Wednesday, August 21, 2019

EVEN OLD MOVIES KNOW AMERICA BETTER THAN TRUMP DOES

By Dominique Paul Noth

When Trump originated his MAGA chant (Make America Great Again) my reaction was what the hell was he talking about?  It quickly became clear he would destroy the actual past for his own fabrication and he dreaded building his policies on past American dreams and progress. He found a cadre of voters that knew as little as he did or thought his fact-free style would improve their lives.

He set out to dismantle every good thing previous administrations had accomplished -- and even the good halfway steps they had taken in hope that America would continue to evolve.

Now after nearly three years, the citizens are at a crossroads – try to get rid of Trump now in what is shaping up, as Nancy Pelosi feared, to a one political party impeachment or grind it out until the end of 2020 while Trump kicks up the level of damage to American institutions and principles, destroying our global reputation while banking on an economy growing shakier every day.

His MAGA chant evokes some imaginary US past in his fevered brain, maybe the Gilded Age of the 19th century when business ran rampant, maybe the 1920s when businesses again ran rampant on the way to the Great Depression, maybe some aspects of the Eisenhower years with the widely spread but misleading slogan “What is good for General Motors is good for the country.”

I don’t like going back when the nation has to keep pressing forward, but Trump clearly isn’t thinking of the era when America’s democratic fortitude emerged and scared the right wing half to death – the greatest generation as Tom Brokaw called it – the 1940s after the war. 

Gregory Peck, Celeste Holm and John Garfield confront
a drunken Jew hater in 'Gentleman's Agreement'
Even Hollywood, a studio dream machine built around making money, was forced to confront the changing globe confirmed by World War II.  Suddenly, even the movies with their historic caution began to say things that were universally American in values.  They had done so hesitantly in earlier decades but this time the bite was more socially pronounced.  Trump would have hated the impulses.

The movies remained cautious on what we now call civil rights, making films where Southern theaters could snip Lena Horne solos out of MGM musicals.  The movies were particularly bad for blacks and native Americans and by the 1960s routinely added Hispanics to the stereotypical mix. 

But there were glimmers.  In 1943’s “Sahara,” starring Humphrey Bogart (and not to be confused with later movies of the same title), a veritable United Nations of straggling soldiers gather in the desert to fight the Germans and it is here that a black man is allowed to kill a white man on screen to the cheers of the audience.  The white man is a blond despicable Nazi and the black man is a Sudanese soldier (played by a famous black actor, Rex Ingram). 

Hollywood was in the myth making business but slowly the world was creeping in.  Noted directors and actors went to war and came back with a harder edge.  Even studio solvers from the stage world like Vincente Minnelli could play a dual game – creating one of  the best showcases for black talent in “Cabin in the Sky” (1943) yet sending a valentine vision to GIs of the white America worth saving -- loving, comfortable,  family knit,  untouched by social upheaval.  His “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944) is a great musical, yet what it doesn’t show is alarming.

Turn of the century St. Louis had  a half million residents,  but 35,000 were blacks, and there is not a black face on the screen, much less horror at how many lynchings were taking place around the World’s Fair. The boy next door romancing sweeps away any sense of darkness until a cork face Halloween nightmare Minnelli inserts.

The right wing had an angry counterblast that roiled the nation after the war with (is this where Trump got it?) fears of socialists, Communists and military Armageddon resulting in HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Committee, which gave rise to such political stars as Richard Nixon) and the McCarthy era. Socially aware Hollywood names were blacklisted for more than a decade in a fever that also served up politically neutral figures whose celebrity was now sought by Quisling replacements.

So rampant was this fever that a staunch Republican like Ginger Rogers would be dragged through the mud for making a homefront drama about women working in factories, “Tender Comrade” (1943),   because the title  could be made to sound so Bolshevik.

Yet “Tender Comrade’ actually represented a flowering of socially conscious Hollywood movies built around American principles like immigration and justice.   Almost all their creators wound up on the blacklist. 

Dreamers confronting reality: Peggy Ann Garner and
James Dunn in 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn'.
Director Elia Kazan, excoriated later for cooperating with HUAC, always urged looking at his films rather than his behavior, because he was 20th Century-Fox’s go-to guy for social dramas. In his first film, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (1945), set at the turn of the century, a grandmother from the old country in tortured English contemplates how, now that she’s old, she sees what drew her to Brooklyn:

In that old country, a child can rise no higher than his father's state. But here in this place, each one is free to go as far as he's good to make of himself. This way, the child can be better than their parent and this is the true way that things grow better. And this has to do something with the learning, which is here free to all people. l who am old missed these things. My children missed these things. But my children's children shall not miss it.

