Weltschmerz

Donald Trump took the oath of office today at noon, becoming the 45th president (44th unique president) of the United States of America.  I didn’t hear his speech but I did read it afterwards.   All things considered, it wasn’t a horrible speech, as speeches go.   He seemed to hammer on the points that endeared him to the people who voted for him: the economy is in the tank, crime is unbearable, the military is weak, and all of the other things he said on the campaign trail without a lick of evidence to support it.  

(Note that with regard to the economy, there is a nugget of truth to the pronouncements in that far too many people are working their asses off only to enrich the already wealthy and still have trouble making ends meet but the solution to that is not tax cuts for the rich, as he and his team have proposed.)

I do think there’s something disingenuous about proclaiming to have responded to the will of the people when he actually lost the popular vote, and badly.   Indeed, if the popular vote at all levels actually worked out to the actual results, we’d be celebrating our first female president and a democratic majority in congress.  But that’s not the way the constitution and the congressional districts are designed.  

So we enter into a period of uncertainty about the future of the nation.   As a straight, white cisgender male, I know that I will be all right.   That’s my privilege talking.   But it’s not me that we should be worried about.   It’s all of my friends who don’t share in that privilege: my female friends, my trans friends, my African American friends, my gay, lesbian, and bisexual friends.  Those are the people for whom I worry.  

The word that is the subject line of this essay is a German word for the pain, angst, or anguish of watching things happen around you and how little control you might feel you have.   It literally means “world pain”.   I think it fits.  

A couple of weeks ago, there was an article in the New York Times about why rural America voted for Trump.  It’s interesting reading, to be sure, but there was one characterization of the difference between liberals and conservatives that I, as a liberal, take exception to: it said that conservatives view people as inherently bad and liberals view them as inherently good.   I disagree with such a facile, oversimplified view of humanity.   I think we have the capacity for doing both good and bad deeds.  While there are some bad people in our prisons, most of our inmates aren’t so much bad people as people who’ve made mistakes.  There’s also no shortage of bad people who are running free, maybe even serving as the president of the United States.   I think it takes a lot of work to bring out the best in many people but it can be done.  

And that’s what’s next on the docket.  Bringing out the best.  I shall hold out my hand to anyone who might want to join me.   It’s time to show the people in that article who characterize liberals as lazy, that we’re not afraid to roll up our sleeves and get to work.   

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Whither the GOP and the country?

In the past couple of months I’ve been thinking a lot about both American history and what portends for the next four years under a President Donald Trump.   I have often said that I have not been able, in good conscience, to pull any levers in the voting booth for someone with “Republican” next to their name since I watched then-Senator Arlen Specter hew dangerously rightward to fend off a primary challenge from then-Representative Pat Toomey in 2004.   

At the time,  my other senator was Rick Santorum.  When Toomey — whose worldview closely resembles that of Santorum — came in claiming the mantle of the future of the Republican Party, I lost the ability to vote for the GOP.  

I was (and still am) quick to point out to pollsters, this statement is not, in and of itself, a giveaway to the Democratic Party.   

Donald Trump ran on an openly racist, sexist, bigoted platform sprinkled with some economic populism that appealed to those who have felt left behind by a changing economy.   The racism, sexism, bigotry, and general xenophobia he spouted aren’t anything new in either this country or humanity in general.   It’s just disheartening how much he has emboldened them.  

In looking at the posturings of the president elect, I wonder if I have been misjudging things.   Thirteen years ago, I thought the downfall of the Republican Party would be the influence of the religious right, and that in order for the party to become remotely palatable to me, they’d have to rid themselves of the influence of the theocrats in their midst.  

Say what you will about Donald Trump himself, but he is not a theocrat.   He may have surrounded himself with the likes of Franklin Graham and other modern religious hypocrites but he himself has little use for the teachings and trappings of religion.   I might tongue-in-cheek question why someone like Trump hasn’t founded his own church as he seems quite comfortable preaching similar bullshit to gullible supporters, but I’m sure that, as a con man he recognizes similar people.  

I am not, by nature, a pessimistic person.  And I do recognize that sometimes, in order to move forward we must occasionally step back.  Looking at Trump’s nominees for important positions in his cabinet, there are only a handful of people who can competently execute the duties of the position without raising the specter of corruption, conflict of interest, or historical opposition to the goals and expectations of the agency they would lead.  Add in Trump’s very public disregard for our intelligence agencies, and it’s easy to see how our enemies can be emboldened to find ways to attack us while the wolves guard the proverbial hen house.  

Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has shown his true colors in wanting to rush the most controversial nominees through the confirmation process without thoroughly vetting them.  (Note that there is nothing wrong with holding the hearings before the president elect assumes the office; it’s the lack of interest in compiling the necessary documentation on their backgrounds that is a problem.)  Considering the sheer amount of wealth all of these nominees have, both individually and collectively, their backgrounds should be investigated more thoroughly, not less.  

I have pointed out before that, depending on how you measure it, three historical presidencies vie for the title of “most corrupt.”  The way Trump is starting out, it seems as though he wants to surpass Grant, Harding, and Reagan and earn the mantle of most corrupt on his own, eliminating any ambiguity from the various possible definitions.  

And yes, that can and will damage the country in scores of ways, both direct (bankrupting the government) and indirect (leaving vulnerabilities in our defenses and infrastructure).   And that, in turn, could be the motivation of an otherwise reluctant congress to grant more powers to a president who is already excessively power hungry.  

