A Look Inside…

Trump photoMr. Trump gave one of his stemwinder, freestyle, stream-of-consciousness speeches last night in The Woodlands, Texas which is – I think – a particularly conservative Houston suburb. From what I can tell most of it was his usual collection of one-liners, but the closing two minutes – captured here by CBS – are worth watching because it offers an insight into the fantasy world of Donald Trump. Watching him, I can’t help but think he actually believes “winning” is an act of will and that he will simply compel the country to win and the rest of the world to go along with that decision.

From working with and watching politicians for much of my life I know that every politician has an ego and it’s usually huge. This is an observation independent of party affiliation, office, success at the ballot box or other personal qualities. I’ve seen ego in the most liberal politicians and the most conservative. Those professing to be “servant leaders” have egos every bit as big and demanding as those branded elitist and imperious. It is a necessary component for running for election – a brutal process – and for governing. Obama has it, as does Sanders, the Clintons, the Bushes, Cruz, Kasich and any other candidate you care to name.

Ego, however, that’s so overwhelming that it’s delusional is not healthy and it’s not a quality we should want in our elected officials. The presumptive Republican nominee has one that should send all of us running for exits.

– Austin

PS – The other thing that’s worth noting from the clip is Mr. Trump’s mood; he’s clearly very happy to be among his supporters and in large numbers. I’m not entirely sure of this point, but I get the impression that his rallies have been somewhat smaller over the last couple of weeks – smaller crowds, no lines to get in, etc. – and this event was apparently packed with people turned away (though the exact number varies according to those covering the event). If you want to watch the entire event – including the warm-up speakers – it’s available here.


Enough. No more liberal coddling.

In the days since Orlando I’ve become more afraid. And I’m ready to abandon my liberal “We Are The World” views and adopt harsh measures to assure American safety.

We are facing a threat to our very existence. Andrew Sullivan in New York Magazine called the threat “an extinction-level event.” And the normal, nice, politically correct responses won’t work against it. Terrorism is inside our borders, playing out on our televisions every night, the unthinkable and the horrifying becoming the normal.

We have to exclude the terrorists and we have to root out the communities that hide and support them. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War, abridging some rights to save all rights. We need to stop pussy-footing around the problem and go to the source — and stop it. Plug the holes so more terrorists can’t get in. Expel the terrorists who are here and hold those who are like them responsible for their acts.

One force is creating paralyzing fear among Americans. That’s the definition of terrorism. That force is causing us to abandon our principles and sink to the level of the  terrorists. That’s the result of lighting these fires and fanning these flames. I’m tired of it. It has to end. Or we won’t have a country.

My modest proposals:

  • Our most horrible threat comes from a German. So we must immediately stop immigration from Germany. Round up all Germans now in America and throw them the hell out of the country. You don’t have to have been born in Germany to be a German. Your parents being German is enough. Or your grandparents. Or maybe you once lived next to a German. Or ate German chocolate cake. You’re gone.
  • The terrorist who presents the greatest threat against America is a capitalist. So we must immediately bar any capitalists from entering the country. And we must stop all immigration from areas of the world where there are capitalists or where people support capitalism.
  • The steaming, fetid, amoral, immoral, festering hotbed of capitalist terrorism is Wall Street. We will build a wall around lower Manhattan, from the Empire State Building south, to keep all capitalists in so they can’t further infect our country. And, of course, we’re going to make Goldman Sachs pay for the wall. It will be beautiful.
  • We must stop the politically correct language that hobbles our response. Liberals and their running-dog media partners call the threat a “candidate” and analyze his “policies.” They talk about him giving a “speech” and about who are his “advisers” and what kind of “analysis” he engages in and what his level of “knowledge” is. C’maaahn. Let’s call a Drumpf a Drumpf. This is a dangerous, immoral, raving narcissist who, to increase his own false sense of his grandeur, will hurt anyone, trample on our most cherished beliefs and wreck our way of life. He doesn’t have bad policies. He doesn’t pay enough attention to anything beyond his own aura to have policies. He has infiltrated this country through our most-vulnerable yearning — the hope of the masses to someday not be among the masses. He now poses a threat that, because it seems so unlikely, is horrifyingly real. This force of terror is a threat to everything that makes America exceptional.
  • Enough. We have to stop Radical German Capitalist Terrorism. And it must start now.

In the immortal words of an American solider in Vietnam, talking to the late Morley Safer as he lit a Vietnamese family’s house on fire, “Sometimes we have to destroy a village to save it.”

–Bruce Benidt

Vietnam village

In the Wake of Orlando…

I rolled over this morning at about 6:30 AM and saw through my bleary eyes the initial reports of the shooting in Orlando. At that point all that was being reported was that “at least 20” had been killed and more than 50 had been injured. In the hours since then, the outlines of this terrible tragedy have come into sharper, more specific view.

