If It Was A Joke, We’re Not Laughing.

After encouraging Russia to hack the former Secretary of State’s website and reveal 33,000 of her personal emails, the Republican “Presidential” nominee now says he was joking. Having seen his plea to Russia at his news conference, it sure didn’t seem like a joke at the time. And no one was laughing. Not the FBI, not the NSA, not the CIA, not the White House, not the media, not even Republican members of Congress.

And given that the “clarification” was spewed from the mouth of the would-be Liar-In-Chief, it’s difficult to take it seriously. Indeed, the clarification is much more laughable than the original statement.

What is even less funny is the fact that a candidate for the most powerful office in the world called for one of our nation’s greatest adversaries to commit a cyber attack on a rival candidate in order to influence the election. Military leaders called it “unbelievable,” “disqualifying,” and “shocking and dangerous.” Some called for him to be denied the national security briefings traditionally given to the parties nominees for president out of fear that he might share the information with his Russian friends.

Taken by itself, Trump’s request might have been easily dismissed as just another of his bat-crap crazy statements designed to get media attention. But put his plea into the context of his previous statements of admiration for Vladimir Putin; of his campaign manager Paul Manafort’s ties to Vladimir Putin; of his nearly $60 million in profit from the sale of a Florida home to a Russian oligarch; of the reported investments in Trump’s enterprises by Putin’s friends; of his refusal to release income tax statements that might show his ties to Russian oligarchs; of his announcement that, if elected, he might not stand with our NATO allies; of his taking delight in the hack of the DNC email server by Russian intelligence agencies and the subsequent release of DNC emails by Wikileaks. With all of those combined, you have the makings of a real conspiracy – the very real possibility that Trump is conspiring with a foreign power to meddle in a US election in order to affect the outcome.

Trump has acknowledged that he is running on the same law and order theme used by Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. Is it possible that Trump is trying to one-up the Nixon campaign’s burglary of the DNC’s Watergate offices? Is it possible that he has so little regard for the US electorate that he thinks, unlike Nixon, he can get by with it?

At times, it seems that Trump’s campaign is a bizarre parody of itself – an attempt to test the limits of American politics; to see how much free publicity he can garner; to see how outrageous he can be before the reaction is so overwhelmingly negative that he has to walk back his statements; to test the gullibility of American voters.

As a result, I half-expect that one day, before the election, he’ll step to a microphone and announce that his entire campaign has been a practical joke. In fact, it already is.

How Can We Ever Hope To Bring Americans Together?

Regardless of which candidate wins this year’s presidential election, it’s all but certain that Americans will be more divided than ever. We’re divided by far more than politics. We’re divided by ideology; by media choices; by attitudes toward guns and violence; by attitudes toward the environment; by a woman’s right to decide what is right for her own body; by energy policy; by foreign policy and military intervention; by acceptance and tolerance for those who are different than ourselves; by faith.

As the US, like many other nations, lurches farther to the right, it seems that we cannot agree on anything. One side accepts science while the other relies almost exclusively on faith. One side believes in evolution while the other side believes in creationism. One side works to abate climate change while the other side calls it a hoax. One side embraces other cultures and ethnic groups while the other side chooses to discriminate against them. One side accepts authority and bullying while the other fights against it. One side supports corporatism (aka fascism) while the other supports individuals. One side celebrates wealth and power while the other side celebrates the working class. One side worships individualism while the other side worships community and collectivism. One side demands status quo while the other side demands expanded civil rights.

No matter which candidate wins in November, roughly half of the population will vehemently oppose the winner’s policies.

It would seem that the only thing that can possibly pull our nation together is a disaster – a military or terrorist strike against our nation or a financial calamity on the order of the Great Depression. Ironically, the burst of the housing bubble and the ensuing Great Recession were not enough to create unanimity. Ignoring the facts, each side simply blamed the other for their hardships.

