Point of View Columns

Is Bernie Sanders Ralph Nader on Steroids?

Historical comparisons are often a dangerous game. Every time is different. Every era is different. But there is something about the potential worst case scenario impact of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign that is eerily reminiscent of Ralph Nader’s quixotic/kamikaze presidential campaign in 2000 which launched the Bush-Cheney era into the 21st century. The entire planet is still paying the price for Nader’s exercise in self-indulgence. The question may be what will be the ultimate cost of Sanders’ windmill tilting.

To be clear, on his best day Bernie Sanders will never have the resume of accomplishment that defines Ralph Nader. Being the avatar of the modern era of consumer advocacy, Nader literally changed lives and saved lives that were at risk of being the victim of various corporate cost-benefit analyses in which human lives were just another cost factor.

And just as clearly, on his best day Ralph Nader was never able to harness the energy born of frustration and the hunger for sociopolitical change that will be the ultimate legacy of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Whether Sanders will be able to ride the whirlwind that he has sown is a completely different story.

What we do know is that against all odds, logic and laws of American political nature, Donald J. Trump is one election away from being President of the United States. What we also know is that President Trump will not only bring bombast, braggadocio and free-style insulting to the White House, he will also bring racism, sexism and white nationalism out of the collective American closet. Not just America, but the entire world will be thrust into the perfect storm of America First crashing into every other competing world view.

This apocalyptic view of a Trump presidency should be enough for even the most progressive advocates for change and political revolution to think long and hard about the risk of eschewing pragmatic politics. The fact that Hillary Clinton has mastered a system which has created insuperable obstacles to the Sanders campaign means that the system is in need of a serious overhaul.

But if that overhaul comes at the expense of degrading and ultimately derailing not only the Clinton candidacy, but the entire Democratic Party, then Donald Trump, not Bernie Sanders, will be the winner. And the moral and political desolation that would be the inheritance of over a third of a billion Americans is simply not worth making political points.

Ralph Nader was warned on multiple occasions that by taking votes away from Al Gore he was enabling the election of the Bush-Cheney tag team. Nader ignored those warnings and many of his supporters felt that there wasn’t enough difference between Gore and Bush-Cheney to matter in any event.

It should be apparent that the difference between President Hillary Clinton and President Donald Trump is stark and stunning. It should be apparent to Bernie Sanders that, in continuing to attack Hillary Clinton he is contributing to the corrosive vitriol that has been spewed her way by Republicans for over twenty years.

On November 9th Bernie Sanders will still be a United States Senator and can live a very comfortable life in Vermont. He will be able to live his life just as Ralph Nader continues to live a very comfortable life after being complicit in the election of George W. Bush.

One can only hope that Bernie Sanders and his supporters will mix political pragmatism with their revolutionary vigor. There is simply too much at stake this time around.

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Point of View Columns

A Preview of the Trump Presidency

The blood runs cold at the mere thought of a Trump presidency. And while it is unlikely that such a demonic turn of events could ever take place, Donald J. Trump has what is called in boxing circles “a puncher’s chance” of becoming the 45th President of the United States. Pigs may fly before Trump resides in the White House, but the possibility of a Trump presidency is real – and we already have a preview of what that abomination might look like.

Recently, Trump announced that New Jersey Governor, and failed presidential candidate, Chris Christie would chair the Transition Committee that would manage the process of selecting the senior officials in a Trump presidency. Aside from being a world class bully, Chris Christie has logged in the lowest approval ratings of any governor in the history of the state of New Jersey.

To make matters worse, it was the gubernatorial administration of Chris Christie that is responsible for the irresponsible Bridgegate incident. Clearly Donald Trump must think that appointing senior staff who closed down the George Washington Bridge like it was a fraternity prank is a qualifier for the person who is to help him select a presidential cabinet.

Trump also announced that former New York City Mayor, and failed presidential candidate, Rudy Giuliani would head up his Homeland Security Task Force. For those with short memories, this is the same New York City mayor who on September 10, 2001 was ready to slink out of town with a legacy of a scandal compromised administration that was stained by racism and divisiveness.

Profiting from his proximity to the cataclysmic disaster that was 9/11 has made Rudy Giuliani a millionaire many times over. But ask the widows and sons and brothers of the dead first responders 9/11 who blame Giuliani for his flawed disaster management planning whether they think he should have anything to say about the security of the United States. Obviously Donald Trump thinks that self-promotion based on a tragedy is reason enough for Giuliani to be a trusted advisor.

And, because he believes that the economy is such an important issue, Trump has announced that he has asked Larry Kudlow to be his advisor on economic issues. One should assume that Trump knows that Kudlow opposes estate taxes as well as taxes on dividends and capital gains. Kudlow favors employees making greater contributions to their medical and retirement plans and generally opposes most categories of government regulation of the financial services industry.

One should also assume that he knows that Larry Kudlow is a graduate of a 12 step program for cocaine addiction and that he is a steadfast defender of high executive compensation. And presumably, all of this baggage qualifies Larry Kudlow to be a senior economic advisor to the President of the United States.

Another peek into the murky miasma that would be the Trump Administration revealed Trumps choices as possible Supreme Court nominees. Not surprisingly, all of them were appointed by either of the George W. Bush or by Republican governors. Three of these presumptive nominees are female and all of them are white….every single one. Somehow, and magically, there is not a single conservative or “consensus” judge or lawyer of Asian, Hispanic or African descent who could make the cut. An all-white set of potential Supreme Court nominees says a great deal about what a Trump administration might look like.

Maya Angelou famously said “if you listen to people long enough they will tell you who you are”. In the case of Donald Trump, if you listen to him and watch his actions he will definitely and absolutely tell you who he is. And because too many people already think that he should be president, it is truly important to recognize him for who he is.

