender, Jr. ©

December 14, 2016

Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good

Random Notes on a Weird Election

Random Notes on a Weird Election

What story in classic literature best describes Donald J. Trump? Narcissus kneeling at the  still pool captivated by the beauty of his own reflected image is a good answer. But Mr. Trump is never still, and he kneels to no one. He flies around the country to address huge rallies. The crowd is a moving mirror, and the pool is filled with toxicity. While this may seem fitting in an age of environmental disaster, the comparison with Narcissus is sullied.

Franz Kafka’s The Hunger Artist provides another insight on Mr. Trump. The viewer should turn off the sound at his rallies for the image to work. In the story a performer in a barred animal cage is a must see attraction for circus goers. Everyone knows him. Everyone goes to see him starve. He is famous for not eating. He must be very hungry. At the end, the hunger artist just dies, and the crowd is furious at him for abandoning them. I know the story might be read as mass blindness to poverty, or as insatiable emotional hunger by the enthralled, needful crowd. And, of course, Mr. Trump is wealthy, not poor. Nevertheless, the nourishment he gets from crowds never seems to satisfy. Happiness does not follow. He’s intoxicated with rallies, and needs them as much as the addict needs his drug. But Mr. Trump seems to be a lonely, emotionally-starved man.

* * * * *

I overheard a girl ask her mother what Hillary Clinton’s email scandal was about. The mother said she didn’t really know. “How did it start?”, the girl persisted. “She used a computer server at home for the work she did while Secretary of State years ago.” “You use your computer at home, Mom,” the daughter noted. “I do homework on mine.” “We use email too.” “I know,” the mother said, “but there might have been national secrets on hers.” “Was she a spy or something?” “No.” “Has she been charged with a crime?” “No.” Do you think she committed a crime?” ”No.” “Mom, I think there are people out to get her.”

Out of the mouths of a teenager comes truth. The stone throwers are as naked as the emperor was observed to be by the observant child.

Without the Benghazi investigation and witch hunt there would be no server issue, and without the server there would be no email issue, and now without Anthony Weiner’s sexting sessions there would be no cache of new emails to tempt the Attorney General.

It is notable that no House of Representative committee chose to examine Colin Powell’s emails regarding his United Nations speech on Saddam’s nuclear weapons, a speech that employed “flawed intelligence” to justify invading Iraq. Powell used a private server, as have other secretaries. No one called for inspection of Caspar Weinberger and George Shultz,’s correspondence regarding the Iran-Contra affair or the barracks bombings that killed 220 marines and 21 sailors and soldiers in Beirut, Lebanon during the Reagan presidency. These Secretaries of State and Defense were men and Republicans. Hillary Clinton is a woman and a Democrat. That appears to be the key difference.

* * * * *

Franz Kafka’s writings are pertinent as well in examining Hillary Clinton’s situation, and in understanding our experience of her situation as witnesses. The most resonant and instructive text— hands down—is his novel The Trial. In it “K,” the central character and narrator, senses from the ambiance of his surrounds that he is considered guilty of something, of have committed some offense, probably a crime, and that he is on the verge of being arrested and charged. He feels this wherever he goes— day and night—and whatever he is doing. He’s somehow on trial. Is this feeling warranted or is it paranoia? We don’t know, nor does he. One can’t tell. He is active though, and purposive; he tries to find out. He looks for signs. He asks questions. He goes to court. He seeks out legal help. No luck. He cannot find the accuser, fill in the specifics of his case, know the charge, discover whether and when he’ll be indicted, identify the court and court date, or figure out how to mount a defense. In the end he never does find out. The verdict against him is just revealed one day.

Incredibly, This is the situation Hillary Clinton’s finds herself in today and will find herself in on Jan. 20, 2017, the day when she could be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America.

* * * * *

I suspect that voters, at least some male voters, many of whom will be voting for Donald Trump, are bored with their country and with politics. They may care intensely about the horse race aspect of the election, and perhaps care about the opinions of commenters on their favorite T.V. network. But they don’t seem to know or care much about history, the Constitution, world affairs, complex issues, or the plight of less fortunate countrymen. The majority may not even care about actual issues. Yet, they are angry! They appear to care most about their personal resentments, preferences, tastes, desires, opinions, and team affiliations. The election is about them, their wants, their hated enemies, and their favorite team. They are rabid fans. They just want to win, and baby, they had better win! They think they deserve it.

Will Callender, Jr. ©

November 2, 2016

Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good

Great Questions For Trump

Great Questions For Trump

When Abraham Lincoln ran for President as the nominee of the Republican Party in 1860, he remained home in Springfield while surrogates canvassed the country on behalf of his candidacy. That was the custom then, for all candidates, not just Lincoln. Humility was a public virtue. Candidates for President, at least in theory, were to be discovered, promoted, and acclaimed by their fellow citizens. Willingness to run for office and ample self regard were not enough.