In order to seek more palatable solutions, we must first look at how we arrived at this point. It began with the Nixon-Agnew strategy of divide and conquer. It continued with the GOP’s embrace of southern bigots and evangelicals along with Paul Wyerich’s strategy of voter suppression. It accelerated with the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine which allowed electronic media to choose up sides and lie at will. And it was cemented by Newt Gingrich’s embrace of parliamentary-style politics which disdained any form of compromise.

So what can we do?

1. To begin, we should all demand more of our media by reinstating a Fairness Doctrine that would require all media, both electronic and print, to operate in the public interest. That means to tell the truth and hold politicians accountable.
2. We should overturn voter suppression laws and make voting easy, maybe even mandatory, for all American citizens.
3. We should bring transparency to campaign finance and overturn Citizens United.
4. We should, once again, make it illegal for corporations to contribute to political campaigns.
5. We should break the lobbyists’ hold on Congress by passing laws to end the revolving door from Congress to lobbying groups, and to limit lobbyist access to Congress.
6. We should end all forms of gerrymandering by passing laws to put control of congressional redistricting into the hands of independent commissions.
7. We should demand that the IRS reinstate restrictions that prevent non-profits from disguising their political focus, thus doing away with PACs and Super PACs.
8. We should institute term limits on all Senators and Congressional Representatives. If it makes sense to limit the president to two terms, it should make sense to do the same for Congress.
9. We should hold the individuals who manage political campaigns liable for lies and disinformation. That would prevent them from avoiding election fraud by simply dissolving the campaign entities following an election,
10. We should demand more of ourselves. We should each seek to inform ourselves about the candidates and the issues in order to meet the expectations of our Founding Fathers by becoming an enlightened and informed voting public.

Even if you don’t agree with these proposals, we must do something. And we must do it now. It may be our only hope for unifying our nation and moving it forward. Indeed, at the risk of being seen as hyperbolic, it may be the only way to avoid another Civil War.

Has The Democratic Party Awakened From Its Coma?

The recent filibuster calling for a vote on common sense gun safety gives me hope. It forced a vote which will put each member of Congress on record and make them accountable to their constituents instead of the NRA. After all, a whopping majority of Americans favor universal background checks. And an even greater majority favor blocking the legal sale of guns to potential terrorists who have been placed on the no-fly list.

That offers hope. But will Democrats show the same intestinal fortitude on other critical issues? Will they stand for income and wealth equality, including a living wage for all workers? Will they stand up for racial justice? Will they fight for equality of all people, regardless of gender, color or sexual orientation? Will they stand against Republicans who want to take food away from impoverished children? Will they stand up to the fossil fuel industry to address climate change? Will they stand against voter suppression? Will they stand against the corruption and waste of military contractors? Will they stand up for a woman’s right to control her own body?

Certainly, Democratic politicians have long given lip service to such issues. But they have seldom shown the courage of their convictions – to fight the good fight even if it risks their re-election.

This timidity has been used against them for decades. Republicans have long realized that Democrats can be steamrolled; that they’re willing to compromise, even if it means compromising their strongly-held beliefs. It has caused them to lose the respect of many voters who view them as spineless and weak – unable to get things done.

You see, many voters don’t look at the reasons behind legislative failures. They don’t understand the power of the filibuster and the willingness of Republicans to block Democratic initiatives even if it means damaging the nation. The voters only see failure. They see a party unable to keep its promises.

Hopefully, the Democrats’ strong stance on gun safety will mark a change that will benefit us all.

Understanding The Trump Phenomenon.

The success of Trump the candidate seems to have confused liberals and conservatives alike. But it’s really not that difficult to understand if you look at the underlying causes.

First, there is great dissatisfaction among many Americans on both sides of the political spectrum. Both sides see growing poverty and a struggling middle class while, at the same time, a privileged few are thriving. Both see a dysfunctional Congress that now represents only a fraction of its constituents – those with the money and power to call in political favors.

