Friday, June 09, 2017

Meanwhile over in the UK...

So what happened in the UK last night? 8 short weeks ago pundits were talking about a 100+ Tory seat gain and how Labour under Corbyn was completely unelectable and was facing the largest Conservative Landslide since Thatcher.... Well a number of things happened. The first is Theresa May honestly thought that she and the Conservatives could just coast to a victory on Jeremy Corbyn's unpopularity. The Torys didn't run FOR anything as much as they just ran AGAINST Corbyn. The Prime Minister's decision to not participate in any actual face to face debates just reinforced the idea that the Conservatives were a bunch of arrogant, out of touch twits who just assumed people would vote them in because there wasn't really any other choice.... Oops.

Then there is Brexit. Which didn't mean what most people outside the UK think it did. The conservative defeat is not a vote of Brexit Remorse,  as much as it was a vote against the Tory loony toon back benchers idea that a "hard Brexit" would be some sort of expression of British power and resolve. Instead of what it really would be; Economic Suicide.  The Government has never articulated a clear or even moderately coherent plan for Brexit other than the Prime Minister saying she would be a "Bloody Difficult Woman" to deal with in the negotiations .

Funny how voters didn't find that comforting...

Then there were the Manifestos. The Tory Manifesto read like a chapter out of a Charles Dickens novel. It was so bad that even the largely inept Labour PR team was able to point out that taxing dementia  patients to fund tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires was a bad idea.  The Torys may idolise Thatchernomics but the electorate has moved on and sees it as a massive scam that is nothing more than Robin Hood in reverse.

Rather than defend their plan, the Conservative response was incoherent mumblings of how "Labour's numbers didn't add up", and when that didn't work they basically gave up and ran away from their own party platform.
Contrary to what some American pundits are saying this morning, terrorism really didn't play a role in how people voted. The attacks in Manchester and London were not foremost on voters minds. The Conservatives attempts to paint Corbyn as weak on defence and not willing to combat the threat from radical extremists came across to voters as a crass and vulgar attempt to capitalise on a national tragedy. It actually served to damage the Conservatives on an issue they should have had the advantage on.

But clearly the biggest reason for the wreckage in Westminster this morning is the Prime Minister herself. She called this snap election after repeatedly saying she wouldn't. She never had a real message other than "Brexit will be great, and Labour is bad!" A problem compounded by the Prime Minister being unwilling to do any real campaigning beyond carefully staged photo ops. It became a national drinking game to see how Theresa May could only answer questions with some word salad of a response that desperately tried to work in the words "Strong and Stable" as many times as possible.

Whereas the UK voters may not like Jeremy Corbyn, what is crystal clear this morning is, they simply didn't trust Theresa May.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

My Annual Response to "Why isn't there a Straight Pride Month?"

It's June... so we all know what that means...

As the rainbow flags go up on Market Street in San Francisco , the annual debate over the merits of LGBT Pride celebrations re-surfaces like a perennial weed that just won't stay down. It's a debate that rages both inside and outside the broader LGBTQ-XYZ123-whatever-else-you-want-to-add-on... community.

Inside the community the question always gets asked ; does some of the imagery of Pride celebrations hurt the cause of equal rights? In addition, in the wake of significant legal victories for LGBT rights, especially around Marriage Equality; Some are asking do we even need pride celebrations anymore?   

While outside, critics and opponents love to point to that same imagery as evidence of Gay folks wanting "special rights", and then pull out their favorite chestnut, of asking why are Gay Pride Celebrations acceptable but Straight Pride celebrations are not?

Sigh.... Really? It's like asking why isn't there a "White History Month". I get tired of trying to explain to people who really do know better, but get enamored of Fox News talking points, just how stupid they sound whey they try to make these types of arguments. But fine, since clearly there is some "genuine" confusion out there as to the reason for LGBT Pride celebrations , allow me to clarify.