Weirdly, the same immigrant dream remains 74 years later.

By 1946, returning American veterans confronted the emerging nativism that Trump so typifies in “The Best Years of Our Lives,” from newly observant Hollywood master William Wyler. The encounter then was with an America First boor (sound familiar?).

Then a Hollywood flavored portrait of American middle class anti-Semitism emerged under Kazan in “Gentleman’s Agreement” (1947, like “Tree” based on a nationwide best seller). The gimmick is that Gregory Peck pretends to be Jewish to feel firsthand the rejection and humiliation felt by Jews.  The movie simplifies like a lesson play and actually paints over a nasty past when FDR’s state department itself was riddled with anti-Semitism (while McCarthyites later claimed it was riddled with Communists!).

But it contains an interesting excerpt from Peck’s fictional magazine piece after being rejected at the “restricted” (euphemism for anti-Semitic) Plume Inn:

Driving away from the inn I knew all about every man or woman, every youngster, who'd been turned down by a college or a summer camp. I knew the rage that pitches through you when you see your own child shaken and dazed.  From that moment, I saw an unending attack by adults on kids of seven and eight and ten and twelve...  on adolescents trying to get a job or an education or into medical school.   
     
And I knew that they had somehow known it, too. They, those patient, stubborn men who argued and wrote and fought and came up with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They knew the tree is known by its fruit and that injustice corrupts a tree, that its fruit withers and shrivels.

The allusions back to nature are typical of the era, conjuring up an integrity to Earth that American principles embody in the writers’ minds.  Seldom since have the Founding Fathers been so nobly portrayed.  Seldom since have the purposes of a free education and a free integrity for all people been so artistically explained to the masses of Americans, assuming a universal level of language and interest in the American ideal.

By 1949 even the issue of undocumented immigrants was recognized for what it really was – an exploitation of cheap labor by business owners and their middlemen  (“Border Incident”), a vision of desperate immigrants  that seems to have vanished from the White House.

For all its warts – and the eras of my childhood had many – there was a presumption of universal acceptance of basic principles.   The MAGA of Trump by his own behavior rejects all that.  I fear he is talking to an audience that, because of their own upbringing and indifference to learning and self-education, has no idea what I’m talking about – or what the majority of Americans are fighting to preserve and restore. 

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his DomsDomain dual culture and politics outlets.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.





Friday, August 9, 2019

THROWING A RED FLAG ON RED FLAG LAWS

By Dominique Paul Noth

The idea sounds good.  The police would be empowered to temporarily take guns away from citizens in danger of hurting themselves and others. There is supposed to be follow-up counseling to keep the community safe and decide when the guns can be returned. 

Versions vary from state to state – several have the red flag laws -- but the concept basically is police or family members can petition a court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves.  The idea of a judge is central to the concept, until you start thinking of judges whose political views tend to control their opinions.  That’s when the slippery slope of due process, much more important to me than restriction of gun rights, rears its head.

A plus for the idea is that the NRA is against it and another is that Republicans who have avoided gun legislation find aspects of this attractive. Moscow Mitch is even making favorable grunts.

I frankly find their attraction suspicious. 

Red flag laws are a decent tool if carefully written to not make someone who talks about taking action against Trump sound crazy and committable. If you think my fear is far-fetched, try applying the law to judges who rely on politicians as well as voters to get into office.   Try thinking about the need to remove weapons.  Who decides?  The sheriff? The spouse?   Which judges in Wisconsin?  How is the evidence gathered – and by whom?

In a country when so many gun deaths are suicides, red flag laws have proven to help take guns away from people going through obvious trauma, or drinking bouts or opioid distress.  There is evidence that taking away the methods of suicide – guns, pills, whatever –deter suicidal folk.  But there is little evidence that, outside suicides, red flag laws are more than a drop in the bucket of blood our society endures.

No, this has merit, but limited merit.  It is a feel good piece of legislation rather than a direct assault on our gun culture.  It is shaping up as another salve to the GOP conscience – and frankly, to the Democratic conscience because the Republicans have blocked everything else and now we can all pretend to real progress.

Don’t misunderstand. Guns should be taken away – but not just from people with chronic mental problems.  We all have moments of sickness, of anger, and it is foolhardy to believe police officers or a judge will know best when our fit has passed and we can go about our regular lives.  Temporarily named can become permanently stigmatized. In an era when people lose it for a moment on a phone video, and that moment flies around the globe, a Big Brother mentality can create a lot of problems. 