That time of nascent civil war was worse than ours. It wouldn’t be among the times of greatness from which our nation, in Donald Trump’s estimation, has fallen to such depths as to require his superhero intervention to “make America great again.” But then, how far would his candidacy have gotten if he remained demurely in the Trump Tower while surrogates did the mouth and photo-op work? No matter. That issue is mute now, of no consequence. Besides, I get queasy when issues of ‘greatness’ arise. Aggrandizement is a longstanding habit of ours. We expect too much and as a result exaggerate prodigiously, belying a level of self esteem below our hard earned worth and our due as human beings. So Donald Trump, his claims, and his legion of supporters mostly discombobulate me. They represent a big step backwards from American greatness, however one defines the word.

Yet, an idea comes to mind. Why don’t we who love words ask media interlocutors to ask Mr. Trump and his supporters about the meaning of his words? Why don’t we ask for details? Why don’t we do the same for other candidates? Might not understanding be enhanced that way?

I have a theory of modern life, which I suspect was true in Lincoln’s time too. Events have overrun and overwhelmed us. We’re buried in rapid happenings and rabid history. We’re trying desperately to breathe, dig out, catch up, and gain control. Our brains are virtual garbage dumps of maddening bits of electrified information, with more “this just in” news piling on top hourly. That’s the theory. We suffer from media mash and political claustrophobia, with its associated panic, terror, depression, and despair.

Look at the sophisticated way we use words in politics. We usually mean something other by what we say than what the words actually mean. That’s the key fact. It’s not just the habit of Donald Trump and his minions. It’s ours too. Some of this difference is intentional lying, yes, that’s true. Some of it is simple discretion and tact, surely it is. Some is clever disguise, I agree. But most of it is shortcut and substitute for hidden, complicated, rarely told personal stories. For example, if I say “President Obama is our worst President,” or you say “the national debt is an unforgivable burden to pile on the backs of our children,” or another says “we must return to the constitution and recover our freedoms,” or still another says “politicians are all liars,” all of us are making shorthand allusions that stand in for deep, hidden analyses and personal perspectives we’d like to tell and have understood. Our quick, one-line zinger summations substitute for buried stories, our stories. These iconic shout-outs pile up and contort into a moving image of citizenry who have lost the capacity for civic engagement and transfigured into a parade of grotesques, forming an ongoing memorial to its own buried national history.

Of course, telling such stories would take time, and time is short; there is too little, never enough. On that people agree. We’re on the run, so get on with it, say it quick or not at all, we’re late and have to go, this in an age where listening and reading time are in steep decline, and an electronic “like” and “share” culture is ascendent. There is no chance to fully understand each other. Besides, strangers, not ‘liked’ friends, are who really count in politics, and we all are strangers and passers-by now. We can’t know each other. The chances for inter-personal understanding are minimal. So we exchange grunts and soundbites with each other. We can spot probable friends and likely enemies on the cheap that way.

Our political statements, to summarize, are truncated, battle tested, provocative sound bites. They pinch hit for personal stories conveying circumstances, journeys, careers, beliefs, values, and commitments. Since everyone is in the same boat—under the sway of news claustrophobia,—these ways of talking tend to divide into two cultural piles in our two party political system. That is perhaps one of the reasons we are so ‘polarized.’ Americans usually get along just fine as long as they keep their mouths shut about politics.

But then along comes the political candidate or elected government official. That politician, with the clever help of advisors, consultants, think tankers, pollsters, editorialists, campaign managers, public relations firms, and the like, grinds out a similarly truncated piece of hocus-pocus that calibrates with his half of the electorate. The result is a mishmash of political babble. If lucky, you find that your particular zinger feature statement has been preempted and regurgitated into an even more clever slogan by your favorite candidate. Opponents, to be sure, will soon conjure ingenious, fiendishly cute responses in return. The parade of the grotesque marches on.

So here is a proposal to interviewers of Donald Trump and his followers, as well as to other candidates and their followers. Return the candidates’ words back to them for extraction of meaning, and ask them questions that promise to reveal the hidden, substituted story of our nation, whatever horrible nightmare or shiny dream may be hidden at its core.

In the Trump case, for examples, we have his soundbite, “I will make America great again,” and a media consensus that his supporters are “angry.” Questions are endlessly revealing, and the number that could be asked of a person on any subject is infinite. I find that encouraging! Here are a few I am curious about for the respondents, Trump and his prototype follower.