As a highly accomplished con man, Trump has tapped into the voters’ smoldering anger toward government, fueled by Fox News Channel and virtually the entire radio spectrum of rightwing, hate radio. Using a tactic perfected by unsavory dictators, he has successfully focused the blame for our problems on outsiders and those on the fringes of our society. He has convinced a substantial portion of our population that the nation is struggling as the result of Mexican immigrants, Muslims, China and “political correctness” – an oversensitivity for minorities, Muslims, immigrants, women and the disabled. That has invited angry white men to dig out their Klan sheets and to say whatever racist, sexist things that cross their degenerate minds.

Far from being the successful business leader his supporters believe him to be (he is one of the few to ever lose money as the owner of a casino), Trump is really only accomplished at the arts of persuasion and branding. He refuses to deal in specifics, understanding that emotions matter more than facts or even truth.

Capitalizing on what I would call the Kardashian effect, Trump understood that his celebrity and outrageous statements are good for media. As a result, he has been able to manipulate the media’s greed to the point that CNN and even the so-called liberal cable network, MSNBC, were willing to spend airtime focused on an empty Trump podium waiting for Trump’s latest rant than to cover a policy speech by Hillary or a large rally for Bernie.

Trump has benefited from the chronically short attention spans of the public – a public unwilling, or unable, to research or to comprehend the issues. A public that disdains nuance and complicated answers for complex subject matter. An impatient public that views the world as black or white; good or bad; right or wrong. He has also benefited from a political environment based on tribalism – knowing that even those members of his party who despise him and everything he stands for will eventually fall in line to support him. And he has seemingly embraced the strategy of former GOP strategist, Paul Weyrich, who correctly posited that suppressing the vote – even if it means alienating a majority of potential voters – benefits Republicans.

Finally, he has benefited from a chronically disorganized and divided Democratic Party – a Party that lacks clear, decisive leadership; a Party that, without control of the media, has struggled to articulate its accomplishments and its message; a Party that has made it easy for people like Trump, Cruz, Ryan, McConnell, et al to promise everything, but deliver nothing.

Do Facts Still Matter?

Based on statements by the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee, one would have to say no. (More than 90 percent of Trump’s statements have been rated untrue.) Moreover, the voting record of Republican congressional representatives consistently shows that, on most issues, they base their votes more on ideology that on facts, or even the majority opinion of the people.

How else can you explain Republican opposition to expanding background checks on gun sales despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans support them? How else can you explain the fact that our Republican-led Congress refuses to act on climate change in direct opposition of the overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists, the majority of the nation’s leading research institutions, the Department of Defense, NASA, even the world’s religious leaders?

The list of public-supported issues that are consistently blocked by Republican representatives is a very long one. Yet the public has voted for a Republican majority in Congress. They have voted for a depressingly large number of Republican gubernatorial candidates. And they have voted for an even more depressing number of Republican legislative candidates.

This phenomenon can only be explained by the following:

Psychological studies have shown that conservatives and Republicans base their political decisions on faith. Not facts. Similarly, studies of media habits have shown that Republicans limit their exposure to media that are ideologically aligned, while Democrats seek out media that present various opinions. Worse, conservatives believe that any facts that don’t align with their strongly-held beliefs are bogus. They refuse to trust Democrats, the so-called “lamestream” media, or even their own government.

They are utterly and completely immune to facts.

Keep that in mind as we approach this coming election. Go ahead and confront your conservative friends and relatives with the facts. Encourage them to learn the facts from books such as “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, “That’s Not What They Meant!” by Michael Austin or “Antidote to Fact-Free Politics” by yours truly. At least you can feel that you’ve tried to expose them to the truth.

But don’t expect to change their minds.

Still, knowing that you tried to make a difference may help preserve your sanity when you learn that they voted for a lying, misogynistic, self-aggrandizing, tantrum-throwing, fact-denying, mob-connected, tax-evading billionaire bully who will almost certainly act against their interests.

Okay, GOP. Now What?