And once guns enter the picture we have plunged into a world that defies logic. Gun owners are fiercely protective that there is nothing wrong with them and people who fear gun owners are not the best judges of who is safe and who is not.

Moreover this is all happening in the world of Trump.  Law enforcement in general and national security in particular are being politicized.  The president is electing friendlies to the justice department, the intelligence community and the federal courts, which some legislation would seek to get involved. Is this a time when we want to extend police power and claim it will always be rationally employed?

Red flag laws that give more power to law enforcement and to judges in a partisan environment strike me as multiple kinds of danger.

Obviously the legislation has to be tightly crafted. Equally obvious, there will be human beings taking action – motivated after a mass shooting, motivated by a presidential tantrum, perhaps more careful during a lull; hyped with genuine concern about a loved one,  stridently worried about the unloved. 

Republicans now want to do something, but the public shouldn’t let them use baby aspirin when major surgery is required. 

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his DomsDomain dual culture and politics outlets.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

SILLY AMERICA KNOWS THE PROBLEM AND WON’T DO A THING

By Dominique Paul Noth

America is having a cause and effect problem – a dawning realization that sometimes you can’t prove legally what you know is actually true. We know the cause and the effect, yet can’t seem to do anything about it.  We are as paralyzed socially and politically as we are with climate change.

Hate crimes, white nationalism and mass shootings have been a rampant gathering storm for  three years.  They were once a whispered ingrown national shame but this time they have  a direct time correlation to Trump’s statements and behavior.  He cannot be called criminally guilty in the California, El Paso and Dayton shootings, among many.  But you don’t have to be a genius to see the connection.

The Mueller Report is stuffed with examples of Trump playing nice with Russia, with his criminal machinations, yet having nothing to do with his tax returns, emoluments and basic fraud as a businessman. 

The media is still consumed with his every utterance as they typically have been for decades with any president of the United States, which means that citizens know his nasty nicknames for his rivals without being there in person at his rallies or signed up for his tweets.

They know, endlessly, that he equates all groups that dislike Trump as “hate groups”  even those that haven’t killed people. Providing him a megaphone is doing great harm, but that reality  seems to  escape most cable news outlets, aside from the one happy to be his servile megaphone.

It is past time for the media and the public to exercise restraint and sometimes self-imposed silence, so that only FOX is willing to raid the henhouse. 

Everyone watched in disbelief as Trump tried to pontificate against white supremacy (briefly), condemned the Internet but not his own tweets, blamed video games, tried to tie gun control to immigration reform as a crass way to suggest Latinos are responsible for their own mass murders, and read Teleprompter platitudes while Pence stood behind him like a cardboard cutout.

It was a display – mechanical empathy substituting for the real thing --  that inspired revulsion  throughout the world and forced the Secret Service to contemplate they may have to shoot  regular citizens as Trump insisted on visiting Dayton and El Paso. Typically, Trump turned those visits into campaign stops rather than solace calls. 

And yet half the country is not sure all this is grounds for impeachment.  Obvious racism may be enough for Texas Rep. Al Green but history let Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan slide by. And today’s public is letting Trump slide because his racism is out there in the open.

As Shakespeare said in “Hamlet” we are hoisted “on our own petard.” In this case the petard (or bomb that blows the user up and lets the target escape) is free speech.  It is protecting the most outrageous statements and in Trump’s case the most outrageous contradictions. To act against him requires using his own hateful methods or abandoning our core principles.

The courts, already suffering a right-wing sheen from Trump’s appointments, aren’t equipped to validate our historic sense that the presidency is a moral center of decency.  The Constitution may limit his powers but in the heat  of the moment the courts succumb to fears of political involvement.

Even if justices mentally know that using military money to build a wall is a waste of resources, the legal issue is whether the president, empowered with protecting the nation, should be contradicted by the courts if he wants to fritter money away.  As long as the Senate refuses to go along with the House, just how much do we expect the courts to do?

Even when suffering communities like El Paso urged him not to visit, there  were and always will be handfuls fascinated by the aura of a presidential visit and a minority of supporters who demand the same sort of federal protection from harm that other minorities, like blacks attempting to integrate schools in the South in the 1960s, expected from their leaders.  There will always be a few Mexican Americans who may hate what Trump says but add, “At least he called attention to our border problems,” as one told NPR.

