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.

Who You Calling Angry?

Saul Bellow Portrait Session

Saul Bellow – used his novels to attack his ex- wives.

Gore Vidal Portrait Session

Gore Vidal – attacked America, other writers, and just about everybody.

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Philip Roth – attacked his ex -wife, Claire Bloom and her daughter, the GOP, Israel.

Angry Writers

The world is in a state of fury because of our last presidential election. In America, more than half of the adult population despises the winner as well as the yahoos who voted for him. The supporters of the losing candidate view those who voted for the winner as retarded (excuse me, mentally challenged), sort of like the hillbilly banjo boys in the movie Deliverance. Those who voted for the winner see the other half as elite, unpatriotic snobs who wanted to turn the country into a socialist state in which the government provides everything one may want for “free.” The fury is palpable; you can feel it at social events like weddings, funerals, and parties.You can also see it on the street where one side or the other wears their sometimes obscene views on their shirts or on the cardboard signs they brandish.

While the commotion raged outside, I had lunch recently with Dan Rottenberg, my editor when I submitted essays during the 80s and 90s to a Center City paper, then called The Welcomat. Most of my essays were about my experience as a Philadelphia public high school teacher. The Welcomat was fun to write for because Dan loved to publish articles on controversial subjects that were almost sure to provoke a usually angry response from readers who would then submit letters or articles themselves. He saw it as a kind of public forum where writers could engage in spirited arguments. Dan believed that conflict was at the heart of the best opinion writing.

I hadn’t seen Dan in years and I enjoyed talking with him about various subjects. I met him at his office and the first thing he brought up was a satirical article that he had written and published in the Welcomat many years ago lampooning me and my essays as angry and bitter. He wrote that I was winner of the “Nobel Prize for Bitterness.”

I don’t remember the details of Dan’s Welcomat piece back then, but years later in 2011 when he became the editor and then president of the on-line Broad Street Review, he wrote about me again. This time he compared my articles to the posts of a blogger named Natalie Munroe, an 11th grade English teacher who was then in the news . Munroe wrote, for example, “My students are out of control. They are rude, disengaged, lazy whiners.” She also described her students as “frightfully dim” and “utterly loathsome.” She added that if allowed, “Her report cards would include comments like, ‘Dresses like a streetwalker’ or ‘I hate your kid’…etc.”

As I said, most of my essays were about my experiences as a teacher and they were sometimes critical of my students, but I never used disrespectful language like that Dan attributed to Natalie Munroe.  Moreover, most of my “angry” criticism was aimed not at the students but rather at the many administrators in the system, from the principal on down to the assistant to the assistant to the vice principal in charge of whatever.  My essays sought to expose the large number of personnel in the schools who did not teach (or did not teach very much) and who typically were contemptuous of classroom teachers. A number of them were what Tom Wolfe called flak-catchers; that is, they saw their job as appeasing students, parents, and community activists. That their efforts to appease ended up in undercutting teachers was rarely considered. I can think only of one administrator in my years of teaching who considered the poisonous classroom environment such knee-jerk appeasement created.

One example concerns a friend (now unfortunately deceased) who taught Spanish. A student was unhappy about the “unsatisfactory” behavior grade she had received. She went directly to the principal who told her to discuss the grade with the teacher. The teacher explained why he had given her that grade, but that was not enough for her. She went back to the principal, this time with her father. The principal told them to return again to the teacher and discuss the grade with him. They did so, and the teacher explained again. They then went to the principal (this process played out over many days) and demanded a meeting with the principal and the teacher. The principal once again agreed to their demand. Before that however, the principal sent an official summons to the teacher ordering him to attend the meeting and advising him to bring union representation. At that point, the teacher wrote to the principal that he had decided to change the unsatisfactory behavior grade to “excellent” rather than merely satisfactory. He explained to the principal that he was very busy and thus was not able to attend the meeting.

