Sunday, December 15, 2019

mmm … peach …mint

How Impeaching Donald Trump Will Just Help His Re-Election


Copyright © 2019 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

NOTE: “Mmm-Peach-Mint” was a novelty flavor introduced by the Baskin-Robbins ice cream company in the summer of 1974 as a commercial tie-in to the House Judiciary Committee’s deliberations on impeaching then-President Richard Nixon.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” said Friedrich Nietzsche — in a line later appropriated by singer Kelly Clarkson. During the 2016 Presidential campaign, I compared Donald Trump to Antaeus, the giant whom the Greek hero Herakles (you probably know him better by his Roman name, Hercules) had to fight as one of his 12 legendary “labors.” The problem was that Antaeus was the son of Gaea, the earth mother, so every time Herakles knocked him to the ground, he got back up again, refreshed by a boost of strength from his mom. The only way Herakles could defeat Antaeus was by holding him in mid-air with one hand while beating him up with the other, so Gaea couldn’t come in contact with him and give him the strength to keep fighting.
The most amazing aspect of Donald Trump’s weird life is his uncanny ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. He did it in 1991, when the banks who had loaned him money to build casinos in Atlantic City were about to foreclose on him and force him into bankruptcy — until they realized that the casinos would be worth more with Trump’s name on them than without it. So they cut a deal by which he could keep his name on the casinos and collect a royalty from it, but without having anything to do with running them. The deal energized Trump’s businesses; realizing he could make money merely by leasing his name without the bother of actually building or owning anything, he did many more such deals and raked in huge amounts of money for doing absolutely nothing.
Trump snatched victory from the jaws of defeat again in 2016, when the release of his conversation with Billy Bush on the set of Access Hollywood — with Trump’s proud boast that he could have his way with any woman he wanted because “when you’re a star, they’ll let you do anything” — one month before the election caused panic within the Republican Party. Veteran GOP professionals and strategists panicked, thinking there was no way the American people would elect a President who had openly and proudly boasted of committing rape on national TV. There was even talk of taking Trump off the ticket and putting up his running mate, Mike Pence, for President. Instead, Trump stayed on the ticket and ultimately won the presidency in the Electoral College despite getting three million fewer votes than his principal opponent.
And he’s about to do it again as he becomes only the fourth President against whom impeachment has been recommended to the House of Representatives. Andrew Johnson — a Tennessee Democrat whom Illinois Republican Abraham Lincoln put on the 1864 ticket as a symbol of national unity — got impeached four years later, and escaped conviction by one vote in the U.S. Senate. Richard Nixon resigned rather than face near-certain impeachment by the House and removal by the Senate. Bill Clinton, like Andrew Johnson, escaped removal because, though 55 Senators voted to convict him on one of the articles of impeachment, his impeachers couldn’t muster the two-thirds Senate vote required under the Constitution.
Donald Trump will have no problem staying in office. He will not only escape Senate conviction, he will do so by a far larger and more substantial margin than either Johnson or Clinton. On December 12, 2019 the House Judiciary Committee voted to recommend to the full House that Trump be impeached — but they did so on a strict party-line vote, with all 21 committee Democrats voting for and all 17 Republicans voting against. The vote to impeach Trump in the full House is likely to go along similarly strict party lines; a few Democrats may buck the party and vote against impeachment but no Republican is likely to vote for it because if they do, they’ll immediately be purged from the party the way Right-wing Tea Party Michigan Congressmember Justin Amash was after he merely said he favored the House launching an impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump.
Likewise, Trump will have no trouble surviving the Senate trial. With the U.S. Senate split 53 to 47 in the Republicans’ favor, 20 Republicans would have to cross party lines to vote to convict him and remove him from office. That would be 20 more Republicans than will actually vote against him. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has made it clear he is actively coordinating impeachment strategy with Trump and his attorneys to make sure no Republicans defect. Instead of an impartial juror — which is what Senators are supposed to be when they try an impeachment (they even have to take a special oath to do that, above and beyond the oath they had to take to assume office) — McConnell clearly sees himself as a partisan floor manager, working to make sure a bill that would be hostile to his party and its leader gets defeated.
But even before McConnell admitted publicly that he was “in lock-step” with Trump and his legal team fighting the impeachment, there was virtually no chance of any Senate Republican defections. The reason is that Trump has such a total “hold” on the Republican base that any GOP Congressmember or Senator who dares defy him — especially on such an existential issue as his ability to continue in office — would instantly be writing his political obituary. Any Republican House member who votes to impeach Trump, or any Senator who votes to convict him, will instantly draw a pro-Trump primary challenger and get thrown out of office before he or she has a chance to make it to the general election.

Impeachment Makes Trump Stronger

What’s more, being impeached by the Democratic House and acquitted by the Republican Senate will only make Donald Trump a stronger, not a weaker, candidate in November 2020. Trump has managed to build a cult of victimhood that he shares with his base voters. For someone born to as much money as he was (even if, as I suspect, Trump’s fortune is considerably smaller than he says it is — one of the real reasons I think he is fighting so hard to keep from having to release his tax returns), Trump has an amazing amount of status anxiety and grievance. Fred Trump, Donald’s father, was a reasonably successful developer in the outer boroughs of New York City — but the Trumps weren’t considered part of New York’s “A”-list because they hadn’t cracked Manhattan.
When Donald took over, aided by attorney Roy Cohn — former chief of staff to the notorious Red-baiting Senator Joe McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) and later so unscrupulous a lawyer that the New York State Bar disbarred him a few months before he died of AIDS complications in 1987 — he did manage to do real-estate deals in Manhattan. But he still didn’t get the respect and awe he wanted from his fellow 1-percenters. Instead he was regarded as a tabloid figure, a sort of “trash celebrity” who made headlines with his adulteries and published ghost-written “autobiographies” like The Art of the Deal and Surviving at the Top. Trump eventually landed the job hosting the “reality” TV show The Apprentice, which presented him as the most successful and intelligent super-capitalist of all time, but he still felt so much status anxiety, so much fear that he’s really a little man (and a lousy businessperson) under all the braggadocio, he felt the only way he could counteract his fears of inadequacy and inferiority was to run for, and win, the biggest prize of all: the U.S. Presidency.
Trump’s status anxieties, fears, hatreds and prejudices found a perfect match in the huge voter base the Republican Party built out of the wrenching political changes of the 1960’s. As the Democrats, once the party of slavery, segregation and the Ku Klux Klan, switched sides on the race issue and became the party of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many white working-class voters who had previously been loyal Democrats started to change their views. They saw the Democrats extending the reach of New Deal social programs to African-Americans and other racial minorities, and believed this would mean money and social access would be taken away from them and given to people of color. They also saw the anti-Viet Nam War movement and wrenching social changes of the 1960’s — particularly the sexual revolution, drug use and the hippie culture — as direct attacks on the values they had been taught to revere and live by when they grew up.
Confronted by the independent Presidential candidacy of openly racist, reactionary Alabama governor George Wallace, which threatened to split the Right-wing working-class vote aroused by racial and social prejudices and enable the Democrats to win the 1968 Presidential election, Richard Nixon and Democrat-turned independent-turned Republican Senator Strom Thurmond (R-South Carolina) cooked up the “Southern Strategy.” That meant that with the Democrats having given up on being the policy of racism and cultural prejudice, the Republicans would take on those mantles and embrace racist promises and policies. The “Southern Strategy” worked even better than its authors intended: it reversed the Presidential outcome from Lyndon Johnson’s 61 percent victory over Barry Goldwater in 1964 to a combined 57 percent for Nixon and Wallace against Democrat Hubert Humphrey’s 43 percent in 1968.
It also set the stage for the Republicans to become what political scientist Samuel Lubell called the “sun party,” the party that sets the agenda, dominates the electorate and relegates America’s other major party to “moon party” status. That doesn’t mean the “sun party” wins every election, but it does mean that when they lose they don’t stay out of power very long, and they’re able to block any major changes the “moon party” tries to make on the rare occasions they make it into power. Since 1968 the Republicans have won eight Presidential elections to the Democrats’ five, and a series of increasingly Right-wing Republican Presidents — Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and now Donald Trump — have slowly but surely remade the country in an ideologically Rightward direction.
There are limits to that analysis. The Republicans — especially since the 1980 election, when the so-called “Moral Majority” and succeeding organizations on the Christian Right first established themselves as a major part of the GOP base — have had a lot more success with the Libertarian economic part of their agenda than the social part. While a series of tax cuts biased in favor of the rich has severely weakened government’s ability to level the playing field economically or do much in the way of infrastructure and other social investments, women in most states still have the right of reproductive choice and Queer people can marry each other. It’s not surprising that a movement largely funded by the super-rich would tackle the super-rich’s economic priorities — mainly, to make America’s distribution of wealth and income even more unequal in their favor — before they’d fulfill the demands of the Christian Right.
But overall the Right has become far more powerful and influential than the Left, not only nationwide but worldwide (though that’s a topic for another article). And they’ve done it largely by nursing the status anxieties of working-class voters who used to support Left or center-Left parties but now see those parties as representing ethnic minorities, immigrants and others who are “taking our jobs away.” At least part of the Rightward transformation of America has been the transformation of the U.S. media, which began in 1987 when Reagan’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ended the so-called “Fairness Doctrine” that had previously required broadcasters to present both sides of controversial issues.
As music radio shifted from AM to the better-sounding FM band, the entire AM radio band became dominated by talk shows. Not all of them were political, but the ones that were were almost entirely strongly Right-wing in orientation. Eventually the stars of Right-wing radio — Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Mark Levin, Roger Hedgecock et al. — built huge followings by using the same rhetorical style Senator Joe McCarthy had used before them and Donald Trump would pick up later. It’s a combination of self-righteousness, a bullying style that openly sneers at anyone who disagrees, a conspiratorial world view that doesn’t admit the possibility that anyone might have a different opinion without being part of some group with a nefarious anti-American agenda, and an overall appeal in which the host tells the listeners that they are part of an embattled “real American” minority under siege by the forces of progressivism who want to take away their jobs, their schools, their guns and the God-given “right” of white men to rule.
Trump has won the huge following he has — about 40 to 45 percent of the American population — in large measure because he’s the first Presidential candidate who talks like a host on AM talk radio or Fox News (which brought the voice of talk radio to TV in 1996 and has remained the highest-rated cable news network ever since). Like the talk-radio and Fox hosts, he portrays himself as the victim, endlessly put upon by dastardly “plots” seeking to undermine the good work he’s doing on behalf of America — or at least on behalf of the Americans he considers part of his coalition. Like Antaeus, he gains strength from every attack against him because he can cite it as yet more evidence that “they” — the progressives, the liberals, the Democrats, people of color, immigrants, “uppity” women, Queers — are out to get him.
When Rush Limbaugh first started gaining his nationwide popularity, many listeners told reporters they liked him because “he says what I think.” Like Trump, Limbaugh told his audiences that they shouldn’t be ashamed to be prejudiced against people of color, feminists or Queers; instead, they should be proud of those attitudes because those were the attitudes that had made America “great.” Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” tied right into the attitude of many white working-class voters that they had lost something the Democrats, people of color, immigrants and “free-traders” had taken away from them: not only the good-paying factory jobs that had once sustained them but the unquestioned sense that men were superior to women, whites were superior to people of color, and Queer people were so far beyond the pale they should stay hidden in the closets, be arrested and, when exposed, do the “honorable” thing of killing themselves.
Trump has played the victim card again and again and again during his candidacy and his Presidency. Every time he’s faced a serious challenge, from the Access Hollywood tape to Robert Mueller’s investigation into his campaign’s alleged “collusion” with Russia to the current threat of impeachment, he’s denounced it as a “witch hunt” by people who simply hate him and want to get rid of him no matter how much harm that will do to “our Country” (a word he always capitalizes in his tweets). Like the 18th century French King Louis XIV, who famously said, “L’etat, c’est moi” (“The state? It is I!”), Trump equates his own interest with that of America as a whole and regards his enemies as vicious, irredeemably evil and out to destroy him and thereby hurt the “Country.”
A number of commentators have noted the huge numbers of angry tweets Trump has sent out about impeachment as evidence that he really doesn’t want to become just the third President to be formally impeached by the House and tried by the Senate. Don’t believe it. Trump saying “Please don’t impeach me” is like Br’er Rabbit saying, “Please don’t throw me in the briar patch.” Just as Br’er Rabbit wanted to be in the briar patch because all the goodies he wanted were there, Trump wants to be impeached because it will provide him the ultimate victim card, the final proof that the dastardly “They” are out to get him by any means necessary — and therefore his base needs to rise up and not only re-elect him but do so by a landslide margin.
One Democrat who realized from the get-go how dangerous it would be for her party to impeach Donald Trump was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Ever since her party regained control of the House in November 2018, Pelosi had been trying her damnedest to put the brakes on any consideration of impeachment because she knew that with no chance that Trump would be convicted in the Senate, all an impeachment would do is rile up Trump’s base and make his re-election easier, not harder. As Trump openly defied the House and Mueller’s investigation in every way he could think of — including instituting a blanket prohibition on White House staff talking to Congressional committees or providing them documents, thereby blocking Congress from doing its constitutional job of “overseeing” the Presidency — Pelosi kept short-circuiting the demands of other House Democrats to take up impeachment because she knew how devastating it would be for her party and its chances of defeating Trump in 2020.
But Donald Trump, a man who mistakes forbearance for “weakness,” responded to Pelosi’s reluctance to impeach not by stepping back from his anti-democratic treatment of Congress, but by ramping it up. On July 25 — just one day after Robert Mueller effectively closed out his investigation by testifying inconclusively before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees — Trump was at it again, calling Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky and threatening to withhold military aid Ukraine desperately needed in its war with Russia unless Zelensky ordered investigations of former vice-president Joe Biden, (so far) the front-runner in the race for the Democratic nomination against Trump, and Biden’s son Hunter. Trump also asked Zelensky to announce investigations into loony-tunes Right-wing conspiracy theories that it wasn’t Russia that hacked the 2016 U.S. election, but Ukraine — and they were trying to help Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump.
Trump’s pattern of responding to attacks with defiance has continued to this day. In a bizarre column in the December 15 Los Angeles Times (, law professors Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Huq of the University of Chicago and David Landau of Florida State University wrote, “Once impeachment begins, most presidents are likely to refrain from the controversial behavior — be it outright corruption or subverting foreign policy for a political campaign — that precipitated the process.” Not Donald Trump. As the House Judiciary Committee was debating impeachment, Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph Giuliani — who himself is under investigation by the Southern District of New York — was in Ukraine interviewing government officials seeking derogatory information on the Bidens for a documentary film he’s making for a Right-wing Web site.
Trump himself said in one of the impromptu press conferences he likes to give on the White House lawn, when asked if it was appropriate for him to tell the Ukrainian President to investigate one of his political rivals, “I think Ukraine should investigate the Bidens.” He added that China should also investigate the Bidens because Hunter Biden got a seat on the board of a Chinese company after he left the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. As a number of commentators have noted, Trump seems to think that the way to answer being accused of something illegal, like asking a foreign country or its nationals to help his political campaign, is to do it again, and this time to do it in public, telling his people that he’s so unafraid of any consequences, and so convinced he did nothing wrong, that he’ll do it again in plain view.

