Polluters for profit seem to be behaving illogically. After all, they live here too. But there’s a madness to their madness.
This week’s political coverage — probably next week’s too — will likely be dominated by deposed FBI director James Comey’s incendiary testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. However, Trump’s “lies, pure and simple” are limited neither to the president’s claim that Comey’s FBI was “in disarray, that it was poorly led” nor his litany of falsehoods — most recently, that the mayor of London doesn’t care about terrorism and that Trump’s First 100 Days were the most productive of any president in history.
Comey’s lucid, Hemingway-tight testimony feels like the beginning of the end for this administration. Anything could happen, of course. But it feels overly optimistic to imagine this circus lasting another year.
If and when the obituary for Trump’s political career is written, his admirers will record his historic, meteoric rise. Indeed, Donald Trump was the most effective presidential campaigner of my lifetime: repeated what lines worked, ditched the ones that didn’t, mastered social media, ignored outdated dogma, tapped into voters’ long-ignored resentments, nailed the electoral college map, and did it all for pennies on the Hillary Clinton donor dollar.
True, the brilliant campaigner can’t govern. But that’s a story for another time.
His critics’ postmortems will emphasize that Trump’s brightly burning campaign rallies were fueled by lies: Obama was Muslim, Obama wasn’t born here, global warming is a Chinese hoax, illegal immigrants are streaming across the border (years ago they were, no longer), police officers are the real victims (as opposed to the numerous black men they shoot).
These lies are scandalous. They ought to be remembered. But we shouldn’t let them overshadow Trump’s biggest lie of all: that he would be different, outside the ideological box of the two parties.
“Trump meets the textbook definition of an ideological moderate,” Doug Ahler and David Broockman wrote in the Washington Post last December. “Trump has the exact ‘moderate’ qualities that many pundits and political reformers yearn for in politicians: Many of Trump’s positions spurn party orthodoxy, yet are popular among voters. And like most voters — but unlike most party politicians — his positions don’t consistently hew to a familiar left-right philosophy.”
Trump promised a hodgepodge ideology, a “pick one from column D, pick one from column R” Chinese menu that appealed to many voters whose own values don’t neatly adhere to either major party platform. Who cares about doctrine? Let’s do what works.
As president, however, that turned out to be a lie.
Trump has governed to the far right. In fact, on just about every issue you can think of, Donald Trump has governed as the most extreme far-right politician of our lifetimes, and possibly in the history of the Republican Party.
Candidate Trump criticized North Carolina’s “bathroom law” and said Caitlyn Jenner could use whichever bathroom she wanted in Trump Tower. President Trump rescinded the right of transgender students to use the school restroom of their choice.
Flip, flop, from somewhat to right-wing conservative, over and over and over again.
Candidate Trump lit up the GOP (and relieved not a few Democrats) by criticizing the stupid Iraq War and promising to put America First. President Trump’s cabinet of generals is bombing the crap out of Syria and asking Congress for a 10% increase in Pentagon spending.
Candidate Trump was all over the place on abortion rights. President Trump is trying to defund Planned Parenthood and appointed Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch, a right-wing extremist who will likely cast the decisive vote against Roe v. Wade.
He even welched on his most controversial promise: to improve relations with Russia. Within a few months, he allowed that U.S.-Russian relations “may be at an all-time low.”
“Trumpism was never a coherent worldview, much less a moral code that anchors the president,” Graham Vyse wrote in The New Republic.
Trumpism is extremely coherent and consistently extremist. Donald Trump turns out to be Ronald Reagan times ten, minus charm.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
What is wrong with Americans?
Okay, that’s a very open-ended question with many potential answers.
What I’d like to talk about this time is: why is it that Americans only begin to get serious about a problem after it’s too late to solve it?
Currently, I’m thinking about the latest, depressingly predictable response to the Orlando massacre.
As usual, right-wingers like Donald Trump want to restrict immigration. But even setting aside the obvious moral and practical economic objections to nativism, how would that prevent future mass shootings (in part) in the name of the Islamic State? Orlando shooter Omar Nateen wasn’t an immigrant. He was born in Queens, New York; his parents were from Afghanistan. If the Republicans’ goal is to get rid of potentially self radicalized Muslims, it’s too late. There are 3.3 million Muslims in the United States. Many are full-fledged citizens.
