Trying to Make Sense of the Senseless

“He doesn’t fit the profile.” This is what is being said about last weekend’s mass murderer. He is a white male with a lot of guns. Just because he was 64 years old with a lot of money, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t fit the ‘profile’. Just what is the profile of a psychopath?

It doesn’t make sense that he owned 47 weapons, many of them assault rifles, converted to make them fully automatic. It doesn’t make sense that he planned this out, carrying those weapons to that room, overlooking that venue at that time. It doesn’t make sense that someone needs 47 assault rifles: but hey, this is America: land of the free and home of the brave.  It doesn’t make sense that we don’t have any way of tracking these weapons, which might call attention to someone amassing his own personal arsenal.

There are over 300 million guns in America. They are owned by 36% of the population. Most of these people own only one gun, but there are many who obviously stockpile weapons—waiting for some apocalypse. One that they themselves may carry out. It makes no sense, but hey, this is America.

This is America, where Republican politicians stand by and allow this to happen—offering only a prayer and continued silence. It makes no sense.

Ghosts of Charles Wittman

In August of 1966, Charles Wittman killed 13 people and wounded 39 others from the top of a tower in Austin, Texas. He did not have assault rifles, let alone automatic ones, so he only managed to kill 13. Last weekend’s murderer killed 59 and wounded over 500.

Wittman knew that something was wrong with him, his suicide note requested an autopsy be performed, where they found a brain tumor.  This doesn’t mean that all mass murderers have brain tumors. But there is something wrong with their brains, or they wouldn’t do such things.

Republican politicians and their propaganda machine Fox ‘news’ want to write it off as “pure evil”. Which is about the same as saying they were possessed by demons (and not in a metaphorical sense). This is no answer. It is just their way of trying to make sense of the senseless. It doesn’t solve anything, but they don’t intend to. They will continue to let this happen, calling it the price of freedom (as though Europeans are not free). They are not free to own 47 assault weapons, but they are relatively free of gun violence.

This does not mean that we outlaw and confiscate all assault weapons in this country. That is the other extreme. But working together, we may find some sane approach.  Right now Republican politicians are working to make gun silencers legal. This way you can gun down hundreds of people and they can’t even hear that there are bullets flying. Does this make sense? Trying to make sense of the senseless.

After the tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school, ninety percent of Americans wanted stronger background checks for gun sales. Republican politicians did nothing. Does this make sense? In a democracy?

Actually, this does make sense. Follow the money.  Republican politicians are not beholden to the citizens of this country, they are beholden to their donors, which include the gun lobby. Their only aim here (no pun intended) is to increase gun sales, which will help line their own pockets. Ah, for kickbacks: Now it is beginning to make sense.

Or, is now not the time to talk about it. For the GOP, it is never the time to talk about it.  Just another excuse for moments of silence.

Gun Violence and Health Care

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As everyone in America knows by now, this last weekend we had the worst mass killing in modern history (the slaughter of women and children by US soldiers at Wounded Knee was the worst). Was this an act of ‘terrorism’?  We are all a little more terrorized right now. And while we may be in shock, we are not surprised. We are not surprised because we have become all too used to this happening in our country. We are not surprised by the lack of empathy on the part of Republican politicians. And we are not surprised by their lack of response: “now is not the time to talk about guns in this country”—is their only response. Followed by silence and prayer.

There are two things that we know for certain about this weekend’s mass murder: it will happen again, and Republican politicians will do nothing about it. They did nothing after Sandy Hook, when 26 children and their teachers were murdered. They do nothing every day in America when an average of 42 people are gunned down.  They will do nothing now. They are beholden to the gun lobby, in the same way they are beholden to Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Banks, Big Tobacco, and other corporate donors who line their pockets with blood money.

But here is my question: do these Republican politicians think that those 500 people wounded by a hail of bullets from the sky have a right to health care? This is important. Because they all showed up at the emergency rooms, where they weren’t turned away. Who is going to pay for their health care? The gun lobby? Are these innocent victims going to get stuck with thousands of dollars of medical bills? Or, is now not the time to talk about this either?

Here is my point: innocent victims should have their medical expenses covered—by a national insurance program. These people did not choose to be shot. But, nor do people choose to get cancer. Millions of people suffer from diseases, traffic accidents, and other health care related issues through no fault of their own. Some of them can afford insurance, some of them cannot.

Imagine the callousness of a politician saying to those wounded in the massacre last weekend: “we are sorry that you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, but here is a bill for tens of thousands of dollars for your medical expenses”.  But this is the same callousness which is implied every day. Take the logic of this massacre of innocent people, and apply it to what is happening every day in America.

