Sunday, December 18, 2016

Trump and Treason

The following was a reply to a Canadian friend and mentor's query about some of my Facebook posts:

My politics are far to the left in the U.S., but they would be pretty middle of the road in any advanced country, e.g. Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia, etc.  (where there is a basic safety net to assure essential human needs including food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, and education, and where the democratic process is carefully regulated to allow most voices to be heard).  People outside of the U.S. might not realize how bad things have gotten over here, how skewed wealth is toward the very very rich.  Most people spend ridiculous amounts of their income on healthcare (if they can afford it at all) and housing.  Job security is kind of a thing of the past.  The political process has become so infested with money, consultants, etc. that it's probably not accurate to call it "democracy."  This has all happened in the years since the end of the cold war.  The U.S. system only tolerates two parties.  Any attempts to form other parties fail.  This means that so, so many voices are ignored and the party leaderships have immense power and are not all that interested in what ordinary people think.  The Democratic Party is a somewhat benign, basically competent coalition that claims to represent a, or the, diversity of viewpoints/people.  But it is a very weak coalition that has not tackled or even claimed to tackle the real problems of our society, or to mitigate the effects of rapacious capitalism and monopolism for at least the last 24 years.  The Republican Party, on the other hand is, to my observation, a truly evil organization that has tried to defeat the democratic process and concentrate wealth and power as much as possible to a small elite.  Their model is a plutocracy.  They gain support from non-rich people (very much against their own self-interest) by the use of wedge issues.  Abortion, gay marriage, non-binary bathrooms, racism, sexism, religious bigotry, the environment, etc.  I don’t believe the republican leadership, or the party as a whole really gives a hoot about any of these issues, especially considering they almost always lose on them (Roe v. Wade, for example, was challenged unsuccessfully with a solid conservative majority on the supreme court during Bush Sr.’s presidency.  Same sex marriage, etc.).  These are just useful wedge issues that, in my opinion, should not be part of the partisan political debate, i.e. parties should allow their members to vote their consciences on them.

  More than anything, though, as a Mormon and a close reader of the Book of Mormon (thanks in no small part to you), the republican party seems more like a secret combination, of the kind Book of Mormon authors warned us about.  It just seems to always take the side of evil and destruction, even when that side does not support their plutocratic goals.  The Democratic Party, on the other hand, is a weak opposition to this onslaught.  As I said, I believe it to be essentially benign in its intents, but it feeds from the same fundraising and lobbying troughs, and most of its leaders are themselves elites, and suffer little if at all from their own (many) defeats, unlike the majority of Americans (and the world).  They also have trouble resisting the wedge issues brought forth by the right, like moths to light. 

OK, so with this backdrop, I should say that Trump is an anomaly.  To any thoughtful observer, Trump has been running with significant support from Russia for quite awhile.  To any person with a pea-size or larger brain, Trump is a frightening, offensive, narcissistic, dumb, tacky, crooked mess of a person who has no business holding or running for any political office.  In spite of all his extremely odious qualities, his connections to Russia are by far the most disturbing.  To anyone with any knowledge of history, or to anyone who has any memory of the cold war, this is amazing (in a bad way).  We watched in horror as Osama Bin Laden basically manipulated the U.S. into two disastrous wars.  America has so damaged its ability to reflect and discuss that we still haven’t examined how that all happened.  Now it appears that our current adversary, Putin’s Russia is poised to get us to dissolve pretty much all of our post-WWII international connections that prevented WWIII and kept the soviet empire from taking over and imposing their 1984-esque vision on a large share of the world.

This is *not* conspiracy theory.  This is really happening.  And it is extremely distressing that a large percentage of our country has allowed the allure of Fox News, and the right wing media to poison and colonize their minds to the point that they are not susceptible to even the most basic truths or warnings.

If the republican party had not crookedly taken over a majority of the three branches of federal government and most state government bodies, Trump would be impeached on his first day of office and it would be kind of like prosecuting Timothy McVeigh.  There would be dozens of charges to successfully use.

What has been especially distressing to me has been how Utah appeared to be poised to lead the conservative opposition to Trump in the last weeks of the election.  But, as usual, party loyalty appears to “Trump” *everything* else, including loyalty to country (i.e. Putin etc.) and religion (Deseret News explicitly de-endorsed Trump, and the Church implicitly did so).  In the end, it was *my* congressman, Jason Chaffetz who initially led the opposition, then, like a dog to its vomit, initiated the Comey debacle that sealed the deal.


