The Casual Blog

Tag: Fox News

Missing Africa, and pulling for the protesters in Portland

We’d planned to be on safari in Tanzania this week, but with the pandemic, obviously that didn’t work out.  So I spent some time looking at pictures, including ones I took when we visited Kruger National Park in South Africa in 2015.  I just loved those animals and Africa!  We’re hoping we can get to Tanzania in 2021.

But I’m less confident than usual that I’ll still be here in three weeks.  Although I seem healthy enough, the pandemic and other risks have affected my outlook.  Things seem much more unstable and prone to failure.  At the same time, it seems like a historic moment, with things about to change dramatically, for better or worse.

The situation in Portland has gotten dramatic.  Trump has decided that the Black Lives Matter protests need to be put down, and has sent in federal storm troopers to do so.  The protests have been mostly peaceful, though as in every crowd there are some idiots, like the ones who broke windows, set off recreational fireworks, and marked walls with graffiti.

Contrary to the President’s rhetoric, the protesters are not violent thugs bent on destroying the city.   This lie disguises what for him is the real problem:  the protesters’ messages.  Their central message is that police violence and racial discrimination need to stop.  For Trump and his supporters, this threat to the status quo is intolerable.

Part of the political dynamic is Trump’s declining popularity.  In response, he’s rebranded his usual fear mongering as “law and order,” which seems to resonate with the Fox News demographic.  The right wing media continues to play along, presenting the federal storm troopers in Portland as defenders of our traditional values.  

I have to admit, for all Trump’s incompetence and stupidity, he’s got a kind of genius for pressing people’s emotional buttons so they can’t think straight.  A lot of white Americans are fearful of black people, and suppressing them has been one of our traditions.  Video showing storm troopers attacking protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets can be made to look like forces of order defending civilization against anarchy.  

It may be that Portland is a test run for federal attacks in other cities, as Trump suggested this week.  This raises the possibility of escalating storm trooper violence, new and more vicious attacks on the free press, expansion of mass incarceration for dissidents, and the suspension of free elections.  The President has claimed to have unlimited powers, and it now seems possible that he’ll put that to the test.    

I hope I’m wrong on all that, but seriously, I’m worried.  The outcome in Portland may have far reaching consequences.  So far the Portland protesters have stood firm, and their numbers are growing.  It may be that they’ll succeed in shining light on the lawlessness and lies behind Trump’s storm trooper attacks, and save our democracy. 

I’m hopeful that most people will see through Trump’s fraudulent “law and order” ploy, but I’m not certain.  With clouds of tear gas obscuring the view, people can get confused.

Trump’s interview with Chris Wallace last week provided a rare bit of comedy in these difficult times.  Wallace was surprisingly direct in calling out some of Trump’s recent shocking lies regarding the pandemic, and Trump was visibly sweating.  When Trump bragged that he aced a mental competence test, Wallace noted dryly that the test was not that difficult.

When Wallace noted that the test required counting backward from 100 by 7s, I realized, it’s quite unlikely that Trump actually aced the test.  In any case, his claim that the test showed his intelligence is an especially entertaining type of Trump lie:  a self-refuting one.  Thinking that a mental competence test is the same as an intelligence test demonstrates a clear mental deficit.

In the interview, Trump foolishly challenged Biden to a test competition, which I thought would be an excellent way to resolve our political crisis.  We wouldn’t need anything as challenging as the SAT, or even a high school equivalency test.  Any questioning at the fifth grade level would suffice.  

It would save us a lot of money and anxiety, and provide some laughs, to have these two as single combat warriors on Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader.  The winner would be declared our new president.  I would bet the house that Trump would fail hilariously.      

Visiting Oberlin Cemetery, and five lessons from Hurricane Trump

Oberlin Cemetery in Raleigh

This week I went over to the Oberlin Cemetery, off of Oberlin Road in Raleigh, and learned a little history.  The cemetery served the Village of Oberlin, which was founded in 1865 by just freed formerly enslaved people.  It was named after Oberlin, Ohio, an abolitionist stronghold on the underground railroad, and site of Oberlin College, my alma mater.  

For a time, even as Reconstruction ended and the racist Jim Crow system started in the late 1870s, the little Village of Oberlin did just fine, gradually adding black owned businesses, schools, and churches.  The Depression of the 30s dealt it a harsh blow as local jobs disappeared, and many young people went north in the Great Migration.  In the 1950s, it was cut in two by an extension of Wade Avenue, and further disassembled by so-called urban renewal in the 1960s.  How much of the destruction of the community was driven by racism and how much was due to ordinary merciless capitalism?  Further study is needed.  

Today Oberlin Avenue is largely a commercial strip, and hardly anything remains of the 19th century village.  But there is an old cemetery that was started in the 1870s, which is worth visiting.  As these pictures show, it has large oaks, pines, and magnolias, and some attractive monuments.  Much of it isn’t carefully tended, but the fact that it is still there is a testimony to the strength of the black community there and its descendants.  

