Archive for the ‘Essays – Political’ Category

Pondering the Alt-Left

August 15, 2017

 

Yesterday an FB friend reported being yelled at by the alt-left for not being progressive enough. Her experience got me thinking.

Back in the 80’s I published an article in a little magazine that presented an argument for pornography. A politically correct friend of mine read it. He said he thought the author’s points were interesting, but he decided that he did not think the author was right and therefore the article should not have been published.

For me that illustrated the extent to which the “political correctness” of the 1970’s had become liberal fundamentalism. A concept that had begun with humor had turned into dogma. Political correctness developed the rigidity, intolerance and tunnel vision of any belief held from a fundamentalist mindset. Politically correct thinking worked just like conservative Baptist thinking. I don’t fully understand alt-left thinking, but it seems to be like that of The Westboro Baptist Church.

Thinking farther back, the 60’s were wonderful to live through because they had a richness of diversity and innovation. So did the early Christian church. Political and religious movements in their youth are like a slurry of just-mixed concrete, with its individual grains of sand and stones and lime. That slurry is then poured into molds. Fundamentalism is what you have after the concrete has set. It makes a great foundation for building an institution. But it cannot change or adapt. It remains fixed until it cracks or crumbles.

 

Mike's Truck Starting a Long Decline - photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

Mike’s Truck Starting a Long Decline – photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

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Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders & George Armstrong Custer

June 21, 2017

 

People need heroes. If a person does a simple act to help others in danger, we make that person into a hero. We do that even if the risk involved is low. Believing that heroes walk among us makes us feel stronger and safer. Rewarding heroes encourages imitation and strengthens society. Designating heroes is good for us all.

But when it comes to politics, people want superheroes. We want larger-than-life champions who will ride forth and slay dragons. Donald Trump is the superhero of the alt-right. He was elected to drive back immigrants and the liberal elite. Bernie Sanders is becoming the superhero of progressives. Sander will rally moderates to the progressive cause and overthrow the Vulgarians of the right. He talks of extending social programs, including free college tuition and Medicare for all. Had he only been nominated, it is said, he would have handily defeated the demon Trump. The reality is that the U.S. has swung to the right and Trump is just an opportunist grafted onto that movement. Defeating Trump will not win back the Senate or House.

Personally, I feel uneasy with superheroes. Obama was elected to his first term as something of a superhero. He was one of the few Congressmen opposing the stupidity of G. W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, and so voters thought he could get us out of war in the Middle East. Of course, he could not. Obama as president shrank from superhero to pretty-good-Joe. When we embrace superheros, we are buying into delusion. Superheros either disappoint like Obama or they deliver, like Hitler. Germans embraced Hitler out of the desperation caused by war reparations and depression following WWI. Hitler promised to make Germany strong again. And he did. For a while.

George Armstrong Custer was another superhero. He was rightly famous for his bravery and daring during the Civil War.  He saw himself and his 7th Cavalry as larger than life. He believed he really was a superhero. But he led all who followed him to their death. In political life, superheroes can inspire millions for a year or two. For the long haul, it is wiser to follow a down-to-earth, practical problem solver, if you can find one. Obama, after he shrank, was OK. The only lasting superheroes in politics are the ones who died before reality set in. If you need to follow a force that is larger than life, go to your church, temple, synagogue, or mosque.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer

Mike Smetzer in Colorado - photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

Mike Smetzer in Colorado – photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

Great Aunt Ada’s Gifts vs. the Trump Presidency

June 2, 2017

 

Watching the Trump presidency unfold is one amazing performance after another. It is entertaining. It is riveting. It has comedy. It has dramatic suspense. And it is personally frightening. Frightening because Trump’s theater is the real world and all of our lives hang on his lines.

I wish watching the Trump presidency were more like opening presents from a great aunt I’ll call Ada. Ada either sends English regimental ties when I haven’t worn a dress shirt in years. Or creative hand-knit socks that are like nothing I’ve worn since my mod phase in the sixties.

Aunt Ada means well and she loves me. She’s just out of touch with my life. When my aunt sends a useless gift, no one’s life is destroyed, democracy is not undermined, and the very continuance of civilization is not threatened. The only note of suspense is “will it be a tie or socks?”

