Trumpism is a drug

No spoilers please, but my wife and I are about eight episodes in to the current season of Orange is the New Black. (So, okay, spoiler alert, if you’re not that far along.)

Nicki and Red just had a touching moment in the shower. Not THAT kind of touching moment, you pervert. Nicki is all sorts of strung out on drugs. Red doesn’t know what to do.

Nicki blearily says something along the lines of, “Bring it on. Blame me. I was always a lost cause. Nothin’ you could do. It was always going to end this way. Tell me how awful I am. Tell me how much I’ve disappointed you. Whatever.”

Red breaks down in tears. She’s got nothing left. Nothing she can say to make Nicki see what a self-destructive, awful path she’s heading down. Red just cries, anguished moans of despair escaping her as she tries to blame herself. She failed Nicki, just like she failed another drug dependent inmate who ended up in an early grave.

That’s how I feel about my conservative friends who, despite all evidence, are backing a mad man for president. They know how bad it is for them, and for us. They know they’re on a self-destructive path they can’t break from. But they can’t stop. And every word I say only feels like its pushing them further into the arms of this despotic madman.

And I want to break down in tears.

I like these friends.

I respect their intellect (except where it’s been blinded by the fear Trump so competently packages and sells). They are compassionate, feeling people, numbed by the drug of hate administered by Donald Trump.

I know they are better than that.

But I know they seem lost. And there is nothing, absolutely nothing, I can do or say to get them back on track. Even trying may push them further onto the path of destruction. It is like dealing with a person in the grips of addiction, but instead of addiction to drugs or alcohol, they are addicted to fear: Fear of the brown hordes (that really aren’t) flooding across our southern border. Fear of the radical Islamic refugees swarming from Syria (even though it’s a trickle of well-vetted refugees escaping the Islamic radicals). Fear of the cop-killers (even though far fewer cops have been killed in the line of duty this year than last; and far more innocent civilians have been killed by cops than innocent cops killed by civilians).

So, yes, I want to break down like Red did. And I want to reach them, the way that display of emotion appears to have reached Nicki, who promises Red at the end of the episode that she’s going to get clean.

But (no spoilers!) I kind of doubt that story has a happy ending. I hope it does; but I doubt it.

I’ve got much more faith in Donald Trump losing than I do in Nicki making it to the end of this current season. And his defeat will be a good thing. But it won’t be an ending. Just as Orange Is The New Black will be back next year, so will Trumpism, though it may take a different form, most likely in a different guise.

But America is best when it doesn’t give in to hate and fear. When we concentrate on the things that unite us rather than those that divide us.

That is the spirit Barack Obama called to eight years ago when he took office. And that is the spirit I pray will prevail this year, and every year after in these United States.

Trump is a drug. Trumpism is a drug. But it’s a habit I know America can break. We are better than that.

The real significance of Melania’s plagiarized speech

 

So this happened on the opening night of the Republican National Convention:

This probably won’t be a long-lasting scandal, but it does say several significant things — none of them, it should be noted, about Melania Trump, who did a fine job of reading the speech prepared for her. (I don’t think anyone was supposed to believe her when she said she wrote it herself with as little help as possible.)

First of all, this is a sign of stunning incompetence by the Trump campaign. This speech should have been vetted at multiple levels, and at one of those levels, someone should have thought to go back and compare it to Michelle’s speech, not to check for plagiarism, but just to see what the last successful presidential candidate’s wife had to say at his first convention. No one did. So, don’t just fire the speech writer. Fire whoever checked the speech writer’s work.

Second, Paul Manafort went on CNN the next day and denied there was any plagiarism. “To think that she would do something like that, knowing how scrutinized her speech was going to be last night, is just really absurd,” he told Chris Cuomo. It is absurd — see point No. 1. But it’s more absurd to look at those passages and deny the plagiarism took place. The Trump campaign really does think his supporters are stupid, apparently.

So with this incident, the Trump campaign proved its incompetence, its willingness to lie even when the lie is blatantly obvious and its utter contempt for the intelligence of the American people.

That is an opening night.

From practical jokester to master manipulator?