The number of states in the USA where you can be fired  for  being  Straight = 0
The number of states in the USA where you can be fired for being Gay = 29
Number of countries that will execute you for being Straight = 0
Number of countries that will execute you for being Gay = 10

Growing up, how many books, songs, television programs, and movies did you see that featured straight couples meeting, falling in love and living happily ever after?  Pretty much all of them. Ask someone who is Gay how many positive images in popular culture they had growing up that affirmed who they are? The answer is, none, or at best few, if any at all.

Gay characters in movies and television were either creepy villains or camp comic relief. If you doubt that, you really should check out the groundbreaking HBO documentary, "The Celluloid Closet". It shows clearly the disparity in popular culture where messages about sexual orientation were concerned.

Then there is the area of religion. The number of straight kids who have been told they are going to hell simply for being heterosexual = 0. The number of LGBT kids who have been told that they are going hell simply for being homosexual = too many to even try to count.

In the light of LGBT rights victories in the U.S. over the past few years, it is easy to laugh at the various American Talabangelicals who shrieked hysterically how the US Supreme Court ruling on Same Sex marriage back in 2015, would result in nothing less than some sort of Gay, Nazi... apocalypse. But for a young person struggling with issues of identity and self acceptance,  these toxic messages of hatred and bigotry could cut right through you .

To my Straight friends, I have to ask, how many times have "respected" public figures, politicians, pundits and clergy gone on national television demanding that everyone be given the chance to VOTE on your civil rights?  How often has someone told you that not being able to discriminate against you was somehow an attack on them?  When was the last time you heard a member of the Supreme Court saying that simply by being allowed to exist, you were "an attack" on the moral fiber of America?

Anyone?? Yeah...I didn't think so... I have a flash of the obvious for you, every month is "Straight Pride Month."  There is a word for someone who truly feels that equal rights for people they don't like is somehow an attack on them. That word is "Bigot".

Saying LGBT people are human too, isn't an attack on straight people. Those people who really think it is, I want to ask them if they are really that stupid, or just that bigoted? People who say LGBT Pride celebrations need to be stopped, are in fact, the exact reason they all started in the first place.

Are pride celebrations good or bad for the cause of equality? The answer is both. With visibility comes closer examination. Anti-gay bigots love to show images of drag queens, leather daddies and nearly naked porn stars dancing on parade floats, and scream "See! it's not about equal rights! They just want to recruit your kids into THIS!!"

They never show the families, advocacy groups, welcoming and inclusive religious denominations, and workplace affinity groups who participate in Pride parades. After all, that wouldn't fit their desired narrative.

Media outlets are complicit in this, by the way.  CNN loves to show the drag queens  and semi-naked boys in their coverage, but when straight allies like the CEO of  the largest health care company in the United States rides in the San Francisco Pride  parade every year, along with his LGBT employees,  you'd think the guy was invisible.

Likewise, critics of  the concept of LGBT Pride , never talk about the rates of divorce, unplanned pregnancy, child abuse and neglect and domestic violence in Straight relationships.  You never see  folks like Tony Perkins, head of the certified Hate-Group, the "Family Research Council" on Fox News talking about Mardi Gras, or "Girls Gone Wild" on Spring Break.

That would be admitting something of an inconvenient truth.  It's much easier to just point at a group of shirtless men on a flatbed truck or women on motorcycles and say that they are the real threat to families.

I have always said that Pride celebrations are not really for the people who attend them. Instead they are for the people who cannot attend them. Growing up as a Gay kid in a small town in South Central Wisconsin, there were times when I was convinced I was the only gay person on Earth. The constant message from popular culture, religion, family and peer groups was "boy meets girl, they fall in love, get married (or not) and have kids and live happily ever after". There was no happily ever after for someone who felt what I was feeling.

Then, for one weekend in June, I would turn on the TV News and see thousands of people just like me, in places like New York, San Francisco and Chicago saying "No, that's not true, you are not alone, and there is a big wide world out here beyond Sun Prairie Wisconsin. So hang in there .... we're here and we're waiting for you!"

Now 30 years later, I watch coverage like this and it seems so endearingly cheesy. Yet at the time, it was a lifeline to people like me, living with the fear and isolation of being "in the closet".

