Category Archives: Politics

Where’s It Written?

 

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This morning I picked up my Wall Street Journal and read the following quote from a college classmate, former Watergate Special Prosecutor, and long-time Democratic Party mouthpiece – Richard Ben-Veniste:  “The president of the United States should not be involving himself in an ongoing investigation by soliciting details about that investigation from the head of the investigative agency. That’s just not the way the system is supposed to work.”  The head of the investigative agency is, as you probably know, the now ex- FBI director James Comey, and the president is you-know-who. I am certainly not an expert on this (and I welcome corrections from anyone out there who is), but I would like to know where it’s written that the president is forbidden to do that? Ben-Veniste would have been on firmer ground if he had said: The head of an investigative agency should never hold press conferences where he exonerates or indicts anyone. That responsibility belongs to prosecutors (the Attorney General), not investigators (the FBI).

I am constantly amazed by the definitive statements people (many of whom should know better) make about what’s legal or illegal, what’s a rule violation and what isn’t, and what’s constitutional and what’s not. One example is the popular belief that the missile strike on Syria was either illegal or unconstitutional because Congress didn’t approve it. The Constitution is not very clear on this, perhaps purposely. Yes, Congress has the power to declare war, but there have been only 11 formal declarations of war and more than 20 undeclared wars and military actions, including the Korean War (37,000 plus Americans killed) and the Vietnam War. The last formally declared war was World War II. There is the post-Vietnam War Powers Act in which Congress tried to limit the president’s power to make war, but that too would have allowed the strike on Syria, and besides, most presidents purportedly limited by the law have declared it unconstitutional and intimated that they would ignore its restrictions if they felt it necessary.

The only way to settle this difference of opinion between the president and Congress is to take it to the Supreme Court. To my knowledge, no such cases have gone to The Court. The reason is that neither side wants to risk the chance of losing, for the losing side would lose the power it believed it had. Both branches are afraid of a clear decision on the issue.

I also doubt that the Supreme Court would want to make a clear, definitive ruling on such a crucial constitutional issue. The Court sometimes hands down rulings with loopholes and a modicum of room for “interpretation.” For example, the Court has refused to decide unequivocally whether “affirmative action,” aka, racial quotas, is constitutional or not. The Justices know that racial discrimination is definitely unconstitutional, so they have ruled that race alone cannot be used by university admissions people. That word alone allows universities to make up other excuses for what is plainly racial discrimination.

And so the universities created the diversity standard; An important mission of the university is to insure a diverse student body. But there are many different kinds of diversity: class, ideological, religious, ethnic, and geographical. But the truth is that the universities want more blacks and Hispanics and thus fewer “whites” (Polish, Italian, Irish, Jewish etc.) and Asians (Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese etc.). And the Supreme Court ruled that diversity (without defining it) is a “compelling interest” of the university, so affirmative action apparently will live forever, thanks to The Court’s equivocal, politically motivated rulings.

If the president’s war powers issue ever goes to the Supreme Court, it would be entirely predictable that The Court would hand down the same kind of unclear, compromise  ruling and the struggle between the executive and legislative branches would continue. Nothing would be settled.

So when you read or hear that a political issue is “written,” always ask- where?

Profile in Courage?

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It is not surprising that Barack Obama won the annual Profiles in Courage award. Supposedly, the recipient is chosen by “a bi-partisan committee named by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, which includes members of the Kennedy family and other prominent Americans.” Call me cynical, but I suspect that the “bi-partisan committee” is merely a facade meant to conceal the reality that the Kennedy family alone chooses the winner. Even though there now seems to be a consensus among Kennedy scholars and journalists that Ted Sorenson really wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning book Profiles in Courage, the Kennedys, nevertheless, own the phrase.

Could the Kennedys really believe that Obama is worthy of an award for exceptional courage, or is it merely politics as usual? To be sure, it does seem to take some courage to even think about running for president, but it also takes an abnormal level of ambition. Such a person must experience grandiose fantasies and/or be a masochist. Who else but a masochist with overweening ambition would submit to the endless travel, the rubber chicken dinners, the constant ass-kissing, the obsessive fund raising and all the other tedious and humiliating things that one must do to run for president. An obvious example of the humiliation is that candidates must undergo having every detail of their past revealed, examined, and judged. Since most of the media is Democratic, Republicans have to be especially masochistic, although Democrats do fear Fox News and a few of the popular conservative talk radio stars. And think of the humiliation one must suffer at the hands of the late night comedians and Saturday Night Live. In other words, you must be more than a little crazy (and not necessarily courageous) to run for president.

I don’t think the Kennedys were thinking of Obama as a candidate when they decided to award him for courage, so it must have been President Obama who, they believed, was extraordinarily courageous. Here are the examples of Obama’s courage according to the Kennedys: “It’s about understanding the challenges we face as a country and as a planet and mustering the political will to do what is right even if what is right at that moment isn’t necessarily popular,” said Joseph Kennedy III. That sounds awfully vague, but his mentioning of the “planet” is clearly about the environment and global warming. But where’s the evidence that concern about global warming is not popular? According to a very recent poll by Gallup, 62% of Americans believe global warming is taking place now, and the number of citizens who are concerned about it is at an all time high. Not only that, but global warming is a very big concern for most of those in the coalition of voters who twice elected Obama president .

Another example, cited by Caroline Kennedy, of Obama’s courage (as is usual with the Kennedys) has more to do with the Kennedys than Obama. I am talking about the endless self-serving rhetoric about carrying on the torch: “President Kennedy called on a new generation of Americans to give their talents to the service of the country. With exceptional dignity and courage, President Obama has carried that torch into our time, providing young people of all backgrounds with an example they can emulate in their own lives.”  Finally, the Affordable Care Act is thrown in to support Obama’s grace under pressure.

