Point of View Columns

Trump as Avatar

Trump as Avatar

What follows are excerpts from a paper on the Socioeconomic Impact of the 2016 Presidential Election presented on 4.11.17 in New York City at the Academy of Business and Retail Management 6th International Conference on Business and Economic Development

The morning of November 9, 2016 was like no morning in recent American history. There have been upset elections in U.S. presidential elections, but Donald J. Trump’s candidacy was sui generis. His fact-free and gaffe-full campaign shouldn’t have even come close to being successful – but it was. And there was a reason.

The Trump campaign may have been fact-free but it also offered simple solutions to America’s socioeconomic challenges, both real and imagined. For example, Candidate Trump bemoaned the rising crime rate that was sweeping the country when in fact during the past two decades the American violent crime rate fell by almost half, from 758.20 per 100,000 in 1991 to a low of 387.1 per 100,000 in 2011. Nevertheless, Candidate Trump created a new reality that supported an overly simplistic Law and Order solution to a nonexistent American crime wave.

 Similarly, Candidate Trump argued vehemently in his uniquely fact-free fashion that the American economy was “a mess”. ……….. What is so remarkable about this alternative fact is that by any useful indicia, it is simply not true. What is true is that between 2009 and 2016, the timeline and arc of the Obama presidency, unemployment declined from 9.4 % to 4.9 %. What is true is the Dow Jones Industrial average rose to a record high of 10,000 during this same period. What is also true is that in this fact-free and truth-challenged reality authored by President Trump, the truth doesn’t matter. …..in examining the socioeconomic impact of the election of Donald Trump, it would be a mistake to overstate it since November 8, 2016 was really a time of revelation. ………..Donald Trump’s successful campaign for president was the result of over 40 years of conservative progression. These efforts, carried on largely by the Republican Party, have sought to deconstruct the federal government so that the dispersal of power to the individual states would have the desired effect of diminishing the power of the federal government – forever.

 This vision of American governance is literally older than the Constitution itself. ….. a cursory reading of the contemporaneous writings of Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay and James Monroe, including the formal presentations in The Federalist Papers reveal an almost genetic conflict built into the Republic, in effect a contest between those who believe in the need for a strong and powerful central government and those who champion the autonomy and sovereignty of the various and several states of the Union…..Donald Trump is a showman, marketer, occasionally successful real estate entrepreneur and most importantly, he is a man who has cracked the code on how to turn himself into a brand and then sell that brand worldwide.

President Trump is not the leader of a movement to change America. He is an avatar who conveniently appeared at a time when he could ride the rising tide of the conservative agenda – a tide that has been rising for half a century.

 There are deeper trends and movements that lie just below the surface and we ignore those trends and movements at our own peril. That is because the 2016 U.S. presidential election is mirrored in France and Germany and Poland and in the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. …..there is more to the ascendancy of Donald Trump than the vengeance of underemployed angry white men who never could accept the reality of an African American President of the United States. Although it would be a mistake to ignore the race rage that Donald Trump has been able to channel.

 There is the reality that the deconstruction of the American economy played a major part in the Trump as President scenario. Theories about the rights of states and the role of the federal government do not resonate as loudly with the base of his electorate as the very real fact that access to a better life is less accessible than ever before.

Terms like “leveraged buyouts” and “green mail” and “corporate raiders” and “vulture capitalists” entered the vocabulary of global finance about 35 years ago. Since then there has been an incredible accumulation of wealth for bankers, financiers and well-placed corporate executives……….This upward distribution of wealth – and power – is unprecedented in world history and has created political debates and contests that are unknowingly based upon these new and uncomfortable economic realities.

 In this scenario, a Donald Trump can be successful because he has continuously provided simple solutions to what should be obviously complex problems. ………one could argue that Donald Trump is the perfect candidate for the conservative movement.