Innocent people are dying, or declaring bankruptcy, because they cannot afford health insurance—through no fault of their own.

Today’s GOP: Heartless and Cruel

Today Trump gave the white supremacists something to cheer about. He has spent the last month showing America who he is. First, he cheered on the KKK and Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville Virginia, declaring “there are very fine people on both sides.”  He then pardoned the racist sheriff Joe Arpaio, who puts immigrants into “concentration camps” (his own words). And now, through his racist Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he announces that he will end the DACA program. Sessions was giddy, practically jumping up and down in his pants, when he made the announcement. (happy that he was the one to make the announcement).

For those of you who don’t know: President Obama authorized DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in June of 2012, because the Republican controlled congress would not act—holding true to their vow to block everything President Obama proposed. So Obama did the right thing.

Many of these children were brought here by their parents when they were quite young, this is the only home they have even known. And Trump wants to deport them—to where? This is their home.

In the latest opinion poll 76% of Americans want to keep the DACA program. But 15% of Americans want to end it. This is right in line with Trump’s own 35% approval rating. Who does he care about?  His base. Who is he governing for? His base.

His whole campaign, and now presidency has been to appease the racists in this country. From the moment he came down his golden elevator in Trump Tower and announced his bid for presidency, by denouncing Mexicans as drug-dealers and rapists—he shot to the top of the Republican polls. When he announced a ban on Muslim immigrants, he went even higher in Republican polling. Now, it is true that not all Republicans are racist, but it is obviously true that some are—this is his base.  Them, and the rich. This is how they plan to “make America great again”—and it is now becoming clear what this means to them.

We were warned by people who knew Don the Con, when he was cheating his contractors and workers out of money. He told us that he was going to make health care better and cheaper—that was a con. Only 17% of Americans approved of his health care plan, and he almost succeeded in shoving it through congress. This plan would have thrown 30 million people off health care in order to slash taxes for the richest Americans.

Right in sync with his ‘reality-show presidency’—he gave congress six months to act, as long as they attach it to a bill that he wants. In other words, he wants to hold these children hostage, because this is the only way he can force his agenda.

Last week one dreamer, Alonso Guillen,  lost his life in Houston saving the lives of others. We will need undocumented immigrants to help rebuild Houston. In fact, we will need these workers to rebuild the American economy—we cannot grow the economy with a shrinking population.

These people should keep this in mind next Sunday morning when they mouth the words “Forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Any one who would deport these kids are simply heartless and cruel.

What will the rest of Americans do? “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” Edmund Burke.

By The Way: these dreamers pay a lot more in taxes than Trump’s entire family.

 

Should Professors Stop Opining About Trump?

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In last Friday’s New York Times, professional critic Stanley Fish criticized a group of history professors who call themselves Historians Against Trump, for speaking out against the presidential candidate Donald Trump. Fish argues that although they have a right to state their opinion as citizens, they have no right to state their opinion as historians.

Maybe Fish should also criticize climate scientists for speaking out about climate change, given the climate change has also become a political issue. Maybe Fish should tell evolutionary biologists to keep quiet about evolution, given this hotly charged political issue. Fish himself is a law professor. Maybe he should tell law professors that they have no right to write opinion pieces about the constitutionality of some of our legal and political practices…

If this sounds like I am making a reducio ad absurdum out of Fish’s opinion piece– I am: because it is an absurd position. Historians not only have a right to speak out, they have a duty to do so.

“Those who do not remember the past [history] are condemned to repeat it”. This is the warning that George Santayana gave us, and it bears repeating. Historians are uniquely positioned to remind us of what happened in the past and when the results were disastrous. Actually, some of the ‘prophets’ in the Old Testament were simply issuing ‘warnings’ about the direction people were heading– “those who do not remember how to get to the water supply are condemned to die of thirst”.

The United States of Amnesia. This was the term Gore Vidal used to warn Americans of the disastrous results of never remembering what happened in the past. Sometimes we all need a little reminding.

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Maybe Stanley Fish ought to tell political scientists that they should not explain to us what fascism is.

In an appropriately titled book, Fascism: Why Not Here?– Brian E. Fogarty “draws parallels between German culture of the early twentieth century and American culture today”. He wrote the book before the rise of the Tea Party. And I had to go back and read it again after the rise of Trump. It is a very scary book. And we ought to heed his warning.

Most Americans are not just forgetful, they are ignorant as to what is really happening. Who can blame them? It takes a great deal of time and effort (and frustration) to understand more deeply what is happening and why. It is just easier to watch Fox ‘news’, and then vote their conscience.