To me political courage means taking risks that may be unpopular but also could disastrously fail. It took some courage to order the attack on bin Laden’s compound, for it could have resulted in the deaths of American soldiers, and have failed to achieve the objective of capturing or killing bin Laden. Now that would have been unpopular. Think of Jimmy Carter’s attempt to rescue the hostages held by the Iranians. Although the failure badly damaged Carter’s chances of re-election (such as they were), it still took political courage. Jack Kennedy was courageous in ordering the Bay of Pigs invasion, but he then lost his nerve when the operation went wrong. That catastrophic lack of political courage allowed the Soviets to believe they could get away with installing missiles in Cuba. But Kennedy was courageous in standing up to the Soviet challenge, even though he surrendered much in order to end the crisis. So the bin Laden operation is the only example of Obama’s courage that I can think of, and that went unmentioned by the Kennedys, probably because it involved military action.

In reality, Obama was the most  politically risk averse president in my lifetime. Everything he did both at home and abroad was carefully tailored to please his constituency. That constituency is avidly opposed to any sort of military action that lasts more than a few hours. Thus, Obama did not follow through on any of the “red lines” he drew on the war in Syria. And whenever he was forced by circumstances to commit a few soldiers to battle, he did it as quietly and unobtrusively as possible. I suspect that many, if not most, Americans are unaware of the presence today of American soldiers in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. That is because Obama wanted it that way:  He spoke loudly whenever he withdrew soldiers from war zones but said nothing when soldiers were going the other way. So while I give Obama credit for courage in ordering the bin Laden raid, I see absolutely no evidence of courage in anything else he did; in fact, I see much evidence of his aversion to risk, which is the opposite of courage. Obama’s award is all about politics, not courage. The Kennedys supported Obama when he was a candidate; the award means that they continue to support him.

Speaking of courage, I have noticed over the years that many Democrats believe it an act of courage merely to be openly supportive of their party. Such people also usually believe that fascism is about to descend on the United States. But what can Democrats possibly be afraid of when almost all of the media, the entertainment industry, and most importantly, the education system (from elementary to graduate school)  are owned and operated by Democrats? Still such fantasies are impossible to dispel. As Tom Wolfe once wrote: The dark night of fascism is always descending on America and yet lands only in Europe.

 

 

Teaching Magic: Why I Am No Longer A Liberal

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The other day, my sister, a staunch Democrat, asked me why I became conservative. I started as a liberal Democrat. Lyndon Johnson was the first presidential candidate I voted for, followed by Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, and Jimmy Carter (twice). The first Republican I voted for was George H. W. Bush, and I have voted for Republican candidates in every election since. I admit that I found it very difficult to vote for Trump, but I could not vote for Hillary, not so much because of her long history of lying and deceit; rather, because of what the Democratic Party has become as a result of the Obama administration and the candidacy of Bernie Sanders – a far left European-style social democratic party.

In addition to voting Democratic until Bush ran against Dukakis, I was strongly against the Vietnam War and “marched” in a number of anti-war demonstrations. Even though I was a “child of the 1950’s,” I bought the entire 60’s ideology of drugs, sex and rock’n roll, although my actual participation in these activities was moderate.

Getting back to my sister’s question of why I became a conservative, I would say the primary reason is because after college I started teaching school (frankly) to dodge the draft and avoid Vietnam.

In college, I read a number of books written by former teachers and education professors. The only one I remember is Death at an Early Age by Jonathan Kozol who described what, he said, were his experiences teaching public school in a poor section of Boston. What he found was a school of eager-to-learn young students and racist teachers and administrators, who not only failed to teach their enthusiastic pupils, but sought also to destroy their spirits.

What I found when I taught in a neighborhood similar to the one where Kozol taught was 180 degrees different from what he described. Far from being eager to learn, the students I first encountered seemed to be in a perpetual state of hysteria. Most appeared incapable of talking to each other in a normal tone of voice; instead, they yelled, and much of what they yelled was profanity. The idea of behaving with respect for teachers  the principal, or other students was alien to them.

At the same time, the teachers and administrators were nothing like those Kozol described. Everyone I encountered in my first school (and every school thereafter) was either a dyed-in-the-wool liberal or radical leftist. They would do anything to make the students, parents and the many school activists happy. Very slowly, over a number of years, I grew to distrust the left. If Kozol and most of the left could be so wrong or dishonest about the schools, what other aspects of society could they be wrong or dishonest about?

I taught high school English for thirty-five years in the Philadelphia public schools. When I began teaching in the mid-1960’s, a movement to radically change teaching methods dominated teacher education and revolutionized teaching practices. Traditional teaching methods like lecture and teacher-led discussion were deemed a waste of time as well as harmful to students.

The radical educationists of the 60’s started the ball rolling with the belief that promoting a student’s “self-esteem” should be the purpose of education. They derided what they referred to as “mere knowledge.” From the 60s on, teaching became a form of cognitive therapy.  Teachers evaluated student work by searching for anything “positive” to praise and by never mentioning anything that was incorrect or incomprehensible, for that would be destructive of self-esteem. I attended many “workshops” where education professors would tell us, for example, not to bother teaching students how to read and write.  English grammar, punctuation, usage, and organization only frustrated students and made them unhappy. If a teacher couldn’t find anything positive to say about a student’s work, he or she should praise the student for “effort.” Student grades were thus based on effort and anything the teacher could find that could be considered positive in a student’s work. The students would learn “mere knowledge” on their own once they had high self-esteem.

It was understandable that radical ideas in education took hold in the 60’s. The students in urban schools, in particular, came from much less stable environments than their predecessors. Many had only a single woman in their homes: a mother, aunt or grandmother who could not (or would not) control children or teenagers.

Those who ran the schools and the education professors in universities searched for some new way to effectively teach these difficult students, a search for what the late Columbia professor Jacques Barzun called a “‘teaching magic’ that relieved the student of the burden of wanting to be taught.”

The quest for a teaching magic produced one change in educational methodology after another. When it was discovered that the self-esteem movement produced the phenomenon of the illiterate high school graduate, the educational establishment proclaimed a “back to basics” movement. But back to basics turned out to be more talk than reality.

The powerful educational ideology of the sixties was overwhelmingly seductive. But the word self-esteem had to go when moderate and conservative critics  began to make fun of it. So it was “re-branded” as the “student-centered classroom,” not unlike, in politics, the reincarnation of liberals into “progressives.”