The principal had achieved his goals. He happily cancelled the meeting and informed the student and her father of the “good news.” What the principal wanted was not only to pacify the girl and her father by indirectly forcing the teacher to change the grade, but  also to allow the girl and her father the opportunity to figuratively kick the teacher’s rear end a few times. Thus they, the principal hoped, would be satisfied and the principal would be shielded from criticism and reprimand from higher school system officials (whose job was also to appease) and the ever-present community activists to which the student and father would certainly have gone if their demands were not met. Although I remember being unsurprised by my friend’s ordeal, I was still angry.

Back to Dan’s comparison of my essays to the blog posts of Natalie Munroe. Dan asks, “…was Ron James a dedicated teacher venting his legitimate frustrations with a broken system? Or was he taking out his anger on his students and their parents, having ceased to think of them as his clients?” For one thing, public school students are not a teacher’s clients; the taxpayers who pay the salaries of the teachers and everyone else who works in the schools are the clients. Yes the parents are clients, but only to the extent that they actually pay taxes.

Dan said that I sounded “very much like Natalie Munroe” when I wrote that “Many of the students I teach behave as if they have no responsibility at all for their education.” I never saw Munroe’s blog, so I can only go by the examples Dan gives that I cite above. Thus I would conclude: To compare my analysis to Natalie Munroe’s name-calling is nothing short of ridiculous. The examples are not in the same ballpark; they are not even in the same universe!

As I said before, Dan likes to create conflict (and anger). He often does this by baiting people. He is certainly correct that conflict is at the heart of interesting writing, mostly because it provokes anger which produces response. In the Welcomat Dan allowed all sides of an issue to be aired (even responses that were incomprehensible or inane). In doing that, Dan provided a valuable public service which wasn’t and isn’t often provided by “mainstream” newspapers like the Inquirer and (the most powerful exponent of one-sided opinion) the New York Times.

Still, isn’t anger a prime motivation for writers? George Orwell, considered by many to be one of the greatest essayists, wrote:  “One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.” I wonder how today’s university students would react if Orwell were alive and invited to speak at their schools. That line might make even Dan Rottenberg hesitate to publish it. But, to his credit, I think he would.

Manchester by the Sea: A Masterful Portrait of Loss and Redemption

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Casey Affleck as Lee and Lucas Hedges as Patrick

Last night I left Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea feeling that I had just seen something moving and powerful, but I couldn’t figure out why I had such strong feelings.The movie is long and the many flashbacks often make it hard to follow (Did this event happen before or after that event?). After thinking about it, I think I know now what Lonergan is saying in his film: Life is often tragic, whether because of fate or because of human behavior, and finding redemption is a long and difficult process, but achievable.

Manchester is both a story and a character study. The main character Lee is a working class family man who makes a horrible mistake that results in devastating loss, perhaps the worst kind of loss that one can imagine. Afterwards, Lee is interviewed by two or three policemen who are obviously very sympathetic to him. When the interview is finished, Lee asks the policemen, “Are you going to let me go?” They respond,”A mistake is not a crime.” Lee is astonished and disappointed that the police do not wish to punish him for, in his mind, an act of enormous evil. A digression: Lonergan’s policemen are quite unlike police as they are usually portrayed in movies nowadays – as trigger happy, unsympathetic liars.

Since the police refuse to punish him, Lee punishes himself. He constantly starts fist fights that he knows he cannot win with groups of men who always pulverize him.   He lives alone in small, run down apartments and even an unfurnished basement, and he refuses offers of friendship.

He does have one close relationship – with his nephew Patrick. His brother who dies at an early age from heart disease (a tragedy caused by fate) appoints Lee to be his son’s guardian.

Patrick is also suffering, not only because of his father’s early death, but also because of his mother’s alcoholism and then abandonment. When the mother apparently reforms (although there are hints that she really hasn’t), she tries to find comfort in fundamentalist Christianity which is not for either Patrick or Lee.

