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.

 

 

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Trump Nervous Disorder

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With apologies to the late Art Linkletter (Who remembers him?), people say and write the funniest things. The funniest are those that are unintentionally funny. A couple of articles, one in the magazine of The Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the other an op-ed piece in the New York Times assert that the election of Donald Trump to the presidency is causing major, clinical depression with anxiety among at least half of the U.S. population. If that isn’t unintentionally funny, I don’t know what is. The Times’s weighing in on the idea of mass depression and anxiety over Trump guarantees that the rest of the media will follow up with front page pieces of their own; tv news, talk tv and radio will follow. Thus a “crisis” is born.

The source for the idea of what might be called Trump Nervous Disorder is the mental health community. The members of that profession at least can’t say that Trump didn’t do anything for them; business must be booming, which usually makes for a sense of well being, not depression. So I doubt that they are suffering from Trump Nervous Disorder. They must sleep very well at night with Mr. Trump in the White House.

The JTA article begins with “The text messages started pouring in at 6:30 a.m., as Tracey Rubenstein was getting her kids ready for school. By the end of the day, the Boca Raton, Florida-based social worker had spoken to most of her clients…They were shocked, disappointed, sad and scared.” The reason:  It was the morning after the election. Rubenstein claimed that “This is anxiety on a national level, on a level of existential crisis [My emphasis] for some people of national identity.” It’s an apocalypse!

Seriously, isn’t that a bit much? After all, Ms. Rubenstein practices social work in one of the richest neighborhoods in the country, where most of the residents are retired. They thus have a great deal of time on their hands, after their daily round of golf, to think about such things. In addition, research on retirees has found that retirement greatly increases one’s risk of clinical depression and anxiety, by as much as forty percent. Now that’s a crisis, at least for those who suffer from depression as well as the medical system that must treat the ever- growing number of elderly people.

The article goes on citing the opinions of various “mental health workers” and victims of Trump disorder, as well as well as a novelist. It ends where it began, with the Boca-Raton social worker who says, “I think there’s something very extraordinary going on with this president, and I don’t want to normalize erratic behavior, or behavior that’s not grounded in reality, or policies that are openly discriminatory or harmful [My emphasis].” Ms Rubenstein’s last phrase is partisan, not scientific. Rather than taking these complaints seriously, Rubenstein should advise her patients to join the club: Those who are politically engaged are always unhappy when their candidate loses; they may even experience some very mild depression for a while. Besides anyone being treated by a “mental health professional” has “issues” that pre-date an election.

The New York Times op-ed says pretty much the same as the one cited above: “‘So much is coming at us,’ said Sue Elias, a psychotherapist in New York City. ‘There’s a chronic sense of anxiety among my patients that I have never seen before.'” One psychiatrist cited, “A couple of patients…[who] were incredibly stressed and embarrassed to tell friends they had voted for Trump, as they felt they would lose their friendship…”  So this is a bi-partisan crisis, although the mental illness, unsurprisingly, afflicts more Democrats than Republicans, 26 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Democrats.

Personally, I am concerned about Trump for many of the same reasons that trouble the people suffering from Trump Nervous Disorder. But I have never been depressed and anxious over who is president. I didn’t vote for Barack Obama and consider him to be devious, nasty, untruthful, and intellectually overrated; but he never made me feel depressed because I believe that whoever is president usually doesn’t matter that much. The President of the United States is often called “the most powerful man in the world,” but all that really means is that the United States is the most militarily powerful nation in the world. In reality, the president’s powers are relatively weak when it comes to domestic policy because both Congress and the courts have the power to thwart the president’s policies. The only time a president has domestic power is when his or her party controls Congress with a veto-proof majority, and even then he can be stymied by factions within his party, as we have recently seen when the so-called Freedom Caucus of Republicans killed the Republican health care bill. The real power of the Presidency is in foreign affairs, but even that is limited, as we have seen, when an unelected judge halted Trump’s immigration policy despite the fact that immigration policy has always been considered an executive branch responsibility. Although Congress has the constitutional power to declare war, that power has not been used for a long time. Still there is always tremendous pressure on the President to get a vote of approval from the Senate when he commits troops to battle.

To be sure, there have been times when the occupant of the White House had a powerful emotional impact on people, and it is always during or immediately after catastrophic events. The country was lucky to have Franklin Roosevelt during the Depression and World War II.  His sunny disposition and self-confidence made people feel that better times were on the way, even during the war. We were also lucky to have Eisenhower in office after the Depression, World War II, and Korea. His even temperament and low-keyed manner made it possible for the country to return to normality after the terrible events that preceded his administration.

Most historians revere Abraham Lincoln, but I have always felt ambivalent about him. Undoubtedly he was a brilliant speech writer and politician, but I find it hard to accept the idea that the Civil War was necessary. I find it hard to believe that slavery in America would have continued into the 20th century. All of the civilized Western nations had pretty much banned slavery and the slave trade before the Civil War. The South must have realized that slavery’s days were numbered because of anti-slavery public opinion among the Western nations as well as the advent of new technology. The South’s stubbornness was based on their strong aversion to being dictated to by Washington. Given that, I often wonder whether the deaths of more than 600,000 young men was worth it (6 million in today’s population). Regardless of whom one voted for in that election, I think it would have been completely normal to have been very anxious about the Lincoln presidency.