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I didn’t come to this country expecting to become so political.  I’m a composer and a teacher and an admirer of America.  But during my sojourn here, I have watched all of the things I admired about this society come under attack, and some of them outright destroyed.  I don’t feel like I have much of a choice anymore.  You know, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” and all.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Trump

Watching the Trump phenomenon has been one of the most unpleasant experiences in recent years.  I’ve been watching the steady descent of American cultural institutions, followed by its educational institutions followed by its political institutions since the end of the Cold War.  I suppose that war gave us meaning and spurred us to find the best we could be as a society.  We don’t seem to handle peace and prosperity as well.  Almost immediately the spectre of greed took over.  The virtue and vice that best defines America is its pragmatic willingness to ignore unwritten or unenforced rules.

It’s what has made artists like John Cage, and Jackson Pollack, Gertrude Stein and Martha Graham happen.  It’s what’s made jazz and rock and roll happen.  It’s what’s made computers and the Internet and smart phones and lunar landings happen.  It’s how generations of people have been able to come here and transcend the position of their birth. 

But it’s also how an oligarchy has replaced what had been a somewhat egalitarian workplace and government.  It’s how loopholes in the rules of legislative bodies have been systematically exploited to the elimination of parliamentary governance.  Its how basic education in civics and citizen involvement in government that were once the envy of the world have been replaced with breathtaking ignorance, apathy, and misplaced anger.

Donald Trump is one of the most unappealing human beings I have ever encountered.  I just can’t think of anything that’s likeable about him.  He’s ugly, mean, greedy, tacky, nasty, lecherous, dishonest, sexist, racist; I could go on as anyone could.  He’s a brat who inherited wealth yet soaks all he comes in contact with, rich and poor, including any governments he encounters. 

Is he the personification of the ugly American?  What America represents to the rest of the world?  

Trump has simply done what he has done in the past, which is to look at a situation and say, “why hasn’t anyone tried that,” meaning the tackiest, most morally bankrupt, exploitative, yet possible thing imaginable.  The thing that everyone else would balk at.

In this case, Trump has watched other republicans over the years use fear, dogwhistles, etc. in more or less subtle (in hindsight) ways to get people scared enough to vote for them, while still maintaining a veneer of civility (again in hindsight), or commitment to preserving the vestiges of democratic institutions.  He has said, well, if fear works, why bother with anything else.  Why not go all the way?  I don’t think he believes there is a core to anything and that others before him have just been to chicken to do what needs to be done to “win”, which is, as far as I can tell, his somewhat neitzschean goal, if he has one.  I guess the genius of Trump is to realize that there’s no there there.   He’s hacked a system he has no commitment to or belief in because he has no beliefs. 

What’s been most disturbing is watching the weak, ineffective, tardy reaction from the many segments of society that don’t want Trump.  From the noseholding  embrace of republicans, both religious and idolatrous, to the somewhat detached “professionalism” of the press, to the smug incredulity and ineffectuality of the intelligentsia who have been unable/unwilling to jeopardize their connections to privilege. 

Lincoln is said to have written or spoken “God must love the common people—he made so many of them.”  It’s true that most people are not that smart.  Still fewer are courageous, or willing to do the right thing when most people are doing the wrong thing.  Successful societies (like 20th century America and post World War II western Europe) have worked through this problem by:
1. educating the dumb people
2. limiting the powerful people, and
3. listening to the smart people.
4. making sure all people have their basic needs met, which include the need be needed

America has gradually moved away from these four principles since the end of the cold war, making fertile environment for demagoguery. 

Demagogues are as aware of these principles as anyone.  They simply have different goals, usually stemming from narcissism or being puppets of some shadowy group. They know that the easiest way to control the greatest number of people (who are of limited intellect and courage) is through already existing or trumped up fear and hatred.

The question is how we got here.  The left has ignored the economic plight of the non-rich in favor of the “social issues”, i.e. the wedge issues fed to them by the right, both alienating the non-rich and enabling their exploitation by the rich.  The right has pushed the boundaries of fear/hate/dog whistles to the point where a Trump could somehow win their nomination.