Any group of people that numbers in the millions includes some who are mentally ill, some who are politically radical, some who are religious fundamentalists, and some who are some combination of all three. Since it’s illegal to deport U.S. citizens, millions of whom are Muslim, a few of whom are crazy – and the United States insists on pursuing an endless “war on terror” against Muslim countries – there’s no way that a policy of reduced immigration can prevent future attacks by homegrown Islamists.
On what passes for a Left, Democrats like Hillary Clinton are pushing for tighter restrictions on guns. As usual.
Indeed, it’s hard to argue that civilians require military grade weapons like the semi-automatic AR-15 assault rifle used to kill 49 people at the Pulse nightclub. Hunters don’t use them. If the AR-15 is legal, why not hand grenades? Had Nateen been forced to use a pistol or long gun instead, his bullets would have been smaller, the death toll lower. Some of his victims might have been able to overpower him as he tried to reload.
Here again, however, it’s too late to fix the problem. The cat is out of the bag. Two years ago, the national sport shooting foundation estimated that there were between 5 million and 8.2 million assault-style rifles in American homes. Sales of these weapons always spike after mass shootings, so it’s a safe bet that that number has risen by at least 1 million or two since then.
Even if Hillary Clinton were to succeed beyond her wildest dreams, assault weapons were banned permanently, what about those millions of AR-15’s already in circulation? Would she be willing to send jackbooted federal thugs door to door to search every home until every last one of them, or at least the lion’s share, were rounded up and melted down? Of course not.
The truth is, this ship sailed back in 2004 when Congress allowed the federal ban on assault weapons to expire without being renewed. Congress’s failure to act over the last 12 years has transformed the United States into a nation awash in military hardware.
Mass shootings are the new normal. Get over it.
“It’s too late to do anything about it, now let’s act” mania appears to have become as much of a part of our national character as the myth that everyone is a member of the middle class.
Progressives and liberals who form the base of the Democratic Party, most of whom supported Bernie Sanders during the primaries, are engaged in a robust debate over whether to switch over to Hillary Clinton this fall, support a third-party candidate like Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein, or stay home on election day. It’s the same old question: Do you vote for the lesser of two evils? Isn’t that voting for evil?
Democrats for Clinton are trying to convince Bernie Sanders voters that November represents an existential threat, that if Donald Trump is elected everything we know and love about America will be destroyed. They don’t get it.
What the Clintonites don’t understand is that it’s already too late. Yes, if Donald Trump gets in, there’s a strong danger that what’s left of American democracy will yield to something radically new and terrifying, full-fledged authoritarianism. But Hillary Clinton also represents something horrible: a continuation of the neoconservatism that led to the invasion of Iraq, has made the United States a target of Islamist terrorism, complete capitulation to the banking class whose power structure relies upon the vast majority of American workers toiling for longer hours and shrinking wages – in effect, the last nail in the coffin of the idea that ordinary people have the right to imagine themselves and their children living better than they have in the past.
The existential battle isn’t in November. It was a couple of weeks ago, when Hillary Clinton appeared to nail down the Democratic presidential nomination. Whatever happens now, whether authoritarian Trumpism or steady-as-she-goes downwardly mobile Clintonism, we are screwed.
Perhaps no issue better illustrates my point than climate change.
I remember watching Jacques Cousteau on television in the 1970s, when he repeatedly warned that the oceans (along with the rest of the planet) were warming, and that it would soon – might already be – too late to stop it. The politicians and corporate executives, of course, ignored him and the other scientists who said the same thing. Now, finally, the political class is giving lip service to the crisis, though action remains in short supply.
The fact is, Cousteau was probably right. It was probably too late to save the planet back then. It’s certainly too late now. The climate science is clear. The polar ice cap is never coming back; Antarctica is melting away. The process can’t be reversed. Even if every internal combustion engine in the world stopped running tomorrow morning, human beings have pumped too much energy into the closed system that is our atmosphere to reverse global warming.
My intention isn’t to bum you out. All I’m saying is, let’s stop focusing on problems we can’t do anything about and work on those we still can.
(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. His next book, the graphic biography “Trump,” comes out July 19th and is now available for pre-order.)
Some “deep green” environmentalists believe that the tab for two-plus centuries of industrialization is about to come due in the form of a catastrophic ecological disaster — one that might lead to the great sixth mass extinction on a scale similar to the meteor believed to have taken out the dinosaurs. (Yes, that means you, human reader.)