 First, viewing his public persona over the last four decades, it is clear that he is politically agnostic when it comes to most major issues………… Donald Trump weaves between expediency and reflecting the loudest, last voice that he has heard.

 As a result, he has been able to levitate from one political position to another without regard to his precedent position or his latest speech. Being politically agnostic also has allowed Donald Trump to espouse contradictory statements with ease and more importantly, he has advanced the conservative agenda without seeming to be fully conscious that he was doing so……………………Because he had so few core beliefs, Candidate Trump had no problem advocating incredibly simple solutions to incredibly complex challenges facing the United States. Consider, for example, his “solution” to the issue of illegal immigration – deport over 12 million men, women and children, many of whom have established credible and worthwhile lives in this country – all while building an unbuildable wall…………………His position with respect to trade deficits and how the three card Monte of international trade had left many Americans with hands thrust into their empty pockets – to “get tough” with China and Russia and Mexico – toughness that to date has produced late night television fodder but no new jobs for Americans. And yet, the Trump base” has not wavered in its support.

The real issue for the United States, however, is how the various socioeconomic challenges of the world’s largest economy can be addressed. It is fair to state that many of these challenges – health care, income inequality, trade deficits, the lingering legacy of racism, structural unemployment, urban displacement and environmental endangerment, lend themselves to simple conservative solutions. In many instances that solution can be summarized as giving the power to the states – a.k.a. the people – denying the reality that these challenges are impervious to local or regional solutions.

Donald Trump is the perfect messenger for these simplistic solutions.

 And, since many Americans do not have the appetite for, or interest in, the more complex and nuanced solutions to these challenges, progressives find themselves marginalized as the United States careens from crisis to crisis, a player in a demonic pinball game where the American people lose every time. And, in the process the socioeconomic changes do not disappear, they do not go away, they do not get better.

 The delays in addressing these concerns only exacerbate these concerns and, in the final analysis we find that the socioeconomic challenge of the Trump presidency is the deferral of legitimate and thoughtful solutions. And since the time of any nation is never infinite, delays can result in irreparable damage.

 This vision only seems apocalyptic if viewed through a singular prism. But history tells too many stories of great civilizations that became dust-laden memories because they did not act,

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Point of View Columns

An American Carol

Almost two centuries ago Charles Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” and it is credited with making his English audience more aware of the disparities in the society of that time giving real support to a number of social services initiatives. It is in that spirit that “An American Carol” has been written in the hope that a similarly positive outcome is forthcoming.

Wilbert Thompson, a U.S. Congressman from rural North Carolina walked up to the Capitol Hill townhouse that he shared with three other Tea Party congressmen. He was pretty pleased with himself as earlier that day he proudly saw the federal government shut down by virtue of the Tea Party caucus to refuse to pass any budget that did not include the defunding, or at least the evisceration, of the Affordable Care Act.

Having already dined at one of Washington’s finest restaurants with some operatives from FreedomWorks, he was both satisfied and quietly at peace. In Congressman Thompson’s mind a great victory had been won. He slept soundly as soon as his head hit the pillow and was surprised to have been awakened by loud footsteps and the low murmur of voices.

He saw standing before him four people, two women and two men – black, white, Latino and Asian – seeming to be between twenty and seventy in age. “We are the Ghosts of America’s Present. We are the American people who are living in the United States right now. Whatever you do in Congress affects us. So tonight you will be visited by the Ghosts of America’s Past and the Ghosts of America’s Future.

Somewhat shaken he fell back to sleep and when he opened his eyes again he was even more surprised as he saw Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson standing in front of him. And then he heard them speak –

“Congressman Thompson, we are the Ghosts of America’s Past. We were ardent rivals during the formation of the United States, but we found enough to agree on so that there would be a Constitution and a government. We thought that the people of the United States deserved more than conflict without resolution”.