Impeachment and the Democratic Presidential Candidates

Trump’s chances for re-election are zooming upward not only because it will be yet another victim card he can play to mobilize the base, but also because the Democratic Party is, as usual, screwing things up. First, the Democrats overconfidently assumed that Trump couldn’t win the 2016 election — and indeed he wouldn’t have if the United States were really a democracy, since three million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than for Trump. Instead, the framers of the Constitution deliberately made the U.S. a limited republic in which, as James Madison wrote in Federalist #10, elected representatives would “refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country.”
Thus the framers created a structure in which no individual citizen would vote directly for any office higher than a member of the House of Representatives. U.S. Senators would be chosen by state legislatures (until 1913, when the Constitution was amended to provide for direct election of Senators) and the President would be chosen by an electoral college whose delegations would meet separately in their own states. One of the ways the Republican Party has become and remained the dominant “sun party” force in U.S. politics since 1968 is they’ve shrewdly used and exploited the anti-democratic features of the Constitution — the Electoral College, the guarantee of two Senators to each state regardless of population, and the near-absolute power of state legislatures to decide who can (or can’t) vote and to draw up the districts by which House members are elected.
The Democrats are slowly but surely throwing away whatever chance they had to defeat Donald Trump at the polls in 2020. First, they allowed too many candidates to enter the race. The Republicans made that mistake in 2016, but it didn’t matter because Donald Trump seized the initiative and won an early (and lasting) advantage over the Republican base by being more open and out-front in his bigotry than his opponents had dared. No Democrat in 2020 has managed a similar lightning emergence from the crowded field. If you’re a Democrat, no matter what tendency within the party you identify with — militant progressive, cautious left-of-center, moderate or economically conservative and socially liberal — there’s more than one candidate for you.
In 2016 progressive Democrats didn’t have to choose between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren because Sanders only decided to run after Warren decided not to. Now they’re running against each other, thereby splitting the progressive vote and paving the way for a moderate. Or, rather, they would be doing that if there were a truly viable moderate candidate — which there isn’t. Joe Biden began the campaign as the Democratic frontrunner largely because of his association with Barack Obama; he’s run so openly and blatantly an appeal to return to the Obama years and to get politics off the front pages as much as possible that I’ve joked his campaign slogan should be, “Make America Boring Again.”
One of the grim ironies of the Trump impeachment is that Joe Biden’s political career is collateral damage — because Joe Biden in 2015 did exactly the same thing to Ukraine that Donald Trump did in 2019. In 2015 Biden went to Ukraine to meet with then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and demanded that he fire the country’s general prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who at the time was leading an investigation into Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian energy company on whose board Biden’s son Hunter then sat. Biden told Poroshenko that Ukraine wouldn’t be getting $1 billion in loan guarantees the U.S. had promised them unless Poroshenko got rid of Shokin. Four years later, Trump called the current Ukrainian President, Volodomyr Zelensky — who’d won with 70 percent of the vote largely over allegations that the Poroshenko administration was corrupt — and essentially told him he wouldn’t be getting U.S. military aid for his war with Russia unless, among other things, he reinstated the investigation Shokin had launched against Burisma and the Bidens.
It’s true that, as USA Today reporter Courtney Subramanian explained in a story published October 3 (, there are extenuating circumstances in Biden’s case that don’t exist in Trump’s. The European Union and the International Monetary Fund wanted Shokin out not because they thought he was too aggressively investigating corruption, but quite the opposite: they didn’t think he was investigating it aggressively enough. Ukrainian activists like Daria Kaleniuk of the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, also thought Shokin was an impediment, not a help, to the fight against Ukraine’s endemic corruption. “Civil society organizations in Ukraine were pressing for his resignation,” Kaleniuk told Subramanian, “but no one would have cared if there had not been voices from outside this country calling on him to go.”
But as the old expression goes, “When you’re explainin’, you ain’t campaignin’.” If Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee, every Republican and Republican-leaning opinion outlet, including talk radio and Fox News, will be hammering away at the argument that the Democrats are being total hypocrites, impeaching Trump and threatening to remove him from office for something it was Biden, not Trump, who did. Already Viktor Shokin has written letters and sent them to Republican political operatives, and it would not surprise me at all if Shokin either appears in Republican campaign videos (like the “documentary” Rudy Giuliani was just in Ukraine shooting) or, worse yet, comes to the U.S. and appears on stage with Trump to finger Biden as the “real” culprit in attempting to influence Ukraine for his own personal advantage.
Despite their plethora of candidates, the Democrats at this point have no one running who has a real chance of unseating Trump. If they nominate Joe Biden, the Republicans will destroy him over his own dealings with Ukraine and whatever else they can dig up in his past and that of his family (including Hunter’s history of alcohol and drug abuse, which already got cited by Republican Congressmember Matt Gaetz in the impeachment hearings). If they nominate Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, Wall Street and the other members of America’s 1 percent, who regard Sanders and Warren as existential threats, will either sit the election out or actively support Trump. It will be 1972 all over again: an early moderate front-runner done in by Republican dirty tricks and a progressive nominee crushed by the real power centers in American society.
Hence the panic among corporate-friendly Democrats and their desperate search for a new candidate — including the emergence of Michael Bloomberg as at least the third mega-rich nominal Democrat (after Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang) who’s trying to buy the nomination with his own personal fortune. The irony is that we know the kind of Democrat who’s been able to win Presidential elections since the Right-wing realignment of 1968 from the three people who have — Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — and yet no one like that is running this year.
Carter, Clinton and Obama had several things in common. They were all relatively young, good-looking and charismatic, but they had substantial political experience in important positions: Carter and Clinton as state governors and Obama as a U.S. Senator. They all had the knack of making themselves seem more progressive than they really were: they looked progressive enough to appeal to young voters but not so progressive as to scare Wall Street and unite the super-rich against them. They were all able to carry at least some Southern states: Carter and Clinton by being white Southerners themselves and Obama, in the years before the U.S. Supreme Court eviscerated the Voting Rights Act, by getting enough African-American voters to overcome the Democrats’ ongoing disadvantage among Southern whites.
You see anybody like that in the Democratic race today? I sure don’t. (Sorry, Pete Buttigieg, but being mayor of a small college town in Indiana doesn’t count as substantial political experience.) Frankly, I was hoping Virginia Senator Tim Kaine would run — he was Hillary Clinton’s running mate but somehow managed to avoid being tainted by the scandals surrounding her, he helped make Virginia the one ex-Confederate state Trump didn’t carry in 2016, and while he’s not a hard-core progressive by any means he’s been progressive enough he could conceivably pull off the balancing act between moderate and progressive Democrats that helped elect Carter, Clinton and Obama. But Kaine became one of the few Democrats with a national reputation who didn’t announce for President in 2020, and without him or someone like him in the race Trump’s re-election is looking more and more likely every day.
And if Trump does win in 2020, goodbye to American democracy. The U.S. will likely join the growing list of countries run by what I call “Dark Nationalists,” dictators who take power in constitutionally legitimate ways but then rule basically as autocrats, abolish all avenues for political dissent, launch openly discriminatory campaigns against minorities, foreigners and anyone else they don’t consider “truly _____ ” (insert name of country here). The list includes big countries like Russia, India, Brazil and (since its most recent election) Great Britain, as well as smaller but still important countries like Turkey, Hungary, Poland and the Philippines. Trump’s re-election would pave the way for a new world order in which the U.S. and Russia would be fast allies, spreading the gospel of anti-democracy around the world and supporting fellow Dark Nationalists in France, Germany and any other nation with the right level of social discontent.
Impeaching Trump will only make this bleak future more likely. It’s true that it’s not clear just what alternative they had: not impeaching Trump for at least one of his seemingly endless series of violations of the U.S. Constitution would send a signal that from now on, that sort of Presidential behavior is A-OK. The problem is that impeaching him and then losing the trial in the Senate — especially losing it to a phalanx of Republican opposition — will have the same result. Trump will proclaim the result as “a complete and total exoneration,” just as he did with the Mueller report, and ride it to either another narrow Electoral College victory (Trump could well become the first person elected President by the Electoral College while losing the popular vote twice) or — especially if the Democrats nominate Sanders or Warren and the ruling class mounts a no-holds-barred ideological offensive against them — a nationwide landslide.