Maybe historians, and other professors, are speaking out now because they are concerned that if Trump wins the presidency they will not have the ability to speak out later. This happened not just in Nazi Germany, but in the United States during World War I. Many prominent university professors were fired from their positions for merely questioning whether the US should get involved in a European war.

In fact the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the tenure system were started after this disastrous fiasco. John Dewey (my intellectual hero) explained that professors were hired as ‘public intellectuals’– they should not be fired for saying what they think. (By the way there is a fine line between knowledge and opinion that would take too long to explain here.)

The Republicans hate the tenure system nearly as much as they hate very educated liberals. They would love to do away with both, so that they can go back to firing people for saying things they don’t like. Trump has already barred reporters he doesn’t like from attending his rallies. This is the first step toward a ‘slippery slope’ (that I don’t think is a fallacy). The right of freedom of the press is extended to academic freedom. And sometimes a duty to speak out.

Most people do not know who Stanley Fish is, but even less know who I am. However, as I said before I am tired of remaining silent. And I will continue to speak out, not just as a concerned citizen but as a college professor of philosophy (with a focus on ethics and political philosophy).

By the way Mr. Fish, if Trump gets elected and the results are disastrous– do we then not have the right to say “we tried to warn you”.

A Brief History of Race and Politics: from the KKK to Donald Trump

If we want to understand how we got to this point in American politics we should remind ourselves of some basic history and not deny the facts.

Yes, it was Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, who freed the slaves. The North won the Civil War and the South still hasn’t gotten over it. From 1864 to 1964 the majority of the White South voted Democrat. Southern Democrats were not liberal in any sense of the term– but they were anti-Republican. Their resentment over the Civil War has lasted more than a hundred years. And their battle cry has always been “the South will rise again”.

The White South’s alliance with the Democratic Party, however, began to shift in 1964. When Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, he turned to Bill Moyers and said, “we may have just signed the South over to the Republican Party for the rest of our lifetimes”. And from 1964 to 1984 – the White South turned Red. Barry Goldwater ran against the Civil Rights Act; Richard Nixon ran his famous “Southern Strategy”; and Ronald Reagan perfected that strategy. By 1984 there were very few White Southern Democrats left– they had all become Republicans.

Today’s Republican Party is not the party of Lincoln; they are the party of anti-Lincoln. They are the party of The South. If you look at a map of the Red States and the Blue States it basically still traces the Mason-Dixon line of the Civil War. There are few exceptions.

This is not to say that all Republicans are racist. But the party has aligned itself with the racially motivated elements of the South – they have accepted them in order to maintain a conservative majority. The Republican Party has, in effect, become a ‘white power’ movement. Republicans in The House of Representatives are 98% white and 95% male. And Fox ‘news’ is already pushing for a “white turnout” in the upcoming presidential election.

“Rapists and Criminals”

The Ku Klux Klan rose up after the Civil War claiming that the newly freed black slaves were criminals who were raping white women. Their stated aim was to protect “Southern Heritage”. Their underlying aim was, of course, racism. They were America’s first and foremost terrorist organization. They are still alive today. They just don’t always were white robes.

Remember Donald Trump’s announcement speech. When he came down that “golden elevator” from on high, the first thing that he said is that Mexicans are “rapists and criminals”. And he was going to “build a wall” to keep them out. Next he went after the Muslims– calling for a ban of all Muslim immigrants to this country. He immediately shot up to number one in the Republican primary.

We have seen this happen before. And not just in our country. We should keep in mind that Adolf Hitler’s campaign slogan was “Make Germany Great Again”. The same thing that Hitler said about “the Jews”– Trump says about Mexicans and Muslims.

This is not to say that all Trump supporters are racist. But all racists are Trump supporters. They have unmasked the most insidious elements of the Republican Party. They are once again speaking out– they hate “politically correct” speech. They want to “make derogatory language great again”.

Racists are fueled by hate, and they wear their emotions on their sleeves. What, in the past, has been “dog-whistle” politics has now become a fog horn. Much of this has been the language of “States’ Rights”.

“States’ Rights” was used before the Civil War to protect slavery. “States’ Rights” was used after the Civil War to protect segregation and suppress voting rights. And “States’ Rights” are being used today to re-suppress voting rights, women’s rights, and the rights of the LGBT community.

In fact, it was the Civil Rights Act which limited the ability of “States’ Rights” to undermine Human Rights. And that is why the South has always hated it.

Trump is galvanizing the South. His rallies are an emotional hotbed, fueled by rage. He has a brand of white ethno-centric nationalism and he is now courting fundamentalist Christians. Sinclair Lewis declared that “when fascism comes to the U.S. it will come wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross”.

