Posted by: David Offutt | September 18, 2017

Constitution and Citizenship Day: Our Native Americans

David Offutt at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana (1980) – There are markers like this one scattered over the park indicating where the participants were at different times of the battle.

 

September 17 was Constitution and Citizenship Day. As I have written in past years, it usually comes and goes without most people knowing about it. How we treat everyone within our society is a way we judge the success and evolution of the ideals within the Constitution of the United States, which was signed on that day in 1787 (230 years ago). It was not DOA (Dead on Arrival) as senators like Florida’s Marco Rubio have insisted. It was intended as, and has been, a living, breathing document that has incrementally been incorporating more and more of our citizens and residents under its ideals, even those we used to call American Indians.

 

On preserving our admittedly shady history with the Native Americans, there are numerous protected, replicated, or restored cultural and battlefield sites from coast to coast that can be visited. However, I have selected two to feature here: The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana and the Fort Buford State Historic Site in North Dakota.

 

We can’t escape the fact that our nation was founded on two dark, original sins: slavery and the conquest and removal of the Native Americans. The crime committed by those who lived here first was, of course, that they were simply in the way. Our westward expansion was at their expense.

 

Portrait of George Washington (1789) by Christian Gullager: (Located in the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, Mass. – The president sat for this portrait for 2 hours while on an official visit to Boston; it was considered by Bostonians to be the best likeness of the great man up to that time. – When it came to treaties with the Indians, it seems that Mr. Washington could indeed tell a lie. [Photo by David Offutt, 2017]

For most of my teaching career, I taught honors U.S. history in public and college prep private schools. I always began by populating the future continental United States with the different “Indian” cultures that were already here before the Spanish, French, and English arrived. I’ll never forget the time in eastern Arkansas at Wynne High School when the principal asked me, “Are you teaching about Indians in your honors class?” – implying that I shouldn’t be doing that. At first I thought he was kidding, but it turned out that the department head had been complaining that I wasn’t teaching the course as she had taught it in previous years. I continued to teach the students as I always had.

 

Our Constitution gives the executive branch the power to make treaties with the advice and consent of the Senate. George Washington took that literally and appeared on the floor of the Senate to determine what the senators wanted in the Indian treaties that were in the works. He got the silent treatment and swore never to do that again. Since then, presidents have made treaties in advance and then sent them to the Senate for advice and consent. Unfortunately, it seems that Indian treaties were made to be broken. We were “Indian givers.” Whatever we gave them, we eventually took back.

 

I selected the Little Bighorn Battlefield because it was the site of one of the few tactical victories the Native Americans had. When I was there in 1980, the park rangers presented the conflict as a struggle between two cultures, which was appropriate. One culture was respectful of nature, and the other wanted to conquer it. Gold had been discovered in the Black Hills, which was sacred “Indian” ground and was supposed to be off limits to settlers and prospectors. Greed almost always trumps all, so the U.S. Army supported the prospectors. In 1876 George Armstrong Custer got his 7th Cavalry surrounded by seemingly all the Indians in the world near the Little Bighorn River. The national battlefield preserves the locations of the participants at various times.

 

The Standing Rock Sioux gained another tactical victory 140 years later. The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) was supposed to cross the Missouri River just north of Bismarck, ND. Fearing the probability that its water supply would eventually be contaminated, the city got the pipeline location moved to the south of the city and to the north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. That way, any oil spill would primarily impact Native Americans, and, historically, concern for their welfare has never been a high priority.

 

Faced with protests from environmentalists and thousands of Native Americans who gathered to block the construction, and faced with his own record of fighting global warming and promoting clean energy, President Barack Obama stopped the building of the pipeline in 2016.

 

David Offutt at the Fort Buford State Historic Site in North Dakota (1985): Sitting Bull surrendered here in 1881, effectively ending the Indian Wars in the U.S.

 

I chose Fort Buford because this is where Sitting Bull and some 200 “hostile” stragglers surrendered in 1881 and effectively ended the Indian Wars in the United States. Crazy Horse’s annihilation of Custer’s 7th Cavalry ultimately didn’t help the cause of the Native Americans. The warrior Crazy Horse and medicine man Sitting Bull didn’t hold any ground to defend, and the American public was aroused to support retribution for the “atrocity” at Little Bighorn by an “abominable” enemy.

 

Even Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce in the Northwest was imprisoned at Fort Buford for a time after he tired of being chased by the U.S. Cavalry. He surrendered in 1877. It’s in a desolate area that was actually suitable for nomadic Indians who followed the buffalo until Gen. Philip Sheridan pointed out that if you exterminate the buffalo, you can also exterminate the Indian. Not much remains of the old fort, but the better preserved Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site is nearby.

 

David Offutt and General Philip Sheridan in Washington, DC (2015) – This is considered one of the best equestrian statues ever made because it looks good from every angle. Sheridan is the one who said, “The only good Indian I ever saw was dead.” However, his reputation was made as a skillful Union cavalry officer during the Civil War.

 

Just as Little Bighorn was all for naught, so too was the victory against DAPL. President Donald Trump was already known as a sympathizer of white supremacists (even before Charlottesville), a hater of Obama, a lover of fossil fuels, an opponent of the environment, and a denier of climate change. He found it very easy to overturn Obama’s executive order and allow the pipeline to jeopardize the land of the Sioux and the rest of the planet. Would he have done it if the pipeline still threatened the mostly white population of North Dakota’s capital city?

 

The Crawford brothers (Robert on the left and Johnny) in “Indian Paint” (1964). At least Jay Silverhills, a true Native American, played their father in this tale of Indian life on the plains.

 

Today, possibly the most noticeable advance in the treatment of our Native Americans can be seen on television and in the movies. Ever since Kevin Costner’s “Dances with Wolves” in 1990, we’ve come to expect Native Americans to play Native Americans in our films.

 

I grew up watching Burt Lancaster play “Jim Thorpe,” the Olympic champion; Jeff Chandler play Cochise in “Broken Arrow”; Rock Hudson play “Taza, Son of Cochise”; Victor Jory play Injun Joe in  “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”; Tony Curtis play Ira Hayes, one of the Marines who raised the flag on Iwo Jima, in “The Outsider”;  and Johnny Crawford (Emmy-nominee as Mark on TV’s “The Rifleman”) and his older brother Robert (Emmy-nominee for “Child of Our Time” on Playhouse 90) play Indian youths in “Indian Paint.”

 

David Offutt at the Iwo Jima U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial near Arlington Cemetery across from Washington, DC, in Virginia (2015) – Two Marines are raising flags to fly over the monument; each flag will be sent to any eligible person who requests such a flag. Ira Hayes is one of the Marines depicted in the statue. Sadly, while intoxicated, he died of exposure to cold and alcohol poisoning on his Pima reservation in 1955.

 

Charles Bronson, Chuck Connors, Sal Mineo, Michael Landon, and many other non-Native Americans also played Indians in our films and on TV. The idea was to increase viewers and box office receipts by using popular or known actors. However, is there any one of us today who would consider it acceptable not to use a true Native American in those roles in future films?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: David Offutt | August 31, 2017

Ayn Rand and the G.O.P.

Ayn Rand, author and founder the Objectivism philosophy, probably articulates the plutocracy’s agenda better than anyone else.

 

There are three characteristics that are continually demonstrated by the Republican majority in the U.S. Congress and the quasi-Republican administration in the White House: incompetence, irresponsibility, and maliciousness.  To understand why Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, President Donald J. Trump, and their accomplices consider these traits to be positive, it is important to be familiar with the philosophy of one of their patron saints: Ayn Rand.

 

This is the book that contain’s the speech by the fictitious John Galt who epitomizes the positions of the billionaire Koch brothers and much of the other upper 1%.

Two of Ms. Rand’s novels are practically required reading for any true believer in the Republican-plutocratic agenda: “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead.” They will even argue over which one should be read first.  “Atlas…” usually wins out because it contains the long speech delivered by its fictitious hero, John Galt, who defines modern-day Republicanism and its emphasis on establishing a true plutocracy – rule by the very wealthy.

 

If you really want to understand today’s G.O.P., I suggest that you skip both novels. My copy of “The Fountainhead” – donated by The Ayn Rand Institute to high schools – is 694 pages! “Atlas…” is lengthy, too, and you would be hard pressed to find any book reviewer or scholar who would consider either to be great literature. It might be best to just Google “John Galt’s speech” and fight your way through that. It’s the G.O.P.’s alternative to Jesus’s  “The Sermon on the Mount,” which they soundly reject.