Aunt Ada does no harm. I toss the tie or socks in a bag for Goodwill. Then I write her a little thank-you note, adding I hope she likes the present I sent, which I suspect is equally useless to her. And we both get back to our separate lives. Sort of like my relationship with Trump when I just saw him for a few moments on The Apprentice as I was clicking through channels on a dull night.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer

Detail from "Sunset" - Acrylic Painting on Wood by Mike Smetzer

Detail from “Sunset” – Acrylic Painting on Wood by Mike Smetzer

Watching King Trump Battle the Free World and Missing Gerald Ford

February 2, 2017

Yes, it’s hard to believe, but I find myself turning away from the news and missing President Gerald R. Ford. In 1973, Ford was Speaker of the House. He succeeded Spiro Agnew to the Vice Presidency after Agnew’s bribery and money laundering crimes led to his resignation. Ford then succeeded Richard Nixon to the presidency after Nixon’s political crimes forced his resignation. Those were times of great political crisis and ugliness, much like we have today.

Ford was a nice enough but uninspired sort of guy. He pardoned Nixon and pretty much that’s all we remember about him. The economy was bad, but his government was benign. Ford and his dullness were a great relief after years of stress. People felt better. Disco came into its own, although I don’t know if Gerald Ford ever danced to it. It wasn’t a bad time. People got on with their lives. Americans are generally a happy, productive bunch of puppies as long as their political leaders don’t jerk on their leashes. The Ford years were not interesting times, but they were much better to live through than the Nixon years.

The Republicans don’t have a nice-guy leader like Gerald Ford ready to take over today. Should Donald Trump exit the scene, the executive branch would be taken over by a far-right politician named Mike Pence. We wouldn’t get the peace and relief of the Ford years. The government and our lives would continue to change for the worse. But it would be carefully planned. Perhaps Machiavellian. Far from happy or safe. But, we would, at least, be spared the daily clown show, the shock and stress of day after day of Presidential threats and blunders that is keeping us from getting on with our lives.

Our political world would continue to grow darker, but our government and our nation would survive. The main benefit of a Trump exit would be that we could vote to change our government again in four years and not have to rebuild from the ashes. The worst thing we fear about Donald Trump is his propensity for irreversible destruction.

Restore the Electoral College to its Constitutional Purpose

January 31, 2017

Last November the American people decided that an arrogant autocrat who cannot even focus his thoughts, a rude and impulsive man, willfully indifferent to truth, a smirking bully and fraudster who has bloated himself by tricking money out of his victim’s pockets, that this admirer of Vladimir Putin was just the man they wanted to lead them.

Donald Trump lost the national popular vote, but still became president because small states receive greater weighting in the Electoral College. If you include those too apathetic to vote, Trump won with the support of less than a quarter of the electorate. That was enough to highjack American democracy and put us on the road toward authoritarian rule.

Does this mean we should eliminate the Electoral College and have a national popular vote?

Popular-vote democracies all have a weakness. When enough voters are willfully ignorant or ruled by angry prejudice or simply don’t care, dangerous candidates win. This is why the founders of our country chose representative democracy. They reasoned that voters would have better knowledge of the character of leaders in their own state.

The American Constitution specifies that elected representatives, known and chosen locally, not the ill-informed and irrational masses should choose our president. Today we ignore our original constitutional process and pick our presidents by what is essentially a popular vote within each state. The authors of our constitution knew the cruelty and destructiveness of a mob. Democracy by popular vote can turn into witch hunts, lynch mobs, and anarchy.

Instead of eliminating the Electoral College, we should use it the way it was intended. We should vote for people we know and respect within our states to serve as electors. The Electoral College is a part of our constitution’s checks and balances. As the American electorate becomes increasingly fragmented and debased, we need it as a buffer against apathy and uninformed recklessness.

A Patriotic Proposal to Help Fund Donald Trump’s Wall Along the Mexican Border

January 29, 2017

It is a simple question of what really is valuable for us and what is not. President Trump says we need a 2000-mile wall to secure our southern border against Mexicans. Security is valuable for us. But such a wall will cost many billions of dollars. Where does the money come from? The means of acquiring enough money to at least start the project is right at our front door.

Solution: Sell the Statue of Liberty.

Yes, the Statue of Liberty has some value for the tourist industry. But tourists will still come to New York City without it. New York has plenty of tourist sites to offer. Other than that, the statue is just a nostalgic memorial to a time long past.

A copper statue of such giant size, designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel, with all its historical provenance, is worth a fortune. If sold at a well-advertised auction at Christie’s in London, I think it would easily fetch over a billion dollars. Enough for a good start on our southern wall. A few of the richest collectors could bid that much, and foreign governments like China could bid much more. Perhaps Germany would buy the statue to place on its eastern border. It would certainly be more appropriate there than it is here.

And what do we lose? The symbolism and sentiments of the distant past. Emma Lazarus’s sonnet written for the statue includes the words “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free./The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” These sentiments have no place in U.S. foreign policy today. We already have all the poor and tired people we need in this country. And huddled masses spread crime and disease!