There’s so much that could be said at this point – the insensitivity of Donald Trump in making the shooting a moment of self-congratulations, the hypocrisy of those who criticize the Obama administration for not doing enough to protect the homeland but oppose any restrictions on firearm purchases even for those on no-fly lists, the frightening suggestion made on Fox News today (which I can’t find but was made by a member of Congress) that we should be detaining Muslims who “could be” planning something (a comment that was so shocking that even the Fox host was flustered and said something to the effect of “I’m sure you’re only talking about the very, very small number of Muslim where there’s proof of illegality”), the tragic intersection of mental illness, economic and societal alienation and susceptibility to radicalization (of many stripes) – but the reality is simply that 49 people who did nothing to deserve it are dead today.

My heart is heavy and my thoughts are with the victims and their families.

– Austin

“The Suspense is Terrible…I Hope It Will Last”

Maybe this is what it’s like to get old.

My theory of aging is that you start getting old the moment when you stop keeping up. By that I meet keeping up with what’s going on in society, how technology is evolving, how to use it. Understanding the big flows in the global economy, how the pieces fit together and affect one another. Keeping up with your family and how they in turn participate in their communities.

For my parents, this process started happening when my father retired. Bit by bit over the next couple of decades they went from participants to observers to finally patients. They went from the people who I would call first for help and advice to the people I hid bad news from to a couple of fearful, confused people who didn’t understand the world around them.

Maybe that’s what’s happening to me. Without realizing it maybe I crossed that first threshold sometime in the recent past and didn’t realize it.

I’m thinking along these lines as part of my effort to understand the panicky feeling that’s been my constant companion ever since it became clear that Donald J. Trump would be the Republican nominee. His enduring success suggests I no longer understand the world and what moves it. The notion that he’s got a 45-55 chance to become the next president of the United States – and thus the most powerful person in the world – makes me anxious in a way I’ve rarely felt.

When I try to disassemble my anxiety, I end up sorting it into several buckets:

  1. The top line. A Donald Trump presidency would be a disaster for the United States, its citizens, our allies and world. I believe this with every fiber of being. Donald Trump lacks the experience, temperament, education, judgement, emotional maturity and almost every other quality I think is important in a president.
  2. The subtext. Do 39 percent of Americans REALLY believe Donald Trump should be president? According to the latest Fox News poll they do. If this number is even remotely correct then I feel a lot like Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (or Kevin McCarthy if you prefer the 1958 version).
  3. The counter-narrative. What if I’m wrong? What if I’ve missed something so fundamental about the state of our country that those 39 percenters are right to want to elect Donald Trump? If they are, then what else am I wrong about?

For reassurance on all three levels I find myself compulsively reading the news, watching CNN, etc. I feel mildly encouraged by reports that suggest the Democrats are getting their act together or that the Republicans and the Trump campaign are in disarray. I find myself watching Trump’s rallies and speeches hoping for – at last – something that will irrevocably take him from legitimate threat to our democracy to universal joke.

In other words, when I step back and look at my behavior, I have to wonder,

“When did I get so fucking old?”






Trump then, Tump now.

Back in the hallucinatory Republican primary season Donald Trump appeared indestructible. Nothing he said damaged his standing with a mob of angry, ill-informed, anti-institutional voters. He won over some regular folks, too, people who thought it might be a good idea to run the country like a business, or who just liked him on The Apprentice. But it was a small, core group of haters who armored him. He pandered to their nihilism and their prejudices. And they embraced a candidate who eschewed political correctness while giving voice to the racist sentiments that always simmer just below the surface of American public discourse.

Nobody else in the Republican Party had to stand by what he trumpsaid then, and few, if any, did. Now they do. Except, of course, when they don’t…as is the case with Trump’s hysterical denunciation of a federal judge named Gonzalo P. Curiel, a midwesterner who is overseeing a lawsuit against the shuttered scam that was Trump U. Trump says Curiel is a “Mexican” and therefore biased because Trump plans to “build a wall.” Expanding on this thesis, Trump has also said that he probably could not get a fair trial with a Muslim judge either. Presumably women judges fall into the same category, unless they are unusually attractive and thus exempt from Mr. Trump’s general disdain for women.

Republican office holders and party regulars have rushed to the TV cameras to denounce Trump’s position. Awkward. Even Newt Gingrich, a rumored running mate, has blasted Trump and suggested that he shut up about Curiel. Meanwhile, Republicans have been mum about the fact that they’re blocking President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court so their guy can make the pick after the election. Word from “their guy” is that minorities and women need not apply.

The Curiel fiasco shows how ambivalent Republicans are about their nominee. It also hints at how deeply he might hurt down-ballot Republicans this fall if they stay with his candidacy and it flames out in bigotry and ignorance. They’re hoping he’ll change. He won’t. They’re hoping he’ll “pivot” now that the primary is done. He won’t. They’re hoping he’ll somehow see that running for President is about something more important than his own ego. He won’t. They’re counting on him to surround himself with wise, temperate advisers who will keep him (and the country) on the rails. He hasn’t yet. And, most of all, they’re hoping he’ll stop saying stupid, offensive things.

