Keeping Track Of The Trump/GOP Agenda.

Voters and the media are all too aware of The Donald’s Twitter rants and the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in last year’s election. But while we’ve been distracted by the noise, here’s what Trump and the GOP have been doing in the shadows and away from the spotlight:

They passed and signed a bill overturning an Obama initiative to prevent the mentally ill from purchasing guns.

Trump signed an executive order withdrawing the United States from the Paris accords on climate change. We are now one of only 3 nations in the world – the others are Syria and Nicaragua – who are not part of the effort. And Nicaragua only refused to sign because they didn’t think the effort went far enough.

The administration has empowered ICE to arrest and deport thousands of undocumented workers, which has resulted in the separation of families and made it difficult for fruit and vegetable growers to find enough help for harvest.

Trump announced the end of DACA for the “Dreamers” who were brought to the US as children. Now the White House is making funding of a border wall a condition for signing a new bill that would allow Dreamers to stay in the US – the only country they know.

Trump pardoned former sheriff Joe Arpaio who was convicted for criminal contempt of court after refusing to stop racial profiling of Latinos. Arpaio also boasted of running a “concentration camp” for prisoners. Some even died while in custody.

Trump praised the actions of extreme dictators in Russia, Turkey and the Philippines.

Trump refused to denounce Nazis and white supremacists for the violence in Charlottesville while, at the same time, giving them a voice in the administration.

The DOJ announced that it is ending a program to track domestic terrorists.

They dramatically increased defense spending despite audits that have shown extensive waste and a lack of DOD oversight.

They attempted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with parliamentary tricks and no debate – an action that would have drastically cut Medicaid, defunded Planned Parenthood, and denied health care access to tens of millions of Americans.

They cut payments to insurance companies that compensate them for losses created by the pent-up demand for health care of new ACA enrollees.

After Congress failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the administration defunded publicity campaigns for ACA enrollment and shortened the enrollment period in an attempt to reduce participation in the ACA marketplaces.

Trump signed an executive order to further undercut the ACA by allowing insurance companies to offer bare bones plans that will effectively encourage the youngest and healthiest people to leave the program and make it financially impossible for insurance companies to offer affordable coverage to those who most need it, especially those with pre-existing conditions.

Trump cut subsidies to help pay the cost of health insurance for low income Americans.

Trump is also considering incentives for employers to set aside money to help employees pay insurance premiums, a move designed to allow them to end traditional employee insurance benefits.

Congress has thus far failed to extend CHIP, which provides health care to millions of poor children who are not eligible for public assistance.

The House passed a bill which would cut $39 billion from SNAP, the food stamp program for the poor.

The House passed a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks and making doctors vulnerable to prison.

They have packed the court system with young, extreme right-wing, anti-choice judges and justices.

Trump has violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution by profiting from foreign guests staying in his Washington, DC hotel.

Trump signed an executive order which allows employers to deny contraceptive coverage to employees forcing tens of thousands of women to pay for contraceptives themselves.

The EPA announced it is ending the Obama era clean energy rules which is designed to replace dirty fuels that contribute to climate change.

The EPA and NASA removed all references to climate change from their websites.

The administration increased the number of mining and oil drilling leases on federal lands, which will allow uranium mining in the Grand Canyon watershed.

The administration has refused to protect Walruses under the Endangered Species Act. At the same time, the administration is considering delisting Gray Wolves, Grizzly Bears and other species.

Trump has waged a name-calling war against the leader of North Korea, putting us on the precipice of nuclear war. Even if only conventional weapons are involved, millions of people would die on the Korean peninsula.

Trump restored many of the Cold War era restrictions on Cuba.

Trump’s proposed budget would make deep cuts to most government agencies, including Health & Human Services, the EPA, the State Department, the Agriculture Department, the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Institutes of Health, the Commerce Department, the Education Department, HUD, the Department of Transportation, the Department of the Interior and FEMA.

Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate numerous programs, including National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grants and programs that support coastal and marine management. It would cut funding for new transit programs, Amtrak, the UN’s Green Climate Fund, and the Clean Power Plan.

Trump’s proposed budget would make deep cuts to the popular Meals on Wheels program for shut-ins.

Trump has decided to “decertify” the treaty with Iran – an action that will almost certainly accelerate Iran’s nuclear program.

The Interior Department has proposed cutting the number and size of our national monuments.