Now Donald Trump is running as “the law and order” candidate. This was how Richard Nixon described himself– and look how well that turned out!
The Trump campaign knows that they cannot win-over even a small minority of the Hispanic vote.

The vast majority of African-Americans will never vote for him. Their strategy is thus to get out the white vote and suppress minority voting. Is this the democracy that we really want? To win elections by racial division and voter suppression.

That is where we are headed in American politics. No wonder so many Americans believe that our country is headed in the wrong direction.

As I said before: I am tired of remaining silent on these matters. Though I struggle with feeling that there is nothing I can do about it, I am going to be speaking out more– whether it has the desired effect or not.

 

The Court of Republican Opinion: Exonerated or Convicted, Hillary Will Always Be Guilty to the Right-Wing

 

 

Yesterday the Director of the FBI, James Comey, stated that no charges would be brought against Hilary Clinton for her use of a private e-mail server while she was Secretary of State. Last week Trey Gowdy concluded his investigation into what happened in Benghazi, and found that Hilary Clinton had done nothing wrong. In the long run no one will remember that she has essentially been exonerated in both of these cases, because she has already been ‘convicted’ in the court of Republican opinion.

We have all heard of the stories of the person accused of a crime showing up on page one of the newspaper. Later his exoneration shows up on page three but no one remembers the exoneration. This happens constantly with Secretary Clinton– it is all of the Republicans accusations that are piling up.

Charles Krauthammer, the Fox ‘news’ pundit, when asked last week about whether the Benghazi report would hurt Hilary’s chances of being elected president, stated that “this” wouldn’t hurt her, but in combination with all of the other accusations would build up. It is the perception that matters. And this reveals their tactic. Throw enough mud and something may stick– even if it was you that muddied the waters.

This Republican strategy was already revealed last year when House Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, stated that “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable.”

Keep in mind that the Benghazi ‘witch hunt’ that McCarthy was referring to was the eighth one that they have held– they already held seven previous investigations and found no evidence that Hilary Clinton had done anything wrong. So they spent two more years, and seven million dollars of taxpayer money, took more time than the investigation into Watergate, the Kennedy assassination, or the 9/11 commission– in order to sabotage her presidential bid. They dragged this out to coincide with the national conventions when everyone was paying attention, but then realized that they had a dud on their hands.

Remember the 1990s?!

When Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, Republicans immediately began attacking his character, and that of his wife. When angry Republicans took over the House in 1994, they began impeachment proceedings– not officially, they had to find something first. But they were going to impeach him for something, they just didn’t know what yet.

The Republican Congress spent the 90s going from one fake scandal to another. They accused the Clintons of corruption in the Whitewater real estate deal, they accused the Clintons of murdering Vince Foster, they even investigated their use of Christmas card lists. They found nothing– until Monica Lewinski produced a stained dress. And the Republicans dropped everything else.

From one fake scandal to another…

Heads I Win– Tails You Lose

This is how we used to flip coins when we were children, trying to frame the outcome in our favor whatever it happened to be.

This is also how Donald Trump framed the FBI investigation  when he said last week that if she is not indicted this “proves that the system is rigged”. Actually it proves nothing of the kind. It simply shows that there was no reason to indict Hilary Clinton for some alleged ‘crime’ that she didn’t commit.

Fox ‘news’ has been out to get the Clintons since 1992. Twenty-four years of bad press takes its toll eventually. So it is no surprise that they are spinning James Comey’s statement today in order to ‘prove’ the Hilary is guilty of something. The Fox ‘news’ crowd has already convicted her, there is nothing that can be done to prove her innocence, as far as they are concerned. Again, she has already been convicted in the court of Republican opinion.

This is a problem with ideology. Once a hypothesis has been accepted as true anything can be used in order to support it. It is unfalsifiable. Keep in mind Donald Trump’s statement last week: “if she is not indicted that would prove that the system is rigged.”

But also keep in mind the lead up to the Iraq war. Before the invasion weapons inspectors said that they could find no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. The Bush Administration (lead by Cheney) said that this ‘proves’ that Saddam Hussein is good at hiding them. There were never any weapons found!

By November, when we go to the polls, all the Republicans want you to remember are the number of the accusations that have been hurled at Hilary Clinton. They want the perception to be that there must be something to them if there are this many accusations.

Americans say that we don’t like dirty politics. But what are we likely to reward? Unfortunately dirty politics seems to work. It certainly takes its toll.

But what I find almost laughable is that more Americans think that Donald Trump is more honest and trustworthy than Hilary Clinton.  Lets’ see what turns up- keep an open mind.