The past weekend’s results in South Carolina and the suspension of Jeb! Bush’s campaign leaves only one GOP candidate with the credentials to be president…John Kasich. And though he is extreme enough to collect the votes of some conservatives, he has little chance of winning.

The only candidates who have a real chance of winning the GOP nomination are a bombastic bully (Donald Trump) who could be the first candidate to actually make money in pursuit of the nomination; a theocratic snake (Ted Cruz) whose unusual version of Christianity led him to call for the indiscriminate carpet bombing of cities; and a remote-controlled robot (Marco Rubio) who takes direction from Glenn Beck and the same group of neo-con warmongers who manipulated the government under George W. Bush.

None of the three has the qualifications to hold the world’s most powerful office. Moreover, they all promise what they can and will do while offering few details of how they will do it. Little wonder. The few detailed plans they have offered are completely unworkable. For example, the tax plans put forward by the top 3 candidates would dramatically escalate both the deficit and national debt. According to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, Trump’s plan would add $11.2 trillion to the national debt over the next decade. Cruz’s plan would add $10.2 trillion to the national debt. And Rubio’s plan would add a mere $8.2 trillion.

And these are the so-called conservatives?!! By comparison the current president they all hate so much is a piker…a true skinflint.

In addition, the GOP candidates would repeal Obamacare, once again making healthcare unaffordable for tens of millions of Americans. All of them would ignore climate change. Two of the Republican leaders claim they would deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. One (Trump) would ban Muslims from the US – a promise that appealed to 75 percent of the registered Republicans in South Carolina. Is it any wonder then that he won the primary?

For today’s GOP, it’s obvious that facts, truth, constitutionality and morality no longer matter. Instead of appealing to voters’ intellect, these candidates have chosen to appeal to emotions…specifically the emotions of hate and fear. Of course, if you have been paying attention to rightwing radio, Fox News Channel and Republican campaigns for the past several decades, that will come as no surprise.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress and rightwing media have done their best to destroy one of the most qualified presidential candidates. They continue to attack Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server while serving as Secretary of State. Never mind that her immediate predecessors also used private servers and received classified emails. Never mind that she has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the State Department and the FBI. She must have done something wrong if she is a Democrat who worked for President Obama. And Bernie Sanders? Even though he has been largely ignored by the media, he’s a Socialist Democrat! What more do you need to know? And though Republicans have not bothered to attack him, Hillary’s campaign and her surrogates have. Four of Bill Clinton’s economic advisers have pronounced Sanders’ plans as unaffordable. But wait! Other economists, including Robert Reich, Labor Secretary under President Clinton have endorsed Sanders’ plans, saying they could not only work, his universal health plan alone could save trillions of dollars.

But what are you going to trust? The facts and reason? Or your emotions and the lying Republicans?

What Does Your Party Stand For?

These days, it’s popular to say that there is no real difference between the political parties; that they are both in the pockets of large corporations. While it is true that, following recent Supreme Court decisions, both parties rely on the wealthy for campaign donations, there are sizeable differences in what the two parties stand for.

Based on its actions of the past 50 years, here’s what the Republican Party stands for: Large corporations, increased corporate welfare, increased mining, increased oil production, increased deforestation, increased corporate farming, increased corporate fishing, off-shoring of jobs and corporate profits, unfettered financial markets, tax cuts for corporations, tax cuts for the wealthy, privatization of Social Security, elimination of Medicaid and Medicare, elimination of Obamacare, more defense spending, more wars, more militarization of police, more guns (except at GOP events), the end of legal abortions, reduced access to contraception, elimination of the minimum wage, elimination of food stamps for the needy, elimination of estate taxes, elimination of labor unions, elimination of defined benefit pensions (except for corporate executives), elimination of family leave (except for corporate executives), elimination of the EPA, elimination of the FDA, elimination of the Dept. of Labor, elimination of the Dept. of Education, elimination of free public education, deportation of all undocumented immigrants, discrimination against women, discrimination against college students, discrimination against people of color, discrimination against gays, discrimination against non-Christians, a new Constitution based on the Ten Commandments, and limited voting rights based on color, age and income.