And then the Ghosts of America’s Past showed Congressman Thompson the results of bipartisan cooperation – the Constitution itself, the Louisiana Purchase, the Transcontinental Railroad, the attempted liberation of black Americans through the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments and compulsory and free public education, Social Security, the G.I. Bill, the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, NASA, Medicare, and Medicaid. As the ghosts of America’s Past began to dissipate Thompson heard them say “you will be visited by the Ghosts of America’s Future and America’s Present before morning”.

Being an ultraconservative possessed of a healthy streak of skepticism, Congressman Thompson dismissed the visitation as a bad dream occasioned by a bit too much lobster or chateaubriand. And then, just after he went back to sleep, unburdened by the consequences of the government shutdown that he had help to engineer he heard a scraping, scuffling sound that woke him once more.

Standing before him were two emaciated, unwashed children who were dressed in filthy shapeless overalls. “Congressman Thompson, we are the Ghosts of America’s Future. As it turns out, a few weeks after the federal government shutdown in 2013 America defaulted on its national debt and the world economy collapsed. Within a few years the international battle for resources turned into international wars for survival – and then civil wars broke out in what used to be the United States along with famine, epidemics and the total breakdown of the American way of life.

“The elders have told us that people from something called the ‘Tea Party’ caused so much disruption in what used to be called the United States that it is hard for us to believe that there was ever a time when this country was a place where people wanted to live”.

And then the Ghosts of America’s future took out some kind of device that flashed pictures on the wall – pictures of a devastated and wrecked American infrastructure, long lines of starving Americans all over the country begging for food. He saw great cities and suburban mansions devastated by civil wars and unchecked natural disasters. And he saw the hollow burned out shell of the Capitol building – empty and useless since the federal government no longer worked.

When the Ghosts of America’s Present reappeared, a now chastened Congressman Thompson asked, “What can I do? Please tell me!”

You can go back to Congress in the morning and work for the benefit of all the American people and not just the few people who you claim to represent, and not just for the few billionaires who finance your campaigns and keep you in office. You can get up tomorrow and be the patriot that you claim to be.”

“I will, I will!”, cried Congressman Thompson. And when he woke up in the morning he led a successful bipartisan group of congressmen in end the shutdown of the American government. And from that day on he tried to “be the patriot” that he claimed to be.

That’s a dream to be sure. But dreams have been known to come true.

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Point of View Columns

Why SCOTUS Should Remember Harry T. Moore

The recent United State Supreme Court decision virtually disabling the Voting Rights Act is arguably the most racially negative decision since Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. In that decision SCOTUS confirmed the constitutionality of state-sponsored racial segregation, legalizing most iterations of Jim Crow in the process. In the wake of this most recent decision it is time for all of us, especially the ScaliaAlitoThomasRoberts gang to remember Harry T. Moore.

While there is plenty of time for legal experts to parse through the armada of arguments that justify the evisceration of a key foundation of the modern civil rights era, it is time to put this entire issue into a human perspective. The Voting Rights Act was never just about enabling black Americans to vote, it was also about putting into law a key element of full citizenship – citizenship that had been explicitly denied to black Americans since the founding of this country.

The issue of race has been a source of contradiction and hypocrisy, cruelty and denial, virtually from the time that the first European settlers came to that part of North America that eventually became the United States. The establishment of a slavery system totally based upon race was historically unique and particularly malignant because it created the malignant slime of racism that has been immune to the vaccine of emancipation and liberation.

The Slave Codes, the Dred Scott decision, the calamitous end of Reconstruction and the abandonment of the newly freed slaves, the blind eye turned to the rampages of the Ku Klux Klan, the case of Plessy v. Ferguson – all of these historical facts and many more have contributed to the American institutional effort to make America a living Hell for black Americans.