I guess this is why I put a lot of blame on the smart/courageous people.  They were ascendant and spoke truth the powerful people for a long time.  They also fought for the dumb people somewhat courageously, (getting them education, ways to contribute, and their basic needs).  They stopped doing these two things at some point and all hell has broke loose.  Come on smart/courageous people!  And if you are a dumb person or a powerful person, it’s not that hard to become a smart/courageous person. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Bernie and Binaries

It sometimes seems that binaries are at the core of the American psyche.  Maybe it goes back to the puritans.  I dunno.  Binaries, of course can be useful.  They make computers run pretty well.  But they can also be very dangerous.  There’s a reason nobody ever talks about false ternaries.  We have in this presidential election a candidate who is the closest I’ve seen in America to a bona fide dictator, complete with a corps of menacing thugs, a complete disdain for truth, a disdain for his supporters, and a certifiable narcissism.  I hear republican friends say, when asked if they would vote for him if he were nominated “ya, but he’ll change,” or “he’s just taking extreme positions for bargaining purposes,” or, “he’s speaking off the cuff.  That’s what’s great about him.”  Um, you might want to check your history, and then check your present, and recognize that history has been a parade of tyrants, but none with the amount of catastrophically destructive technology, not to mention influence, an American president has access to.  George W. Bush was given similar kinds of indulgence.  “Ya, he’s a dunce, but he’s going to appoint smart guys to help him.”  Um, like Dick Cheney? Donald Rumsfeld.  Never, ever appoint or elect a leader of anything who is dumb, ill informed, etc.  It never works out.  That’s where you get the shadowy figures who have no accountability but who have really dark constituents to answer to. 

It’s hard for me to understand the appeal of Trump.  To me he’s a greasy, sleazy bookie who can’t even run hideous, tacky gambling establishments with any degree of integrity or, indeed, profitability.  He has hideous taste.  His speeches are rambling strings of insults, brags, and logical syllogisms.  His answer to any objection never addresses the issue being addresses, but basically boils down to, “believe me.”  Trump loves the worst binary of them all: winners and losers.  He recognizes that darkest of American impulses, the desire to label human beings as winners and losers is a potent force.  The concept of winning is odious and false and needs to be gotten rid of.  So much evil can be traced to this idea.  Trump does, however, in the midst of all the insanity, utter a few things that really ring true.  He talks about trade deals in the ‘90s that gutted the middle class.  He talks about money in politics.  Well, maybe that’s it.  But that’s a lot.  Democrats barely touch these things, and yet they are absolutely fundamental to what is wrong with America.

Back to binaries.  The two-party system.  Ouch.  What a disaster.  Winner take all elections.  Trying to prevent people to vote.  Let’s talk about the two-party system.  First of all, let me be very clear: the republican party is hard for me to characterize without invoking a certain individual sometimes described as a prince of a certain quality usually identified as the antonym of light.  While I have many friends and loved ones who identify with this party, I believe the organization itself is about as pure evil as an organization can get.  It’s been pretty bad for quite awhile, certainly going back to Nixon, but maybe back to Goldwater.  But the wholesale embrace of evil goes to 1994, where Gingrich redefined the party, its strategies, and it’s postmodern embrace of strategy over substance.  Now that we’ve got that out of the way, does that make the democratIC party good, since the republican party is evil? NO!  Doesn’t work that way.  False binary.  In fact, the postmodern/evil version of the republican party was, in part, facilitated, egged on, by the Bill Clinton era, DLC version of the democratic party.  I watched all this happen in horror.  Gingrich embraced bullying, Bill Clinton embraced appeasement, moved to the right, and you know what bullies do with people who don’t show resistance.  They just can’t help themselves.  The result was a series of hideous, anti-non-tycoon legislation in the 90s that, among other things, destroyed the social safety net, shipped virtually all manufacturing jobs out of country, destroyed newspapers and radio stations, and thus the music industry, and destroyed the checks and balances in the banking system, thus resulting in the 2008 collapse.  Worst of all was the obscene accumulation of wealth ever upward.  This is all because of legislation that Bill Clinton signed.  I remember at the time thinking that these bills were too heartless even for the republican party, but that they were so conditioned to push for whatever they could get away with that they couldn’t help themselves.  And Clinton, ever wanting to appease and show himself a “centrist” (whatever the hell that means) gave in, despined himself on our behalf. 