Here in California, the current drought — which some scientists believe may be the worst in 500 years — understandably leaves many Golden State residents, always aware of water restrictions in a region surrounded by deserts, with a sense of disquiet. What if this goes on? Will the California Dream turn to dust and blow away?
Apparently not. Like the Earth in general, California’s climate is surprisingly resilient, according to recent computer models.
State climate researchers ran a projection of what would happen after “even decades of unrelenting mega-drought similar to those that dried out the state in past millennia,” reports Bettina Boxall of the Times.
“The results were surprising,” Jay Lund of UC Davis told her.
If you own stock in the ag business, you might want to consider unloading them. Agriculture, the climatologists found, would be hit hard. “In their computer simulation, annual runoff into rivers and reservoirs amounted to only about half the historical average. Most reservoirs never filled. Under that scenario, experts say, irrigated farm acreage would plunge…The state’s 8 million acres of irrigated cropland could fall by as much as half, predicted Daniel Sumner, director of the University of California Agricultural Issues Center. Farmers would largely abandon relatively low-value crops such as cotton and alfalfa and use their reduced water supplies to keep growing the most profitable fruits, nuts and vegetables. They would let fields revert to scrub or dry-farm them with wheat and other crops that predominated before California’s massive federal irrigation project transformed the face of the Central Valley in the mid-20th century.”
Biodiversity would suffer too. “Aquatic ecosystems would suffer, with some struggling salmon runs fading out of existence.”
Water prices will rise. Desalination plants will be built along the coast. While initially painful, the agrishock would only affect 4% of the state’s economy — notable, but not fatal.
Bottom line: “The California economy would not collapse. The state would not shrivel into a giant, abandoned dust bowl. Agriculture would shrink but by no means disappear.”
Paradoxically, this good news (or not-that-bad news, anyway) is bad news.
Political and economic leaders tend to ignore problems before they turn into a crisis — especially when heading off the issue would cost money. The news that California’s drought probably won’t lead to ruin within their lifetimes, or our children’s lifetimes, ensures that they’ll keep ignoring environmental destruction. Species will keep going extinct. Flocks of birds will continue to thin out. Invasive species will accelerate the process. These things may not sink the Dow Jones Industrial Average, but they really really really suck.
This is one of those rare times when I wish — almost — that the scientists had lied about what they discovered.
Smart Young People Reject Public Service — Because They’re Smart.
America’s best and brightest don’t go into politics.
(By which we mean mainstream two-party corporate politics. Democrats, Republicans, Washington. Politics as activism, as the ongoing debate over how we should live our lives, remains of great interest to young people.)
Mediocrity among the members of the political class is often cited as a reason for government’s ineptitude, its inability/unwillingness to address the great problems we face today: climate change, soaring income inequality, the Third Worldification of America. If we had smarter, more charismatic politicians, the reasoning goes, we’d get smarter, more effective problem-solving.
Forget it. The word from the trenches of academia is that that’s not going to change. Millennials just aren’t interested.
A national survey of 4200 high school and college students conducted last year found that only 11% might consider running for political office. Most young people say they want nothing to do with a career in government.
We don’t know how that number compares to the past. As Fareed Zakaria points out, “Americans have always been suspicious of government. Talented young people don’t dream of becoming great bureaucrats.”
Still, like other mainstream media types, Zakaria thinks disinterest in public service has increased. “The New Deal and World War II might have changed that for a while, but over the past 30 years, anti-government attitudes have risen substantially,” he says.
Young people think politicians can’t/don’t make much of a positive impact in people’s lives. In a poll of 18- to 29-year-olds, Harvard’s Institute of Politics found a 5% increase, to a third, in the portion of young adults who believe that “political involvement rarely has any tangible results.” When asked about the statement “politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing,” 47% agree and 16% disagree.
I was thinking about this a few weeks ago while researching a column about the possible presidential candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016. First lady, senator, secretary of state — Clinton is one of the most successful political figures of our time. Yet what has she actually accomplished? How has she changed the life of the average American? Where is the big feather in her foreign policy cap? She’s been busy, but she hasn’t done anything historical — and the same could be said of almost all her peers.
Future coulda-been bests and brightests are paying attention to Washingtonian disfunction. “How deep is the disengagement?” Ron Fournier asked in The Atlantic. “I spent two days at Harvard, and couldn’t find a single student whose career goal is Washington or elective office. One wouldn’t expect to hear this at the Kennedy School of Government.“
Which prompts two questions:
Why are the young eschewing politics?