Child-centered education meant that the students sat in groups, and each group worked on a project. Any teacher who employed traditional methods was likely to receive a reprimand from an administrator, who, was always happy to see a classroom of students in groups. Ultimately, the goal was to reduce and eventually eliminate the teacher’s role in learning. Usually, one or two students in the group actually worked on the project, but everyone in the group received the same grade. Although I haven’t been in a classroom in years, I believe that teachers are still expected to arrange their classes into groups in which students, it is hoped, “teach each other.”

Another 60’s influenced theory that gained prominence was that students had different “learning styles” ( supported by “research”). The learning style theory required that lessons should be directed towards each of the senses – sight, sound, touch, and even smell and taste. Again many moderate and conservative education critics considered the whole idea and its “research” to be fraudulent. I don’t know whether that theory is still considered gospel in the schools, but I haven’t read or seen anything about it in the media recently, so I assume that learning styles is less fashionable than it used to be.

The most recent educational fad might be labelled the computer-centered classroom.  A friend of mine who retired a few years after I did regularly substitutes in the Philadelphia schools. He often used to do long-term work where he would cover a teacher’s class who was on sabbatical or out on some other leave for half a year. He tells me that now he is not able to take those jobs because he isn’t sufficiently “computer literate.” Teaching nowadays requires a relatively high level of computer skill. I am told that there are many things you can do with a computer and a “smart board” that are amazingly entertaining, but I have not heard that the technology has improved student performance. Hardly anyone these days, for example, knows the difference between its and it’s or your and you’re or therethey’re, and their. And how many college graduates know how to use lie and lay?

An acquaintance recently asked me to read and edit a long essay he has been writing. I found that almost all of his writing was awkward and incomprehensible, and it wasn’t because he was using jargon specific to a particular profession. What was really shocking is that he graduated with honors from a prestigious Ivy League university and received a Phd. from what is reputedly the most demanding university in the country. How could he get through these schools, with honors and a doctorate no less, without being able to write clearly? I mentioned this to a professional writer and editor I know, and he said that he wasn’t surprised because “They don’t teach students how to write anymore.”

Some say it all started with John Dewey in the 19th Century with his “progressive education” theories that gave birth to the education fads of the past fifty or more years.  The schools will never abandon the quest for a teaching magic.. And it has now infected higher education:  Another acquaintance who teaches history at a well known liberal arts college explained to me recently that “you just can’t teach today’s students the way we were taught.” That and the widespread use of student evaluation of professors in decisions concerning tenure and promotion have resulted in the grade inflation that has so trivialized much of American higher education.

So how did a once liberal (progressive) become a conservative? It slowly became clear to me that the schools weren’t working and that liberals were responsible. As I said in the beginning: If they are so wrong about education, they must be wrong about and responsible for many other failures. When it comes to politicians, I am a bi-partisan skeptic, but I am much more skeptical of those on the left. My experience in the schools made me think about and question the ideas I had grown up with. I have found that most people never think about the validity of their political views. As someone once said, perhaps Jonathan Swift:  “You cannot reason people out of something they were not reasoned into.”

 

 

 

EXTREME VETTING

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The Trump Administration is considering instituting extreme vetting of all foreigners entering the United States. According to the Wall Street Journal:

Visitors to the U.S. could be forced to provide cellphone contacts and social-media passwords and answer questions about their ideology, according to Trump administration officials, measures that could intrude into the lives of millions of foreigners.

The changes being considered could apply to visitors from America’s closest allies as well as other nations and include subjecting more visa applicants to intense security reviews. Together, they would amount to the “extreme vetting” President Donald Trump promised as a candidate to guard against possible terror attacks.

I don’t think this plan will fly, so to speak. Why the Trump administration thinks it will is a mystery. It is apparent that no broad plan to vet all foreigners will work. The visitors’ countries would complain bitterly and would certainly retaliate against American travelers. Even a somewhat more aggressive plan than the current one targeting those from Muslim countries with a history of terrorism would be considered “profiling” and discriminatory. Even more “Hate Doesn’t Live Here” lawn signs would pop up, and either program would be shot down by the courts and condemned by many in Congress and most of the news media.

The assertion that hate is Trump’s motive in dealing with illegal immigration and visiting foreigners is the usual partisan rhetoric.  A couple of years ago, I talked with a young Israeli woman who was selling skin products at the King of Prussia Mall. She said that the mall was the perfect setting for a terrorist attack, and she couldn’t believe the lack of security there. She also noted that the size of the place made it very easy for terrorists to get lost in the crowd and avoid the police.

Many have noted that all of the terrorist attacks here have been carried out by those who are “home grown.”  That may be true, but even those with signs on their lawns wouldn’t want to be the first victims of a “refugee” terrorist.

I think it crucial that we get illegal immigration under control. As Mark Steyn wrote, A country that has no control over its borders is not sovereign.” And we must prevent terrorists from traveling to the U.S. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it will happen, at least under this president.

 

 

Israel and London

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I recently returned from an eighteen day trip to Israel and London. I had been to Israel once before and to London many times. In Israel, we had a guide who drove us around the country, and we stayed in relatively luxurious hotels. In London, we stayed with a friend who lives in a section of London called Islington, a once poor neighborhood that is now being “gentrified” with houses selling for a million pounds or more. In London, we got around by bus and the tube (subway). In Israel, I spoke only with our guide, Jackie; and in London with a few friends. Thus, I had a limited exposure to the political views that dominate each country.

In Israel, I didn’t feel that I was in a country under siege. The markets were packed with lots of food and customers. The same was true of the restaurants. I never had the feeling that I was in danger. Rather I felt that I was in a prosperous, safe country where construction and renovation were widespread.

Jackie, our guide, was reticent about talking politics, so it was, at first, difficult to ascertain his views. As I recall, the first indication of his politics came when we visited the sight in Tel Aviv where Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by a Jewish religious fanatic. Jackie’s reverence for Rabin was obvious as was, we later discovered, his contempt for Bibi Netanyahu and most other right wing politicians now in power.  He talked about Netanyahu’s greed (Bibi was under investigation for accepting gifts from wealthy supporters) as well as his wife’s reputed addiction to expensive clothes and jewelry. All of Jackie’s distaste for politicians was directed at the conservative party in power, none at the more liberal Labor Party.