A few for Trump:

  • Has America been great from the get go, and great until now?
  • Or, has it been up and down, great/not great, over the years?
  • What is “great”? What’s not? What’s its opposite?
  • How does that differ from “good”/“bad,”or “better“/“worse?”
  • Are good and great the same thing?
  • If not, is “great” better than “good,” or vice-versa?
  • When did American greatness peak?
  • When did America greatness hit bottom?
  • Did any other President make America as great as did Polk? Who?
  • Be truthful, President Truman is said to have “lost China.” Is it President Obama who lost America’s greatness?
  • Did you say yes? I thought so? How on earth did he do it?
  • After your Presidency, what marks of greatness will be obvious?
  • Admit it, America is still great, isn’t it?
  • Are you prone to exaggeration? Tell the truth now.

A few for the angry Trump voter:

  • Are you bothered, concerned, irritable, pissed off, or angry?
  • If angry, have you always been angry, or is it new for you?
  • Is it hard to be angry? I mean, can you do it all the time?
  • How does it feel? Do you take any medicine for it?
  • Have you ever been happy? When? What happened?
  • What’s your economic situation? Is that what you’re angry about?
  • Are you angry with yourself or at someone else?
  • If your political enemy wins, will you get angrier?
  • If your favorite candidate wins, will happiness return?
  • Do you expect to be angry the rest of your life?
  • Have you asked what your country can do for you to make you happy?

Well, that’s the general idea. Feel free to add your own questions before sending the pile on for use by a favorite journalist or interviewer. Donald Trump has taken us beyond words to utter speechlessness. Words are nothing to him but sound bombs and dirty weapons. Still, there is ample time to recover our breath, dig out, and try mightily to force the candidate to speak like a thoughtful man, whether he’s been in the habit or not. Words have meanings and consequences. He should be held accountable for his.

Will Callender, Jr. ©

March 4, 2016

Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good

Conservatism: Running on Empty

Conservatism: Running on Empty

The terms conservative and liberal have a long currency in politics. Among other uses they mark ‘right’ and ‘left’ on the political spectrum. Republicans found it useful to invoke conservative principles in seeking to roll back Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation in the 1930s and 40s. They subsequently launched a ‘movement’ under the banner of conservatism to boost Barry Goldwater’s run for the Presidency in 1964. The Conscience of a Conservative was specially written for Goldwater’s candidacy. While his bid for office failed—in part because his conscience told him to exclaim: “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice”—the movement did succeed in electing Ronald Reagan to two terms as President from 1981 and 1989. That was its political apex. Its intellectual apex came earlier with Russell Kirk’s publication of The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Santayana (1953), William F. Buckley’s magazine National Review (1955) and television show Firing Line (1966-1999), and the opening of the The Heritage Foundation in 1973. I personally think of Buckley’s Firing Line conversation with Norm Chomsky on the Vietnam War and Russell Kirk’s Ten Conservative Principles lecture at the The Heritage Foundation as high marks of the conservative movement. It’s been all downhill from there.

I’ve never been a fan of conservatism myself. I think of myself as a conservative person liberal in politics. It took no less a pundit than Ann Coulter to determine that I was really a mealy-mouthed, bleeding heart, constitution defiling, liberal traitor. Conservatives like Coulter have turned ‘liberal’ into such a vile epithet that smarter, younger people have reinvented themselves as ‘progressive.’ It is hard to tell what of value conservatism conserves these days. The movement seems to have gone beyond roque to extreme, radical, and creepy. Goldwater would fall under the ‘moderate’ label today.

What went wrong with the conservatism movement after the Reagan presidency? Ann Coulter happened. Rush Limbaugh happened. Matt Drudge happened. Fox News happened. Bill O’Reilly happened. Sean Hannity happened. Glenn Beck happened. Andrew Breitbart happened. Carl Rove happened. The ‘Tea Party’ happened. Everyone knows all that. But decades before these luminaries took center stage, Buckley’s conservatism had failed to dissuade him from calling his TV celebrity opponent, Gore Vidal, a “fag,” an impropriety for which Buckley never forgave himself and Vidal was forever thankful. Buckley and the audience recognized in a flash that his beloved conservatism was in part a shield behind which to attack hated enemies. That use is so out of the closet now that scurrilous attacks under the banner of conservatism are heard daily. Then again, Mike Huckabee happened. Rick Santorum happened. The Koch brothers happened. Sheldon Adelson happened. Scott Walker happened. Ben Carson happened. Marco Rubio happened. Ted Cruz happened. Donald Trump happened. Conservatives have multiplied while becoming famously more angry, but it is hard for an outside observer to know what the inner turmoil and fuss is all about. The ‘movement’ has failed to bring conservatives much happiness, that’s for sure, and it has brought only contumely, denigration, and pain to most everyone else . It has harmed our union. It feels weirdly reminiscent of 1861. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to forget that conservatives were mostly loud and proud defenders of slavery until the beginning of the Civil War.