The slow and grudging progress towards some semblance of equal rights and the attainment of full citizenship took place in the face of outright violence. Justice Antonin Scalia should be ashamed of himself for referring to the Voting Rights Act as “racial entitlement” as if the VRA was part of some grand legal exercise. In point of fact the VRA arose out of the need to protect and preserve the place of black Americans in this very critical aspect of citizenship – the only “entitlement” in the VRA is meant to “entitle” black Americans to the same rights that Justice Scalia’s Italian immigrant parents obtained as soon as they could pass an English literacy test and a perfunctory civics exam.

From the earliest colonial times terrorism of black Americans was literally the law of the land in the American colonies. And, because literacy could be a key to liberation, access to literacy was severely limited when it came to black slaves.

The United States Constitution, ratified by such icons as George Washington (slave owner), Thomas Jefferson (slave owner), James Madison (slave owner) and James Monroe (slave owner) referred to black slaves as 3/5th of a person for electoral allocations but even that 3/5th designation failed to protect black Americans from the twin depredations of slavery and institutional racism.

After the Civil War the displaced slave hierarchy in the South immediately realized that upon emancipation the battle lines for depriving black Americans of citizenship no longer would be drawn at the point of literacy, but rather at the point of enfranchisement – voting rights. The Ku Klux Klan was born as a terrorist organization dedicated to keeping black Americans from voting. After the death knell of Reconstruction was sounded in 1876 as the bastard child of yet another soulless political bargain, every Southern state immediately established as many statutory barriers to black enfranchisement as possible.

For almost a century black voters have had to risk their lives and livelihoods just to get the right to vote. And that is why SCOTUS should learn about Harry T. Moore, the head of the Florida NAACP who, in 1951 was blown up along with his wife, for having the temerity to attempt to secure the right to vote for black Americans.

The Voting Rights Act was the legacy of Mr. and Mrs. Moore and the thousands of black and white Americans who literally died in order to this right to become a reality. To suggest that 50 years of the VRA is enough to erase the racial slime of over three and a half centuries is sadly preposterous and a dangerous proposition.

The rights won by these martyrs are not so safe and secure – as the voter suppression campaigns of 2012 proved.

June 24, 2103 was a shameful day for SCOTUS.

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Point of View Columns

Land of the Rising South

Like a bad smell that just won’t go away, the myth of the glorious South refuses to die. Incredibly and unfortunately, that myth has enjoyed a recurring renaissance since the founding of this country. And now that myth has morphed into a nihilistic political philosophy that is far from quaint and very close to dangerous.

While racism and slavery were very much a part of the way of life in all thirteen of the original colonies, as much as gravity and oxygen in the air, slavery drove down its deepest sociopolitical roots in the primarily agrarian Southern colonies. The incredible wealth fueled by cheap human labor satisfied the monetary needs of a few and slaked the thirst for superiority of the many. This combination of monetary and psychic satisfaction was so potent that the Southern colonies, once they became states, were willing to fight to the death to preserve this peculiarly horrific institution called white supremacist slavery.

History tells us that the division between North and South played a pivotal role in the drafting of the Constitution which shamefully labeled black slaves 3/5 of a human being and established a bicameral legislature which insured that states with smaller populations (the Southern states at the time) would be on a par with states with larger populations. The structure of this new government also locked in provisions which allowed a minority to obstruct, delay and sometimes destroy initiatives that represented the will of the majority.

A brief stroll down the memory lane of American history reveals that two of the first three presidents were Southern slave owners (Washington and Jefferson). However the last Southern slave owning president was Andrew Jackson and since then very few Southerners have become president.

Woodrow Wilson was the first Southern elected in the modern era and he brought his racist roots with him into the White House with the infamous premiere viewing of “Birth of a Nation”. The next Southerner elected president was Lyndon Johnson and since then only Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were born Southerners elected to the White House (the two Bushes were born in Connecticut).

Despite being denied the presidency, the South has wielded inordinate power, first in foiling the civil rights movement for the first half of the twentieth century and now in seeking to dismantle the federal government in the first two decades of the twenty first century. Utilizing the leverage built into the legislative process by Washington, Jefferson and the other slave owning Founding Fathers, the Southern way has impacted this country, particularly on matters of race, all out of proportion to the moral, economic or demographic weight of the region.