Pride Celebrations are the original  "It Gets Better Project". 

My straight friends never needed to be told that being straight was okay, and that they were okay because nobody ever told them they weren't. Pride isn't about celebrating being Gay, it's about publicly showing that being LGBT is just as much a part of the the human experience as being straight is. I for one would love to see the day when Pride is obsolete. When that scared closeted gay kid, in some small town doesn't need to be told that he or she is fine just the way they are.

But until that day comes, I will be adding my voice to that joyous mob in places like Market Street in San Francisco, Oxford Street in London,  Halsted Street in Chicago, and Fifth Avenue in New York City. If for no other reason to let that kid know, it really does get better. There is a world where  "boy meets boy" and "girl meets girl", where they fall in love and (f they want to) get married, and yes, even live happily ever after...

Happy Pride Everyone.

Friday, June 02, 2017

What do I think of President Trump?

Earlier today, a dear friend of mine, who lives in Hong Kong messaged me on Facebook and asked me what did I think of President Trump? It is question that American Expats get asked often these days. The answer is, like the American political system itself, rather complex.

What do I think of Donald Trump? Hmmm… okay, well it is safe to say that historians will be kept gainfully employed for decades to come, all writing books on this very topic. I can only give you my thoughts on this. There are several key points you must look at in any examination of how we all got here. As is often the case, to do that we must start at the beginning...

Donald Trump is a product of privilege. Complete, total, and unearned privilege. He is someone who was born on the second highest step on the ladder, and now lauds himself as a “huge” success story for having “gotten to the top”. This is not a criticism, nor is it an attack on wealth. It is just a fact, and a critical one to understand, as it has informed Trumps world view, and his behaviour all throughout both his personal and professional life.

When faced with trouble, or serious personal challenges it was that privilege that got him past it. Be it problems in school, problems in his personal life, or even obligations he didn’t care to fulfil. (His numerous Vietnam draft deferments for a non-existent “bone spur” and his habit of just deciding not to pay vendors, or change the terms of contracts mid-stream and then sue into submission anyone who dares try to fight back, his multiple divorces, all are manifestations of this.)

As result of this…

Donald Trump is completely accustomed to always getting his own way. Any options that are not of his making or control are inherently wrong and unacceptable. The world of New York Real Estate is truly one of dog-eat-dog. Manhattan has a finite amount of land, for which there is a nearly infinite demand. For something new to go up, something old must come down, for one person to win a deal it means someone else must be the loser in that deal. Which means…

For Trump, success is a zero-sum gain proposition. In Trump's world for one person to succeed means another person must fail. Therefore, the world is seen through the singular lens, that in all things there are, and must be, winners and losers; and to be the winner is good, and the loser is always bad. This also means…

For Donald, partnerships are never about mutual success, they are only about expedience. Every partner is still your competition, who must eventually be defeated for you to be the winner. This approach will make you a great deal of money in real estate, but it has revealed the core fundamental flaw in Donald Trump as a leader.

Donald Trump is a remarkably insecure man. As someone who got to where he is more by circumstance of birth than by intellect or ability, Trump’s ego is incredibly fragile. As a performer, Trump is obsessed with ratings. (Be it crowd sizes or polling numbers, or twitter followers).
He is a man who talks about himself in such grandiose terms, often in the third person and nearly always ends with a demand for affirmation. (“believe me!”) This is a man who is trying to convince himself as much as those he is speaking to of how great he is. Anything that contradicts that view of himself as the winner, must be, in his mind “fake”, “rigged” or “very unfair".

In that quest for affirmation Trump finds role models in bullies. Be it Vladimir Putin, or President Duterte of the Philippines, or even North Korea's Kim Jung Un. So of course, his campaign colluded with the Russians. But I won’t go any further down that road here. Instead, we have to talk about the elephant in the room. By that, I mean the question historians will be asking for years to come; How did this man get elected President of the United States?

Donald Trump told the lies people were desperate to hear. As the global economy, the march of technology and social change redrew the American social and economic landscape there was a large sector of the American population that got left behind. The core industries of the rust belt states no longer exist in the same form they did in the years following World War II.