The administration has proposed opening the Arctic, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to oil drilling.

Congress and the administration have proposed a tax “reform” bill that will give massive cuts to multinational corporations and the wealthy, provide a tax “holiday” for corporations that have stashed billions offshore to evade taxes, and eliminate the Estate Tax which only affects the very wealthy.

If you don’t think all of that is bad enough, consider the fact that the Trump-led GOP also hopes to replace public education with for-profit private schools, to replace our efficient Medicare program with vouchers and to privatize Social Security, effectively ending safety nets for the elderly and the poor. Or consider the millions spent on Trump’s weekly golf outings at his own properties. Or the millions spent on personal trips in private jets by his cabinet members.

This administration and this Congress are quietly doing everything in their power to undermine the health of our nation, our planet and the well-being of its citizens, except the most wealthy and the most powerful. My advice to voters and the media alike: Stop being outraged by Trump’s Twitter rages and start paying attention to the actions that he and his government are taking behind the scenes.

Can Democrats Win With Identity Politics?

Since the 2016 election, Mark Lilla and others have been decrying Democrats’ efforts to address the needs of individual groups, such as women, African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Jews, atheists, the LGBTQ community, minimum wage workers, labor unions, teachers, senior citizens, immigrants, environmentalists and others. Such efforts have been decried as “identity politics,” as if that is something negative.

Let’s stop and think about that for a moment.

The aforementioned groups represent some of the most vulnerable parts of our society. Yet, combined, they make up a significant majority of the nation’s population. And all of these groups are constantly under attack by Republican policies.

Republicans want to deny contraception and abortion to women, taking away their rights to control their own bodies and their lives. In addition, the GOP has used a variety of tricks – including gerrymandering, voter ID laws, reducing the number of polling places and early voting hours to suppress black votes. They have passed “show us your papers” laws to harass Latinos. They have passed laws to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people and non-Christians. They have fought increases to the minimum wage. They have fought collective bargaining. They have fought against raises and pensions for teachers. They’ve tried to take away health care from tens of millions of citizens. And they threaten to reduce or eliminate safety nets for the poor and the elderly.

Protecting these groups does NOT mean the Democrats are engaging in identity politics to show preference for some groups over others. It merely shows that they care for others.

Meanwhile, the GOP has engaged in its own brand of identity politics – focusing on protecting the interests of large, greedy corporations, the wealthy, intolerant evangelical “Christians” and white supremacists. Republicans pander to those who view others as commodities to be exploited or as threats to their dominance. In doing so, they foment fear and hate. Yet few political pundits question their strategy because they believe that is why Republicans have won the Oval Office and the majority of seats in Congress, as well as numerous gubernatorial seats and state legislatures.

However, the pundits tend to ignore the structural advantages that have led to those wins. Republicans control more than 90 percent of talk radio shows and numerous Internet “news” sites that shamelessly create false news stories and narratives.

Republicans benefit from a popular cable network that, under the cloak of a news organization, serves as a megaphone for the Republican National Committee. Through Sinclair Broadcast Group, they will soon control the majority of local TV news programming. They control an organization (ALEC) sponsored by large corporations that writes legislation for conservative legislators. They benefit from the Kochtopus, a maze of non-profit organizations that funnel billions into political races to support right-wing candidates. They even benefit from the sensational supermarket tabloids that specialize in stories attacking celebrities and glamorizing Trump.

All of this makes it easy for Republicans to engage in hateful politics that divide us.

Yet, despite these disadvantages, I believe that Democrats can still win, but not by abandoning the vulnerable. To win, the Democratic Party needs to improve its leadership and unify behind the party’s long-held principles of supporting the majority of Americans, especially those who cash paychecks rather than stock dividend checks. Democrats must continue to reach out to Americans who face discrimination, those who struggle to make ends meet, those who have retired, and those who need a helping hand.

The Democratic Party needs to better communicate its principles. It needs to create a brand; a brand that will make it crystal clear that it is unapologetically committed to improving lives and protecting the dignity of ALL Americans regardless of gender, race, religion, age or economic status.

The Democratic Party needs to hold Republicans accountable for trying to turn Americans against one another. It needs to offer hope for a kinder, more prosperous future.

In other words, it needs to explain that it represents “We the People.”

Why I Believe Trump Voters Are Worse Than Trump.