And once a re-elected Trump starts abusing the powers of his office again — and he will — the Democrats will have nothing they can do to stop him. Trump will likely still own 2 ½ branches of the U.S. government: the Presidency, the Senate and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court will likely rule in favor of Trump’s contention that he can declare absolute “executive privilege” and shield himself from any Congressional attempts to investigate him or hold him accountable. They won’t be able to impeach him again because such an attempt will have zero political credibility. The old saying goes, “When you strike at a king, be certain that you kill him.” The Democrats struck at Trump when there was no way they could kill him — and as a result, he will not only survive impeachment, he will be stronger for it.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Robert Kuttner Agrees with Me: Don”t Call Latinos or Latinas “Latinx”

I hate, loathe, detest and despise the term “Latinx,”which is now afflicting newspaper pages like a plague as a supposedly gender-neutral term to describe people of Latin-American ancestry. It's an even worse example of political correctness run amok than the term “LGBT,”“LGBTQ”or “LGBTQ+” As I wrote in an unpublished letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times when I first started encountering the barbaric term “Latinx,” “What on earth is a ‘Latinx’? How do you pronounce it? And since when did folks with same-sex attractions or nontraditional gender identities get tagged with those ever-lengthening and increasingly obscure initials? I’m a Gay man who resents being called an ‘LGBTQ+ person.’ These are examples of what George Orwell meant when he said the purpose of political language was to conceal, not express, meaning." So it was nice to read this e-mail from American Prospect editor Robert Kuttner, who not only can’t stand the term “Latinx” but shows that most Latinos and Latinas can’t stand it either — and that use of the term “Latinx”could actually drive Latinos and Latinas away from the Democratic Party and the progressive cause in general.

NOVEMBER 6, 2019
Kuttner on TAP
How to Lose the Latinx Vote. The term Latinx is supposedly needed as a gender-neutral word to describe voters of Latino or Latina origin. For the most part, pressure to use Latinx comes from Anglo radicals and liberals, not from Hispanics.

Now, a reputable pollster has confirmed that most Latinos and Latinas—98 percent, to be precise—don’t like the word.

For starters, Latinx violates the architecture of the Spanish language. Spanish solves the gender problem in its own way—using a to indicate female, and o to signal male. You got a problem with that?

Moreover, Spanish seldom uses the letter x. When it does, the x is sometimes pronounced like the Spanish j, with the sound kh, as in the word xeres, meaning sherry; other times it is pronounced like a soft s, as in the famous floating gardens of Xochimilco.

There is also the problem of how to pronounce Latinx. When it first appeared, some people pronounced it la-tinks'; others pronounced it lateen'-ex, rhyming with Kleenex. Apparently, the preferred pronunciation is latin-ex', rhyming with Malcolm X. But there is no way to pronounce it that is consistent with spoken Spanish, which never ends words with the letter x.

Reports indicate that most Hispanic people experience the imposition of this ultra-PC word as culturally ignorant and insulting. Classic gringo.

In the Los Angeles Times, a Hispanic writer noted that outlets that used Latinx found their pages “flooded with negative reactions, with some calling the term ‘ridiculous,’ ‘stupid’ and ‘offensive.’”

Latinx was formally rejected by the Real Academia Española, the official committee of Spanish linguists that preserves the language’s integrity.

Meanwhile, President Trump, who characterized Mexicans as rapists and criminals, stands to lose the Hispanic vote big-time. Unless of course liberals screw that up with cultural condescension. Candidates, take note!

The great Mexican patriot Benito Juárez said, “El respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz”: “Peace is respect for the rights of the other.” Latinx fails that test. ~ ROBERT KUTTNER

Friday, August 23, 2019

Why Aren't We Still Going to the Moon?


Copyright © 2019 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Apollo 11 (CNN Films, Statement Pictures, Universal, 2019)
First Man (Universal, DreamWorks, Perfect World Pictures, 2018)
Chasing the Moon [episode 1] (Robert Stone Productions, 2019)
Man on the Moon (CBS-TV, aired July 16, 2019)

At the end of Apollo 11, the documentary on the July 21, 1969 landing of human beings on the moon made by CNN Films, released theatrically and then shown on TV on the 50th anniversary of the actual event, one of the three astronauts — it’s not clear which one — is heard on the soundtrack speaking of “mankind’s insatiable curiosity to explore the unknown.”
But if humanity (to use the non-sexist term) has an insatiable curiosity to explore the unknown, you’d never know it from the outcome of the Apollo moon program. After Apollo 11, six more rockets were launched by the U.S. with the intent of putting more men (and yes, they were all men; the U.S. didn’t send a woman into space until 1983, 20 years after the Soviet Union did) on the moon.
Ironically, the only one of these missions that achieved lasting fame was Apollo 13, and that’s because it was the only one that didn’t get to the moon. Instead, a malfunction in the spacecraft made it touch-and-go as to whether the astronauts would even make it back to earth safely, and their heroic struggle to improvise a means to return by using their equipment in ways it wasn’t designed for made the Apollo 13 astronauts worldwide heroes and led to a book by the mission captain, Jim Lovell, called Lost Moon that was eventually turned into the hit film Apollo 13.
The extent to which the heroics of going to the moon in 1969 had turned into something seemingly banal and dull was summed up by a line in the script for Apollo 13. One of the officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) calls up a news executive at a TV network and asks why they aren’t giving Apollo 13 the wall-to-wall media coverage they gave Apollo 11 — or, indeed, any news coverage all. The network guy responds, “You’ve made going to the moon seem as exciting as going to Pittsburgh.”