Here is my view of how the ‘movement’ came to fail conservatives, the Republican party, and the nation.

  1. Conservatives stop explaining to the public the particular beliefs and principles that make them conservative. All the public need know is that they are conservative.
  2. Conservatives convert the nation into a battlefield on which they must win out totally over their opponents. Conservatives decide they are always right and their opponents always wrong.
  3. Conservatives tell themselves that liberals have failed the nation and lost the war to them. Liberals, conservatives think, have been vanquished.
  4. Conversation, discussion, honest debate, examination of differences, search for understanding, and cross-party legislative efforts with liberals are forbidden, verboten! Compromise is defeat.
  5. Conservatives imagine an ideal of single party governance. Communists tried that idea and destroyed themselves. Conservatives are  willing to try it again, and think they can succeed.
  6. A scent of religious purity wafts sweetly over conservatism, as if supernaturally ordained and bathed in divinity
  7. Conservatives, thus inspired, compete among themselves for recognition as ‘finest conservative of all.’ In the current contest for the Republican Party nomination for the presidency, the fifteen or so candidates have regularly trumpeted their “real conservative” bono fides and attacked the others as lesser or failed conservatives.
  8. Conservatism is eating up its host party, the Republican party, and eating up its own conservative membership with ‘holier than thou’ proclamations. Every new group of conservatives asserts that their brand of conservatism is purer and finer than that of their predecessors, who are ‘out-of-fashion,’ ‘too old,’ ‘compromised,’ ‘turncoats,’ or moderates in disguise. Party organization ossifies. The movement implodes.
  9. Conservatism, engorged on failure and frustration, blows up regularly in public rage, like a bloated supernova, gushing forth a stream of complaints, fears, invectives, and threats. This week’s blow up concerns the President’s right to exercise his constitutional obligation to nominate a justice to the Supreme Court. Don’t try it, conservatives warn. As one wag noted, they must think President Obama, the nation’s first African American President, is in office for “3/5th” of a term!
  10. Untethered to core beliefs, the flood of ‘issues’ that spew forth from conservatives loses intellectual and moral justification, as well as effectiveness, and sounds like whining and sour grapes.

Most claims conservatives make about their movement are false. Conservative ideology is not set in stone, a shiny jewel. It is not divine truth revealed on a holy tablet. It is not a set of inter-connected rational propositions. It is not a closed system of necessary thoughts.  It’s not a religion unless believers want to make it one. Conservative and liberal ideas are not mutually exclusive and incomparable; both, for example, emphasize the values of freedom, individualism, and constitutional government. There are more Conservative ideologies than one. They can be thoughtful or callous, well reasoned or poorly reasoned, consistent or contradictory, well written or terribly written. Most important, they are human thought, and nothing but human thought.

When I began this essay, I thought that failure to explain conservative beliefs and principles to the public was the big reason conservatism had gone so badly astray. Simply asserting one’s conservative credentials isn’t nearly enough. All ideas are in play in a democracy and need to be available for inspection. Issues have become untethered from moral and rational justification because the public didn’t know what these pithy conservative values, beliefs, and principles were. Yet, their advocates would say: we’re principled conservatives. Trust us on that!

Based on this assumption of mine, I was prepared to suggest a simple idea to my conservative compatriots—forty-seven to fifty-three percent of all Americans, I’m told—let’s start over again.  We liberal, progressive, and independent citizens know that your conservative sensibilities are important and that your belief is sincere. So please explain it all to us, one belief, value, and principle at a time. Let’s see exactly where we agree and disagree, and let’s discover what we can do together to serve our beloved nation and make it great. We’ll do the same with our beliefs and principles. We’ll reinvigorate our democracy together that way.

This still seems like a good idea, and I’m all in if anyone else will join me, but to tell the truth, I’m squeamish about the lists of beliefs and principles that conservatives have put forth in the past, whether it’s Russell Kirk’s ’10′, Ronald Reagan’s ‘11,’ or someone else’s 4, 8, 12, or 15. I know this much: there is a deep, thoughtful, sagacious, and important storehouse of conservative thought to read, digest, discuss, and apply, and that we as citizens can benefit from it. Nevertheless, I’m inclined in the short run to take another tack. Let me tell you first what I suspect and fear. I’m afraid that the existing bulleted lists of conservative beliefs didn’t precede issue identification, but quite the opposite, that a concern for specific issues led the concerned group.to invent a belief and principles list to justify their otherwise indefensible prejudice. Google, Bing, or Yahoo “list of conservative beliefs and principles” and you can test this hypothesis for yourself. Whenever a politician refers to his “principles,” you hope such principles lead the person to do the right thing when inclined to do wrong, but the opposite is more plausible: the ‘principled’ politician is claiming good reason to do the wrong thing. How otherwise can it be that good people are willing to take poor people’s food stamps away and deny them health coverage in hard economic times when their own bellies and wallets are full?