Trump is a sociopath. He is exactly who you see. There is no facade. He has made it perfectly clear that he’s a bully, a demagogue, a misogynist, a serial philanderer, a sexual predator, a racist, a promoter of hate and violence, an admirer of authoritarian dictators and a pathological liar.

He is, in fact, the poster boy for the seamy underbelly of society.

During the campaign, Trump proposed few policies and even fewer solutions for our nation’s problems. That means those who voted for him don’t get to claim that they voted for policies. They don’t get to pretend that they oppose racism. They don’t get to claim that they are caring of others. They don’t get to claim that they voted for civility. They don’t get to claim the moral high ground.

To excuse their vote, evangelicals and others now say that they were merely voting for change. Change from what? Change from a polite and caring society?

I can understand if voters didn’t trust Hillary. I disagree with the assessment, but I can understand it. And I can understand if you disagreed with some of her policies. But that’s no excuse! You had 16 other GOP candidates from which to choose in the primaries. And you had two other options in the general election. But you chose the narcissistic bigot, the obvious con artist who has defrauded others and even helped himself to charity funds donated to his own foundation.

In contrast, Hillary has a long track record of working to help others…particularly those who need help most. She successfully traveled the world to mend fences that were destroyed during the Bush administration. She opened negotiations with some of our adversaries in order to diminish threats to our nation. She worked to improve the plight of women and children around the world. And, along with her husband, she raised money to help end AIDS, poverty and hunger.

The only one Trump has helped is himself.

Truth is, your vote for Trump speaks volumes about who you are…the self-proclaimed “Christian” who voted for a wealthy bully; the “patriot” who voted for a man who was supported and enabled by our nation’s greatest rival; the “pro-lifer” who voted to endanger the lives of those less fortunate by taking away their access to health care; the “defender of freedom” who wants to limit the civil rights of Muslims, gays, lesbians and minorities.

Now, despite your candidate losing the popular vote by a significant margin, you have the gall to tell the rest of us to “get over it.” But getting over the fact that you elected an unqualified bigot to the most powerful office in the world is too much to ask.

You tell us that we owe it to the nation to support the president-elect. Okay. Should we support him in the same way you “supported” President Obama? The same way Trump supported Obama? By questioning his birthplace and his right to be president even though he was overwhelmingly elected by wide margins? By threatening him? By protesting outside presidential events armed with military-style weapons? By encouraging his opponents to buy guns to prevent his presumed tyranny? By marching with signs displaying racist images of the president? By blocking his every initiative with an endless number of filibusters?

You have already shown us how you “suck it up” and “support” your political opponents. You don’t get to play that card.

As for the racist attacks, the vandalism, and the hate crimes committed by your fellow Trump supporters, in my view, you are just as responsible as they are. You and your Cheeto Jesus are the ones who unleashed the hate groups and emboldened them to take action. That means you are all to blame.

Dear Trump Supporters, I Know Who You Really Are.

I’ve known you all my life. Contrary to being the country bumpkins as you’re portrayed in the media, many of you make a good living – a really good living. By the luck of nature, you were born into a world of white privilege that gave you numerous advantages over those with darker skin. You’re the people who race to climb up the economic ladder while refusing to reach out a helping hand to those behind you. You’re the farmer who complains about taxes and big government while accepting subsidies. You’re the people who screw over your neighbors during the week then go to church on Sunday and act pious. You’re the people who demand that your kids get in the best schools then vote against school bonds to help educate others.

You’re my sister’s former boss who tried to convince my parents that I was mentally ill simply because I opposed the Vietnam War and refused to kill men, women and children who had not threatened me or my country. Though you’re not overtly racist (except at Trump rallies), you tell racist jokes at family gatherings and at neighborhood parties. And, whenever you hear the word “welfare”, you wrongly picture a black or brown person instead of the white single mothers who receive the majority of welfare funds.

You are the people who readily send other Americans’ kids off to fight in ill-conceived wars while you fret over your investments in the stock markets. And by cheating on your taxes, you expect others to pay the bill.

You constantly talk about freedom, but you are all too willing to tell others how to live their lives. You want to deny civil rights to gays and lesbians; to transgender people; to Muslims; and to anyone else who looks, worships and thinks differently than you.