Patrick, age 16, finds comfort and distraction in sex. He has two girlfriends at the same time. Lee is offered sex a number of times, but refuses it. Lee  understands that sex will not provide forgiveness for his mistake, and he denies himself pleasure or distraction; he wants pain and suffering.

In another moving and crucial scene (like the one with the policemen), Lee runs into his former wife Randi who has remarried and given birth to a child. Despite that, Randi is suffering and desperate to reconcile with Lee. She offers to meet him for lunch; he refuses. She says that she loves him, which has no effect on Lee. Randi wants to re-create the past which she, on some level, believes would relieve her pain. Lee understands that they cannot re-create the past; what is done is done.

As Patrick’s guardian, Lee develops a kind of father-son relationship with his nephew. In the last scene, Lee and Patrick are shown sitting on a fishing boat at the end of the deck. You see them from somewhat of a distance, but you can’t miss that Lee is smiling at Patrick. He hasn’t smiled for a long time.

Lonergan is making a simple point (it might even be considered  a cliche): Redemption and forgiveness come through escaping from your head and devoting yourself to helping others who have also lost their way.

The point may be simple, but most of what Faulkner called life’s “eternal truths” are simple. But Manchester by the Sea is not so simple. It is a masterful examination of people, who in different ways, endure and deal with life’s tragedies.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Kellyanne Conway and George Orwell

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Of all the over-the-top controversies about the Donald administration so far, the one I find most interesting is the reaction to Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway’s use of the phrase “alternative facts” to describe the difference between Trump’s estimate (opinion) of the size of the crowd at his inauguration as compared to the estimate of the size of Barack Obama’s crowd.

This atrocity occurred on Meet the Press when host Chuck Todd asked Conway, “Why the president asked the White House press secretary [Sean Spicer] to come out in front of the podium…and utter a falsehood about the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd.  Conway responded that Spicer “gave alternative facts to that.” Todd claimed that alternative facts are falsehoods. Conway’s use of the phrase alternative facts set off an explosion of outrage both in the media and the anti-Trump community. It also caused copies of George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel 1984 to fly off the book shelves both here and abroad; it rose to the top of the list of Amazon’s best sellers.

Trump critics claimed that alternative facts was synonymous  with either the Orwell- coined terms “Newspeak” or  “Doublethink.”  The website George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty Four – Appendix: The principles of Newspeak defines Newspeak as not only “a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of [Big Brother], but to make all other modes of thought impossible…This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meanings whatever.” An example: “The word free still existed…but it could only be used in such statements as ‘This dog is free from lice’..It could not be used in its old sense of ‘politically free’ or ‘intellectually free.'” Doublethink means the ability to hold two contradictory opinions at the same time and believing in both. Doublethink in 1984 was a method of controlling memories.

So how are Newspeak and Doublethink like Conway’s alternative facts? Not at all. Now I am sure that Obama drew a bigger crowd than Trump, and I don’t need  Park Police estimates or aerial photos or experts using the so-called Jacobs Method (Google it if you wish) to reach that conclusion. Obama was the first black president and had the support of the public service unions who are fabulous at turning out large crowds. He also had lots of adoring supporters in the Hispanic, black, youth, single woman, and intellectual communities among others. These folks love to attend such events. Trump’s approval rating was lower than Obama’s when entering office, and his supporters  are mostly  people who don’t have the time to attend demonstrations or inaugurations. Trump’s claims about the size of the crowd at his inauguration could be considered gratuitous and unnecessary.

So if alternative facts has nothing to do with Orwell’s inventions, what are they? Facts, true or untrue, are used to support an opinion. Every argument, whether in writing or conversation, employs facts for that purpose. But in any argument, there is also an opposite point of view. If there were no facts (let’s call them alternative facts) to support that different view, there wouldn’t be an opposing argument, although some people express opinions despite the lack of facts to support their opinions.