Last week we celebrated the Fourth of July more quietly than usual, or at least, most of us did.  President Trump had military jets fly over Mt. Rushmore, and before the fireworks, gave a speech in which he went all in on his trademarked fear mongering.  He targeted “angry mobs” tearing down our statues, and “bad, evil people” intent on intimidating “[us].”  You understand who he means by “us,” right?     

At this point, it looks like more and more people are noticing that Trump is totally incompetent and corrupt, a person who manages to be at once ridiculous and alarmingly vicious, who’s putting our lives and our democratic institutions at risk.  From recent polling, it looks reasonably likely that he’ll be defeated and gone in a few months.  Then we’ll be faced with the large task of the post storm clean up and rebuilding.  But in a way, I feel grateful that we’ve learned some things from Hurricane Trump.  

For example, here are five lessons learned:

1. Old-style racism is far from dead in America.  I’m talking about the people who still want to fly the Confederate flag and use the N word.  They’re a minority, but Trump turned them from a barely visible minority to one that feels proud and empowered, marching in the streets with guns and shouting excitedly.  The good thing is, we now understand that they are there and that we have to calm them down and address them.

2.  Xenophobia, the close relative of racism, is far from dead in America.  Lots of people who are uncomfortable with the N word are fearful of immigrants who look different and speak different languages.  “Build the Wall” makes no sense as geopolitics, but it makes perfect sense as political theatre.  Scapegoating foreigners has a long and ugly history in our country, and it has had another nasty revival as part of Trumpism.  But as with the previous item, at least now we know, and can start to address it. 

3. The American racial caste system is alive and well.  I’m distinguishing here between the racist ideals of avowed white supremacists and the more widespread sentiment that it’s natural and normal that white people have better schools, better houses, more money, and so forth, because that’s just how things happened to work out. 

The caste system ensures that we avoid inquiries that would undermine the system, like looking at our long and bloody history of oppression of minorities and the structural inequalities in jobs, housing, education, banking, and health care.  The caste system is harder to grasp than full on racism, but probably more corrosive.  Trump has done us the great service of bringing it more into view, and here again, he’s made it more possible to address. 

4.  We are sufficiently powerful to endanger a lot of the natural world, but not so powerful as to stop it from destroying us.  Over the last few decades, the science of climate change has become harder and harder to deny, but the President is still a die hard denialist.  Far from countering the looming catastrophe of climate change, he is working hard to bring it upon us as quickly as possible, through more fossil fuel mining and burning, less efficient cars, and opposition to every mitigation effort, including international climate cooperation and scientific research.  He even has new regulations to encourage more killing of wild animals!   

But we can be certain that Trump will not stop nature.  It’s very strong.  If we don’t change course, the atmosphere will continue to warm, with still more of our weather disasters like extreme hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, floods, and rising sea levels.  We can look forward to more deadly pandemics related to climate change and expanding human populations.  Here again, Trump has made our problems more visible and urgent.

5.  People are more prone to manipulation and delusion than we thought.  It’s easy to make fun of proponents of Pizzagate and QAnon, which are self-evident lunacy.  And we might have thought that having a president that lies constantly and shamelessly would eventually cause some distress and consternation even among his strong supporters.  But strangely, at least for many, it doesn’t.  

It turns out that constant lies tend to make us exhausted, cynical and indifferent, not much interested in truth, or prone to exotic conspiracy delusions like the Deep State.  With an efficient propaganda machine led by Fox News, facts are gradually replaced by alternative facts, and actual facts come to be viewed as fake news.  Even Orwell never imagined a manipulation and delusion system as disturbing, and as effective, as the one created by Trumpism.  

I could go on, but you get the idea.  Thanks to Trump, we can now see that elements of our system that we took for granted as sound and workable were badly deteriorated and close to catastrophic failure.  We thought we were living in a well constructed, comfortable house, and it turns out the foundations are rotten and the roof also needs to be replaced.  

The repairs are going to be time consuming and expensive.  It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is.  We need to focus hard on getting him safely out of the house, and then we can get started on the crucial repairs.  

On a cheerier note, I recommend Becoming, a documentary about Michelle Obama  which we just saw on Netflix.  I knew she was a gifted person, but I hadn’t known much about her story, or her remarkable ability to connect with people.    

Our sexism comes out, and the campaign to stop the Trump investigation boots up

At the edge of the marsh near the Elizabeth River

Early Friday morning, I completed my hundredth spin class at Flywheel.  I did not meet my goal of 300 points (285), but I made it in in the top three, and I certainly got my heart rate well elevated (low 160s). Afterwards I drove over to O2 gym for some upper body resistance work and stretching.  Then I came home and fixed a green smoothie for breakfast, this time with orange juice, almond milk, kale, banana, baby carrots, celery, and blueberries.  That’s a lot of health in one glass, and it was also tasty.  

I’m exercising to feel good and increase the chances that I’ll still be here when Donald Trump is gone.  It helps my mood, which needs all the help it can get these days.  In particular, the recent flood of stories of powerful men sexually harassing women is depressing.  It suggests our problem is a lot worse than I thought, and we may well have not hit bottom yet.  