Finally, there were other popular presidents about whom we should have been anxious and worried, but weren’t. John F. Kennedy’s  recklessness and indecisiveness in the Bay of Pigs invasion set off a series of events that eventually led to both the brink of nuclear war over Cuba and the Vietnam War. And we now know that he was a very sick man, and a philanderer. However, the only time Kennedy made me anxious was during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and that had more to do with the fear of nuclear war, not Kennedy himself.

You can certainly make a case against Nixon, Bill Clinton, George W, Bush, and Barack Obama. We knew that Nixon was an angry, perhaps unstable man, that Bill Clinton was a womanizer (making him a prime target for blackmail), that Bush was perhaps not that smart, and that Obama was inexperienced. Still, there were no reports of mass depression over their elections and during the controversies of their administrations.

Many have strongly criticized Trump’s reference to what he calls “fake news.” The media characterized that as a major part of what they portentously called Trump’s effort to undermine the news media. That may be so, but the media’s attention paid to claims of a wave of mass clinical depression sweeping the country is a good example of either media gullibility or, yes, fake news. Still, it’s pretty amusing.

Why Are The Palestinians Special?

Note on the map below: “Palestinian Land” and “Occupied Palestinian Land” are more accurately considered “disputed territory.”

4mapsWhat is so special about the Palestinians? Why is the conflict between them and Israel such an essential casus belli for mostly leftist intellectuals around the world? Before offering my answer to that question, I note that the struggle over what was once called Palestine is only one of many land disputes around the world. Usually the disputes are resolved when one side defeats the other, and then both sides, as they say, move on.

The present-day American states of California, Nevada, Utah, most of Arizona, about half of New Mexico, about a quarter of Colorado, and a small section of Wyoming once belonged to Mexico.  Mexico lost the Mexican-American War, and those territories were annexed by the United States. To be sure, there may be a few diehards in Mexico who still bemoan the loss of their land to the U.S, but I expect that most Mexicans consider that to be ancient history.

The Vietnam War was a land dispute between the communist North Vietnamese and the American backed South Vietnamese. The Americans and their Vietnamese allies lost the war, and once again, most moved on. A neighbor of mine was one of the Vietnamese “boat people,” who escaped Vietnam by way of a rickety boat when she was a child. I asked her if she had since visited Vietnam or wished to. Her answer: No, no no! She now lives in a beautiful house with her husband and children. And she drives a Tesla. She is definitely not interested in returning to her “ancestral home,” her roots. She too has moved on. Today, Freedom House rates Vietnam a six out of seven for nations that are the “least free,” and a seven out of seven for countries with the worst record in political rights.

According to an article in the March 28, 2014 issue of National Geographic Magazine, there are more than 150 disputes around the world that involve land. One they consider particularly problematic is Crimea where Russian forces occupied and then annexed the country. And do you remember the 2008 “five-day war” with Georgia in which Russia took over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two regions that once were firmly considered part of Georgia?

China is engaged in an number of land disputes. There is the territory known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu Islands in China. The article notes that, “China is involved in multiple other territorial disputes, including the long struggle over Tibet, which ‘is an example of a dispute where there is one state and an area inside it wants to be separate,’ says Ron Hassner, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley, who has written extensively about territory disputes… He adds, ‘Another form of territorial dispute is when two states argue over a piece of land that lies between them, such as Jammu and Kashmir.'” Gibraltar is also a bone of contention between the U.K. and Spain.

The Kurds are a people who many believe deserve a state of their own. They suffered in Iraq under Saddam Hussein and they still have an ongoing armed conflict with Turkey.  I could go on, but you can see for yourself: Google “territorial land disputes.” The list is long. Yet most of those obsessed over the supposed Israeli oppression of the Palestinians could not care less about any of these other disputes where, in many cases, people are being oppressed and denied their rights.

The case for Israel is that the Jews were living in the disputed land long before the Arabs invaded. In addition, Israel still stands prosperous and strong after defeating the Arabs over and over again in wars of self-defense. This is usually the way land disputes are settled, and the Israeli presence pre-dating the Arabs is further support for their right to the land. Of course, the dispute could be settled by negotiation, but the Palestinians have shown no interest in that. It is true that “might doesn’t make right,” but it does make for reality as history shows.

So why is the Palestinian-Israeli dispute special as compared to the more than 150 other land disputes going on around the world?  The two answers are usually oil or anti-Semitism. As I said before, the group mainly responsible for the anti-Israel movement is the left-wing educated class; therefore, I would reject oil as a reason for their obsession with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since that class is adamantly opposed to fossil fuels. I can only conclude that they don’t like Jews.

Israel- An Addition

 

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Yesterday, I wrote about the views of our guide Jackie. I wrote that Jackie did not express his opinion about the Israeli settlements on the West Bank. My wife remembers it differently, and I think she is right.

Jackie stressed throughout our tour that the Jews lived in Israel and the West Bank long before the Arabs. Much of the tour was spent visiting excavation sights and ruins that prove the presence of Jews in Israel that pre-dated the Arabs. Thus, the Jews, he believes, have a greater claim to the area than the Palestinians. I don’t know whether he would be for annexing the West Bank and Gaza, but he does believe that the Israelis have the right to do so.

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.

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.