Authors, journalists, lawyers, and anyone else who has an opinion he or she wishes to argue deals in alternative facts. One of the rules for prosecutors and defense lawyers in criminal trials is that the prosecutor must share with the defense lawyer all the evidence (facts and informed opinion)  he has accumulated, both inculpatory and exculpatory. Of course,when they go to court, the prosecutor uses only the inculpatory evidence to support his opinion that the defendant is guilty, and the defense lawyer uses only the exculpatory evidence to defend his client. So the defense lawyer is using alternative facts.  Opinion journalists also know that there is an alternative opinion supported by alternative facts, but, again, they use only the facts that support their argument.

Sometimes people are unaware of some alternative facts when discussing an issue. A few years ago, I was in London visiting friends. One evening we discussed the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. They were pro-Palestinian. At one point I mentioned that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak had agreed to an extremely generous peace proposal devised by President Clinton. I also mentioned that Barak’s successor Ehud Olmert offered even more generous terms to the Palestinians. Both proposals were rejected by the Palestinian leaders. However my British friends were completely unaware of these facts because, I believe, they get their news and opinion exclusively from the anti-Israel BBC and the ultra- left wing newspaper, The Guardian.

Yes, Trump knows the crowd was smaller at his inauguration than at Obama’s. Why do he and his people keep harping on it?  Barton Swaim, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal  has one theory:

…A troll is someone who deliberately kindles acrimony by making outrageous, offensive  or confusing remarks. Often it’s used as a verb, as in: Donald Trump has spent the past year and a half trolling the news media.

And he has. But few journalists have appreciated the degree to which Mr. Trump’s entire political and governing strategy depends on trolling them. They’ve mostly assumed his penchant for exaggeration and invention was the result of psychosis, or just ego. By now, though, it ought to be apparent that he’s doing it intentionally, and strategically.

…Mr. Trump has little but contempt for the mainstream media. Or at least he wants the media to think so. He realized some time ago, as many a Republican presidential candidate realized before him, that most journalists covering his campaign would interpret his pronouncements and decisions in the worst possible light. Mr. Trump decided not to play their game. Instead, he would troll them. Constantly, mercilessly troll them.

The effect was to stop them from covering his candidacy in the usual ways—with the kind of one-sided analysis guaranteed to make his Democratic opponent look superior—and instead to send them off on crazy “fact checking” errands in search of intrinsically worthless data. Did “thousands and thousands” of Muslims celebrate the 9/11 attacks in New Jersey? Did he really oppose the Iraq war, and when? Is “The Art of the Deal” really the bestselling business book of all time?

Now that he is president, reporters assigned to Mr. Trump are in a tough position. They have to pay close attention to what the White House says, but they know the White House may give them garbage and dare them to spend an entire working day trying to verify or debunk it. Meanwhile Mr. Trump will make the ordinary decisions any president must make—court nominations, executive orders, negotiations with foreign leaders—while reporters are off trying to disprove some idiotic claim about the president’s approval ratings. They’ll feel as if they’re in an impossible bind, trolled into looking the other way, futilely insisting on their authority as the nation’s guardians of truth.

Swaim’s theory seems plausible to me. If Trump is clever enough to figure out what many in the country wanted in a president and then win the Republican nomination and the subsequent election, he is clever enough to come up with a new and possibly effective strategy to disarm the hostile news media. As Swaim says: “… Trump has decided, rightly or wrongly, that the press is not the people. A ridiculous ‘lie’ to the press, in his view, is not a lie to the people.”

Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts” may be a part of that strategy.

The March Without a Theme

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A 60s March.  My photo.

Looking at pictures of the Women’s March protesting President Donald, I noticed that almost all of the protestors I saw were smiling and looked happy; they were clearly having a great time. I remember the civil rights marches of the 60’s led either by the non-violent Martin Luther King and later the ones led by the pro-violence Black Panthers and the ironically named Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) led by first Stokely Carmichael, and then H. Rap Brown, who was famous for uttering the immortal words, “Violence is American as apple pie.” The only faces I saw in those marches were stern and angry; nobody smiled, nobody laughed. This was serious.