Here’s what the Democratic Party stands for: Virtually everything the Republican Party is against.

I truly wish all of this was an exaggeration. But, in fact, all of these policies have been supported by one or more of the GOP presidential candidates either by words or action.

Why Let Politics And Religion Divide Us?

In the past 20-30 years, politics have been increasingly used to identify and separate us. We are no longer people who hold a variety of complex ideas that we believe could improve the human condition. We have been reduced to conservatives or liberals…Democrats, Republicans or…gasp… Independents. We cannot have nuanced views. We must join a tribe. And, according to our political leaders, we must support that tribe unconditionally. Our tribe can never be wrong.

In the immortal words of George W. Bush, “You’re either with us or against us.” There is no room for compromise. Indeed, the Speaker of the House – the man twice removed from the presidency – cannot even bring himself to say the word.

Similarly, religion has become more than a personal belief or a matter of faith. It has become a source of identity…an exclusionary club that shows our superiority. “Only my religion knows the true path to everlasting life and salvation. Unless you join us, you will be going to hell.” You can no longer be an individual. You cannot, as Jesus commanded, “… go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.” You must join a club…the bigger the better.

You must share your beliefs with anyone who will listen and try to force them on everyone else. You must ask others to share the expense of your clubhouses by proclaiming them free of property taxes. You must accept the belief that God has chosen our nation, our party and our sports teams above all others. You must thank God for every touchdown, every goal and every victory. You must petition the government to create and protect monuments to your beliefs on public property. You must demand that the public pray as you would pray before and after any public event. And if they won’t, you must condemn the non-believers for waging a “war” on your faith.

Does it really have to be this way? Are we so uncertain of ourselves that we must rely upon organizations and others to define us? Is there no longer room for individualism? No room for a diversity of beliefs and attitudes? Can we not tolerate others who do not believe as we do? Must we try to force our beliefs on others? Must we victimize others through racism, sexism and a variety of other ‘isms?

Mere labels cannot, and should not, define us. Is it not enough to be defined as human?

Pillorying Hillary.

The media is trying to turn the fact that Hillary Clinton used a personal email account as Secretary of State into another scandal. Of course, the right wing wants us to believe that it is part of the Benghazi conspiracy – a conspiracy that has been debunked by 6 separate commissions. Indeed, the so-called “Select Committee” on Benghazi has long known that Clinton eschewed a government email account like Colin Powell and several other of her predecessors. As long as she is willing to provide access to the account, who really cares? And, given the fact that, at the very beginning of her term in the office, the State Department’s website was hacked revealing thousands of embarrassing emails that strained relationships between the US and other nations, it may have been better for our country that she used a private account. It was likely more secure!

None of the scandal-mongering should come as any real surprise to those of us who were conscious during the early nineties. Remember Whitewater, the “conspiracy” that consisted of the Clintons losing their investment in a failed development? Remember the “Billary” health care proposal, the health care system we should have? Remember “Travelgate?” Remember the outlandish right wing accusations that Hillary had ordered the murder of Vince Foster?

Like the Obama administration, the Clinton administration was hounded by right wingers who claimed to see a conspiracy under every rug and around every corner. Yet, after years of accusations, dozens of taxpayer-funded investigations, a special prosecutor, and a right wing-led witch hunt costing more than $60 million, the closest thing to illicit activity found was a sexual indiscretion in which the former president received a consensual blowjob – something less than the sexual trysts of previous presidents that, according to historians, make Bill Clinton seem like a faithful husband.

That the corporate propagandists, otherwise known as the mainstream media, would begin assaulting Hillary’s reputation more than a year before her presumed campaign for president is predictable. The right wing hopes that, in doing so, they can derail her candidacy even before the campaign begins, leaving the Democratic Party with no clear front-runner. At the same time, she is being attacked by the left as the progressive members of the Democratic Party hope to push her to the left.

They should be careful what they wish for.