In America, before Trump, we thought we had a nation built  around an ethical theme, around  human rights.  Many times we failed – our national tragedy --  but until now we tried to return to the moral center.

The times clearly call for some adjustments, some reckonings that go beyond the slow walk the electorate usually uses to correct  itself.  But these are not the adjustments we are getting. 

As a misdirection, Republicans now want “red flag” laws  to let the police  step in early against those too dangerous to use guns or advocate violence.  Such laws may be peripheral to the real problems, and in a Trump era they could be used against his political enemies, forcing the community  to arrest its own woke citizens.  But many Democrats, including Wisconsin’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, are tempted by the new narrow opening of Republican minds. They know the Republicans are adamant against deeper measures.

It’s not just Republicans, though. In the wake of the gruesome mass shootings, listen in to how debating progressives were fighting among themselves. Some, like Cory Booker, argue for nationwide gun licensing while others also running for president say that doesn’t impact what a survey  suggests already exists in the US -- 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles and assault weapons, and 86 million shotguns.  Have to do something about that, too.  But the cry of “Do Something” becomes “Do My Something First!”

California Governor Gavin Newsom, in open outrage after the Garlic Festival shooter got a legal assault  rifle in Nevada, wants every state to ban not just  assault weapons but put strict controls on ammunition magazines  as his state had done.  Republicans claim there is no public appetite for such bans – but they are  clearly not talking to the public in the streets.  Diane Feinstein wants to revive the assault weapons ban.  The organization established after the brain-spattering shooting of Gabrielle Giffords points out that the House has already passed universal background checks and bipartisan control bills that have gone to the Senate to die under Moscow Mitch.

A massive mandatory buy-back proposal is also suggested, yet progressives are arguing among themselves about the details.  The clarity of America’s majority reaction to Trump and to gun violence is already splintering apart in ridiculous opposition and equally ridiculous “on the other hand” debates among Democrats.  How many more mall shootings will it take? Cause and effect can become cause and neglect.

A representative democracy relies on thoughtful measured action after debate and the sausage-making process of legislation.  In the face of a bullish gargoyle elected (in some manner) to the White House, is our democracy flexible enough to react and survive?  Can it keep its essential values and rise to the challenge? Or are we about to find out it can’t?


About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his DomsDomain dual culture and politics outlets.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.






Thursday, August 1, 2019

2018 HANGS OVER 2020 PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES

By Dominique Paul Noth

The phantom thread under the presidential debates weaves back to how well the Democrats did in 2018, amazingly well given how the Republicans had gerrymandered the states after the 2010 US Census. This underpins why the televised debates seemed so much a dispute between idealistic conviction and skeptical pragmatism

Don’t underestimate the GOP – they still fully control 22 states and have far more state legislators.  But they lost 350 state seats in 2018 and now the Democrats control 14 states -- six were taken from the Republicans in 2018. 


Pew Research provided this graph
to explain trifectas
Pollsters borrow a term more familiar from horse betting to describe the shift – trifectas, when one party controls both the state’s executive (governor) and the legislative chambers (usually two – Nebraska has one and it’s nonpartisan so that state doesn’t count in this pollster math).

It was noteworthy in 2018 that the GOP didn’t pick up a single state in the trifecta game their party had long mastered -- and the Democrats picked up six, another demonstration of how Trump has pushed the nation away from the GOP.

That trend has altered political thinking, affecting the presidential race and the state by state politics, elevating both the interest in forward looking moderates and Green New Deal progressives. Both groups gained in the 2018 election.

As one TV pundit put it: “Democrats ran and won in 2018 on the environment, education funding and health care.” It’s no surprise that many presidential opponents to Trump are running on the same issues.

In every state where Democrats gained a trifecta edge, they introduced bills to expand voting rights.  In several of the GOP trifecta states that party introduced bills to curb women’s reproductive rights, relying on the one gift party leaders think Trump has given them – a more conservative high court that will chip away at Roe vs. Wade or flat eliminate it, as some in their ranks fancy.

Some states didn’t achieve a trifecta despite a proven progressive electorate. In Wisconsin, the GOP lost the vote totals to the Democrats but stayed in legislative power because of the extreme gerrymandering of legislative districts imposed by the Republicans in 2011. In US House races, Wisconsin was the only state in which the party receiving the majority of votes (Democrats) emerged with a minority of congressional seats. 