Globalisation forever changed that steel plant in Allentown PA which sprung out of the war effort and became a piston in the engine driving America’s middle class. That coal mine, that auto plant, and all the related business that sprung up around them, were all victims of the march of time. And for the last 40 years, both political parties have been unable to tell these people the hard sad truth. That their jobs were never coming back. Instead both parties told little white lies.

The republicans told them the answer was tax cuts for the rich, who would then invest in their communities and wealth would “trickle down” to them (It didn’t.  The people who got those massive Reagan- Bush 1 and Bush 2 tax cuts, were never going to invest that money in West Virginia, Ohio, or Pennsylvania, they took the money, and used it to get richer. Investment in America became about making money by moving money, not spending it on people.)

The Democrats told these people they just needed more education. If they went to their local community college and got continuing education and training in something new, then all these new economy jobs would come flooding in, as they were now a desirable workforce. (This also didn’t happen. Google, Apple, and Intel were never going to move from Silicon Valley to Hancock County, TN. If those newly educated workers moved themselves to Northern CA then sure, there was opportunity, but those opportunities were never going to move them.)

Then along came Donald Trump, and he loudly proclaimed what these economically desperate, angry people had been waiting for someone, anyone to say. Trump told them their problems were not their fault, and promised to make things like they used to be. Back to when if you were white, and reasonably literate that was enough. When people who were different were the ones who felt marginalized not you. It was lie, but it was a beautiful lie, that affirmed their anger and had a very real subtext that fed on racial and social animosity and fears.

The result? They voted form him in droves. Which brings us to another interesting truth about all this….

Donald Trump honestly didn’t expect to win. The plan always was to run, to lose and then use that exposure, that resulting fame to promote and expand the Trump brand. But then the impossible storm of improbable events all came together. The Clinton emails, The Sanders phenomenon, the Russian election hack (which was always more about hurting Clinton than helping Trump) You look at Trump in the days following the election, he looks like he is in shock. There was no transition plan ready. The Trump team at the first meeting with the Obama Administration, honestly didn’t know that the entire staff of the Executive Office of the President (The west wing staff) wasn’t going to stay on after Obama left.

Which brings us to the core issue with Trump…

The Government is not a business, and being President is not like being a CEO. When a new CEO comes into a company, what is the first thing nearly all of them do? They set about erasing all trace of their predecessors. The new CEO alone can “fix it” and anything the old CEO did was bad. If you do that as President you wind up with 24 million Americans losing health insurance, and America losing its leadership role on the world stage.

You can’t just sign executive orders like corporate memos and do whatever you want. The American system of government is set up so the Presidency is the weakest branch of government. Trump doesn’t understand that.

So, this is a very long run up to the answer to your question- What do I think of President Trump?

He is the most unfit man to ever hold the Presidency. While he is not evil, he is simply completely unqualified and totally unable to cope with complexities of the job. He is not smart enough, not patient enough and lacks a fundamental understanding of the role of the United States Government and the executive branch within that government.

The longer he remains in the job, the more damage he will do, to both the country and to the Republican Party, which is slowly coming to terms with the fact they have to remove him, and soon.

I am in no way thrilled by the prospect of President Pence and Vice President Ryan but the alternative is to do potentially irrevocable damage to the American Presidency and the nation as a whole,.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Thoughts on the Will & Grace Revival...

After 11 years in the re-run/box set  wilderness, they are coming back.

It apparently stems from the very positive reaction  to the mini-episode  the cast came together to film in the run-up  to the 2016  U.S. election.  Hmmm.. Okay.  This could go one of two ways.  It will either be brilliant  or  a complete bore, no middle ground there.

 Lets  talk about the big pink elephant in the room for a moment.  The idea that  as a television series  Will & Grace was "groundbreaking".    

The LGBT Community's  relationship  with  Will & Grace has always been "complicated".    As a prime time TV network sitcom,  yes... Will & Grace  was one of the first to feature gay lead characters.  But let's be very clear here,  Will & Grace was not a show about Gay  people.  It was a very funny sitcom about four  people  who were for all practical purposes, married to each other, (Will/Grace and Jack/Karen)   but would never, ever have sex.