A Boy in Love with the Space Program

I was born September 4, 1953, which means I was seven years old when humans first went into space. I had followed the coverage of rocket launches from Cape Canaveral, Florida and gnashed my teeth with frustration that the launches always took place at 7 a.m. Florida time — which meant as a California boy I had to get up by 4 in the morning (on a school night!) to see them “live.” I usually didn’t make it up that early, though I tried.
Nonetheless, I devoured every piece of information I could get on the space program. I remember using my allowance money to buy a couple of paperbacks on it, including one whose “cover boy” was Alan Shepard — technically the first American into space, even though they just shot him up on one of the Army’s old Redstone rockets for what they called a “sub-orbital” flight — meaning that the spacecraft went up across the sky in an arc and then came down again after only 15 minutes. This happened on May 5, 1961, nearly a month after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space — and the first actually to orbit the earth in a spacecraft, something an American didn’t do until John Glenn on February 20, 1962.
I remember getting two books on the actual NASA space program and then buying a third which disappointed me because it was merely a collection of science-fiction stories. I remember giving up on this book because my seven-year-old mind couldn’t make heads or tails of the third story, Henry Kuttner’s “The Iron Standard.” I ran across that story again in a collection of Kuttner’s works I found in the 1990’s and this time found it absolutely brilliant even though I had a hard time with its politics: it’s about a crew of Earth astronauts who land on the planet Venus, bring free-enterprise capitalism and smash the Takomars, the socialist hierarchies that previously ran Venus’s economy.
Later on my mother signed me up for a children’s book club and, among other things, I eagerly ate up Donald A. Wollheim’s “Mike Mars” series. This posited that in addition to Project Mercury, the astronaut program everyone knew about, the U.S. government had set up a second, secret program of younger men called “Project Quicksilver,” and the heroes were a boyish Anglo guy named Mike Sampson — nicknamed “Mike Mars” because his initials spelled out the name of the Red Planet — and a Native American sidekick named Johnny Bluehawk. The villains of the piece(s) were Rod Harger, the spoiled rich brat of a super-wealthy man who was determined that his son would be the first human in space; and Carl Cahoon, a.k.a. Tench, the thug Harger, Sr. hired to sabotage the other astronauts to make that happen.
So when my age was still in single digits I was excited about the prospect of humans going into space, landing on the moon and eventually reaching out to Mars and beyond as anyone else. My attitude began to sour — like a lot of people’s — as the 1960’s ground on and the very fabric of life on Earth seemed to tear in unexpected ways. President John F. Kennedy — who had proudly proclaimed in 1962 America’s commitment “to send a man to the moon and bring him back safely to the earth” — was killed when I was 10 years old, attending a private grade school and was actually in the playground at recess when the announcement came.
I was already a committed supporter of the African-American civil rights movement — thanks almost entirely to my mother, who was highly active in it as a white supporter of Black civil rights until the movement turned in the so-called “Black Power” direction in 1966 and decided they neither needed nor wanted white supporters. I was at the dinner table while my mother and stepfather watched the TV news and argued about civil rights and the Viet Nam War, which I’d already decided by 1965 (the year my mom and my stepfather broke up, largely over their political differences) I was against. I remember having arguments about it in junior high school with my playmates (to the extent I had any — I was a pretty lonely, introverted kid and frequently the victim of bullying) and smiling to myself when we ended up in high school together and they started coming around to the anti-war position.

Radicalized and Disillusioned

Gradually the ferment of the times won me over to what became the orthodox position about space from progressives and Leftists: that the space program was a colossal waste of money and resources that could better be used against poverty, racism and other problems here on Earth. The new, more cynical attitude I and my friends had towards the space program was probably summed up in a line by satirical singer-songwriter Tom Lehrer on his album That Was the Year That Was, in which he said the government was “spending $20 billion of your money to put some clown on the moon.”
Oh, there were times I got excited about it all over again, including the fascinating program a NASA representative gave at our junior high school (the horrible neologism “middle school” hadn’t been coined yet) explaining exactly how the Apollo spacecraft would work, including the division of the actual moon craft into three sections: the “Command Module,” “Service Module” and what was then called the “Lunar Excursion Module,” the only one of the three parts that would actually land on the moon. Later, apparently someone at NASA’s P.R. department thought the name “Lunar Excursion Module” sounded too frivolous and it was shortened simply to “Lunar Module,” but the acronym “LEM” survived as the colloquial name for the craft.
I got excited all over again on the night Apollo 11’s lunar module actually landed on the moon. The first thing that was broadcast about this momentous event hooked my cynicism when a newscaster announced that the first thing the Apollo 11 astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, had done when they touched down on the moon was “jettison waste material.” “Oh, great,” I thought. “We finally get to the moon, and what’s the first thing we do there? Throw out our garbage!”
Nonetheless, that night I went to the home of a young woman who was leader of our radical high-school group, the Student Party for Self-Direction, which was still meeting though it was summer and school was out. There was a blurry black-and-white TV in the room where we were meeting and, like just about every other TV set in the world, it was tuned to the live coverage of the moon landing and we got to read the epochal chyrons, “LIVE FROM THE SURFACE OF THE MOON” and “LIVE FROM MOON,” as two spacesuit-clad figures walked onto the lunar surface, left the big footprints of their space boots on the moon’s grainy, sandy surface and put up an American flag made of plastic. An ordinary cloth one would not have billowed appropriately because the moon has no atmosphere.
We even sent out for ice cream to the local Baskin-Robbins and got their last supply of “Lunar Cheesecake,” a special flavor for the occasion that was lime-green and, as I recall, didn’t taste very much like cheesecake. (Five years later, when the House Judiciary Committee was debating articles of impeachment against then-President Richard Nixon over his role in the Watergate cover-up, Baskin-Robbins would come up with a similar occasional flavor, “Mmm-Peach-Mint.”) We had the properly cynical attitude towards the achievement we as progressives and radicals were supposed to have — but we were still jazzed enough about the experience not only to watch it on TV but get excited about it.
At least part of the problem was that NASA sold the space program in a way that put the astronauts and everyone else involved on the wrong side of the generational divide. From the very start of the astronaut training program NASA had chosen military test pilots, mostly from the Air Force but some from the Navy as well, as having what author Tom Wolfe later called “the right stuff” to lead the U.S. into space.
As the 1960’s wore on and as the war in Viet Nam seemed to soak up young people’s lives and society’s resources without end and without purpose (novelist Norman Mailer summed up the war’s seeming pointlessness by calling one of his books Why Are We In Viet Nam? even though the plot only indirectly dealt with the war), many young Americans (particularly men like me who were approaching draft age and therefore had to deal with the dilemma of whether to fight it willingly, flee the country or risk prison to resist) developed a resistance to all things associated with the U.S. military.
The extent to which NASA sold itself as exemplar of the “old American values” of patriotism, loyalty and moral certitude was shown dramatically in a film clip of astronaut Frank Borman, who as leader of the Apollo 8 crew had been one of the first humans to orbit the moon even though they didn’t land on it, speaking to an audience of students at a major college. Borman gave a full-throated denunciation of all those horrible student radicals who were challenging their professors, the school administrators and the norms of society as a whole — to the cheers of most of his audience and the boos of a few.
The clip is contained in the third part of the three-part PBS documentary Chasing the Moon, the only one of the four films shown on American TV the week of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 that attempted to show the moon landing in its political context: the high-tension Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union that had animated its beginning and the divisions within America that had undermined support for it by the time it actually happened.

“Just the Facts” — Or the Nuances as Well

“Facts are nothing without their nuance, sir.”
— Allen Ginsberg, poet, testifying at the Chicago conspiracy trial, 1969-1970

During the 50th anniversary week of the Apollo 11 mission — which I had forgotten was actually eight days long since it took over three days each way to get to the moon and back — I got to see four films about it with dramatically different “takes” on Apollo 11 and the abrupt halt to human-staffed space flight just over three years later. Chasing the Moon, a three-part, six-hour documentary written and directed by Robert Stone, was shown on Dutch TV cut into six one-hour segments. Its principal character was Wernher von Braun, whom Tom Lehrer wrote a savagely brilliant song in which he referred to von Braun as “a man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience.”
Von Braun started his career in rocketry in his native Germany. Nazi Germany, to be exact; he ran the experimental German rocket base at Peënemunde which developed two weapons that so impressed Adolf Hitler that by 1944 he thought they would turn the tide of the war and enable Germany to win. One was the V-1, nicknamed the “buzz bomb” by the residents of British cities who were bombed by it. The V-1 was what would now be called a “drone” — an unmanned jet-powered aircraft that flew itself into the ground and blew up, creating an explosion similar to a bomb dropped by a piloted aircraft but without the risk that British anti-aircraft gunners could shoot it down.
The other “vengeance weapon” was the V-2, the world’s first guided missile, which drew on the best rocket technology available to drop warheads on cities (particularly London and the Dutch city of Antwerp). After the war the U.S. and the Soviet Union treated both the V-2 rockets and the staff that had developed them as war booty. Von Braun was one of the leading scientists in the U.S. rocket program, and his research project used captured V-2’s and worked out ways to improve them. Von Braun also thought rockets could be used to launch people into space — an idea he got from fellow German scientist Hermann Oberth, who in 1923 had published a novel called By Rocket Into Planetary Space and five years later served as scientific advisor to director Fritz Lang for Woman on the Moon, a 1928 film that depicted a successful lunar landing and for which Lang, seeking a dramatic way to show the rocket being launched, invented the countdown.
Von Braun became the foremost U.S. rocket scientist and was instrumental in developing the spacecraft used in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo human-staffed space flight programs. His goal was to land humans on the planet Mars, and according to some reports he over-designed the Saturn V, the rocket that propelled Apollo 11 to the moon, so it would be powerful enough to reach Mars as well. He was also dogged by questions about his Nazi past, particularly whether he had used slave laborers at Peënemunde and had known about the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities. Tom Lehrer’s song about him directly referenced his role in developing the V-1 and V-2:

“Some have harsh words for this man of renown,
But some say our attitude should be one of gratitude,
Like the widows and cripples in old London town
Who owe their large pensions to Wernher von Braun.”

Indeed, von Braun became such an American hero that in 1960 a movie was made about him, I Aim at the Stars, directed by J. Lee Thompson and starring German actor Curt Jurgens as von Braun. Not surprisingly, Robert Stone’s Chasing the Moon gives a much more jaundiced version of von Braun, as well as stressing how much the so-called “space race” was a part of the Cold War. Stone’s film notes that, despite making that bold public declaration that the U.S. would commit itself to sending a man to the moon and bringing him back, President Kennedy was actually doubtful about the expense involved.
He was persuaded to stay the course because the Russians were also presumably racing to the moon, and they’d already beaten us at launching the first artificial satellite and putting the first man in orbit around the earth. Whatever the cost, Kennedy’s advisors told him, we had to pursue the moon flight lest we lose yet another heat of the space race to the Russians — and have to face not only the blow to our national prestige but also the possible use of the moon as a military base by which the Russians could attack us on earth.
Sometime in the 1960’s the Russians, quietly and without fanfare, the Russians gave up on sending people to the moon. Chasing the Moon showed that it wasn’t for lack of trying — they actually built a lunar landing vehicle similar to America’s LEM, but it crashed on initial tests. (So did ours, by the way.) So by the time Apollo 11 went up on July 16, it was in a “race” on its own. One of the big reasons the U.S. human spaceflight program petered out after Apollo ran its course was that, with the Russians no longer competing in the “space race,” there were no longer any competitive points to be scored in the overall Cold War by making it to the moon ourselves.