Although Jackie was on the left side of Israeli politics, he was quite conservative when it came to what he called “the world.” Extremely gregarious, Jackie made friends with all types of Israelis, including Muslims. Still, he had much disdain for “the world’s” intentions towards Israel. When I brought up the boycott of Israeli products made on the West Bank, he angrily noted how hypocritical this was: “Don’t these people know that thousands of Palestinians lose their jobs when Israeli manufacturers close down?” He also had total contempt for the United Nations, especially UNRA, the U.N Relief Agency for Palestinian Refugees. UNRA’s job is to move the many Palestinians currently in refugee camps to other countries like Jordan where the population is 70 percent Palestinian, many of whom are living in refugee camps because Jordan refuses to resettle them. Jackie noted that UNRA has not resettled even one refugee and observed that the United States is the main source of financing for UNRA. Unfortunately, I neglected to ask him what he thought about the expanding Israeli settlements on the West Bank.  Jackie was a politically liberal Israeli and a conservative when it came to “the world” versus Israel. He even supported Donald Trump because he believed that Trump would support Israel, as opposed to Barack Obama. Still, Jackie’s views on domestic issues are obviously those of a minority of Israelis since Bibi has been elected Prime Minister four times, matching David Ben-Gurion’s record.

After a few days in London I began to feel less affection for a city I had loved since my first visit in 1965. Maybe I am getting old, but getting around on the tube was an ordeal. Most times, the train was packed full (One nice thing is that young people always offer their seats to the older riders.). Then there’s the endless walks to other trains or to the exit. The passengers often looked tired and shabby as they gazed at their cell phones or listened to music through their headphones.

Walking around the rich West End, I saw lots of large Mercedes parked outside of  fancy shops. The Mercedes are usually accompanied by large, tough looking chauffeur/body guards. Reputedly, the cars and chauffeurs belong to billionaire Russians. Unfortunately, London isn’t an English city anymore. In a city like New York, such things don’t matter perhaps because all Americans are immigrants, but the English are a people, a race; and they and their culture are being eclipsed by foreigners, many of whom refuse to assimilate. Indeed, they often demand that the English live by their rules. For example, British writer Melanie Phillips cites “a poll conducted by the Guardian newspaper [that] 61 percent of British Muslims wanted to be governed by Islamic law, operating on Sharia principles…A clear majority wanted Islamic law introduced into Britain in civil cases relating to their own community…88 percent wanted to see British schools and workplaces accommodating Muslim prayer time as part of their normal working day.”

As I said, we stayed with a friend who lives in Islington, a once poor, now respectable neighborhood. The new residents are often of the intellectual class. Professors and actors set the tone. It seems that Islington residents depend solely on the far left Guardian for their news along with the almost equally left wing BBC. In Islington no one would read a right of center paper like the Daily Telegraph, or any news source owned by Rupert Murdoch, like Sky News television or The Times. This is different from America where right wingers often read or at least know what’s in the New York Times, and left wingers often read the conservative Wall Street Journal and look occasionally at Fox News. In other words, the British are much more balkanized than Americans when it comes to the news. So for example, I found my Islington friends to be unaware of Palestinian rejection of an extremely generous peace proposal devised by Bill Clinton and accepted by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barack. Obviously it wasn’t covered much in the Guardian.

Still, there is obviously a diversity of political views in Britain, for the Conservative Party has governed the country for a number of years. And while those on the left despise the late conservative Margaret Thatcher, others revere her. And in Israel, Jackie is obviously in the minority since Netanyahu has been elected prime minister four times, matching David Ben- Gurion’s record.

Politics aside, we had fun visiting friends in London and experiencing the unique nation of Israel.

Who Are The Vandals?

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The recent vandalizing of Jewish cemeteries is a disturbing development. It is important to keep in mind that we do not know, as of yet, who committed these acts in Philadelphia and St. Louis. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were ordinary anti-semites, neo-Nazis, or as Mark Steyn once put it, three guys named Mo (Mohammed). Despite not knowing who the perpetrators are, many want to blame President Trump.

Those who blame Trump do have a point. Trump’s obsessive combativeness probably does unsettle many people, particularly those who are already excitable. He really needs to cool it. Most of Trump’s aggressiveness has been directed at two targets – federal judges and the media. Trump referred to the judge who stopped his travel ban as a “so-called judge.” But it is hardly unusual for presidents to attack the judiciary.  Andrew Jackson said about one of the Supreme Court’s decisions, [Supreme Court Chief Justice ] “John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it!” FDR tried to add six justices of his own to the court, called “packing the court,” to insure decisions favorable to him. And President Obama criticized the Court for its decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case while many of the justices sat before him at the State of the Union address.

Criticizing the media is not new either. Trump barred from the daily news briefing the White House reporters from the New York Times and CNN, but President Obama tried the same tactic on Fox News. The other reporters threatened to boycott unless the Fox reporter was permitted to attend the briefings, and the administration gave in. If the White House reporters were willing to boycott to support Fox News, surely they would do the same to support the Times and CNN.  Trump’s ban is highly unlikely to continue.

Trump’s “travel ban” for ninety days on people from seven Middle Eastern countries has upset many and is responsible for the proliferation of lawn signs saying “Hate Has No Home Here.” It is unlikely that the people with such signs on their lawns are responsible for the desecration of Jewish graves, but other people sympathetic to the group targeted by the travel ban may be. We will just have to wait and see.

In any case, President Trump needs to control himself and rein in the tweets. His aggression may very well be inspiring others to attack their supposed enemies. The Jews are always a prime target.

 

Is Trump Crazy?

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According to one survey, nearly half of American households has someone who has had psychotherapy, and more would do so if it weren’t for the cost or lack of insurance coverage. People who have experienced psychotherapy often become familiar with the various diagnoses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Perhaps that is why so many people–from the ordinary man or woman, to journalists, to talk radio and television personalities–have engaged in amateur psychoanalysis of Donald Trump. I always thought that it was considered unethical for psychotherapists to diagnose people without having personally examined them, but I read somewhere that analysis of one’s mental health via television is now acceptable. My view is that almost all public personalities carefully cultivate a public image that may or may not be what they are really like. I have to ask, are all these real and amateur psychoanalysts diagnosing the public image of Trump or the real Trump?