Critics of the show love to point out that the series never addressed any of the  real issues that the LGBTQ community faced.  HIV,  hate crimes,  trans issues, etc.,  were pretty much non-existent in the  make believe New York world of  Will Truman and Grace Adler.   This criticism while true,  misses  the real reasons why Will & Grace was a good thing a decade ago, and may just be a great thing to be bringing back now.

To my LGBTQ fiends here is the thing we need to remember.   Will & Grace was never meant  for us.

It was always meant for, well... Your Mom.  And My Mom, and her friends and their friends . People for whom watching shows like "Queer as Folk".or "The L Word", or more recently, "Looking" would have been both really unlikely and highly traumatizing.   But instead  there were these very funny, somewhat endearing  and yes relatively harmless characters who charmed their way into their homes once a week.

I would wager serious money that many of us have heard Straight friends and family members actually cite watching Will & Grace as evidence of their support and acceptance of LGBT rights. As silly as that may seem on the surface;  (I once wrote that Will & Grace had about as much to do with American LGBT experience, as The Cosby Show did to the African American experience.) The fact is, Will & Grace did make a difference, and yes, it did have a real impact.

For many Americans, Gay people simply didn't exist as part of their world. Their problems and struggles were completely removed from their frame of reference. Then suddenly there was Will and Jack, in their homes every Thursday night. Commenting on hot guys, making gay culture references, and turning hateful stereotypes into the butt of gentle jokes. For those Americans, Will & Grace dispelled some of the mystery, and a great deal of the fear, that for them, surrounded "The Gays".

I know this first hand. Once back in late 2009 , I was sitting a a flight from Washington D.C. to London. The woman seated next to me asked what was the reason for my trip. I explained I was going to visit my fiancee  who lived in London.

She  asked would my wife be moving to America after we were married, I explained that because of the Defense of Marriage Act, I couldn't sponsor him to live in the United States. She then exclaimed excitedly how she remembered a Will & Grace episode where Grace had to marry Will's Canadian boyfriend ( played by Taye Diggs) to prevent him from being deported, and she thought it was just  "terrible that people  would have to do that just to be together."  She then went on to say how before having seen that episode,  the issue would have never even occurred to her.

That is who Will & Grace was for.  That woman sitting next to me on the plane.  Who was able to connect the  the dots between a funny TV show, and someone she was meeting in real life.    It's  also why now  just may be the perfect time for the show to come back.

Since the 2016 Presidential election,  there has been a spike in hate crimes against minority groups in the U.S.     A recent story in Slate Magazine detailed  the alarming rise in attacks against LGBTQ Americans,  where  often the attacker(s) cite the victory of Donald Trump as justification for their actions

Chris Ball, a Canadian film producer who lives in Calgary, was watching the election results pour in on Tuesday at a bar in Santa Monica, California, stunned with disbelief. Ball told Calgary Metro that as the outcome became clear, the atmosphere became tense and volatile, with other patrons yelling anti-gay slurs at him. “We got a new president, you f**king faggots,” one Trump supporter reportedly said. After the altercation, Ball was jumped while attempting to walk to his car, and the attackers smashed a beer bottle over his head. He blacked out after his skull slammed against the pavement.

So it just may be  time bring back  "that nice Will Truman and funny Jack McFarland"  to once again  get people who are not bigots, but for whom the issues  are just not that visible, to  "connect the dots."    If you wouldn't want your favorite TV sitcom character to get gay bashed or have their civil rights taken away,  it just might just make you less tolerant of it happening to people in your own neighborhood. 

As for the for rest of us,  there will undoubtedly be some funny Trump jokes, and  after all,  we all know the show was really about Jack and Karen anyway.

Welcome back Kids...

Friday, May 12, 2017

Why Some People Believe Donald Trump...