It’s no surprise that some percentage of males are dangerous sexual predators, and that there’s a larger percentage prone to crossing the line.  What’s new is the level of tolerance for such behavior. Last year almost half the population voted for a presidential candidate who bragged on tape about sexual assault.  Now a candidate in Alabama with a well documented record of molesting young teenage girls and lying about it stands a good chance of being elected to the United States Senate.

I formerly assumed that we all — Republican, Democrat, or other —  would agree that it is beyond the pale for middle-aged men to sexually assault fourteen-year-old girls.  That is, there are plenty of close questions when it comes to the boundary areas of sex, but there are some, like that one, that I thought were beyond debate. But apparently not.

What does this mean?   I think we’re seeing something that has been right in front of our noses all our lives but seldom noticed.  That is, we have a system in which women formally have equal rights, but in certain respects are regarded as unworthy.  In the US, we allow women to vote, attend school, work, and wear what they want. But we also systematically pay them less, give them less authority, and accept as normal that they’ll be subject to some degree of sexual misconduct.  

Ferguson and Black Lives Matter began a wrenching process that exposed a  hidden strain of racism.  Similarly, the disgusting and illegal behavior of Trump, Weinstein, Moore, and others  may be the start of a process that shines the light on our entrenched sexism.  We may expand the dialogue and expand the population that considers and treats women as fully human, and get to the point that nothing less will be tolerated.      

I hope so.  Meanwhile, I’m worried by the new effort to discredit and undermine the investigation of Russia’s interference in the last presidential election.  The evidence of Russian assistance to the Trump campaign is already extensive, and the evidence of ties between Trump’s top aides and the Russians is growing.  Now, as the plot thickens, Robert Mueller and the FBI are being accused of being partisan hacks out to get the President for no good reason. 

This campaign of slime is being led by Trump, Fox, and several Republican Congressmen.  There’s a good Washington Post piece on this by Paul Waldman here.  There’s also an account of the House Judiciary Committee’s work along this line here.  

I was sufficiently astonished by this idea that I decided to get out of my own bubble and watch, for the first time ever, an hour of Fox News.

So we saw Sean Hannity’s show on Thursday night, and it was both better and worse than expected.  Hannity and his guests are very skilled at weaving together uncontested facts with unfounded speculation and outright falsehoods so that they’re hard to distinguish.  The people are well-dressed and look serious and intelligent, and they all agree with each other on their key points.  

Thus several people at once will assent verbally and non-verbally to a proposition like “Hillary is the real criminal.”  They repeat their basic points over and over, but with enough variations that it isn’t completely obvious.  Unless you bring to the table a body of background knowledge, you might not notice the leaps in their reasoning, or the lack of any supporting evidence.    

So if you were to get all your news from Hannity, you might well believe that Trump is basically a good guy doing his level best and being unfairly thwarted by evil liberals.  And you might end up thinking that there’s no reason to worry about Russia taking over our political process.  At the same time, you might not be much concerned about electing sexual predators to high office.  

Hannity and Fox are really good at big lie propaganda.  Ordinary journalists can’t counter them as long as they are constrained by honesty and actual facts.  Reality based reporting doesn’t always fit neatly with our prejudices, and it just isn’t as exciting.  

Despite the effectiveness of Fox and Hannity, Trump’s poll numbers continue to sink.  I was heartened to read last week that his support among evangelical Christians had dropped by 17 percent since February.   Maybe it’s a trend.

I took these pictures last weekend when we visited my brother in the Virginia Beach area.  We got out on the Intercostal Waterway and did some kayaking.  The water was smooth and peaceful.  

Mayhem in Tucson, and the politics of evil

The killing spree by a mentally ill young man in Tucson last week was shocking and sad, as senseless mayhem always is. But there’s something about this attack that’s especially worrisome. The main target (who miraculously survived) was a moderate Democratic congresswoman. A number of right wing pundits have made careers of demonizing such politicians and fanning ignorance into raging anger. Palin, Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Beck and others have persuaded millions that non-right-wingers are not merely misguided, but essentially and utterly evil. It isn’t hard to imagine that their intense, emotional rhetoric would lead unbalanced minds to violent action.

We usually think of political differences as less important than, say, differences in moral values, but lately the two kinds of differences have converged and made it hard to address real social problems. Paul Krugman in the NY Times was insightful and eloquent on this issue. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/14/opinion/14krugman.html?em&exprod=myyahoo

Krugman points out that the right wing has developed a view of government as opposed to their natural rights. They regard “taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.” Thus they view health reform (and lots of other government programs) as a moral outrage, and most of what government does as illegitimate. It follows from this that those who believe government has an important role to play in addressing serious social problems are evil enemies.

This is, of course, a radical view, with no more basis in our traditions than in reason. It’s probable that this approach in its strong form is a fringe phenomenon. But the Tucson mayhem brought home that such ideology may still seriously threaten our public life. The sophisticated right-wing PR machine makes unbalanced individuals even more unbalanced, and there will be a certain percentage of these who enjoy shooting assault weapons. Krugman is probably right that no amount of reasonable discussion will persuade the right wingers, and we can’t hope to prevent all mental illness. But Krugman thinks we may be able to agree that it’s wrong to incite violence. That seems little enough to ask.