Now the Southern strategy has morphed into a political philosophy that, if adopted by the country as a whole, is virtually suicidal. The federal governmental infrastructure is a key reason why this country, even with all of its flaws, has been successful in establishing a standard of living and a way of life that is historically remarkable. The idea that “government is the enemy”, a Southern lie promulgated by Ronald Reagan in a faux Southern moment, comes from the fact that in the South the federal government has indeed been the enemy of the Southern way of life.

It was the federal government that outlawed slavery and essentially burned the South to ground in the process. It has been less than two centuries since this bit of business was concluded and that is a blink of the eye in historical – and cultural – terms.

It was the federal government that dismantled the apparatus of Jim Crow and legalized segregation, using federal soldiers, federal judges and federal prosecutors to enforce this process. That took place less than fifty years ago, a mere heartbeat in historical terms.

In the Southern narrative, government as “the enemy” fits very nicely with those who would wish to dismantle government so as to reduce taxes to an afterthought as they amass untold wealth. Government as “the enemy” also fits in nicely with neoconservative thought that would reduce government regulations in industry and financing letting the market forces prevail (another term would be letting market forces run wild).

It would seem that this would be a good time to connect the dots before this country follows the stars and bars over the cliff.

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Weekend Edition – January 28, 2011

The first month of the new year has seen the renaissance of the Obama presidency, a massacre in Tucson and revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Looks like 2011 is off to a flying start:

A Tale of Three Justices

Tradition holds that for the State of the Union address all of the members of Congress, the Cabinet (save one Secretary for security purposes) and the Justices of the United State Supreme Court are in attendance.

For the attendees it is not an optional event, it is part of the job. Attending doesn’t indicate political or philosophical support for the President; it is a matter of respect for the institution known as the government of the United States.

Somehow three Supreme Court justices didn’t get the memo. Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas did not attend -Justice Scalia having accepted a speaking engagement in Hawaii that conflicted with his being present in Washington on that day.

The fact that these three neo-con icons saw fit to disrespect the President and the institution that they represent should come as no surprise. They have routinely imposed their right wing political vision in the guise of judicial pronouncements.

The theft of the 2000 election by Justices Scalia and Thomas will go down as one of the great heists in history. The institutional damage to democracy in this country wrought by the three of them in the Citizens United decision is beyond calculation.

The absence of these Three Judicial Amigos was little noted but it should have been. Chief Justice John Roberts is no less a conservative than Scalia, Alito and Thomas, but at least he had the decency and respect to be present last Tuesday.

I guess they didn’t get the memo.

Along Comes Ms. Bachmann

At the beginning of this year’s Congress Representative Michele Bachmann from Minnesota was appointed to the House Intelligence Committee. For anyone familiar with Ms. Bachmann’s mindless ranting and raving this sounds like a punch line waiting for a joke. But its no joke, it is true.

This is a member of Congress who has called President Obama and his supporters Un-American and has publicly stated that the “Founding Fathers” were always against slavery. Of course, these would be the same Founding Fathers who were slave owners (George Washington and Thomas Jefferson among many, many others).

She claimed that President Obama’s recent trip to Asia cost $200 million per day (a lie). And she is now conducting an ongoing seminar on constitutional law for members of Congress – one of her faculty members is Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (can you say “conflict of interest” or “impropriety”?).

And, by the way, she is contemplating running for the presidency. I just don’t believe that Barack Obama could be that lucky.

Alternative Universe

Anyone watching the State of the Union address saw newly enthroned House Speaker John Boehner looking like a man who had swallowed a lemon and had a train to catch. I hope he doesn’t play poker because he doesn’t have a poker face.

He was clearly not pleased to have to listen to President Obama for almost an hour.
He also wasn’t listening.