From HuffPost UK

Some supporters of President Donald Trump believe just about everything he says, even when he’s 
wrong. And Trump himself seems to have absolute confidence in his own beliefs ― again, even when he is demonstrably wrong. But there is a psychology lesson that could help explain it, according to  
Cambridge University-educated actor Stephen Fry, who was voted the most intelligent person on TV in the United Kingdom.

For example, researchers found students who were least proficient often overestimated their own 

“The skills they lacked were the same skills required to recognize their incompetence,” Fry said. 
“The incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence buoyed by something that feels 
to them like knowledge.” 

That’s now known as the Dunning-Kruger effect

In a new clip that Pindex put together, Fry also explains how Salience Bias and the power of repetition help shape views more than facts.

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance,” Fry says in the clip. “It is the illusion of 

Check it out Below:

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Brilliant... Just Watch it.

Rachel Maddow with a brilliant examination of one what is fundamentally wrong with the Trump Administration .

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Part Three in the LA Times Editorial Series on the Trump Presidency

Trump’s Authoritarian Vision


APRIL 4, 2017

Standing before the cheering throngs at the Republican National Convention last summer, Donald Trump bemoaned how special interests had rigged the country’s politics and its economy, leaving Americans victimized by unfair trade deals, incompetent bureaucrats and spineless leaders.

He swooped into politics, he declared, to subvert the powerful and rescue those who cannot defend themselves. “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”

To Trump’s faithful, those words were a rallying cry. But his critics heard something far more menacing in them: a dangerously authoritarian vision of the presidency — one that would crop up time and again as he talked about overruling generals, disregarding international law, ordering soldiers to commit war crimes, jailing his opponent.

Trump has no experience in politics; he’s never previously run for office or held a government position. So perhaps he was unaware that one of the hallmarks of the American system of government is that the president’s power to “fix” things unilaterally is constrained by an array of strong institutions — including the courts, the media, the permanent federal bureaucracy and Congress. Combined, they provide an essential defense against an imperial presidency.

Yet in his first weeks at the White House, President Trump has already sought to undermine many of those institutions. Those that have displayed the temerity to throw some hurdle in the way of a Trump objective have quickly felt the heat.

Consider Trump’s feud with the courts.

He has repeatedly questioned the impartiality and the motives of judges. For example, he attacked the jurists who ruled against his order excluding travelers from seven majority Muslim nations, calling one a “so-called judge” and later tweeting:

Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 5, 2017

It’s nothing new for presidents to disagree with court decisions. But Trump’s direct, personal attacks on judges’ integrity and on the legitimacy of the judicial system itself — and his irresponsible suggestion that the judiciary should be blamed for future terrorist attacks — go farther. They aim to undermine public faith in the third branch of government.

The courts are the last line of defense for the Constitution and the rule of law; that’s what makes them such a powerful buffer against an authoritarian leader. The president of the United States should understand that and respect it.

Other institutions under attack include:

1 The electoral process. Faced with certified election results showing that Hillary Clinton outpolled him by nearly 3 million votes, Trump repeated the unsubstantiated — and likely crackpot — assertion that Clinton’s supporters had duped local polling places with millions of fraudulent votes. In a democracy, the right to vote is the one check that the people themselves hold against their leaders; sowing distrust in elections is the kind of thing leaders do when they don’t want their power checked.

2 The intelligence community. After reports emerged that the Central Intelligence Agency believed Russia had tried to help Trump win, the president-elect’s transition team responded: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” It was a snarky, dismissive, undermining response — and the administration has continued to belittle the intelligence community and question its motives since then, while also leaking stories about possibly paring and restructuring its ranks.

It is bizarre to watch Trump continue to tussle publicly with this particular part of the government, whose leaders he himself has appointed, as if he were still an outsider candidate raging against the machine. It’s unnerving too, given the intelligence services’ crucial role in protecting the country against hidden risks, assisting the U.S. military and helping inform Trump’s decisions.

3 The media. Trump has blistered the mainstream media for reporting that has cast him in a poor light, saying outlets concocted narratives based on nonexistent anonymous sources. In February he said that the “fake news” media will “never represent the people,” adding ominously: “And we’re going to do something about it.” His goal seems to be to defang the media watchdog by making the public doubt any coverage that accuses Trump of blundering or abusing his power.