Though I am disgusted at the notion of political dynasties (if Hillary wins, 2 members of the Bush family and 2 Clintons will have held the office of president for at least 24 years), Hillary is by far the better choice over a third, more corrupt, Bush or any of the nut jobs now aspiring for the Teapublican nomination.

Delusional Democrats.

The midterm electoral ass-kicking should be a wake-up call for Democrats. Yet, in the hours following the debacle, all I’ve seen and heard are the same old lame excuses. “Democrats only turn out for presidential elections.” “Our candidates were swamped by a tsunami of dark money.” “It’s the result of Obama’s unfavorable numbers.” “With the growing number of minorities, it’s inevitable that Democrats will win in the future.” And, my favorite, “We don’t belong to an organized political party. We’re Democrats.”

Although I hate it, that last excuse is more true than I’d like to admit. The Party is disorganized. It has no real leadership. It fails to communicate what it stands for, other than getting elected. Its messaging is pathetic. And its consultants are a joke!

More important, the Party and many of its candidates are gutless. Even though they had real accomplishments to promote – accomplishments that are popular with voters – they seemed afraid to stand up for them lest they be criticized by Teapublicans and their comments featured in a Teapublican attack ad. For example, during this election cycle, few Democratic candidates were willing to take credit for the Affordable Care Act that gave millions access to health insurance for the first time. Few would stand up for environmental issues. Few stood against climate change. Few would stand up for labor unions. Few would stand up for universal background checks for gun purchases. Few took credit for voting for the 2009 economic stimulus that kept the nation from sliding into the Great Depression II. Few stood behind Democratic economic policies that have the stock markets at historic highs and unemployment numbers at their lowest level in more than a decade. Few would take credit for getting our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Few would stand behind their Democratic president. And one even refused to acknowledge whether or not she voted for a Democrat for president!

To make matters worse, Democratic consultants begged the president not to take a stand on immigration reform in order to help red state Democrats who were almost certainly doomed to lose anyway. But that advice did have an effect. It cost several blue state Democrats their seats and it may have cost the Party the support of Latinos in the future. Yet their worst advice was to tell candidates to run away from the president and the Party’s accomplishments. Their only real strategy seemed to be, “a Republican said something stupid, send us money.” (I, for one, will not send the Democratic Party another dime until it gets its house in order and miraculously grows a spine.)

In truth, the Democratic candidates who took the advice of their Party got what they deserved.

But why would political consultants care if their advice is awful, anyway? Most will still be around for the next election, even if their candidates aren’t. And they will still be able to cash their rather substantial checks.

In my (hopefully temporary) home state of Arizona, the consultants advised Democratic candidates to base their campaigns on support for public education, including increased funding. But most Arizona voters don’t seem to care about public education. Many are too old to care and others simply don’t vote. As a result, every Democrat running for statewide office lost. Indeed, the voters showed how they really feel about education by rejecting numerous school bonds and apparently electing a Teapublican with absolutely no background or understanding of education to the position of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Her platform consisted of a single plank…stopping Common Core, the program created by Republican and Democratic governors that sets standards for schools across the nation. (It’s just as well, Arizona schools are so under-funded, few of the state schools could meet those standards anyway.)

And, rather than turning the state purple as the Party hoped, the far-right-wing Arizona voters passed yet another “sovereignty” bill designed to raise a collective middle finger to the federal government. The bill will encourage our very right-wing state government to challenge the federal government on any federal law with which our nincompoop-driven legislature disagrees. The result will be millions of Arizona taxpayer funds spent on lawsuits against the federal government that sends $1.50 to Arizona in federal spending for every $1.00 the state contributes in federal taxes.

Clearly, in this election, few Democrats went to the polls. Why would they? The Party gave them few reasons to vote. In hopes of attracting more women and more Latino voters, the Party essentially abandoned its core voters…its base. After all, if the Democratic Party won’t stand up for its own president and its own accomplishments, how can we trust that its candidates will stand up for us?