Maybe such people were useful when we needed sod busters to settle the wilderness and laborers to build the railroads. Poor immigrants have nothing to offer us today. They cost a fortune in social services, and you have to train them to, maybe, speak English and use a toilet. Native-born Americans do not want to see the refuse of other countries when we look in the mirror. For our own self-respect alone, we would be better off selling the Statue of Liberty. It simply no longer represents our government’s policies or our national values.

Further, please consider that the Statue of Liberty is occupying an extraordinary piece of real estate. Liberty Island is the most exclusive 15 acres of real estate in New York Bay. We should privatize the site with the stipulation that a bold and magnificent structure will be built there. I’m thinking of a tower. An extraordinary tower of luxury apartments for the very rich. I know a New York firm that can do the job. And at the top of the tower, where Liberty’s torch was once raised high above the waters, I see a huge neon sign with the single bold word: Trump.

President Donald J. Trump & His Diehard Fans

January 22, 2017

When it comes to believing con artists like Donald Trump, I am reminded that Will Rogers said there are three kinds of people. Those that learn by reading. The few who learn by observation. And the rest who have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.

Trump Voters

December 19, 2016

Only a small percentage of Trump voters were the in-your-face fanatics you see on the news. Many were outwardly quiet people who voted for Trump because they were pissed off and wanted to do something to hurt our government. They acted like kids who are mad at a teacher and decide to throw stones through the school windows. That explains why the pollsters thought Hillary would win. If you ask malicious kids what they are doing tonight, they are not going to admit that they plan to throw stones through school windows. They lie or evade the question.

Today the College of Electors voted. Donald Trump is now officially elected and he will become president on January 20th. The stone throwers have had their way.

We will all go back to school with the windows boarded up. It will be very cold with the winter air coming in around the boards, and it will be dark from the lack of natural light. Saddest of all, no new windows can be ordered for at least four years.

The Democratic National Convention 2016

July 28, 2016
I have been missing most of the 2016 DNC because I have been at work afternoons and evenings and because my computer’s audio is shot. But it does seem to have far exceeded my expectations. The DNC is like a breath of fresh air after the RNC. It is good to hear what I have caught of speeches that are positive and not based on hate.
Meanwhile Trump continues to prove that he is all about sophomoric insults and very sloppy facts. His attack on Kaine’s record as governor of New Jersey when Kaine was governor of Virginia is just one striking example.
I would like to have a real choice when I go to vote this fall, but no responsible citizen could want anyone as rash and irresponsible as Trump running our country. I understand people’s anger. But, when you come down to it, poor rail service is better than a train wreck.

The Republican Convention Is Over

July 23, 2016

Well, the Republican madhouse convention is finally over. I remember when the Republicans nominated Bob Dole in 1996 and John McCain in 2008. They were both men of proven courage. Dole and McCain also had honesty and integrity. They both tried to come up with reasoned solutions. Donald Trump, by contrast has no integrity and presents no reasoned solutions. Trump makes grand proclamations of what he can do, and expects us to just have confidence that he can deliver. And many people will believe him because he gives them an emotional high by fanning the wildfires of hate, fear and prejudice. Trump targets people Americans can blame for the disappointments in their lives. He energizes their anger and promotes willful ignorance.

His radical supporters carry this attack message further. “The Muslims are to blame!” they shout. “Ban Islam!” “The Mexicans are to blame! Build a wall against them! Deport them!” “Hilary used a private email system! Shoot her!”

People. Trump is not a man with the answers. He’s a confidence man. A huckster selling you a snake oil that will cure all your ills. Do you think he is a self-made man? He went from college directly into his family’s New York real estate business. Do you think he is a brilliant business man? His businesses have repeatedly gone bankrupt. He comes out ahead. It’s the people who trust him who lose their money. Were you impressed by The Art of the Deal? His ghost writer says it is more fiction than fact. People spent their money on Trump University courses because he told them he had chosen the teachers. He didn’t choose any of them.

Now Trump has the chance of a lifetime, the opportunity to use wild claims and bravado to con the American people into making him president. Trump isn’t out to save the country. He is out to promote himself. If Trump were captain of a sinking ship with only one twenty-person lifeboat, he would abandon ship with only himself, two or three close aides, and all his money and luggage. Then after everyone else drowned, he would brag about how brilliantly he managed his escape, and, of course, announce plans to build a new ship.

Trump’s political career has been built by inventing “facts” and manipulating people’s fears and prejudices to con us into voting for him. Slick salesmen like Trump have a term for the people they target. They call them marks.