4 Federal agencies.
In addition to calling for agency budgets to be chopped by up to 30%, Trump appointed a string of Cabinet secretaries who were hostile to much of their agencies’ missions and the laws they’re responsible for enforcing. He has also proposed deep cuts in federal research programs, particularly in those related to climate change. It’s easier to argue that climate change isn’t real when you’re no longer collecting the data that documents it.

In a way, Trump represents a culmination of trends that have been years in the making.

Conservative talk radio hosts have long blasted federal judges as “activists” and regulators as meddlers in the economy, while advancing the myth of rampant election fraud. And gridlock in Washington has led previous presidents to try new ways to circumvent the checks on their power — witness President George W. Bush’s use of signing statements to invalidate parts of bills Congress passed, and President Obama’s aggressive use of executive orders when lawmakers balked at his proposals.

What’s uniquely threatening about Trump’s approach, though, is how many fronts he’s opened in this struggle for power and the vehemence with which he seeks to undermine the institutions that don’t go along.    It’s one thing to complain about a judicial decision or to argue for less regulation, but to the extent that Trump weakens public trust in essential institutions like the courts and the media, he undermines faith in democracy and in the system and processes that make it work.

“He sees himself as not merely a force for change, but as a wrecking ball.”

Trump betrays no sense for the president’s place among the myriad of institutions in the continuum of governance. He seems willing to violate long-established political norms without a second thought, and he cavalierly rejects the civility and deference that allow the system to run smoothly. He sees himself as not merely a force for change, but as a wrecking ball.

Will Congress act as a check on Trump’s worst impulses as he moves forward? One test is the House and Senate intelligence committees’ investigation into Russia’s meddling in the presidential election; lawmakers need to muster the courage to follow the trail wherever it leads. Can the courts stand up to Trump? Already, several federal judges have issued rulings against the president’s travel ban. And although Trump has railed against the decisions, he has obeyed them.

None of these institutions are eager to cede authority to the White House and they won’t do so without a fight. It would be unrealistic to suggest that America’s most basic democratic institutions are in imminent jeopardy.

But we should not view them as invulnerable either. Remember that Trump’s verbal assaults are directed at the public, and are designed to chip away at people’s confidence in these institutions and deprive them of their validity. When a dispute arises, whose actions are you going to consider legitimate? Whom are you going to trust? That’s why the public has to be wary of Trump’s attacks on the courts, the “deep state,” the “swamp.” We can’t afford to be talked into losing our faith in the forces that protect us from an imperial presidency.

This is the third in a series.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Part Two in the LA Times Editorial Series on the Trump Presidency

Why Trump lies


APRIL 3, 2017

Donald Trump did not invent the lie and is not even its master. Lies have oozed out of the White House for more than two centuries and out of politicians’ mouths — out of all people’s mouths — likely as long as there has been human speech.

But amid all those lies, told to ourselves and to one another in order to amass power, woo lovers, hurt enemies and shield ourselves against the often glaring discomfort of reality, humanity has always had an abiding respect for truth.

In the United States, born and periodically reborn out of the repeated recognition and rejection of the age-old lie that some people are meant to take dominion over others, truth is as vital a part of the civic, social and intellectual culture as justice and liberty. Our civilization is premised on the conviction that such a thing as truth exists, that it is knowable, that it is verifiable, that it exists independently of authority or popularity and that at some point — and preferably sooner rather than later — it will prevail.

Even American leaders who lie generally know the difference between their statements and the truth. Richard Nixon said “I am not a crook” but by that point must have seen that he was. Bill Clinton said “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” but knew that he did.

“He targets the darkness, anger and insecurity that hide in each of us and harnesses them for his own purposes."

The insult that Donald Trump brings to the equation is an apparent disregard for fact so profound as to suggest that he may not see much practical distinction between lies, if he believes they serve him, and the truth.