You want to meddle in women’s lives by denying them affordable contraception then requiring them to deliver unwanted babies – babies you refuse to help when they’re hungry or need medical care. At the most difficult time in a woman’s life, when she’s faced with the prospect of aborting an unviable fetus or die, you want to give her medical advice.

You’re the people who supported unregulated free market principles, but, when the economy crashed in 2008, you blamed the Great Recession on “free-spending” Democrats and homeowners who were merely trying to get their share of the American Dream. You’re the people who hopelessly over-simplify issues because you don’t want to clutter your minds with contradictory information. And, if you can’t understand the complexity of a problem like climate change, you just pretend it doesn’t exist.

You are the people who pass along vile, inaccurate and destructive chain emails without bothering to take the 30 seconds required to fact check them. In fact, you think fact-checkers are liberal eggheads who are hopelessly biased. You have the same attitude toward economists, scientists and other experts. Indeed, you think the only real experts appear on Fox News Channel, Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones and Brietbart News.

You are among the worst offenders when it comes to wasting the world’s limited resources for your own gain or pleasure without consideration for other nations or generations. You’re too busy to concern yourself with the consequences for the future. You think the world should be exactly as it was in 1959.

You’re bullies, the world’s largest group of gun owners, and you threaten to use them if you don’t get your way. You engage in the politics of destruction and howl when the tables are turned. Rather than discuss the merits of public policies and try to convince others to vote for them, you resort to a variety of tricks to suppress your opponents’ votes. When your people are in charge, you claim to have a mandate. But when Democrats are in charge, having been elected by larger margins, you will do anything to “stop their agenda”.

You have long claimed to be “values voters” but, by voting for Trump, you have proven that you have no values. You chose a psychopathic, philandering, pussy-grabbing, tax cheating, lying bully over a smart, capable, caring woman who has devoted her life to helping others. You claimed you voted for him because her emails proved she is untrustworthy – emails that proved no such thing. You even chose him knowing that he was being aided in his campaign by Vladimir Putin.

Now you expect Democrats to do what Republicans refused to do in 2009 – you expect them to work with that tangerine-colored buffoon. F*ck you. F*ck you all to hell.

We May Be Living In America’s Golden Age.

Contrary to what some politicians would have you believe, things in the world – and the US in particular – are not bleak. Indeed, a case can be made that things have never been better!

Fareed Zakaria’s Global Public Square on CNN pointed to statistics compiled by two Harvard professors. They show that, despite the events unfolding in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and Syria, worldwide, mass killings and genocides are near all-time lows. Violent crimes in the US have steadily declined since the 1990s. Incarceration is dropping. Victimization of children has dropped dramatically. Reported rape and sexual assaults in the US are near all-time lows. And, despite recent events, deaths of police are near an all-time low.

At the same time, Zakaria notes that the US economy is growing. The US emerged from the Great Recession better than any of the world’s other major economies. The US has produced more than 14 million jobs since 2009 – more than the 35 other advanced economies combined. US auto sales have climbed from 9.6 million in 2009 to 16.6 million last year. The US has surpassed Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas. US unemployment is now below 5 percent nationwide – a figure that is historically considered near full employment. Wages are gradually improving. Our tax burden is low compared to other advanced nations. Despite claims to the contrary, the overall tax burden of US corporations is among the lowest in the OCED (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development). Inflation is low while stock markets are at record highs. And, contrary to the beliefs of some, since 2009, more Mexican migrants have left the US than have entered it.

That’s right, the net rate of immigration from Mexico is below ZERO!

Those are the facts. If you doubt them, ask yourself: In which time period would you rather be living? The 1700s when the country was being founded on the backs of slaves? The 1800s when the nation was torn apart by slavery and white immigrants were committing genocide of Native Americans? The early 1900s when many of our citizens, including children, were forced to work seven days a week in sweat shops? When women and blacks were denied the right to vote? When we were embroiled in WWI?

How about the 1930s during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression? Or the 1940s when our men and women were dying on the battlefields of Africa, Asia and Europe? Would you rather be living in the 1950s when the top tax rate was 91 percent; when women were relegated to menial jobs and blacks were fighting (and dying) for the right to vote and to attend the same schools as whites; and when Americans were dying in Korea? Would you rather be living in the 1960s when we were fighting in Vietnam and at home over an ill-conceived war? Would you rather be living in the 1970s when both inflation and gas prices soared; when mortgage rates were as high as 25 percent, if you could qualify; and when women were routinely victimized in the workplace?