The entire planet heard the President say “…..the United States is the greatest country in the world…” Then within 48 hours Speaker Boehner was quoted as saying that Barack Obama doesn’t believe in American “exceptionalism”.

Huh? We know that John Boehner is addicted to smoking cigarettes and that smoking is bad for your health. Obviously it is also bad for your hearing.

Have a great weekend!

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Rent A Slave….continued

During the past week I wrote about the reckless and pitiful sham of grown men and women dressed in antebellum costumes to commemorate and celebrate the secession of southern states and the commencement of the Civil War.

And brace yourself, for it appears that there are enough liars, obscurers of the truth and defenders of racism to sustain 4 ½ years of these celebrations.

In fact that the Civil War was the bloodiest confrontation in which this country has ever been engaged. Civil War casualties exceeded American casualties in all other wars combined. It seems heartbreaking and cruel that there would be fools so foolish as to celebrate the commencement of this carnage. Turning this country into a charnel house is not a cause for festivities.

But, of course, there is more that offends. That secession was all about the continued enslavement of black men, women and children is not subject to debate.

The writings of the Founding Fathers of the bastard Confederate States of America were very clear that the intent of secession and the ensuing war was to preserve the damnable and peculiar institution called slavery.

On March 21, 1861, Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the CSA wrote that Thomas Jefferson was “wrong in believing that the enslavement o the African was in violation of the laws of nature”. He went on to write, “Our new government is exactly founded on the opposite idea”.

This statement and so many others should be clear enough for the apologists for the Confederacy. The truth is that the southern states fought to the death to preserve slavery and their “right” to possess, own and abuse black men and women of African descent for eternity.

There is nothing noble about this heritage. And it is shameful that anyone would seek to glorify it or to put a spin on it.

The latest spin is to somehow turn the southern secession to a 19th century Tea Party rebellion against “big government” interfering with state’s rights. If I were a member of the Tea Party movement or its affiliates I would be disavowing this connection at every possible opportunity.

After all, could there ever be a time when state’s rights trumps human rights and civil rights? But the silence from the right wing of the right wing is deafening.

The problem with these “celebrations”, aside from their obscenity, is that it churns and distorts the truth. Too many Americans are already too ignorant of the history of this country. To articulate and perpetuate lies only serves to maintain and inflame the racial divide that is still very much a part of this country.

When Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour says that he doesn’t remember the civil rights era as being “all that bad”, there are some people who stop and listen and give this awful statement air time. I am sure that there were Germans who didn’t find the pre-war Hitler days as being “all that bad”.

Now, 150 years later, there are pseudo-historian buffoons across the South who plan to celebrate slavery, slaughter and residual animosities for the next 4 ½ years!

That any person of intelligence and goodwill, whatever their political persuasion, would celebrate such an awful aspect of America is a disgrace. That black Americans in particular have to bear witness to this blood libel for the next 4 ½ is a perversion.

I find it fascinating that the United States is the only country on this planet that permits the celebration of treason. I am not clear that the unsuccessful insurgents in any country would be permitted to prance around proclaiming the sanctity of their losing cause for 150 years. And yet, here in America, the offense continues.

In the most recent Point of View Weekend Edition, I suggested a proposition for these amoral secessionist revelers. Don’t stop at dressing up as slave owners. Get some black people to dress up as slaves – liveried servants, maids, butlers, chauffeurs personal attendants and concubines. Make the entire celebration authentic and, in the process provide much needed jobs for thousands of unemployed black people throughout the South.

Rent a Slave should be a big hit with these undisguised bigots. And, at the end of every assignment, the “slave” can be “emancipated” by the Rent a Slave customer. I can envision Frequent Slave Owner awards as well.

I might also suggest that O.J. Simpson be put into a work release program so that he can play the part of Nat Turner. That should add some further verisimilitude to this damnable madness.

These maniacs have no respect for history, morality, black people or these United States. They might as well wallow in it.

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