To take another tack, let’s posit that conservative ideas are those one conjures for protection when fearful of change, and liberal ideas those one adopts when feeling safe and welcoming of change. As Abraham Maslow taught, we all have safety needs, and also needs to develop and achieve our potential. When threatened and fearful, we defend ourselves, we protect all we have from loss. When we are safe and the surrounding world is encouraging, we feel free and we welcome change. This formulation solves one large problem: it shows clearly why the conservative-liberal dialogue is universal. The basic issue is fear. Emotional needs, not reason, motivate the search for conservative ideas. Conservative and liberal ideology is universal. What changes are the ideas conjured to constitute current beliefs and principles lists.

There is another, more impersonal way—call it the sociological, anthropological, and philosophical way—to make the same point. Social entities of all sorts—societies, nations, organizations, civilizations—require both structure and dynamic action, order and transformation, stability and novelty, tradition and progress, continuity and change. Thoughtful systems of ideas are needed for guidance on when to stay the course and when to change. This is the problem that the best of conservative and liberal thought accomplishes for its people. Citizens in a democracy require wise guidance to insure continuity of all that is good and of essential value while addressing all that must and should change.

Conservative compatriots of America. Please stop shouting. You fail your country, yourself, and your cause. Please rejoin your fellow citizens in trying to build a better nation and world for all, one good idea at a time.

Will Callender, Jr. ©

February 22, 2016

Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good

Have a Little Self-Respect

Have a Little Self-Respect

A much loved teacher, when asked about teaching, attributed her success to the “culture of respect” she had been able to develop in her classrooms. Respect, she explained, opens the heart, as well as the mind, to the lives of others, generates empathy, and transforms the classroom into a vibrant learning community. Children discover that each is large, interesting, distinct, and able, and that each has something special to offer the whole. Thus sustained, the outside world feels safer to explore. Communal support leads to generous, confident personalities, boosts acquisition of knowledge and attainment of skills, and imparts important life lessons.

Self respect is foundational, a basic human need. One has the right to grant oneself such-respect on one’s own account, but in the long run it must be earned and deserved to be believed. It’s wonderful, therefore, that self respect follows naturally from respect for others in a classroom, in a cycle of engaged hearts and minds guided by clear-seeing eyes. In respecting you, I enlarge my regard for myself. In admiring your unique qualities and limits, I clarify my own. Selves and societies, as George Herbert Mead put it, are “twin-born;” they emerge together; they co-inspire. Great societies are guided by informed, respectful, and thoughtful citizens. The small community of grammar school children kindles an ideal of what could and should be the model of adult civic discourse.

There is something else of fundamental importance this special teacher taught. “Respect,” she said, “is given away. It’s nothing material. It’s not property. It’s yourself— your self, a most accessible and available gift. Give your respect freely to others and good feelings will be returned your way. Disrespect others and you can expect resentment and unfavorable portraits in return.

Wow! Think about that! What happens if I withhold the respect you deserve as a human being? I actively injure myself as I insult you. I prevent a part of myself from being born. I atrophy myself by being unable to honor you. Something shrivels and hardens. Personalities and selves are not literally discovered; they are grown, developed, nurtured, cultured, and then embraced. It’s not the same as opening a box, and pulling out a doll. Genetics doesn’t take us all the way to personhood. Therefore, this wonderful, swirling concordance of self and society ever upward through respect granting cycles regresses hellishly into a sickening maelstrom of personal and social diseases as shouts of disrespect are cycled downward in “no, dammit, you’re the dunce” claims and games.

This teacher’s observations came to mind with a jolt when the Governor of Maine, Paul LePage, the former Mayor of Waterville and a Tea Party candidate, while running for election for the governorship in September, 2010, promised voters that he would, if elected, tell President Obama to “go to hell.” They have been coming to mind repeatedly this winter as the Republican candidates for President castigate President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and each other, in their various “debates,” better described perhaps as equal opportunity ‘debasements’—debasements of candidates, rivals, host networks, and questioners alike

Disrespect of President Obama, everyone must know by now, has been egregious and over-the-top from the conservative right of the Republican Party from even before the President took office. The President has been repeatedly accused of not being born an American citizen by the so-called ’Birthers,’ led by Donald Trump, the current front runner for the nomination of his party. The President has been battered for eight years with charges of being a foreigner, a Muslim, a terrorist, an infiltrator, a liar, a spy, a traitor, an incompetent, a fool, a devil, Satan, and the Antichrist. When the President delivered his otherwise kindly-received State of the Union Address to Congress earlier this month, with its theme of working together and national unity, several candidates skipped the event, and yet couldn’t resist the urge to opine or tweet various insults: “boring, … hard to watch.” (Trump); “Obama will … ‘demagogue’ his record” (Cruz); and, “you lie” (Paul). The dueling candidates seem to enjoy competing for novel epithets by which to savage the President