During the campaign I was unable to answer the simple question of why Donald Trump wanted to be president.   Most people who enter politics — liberal and conservative alike — do so because they feel compelled to serve the public and think that they can effect positive changes for the country.   There is nothing in Donald Trump’s public statements or his past history that indicates that he wants to serve anyone other than himself.  

But there is cause for hope.  Whatever damage he does, can be easily undone by an electorate that watches in disgust, starting with a new congress designed to hold him accountable for his lies and actions in two years and then a new president in four.  

What I’d like to see in this process is the Republican Party waking up and realizing how much of a mistake they made by having him as their standard bearer.  The country will survive.  Will the republicans? 

This Is Why We Fight by the Decemberists

Come the war
Come the avarice
Come the war
Come hell

Come attrition
Come the reek of bones
Come attrition
Come hell

This is why
Why we fight
Why we lie awake
And this is why
Why we fight
When we die
We will die
With our arms unbound
And this is why
Why we fight
Come hell

Bride of quiet
Bride of all unquiet things
Bride of quiet
Bride of hell

Come the archers
Come the infantry
Come the archers
Come hell

This is why
Why we fight
Why we lie awake
This is why
This is why we fight
And when we die
We will die
With our arms unbound
And this is why
This is why we fight
Come hell
Come hell

This is why
Why we fight
Why we lie awake
This is why
This is why we fight
When we die
We will die
With our arms unbound
And this is why
This is why we fight



So come to me
Come to me now
Lay your arms around me
And this is why
This is why
Why we fight
Come hell
Come hell
Come hell
Come hell

(C) 2011 BMG Rights Management

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Modern Day Israel

One of the most repugnant conspiracy theories in existence today is that of holocaust denial.  There’s no shortage of conspiracy theories that selectively deny evidence and focus on one tiny sliver of ambiguity or doubt in order to make the claim that the greater narrative should be discarded in favor of some alternate version of reality.   But holocaust denial stands alone in terms of both the mountains of evidence being ignored and the agendas of those who would further the alternate thesis.  

At times like this, I like to examine the true crux of the argument they’re making.  The fundamental argument that the deniers make, is that there’s no way that in the approximately 5 1/2 year period beginning in late 1939 and ending when Germany surrendered to end the European stage of World War II was not enough time, given then-available technologies, to massacre six million Jews and other minorities.  

Let’s ignore the fact that, if there were a mandate that everyone on the planet must fight exactly one other person to the death every day, the death toll on day 1 would be more than 3.5 billion and that we’d wipe out pretty much all of humanity in just over a month.   And the only real technological limitations would be for the survivors on any given day to locate their next opponents.  

I’m not unsympathetic to the argument that the six million figure might be wrong.  After all, it is truly impossible to know the exact number.  It took the best statisticians in the world more than a decade to land on that number in the first place.   Even today, there’s no shortage of bona fide historians who argue that the true number might be closer to 8 or 9 million.  If we’re willing to argue that the number should be larger, surely there’s room to argue that it’s closer to 4 million, right?

And that’s not even getting into the old canard about how there are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.  After all, those gum ads don’t say “4 out of the 5 dentists we surveyed recommend sugar free gum to patients who chew gum.” It’s amazing what the addition of two tiny words can do to the interpretation of the numbers.  

So at the end of the day, denying the holocaust its place in history serves to undermine what happened next: the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.   It’s not unreasonable to assert that a major reason why the nation was carved out of the territory it now holds, because of a degree of European guilt over what happened to the Jews during the holocaust.  Deny the holocaust and you deny the justification for the founding of the nation.  

And that’s unacceptable.  

An argument can be made that the Palestinians who lived in the area in 1948 weren’t adequately informed of what was happening or they weren’t properly compensated for their land and for their troubles.  With that fact in mind, they can’t be faulted for resentment towards Israel and its leaders.  Nearly 70 years have passed since Israel was first founded, and she’s been in a near constant state of alert for hostilities ever since.  

Israel has every right to defend itself and its citizens.  But at the exact same time, if the Palestinians in the area are kept in slum-like conditions without the same privileges enjoyed by the state of Israel, there’s no way around the resentment aimed at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.   To make matters worse, Israel has been building settlements in lands earmarked for the Palestinians.   

I’m not trying to argue that Israel deserves any terrorist attacks committed by the Palestinians but its leadership sure as hell isn’t doing itself any favors by not being willing to listen to their grievances.  Yes, the Palestinian charter calls for the destruction of Israel. It’s what Israel is trying to do to the Palestinians.   

When Benjamin Netanyahu gave a speech before congress a year ago, I heard his words and came to the conclusion that he may be one of the most dangerous people on the world stage.  

That fact was underscored a couple of weeks ago when the UN Security Council condemned Israel’s continued building of settlements in the territory it has been occupying for nearly 50 years.  At the very least, it’s a violation of the Geneva conventions.  

I want to reiterate that Israel has a right to defend itself against foreign attacks, and it. has been doing so quite effectively for as long as it has existed as a nation.   But Netanyahu and nearly the entire Israeli government are either being shortsighted, foolhardy, or both when they continue sowing the seeds of resentment that can only result in more attacks.   

The Palestinians don’t need to have the moral high ground in this debate.  But as long as right wing hardliners are in charge of Israel, the Palestinians are getting it anyway.  

It’s a small consolation for the horrors its people are facing, by the hands of a group of people who, quite frankly, ought to know better.  What the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians may not rise to the level of another holocaust, but they still harbor an attitude that surely resembles Germany around about 1936.   

I worry that Netanyahu may be emboldened to make life worse in that part of the world, thanks to the incoming administration in the US.  

And that’s a bloody shame.