Dilbert creator Scott Adams has lost a fair amount of credibility and respect in recent months with his strange embrace of Donald Trump. He swears, repeatedly, he doesn’t support Trump politically, but respects his “persuasion techniques.”
 
Whatever. He still comes across as an enthusiastic Trump shill.
 
But I recently came across this post from Trump’s last flirtation with a presidential run. Back then, Adams thought it was all a big practical joke:
 
“This is not a man who thinks he might someday debate serious politicians in a public forum. This is a man who is winking at the camera and daring you to see the obvious.”
 
Considering how the Republican presidential debates went, it’s fair to say that Trump hasn’t yet debated serious politicians in a public forum.
Adams also had this to say: “Trump is smart enough to never admit that his presidential aspirations are no more than marketing. To admit the trick would damage his brand. But he has no need to ever expose the prank. Trump, the magnificent bastard, has figured out a way to have his cake and eat it too. The people who are in on the joke find it entertaining. The people who will never know it’s a joke have raised their opinion of him so much that he’s the leading Republican presidential contender. And his TV ratings are up, so from a marketing standpoint it’s working.”
Which leads to the question that many have asked: Did Trump go into his current run taking it seriously, or was it another practical joke that has gotten way, way out of hand.
And another question: Is Adams in on the joke?

The GOP’s Trump problem

nbc-fires-donald-trump-after-he-calls-mexicans-rapists-and-drug-runnersSo, you’re a once-respected national political party — the party of Lincoln, the party of Eisenhower, the party of Reagan.

What do you do about Donald Trump?

After his sweep of the latest round of primaries, it is a near-certainty that he will go into the convention with the delegates needed to win on the first vote. There will not, as establishment Republicans have hoped against hope, be a second vote or a brokered convention.

So, what you do? Accept Trump? Accept a man so clearly and monumentally unprepared to serve as Commander-in-Chief, to sit in the Oval Office, to represent America at home or abroad?

Do you suck it up and support the nominee, even if it’s obvious he will lose in November, and probably hand Democrats the Senate and possibly even the House in the process? Or worse, he’ll somehow defy expectations yet again and win? Donald Trump in the Oval Office would be a disaster for America. A disaster for the Republican Party. A disaster for the world. He has no coherent philosophy, much less a coherent conservative philosophy. He has no understanding of the intricacies of governing or foreign policy or foreign trade — and no apparent desire or capability to learn them. He is all bluster and bully, and he would disgrace the party and the nation that elects him.

So, what do you do?

I say, if you’re the GOP, you do whatever you can, anything you can, to deny Trump the nomination. Even if he goes in with a majority of the delegates.

This is, I’ll admit, a horribly undemocratic idea. But the GOP’s primary voters have failed the party — and those voters are really only a small subset of Republican voters. (Though, yes, the party itself, having fed the angriest, least informed portion of its base a steady diet of anti-Obama red meat for the last seven and a half years bears its share of blame.) If the idea of the Republican Party is to mean anything moving forward, the party has a responsibility to itself to not allow Donald Trump to be its standard bearer.

Because of the way delegates are selected, even if Trump has won a majority of delegates, there’s no guarantee that a majority of the delegates themselves support Trump. In fact, it’s highly unlikely. And the rules governing a convention and how delegates select the nominee are fluid. The delegates could sit down before the first vote and release themselves to vote for anyone, not just who primary voters preferred. A fly in that ointment is that about 95 percent of delegates are bound by state party rules or state law to vote as they were assigned during the primary or caucus on the first vote. Who knows? Perhaps the margin will be thin enough that the 5 percent of unbound delegates can prevent Trump from winning the first round, releasing all the delegates. Or maybe one of those smart elections lawyers who helped secure George W. Bush’s victory in 2000 could figure out a way around the bound delegate problem.

However it worked, it would be a messy process that could anger a lot of voters and seriously undermine the party well into the future. But, guess what? A Trump nomination will also seriously undermine the party well into the future.

But if this doesn’t work — or the party doesn’t have the guts to even attempt it — then what? Donald Trump becomes the nominee.

Then what do you do?