Would you rather be living in the 1980s when we were still engaged in the Cold War; when the national GDP fell; and when crime rates, incarceration rates and the national debt soared? Would you rather be living in the 1990s when incarceration rates continued to climb; when the economy rose out of the doldrums and when the federal government ran surpluses? Okay, I admit that might be a toss-up.

Would you rather be living in the early 2000s when we suffered the largest terrorist attack on our soil in history; when we invaded Afghanistan; when we invaded Iraq on false pretenses; when the government accumulated massive deficits and debt; and when the housing market caused the economy to implode?

Or would you rather be living now?

If you’re a white Christian male who has grown up believing that you are entitled to a life of privilege and power; if your media choices are Fox News Channel, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity and the like; or if you believe some of the lies told by politicians, you may want to return to a previous decade, or even a previous century. But, if you believe in science and facts; if you truly believe that all people are created equal regardless of race, religion or gender, you might just realize how lucky we are.

Certainly, there are many problems. Global climate change is a real and gathering threat. Our wilderness and oceans are being destroyed. Many species are being slaughtered. We must honestly face the problems of the past with regard to black slavery and the genocide of Native Americans. We must work to improve our policing and to lower incarceration rates. We must continue to improve Americans’ access to affordable health care. We must improve mental health care. We must find a way to get guns off of our streets. We must improve education and make it more affordable. We must rebuild our outdated and crumbling infrastructure. We must control greed and provide living wages to any who are willing to work full-time. We must find ways to create jobs to replace those that are being lost to robots and technology. We must strengthen our safety net programs for those less fortunate than ourselves. And we must rededicate ourselves to treat all people equally.

Nevertheless, all things considered, I choose to disregard the lies of politicians who portray our nation in crisis and the media who gleefully repeat their claims in search of higher ratings and profits. If not for the political divisiveness created by such people, we might all recognize how good we have it and that, if we choose to work together, things can be even better.

This is a golden age.

What The GOP Wants.

It’s easy to dismiss the mudslinging and hateful rhetoric of the speakers featured at the Republican National Convention as mere partisanship; as the typical hyperbole of a contested election. But the GOP platform shows that the fear and hate so prevalent at the convention is representative of the party’s deep-rooted beliefs.

On its surface, the GOP platform seems filled with platitudes and grandiose statements that may seem positive or, at worst, relatively harmless. But, if you look deeper, a different – more frightening – picture emerges.

The platform begins with a preamble that reaffirms the party’s commitment to the concept of “American Exceptionalism”… the very idea that led to the genocide of Native Americans, the meddling in foreign affairs, and the creation of “banana republics” as well as other puppet states that would be subservient to the US. And it further represents backward thinking by confusing the Constitution with the Articles of Confederation. (Yes, it’s true that our Founding Fathers originally committed to a limited federal government. But that was as a result of the differing beliefs of the original colonies, not the least of which was the colonies’ differing views toward slavery. But after the Revolution, the Founders wrote and ratified the Constitution which gives great, sweeping powers to the federal government.)

The platform only goes further downhill from there.

Despite our robust recovery from the Great Recession, the platform seeks to reinstate the very policies that led to the recession. It blames Democrats for the national debt despite the fact that the vast majority of the debt is the result of decisions made by the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations. Indeed, both the Clinton and Obama administrations have dramatically cut deficits created by Republicans.

The GOP platform calls for increased defense spending, claiming the Obama administration has shortchanged the defense budget for years despite the fact that the US currently spends more on the military than the next 9 nations combined – 7 of them strong US allies. And it contends that the Obama administration has refused to control our borders despite dramatic increases in border patrols and the apprehension and deportation of undocumented immigrants.

It claims that Democrats have attacked the production of energy and industry-related jobs while ignoring the reality that oil and gas production are at all-time highs, and that alternative energy production (wind and solar) has created millions of jobs. At the same time, the GOP denies the impact of technical innovation on the number of lost manufacturing jobs and its own role in providing tax incentives to multinational corporations that ship jobs overseas and hide profits offshore to avoid taxes.

The platform officially denies human-caused climate change while pandering to voters in coal country by proclaiming coal to be a “clean” energy source. It calls for a commitment to the already discredited “fair tax” that, if implemented, would not only give enormous tax breaks to the top 1 percent. It would add trillions to our national debt. And the platform perpetuates the myth that US corporations face the world’s highest tax obligations when, in reality, the US is tied with Tanzania for 64th in total tax obligations! Moreover, the US corporate tax obligation is lower than 22 of 32 OCED nations.