 

This is the other contender as a must-read book by extreme right-wingers. It was turned into a rather mediocre movie which, unfortunately, had two great stars: Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal.

House speaker Paul Ryan used to admit that he was primarily influenced by Ayn Rand, but somebody pointed out to him that Ms. Rand was a devout atheist. That doesn’t set well with the G.O.P.’s evangelical base. He doesn’t mention her name anymore, but his take-from-the-poor and give-to-the-rich annual proposed “budgets,” his opposition to spending on infrastructure, and his reflexive opposition to health care for 20 million American citizens are all pure Ayn Rand.

 

Even Mr. Trump claims to admire Rand’s ideas. Someone probably briefed him on her ideas, which he could easily relate to. (According to Jane Mayer of the “New Yorker,” Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter for Trump’s “Art of the Deal,” believes the Donald has never read a book in his life and thinks a better title for his book would have been “The Sociopath.”)

 

Instead of those two novels, I strongly recommend a collection of essays that articulate the ethics of objectivism, which is the name Ms. Rand gave to her philosophy. It is in book form of only 144 pages. It’s written mostly by her with additional essays by Nathaniel Brandon, who collaborated with her on “The Objectivist Newsletter.” She and Mr. Brandon frequently use the John Galt’s speech as a reference in defense of their positions. The 1961 book’s title is, appropriately, “The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism.”

 

This is a series of essays that, essentially, explains why greed is good and altruism is bad.

Ms. Rand defended the title of her book by declaring that “the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word ‘selfishness’ is: ‘concern with one’s own interests.’” She had total contempt for altruism. The idea that one should live one’s life by doing good things for others was absolute anathema to her.  She blamed people’s belief in altruism on mysticism, which was her word for “religion.” She insists, “Altruism is incompatible with freedom, with capitalism, and with individual rights.”

 

Ms. Rand explained, “The basic social principle of the Objectivist ethics is that just as life is an end in itself, so every living human being is an end in himself, not the means to the ends or the welfare of others – and, therefore, that man must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. To live for his own sake means that the achievement of his own happiness is man’s highest moral purpose.”

 

She also explains: “The only proper moral purpose of a government is to protect man’s rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence – to protect his right to his own life, to his own liberty, to his own property and to the pursuit to his own happiness.”  According to Ms. Rand, the only three things that government should provide are (1) a military to prevent invasion (she is correct in the fact that war is initiated as organized theft), (2) a court system to protect property rights, and (3) a police force to protect one’s person and property.

 

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand in a composite photo illustration showing how closely connected they are in political and economic philosophy. Ryan didn’t realize she was an atheist when he bragged about how influential she was to him. (Photos by Charlie Neibergall/AP and Oscar White/Corbis)

Therefore, all public works by government are pure “evil.” Social Security, health care, minimum wages, worker’s compensations, schools, and infrastructure (highways, bridges, et al.) should not be the role of government. Why? Because, as Ms. Rand writes, “Who would pay for it?” The answer, of course, is those with the most money, and it will be done without each one’s personal, individual consent.

 

Who benefits from public works initiatives? “Parasites, moochers, looters, brutes and thugs,” those who are “incapable of survival, who exist by destroying those who ARE capable….” Those who earned their wealth would be forced to help those who didn’t. Mitt Romney was recorded saying essentially the same thing during the 2012 presidential campaign, and he still received 47 percent of the popular vote.

 

Once you understand the influence of Ann Rand’s “sermons” validating long-held beliefs of the party of big business, you can see why it’s so hard to get Republicans to do anything that benefits the majority of the people and the nation as a whole. All you get from them is incompetence, irresponsibility, and maliciousness. It doesn’t come from stupidity: it comes from the intent to protect the downtrodden, wealthy elite from being abused by the rest of us.

Posted by: David Offutt | June 23, 2017

Impeachment Problems: What to do About Trump

Multiple lawsuits against President Trump, numerous investigations involving the president, the rejections of traditional American values, the decline of U.S. leadership and prestige abroad, the denial of climate change, and the pending dismantlement of the U.S. government and the social safety of the American people have raised urgent questions about what to do about The Donald. (Photo: Matt Dunham/AP images)

 

 

In his perceptive memoir “The Last Time I Saw Paris” (1942), Elliot Paul included a commentary on France’s fledgling Communist Party during the 1920s. He wrote that “…it is impossible for them to keep their traps shut when discretion would be the better part, not only of valour, but of strategy and tactics as well. “ The same could be said today of President Donald R. Trump, who seems determined to inspire more and more investigations and talks of his possible removal from office.

 

None of his tweets, speeches, and actions do him any good except with his base and only raise more suspicions on multiple fronts: His seemingly clear violation of our constitution’s emoluments clause involving his profiting from receiving payments from foreign powers; his campaign’s possible collusion with the Russians in influencing our 2016 elections; his firing of former FBI director James Comey and his appearance of obstructing justice; and his refusal to share his tax returns, which begs misgivings about multiple conflicts of interest.

 

The problem, of course, is that the results of the 2016 elections placed us in such a position that nothing good can come from.

 

President Trump listens to his accolades from each of his cabinet members. Fortunately, some were more subdued than most.

First of all, under current circumstances we can forget about using the 25th Amendment. No matter how ignorant, incompetent, irresponsible, and malicious he may appear to be, Trump’s ego would never allow him to admit that he’s not up to the job and let the vice president become Acting President.  Neither is there a chance that his vice president and a majority of his cabinet will declare Trump to be “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

 

At the first full cabinet meeting, Trump essentially turned it into a personal fan club and listened to most of them swear fealty to his lordship. Very few of them would have ever been considered by any other president from either party for their present positions: Rick Perry at energy, Jeff Sessions at justice, Tom Price at health and human services, Ben Carson at housing and urban development, Betsy DeVos at education, Scott Pruitt at the EPA, and Mick Mulvaney as budget director. We can fully expect these people to turn their agencies into Orwellian departments contrary to their purpose. They’re highly unlikely to consider what’s best for the nation.

 

As for impeachment, no matter how convincing the evidence may be – and we won’t know until Special Counsel Robert Mueller completes his investigations – what is the likelihood that a House of Representatives controlled by Republicans would indict a sitting president of their own party? None whatsoever. Remember that the makeup of the G.O.P. since the advent of Newt Gingrich “Khan” as Speaker of the House in January 1995 bears no resemblance to those in the party at the time of Richard Nixon when he resigned in 1974.

 

President Trump is not threatening to gun down Vice President Pence. He’s only pointing out the man whom he placed a heartbeat away from the presidency. Having Pence next in line is the best insurance for survival that Trump has. (Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP)

Another problem is the man who is next in line of succession – if by some remote chance Trump is impeached and then convicted in the Senate by a two-thirds vote.  The vice president is Mike Pence, a former U.S. representative and later governor of Indiana. Mr. Pence was an anti-government extremist years before the billionaire Koch brothers invented the TEA Party to prevent the rich from being taxed for health care reform.  He is also an avowed supporter of fundamentalist/evangelical culture warriors who know how everyone else should live his or her life. Mr. Trump uses anti-government and evangelical spiels for personal gain but we don’t know what he really believes from one day to the next. Mr. Pence, however, is a true believer.

 

V.P. Pence is already lawyering-up. It’s going to be hard for anyone close to President Trump from being contaminated and swept up in Mueller’s investigations, which may lead in all sorts of directions. In the unlikely event that Pence has to resign or is also impeached, who’s next in line to the presidency? It’s Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. And that’s another problem.

 

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, second in line of succession to the presidency, hopes to use Trump to cut taxes on the wealthy and undermine the social safety net of the American people. (Photo: RadarOnline.com)

Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is widely revered as the Republican Party’s man of ideas. He’s always coming up with repetitive budget proposals that cut taxes on the wealthy while miraculously raising revenue only by the resulting economic growth – which historically doesn’t happen – and by cutting unspecified government programs that presumably don’t directly benefit the wealthy. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has described Speaker Ryan as “the flim-flam man.” Ryan’s a follower of Grover Norquist, who wants to cut taxes on the wealthy so as to drown the government of the United States of America in a bathtub. Ryan is also a devotee of Ayn Rand, whose philosophy she explained in her book “The Virtue of Selfishness – A New Concept of Egoism.”

 

Vice President Spiro Agnew and President Richard Nixon in prison strips. Neither went to jail, but both resigned from their offices. (Photo: from Lead Pipe Posters/published by Yippy Inc.)

We need to recall that what allowed us to get rid of Richard Nixon was not only the “smoking gun” tape that proved conclusively that he was guilty of planning to obstruct justice.  As long as Spiro Agnew was vice president, Nixon’s job was secure. Agnew as president was unthinkable. When Agnew pleaded no contest to bribery charges, Nixon tried to save himself by picking the mediocre Michigan U.S. representative Gerald Ford as his new vice president. However, the lightweight Ford was known to be honest and likeable – Nixon was neither and that’s what made his removal possible.  He resigned to avoid impeachment, conviction, and losing his pension.

 

Ryan’s defense of The Donald is probably the best there is: Trump’s never been in government before, so he simply doesn’t know what he’s doing. The disease of Trump, an apparent con artist and pathological liar, is scary and embarrassing, but the cure of Pence or Ryan would be even worse. As long as we understand that he primarily wants to use his office to increase his family’s wealth and the wealth of his fellow plutocrats, we can try to check him accordingly. His and his congressional allies’ incompetence may prevent their irresponsibility and maliciousness from doing us lasting harm. It won’t be easy, but we need to plan on staying the present course of enduring and resisting over the next three and a half years. ensuring there’s then enough left of our nation to restore.

Posted by: David Offutt | May 25, 2017

Donald Trump as the Manchurian Candidate/President

(Photo from Kurt Eichenwald/InsideHoops.com)

 

As we’ve come to expect, President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey seemed to have been orchestrated by the Keystone Cops. Vice President Mike Pence and White House spokesman Sean Spicer did their bit trying to gaslight us with claims that Comey was fired for his deplorable handling of the Clinton emails at election time.  Trump’s Orwellian “Justice” department was used for cover:  Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the once-respected Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein showed their loyalty to The Donald by recommending the firing because of the Clinton matter.

 

Eventually, Mr. Trump fessed up, admitting that he had long planned to fire Comey because of his FBI probe into the possible collaboration between the Trump campaign and Putin’s Russia to affect the outcome of our 2016 presidential election.  Our president is known to be a pathological liar, but, in this case, we can probably believe him. Mr. Comey reportedly refused to swear fealty to Lord Trump, was asked by Trump to drop the Michael Flynn investigation, and recently asked for more resources to investigate the Trump campaign and “this Russia thing.”

 

(Photo from mythandhope.blogspot.com)

 

The Donald is known for “Your fired” and not for his loyalty to sycophants.  The president was probably very appreciative of Comey’s incompetent, irresponsible, and malicious announcement about Hillary’s emails just days before the election.  Those negative descriptions of that specific act are adjectives that I routinely have attributed to congressional Republicans ever since Newt Gingrich brought them to power in January 1995. This act was more an aberration from a man who has otherwise been a fine public servant.  I suspect his kiss off from Trump came when Mr. Comey testified before a congressional committee saying that he felt “nauseous” that his actions probably made Trump the President of the United States. Comey was toast from that moment on.

 

Mr. Rosenstein has since redeemed himself by appointing former FBI director Robert Mueller as a special independent counsel to investigate whether there was any collaboration between Trump’s campaign and the Russian intervention.  This is going to get into Trump’s too-long suppressed tax records and his possible obstruction of justice – among other things.

 

Eleven years ago (Oct. 6, 2006), I contributed a column to this newspaper about how Bush/Cheney and  the G.O.P used 9/11 and the fear of terrorism to gain popular support for autocratic powers, and I compared them to the classic 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate. The movie was about a senator who pretended to be a super American patriot and fanatic anti-communist so as to be elected president and assume autocratic powers “that will make martial law seem like anarchy. “ The senator was, of course, a Russian agent being groomed by the Kremlin to replace the constitutional American republic with a dictatorship.

 

Needless to say, I was not suggesting that Bush/Cheney and their majority congressional Republicans were working for the Russians or for any other foreign power. I was merely pointing out that their lies used to justify the invasion of Iraq, their illegal wiretapping at home, their official sanction of torture, et al. were contrary to what the U.S. was supposed to stand for.

 

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, has gone out of his way to invite a direct comparison. His infatuation with the power of Vladimir Putin and his contempt for President Barack Obama were hallmarks of his campaign. His aides and advisors have had questionable contacts with the Russians: family members, Flynn, Jeff Sessions, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and Roger Stone. He fired Comey and the next day he met with the Russian foreign minister, the Russian ambassador, and a Tass photographer in the Oval Office with no American news media present – and divulged classified information to them. The Republican House majority leader Kevin McCarthy even said in June 2016 that he believed that Putin was paying Trump. All of this may be only coincidental, but if it’s not, we need to know.

 

Our three previous Nixonian presidents all came to power under devious circumstances. (1) In 1968, Richard Nixon’s campaign sabotaged the Paris Peace Talks by persuading South Vietnam to oppose the settlement that was imminent. Nixon didn’t want Lyndon Johnson to end the war before the election. LBJ knew what Nixon had done, was furious, but did nothing about it.

 

(2) In 1980, Ronald Reagan’s campaign is alleged to have made a deal with Iran not to release the American hostages in Tehran until after the election.  Iranian agents didn’t admit to the deal until after Reagan began shipping supplies to Iran after his inauguration. Congressional hearings were held, but former President Jimmy Carter encouraged them to not pursue the issue because of the possible further demoralization of the American people so soon after Watergate.

 

(3) In 2000, based on exit polls, Al Gore was projected the winner of the Florida popular and electoral votes. But then weird things occurred throwing the vote count into question. George W. Bush’s brother (Jeb Bush) was governor of the state and Florida’s secretary of state, who was in charge of the state election precincts, was W. Bush’s state campaign manager. The five Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices ended the vote count and gave the election to Bush. Knowing how bad this case and their ruling looked, they insisted that the decision in Gore v. Bush never be used as a precedent in any future ruling.

 

Frank Sinatra as the U.S. Army officer assigned to find out what the Russians have brainwashed ex-Army officer Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) to do. (Photo: AP/Richard Shiro)

 

If none of this had happened, the American people may have been spared the Watergate scandals and four more years of the Vietnam War, the Iran-Contra affair and anti-government austerity, and the never-ending Iraq War and the Great Recession. We don’t know what fate awaits us under Trump, but so far nothing looks good. To re-phrase Bette Davis in All about Eve – Fasten your seat belts everybody, we’re in for a bumpy ride.

 

We don’t know who or what to blame for the Trump tragedy. James Comey and the Russian intervention by hacking and releasing emails are the most obvious but not the only culprits. It may also have been Hillary Clinton’s lack of charisma on the campaign trail, Bernie Sander’s surprisingly popular challenge to Hillary, the voters who decided to stay home, the voters who decided to punish the Democrats for not creating a sufficient infrastructure jobs-creating program, the Democrats for taking their traditional supporters for granted, the Republican Party that nominated him, the Electoral College that embarrassed the Founding Fathers, and/or the news media that found Trump to be entertaining and profitable for selling ads. But it may well have been because of a coordinated effort between Trump’s and Putin’s people. Regardless, each of us could say to all of these suspects the same thing Oliver Hardy used to tell Stan Laurel: “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!”

Slapstick comedians Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel were popular from the late 1920s into the mid-1940s. They were known as “Laurel and Hardy.”

By David Offutt

Posted by: David Offutt | April 22, 2017

Earth Day 2017 and Thomas Cole’s “The Course of Empire”

Thomas Cole’s “The Savage State” (1834)

Earth Day is upon us again. It’s intended as a national day of service, for discussions and for learning about what we need to do preserve our environment for the sake of all living plants and creatures. Unfortunately, April 22 falls on a Saturday, so that means that the schools will surely plan accordingly and participate on the previous Friday or later Monday.

Don’t expect much mention of Earth Day from the Trump Administration or from the Republican congressional leadership. Both are stacked with strong opponents of the environment and are determined to reduce regulations that protect the quality of our air and water and are obsessed with doing nothing about climate change. They want to protect polluters instead of consumers, workers, and future generations. They also caused me to reflect recently on a series of five paintings that I finally got to see in northwest Arkansas.

My first visit to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville was in late July 2012 – the hottest month on record at that time. I made a point to go that summer because of a special exhibit organized by the New York Historical Society – The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision. I knew that several paintings by one of my favorite artists, Thomas Cole, would be there, but I never dreamed that I would see The Course of Empire (1834-1836).