So Wisconsin got a Democratic governor but a heavily Republican legislature,  a five-seat edge in the state Senate (within 2020 election targeting for the Democrats) drifting into a probably insurmountable  63-36  advantage in the  Assembly.  But the issue of funding education has proven a winner in all the districts for the governor, Tony Evers, who previously served as the state’s chief of public education.  And the GOP margin is not so big as the two-thirds needed to override his vetoes.

He used the most powerful veto pen in the nation more cleverly to serve the public’s demands than did his GOP predecessors. Through nifty methods, he added back some $87 million to public education

The outmaneuvered GOP exploded and filed a lawsuit, hoping their conservative pets on the state supreme court will go along with them.

It is a blatant appeal to partisanship since the legal props are wobbly for the lawsuit, but it reflects what the GOP believes they have bought and paid for -- the courts.

There are also signs that the state GOP may try to use a joint resolution in the legislature to block any attempt by Evers to draw a fair election map after the 2020 Census.  Republican leaders deny this is in the works but Democrats were unmoved by the GOP denials, noting leaders were not ruling out running past Evers on new maps – and noting that the same gang of legal extremists had just filed the lawsuit against the vetoes.

This fight for control in one guise or another rips through all states’ politics.   One result is a total rethinking of a typical belief within the national electorate:  splitting the vote.  If the constituents split their votes among the parties – as they did when the House turned Democratic while the Senate and the White House are in Republican hands – the thinking was that might be better for the nation to not let one party run off with the silverware.

Trump’s behavior has changed that game.  He’s running off with the silverware regardless.

The Democratic gains in 2018 are looming strong for the 2020 election but one of the realities hitting voters is that changing the White House is not enough.  They have to change the Senate too. It has become the place where good bills from the House go to die. It is an echo of what Evers continues to go through in Wisconsin, helped only by the power of his office.

This is the political tension of the day.  It’s going to take a nimble Democratic presidential candidate to make the country look past the damage caused by Trump to what the US should aspire to. That candidate will set the tone for how fast the states have to react. Right now it is a fight between the candidates who want an explosion of change after Trump and the more moderate who want to put the country right and move on from there.

Political observers believe the degree of change will reveal itself most at the state levels -- among voters more closely impacted by policy.  It is a highly partisan environment at all levels but change is more quickly affected at the state level, suggests political scientist Carl Klarner who has made his election database at Harvard open to the public. 

Klarner bluntly states the obvious reality for 2020:  “A party needs to control both chambers of the legislature and the governor's office to significantly change the direction of policy.”


About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his DomsDomain dual culture and politics outlets.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.


Sunday, July 21, 2019

MUELLER'S EXPECTED DRYNESS ALREADY KINDLING SPARKS

By Dominique Paul Noth


The Internet brims with podcasts delving deep into Robert
Mueller's findings.
Trump by his mere presence in the White House has placed the American voter in a moral dilemma. The worst fears of his opponents – that he’s an imposter -- sound like the crazy conspiracy theories of his rally followers.

In conversation with Trump detesters, many are now convinced there are enough racists and ignorant people in the US to explain his presence in the White House. Some don’t want to believe that white privilege and fear of the brown and black is that deep in our psyche, but others believe it fervently.

But then there is the growing evidence of the Mueller Report.  The special counsel is set to testify Sept. 24 while the Internet is aflood with podcasts from people who have actually read the report and weighed its implications.  Among the best is one from Lawfare, a distinguished legal blog since 2010 whose first episode in entitled “Active Measures” for the Russian term for its cold war style methods of attack.

I hope everyone listens to Mueller’s House testimony yet don’t expect him to draw a simple road map for the unthinking. He clearly believes his report has outlined his findings and explains his limitations as a dutiful member of the Justice Department, which has opined (to my personal dismay) that a sitting president can’t easily (some say ever) be criminally indicted.

Mueller, a lifelong Republican, is hardly bringing a flaming hot partisan poker to his testimony and will probably invite America to absorb his report, as Lawfare clearly has done.

But a cogent reading throws in doubt whether Trump would have won without Russian propaganda – as hard as that is for even voters who don’t like him to admit. Clearly, when Putin started his disinformation campaign against US voters – taking advantage among other things of the popularity and immediacy of the Internet on millions – Trump was nowhere in his mind.  But certainly by 2015 the propaganda direction had switched to support Trump over Hillary Clinton, whose stern warnings to Putin when US secretary of state under Obama still rankled Putin. 

Mueller details an astounding degree of Russian involvement but he was also dealing with legal realities that allowed him to charge some Americans and many Russians but not the president.  He also refused to clear Trump of criminal obstruction in other dealings.