During the 1960’s, the golden era of demonstrations and protest marches, when I was on the Left, I marched in protests against the Vietnam War in New York in opposition to Lyndon Johnson (Hey, Hey LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?) and in Washington to protest Nixon’s “incursion” into Cambodia. What I remember most about them is that  everyone had a wonderful time.

Yes, during the Washington march, I saw the police dressed in full riot gear and I even had a whiff of tear gas, but despite that, I had fun. I saw the police arrest a few of the more aggressive marchers, but I am sure that those arrested found the experience thoroughly enjoyable.

One reason these marches were so much fun is they were a great way to meet members of the opposite sex. Many of the younger, unattached male marchers fantasized that all left wing women practiced recreational sex . I am sure that some of the demonstrators found what they were looking for. But even if you were unsuccessful in fulfilling that fantasy, the mere thought of it was exciting.

The other reason the demonstrations were so attractive is that they gave ordinary people a sense of pride that they were playing a part in a great historical event. Indeed, many of the marchers dined out on the experience for years and would probably do so for the rest of their lives. They would take any opportunity to tell their protest march stories to relatives, friends, and anyone else willing to listen.  It was not unlike the Woodstock music festival, which was also considered a seminal, historic event in the history of the youth culture, and attendees also regularly reminded others that they had been there. They were thoroughly convinced that the demonstrations and even rock concerts like Woodstock were a major, if not the major reason the war came to an end.

Because the 60s provided many opportunities for self-aggrandizement along with sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, the succeeding generations longed for a 60s of their own. I remember a man I used to work with who was married, working, and raising kids during the 60’s, so he didn’t have the time to participate in any of the historic 60’s events. But after his kids were grown and out of the house, he and his wife decided to have a 60s of their own, even though it was, by that time, the 80s. He was bald and gray, but he sported a ponytail grown from the fringe of hair he did have. He took to smoking “grass” every day and  participated in the few demonstrations that occurred during the 80s. And many people who did participate in the events of the 60s longed for yet another 60s in which they could relive their youth before they pegged out.

Some observers believe the 60’s never really ended with our defeat in Vietnam. Those members of the left wing community simply moved on to other causes. Of course, the new causes were embarrassingly trivial when compared to the tragedy of Vietnam. But it didn’t matter; left wing community members need their 60’s like an alcoholic needs his drink.

What I find interesting is that none of the issues that produce movements and protest marches today were considered protest-worthy during the Vietnam War/Black Power era. Betty Friedan published her influential book The Feminine Mystique in 1963, and is considered central to the birth of the modern feminist movement. Yet I don’t remember any of the left wingers I knew during the 60s even mention a women’s movement. In fact, most of the male members of the left wing community I knew could easily be described as male chauvinists. Perhaps they were influenced by their black brothers-in-protest who were unabashed misogynists, a problem that continues today; just listen to almost any rap “song.”

The right to an abortion was another cause. Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973 and made abortion legal everywhere in the country. Obviously some women and their lawyers were working quietly during the 60s to bring the issue to the Supreme Court, and they won. Yet I don’t remember any demonstrations during the 1960’s protesting either side of the issue.

Finally, there is the gay rights movement.The event that is said to have kicked off that movement is The Stonewall raid and riots. This seminal event was a New York City police raid on a gay bar called The Stonewall Inn. What set the raid apart from similar raids is that the bar patrons fought back. The raid took place in 1969.  Again, none of my left wing protester acquaintances cared that gays were denied legal rights. Most of the left could easily be described as homophobic during the 60s decade, and the idea of gay marriage never entered their minds. If someone had brought it up, they would have found it absurd, as most Americans did at the time.