In addition to Trump’s notorious plan to build a wall along our Mexican border, the GOP would seek to build a virtual wall between us and our trading partners by trying to implement a series of harsh tariffs and other forms of bullying. The GOP would have you believe that Wall Street and corporations can regulate themselves free from any form of regulation. (We already know how disastrous that can be.) The platform pushes individual responsibility while excusing multinational corporations from their actions. At the same time, it seeks to diminish civil rights and equal opportunities for much of our population. It would also deny individuals many of the legal mechanisms needed to fight against injustice and predatory corporations.

The GOP platform calls for investment in our nation’s infrastructure while ignoring the fact that the only reason for our decaying infrastructure is the refusal of the party’s own members of Congress to vote for such initiatives. Moreover, Republicans didn’t just vote against those bills, they blocked many of them from ever coming to a vote. In addition, the platform continues the party’s long-standing attack on labor unions – the very institutions that helped build the middle class as the only way for workers to negotiate with management. (In case you haven’t noticed, as labor unions have been diminished, CEO and shareholder compensation have soared while the compensation of workers has stagnated. At the same time, the GOP has orchestrated the destruction of thousands of pension plans.)

Even more telling is the platform’s focus on exclusion – by unconstitutionally closing our borders to Muslims, by deporting millions of Latino immigrants, by denying civil rights to the LGBTQ community, by unconstitutionally establishing Christianity as the official religion of the US, and by diminishing the rights of women. In practice, GOP policies would diminish the rights of all those who look and think differently than white, male Republicans.

The party platform enshrines the GOP’s unwavering support of the 2nd Amendment. Yet, at the same time it embraces those who own the weapons of war, the GOP turns its back on those who are most vulnerable: Women who find themselves pregnant with a baby they cannot afford, women who wish to terminate a fetus that either endangers the mother’s life or is incapable of ever surviving on its own, the hopelessly impoverished who, without help, cannot reasonably expect to escape poverty; whose schools are underfunded; who live in areas without jobs and without access to public transportation.

The platform reaffirms the party’s intent to stack the judiciary from top to bottom with ideologues like the late Antonin Scalia. It would sell off public lands, including national parks. It would eliminate many regulatory agencies. It would privatize education and anything else that would allow corporations to profit. It would repeal Obamacare and return control of health care to insurance and pharmaceutical companies that would make health care unaffordable for tens of millions of Americans. It seeks to privatize Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. It would eliminate or diminish many of our other safety nets, including job training and food assistance.

The GOP platform indicates that the party will continue its assault on voting rights and its commitment to gerrymandering to ensure a GOP majority that does not reflect the composition of the voting public. It foments fear of others and distrust of government institutions. It doesn’t just seek to change government. It goes much further, seeking to impose a narrow set of “values” – to dictate morality and human behavior.

It is, perhaps, the most ideological document ever authored in the name of a political party. And, if implemented, it will negatively impact our nation for generations to come if, indeed, it doesn’t lead to its ultimate destruction. (If you think that’s mere hyperbole, consider the potential impact of the unabated burning of fossil fuels and environmental destruction that will make our planet uninhabitable.)

Mass Shootings Now Define Our Civilization.

Since the tragedy at Columbine, I have written blog posts calling for common sense gun safety. I have written and called my congressional representatives asking for universal background checks. I have taught self-defense classes debunking the notion that guns are a defensive weapon. I have demonstrated that carrying a gun does not protect you against an armed assailant who has the advantage of surprise. I have explained that being in a crowd of armed people makes you less safe. I have passed along academic studies that show that more guns equal more gun violence. I have tried to debunk the notion that an assault weapon is good for anything other than killing people. And millions of like-minded people have spoken out against gun violence.

None of it has worked.

Since Columbine, we have seen an average of more than one mass shooting (defined as incidents in which at least 4 people are killed or wounded) per day in the US. We’ve seen more than 100,000 shootings in our nation each year. We have seen lunatics with legal access to guns kill men and women. We’ve seen them murder theater-goers, church-goers and party-goers. We’ve seen them target black people, brown people, white people and gay people. We’ve seen them shoot doctors, nurses, lawyers, judges, teachers, government workers and a congresswoman. We’ve even seen them murder school children!