Now no one will ever prove beyond reasonable doubt that Trump won 63 million voters in 2016 by crook more than hook. None of these voters will probably ever admit they were duped and most of his opposition (who have some other weird political explanations for the results) would rather blame Democratic Party leaders than the Russians.

But millions of US citizens were clearly bombarded with views on Hillary that don’t pass muster in the light of day. Millions were subjected to rallies and messages that sounded American, supported Trump with lies -- and could have affected their opinions in the voting booth.

And yet, and yet  those who oppose Trump and suggest his election was tainted tend to sound like conspiracy theorists of their own, like the people who still think Saddam Hussein bombed the towers or believe Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Abdullahi Omar supported Isis.

We are a-sea in a loony world of attitudes and extremes that lend credence to our Founding Fathers’ concern that education was the key to a winning democracy – “if you can keep it,” as Benjamin Franklin warned.

Psychologists are familiar with the Dunning-Kruger effect and it suggests some fascinating connections to today’s conundrum. “Dunning-Kruger” is a type of cognitive bias, where people with little expertise or ability assume they have superior expertise and the ability to pass judgment on others. This overestimation occurs because they don’t have enough knowledge to know they don’t have enough knowledge. “Not only do they fail to recognize their incompetence,” the effect’s scientists explained in 1999, “they’re also likely to feel confident that they actually are competent.”

It sounds contradictory as does Catch 22 (based on a 1961 war novel but often described as the belief you have to have money to make money, just true enough to sound convincing).   Dunning-Kruger has been extensively explored in psychological terms in the workplace but a recent story in Psychology Today suggests it should also be “studied in one of the most obvious and important realms: political knowledge.”

If it is studied in connection with reading and thinking about the Mueller Report, Trump’s support base will be confronted by some harsh truths. The rest of us can argue about who should succeed him and whether the Democrats have their own Dunning-Kruger groupies.  But replace him we must.


About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his DomsDomain dual culture and politics outlets.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

HOW FAR LEFT IS TOO LEFT?

By Dominique Paul Noth

Underneath all the turmoil of the Democratic presidential race our headline seems the real issue for voters. Are the most leftist ideas in the field a bridge too far for the winning electorate? Or is a more measured approach failing to seize the public mood?

The answer may depend on where you live.  Folks in New York City and Los Angeles and perhaps even Chicago seem to relish the ideas that moderate Democrats call extreme.  In states like Wisconsin, where the voters may lean Democratic, the successful gerrymandering of a decade has locked the Republicans in legislative power -- despite a smart Democratic governor

Individual voters who may passionately like the lefter the better are being pulled up short remembering they live in a country with Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell leading the baying pack on the other side of the divide. They fear that America has revealed itself as a country in which too many forgive moral cowardice and racism, thinking they are getting what they want despite the racism and cowardice.  The underpinnings are beginning to strip the economy into failing pieces, but that is of no interest to those enamored of the surface prattle from the right.

In Wisconsin, party leaders are openly seeking Democrats for the legislature who fit the dozens of districts long controlled by the GOP.  Flamethrowers not welcome because, the theory goes, they can’t win.

Interestingly, both the so-called moderates and the so-called leftists agree on the final goals – universal health care, expanded social security, higher wages, genuine concern for workers, progressive taxes that make the very rich dig even deeper, immigration reform with a path to citizenship, and on and on.  The important differences are in how to get there and how quickly and how cost effective. 

And there is not even general path agreement among the most progressive.  “Medicare for all” is a term made popular by Bernie Sanders and embraced by other presidential candidates (Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Bill De Blasio). 

But each candidate advocates something a little bit different.  Several other candidates noted how private insurers play key roles in national health insurance in other countries.  Sen. Amy Klobachur, flat in the polls, nevertheless has made inroads saying fixing the ACA is an essential first step to universal health care.  (The differences continue in education policy though all are pushing for less costly (or no loan) higher education at public institutions.)

Former VP Joe Biden shaped the curve within the Democratic electorate, insisting that the most socially progressive are smart people but the country is not there yet, and that his first step – restoring the best of Obamacare – is where the voters stand.

Right or wrong, the way forward is not just a national question. It  will determine the winning candidates particularly in crucial state elections that percolate under the presidential scene.

State upon state are forming interesting races for the US House and Senate that rely on voter attitudes and also feature some sellable names.