The persona Trump presents to the public is that of a flamboyant New York billionaire who lives in a flashy apartment, has constructed lots of fancy buildings and resorts, and has acquired beautiful, sexy wives. He wants to be known not only as a fabulously wealthy entrepreneur, but also as a talented television personality, and a generous philanthropist.  He has been for years a celebrity with a capital c. He is The Donald.

During the campaign and since taking office when his profile has been at its highest, Trump often has been profane, untruthful, insulting, vulgar, obsessively combative, inconsistent and more. Yet, ninety percent of Trump voters are optimistic about the next four years with Trump as president, found an Economist/YouGov survey of American voters, conducted on the eve of his inauguration. Is Trump really that person described above or is his persona since he began campaigning for the presidency merely a facade? Some journalists and psychiatrists claim to know, the journalists from having covered him over the years and the psychiatrists and psychologists, as I said, from observing him on television. However, I think any fair person (if there are any left in today’s environment) would conclude that it is actually impossible, except for those close to him, to know the real Trump.

One example that Trump’s image may be fabricated has to do with his refusal to release his tax returns. Some believe that the tax returns would reveal illegal activity that might then be grounds for impeachment. Although I am sure the returns would reveal that he took advantage of every deduction and loophole the law allows (as most people do), I think it highly unlikely that he did anything illegal. Trump is just the sort of public figure the IRS  loves to go after, and Trump and his accountants certainly know it. I would guess (yes, it’s only a guess) that Trump refuses to release his tax returns because they would reveal that he is not really a billionaire, only a multi-millionaire. Being one of the relatively few billionaires in the country is perhaps, in Trump’s mind, an integral part of his image. However, (if it’s true) that doesn’t mean he’s crazy.

If Trump’s image has been a carefully constructed facade, he would certainly not be a unique figure among most other famous people, even among former presidents. When Harry Truman was in office, he had a public image as a profane former haberdasher. His supporters called it “plain speaking.” Much was made of his lack of a college education, which meant to many of the educated middle class that he was ignorant. I doubt that Truman’s image was one that he created; I think he was a president who didn’t care about such things. Years later we learned that Truman was an avid reader of serious books, despite his lack of a college degree. Author and professor Thomas Sowell speculated that, despite Democratic presidential candidate and former Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson’s (perhaps contrived) image as an intellectual, Truman probably read more widely than Stevenson.

As I wrote in a former post, President Eisenhower, wishing to return the country to normalcy after the cataclysmic events of the first half of the 20th Century, appeared to be a relaxed executive. In truth, he was deeply concerned about the Cold War and avoiding another hot war, a war that would probably result in a nuclear exchange.

John F. Kennedy has often been called the first president to skillfully use television to project an image that was painstakingly fabricated. Kennedy was supposedly the embodiment of good health, youth, and vigor, whereas in fact, in historian Robert Dallek’s words, he “suffered from colitis, prostatitis, and a disorder called Addison’s disease, which affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar and sodium. He also had osteoporosis of the lower back, causing pain so severe that he was unable to perform simple tasks such as reaching across his desk to pull papers forward, or pulling the shoe and sock onto his left foot.”

Dallek also reveals the drugs Kennedy took:

The medical records reveal that Kennedy variously took codeine, Demerol and methadone for pain; Ritalin, a stimulant; meprobamate and librium for anxiety; barbiturates for sleep; thyroid hormone; and injections of a blood derivative, gamma globulin, a medicine that combats infections.

During the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, and the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, Kennedy was taking steroids for his Addison’s disease, painkillers for his back, anti-spasmodics for his colitis, antibiotics for urinary tract infections, antihistamines for his allergies, and on at least one occasion, an anti-psychotic drug to treat a severe mood change that Jackie Kennedy believed was brought on by the antihistamines.

This deluge of drugs often had side effects, including grogginess or even depression. To treat this Kennedy took more still anti-anxiety medications.

Kennedy also cultivated the idea that he was a brilliant intellectual, but his Harvard grades were mediocre and his favorite author was Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond.

I believe the public images of Johnson, Nixon, and Ford pretty much corresponded to who they really were. Jimmy Carter cultivated the image of the common man by carrying his own luggage and wearing a sweater when addressing the public on television. Reagan played the cowboy who rode horses and cleared brush from his ranch.  Some historians consider Reagan’s real personality to be a puzzle, that it was impossible to know what he was really like. The public persona of the first Bush was genuine as, I think, was his son’s. I suspect Clinton’s image corresponds closely to the real man. He was known as a philanderer before he took office and being president didn’t change him. On the other hand, Obama, it has been said, is a brilliant thinker, writer, and speaker who is so intelligent and learned that, according to one presidential historian, he is the most intelligent president ever to have held the office. To me, that is utter nonsense.

And so we come to President Trump. As I have said in previous posts, Trump, I believe, created an image of a brash, plain-speaking, confrontational candidate who was nothing like the carefully coached politicians who never utter a word that hasn’t been vetted by focus groups and professional political advisers. Trump’s voters supported his proposals, his willingness to say what he really thinks, and his aggressive approach to the news media, which they consider biased as well.

I ask again, are the real and amateur psychoanalysts diagnosing the genuine Donald Trump or the fabricated, public Donald Trump?  The father of a relative of mine, an electrical engineer, actually worked for Trump on many of Trump’s buildings in New York. The other day, when I asked her what her father thought of Trump as an employer, she replied:

He liked him because he always paid him on time. He was very straightforward and could talk to anyone from the construction worker to the architect. He was the one who told my father he needed a hearing aid because my dad would ask him to repeat things in meetings all the time. The people who work in his office were very kind. A few of them came to the shivah for my Dad. They all had nice things to say about my Dad.

That doesn’t sound anything like the public Trump we have come to know. He comes across in my relative’s description as a responsible, personable, knowledgeable, and caring employer. He appears to be just the kind of employer one would like to work for.

Which Trump is the real Trump? My guess is that it’s not the Trump you see and hear on television.

The Wisdom of Ike

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In my last post about my experience in the 50s, I touched on the politics of that decade but focused mostly on how the people I knew in my hometown of Chester, PA reacted to them. Today I consider the politicians of the 50s very interesting, especially President Eisenhower. One reason I consider him more interesting than his successors is that much of what we thought of him and his presidency back then, in retrospect, turned out to be wrong.