Can we do anything to make a career in politics/government more appealing?
Zakaria offers a “why”: “The ever-increasing obstacles — disclosure forms, conflict-of-interest concerns, political vetting — dissuade and knock out good candidates.”
I disagree. Getting exposed for financial or other improprieties is a concern for some political prospects in their 50s or 60s. But the most that your average 21-year-old college senior has to worry about getting outted over is drug use, and if current trends continue, no one is going to care about that in a few years. After all, George W. Bush and President Obama both used cocaine.
Not long ago I was approached by an Important Democratic Party Official about running for Congress. After he saw a talk I gave to a group of high school students, he pronounced himself so impressed that wouldn’t stop calling me. The party needs you, he said. So does your country.
Heady words. And I’m at least as egotistical as the next bear. So I looked into it.
I wasn’t concerned about personal disclosures. I’d be running as far to the left as you can in today’s Democratic Party; my district is very liberal on social issues. Whatever came out wasn’t bound to hurt my prospects. Anyway, I have a theory about political strategy: your opponents can’t use your deeds against you. They can exploit your denial of those deeds. Candidates who reveal their own skeletons find the electorate much more forgiving than when they’re uncovered by their opponent’s “opposition research” team.
Money would have been a major issue. You need at least $1 million to fund a Congressional campaign. It’s easiest if you have it yourself, and if you have rich friends willing to bankroll you. I don’t.
This is a grim system we have. “Wealthy candidates who try to buy office with their own money tend to lose, but in order to set up a campaign, you have to know a lot of wealthy people and wealthy special interests — and that’s something that most of us are not privy to,” Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, told CBS News.
I might have been able to sell out to local business interests in exchange for favor chits to be cashed in later. But then, why run in the first place? For me, the point of running for Congress is to have a chance to change things for the better.
Washington has plenty of you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours corruption as it is. (I’m talking to you, Former Treasury Secretary/Warburg Pincus President Timothy Geithner.) They don’t need more from me.
The money thing is pretty much insurmountable.
Even presupposing a dramatic upturn in my finances (Powerball win? Selling a kidney to a desperate Internet billionaire? Kickstarter?), there’s the question of what I could accomplish in Congress. This is assuming, of course, that I win. Half of candidates lose, with nothing to show for their million-plus bucks.
Like the kids at Harvard, I can’t think of a single Congressman or, for that matter, Senator, who has managed to achieve much for the working class, or the environment, or anything big, since, well — my entire life. And I’m 50. As a political junkie, I would have heard of something.
Senator Ted Kennedy was one of my political heroes. I worked for two of his presidential campaigns. But let’s be honest. What was his greatest political accomplishment? Probably the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. A nice piece of law to be sure, but a small-bore one — and hardly worth spending decades of your life sitting through endless boring meetings.
And that’s what you do in Congress. You sit on your ass waiting for a chance to talk to people who are waiting for you to shut up so they can talk.
To an empty chamber.
Perhaps I should amend this: politics makes sense for right-wingers.
Republicans have radically transformed American society in recent years: legalized torture, extraordinary rendition, Guantánamo concentration camp, preemptive warfare, the doctrine of the unitary executive, sweeping tax cuts for the ultrarich and yes, even Obamacare — that one was dreamed up by the right-wing Heritage Foundation.
Liberals and progressives, on the other hand…there’s not much for us in the world of mainstream politics.
If we want leftie — most young people are — bright young things to enter public service, public service is going to have to change first. Obviously, that doesn’t seem likely. So if you’re a smart, energetic young person who wants to change the world, there’s still a place to do that.
Not in Congress.
In the streets.
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL
In Politics, It’s a Wild Wild Weird World
Hunter S. Thompson said: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” But what do you do when things go from weird to completely psychedelic?
The political landscape at the beginning of the second term of America’s first biracial president – in the usual historical sense, calling him black kind of requires an asterisk – is a messed up, topsy-turvy, bass-ackwards place.
There is the president’s newfound liberal rhetoric, even going so far as to namecheck gays and lesbians in his Inaugural Address. Did anyone tell him or members of the media that Stonewall was an actual riot, that endorsing this landmark of liberation is to endorse violent revolutionary change? He came off as something as a peacenik, implying that he would be willing to talk to, say, Iran. How does that square with his onslaught of drones, a campaign that increasingly looks like a grim Vietnam-style war of attrition?