Over all that time, I’ve seen people use the 2nd Amendment to defend the rights of any individual to gain access to weapons of war. I’ve seen the NRA bribe legislators and congressional representatives to create even greater access to such weapons. I’ve heard political leaders foment hate, then call for national prayer when people act on that hate. I’ve heard so-called religious leaders (and I use the term loosely) claim that mass shootings are God’s vengeance for abortions, for accepting gays, for legalizing gay marriage, for allowing transgender people to use the bathroom. I’ve heard friends and relatives claim that mass shootings are merely the price we pay for freedom.

For whatever reason, we’ve been convinced to view gun violence as a matter of politics; as a matter of religion or policy. It is not. In fact, it’s the very essence of who we are as individuals. It defines our society.

If you think discrimination against others for any reason is acceptable, you cannot call yourself religious. If your pastor damns any group of people – whether they are people who look different, pray differently, love differently or have different beliefs – you do not belong to a church. You belong to a cult of hate. If you support politicians who privately accept money from the NRA to vote against gun safety bills then publically pray for the victims of gun violence, you are an accessory to murder. If you think someone who performs a legal medical procedure should be stopped at any cost, you do not understand what it means to be an American, because you neither believe in democracy nor in the rule of law. If you think those who speak in favor of discrimination and hate speak for you. If you are someone I know who actually believes any of these things; if you prefer to embrace hate rather than kindness, I cannot call you a friend.

I’m not even certain that I can call you human.

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.

Trumped-Up Presidential Qualifications.

Given that Donald J. Trump will soon be named the Republican nominee for president, there’s more than a little irony that, when we describe something that has been fabricated, concocted or fictitious, we commonly use the words “trumped-up.”

In fact, nothing could better describe the qualifications of the Republican nominee.

Yes, Republican voters have winnowed through all of their presidential hopefuls and decided that the best option to become leader of the free world; the best candidate to represent our nation; the one to implement changes in our economic system; the one to negotiate treaties and trade deals with other countries; the one to have access to our nuclear codes is The Donald.

They have decided that substance, facts and reason no longer matter. For them, it’s enough that Trump has promised to “make America great again.”

They have anointed Trump as their presidential candidate despite his history of more than 3,500 lawsuits – mostly against those who dared to disagree with him or to say or write the truth about him. They have voted for him despite the fact that he judges all women through the misogynistic eyes of a beauty pageant owner. They have selected him despite his reputed mob ties. They have touted his business acumen despite the fact that he has filed for bankruptcy four times; despite the fact that much of his financial success is based on tax avoidance and government subsidies; and despite the fact that he would actually have more money today if he had simply invested his inheritance in an index fund.

Republicans have convinced themselves that Trump is trustworthy and that his support cannot be bought because he is independently wealthy. Yet he was caught exploiting veterans. He and his failed Trump “University” are currently being sued for fraud. He is being investigated for bribery of state officials. Unlike every other presidential candidate for the past 40 years, he has refused to release his tax returns. And, when the Panama Papers were released, his name was reportedly mentioned hundreds of times in connection with offshore tax havens.

Trump supporters have deluded themselves into believing that the Donald is immune to corruption because he is “self-funding” his campaign. However, he has quietly accepted campaign contributions and used them to pay his own corporations for travel, hotels, even his New York campaign headquarters, thereby lining his pockets.

Many poor and middle class Americans seem to think that Trump cares about workers, yet it has been well-documented that a new hotel in Dubai bearing his name is being built with slave labor. They seem to think that he will end illegal immigration despite the fact that he has hired undocumented workers for his own projects. They believe that he will negotiate more advantageous international trade deals despite the fact that many world leaders find him abhorrent.

Republicans say they admire Trump’s “authenticity” despite the fact that he consistently fails most every fact check. (Thus far, during this presidential race, he has lied more than all of the other candidates combined.)

Trump supporters admire his aversion to political correctness which, in reality, is nothing more than being polite. He has freed them to say and do virtually anything they please, exposing a substantial undercurrent of racism in his campaign. He has emboldened and encouraged his supporters to commit acts of violence against protesters. And, not surprisingly, he has accepted endorsements from known racists, even leaders of the KKK.