As I said in my last post, many people considered him to be boring and not too bright; to many, he was a do-nothing president, although he was highly popular through all of his time in office. All he appeared to do is play golf, and he didn’t mind that the press gleefully published photo after photo of him on the links with his rich friends. The press photographers  particularly liked it when Eisenhower was wearing some silly looking hat.

Ike’s two time opponent Adlai Stevenson came across as highly intelligent, if not particularly attractive or exciting. He was an elegant extemporaneous speaker and his prepared speeches were as well, even if they contained no particularly memorable lines that I can recall. Eisenhower was, on the other hand, a poor extemporaneous speaker whose “fractured syntax” (as it was called back then) often left his listeners confused. Some blamed Ike’s often puzzling use of words on the heart attack and stroke he suffered while in office.

The best portrait of Eisenhower and that era that I’ve read is the book Nixon Agonistes by Garry Wills, published in 1970. Wills’s analysis of Eisenhower’s personality and his view of the presidency is fascinating and transforms the image that most people had of him.

As Wills sees it, Eisenhower understood that the American people were exhausted after having endured the Great Depression, World War II, the invention and use of the atomic bomb, and the Korean War. What the veterans and all Americans needed was a return to normal life which meant for the middle class: acquiring an education, pursuing a career, and raising a family. Thus, despite the continuing Cold War with its threat of nuclear annihilation, Eisenhower did everything he could to minimize their effect on American life. Ike was the role model of the 50’s – the relaxed, successful man who, when he wasn’t working, enjoyed playing golf.

There was some Cold War activity during Eisenhower’s tenure, but none of it led to the brink of war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. One event was the Suez Crisis in which Israel, France and Britain invaded Egypt to remove Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser from power after he “nationalized” the Suez Canal. Eisenhower took the lead in defusing the conflict by pressuring the invading countries to withdrawal. There were some CIA coups, for example, in Iran. That CIA operation came back to haunt us in the 70’s when Islamists overthrew the Shah and took American diplomats and other embassy employees hostage. But at the time, these events were barely noticed by most Americans.

Eisenhower is often criticized for his apparent passivity concerning two crucial domestic issues during his time in office: the Civil Rights Movement and Senator Joseph McCarthy. Eisenhower didn’t say or do anything about the plight of blacks until the Supreme Court’s Brown versus Board of Education ruling in 1954.  Before that, his inaction was partly due to his concern that the communists would use the movement for anti-American propaganda. But after the Brown decision, he was on firm legal ground in sending troops to integrate Little Rock, Arkansas’s Central High School. One thing he never wanted to do is have a personal fight with some segregationist governor. But the Brown decision made that unnecessary because he could defend his actions as enforcing the Supreme Court’s decision, without, as I recall, even mentioning segregationist Arkansas governor Orville Faubus’s name.

The same is true about the way he handled McCarthy. Eisenhower despised McCarthy, most especially when he claimed former army general and secretary of state George Marshall was a part of  “a conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man.” Eisenhower was also incensed when McCarthy accused the Army of being “soft on communism.” He toyed with the idea of attacking McCarthy directly; he even made a speech which contained such an attack in the text, but he left that part out when he delivered it. But as Garry Wills points out, Eisenhower refused to get down in the gutter with McCarthy. He believed that when President Truman spoke out against McCarthy, he “created a monster.” In other words when the President goes after an individual, he gives a demagogue like McCarthy presidential prestige which demeans the office and raises up the stature of the target. Eisenhower decided that the best way to fight McCarthy was to ignore him. Eventually McCarthy self-destructed.

Although Eisenhower was very popular throughout his two terms, Democrats and the press still thought of him as a boring, amiable dope. Newsman Walter Cronkite tells the story of the time CBS News president Fred Friendly came to him with the idea of doing a show commemorating a D-Day anniversary in which Cronkite and Eisenhower would go to Normandy, and Cronkite would interview Eisenhower about his recollections of D-Day and the war.

Cronkite’s reaction was that such a program had to be extremely dull because Eisenhower was extremely dull. Also the show was to be broadcast in 1964, and Cronkite believed that time would have taken its toll on the former president, especially because of the heart attack and stroke he had suffered. Cronkite was a military reporter during the war and shared the conventional wisdom most soldiers believed about Eisenhower and most of their superiors, that they didn’t know what they were doing; and that if they (the ordinary soldiers) were running the war, things would be a lot better. Although its origin is unknown, I believe the acronym Snafu came from the second World War (situation normal, all fucked up), and represented the view of many GIs. Jack Kennedy, who had been in the Navy, thought much the same about Eisenhower, whom he referred to as “the old man.”

Despite his misgivings, Cronkite did the interview and was amazed that Eisenhower had total recall of the D-Day battle and the war. The New York Times was also surprised at the depth of Ike’s memory of minute details of the war. As I said earlier Jack Kennedy viewed Ike much the same way as Cronkite; that is, until he met with the former president after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. He too was impressed by Eisenhower’s wise advice and knowledge which completely changed his view of “the old man.”

Which brings me to Donald Trump. I reluctantly voted for Trump, mostly because of what the Democratic Party has become, the party of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Joseph Epstein put it well in an op-ed piece yesterday in the Wall Street Journal,  “I… feared that the country was sinking slowly downhill under Democratic leadership – with its stagnant economy; its foreign policy failures; its sad identity politics; its poorly performing educational system, from central-city public schools to high price universities.” Although I am happy to see the back of the Clintons, I don’t think any Democratic candidate would be different; any one of them would try to further push us down the path that Obama set us on, which is to transform the country into a European style social democratic system with confiscatory tax rates and cradle to grave welfare for all.