Good luck with that.

Former Congressman and longtime GOP consultant Vin Weber has invoked the parable of the scorpion and the frog, in which the scorpion delivers a sting after promising not to because it’s “in his nature.” Weber says Trump is what Trump is, period. What we see is what is in his nature. Not a pretty picture.

What surely gives the Republicans the most heartburn over the Curiel flap is that Trump, when cornered in some outrage, invariably responds by launching a new outrage as a way of changing the subject. His candidacy lurches from one controversy to the next. And now each instance will require Republicans who want to cling to office (and maybe to a few shreds of dignity) to disavow what he says.

Well, they can do that. They just can’t do it with straight faces. And they can’t hide the disconnect from voters. How do you “endorse” a candidate you have to distance yourself from every other day? Donald Trump entered the race as a joke. He stands a good chance of going out the same way.




Gene and Bernie

Bernie Sanders, meet Eugene McCarthy. In my head. And in my heart.

A public-television show about McCarthy was called “I’m Sorry I Was Right.” And Bernie, you’re right, but it’s time to fold your tent.

In 1968 Gene McCarthy stole the hearts and stoked the dreams of young people across the country. The world was falling apart and up stood this poet from Minnesota whose earlier campaign pamphlet for his senate seat, I recall, carried this quote from Gene: “I like a man with a good woodpile; it shows he’s at peace with the world.”

The guy couldn’t win. He had no chance against LBJ, who’d won in 1964 in the definition of a landslide. The Vietnam war wouldn’t end, and what could this diffident senator do about it? He could stand up and holler, in I.F. Stone’s immortal exhortation to the young. And he did.

And Gene was right. About most things, including the war. And Bernie is right. About the economy and the tax code and Congress being rigged for the rich. About not enough having been done yet to keep the speculators from ruining the country — again. And Bernie is right about Hillary. She’s compromised. Her ethics are moth-eaten. She’s as inspiring as a box of raisin bran. And her judgment, in taking contributions to her foundation from foreign countries while secretary of state — really? And her two-hundred-grand speeches to fat cat bankers — come on. Mark Twain said “Tell me where a man gets his corn pone and I’ll tell you where he gets his opinions.” (Corn pone, a staple, like flour, for those of you who didn’t grow up in the 19th Century in the Ozarks like I did.) She’s secretive and calculating and … oh I wish she were Elizabeth Warren.

But Bernie, Bernie, Bernie, I love ya man. But you gotta get out of the way. I jumped on my phone during the first debate and sent you money. I voted for you in the Florida primary. Other than on guns, I haven’t heard a syllable from you I disagree with. But you gotta let Hillary take it to Trump.

Clinton is such a flawed candidate that only the fact that Trump is such a baby whiner egomaniac gives her a chance to save us all from him. Bernie, maybe, could do better against him. Maybe could give him the embarrassing unmasking he deserves. But Bern, you don’t got the votes, you don’t got the numbers. And even though you’re right, continuing to hammer at Hillary only increases the I-hope-scant chance that the world might end in November, with Austin weeping.

Howard Dean said tonight on MSNBC that there are meetings going on between Sanders’s and Clinton’s campaigns about how to land this plane. I hope so. California could end it or drag it out. Bernie, you’re right, and you’ve had a huge impact, you’ve moved Clinton and the party to the left, you’ve hollered yourself hoarse, and you’ve stirred up a wonderful mass of young people, including my niece/daughter Ally, and we all love you for it.

It’s time to stop pushing at Hillary and stand beside her. And keep hollering.

— Bruce BenidtIMG_4556

Reaping the Trumpian Harvest

It’s early days in terms of calculating the damage Donald J. Trump has already done to America but there are already many signs that he has emboldened racists, misogynists and other species of political fungi that have been mostly consigned in the shadows of American politics.

Let’s not even get started on how many of our allies are already rethinking their relationship with a country that may end up led by a man who thinks it’s a good thing that they’re “rattled” by his candidacy. Here, too, the damage he’s already done is considerable.

In fact, Mr. Trump could drop out of the race tomorrow and we’d still be years recoMatthew Ericksonvering.

Or maybe his candidacy is the kind of damage a democracy like ours is ill-equipped to recover from. Take a few minutes to watch the announcement speech of one Matthew Erickson, the Republicans’ latest candidate to succeed Congressman John Kline in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District. Mr. Trump likes to boast about his success in bringing new people into the political process. If this is a representative example, he’s done us no favors by creating a new class of candidates and activists who think his example is worthy of following. We may never wring this stain out of our national fabric.

I weep for our country.

– Austin