But it’s his timing I can’t figure.
Back in 2009, when he came into the White House with an overwhelming mandate for radical change in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, when he enjoyed Democratic control of both houses of Congress, when the Republicans were so whipped that opinion writers for the Wall Street Journal wondered aloud whether there was a future for the GOP, he tacked right. Now that obstructionist Republicans control the House, ordinary citizens have settled into a grouchy state of permanent discontent amid downward mobility and shrinking expectations, when there’s absolutely no reason to expect to get anything big or bold accomplished, the dude is breaking out as some sort of crazy progressive?
Then there’s the bizarre realignment of the two major parties.
Leading Republicans, spooked by the election results, polls that show that the voters of the future are liberal on gays, abortion and other social issues, and possibly from finally having picked up dogeared copies of the prescient tome The Emerging Democratic Majority at Books-a-Million, are freaking out in the weirdest possible way. Something has to be done! But not if it requires compromising on our core values. Um, guys…white guys…old white guys…the problem is that the voters don’t like Republican core values. Or you personally. So what is to be done? Something!
You almost have to feel sorry for Republicans. Sure, they started a bunch of crazy wars that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people, and they opened a string of concentration camps around the world, and they rolled back 800 years of cherished civil liberties that go back to the Magna Carta. But it’s sad to watch the mighty crash like a dictator’s statue pulled down by invading Marines. Not only is a sorta black man in the White House, all the GOP’s classic election-stealing tricks – corrupting the Supreme Court, bullying recount officials with paid thugs, moving voting booths out of minority neighborhoods – aren’t enough to close the growing gap between their obsolete stances and an increasingly left-leaning electorate. Now they’re so desperate that they’re even flirting with rejiggering the Electoral College, an institution that historically benefits Republicans, in order to suck out two or three more terms with them in control of the House – forget the Senate – before fading away into Whig-like oblivion as the Democrats retaliate.
Not to say that the Democrats are walking the straight and narrow road of sanity.
Americans of all political stripes say there’s one issue that consumes them most. One thing that they think about all the time. Something personal, something that affects everything else. Happily, it’s something that the government not only can do something about, but has been able to address many times in the past. I am talking about, obviously, the economy. Unemployment. Underemployment. The fact that there are no jobs. And that the jobs that are being created are all crappy. Or are in another country. Americans have been remarkably consistent about this. It would be hard to think of another time when people told pollsters for four years in a row that the same issue was the number one issue in the country. Whatever his other challenges, President Obama certainly doesn’t have to wonder about what’s on our minds.
So what is his second-term agenda? Given that his laissez-faire approach to the economic collapse throughout his first term basically involved golfing a lot while hoping that magical market forces would revive on their own, you might think that he would focus in like a laser-guided drone on the economy – you know, the number one most important issue to most Americans – this time around. But no, everyone’s telling us that Obama’s ambitious second-term agenda is – wait for it – gun control, immigration and climate change.
Don’t get me wrong: one of the great tragedies of the last dozen years was that Al Gore, one of the few American politicians who understands the gravity and imminent threat of global warming, didn’t get to exercise the presidential powers he earned at the ballot box. Though I will be shocked! shocked! shocked! if Obama’s proposals rise above the level of the usual too little/too late/too vested in corporate profits to curb industrialization, it’s nice to see the issue get lip service. Restoring sanity to America’s immigration system – can’t get in legally, so sneak in and hide out for 15 or 20 years until the next amnesty – is long overdue. Though, again, I wouldn’t be surprised if we just end up with another Reagan-style amnesty that doesn’t open up the doors to a lot more legal immigrants. Gun control of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, of course, is just boilerplate post-Sandy Hook elementary school massacre reactionism.
Fortunately, at least one of these issues will probably resolve itself. Already there are fewer illegals trying to sneak into the United States across the border from Mexico because the economy here is so terrible. Who is going to want to come to an impoverished nation full of gun nuts shooting at each other underwater?
Still, it’s disconcerting to watch smug Democrats lord it over clueless Republicans when the only difference between the two parties is one of tone. Republicans let you know that they hate you. Democrats talk nice and then let you down. Neither party gives a damn about the fact that you haven’t gotten a raise in 30 years. How can they? Their contributors are the top executives of the corporations who’ve been lining their pockets at your expense.
One of these days, you’ve got to think that the people are going to notice.
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL