Saturday, October 15, 2016

Perspective On Sexual Assault

“If you can’t handle some of the basic stuff that’s become a problem in the workforce today, like you don’t belong in the workforce. Like, you should go maybe teach kindergarten. I think it’s a respectable position." Donald Trump, Jr., 2013, in radio interview discussing his view of women who make charges of sexual harassment.

The roll call begins. At the last Presidential debate, Donald Trump said that the audio recording of him on the bus was “just locker room talk.” When Andersen Cooper asked Trump whether he had actually done the things (i.e. assault) he had talked about, Trump replied, “No, I did not.” We knew instantly that that “No” would spell the death knell for his campaign because, given Trump’s virtual dare, victims would begin coming out one after another. It only took three days to start. It is the sound of the final shoes dropping. Yet as this depressing political campaign descends even further from the gutter into the lowest sewer, it is important to keep something in perspective.

Joe Scarborough (“Morning Joe”) cautioned everyone to keep a reasonable skepticism about the victims’ stories. Not regarding their content, but about their timing. After a year and a half of campaigning, he asked, why are these women just coming out now, 30 days before the election? That might be a question many men might ask, but very few women would. And the answer is no evil doings or grand political conspiracy. It is far more basic than that.

We need to put ourselves in these women’s place. You are a young, single female out on her own, perhaps for the first time in your life. Probably fresh at the beginnings of your career. In an isolated, unguarded moment, some famous, powerful man makes a move on you against your will. It is probably for only a short moment. But it leaves you shaking, embarrassed, confused, and fearful that your personal vulnerability has been irrevocably exposed. But who do you tell? Who is going to believe the “little nobody” against the word of the famous, powerful one? You have no proof. He has an army of defenders (and protectors) at his disposal. Who is going to believe you? You have seen the attacks and public humiliation that other women have gone through, innocent or otherwise. So you just bury it, and hide it, and keep quiet. For years, even. Because you assume it happened just to you. But you never forget it.

Then, all of a sudden, the dam burst. Some woman not so powerless spoke up. She got heard and she got results. Finally, you are not alone anymore. Then the famous man in question was unexpectedly caught bragging that he does these things, but now he denies actually doing them. Suddenly your believability goes up; maybe now people may listen to you. His lies are just another form of a renewed assault on you. So you set aside all the hurt, all the buried and numbed feelings, and muster up your courage to finally tell your story. To finally release the demons that have long haunted you.

Certainly these accusations should be investigated thoroughly and fairly. But we should not politicize these events, regardless of our political party affiliation or candidate choice. Will there be some fakers in the midst of these courageous women? Likely, but probably only a few. The ones who have come forth, and the ones inevitably still to come, did not control this timing. Donald Trump’s arrogance ultimately caused this timing and opened the door for them. Telling these stories requires great personal courage, however tentative one may feel; witness the very personal attacks against them that have already begun. As adults, we men rarely have encounters of being sexually assaulted. We rarely even think about the possibility of it, and find it hard to relate to a possibility women think about, and have to guard against, continually. So it requires us to have to make a deliberate effort to understand and relate to these terrible scenarios and their outcomes. I suggest we make that effort. Now.

©   2016   Randy Bell     

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The 7-No-Trump Bid

In the card game of Bridge, “7-No-Trump” is considered the ultimate bid. In the current presidential campaign, we need to make that same ultimate bid: 7 NO Trump to Donald Trump.

1-NO-Trump: Lack of Preparation. Donald Trump has spent ZERO time in public service preparing to be President. No military, no social service, no political experience to prepare himself to take on the ultimate public service job. He claims that his business CEO experience qualifies him to be a government leader. But government leadership is a totally different profession than being a real estate developer. To aspire to suddenly be President with no transitory preparatory step is too big a learning curve in too critical a position. Would I choose to go to a surgeon who had just decided to switch over from being an insurance salesman, but who couldn’t be bothered going to medical school or serving a hospital residency?

2-NO-Trump: Living in a Bubble. Donald Trump has spent his entire adult life as CEO of some form of a private, closely held family business. Trump has never worked for another as a salaried employee. Never known the pressure of being accountable to someone else judging his job performance and employment. It has always been his show to do as he pleases. Living in this insulated bubble for 70 years, his instincts know nothing else. He cannot possibly have any real understanding of what it means to be an “average Joe/Josephine,” living paycheck to paycheck, having your house foreclosed, being unemployed for a length of time, trying to ensure that your children have better opportunities than you did. The continual stream of insensitive statements Trump makes about people demonstrates this myopia and shallowness of his professed concern for others. If Mitt Romney dug himself a hole for not being able to truly relate to the average man/woman, Donald Trump has dug himself a Grand Canyon.

3-NO-Trump: The Fake Businessman. Donald Trump’s claim for qualifications is his supposed business success and acumen. But it is all a fa├žade. Like any good flim-flam man – think P.T. Barnum, the Wizard of Oz, and Bernie Madoff – it is all about duping desperate wannabes into believing your (fake) aura of success, so they will willingly hand over to you their legitimately-earned money. When the hollow promises inevitably fail, you walk away unscathed with their money; they walk away holding your empty bag. The man who promises to rebuild our economy has left a trail of bankruptcies in his wake. The man who will bring back jobs to America has his products imported from overseas factories. The man who would “help out the little guy” built his fortune stiffing small contractors by non-payment, and overpowering them by threats to sue from his legion of lawyers. The man who promised hope to financially desperate people took their tuition money for an unaccredited and content-empty “Trump University”; they walked away with no education and no real business insights, dreams of their financial future in ruins. Even his phony “Trump Foundation” received no donations from Trump, but willingly (and illegally) spent its money on his personal expenses. The “business genius” who lost almost a billion dollars in his personal business (versus corporate) has run the most amateurish political campaign seen in recent memory, belying any claim to organizational competency.

4-NO-Trump: The Insulting Bully. The President of the United States is the most criticized person in the country, if not the world. It comes daily from across the political spectrum, a no-win / dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t. Donald Trump has shown no ability to handle criticism of any sort, large or small, on any topic. There is more concern about being the center of attention than reconciling or creating effective change. There is no “discussion” with Trump; all disagreement is personal. The mildest criticism is deemed “vicious,” requiring extreme and unending retaliation (e.g. Rosie O’Donnell; Gold Star mother; John McCain POW; Federal judge of Mexican ancestry.) If you disagree with Trump, he brands you “a loser,” your track record is “a disaster,” your company “a failure.” Then it gets personal with insults: “Lying Ted,” “Low-energy Jeb,” Crooked Hillary,” “Look at that face Carly.” There are few groups left in America that Trump has not insulted in one way or another: women; Mexican/Latinos; African-Americans; Muslims; veterans; Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Republican Party and its leadership; virtually the entire federal government workforce. All people with whom he would need to work as President. There is a never a debate about the substance of the disagreement, never an apology nor an admission of error. Just insults hurled towards the disagreer. Make no mistake: what we see in the campaign is what we will see in the White House for four years. No change.

5-NO-Trump: Propaganda and Alternate Reality. Trump has no core, thought-through ideas of substance that he can articulate beyond the headline or catchy phrase, so his “positions” turn on a whim from one day to the next. There are no actual plans to solve our problems – unless they are plagiarized from other politicians: a “secret plan” for defeating ISIS (Richard Nixon); “Peace from Strength” on foreign affairs (Ronald Regan); the “Law and Order President” (George Wallace). Like demagogues before him, Trump has learned well the art of rhetorical propaganda. Say anything outrageous, it will get you noticed. Say it loudly and frequently enough, it begins to sound like “truth” – even though it isn’t. “They are all rapists and murderers.” “No Muslims allowed into America.” “I know more about ISIS than the generals [because I went to a military boarding school].” “African-Americans are all living in ghetto hell.” “Muslims in New Jersey cheered on 9-11.” The list is endless. Next step: deny ever having said those things. Or raise an false, unsupported issue but immediately claim someone else (e.g. National Inquirer) said it, not you. Find a convenient villain to blame our problems on (e.g. Mexicans, Muslims). Never take personal responsibility, but blame your mistakes on some paranoid, non-existent “conspiracy” or “rigged system.” And if all that fails, just fabricate a story out of thin air and the truth be damned. It is the classic “big lie” built on top of a mountain of other “big lies.” “Trust me” and “I am the only one who can fix this” are not real strategies for change.

6-NO-Trump: The Bull in the World’s China Shop. The world is in a very dangerous and precarious state right now. It is unsteady, skittish, violent, and can turn on the simplest misunderstanding. Each nation is a sovereign entity that cannot be told what to do (a reality that escapes too many U.S. politicians). Yet we are all interdependent among each other militarily, economically, and socially. America is still the place many look to for real leadership and problem-solving, even as they resist subservience to us. So cautious and patient diplomacy, and careful nuance of words, matter greatly. Donald Trump has shown no understanding of world history, no skills at diplomacy and nuance. International relations and agreements are not “deals” negotiated from the “I win/you lose” perspective that characterizes Trump business dealings. Much of the free world is anxiously in fear of a Trump presidency, who appears oblivious to those concerns. The triggers on our nuclear weapons need a calm and thoughtful commander; Trump has demonstrated neither calmness nor thoughtfulness.

7-NO-Trump: Understanding the Presidency. The Presidency is not just a functional position, sending out orders and making policy decisions. It is also the embodiment of the American Character. The President comforts us when our nation is hurting; lives the values our parents taught us as children; steadies us in crises;  brings us together when we seem to be pulling ourselves apart. We have been fortunate to have had a number of presidents with such abilities, even though we may have differed on agenda. Can you really imagine Donald Trump standing in the well of the AME church in Charleston – or any of the multitudes of similar places of grief that now occur so regularly? Or standing at the podium of the United Nations with no knowledge of the individual histories and concerns of those countries? Or bringing together aggrieved community groups after he has run a campaign built upon division and fueled by hatred towards each other? Or building a climate of sharing after demonstrating a lifetime of self-centeredness and self-promotion? Sitting in the most challenging and powerful chair in the world also requires the humility of knowing your own limitations to keep one in balance. That requisite humility has not been seen in Donald Trump. Yet one’s arrogance inevitably catches up with each of us.

The real story is not about Trump himself, but about the voters who are supporting him. Trump is a caricature riding a wave of discontented voters angry about an America moving away from their experience and expectations; angry at the ineffectiveness of government in protecting them; angry at the Republican Party for not delivering on promises made. They deserve to have their concerns acknowledged and addressed. So the single good thing Trump has contributed to this election is to expose self-serving political hypocrisy and give voice to this national frustration. But history says that the messenger is rarely also the fixer. Paul Revere alerted Americans of the British threat; but George Washington was needed to defeat them. Donald Trump may seem the voice of change, but is he, and his style and ideas, the change we want?

America has always turned away from “doom and gloom” apocalyptic candidates, because we are a confident and optimistic people. Leadership ultimately comes down to the character and humanity of the person, and Trump is simply not someone to admire as a person. Trump’s “can do” is a fakery, because it is all driven by the glorification of Trump, not the America people. I have no idea what in Trump’s background caused him to be so insecure and angry. But he epitomizes the full opposite of what parents have been trying very hard to raise their children to become. Donald Trump is simply not a nice human being, concerned about and respectful of others. He is not someone I would invite into my home, or want within miles of my family. He is not someone to look up to and admire, as we expect with our presidents. My children and grandchildren deserve better than this. We all deserve better than this. At a certain point, we have to trust our gut instincts. The 7-NO-Trump bid rejects Donald Trump hands down.

©   2016   Randy Bell