Thomas Cole’s “The Arcadian or Pastoral State” (1834)

Cole imagined a grand landscape that included a harbor and a mountain peak and used it from different angles and perspectives in each painting. The first in the series is The Savage State: Nature dominates, and a hunter and canoeist share the wilderness. The second is The Arcadian or Pastoral State: Nature is being tamed; there’s a permanent temple; there’s farming and shepherding; and there’s leisure time for dancing, painting, and thinking. Next is Consummation of Empire:  Nature is gone; the peak is barely visible; the harbor is full of commerce; a Greco-Roman city dominates the landscape with thousands of people overcrowding the streets. The fourth is Destruction: Nature returns in the forms of barbarians who rape and pillage the once mighty city and a storm that wrecks havoc in the harbor. Finally, there is Desolation: No humans exist; nature is triumphant and reclaims the landscape; the moon casts its reflection over a tranquil harbor; there’s a face in the moon, and he is smiling.

Doing post-graduate work in the mid-seventies, I spent many hours and days in various libraries at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville searching books and magazines for reprints of Cole’s The Course of Empire series. As I found each one, I took photos of them with the old Kodachrome slide film to use in my history classes. Today, of course, you can instantly find them on Google Images. It seems hardly fair.

Thomas Cole’s “Consummation of Empire” (1835-36)

The first time I used them was in my 12th grade humanities class at the American School of Quito, Ecuador.  When I projected the first painting onto the screen in front of the classroom, I heard a collective “Wow!” I hadn’t expected how awed and overwhelmed my students would be. I experienced varying degrees of that excitement from my students over the years in all my U. S. history and world history classes.

I utilized Cole’s paintings in conjunction with teaching historian Arnold Toynbee’s cyclical concept of the rise and fall of civilizations: 1. Primitive State, 2. Creative Period, 3. Time of Troubles, 4. Universal State, 5. Fall of the State, and 6. Successor State(s). Historically, the life of the various civilizations has averaged about 200 years.

Cole was clearly influenced by Edward Gibbons’ The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776). But he was also influenced by what he saw during his visit to Europe. Activities such as the building of ships from ancient Rome to the British Empire and the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries had decimated the forests and natural landscape of much of Europe. Ruins of the past Roman civilization were evident through much of the continent. Cole feared the same thing would happen in the ever-expanding and ever-developing United States.

Thomas Cole’s “Destruction” (1836)

It is easy to see why my students of the 1970s and 1980s could relate to Cole’s masterpieces and especially Destruction and Desolation. It was a time when we were not only aware of what we were doing to the planet but actually wanted to do something about it: Lake Erie died and the Hudson River caught on fire. It was also the time of the Cold War in which both the United States and the Soviet Union were gambling that neither of us would commit suicide and wipe out the other guy at the same time. “Mutually assured destruction” was the motive behind the escalation of our nuclear arsenals.

Here in the 21st century, nuclear power surfaced again as a self-inflicted source of potential Armageddon, making Cole’s Destruction and Desolation relevant once again. We are aware that some of the former Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons are unaccounted for. At the same time, our planet is plagued by assorted terrorists who seem to think nothing of committing suicide if it gives them a chance to murder large numbers of innocent people. The earthquake and tsunami that recently brought nuclear tragedy to Japan has also reminded us that we still have no realistic idea as to what to do with the nuclear waste that’s produced by nuclear power plants.

As in Cole’s paintings, nature is reacting and seemingly reaping revenge for decades of abuse by humans.  Ever since the 1860s we’ve increasingly relied on fossil fuels such as oil and coal. The result, of course, has been an unnatural increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and a corresponding increase in the earth’s temperature. The repercussions have been the ever-increasing intensities of tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, melting ice caps, rising ocean levels, floods, droughts, and forest fires.

Thomas Cole’s “Desolation” (1836)

And don’t forget that the multiplying effect is causing the earth to heat up faster than many imagined. As we continue to heat the earth by burning fossil fuels, the thawing of the Arctic tundra releases methane into the atmosphere, and methane is an even greater greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.  And consequently, as snow and ice melts in the Arctic and Antarctic, there is less snow and ice to reflect the sun’s heat and it gets ever warmer. Dead forests don’t inhale carbon dioxide – they exhale it. Nature reacts to what we do.

The climate pact agreed to in Paris in December 2015 would have been a commendable first step 35 years ago. Unfortunately, the nations of the world have procrastinated so long that emergency actions are surely going to be necessary in the not-to-distant future.

Without leadership from our current national executive and legislative branches, hopefully, the states, localities, individuals, power companies and other industries will rise to the occasion to try to save our planet. We can’t just give up and hope the rest of the world will do enough to save us.

by David Offutt

A version of this essay was published April 22, 2017, in the El Dorado News-Times.

Note: A previous version of this essay – https://davidoffutt.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/crystal-bridges-and-the-course-of-empire/ – was published on this website August 15, 2012, and published in the Arkansas Times on August 22, 2012.

Posted by: David Offutt | February 28, 2017

Trump and the G.O.P.: “1984”

George Orwell, author of "1984," and President Donald J. Trump, who lost the popular election by nearly three million votes.

George Orwell, author of “1984,” and President Donald J. Trump, who lost the popular election by nearly three million votes but claims to have won by a landslide of historic proportions. (Photo: AP/Evan Vucci)

 

With Donald J. Trump in the White House and Republican Party still in control of the U.S. Congress, we are constantly hearing and reading references to “1984” and about actions and statements that are “Orwellian”.

 

I’m reminded of Sen.  Frank Church (D-Idaho) who investigated many of Richard Nixon’s abuses of power that encompassed the vast Watergate scandals. He decided to run in the 1980 Democratic presidential primaries on the campaign slogan “He saved us from 1984.” A reporter for NBC, CBS, or ABC – I regrettably can’t recall who he was – went around the crowd at one of Church’s rallies asking everyone he came to what was meant by the slogan on Church’s campaign banner. He never found one person who knew. Church lost.

 

Idaho senator Frank Church: "He saved us from 1984."

Idaho senator Frank Church: “He saved us from 1984.” He was one of six highly effective Democratic senators who were targeted for defeat by the G.O.P. in 1980 – he was, in fact, defeated for re-election.

So, what is meant by “1984”? Today, there are enough who recognize the current “1984” similarities for Amazon.com to place the book on its bestseller list. An unchecked authoritarian in the White House is causing a rebirth of interest in George Orwell’s 1949 novel on totalitarianism, “1984”.

 

The book is often characterized as a satire, but that implies to me that it would approach a serious topic with a touch of humor, such as in Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”. “1984” is terrifying and downright grim. Feature films and TV dramas of the book are hard to watch: they’re so depressing – especially Richard Burton’s final film, which was appropriately released in 1984.

 

Mr. Trump, on the campaign trail and in his inaugural address, identified the United States as a dystopian nation with rising crime rates, astronomical unemployment rates, and out-of-control immigration that threaten our very survival – and claimed that only he can save us.  The facts, of course, are verifiably the opposite.

 

1984-1Orwell created the even-more dystopian mega state of Oceania in which the citizens are controlled by the Party. Two-way telescreens are in every home and elsewhere so that “Big Brother is Watching You.” The telescreens also provide propaganda messages using the Big Lie and promoting mass hysteria. Your neighbors, friends, co-workers, and people whom you do business with day to day may be covert members of the Thought Police. Perpetual warfare is used to induce unquestioning patriotism and loyalty to the Party.

 

The main character in the novel is Winston Smith, who worked at the Ministry of Truth. He had mastered the art of writing “newspeak” – the official language of the Party. His job was to re-write records. The Party line was continually changing: the enemy they had been waging war with might become an ally against a new enemy; one dogma might be replaced by an opposite dogma. The people had to be made to accept each new position without thinking anything had changed. Winston Smith specialized in promoting “doublethink” and changed the “historical” records. Propaganda replaced information.

 

In the Orwellian Oceania, history had to match the wishes and aims of the Party. Likewise, in Trumpian USA, “alternative facts” rule the roost. Fake news that serves its agenda is okay, but anything that does not is “fake news” by a dishonest news media that is not controlled by the administration. Fox “News” was founded as a Republican propaganda network and should assist this administration nicely. Instantaneous, mindless tweets react to all unflattering reports and take on a “reality” of their own.

 

Orwell predicted "newspeak" and "doublethink" to control the masses. Trump uses "alternate facts."

Orwell predicted “newspeak” and “doublethink” to control the masses. Trump uses “alternative facts.”

 

Consider the following Trump appointees:  Supporter of government shutdowns and opponent of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid Mick Mulvaney to the White House Office of Management and Budget; Alabama senator and voting rights opponent Jeff Sessions to the Department of Justice; charter school promoter and Republican donor Betsy DuVos to Education; Affordable Care Act, Medicare, and Social Security opponent Tom Price to Health and Human Services; longtime opponent of environmental protection and  climate-change denier Scott Pruitt to the E.P.A.; and Department of Energy opponent Rick Perry to Energy.

 

Keeping Orwell’s Ministry of Truth in mind, is it conceivable that these departments will be fulfilling the purposes of their existence under these leaders? When career members of the state department objected to Trump’s hasty immigration ban by executive order, Trump’s press secretary said that they need to get with the program or leave.

 

Utah congressman Jacob Chaffetz and his House Oversight Committee may be a good example of how words or titles can be used to mean the opposite of what they should mean. Orwell's Ministry of Truth was anything but.

Utah congressman Jacob Chaffetz and his House Oversight Committee may be a good example of how words or titles can be used to mean the opposite of what they should mean. Orwell’s Ministry of Truth was anything but.

A perfect example of an Orwellian committee for several years has been the House Oversight Committee headed by Republican partisan Jacob Chaffetz of Utah.  To create a negative public perception of Hillary Clinton, using various committees, Congressional Republicans held eight separate investigations of the secretary of state’s involvement in the Bengazi uprising – each investigation followed one, or coincided with another, that didn’t have the incriminating findings that were desired. Chaffetz was a chief cheer leader and couldn’t wait his turn. They succeeded only in getting many in America’s heartland to hate and/or mistrust Ms. Clinton and help elect Mr. Trump – but that was the whole point.

 

Now that there are multiple, legitimate concerns about Mr. Trump’s financial and political connections to Russia and his business conflicts of interest with his role as president, many Americans are demanding Congress to investigate. They are demanding that Chaffetz subpoena Trump’s tax records and hold investigations into Trump’s relationships with Putin, Russian intelligence, and the Russian economy – his staff’s, his businesses’, his campaign’s, and his administration’s. In typical Orwellian fashion, for the sake of the Party, Mr. Chaffetz refuses “to go on a fishing expedition.” Don’t you love it?

 

In the world of Winston Smith, there was a break in each workday for a two-minute hate period on the telescreens.  A picture of the enemy of the Party was displayed on the screen, and a government speaker would provide a voiceover firing up the viewers into fits of rage. We saw a variation of this in last year’s Republican campaigns and nominating convention. A mere mention of the name of Hillary Clinton would bring a reactionary chant of “Lock her up.”

 

Propaganda and telescreens rally the masses to support the Party and Big Brother in Orwell's totalitarian nation.

Propaganda and telescreens rally the masses to support the Party and Big Brother in Orwell’s totalitarian state.

 

When Winston Smith began to privately question the totalitarian state and violated Party laws by having an illegal, secret love affair with a like-thinking woman, he and she were turned in by a “friend” who was a member of the Thought Police. Winston, and she, was tortured for days until he “confessed” to his “crimes”.  President Trump has advocated restoring torture as acceptable intelligence-gathering procedure, but Sec. of Defense James Mattis, at least temporarily, has dissuaded him from authorizing it.

 

It’s easy to see why the reading public is once again fascinated by Orwell’s “1984”. It’s timely and has lessons that have been learned and forgotten and need to be learned again. But a word of warning – books that you really enjoy, like Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove”, are books that you don’t want to end. This one, you’ll be glad when you get there – and that may be true of the Trump administration, too.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published February 25, 2017, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

Posted by: David Offutt | February 23, 2017

Trump and the G.O.P.: Gaslighting and the Keystone Cops

George Washington: The Indispensable Man on Mount Rushmore (Birthday: February 22) -Photo by David Offutt

George Washington: The Indispensable Man on Mount Rushmore (Birthday: February 22) -Photo by David Offutt

 

Here we are in a week that celebrates Presidents’ Day and George Washington’s Birthday. We are reminded that our nation began with a president who, according to Parson Weems, could not tell a lie and has fallen to having a president who cannot tell the truth.

 

Historically, the average life of a civilization is 200 years. The United States was founded 240 years ago, so we may be pushing our luck.

 

Abraham Lincoln on Mount Rushmore: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, let us bind up the nations wounds." (Photo by David Offutt)

Abraham Lincoln on Mount Rushmore: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, let us bind up the nations wounds.” Birthday: February 12) Photo by David Offutt

 

Thanks to President Donald Trump and the Republican majority controlling Congress we are constantly hearing such references as “They’re gaslighting us,” “We’re being gaslighted,” and “They’re like the Keystone Cops.”

 

Therefore, I thought it a good idea to identify the origins of those terms or references above. It’s quite likely that not everyone is aware of them or their current meanings and usage.

 

poster-gaslight-1944_11First, Gaslight is a classic film from 1944 for which Ingrid Bergman won her first of three Academy Awards. She plays the wife of a diabolical husband, incisively played by Charles Boyer, who is trying to drive her insane. Their home was lit with gas lamps, and whenever the husband would leave the house, he would sneak back in and decrease the power of the gas, then turn it back to normal before re-entering the front door later on.

 

When she would complain to him about the dim lights, he insisted that they were always at the proper level and that she was always imagining things. He had other ploys such as stealing something of hers, letting her think she lost it, and then telling her that she was always losing things. Nothing he said to her was true, but eventually she began to believe everything he said.

 

Charles Boyer gaslights Ingrid Bergman into thinking that she is going insane.

Charles Boyer gaslights Ingrid Bergman into thinking that she is going insane.

Here’s a quick test to see if you have been gaslighted: Do you think that Trump’s electoral vote was one the largest in history? Do you believe that Trump would have won the popular vote had it not been for illegal voters? Do you believe that Affordable Care Act has been a failure and cannot be fixed? Do you believe that Social Security is in crisis and must be privatized? Do you still believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya? If you answered yes to any of the above, you’ve been gaslighted.

 

Gaslighting is a new variation of the Big Lie technique that has been a staple of the Republican Party since the end of World War II. Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-Wis) used it to claim the state department was full of communists in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. Richard Nixon built his career on it – into Congress, the vice presidency, the White House, and Watergate – always impugning the patriotism of his opponents, and he never completely shook his “Tricky Dick” moniker. Bush-Cheney used 950 documented lies to convince Congress and the American people that we needed to invade Iraq and convinced many people that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. .

 

Gaslighting and The Big Lie mean the same – repeat the lie over and over until enough people believe it to be the truth. All evidence to the contrary will be ignored. We all know that the truth rarely, if ever, catches up to the lie.

 

Next, who are the Keystone Cops (or Kops)? From 1912 to 1917, Mack Sennett produced a series of silent films that featured a team of seven or more incompetent policemen who never knew what they were doing.

 

51yakmmzvel-_sy445_As my mother said, “They ran around like chickens with their heads cut off.” It was difficult to devote a whole feature film to them, so they quickly became supporting players to the likes of Charlie Chaplin or Fatty Arbuckle. I first saw them when they were resurrected for a lengthy chase scene in 1955’s Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet the Keystone Kops.

 

The Urban Dictionary has this fine definition for the popular use of the term Keystone Cops: It’s a term that’s “used to criticize a group for its mistakes, particularly if the mistakes happened after a great deal of energy and activity, or if there was a lack of coordination among the members of the group.

 

Everyone remembers the incompetence and confusion of the Department of Homeland Security, led by Michael Chertoff, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, headed by Michael Brown, in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina. Sen. Joe Lieberman compared the performances of those agencies to the Keystone Cops.

 

2014-06-14-keystonekopsMore recently, in January, one day before the new Congress was to convene, House Republicans got together and voted to dismantle the powers of the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. I must admit that I burst out laughing as soon as I learned of this. Not because it was funny, but because it was exactly the kind of stunt I expected from them. Both Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and president-elect Trump were caught off guard. Both realized how bad this looked, and Mr. Trump – although the most ethically-challenged man ever elected president – persuaded them to retract the vote, at least for now, but bring it up later if they still want to.

 

Under President Obama, the House Republican majority voted over 60 times to repeal or weaken the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which has made it possible for 30 million Americans to become insured. They never offered a comparable or better replacement for it. They never offered a way to improve it. Now that they have a president who also wants to get rid of the ACA, they don’t know what to do. What are they? The Keystone Cops?

 

stoogesslapstick1

 

Did anyone on President Trump’s staff have a clue what he or she was doing when the executive order was issued to temporarily ban immigration from 7 primarily Muslim countries, in which not one has business interests with the Trump family?

 

The public protests, the personal agony, and chaos at airports could have been avoided with a competent staff. Unlike Barack Obama, Mr. Trump is not a constitutional lawyer and will require much more expert assistance in these matters – not the Keystone Cops.