Through the entire primary campaign, Trump has spoken in grandiose terms about his plans. Yet he has offered few specifics, and the few he has put forward have been proven completely unworkable. For example, his budget plan would add trillions to the national debt. Is it any wonder, then, that former Presidents and Secretaries of State (including those from Trump’s own party), military leaders, leaders in the intelligence community, business leaders, even the conservative Wall Street Journal have warned against voting for Trump?

In reality, Trump is the sort of divisive, narcissistic, self-aggrandizing bully not seen on the world stage since Benito Mussolini – the man who quite literally created fascism. (Think that’s too harsh? Then I’d suggest you compare videos of Mussolini with those of Trump – Il Duce versus Il Douche. Try to convince yourself that the postures, the attitudes, the smug expressions and the pouting lips aren’t identical.)

Supporters say they want to elect Trump because he’s different. He certainly is that – different, as in totally unqualified, as in wholly lacking the knowledge and temperament to be president. One can only conclude that America has gone mad – at least a significant portion of it.

The Planned Dysfunction Of Our Government.

As has been repeatedly demonstrated, Republicans and conservatives have mastered the art of telling lies. And, on the rare occasions when the corporate-owned media challenge those lies, they seldom bother to correct their falsehoods, choosing instead to double-down. Why wouldn’t they? After all, there are rarely any consequences for lying. For example, Politifact.com has ruled that more than 90 percent of Donald Trump’s statements are false. Yet his supporters don’t seem to care.

For many, facts no longer matter. They’d rather rely on their guts than their heads – a phenomenon that, if Trump becomes president, is likely to result in a severe case of national indigestion.

How did we reach the point where candidates can lie with impunity? How could a candidate like Trump become the presumptive presidential nominee while spreading falsehoods and fomenting hate? He is only taking advantage of a political climate created by the Republican Party – a culture of fear and a deep-seated hatred of the federal government.

This didn’t happen overnight. It began in the 1970s with the party’s “southern strategy” which was designed to capitalize on white anger with the Civil Rights Act. It was furthered by Paul Weyrich, who famously said, “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact our [Republican] leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Of course, the GOP embraced Weyrich’s beliefs. Through obstruction and their refusal to compromise, Congressional Republicans have created voter anger and apathy which, ironically, serves to further their cause.

There’s more.

The GOP pandered to evangelicals by promoting a variety of “social” issues. They told voters that gay rights would diminish their own rights and destroy our military; that gay marriage would destroy traditional marriage; that a woman’s right to control her own body was “against God’s will” and that it would destroy our culture; that the inclusion of contraceptives in employer-based insurance policies destroys the freedom of religion. But, in reality, all of these issues are simply a way to generate fear and to permit government-sanctioned discrimination.

In the eighties, Ronald Reagan verbally attacked the government and Grover Norquist hatched a plan to defund the government in order that Republicans might “starve the beast.” Then, in the nineties, former Speaker Newt Gingrich superimposed another destructive philosophy on Congress. A longtime fan of European-style parliamentary politics, Gingrich convinced his GOP colleagues to vote as a unified bloc on every bill. Any Republicans who had the audacity to defy the leadership and vote his or her conscience was labeled a RINO (Republican In Name Only). The party punished them by withdrawing support for their re-election campaigns and redirecting support to their primary opponents.

Through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the GOP turned over control of state legislatures to their corporate sponsors. And, through funding from the Koch brothers, the same anti-government philosophies are now being promoted in city and county elections.

That is how the GOP has become what it is today – a party that, on the day of the inauguration, chose to vote in lock-step to obstruct every one of President Obama’s initiatives, even if the initiatives were based on Republican ideas, such as Obamacare or Cap and Trade. It is now a party that willfully ignores the needs and the wishes of the voters while pandering to the very wealthy and the powerful.

Fed up with such inequality and governmental dysfunction, a large number of voters have jumped on board the Trump train thinking that an outsider can change things. Really? He is running as a Republican, representing the very party that created this mess. And, far from being an outsider, he is one of the wealthy puppeteers who pull the strings of government officials in order to further enrich themselves, all the while taking advantage of tax loopholes and offshore shell companies to avoid paying taxes.

In other words, a vote for Trump and his Republican colleagues is a vote for those who have willfully destroyed “a government of the people, for the people and by the people” and replaced it with a functioning oligarchy. It’s impossible to imagine that even the Republican Party’s founder, Abraham Lincoln, would want that.