So Trump was the only alternative. Since he has taken office, Trump has proven to me that he doesn’t know how or doesn’t want to act like a president should act. To be sure, I think a lot of the criticism of the “travel ban” is overstated since any program that involves the vetting of thousands of refugees is unlikely to run smoothly. I have read that the vetting of a refugee takes eighteen to twenty-four months; that alone is likely to draw much criticism. No, it is the what he said to Fox’s Bill O’Reilly that I find really disturbing.  His answer to O’Reilly’s observation that Putin is a killer was that we have killers here too. This is the worst kind of moral equivalence, a favorite argument of the far left. It was dangerous when Obama did it, but it is much more disturbing when a Republican president does it. Also I have read that Trump rejects the idea of American exceptionalism which I take to mean that America is the only country with the resources and military power to protect the Free World. Trump says that American exceptionalism is “an insult” to other countries which puts him in the same boat as Obama, Sanders and Warren.

Then there are the constant attacks on anyone who criticizes him via tweets. President Eisenhower understood that it is a fool’s errand to attack your opponents, a lesson that  Trump better learn. I consider Trump distasteful and vulgar, but I voted for him anyway because I feared the alternative more. But there is a limit. Spouting off the arguments of the far left and obsessively tweeting attacks on critics brings me close to supporting a President Pence.

My Fifties

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Rosa Parks -The Montgomery Bus Boycott

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Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront

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Phil and Jim’s Hoagie and Steak Sandwich Shop, Parkside, PA.

With all the demonstrations and protests around the country, some observers see a return to the 1960s. In the latest edition of Commentary Magazine in an essay subtitled “The sixties, forever with us,” Joseph Epstein says about the era, “It’s a Rorschach Test: say what you think of the 1960s and you reveal a great deal about yourself.”  I thought I would apply a similar test to myself, but I grew up in the 1950s. What, if anything, do my thoughts about the 50s reveal about me?

Much has been written about the 50s. J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, published in 1951, creates an America full of “phonies,” except for young people, like the main character Holden Caulfield, who was authentic and truthful. Salinger’s novel was prophetic: He predicted the culture of wise, honest young and clueless, phony adults–a world view that would become gospel in the succeeding decades. Journalist David Halberstam’s The Fifties saw the decade as another Dark Age in contrast to the colorful and bright decade that followed.

My 50s were not like the decade described by Salinger and Halberstam. Born in 1943, I grew up in Chester, Pennsylvania, and was a part of its small Jewish community.  Our house was in the relatively affluent part of town, which was then mostly working class. We lived in a small house with three bedrooms and one bathroom. We owned one car, so my mother had to drive my father to his business (a men’s clothing store) and then pick him up at the end of the day. As I remember, the multi-car family was a rarity in 1950s Chester.

One great thing about our house is that our backyard looked out on a large park . Running through the park was a long, fairly steep, brick road that was terrific for sledding in snowy weather; it was even better when ice was mixed in with the snow. The park was great for sports. Two kids on the block were the sons of the football and basketball coach at the Pennsylvania Military College (PMC), which is now Widener University. The older of the two organized sports for the block. When major league baseball teams began their spring training, we started ours. The same was true of football season. During the winter, we played basketball at a nearby church. I was a fairly good athlete, mostly as a result of what I learned in the park behind my back yard.

I attended Chester High School, which was then half black and half white. During those years, I never saw arguments or fist fights between any white and black students. I did witness (rarely) fights between members of the same race. Whites and blacks got along well; at least it appeared so. The only “segregation” I saw in high school was at the weekly Saturday dances, where I never saw a black student. There were certainly no rules barring blacks from attending; they simply chose not to for some reason. On the other hand, black and white both came to the proms.

My view of the decade is that it was one of peace, prosperity, and security.  Our politics were based on the Depression and World War II. Since our parents had lived through the Depression, they were very careful about money, so they were frugal, wary of investing in stocks, and they also expected the government to manage the economy responsibly. Unlike the generations of the 60s and later whose politics were shaped by the Vietnam War, our generation’s politics were shaped by the lessons learned from the Second World War: Have a strong military and be prepared to intervene in conflicts involving your enemy before they get out of control. Never seek to appease. It’s always better to have a short, small war than a large, long one. Hence, both political parties during the 50s were united when it came to foreign policy: They both believed in a strong defense and taking a hard line towards communist regimes around the world. It was later, during the 60s and the subsequent decades, that the Democratic Party became the party of pacifism and protest, in large part because of the Vietnam War. Thus began the political polarization we still have today.

Blacks were one group who certainly did not enjoy the 50s, for they still endured segregation and white violence, but even then there were signs of hope: the Montgomery Bus Boycott and President Eisenhower’s sending federal troops to enforce the integration of Little Rock’s Central High School. These events were the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement that resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Bill and the Voting Rights Bill that officially ended segregation in the 60s. (Eventually, the Civil Rights Movement was influenced by the Black Power movement and that transformed many blacks I knew to be outwardly friendly and apolitical into angry militants. This, like the war, caused the Democrats to move leftward to the point that many appeared to be anti-American, pro-communist.)

My family, like most Jewish families in Chester in the 50s, registered Republican and voted Democratic. They did so because of the Republican machine that controlled Chester and the rest of Delaware County. It was obviously much better to be registered Republican if you wanted the city government to help you get a job or, if you were self-employed, to promote your economic interests.

As I said, in my view President Eisenhower presided over a peaceful, prosperous country. But my family, like most other Jewish families, didn’t think much of him. Why?  What they said was that he “doesn’t do anything.” There was the joke about Eisenhower being “the golf pro at the White House.” But part of the reason, I am sure, was that Eisenhower was a Republican. My family, again like most Jewish families, revered the Democrat Adlai Stevenson. They felt so strongly about Adlai because he was not only a liberal intellectual but also had, they believed, a sense of humor, though I don’t remember him saying anything memorably funny. When Jack Kennedy began to be discussed as a presidential candidate, the Jews in Chester were not happy for two reasons: He was a Catholic, which meant the pope would really be running the country, and Kennedy’s father was a pro-Nazi, anti-semite (unfortunately true). I also remember that my mother liked Barry Goldwater because he was half-Jewish, which had to mean that he was a liberal!

Yes, there were repugnant aspects of the 50s, like the drunken demagogue Joe McCarthy’s self-serving witch hunt for communists in the State Department and the Army. He never presented any evidence to support his accusations. But the Congressional investigations were based on evidence. What did the people I grew up with think of all that? Some far left-wing Jews in Chester objected to any investigation into communist attempts to subvert various American institutions. And they strongly believed that those convicted of spying for the Soviet Union, like Alger Hiss and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, were innocent victims. But most of the Jews I knew in Chester either had no opinion about it or believed Hiss and the Rosenbergs were guilty and felt ashamed that the Rosenbergs were Jewish.