Not Getting in the Way of the Story

While Robert Stone’s six-hour documentary Chasing the Moon attempted to put the U.S. space program in general and the Apollo missions in particular in a perspective steeped in historical and cultural nuance, CNN’s 93-minute Apollo 11 — first released theatrically by CNN Films in association with Universal, then shown on CNN’s TV network on July 21, 2019, the 50th anniversary of the moon landing — was a “just the facts, ma’am” presentation. Director Todd Douglas Miller made his film almost exclusively from NASA’s official footage of the mission — much of it in brilliant color and crystal clarity, far better than the blurry black-and-white of the images we got “live” — and didn’t saddle his film with a bunch of talking heads explaining the significance of it all. Virtually the only voiceover we got was from Neil Armstrong, the first human on the moon, in an interview he gave shortly after he and his crew got back.
About the only filmmaker’s trick Miller used to “goose up” his story and heighten its emotion was the background music by Matt Morton. Using a lot of percussion effects and mostly avoiding theremins, synthesizers and other clichés of movie “space” music, Morton did his job mostly sparingly. Still, there are times — especially when we’re also hearing the recorded voices of the astronauts and others in the crew communicating with each other and Mission Control in Houston, Texas (a site chosen for political reasons to make Texan politicians, including Lyndon Johnson, vice-president under Kennedy and president for five years after the assassination) — when one wishes Morton would just shut up.
Apollo 11 is a movie that offers a window into another time and place. Not only does the computer equipment at Mission Control seem laughably antiquated today — some of the scenes show NASA’s engineers calculating rocket trajectories with slide rules, an analog computing technology which disappeared virtually overnight after the pocket calculator was invented and first marketed — almost all of them smoked like chimneys while they worked. Also, virtually all the Mission Control crew were white men. As the camera pans over Mission Control we see one Black man and one woman.
When CNN showed Apollo 11 on July 21, 2019 they followed up one of the screenings with a mini-documentary on that woman, JoAnn Morgan, who’s quoted on her Wikipedia page as saying she "would remain the only woman there for a long time." Morgan recalled that for her first 15 years with NASA, “I worked in a building where there wasn't a ladies’ restroom. … [I]t was a big day in my book when there was one.” Until then, she explained on the CNN mini-doc, whenever she needed to use the restroom one of the military people who were providing NASA’s security had to stand guard outside the restroom to make sure no male tried to use it while she was in there.

Courageous Hero or Cog in the Machine?

I got to see Apollo 11 twice in two days: once while it was on CNN and once the day before when the person who runs the monthly Mars ( and Vintage Sci-Fi ( movie screenings in Golden Hill showed it on a double bill with First Man, the 2018 biopic of Neil Armstrong. When I first heard that this movie was being made and Ryan Gosling would star as Armstrong, I hailed it as the fulfillment of my wish that after his long string of movies as weirdos — The United States of Leland, Stay, Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl, The Big Short, La La Land, Blade Runner 2049 — some Hollywood casting director would finally hire Gosling to play someone normal.
Well, yes and no. First Man, directed by Damien Chazelle in a straightforward manner totally unlike the flash and razzle-dazzle of his star-making film La La Land and written by Josh Singer based on a biography of Armstrong by James R. Hansen, doesn’t exactly tell the tale of a man to the hero’s mantle born. Gosling’s performance is a matter-of-fact reading of a man whose life was so colorless, and who was so seemingly content to be just another interchangeable cog in NASA’s great machine, Neil Armstrong enters Gosling’s line of weirdos by being almost totally unmoved by doing something that will make his name live in the history books as long as human beings survive.
Neil Armstrong was a U. S. Air Force test pilot — and though he had resigned from the service and was technically a civilian when he flew on Apollo 11, you could take the man out of the Air Force but you couldn’t take the Air Force out of the man. Armstrong’s understated taciturnicity and the whole infrastructure NASA had built to get him and Buzz Aldrin to the moon and back made it difficult — though they tried — to cast him in the lone-hero mold of Christopher Columbus and Charles Lindbergh, two historical precedents a lot of people cited at the time.
The Apollo 11 mission was rehearsed for years, on the ground, in the air (among the most grimly amusing moments of First Man are the tests in which Armstrong attempts to fly the lunar module to a successful landing at a test site on Earth — and fails) and even while it was still going on. One of the things I remember about the coverage of Apollo 11 while the astronauts were in space approaching the moon was the long checklist of drills and tests NASA had put them through, including something called “The Sim” — short for “simulation” — two days before the actual landing.
To me, it was yet one more detail undercutting the whole argument that Armstrong and Aldrin were lone heroes risking their lives like Columbus and Lindbergh. The risks to their lives were real, all right — First Man is almost obsessive in depicting the people who died in various test flights and other experiments on the way to getting humans to the moon and back — but “Mission Control,” the huge organization that was backing them up and was in constant contact with them, told a quite different story from the lone-wolf explorer, out in the middle of nowhere with no source for help if anything went wrong.
Not that there weren’t incidents along the way when things did go horribly wrong without anyone being able to help. The most famous one — and it’s the most chilling scene in First Man — dealt with the so-called “plugs-out test” of the first Apollo spacecraft on January 27, 1967. It’s not clear from the film just what the “plugs-out test” was supposed to test for, or why it was called that, but as any student of the U.S. space program will recall, the test was an utter disaster. A spark in the space capsule ignited the 100 percent oxygen atmosphere and flared into a gigantic fire, incinerating the three astronauts aboard — Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee — as the mission controllers looked on, totally helplessly, from their computer stations in Houston.
Perhaps the strongest and most striking aspect of First Man is how vividly it dramatizes that the road to the moon was paved with corpses, and Neil Armstrong got to be the titular “first man” largely because he survived the disasters that took out the people in line ahead of him for the honor. Writer Singer and director Chazelle gave Armstrong another tragedy, a personal one — the death of his daughter Karen from leukemia at age 2 — and make it his Citizen Kane-style “Rosebud” moment, the event in his life that explains the man he became. In a scene copied almost exactly from the ending of James Cameron’s Titanic, Armstrong even throws his daughter’s I.D. bracelet onto a crevice in the moon just before he leaves.
The proprietor of the Apollo 11 and First Man screening in Golden Hill thought Chazelle and Singer had gone too far in emphasizing Armstrong’s taciturnicity and clear distaste for mixing unnecessarily with other humans. But the real Armstrong was like that, as he revealed in 2005 when 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley was the recipient of one of Armstrong’s rare interviews. Though Armstrong insisted that the famous line he uttered when he first set foot on the moon — “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” — was his own invention (it always reeked of a Hollywood screenwriter or a NASA publicist to me), throughout the rest of the interview he was his usual aw-shucks, I’m-not-that-special self.
The Neil Armstrong who gave Bradley that interview — rerun on CBS-TV’s special Man on the Moon, aired July 16, 2019 on the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s departure (and using the title and some of the footage from a quickie TV special put together by CBS news and narrated by Walter Cronkite shortly after the flight) — was the one Ryan Gosling played in First Man. He has his romantic side — he and his wife Janet (Claire Foy) are shown dancing in their living room to an odd 1947 lounge-music album called Lunar Rhapsody long before Armstrong makes it to the moon — but he’s mostly content to be a cog in NASA’s great machine, accepting the assignment of being the first man on the moon with neither trepidation nor enthusiasm, but simply out of a grim sense of duty: this is what they’ve told me to do, so I’m doing it.
Like Apollo 11, First Man suffers from a weak musical score — in this case by Chazelle’s collaborator on La La Land, Justin Hurwitz. It doesn’t help that Hurwitz is competing with the great pieces of pre-existing classical music used by Stanley Kubrick for 2001: A Space Odyssey (which I would rate as the greatest science-fiction film ever made, and arguably the greatest film ever made, period) for similar action. When the crew of the Gemini program (whose name was annoyingly pronounced “Gem-muh-NEE” instead of “Gem-min-EYE”) practice docking two spacecraft together in Earth orbit — a maneuver crucial to the success of the later Apollo missions — whatever Hurwitz came up with seemed lame and banal compared to Johann Strauss, Jr.’s “Blue Danube” waltz with which Kubrick scored his space-docking scene. And when Armstrong and Aldrin are flying their lunar module, the Eagle, over the moon’s surface looking for a place to land, Hurwitz’s score seemed to fall far short of Kubrick’s choice, Györgi Ligeti’s hauntingly beautiful “Lux Aeterna.”

So Why Aren’t We Still Going to the Moon?

