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Nederlog

Jul 5, 2016

Crisis: Trump, Bush Biographed, Frederick Douglass, Extinct US Democracy
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Introduction

1.
Can Parody Bring Down Trump?
2. Review: ‘Bush,’ a Biography as Scathing Indictment
3.
"What to the Slave is 4th of July?"
4. Put Away the Fireworks... You Don’t Live in a
    Democracy Anymore

Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, July 5, 2016.

This is a crisis log. There are 4 items with 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about nice bit and an interesting idea by Robert Kuttner: "Can Parody Bring Down Trump?"; item 2 is about what seems to me a good biography of Bush Jr. (that classifies him, correctly in my opinion, as one of the worst US presidents); item 3 is about Frederick Douglass, who indeed was an amazing man; and item 4 is about a good article by John Atcheson that explains why the USA is no longer a real democracy (but is ruled by the very rich or their placemen, for the very rich and their placemen).

1
.
Can Parody Bring Down Trump?

The first item today is by Robert Kuttner (<-Wikipedia) on The Huffington Post:
This is from near the beginning (and Kuttner, as you can see from the last Wikipedia link, is a journalist, writer and professor of 74):

I did all this at first as a lark, or sometimes as procrastination from my usual deadlines, but it became kind of an obsession and the songs almost kept writing themselves. There is something serious here, too. Conventional politics and media are failing to get to the essence of Trump as fraud, thief and huckster. Maybe parody can do it.

The great thing about writing a musical about Trump is that you are never short of material. The challenge is to keep it on the level of parody--because whenever you come up with a premise that seems completely over the top, Trump goes and does it.

Yes and no, I would say, also to the question the article's title poses:

Yes, I like - good - parody and sarcasm, and maybe "Drumpf: the Musical" brings it (there is a bit quoted below, which I like), and it probably also works in the theatre, but no, I doubt it will work for a larger audience, although that is not Robert Kuttner's fault, but the mainstream media's, who applaud almost any lie, any crudity, and any indecency, provided it is issued by Trump.

For you need to explain parody and sarcasm (to an extent, especially to not very intelligent not very learned audiences), but the reporting on Trump itself by the main media is a major parody, concocted of deceptions, lies and lots of silence about Trump's lies.

But perhaps I am mistaken, e.g. if Trump gets angry by this criticism of his almost holy personality (that now has banned Mother Jones, The Guardian and quite a few others who do not write on their knees about them, from attend- ing his meetings and speeches).

Here is the last bit of a quoted song (one of twenty), that explains Trump in terms of cognitive dissonance (<-Wikipedia):

Trump. Cognitive dis, you gotta love it.
And cognitive dis is deep in our soul
If you are honest about America's role
Our national myths are built on fictions
We have a flair for contradictions.

All men created equal, it's emblazoned on Jefferson's grave.
But he had slaves. And he loved his slaves.
Well, he loved Sally Hemmings.
My God, Americans are lemmings!
All men are equal except the African
Who is three-fifths of a man.
In every war we were united
So we could fight it
For the United States...and United Fruit
America was pleased to prostitute
Our ideals for corporate appeals
In Iran we staged a coup back in 53
Was that for you, was it for me?
Naw, it was all about oil
The place is still at a boil
(slowly)
So before you hiss, consider this
America is built on cognitive dis.

There is considerably more of the song in the article, that is recommended.

And incidentally, as to
cognitive dissonance:

This may be demanding too much from Trump's admirers, because it presumes that cognitive dissonance is (as Wikipedia says)
"the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time"
while to me it seems as if much of his audience embraces contradictions without any stress or problems, indeed quite as it is put above:
Our national myths are built on fictions
We have a flair for contradictions.
(But this is merely a psychologist's remark, and is not meant in criticism.)
2. Review: ‘Bush,’ a Biography as Scathing Indictment

The second item is by Peter Baker in The New York Times:

This starts as follows:

For George W. Bush, the summer already looks unbearable. The party he gave his life to will repudiate him by nominating a bombastic serial insulter who makes the famously brash former president look like a museum docent by comparison. And a renowned presidential biographer is weighing in with a judgment that makes Mr. Bush’s gentleman’s Cs at Yale look like the honor roll.

If Mr. Bush eventually gets a more sympathetic hearing by history, as he hopes, it will not start with Jean Edward Smith’s “Bush,” a comprehensive and compelling narrative punctuated by searing verdicts of all the places where the author thinks the 43rd president went off track.
The "bombastic serial insulter" is Donald Trump, and while I don't have much in criticism of this introduction, I think that saying that Bush "gave his life to" the Republican Party gives both Bush and the Party too much honor.

Then again, it is true that Jean Edward Smith is "
a renowned presidential biographer", which means that he does know what he is talking about:

Mr. Smith leaves no mystery where he stands on Mr. Bush’s place in history. The first sentence of his book: “Rarely in the history of the United States has the nation been so ill-served as during the presidency of George W. Bush.”

The last: “Whether George W. Bush was the worst president in American history will be long debated, but his decision to invade Iraq is easily the worst foreign policy decision ever made by an American president.”

Bush Jr. certainly was one of the worst presidents of the USA (who - incidentally - also did not win the presidency in 2000: that was given to him thanks to a very strange decision of the Supreme Court).

I will not discuss whether invading Iraq was "
the worst foreign policy decision ever", and turn to a summary of Smith's position on Bush and his belief that
he - Bush Jr - was "
acting with divine guidance":

In this telling, Mr. Bush’s religious piety took on messianic fervor leading him to turn democracy promotion into a mission from God. He didn’t listen to the generals and diplomats. He badly bungled the response to Hurricane Katrina. He presided over the diminution of American values by authorizing torture and bugging.