Former Marine pilot and Democratic moderate Amy McGrath has raised impressive money in a bid to defeat Senate leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.  Former astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of Gabby Giffords and a leading voice in sensible gun control, is attacking Arizona’s appointed Republican senator Martha McSally.  In a New Mexico House race, a noted name from the past, Valerie Plame, exposed as a CIA agent by the Bush II administration, is running in a crowded field  for  the Democratic seat held by Ben Ray Luj├ín, who is moving up to try and replace retiring Tom Udall as senator.    On and on around the states there are races local newspapers are eager to write about.

But not so much are they crazy to write about races on the level of state-wide legislatures. It’s hard to get the media and the public interested, yet those races are even more critical for the Democrats. 

Many states are fighting extreme partisan gerrymandering imposed by the Republicans that the conservative US Supreme Court, while expressing its disgust, suggests that only the US legislature can remedy. The high court refuses to.   Obviously, given the moral cowardice of the GOP Senate, a legislative remedy won’t happen. It is actually a great incentive in November 2020 for Democrats high and low, elevating in importance local contests as well as getting rid of Trump.

Speaking to experts in state politics though, with more than half the states controlled by Republicans, they estimate that  Democrats will have to punch 20% to 25% above their natural political weight to turn things around.  (In 32 state legislatures, Republicans control 1,000 more seats than Democrats.)

“Like it or not,” said one Democratic leader in Wisconsin, “the bill we have for partisan-neutral redistricting is not going anywhere with this GOP and we will have to live within the existing gerrymandering.”

Democrats, those interviewed added, are still working out their election strategies since many districts controlled by Republicans do not yet have “a viable Democratic challenger.”  Many leaders are concerned that efforts to turn Wisconsin’s Assembly and state Senate are not high among voter awareness.

The feeling of these political insiders is that the core minority sticking with Trump is abetted by the weakness to resist of elected Republicans. In that situation, the issue of how to rouse the voters into action differs from state to state, from rural to urban politics.

How far left is too left? That seems to depend on what you want – and what you can get.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his DomsDomain dual culture and politics outlets.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.


Sunday, May 12, 2019

WHY HASN’T PUBLIC OUTRAGE JUMPED ON TRUMP?

Where is our  Joe Welch speaking out over  indecent behavior?
By Dominique Paul Noth

Rudy Giuliani’s announced and then canceled trip to Ukraine to encourage that government to find dirt on Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s only surviving son, proved too obviously low for even Trump’s senior advisers – but only after pronounced criticism from both parties.
  
Trump immediately struck again in his now routine departure from normal behavior by injecting self-praising politics into a famous annual Fourth of July celebration, hoping to insert an “ain’t I great” speech into a nonpartisan patriotic moment.

Such antics brought to mind Joseph Welch, distinguished special counsel for the Army in 1954, who finally halted Sen. Joe McCarthy’s overwrought appeal to fear and innuendo by simply asking, “At long last, sir, have you no sense of decency?”

That is the only proper response to the machinations of Donald Trump, who so fears people think  a foreign power helped get him elected that the first thing he wants  to do against Biden  in the 2020 campaign is get a foreign government to embarrass a family member and interfere in our election.

The Ukraine affair and the Fourth of July threat are tips of an iceberg that includes bizarre Tweet attacks on former employees, revocation of press credentials, contradicting his own staff  and other uproars so typical of Trump’s modus operandi – to trot out something outrageous and see how much attention he gets from the media whether he does it or not.

These “no sense of decency” moments ought to catapult the American electorate into seeing how far from basic morality Trump is willing to stray.  That the nation accepts this would confound the mild-mannered Welch – whose putdown of McCarthy drew national magazine covers -- and shows how far we have drifted from the traditional America Trump keeps talking about, though he clearly doesn’t know what it was. Welch was a touchstone, the sort we need again.

You don’t have to want Biden as president to realize Trump is counting on the media to magnify by repetition any weird action or political dirtiness he attempts, with Rudy as handmaiden. 

It has already happened regarding Biden.  The only reason most of the country now knows Trump’s nasty nickname for Biden – sleepy creepy Joe – is because news outlets, even MSNBC, repeated it hourly – sometimes in laughter but they repeated it nevertheless.

Trump is the president, the media argues, so every utterance has to be covered. But ratings concerns have clearly infected the networks.  Obama’s controlled face never got half the airtime of the plastic-putty puss.  There is no journalistic justification for how often his repetitious rally ramblings and predictable nastiness get airtime.  

The media is mystified – stupefied – on how to handle someone so willing to be unconventional and even immoral out in the open, untouched by the normal control brake of shame. Since the Mueller report did not criminally nail him for his footsies with foreign powers, he figures footsie can continue. Anything not directly forbidden will rear up again.