This is when serious Republicans have to decide whether they will vote for anyone with an R after his name, or if they want their party to have some minimum standards.

There have been a lot of Republican leaders who go on and on about how unacceptable Trump is, what a disaster he would be as president. But, then, when asked if they’ll support him if he’s the nominee, they meekly say yes.

If Donald Trump actually becomes the nominee, that has to stop. Republican congressional leaders — who know how awful Trump is — should refuse to endorse him. The party apparatus should refuse to support him. Super PACs loyal to the party should refuse to fund him. Take the lead of the Koch brothers, who have indicated they’ll pour their resources into trying to blunt the down-ticket damage of a Trump candidacy.

donald-trump-has-surged-to-the-top-of-2-new-2016-pollsThe burden is not just on the Republican leadership, such as it is. Serious Republican voters need ask themselves if that is the face of the Republican Party they believe in and support. As much hatred as there is for Hillary Clinton on the right, serious Republican voters will need to consider either voting for her or, if that’s a bridge too far, staying home on Election Day.

I am not a neutral observer, I admit. I think the Republican Party has already fallen far. Congressional leadership has earned its 11 percent approval rating. The rank Republican obstructionism and refusal to govern if it meant cooperating in any way, shape or form with a duly elected president has done much to poison our political system. The fact that Republican leaders came this close to tanking the economy and faith in the U.S. to repay its debts by refusing to raise the debt ceiling earned them, in my estimation, a generation in the political wilderness.

But, liberal that I am, I do want to see a functioning, functional and coherent conservative party in the United States.

Such a party does not nominate Donald Trump, or support his candidacy if he does somehow win that nomination.

The Republican Party may not be able to save itself, in the end. But it can save America and the rest of the world from the disaster of a Trump presidency.

Really, America?

“This is not a long shot. This is something that is going to be really amazing … We’re going to have a lot of success, and everyone’s going to enjoy it.”
 
This is real video of Donald Trump launching a multi-level marketing scheme in 2009. (Youthful indiscretion is not, in other words, a valid excuse.) These are almost always scams (which is why when you type “multi-level marketing” in Google, it autocompletes “multi-level marketing scams”). He promised great things, but now his attorney says his role was limited to licensing the ‘Trump’ brand and providing motivational speeches. In other words, he lied about his involvement in the scam. Er, scheme.
 
He lied then; he’s lying now. Wake up, America. You are THIS close to nominating a man who would make snake-oil salesmen blush in shame as a major-party candidate to be PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
 
Stop it. Go home. Sober up. Think about changing your life. If this isn’t a wakeup call, I don’t know what is.

What are Republicans thinking?

I really don’t know what Republicans think they are gaining from the unprecedented shirking of their constitutional duty in refusing to even consider a nominee from a sitting president to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.

Their nominee is almost certainly going to be Donald Trump. He will almost certainly lose. At which point, Garland’s nomination will be withdrawn, and the appointment will become Hillary Clinton’s to make.

In November, the GOP will be attempting to defend the gains it made in the Senate in 2010, largely in blue-leaning states. Republican senators are already extremely vulnerable, and thumbing their noses at their constitutional responsibility and attempting to deny a democratically elected president the right to nominate a Supreme Court justice will only make them more vulnerable, increasing the likelihood of the Democrats retaking the Senate.

It seems to me, Senate Republicans have a clear choice: They can do the right thing and get the most moderate candidate imaginable (far more moderate than Obama’s liberal supporters would prefer). Or they can act like petulant children, refuse to do their jobs, and face the likely prospect of a far more progressive nominee from Clinton being confirmed by a Democratic-controlled Senate.

Has the Republican base really become so unmanageable that Republicans feel they must choose political suicide over the far more reasonable course of action?

Kim Davis is the face of religious persecution in America

150903-kim-davis-mug-535p_2a10fb4a29fd25fb6bf13a4680f1087c.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000Kim Davis, the infamous Kentucky clerk who went to jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses after the U.S. Supreme Court ended bans on same-sex marriage across the nation, has been called a martyr by some. Her faith-based “persecution” has been compared to that suffered by the Jews in Nazi Germany, and evidence, according to Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee of the “criminalization of Christianity in our country.”