“Believing he was the agent of God’s will, and acting with divine guidance, George W. Bush would lead the nation into two disastrous wars of aggression,” Mr. Smith writes. “Bush’s personalization of the war on terror combined with his macho assertiveness as the nation’s commander in chief,” he adds later, “were a recipe for disaster.”

To me, that sounds fair enough, if only because I think a president should not depend on "divine guidance" in his decisions, but on a good factual under- standing of whatever he tries to resolve.

Here is some more:
The Patriot Act, he writes, “may be the most ill-conceived piece of domestic legislation since the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798.” In labeling Iran, Iraq and North Korea an “axis of evil,” Mr. Bush “had spoken without weighing the consequences.” Mr. Bush’s refusal to face up to the fact that Iraq had no unconventional weapons “suggests a willfulness that borders on psychosis.” His second-term Inaugural Address making democracy promotion his major goal “must rank as one of the most ill-considered of all time.”
This seems an interesting biography, and this is a recommended article.
3. "What to the Slave is 4th of July?"

The third item is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!:

This starts as follows:
In a Fourth of July holiday special, we begin with the words of Frederick Douglass. Born into slavery around 1818, Douglass became a key leader of the abolitionist movement. On July 5, 1852, in Rochester, New York, he gave one of his most famous speeches, "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro." He was addressing the Rochester Ladies Antislavery Society.
Who was Frederick Douglass (<-Wikipedia)? He was a rather amazing contemporary of Karl Marx (who was also born in 1818, and indeed looked a bit like him). Here is the beginning of the Wikipedia lemma (minus note numbers):
Frederick Douglass (..) was an African-American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement from Massachusetts and New York, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writings. In his time he was described by abolitionists as a living counter-example to slaveholders' arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens. Northerners at the time found it hard to believe that such a great orator had once been a slave.

Douglass wrote several autobiographies. He described his experiences as a slave in his 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which became a bestseller, and was influential in promoting the cause of abolition, as was his second book, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855).

I read the first mentioned book in the 1970ies, and was much impressed: he was clearly very intelligent and very courageous. Here is the speech he gave in 1852 to the Rochester Ladies Antislavery Society:

FREDERICK DOUGLASS: [read by James Earl Jones] Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?

What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour forth a stream, a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and the crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

Incidentally, this was about 7 years before Jim Brown was killed (the last link has his last speech), and 8 1/2 years befor the American Civil War started (which lasted a little over 4 years and killed between 705,000 and 900,000 Americans).

4. Put Away the Fireworks... You Don’t Live in a Democracy Anymore

The fourth and last item today is by John Atcheson on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

Within the last 30 years, while we’ve chased bogeymen overseas and here at home, our Democracy has fallen. We have been taken over; defeated; our voices neutered; our freedoms trampled; our democracy vanquished.

No invading force accomplished this; no jackboots echoed across our republic; no alien flag was raised above our lands. Not a single shot was fired by our vaunted military to halt this takeover. No, this was a quiet coup, accomplished from within, and conducted in stealth. 

As it happens, I completely agree, but for one fact: I think the rise of the rich started either in 1971 (with a secret memorandum of Lewis Powell Jr.) or in 1979/1980 (with the nominations of Thatcher and Reagan).

So I would have written "within the last 35 or 45 years", though this is not very important in an article like this one.

Here are some of the reasons why John Atcheson thinks "Democracy has fallen" (bolding added):
Our votes carry no weight. Our news is a hollow monoculture in which six corporations own 90% of the outlets with most of the rest controlled by elitists who can no longer relate to the average person; in which infotainment has replaced information; in which a modern day version of bread and circuses keeps us distracted from the increasingly grim reality we are everyday immersed in. The jobs open to us are becoming increasingly exploitative. And the pursuit of happiness is marred by a lack of choice, increasingly desperate economic straights for the majority of us, and a feeling of impotence as we watch the American dream shrink before our eyes.
I think that is quite true, and it also stresses the important things: The disappearance of democracy due to the lies, deceptions and amusements that are now sold as "news" by the main media, that are owned by six corporations that control 90% of the outlets, and the "increasingly desperate economic straights for the majority of" Americans today.

You might think that "the disappearance of democracy" is an overstatement.
Consider this list of John Atcheson:

I'd say that these are all important themes, and that the list shows American democratic opinions simply aren't even registered anymore by American politics: they are set aside without being mentioned in the main media (except rarely and briefly).

And here are the consequences spelled out:

This is why we can’t enact meaningful gun control legislation when the vast majority favor it; this is why we can’t enact effective climate change policies when majorities in both parties say they want to; this is why we let the people founder but bailed out the banks when they crashed the economy in 2008; this is why politicians from both Parties still favor job-wrecking trade agreements when most citizens from both Parties are against them; this is why the uber rich and corporations can easily discharge debt and renege on promises to their employees using bankruptcy laws, but students and the poor cannot;  this is why we can’t break up the too-big-to-fail banks or reinstall Glass-Steagall or pass a tax on securities trading, again, even though the majority of Americans favor all of these measures. This is why we are engaged in never-ending wars nobody wants and that nobody can explain or justify at a cost of tens of trillions of dollars that the people don’t want to spend.

Quite simply, the United States is no longer a Democratic Republic; it is an Oligarchy.

And the few who rule are either very rich themselves, or are in the pay of the very rich, and do their biddings.
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