It’s rather an open question, which these four films do surprisingly little to answer. It appears that Richard Nixon decided to cancel the development of future launch vehicles aimed at continuing the moon flights and then taking people to Mars — perhaps out of a Trump-like jealousy over his dashing, romantic, charismatic and tragically doomed predecessor, John F. Kennedy. It couldn’t have been good for Nixon’s ego that while he placed a live phone call to Neil Armstrong while Armstrong was on the moon and Nixon was in the Oval Office, the President showcased most often in the Apollo 11 coverage was Kennedy via his film clip making the promise, now fulfilled, that before the end of the 1960’s the U.S. would send a man to the moon and bring him back safely.
But I would argue that the bizarre abandonment of the moon program and any efforts to send people farther into space — the only time in human history a nation has planted its flag on a faraway country, continent or heavenly body and then just stopped going there after a mere three years — has to do partly with the way NASA publicized the space program and partly with the disillusionment that fell upon the country after Nixon’s fall from office over Watergate and a new mood that undermined the broad-based political support needed to keep such projects alive and funded.
As I noted above, NASA deliberately pitched the space program as part of the Establishment side in the bitter battles raged between it and the burgeoning youth counter-culture in the 1960’s. The astronauts were picked from the ranks of the U.S. military and in particular from its culture of test pilots, the hard-living, hard-drinking macho men who had broken the sound barrier and flown the X-series planes which got the U.S. to the edge of space. They were presented as having the “right stuff” — in the unforgettable phrase Tom Wolfe coined for the title of his book about the Mercury program — and as being everything to which a red-blooded man with traditional family values should aspire.
In a time of ferment in which Americans in general, and younger Americans in particular, were starting to question traditional gender roles as well as traditional racial hierarchies, the astronauts were also presented as “family men.” Their life partners were deliberately depicted in the media as Stepford wives — faithful, obedient homemakers willing to wait patiently for their men to come home from their dangerous missions while they cooked, cleaned, did laundry and sent the kids off to school. Wolfe’s book describes the Mercury astronauts as considerably less tied down by the marital bonds as the image — he even says there were astronaut groupies in Florida who were trying to bed all seven of the original Mercury program members — but that wasn’t what we were told, or sold, then.
By so resolutely marketing space travel as a military man’s game, an exemplar of the order and discipline of the military way of life, NASA drove a wedge between itself and the younger generation that has usually supplied the world its explorers. NASA presented space as an exclusively military preserve at a time when the U.S. military was embarrassing itself trying as best it could to fulfill the impossible mission the nation’s political leaders had set for it in Viet Nam. The young dreamers, afire with thoughts of a better world, weren’t signing up for the space program; they were figuring out ways to avoid being drafted into an unwinnable war halfway across the world.
The convulsive changes of the 1960’s — civil rights movements, first for African-Americans and then for other people of color, women and Queers; the Viet Nam war; the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. —split America in ways that are still being felt today. Much of the appeal of Donald Trump to his base lies in his promise — what he really means by “Make America Great Again” — to wipe out all that nonsense about equality that started in the 1960’s and return to a time when Blacks were still in the back of the bus, women still in the kitchen, Queers still in the closet and the rule of the country by white men was simply taken for granted as a God-given fact.
The disillusionments from the 1960’s and 1970’s — the ignominious end of the Viet Nam war and Nixon’s fall from the Presidency due to the Watergate scandal in particular — ironically boosted the fortunes of America’s political Right. They seemed to convince many Americans, particularly older ones upset by the excesses of the counterculture, that government was no longer to be trusted. America settled into a politics dominated largely by recitations of all the things we couldn’t do — end war, end poverty, end hunger, end homelessness, give everyone access to health care.
This led me, in an editorial I wrote in the 1990’s, to say that if the 1980’s had been the “Me Decade” that enshrined selfishness as a virtue and damned political activism as useless and hopeless, the 1990’s were the “No Decade,” in which politicians and pundits repeatedly said, “You can’t … ” to anyone, in or out of government, who expressed a hope that we could mobilize ourselves collectively and use government to solve any of our major social problems. The cold, clammy rhetoric of politicians from both sides of the partisan divide — notably Bill Clinton’s response to becoming the first Democratic President to lose control of Congress in 40 years, which was to join the Republicans in saying, “The era of Big Government is over” — seemed to relegate big projects like exploring the moon and reaching out to Mars to the province of dreamers and science-fiction writers again.
Instead of vehicles of exploration, the U.S. space program became essentially a trucking service. Instead of building a spaceship to take us back to the moon and onward to Mars, the U.S. built the space shuttle, a craft whose purpose was as prosaic as its name. While thoughts of exploring and colonizing the planets fell by the wayside, private industry had developed communications networks based on so-called “geosynchronous satellites” (an idea first thought up by science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke) that would always be over the same part of Earth no matter where both Earth and the satellite were in space at the moment. The space shuttle’s main task became to deliver such satellites and place them in those spatial sweet spots more cheaply than launching them one at a time on single-use rockets.
Not that presidents since Nixon haven’t occasionally talked about building a new generation of spacecraft and taking humans to Mars. George W. Bush called for it. So did Barack Obama. So has Donald Trump, though his main purpose seems to be to create a Mars mission that will maintain NASA’s existence while he ends its other major program: measuring changes in the earth’s weather patterns and thereby documenting that human beings are changing the climate despite Trump’s dogged and unshakeable belief that they aren’t. Unlike John Kennedy with the moon program, none of the recent presidents who have called for either a U.S. return to the moon or a mission to Mars have expended any political capital on making it happen.
This has led a lot of science-fiction fans and supporters of planetary exploration to hope that the private sector will step in and take over. It’s essentially the plot of the 1950 movie Destination Moon, based on the writings of Right-wing science-fiction author Robert A. Heinlein, in which an industrialist persuades the CEO’s of major corporations to bankroll a moon mission to make sure that unspecified “enemies” (which in a 1950 movie could only have meant the Soviet Union) don’t get to the moon first and use it as a military base against us.
More recently, the oddball National Geographic production Mars — a TV series which combines a talking-heads documentary on the potential for a human mission to Mars in the present day and a fictional account of such a mission that stretches out over decades, starting in the 2030’s — has presented one super-capitalist in particular, Elon Musk, as the potential savior of space exploration. The hagiographic depiction of Musk in this film, and at science-fiction conventions where his name is mentioned, contrasts strongly with news of the real Musk, a Trump-style B.S. artist whose companies are constantly skating the thin edge of bankruptcy and never quite delivering the super-technologies he keeps promising. Indeed, Musk has been threatened with prosecution so often by the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) for the misleading (to put it politely) claims he’s made to his company’s shareholders I’ve joked that if he goes to Mars it will be as a fugitive from U.S. justice.
There’s certainly a history of private companies funding programs of exploration in the hope of turning a profit. Most of the British settlements in North America that ultimately became the first United States were bankrolled by private entrepreneurs who hoped they’d make money on exports of grain and other produce from the New World. India was conquered in the 18th century not by the British government but by the British East India Company, which ruled it for a century before officially turning it over to the British state and was even more repressive than the British colonial officials sent to run it after the 19th century handover. King Leopold II of Belgium colonized the Congo not on behalf of the Belgian state but as his personal property, seeking to exploit the Congo’s mineral resources for his own enrichment and enslaving the natives in the process.
But it’s hard to imagine a private company — or even a consortium of them — raising the massive amounts of money it would take to go back to the Moon, let alone to go to Mars, for the highly speculative chances that such missions would ultimately be profitable. This is especially true in the modern era of so-called “activist investors,” who don’t care about the long-term health of the business they buy into. All they’re interested in is the value of their own shareholdings as measured by how the stock price is doing. If a company can be worth more to its shareholders divided into bits and pieces, with its assets used as leverage for loans and its employees laid off en masse, that’s what they will do with it. In a global economy that has turned capitalism itself into a giant speculative game for the 0.01 percent, the idea that one or more corporations might commit to something as chancy as a mission to other planets is preposterous.
So we haven’t been back to the moon, we haven’t gone to Mars, and given the current state of the economy we’re not likely to. Indeed, the next big project the human race will have to undertake is ensuring its actual survival on Earth, given the ongoing assault on the climate and our own planet’s ability to support us long-term. Progressives have called for a “Green New Deal” and compared it to the Manhattan Project that devised the first nuclear weapon, or the Apollo moon project, but it’s considerably harder to sell this effort because it has no readily definable end point. The Manhattan Project devised a usable atomic bomb and dropped it on two Japanese cities at the end of World War II. Apollo 11 landed two people on the moon and brought them safely to earth.
The Green New Deal doesn’t have such a readily definable endpoint — just a bunch of boring-sounding statistics about parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It also has virtually all the major economic players in the world, both public and private, against it. The ruling class we have today, with its short-sighted obsession with their investments’ stock price the next quarter, won’t allow a Green New Deal to come to fruition, especially since in order to succeed it will have to abolish a lot of the habits of late industrial society that have brought the Earth to the brink of no longer being able to sustain human life. Future generations aren’t going to be able to dream about humans living and prospering on other planets; they’re far more likely to engage in a desperate but losing battle to stay alive on this one.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Mass Shootings and the National Rorschach