Let’s not forget that Bill Clinton had a majority in the house and a super majority in the senate in the beginning of his first term.  I’m trying to remember if anyone else had that….  Oh yeah, Barry Obama.  What about our current president.  Like Clinton, and like democratic presidents in general, he has managed to get rid of deficits run up by the previous republican administration and has brought the macro-economy back to life and reduced unemployment.  That’s kind of what democratic presidents do.  That’s good.  But what about micro-economic issues.  How about these hideous mortgages that people got into?  The houses they lost?  What about the 6-figure student loans?  Some small fraction of the welfare that went to wall street and the auto industry could have completely saved millions of people from losing their houses by refinancing their predatory mortgages.  A similarly small fraction of this bailout could save entire generations from student loan induced poverty.  What about Obamacare?  Well, I’m glad it exists.  It’s a very modest step.  But it’s was created by the Heritage Foundation.  It’s better than nothing, but it’s not that great.  It still leaves us with the most expensive and inefficient health care system in the world.  And the very simple yet transformative provision of a public option could easily have been part of the ACA, but for some mysterious reason, it was dropped.

Back to the binaries again.  There’s no either/or here.  Trump is scary, not because he’s conservative, in fact I agree with some of the things he’s mentioned.  He’s more right about trade and campaign finance than the Clintons or Obama.  He’s scary because he behaves like a dictator and is a narcissist.  In this way, almost any other republican would probably be preferable as president.  But Cruz’s ideas and world-view are truly odious and the Ohio guys is not much better.  The republican establishment hates the poor and sucks up to the rich in a disgraceful way.  Nonetheless, they are preferable to Trump.  Hillary is a part of the democratic establishment that is highly problematic and maybe slightly evil, but maybe not wholesale evil in the way the republican party is.  And her/the democratic establishment’s appeal to voters is, in essence, we’re not going to do much, but we’re certainly not as bad as those other guys.  Vote for us!

The thing is, I agree.  The establishment democrats are less bad than any republicans.  But that’s pretty sad.  But in a binary political system, one can be forgiven for voting for the least worst candidate.  That’s what Hillary is offering.  We say what happened in 2000 when Nader rightly pointed out how the two major parties fed off each other in a sick codependency.  But, wow, what a disaster to try to work outside of that system. 

Which is where Bernie comes in.  He is literally the only candidate who is actually talking about the stuff that makes life suck for most people in this country, and the root causes of these things.  And he has figured out a way to work within this two-party system.  If Hillary is elected, we can feel pretty good about not starting crazy wars, changing bankruptcy laws, giving huge giveaways to every industry, going backwards on environmental policy, etc.  These things are big.  But if the past couple of “centrist” democratic administrations are any indication, there will be nothing better than stagnation for the non-rich, and pretty much misery for the poor.  Higher education and healthcare costs will continue to skyrocket.  People barely in the middle class will continue to be burdened with odious lifelong debt.


So if Hillary is nominated, no matter who the republican nominee is, I will do whatever I can to support her.  But Bernie is, to my mind, a truly transformative, inspiring candidate, who appears to have even more appeal than Hillary to the swing voter and even to some republicans.  I think a lot of this is due to the fact that he is unashamed of speaking the truth.  He’s unafraid of offending corporate constituents.  He doesn’t flee from right wing characterizations.  He’s ok with words like liberal and socialism and seeks to rehabilitate them and the wonderful ideas they represent.  People actually like that.  They are justifiably suspicious, on the other hand, of sheepishness, defensiveness, etc.  It’s like what are they hiding.  He has also demonstrated that you don’t need any kind of Hollywood sheen to be viable.  That Americans can be persuaded by genuineness and truth.  That Americans actually have good hearts and that a candidate can succeed by appealing to their higher motives.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Handbook

The recent LDS handbook change has been troubling to many, including myself.  I think it’s part of a much longer narrative that I will try to articulate.  The Mormon people experienced fairly extreme persecution for a century, including exile, at least two instances of threatened genocide, occupation, disenfranchisement, and many other collective punishments.  Some of this was for marriage practices that were out of the mainstream (an irony I will address later), and some for other, more theological reasons.  Abuse and bullying always causes lasting damage.  When the U.S. government finally forced the Mormon people to abandon polygamy, the Church began a campaign of assimilation, a century-long attempt to establish itself somewhat in the mainstream of Christendom, and its adherents as “normal”, even patriotic citizens.  This quest for acceptance took many forms, including the embrace (often in excess) of militarism, capitalism, conservative politics (especially the republican party), bourgeois suburban lifestyles, etc.  In it’s most baleful form, this impulse led to the adoption of Mormonism’s century-long racial policy, which Paul Reeve, in Religion of a Different Color demonstrates to be part of an attempt to demonstrate the “whiteness” of Mormons, in a country obsessed with race, that accused Mormons as being racially impure. 

