Friday, January 20, 2017

#220 - Does Anybody Really Care?

"Does anybody really know what time it is?" - Chicago

As I write these words, we are roughly two hours away from Donald Trump taking the oath of office as this nation's 45th President. This fact makes me angry.

What makes me angrier is the fact that less than half of those casting votes actually voted for the new President, yet his supporters think that gives him an absolute mandate to change things. It does no such things. It tells me Trump needs to find a middle ground (something he's never shown much ability of doing) and fast.

What makes me angriest is that roughly half of all Americans who could vote in this past election didn't care enough to do so. That means the new President was chosen by 25-percent (or even a little less) of the people. Hardly the people's choice.

In baseball, only getting a hit 25-percent of the time makes you a marginal player at best. In football, only converting third downs 25-percent of the time makes it highly likely you will lose the game. Yet Trump supporters view his getting 25-percent of all possible votes as a sweeping victory. Seems a bit delusional to me.

To those who didn't care enough to vote - in my eyes, you are even worse than those who voted for Trump. You didn't like Hillary. Fine. Most, if not all states had other options. Me, I nearly voted for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate.

Sometimes, a protest vote is important. It registers unease, concern, even anger. Not voting registers just one thing. Apathy. It is obvious to me at this point that most people really don't care about politics. I see it all the time on Facebook.

With that in mind, I am proposing a new third party, the Apathy Party. I am willing to be the party's first presidential candidate if need be. I believe I am capable of caring as little as the next person. However, I am willing to make way if another candidate comes along who cares even less. I don't care. Just let me know. I'll get back to you. Or not.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

#219 - Dawn of a New Era or the Eve of Destruction

"Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction." - Barry McGuire, "Eve of Destruction" (written by P. F. Sloan

By this time tomorrow, the United States will be led by the 45th President, Donald Trump, arguably one of the most divisive incoming Presidents in American history based on his incoming approval rating, the lowest of any new President in history.

There are those who might also argue that the new President is perhaps the most egotistical and narcissistic man to ever occupy the White House. In the immortal words of The Eurythmics, who am I to disagree?

For most of the nine years I have irregularly posted to this blog, and for most of the previous 217 posts I have published, I have stayed away from politics and religion. While I will likely continue to leave religion as only the rare and occasional topic, I expect politics to become more prevalent, and the reason is the new man behind the curtain, Donald Trump.

I recently read an opinion piece in The Atlantic that argued the possibility that Trump may end up as one of the most corrupt presidents in our history. That notion could be dismissed as mere hyperbole were it not for the fact that it was written by John Dean, the man who served as counsel for the only President ever to resign from office, Richard Nixon.

According to Dean, Trump and Nixon share some of the same authoritarian tendencies. The difference being that Nixon held many of those tendencies in check. The early indications are that Trump does not have that same level of self-restraint. From the article:
To Dean, these moments suggested a functioning sense of shame in Nixon, something he was forced to wrestle with in his quest for power. Trump, by contrast, appears to Dean unmolested by any such struggle.
Dean goes on to suggest Trump may find himself embroiled in a Watergate-style meltdown similar to the one that forced Nixon from office. Says Dean, “he’s carrying loads of potential problems into the White House with him.” He goes on to say: “I don’t think Richard Nixon even comes close to the level of corruption we already know about Trump.”

So, those who feel Trump will be a disaster as President can look forward to an early end to the Trump Presidency, right? Not if Dean is correct in his assessment of how things have changed in America since Watergate.

According to Dean the checks and balances system has been weakened by "partisan paralysis." For evidence of some of this paralysis at work just look back to the government shutdown and near shutdown, along with the constant gridlock in Congress over the last several years.

Much as many argue we have become desensitized to violence by the plethora of video games, Dean believes we have become desensitized to political scandal. After Watergate, Dean says America was on high alert. But now, according the article, "that culture of vigilance has so eroded that it’s nearly impossible now to envision a sin so grave, or a revelation so explosive, that it would lead to the ouster of a sitting president." Says Dean, “the Trump campaign is an interesting measure of how high the tolerance has gotten for a public figure’s misbehavior.”

An indication of how little we seem to care about even the possibility of impropriety with regard to a Trump presidency can be seen in the reactions of many to the choices put forth for Trump's Cabinet. The fact is that few, if any supporters are concerned by the fact that most of the nominees either have worked against the agencies they are now supposed to lead or are rich, like Trump.

The proposed head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, has sued the EPA a number of times on behalf of companies opposed to EPA regulations even though ten-percent of the children in his state suffer from asthma, a condition exacerbated by pollution.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, Trump's proposed Secretary of Energy, wants to shut down the agency. Secretary of Labor nominee Andrew Puzder has opposed labor regulations designed to protect workers (and also seems to be a fan of gridlock, saying "the less Washington does, the better". Secretary of Education nominee Betty DeVos supports voucher programs that divert taxpayer money from public schools, has no idea or apparent decision on the decades long proficiency vs. growth debate with regard to assessment, and does not appear to believe in uniform enforcement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Other nominees, such as Housing and Urban Development nominee Ben Carson, who has criticized regulations designed to combat segregation in housing projects, seem equally dangerous. (This op/ed piece in The Baltimore Sun outlines Carson's criticisms and the arguments against those criticisms.")

For me, the biggest danger of a Trump presidency may not be Trump himself but those who seem to blindly follow him. Many of them profess to be Christian, yet the man they support is no more Christian than a pine tree and possibly less so.

One comment I read this morning on Facebook is indicative of the support that concerns me. It read, "I thank God he chose this man to help save this country, and saved us from doom." After reading that, all I could think was a) God really does have a sense of humor (something I've long suspected since learning Jimmy Swaggart and Jerry Lee Lewis belonged to the same family tree), followed by b) God must really hate us, before concluding with c) we can't blame God for Trump. This is on us.

These same Christian Trumpeters seem to conveniently forget one of Christ's most important teachings, "love thy neighbor as thyself." Either that, or they are full of self-loathing.

To my mind, there is nothing inherently Christian about any of Trump's Cabinet nominees. "As you do unto the least of them, so you do unto me" seems to fly in the face of the positions these nominees have taken. The Catholic church teaches that we are supposed to be stewards of God's creation. Among other things, that seems to mean protecting the environment, not opening up federal lands to additional energy exploration.

The next four years promise to be divisive, confrontational, controversial, and contentious. They will, however, get off to a rousing start on Saturday with the Women's March on Washington and the affiliated marches in the individual states.

The battle lines appear to be drawn. They are not, however, drawn along the moral lines many religious people would have us believe, at least not in the way they think. The lines are moral, but they are drawn along the lines of right and wrong, as in what is right for all people, what is right for the environment, what is right for the children, what is right for all faiths, and what is right for the least of us.

Instead of fighting to "make America great again" (a slogan Trump took from Reagan, by the way), perhaps we should focus on keeping America great, part of which includes celebrating diversity, promoting fairness, working to help the elderly and the poor, ensuring all Americans have access to and receive affordable health care, and not providing additional wealth and tax breaks to those who already have the most.

If America is to be and to remain great, the majority of people must benefit, not just a handful at the top. Putting a billionaire in charge and appointing a handful of wealthy people as his advisers and Cabinet members does not seem the best way to ensure that the greatest number of people possible benefit.

Let the battle begin.