Her supporters have it backwards, though. Kim Davis is the face of religious persecution in America, I agree, but she is the face of the persecutors, not the persecuted.

She went to jail not for practicing her faith, but for persistent efforts to shove that faith down the throats of those who don’t share it and deny basic constitutional rights to a minority population because her faith tells her they are undeserving.

Davis is not a martyr. She is not embodying the values of Jesus. She is not the second coming of Martin Luther King Jr. No, she is, if anything, merely the frumpier face of the firehose-wielding sheriffs who stood blocking King’s path to Birmingham. Though she is not resorting to violence, she is blocking the rights of others to live their lives in freedom and happiness, because she believes her faith is more important than their civil rights.

This woman should be scorned, not celebrated. She has used her public office to flout the law. She says she has acted under “God’s authority,” but her God does not have jurisdiction over who is issued a civil marriage license in the state of Kentucky. She was elected by the people of that state to serve the people of that state, and follow the laws of the state and the nation.

If she cannot do that, she should resign immediately, and quit persecuting those whose faith differs from hers.

Davis was jailed after being held in contempt of court for refusing to accept court decisions all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court that she was in the wrong. She was released yesterday because her office had begun issuing licenses in her absence. As long as she doesn’t interfere with that, she will remain free.

If she chooses to impose her religious beliefs on others and refuse to allow her public, secular office to do its job because it opposes those beliefs, then she will rightly end up back behind bars.

But she is not the victim, and she never was. Hers is the face of the persecutor.

The downfall of a blogger

Don Surber’s firing (or forced resignation, or whatever it was) is a shame. Not that it wasn’t deserved. The Daily Mail was doing the right thing by distancing itself from Surber’s caustic commentary that culminated in him referring to Michael Brown as an “animal” who “deserved to be put down” on his personal blog.

I say it’s a shame because Surber used to be a decent human being. I knew him years ago when I worked for The Charleston Gazette. We were competing editorial writers, and I rarely agreed with what he wrote, but he had a sense of humor and we got along pretty well, in a distant sort of way.

Then he started blogging. It pretty much went downhill from there. He earned the attention of some popular national right-wing bloggers, and, I think, began writing more for them than for his West Virginia audience. His point of view became more and more radical, and he was rewarded with the currency of the blogging realm: hits and visitors. I commented occasionally on his blog, at least until he banned me.

At some point, The Daily Mail shut down his official blog. The line he gave was that he was too busy for it. But I noticed that he had time to put as many items up on Facebook as he had been on the blog. I wondered (and still do) if his editors had become wary of his radicalization. The Daily Mail was always a conservative counterweight to the Gazette’s liberal editorial page, but it was far more moderate than Surber had become.

I hope this is a wake-up call for Surber. I don’t know if he actually believed half the crap he wrote on his blog, at least in the beginning, but I know he used to be a better person. Maybe losing his job will make realize he had already lost his journalistic soul.

Beth Macy’s ‘Factory Man’ deserves every accolade

The beer is excellent, too.

The beer is excellent, too.

Beth Macy has received too many thumbs-up reviews of her new book “Factory Man” to count. We’re talking not one, not two, but three glowing mentions in The New York Times alone. This book is on fire.

And the attention is so well deserved. This is an important piece of journalism on many levels.

First, Macy tells the story of Bassett, a company town in rural Virginia whose trajectory was inevitably linked to the family who named it — and for a good part of its history owned everything from the bank to the hospital. That family at times rivaled the patriarchs of Dallas for soap opera-worthy drama, and Macy chronicles much of it, in note-perfect prose that preserves respect and dignity for every well-drawn character.

Next, Macy paints a rich, layered portrait of JBIII, the black-sheep son of the family denied his feudal right to the CEO’s chair. John Bassett III is a character whose story needed to be told. When speaking at the “Factory Man” launch at Parkway Brewery Co. in Salem, Bassett seemed to revel in  a former employee’s description of him: “He may be an asshole, but when he’s your asshole, that’s a very good thing.” Strong-willed, hard-working and much smarter than even his own family gave him credit for, JBIII didn’t fade away when his brother-in-law took over the company and made it clear that the prodigal son’s role would be as minor as he could make it.