It is important to note that President Obama is nothing like that. None of the whacky aspersions fit. The people who voted for President Obama twice, as I did, electing him by comfortable margins both times, have a favorable image of the President now, just as we did when we voted for him. It’s obvious to me that he’s a nice person, a good husband, an engaged and loving parent, patriotic, intelligent, quick witted, thoughtful, dedicated, knowledgeable, informed, competent, articulate, an exceptionally good speaker, patient, caring, cool under fire, analytical, and pragmatic in making decisions. Isn’t this the least anyone should be able to say about him? I find him also to be honest and ethical, dedicated and diligent, visionary and realistic. I leave it to the reader to list his accomplishments and narrate his legacy, if that’s at all meaningful before he leaves office. His list of accomplishments, by any standard, are many, important, and consequential, not only for the nation, but for the world. He has done most everything I personally would have asked of him. I’d vote him a third term if that were an option. He surely is among our finest Presidents in coping with tragedy and loss, a form of leadership that has been required of him maddeningly and depressively often. He grieves, he cries, he comforts, and leads the citizenry in the search for meaning and justice. The larger point, though: He is a good man.

Against this portrait, It is incredible and ludicrous that millions of Americans routinely treat their President with scurrilous epithets. Beyond the debates, Obama bashing is a mass phenomenon and a favorite parlor game in many Republican households and gatherings. Shamefully, name calling is a staple on the 24 hour cable news channels and more than a few websites. Around 66 million people voted for President Obama in 2012, against 61 million votes for Governor Romney. Assume, for the sake of fairness and argument, that two-thirds of Romney voters speak civilly of the President; yes, they dislike his policy and programs; yes, they’re disappointed he’s President, but they don’t savage him with ad hominem attacks. Well, that would still leave over 20 million people who routinely diminish him as a human being. The disease is national; the atrophied selves are legion.

It is true that politics is a rough, tough contact sport. It’s true that most Presidents have had similar treatment from sizable numbers of critics and haters. It’s true that we have had and do have deeply polarized politics and dysfunctional government. It’s true that Presidents G. W. Bush, Clinton, L.B. Johnson, and Nixon, among others in recent times, have experienced mass derision and hate. Everyone knows what contumely Lincoln had to endure, a hate so great as to claim his life. Anyone can see that the belittlement mills are operating at warp speed to prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming the first woman President. Not withstanding all of these diminutions, the treatment President Obama has received is special, if only because the technology and media climate allows spectacular excoriation at all hours of day, night, and weekend. Even a foreign President has been invited to Congress to take potshots at the President.

It’s not President Obama’s fault, it’s ours. As Pogo exclaims, in the Walt Kelly comic strip:

We have met the enemy and he is us.

Some hate the President because they are racist; others because they are ideologues, embittered hard-right “movement” conservatives; others because they are nativists terrified by immigrants and war refugees; and still others because they are petty religionists terrified by Islamic terrorists. President Roosevelt cautioned the nation that “all we have to fear is fear itself.” People associate this quote with our resolve in entering World War II. We won that war, but fear threatens to prevail in our country now. Fear is galavanting free all over the land of the free, like so many wild horses. Without fear, what would the haters dine on? What would they live for?

Respect, it is useful to note, is an eye metaphor—closely associated with looking, watching, and seeing, and akin to spectator and specs, as in eye glasses. The idea is to look back (‘re’), both literally and contemplatively, at an object (spec, specter, spectacle, person), and to give it good standing in the world. Yes, that’s a tree; that’s a cat, that’s a young child; and that is a man, President Obama. If you can’t see President Obama for who he is, you’re afflicted by more than cataracts, you’re blinded by dark phantoms of fear and hate. You lose the ability to love. The sighted person who refuses to look at the obvious lies to himself about what he sees, and thus becomes a public liar as well, a condition the great Russian novelist Dostoyevsky saw clearly and cautioned us against:

Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.                      Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov 

Most Americans probably don’t realize that President Roosevelt’s message on fear is not a response to Pearl Harbor, in 1941, but rather appears in his first inaugural address in 1933. The reference is to fears associated with The Great Depression. His invitation to the nation is as relevant now as it was then. Roosevelt said:

This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933

In treating President Obama with respect we preserve a regard also for the Presidency itself, so that future occupants might receive the basic respect they will need to carry out their constitutional obligations and duties.

What is the import of this sober tale? Americans, listen up! Believe in your country. Govern thoughtfully and wisely. Be good to each other. Cut out the labels and insults. Let’s start treating each other with respect. Follow the little children. Open your eyes. Open your mind. Talk to the great people all around you. Give up lying. Have a little self-respect.