Copyright © 2019 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Wednesday, August 14 was going to be the evening I finished writing an article I’d begun the previous weekend after America’s three most recent mass shooting events: the July 28 shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in northern California, killing three people; the massacre of 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas on August 3 and, just a day later, nine more in a bar district in Dayton, Ohio. That was before 1:30 p.m. Pacific time — 4:30 p.m. East Coast time — there was yet another mass shooting with the AK-47, a military-grade assault rifle which, along with the similar AR-15, has become the weapon of choice for mass murderers everywhere. This time it was in Philadelphia, near Temple University, and the gunman was attempting to block police enforcement of a drug-related search order.
According to news reports during the day, the suspect barricaded himself inside the house that was the target of the search warrant and shot at least six police officers during a standoff lasting over an hour. The officers were wounded, but mercifully none were killed. Eventually the cops got their own people out as well as the other three civilians in the house. According to sources, the suspect live-streamed part of the incident, as if part of the sickness that was making him do this was to get himself behaving bestially on TV — as if this were something to be proud of.
I had settled on the title “Mass Shootings and the National Rorschach” to make the point that every time there’s a major incident in the U.S. involving guns being used to shoot large numbers of people in a very short time, the bare facts serve like the ink blots in the famous psychological test. People see whatever images they want to see in the ink blots, and the psychologists giving the tests use those responses to gauge how these people think and what, if anything, might be wrong with them from the standpoint of mental health. Likewise, mass shootings evoke Rorschach-like responses from people on both sides of America’s ever more divided politics.
Progressives and Leftists hear about them and say we need more regulation about who in this country can own guns, and what sort of guns they can own. Rightists, ranging from America’s dwindling number of thoughtful, intelligent conservatives to the radical reactionary revolutionaries that have largely taken their place, say that the real causes are a climate of moral “permissiveness,” a legacy of the 1960’s counterculture; limits we’ve placed on the ability of the police to protect us without being second-guessed; the abandonment of “traditional moral values” by the urban intelligentsia; and the decline of faith in God (one former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee argued seriously: see for a withering rebuttal).
I got a good dose of the national Rorschach the mass shootings have become when the Philadelphia hostage situation was being discussed earlier tonight on Fox News. I was watching Fox News because at least they were talking about it — CNN and MS-NBC were doing their usual stale programming about the Trump Administration scandals and the political dead and rotting horse that is the Robert Mueller report. I was in the middle of the Sean Hannity show and I heard Hannity and Geraldo Rivera (whom I can remember from the early 1970’s when he was a self-proclaimed progressive hanging out with people like John Lennon) insist that because the Philadelphia shooter had been a criminal, he had almost certainly not bought his AR-15 legally and therefore a background check of the kind being described in Washington, D.C. wouldn’t have stopped him from acquiring the weapon. (But then how did the person who sold it to him — or whom he stole it from — get it?)
Hannity played a couple of clips from other networks, including Senators (and Democratic Presidential candidates) Kamala Harris from CNN and Cory Booker from MS-NBC, demanding sane restrictions on Americans’ ability to obtain guns. Then he and Rivera lampooned the comments, saying that it was the height of irresponsibility to use the Philadelphia incident to make a political point when the suspect was still barricaded inside the house and the brave, courageous police were still trying to get him out, hopefully alive to stand trial instead of on a stretcher with a sheet over his head. (Rivera sounded particularly bloodthirsty when he said he’d want to kill the suspect personally.)
Then, after criticizing two vaguely Leftist Democratic Senators for trying to make political points off the Philadelphia shooting, Hannity and Rivera proceeded to make political points off the Philadelphia shooting. They said that it was all the fault of Democratic politicians and African-American “Black Lives Matter” for mounting campaigns against police officers in places like Ferguson, Missouri and thereby leaving police officers gun-shy and unable to do their jobs properly for fear that they’ll be second-guessed by investigating committees and review boards, and maybe even prosecuted.
They trotted out former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who served while Rudolph Giuliani was Mayor, to defend the constitutionally dubious anti-crime measures they implemented during Giuliani’s mayoralty. Kerik’s message seemed to be that if you want a low crime rate in a major city, you have to treat all African-Americans and Latinos as potential criminals subject to “stop-and-frisk” policies whereby they could be pulled over and searched on the street at a police officer’s whim, never mind all that wimpy stuff in the Constitution about “probable cause.” And they also leveled a few racist attacks, obviously inspired by President Donald Trump’s vicious tweets about Chicago and Baltimore, about how Black mayors and city governments have ruined one great American city after another and left them rat-, rodent- and crime-infested hellholes now that the great auto and steel factories that once gave them thriving economies have closed.
Never mind that America’s auto and steel companies have closed because the CEO’s of the corporations that owned them decided, purely to make more profits, that they’d be better off making their stuff in low-wage countries like Mexico or China (or, increasingly, even lower-wage countries like Bangladesh or Viet Nam). And never mind, also, that Bernard Kerik, presented on Fox News as the very model of a modern aggressive crime-fighter, is himself a criminal. In 2010 he accepted a plea bargain in a case accusing him of eight federal felonies, including tax fraud and lying to White House officials.
“Federal prosecutors had denounced Mr. Kerik, a former police detective who rose to the upper echelons of power, as a corrupt official who sought to trade his authority for lavish benefits,” wrote New York Times reporter Sam Dolnick in a story published February 19, 2010 ( “He pleaded guilty on the eve of his trial in November.” But, apparently willing to let bygones be bygones, Sean Hannity and his producers at Fox News nonetheless presented this convicted criminal as an authority on fighting crime in general and keeping our cities safe from mad gunmen in particular.

Government Inaction Gives Shooters Permission

I’ve got the sense that every time one of these incidents happens I’ve thought, and often written, the same thoughts all too many times before after similar mass shootings — Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado; a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado; Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut; a military academy in Virginia Beach, Virginia; a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina; a Gay disco in Orlando, Florida; a country-music festival in Las Vegas; a Congressional baseball-game practice in Washington, D.C.; a high school in Parkland, Florida; a Jewish synagogue (with an elderly congregation that included survivors of the Nazi Holocaust) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and no doubt others I’m not recalling at the moment — and I’m wondering what there is left to say.
Oh sure, there’s the obvious: we’re sorry these things happen. We’re sorry for the people killed and what they had done, or could have done, with their lives if they hadn’t been struck down before nature (or God, if you will) was ready to take them. We’re sorry for the wounded people and we hope they have good enough medical insurance to cover the costs of their ongoing health-care needs from having been shot. We’re sorry for the victims’ relatives and their significant others who will be left behind and face ongoing sorrow from the absence of a loved one who should still be there, and won’t be.
When I wrote about the Pittsburgh shooting I structured my piece as a series of diatribes dismissing all the fashionable explanations, excuses and pretexts for this sort of violence and cut to what I thought — and still think — is the core issue: too many guns. I wrote a piece in sheer visceral anger in which every other paragraph read, in italics, “We need to get rid of the goddamned guns.” We can argue all we want to about what the motives of each individual shooter in each individual case — including their politics, if they had any, or if the internal demons that shaped their actions included allegiance to a political cause, Right or Left. But that doesn’t take away from the central issue.
The central issue is this: We, the citizens of the United States of America, have given official permission for individuals to commit mass shootings. That doesn’t mean that we won’t punish these people, either by arresting them or killing them ourselves through our representatives in law enforcement. But by our abject failure to legislate any sensible regulations on who can own guns in this country — including allowing just about anyone to have military-grade assault weapons or high-capacity magazines when there is absolutely no legitimate sporting or self-defense reason for individuals outside the military or law enforcement to own them — and our subcontracting our nation’s firearms policy to the National Rifle Association (NRA), we have essentially given a whole bunch of crazies not only incredibly easy access to guns but also a kind of social permission that says, “Mass shootings are a price we have to pay for our Second Amendment freedoms.”
As I’ve said in these pages when previous mass shootings have occurred in the U.S., a country that refuses to protect its citizens and residents (documented or otherwise) from mass shootings — i.e., from domestic terrorism — is a country that has forfeited its right to call itself “civilized.” The U.S. at all political levels has so totally abdicated its responsibility to protect its people from gun violence that those of us interested in ensuring the survival of ourselves and our loved ones are in the pathetic position of having to plead with the powers-that-be at the NRA and the politicians they have bought and paid for to let us have some little scrap of attention, like background checks on gun purchasers and so-called “red-flag” laws allowing police to take guns away from the mentally ill.
President Trump, elected with the staunch political and financial support ($30 million) of the NRA, timidly proposed “meaningful background checks” in the wake of El Paso and Dayton. And, like a Roman emperor of old deciding which gladiators got to live or die, NRA executive director Wayne La Pierre put his thumbs down and thereby condemned us to more years of inaction that gives people blanket permission to commit mass shootings.

Living in a War Zone 24/7

The scariest thing I saw on TV in the wake of the El Paso shooting (when this segment was shown the Dayton shooting hadn’t happened yet) was a CNN interview with a retired FBI officer, James Hamilton, who now works for the Gavin de Becker private security firm and has apparently recently published a book on how you can avoid being the victim of a mass shooting if you’re unlucky enough to be where one is taking place. The basic advice he was giving is the sensible “Run, Hide, Fight” — in that order — warning already given as policy by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Usually you’re supposed to “Run, Hide, Fight” in that order — run if you can, hide if you have to, fight only as a last resort — but, as Hamilton explained to Zahra Barnes of the Web site in a March 2018 interview (, mass shootings aren’t predictable, so your response can’t be either. “It happens so quickly and with such fluidity,” Hamilton told Barnes. “You need to make the choice based on what you’re seeing and where you are.”
Hamilton continued, “What can really help people to not freeze is going through mental rehearsal. If I hear gunfire or what I believe to be gunfire, where is my nearest exit? Plan it out in your mind. The one resource you will not have any of [in a mass shooting] is time. You have to not waste it.” He’s right — especially about time being the one resource you won’t have any of; it’s well established that most of the people who get killed or wounded in a mass shooting are struck down in the first five to 10 minutes, before people have had the chance to call the police and the cops have had the chance to get there.
But it’s also a sad commentary on what modern life has become, especially with the NRA basically in control of U.S. policy towards guns. that Hamilton and other experts with law-enforcement experience are basically telling Americans they need to learn to live in a war zone 24/7. They’re saying that the attack could come any time, so you’d better be psyched for it the next time you go to a restaurant, bar, movie theatre, public park or shopping mall. You need to do “mental rehearsal” much the way a soldier has to do when faced with an enemy shooting at him or her — and you have to do it for a situation that has a lot more surprise elements than a battle.
James Hamilton and his colleagues are basically telling Americans that they are in an urban street battle 24/7, and that every time they go out they need to be aware of that and be ready to respond in ways that will save their lives. The nation isn’t going to protect you, he says, so you’d better be ready to protect themselves. Law enforcement officers across the country have acted heroically when mass shootings have occurred, and sometimes at great risk to themselves they’ve been able to capture the shooters alive instead of killing them or letting them kill themselves. But they’ve also complained that at times they feel “outgunned” because the service revolvers they patrol the streets with — or even the rifles they can be issued when they have to respond to a mass shooting — aren’t a match for the military-grade assault weapons the shooters have.