Instead, John Bassett took over another company in nearby Galax, Va. He turned it around and, when the illegal dumping of Chinese exports threatened the entire domestic furniture industry, he fought back at the International Trade Commission. He didn’t stop there, though. He made sure his company and his factories were nimble and smart, and he did everything he could to maximize the advantages of domestic production. The portrait painted by Macy is every bit as complex as the man must be.

What drove him? Resentment over his treatment by his own family? A burning desire to prove himself? Concern for the hundreds of workers he felt responsible for? Or the stubborn, cantankerous inability to back down from a fight? A bit of all, most likely.

Finally, “Factory Man” is the story of free trade’s losers, from  factory workers nearing retirement when Bassett shut down most of its domestic production to workers in China who would see themselves priced out to cheaper labor in Vietnam and Indonesia. Macy makes much of the fact that she’s not a business writer. And she talks quite a bit about her own upbringing as the daughter of a factory worker in a town not unlike Bassett. It’s no secret where her sympathy lies, though she is clearly not naive about the stark, painful realities of a global economy.

But where she succeeds beautifully — and where a business writer steeped in years of conventional economic wisdom might have never tread — is her vivid look at those left behind by the “rising tide” of free trade: older workers who can’t afford to leave but can’t find new jobs; younger workers who hired on as call center workers, only to see those jobs also outsourced; parents who must watch their children move away, with nothing to keep them at home.

“Factory Man,” in its depiction of JBIII’s determination and drive, makes clear that not all of this pain was necessary. If other owners had found John Bassett’s faith in and compassion for their workers, and fought both harder and smarter to keep American factories working, the flood of imports might not have washed away so many jobs, and so many lives.

American manufacturing is dying, and, as Macy writes, many economists and other big thinkers believe that’s just fine. But it isn’t. Unthinking devotion to the bottom line has robbed America of a great strength, stolen the economic vitality of a broad swath of the middle class, and made the economy exceedingly vulnerable.

For the most part, this is not the fault of American workers, but of  business owners and shareholders who, for all their talk of being job creators, have overseen a decline we may never recover from.

JBIII is far from a perfect man. He and his entire family became enormously wealthy thanks largely to the sweat of others. But no one can doubt his own work ethic, and his drive to keep his business going, not just for his own sake, but for the sake of the hundreds of others whose livelihoods depend on it.

There’s a lesson there, if anyone out there is willing to learn it.

“Factory Man” is an enormously important book. May the accolades keep coming.

Worst phishing attempt ever

I received an email today purporting to be from Bank of America asking me to reconfirm my account information for online banking.

Naturally, I would have approached such an email cautiously in any event. I’m familiar with “phishing” scams: Someone sends you an email that appears to be from a trusted institution with a link that appears to be to that trusted institution’s website, and asks you to log in and provide some essential security information. Only the email’s actually from an identity thief and the trusted institution’s website is a clever phony. After you plug in your information, the identity thief will use it to log into the real site, or others, and engage in all sorts of mischief.

But this is the sloppiest attempt I’ve ever seen. The punctuation and formatting were awful, to begin with. How awful? Here’s a sample:

Dear Customer,

Account Requires Complete Profile Update, 

We have recently detected that different computer user had attempted gaining 
access to your Online account, 

and multiple password was attempted with your user ID. 

It is now necessary to re-confirm your account information to us. 

If this process is not completed within 24-48 hours. 

We will be forced to suspend your Account Online Access as it may have been used 

for fraudulent purposes. 

Sentence fragments. Strange line breaks. Strange capitalization. English-as-a-second-language phrasing. Nothing about the email seemed legitimate. The phisher didn’t even bother to download a Bank of America graphic to give the email the slightest hint of authenticity.

He couldn’t even use a real copyright symbol. The last line read: (C) 2014 Bank of America Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

But the real topper was this: There was no link to a phishy website. Instead, there was an attachment called Secure Form.html. Because, yeah, that’s how a multi-billion-dollar company like Bank of America rolls.

Yep. This was a complete and total phishing fail.