Will Callender, Jr. ©

January 26, 2016

Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good

Dumping on Trump

Dumping on Trump

Author’s note: This essay, first published in September of 2012, is particularly relevant now that Donald Trump is running full bore for the Presidency of the United States. While I’ve retained its original title for filing purposes—it is after all easier to reblog than rewrite—it is renamed Double Dump on Trump here to highlight his no apologies/no retractions habit of doubling down on every vicious aspersion he hisses under the banner of honest talk. I think you’ll agree that my attempt at the art is primitive and amateurish by comparison. WC 7-21-2015

Double Dump on Trump

Anthony Baxter’s recently released documentary, You’ve Been Trumped, appraises Donald Trump’s efforts to transform a jewel of coastal grandeur into “the world’s greatest golf course.” One reviewer opines: “If you didn’t hate Donald Trump before, you definitely will after this riveting and infuriating expose.” True enough, this film will test your emotional maturity, and I’m speaking mostly of your self-control in the theater. The scene is Aberdeenshire, on the North Sea coast of Scotland, near the village of Balmedie. In 2005 Trump purchases the Menie estate, 1400 acres of heavenly coastal dunes, and proposes to build a 450-room resort hotel, two 18-hole golf courses, and 1500 luxury apartments and town houses, a hefty 1.5 billion dollar project. Since the land is a protected ecosystem—windblown dunes and tidal wash—he must gain the approval of the local council. He doesn’t. The council turns the project down after extended consideration. Parliament then steps in and the government overturns the local council decision and approves the project, deciding that the economic gains—6000 jobs, tourist visits, tax income, etc.—outweigh the human and environmental costs. The locals revolt, led by landowners who would be forced to sell and forfeit their properties. Work on the first golf course begins. Filmmaker Baxter, who has roots in the area, fires up the cameras and starts collecting footage of key events, including strikingly, of Donald Trump’s various fly-in visits, with an impressive entourage, to celebrate accomplishments, resolve issues, and herald upcoming actions. Baxter is mostly behind the camera; his voice is heard quietly in the fray, and an occasional glimpse is evident of the filmmaker, but he is not prominent in the movie. He doesn’t serve as its narrator. The film revolves around Trump’s heavy-handed attempts to squash local protest and to grab the land away from the remaining holdouts and get the project built. Earth is moved up and down and all around as opposition cameras click. The adversaries turn out to be no pushovers. Surprising results are achieved: parades, shows of support for holdouts, television interviews, a public fuss when Mr. Trump is given an honorary degree by nearby Robert Gordon University, and an amazing art gallery in Michael Forbes’ barn that offers for sale myriad portraits of Trump in an array of terrible moods, along with various representations of project devastation. What is it that you would want to know about Donald Trump in this movie that you might not expect? Does he harass the holdouts? Yes. Does he get permission to take their houses without their consent? Yes. Does he scapegoat and viciously belittle those who stand in his way? Yes, He tongue-lashes Michael Forbes, calls his place a slum and a pigsty and calls Mr. Forbes disgusting. Does he play loose with the truth? Yes. He says Forbes is a loner no one likes or supports. He claims the environmental issues are minimal and resolved. Does he somehow manage to get the police to do his dirty work? Yes. The police even prevent people from photographing the earth moving work from their own backyards, and they haul off a couple of folks, including the filmmaker Baxter, for a bit of jail time. Does he tear down people’s fences and put up new ones to more exactly bound their property and then bill them for the work? Yes. Does he cut off water to opponents’ houses? Yes. Does he have his construction people pile up sand so high that a holdout owner can no longer see the ocean or the construction work from his house? Affirmative. He comes across as a self-centered, uncaring bully. He’s probably as horrid as you’ve ever seen him. Yet, the documentary is not totally fair to Trump, nor is it complete as a history of the venture. It is obvious that the project has considerable national and regional support, and not just from the powerful. Trump is out front and does the work, but he didn’t pull this caper off by himself. One would like to know how the Parliament came to believe in the project and what led it to reverse the refusal decision of the local authorities. Who were the politicians who led the way in convincing parliament? Who in the government pulled the strings? What was the process? Did illegal activity happen? How did the honorary degree come to seem appropriate and to be awarded? Who were the police serving if not the taxpayers and local citizens? Who is the offended filmmaker? Why doesn’t he narrate the story? In other words, the project looks horrific, and the politics seem dastardly and undemocratic, but the viewer can’t be sure of what exactly happened. If this project is an act of betrayal, there are powerful others in the band of betrayers. Yet, Trump takes the hits in the documentary by himself. What meaning should be given to the documentary other than exasperation and loathing for Donald Trump? In a fast paced, electronic, media-driven society, there is a tendency to overlook significant general meanings by paying exclusive attention to the atrocious local details. Some important meanings of the film require a wider perspective than the details of the film provide. Several