 

Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich agreed to work together to defeat Trump for the Republican nomination: Bob MacDonald wrote "Cruz-Kasich Deal is Reincarnation of the Keystone Cops " April 29, 2016. http://bobmaconbusiness.com/?p=7927

Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich agreed to work together to defeat Trump for the Republican nomination: Bob MacDonald wrote “Cruz-Kasich Deal is Reincarnation of the Keystone Cops ” April 29, 2016. http://bobmaconbusiness.com/?p=7927

From the Lewis Powell memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1972 that mapped out a plan for the plutocracy to regain control of the government to the G.O.P. takeover of Congress in 1995, constructive traits were systematically excised from the Republican Party’s DNA.

 

From the 1995 ascendency of Newt Gingrich “Khan” as Speaker of the House to the 2016 election of Donald Trump as president, their goal has been “obstruct and sabotage” whenever a Democrat occupies the White House. A Republican president gets a free pass. Their primary characteristics have been, and continue to be, incompetence, irresponsibility, and maliciousness. We need them to relearn positive skills as soon as possible.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published February 23, 2017, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

Posted by: David Offutt | January 21, 2017

Trump/Putin: What Sort of Person Is Our New President?

President Donald J. Trump is the most blatantly authoritarian figure ever elected and will probably dwarf the authoritarian administrations of Nixon and Bush/Cheney. But his primary goal may be to restore the Gilded Age to a much greater extent than Hoover, Reagan, and W. Bush only dreamed of. (Photo: somalilandpress.com)

President Donald J. Trump is the most blatantly authoritarian figure ever elected and will probably dwarf the authoritarian administrations of Nixon and Bush/Cheney. But his primary goal may be to restore the Gilded Age to a much greater extent than Hoover, Reagan, and W. Bush only dreamed of. (Photo: somalilandpress.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After being the most repulsive candidate ever nominated by one of our major political parties and after being the most vindictive and obnoxious president-elect, we are about to see whether Donald J. Trump can master the art of being President of the United States. His refusal to even pretend to be interested in uniting the American people and his infatuation with the dictator of Russia require us to take a look at what manner of man we now have in the White House.

 

Thanks to an unverified dossier published by BuzzFeed, the biggest question right now is whether or not Mr. Trump is a puppet of Vladimir Putin.  He certainly appears to be, but let’s get one thing straight. The Donald is not being blackmailed by Mr. Putin. The Russian dictator may have a video of our new president cavorting with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room, but who cares? Not Trump and certainly not the minority of Americans who voted for him.

 

As a candidate in the Republican primaries, The Donald boasted that he could shoot someone in Times Square, and it wouldn’t cost him any votes – and he was absolutely correct. He saw anger in the land and decided to appeal to the absolute worst instinct of every voter who held at least one pet peeve. He used no political correctness (no civility or dignity) and continuously appealed to anyone who wanted to return to the “good ol’ days.”

 

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump seemed to have formed a mutual admiration society. They are kindred spirits who each love power and money. (Photo: Oliver Bunic/Bloomberg)

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump seemed to have formed a mutual admiration society. They are kindred spirits who each love power and money. (Photo: Oliver Bunic/Bloomberg)

I previously wrote that “We’ve come to know (Trump) as all the following: a pathological liar, a sociopath, a bully, a cheat, a bigot, a misogynist, a sexist, a racist, a xenophobe, a con artist, an anti-Semite, a homophobe, a white supremacist, an ostentatious plutocrat, and a supporter of violence and/or threats against his critics.” Trump has been upfront on all these things and has never tried to hide any of them. If enough voters could relate to any one of these traits and ignore the others, with all the free media attention, he knew he could win.

 

What could Vladimir Putin have on Trump that we don’t already know – or presume anyway? Trump, of course, denies that Putin has anything on him. That’s irrelevant because we all witnessed throughout the campaign that the man is a chronic liar – he can’t help himself. We’ll never know when he’s telling the truth. It doesn’t matter. Those who supported him before the election will support him now. Even Republican congressmen who were embarrassed by him before the election now abide him.

 

Richard Nixon is best remembered for the dirty tricks of his 1972 re-election campaign, the Watergate investigations, and his resignation from office. Forgotten is that LBJ accused him of treason when his 1968 campaign sabotaged the Paris Peace Talks.

Richard Nixon is best remembered for the dirty tricks of his 1972 re-election campaign, the Watergate investigations, and his resignation from office. Forgotten is that LBJ accused him of treason when his 1968 campaign sabotaged the Paris Peace Talks. (Photo by David Offutt: a detail of the 1968 Norman Rockwell painting in the National Art Gallery, Washington, DC

The other issue publicized by BuzzFeed is this: Did the Trump campaign work with the Russians to introduce information into the election campaign that would increase the public’s negative perception of Hillary Clinton? The Republicans have been targeting Ms. Clinton since 1993, so the answer is probably yes.  Trump even publicly asked Russia to hack her emails. Also, Republican campaigns have been working with foreign powers to affect U. S. presidential elections for years, so this would be no surprise.

 

Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign learned that President Lyndon Johnson was about to end the Vietnam War through negotiations at the Paris Peace Talks. Nixon’s people worked with the government of South Vietnam and got it to refuse to cooperate with the settlement and wait for him to take office. This prevented V.P. Hubert H. Humphrey, whom historians have ranked as one of the three greatest senators in U.S. history, from getting elected. (Henry Clay and Daniel Webster were the other two “greatest senators.”)

 

Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign learned that Iran was in such dire need of cash due to President Jimmy Carter’s freezing of Iranian assets in the U.S. that Iran was about to release the 52 American hostages held in Tehran. Agents from Iran claim they met with agents from Reagan and agreed to hold the hostages until after the election in return for a better deal. After Reagan’s inauguration, we immediately began flying badly needed supplies to Iran; eventually, the Reagan administration began selling missiles to Iran so as to get funds, prohibited by Congress, to purchase Soviet weapons for Contra rebels to help them overthrow the government of Nicaragua.

 

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R.-AL) was rejected by the Senate when Ronald Reagan tried to appoint him to a federal judgeship. His record as Alabama's attorney general was deemed too racist oriented. (Photo: Andrew Harrier/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R.-AL) was rejected by the Senate when Ronald Reagan tried to appoint him to a federal judgeship in 1983. His record as Alabama’s attorney general was deemed too racist oriented. (Photo: Andrew Harrier/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Putin would relish having a kindred spirit in the White House. Human rights issues have always been a thorny issue between the West and the old Soviet Union and present-day Russia. Trump plainly cares nothing about human rights at home, so why would be care about them in Russia. Trump’s appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general tells you all you need to know. A fellow authoritarian ruler like Trump will be a breath of fresh air for Putin.

 

We definitely need to be concerned about the probable reason that Trump envies, respects, and wants to emulate the dictator Putin. Putin is conceivably the richest man in the world. Bill Gates has assets of 75 billion dollars. Putin’s wealth has been estimated at equal that amount, 10 billion dollars more, or even twice Gates’ wealth. How did a former member of the KGB spy network get all that money? He used his government positions as president and prime minister to rig elections, silence opposition, influence policy, and invest in property and hedge funds.

 

Mr. Trump can certainly relate to that. Just think about all the wealth that being president can bring to himself and his family. What other reason would a man like he want to be president? He knows nothing about government, the U.S. Constitution, U.S. history, or essential issues like climate change and nuclear proliferation.

 

He never released his tax records before the election, so there’s no reason for him to ever release them – his supporters clearly don’t care where his money is invested. He never planned to divest himself of his businesses – that would defeat his whole reason for being president. He says he will let his family manage his enterprises – and they promise to never discuss them with hm. Right. It might be safer if we not ask about his family business either.

 

Ronald Reagan's administration holds the record for the most felony convictions in U.S. history. Of the 31 convictions, only 14 were for the Iran-Contra affair, while 17 were financial scandals in his executive agencies. (Photo by David Offutt of a portrait that hangs in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)

Ronald Reagan’s administration holds the record for the most felony convictions in U.S. history. Of the 31 convictions, only 14 were for the Iran-Contra affair, while 17 were financial scandals in his executive agencies. (Photo by David Offutt of a portrait that hangs in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)

Also, Trump’s creation of a plutocratic cabinet of millionaires and billionaires doesn’t bode well. His example of denying conflicts of interest will no doubt be contagious – no matter what his nominees say in their confirmation hearings. The “greed is good” mentality of the Gilded Age and Reagan Era will be back with a vengeance. The vast financial scandals that characterized the Grant, Harding, and Reagan administrations may well pale in comparison with what’s to come.

 

To appraise the president, as well as his cabinet, we can do no better than combine the assessments of New York Times columnist Charles Blow and Truthout.org editor William Rivers Pitt: Each cabinet meeting will be a “Monsters’ Ball,” where they are served “some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published January 21, 2017, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

Posted by: David Offutt | January 8, 2017

The Electoral College Blew It: Now What?

Thanks to the Electoral College, real estate developer and former professional wrestler and reality TV performer Donald J. Trump will be our 45th president. His electoral vote margin places him at number 46 out of 58 presidential elections. He also lost the popular vote by a greater margin than any other similar president: Hillary Clinton beat him by 2,900,000 votes. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flicker)

Thanks to the Electoral College, real estate developer and former professional wrestler and reality TV performer Donald J. Trump will be our 45th president. His electoral vote margin places him at number 46 out of 58 presidential elections. He also lost the popular vote by a greater margin than any other similar president: Hillary Clinton beat him by 2,900,000 votes. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flicker)

 

Prior to December 19, the big question was whether or not the Electoral College would justify its existence, do its job, and save the nation from having an unqualified demagogue as our next president. Well, the day came and the electors did exactly what we knew they would do – they blew it.

 

Alexander Hamilton, Founding Father and 1st secretary of the treasury, believed the Electoral College would protect the presidency from being occupied by a demagogue, but he never anticipated political parties, which he helped create. (Photo: John Trumbull's painting that hangs in the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art)

Alexander Hamilton, Founding Father and 1st secretary of the treasury, believed the Electoral College would protect the presidency from being occupied by a demagogue, but he never anticipated political parties, which he helped create. (Photo: John Trumbull’s painting that hangs in the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art)

Now, the question is whether or not anything can be done to prevent another disaster like this one. The answer is probably no, but we need to look at the possibilities – one of which may work.

 

The prevailing defense of preserving the Electoral College is that it gives the voters in less-densely-populated states greater voices than the individual voters in the more-densely-populated states. This, of course, doesn’t sound like a very noble defense – especially in a nation that prides itself on being a “democracy” and believing in “one person, one vote.”

 

Unfortunately, each elector does not represent the same number of people. In California, each elector represents 713,637 residents. However, in Wyoming, each elector represents only 195,167 residents. In other words, your vote in Wyoming is worth 3 to 4 votes, while your vote in California is worth exactly 1 vote. This is the closest thing we have to “voter fraud” in the USA, but it’s constitutionally sanctioned – so much for our myths of “democracy” and “justice for all.”

 

The number of electors for each state is based on 2 senators plus the number of seats a state has in the House of Representatives. So you can see why few if any small states, population-wise, would ever agree to a constitutional amendment that would end the Electoral College or change its membership to be based solely on each state’s population. It takes three fourths of state legislatures to ratify an amendment.  Self-interest will “trump” the good of the nation just about every time.

 

Republican party bosses knew Harrison would lose the popular vote in 1888 to incumbent Grover Cleveland. They paid as much as $20 a vote in states like Pennsylvania to eke out an electoral vote win. Harrison was disgusted to learn that he couldn't pick his own cabinet! He said, "They sold out every place to pay for election expenses."

Republican party bosses and businessmen knew Harrison would lose the popular vote in 1888 to incumbent Grover Cleveland. They paid as much as $20 a vote in states like Pennsylvania to eke out an electoral vote win. Harrison was disgusted to learn that he couldn’t pick his own cabinet! He said, “They sold out every place to pay for election expenses.” His cabinet became known as the “Businessmen’s Cabinet.”

The worst defense I’ve heard or read for preserving the Electoral College came in an editorial from my own statewide newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: It’s in the U.S. Constitution, so leave it there. That would make sense if it were not a flaw in the Constitution, but it is a flaw, an embarrassing one, and it needs to be changed. There are precedents for this. The Constitution recognized slavery and counted a slave as three fifths of a man, but we changed that with the 13th and 14th amendments. The Constitution, while a great document, was never perceived, even by its Founders, as being perfect.

 

The Election of 1800 made it clear that there was a problem with the Electoral College, and it should have been done away with at that time.  The problem was that the Founding Fathers did not anticipate the formation of political parties, which nullified any future chance for the Electoral College to function as intended – to protect the nation from a demagogue who seeks power by appealing to people’s emotions and prejudices.

 

In 1800, the electors were faced, for the second time, with presidential candidates who had vice-presidential running mates, but they were still listed separately. Consequently, to prevent the error of 1796 when the two with the most votes were from opposite parties (John Adams and Thomas Jefferson), this time they gave the same number of votes to Jefferson and his running mate Aaron Burr. Unfortunately, this made it an official tie for president, thus throwing the election into the House of Representatives. The House was temporarily still controlled by the Federalist Party, which strongly hated Jefferson.

 

 Republican "Rutherfraud" B. Hayes benefited from last minute, panicky ballot count shenanigans in three southern states. An Electoral Commission of 8 Republicans and 7 Democrats had to pick the winner of those states electoral votes. "Old 8 to 7" Hayes defeated Samuel Tilden. (Photo: Eliphalet Andrew's painting that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery)

Republican “Rutherfraud” B. Hayes benefited from last minute, panicky ballot count shenanigans in three southern states. An Electoral Commission of 8 Republicans and 7 Democrats had to pick the winner of those states’ electoral votes. “Old 8 to 7” Hayes defeated Samuel Tilden. (Photo: Eliphalet Andrew’s 1881 painting that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery)

The House Federalists ignored the good of the nation and planned to pick Burr so as to sabotage Jefferson’s party, which was a forerunner to today’s Democratic Party. This horrified Alexander Hamilton, a political opponent of Jefferson. Nevertheless, he respected Jefferson and knew that he would do whatever was needed to make the nation succeed. On the other hand, he considered Burr to be a demagogue and “voluptuary,” a person addicted to luxury and pleasures of the senses. Hamilton eventually succeeded in persuading just enough Federalists to abandon party loyalty and vote for Jefferson.

 

The 12th Amendment resolved the problem of the intentions of the electors: each elector now casts two separate votes – one specifically for president and one specifically for vice president. But nothing was done concerning electors or members of the House casting their votes based on party loyalty rather than the good of the republic. The problem was obvious in 1800 – as it was in 1876, 1888, and 2000 – and even more so today. Remember, there’s no Hamilton around to restore sense and sensibility.

 

A good solution to the potentially recurring problem of having a president elected by fewer votes than his nearest opponent is the National Popular Vote bill that can be passed on the state level. Here’s the way it works: According to the Constitution, each state determines how its electors are chosen and what directives are given to them; therefore each state can require its electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote, and that’s what this bill does.

 

As soon as the bill passes in enough states to equal 270 electoral votes, the bill will go into effect in all those states. It’s already been passed in 10 states and the District of Columbia with 165 electoral votes. That leaves an additional 105 votes needed, and half the legislative bodies in 12 other states have approved the bill. In the United States of America, it should be embarrassing for any state legislator to admit that he doesn’t believe that the candidate with the most votes should win.

 

Republican George W. Bush was awarded the presidency in the first "stolen" election in 112 years (since 1888). Last minute vote counting chicaneries in his brother's (Gov. Jeb Bush) state of Florida threw that state's electoral vote winner into the Supreme Court consisting of 5 Republicans and 4 Democrats. As president, 5-to-4 Bush ruled like a dictator or absolute monarch as if he had won the popular vote by a landslide. (Photo: Robert Anderson's 2008 painting that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery)

Republican George W. Bush was awarded the presidency in 2000 in the first “stolen” election in 112 years (since 1888). Last minute vote-counting chicaneries in his brother’s (Gov. Jeb Bush) state of Florida threw that state’s electoral vote-winner into the U.S. Supreme Court consisting of 5 Republicans and 4 Democrats. As president, 5-to-4 Bush ruled like a dictator or absolute monarch as if he had won the popular vote in a landslide instead of losing it. (Photo: detail of Robert Anderson’s 2008 painting that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery)

 

The Electoral College’s votes in 2000 and 2016 were not just undemocratic – they were also contradictory to what we claim to stand for in foreign policy. I was amused at how proudly President George W. Bush bragged about how Iraqis were finally able to vote after the fall of Saddam Hussein. I’m sure the irony was not missed by Mr. Bush himself. The majority vote in his own ascendency to the presidency in 2000 had gone to his opponent Al Gore. The U. S. Supreme Court even ordered the vote count to stop in Florida. He was a product of how democracy can go wrong, but I’m sure he didn’t want the Iraqi voters to know that.

 

Whoever the electors are, they made it abundantly clear in mid-December that they are as equally wise or unwise, informed or uninformed as the voters who unwittingly elected them. They are merely apparatchiks who care more for their party than the nation. The Electoral College, for the second time in 16 years, has proved itself nothing more than a bad joke on democracy. It can be reformed by the National Popular Vote bill, which needs to go into effect before the next presidential election.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published January 7, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

Posted by: David Offutt | December 10, 2016

The Electoral College: Why Does It Exist and Will It Do Its Job?

Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and 1st secretary of the treasury, defended the Electoral College as being necessary to prevent a demagogue from ever being elected president. (Photo by David Offutt: detail of portrait by John Trumbull - Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR)

Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and 1st secretary of the treasury, defended the Electoral College as being necessary to prevent a demagogue from ever being elected president. (Photo by David Offutt: detail of portrait by John Trumbull – Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR)

Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by 2,900,000 popular votes and led him by 48% to 46%. However, Mr. Trump defeated Mrs. Clinton by 74 electoral votes, and those votes decide the presidency. Therein lies the dilemma of our second election crisis in sixteen years.  It looks as though the will of the people will be thwarted for the fifth time in our history by a bizarre creation of our Founding Fathers that should have been dispensed with years ago – the Electoral College.

 

The main reason for the Founding Fathers’ creation of electors to pick the president was their fear of democracy. They were all students of ancient Greece and Rome, and it was the Roman Republic from which they based our constitutional system. They all understood from history how easily the masses could be influenced by a demagogue who is motivated by the acquisition of personal power and who appeals to popular passions and prejudices.

 

George W. Bush was the 4th candidate to lose the popular vote and still become president. He was the 3rd to benefit from a majority of electoral votes, and he was the lst to be essentially proclaimed president by the U.S. Supreme Court.

George W. Bush was the 4th candidate to lose the popular vote and still become president. He was the 3rd to benefit from a majority of electoral votes, and he was the only one to be essentially proclaimed president by the U.S. Supreme Court. (Photo by David Offutt – The National Presidential Wax Museum, Keystone, SD)

None of the Greek democracies survived. Athens achieved greatness for awhile until Alcibiades persuaded the populace to invade Sicily – it was a disaster, and the Athenians never recovered their previous stature. The ancient Romans replaced their monarchy with representative rule. The Roman Republic lasted 500 years until it was replaced by the Roman Empire, which lasted another 500 years. You can see why our founders liked the Romans so much.

 

Under the Roman name of Publius, Alexander Hamilton defended the Electoral College in Federalist #68: the people should only vote for local, rational, and well-informed electors whom they personally know and let them vote for the most qualified candidate – someone who is not a demagogue and someone who is experienced in public service. Today, there are obvious problems: how many voters know who their electors are, what do the electors really know, and are they more faithful to their party than to the nation?

 

Rutherford B. Hayes was the 2nd candidate to lose the popular vote and still become president. He was the only one to be awarded the electoral vote majority by a special Election Commission, which consisted of a majority of his own party. (Photo by David Offutt - National Presidential Wax Museum)

Rutherford B. Hayes was the 2nd candidate to lose the popular vote and still become president. He was the only one to be awarded the electoral vote majority by a special Election Commission, which consisted of a majority of his own party. (Photo by David Offutt – National Presidential Wax Museum)

This whole grand scheme collapsed as soon as political parties formed during George Washington’s first administration. Eventually, most electors were required by state laws to vote for the candidate of their own party regardless of who was the best candidate. Fortunately, in most elections, the electoral votes have by coincidence reflected the overall popular votes. The problem occurs whenever the people vote for one candidate and the electors vote for another.

 

In 2000, Democrat Al Gore received 500,000 more votes than Republican George W. Bush.  Forget the infamous Supreme Court ruling in which five Republican-appointed justices stopped the vote count in Florida. The electors knew the main reason that Mr. Bush got as many votes as he did was that he was more personable than Mr. Gore: his voters would rather have a beer with George at the end of the day than with Al. That’s not what the Founding Fathers considered a qualification for president. It was “party first, nation second.”

 

Benjamin Harrison was the 3rd candidate to lose the popular vote but the 2nd to win the presidency anyway by means of winning a majority of electoral votes. Even though his Republican Party bought votes in key states for as much as $20 a vote, the electoral vote was uncontested. (Photo by David Offutt, The National Presidential Wax Museum)

Benjamin Harrison was the 3rd candidate to lose the popular vote but the 2nd to win the presidency  by means of winning a majority of electoral votes. Even though his Republican Party bought votes in key states for as much as $20 a vote, the electoral vote was uncontested. (Photo by David Offutt – National Presidential Wax Museum)

Earlier, in the Election of 1876, the outgoing Republican administration of Ulysses S. Grant had been the most corrupt in American history up to that time and the ongoing impact of the Panic of 1873 was depressing wages and jobs, so the Democrat’s Samuel Tilden was expected to win. He did, in fact, win the popular vote, and it’s the historical consensus that he should have won the electoral vote as well.  However, Republicans challenged the electoral votes of three states hoping to secure victory for their candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes. An electoral commission was established to determine which sets of electoral votes to count and Hayes won. There were 8 Republican commissioners and 7 Democratic.  It was “party first, nation second.”

 

Our Founding Fathers created a “Frankenstein’s Monster.” Historically, as with Tilden and Gore, our popular votes have made the democracy they feared actually look pretty good. Andrew Jackson won the popular vote in 1824 but didn’t win the electoral vote as well until 1828 and 1832. Grover Cleveland won the popular vote in 1884, 1888, and 1892, but lost the electoral vote in 1888. On the other hand, in spite of Hamilton’s assurances, at no time has the Electoral College ever served its purpose and come to our rescue.

 

John Quincy Adams was the only candidate to lose both the popular and electoral votes and still become president. Andrew Jackson won the most of both votes but not a majority of either. The House of Representatives chose Adams in what Jackson called "a corrupt bargain." (Photo by David Offutt - wax museum)

John Quincy Adams was the only candidate to lose both the popular and electoral votes and still become president. In 1824 Andrew Jackson won the most of both votes but not a majority of either. The House of Representatives chose Adams in what Jackson called “a corrupt bargain.” (Photo by David Offutt – wax museum)

And now in 2016, we have the clearest test ever of whether the Electoral College can do what it was created to do.  Donald J. Trump is the most blatant demagogue ever nominated by a major American political party. Even prominent members of his own party realize he’s not fit to be president.

 

We know he’s a professional wrestler, a reality-TV performer, and a real estate developer; but what else is The Donald? We’ve come to know him as all the following: a pathological liar, a sociopath, a bully, a cheat, a bigot, a misogynist, a sexist, a racist, a xenophobe, a con artist, an anti-Semite, a homophobe, a white supremacist, an ostentatious plutocrat, and a supporter of violence and/or threats against his critics.

 

Since Mr. Trump has 306 electoral votes and Mrs. Clinton has only 232, it would require 38 Republican electors to jump ship to give her the necessary 270 votes to win. That’s 38 “profiles in courage” that we’re probably not going to see. If we do see it, that would redeem the existence of the Electoral College – at least this one time.

 

There are some other solutions being bandied about as to how the electors can save the nation from the embarrassment and devastation of a Trump presidency, but none are good:

 

  • Persuade 37 Republican electors to vote for Clinton, thus giving each candidate 269 votes. A tie would throw the election into the House of Representatives. The House had to decide the winners in 1800 and 1824 and made such a mess of it each time that we never want it to happen again. Can you imagine the “obstruct and sabotage” Republican House that we’ve had since the Elections of 2010 doing anything commendable for the nation? It would still be “party first, nation second.”
  • Get all of Hillary’s electors and 38 of The Donald’s electors to vote for Mitt Romney as a compromise choice. However, Mitt Romney was soundly rejected by the voters in 2012, so they don’t want him. He even stayed out of this year’s primaries, and Trump supporters don’t like him because of his negative assessment of Trump. Also, if you disenfranchise all those who gave Hillary a 2 percent advantage over The Donald and give the presidency to someone none of the voters want, what’s that going to tell the people about the importance of their future votes?

 

Donald J.Trump campaigned as an authoritarian demagogue and lost the popular vote by the highest percentage ever while at the same time winning the electoral vote. The 1st victor to have never served in public office or in the military service.

Donald J.Trump campaigned as an authoritarian demagogue and lost the popular vote by the highest percentage ever while at the same time winning the electoral vote. He’s the 1st victor to have never served in public office or in military service. “Hail Trump.” (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

The voters spoke on November 8. On December 19, the electors will speak. Will the electors do what Alexander Hamilton assured us and vote for the most qualified candidate? It matters. This must be someone who can be trusted with the future of life on earth: vigilant action against climate change and rational control of the nuclear codes and nuclear proliferation – issues Hamilton never could have imagined.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published December 10, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

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