McCarthy (left) consulting with Roy Cohn
during 1954 hearings.
The reference to Joe McCarthy actually has historical connections to Trump – beyond how their use of fear and degradation is much the same.  Recall in videos of those Army hearings that McCarthy’s lawyer was the same Roy Cohn, now departed, who was Trump’s mentor in business shenanigans.  Trump himself has wished aloud the attorney general would serve as his personal lawyer like Cohn – and clearly William Barr is a sort of clone. 

In we can read facial language into videos from 65 years ago, Cohn was not happy with McCarthy’s ploy because he saw early – like the Ukraine fiasco – it could backfire into elevating McCarthy’s enemies.  McCarthy’s overreach was much like Trump’s – he tried  to embarrass Fred Fisher, a Welch assistant for a short time and a member of a Boston law firm  who at Harvard joined the lawyers guild, which had been cleared by DOJ but labeled a ‘‘Communist front'' by the now notorious House Committee on Un-American Activities.

McCarthy’s violent stretch of the facts – trying to discredit Welch and the Army by reaching for any red paint he could find -- is parallel to the Ukraine trip and similar Trump outrages, sometimes against the advice of his modern day Cohns.

Biden’s older son, Beau, a rising political force, was stricken by brain cancer. The grief over his death is the main reason Joe Biden did not run in 2016, while many are certain he would have done better than Hillary Clinton in the states that turned out to be vital – Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Trump seems to suspect that also and he is turning up the pressure that Biden himself forecast – “he’ll go after my family.”

Hunter, the younger son, has had a slightly troubled life, the kind the tabloids Trump loves might exploit -- a divorce, allegations of drug use, Page Six breathlessness when he dated Beau’s widow and now in Ukraine as board member of an oil company cleared of charges in the new, less Soviet friendly government.

What this has to do with Joe is minimal.  Guiliani’s second advertised reason for talking up Ukraine, to get dope on Mueller and how the probe of Trump started, is equally delusional.  But note how Trump reaches for foreign help when facing opponents like Hillary and Joe who have a valuable foreign reputation, the sort of reputation he doesn’t.

The liberal school of thought doesn’t believe – or want to believe -- Trump made it to the presidency in 2016 on his own hook and crook.  It evokes in them a frightening view of anti-intellectual Americans.  I have to remind myself that in Wisconsin, 1,405,284 people voted for him. (For number nerds, Hillary gathered 1,382,536 and would surely have won drawing a fair share of the third party candidates, as the spilled milk people will tell you.)  My question today is simpler: Are those voters still there? Can the Trump voters stand by him now? It’s not just me asking.  TV news crews are busy interviewing voters about shifts in opinion.

Yet something about his methods apparently appeals to a section of Americans, which suggests a segment of the public so upset by the establishment that they wanted a maverick, even if the maverick has now proven a con artist and destroyed our foreign reputation while clinging to a rich man’s view of an economy that hardly addresses the pocketbook issues. 

I don’t know if Biden will be the voters’ final choice, though I have written about why he seems so appealing to voters and so scary to Trump.

I suspect that Trump gimmicks like the Ukraine – trying to destroy him by destroying his children -- will only increase Biden’s support. The election is about more than revealing Trump as a charlatan, but that’s a good start for angry voters.  They are suffering under Trump’s foreign stumbles, refusal to act on climate change, undoing deals that were good in the first place – and simply pretending that just being in the office gives him a license to misbehave.

No, the election should be about the best ideas for government and what the public regards as the best ideas.  The Biden appeal is predicated on a known quantity who can be moved to the left and is going to benefit from all the cheap shots Trump throws at him.  He is too old-fashioned for some of the voters who wanted him in 2016 when he was 72 – and given two terms would have been a president at 80.  But suddenly 76 feels too old out of the starting gate, though strangely you don’t hear the same sniping  about 77 year old Bernie Sanders.  

The progressives see strong younger presidential candidates out of the 20 or so running. One or two may still catch fire.  The issue is whether the electorate feels the same necessity for speed and youthful vigor.   It is too simplistic – as Kirsten Gillibrand proclaimed to the media -- that only Biden’s name recognition has him so far ahead. The non-hyphenated Democrats who make up the bulk of the vote are responding to more than name value.

Remember, in 2007, a year out from the contest, few voters even knew who Barack Obama was, but they measured him against the rest of the field.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his DomsDomain dual culture and politics outlets.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.