points seem worthy of note. First, Americans have seen this movie before, and more than once. Perhaps the most memorable example of the genre is the film Local Hero, wherein a Texas Corporation connives to buy an entire island for oil exploration (A fictive island somewhere out in the British Isles), but gives the project up in the end when its emissary, who has gone native, calls back to tell the company to shove the project you know where. Interestingly, Baxter refers to this movie twice in You’ve Been Trumped, the second a repeat of the final scene in Hero when a call is made back to Trump headquarters by a critic, perhaps Baxter himself, to warn headquarters about the film, that it’s about to be released, that the jig is up. No answer. I thought at first that Local Hero was based on the Trump project until I learned that it had been filmed 29 years ago in 1983. Second, the United States has acquired an image, deserved or undeserved, for proposing grandiose projects such as Trump’s project in Scotland and imposing them on sovereign countries through devious and less than democratic means. We are also thought to be ruthlessly effective in achieving our ends, even at great cost to others and at some injury to ourselves. This image is evident in Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, in critiques of Teddy Roosevelt’s Nicaragua and Panama Canal project, in the book of the same name describing Henry Ford’s Fordlandia project in Brazil, and of the building of military installations in “friendly” countries all over the world. If Trump’s projects tell on him, they also tell on us. Americans get a share of gratuitous blame, earned or otherwise. In You’ve been Trumped, it is said that the dream resort is to attract “American tourists.” Lerner’s ugly portrait in The Ugly American, and the stereotype of the greedy, heartless capitalist can be sensed floating through the dialogue. Third, it is relevant to recall, entirely separate from the film, that Donald Trump announced in April 2011 that he was considering a run for the Presidency of the United States. This was happening just as the events described in the documentary were nearing completion. At the end of the film we learn that the first golf course is finished (it is open now), that Trump has decided to desist from further forced land acquisitions, and that, bombshell of bombshells, he’s bloody well going to terminate the rest of the project if Scotland goes ahead with an offshore Windmill farm that would ruin the view for visitors at the resort. It sounds like Trump may want out of the project and that the locals have fought him to a draw. Just then, in another venue, he announces he might run for President and launches an ad hominem attack on President Barack Obama’s authenticity as an American. He does so in the same intemperate tone he has been using to abuse Michael Forbes. Trump’s entrance into the Presidential race was, at the time, a surprisingly welcome idea to Republicans. A poll of Republican voters in mid-April showed Trump in first place among the candidates, with 26% of the vote, eleven points ahead of the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney. He sets the date of May 25, 2011 for an official announcement, but declines to enter the contest when his appeal and the saliency of the “birther issue” recedes. Still, the remaining candidates are more than impressed with his popularity and charisma. They want his endorsement. Five candidates—Bachman, Cain, Perry, Gingrich and Romney travel to New York for private audiences in the Trump Tower. Governor Romney eventually secured his endorsement. Trump’s proposed run for the presidency indicates his appeal to millions of Americans, shows that millions more find him intriguing and interesting, and that the rest of us, presumably the majority, have come to love to look aghast at him. This conclusion is strengthened by the fact that Trump’s television show, The Apprentice, is in its Thirteenth season and still enjoys more than seven million viewers. Also the sales of his several books add to the same conclusion. The obvious question is whether 25% of registered Republicans would have thought him presidential material if they had known what he had been up to in Scotland? Or, the same question stated another way: will the documentary, when viewed, decrease his popularity and following? I’m not convinced it will. If this surmise is correct, it would be evidence that his followers already know what the documentary has to tell them about his character, attitudes, and habits. In an impressive but poorly understood way, Donald Trump’s persona and life style represent a big piece of America and correspond to a significant piece of us. He might be seen by many as the powerful, straight-talking, independent, successful, world-transforming American taken to mythic proportions. Perhaps he thinks of himself or is thought of by others as the mythic developer, the mythic capitalist, the mythic wheeler and dealer, the mythic riverboat gambler, or the mythic tycoon. But do we really know what he means to himself or how we might understand ourselves in him? I think of Donald Trump as the excessive American, the American whose success has led him to inordinate power and to hideous self-worship. His insatiable need to see his name on buildings and planes suggests that he has become an icon even to himself. He is kind of the western cowboy, the Marlboro Man, Emerson’s self-reliant individualist, and Ayn Rand’s capitalist, all rolled into one, a menacing superman, a man whose exploits have become so impressive to himself as to obviate any need for even a pretense of humility or equality with other mere mortals. You’ve been Trumped adds to this impression. In it we watch Trump turn before our eyes from the ugly to the grotesque. Will Callender, Jr. © September 17, 2012