Ideological Battles Over the Shooters’ Minds

Few aspects of the mass shooting stories have illustrated the Rorschach-like aspects of the events more than the public discussions of the shooters’ political or ideological motivations. Progressives and Leftists seized on the online manifesto published on a far-Right Web site 27 minutes before the attack, which police are “reasonably confident” was written by the alleged shooter, 21-year-old Patrick Wood Crusius. Not that we were allowed actually to read the manifesto ourselves: with a prissy self-censorship that forbade mention of Crusius’s name on the ground that it would only give him what he presumably wanted — publicity for himself and his ideas — the mainstream media have refused to link to Crusius’s manifesto and even challenged his right to call it that, on the ground that almost no one had heard of him when he published it online. (But then almost no one had heard of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels when they published The Communist Manifesto in 1848, either.)
The Wikipedia page on the El Paso shooting ( discusses the manifesto and offers brief quotes from it which certainly make it sound like the work of a writer either convinced by President Trump’s slashing attacks on immigrants and U.S. people of color to target Hispanics or having similar convictions that, as the manifesto writer him/herself claims, “predate Trump.” Crusius is reported to have driven all the way across the east-west expanse of Texas from his home in Allen at the east end of the state to El Paso in its southwest to target a town on the U.S.-Mexico border, and he reportedly admitted to police when they arrested him that he was the shooter and he was specifically targeting “Mexicans.” Here’s what Wikipedia had to say about the manifesto:

The manifesto promotes the white nationalist and far-right conspiracy theory of The Great Replacement [the idea that, by having more children than whites Jews and people of color are seeking to “replace” whites as the dominant voices in the political system]The New York Times characterized the manifesto as racially extremist, noting the passage: “Hispanics will take control of the local and state government of my beloved Texas, changing policy to better suit their needs.” It states that Hispanics and their intermarriage with whites would cause the loss of purity of race. It criticizes strict gun control laws in Europe, arguing these would make them unable to “repel” immigrants.

It criticizes both the Democratic Party and Republican Party, saying that their politicians are either complacent or involved in the “takeover of the United States government by unchecked corporations.” However, the manifesto states that “at least with Republicans, the process of mass immigration and citizenship can be greatly reduced.” It warns that “heavy Hispanic population in Texas will make us a Democrat stronghold.” It also states that the Democratic Party’s appeal to an increasing number of Hispanics in the country would ultimately ensure Democratic Party dominance in the United States, a theory that has been promoted on right-wing radio shows. According to the document, the attack was meant to provide an “incentive” for Hispanics to “return to their home countries”, thus dissolving “the Hispanic voting bloc” in the United States.

Much of the racism in general and attacks on Hispanics in particular sounds like Trump, particularly the President’s repeated references in his speeches and tweets to the influx of Latino immigrants into the U.S. as an “invasion” and his demands for severe restrictions on the number of legal immigrants to the U.S. and a switch to a so-called “merit-based” immigration system that would benefit whites and Asians and disadvantage Blacks and Latinos. But on least one key point — the human race’s relationship to the environment — the manifesto’s author takes a position almost diametrically opposed to Trump’s.
Not only is the manifesto called The Inconvenient Truth — a ripoff of An Inconvenient Truth, former vice-president Al Gore’s book and documentary film warning of the threat human-caused climate change (which Trump has famously denied is happening at all) poses to human survival — but it contains some very strongly worded environmentalist passages, which were referenced in this passage from an earlier version of the Wikipedia page on the El Paso shootings that doesn’t appear on the current one:

The manifesto also promotes environmentalism, attacking corporatism and imperialism. It states that “our lifestyle is destroying the environment of our country. … Corporations are heading the destruction of our environment by shamelessly overharvesting resources.” It cites The Lorax by Dr. Seuss as a “brilliant” portrayal of this.

The document attacks corporations not only in the context of the environment, but in general, including a claim that they like immigration. The reason the government is unwilling to fix the various problems outlines is that they’re owned by the corporations, the document states. It claims that they should be forced to see that Americans will not tolerate their excesses. It also attacks imperialistic wars. It does laud automation, though, as a means of replacing immigrant jobs.

Assuming that the manifesto is the work of the El Paso shooter and it honestly portrays his motives, he was inspired not only by Right-wing causes like racism and white supremacism but also by Left-wing causes like environmentalism and anti-corporatism. Indeed, Left-wing environmentalist writer Natasha Lennard was moved enough by the environmentalist passages in the manifesto that she wrote her own response on the Web site The Intercept (, noting that the man who shot up a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand — whom the manifesto cited as an inspiration — called himself an “eco-fascist” and wrote in his own manifesto that “there is no nationalism without environmentalism.” Lennard continued:

Against the perilous climate change denialism typical of U.S. conservatives, environmental decimation is broadly seen as a liberal and left concern. But eco-fascism has seen a notable re-emergence among far-right groups and festering corners online in the U.S. and Europe. While campaigning for the European elections, Marine Le Pen of France’s far-right National Rally party promised to make the “first ecological civilization” of a “Europe of nations,” claiming that “nomadic” people with “no homeland” do not care about the environment. Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer wrote in a 2017 manifesto, “We have the potential to become nature’s steward or its destroyer.”

And if the El Paso shooter’s stated motives were a mix of Right and Left causes, the shooter in Dayton, Connor Betts — who didn’t leave behind a manifesto and died in the massacre — left behind social-media posts that suggested his motives were Leftist politics. He retweeted someone else’s nasty post about former vice-president and current Democratic Presidential front-runner Joseph Biden, saying, “Millennials have a message for the Joe Biden generation: hurry up and die.” Betts also retweeted messages supporting Biden’s two most Left-wing rivals for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. (It apparently didn’t occur to him that Sanders, Warren, Biden and Trump are all part of the same generation.)
Though the Dayton shooter’s Left-leaning retweets were reported August 8 by CNN (, that hasn’t stopped Right-wing media outlets from attacking the so-called “liberal media” from covering them up in an attempt to create a master narrative that the current mass shootings are all motivated by white supremacy and inspired by Trump.
There’s certainly evidence to argue that Trump’s election has motivated white-supremacist political activism, including violence. While white-supremacist hate crimes usually go up when a Democrat is President and down when a Republican is President, they’ve risen under Trump. But it’s clear the mass murderers in El Paso and Dayton, if they had political motivations at all, were inspired by a rag-bag of causes that don’t fit neatly into the usual “Rlght” and “Left” categories.

Go Into People’s Homes and Take Away Their Guns!

And, as I argued after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, it really doesn’t matter what the motivations for each individual shooting are. Even when it’s obvious what a shooter’s motives are — as it was in Pittsburgh, where the killer showed his colors by targeting a synagogue with a largely elderly congregation, including Holocaust survivors — it’s less important to determine the individual shooter’s reasons for acting than to address the real problem: there are too many guns in the U.S.
Not only are there too many guns in the U.S., there is also a history of this country’s politics and culture endorsing the idea that the way to solve political and social problems is to kill people. While it’s almost never possible to say a specific shooter was motivated by a specific movie, TV show or video game, American culture in general promotes the idea that violence is the way issues get resolved. The El Paso and Dayton shootings took place on a weekend in which one of the most popular movies in American theatres was Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, an historical fantasy in which [spoiler alert!] two over-the-hill movie cowboys slaughter Charles Manson and his gang of crazies before they have a chance to murder Sharon Tate and her friends.
America has sold the world the idea that violence is the ultimate solution to any social evil. We’ve not only created the mass shooting incident but we’ve exported it, like many of our most violent movies, TV shows and video games, to the rest of the world — including countries like Norway and New Zealand whose citizens never thought that someday they’d have to deal with this kind of shit.
America puts its governmental money where its cultural mouth is by spending more on its military than the next 25 countries in the world combined, and by maintaining a network of military bases throughout the world, always protected by the doctrine of “extraterritoriality.” That means that if a U.S. servicemember commits a crime while stationed in a foreign country, that country has no jurisdiction and therefore no right to punish the U.S. servicemember for that crime.
We have a lot to do if we want to put an end to the scourge of mass shootings America’s lax policy towards firearms and cultural glorification of violence has loosed on our country — and, increasingly, on the entire world. First, there needs to be an outright, permanent, total ban on AR-15’s, AK-47’s and other weapons of mass slaughter. If that means going into people’s homes and forcibly taking their guns away, so be it.
These weapons have only one purpose — the killing of large numbers of humans in a short period of time — and there is no earthly reason any private citizen should be allowed to own one. We banned private ownership of machine guns in the 1920’s; we can ban assault weapons now if we can summon the political courage to do so and the determination to outvote the NRA and their zombie minions.
There also needs to be a sweeping change in America’s culture industry. Many of the people who run or work in it claim to be “liberals,” but they’re putting out movie after movie, TV show after TV show, and video game after video game, that sells the world the message that the way you solve social problems is with guns and bullets. It’s time for our culture-makers to start telling stories that exalt peace and diplomacy, not war and violence.
America is a nation that began with a hard heart. For all our noble, shimmering ideals of liberty and equality, we built our country on a genocidal war against its Native population and on the forced labor of Africans kidnapped and owned as slaves. Indeed, activist and professor Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz argued in a Monthly Review article and her 2018 book Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment that the purposes of those “well-regulated militias” referenced in the Second Amendment was to resist any attempts by Native Americans to reconquer their land, and to recapture fugitive slaves and return them to their bondmasters.
The history of our country is one torn between our nobly expressed ideals of freedom and justice for all and the dirty, disgusting ways we’ve oppressed and exploited people. Our ongoing national affair with guns is an example of our oppressive side, a souvenir of the dirty work we felt we “had” to do to secure this country for a white majority.
Now that demographics — particularly the rising percentages of Americans who are people of color, either via immigration or differences in birth rates — are jeopardizing white Americans’ status as the majority population, we’re seeing Americans react in various toxic ways. The less violent among them acted by electing Donald Trump on a quite explicitly stated platform to “Make America Great Again” by making America majority-white again.

While not all the mass shooters recently active in the U.S. have expressed a white supremacist ideology — or, indeed, any particular ideology at all — the ease with which they can get high-powered firearms with which to commit their massacres is a legacy of white America’s historical determination to retain its dominance. Just as you can’t treat a disease successfully if you only treat its symptoms and don’t address its underlying cause, so you can’t treat the social disease of mass shootings without addressing the pathology of America’s relationship with firearms and its generations of glorification of their use.