More recently, the “evangelical” movement has selected Mormonism as its prime target.  Evangelicalism has been a potent force in American culture and politics for quite awhile now, but it really picked up steam in the ‘70s, when being “born again” became somewhat of a fad.  Populist movements of this kind often feed off of fears, and usually dig up old fears, fears that have worked well in the past.  Mormons were a reliable punching bag for the evangelical movement.  Their main line of attack (among many) was to say that Mormons weren’t “Christians.”  This attack was deeply troubling to the leadership and many of the laity of the LDS Church.  After all, the name of this deity is included in the church’s official title.  A lot of effort was put forth to try to quell this attack, to convince America and the world that Mormons are, indeed, Christians.  I feel that this effort was misdirected and perhaps counterproductive and, in a strange way, played into the hands of the haters.  I served a mission in California in the early ‘80s, in somewhat of the epicenter of the born again movement.  After being told over and over again that, as a Mormon, I was not only not a Christian, but that I was going to hell, I finally asked several people, including evangelical clergymen, just what a Christian was in their lexicon.  I was told that a Christian was no more nor less than a person who was born again, in the evangelical definition.  It was then that I realized how slippery words are.  That any Tom Dick or Harry can fabricate a definition for any group of phonemes, and if he or she repeats it often enough, people will start to accept it. 

The Church’s embrace and leadership of the anti same sex marriage movement cannot be understood without understanding our legacy of persecution and the entirely understandable, if unfortunate, quest for acceptance.  Once we were forced to abandon polygamy, we were desperate to establish ourselves as the most shining example of monogamy and the nuclear family.  After being forced to abandon communitarianism, we went out of our way to establish our credentials as free marketeers.  And when evangelicals questioned our Christianity, we contorted ourselves to court their favor, including the advocacy of doomed and dubious political causes.

I am a devoted and devout Mormon.  True blue, through and through, as they say.  I think the vicissitudes we are going through are, to some extent, the natural and understandable result of protracted bullying and persecution.  I know a bit about bullying myself.  I had a lot of opportunities to experience it growing up.  I learned that appeasing bullies only makes them bolder.  I learned that I was too weird to ever measure up to the kind of normalcy that kids and teens demand.  I discovered that by being an even more authentic, even extreme version of myself, I could reject whatever crazy paradigm the dominant culture prescribed, and the bullies and haters had no basis on which to persecute me.  In fact, they began to respect me because I had something, a secret paradigm that they were not party to.  I’ve always felt that Mormons (and, pretty much everybody) should pursue this route.  We are and have always been weird.  Our religion is bold.  It makes bold claims.  It makes bold demands of its adherents, including highly restrictive health and sexual codes.  We need to recognize that these are things that are unusual about us, but there is nothing wrong with being unusual.  We just shouldn’t worry about non-Mormons buying into our unusual theology and rules.  If they are interested in buying in, we have been very good at making information and resources available. 

I have no more objection to a person not of my faith being married to another person of the same sex than I have of them drinking green tea.  And I believe that we should think very seriously before denying access to saving and edifying ordinances to anyone, especially children.

The Mormon moment I have been seeking, is one in which we have a more accurate and positive view of ourselves in the world, one that embraces diversity.  I was very heartened and moved by the “I’m a Mormon” campaign, because we were acknowledging and celebrating diversity within our people.  The other Mormon moment I am anticipating is the one where we talk less of “they” and “them” and more of “we” and “us”.  One of the most unique aspects of this church is its governance by the laity.  Indeed, we have long denied a distinction between clergy and laity.  It is my belief that the Church is divine, in every sense that Mormonism has claimed, but it is administered by humans of extremely limited abilities and foresight on every level.  But, being a divine institution, I think it has an abundance of blessings and inspiration (more than it deserves often) on every level.  I think that’s kind of awesome.  It has the potential to foster the kind of humility and dependence on grace that all religions treasure. 

And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel.


In the early history of Mormonism, two names were used, The Church of Jesus Christ, and, The Church of the Latter-day Saints.  These two were merged in the present name.  This means that it is the church of two entities, the Savior, and the people that belong to the church, all of them.  Joseph Smith stated that church governance was a hybrid of theocracy and democracy.  It is my hope that the power and wisdom of the Latter-day Saints as a whole will shine forth and help us to work through our difficulties; that we will truly be a light on a hill; that we will be good to ourselves and others; that will focus on rolling forth the tremendous and glorious mission we have been tasked with and not get sidetracked; that Zion will put on its beautiful garments, etc.