Although the 50s have been considered to be a cultural wasteland, I never thought so. We had the Philadelphia Orchestra directed by Eugene Ormandy, an orchestra that was considered one of the finest in the world. I wasn’t much of a jazz fan at the time, but many consider the 50s to be the golden age of jazz.  Miles Davis recorded his classic album Kind of Blue in the 50s. Some of the greatest movies were made during the 50s. I particularly liked those made by Elia Kazan: On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, Viva Zapata, A Face in the Crowd, East of Eden, and America America. In the theater, Kazan directed Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.

In the 50s I loved rock ‘n’roll and singers like Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. The 50s saw some of the best and most influential rock musicians: Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Etta James, Ruth Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis. I was never an Elvis fan, though I could see why he appealed to girls. Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald were at their peak in the 50s and recorded their best albums then. Sinatra’s classic albums Songs For Swinging Lovers, A Swinging Affair, and Only The Lonely were recorded in the 50s as were Ella’s great Songbooks. Conventional wisdom is that the 60s produced the best rock music. Today I do listen to Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Randy Newman and Eric Clapton, but not much else from that decade. I also like the Blues, and most of the best blues musicians came up in the 50s.

The 50s were to me the best decade to be alive and growing up. The streets of Chester were for the most part safe. Nobody I knew took drugs.  After Korea, there were no wars in the 50s. Yes, there was the threat of nuclear war, but I don’t remember thinking about it much.

A few years ago, a friend’s father showed me a photo of a meeting of the Chester Businessmen’s Association taken in the 1950s.  I recognized most of the men, and I was shocked to realize that I was older than the men in the picture. Here were serious grownups in serious suits and ties with serious expressions on their faces. I thought, what goofballs we have become in the succeeding decades. The romanticization of youth created by Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye persists to this day. Just last night, at a local delicatessen I noticed that most of the men, from their 40s to their late 80s(!), were dressed like kids with the ubiquitous blue jeans and sneakers. To be fair, I was dressed like a kid as well. Some would point to this as a sign of progress because wearing the kind of clothes that only kids used to wear is more comfortable than wearing a suit and tie. Maybe it is, but I see it as evidence of a juvenilization of adulthood; if you look like an adolescent, you think like an adolescent. I think that the disappearance of real grownups is a major reason that our culture has been so trivialized and corrupted since the 50’s.

My best friend, with whom I had political differences, often said to me that my distaste for the 60s is a result of his belief that I didn’t (in his words) “get laid” during the age of drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll. That is not quite true: I had two close girlfriends during that time, and I met my wife during the horrible, legendary year of 1968 when both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were murdered and a large contingent of anti-war, pro-North Vietnamese protest marchers provoked what the press called “a police riot” around the site of the Democratic National Convention. I will admit that I probably thought that I wasn’t “getting enough,” but what ordinary male in his twenties doesn’t believe that?  Perhaps someone like Mick Jagger thought that he had had enough when he was in his twenties.

Even though I consider the 50s much superior to the 60s and the decades that followed, that doesn’t mean that I was a happy-go-lucky boy. I felt that I was neither good looking enough nor tall enough. I found it very difficult to talk to girls. My family life wasn’t often harmonious. All of that was very upsetting to me; perhaps much of it still is. Despite that, I still consider the 50s a wonderful decade.

So what does my Rorschach Test reveal about me?  Growing up in Chester in the 50s is probably the reason I tend to be conservative in my politics. I consider most of the changes that occurred in the 60s to have been destructive of traditional Western values like discipline, restraint, morality, and patriotism. It also says to me that it is a mistake to blame your problems on the particular time when you were young.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1984 on Campus

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A few days ago I wrote about the claim that the Trump administration is establishing a new  version of Orwell’s 1984. I noted that Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway’s use of the term “alternative facts” is not an example of “Newspeak” from 1984; rather, it is a method used every day by lawyers, opinion journalists, and anyone else making an argument.

However, you will find examples of “Newspeak” and “Doublethink” on college and university campuses all over the country.  Jillian Kay Melchior cites some good examples in her article “Censorship Is Free Speech?” It Must Be the Class of 1984″ published in The Wall Street Journal. Take for example the spread of campus “free speech zones,” where  students are allowed to say whatever they want even in politically incorrect language. This is comparable to the areas where the “proles” live in 1984. In these areas, people are also allowed to do and say what they want. Left to themselves, they are distracted by sex-filled  films, football, beer, and gambling. They are thus no threat to The Party. The proles are comparable to campus “jocks” and fraternity boys who are less interested in protesting a president’s policy than they are in sports, partying, and having their way with the opposite sex.

Melchior also cites the “Language Matters” or “Inclusive Language” campaigns. Inclusive Language is a good example of Newspeak which Webster’s Dictionary defines as “…the inversion of customary meanings.” Inclusive Language  would normally mean tolerance for free speech even if such speech annoys or offends individuals or groups. But as practiced on campuses, it means the opposite: All language that annoys or offends individuals or groups is subject to being banned, which is enforced by both student harassment of offending students and teachers as well as by liberal administrators.

Free speech is replaced by politically correct speech that does not offend women, gays, races, the handicapped and many more. Examples are: “cripple” (offensive to the physically challenged), ” bum” or “tramp” (offensive to the homeless) and “illegal immigrant” (offensive to undocumented Americans).

I see none of this in Donald Trump’s language or actions. He is not trying to narrow the range of thought to suit his interests, no matter how offensive his words and policies may be to many around the world. But if you want to see real Orwellian behavior, you need only  look at our colleges and universities where individual students and groups are campaigning to narrow the thoughts of others.

Orwell believed that the ability to use words is the key to thinking. He once wrote: “If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.” Therefore, if you can control the meaning of words, you can control thought. Trump is only trying to implement policies that he promised to accomplish during the campaign. These policies may be offensive to many people, but he is not attempting to control thought or limit free speech. Look to university campuses for that.