His approach succeeds because of his preternaturally deft grasp of his audience. Though he is neither terribly articulate nor a seasoned politician, he has a remarkable instinct for discerning which conspiracy theories in which quasi-news source, or which of his own inner musings, will turn into ratings gold. He targets the darkness, anger and insecurity that hide in each of us and harnesses them for his own purposes. If one of his lies doesn’t work — well, then he lies about that.

If we harbor latent racism or if we fear terror attacks by Muslim extremists, then he elevates a rumor into a public debate: Was Barack Obama born in Kenya, and is he therefore not really president?

An 'extremely credible source' has called my office and told me that @BarackObama's birth certificate is a fraud.

If his own ego is threatened — if broadcast footage and photos show a smaller-sized crowd at his inauguration than he wanted — then he targets the news media, falsely charging outlets with disseminating “fake news” and insisting, against all evidence, that he has proved his case (“We caught them in a beauty,” he said).

If his attempt to limit the number of Muslim visitors to the U.S. degenerates into an absolute fiasco and a display of his administration’s incompetence, then he falsely asserts that terrorist attacks are underreported. (One case in point offered by the White House was the 2015 attack in San Bernardino, which in fact received intensive worldwide news coverage. The Los Angeles Times won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on the subject).

If he detects that his audience may be wearying of his act, or if he worries about a probe into Russian meddling into the election that put him in office, he tweets in the middle of the night the astonishingly absurd claim that President Obama tapped his phones. And when evidence fails to support him he dispatches his aides to explain that by “phone tapping” he obviously didn’t mean phone tapping. Instead of backing down when confronted with reality, he insists that his rebutted assertions will be vindicated as true at some point in the future.

Trump’s easy embrace of untruth can sometimes be entertaining, in the vein of a Moammar Kadafi speech to the United Nations or the self-serving blathering of a 6-year-old.

“He gives every indication that he is as much the gullible tool of liars as he is the liar in chief.”

But he is not merely amusing. He is dangerous. His choice of falsehoods and his method of spewing them — often in tweets, as if he spent his days and nights glued to his bedside radio and was periodically set off by some drivel uttered by a talk show host who repeated something he’d read on some fringe blog — are a clue to Trump’s thought processes and perhaps his lack of agency. He gives every indication that he is as much the gullible tool of liars as he is the liar in chief.

He has made himself the stooge, the mark, for every crazy blogger, political quack, racial theorist, foreign leader or nutcase peddling a story that he might repackage to his benefit as a tweet, an appointment, an executive order or a policy. He is a stranger to the concept of verification, the insistence on evidence and the standards of proof that apply in a courtroom or a medical lab — and that ought to prevail in the White House.

There have always been those who accept the intellectually bankrupt notion that people are entitled to invent their own facts — consider the “9/11 was an inside job” trope — but Trump’s ascent marks the first time that the culture of alternative reality has made its home at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

If Americans are unsure which Trump they have — the Machiavellian negotiator who lies to manipulate simpler minds, or one of those simpler minds himself — does it really matter? In either case he puts the nation in danger by undermining the role of truth in public discourse and policymaking, as well as the notion of truth being verifiable and mutually intelligible.

In the months ahead, Trump will bring his embrace of alternative facts on the nation’s behalf into talks with China, North Korea or any number of powers with interests counter to ours and that constitute an existential threat. At home, Trump now becomes the embodiment of the populist notion (with roots planted at least as deeply in the Left as the Right) that verifiable truth is merely a concept invented by fusty intellectuals, and that popular leaders can provide some equally valid substitute. We’ve seen people like that before, and we have a name for them: demagogues.

Our civilization is defined in part by the disciplines — science, law, journalism — that have developed systematic methods to arrive at the truth. Citizenship brings with it the obligation to engage in a similar process. Good citizens test assumptions, question leaders, argue details, research claims.

Investigate. Read. Write. Listen. Speak. Think. Be wary of those who disparage the investigators, the readers, the writers, the listeners, the speakers and the thinkers. Be suspicious of those who confuse reality with reality TV, and those who repeat falsehoods while insisting, against all evidence, that they are true. To defend freedom, demand fact.

This is the second in a series.