Andrew Sullivan’s book Virtually Normal was the first effort to make a case for gay marriage, and it came out, so to speak, in 1995. Even older gay men like composer Ned Rorem and  writer Quentin Crisp didn’t get the movement for gay marriage. Rorem said he was against both heterosexual and homosexual marriage. Crisp couldn’t understand why gays wanted to be like straights and enter into an arrangement that Crisp thought to be boring when compared to the exciting gay life of promiscuous and anonymous sex. He also despised the word “gay” as the politically correct term for homosexuals. Why destroy a perfectly good word, he said, that used to mean, according to Webster’s,”happily excited, merry, keenly alive and exuberant”? Hardly anyone would use the word gay in that way today. Crisp preferred “queer,” which today is considered a slur.

Winston Churchill once described a dessert he was served as not “having a theme.” The Million Women’s march was like Churchill’s pudding: it didn’t have a coherent theme, which could not be said about the marches and protests that came before, regardless of whether one approved or disapproved of them. This time they were protesting the victory of one person, Donald Trump, in the presidential election only one day after he took office and before he had done anything. It is difficult to imagine how the media and Democrats would have reacted if right wingers had marched to protest Obama’s election. After all, he also defeated a woman, the same woman that Obama defeated, and prevented her from becoming the first of her sex to occupy the Oval Office. And Obama had a close relationship with a racist, anti-semitic preacher, which many believed to be a major scandal and indicative of a serious flaw in his character. But nobody organized a protest against Obama’s victory.

So, some of those protesting Trump’s victory were deeply disappointed that a woman, probably any woman, would not occupy the White House this time. Some were there because they were offended by Trump’s reputed habit of molesting women. They seem to have forgotten that that bar had been lowered years ago by the revelations of similar behavior by Democrats Jack Kennedy and Bill Clinton. They forgot, for example, that a perfectly credible business woman named Juanita Broderick accused Clinton of having raped her. Broderick told her story to an NBC reporter and was never heard from again. As far as I know, she didn’t make a penny by exploiting her experience. She never appeared on television again, gave no interviews to other reporters, and wrote no book. Yet, no one in today’s left wing community cares about that. There’s also the charge made by another credible woman that, in the White House, Jack Kennedy ordered her to perform fellatio on one of his cronies while he watched. After those revelations, Trump’s sexual antics don’t seem so shocking to Republican and Independent voters.

Others last Saturday marched to protest what Trump might decide to do about abortion, illegal immigrants, Vladimir Putin, gay rights, race relations, Obamacare, education, the environment, Supreme Court nominations, whatever. And some of the paranoid, conspiracy-minded members of the community imagined that Trump would turn the country into an Orwellian, totalitarian state. I have probably missed a few grievances about Trump, but you get the idea.

It has been claimed that the Million Woman’s March was the largest in American history. I don’t know, but I do know that it was certainly the most incoherent. It had no theme. It was just a party.

 

 

Jackie

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I know that most of the movie critics loved the movie Jackie. I hated it.

First there is Natalie Portman’s impression of Jackie Kennedy. The first time I heard the real Jackie speak was in 1960. The iconic reporter and TV personality Edward R. Murrow interviewed Jack and Jackie at their home on the popular show Person to Person. When Jackie started to speak, I thought, she must must be kidding, nobody speaks like that. I would describe her manner of speaking as a breathy whisper of words spoken in a child-like manner. Really, her voice and the way she spoke are almost indescribable, at least for me.

I thought:  Was this supposed to be sexy, seductive, classy or what?  Was Jackie the embodiment of Scott Fitzgerald’s character Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby whose voice the narrator describes as “low and thrilling”?  Was it “the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again.”  Did it “compel me forward breathlessly as I listened” because it was “glowing and singing”?  Was it “full of money”?  Maybe…  In any case, Natalie Portman’s imitation of Jackie’s speech is pretty good in that it is almost as annoying as the real Jackie’s.

