MAY 2016 What is it in my nature that makes it so hard for me to avoid being lured into talking about public bad stench if it really stinks? I am not alone in this problem of course. The pundits of pen and media alike are mostly as fascinated by public rottenness as I am. In the 1970s the Watergate scandal was the main topic of public discourse for many months. In the following decade the Iran-Contra hearings produced daily headlines about misfeasance in high places. The ninety five controversies over sexual dalliance in the White House led to impeachment and the trial of a sitting president, events that preoccupied the nation for nearly a year. My fascination for the seamy side of public life has been matched by recurring national fixation for similarly salacious doings in high places. All of the above episodes reflected badly upon men who already occupied the highest office in the United States. But none of them ever really showed the sitting President to be unfit for the job of leading the country unless you believed that the visible scandals revealed that the character of the President was badly flawed in a way which threatened core values of Americans. Our confidence in individuals may have been shaken by previous scandals, but they did not necessarily create reason to doubt the system of government.
The Trump candidacy is shot through with a different quality of corruption than its predecessors. This is corruption which challenges the notion that Americans are incapable of knowingly electing a corrupt person to become their President. Trump is obviously willing to destroy some of the most valued and highly touted qualities of our lives in this country. He brags about his ambition to flout international law and openly institute the torture of suspected national adversaries. He encourages violent treatment of dissenters at his rallies. He shows us a would-be President who admits to dishonestly characterizing an opponent, Ben Carson, with being a pedophile. He publicly taunts his opponent Rubio for the imagined small size of his penis. He brags that he is direct and bluntly honest, while admitting that he is two different people, depending on whether the topic of his speech is politics or something else. He is blatantly a cad and an adulterer while scolding his rival for condoning her husband’s adultery. He refuses to release his personal tax information because he is entitled to keep it secret while he is being investigated for tax evasion and fraud, yet he claims his life is an open book. He gives concrete example by his own policy statements of the kind of indifference to international opinion that earns distrust abroad, yet he asks the American people to believe he will restore respect for this country. He advocates proliferation of nuclear arms in the hands of a country from whom he says we should demand apologies for sneak attacks on us. He advocates shrinking the military expenditures of this country while he advocates dramatic new military adventures. He has been on virtually every side of domestic social issues while claiming to be simple and straightforward. All of this is overt and advertised corruption from a man who asks us to make him the President of the United States.
We are faced with the kind of corruption that threatens much more than the sort of conversations we are likely to have and the preoccupations of our press and media. The willingness to endorse Trump threatens to change the direction of American life from one in which we are occasionally preoccupied with public dishonesty to a direction in which public dishonesty corrupts the quality of our public and private lives. Some day we will look back on these days as a time in which we slid into fascism with our eyes open or we will remember rejecting Trump for what he is–a despicable example of this country at its worst.
May 2016 The windy city has been going through some hard times. The Mayor is terribly unpopular, a youth has been shot to death by a law enforcement officer who shot him 16 times with grand jury impunity, the school budget is inadequate and the teachers are threatening strike, while health care falls short for many and the South side has a shrinking tax base. But Joe Madden and Theo Epstein are the architects of a Cubs team that has won 22 of its first 29 games and the Sox are dominating the American League. There is joy among baseball fans and that is something seldom caused by winning local teams. The gods of politics and education and community order and prosperity are either gone or at war. But baseball is the game of discontented summers.
May 2018 This week the Republican party showed without doubt that its 2016 candidate for President of the United States will be Donald Trump. The field began as a large field of rather diverse politicians and others. From the beginning Trump was the most popular, although he never got a majority of the primary votes in any state until his home state of New York voted a few weeks ago. Instead he has built an overwhelming position by winning a lot of primaries by getting more votes than any other single candidate, while not necessarily showing that he ids even considered a viable Republican candidate by many of the majority who voted for others. Add to these limitations the fact that he has not even declared himself a candidate for an elective office until very recently, the total absence of any public service (neither military nor civilian job at any point in his life),and a domestic history that includes three divorces. Oh did I mention Trump has not even declared himself a Republican for most of his sixty eight years.
Trump did declare himself to be too wealthy to need contributions to his campaign from anyone other than himself, although records show he recently received a tax break for which the law states he would be eligible only if he nets less than half a million dollars a year! His tax status is clouded by ongoing investigations into the possibilities of fraud, and these investigations furnish him with the excuse to refuse to release any past returns. This bizarre situation leaves the candidate in the position of being unable to refute any accusations about his real income or wealth, but it also leaves all the rest of us to reach our own conclusions without any hard data. He is free to boast that he is a self-made billionaire, while the rest of us are free to stay ignorant about the realities of his financial successes or failures.
The man reminds me of a personality type I used to encounter in bars back in the day. He would come in with an attractive if somewhat flamboyantly dressed female. His loud voice soon silenced or muted most of the conversation that had been going on while the man would remind us of various symbols of his claimed affluence and influence. Any question raised by any other patron would be answered by the man is bold, blunt assertions that demonstrated the certainty with which he responded to all others’ doubts. Mantle was the greatest baseball player since Ruth and Reagan had restored the American dream. Gold and investment in the man’s businesses were the only safe places to invest your money until a complete change in world business fortunes would come about through a devastating depression brought on by idiots who never would take the man’s infallible advice. Beer was a complete waste of good taste buds that should be nourished by the particular brands of bourbon on the man’s short list of approved beverages. This place needed a different paint job but it was his favorite watering hole because…. You get the idea.
Donald Trump is the self-proclaimed expert on how to make America great again because in his great eyes American greatness is whatever he thinks it is at the moment. He is the best leader this country can have because he always tells it like it really is, except when he has to change what he tells because he is the expert on the subject of when to tell the truth and when to say “what I have to say because that is politics.” You can trust him because he is the only one in the race you can imagine being yourself. You don’t know enough to be much of a President and you know it. But Donald is just as ignorantly opinionated as you are, and you enjoy believing you would make a great President even if you know better. This chutzpah or arrogance that makes Trump so repelling to so many also makes him attractive to all those guys who secretly envied the bar blowhard.
May 8,2016 During the last week the Republican Party has selected a candidate to become the next President of the United States. From a field of wanta bes that stretched across a large stage the field has been narrowed to one–a sixty nine year old real estate developer who has never held a public office and has never run for any but the Presidency, for which he once sought the nomination of a short-lived assembly of discontents who called themselves the Reform Party. Trump is not popular with many Republicans in part because he has never been one until the last year.