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Point of View Columns

Larry Wilmore and 21st Century Minstrelsy

At the recent White House Correspondents Dinner, “Nightly Show” host Larry Wilmore thought that it would be funny to call the first African American President of the United States a “nigger”. Not only was he seriously not funny, Wilmore proved be himself to be a shameful practitioner of a genre of 21st century minstrelsy, where he plays the eternal role of the ubiquitous coon.

There is no useful time to be spent debating over whether Wilmore used the term “nigger” or “nigga”, for some could worthlessly argue that one N-word is less offensive than the other. The only point worth comment is that a black comedian thought that it was funny to call the President Obama a “nigger”, in the process breathing life into some of the undead minstrel traditions that go back almost two centuries.

For some serious background on American minstrelsy, “Darkest America” by Yuval Taylor and Jake Austen provides some useful insight into how black Americans became both the target and the source of types of humor that last to this very day. Indeed, the original minstrels were white men in blackface making fun of black people. The next iteration of minstrels was black men in blackface making fun of white people making fun of black people. And it just went on from there – with toms, mammies, coons, bucks and pickaninnies showing up all over the place.

Taking hurtful images and painful language and turning them into subjects of humor are classic defense mechanisms of oppressed people. So it should be no wonder that even in the 21st century black (and white) audience still delight to see the exaggerated portrayals of racist stereotypes of black Americans as comedy.

Indeed, some would argue that making humorous use of the same word – “nigger” – that was used when black men, women and children were lynched and degraded is a way of diminishing the hurtful power of the word. Yet it is rare that those who make that argument would call their mother, grandfather or daughter or wife a “nigger”.

By referring to President Obama as a “nigger” on global television, Larry Wilmore proved himself to be the 21st century version of a coon. After all, in the American minstrel tradition, the coon has always been silly, shameless and totally without regard to any sense of propriety, history or self-respect.

Nevertheless, one could have hoped that Wilmore would have realized that there are literally millions of black boys and girls under the age of twelve who have never known a president other than Barack Obama, and hopefully they do not think of him as a “nigger”. And perhaps the thought of those boys and girls would have given him cause to pause.

One could have hoped that Wilmore would have given a moment to think about the millions of black men and women who think of the first black President of the United States as a subject of pride and not the target of buffoonery or coonery. And perhaps the thought of those men and women might have given him cause to pause.

And perhaps most of all, Wilmore might have paused prior to assuming his virtual blackface persona, to consider the tens of millions of black Americans who lived in this country without hopes being realized, without dreams ever coming true, indeed without sanctuary in their own land. Perhaps Wilmore could have respected their memory instead of launching into his rhetorical buck and wing while disrespecting the first black president. But clearly he was too absorbed in being “funny” to think at all.

Fortunately Wilmore will only be a footnote to a footnote when the history books are written. He will be just another black man who chose minstrelsy instead of dignity. Indeed, if he is remembered at all, he will be remembered as someone who chose to be a coon when he could have been a man.

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Point of View Columns

R.I.P. G.O.P.

There is now a great likelihood that historians will look upon May 3, 2016 as the date that the Republican Party seriously began to die. There have been disturbing signs of deterioration as the party has engaged in internecine battles as well as encounters  with Democrats and other Americans as vaguely interested bystanders. But now, with the designation of Donald Trump as the “presumptive presidential nominee” of the Republican Party, it would seem that it is only a matter of time before this very ill patient expires.

Donald Trump may be a lot of things but an ideologue is not one of them. He believes what is convenient for him to believe in order to achieve his objective. And right now it is convenient for him to believe in the current brand of angry conservatism that, if fully implemented, would result in a miserable, misinformed and raging nation that would be a danger to itself and the entire world.

One might look at the Nixon “Southern Strategy” as the beginning of the end for the Republican Party, because even then the bet that whites angry over the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 could form a sustainable base was wrong because demographics and arithmetic were working against the likelihood of an eternal white majority in this country. But the “Southern Strategy” had a good run with the election and reelection of Richard Nixon, the election and reelection of Ronald Reagan and the election of George H.W. Bush.

But anger is, by definition, a difficult force to manage. By the 1990’s revolts led, first by Pat Buchanan, and then by Newt Gingrich started to fray and tear the party, first at the edges, and then at its very core by 2010. By labeling government as the “enemy” and fomenting constant rage against “the others” – nonwhites, nonAmericans, whatever – a new and more virulent strain of adversarial political thought began to spread across this nation.

This view of America is seen through a lens that highlights class distinctions, racial divides and the complicity of the government and a nameless ruling class in the entire process. The Tea Party and its more recent descendants executed a takeover of many local and state governments along with the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate. This focus on the governmental jugular vein of this country has given this movement outsized power and influence. And because its goals are relatively vague this movement has been difficult to control.

Because Trump has admitted that he will say just about anything, many devotees of this right wing movement have supported him. Because Trump has been at varying times racist, sexist, mean, misogynistic, ignorant, xenophobic and a bully, he has attracted enough support to become the Republican presidential nominee. His new status has awakened the Republican leadership to the fact that a Trump presidency might well mean the end of Republican Party as we have known it for the past 162 years.

It might very well be too late for the #NoTrump fans to stop The Donald from being the Republican presidential nominee. The train wreck of a campaign that he will wage will by turns embarrass, enrage and disgust millions of American voters and many people who currently call themselves Republican. But there will be millions of Americans, who will embrace the Trump vision of the world, and these Americans literally have no interest in what Paul Ryan or Reince Priebus think.

There should be no question about whether Donald Trump can become President of the United States. He can.

The question is whether the Republican leadership that built the philosophical laboratory that yielded the monstrosity that is the Trump candidacy can now stop the monster that they helped to create.

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