The  actor who portrays JFK does resemble him, except that he is at least a head shorter. In one scene, he is shown next to Peter Skarsgaard, who plays Robert Kennedy. Skarsgaard towers over him; in reality Bobby was shorter than his brother. But because the movie concentrates on Jackie’s life in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s assassination, the JFK actor has a very small speaking part, and I don’t think he attempted to do JFK’s distinctive voice and speech. Peter Skarsgaard looks nothing like the real Bobby Kennedy and also doesn’t imitate his voice and speech. Thus Portman is the only one who impersonates the person she’s playing. That in itself makes Jackie hard to believe.

Portman speaks in a whisper, and for some reason, so does almost everyone else. Loud, portentous music is played during much of the dialogue. My hearing isn’t good, but I cannot believe that anyone could understand very much of the dialogue in Jackie.

The movie depicts Jackie Kennedy’s effort to promote what she wanted her husband’s legacy to be. Therefore, the movie doesn’t acknowledge any of the then top secret details we now know about Kennedy’s life: his many serious illnesses, his extremely dangerous and irresponsible act of having sex multiple times in the White House with Mafia boss Sam Giancana’s mistress, his affair with the mentally unstable Marilyn Monroe as well as his liaisons with many other women from White House secretaries to former debutante friends of his wife.

Also now known is that Ted Sorenson wrote Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winning book Profiles in Courage. We also know that Kennedy  employed mafia members to assassinate Fidel Castro; all that and more. In one scene, the reporter meant to represent Theodore White, who was the first reporter to interview Jackie after the assassination, urges her to promote Kennedy as  the “great man” White believed him to be.

So the movie’s purpose is to show how Jackie and Theodore White successfully placed Jack Kennedy in the pantheon of the great historical figures, rather than to show the real Kennedy, an extremely attractive and charming man, who in addition to being seriously ill and an irresponsible philanderer, made dumb decisions that brought us to the brink of nuclear war.  Not mentioned is how Kennedy’s indecisiveness made a fiasco of the Bay of Pigs invasion, which led to his fatuous and unsuccessful attempt to charm Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, which, as I said before, brought us frighteningly close to nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis. That series of unfortunate events produced our disastrous Vietnam involvement.  The war created the 1960’s culture of protests, young authoritarians, drugs, the black power movement, and race riots. As Zorba the Greek said, “the whole catastrophe.”

Kennedy’s decisions and murder also gave birth to the nutty conspiracy theory obsession we now live with as well as the trivialization and destruction of most of our education system–from the elementary schools to the universities.

The movie does not debunk the myth of “Camelot,” the fib made up by Jackie that the first couple used to play the music from the Broadway show Camelot each evening before bed, the purpose of which was to equate the few Kennedy years with some golden era of heroism, idealism, and cultural superiority.

And in addition to throwing a bouquet to Jack Kennedy, Jackie is boring and repetitious.

It also engages in voyeuristic sensationalism by re-enacting Kennedy’s murder, blood and brain tissue prominently included. It’s not as if we haven’t seen the real thing many times before.

Jackie once again tells us all the things about JFK that we already knew while ignoring all the sordid and unpleasant things we now know as well. The only thing that might surprise some viewers is that Jackie smoked when she was out of the public eye. Not very interesting.

If you want a true portrait of Kennedy, read the entertaining but sobering book President Kennedy by former New York Times reporter and author, Richard Reeves. Although I cannot say which party he supports, I can say from hearing him speak in person and from reading some of his works, that Reeves is definitely a liberal. Reportedly, Jackie Kennedy many years after the assassination gave her daughter Caroline, by then a grown woman, a copy of Reeves’s book and said, “If you want to know what your father was really like, read this book.” I can only speculate about the reason Jackie did this (if she really did it), but I believe she felt guilty and embarrassed about the monster she and the then deceased Teddy White had created and wanted to correct the historical record herself in a way she felt comfortable with – through her daughter, and perhaps after her death.  In any case, we haven’t heard a word from Caroline.

So the Kennedy myth lives on; it is indestructible.